American Pie

Before I moved to Friday Harbor, Washington, I’d never attended a county fair.   I couldn’t even tell you the location of the fair grounds where I grew up in Northern California.   But in Friday Harbor, there’s no missing the San Juan County Fair.  I’m pretty sure you’d get voted off the island if you tried to skip out on it.   When carnival rides load onto the ferry bound for our quiet town, people get excited.
But it’s not The Tilt-o-whirl, or The Zipper, or even The Octopus that makes the fair.
It’s the islanders.

Untold hours go into preparing and staffing local booths and activities.  One year at the agricultural tent, I watched a guy build a cob oven.   For several days afterward, a local baker mixed up bread on the spot and slid it right into that cob oven.

The Trash to Treasures folks must spend months collecting junk to stock their building station, where small children can wield hot glue guns and operate band-saws as they breathe new life into other people’s garbage.  A cast off doll dress inspired Eliza to make a girl of sorts from an old water bottle, a caster, nylon cord, plastic spoons, and various other tiny parts.  Doesn’t she look like C3PO’s girlfriend?

This bubble machine, one of Trash to Treasures’ highlights, inspired our tinkering.  If only we could have gotten our own creations to move by themselves.
Just milling around the fairgrounds during fair week makes me happy.  I’m not a bustling scene sort of girl, but this bustle is my small town bustle.  I love bumping into people out of their regular context — a grocery store checker, my high school students, the guy I swim next to at the gym, just to name a few.

And then there’s the food.

By the end of the week, the fish taco gal knew Eliza didn’t want anything in her tortilla but fish.  She even started charging her a dollar less for her order, a generous gesture since she really only omitted cabbage and salsa.   Tessa discovered that she liked ketchup and ate a corn dog every night, sometimes two.  She didn’t like the breading, but corn dogs cost less than straight up hot dogs, so we happily peeled off the cornbread for her.  My husband and I mostly ate chicken alfredo sandwiches handcrafted by Tommy, who always takes a week off from his job at Friday Harbor Labs to run a food stand.

Before we headed home each evening, my kids sugar-coated themselves gobbling up snow cones or ice cream or cotton candy.  My husband likes to pretend he’s a sucker, but I know that he really just wants to eat something sweet himself.  I guess that makes me the sucker.

Even though bedtime’s hour had long-since passed by the time we finally made it home each night, the girls always went straight into the bath to soak off the sugar, the pink and purple hair dye, and the manure they surely picked up while rolling around on the ground ogling the week-old piglets.

Right before fair-time our first summer here in Friday Harbor, before this annual week of indulgence had gathered me into its fold, people started asking what I planned to enter in the fair.  Since I had never attended a  fair before, the idea of entering something had never occurred to me.

“What do people enter?”  I wanted to know.

“Oh, anything, really,” everyone said, looking somewhat surprised that I had to ask.

Turns out they weren’t kidding.  There’s a category for pretty much anything you might dream of making or growing or raising.  I looked it up.

And everyone I knew planned to enter something:  handcrafted earrings, hand-knitted sweaters, photographs of children, garden-grown zinnias.

So I tried to get in the spirit of the fair by entering an apple pie.  I’ve been baking pies for a long time, and I figured I wouldn’t embarrass myself with my effort.

The day after the judging, I wandered over to the baking booth;  I didn’t see a slice of my pie nestled amongst the apple pie entries.

“That bad,” I thought.

Then my husband called me over to another case, the one that contained the special awards for baking.  I had won the Apple Pie Award, which came with a perpetual trophy;  it was mine for the year.

The trophy took some time in coming to me.  The previous winner needed to return it, and then the fair folks had to send it to the engraver.   It finally arrived and then sat unnoticed on my counter for months.  One day I happened to read the name above mine — the only other name on the trophy — and  I realized I had recently gotten to know last year’s winner.

The next time I saw apple pie-aficionado Shannon, I mentioned that I had noticed her name on the trophy.  We talked apple pie, and then she shared a story about why the trophy contained only two names.  I’d always assumed that the fair started the award the year before.  Nope.  Apparently the person who won the trophy before Shannon refused to give it back.  She didn’t think Shannon’s pie was good enough.  Seriously.

