I LIKE TREES LIKE THESE

My first children’s book is available in time for Christmas!

I LIKE TREES LIKE THESE is full of glorious images and playful verse to delight young readers and old tree-huggers (like you and me).

front cover I LIKE TREES LIKE THESE

Published by LMNO Press and available on Amazon.

P.S. If your initials are S.D. or J.M., check your mailbox for your absolutely-hot-off-the-press first-edition-ever copy. It is printing right this minute and on the way!

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Pie 18.0

Pie 18.0

Let’s cheer up this black Friday. The turkey drippings and butter have been wiped up, the pies cut, and the Alka Seltzer and Pepto consumed. We slept off whatever we overdrank or ate. Coffee pot is gurgling, dear husband (DH) still snoozing, and it’s time to blog a pie.

Pie 18.0, chosen by my DH and called “Life’s a Rocky Road Macadamia Mousse Pies” on page 141 in the SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR cookbook, was constructed in three dozen easy to follow steps side-by-side with Pie 19.0 (coming soon). I told you I can juggle.

First step: SHOP. Publix had everything I needed, including (to my delight) a dozen 4 ounce jelly jars.

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Second step: CHOP. Macadamia nuts are soft. I chopped a couple of cups to begin the mess.

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Next, I made a cookie dough, and baked 50 macadamia chocolate cookies. The chocolate was supposed to be white, but I used semi-sweet regular old chips. Only 15 cookies were actually needed for the “pies” so the cookie jar is full. DH declared them “really good” so the cookie recipe is on my short list now.

The cookies cooled, got crumbled, pulsed in the ancient blender and met up with some melted butter before they were squished in the bottom of the little jelly jars and baked for a few minutes.

I do try to use only the finest ingredients, but I am inherently frugal (aka cheap). I could not resist this grandiose claim on the cheapest vanilla bottle, reassuring me I wasn’t purchasing mere brown water.

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I’d like to add that my novels are presented by special request and are excellent quality products. Just FYI. In case you needed reassurance before spending a week reading them. They are not merely brown water either. But, really, why can’t authors self-promote when it’s acceptable (and even effective) for cheap vanilla distributors to do so? My books cost less than a bottle of brown water, they took decades to write, were revised and polished dozens of times, and painstakingly proofread and tweaked. And I can’t even claim they are excellent quality products? So silly.

OK, down from my soapbox now. The air was cool and refreshing up there. Read on if you will.

The filling had a whipped component folded into a creamy white chocolate concoction. Absolutely dreamy, but ruined (to my taste) by introduction of more chopped nuts. I might be nuts, but I don’t like ’em.

This white fluffiness got spooned over the double-baked cookie bottom in each jar. More crushed cookies and nuts were sprinkled on top. The jars were sealed closed and stored in the fridge.

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We took a few jars to a dessert gathering after Thanksgiving dinner. They were a hit. Another win in the record book of my virtual bakery.

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Pies 18.0 and 19.0 were created in parallel. That means I chopped nuts and sliced bananas in a concerted fashion. (My orgo students know “concerted” means “at the same time” and can imagine what my transition state looked like.) Alas, although I can make two concerted pies, I cannot blog them in unison. Pie 19.0, pending permission from two bakers/sisters/photographers, is coming soon. You won’t want to miss that story–it will be high quality as promised in black and while indelible ink, just like that indisputable non-fiction claim on the vanilla bottle.

 

Pie 17.0

Pie 17.0

Back to savory! I know–you’re surprised. Why would I go back and try a savory pie after the Jerk Chicken debacle? Here’s the secret: I wanted to squeeze mashed potatoes out of my new frosting bag.

Bring on Pie 17.0, “Lost Shepherd’s Pie,” a concoction that started with complex mashed potatoes and ended with a meat base that looked like the child of sloppy joes and meatloaf, but with richer flavors for the nose and pallet. I loved this pie.

I do enjoy peeling. I like to use my little paring knife to try to make one long peel. My daughters have tried to convince me to move on to one of those scraping peelers. It’s just not the same feeling of accomplishment to have a pile of a thousand scraps instead of my long and twirly peels.

Chopping onions is also quite fun. I hardly cried at all. Tonight when I make my Thanksgiving stuffing, I’ll chop another onion. It’s good to plan your life around happy moments, to anticipate them as I do the chopping of my next onion. BTW, the chopped onion did not go into the potatoes. I just couldn’t wait to show it to you.

The cooked potatoes were hand-mashed and mixed. The recipe warned against beating them with a mixer because they’d become too gooey. I followed the directions like a good little cook, but next time I’m going for the creamy mashed potato option. Read on and you’ll understand why.

