Friday, August 15, 2008

Switzerland Calling: About Aprons and Apple Pie

The beauty of having an Internet connection (and a pie blog) is being able to stay in touch with friends, family, and news worldwide. Today I had two friends call me using Skype – a fabulous, free phone-like service that also allows you to see each other with video. One friend called from London, the other from Switzerland – to comment on Wednesday’s “Apron Collection” posting. Amazing! This is how pie can change the world, connecting people through a simple, delicious – and no, not that fattening! – subject. (Another friend had emailed from Portland saying, “Yes, the world – but not my butt – needs more pie.” Wrong! Pie is good for you! But that topic is for another day.)

Alayne, whose donated blue and white checkered apron was pictured fourth from the left, called from London to say she loved the pie blog. An hour later Eve Kamer, my friend from Switzerland (who I’ve known for 24 years!), called to tell me she recognized two of the aprons in the picture.

“You wore the red one on the far left when you made Thanksgiving dinner for us in Oberdiessbach four years ago. And I remember the white one too. I had never worn an apron until you showed up with your collection. In fact, I had never learned the English word for apron until that Thanksgiving. And, by the way, we still have your big pie dish.”

Eve brought up some great memories. I had always promised her family I would make them a real American Thanksgiving feast one day. I finally took the opportunity when I was living three hours away from them in Stuttgart, Germany. I spent days preparing ahead of time shopping for sweet potatoes (which are very hard to find in Europe), baking cranberry bread, and making several pumpkin pies. I made one apple pie too, just in case. (To me Thanksgiving is all about pumpkin!)

We indulged in this hearty meal at Eve’s house, a converted flour mill in the Swiss village of Oberdiessbach, 30 minutes outside of Bern. Eve’s mother, sister, two pre-teen daughters and six other friends came to partake in this American tradition. It was Eve’s mother who contributed a Swiss tradition: she taught me how to keep the turkey warm by placing a sheepskin rug over the (foil-covered) roasted bird. During the meal everyone took a turn saying a few words of gratitude – something I insist on at every Thanksgiving to bring home the point that this is, after all, a meal to give thanks – and finally we ate pie.

The pumpkin pie…well, my husband and I helped ourselves to large slices, while the Swiss each took just a tiny sliver, barely a taste. It appeared they were trying to be polite. But after the apple pie got passed around the dish had been picked so clean it looked like it had already been washed. “Next time you could make more apple,” Eve noted as we packed up the last of the turkey and potato leftovers.

While we were still connected on Skype, and since I was sitting at my computer anyway, I started hunting in my document folders for pictures from that Thanksgiving. “I can’t find any photos,” I told Eve. She said she didn’t think she had any either. “But I have the pictures you sent me from our ski trip in the Alps, that February after Thanksgiving.”

“In Visperterminen? Yes, that was the best apple pie,” she said. She remembers the pie I made that week in our rented Swiss Chalet; I remember the fondue. So there you have it: Two cultural food icons, two distinct memories, and one very long lasting friendship.

Before we signed off Skype I told Eve to just keep the pie dish.

* * * * * * * * * *
In the shadow of the Matterhorn... We spent a week (in the house pictured above) skiing, baking pie and eating lots of cheese in various melted forms. Below, Eve's two daughters and their friends dip forkfuls of bread into Fondue.

Here I am, apres ski (still wearing my ski pants) getting ready to put the top on an apple pie, while in the next room Eve's daughter and her friend knit. So cozy, so Swiss!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

My Small-But-Meaningful (and Wrinkled) Apron Collection

Every apron has a story.

From Left to Right:

1) a Christmas present from my friend Carolyn, who I've known since junior high. This one is my favorite for its rich red color and its small ruffle. But it wrinkles far more than the others and I won't wear it unless it's ironed. And I iron about twice a year.

2) a "Because You Like Pie Too" present from Diane Mapes, a writer friend in Seattle. A few months ago, when I was working on a project in Seattle, I invited her to my apartment for a glass of wine. She showed up with a gift bag. "It's nothing big," she insisted. Nothing big? This was HUGE! Her gift bag contained this vintage apron and a stack of her mother's pie recipes.

3) The Most Hideous Apron Award Goes To... This is from a Portland thrift store and always a favorite at my pie parties. I start off a party with a drawing to see who gets to wear this special little calico smock. The funny thing is, everyone else seems to like it. Very Laura Ingalls Wilder.

4) a hand-me-down from my friend Alayne. She was moving to London and getting rid of just about everything. She thoughtfully saved any pie-related accessories for me. I wear this one most often because it's like wearing a towel; I wipe my hands on it constantly. (I don't do so well with the daintier styles or less-hearty fabrics.) And not that it matters to me, but...the blue and white checks match my vinyl easy-wipe table clothes. Bonus points for that fact that whenever I wear it I am reminded of such a dear and generous friend.

5) a gift from my mother for helping prepare Thanksgiving dinners, given to me when my Grandma Ida was still alive. My mom got my grandma and my sister matching ones so we could be One Big Cooking Unit. These were the years I always found a way to "disappear" when it was time to wash the dishes. And my mother reminds me of this small fact every Thanksgiving to this day. I can't even look at this apron without having powerful memories of family gatherings, cold Iowa autumn nights, and fights with my three brothers over who got the bigger piece of pumpkin pie.