Last year, I thought about Shannon’s crazy story when my pie didn’t win the trophy a second time.  At fair’s end, I handed my ephemeral prize back to the baking superintendent and took home my red ribbon.

This year, right before fair time, we vacationed in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The day after we returned, we went camping with friends.   When it came time to think about what to enter in the fair, I felt overwhelmed and decided I just wouldn’t enter anything.  At the last minute, though, my husband talked me into baking an apple pie. It was still warm when I dropped it off in the baking booth.

I’m glad I did.

Sometime soon, the apple pie award will return to my kitchen — that is if last year’s winner decides to return it.

Apple Pie

Crust
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 sticks butter, cut in 1/4-inch slices
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water

Filling
2 1/2 pounds golden delicious apples (about 5 or 6)
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons tapioca
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, chopped in small pieces

Whirl flour, powdered sugar, and salt in food processor with the blade attachment.  Add slices from one stick of butter and whirl until no chunks remain.  Add remaining slices and whirl briefly to chop them up slightly.  Turn food processor on again and quickly begin drizzling ice water through the feed tube, stopping before the dough comes together.  Pinch some crumbs together between your fingers;  if they don’t stick together, add a bit more water and whirl briefly.  Turn the mixture out onto a large piece of plastic wrap.  Use the plastic wrap to help you bring the dough together;  fold the edges of the dough toward the center and press down until it holds together, taking care not to overwork the dough.  Divide it in half and shape into two flat disks wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.

While the dough chills, preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.   Peel, core, and slice apples to 1/4-inch thickness.  Combine apple slices with maple syrup, tapioca, lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt.  Let stand for at least 30 minutes to allow the apples to soften.

Roll out one of the dough rounds into a 13- to 14-inch circle.  Transfer carefully to a 10-inch pie dish.  Roll out remaining round into a 13- to 14-inch circle.  Fill bottom crust with apple mixture, topping with small pieces of butter.  Brush the overhanging edge with cold water, cover with the top crust, and seal gently by pressing down on the edge with the bottom of a fork.  Trim overhanging dough with a knife and flute the edge with your fingers, if desired.  Cut steam vents in the top.

Place pie on a baking sheet to catch any overflowing juices. Bake for 30 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue baking for 40-50 minutes, until juices bubble thickly through the vents and the fruit feels just tender when poked with a sharp knife.  Allow to cool for several hours before serving.

Share on Facebook+1Pin it on PinterestShare on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUponSubmit to reddit Share

Dream Cake

My mother stitches my family’s history together one quilt at a time.   My childhood bed at my parents’ house — the one my daughter sleeps in now when we visit — is covered with one of the first quilts she made.   When my sister, and then my brother, and then I got married, she made each of us a quilt.  She marked the arrival of each of her six grandchildren with a baby quilt.  And as each of those grandchildren turns five and start kindergarten, she makes another quilt.
When I see one of her new quilts, I always look for fabrics that she has incorporated from previous quilts.   My wedding quilt has some polka dot fabric from my niece Elli’s five-year cat quilt.

The pinwheel baby quilt she made for Eliza includes fabric not only from my wedding quilt, but from her cousin Elli’s quilt as well.  Tessa’s penguin baby quilt has fabric from all of these quilts.

Eliza’s five-year cottage-by-the-sea quilt, complete with ferry boats, Orca whales, and raccoons jumping out of dumpsters, includes so many fabrics that I keep finding–by surprise–pieces from many of the quilts my mom has made over the years.

My mother stitches my family’s history together one quilt at a time.   My childhood bed at my parents’ house — the one my daughter sleeps in now when we visit — is covered with one of the first quilts she made.   When my sister, and then my brother, and then I got married, she made each of us a quilt.  She marked the arrival of each of her six grandchildren with a baby quilt.  And as each of those grandchildren turns five and start kindergarten, she makes another quilt.
When I see one of her new quilts, I always look for fabrics that she has incorporated from previous quilts.   My wedding quilt has some polka dot fabric from my niece Elli’s five-year cat quilt.

