The Life Around Pie.

IMG_5407

I am a pie snob, and I admit this with pride.

We had 14 people coming to our house for the annual Groff 4th of July party this past Saturday night and I woke up that morning with a wretched sore throat that was doing its best to spread its wickedness throughout my body.

I had 3 pies to create because homemade pie at our annual function is now a time-honored tradition. It didn’t matter that I was feeling poorly, those pies needed to come together.

Some people believe pie simply comes from the freezer section of their grocery store.

Some people have never made a real pie, and could give a fig whether or not they ever do, but . . .

I’m willing to bet something of value that a respectable majority of the masses adore a really good piece of homemade pie—which, to my means and methods—means the pie crust has to be a lard-based crust. (Groan if you want, but on this I am immovable.)

I was fortunate to watch and learn from the real experts: my mother, my paternal grandmother and a couple of aunts in busy ordinary family kitchens. It had nothing to do with expensive granite counter tops, or designer light fixtures—or even degrees from prestigious culinary schools with familiar-sounding acronyms.

These women learned their pie tricks out of necessity for feeding families and large work crews.

Back to my sore throat and not feeling in the most “pie-baking” mood Saturday morning.

Because I was feeling awful, I worked slower than I normally do.

I took my time with the process. I rinsed and peeled, and washed and diced and sliced and grated and measured. With the fillings mixed up and waiting in their bowls, I turned my attention to rolling out the bottom crusts, and it hit me.

You are in this moment only. Feels good, doesn’t it? 

You are not rushing; thinking about what you’ll do after this. 

You don’t do this nearly enough, but you need to.

I took my time rolling out each crust—testing it for uniform thickness, adjusting it a bit here and there, then ever so gently arranging it in its pie plate before repeating that process two more times.

Stirring and scraping the fillings: fresh blueberry with lemon zest, rhubarb (from my garden) mixed with market strawberries spiked up a bit with freshly grated orange zest and just a touch of fresh ground nutmeg–for the second pie, and of course, apple pie for the third. I like to add fresh lemon zest to my apple pies as well because freshly zested citrus makes anything rock to the next level up.

I dabbed on the butter pieces—real butter, of course—and then rolled out the decorative top crusts, once again laying them in place, taking care not to stretch or tear, trimming excess dough, tucking and rolling the edges, before giving them finger-formed edges.

IMG_5405

 

IMG_5409

There really is nothing better than working with your hands.

Perhaps you won’t believe me, but I swear my throat wasn’t hurting nearly as badly once those pies went into the oven to bake, and I realized I’d enjoyed my creative time at that dusty flour counter to its maximum potential.

IMG_5411

 

IMG_5412

It takes practice at being in the moment, and I have been painfully negligent as of late in my practice of that art.

There are always deadlines to meet, the next interview to locate and set up, the myriad of things that always need doing around the house, the yard, volunteer duties, and so forth. It becomes too easy to live to rush toward that next task or duty or promise—or “always wanted to try that . . .”, and before I know it—I’m not even trying to stand in the moment and enjoy where I am. This simply is not good.

A friend recently asked me some pointers about starting her novel.

I told her to make sure she had a ball writing her first draft, because it may just be the most fun she’ll have with it.

Practicing what we preach can be such hard work, don’t you agree?

IMG_5422 trimmed up

 

Just for grins—here’s my family’s lard pie crust recipe. Just in case you want to try your hand at one.☺

Grandma Z’s Pie Crust

3 cups white flour

1-1/3 cup of lard

3/4 tsp salt

Mix flour and salt together, cutting in the cold lard with pastry cutter until crumbly, then add the following combined mixture:

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp cider vinegar

5 TBLS ice cold water

Mix, by hand, until smooth, shape into a disk before wrapping and chilling in refrigerator for several hours.

A few pointers:

  • Be sure the lard is cold.
  • I always use a  pastry cutter to work the lard into the dry ingredients.
  • Be sure the   and water mixture, as well, is very cold. (I ice a glass of water  first, then measure out my 5 TBLS of water and add the vinegar.)
  • Do  not overwork the dry ingredients/lard mixture. Just get them worked into a small crumb mixture and then add the wet ingredients.
Advertisements

How about a cinnamon roll to go with that cup of winter?

It’s taking me a while to move into the New Year. I can’t explain it, so I’m not going to waste my time—or yours—trying to figure out why. 

I’ve chosen to offer up a bit of winter living fun for this week, instead of trying to conjure up some forced content, intent, wisdom, or other cute-ism—when it really doesn’t want to come this week. 

Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. 

When I was a kid we used to fill our snow-vacation days with sledding—and baking. The snow and winds flew furiously outside—and the recipe card box and electric mixer dominated the kitchen counter. If the memory doesn’t fail me, I believe the first pineapple upside down cake I made (a real one—nothing from a store-bought kit) took place during one of the many raging blizzards NW Iowa used to get. It is a fine memory, and my early culinary training was well served by glorious, knee-deep winter storms that shut our school system down for days at a time. We rarely get those levels of blizzards any more where we live now. 

When the snow finally found its way to Iowa last week the baking bug hit, and thoughts of homemade cinnamon rolls became too much for me to resist. 

This week I share the recipe I acquired during my 8th grade baking class. The class was segmented into baking teams—four girls to a team. The results of our individual team efforts ranged from gi-hugic rolls rising over the top of the pan, tender and fairly delicious–to pathetic little gut bombs that never had a fighting chance and would have made fine cinnamon-flavored adobe bricks. 

I’m also sharing a more convenience-food type of recipe approach to cinnamon pull aparts for those who might not want to try their hand at mixing up sweet dough from scratch. 

Really—what could possibly be better than fresh hot just-made cinnamon rolls from the oven, while the snow overtakes everything outdoors? 

Easy Cinnamon Roll Sweet Dough 

2 c. warm water

2 pkgs. dry yeast

½ c. sugar

2 tsp. salt

6-1/2 to 7 c. flour (I find that 6-1/2 is plenty)

1 egg, beaten

¼ c. very soft butter 

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the sugar, salt and 2 cups of flour. Beat for 2 minutes. Add the egg and softened butter, and then continue adding in the remaining flour. 

Put dough in a greased bowl and let rise. 

Roll out the dough into 12 x 15 inch rectangles; brush on generous amounts of melted butter, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, before rolling up jelly-roll style and cutting into individual cinnamon rolls—the size of your choosing. 

If you wish to make caramel rolls, combine the following ingredients in a heavy pan, bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved and then pour into the bottom of your prepared baking pan before placing the cut cinnamon rolls on top to rise. 

Caramel: 

1 c. brown sugar

2 Tbls white syrup

2 Tbls butter

1 Tbls water 

Let the rolls raise 45-60 minutes before baking at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes, careful not to let the tops get overly brown. 

If you used the caramel, turn the rolls upside down while still hot to remove them from the pan and allow to cool on waxed or parchment paper. 

Frost with simple white icing, if desired.  

Pull-Aparts

 

2 loaves frozen bread dough                 ½ c. brown sugar

½ butter                                                        ½ cup sweetened condensed milk

½ c. white sugar                                         Cinnamon

Thaw the bread dough; cut into 1-inch pieces and place in a 9×13-inch pan. Combine the remaining ingredients and heat until the butter is dissolved. Allow to cool. 

Pour the mixture over the pieces of bread dough in the pan and let rise until dough reaches the top of the pan. 

Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. Frost with simple white frosting and chopped nuts (if desired). 

If you plan to freeze these, hold off on frosting them until you are ready to serve. 

One-year old bloggist wants to share birthday cake with you.

“Pretending to be a normal person day after day is exhausting!”

     I turned one year old yesterday – October 4, 2011. Sorta’.

     Actually, Rebecca’s Notepad blog site turned one year old. 

     While I don’t mind telling people that I am a blogger, I’ve decided I want to upgrade that term to bloggist. Kind of like diarist, feminist, spiritualist, journalist, typist—you get my drift. The more common “er” ending feels a bit too conventional. 

     It’s been a full year of creative challenge and I have to tell you: I enjoy blogging. Proof: If  I don’t get at least one post up every week—I feel cranky and dissatisfied. I’ve had a small handful of weeks where I didn’t post, but I am happy with my first year’s stats. 

     This blog site averaged 450 views (“hits”) per month in her maiden year. I consider that number dang good progress for a first time blog effort, and I anticipate the coming year with this activity. Some people will tsk-tsk and say—‘big deal.’ That’s their prerogative, but I remind them that we all have to learn to crawl before we will walk—or run.  

     WordPress protects us from, as well as reports, when the spammers are hitting on us out here. For sure, there were some spam hits, but I’m happy to say they did not make up the majority of my numbers.

     A year ago I was tearing my hair out creating this site. Many thanks go out to my clever son-in-law “from up north,” who coached me as I navigated my way through the  WordPress learning curve.

