Friday, August 29, 2008

When You Can't Send a Pie, Send a Pie Card

Look at these FABULOUS pie greeting cards I found! They're from a company called Olive Sandwiches, and all their products are totally sassy, irreverent, very anti-1950s. I love it! Even better, they make "Easy as pie, my ass!" aprons and dish towels. Oven mitts too. Hello? Early Christmas shopping anyone? Hint.

To order the greeting cards pictured, as well as many other hilarious ones, click here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Move over, Pie; I’m Making Bread!

When we came to Saltillo, Mexico for our Look & See trip in May we discovered there was a German bakery in town—the only bakery in town to offer bread more substantial than the empty-calorie Wonderbread-like loaves ubiquitous in the local tiendas. That was in May. By the time we moved here in June the German bakery, along with its German baker, had vanished. Something about a divorce and an expired work permit.

We discovered pan integral—mini loaves made with muesli, seeds and some with olives—at the Costco in Monterrey. But one hour is too far to drive for bread—whole-wheat or not.

Thus it was the idea occurred to me: If I can make my own pie, why don’t I make my own bread?! Sometimes I’m a little slow to figure things out. Then again, in Germany we had a bread machine and in the U.S. we had the St. Honore Boulangerie down the street. I’ve never had to think about it. But now that I'm in Mexico, and life is a little more about "maƱana" here, well...

Luckily, I hauled my red-and-white-checked Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook down to Mexico. I flipped open to page 91 and found—aha!—a recipe. Those of you who have baked pies with me, as well as my mother, know I don’t like to measure, let alone follow a recipe. But I followed it. And when I made my first mistake by mixing the dry yeast in with the milk (and not with the flour where it belonged), I even did something I rarely do. I tossed out the debauched ingredients (reluctantly, as I hate waste!) and started over.

I kneaded the dough for eight minutes—what fun! If only you could put this kind of energy into pie dough!—left it to rise, and took my dog and the neighbor’s puppy for a walk in the pecan farm.

I threw the stick for Jack while the puppy rolled in the mud puddles. The sun was shining, and life was good. Until…KABLAM! Thunder struck, the storm clouds raced in and the first raindrops fell with no warning.

I ran home at full speed. Because, I admit, I did break one teensy rule in the recipe. It said to leave the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free place, preferably in a warm oven. I left my bowl in the Mexican sun, and there was only a slight breeze. If you were bread dough, wouldn’t you rather be outside too?

The dough was rescued in time. The dogs were hosed off before the big downpour. And we will be eating whole-wheat bread fresh from the oven one hour from now.

Meanwhile, my German friend Elke called. “I’m baking my own bread,” I told her excitedly. “Since that German bakery is gone.”

“No,” she said. “It’s open again. It’s the same as the old one, with pretzels and farmer’s bread, but in a new location.”

“What about the divorce, the work permit?” I asked.

“Same good bread, different owners,” she replied.

I hung up and nodded. Figures. But I have no regrets. I enjoyed being rough with the dough, flinging it down on my vinyl picnic tablecloth, pounding my fists into it, giving it one good shove after another as I kneaded it into submission. And when I take that first bite of warm, spongy whole-wheat with butter melting into it I may never bother to go to the new German bakery.

Then again, better check back here in an hour.
UPDATE: Tastes okay, but it's a little dense, perhaps a little heavy on the whole-wheat, perhaps a little too violent in my kneading, perhaps it was the rustic Mexican oven. Regardless, the word "brick" comes to mind. Looks like I will be visiting the new German bakery after all.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

FAQ: A Few Pie Questions Answered

My friend Janine in Seattle emailed me that she wanted to use my pie dough recipe to make a blueberry pie -- tis that berry season in the Pacific Northwest and she had picked her own. I'm so jealous. But she didn't have Crisco and she was "too lazy to go to the store so my husband took over," as she put it, and he made a blueberry tart instead. I hope her hubby doesn't read this, but she sounded a little disappointed in the tart.

Her email prompted me to get off my own lazy butt and respond to some of the questions I've been getting about my step-by-step pie making guide.

1. First, it is okay to use all butter. When I lived in Germany I couldn't get Crisco and my all-butter crusts turned out just fine. There's an age-old argument about what ingredients make the perfect crust. I'm not even going to touch that. The point is to make your own pie. Period.

2. Yes, I roll my dough right on that tablecloth. No, there is no Saran wrap covering it. It is a cheapo, vinyl, flannel-backed picnic tablecloth from the grocery store. It stays put on the table and it makes clean-up a cinch. Sometimes I take the whole messy thing right off the table (once the pie is in the oven) and shake off the floury crud outside, after which I give it a good disinfecting wipe-down.

3. No, you don't have to use a whole cup of sugar. If you like a tart apple pie, use less. If you have a sweet-tooth, go ahead and dump in the whole cup. I usually make BIG pies, like 10 inches diameter and several inches deep, and even then I don't use a full cup of sugar. So let's go ahead and adjust that to 3/4 cup sugar for future recipes.

4. You can also use the leftover dough for "cookies." The old grandmother way was to roll out the excess dough, sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon, and bake the misshapen scraps on a cookie sheet. It will take about 10 to 20 minutes for them to get crisp and makes a nice little snack while you're waiting--and waiting--for the Main Attraction to finish baking.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Run, Bike, Swim, Pie

My best friend in LA, Melissa Forman, is competing in her first Ironman triathlon today -- in Penticton, Canada. As I write this she is nearing the end of her 112-mile bike ride, after finishing a 2.4-mile swim in a frrreeeeezing cooooold lake after only 1 hour and 16 minutes. I've done two triathlons with Melissa, the Nautica Malibu triathlon, but that was about seven years ago. I went on to bake pies; she went on to become a superstar athlete. To underscore this, let me explain, instead of swimming 1/2 mile, biking 18, and running 4, she is now swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112, and running a WHOLE marathon (26.2 miles) -- in one day! She's so fast the only sport I will do with her now is yoga so she can't leave me behind. And bake pies. Which we did together in June when I stopped over in LA on my way to Mexico. Here I am in Melissa's kitchen teaching her two daughters (Sarah, age 5 and Eliza, age 3) how to make a blueberry pie. (That's Thelma, the kids' babysitter to the left.) Her daughters have natural pie-baking talent and I won't be surprised if they inherit their mom's athletic talents as well.

If the girls were a minimum of 6 years old they would be able to cross the Ironman finish line with their mom today. However, they are still there at the race to cheer her on. And I'm here, in Mexico, too far away for her to hear my cheers, but she knows I'm swimming, biking, and running alongside her in spirit. I'm so inspired by her drive and dedication that I might even sign up for another triathlon. Go, Melissa!