The Life Around Pie.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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. 😉

Nourish the Magic (with fruitcake to boot!)

I offer you the gift of the attached video.  It epitomizes what it is that I love so much about the approaching holiday season, and about maintaining the child still in us.

The smell of Christmas spice is lingering in our house this morning. Over the weekend I baked fruitcake. I used two different recipes yielding six “bricks” as some fruitcake haters might call them. We don’t call them bricks around here—my family likes fruitcake. One recipe uses absolutely no “scary stuff”—those sticky, candied fruit peels. It requires only dried fruits of all kinds and three kinds of nuts. The other recipe has some of the scary stickies in it—and chocolate chips. Quite fun.

Last week when the temps hit 70 degrees one day I got a jump on the season and strung our Christmas lights across the bushes in front of our house. I also went browsing in a floral shop that is decorated for the Season already, and I bought this new snow globe. I picked it up and put it down twice before I decided to give myself permission to buy a new Christmas decoration. We hardly need another thing to be packed away after the day has come and gone, but this globe pulled me in when I turned its switch and watched the lights change color against the snow glitter inside. That evening when I saw the way it lit up the room with its “quiet” way, it reminded me of why I will never grow up completely. I don’t want to miss out on that simple magic.

I cringe when I hear people in the stores say things like, “Christmas isn’t that far off . . .” ‘Oh, I know . . . I’m just dreading it.’

Are you kidding me?! What’s to dread? Christmas isn’t the problem. We have a choice: allow the super-commercialization to clobber us and our debit cards over the head, or guard our time and energy for what really resonates with us.

There’s nothing Pollyanna about my approach here. I have a brother-in-law facing “suspicious” medical unknowns this week. My sister-in-law experienced a near-fatal medical episode a while back. A church I’ve been a part of for many years will decide this week if they need to close their doors; people will be losing their jobs. Friends of mine are dealing with job burn-out and are nowhere near retirement age. I am mindful and concerned for all of them.

I hope you haven’t grown up so much that you no longer ‘get it,’ and I also hope you will keep this snow globe handy for when things get crazy for you.

AUTHOR NOTE: The video was made while listening to the music of W.G. Snuffy Walden’s arrangement of “The First Noel,” as recorded on the CD titled: A Windham Hill Christmas. My family and I own a broad range of both Mr. Walden’s work as well as other Windham Hill musicians/products.

Feel like giving the eternally maligned fruitcake another chance? See if this recipe works for you.

 “No scary sticky things” Fruitcake

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. allspice

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. cloves

½ tsp. mace

½ tsp. nutmeg

½ cup melted butter

2 eggs

¾ cup black coffee (cold)

½ cup brown sugar

1 cup raisins

1 cup dried fruits (cherries, cranberries, craisins, peaches, apricots, etc.)

1 cup chopped dates

1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds or pecans—your choice)

1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

¼ cup rum or brandy (apple cider could be used, but why?)

DIRECTIONS:

 Mix the melted butter, eggs, rum and coffee together.

Add brown sugar and mix well.

Add rest of dry ingredients and place in a sprayed and floured loaf pans. I use two 8 x 4 inch loaf pans.

Bake for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until done. Test with a cake tester.

NOTE: Do not use glass baking dishes for this.

After cakes have cooled for 10 minutes, remove them from pans; allow to finish cooling, and then wrap well and freeze until needed.