     I know the blog is viewed by editors, poets, freelancing colleagues, novelists, spirituality practitioners and cooks–to name a few. How would that have happened if I hadn’t given in to that little nudging voice that said: “Start a blog. Do it now.”

     I have subscribers who I’ve never met, but who I thank for poking their head in, seeing something that made them want to subscribe—and for commenting when something resonated with them. That’s the satisfying part of this effort. And to my friends and family who come in, read, comment—or at least email me and tell me what they like—or what they don’t—and are willing to discuss the why or why not calmly and rationally. It can be done. 

     A blog needs to offer something to its reader. That’s why I decided to post a new recipe out here every week. I figured if my post didn’t work for you, you could at least pick up a recipe idea before you departed. (Everybody likes to eat—right?!) 

     Birthday parties need cake and presents, so I am offering you a few presents from me this week: 

  • The recipe for the cake in the mug shown above can be found on my Recipe Room tab. It doesn’t get much easier than this little gem.
  • One of the wisest bits of advice I’ve read recently–borrowed from a piece written by Amy Spencer on “How to Stop Procrastinating”: “Start your day over at 2 p.m,” she wrote. “At 2 p.m. every day, assess how much you’ve accomplished . . . grant yourself a second morning in the middle of the day.” This gives you a second chance with your work day and for a sense of control and accomplishment.
  • Treat yourself to a gorgeously performed and thought-provoking 4-minute song by the Canadian female singing group, Dala. My husband and I heard them in concert last weekend. Their talent for writing poetry and singing it blew us away. They wrote this song “Horses” after meeting a young man who’d been permanently damaged in an accident. I still can’t listen to it and remain dry-eyed knowing his story, but he obviously figured out how to sustain himself against life’s harshness.
  • A writing prompt for you this week that I used with my writing group recently.  Some of the writers were funny, some of my writers were pensive, sad—and some were deeply revealing and blunt. Freewriting is a gift we give ourselves. Don’t underestimate its power. See where this leads:

Write for 10 minutes on: “What I didn’t do this past summer.”

I hope you’ll continue to stop in as bloggist year number two gets underway.

Reading and drinking your way through summer

     You’d have to be living under a very, very, very large rock to not know that we here on the mainland are being boiled alive in our skins this summer. 

     Yesterday I took the day off. I laid around and read a fairly lite novel the whole of the day; finished it late last night. It helped take my mind off the ongoing blast from hell taking place outdoors and my continual moping and griping over shut windows and stale A/C’d air on top of checking in with the news to see how the Financial Circus in Washington DC was, or was not, moving along.

     It’s been way too long since I’ve taken such a day, and I have to tell you: it was the thing to do. The desire to bite the back end out of a charging grizzly bear was absent when I woke up this morning; this being a reeeeeally good thing. 

     I read one of the novels I bought on the after-Christmas sales last January: Gil McNeil’s – the beach street knitting society and yarn club. Booker Prize fiction it is not, but as I love anything that puts me into a small English village I was able to hang with it and it made for good fast entertainment. If you are offended by the f-bomb, or are British and shun the b-bomb word they use in place of our American f-bomb you might want to pass on this one. The way the protagonist relies on these words in her private thoughts as she continually gets pulled into doing things she doesn’t have time for, made her seem—well . . . maybe a tad bit frustrating at times. But it’s fiction; I got over it. 

     I’m offering you several marvelous cold drink recipes here today. When it’s this hot, we need something to comfort our misery. Sipping one of these and reading some lite fiction might be just the ticket for a break from whatever it is that is currently driving you up a wall. 

     Tonight I start on something completely different; The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. I love good introspective writing, and I have a feeling Willa will not let me down. I’m probably going to need a stiff drink while I read as the documentary I watched about her life suggested she was dealing with her own mortality as she wrote this book. 

     Hope you treat yourself to some of these delectable recipes.

Raspberry Lemonade

Makes 6 servings

 

2 cups (about 10 ounces) raspberries, rinsed

8 cups water

Juice of 4 lemons

½ cup of sugar, or to taste 

Mash the raspberries in a medium-mesh strainer with the back of a spoon until all the pulp has passed through, leaving the seeds. Combine the raspberry pulp with water and the remaining ingredients. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add more sugar or lemon juice, if you desire. Serve immediately or chill for up to 2 days. Always stir before serving.

Lemon Milk Shakes

In a covered electric blender, and on low speed, blend:

3 cups milk

1 – 3-3/4 oz pkg. instant lemon pudding mix

½ pint vanilla ice cream  

Blend this until mixture is frothy.