6) the apron my husband chose to wear from my thriftstore collection the time he baked his very first pie. How could we be married five years and only three months ago he learned how to make pie? Oh, I know. It's because I'm the one who always makes the pies. However, his pie -- apple, heavy on the cinnamon -- turned out perfectly! I like to think it's because I'm a good teacher, but maybe it's just that he's been hiding his talents. (Like when, during Year Two of our marriage, I was happily relieved of cooking when he brought home a grill.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I Did Not Write This, But It Speaks to Why the World Needs More Pie

My mom emailed me this message (see below), one of those forwarded kind that I ALWAYS delete. But this one, well, I don't know who wrote it, but clearly it was someone who gets the concept that The World Needs More Pie. And I'd like to believe you don't have to be born before 1979 to appreciate the message.

Living in Mexico reminds me a bit of these "good old days" (OK, I confess, I was born in 1962), where people do still ride in the open back of pickup trucks, don't have airbags in their rusty old cars, eat white bread, share more than bottled softdrinks, don't have childproof locks on their cupboards (because they probably don't even have cupboards), have never seen a bicycle helmet, and god knows what's in their water.

Still Living Dangerously: It may not be good for you but I've loved DQ since my "risk-taking" childhood!

To Those of You Born 1930 - 1979 -- To all the kids who survived the 1930's, 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's!!

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-base paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had baseball caps not helmets on our heads.

As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick up truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter and bacon. We drank Kool-aid made with real white sugar. And, we weren't overweight. WHY? Because we were always outside, playing...that's why! We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.

No one was able to reach us all day. And, we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times,we learned to solve the problem.
We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's and X-boxes. There were no video games, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet and no chat rooms. WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns (My kids got real guns) for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them.

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever. The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all. If YOU are one of them, CONGRATULATIONS!

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated so much of our lives for our own good. While you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave and lucky their parents were.

Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it ?

(If whoever wrote this is reading this, please let me know so I can give you the byline!)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mercado Research: Pork Rinds vs. Pie

Yesterday we drove to the neighboring village of Arteaga where they have a weekly Sunday Market. Arteaga is where they grow apples. Butted up against the mountains, it is slightly higher in elevation than Saltillo, thus slightly cooler enough to accommodate apple crops. I’ve made my impatience known that I am beyond ready for apple season to arrive. Having moved to Mexico from Portland at the beginning of the summer, I have been feeling deprived of my usual summer pie baking – all those blueberries, blackberries, marionberries, raspberries, and peaches I used to pick myself on Sauvie Island…sniff, sniff. While Mexico has fabulous fruit, I just can’t get excited about a mango, papaya or pineapple pie. I prefer my tropical fruits blended in a cocktail.

Around 4:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon we drove out to Arteaga in search of apples. That was Reason Number One. Reason Number Two was to scope out the market, er, mercado for setting up a booth to sell my apple pies when the harvest season kicks in. It was an idea I talked about with Ines (my Mexican artist friend) when she came to my house two weeks ago to make a pie. “I was thinking of selling pies at the market during the harvest,” I told her.

“Oh, jess,” she replied in her cute Mexican accent. “I have a friend who has an apple orchard in Arteaga. We can get apples from her. I will help you.”

“I’m serious,” I went on. “How about three or four weekends in a row? Could you commit to that? We’d have to get help making the pies ahead of time.”

“Oh, jess, sure,” Ines insisted. “That would be funny.” Though I know she means “fun.” (“Do what is funny,” she always tells me when I get down about life. Somehow it makes more of an impact the way she says it.)

As Marcus (my husband) and I drove down Avenida Roman Cepeda de la Fuente (it’s not easy learning street names in Mexico), which was lined on both sides with typical street-fair booths, we spotted many different things for sale: used clothing such as army fatigue pants, children’s clothing, and women’s tops; plastic toys, hairclips and other made-in-China dimestore-type stuff; puppies (hopefully these will go to good homes); potatoes and mangoes, and pork rinds.

Pork rinds (chicharrĂ³nes in Spanish) are a puffed, salty, greasy snack food, but did you know that it actually starts as a piece of dried pig skin? I did not comprehend this little fact until we inched along in the traffic jam and I got a close-up look at the process – a dried, leathery piece of a whole pig’s skin (resembling the pig’s ears I sometimes buy for my dog, only the whole pig) is dropped into a copper vat of boiling grease, and – voila! -- here’s the crunchy delicacy that President George W. Bush is said to enjoy eating. Yum. Row after row of full-pig-body-size pork rinds hung from the awnings of booth after booth, block after block. (This picture is not from's from the Web. Next time I'll be better about taking my own.)

“Not exactly the right demographic for selling apple pie,” I mumbled to Marcus as I continued to gape out the open window.

“Yeah, I don’t think this is your clientele,” he replied. “But can you smell that carne asada? Wow, that smells great.”

Further on, as the booths thinned out, beat up old pick-up trucks and vans were parallel parked with their truck beds loaded with produce. I saw several with mangos, one with potatoes, and, at last, one lone truck filled with apples. Small green apples with smatterings of red, a bit too small for my apple-peeling pleasure. A caramel-skinned mother sat on the back of the truck bed while her young daughter loaded clear plastic bags with apples. Thirty pesos per bag. That’s about US$3. Marcus saw that I was eyeing the apples. “Do you want to get some?” he asked.

“No. They’re too small.”

“You can get apples at the supermarket,” he said. “Probably just as good as these.”

“I don’t like buying them at the supermarket. They’re all imported. I want to buy them locally. But I’m going to wait. I think they’ll have bigger apples later in the season.”

With the two purposes for our outing accomplished – not accomplished exactly, but at least my curiosity was satisfied – we set off for home in the traffic, Mexican-style. We laughed as the horse passed all the cars. I love it when the low-technology method prevails.