Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pi Week, Pie Plans, and a Spoiler

I baked seven pies last week.  It was one of the most productive and least productive spring breaks ever.  It just seemed fitting that Pi Day (March 14 . . . 3.14) during Year of Pie should start out with pies for breakfast, and then the Mister became involved and well, things just got out of hand.

Pi Day Breakfast: Spanikopita and The Mister's Quiche 
As I was plotting the pie plan (which now includes taking requests to bake friends pies for the their birthdays, even if a request for "lemon meringue" puts me into a tizzy because, "I don't do lemon meringue"), I realized that I needed to be clear that I am NOT an expert pie baker.  I am planning on exploring pies this year and becoming a better pie baker and maybe sharing some of what I learn.  I'll be watching Waitress (many people say I should) and American Pie (strangely, nobody has suggested it) and I'll be finding more novels featuring the magic of baking along the lines of PIE or Nightbird or Bliss Bakery.

I'm going to start a blog feature, People of Pie. And I will start with my grandmother, with whom my last conversation (exactly 16 years ago?) was about pie.  And I will start that just as soon as I can write about her eating the horrid peach pie I baked her for her last days without crying (okay, I plan to write it before I can do so without crying because I do plan to write it someday soon).

I also hope to get better at food styling and photographing pies.  Or not.

SPOILER: If it is just about the pie, you can skip my blog and read The Art of the Pie because Kate McDermott is already a non-professional pie baking advocate who has written all the tips (for pie and life, keeping cool is essential; you should host a pie pot-luck and give everyone a blue ribbon for bringing a pie; measure fruit by filling your pie shell, "smoosh" your dough) and she starts out by talking about helping bake her grandmother's last pie.  The book has been written.  You only need me for cute kid pictures and to bake you a birthday pie.
Coconut Cream from Magpie

Shaker Pie Prep

Shaker Blood Orange 

Needs some styling help

Still life with St. Patrick's Day Lime

Dianthus proud of his lemon meringue

Shaker Lemon

Spring, Silent, Smelly and Otherwise

I spent the first half of International Women's Day horrified that not only did my students know nothing of women ecologists, which I had expected, but they also knew nothing of Rachel Carson (or Silent Spring, or DDT, or the EPA or Richard Nixon).  I spent the second half of the day sheepishly confessing that I had never read Silent Spring to several colleagues who sheepishly admitted the same.

March 7
We're going to change that.  Let me know if you want to be part of the Silent Spring read-along.  I have two "in real life" colleagues allegedly joining me, and we'd love to have you as well.  The format will be loose, but I'll be hosting discussions here, and welcoming anyone else who'd like to join.  Comment on how you'd like to participate.

March 8
Meanwhile, with a few set-backs (Spring Break is always cold.), spring is well on its way here.  The two foot peach tree is finishing its glorious run (see photos).  We've been harvesting asparagus, the lilacs are fragrant and wonderful, the fabulous scent of the golden/clove/buffalo currants is wafting in through the open window and the tulips popped up out of nowhere and bloomed yesterday (March 21).  Mockingbirds are fighting over territory and some trees have leaves that didn't have them yesterday.

Match 9

March 10

March 12

March 15

March 16

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Year of Pies Baking and Eating Progress (first)

Pies Baked

March 2017  Buttermilk,
plus more buttermilk, pumpkin, cranberry walnut tart and combined cranberry buttermilk with students 8 students

Two college students made the lovely braided crust.

February 2017 Bastila

Additional Pies Eaten

March 2017  Coconut Cream, Jerry's Diner   Merely okay.  Forgettable crust, strong flavor of coconut flavoring, possibly in the meringue as well.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ashes and the Anomalous Spring

I've attended the Ash Wednesday service at my local church the last three years and I love it, despite, or perhaps because, the very idea of a cross of ashes feels so foreign and mystical (and really, Catholic) compared to the very stripped-down pragmatic Protestant nature of my family and the churches we have attended (just about the same thing I said two years ago).

Daring iris that bloomed Feb. 24 in 2013
became covered in ice
This year the the service was not the same solemn connection to the dark ground that it was the previous two, perhaps because there were more people and the lights were on, perhaps because the boys had helped make the ashes on Sunday (last year's palm Sunday palms) and I have become good enough friends with several pastors to know that they all have stories of nearly burning down a church and make bad ash puns, but really it was because the season is wrong.

Lent should start in the winter.  All is reduced to ashes we are dead in the ground.

And we wait and anticipate and suffer through the lean times and then Spring!  Easter!  Holy rebirth!

But here now it is already spring.  Like most of the southern half of the country, the Early Leaf Index Anomaly Map has signs of spring showing up here nearly 20 days early (See the map here).   I took my students to a local wildlife refuge to see waterfowl-- ducks and geese on Feb. 10.  It was over 80 degrees with a hot south wind and the birds had never made it that far south.

Last Wednesday, Feb. 22, the first ornamental Prunus was blooming on my way to school.
By Thursday, Feb. 23, when I arrived in Tulsa for a conference, the Bradford pears were in full bloom.
When I returned home on Friday, Feb. 24, the Bradford pear nearest me was half open.  The east facing daffodils along my house were in full bloom and the south facing daffodils were past (they apparently had opened on Feb. 12). The roses on the west side of my house had leaves and even the lilac on the north side had buds bursting on Friday, Feb. 24,

My little bulb iris are blooming their little purple heads off in deep leaf litter that I have not taken the time to remove, nor do I want to unless spring is really here.

Today, March 1,  I heard the first mockingbird singing (I saw some around yesterday),

Sometimes its hard to remember that we are dust in the earth when the joyful songs are already being sung.

Bastila: February Transition Pie

Mister Splashy Pants is seen here awaiting the four and twenty blackbirds she hopes will emerge from the pie.

Unfortunately for Mister Splashy Pants, the chickens who gave their thighs for the pie are long gone, and, a few days later, so was all of the bastila, with none left for her.  Poor cat received none of the bird pie.

According to Paula Wolfert, who is sometimes annoying with her academic informative instructions (e.g. there are times when I want a recipe for lamb tagine, not to understand the origins and provenance of sixteen different recipes for lamb tagine), but who is very informative none the less, bastila is also written pastila, bisteeya, and bestela.

I followed Paula's recipe for "Bastila of Fez with Chicken" fairly closely-- including making a batter a day in advance and attempting to make thin warqa pastry rather than using commercial phyllo (fillo).  To make warqa by this method, one much use two different kinds of brushes: silicone for oil and natural bristle for spreading a film of batter into the make-shift double boiler.  It actually works (you can see a layer in front of the cookbook below) but once I added up the 2 minutes per layer and subtracted those that weren't full circles, I finished thawing the phyllo.  The final pie included six chicken thighs, nine eggs, lots of almonds and lots of spices.  I flipped the whole thing twice so the outer layer was browned and crispy and there was not a soggy bottom in sight.

Warqa cooking in a make-shift double boiler.

I'm rather impressed with myself for seeing all the steps through, not deviating from the recipe, and finally making a bird pie.  As I was making it, I was also feeling thankful for The Mister and Aster and Dianthus, for whom cooking is fun; the cookbook, Foods of Morrocco, a gift from my BiL and SiL; and the cookbook rack, a gift from my B and my SiL. As I was mulling how great it was that I had parents who introduced me to Moroccan food while I was young (among many other cuisines), I started thinking about Paula Wolfert and her struggles with Alzheimer's, which made me very sad.  I'll admit that I wasn't particularly sad for Paula*, as I don't know her and she seems to be ending her life in a way that she chose while she had a chance.  It made me sad that someday my mother won't be around and then with whom will I discuss cooking-based pop culture?  Or if I'm not around, with whom will my mom discuss Paula Wolfert's last cookbook?  They never tell you that a great downside of sharing interests with your parents is that you will become friends and then someday you will lose a parent (or an adult child) and the only other person you know who discusses personalities and love lives of cookbook authors.  They never tell you that a downside of being an over-thinking sensitive person, just like your parents, is that you will find yourself struggling to make lemony egg curds in the reduced spiced poaching liquid, yourself reduced to an emotional wreck because someday you won't have someone to call up and chat about a cook.  It is probably telling that my response to the emotional outpouring was not to call my mother and thank her for being my friend (thanks Mom!), as she was out to eat anyway (yes, Dad, you spoil her.  But she spoils you too.), but to contemplate who I can convince to follow food world gossip.  Any takers?

*Sure, I'm on a first name basis with lots of people I will never meet, including several cookbook authors.