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EASY AS PIE

            To my way of thinking, whoever made the statement, “Easy as pie” was either someone who never made a pie or is totally delusional! I can believe there are those who actually enjoy baking pies, but let’s face it, they’re not easy! When it comes to baking pies, you either approach it as a labor of love or, like me, as a bloody pain in the…well, let’s just say, when I bake pies, I do it under duress. I want to enjoy baking pies…honest I do. It’s a national icon, right? You know…“as American as mom and apple pie”. And I do appreciate a good pie. I can even make a decent pie when pushed. I’ve just never totally embraced the experience. It’s the whole crust thing that I balk at. It’s so, hmm, what’s the word I’m looking for…labor intense? No, that’s not it, although they are time consuming. Messy? No, that’s not it either, but given my tendency to do “full body” baking, I usually wind up looking like a chimp let loose in a flour mill! I think the word I’m looking for is finicky.

 

            I am definitely an “ish” person. If it wasn’t for the fact that family and friends ask for recipes I would never write them down. When I cook, I don’t measure. Experience guides my hands, and taste directs my fine tuning. There is a fair amount of latitude in my cooking style. Not so with pies. In my mind, the secret of a truly good pie is a phenomenal crust. Mess up a little and the crust is tough or falls apart when you try to take it out of the pie plate. Or the absolute worst…it’s so soggy on the bottom it looks like the inside of a scab! (Gross, I know…but I think soggy pie crusts are gross!) So, no matter how good the “guts” of the pie may be, without a good crust, the gastronomic experience is doomed!

 

            Family story time…shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone at this point if I say my mom can make a killer pie. She’s a good, dare I say, great cook and her pies teeter on perfection. Being a displaced farm girl, she does many of those things well. I can remember as a child growing up she made things from “scratch” when convenience foods were all the rage. She’d put up peaches and applesauce. She’d make jams and compotes. She’d stock the freezer with blanched green beans and quick breads. She’d even make a bunch of apple pies and freeze them. What a treat it was to come home in the middle of the week to the smell of a freshly baked apple pie!

 

            One day my aunt and uncle were visiting from Missouri. My mom pulled out one of her frozen pies, popped it in the oven, and within the hour people were partaking of the perfect pastry. My uncle decided to follow her example and one Saturday afternoon my aunt and uncle had their best friends over, and they spent the day baking and freezing pies. A couple of weeks later my mom got a frustrated phone call from my uncle. Seems his crust was so hard they literally could not slice through it with a fork! “What the heck happened?” he implored? With just a couple of questions she ascertained that the crust had been “overworked”. She found out that after making the crust, my uncle and his friend “played” with the dough before rolling it out. They threw it across the room like a softball. They pulled and molded it like Play-Dough starved kindergarteners! Bottom line, instead of handling the crust as little as possible, they developed a gluten framework that could support an elephant!

 

            Anyway…I do have enough sense not to play with the dough, but it seems that things like water temperature, air temperature, humidity and the alignment of the planets all contributes to the crust’s chances of success. And, I suppose, thanks to my mom, I’ve been spoiled because I truly dislike the prepared crusts you can buy. It’s from scratch, baby, or nothing! So, adding to my ever expanding “Wish List of Things to Do” is  my desire to become a proficient pie maker! I figured summer is a great time to work on it, with all the fresh fruits available. So, wish me luck! I want to turn my Fear of “Pie-ing”, into Pie Hopes!  

 

MOM’S TOTALLY AWESOME APPLE PIE

 

Crust Ingredients – 9” double pie crust

2 1/4 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup Crisco shortening

6 tablespoons ice water

 

Crust Directions

Sift flour and measure. Add salt and Crisco. Use a pastry blender to mix ingredients. Dough should be coarse; do not over mix. Add cold water (1 tablespoon at a time) and just lightly mix. Roll out dough between wax paper. Place into a lightly Crisco greased pie pan. (For a pre-baked pie crust, bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 10 - 15 minutes.)

 

Pie Ingredients

5 cups sliced, peeled apples (preferably Macintosh)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 flour or 2 tablespoons of tapioca

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon butter


Top of pie:

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


Pie Directions

Combine apples, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and flour. Mix to coat apples. Turn into a pastry lined pie plate. Dot with butter. Cover with the top crust. Pinch closed. Put slits in crust for steam to escape. Rub or paint top with 1 tablespoon milk. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 - 60 minutes or until top is golden and the fruit is bubbly.

 

Got a “secret” for pie making or a favorite pie recipe or story? Please share!