The pinwheel baby quilt she made for Eliza includes fabric not only from my wedding quilt, but from her cousin Elli’s quilt as well.  Tessa’s penguin baby quilt has fabric from all of these quilts.

Eliza’s five-year cottage-by-the-sea quilt, complete with ferry boats, Orca whales, and raccoons jumping out of dumpsters, includes so many fabrics that I keep finding–by surprise–pieces from many of the quilts my mom has made over the years.

My mom rocks.

This summer, my family planned a get-together in Minneapolis, MN, where my brother lives.  A couple weeks before the trip, my brother asked if I’d make a cake for our mom’s birthday.  I loved the idea of a birthday party for my mom.   As far as I know, my parents have attended every single one of their grandchildren’s birthday parties.  This might not seem like a big deal, but my parents live in California, my sister lives in New Mexico, my brother lives in Minnesota, and I live in Washington state on a small island accessible only by ferry or small plane.  Birthdays are a big deal, and my parents always make them special.

Coming up with a cake ideas for kids has never been a problem because kids always tell you what they want.  This surprise party had me stumped, though.  Finally my husband pointed out the obvious:  make a quilt cake.

Now that I had an idea, I needed a plan.  Should I drape a quilt over a cake and add scissors, a needle, and thread, or should I try to create a bed?  Whatever the plan, this cake would come together in an unfamiliar kitchen.  I shipped icing colors to my brother’s house because I didn’t want them exploding in my suitcase.  I also sent a variety of geometrically-shaped cookie cutters for good measure;  quilts involve lots evenly shaped fabric pieces, and I certainly didn’t want to cut all those fondant shapes by hand.

When I checked in with my brother about pans and spatulas, he told me he’d mentioned the cake project to a colleague at General Mills.  She offered to share some decorating stamps that she had.
He asked if she could come watch, saying, “She  bakes cakes but has never tried fondant before.”

“Sure,” I said as I suddenly understood what he meant by “bakes cakes.”   I had just invited Betty Crocker to watch me put together one of the more complicated cakes I’ve ever attempted in an unfamiliar kitchen.  “No problem,” I said, hoping those words would come true.

The night before the party, I decided to create a tumbling block pattern using one of the diamond cutters.   When husband started sketching rows of diamonds on the kitchen chalk board, I asked Meg, my sister-in-law, if they had the tumbling block quilt my mom made for my brother when he was in high school.  Meg brought it downstairs, which helped with the logistics of the fondant quilt.  I had a pattern, but I still didn’t know how it would come together.

In the end, I turned a sheet cake into a mattress by frosting it with butter cream and wrapping it in white fondant.

Share on Facebook+1Pin it on PinterestShare on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUponSubmit to reddit Share

Pizza Predicament

We eat pizza frequently in our house.   Much of the eating that takes place goes on in the creation phase, at least for my daughters.  A snitch of prosciutto here, an olive there, some red pepper, maybe a pinch of dough, or two, or three.  While they snack, they create faces with a combination of toppings.    Sometimes they shape their pizzas like puppy dogs or butterflies.  Other times their pizzas are just pizzas, but they’re always masterpieces.  They love making art that they can eat, and I love it, too.   With two small artists-in-residence, our tiny cottage often gets overwhelmed with art projects of the non-edible variety.  The pizzas turn out lovely, and then they disappear, taking with them any potential for guilt that might result from a post-clutter purge.

My friend Christian messed with my pizza reality, though, when he described the stuffed pizza that he had recently baked.   When he said, “You laminate the dough with butter,” I think  I cut him off mid-sentence.  Sometimes I can’t help myself.

“We don’t have anything planned for tomorrow night yet,”  I pointed out.  “Are we making pizza?”  Christian and his family had come to visit for only three days.  I needed to see and taste this lamination.

The next morning, Christian made dough.  While it rose, we rowed to town for lunch.

Once we arrived back home, Christian raced off to a curriculum development meeting with a summer scientist at Friday Harbor Labs.  In his absence, I suddenly found myself laminating pizza dough with butter.  At least he printed out the recipe for me.

