Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Waiting on a plane (or two)

I’m leaving.  There’s a jet plane involved.  And you know what, I really don’t know exactly when I’ll be back again.  (Could there be a bigger cliché?)

For a new life phase/leap/whatever-this-will-be, I launched a new blog devoted to my experience in India.

(I’ll be updating this one from time to time, too.. maybe.. we’ll see.)

So kiss me and smile for me.  (And read my blog and please! keep in touch.)


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Goodbye (to pie)

An early (and final!) installment of  the Summer o' Pies:

The last pie of the summer is a Southern classic: Chocolate Chess Pie.  Mom used to stop at the bakery next to the train depot in downtown Lawrenceville where they made the best Chocolate Chess Pie.  (Told you it was a Southern classic - there's cornmeal in this recipe, y'all.)  Raechel and I loved these things.

Because time is short and I really shouldn't be baking today, I cheated and used a store bought crust.

This pie is very unique. I think it's technically a custard pie, but it doesn't follow the rules.  It's a unique texture, a unique mixing method, has unique ingredients.  There aren't many pies that contain cornmeal nor that mix flour and sugar together in the dry ingredient stage nor that call for melted butter.

This pie is chocolate. 

Southern, unique, chocolate.  This was the natural choice for my final pie.  We'll have it for dessert tonight.

Like I said, time is short.  The pie is in the oven now.  I might update with pics later.  (Yes, I did already have a picture of cocoa powder on my computer.  There might be a photo shoot's worth of them - what exactly is your point?)

Goodbye, Summer o' Pie.

(Ok, I might have teared up like mad crazy listening to this song.. I have a lot going on in my head/heart at the moment.)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cherry and Peach and Pecan, oh my!

Three pies in one week might be a bit much, one might think. 

But the 4th of July at the beach begs for a cherry pie, don't you think?  Besides, I had the handy assistance of my favorite sous chef.

The way she darts into the kitchen - "I wanna help make! Up, up!" - it makes my heart smile.

The pie was pretty good.  The condo kitchen was just small enough to make me kind of wish I had gone with store bought crust, but it turned out ok anyway.

Check it out y'all.  That star is hand carved.  And those cherries - hand pitted by my sister and me.

This morning, the aroma of peach and cinnamon waft through the dining room tempting me to taste-test the pies that I've made for today's get together.  I..must..resist.

The peach pie is topped with a crumble topping - yes, you read that right.  Maybe that is a little over the top, but this is the Summer o' Pie after all.

I tasted a bit of the filling that dripped out and a crust crumb that was dangling from the edge.  Let's just say I'm ready for dessert today!

Oh, and there's a chocolate pecan pie too - because people deserve options, right?  The pecans, glazed with syrupy goodness, are shiny and fragrant. 

Seriously, is it time for dessert yet??  Seriously.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Comfort Foods

Many people find comfort in familiar, filling, yummy foods.  For me, cooking busies my hands and mind and takes me out of my head, which is something that I sometimes desperately need.  And so, cooking and baking is a wonderful comfort.  This week is proof of that.

A sampling: chocolate chip cookies, pasta with white wine sauce, crab cakes with remoulade, sautéed Swiss chard, and of course a vegetarian (don’t tell Dad) pot pie and a mixed berry pie.

Knowing I’d probably be home late, I made the pot pie filled with leeks and potatoes and mushrooms and more on Wednesday morning and left instructions for whoever arrived home first.  

The crust was flaky, the veggies flavorful, and the gravy just-thick-enough – a success.  (Dad wants me to point out that he baked it off to the perfect brownness.)

Thursday I made a mixed berry pie for my brother-in-law.  (Again, I hope he got a slice.)  

I don’t typically do "pretty" food, but I was inspired by the cuteness of this polka dotted pie.  And guess what I discovered in my mom’s cabinets.  Yep, a decorative pie crust cutter – who knew these existed?  My mom in all her domestic goddess-ness did, that’s who.  

I realized that once baked the little hearts would morph into circles, so I documented the unbaked design here.

By the time I trudged through unlikely traffic on the way to my sister’s house, some pie juices had leaked, but my car was filled with dough-y, berry-y fragrance.  I did take a taste of a heart that fell into said juices, and it was buttery tastiness.  Otherwise, I take my sister’s word that it was good.

Ok, I am going to take a moment to brag.  My pie crust is becoming a thing of wonder – so flaky and brown-able:

The trick is to follow the directions without being afraid of messing it up.  And to forgo the food processer.  Use your fingers, folks.  Get to know your food.  I’ve taken Julia Child’s No Fear, No Apologies, Hands-On approach to cookery to heart.  (I’m currently reading “My Life in France” and feel that Julia and I are kindred spirits.)

I’m feeling a little better today.

Yes, next time I’m feeling down, you should ask me to stay with you.  I will cook.  It will be good for the both of us.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Southern Summer Night

Lying in the grass with a dog, a glass of wine (or two), and the shining moon, watching the fireflies lit away.  There’s nothing quite like a Southern Summer Night. 

After the pie-making, the heat of the day, the tears, the cuteness of a child, the companionship of a sister, and the sweat, it is a lovely relief.

Ok, ok, there was also a bat flitting around in that Tennessee-Williams-esque night.  But nature gives us all of these things - the coolness of the night, the dog, the moon, the wine, the bugs and the bats. The bats are unpleasant, maybe a bit off-putting, but they are true.  It is reality.  Reality sometimes bites. (OMG with the puns already, I know.)

The night, so lovely… and the bats. Sweet and bitter.

Maybe it was the Southern Summer Night.  But it sure felt right.

There’s a song that goes along with these images.  But it doesn’t exactly fit the sentiment and I’ve been doing too many songs-with-posts lately, so I’ll just link to “Maybe it was Memphis” here. You can listen and enjoy the 90s’ styles (a la country music) if you so choose – at one point there’s an oversized plaid shirt, big bangs, and a cotton field y’all. I do love this song, fyi. Pam Tillis is feeling it, too. (If you don’t watch it now, I don’t know what to say.  I did what I could.)

You should for-def check out this blog for visual and quote-y inspiration though.

Be inspired and go, inspire.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sometimes a pie just doesn't cut it. Some days require the hard stuff.  And sometimes it's not enough.

Chocolate chips cookies can only do so much.

Words are not enough.  That is for sure.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Such a tart!

Low-fat lemon pie and a fig tart - this week’s pies were such tarts! Don’t spread that around, will you?

Excuse the punny-ness.  I’m afraid that this is a trend that will last at least until the summer o’ pies ends.  All the sugar is going to my head.  Please note that my sense of humor is engulfed by my anglophile tendencies.  Britain = my heartthrob.  All of this Olympics/Jubilee/Prince-William-turning-30 nonsense doesn’t help, ok? 

Anyway, back to the pies. 

Dad requested lemon pie for Father’s Day – technically this is a cream pie and doesn’t fit in my fruit pie theme, but it was Father’s Day and lemon is a fruit... 

I found this Weight Watcher’s recipe that served as a perfect end to the roast chicken, green beans, and grilled bread and corn-on-the-cob.  We could all use a little low-fat as we approach the middle of this pie thing.  Plus, it was a satisfying way to encourage Dad to stick to what should be his diet. (Although, I will say low-fat graham cracker crust is crumbly without all the butter to bind it… but still tasty.)

Tart and creamy, they were right when they said that you should make two of these.  My brother-in-law, who had to work on Father’s Day, may or may not have tasted this pie depending on whether or not my sister needed another slice after we left their house.

I mentioned the figs, yes? I couldn’t not make a pie. 

I planned to make a beautiful formed tart using my mother’s tart pan with its crimped ridges and removable bottom, but alas I couldn’t find the bottom.  It has to be here somewhere!

No matter, from perfectly formed to free-form we go.  Increase the oven temp and make your own edge around the frangipane and fig filling.

The frangipane, btw, is super-duper dangerous.  Simple to make and tasting of almond danish, I am tempted to buy puff pastry and slather this stuff on it…mmmmmmmm… C’est dangereux.  Also, I can’t pronounce “frangipane” in English without sounding like a hick and I feel like such a jerk saying it in French, so I will refrain from saying this word aloud.  From here on out it will be an almond pastry cream.

Anyway, I’ve had far too much of this rich tart this week.  What, tart for breakfast is frowned upon?  And then another slice for dessert at dinner is bad too? 

Ok, ok, I feel bad.  I’m going to swim a few laps before this day starts.  Maybe I’ll take a break from sweet pies this week and go for a pot pie instead.  Although today is my brother-in-law’s birthday… We shall see.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Many the miles: how far we've come.

I finally got around to the purging and organizing I mentioned earlier this week.  And it's official. I was a better grown up when I was 22. I had my suspicions.  The well-organized "Taxes" folder from 2007 confirms it.  Back then I kept personal files, balanced my checkbook (in a checkbook), and regularly wrote letters to friends - just because. And had a salary at a stable job.