LEST I FORGET

          When I was in college I met a man that had just returned from the war in Vietnam. He sequestered himself in his uncle’s hunting lodge that was a few door’s down from my parent’s cottage. Over the summer we became friends. He never slept…or he tried not to. I’d see him sitting at the end of the dock when I went to bed at night, and no matter how early I got up, there he was, cigarette glowing in the early morning light. He let me into his world…we talked, but never about the war. As the summer rolled on, he’d even laugh. One day I wandered over to see if he wanted to go for a midnight fish. Yes, I know, fish don’t bite at 12:00 a.m. but the biggest fish I ever caught was on one of these late night excursions. I was casting and reeling, chatting away, when I felt resistance. Seems I snagged a poor, unsuspecting sleeping fish! Talk about a rude awakening! I let him go, apologizing profusely, and continued practicing my casting. Anyway, I entered the cabin just in time to witness my friend rousing himself from a hideous nightmare. And then we talked.

 

            He shared his nightmare, the same one that plagued him every time he slept. Actually, it wasn’t so much a nightmare as a memory, one that he tried to banish during the day. While meandering through a Vietnamese jungle, he rounded a tree and found himself standing at the edge of a very small clearing. Not 6 feet away from him was a surprised Vietcong soldier. They both looked at each other. There was a pause. Time passed; enough time to look into each others eyes; time enough to notice sweat streaming down the young man’s face. Both were hesitant to shoot; that close; that personal. Both knew one of them would die. Survival overcame my friend, and he shot first. One shot, and he watched as life drained out of his preordained enemy’s body. He stayed there a long time. He wondered if this unknown man had a wife and child. He wondered if his body would be found before the insidious heat began to distort his features. And he wondered why he hadn’t been the one that died that day.

 

            That fall, after closing up the cottage and heading back to school I got a call from him. Said he was in town and wondered if I had time for dinner. I readily accepted, and when he showed up I realized he had been drinking. Without any prelude he asked me to marry him. This came as a complete surprise to me since we had never kissed and never treated each other as anything but friends. It broke my heart, but I had to decline. He left, and I never heard from him again. Several years later I saw his aunt at the hunting lodge. Her husband had died and she was up there getting the place ready to sell. I asked about my friend. She said he had taken a job in West Virginia, was married and had two little girls. And he was happy!

 

            It took the passage of many more years before I realized what happened that summer. He had been emotionally injured and looking for help. I was young and innocent to the atrocities he had experienced. I think that by simply surrounding himself with purity he hoped to erase the pain of memories that he could never elude. Obviously, he found someone else shortly after me that said “yes”. And he had a family. Over the years I have continued to pray that the nightmares stopped.

 

            Memorial Day weekend has come to symbolize the “kick off” of summer. It is now socially acceptable to wear white, annual flowers are planted and a long weekend means picnics and “get togethers” with family and friends. What it doesn’t include for many Americans, shamefully myself included, is time set aside to memorialize those brave men and women, who gave up their lives to help safeguard freedom for us all. It’s easy to become desensitized today. Movies mimic real life. Real life, in the form of news, becomes entertainment. We are bombarded with so much carnage and violence we become emotionally immune.

 

            This year I want to pledge to be more patriotic. This Memorial Day I want to remember not only the men and women who died serving this country, but everyone that put their life on hold to fight for freedom, leaving behind their innocence and blessed ignorance on the field of battle, like my friend. I want to show more respect to the uniform, and NEVER forget that the lifeless feet sticking out from under tarps on the evening news do not belong to actors, but rather real people; sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers…and friends. I want to remember that my Uncle Harry died in the Korean War, that my cousin Butchy died in Vietnam and that hundreds of brave Americans are dying today in a part of the world I never want to see. I want to force myself to remember…lest I forget!   

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Just a comment and invitation before I start this week’s blog…I have many readers but only a handful make comments. PLEASE feel comfortable to join in at any time. The more the merrier! I enjoy comments from “old friends” but delight in meeting new people. All are welcome :)

 

Tim: (Getting into the car after popping into Kroger to pick up some milk and diet soda.) Peggy said there are tornado warnings.

 

Me: (More perplexed by the name Peggy then the impeding doom, I rack my brain trying to figure out who Peggy is. Coming up blank…) Who the heck is Peggy?

 

Tim: The cashier.

 

Me: How do you know her?

 

Tim: I just told you she was the check out clerk.

 

Me: Do you know her from somewhere else?

 

Tim: No.

 

Me: Then how do you know her name?

 

Tim: It was on her badge.

 

Me: Then why use her name like it means something to me?

 

Tim: Because it’s her name.

 

Me: You’re very odd.

 

            This gives you some kind of understanding of the riveting conversions Tim and I have! Having said that…to me a name is personal…the use of one’s name implies intimacy. To Tim it simply conveys friendliness. Truth be told, people respond surprisingly well to him. I’m the kind of person whose dander flies with the first sign of confrontation. Tim becomes all smiles…and uses people’s names. Actually, this is a tried and true marketing strategy. Next time you get a telemarketing phone call notice how they utilize your name thus suggesting friendship and closeness. It’s much harder to turn down “Bob” when he keeps calling you “Kathy” than a nameless voice calling you ma’am or sir. (Unless, of course, your name isn’t Kathy!)

 

            Anyway, names are powerful and the use of names does provide us with a sense of ownership, intimacy and responsibility. Right now I’m reading a very interesting book titled Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. I’m only a quarter of the way into the book but being a true believer that the average American child does not spend nearly enough “exploratory” time outside, I found the phrase Nature-Deficit Disorder to be intriguing. The author shares a conversation with naturalist and educator Elaine Brooks. She believes that people are unlikely to value things they cannot name. “One of my students told me that every time she learns the name of a plant, she feels as if she is meeting someone new. Giving a name to something is a way of knowing it.”

           

            If we want our children to become intimately involved with their environment, the best way to do that is to “properly” introduce them to nature. Start in your backyard. Instead of talking about “the birds” use their names. (If you don’t know them get yourself a backyard bird book like Backyard Birds (Peterson Field Guides for Young Naturalists) by Jonathan Latimer or Birds, Nests & Eggs (Take-Along Guides) by Mel Boring. Start a bird watching journal. What about the trees and plants in your yard? What insects populate your yard? Helping your children discover the diversity in their own yard and learning to identify many of them by name might be the single greatest thing you can do to help your child become ecologically responsible. Names lead to intimacy…intimacy leads to caring…caring leads to action.

 

            The other day we were at The Metro Park. We are so lucky to have this 5,000 acre park just 4 miles from the house. We went to see the egrets nesting and after hiking down to the long expansion bridge on one of the lakes, we pulled out our binoculars and watched the beautiful birds. I was with my daughter and her children. Along with the egrets we saw blue herons, a nesting swan, a northern water snake, a family of snapping turtles sunning on a log, and scores of red winged blackbirds. I enjoyed listening to my 5 year old grandson talk about his surroundings. He kept asking for the name of everything he saw. He already knows most of the local birds by name but his thirst for information is infinite. While listening to him it was apparent that he felt a sense of intimacy with the creatures and plants around him…you might say he’s becoming one with nature. To him nature is not something foreign “out there”. It is something personal, that he is involved with, and knows by name!

 

            Over the years we have often gone one step further and have actually give proper names to things. My daughter named the weeping cherry she gave me one Mother’s Day, Julie. The boys named the matching dogwoods Barkley and Bob. My daughter's children name their squirrels. Now, I’m willing to bet the farm that they aren’t always identifying the same squirrel…but it doesn’t matter! What matters is they feel a connection to the animals in their backyard!

 

            We take the time to get to know the names of a people we deal with regularly. We learn the name of streets we frequent. We remember the names of delicious dishes at favorite restaurants, and we can list by name the television shows we watch every week. Learning names makes is easier to talk about things accurately. It also suggests a level of involvement. So, the next time you’re in the great outdoors with your children, take the time to meet some new friends…friends you can call by name!


I BROUGHT MY MOTHER BUTTERCUPS

I brought my mother buttercups one day when she was weary,

She said I brought the sun inside, so shiny bright and cheery.

And then my mother winked at me, and then I heard her mutter,

I’m glad there’s sun in buttercups, instead of plain old butter.

 

            When my son was in kindergarten, he needed to recite a poem before the whole school. He chose the poem “I Brought My Mother Buttercups”. Try as he might, he couldn’t memorize it. Finally, after working with him for quite a while, I realized the words of the poem fit perfectly to the tune of Lemon Tree. So, for 2 weeks before the recital, we sang the song over and over each night before he went to bed. When the big day rolled around, my shy little boy, stood before the entire school, and recited his poem perfectly. (Only I noticed the slight melodic tone!)

 

            I had long ago forgotten the poem, but for Mother’s Day this year I got flowers from my son with the note… “Sorry, no buttercups, but Happy Mother’s Day”.