I’m the first to admit that laminating pizza dough sounds intimidating, but it really just involves shaping the dough into a large rectangle, brushing it with a generous layer of butter, and rolling it up into a thick log before dividing it and forming it into two balls that rise again for the good part of an hour.

 

While it rises, you can make sauce and prepare toppings, or rather, fillings.  Christian returned home from his meeting in time to fill the pies with cheese, sausage, pepperoni, and olives.  He topped them off with tomato sauce and some Parmesan cheese.  I’m still savoring this perfect meal that we took to South Beach that evening.

It amazes me that any of us had room for the s’mores we made around the fire after dinner.

I am pretty adventurous in the kitchen, but I don’t think I would have made this recipe on my own.  I would have skimmed it and carelessly cast it aside, thinking it much too much trouble for my busy little life.  Now I know better.  In fact, only two days after Christian and his family left town, I laminated dough for pizza again.  It’s that good, and it’s that easy.  And it’s fun to say.

So here’s the trouble.  Part of this pizza’s goodness lies in its fillings.   The little girls who live in my house only agree on one thing about what belongs on or in a pizza aside from cheese:  no tomato sauce.  This new pizza experience made me realize why pizza dinners had always made for such lovely evenings.  Everyone handcrafted a pizza masterpiece perfect for its maker.  Now, as I faced two blank palettes for the whole family, I knew what I should do.  I should make one sauce-less cheese pizza and fill the other with spinach, mushrooms, cheese, and sauce.

I couldn’t do it, though.  I filled that first pizza with cheese, and it just wasn’t enough.  I added a little sauce that my girls could scrape off if they wanted.  They didn’t complain, but they each only ate a tiny sliver.  The rest of us polished off the spinach and mushroom pizza, took a look at the plain cheese one and called ourselves done.

I know I should feel thankful that the plain pizza didn’t tempt anyone to eat more of this butter-laden meal than was really necessary, but I’ve already made a mental note to dig for the mini pie dishes that we have somewhere in our storage unit.  It’s not just about plain cheese pizza going uneaten;   I miss watching little artists busily creating masterpieces they can’t wait to eat.   Besides, I just recycled about a dozen paintings they water-colored that afternoon while I made pizzas.

Deep-Dish Pizza with Spinach & Mushrooms

Adapted from Christian Reilly’s recipe, courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated.  Makes two 10-inch pizzas.  If you’re feeling adventurous, I’d recommend cooking up some sausage and re-creating the sausage, pepperoni, olive pizzas Christian made.  Next time, with more pizzas to fill, I will.

Dough
3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
7 tablespoons melted butter, divided
olive oil

Sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup grated onion
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
olive oil
salt and pepper

Fillings
1 pound mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 pounds fresh baby spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced

Mix flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.  While mixing on low speed, add water and 3 tablespoons melted butter.  Mix until will combined.  Switch to dough hook and knead until the dough is smooth and glossy and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Coat a large bowl with olive oil.  Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough once to coat the top with oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes.

Adjust oven rack to the lowest position.  Heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface and roll into a 15- by 12-inch rectangle.  Spread 4 tablespoons of softened butter over the dough’s surface, leaving a 1/2-inch border along the edges.  Starting at the short end, roll the dough into a tight cylinder.  With the seam side down, flatten cylinder into an 18- by 4-inch rectangle.  Cut in half crossways.  Working with one half at a time, fold into thirds, pinch seams together, and form into a ball.  Allow balls to rise in oiled bowls until nearly doubled in volume, about 50 minutes.

While the dough rises, heat 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat until melted.  Add onion, oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt;  cook, stirring occasionally until liquid has evaporated and onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in tomatoes and sugar, increase heat to high, and bring to a simmer.  Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to about 2 1/2 cups, about 25 to 30 minutes.  Off heat, stir in basil and one tablespoon olive oil, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over high heat.  Add mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, until the mushrooms begin to color, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add minced garlic and cook for another minute.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Coat two 10-inch pie dishes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil each.  Transfer one dough ball to a lightly floured work surface and roll out into a 13-inch disk about 1/4-inch thick.  Transfer dough to one of the prepared pie dishes.  Repeat with remaining dough ball.