Makes four 8 oz. servings 

Iced Tea Slush 

Boil 8 tea bags in 4 cups of water for 30 minutes 

Add:

2 cans large frozen lemonade

2 cans small frozen orange juice

14 cups boiling water

2 cups bourbon or vodka (I fail to see why rum wouldn’t work, too!) 

Freeze and then thaw to a slush before serving.

Skip and Go Nakeds 

Combine the following in a blender: 

1 6 oz can lemonade concentrate

6 oz. of vodka

6 oz. of beer (not dark)

6-7 ice cubes. 

Blend it well and enjoy! 

Strawberry Spritzer 

1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen strawberries, thawed

1 bottle white wine, chilled

14 oz. soda water, chilled

Fresh strawberries for garnish

Place undrained strawberries in a blender, cover and blend until smooth In a large glass pitcher, combine blended strawberries with win and soda water. Pour into wine glasses and garnish each with fresh strawberry. 

Daiquiri Punch

 

1 6 oz. can of limeade

6 oz. rum

12 oz. water

1-1/2 cans of Squirt soda pop

Combine and serve on ice.

                   Blended Peach Slush

1 6 oz. can pink or regular lemonade concentrate

6 oz. vodka

2 fresh peaches, peeled and sliced.

10 ice cubes 

Place all ingredients in blender. Blend until well-mixed. Serve immediately in stemmed wine glasses. 

Of course you can make this slush without the vodka . . . why, I don’t know, but you can if you feel you must. :-p

Eggs or words–cracking your way into creation.

Just about ready to finish and bake!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Iowa Egg Council’s 26th Annual Cooking Contest concluded on Saturday as we ten finalists measured, stirred, cooked, baked and presented our individual recipe creations to a panel of 4 judges at the Botanical Center  in Des Moines.

I took 2nd Place, good for a $400.00 check. This was pure fun, mixed in with perhaps a few butterflies when it looked like the table-top gas plate wasn’t going to boil the water for my pasta and the ovens were not keeping up with our baking requirements. 

You will be able to access a copy of all the contestant recipes and view pictures of the Cook-Off Event on the Iowa Egg Council web site at www.iowaegg.org within a few days. I am not allowed to post it here as one of the stipulations for entering the contest was that the recipes become the property of the Iowa Egg Council for their marketing/promotion for the egg producing industry in our state. This doesn’t bother me in the least—I believe in supporting our local people and small business owners to the max. 

200 recipes were submitted for this year’s recipe competition. From those the field was narrowed to 30 which were then tested in the kitchens at Iowa State University. Ten finalists were selected from that pool to compete at a live cook-off. There were two classes for this contest: Junior (6th -12 grades) and Adult—anything over 12th grade. ☺ 

It was a brand new experience for me as the event was open to the public, and people were welcome to come up and ask us questions and watch as we cooked. That not only added to the fun but to the challenge, because one didn’t want to forget to dump in the right amount of flour, or forget to stir in the parmesan cheese, yet one wanted to expand on and answer the questions about one’s recipe. You find out how well you function and respond under pressure, and I highly recommend challenging yourself in this fashion at some point. You may surprise yourself. 

People wanted to know how I came up with this idea of creating an egg-bound angel hair pie crust that I then filled with a different type of quiche filling that used no milk or cream. Instead, I combined havarti/dill cheese with cottage cheese and sour cream, tightened with a little bit of flour with crispy bacon and pimento thrown into the mix. It worked. The quiche pie has a chewy al dente crust that underscores a creamy, tangy filling. 

The process for creating new recipes isn’t a whole lot different than coming up with story ideas for writing. The new recipe idea came to me from a lifelong habit of reading cookbooks and other people’s recipes. I pulled something from one recipe, along with a unique element from a still another source, and then my desire to have a different kind of crust instead of the usual pastry type, and thus Angel Hair Pasta Quiche came into being.

The usual trial-and-error system comes into play for cooking or baking something new the first time, just like the beginning drafting work on a written piece. If something bakes crooked, or refuses to reach the done phase, you toss it out and start over again. Just like the writing process. If the sentences won’t come together to make the point you thought they would, you pull up a clean sheet and take another whack at it. 