 

Never underestimate the significance of ANYTHING we do with our children!

SPRING CLEANING

            So, it’s spring and any self respecting Pietrowski woman (mother’s lineage) knows what that means. It’s time to turn your house inside out and give a good shake. I remember coming home from school on spring afternoon’s to a house in total disarray. Given the fact that my mom’s house always appeared perfect, nah, dare I say WAS perfect, to walk into a house with curtains off the windows, mattresses turned sideways, and the contents of a closest spewed across the floor was a tad bit unsettling. It also meant…drum roll please…I needed to clean MY room.

 

            In my opinion, my mom’s “thorough” cleaning was superfluous. Best I could tell she cleaned what was already clean. I could not make the same statement about my room. Sure, to live in my mom’s house the “observable” surface of the room needed to be clean, but she was moderately tolerant of hidden messes. Although I’m sure she probably laid awake at night tossing and turning thinking about the condition of my drawers, she chose her battles wisely, and reserved enforcing her standards of “clean” for those times of the year when her sanity hinged on “total tidy” compliance! True, there were times when I’d need to grab a ruler from the kitchen to try to unjam a constipated drawer, but I knew where everything was…in my drawer! Duh! But my mom had this misbegotten idea that when you opened a drawer you should be able to view the contents of said drawer. I kinda viewed my drawers as an archeological dig…there were layers and stratas, and digging was often involved when I wanted to find a barrette or pencil. Truth be told, I often gave up and went and got a new pencil from the kitchen. (That’s why when I finally cleaned out my drawers I’d often unearth 2 or 3 dozen pencils!) But the bottom line was, when my mother spring cleaned, we all spring cleaned! So, on those spring cleaning days, I was apt to find the contents of my drawers spilled out in the middle of my floor with the edict…“Don’t come out until your room is clean!” I have this vague recollection of being chained to a bedpost, with days or perhaps even weeks passing, with mere life sustainable rations of bread and water being slipped under my door as I labored tirelessly in my room.

 

            Although my memory has been known to exaggerate or even to reinvent itself, I am left with a strong distain for spring housecleaning. But who can blame me? The minute it gets nice outside, I’m like an eight year old, mucking about outside, refusing to come indoors except for sleep and sustenance. The thought of spending time indoors, after being cooped up all winter, seems downright blasphemous to me! I suppose you could use this same argument to support spring cleaning. Arguably, we are probably programmed with a biological propensity to spring clean. It probably began with Neanderthal women. I’m sure that after being holed up in a cave all winter, with dismantled animal carcasses and putrid air laced with the fumes of the unwashed hordes, nice weather finally meant a garbage exorcism and the delousing of their abodes. Understandable. But I have the luxury of disposing of noxious substances throughout the year, and the corners of my house are not stacked with discarded bones and makeshift privies! So, when nice weather rolls around, my only spring inclination is to open the windows!

 

            Probably the main reason I don’t spring clean is…I TOTALLY trash my house in the spring! Spring means the gardens are waking up, and I’m there to greet them. It also means rain and mud, mud and rain. Short of lightning storms, come nice weather, I’m outside gardening. Tim refers to my gardening technique as “full body gardening”. I start out each day with an innocent “stroll” through the gardens. If I see a weed I very daintily bend over and pluck it. If it resists I’m apt to kneel down to give it a good tug. If it is still stubborn I pull out my gardening wagon. Next thing you know my butt’s planted in the bed and the dirt is flying. (As I write this blog I’m picking spiders out of my hair, and the dirt embedded under my fingernails is free falling into my keyboard!) Since I move and rearrange plants in my garden with the same regularity that I shower and eat, my pockets and cuffs, hair and nails, transport the great outdoors indoors! Most people have wall-to-wall carpeting or hardwood floors…in the spring and summer we live in a dirt floored hovel! I just can’t be bothered to clean!

 

            I will eventually get around to spring cleaning… in the fall…when I contemplate the long house bound months ahead, and I look around and say, “Oh, dear Lord! I think there are pumpkins growing under the dining room table!” I’m THEN hit with the urge to shovel out the dirt, flip mattresses and wash windows. General thought…if I’m going to be stuck in the house for the winter it’s going to be in a clean house! So, for everyone with the instinctual desire to spring clean, I say “Good luck, and I hope ya have a jolly time!” As for me…I'll be in the gardens! (And, an aside to my house…“I’ll see you in the fall!”

 

Does nice weather bring on your urge to clean and organize? Or does nice weather bring on an Exodus from indoors to outdoors?