Friday, November 19, 2010

First Annual Pie Night!

I haven't posted in a few weeks.  I have been having a grand time looking up pie recipes for my family's first annual pie night.  What a glorious sight!

What is pie night?  Pie night is a borrowed tradition from another family.  They have been celebrating pie night for over a generation.  Pie night started because the pies weren't receiving their just due when served on Thanksgiving day with all of the other delicious treats.  So Mee-ma told her 4 kids to each choose a pie, and she would make them each a pie plus one for her husband and herself, and they would dine on those pies on Thanksgiving Eve.  As the children grew and married and had children of their own, each family member got their own pie.  Those 4 kids are now grandparents themselves and still getting their own pie each year.  What a wonderful family legacy!

My family has a lot of time to make up, but we have to start somewhere!  Last night was our first annual.  We had 17 pies, 13 baked by me and the rest baked by friends. 

We had chess pie requested by my oldest son, S.  Chess pie is an old-fashioned pie made with vinegar and cornmeal - created and developed a long time ago by wonderfully ingenious farming mothers who made pie out of what they had on hand when they really didn't have anything on hand except staples.  But don't think that means it doesn't taste good!  It has a lovely, homey, humble flavor that satisfies your sweet tooth and your love for comfort food.

We had key lime pie for my oldest daughter, S.  I squeezed every one of those little key limes by hand.  If I made this regularly, I would invest in one of those key lime squeezers, but then I might lose the feeling of love as I squeeze each one for my daughter.

We had an applie pie for my younger son, D.  He likes one pie, and pretty much only one pie.  And don't put any ice cream on it.  Just give him apple pie, thank you.

And we had a pumpkin pie for my younger daughter, B, even though she was at class.  B may or may not like to party with people, so she was perfectly happy for us to hold Pie Night while she was at class.  All she wanted was a piece of pumpkin pie.  And then I "broke" it by garnishing it with whipped cream.  Sigh.  I will have to make a new one for Thanksgiving...

We had pecan and oreo and peach and banana cream and French silk and coconut cream and blueberry.  I think I made the coconut cream for me, but it was a toss up between that and the blueberry.  And while the coconut cream made with coconut milk and toasted coconut was the best of its kind I'd ever tasted, I have to say that the blueberry was my favorite of the night.  The blueberries were simmered in wine for about 45 minutes until the wine had been reduced to a wonderful syrup before mixing up the rest of the filling.  Yum!  The berries tasted so fruity and bright. 

We had custard pie, chocolate mint, chocolate chip, butterscotch meringue and peanut butter.  The sight was glorious to behold!  I told everyone there that Pie Night is one of the holiest nights of the year but some have yet to believe.  A night set aside and like no other night of the year.  I'm jus' sayin'...

My house is small, and we were packed in like sardines, but no one complained.  We ate pie, we drank tea and coffee and a cranberry tea punch and laughed and ate more pie. 

And at the end of the night, when it was just family left we planned our Thanksgiving dinner together.  That was a great feeling of each contributing to the whole.  We're not planning to do turkey or even stuffed turkey breasts with artichoke hearts and spinach.  We'll do a pork tenderloin with stuffing and roasted root vegetables plus brussels sprouts and wheat rolls.  Oh, and pumpkin pie for dessert plus the leftovers of the fruit pies from last night that are resting quietly in the freezer until next week.  And oh yea, I'm going in for the blueberry again.  No doubt.

Then my oldest son drove his grandma home and had one of the best conversations he'd ever had with her.  Talk about icing on the cake.  Er, well, on the pie....

Such a great night.  I can't wait to do it all again next year!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Maple Syrup - Real vs. Imagined

So I am 40 - freakin' - 9 years old, and for the first time this morning, I had a maple syrup tasting.  I think I need to hold more in the future, but for this first venture into the unknown, I simply tasted real maple syrup vs. the artificial stuff.  Now mind you, I have typically only purchased the artificial stuff due to price more than anything.  But also due to availability. Look at your local mega-mart (as Alton Brown likes to call them), and  you will see the shelves full of the artificial stuff, but you have to search for the real stuff.  But a comment of a friend recently made me decide to pick up a bottle of the real stuff.  It had been years since I intentionally had ingested any of the real stuff, long before I was ever a genuine foodie at heart, so it seemed like it was time. 

I had been using the real in some pumpkin scones recently, but I hadn't yet done a side-by-side taste test.  I didn't make this a blind tasting, but I don't believe that would have mattered.  They taste nothing alike.  I mean nothing.  NOTHING.  Exactly how is the artificial stuff supposed to be imitating the real stuff?  Who in the R&D departments at these artificial manufacturers has decided that the flavors match?  Are they R&D taste testing wannabes who've never developed their taste bud palette surrounding syrup?  Or have they believed the lie for so long they don't know the difference?

I'm not saying that I definitely liked one over the other.  I'm not yet a real maple syrup snob.  I was more struck by the fact that they taste entirely different.  And how did this happen?

Which brings me to the even bigger question.  Are we a society that is so accustomed to the artificial that we have no sense of the real any more?  Is this the result of fast foods and microwaves?  Are the big, "evil" mass production facilities and marketers to blame, taking the root cause even farther back to previous generations where we began to accept sub par canned and bottled goods?  Are we all just so busy that we never take time to taste what we are placing on our tongues? 

I admit, I can be guilty of all of the above.  While I've never been responsible for mass production of food stuffs, I am just as much of a consumer as the next person, often accepting the taste of the mass produced.  I don't have many canned goods in my kitchen, and while I don't usually have canned vegetables on hand, I regularly have canned soup around.  Evidence of my role as a consumer and a mother.  Same with the fast food.  I've definitely done my share of that.  Trust me; I don't want you to review my debit card hits for any number of reasons, including this one.  And I may not use my microwave allot, but I have been known to purchase a Marie Callender's frozen lunch from time to time.  And I shudder to think how often I have eaten without tasting.

Taste.  It is one of the incredible gifts from our Creator that we take for granted.  He didn't have to give us a sense of taste.  He didn't have to create foods that taste good.  He could have given us basic manna to eat all of our lives.  But He didn't.  He gave us onions and garlic and cinnamon and turmeric and cumin and ginger.  He gave us leavening and sugar and flour and a craving for beauty in the things we see and create.  He gave us apples and pumpkins and cream and vanilla beans.  He gave us coffee and tea and butter.

And maple.  OR really maple trees that have this amazing sap flowing inside that some ingenious folks in our past decided to extract and boil down to enjoy.  And then some other ingenious folks decided to imitate this to make it more affordable to the masses (which I don't have a problem with). 

But somewhere along the way the flavor of maple got lost.  The real flavor of maple, so that we have come to accept the imitation flavor of maple as more real than the real.

How many other things have we lost the real taste for without even realizing it?  How many other places do we accept the imitation and have come to believe that it is more real than the real?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Adult Kids

I enjoy my adult kids.  I now have 4 of them, but no grandkids yet.  (I do have a grand dog, but she doesn't really like me unless my daughter isn't around.  After a few minutes of crying when my daughter leaves, you can clearly see Addy look at me and mutter under her breath..."I guess you're as good as it gets for now..." so then she will snuggle, because ultimately Addy is a snuggler and not a player.)

But back to my adult kids.  They are fun.  The hard part of raising them is over or generally so.  I suppose we never really stop parenting our kids, but 2 of the 4 are out of the house, so I'm really just in standby mode for the most part with the 2 of them.  And even the 2 still at home either aren't open to much parenting or do not really need much.  In fact, my youngest - my baby - said that she was good to stay overnight by herself next week while I'm out of town with the other one.  Apparently I'm the only one feeling a bit unsure about this arrangement.  And I can't logically say why.  If you figure that she is 18, and I got married at the ripe-old age of 19, then what is my problem?  I'm a mother.  That's my problem.  The shoe is on a very different foot now, and it seems to be permanently glued to that foot.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Not entirely...

I'm not entirely a morning person.  I hate early morning service desk tickets.  I received one at 5:06 this morning, and once I'm awake, I'm generally awake.  I work in IT, and this is one of the "perks" of the job, but I still have trouble loving it.

Even so, I can't seem to go back to sleep.

My daughter and one friend say that they are skilled sleepers.  I must not be one.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Does this make me a morning person?

It is 5:40am, and I have just slid one of the apple pies I was supposed to bake yesterday into the oven.  I was home and could have done it last night, but I was mentally exhausted.  I wasn't particularly physically exhausted, but I was mentally at my end.  So I went to bed and got up early this morning to bake an apple pie. 

Does that make me a morning person or just really stinkin' sleep deprived?

Ah the big questions of life.  One may never know.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things...

I'm hungry and food is on my mind.  I need to bake two apple pies today.  I also have some leftover corn bread, so I plan to make stuffing to go with baked chicken and mashed potatoes later today. 

I think all of those things are a few of my favorite things.

But here are a few more.  Fresh baked bread and rolls.  Even just having yeast dough rising quietly but so full of potential in my kitchen.  The possibilities...oh...the possibilities! 

Cheese.  More possibilities.  Especially if there are blue veins running innocently throughout, holding such promise for bite and to make my mouth sing.

Cake.  So whimsical.  Who doesn't smile when a cake is around?  And if they don't, well, chances are they are in big need of a smile.  So maybe a cupcake or a cake pop would do the trick.  But back to the whimsy.  Fragile, delicate, sweet crumbs held together with fillings and frosting and hidden architecture to take on the appearance of things much sturdier or living or louder.  But most importantly - taking on the appearance of things celebratory.  Celebrating a person's life and living.  What a glorious thing!  All from the humble yet tricky beginnings of a piece of cake.

The smell of onion and celery sauteing together in butter when I make that cornbread stuffing.  It is a smell I remember from the night before Thanksgiving, when my mother would be preparing the stuffing.  I would be at the table, crumbling up the cornbread, and she would be stirring the onion and celery.  The smell takes me back every time, and it makes me smile and cry all at the same time.  I miss her.

The feel of the cornbread in my fingers.  Cooking is such a sensual combination of sight, smell, sound, touch long before we ever get to the taste.  Or well, while we are getting to the taste part.

Julia Child.  Alton Brown.  Jeff Smith (better known as the Frugal Gourmet).  Fanny Farmer.  I love me some good entreperneurial pioneer spirit, and each of these are or were cooking pioneers in their own way.

My Sisterhood.  For almost two years now, we have gotten together about once a month to cook.  We've done croissants, chocolate souffle, duck al 'orange, Julia's boeuf, some of the most amazing breads you could ever want to pull out of your own oven and pop into your mouth, garlic night, pizza night.  I think the only common denominator to all of the events has been wine.  Even on pizza night when we paired beer with the different pizzas, wine was still at the ready.  As of this writing, we are planning to host a tea in the near future that we hope many of our friends will attend so we can all indulge in tea and scone tasting.  And champagne!

Pastry.  Such a combination of chemistry and art.  Much of cooking can be described as such, but it is truer in pastry than anywhere else.  Over-measuring flour.  Over-working dough.  Forgetting one ingredient.  All of these can be detrimental to the outcome, and the product will be completely unforgiving.  Developing delicate layers of dough and butter so that you achieve the maximum expansion in the oven.  Decorating with washes and sugars to entice the pallette and the eye.  These are the things that keep drawing me back to pastry over and over again.

I haven't mentioned "crisp apple streudels" (but I've come close!) or "schnitzel with noodles" (a taste treat I have never tried, but I need to!), but as I think of cooking for others, these are some of my favorite things.

Which brings me to my last point - others.  If nothing else, food is about bringing people together.  Cooking for others is one of my "love languages."  I want people to feel loved when they come to the table.  For if I have failed in that arena, no matter how gorgeous or tasty the culinary offerings may be, it will have all been for naught.  For people matter most.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Better Late than Never?

So if you are reading this, chances are that I've told you about this blog.  But I don't really have plans to tell people I'm doing this...not just yet anyway.  I want to explore what blogging is like first.  For example, I have no idea what I want to write about.  I love to talk with people about food.  I'm also one of those people who gets what it's like to go through really hard times, times that suck.  I'm also a mother of 4 adult "children" and a woman of faith.  My faith in God (and I mean the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit just so we're all clear how I define the name "God") is very important to me; I am a follower, but I don't have it all figured out by any stretch of the imagination.  My guess is that if I keep this up, readers will get a glimpse into my heart, which includes times of strong conviction coupled with doubts, times of joy coupled with grief, times of excitement coupled with doldrums, times of "too many words and not enough time" coupled with "I have nothing to say."  Such is my life.  And that barely scratches the surface of what is on my mind.

Let's start with the name of my blog - Jus' Deb's Dissertations.  I have a tendency to write lengthy, detailed emails at work that I have called Deb Dissertations for years.  I don't set out to intentionally write lengthy, detailed emails.  It just happens, because by the time I've done my best to explain the issues and the actions that are needed, I realize how long the email is and that most people won't read them.  But hey, my dad trained me to "CYA" so...maybe I just have a secret desire to be a lawyer....nah....

Now for the Jus' Deb part.  I don't mean anything deragatory about me, so please don't tell me about my low self-esteem...that "horrible" disease and problem of the last quarter century or so.

Seriously, don't lay it on me.  If you do, we won't be starting a conversation.  It's a boring one, and I have a whole lot more interesting things to talk about.

Instead I mean, it's jus' me. 

Something troubling you or you need to vent?  No sweat; let it out; it's Jus' Deb. 

Want to talk theology?  No sweat; we may need to grab a brew, but let's talk.  It's Jus' Deb. 

Want to get caught up?  Cool.  We probably only need to grab a cuppa tea, but it's all good.  It's Jus' Deb. 

Need prayer or to confess something.  I'm here.  I will do my best to be kind and gracious and not judge.  I know the sin of which I myself am capable.  I'm Jus' Deb.

I hope to learn about this blogging thing and find my voice.  If you hang with me, I hope it's a fun ride that is helpful and beneficial for both of us. 

Yep, my first post is a Deb Dissertation....a DD...sigh...