Divide spinach and mushroom mixture between the two pies, followed by cheese, sauce, and Parmesan.  Bake until crust is golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes.  Remove pizzas from oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Share on Facebook+1Pin it on PinterestShare on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUponSubmit to reddit Share

Good Things Come in Threes

Last summer, my friend Kimi came to visit us for her birthday.   She’s spent enough time on the island to know how she wanted to celebrate: dinner at South Beach followed by buttermilk cake with fresh strawberries and cream.

I’m a fan of summer evenings at South Beach, and I’m also a fan of buttermilk cake, so I felt happy to oblige:  I baked her a cake, and we loaded into our cars with food to grill over the fire pit.

We had several hills to travel up and down along the way, so I held the cake  nervously on my lap as my husband drove.    If I could have crossed my fingers, I would have, and, as it turns out, I should have.  As we rolled over the speed bump  at the bottom of the hill where we live, the cake’s four layers slid onto my chest.  Whipped cream and strawberries covered me from shoulders to waist.  We’d been in the car for less than a minute.  When we arrived South Beach, I drank a beer and the kids got busy rebuilding the cake, adding blueberries from a bowl of fruit that somebody brought.  Let’s just say that it tasted great and leave it at that.
This summer, when Kimi came to visit us for her birthday again, I wanted to make her the same cake.  Her eyes lit up when I asked her about it, squelching my husband’s hope that she might want chocolate cake instead.







As I prepared the cake, Eliza and her friend Tarn started making presents for Kimi.  These first graders-to-be finger-knitted scarves and fashioned cards.  After some whispering in the corner, they asked for some cardboard boxes and went outside with a box of streamers and tissue paper.  Awhile later, they sent three-year-old Tessa inside for candy, which obviously made me suspicious.  I asked the girls’ dads, who were sitting contently at the picnic table outside, to explain the situation.   As it happened, Eliza and Tarn decided that Kimi needed piñatas.  Notice the plural there.  Not just one piñata, but three.  This I could support.  I dug out the plastic bin that contains loot from Halloween, the Fourth of July parade, and, of course, birthday piñatas, so they could fill the ones they’d made.

As luck would have it, my nephew Gregory also had a birthday to celebrate.   Apparently he’s always on the road for his summer-time birthday.  Birthday cake and three piñatas this year seemed to ease the sting of being away from friends at home.

Turns out I only had 14 birthday candles.  Fate?  Good luck?  A miracle?  Who knows, but I put 11 in one corner for Gregory and three for thirty-something Kimi in another.

Kimi said she’d never even had one piñata at her birthday before.  Good things come in threes, which means she should really come back next year for a third buttermilk cake with fresh strawberries and cream.

Buttermilk Cake with Fresh Strawberries and Cream

From Foster’s Market.

Serves 10-12.

 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound butter
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups buttermilk
3 cups heavy cream
3 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into slices
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and lightly flour two 9-inch round or square cake pans and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  Stir to mix.  Set aside.

Cream butter and 2 1/4 cups of sugar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer.

Add eggs to butter mixture one at a time.  Beat several minutes until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla extract.

Add flour to the egg-butter mixture, alternating with buttermilk.  Stir until combined.

Divide batter between prepared pans.  Bake 45 to 50 minutes, until cakes are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean.

Remove cakes from the oven and cool for 10 to 15 minutes in the pans.  Remove from pans and cool completely on a baking rack.

Use a serrated knife to slice off the rounded top part of each layer to make a flat, even surface.  Cut each layer in half horizontally through the center to make 4 layers.  Nibble or discard the trimmings.

Meanwhile, whip the cream in a bowl with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until soft peaks form.

Place one of the layers, cut side down, on a cake plate.  Top with about one-third of the whipped cream and one-third of the strawberries.  Repeat the process with the next two layers and the remaining cream and berries.  Place the fourth layer on top, cut side down.  Top with hulled whole or halved berries and sprinkle with confectioners sugar just before serving.

Share on Facebook+1Pin it on PinterestShare on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUponSubmit to reddit Share
Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE