Thursday, November 26, 2009

Two out of three ...

... and Patrick will be home for Christmas.

"Gratitude is the memory of the heart."
- Jean Baptiste Massieu

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Easy, Flaky Pie Crust

As long as we're talking pie...
It's not that hard to make a good pie crust! People keep fiddling around with recipes, but the smartest thing to do, frankly, is to spend time fiddling around with your technique.

Pie crusts are 'short'. That means they don't like to be over heated or over handled. So cool it!

I learned my Mom's pie when I was a kid, and even (surprise!) won a pie contest with my blueberry pie, at the El Rancho restaurant, if anyone remembers that Flint area moment in time.

As a young wife, I over worked the task. tried variations, and even tripped myself up in the making of pie shells. For a while I'd forgotten the fact that although empty baked pie shells required pricking with a fork to keep them in shape, baked in the crust filled pies, like pumpkin for instance, do not need pricking.
And if fact, if you prick a raw crust and fill it, it will not bake properly. It was a head slapping moment when I realized my mistake after a few failures. Live and learn. Mom was "gone" by then, or I'm sure she would have helped me figure it out faster.

After 20 years or so, I taught my Mom's crust to Herb, and he'd taken it over. I rarely make a pie crust any more, but we have cut WAY back on the pie desserts, due to the cholesterol. It's nice Crisco has decided to make their shortening with non-trans fat, but a few years ago at a Slow Food workshop at Applewood (The Ruth Mott estate in Flint), the chef-owner of a Fenton restaurant, The French Laundry, shared some excellent locally sourced fruit pie, and his recipe, and it was mmmm. lovely.
His crust recipe was, by the way, a lot like mine with the emphasis on technique, only he uses half lard or butter. Can't eat that too often, but the flavor was a memory revived.

Here are the basics of Mom's piecrust:

Sift together:
2 cups flour (I like unbleached King Arthur A.P.)
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. baking powder

Cut in to crumbly crumbs:
3/4 cup cold shortening

Don't cut together too finely - that is overworking the 'short'.
Mix in a scant 1/3 cup ice cold water - don't overmix. With fingers, gather and shape dough into 2 flattened balls, put in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Roll one chilled ball on a floured pastry cloth with a floured rolling pin, to 1/8". Transfer to pie plate and trim edges.

For baked pie shell: Shape ruffled edge with thumb and fingers. Prick with a fork, and bake at 475 degree for 8-10 minutes. Cool and fill.

For single crust filled pie: Shape ruffled edge, fill and bake as directed in recipe. You can also prebake this crust but I never needed to do that.

For double crust (filled of course) pie: Fill, then roll second ball and fit top crust on top of filling. Dampen edges of bottom crust, trim both crusts to fit, and press together to seal. Shape ruffled edge. Bake as directed. You can sprinkle with granulated sugar before baking, I only do that with rhubarb pie. I never glaze with milk or egg wash either.

There you have it. Practice.

Pumpkin Recipe - Two Pumpkin Pies

Two! years ago, around Thanksgiving, I wrote my definitive comments on pie, pumpkin pie, and the coming holidays. But I never actually wrote out my pie recipe. So this year, I'll fix that sin of omission.
I've used the popular condensed milk recipe for many years, with a few personal additions (vanilla extract and molasses) - it's a foolproof recipe for a busy cook. Should I include it here? okay.

Creamy Pumpkin Pie

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a single 9-inch crust pie shell, unbaked.

Blend together in a large bowl:
1 egg (or 2), beaten
16 0z canned pumpkin (2 generous cups of homemade puree)
1 can Eagle Brand condensed milk
1/8 cup molasses
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t each: nutmeg, allspice, ginger
1/4 t. cloves

Pour into a prepared pie shell. Bake 50 minutes or until done. Test with a dinner knife inserted 1" from the edge. If you watch carefully, pull the pie out just as the center is inflating. Wait longer, and the pie will be overcooked. Cool.
Best served still slightly warm from the oven. Refrigerate leftovers.


Well, that is a fine pie, but this year I made Mom's old evaporated milk recipe with my little variation, and I think it beats the other.

My Mom's Pumpkin Pie

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a single 9-inch crust pie shell, unbaked.

Beat together in a large bowl:
2 eggs (3)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
a good slurp of molasses
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ginger
1/2 t. allspice
1/4 t. cloves

Stir in, blending well:
1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (up to 2 cups)
1 1/2 cup Carnation evaporated milk

Pour into a prepared pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Then lower oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 30-35 minutes, or until tests done (see above). Cool.
Best served still slightly warm from the oven. Refrigerate leftovers.

NOTE: This is different from the recipe on the can which, among other differences, adds flour (?) and only brown sugar. I've experimented by adding more pumpkin, but, if you do, remember it all has to fit in the pie shell, and the pie filling level does rise slightly from the action of the beaten eggs. So have a pyrex cup nearby to cook the extra in, just in case.

Nostalgia: Mom's recipe starts with a hotter oven, and the tradition was to bake the mincemeat pie first at the hotter temperature, and removing it and putting in the pumpkin pie. This is the first year in my life that we didn't have a mince pie for Thanksgiving. Times change and tastes change. My son brought a cherry pie with three kinds of cherries that he's been perfecting. We can have a mince pie for Christmas.
"It is utterly forbidden to be half-hearted about gardening. You have got to love your garden whether you like it or not."
- W.C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman

Saturday, November 07, 2009

"Winter is the season dominated by bare soil: the whole gardening cycle begins with the care and preparation of the earth during winter so that it will feed plants the following year. One of the things I enjoy about digging (and there are lots of things I enjoy about it) is the smell of the earth that is released by the spade cutting in and lifting clods that have been buried for a year. Not only does the soil itself have a real scent, but the roots of the crop or plant - even weed - that has been growing there will also contribute to the mix, creating something new out of the vague remnants of last season's garden."
- Monty Don, The Sensuous Garden, 1997

Along the same train of thought, some British scientists have found a physical basis for the effect that gardeners and poets have long observed. Getting close to freshly turned soil is elevating.

Soil Bacteria Work In Similar Way To Antidepressants
02 Apr 2007
by Catharine Paddock, Medical News Today

UK scientists suggest that a type of friendly bacteria found in soil may affect the brain in a similar way to antidepressants.

Their findings are published in the early online edition of the journal Neuroscience.

Researchers from Bristol University and University College London discovered using laboratory mice, that a "friendly" bacteria commonly found in soil activated brain cells to produce the brain chemical serotonin and altered the mice's behaviour in a similar way to antidepressants.

They are suggesting this could explain why immune system imbalance could make some people vulnerable to mood disorders like depression.

Lead author, Dr Chris Lowry from Bristol University said, "These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health".

"They also leave us wondering if we shouldn't all be spending more time playing in the dirt," he added.

Dr Lowry and colleagues became interested in the project when they heard that cancer patients treated with the bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae reported increases in their quality of life. They speculated this could be because the bacteria were activating brain cells to release more serotonin.

(Here, I snipped a short bit about serotonin. If you want more info, Google the article:)

Apart from having a range of pharmacological actions, serotonin constricts blood vessels, sends messages between cells in the brain and within the central nervous system, regulates secretion of digestive juices, and helps to control the passage of food through the gut.

Different parts of the brain and the body need different levels of serotonin. In the brain for example, the hypothalamus (involved in mood regulation) needs a lot of serotonin while the cortex (involved in many complex processes like thinking, memory, attention, awareness and consciousness) only needs a little.

The brain keeps serotonin levels in balance using at least three mechanisms. One way is by releasing it, a second way is by inactivating it once it is released into the synaptic space between the nerve endings, and the third way is by absorbing it, a process known as "reuptake".

Low levels of serotonin are linked with a number of disorders including aggression, anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, irritable bowel and fibromyalgia.

Antidepressants work by increasing serotonin levels in particular areas of the brain. One type, known as monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors reduce the brain's ability to inactivate the free serotonin. Another type, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work by slowing down the reuptake process.

The friendly bacteria in this study appear to be having an antidepressant effect in a third way, by increasing the release of serotonin.

"Identification of an immune-responsive mesolimbocortical serotonergic system: Potential role in regulation of emotional behavior."
C.A. Lowry, J.H. Hollisa, A. de Vriesa, B. Pana, L.R. Brunetb, J.R.F. Huntb, J.F.R. Patonc, E. van Kampena, D.M. Knighta, A.K. Evansa, G.A.W. Rookb and S.L. Lightmana.
Neuroscience Available online 28 March 2007

Article URL:

Sunday, November 01, 2009

"An exercise in faith, it has been called, this consumptive pastime of ours, to believe that a bed, once more colorful with handwritten plastic than plants, would become a billowing border the following spring."
- Daniel Hinkley and Robert Jones