The Food Network logo is indelibly embossed across our flat screen. My husband and I follow many of the shows and we learn something new practically every time we tune in. New food combinations are happening because people aren’t afraid to try using baking spices along with beef, or combine Italian spices into muffins or cake mixes. The old rules are acknowledged, but free-spirited creative souls realize that old rules must be broken if anything new is to come about. This is where breakthroughs are born. 

I will continue to read cookbooks, and study their beautiful pictures and descriptions just like I read and study other novelists, columnists and poets, allowing their input to blend with the way my brain works until one day—Voila! There will be a new idea waiting at the bottom of the mixing bowl to be left there or to be added to and finished into something. The choices or decisions will always be mine. 

The competition bug has bitten. I’m ready for another cooking competition. As I tried to lure my adrenaline-soaked brain to sleep Saturday night, a few ideas for the next egg recipe competition started swirling. 

The invigorating magic that happens when you befriend the creative juices inside your cranial cavity is worth the possibility of failure, because one day something clicks, and there is just nothing quite like it when that happens.

Baked to perfection and ready to rock and roll before the judging panel.

 

It ain’t all about writing—

What you see isn't necessarily what we got!

      It’s official. Last week I received my formal letter from the Iowa Egg Council notifying me that I am a finalist for their egg recipe cook-off to take place in Des Moines next month. Out of nearly 200 entries I am one of five finalists in the adult level; there are five finalists at the student level. The ten of us will have to prepare/plate and serve our recipe in front of judges and spectators as we vie for generous cash prizes. 

     I’d noticed their ad calling for original recipes using eggs in the Food Section of the Cedar Rapids Gazette back in February. I can’t help myself: I love to enter cooking competitions every now and then. I’ve managed to earn second and third placements in a couple of competitions in the past, and I’ve taken first in a couple of others. 

     At this time I cannot share the recipe, but I can tell you I will be competing in the entrée category with a recipe that requires 6 eggs. We were to submit an original recipe creation of our own and we had a limit of 12 ingredients for it. The egg content only had to count as one ingredient. 

     I read cookbooks. I’ve done this since I was little. I think the word for it is inherent. It won’t surprise me if I ask them to wait with the last nail on my coffin someday: 

     “Can’t you give me just one more day? I didn’t get a chance to make that black-bottomed pie yet . . .” 

     You could say I’m obsessive when it comes to cookbooks or clipping recipes. There are 4 wide shelves of cookbooks down in our kitchen and big accordion folders full of “want to make someday” clipped recipes. It really is an addiction, but I can think of far worse so I don’t let it bother me. 

     Writing can stir up a nervous energy in me that borders on hyperactive, and the best way for me to funnel that into something manageable is to involve myself in a different kind of creative project for a while. This is where the dirt flinging and yard work–or communing with the mixer, measuring spoons and a cookbook comes in handy. 

     It’s interesting that in both writing and cooking, you really end up being in competition with yourself. You might give it your best try the first time around, or what you think is your best, and somehow it doesn’t read right, or it doesn’t turn out like the picture in the cookbook. So you try it again, and the results seem to be a little better this time. You’re encouraged, but you want to change a few more things and give it yet another try, and so it goes–a new business article, the personal essay or a novel–soufflé, crème brulee, or the healthiest chocolate chip cookie around. 

     I am so pumped for this upcoming cook-off! I plan to have fun with the whole event. I also intend to give it my best shot.☺

Author’s note: The cake pictured in this post is a birthday cake I made for my husband a couple of years ago. Looks perfect, doesn’t it? Guess again—it was the worst tasting cake I’ve ever made in my life. Give me ordinary white flour over ‘cake flour’ any day!

Of course writing and cookies are connected!

Nutmeg Butter Sugar Cookies

They’re coming– 

And you know you want them.

You do, so stop denying it.

The holiday cookies are just waiting to overtake you, your scale, and bust that needle into a million unrecognizable pieces—until January 1 arrives, that is. 

This is a Swedish recipe. I’m part Norwegian, but what the heck—I make them anyway. We’re all from the same neck of the woods. 

These are quick, easy and good.

 1-2-3 Kakor

½ cup sugar

1 cup butter

2 cups flour

1-1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine the 4 ingredients and roll into small balls. 

Make a deep impression in each ball with your thumb, and fill with jam of your choice. 

Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. 

This recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies. 

“Becky Crocker” says: Match the jam colors to the holiday/occasion you are baking for. {Just kinda’ makes you want to tie on a vintage type apron, doesn’t it— ;-}

AUTHOR NOTE: Remember? I did tell you this blog site was about the 360-degree writing life. In December cookies ARE a part of my life. 😉