Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 6: Gluten Free Strawberry Rhubarb

Because I had so many requests, I made a gluten free pie crust for this episode of “Stay Calm and Bake Pie.”

I’m no expert on gluten free baking — and I don’t need to be! That is the whole point of this series — to show you that pie does not have to be perfect to be good. People LOVE and appreciate a homemade pie, no matter how it turns out.

This pie crust is about managing your expectations. It won’t roll out smoothly and lift into your dish the way regular pie dough does. It will be sticky. It will be messy. It will break. It will look like a disaster. AND….like an ugly duckling, it will still become a gorgeous, delicious swan of a pie. I promise!

Use cookie cutters to transform your
pie into an art piece!

Gluten free flour can be hard to come by these days, so if you can’t find the GF all-purpose flour then use almond flour, or rice flour, or whatever GF flour variety you can find. The recipe is pretty much the same no matter which type of GF flour you use and it’s a simple one.

For a double-crust pie, you will need:

3 cups GF flour (plus extra for rolling dough)
1 cup butter
2 eggs
Ice water (or milk — some even use sour cream in addition to a liquid)
Salt
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
2 teaspoons Xantham Gum (I didn’t have any, but it can help bind the dough and give it elasticity)

For strawberry-rhubarb filling:

8 cups chopped fruit — combo of strawberries and rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup Minute tapioca

Watch this episode to the end, because….baby goats.

 

Previous episodes:  Here’s the playlist on YouTube


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And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Lastly, please send me pictures of your finished pies!!! I will post them in my “victory shot” album on  Facebook.

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 5: Chicken Pot Pie

In episode 5 of “Stay Calm and Bake Pie,” Doug is back by popular demand, demonstrating his culinary skills. Not sure if it’s him or my improving editing skills, but damn if he doesn’t look like a professional chef in this episode.

Also, there’s some great music in this one.  The Mike and Amy Finders Band gave us permission to use their song, “Man in the Kitchen.” It’s a PERFECT fit for Doug’s segment!  And legendary musician, Eric Troyer, of The Orchestra featuring ELO former members, wrote a pie song JUST FOR ME! There’s a short version of it playing in the intro, and the full version for the ending.

This pie lesson project has turned into a joyful labor of love. I am enjoying the learning curve of the editing process (I’m shooting with an iPad, and only using iMovie to edit. I haven’t yet advanced to Premiere or Final Cut.) It keeps my creative juices overflowing, almost as much as my chicken pot pie filling.

I especially love all the positive feedback. I am hearing over and over again, “Thank you for these videos.” You. Are. So. Welcome. Thank you for watching them!

I continue to receive photos of your finished pies — “victory shots,” I call them. Sorry I have gotten behind on posting them all to the Facebook Victory Shot album, but I’m so focused on getting the next videos made I haven’t had the time to go back and collect all the pie photos. There are so many! But I do see all of your pics and every single one of them, along with the accompanying stories, makes me swell with happiness and pride.

As for this particular pie, I confess, I had not made a chicken pot pie in years, so my skills were rusty on this one. And because I was nervous, and thus rushing, I spilled milk all over my stove. But guess what? That pie turned out great. It was so effing delicious it went from being comfort food to un-comfortable food because we ate WAY TOO MUCH! I hesitate to mention that because I am sensitive to the fact that there are people going hungry out there due to job loss, homelessness, illness….I am aware of how privileged we are to have this abundance of food to eat. I am also aware that for all that I preach about how pie is meant to be shared I’m not giving away many pies these days. It’s not easy to get out of the house, and we live 25 minutes from town. Still….I want to be doing more to help others. I just hope that by sharing these lessons I am doing something to give back to the world.

So without further ado, here is the chicken pot pie lesson…

Next episode: GLUTEN FREE PIE!!!!

Previous episodes:  Here’s the playlist on YouTube

Please follow me on my social media pages:

And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 4: Key Lime

My farmer’s hands.
They not only
build strong fences,
they make good pie!

And now for something a little different in the “Stay Calm and Bake Pie” video series. Doug appears as the guest baker in this episode, making key lime pie.

There are many approaches to making pie and yet the same pie made in different ways can still turn out equally good. Doug and I, with our mismatched baking styles, are proof of that. Instead of debating it, we embrace it — and have a little fun with it in this “he said-she said” format.

Previous episodes:
Click here for my previous lessons on YouTube (apple, berry crumble, banana cream)

Next episodes:

  •  Chicken Pot Pie
  •  Gluten-free pie 
  •  Pie-in-a-Jar and other various shapes and forms 
  • Please follow me on my social media pages:

    And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

    Love, Beth

    Doug also shares some tips for what rum pairs well with the pie.

    For the Love — and Grief — of Goats

    Mr. Friendly, Mamacita & Chaps asking, “Yo! Where’s our breakfast?”

    Three weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I went out to the barn, as I do every morning, to feed the goats. The three of them—Mamacita, Mr. Friendly and Chaps—are normally waiting at the gate, having already been staring at the house with anticipation upon waking, as if they could will me to come out sooner with their breakfast.

    When the two males, Mr. Friendly and Chaps, see me coming they rear up on their hind legs and head butt each other, slamming their horns so hard the smacking sound echoes off the barn. I first thought this was an act of aggression, but after observing it repeatedly, always in this context of me bearing breakfast bowls of grain, I realized it was the goat version of a high five.

    But on this particular morning—Sunday, November 11—there was only one goat waiting at the gate.

    Our goats are old. They were already at least 12 when we adopted them from an elderly couple in Selma, Iowa, the tiny village just down the road from Eldon. I had fallen in love with the goats during the four years I lived in the American Gothic House; I would bring them carrots while out on my road bike rides, I would feed them through the chain-link fence, and we developed a bond. They got to know me over time, always running to greet me when I pulled up on my bicycle. Given they were already at the top end of their lifespan when we adopted them, and we’ve had them for three years, they are now well into a very advanced age. Camp Doug is their retirement home, and as with any senior citizens, I know I need to be prepared for their departure.

    Prepared? When you love someone—whether man or animal—who is ever prepared for a goodbye that is so final?

    We lost one of the four goats a year and a half ago, in April of 2017. After spending a month at my dad’s bedside in California, caring for him through his aggressive cancer and doing the unthinkable: saying goodbye to him, I returned home only to find myself right back in hospice.

    Cinnamon

    Cinnamon, our tan-colored fainting goat, had stopped eating while I was away. So for two weeks following my return, I alternated between sitting with her in the barn and driving to the vet with her stool samples or to get medicine, desperate for a cure to whatever was ailing her.

    The vet prescribed a homemade “goat drench,” a concoction of corn oil, molasses and Gatorade, which I was to squirt into her mouth with a turkey baster. I squirted. She pursed her lips tight and jerked her head away. I pushed the baster into her mouth again. “Come on, beautiful. You have to eat something.” The sight of the drench running out of the side of her mouth, leaving a sticky trail of brown and sugary oil on her beautiful fluffy coat, was as upsetting to me as her failing health. I went back to the vet again and again, pleading for something, anything to help.

    Finally, the vet held my shoulders and stared straight into my eyes. “She’s 15,” the vet said.

    “But…” I started to say.

    The vet interrupted me, repeating more sternly, “She’s 15.”