I made this pie in the morning. Mashed potatoes for breakfast. Yum.

The meat cooked slowly in many stages in my favorite pan. This pan and I go back more than 30 years. In fact, I’ve probably cooked more than 6000 (>30 x 365 / 2) dinners in this pan. Twice during the cooking process, I thought “That’s it. I ruined my pan. I’ll never get this dried goop off.” But then the magician recipe writers saved the day. At one point the directions told me to add red wine. It acted like a perfect solvent and swiped the bottom of the pan to shiny silver (and made a sauce or gravy). And right at the end, I had to add a bit of A1 sauce. I wondered why it had to be added at the very end. The bottom of the pan had once again looked hopeless, but the A1 wiped it clean. Amazing. I have used a bit of water in the past to moisten dried out concoctions. From now on, it’ll be wine and A1.

The meat layer went into the lightly greased dish first.

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The potatoes were piped on top. I spent some brain waves choosing the frosting tip. I used the one in the middle. I also used my paring knife a couple dozen times during the potato piping to unclog chunks of potato lumps from the tip. So, yeah, next time I’m whipping those mashed potatoes with the electric beater.

A delicious savory pie. She surprised me with her beauty and deliciousness.

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Pies 18.0 and 19.0 will commence today in my sunny kitchen, concurrently. Don’t worry. I can juggle.

Pie 16.0

Pie 16.0

The voices in my head began to fight the second I awoke today.

Voice 1: What time can I drive home today? Do I need gas?

Voice 2: You are home. You drove here yesterday.

V1: Oh, yeah! Then I’ll take the whole day off from electronics and make a pie.

V2: You have to edit that exam. You can’t make a pie until you blog that last one.

V1: Right. Coffee, then.

I tossed off the covers, made coffee, drank the first cup in silence while I watched the sunrise. Then, I got to work. I am exceptionally coordinated, so I will blog Pie 16.0 while I make Pie 17.0. Let’s see how this goes.

Pie 16.0 was assembled in the other kitchen in the dark again. A friend suggested I simply install lightbulbs in the ceiling light, but that’s not what I mean by dark. I usually make my pies in the morning as the sun comes in the kitchen windows–with no lights turned on. And even with lightbulbs, I use lamps instead of the overhead lights. I like soft light when the sun is gone. It’s necessary and soothing. But not so great for taking pictures of pies. So, to clarify, by dark I mean at night.

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In the SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR cookbook, this pie is called “Jumping Without a Net Bottomless Strawberry Rhubarb Cups.” The recipe reveals a design made when the baker was clean outta flour–hence the no-crust. Well, I had graham crackers and seriously considered making a crunchy bottom in each cup. Voice 2 chimed in: don’t bother. I found out from my tasters the next day that a crunchy bottom was exactly what this recipe needed. Next time, I’ll listen to Voice 1.

There’s not much to tell; it was a really easy bake. The first step was to make the fruit filling and all the pictures are of the pan. First the fruit cooked down. Then other mystery ingredients were added. The hardest part was draining the syrupy juice from the cooked fruit because it clung to the pan as it drained out and landed on the counter three inches from the target collection jar. I blamed intermolecular forces, and skillfully overcompensated and missed the jar a different way.

Here is a series of pictures of the pan as the filling progressed.

While the little cups cooled, I boiled down the reserved fruit juice to a syrup.

I separated a lot of eggs and whipped up the meringue. This is my favorite part. I love whipping egg whites to stiff peaks.

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I spooned a hefty dollop of white fluff onto each cooled cup and there was a whole bowl of extra meringue. I ate some. (Voice 2: Actually, you ate a lot.)

[Excuse me. I must attend to the next step of Pie 17.0.]

I’m back. The little cups were adorable in the oven.

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And they came out lovely in the end, despite not having a crunchy bottom layer.

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Of course, I didn’t eat any of Pie 16.0 because, you know, rhubarb.

(Reveal: Pie 17.0 (only about 1 hour of prep time!), is my second savory pie. I know. I told you I’d avoid these based on the yucky Jerk Chicken fiasco of the summer. Yet, here I am. Trying again. She’s in the oven and the place smells delicious. Stay tuned for pictures.)

Laura’s Chicken Pot Pie

Laura’s Chicken Pot Pie

Ten years ago minus ten days, our chicken pot pie tradition began. It was Halloween and the doorbell kept ringing. Our kids were gone to college and beyond. We existed in the eerily quiet empty gap years between sending our girls off to start their lives and welcoming grandchildren, so we fought over answering the door to see the goblins and fairies.

I was covered up to my elbows with flour from the pie crust I rolled. Chicken chunks browned in butter in the pan. An open can of vegetables waited by the sour cream for mixing, and the preheating oven took the early fall chill from the kitchen. We were hungry and trying not to eat too much candy while we waited for our dinner to bake.

I cleaned up and let Mike answer the door for a while, tired from the day of teaching and research and thinking about an upcoming presentation I’d make in seminar. Time flies when I’m busy and soon the tricksters were home counting their loot and we could eat real food: my first chicken pot pie.

As a chemist, I know how to cook without a recipe. The gravy had thickened, the chicken had browned. The crust rolled like a dream. Yet when I sliced into the steaming pie, my knife hit solid. A stone? A bone? What in the world lurked at the bottom of my beautiful pie?

I used a spoon to scoop the first piece. It was heavy and fell apart as I lifted. With a tingling clink, a spoon (not my scooper) crashed to the table. A spoon. Baked in the pie. “Little Jack Horner…eating his Christmas pie…stuck in his thumb, pulled out a plum…”

You know what we did, of course. We chucked the hot and slimy spoon into the sink and ate it anyway. The only other available food was chocolate. And the pie, flavored by spoon, was delicious.

I remembered this baking fiasco this morning while I whipped up this year’s chicken pot pie. I won’t be home on Halloween, so the tradition must be flexible. There is no recipe to follow. It’s just in my head. But today I paid attention, so I give this pie to you. Try it and let me know how you do.

Laura’s Spoon-free Chicken Pot Pie

THE FILLING

Brown a small chopped yellow onion in a blob of melted butter in a frying pan. Add about 1.5 pounds of chunks of boneless chicken thighs and brown. Add a half a cup of water and a package of brown gravy (or mushroom, or chicken, or whatever kind of powdered gravy you like). Stir in and boil for a minute. Then cover the pan and turn off the heat while you make the crust.

THE CRUST

Preheat the oven to 375F. Place a cookie sheet in the oven for the pie to bake on, to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom.

Mix 2.25 cups flour with a teaspoon of salt. Cut in 1 stick of butter. Add about a quarter or a third of a cup of sour cream and stir. Add milk to form dough. I just pour it from the jug. I think I added ~2 tablespoons milk and stirred, and then ~2 more tablespoons and stirred. You can tell you added enough when the flour is all wet (but not sticky) and the dough forms a ball when you stir with a fork. If it feels really sticky, add handfuls of flour and remix as needed.

No need to knead the dough. Just squeeze it all together and then rip it in half. Use your hands to form a ball, then flatten the ball and pinch around the edges to smooth it out before you roll it out on floured waxed paper (two 2-foot long pieces overlapped on the long edge by about three inches) until the circle is at least four inches larger in diameter than your pie pan. Try my flip trick: Put your forearm over the middle of the dough and lift the edge of the wax paper with your other hand to flip it into the pie pan. I put the pie pan on the right. Use my right forearm, and lift the waxed paper with my left hand. If you have trouble on your first try, don’t worry. That’s the bottom crust. Just do it the other way on the top crust (in a few minutes). Roll out the top crust and leave it there while you work on the filling again.

Back to THE FILLING

Stir in ~0.5 cup of sour cream. Stir in a drained 29 ounce can of mixed vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you have no idea how much to add, just don’t. You can add it when you eat it. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the solids to the pie shell. Boil down the remaining gravy and juices to about half volume and then spoon over the filling.

Back to THE CRUST

Do your flip trick to put the top crust on the pie. Fold the two layers of crust together and under all the way around. Pinch the edges to seal. You can press with a fork, or use your thumb and finger. I use the edge of my straight thumb and above the knuckle of my bent pointer finger. I suggest spinning the pie clockwise (and pinching around counter-clockwise) if you are right handed, or the other way for lefties. Do a light pinch at about 45 degrees. It’s more a press down than a pinch together. Lift your hand and place your thumb in the dent from your pointer finger and continue around. I usually give it an extra spin and re-pinch as needed. Use a pointy knife to make steam holes on the top.

Refer to my pictures to guide you so you know how it should look if all goes right. No need to bake in a spoon. It tastes the same either way, but it’s easier to slice without the metal surprise.

Bake for 10 minutes at 375F, then turn down the oven to 350F for 30-40 more minutes. The filling is already cooked, so you are really trying to bake and brown the crust. Keep an eye on it and don’t let it burn.

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Note: On the second day, after resting in the fridge, slicing cold, and reheating, this chicken pot pie tastes even better. Some kind of magic.