But I was stagnant.  Stagnant at 22 feels like . . . feels like running on a treadmill.  You are exerting all of this energy moving and breathing and sweating, but you are going nowhere, looking at the same spot on the wall, and thinking nonstop.  You know it's for a good cause, but at the same time you are slowly becoming more annoyed, reaching the point of insanity for running and running and getting nowhere.  It's exhausting.

I understand that some people don't feel the same way I do about that, though.

Another analogy: Stagnant at 22 feels like a 3-year-old must feel when she's put in timeout.  It feels like a tragedy, like the worst thing that could have happened, as if you'll be stuck in this spot for the rest of your life! It feels like that. Only you put yourself in timeout.  And you can make choices to get out of that corner.

I wasn't actually miserable.  It certainly wasn't a real tragedy.  But I wasn't exactly happy either.  And then I met a lady at my apartment complex's pool.  She was visiting her son who was in school at UT. She was one of those over-sharers.  I don't remember everything she said to me, but I do remember this:

Her hope for her son was that he would wait to settle down with a job and a family so that he could see the world.  Her one regret is that she didn't travel when she was young - that she didn't do all the things she had wanted to do.

About 9 months later I quit my job and went on this crazy, tear-filled, wrinkle-producing, amazing journey that has brought me to this moment, less than 3 weeks away from India. I'm more comfortable in my own skin.  I know that this next step is the right one for me.  I know that there's a lot that I don't know - I most certainly don't know what my life has in store for me - but I'm ok with that (most days).  I know there are a lot more things out there that I want/need/just-have-to-do.  I am more aware of what I want.  Progress has been made.

Progress doesn't always look like what you think it will.

"Send me the miles, and I'll be happy to follow you." Love. (And the sunsets, oh the sunsets.)

(I think I will start writing more letters again.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A sweet surprise

The figs, which usually feature in August, came early this year.  Darn the mild (or really, nonexistent) winter and strangely mild summer, thus far.  I had just told my little (not-so-little) brother a few weeks ago that he was going to have to pick the figs this year since I won’t be in GA come August.  Alas, they came early and we lost a good pound or two of figs to the birds and the bugs.  But the good news is, I love picking and eating and cooking with the figs and I was going to miss doing so this year, had they come when they should.

The fig tree grows at the side of my parents’ house.  We never pay it any attention – really, none – until it is time to check on the figs.  And the figs are always plump and sweet – and abundant!  Picking figs is a sticky, sweaty, itchy task; but for fresh, tree-ripened sugary pink figs, it is well worth it.  It’s hard to find good fresh figs in markets, and harder still to keep them that way if you’ve picked them after they are ripe – which is why it is hard to find them for sale.  If you enjoy figs, you should really plant a fig tree.  Transplanting is apparently easy - come over and borrow a branch if you know how to do that!

Mom happened to notice that the figs ripened as she was preparing for her girls’ trip this week and sent me a text on her way to Florida that they were ready to be picked.  (My mom is so hip with her girls’ vacation and her texting – she uses “u” for “you,” y’all.  This makes me chuckle.)

So I harvested them last night as the sun was setting.  Still humid and sticky, the itch and pleasure of picking the figs was just perfect.  I only managed to salvage one pot full of figs from being over-ripened or eaten by nature.  But it seems that there will be two distinct crops of figs this year.  There are plenty of green nubs to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.  (Listen to me, as if I know anything about growing fruit!)

The fruit is perfectly magenta-tasting – the word nectar comes to mind.  I’ve already made my pie for this week, but this lovely gift begs for a tart to be made.  This is also an excuse to make frangipane, which I have never made before.  

Ok, so tonight I’ll make pie dough and purchase almonds – and then I’ll organize all the paperwork and pictures from the past 10 or so years of my life that currently litter my bedroom, I promise!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pie to-go

This week's pie: triple stone fruit pie.  Your food lesson for this week: a stone fruit is any fruit that has a pit.  I used nectarines, plums, and apricots in this application.  (Side note: I had never tasted a fresh apricot before Thursday.  I like it - very tropical and sweet.) 

The consistency was lovely and the flavors were right - I added cinnamon and ginger (and nutmeg... I love nutmeg). However, I wasn't completely satisfied with this pie.  It was a little too tart for some palates due to the plums and the crust could have been prettier. 

But I do like a little tartness and my new go-to pie taster assured me that the tartness wouldn't even be noticeable with a scoop of ice cream on the side.  (And pie should always have the option of ice cream on the side, really.)  And I'll work on the crust.

I couldn't think of anyone in particular who would love this pie, so I packed up a few slices for my mom and her employees for lunch on Friday.

I sometimes find myself sounding like some of my favorite Food Network cooks when I think/talk about food.  Can't you just hear Ina Garten saying, "Pie for dessert at lunch on a Friday, who wouldn't like that?"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tales of a Scar
I was vaccinated today.  Every time I get vaccines I tell them that yes, I had the chicken pox when I was a kid and I don’t need the varicella shot.  They write it in my chart but continue to ask.  It’s true, I did have the disease.  I have the scars to prove it.

Chicken pock indentions remain on the ridge of my nose and on my forehead.  The marks on our bodies are reminders of our past.  Even if we don’t notice them every day, these marks have left us changed; proof that we survived, we tried new things, we made decisions (good and bad), we jumped, and we struggled – we lived.

This scar on my lower lip most people mistake for a freckle.  I was probably four or so when I decided I wanted to shave my lips like I had seen my dad do.  I remember locking the bathroom door, looking in the mirror, and then crying in the corner with toilet paper pressed to my face hoping the parents wouldn’t notice that I did something bad. They did notice, but I’m pretty sure they let the punishment be the natural consequence of my actions – this purple scar.

The white scar on my left thigh is the result of a rusty spring flying off of the trampoline we bounced on in the back yard.  I jumped on it for years after that.  Scars on my chin and head and pinky tell similar tales of play.

You can still see the scratches on my hands and arms that frightened cats left there when I would hug  them as a tot who didn’t understand why they didn’t love me as much as I loved them.

The peeling skin on my left forefinger tells of my recent baking expeditions.

The lines beginning to become permanent on my forehead are from the years of cynicism and skepticism that I can’t seem to escape.  

The parentheses framing my mouth are proof that I do have emotions - even if they are not always evident to you.  If you look, you’ll see that you’ve made me smile infinitely, that I’ve been sad and angry, that I’ve laughed and been blissfully and painfully tired.

Yes, our bodies are reminders that we’ve lived.  I hear that this truth becomes stronger as we continue to live and love and do (read: as we age).  

Thanks for letting me tell you my stories from time to time.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Crustless Apple Pie

Ok, so it wasn't pie; it was a crisp, technically. And ok, I am late posting this, but it was made last week. 

And it was made in a pie plate. And it is pie filling with what could be pie topping.  There was just no crust.

When you make the rules to these games you are playing for yourself, you can bend them any way you want.  That's surely one perk of going your own way.  (Eek, don't let me start quoting Fleetwood Mac!)

But the "crustless apple pie" was pretty scrumptious with the apples baked with cinnamon and nutmeg and the crispy oatmeal topping.  And it was shared with amazing friends in an amazing city, making it even better.

Marking my to do list: New Orleans, check.

So now, back home with a belly full of seafood laced with grease and love, I wonder, "Can this girl get enough New Orleans to last a whole year?"  The answer to that is most resoundingly no, but it will have to do I guess.

And so the missing of people and places and things begins.


Things like that are the downside of going your own way. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

All I've got for you

Here are the only thoughts I have for you this week:

I just killed a tree working on this application for a visa.  And my mom totally vetoed my passport-sized pictures accompanying it, with an "Oh. Amber." and a sideways glance.  (Too bad, Ma.) But it is done.

Earlier this week I learned how to properly use a handtruck on a steep hill without sending boxes rolling down it, a la Jack and Jill.

I've determined that unpacking is far more tedious than packing, evidenced by the state of my bedroom right now.  (Don't look!)

The task list is getting smaller.  Next task: NOLA. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Strawberry Fool Pie . . . no offense

The classic British dessert, strawberry fool, always makes me feel apologetic.  Maybe it is named such because it’s so darn easy to make.  And it’s so delicious – any fool would like it!  (Insert pun-tastic-ness here.)

So how do you make a healthy snack of fresh fruit even more delicious? 

Puree fruit with sugar.  Whip up some cream. Fold it together. And add a chocolate cookie crumb crust. Chill.

And call it pie.

And call it yummy.  (I hope.)
Because this pie was a gift for a friend who is subletting my apartment, this was my only taste of the near final product:

May was a month of cream and custard pies (which was a happy accident).  June I think will be fruit pies.  The Strawberry Fool Pie, with its classic strawberry and cream filling, was a perfect transition. 

Anyone want to go farmer’s marketing with me to find some fruit to make less healthy??