    And then one morning, after Doug left to do his farm chores, he came back inside to find me. “She’s gone,” he said tenderly. I went outside to find her in the far corner of the barn, the life drained from her body after her drawn-out struggle. We buried her on the west side of the farmhouse, between the garden and the soybean field. Doug shoveled out the grave and I bought flowers to put on top. When we had pushed the last of the black soil over her, Doug went back to work and I went on antidepressants.

    My dad died in March. Cinnamon died in April. And in June of that same year, 2017, Jack, my dog and surviving member of “Team Terrier,” developed both diabetes and congestive heart failure. He has nearly died at least four times during the past 18 months. Miraculously, after thousands of dollars in vet bills and countless tears, he is still alive—14 and ½ years old, blind, his strong spirit still intact. Every morning when I wake up, I hold my breath as I check to see that he is still breathing. When I see his chest rise and fall, I exhale with relief.

    Jack is blind, but he still likes to go for walks —
    even when I have to carry him in the backpack.

    It’s the same with the goats. Every morning when I go out to feed them, I scan the goat pen to make sure the three of them are accounted for.

    But on that Sunday, three weeks ago, only Mr. Friendly was at the gate.

    Occasionally the others hang out in the barn until breakfast is ready, but they always come running at the clanking metal sound of the gate opening. That Sunday, no one came running.

    I pushed past Mr. Friendly, who is a big, white, lovable lug, and walked further into the pen where I saw Chaps, who looks like a miniature wildebeest. He was lingering in the doorway of the barn. But I didn’t see Mamacita.

    Mamacita


    Mamacita, who is a pygmy goat, is Chaps’ mom. She’s a feisty little thing with one horn (the other broke off years ago) who Doug so accurately describes as Granny from “The Beverly Hillbillies.” She may be the smallest of the herd but she’s in charge. She’s the adventurous one who leads the others to the far reaches of the yard, discovering the parts meant to be off limits, like the garden when everything is ripe or the hay barn when the door has been left open. If there is a feast to be had, she is the one who will find it.

    She is also the one who pushes through the gate if I leave any bit of space to squeeze through. Lately I had been encouraging her to escape so I could feed her outside the pen, allowing her the extra time she needed to eat so the boys didn’t steal her food. She could go back into the pen when she was done eating by pushing the gate in, but the boys could not push it out. She didn’t always go back in though. She would take advantage of her freedom and graze in the yard while the boys watched with envy from behind the fence. I had been allowing this, giving her special privileges, though I give the boys equal time to roam freely too—much to Doug’s disapproval. But Doug knows how much I love the goats, and he loves me, so without saying anything he simply puts up fences around the mock orange bushes, flower beds and other areas he doesn’t want them devouring.

    With Mr. Friendly and Chaps accounted for, I went looking for Mamacita. “Maybe she’s just around the corner, warming up in the sun,” I thought, hopefully. But she wasn’t, so my next option was the barn.

    The barn is cavernous and dark inside. I walked in, pausing to let my eyes adjust to the darkness, and headed toward the back. And then I saw her, Mamacita, lying on her side in the straw.

    Was she was sick? Was she going to be okay?

    As I got closer, I felt the energy shift around me, the molecules of air rearranging themselves. I was filled with a simultaneous sense of dread and hope and knowing—that moment of teetering on the precipice right before falling, that last precious nanosecond of time before discovering that life as you have known it has just permanently, irreversibly changed.

    She was dead.

    I knelt down in the straw to feel her body, rubbing my hands on her white and brown hair, long and coarse. Given she was cold to the touch, she must have died during the night.

    The guilt came hard and fast. “Did she freeze to death? Did I not feed her enough to keep her warm?” I asked myself. Iowa has had an early winter. It had snowed two days earlier and temperatures plummeted to a record cold of nine degrees. Nine degrees! In early-November!  “Should I have gotten her a coat?”

    Doug came out to the barn and held me in his arms as I sobbed on his shoulder. In his soothing way, he said, “Bea, she just ran out of gas. She didn’t suffer. Her heart probably just stopped. What a peaceful way to go.” Then he left me to sit with her a while longer while he got his shovel and went to dig her grave next to Cinnamon’s.

    Our funeral for Mamacita

    We held a little graveside service, lighting a candle, reading poems to her from John O’Donohue’s “To Bless the Space Between Us” and sprinkled baby carrots into the pit. We said our thank yous and our final goodbyes to her, then Doug picked up his shovel, while I picked up a handful of dirt to toss into the grave in the symbolic way they do at human burials. But I didn’t stop there. I dropped to my knees and started pushing the icy soil on top of her, at first gently, then shoving it in faster with my bare hands, until she was completely covered.

    We worked in silence as the dirt piled up into a mound, the physical effort and connection to the earth serving as therapy for my sadness. Yet my tears—and my remorse—continued. “Did she freeze to death? Did I not feed her enough? Did I not keep her warm enough?” I asked myself again and again. “Could I have prevented this? Surely there is something I could have done.”

    “She was 15!” the vet’s voice from a year and a half earlier bellowed in my head. “15!”

    In reality, she was older than that, maybe closer to 16 or 17, living well beyond a pygmy goat’s 10- to 12-year average life expectancy.

    For as much as I want to keep my animals alive forever, there comes a day—not just for the animals but for all of us—when our bodies expire, when no amount of medicine or molasses-based goat drench can keep us going.

    “It’s sad,” my mom said when I told her about Mamacita’s passing, “but you have prolonged all of their lives by taking them in and providing such a good life at Camp Doug.”

    Her words provided some consolation, but they didn’t erase the added heartache of watching our two surviving goats grieve. Yes, goats grieve. For about three days, Chaps stood off on his own, his head pushed up against the barn as if he didn’t want anyone to see him cry, while Mr. Friendly paced around the pen, the barn and the pasture, as if looking for Mamacita, determined to find her, willing her to return. But she would not be back. At least not in the same form.

    Tiger, our barn cat who hangs out with the goats,
    consoled Chaps after Mamacita died.
    It was a beautiful thing to see animals
    showing compassion for one another.

    “Every day is a bonus” is an expression we utter daily in our house full of elderly animals. Doug’s dog Mali, an athletic but incontinent spaniel/beagle mix, is 14, maybe older. His cats, Tiger and Maybelline, while still strong and healthy, are at least 15.

    Every day Doug reminds me to stop worrying so much, to stop anticipating the losses, and start seeing the days as half full.

    Chaps in his new coat

    “Every day is a bonus, Bea,” Doug reminds me.

    Every day I have been spending a lot of extra time in the goat pen with Chaps and Friendly. I have been bringing them warm water with molasses, and increased their feed. I have been petting and petting and petting them, like some massage therapist for goats. And I bought a new sewing machine to make coats for them out of fleece blankets and an old nylon tarp. (Making the coats was so easy I wished I had made them three years ago.)

    Every day I give Jack his insulin shots, his heart pills, his liver pills, his skin pills. I kiss him every time I walk past him, snuggle with him and tell him how much I love him.

    Every day I brace myself, holding my own breath until I’ve made sure everyone is still breathing—the dogs, the cats, the goats, and yes, Doug (who is 63). And every day I say my prayers of gratitude as I confirm each one is still with us.

    All I want to do is keep everyone alive. Given that I do not possess the power to do so, all I can do is shower them with love for as long as they are still here—and, sadly, grieve them when they are gone. I have lived through too many losses already, and the cumulative grief chips away at my enthusiasm for life. But as Queen Elizabeth said, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” And I cannot and will not stop loving. Fully. Deeply. Courageously.

    Mamacita. Forever loved.

    Thank you, Mamacita, for your sweetness, your feistiness, your girl power, for the four years I visited you in Selma, and for the three happy years we had together at Camp Doug. You are so very missed, and forever very loved.

    Radio Commentary: An Outlet for Dealing with Overwhelming Issues

    Over the past few years I have occasionally written commentaries for Tri States Public Radio, but only when an issue bothered me so badly I was compelled to weigh in on it.

    Apparently listeners appreciate the positive messages I try to convey as I was invited to contribute more commentaries, but this time I was given scheduled dates for them. One of those dates is today. (LISTEN HERE)

    I’ve had weeks to come up with a topic, but there are so many issues bothering me that I didn’t know which one to pick.

    • Immigration
    • The separation of families
    • The nominee to the Supreme Court
    • Gun violence
    • Climate change
    • Trade wars
    • Russian election interference
    • The Mueller investigation
    • An unstable president who is one tweet away from starting World War III
    • Abortion
    • Voting rights
    • Gay rights
    • Civil rights
    • Women’s rights
    • Human rights
    • The right to safe drinking water
    • Education
    • Affordable health care
    • Taking a knee
    • Racial profiling
    • Catholic priests
    • The #MeToo movement

    Oh, and, here’s one that really gets my blood boiling: Western Illinois University’s withdrawal of funding for this radio station.

    I do my best thinking while out riding my bike. I live on a farm and have miles of traffic-free country roads where my mind can work out ideas while I’m working out my body. So to home in on a topic for this commentary, I headed out on my bike.

    Each time I settled on a single issue, crafting the story in my head as I pedaled, my outrage only grew—outrage over injustice, incivility, oppression, deprivation, divisiveness, and more. As I thought about each issue it became so complex it would require a podcast series worth of airtime. Worse, my ruminations exploded into a mushroom cloud of emotion—my anger turned to rage, my vocabulary filled with profanity, and my heart ached so badly over my impotence to fix all our broken systems—that I had to scrap every one of my ideas.

    This happened three days in a row. But each day, half way through my ride, lulled by being in motion, I stopped thinking and started observing the things around me. Soybean fields turning from green to yellow. Butterflies fluttering above the roadside clover. Pristine red barns. A farmer on his combine harvesting his corn in artistic rows. Horses grazing in a pasture. A hawk silhouetted against the sun. Maple leaves rustling in the breeze.

    There was so much beauty right in front of me! As I continued to focus on this pastoral beauty, my anger and despair softened into a state of near bliss.

    This is what near-bliss looks like.

    According to science, my lightened mood was no accident.

    A number of studies, as outlined by Jill Suttie in Greater Good magazine, prove that being in nature decreases stress, makes you happier and less brooding, relieves attention fatigue, increases creativity, may help you to be kind and generous, and makes you feel more alive. Research also shows that spending time in nature lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, relieves muscle tension, and decreases stress hormones.

    An article on the CRC Health website states that nature leads to a sense of spirituality and an appreciation for powers larger than oneself, reminding us that individuals are part of the larger whole. “In a world bogged down by social pressures, standards of conduct, and the demands of others, nature gives people a chance to appreciate a grander sense that the world is…meaningful.”

    These are not new revelations. The importance of being in nature has long been documented.

    Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” 

    Naturalist John Burroughs, wrote, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”

    I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by all the negativity out there.

    There has been a huge uptick in anxiety and depression caused by the current state of political affairs. Recent statistics from the American Psychological Association show that 59% of Americans say that the United States is at the lowest point they can remember in its history, and 63% say the future of the nation is a significant source of stress.

    It’s vital that we don’t allow ourselves to be consumed by this stress, so I would add to Burroughs’ message: We go to nature to restore our wellbeing, to have the ability, fortitude and clarity we need to put our country, our democracy, our whole messy world in order.

    So take a break. Get outside. Exercise. Pay attention to the beauty around you. Spend time in nature. The benefits reaped are an important step toward tackling that long list of issues and finding the solutions we so desperately need.

    Now if we can just find a solution to funding Tri States Public Radio.

    TO DONATE TO TRI STATES PUBLIC RADIO, go to tspr.org or call 800-895-2912

    Guest Blog: Life in the Not Very Fast Lane at Camp Doug(h) — by Doug

    There is no set time when Happy Hour starts on the farm. Beth’s dad, Tom Howard, had a set in stone 5pm start time. For us, in the late spring or summer, it may start at 9pm while we are fixing supper. But now and then it actually starts right on time.

    The official start is when we make the left turn off the sidewalk towards the machine shed where the side-by-side is parked. At this moment our dogs, Jack and Mali, race ahead of us to be first in. Loaded up, the four of us—Beth, the dogs, and me—enjoy a wind-in-our-face ride to the pond. Now we are living!

    The pond is where we want to be on hot summer evenings. Mali squirms out through our legs the instant we are stopped. Jack jumps out then waits obediently for his life jacket from Beth. I dive in from the dock, instantly washing off a day’s worth of dust and sweat. Beth tosses in Jack’s inner tube with the plywood platform (for Jack to stand on), then she throws Jack’s stick. Jack promptly swims after it. Beth dives in to join us. Mali, unlike Jack, is content to hunt frogs in the grass along the edge. Eventually we all enjoy a drying wind as we motor back to the house.

    Once home, the dogs get beef liver treats for leading us on such a grand adventure. Now, accompanied by our beverage of choice (a gin and tonic or wine for Beth, beer or “brown water” for me,) Beth starts to work on a salad and I light the grill. Pork or beef from our freezer will go over the coals. Produce from our garden will go in the salad. Another evening of farm-to-table dining at Camp Doug(h).

    Now that the picnic table, shaded from the evening sun, is set, Jack and Mali line up for their ritual wait, hoping for steak or pork chop bones. With fresh food on the table, the lingering aroma from the grill, a soft summer breeze caressing us, we toast to another beautiful day.

    But the day is not quite finished. With fading light, it is time for “cowboy TV.” Yes, it is when I light a small bonfire in the fire ring beyond the picnic table. Once the flames have calmed down we relax with a little night cap while watching our favorite show. There is a bit of a disagreement as to what show to watch. I like to watch the pulsing red light of glowing embers. Beth prefers to stir the fire and watch the flames. Somehow we manage.

    Eventually the fire starts to fade. But it’s not just the fire. Beth and I are fading too. There is one more thing to do: walk the dogs. You would think they could go on their own, but no, they wait for us. Under a starry summer sky we parade down the gravel road. Mali is always out in front. Jack usually brings up the rear. With a little luck, we may see a shooting star.

    Guest Blogger: Jack Iken on Life at Camp Doug

    Hi, this is Jack Iken. The last time I guest-blogged on my mom’s page was five years ago, which is like 42 years in dog time. I only guest-blogged one other time.  I have posted on Facebook a few times since then, but blogging is way better because you can say more and the stories stay around longer.

    It was Doug who suggested I write a blog post. I like Doug. He calls me Hot Rod. He’s like my stepdad now. My real dad, Marcus Iken, whose last name I still use (but I only get called by my full name, Jack Iken, when I’m in trouble), died 8 years ago. I miss him.

    Daisy & me
    aka Team Terrier

    I also miss Daisy. Even though I pretended not to like her, and always growled at her when she tried to sit in the front seat of the car, which was my spot, I really miss her too. She died 3 years ago this November when we both got attacked by a coyote. My mom was so sad. She said if she had lost both of us she might not have survived, especially because it was right after we moved out of the American Gothic House and didn’t have a home. I was lucky my neck wounds healed after a few weeks. I’m pretty tough—every time I go to the vet they say things like “he’s one tough cookie.” But that was definitely a rough patch. I was really lonely without Daisy.

    I’m not lonely anymore, because now I live at Camp Doug. It’s in Iowa about an hour from our old house. It’s so cool because it’s a farm with cow manure and lots of other super smelly stuff to eat or roll in, like old road kill. I don’t have to wear a collar or be on a leash, ever.

    But best of all is hanging out with Doug and his dog Mali.

    This is Mali and me waiting for treats.

    I love Mali. I like girl dogs who are athletic and not afraid of getting their paws dirty. Mali is like me, half and half. I’m half Jack Russell and half Yorkshire terrier. Mali is half beagle and half Springer Spaniel. She can run really, really fast, like so fast you can’t even see her. I’m fast too, but Mali has longer legs. Doug say, “She’s all lungs and muscle.” She’s like a lean machine. She likes to catch squirrels. I always try to catch squirrels but I never actually do. For me it is more fun to chase them, and then bark my head off at them when they climb back up the tree. But Mali—well, my mom gets really upset with her because she is good at catching small animals, sometimes baby ones, and that makes my mom cry a lot and complain to Doug. When she’s mad like that I just go hide in my man cave, which is the opening under Doug’s desk, where it’s quiet and dark. He doesn’t sit there very often because mostly he is out working on his farm, so I don’t have to worry about his feet getting in my way.

    It’s not just my mom, Doug, Mali and me living at Camp Doug. Maybellene lives here too, inside. She’s a calico cat who thinks she owns the kitchen. Sometimes we fight and I always get blamed, but she is the one who usually starts it.

    This is Maybellene. And she is in MY chair.

    Her son Tiger, who is a redhead like Doug, lives outside and shares the barn with the goats, but mostly Tiger is up in the hayloft and the goats are below. Sometimes Tiger has the neighbor cats over for sleepovers. One of his friends is all black with eyes so light and green and creepy the cat looks like it could be in a horror movie; the other one is black with white paws and, as my mom pointed out, has big balls. (My balls were removed when I was a baby, but that’s okay. I’m still tough and manly. Some people even call me macho.) My mom keeps wondering if there will be kittens, but Doug says Tiger is fixed and we don’t know if the green-eyed-monster cat is a girl. But I don’t want any more pets taking attention away from me. It’s already bad enough with those damn goats.

    This is Cinnamon. 

    There are three goats and they have big horns. There were four, but Cinnamon died a few months ago, probably from old age because she was 15 and 15 is really old for a goat. She was the shy one, like Daisy, and she never caused any trouble. She is buried on the edge of the cornfield. That was a sad time for my mom, because Cinnamon died right after her dad, my Pappou Tom. (Pappou is Greek for Grandpa.) I loved my Pappou and he loved me, though he did not like my barking. I think his hearing aids were on the wrong setting, because I think my bark sounds pretty awesome.

    This is Pappou Tom when he visited us
    at Camp Doug last August.

    Anyway, I was saying, the three goats…

    Mr. Friendly and Tiger
    with other 2 goats behind

    The big white goat, the one with the biggest horns, is called Mr. Friendly. But he is not friendly! He has tried to butt me a few times, but I’m not scared of him or any of them now that I’ve learned how to be a goat herder. I’m really good at it. My mom lets the goats out of their pen to graze in the yard. She says they need some freedom and extra room to graze. But Doug doesn’t like this too much because they eat the flowers and bushes next to the barn. Instead of getting mad at my mom, he keeps putting up more fences around the yard as a compromise. But he also has me as his secret weapon. When I see them come too close to the house I go berserk and shift into my Samurai mode. You should see how fast those fat goats can run! I round them up and they go straight back into their pen. I’m like WAY better at herding than a border collie. I like helping out Doug.

    I’ve been living here at Camp Doug for two years now, which is three months longer than my mom. She brought me back here to spend the summer when she traveled around the world making pie. She remembered how happy I had been when we were at Camp Doug before we moved back to California (for those really depressing six months when I had to be on a leash) and she said she would not go on her Big Trip unless I had a good, safe place to stay.

    Camp Doug is an awesome place. That summer, Doug took me to the pond every day. I swam and he threw a stick for me. I love playing stick. It’s my favorite thing, besides playing keep away, tug-of-war, digging big holes in the dirt, and chasing squirrels (and goats, cows and cats.)

    Also that summer, Doug took Mali and me on long walks to the creek and threw the stick for me there too. One time he even brought his saw to cut extra sticks so there would always be one ready to throw. The supply would run low because I like to take my sticks home with me–I collect them like trophies–and sometimes it takes a while to find a new one. I’m very particular about the size of my sticks. I won’t chase just anything. It has to be big, like a branch or a log, but small enough that a person can still throw it.

    This is what I’m talking about!

    Doug also took me kayaking (and still does.) He taped a piece of carpet to the bow so I can stand on the front of the boat without sliding off. That’s the best!

    Seriously, this is the most fun thing ever.

    He took lots of pictures and videos of me while my mom was traveling and sent them to her. He posted them on Facebook too. My mom got kind of jealous because people liked the posts about me better than her posts about being in what she called “exotic places.” Not my problem. It was her choice to see the world when she could have just stayed in Iowa. But I was having too much fun to give it any thought.

    The best part about that summer was the treats. Doug has pigs on his farm so sometimes he has fresh pig liver. It’s pretty slimy, but it’s cold and refreshing on a hot day and it’s a healthy snack.

    When my mom came back to pick me up from summer camp I told her I wasn’t leaving. I said, “I love you, mom. You can do what you want, but I’m going to stay at Camp Doug forever.” She saw how happy I was, and she also loves Doug (though in a different way than me), so she said, “Okay,” and moved here too.

    This is me in the truck. I love it.
    It smells like farm animals.

    It is so cool to live on a farm. I’m like the happiest I’ve ever been. I love to ride in Doug’s pick up truck. I don’t like to get in my mom’s car anymore because that means leaving the farm and maybe going to a city and being on a leash. But Doug’s truck always goes somewhere fun, someplace that involves dirt, like to the pond or to a cow pasture. I wasn’t allowed near the cows at first, but now I have proven myself to be good at herding cows too. They don’t run as fast as the goats, but it’s still fun to get these big beasts to move. I mean, they’re like huge. Plus there’s so many of them and they make a lot of noise.

    Doug has a lot of cows. So that’s a lot of herding for me.

    Speaking of noise, that’s one of the best things about living here. I love to bark. Every night from about 7:00 to 9:00 PM, I get to be outside and bark as much as I want. Doug calls it “Guarding the Perimeter,” like I’m a watchdog. But that’s not it. I just really like to bark. It’s my way of expressing myself, the Jack Russell side of me. It’s also a good way to communicate with our neighbor’s dogs that live on the other side of the cornfield, and they like to bark back.

    This is Mali and me doing the daytime version
    of “Guarding the Perimeter”

    Sometimes we hear coyotes barking too. This makes me bark even louder, and sometimes I even howl. But the coyotes make my mom crazy with fear. She yells at me, “Jack Iken, you get in here right now! I mean it. NOW!” She is practically panicking but Doug is pretty relaxed and tells her, “He’s fine. The coyotes aren’t that close. And they have plenty to eat out in the field.” She snaps back at him, “You know what happened to Daisy. I am not taking any chances.” And then we all go to bed (I sleep under the bed) and try to sleep, even though we can still hear the coyotes yipping and partying and killing stuff outside. I would never admit it, but I kind of understand why mom worries about me.

    That thing that looks like a Moon Rover is the side-by-side.
    It’s perfect for trips to the pond.

    Farm life is awesome!

    I’m 13 now and Doug is 62, and as much as we like to go on long walks around the farm, we both get a little more tired than we used to, our joints get a little achier than we’d like. So Doug got this really sweet off-road thing for us to ride around in. It’s called a side-by-side, which is kind of a weird name, but it means you can sit next to each other on the bench seat. It’s got a roll bar and seat belts, and netting on the sides that keeps me from falling out. When we don’t feel like walking, especially when it’s too hot, we drive this new 4WD rig to the pond. Mali doesn’t like riding in the truck—she gets really nervous—but she likes the side-by-side as much as I do. Sometimes after swimming, my mom will drive it really fast on the gravel road so my hair will dry. But I think she does it because more than anything my mom likes to make me happy. She knows I like feeling the wind in my face. But I know she likes it too.

    Our family portrait

    My mom said I could guest blog again sometime, but I might not have time. I might be too busy signing autographs after the August issue of Farm and Ranch Living Magazine comes out, since they are doing a story on me. I wasn’t looking to become famous; they approached me and what could I say? Plus I already have a full summer schedule with pond swimming, stick fetching, herding goats and cows and my other farm chores, like climbing on the hay bales and napping. And tonight we are going canoeing because there’s a full moon. My mom is going to make me wear my lifejacket. Life was a little more relaxed when it was just the guys—Doug and me and, well, Mali, since she’s like one of the guys—but I’m very glad my mom is here too.

    I really have to pee, so I’m going outside. Bye for now.

    Until next time,
    Jack Iken

    Seven Years

    “Seven Years in Tibet,” “The Seven Year Itch,” seven chakras, the seven-year Shemitah cycle, there is a lot tied to this particular number of years.  Today marks the seventh anniversary of Marcus’s death. That day. That phone call. That searing pain of a broken heart so shattered I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Or just die.  But I didn’t die. I am still here.

    A lot has happened in the past seven years. I have had to rebuild my life. And then rebuild it again. In the process I have made a lot of pies, made a lot of friends, traveled to a lot of countries, adopted four goats, and finally found new love with a man named Doug. I have suffered more loss—the tragic death of my beloved terrier-mix Daisy, who Marcus and I rescued off the streets of Mexico, loss of a place I had called home for four years, loss of several close friendships that shifted, disconnecting to the point of no return.

    And so here I am.  Seven years after that day the medical examiner delivered the news—“Your husband is deceased.”

    The memory lives in my cells. I am not always conscious of it, of where that unsettled feeling in my heart is coming from, as the August date approaches. And then I realize, oh, yes, I remember. I know why I’m out of balance, melancholy, confused. It’s that anniversary. The day my husband’s life ended and my “new normal” began.

    Two nights ago, Doug and I were out kayaking during the full moon and as we paddled through the dark water, drifting with the current under the night sky, I casually mentioned to him, “You know that Friday is the seventh anniversary of Marcus’ passing.” I was hesitant to bring it up. I didn’t want him to think that my heart was still so broken from Marcus that there wasn’t room to fully love him. But given that I am always stressing the importance of communication in our relationship, I thought it was right to say something, so that if he felt I was being quiet or distant he would know why.

    His answer only made me love him more. Doug is a farmer. He is hard working, rugged, and possesses the brute strength of a bull. He is also gentle and kind and has a knack for saying exactly the right thing to put me at ease. His response was simply: “You’ve had a lot of experiences in seven years.”

    I nodded, brushing a lone tear off my cheek, glad it was too dark for him to see me. And then, as I continued my rhythm, dipping each blade of my paddle in the river, left side, then right side, propelling myself forward with each stroke, I mused over what—and where—exactly I had been in these past seven years.

    YEAR ONE  2009 – 2010
    I left my little miner’s cabin in Terlingua, Texas and moved back to Portland, Oregon, living in the guest house next to the house where Marcus and I had previously lived. I went to grief counseling twice a week. I learned to drive the RV and took it down to California, where I went on a two-week pie-making film shoot with my friend Janice. A highlight of that trip was making 50 pies and handing them out by the slice in L.A. It was then when I really understood the magic of healing: If you want to feel better, do something nice for someone else. I created my website, The World Needs More Pie. I blogged a lot—about my grief and how I was coping with it.  I traveled to Iowa to be a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair, and in a surprising twist I discovered the American Gothic House was for rent (for $250 a month!).

    YEAR TWO 2010- 2011
    Instead of going back to the West Coast, I stayed in rural Iowa, making the American Gothic House my home. I opened the Pitchfork Pie Stand. Making pie felt good. It connected me to the community and brought new friends into my life. I stayed for the winter, writing my memoir “Making Piece” at my kitchen table, wearing Marcus’ fleece to stay warm. In spring, I discovered a 6-foot-snake in my bathroom. And in summer I signed up for Match.com. I spent the second anniversary of Marcus’ passing on a dinner date with a suitor who didn’t talk the entire meal.

    YEAR THREE  2011- 2012
    I fired up The Beast (the 24-foot C-class RV Marcus had bought, that I never wanted and vowed never to drive) and went on a six-week book tour for “Making Piece” across the country, including Seattle and Portland, places loaded with memories of my late husband. I ran the pie stand again that summer. In December, I drove the RV to Flanders, New Jersey, pulling together volunteers and ingredients to make pies to comfort the people in Newtown, Connecticut after the Sandy Hook shooting. We delivered 250 pies to Newtown, serving them by the slice to help the community heal.

    YEAR FOUR 2012 – 2013
    I suffered through a frigid Iowa winter until I couldn’t stand it any longer and by spring coughed up the cash to rent a place in Key West, Florida for a month — but not before discovering another six-foot-long snake in my house! Worse, we never caught it. I celebrated my 50th birthday alone (intentionally) by driving the RV to a campground. Away from my computer and with no cell phone reception, I hiked and swam with my two terriers, wrote in my journal, drank a glass (or two) of wine, and savored my solitude.  When I returned, some friends came over with a chocolate cake and an offer to help me with my pie stand, which had started growing to a point it was getting harder to manage. I had a short-but-fun relationship with a guy who liked biking, and had a house in Colorado ski town. He was a CEO who could still do handstands on his skateboard. He loaned me his snake-catching stick, which I had to put to use several times in my basement. Alas, that relationship didn’t work out, so I returned the snake stick and went to LA for the winter. In LA, I met an artist from Iowa and gave love yet another try.

    YEAR FIVE 2013-2014
    I gave a TEDx talk about how pie can change the world—and how it helped heal my grief. My “Ms. American Pie” cookbook was published. I did another cross-country book tour, using the trip to get the RV from Los Angeles back to Iowa. I left the artist behind. I spent the fifth anniversary of Marcus’ death having dinner on Doug’s farm. My friend Nancy from Texas came along. Doug and I weren’t officially dating, but we had been spending time together. He had taken me kayaking a few times, and picked me up for dinner on his BMW motorcycle. I hadn’t been on the back of motorcycle since Marcus’ (also a BMW). During that first ride with Doug, I scooted back on the seat so our bodies wouldn’t touch. I wouldn’t even hold onto his belt loops. The pie stand kept growing, along with my stress.

    YEAR SIX 2014 – 2015
    Year Six was a year of more devastating loss. First, I moved out of the American Gothic House. I had loved that house so much. But too many things were adding up (mean neighbors getting even meaner, a murder at the bait shop, people wanting more and more pie, and other growing pressures) and my gut feeling was telling me—screaming at me—it was time to go. (Ask anyone who helped with my pie stand and they will verify I had turned into tempestuous b*tch.) I put all my belongings in storage and stayed on Doug’s farm for a much-needed rest. I will never forget the (unfortunately fleeting) moment of Nirvana I felt one morning while sipping my coffee on his porch. My face pointed toward the sky, the velvet breeze off the fields acting like a salve on my bare skin, the puffy clouds sailing past the sun, the only sound being the rustling of corn leaves…After four years I could exhale and let my guard down. It was the discovery of something I didn’t realize I was so desperately in need of after living in a tourist attraction: privacy! My dogs loved “Camp Doug,” running free in the pasture and on the gravel roads with no neighbors calling the sheriff about them being at large. But winter was coming and I couldn’t take another bone-chilling season. So I left and headed south—straight into tragedy. I was staying at a friend’s house and let the dogs out the back door for their morning business. Jack came back ten minutes later, bleeding from the neck. Daisy never came back at all. That morning, I rushed Jack to the vet, where he spent several days on an IV. That afternoon, we found Daisy—what was left of my sweet curly-girly’s little body—and buried her in the forest. Doug—oh that sweet Doug— flew down to Texas and drove me and Jack in the RV to LA, where I spent the next six months living six miles from my parents. Unhappy to be back in a big, expensive, congested city—spoiled by the simplicity and ease of a pastoral life in Iowa—I made plans to leave. I mustered up the energy and courage to fly around the world. Using Marcus’ frequent flyer miles which were about to expire, I set off on my “World Piece” journey, making pie in nine countries. But only after driving to Iowa to drop off Jack at Doug’s farm where my terrier would spend the summer. After traveling to New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, India, Lebanon, Greece, Switzerland and Hungary, I spent the sixth anniversary of Marcus’ passing in the country where Marcus hailed from: Germany. Marcus’ cousin Claudia and her family graciously invited me to stay with them in their home in Aachen, Germany. Borrowing Claudia’s bike, I spent August 19 riding a bike trail that crisscrosses the Belgian-German border, stopping for an Italian lunch. Marcus would have loved that. That evening I walked over to the local spa and soaked in the outdoor hot spring pool, and sweated in the variety of aroma-therapy-scented saunas. Marcus would have loved that too. That anniversary ended with a bottle of champagne, where Marcus’s cousins Claudia and Martina, and Claudia’s husband Edgar all toasted to the life of the man we all miss.

    YEAR SEVEN 2015- 2016
    I returned from my round-the-world trip and went straight back to Iowa, to Doug’s farm, to pick up my dog. A year later, I am still here. I started my day—today, August 19—staring at the digital clock while still under the covers of the bed I share with Doug. Doug had left at 5AM, as he does every morning, to do his farm chores. I pulled Jack close to me, stroking his ears and his belly. Marcus and I got Jack as a puppy in Germany. He was the child we never had. Jack is 12 now, happy, healthy as hell, and blissing out on life on Doug’s farm (he especially loves our walks to the pond where he swims and fetches the stick.) This morning I watched the clock as the numbers ticked toward 8:36. Yes, I still remember the time stamped on Marcus’ death certificate. I will never forget the time because this same time, seven years ago, I had felt my heart struggle to beat. I was out walking my dogs and, feeling uncharacteristically weak, I had looked at my watch and saw that it read 8:36. Today, Jack jumped off the bed so I stopped my clock-watching and got up too. I stood in front of the window that looks east, out past the picnic table on the lawn and over the goat barn. The sun had risen just above the trees. I held my face toward it, closing my eyes and feeling its heat penetrate my heart, my bones, warming every bit of my connective tissue.
    “Hi Marcus,” I whispered. “I’m thinking of you.”
    In that spiritual, nature-connected, sunbeam-driven moment, he answered me back. “Hi, my love. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I’m happy you are in such a good and beautiful place and doing so well.” Then he added, “Doug is a better partner for you than I ever could have been.”
    I took a deep breath, wiped a single tear from each cheek, and bowed my head in a little namaste prayer before heading downstairs for coffee.

    Even if it wasn’t Marcus speaking to me, it’s true. Doug is a good partner for me. Iowa is a good place for me. And farm life is a surprisingly good fit for me.

    I am still making pie, and still being reminded of the lesson I learned after Marcus’ death: If you want to feel better, do something nice for someone else. I was in a particularly foul mood last night partly due to the memory of Marcus’ passing, but mostly because our Windstream internet, which is already painfully slow, stopped working altogether. When I called the company they said they couldn’t fix it for at least five days. Five days?! Given I couldn’t get any more work done, I went into the kitchen to make pie from the fresh peaches my neighbor Cheryl had picked from her tree. I made a double crust peach pie for my 92-year-old friend who is in the hospital recovering from surgery. I used the leftover dough and peaches to make two mini pies, one for a man who was traveling cross-country and one for Doug. Instead of crying my eyes out today, I delivered the pies. And I felt good. Happy. Strong. Healed.

    Seven years ago I wanted to die along with Marcus. But life goes on. Our spirit, along with our cells, goes through a renewal every seven years. It’s been a hell of a cycle, but I can look back now and say I’m grateful. Not grateful that Marcus died, but grateful for the lessons, the growth, the opportunity to keep living and, even more important, to keep giving. And now, as of today, another seven-year cycle begins. I can’t imagine what challenges and thrills are to come. But it’s sure to be, as Doug says, full of experiences. Check back in 2023 for an update.

    Summer Fun: Pop-Up Pie Stand and Pie Classes

    Big news! I’m doing a Pitchfork Pie Stand Pop-Up on August 27.

    It’s at Sip Coffee and Wine Bar, located at 120 South Main Street, in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, on Saturday, August 27, from 12 to 4PM.

    Sip is right on the town square of this quaint and tidy little town at the intersection of Highway 34 and Highway 218 (Avenue of the Saints), about 40 minutes east of the American Gothic House where I ran my original Pitchfork Pie Stand.

    We’ll have large pies, mini pies, and pie by the slice. And because we’re at a coffee house we will have coffee!  The best espresso for miles around. Please come!

    We recommend reserving a pie in advance, so please go to my CONTACT PAGE to reach me.

    And in more big news, I am offering pie classes again!

    WELCOME TO CAMP DOUGH

    We have finally finished renovating the kitchen (and bathroom) at Camp Doug — AKA Camp Dough — and we are ready to break in that big, beautiful new oven.  Classes on the schedule so far are Saturday, August 20 and Saturday, September 17.

    For more details and to register, please go to my PIE CLASS page on my website.

    PS: You can read about our Camp Doug renovation in my article on Country Living magazine’s website. “10 Things I Learned From Renovating a Farmhouse (Without Destroying my Relationship.”

    Another happy bunch of pie bakers!

    I’m looking forward to getting back to work — and
    to getting my arms back in shape!

    Time Capsule: A Letter to the Future Owners of Camp Doug

    Dear Future Owners of Camp Doug,
    If you are reading this it means you are either remodeling the kitchen (and thus gutting it to the studs) or you are tearing down the house (or a tornado finally took it out) and you found this letter in the pile of rubble. Either way, a warm hello from the year 2016.

    The red-roofed four-square house in autumn.

    This house, which we fondly call “Camp Doug,” was built around 1900. It is (or was) what they call a Four Square, a common farmhouse design back then. Practical, functional, simple, solid, and a little plain, the architecture personified Midwest values. The house’s white siding with the red roof was also the common color combo in the region. A front porch, however, was not a standard feature on these houses, and the three-sided porch on this one was added much later.

    We don’t know who built the house. It is said a log cabin sat on the site first. A rock foundation remains from some other original structure and there is another foundation built around that. Here’s what we do know: Milton and Ardis Sander lived in it for about 50 years, until 1970. They raised their kids here, including a son who moved to the West coast and became a big executive at Apple computers. (Do they still make MacBook laptops and iPads and iPhones in whatever year it is when you are reading this?) When the house was built it did not have a kitchen or a bathroom. I don’t think it had indoor plumbing at all. The section of the house where you found this “time capsule” was built later, a one-story, flat-roofed rectangle addition that included a small bathroom and a kitchen in an uncommon reverse L-shape layout. Before getting a real kitchen the cooking was done on a wood-fired stove in the dining room; evidence of the chimney and stovepipe connection is still visible. We don’t know what the first kitchen looked like, but Milton and Ardis remodeled it in what appears to have been the 1950s. They painted the walls mint green, the color of young caterpillars. They chose a tortoise-shell-pattern of green and yellow linoleum for their floor. Not the most appetizing of hues for a room that is meant for cooking. Fortunately trends and tastes and flooring choices evolve—even improve—with the years.

    The kitchen right before its demolition
    Our “retro” kitchen, prepared for take down.

    Milton and Ardis eventually grew too old to maintain the farmhouse so they moved into town, then into a nursing home until they eventually moved on to the next life. They kept the farmhouse, renting it out for several years, but as soon as young Doug Seyb graduated from college in 1977, he bought the house and moved in. Doug grew up next door (the definition of next door being a quarter mile down the gravel road), where his grandfather, then father, and then Doug and his brother, and then his nephew, all farmed the land. When I met Doug, the Seybs had owned and farmed these 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and cattle for over 100 years, thus being granted Century Farm status. Maybe, as you read this, it is still owned by Seyb descendants. I wonder if there could be a Two Century Farm status designated in the future.

    Doug sitting among the shooting stars.
    April 2016.

    Because he grew up next door, Doug knew Milton and Ardis very well. It was Ardis who planted the shooting star wildflowers on the hillside located just a short walk across the pasture, and it was Ardis who introduced Doug to the appreciation of these delicate-yet-hardy perennials, their leaves appearing first, then a stem shooting toward the sky, and finally a whole meadow lit up with light pink petals. When Doug moved in, he continued to protect the flowers and their habitat, and always took his guests on springtime wildflower walks to see the shooting stars in bloom.

    By the time you discover this letter, Doug and I will have passed on. Doug wants to be cremated and have his ashes spread on this “Shooting Star Hill,” as he calls it. So if you follow the fencerow to the north and turn west at the row of cedar trees (farmers don’t say right or left, they give you compass points), you will eventually come to that wildflower patch. Surely those shooting stars will no longer be so delicate with Doug’s DNA thrown into the soil mix. He was a fit and lean man, a rock climber, kayaker and marathon runner. With all that muscle transferred into the ground as fertilizer, those flowers might be as strong and tall as the trees by now.

    When I met Doug he had already lived in the house for 40 years. I don’t think I ever knew anyone else who lived in one place that long. He had lived here at least 20 years before updating the kitchen. He put on a new roof over it (one can only resurface with tar paper so many times.) He raised and angled the roofline as high as the second-floor windows would allow. He then painted the kitchen walls white, the cabinets bright yellow, the door trim burgundy and created a chili pepper theme. Even the light switch was painted with peppers. Alas, Ardis’s tortoise shell linoleum floor remained.

    This is what a pork tenderloin
    looks like. Pounded & fried and
    as big as dinner plate.

    When I met him, in 2014, nothing, including the decorative chili pepper cluster hanging next to the door, looked like it had been dusted for a year. Doug was a bachelor. He was a redheaded, freckled farmer and outdoor adventurer whose attention was devoted to all things exterior. The inside was only for showering, sleeping, making toast, and laundering his Carhartts. Even dinners were outdoors, as he grilled meat (beef or pork from his own livestock or venison from his annual hunt on the farm) on his charcoal grill. Unless it was the height of harvest when he drove his tractor until after dark, and the late night meant ordering pizza from the local gas station or wolfing down a pork tenderloin at the local tavern.

    This kitchen got a much-needed renovation in April of 2016, which is why we were able to place this letter in the wall.

    The current state of the kitchen as
    I write this letter to you, when there is still
    time to place the time capsule in the wall.

    I moved in with Doug last September (2015) and discussions of home improvements soon followed. I always joked to him that the impetus for this kitchen renovation was his beer bottle collection. A numerous but not exactly impressive assortment had been prominently displayed on a shelf close to the ceiling. This shelf was meant to be a plate rail. You’ve probably never seen one as even now in 2016 they are considered old-fashioned, but a plate rail is for displaying decorative dinner plates. Instead of just dusting his bottles, he let me get rid of them. That’s how much he loved me and wanted me to feel like his home was my home too. But it didn’t stop there. Poor old bachelor, he didn’t know what he was in for when he let me move in. No sooner were the beer bottles deposited in the recycling bin, I took the skis off the opposite wall. Yes, skis. He had his cross-country ski gear, including the boots, adorning the door transom, right above the table where we ate. And then there was the triangular beer box. Sure it was clever in its shape, but that box was better suited for a dorm room.

    Still, the house—the way he had it set up, dust and all—was charming, warm and inviting. You could feel the good energy, the solid bones, the happy spirits permeating the layers of wallpaper and plaster.

    Our kitchen table has a temporary home in the dining room during construction.

    As we began our life together, we started having dinner parties. And house guests. And soon the round oak kitchen table didn’t feel big enough. No matter how beautiful or inviting the other rooms in the house may be, everyone loves to gather in the kitchen. It’s the heartbeat of a home, where nourishment of both stomach and spirit originates.

    This is me in my old house, where I
    could open my oven all the way.

    “Wouldn’t it be great to have a bench seat?” I said over wine and candles one night. “We could fit more people around the table.” Doug agreed so I threw out my next line. “And you know what would be really great? To be able to open the oven door all the way.” I don’t know who was responsible for the earlier construction—surely Ardis couldn’t have lived with an oven door that opened only half way, blocked by the door frame—but this was the one thing I was really hoping to change. I was a pie maker (not a pastry chef, but you could say a semi-professional one given I had run a pie stand and written a pie cookbook.) But I couldn’t get my pies in and out of Doug’s oven without burning my arms. “It’s so much easier to be happy when you eliminate life’s little irritations,” I prodded him.

    Doug’s key lime pie

    Doug had learned how to make pie too—I taught him a year earlier—and he made plenty of them (Key Lime Pie was his specialty), so he understood the issue. So when we talked about what started us on the renovation project and I say “beer bottles,” he says “No, it started with pie.” He’s right. That’s why I’m leaving you a pie recipe in this letter. Because assuming you are renovating this kitchen and not tearing down the whole place, my hope is that you will keep our memory alive and bake lots of pies here.

    I wonder what your lives will be like in this kitchen—in your new kitchen. Will you find this note twenty years from now or 50? Or more? Will you be able to read my cursive handwriting? Do they still teach that in schools or has it been relegated to history like hieroglyphics? What will your world be like? Will there still be fighting in the Middle East? Will terrorist attacks have become an everyday thing? Will everyone be armed? With nuclear weapons? Will there still be 4-H and county fairs? How will farming be done? Will tractors be high-speed hovercrafts? Will GMOs and fertilizers and pesticides have caused genes to mutate beyond repair? Will water still be drinkable? Surely there won’t be newspapers in print, but will there still be Facebook and Twitter? Or will you laugh at what we call social media and call it obsolete? Maybe you won’t even have internet, rather something more advanced, something solar powered, maybe telepathically connected with other planets. Whatever it is will surely be an improvement over the painfully slow information pipeline we have today. (One thing I guarantee, Windstream Communications will have ceased to exist. God willing.) The way the world is going we aren’t doing the best job for you and for future generations. I wish we could do better, be more mindful of those who will follow us when we are gone. Still, we manage. In spite of ourselves, our oddities and our imperfections at being human, we are doing our part to keep the species going.

    It was a bittersweet day when we said goodbye to the old cabinets.

    As I write you this letter we have only just started our renovation—the cabinets carved out, the walls peeled away, the beams exposed. Hopefully we will be lucky enough to enjoy many years in our new and improved kitchen. I say “our” kitchen, because even though we are not married and don’t plan to get married (Doug is 61 and I’m 53), renovating the kitchen has become symbolic of our commitment to each other. We picked out the quarter sawn oak Mission-style cabinets because their wood is a little rough, and will fit well with Doug’s collection of Arts and Crafts antique furniture in the rest of the house. I wonder if there are any pieces of it left behind for you to use. We are building extra counter space into our new design to make it easier to roll pie dough. We are building in the bench seats below the east window to be comfortable when we linger long hours at the dinner table. And since we had to move the stereo, on which Doug’s cat Maybellene liked to sleep to keep warm, we are still trying to configure a heated perch for her out of my dog’s reach. (My terrier, Jack, likes to chase the cat, while Doug’s dog, Mali, a springer spaniel/beagle mix is better at coexisting.)

    Maybellene in her favorite sleeping place.
    We still need to find a new warm spot for her.

    We finally tore up the tortoise shell flooring—someone had suggested they didn’t even want to walk on it because it looked like something that should be wiped up! But we did save a few sections of it. We took our carpenter’s joke seriously when he suggested using it to make picture frames. We’re going to frame some old house photos with this green and yellow stuff (even though it’s probably toxic) and send them to Milton and Ardis’s grandkids. Their nostalgia was ignited when they learned we were renovating. They remember visiting their grandparents in this house and have fond memories of this kitchen. They should have a piece of it as a keepsake.

    Doug and I don’t have grandkids to become nostalgic over our kitchen when you gut it. It is your kitchen now. You have to make room for your own houseguests, your own meals and memories, your own choice of flooring. But you have to admit, our neutral-toned, linen-pattern flooring is (or was) very tasteful. I hope it doesn’t look too dated, too “period,” by the time you decide to rip it out. It will have served us well, worn down from the traffic and mud of farm boots and dog paws. I will have spent many days, hopefully years, scrubbing it, cleaning up everything from coffee to ketchup to the colostrum replacement Doug mixes up to bottle feed baby calves, and surely plenty of pie crumbs.

    Beth and Doug at Camp Doug

    I just hope you love this house as much as we did. And that you love and honor this land—as well as each other, your friends, your families, your neighbors—as much as we did. And that you try your best to leave not just this kitchen, but this world, a better place, like we did.

    Now, please, go make some pie!

    With love and gratitude,
    Beth and Doug

    One of the many apple pies made in our old kitchen.
    We look forward to baking many more
    in the new and improved kitchen!

    APPLE PIE RECIPE

    CRUST (Basic Pie Dough for double-crust pie) 
    2-1/2 cups flour (white all-purpose)  (Plus extra flour for rolling dough)                                      
    1/2 cup butter, chilled
    1/2 cup vegetable shortening  (or skip this and use all butter)
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    Ice water (fill one cup but use only enough to moisten dough)
    In a deep bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour with your hands until you have a lumpy consistency (you want to leave mixed nut-size chunks of butter which will give you a flaky crust.) Add ice water a little at a time, sort of “fluffing” the flour. Keep your movements light, as if you are tossing dressing into a salad with your hands. When the dough feels moistened enough, do a “squeeze test” and when it holds together you’re done. Do not overwork the dough! You are not kneading it like bread. It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t! Now divide the dough in two, form each half into a disk shape and roll flat and thin (thin enough to where you could start to see the table through the dough) then fit your pie dish. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough, and keep rolling surface and pin free from gunk to keep dough from sticking. Trim excess dough to about 1 inch from the dish edge with a scissors, leaving enough extra hanging over the edge for crimping later.
    FILLING
    7 to 10 large Granny Smith apples, peeled (see tip below) 
    1/2 tsp salt (you’ll sprinkle this on so don’t worry about precise amount)
    1 to 2 tsp cinnamon (use however much you like, but remember it’s a powerful spice)
    3/4 cup sugar (more or less, depending on your taste, tartness of apples, and number of apples)
    4 tbsp flour (to thicken the filling)
    1 tbsp butter, to pat on top of filling
    1 beaten egg, to brush on top crust
    The pie is “assembled” in two layers, which is not only a nice shortcut, it saves you from having to wash an extra bowl! 
    1. Prepare the Basic Pie Dough for a double-crust pie. 
    2. Prepare the Filling: Slice half of the peeled apples directly into the pie, arranging and pressing down gently to remove extra space between slices. Fill the dish enough so you don’t see through the first layer to the bottom crust. 
    3. Cover with half of salt, cinnamon, sugar, and flour. 
    4. Slice the remaining apples into the pie, arranging and pressing down gently on top of first layer, and cover with second half of ingredients. 
    5. Add a pat of butter on top, then cover with the top crust. 
    6. Trim the edges with a scissors, leaving about 1 to 2 inches overhang, and then roll the top and bottom crust together underhand so that it’s sealed and sits on the rim of your pie plate. 
    7. Crimp the edge with your fingers or a fork, then brush with a beaten egg. (The egg gives the pie a nice golden-brown shine. Do be careful not to let egg pool in crevices. You will use about half an egg per pie.) 
    8. Use a knife to poke vent holes in the top (get creative here with a pattern), then bake at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes to set and brown the crust.
    9. Turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, until juice bubbles. Keep an eye on it as it bakes. If it gets too dark, turn down the temperature. 
    10. To be sure it’s done, poke with a knife through the vent holes to make sure apples have softened. Do not overbake or apples will turn mushy.
    VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE…AND PIE: It’s okay to use a variety of apples. Try Braeburn and Royal Gala. I don’t use Fuji (they are too juicy) or Red Delicious (they have no taste). Tart apples work best for pie. The number of apples you use will depend on the size of apple and the size of pie dish, but the general amount is about 3 pounds per 10-inch pie.
    BETH’S TIP: Slicing your apples too thick will mean your pie takes longer to bake. But slicing them too thin will translate in filling that’s like applesauce. I don’t like to suggest numbers, but think 1/4 inch thick. Also, keeping your slices a consistent size will help the pie bake more evenly.
    KEEP CALM!
    Don’t worry about your apples turning brown. I mean, think about it: what color is cinnamon? Exactly! No one will ever know.