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.

The Infinite Ways in Which Pie Connects Us

In honor of National Pi Day (March 14)–not to be mistaken with National Pie Day (January 23)–I thought I would post a sort of “guest blog” by fellow pie worshiper Carolynn Carreno. As you will read in her wonderful blog post below, we met through an article she wrote for the LA TIMES, a mere 11 years ago! I wrote her last week to thank her for her brilliant and timeless story about the spirit of giving away homemade pie to make others feel good. Our ensuing instant kinship and correspondence proves, once again, that it is never too late to say thank you. That and that pie continues to connect people in surprising and–speaking of pi–infinite ways.

In another amazing pie/pi connection, I just received this T-shirt in the mail from another friend in pie, Karla Theriac.
Like I said, pie connects people in infinite ways.

The Life of Pie

March 14th, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Last week a blogger, Beth Howard, contacted me via Facebook to say that she’d posted a story I wrote a decade ago on her Facebook page. A New York-based editor, she said, had read my story back then, hung onto it, and sent it to this blogger, because her thing is pie, and that was the subject of my story: pie, and making pie. It was a nice thrill, to think that this editor (who I know by name and respect) had hung onto it, and to have my story resurrected in that way.
But reading a story, particularly a personal essay, that you wrote long ago—in this case, long before I was required to take my shoes off at the airport!—is a bit like stumbling upon an old box of photos in terms of the mix of nostalgia and cringe that it induces. The most alarming thing about reading this particular story was seeing that I had made the pie crust with—yikes!—margarine. The reason I did this was very simple: this is how I was taught to make pies the summer before, when I worked as the pie baker at Loaves & Fishes, which is where I learned how to make pies in the first place. Loaves & Fishes is a famously expensive food store in the famously expensive Hamptons. The idea behind that store is, in a nutshell, to produce homemade food for people who do not cook at home, no matter how beautiful and well-equipped their kitchens. On my inaugural day at L&F, Anna, an older German woman who owns and runs the place along with her daughter, explained to me that margarine made for a tender crust, where an all-butter crust would turn out tough. If this was good enough for their moneyed (and I presumed discerning) clientele, I figured it was as good as it could be. But that’s where I was wrong…
I’ve learned a lot in the 12 or 15 years since the summer I wrote about in the pie story—about life, about what people are willing to pay for and why, and, of course, about pie. Today, with the same casual, knowing ease with which I might slip off my slip-on shoes as I approach the security check at the airport, I can confirm that this bit about the butter making for a tougher crust is true. But I’ve also learned that margarine and all its artificiality isn’t the only solution. The one thing that butter has that margarine doesn’t is flavor. The answer is to use a mix of butter and not butter. You can use butter plus margarine, which I did for several years. Butter and Crisco, which I believe is Julia Child’s formula, but don’t quote me on that. Butter plus lard, which let’s face it must be the best choice because anything with lard is better than anything with a substitute for lard. Or, like my friend Bob Blumer does, butter plus bacon fat (aka: lard).
Looking forward, I can only imagine what I will have learned ten years from now. One thing I do know is that a life where you are making pie (no matter what kind of fat you put in the crust!), that is, a life where you have the inclination and take the time to make pie, and wherein you have the friends and family with which to enjoy pie—this is a good life. As for the crust, I’ll probably go the lard route, followed by Crisco in a pinch. But I’ll definitely always make my own pie dough. The process of making it—taking it, that, for me, is the whole point of pie.

Here’s Carolynn’s LA TIMES article from 2001:

Los Angeles Times Articles 

Humble Pie

However You Slice It, There’s No Gift More Honest

August 05, 2001|CAROLYNN CARRENO | Carolynn Carreno last wrote for the magazine about Mexican breakfasts
I discovered the power of pie on an August night a few summers back as I walked across my small, quiet street barefoot, carrying a just-baked, still-bubbling pie with two hands, to introduce myself to my new neighbors.
I’d never felt quite so American, and I’d certainly never done anything so darn-right neighborly. But I’d just learned to make pie, and the nectarines at the farmers market were ripe for the occasion, and, well, something came over me. As luck would have it, he turned out to be a poet and she a gardener, and there we sat at an old bistro table, drinking chilled white wine and telling our stories and falling in love the way new friends sometimes do. When it comes to bearing gifts, there’s just nothing like a fruit pie.

Since then, fruit pie has become my currency of goodwill. Andy and Elyce have a baby and the first thing I think of, because they’re from New England, is blueberry pie. A friend gives me a tennis lesson and, since he’s from Georgia, I find myself slicing up a bowl full of peaches the very next morning. Two firemen rescue my cat from high up a pine tree and I have no choice: two pies to go.

It’s a special feeling, bringing someone a pie. Unlike with a batch of cookies, where you might keep a few for yourself, with pie you just give up the whole thing. If you’re lucky, as I was that first night, they might cut it right there and give you a slice. Most importantly, though, is that when you bring someone a fruit pie, they are nothing short of amazed. Amazed that fruit pies are actually made. Amazed that you made it. Amazed that you made it for just for them.

Before that summer, I, too, would have been in awe of any human being capable of bringing a pie into the world, because I was in total fear of making dough. The ice water thing threw me into a panic. And rolling out dough seemed like some kind of impossible art form, learned from Grandmother or not at all. But once I mastered the four essentials of making dough–chilled butter or margarine; not quite mixing it all the way with the flour; rolling the dough from the inside out and not any more than you need to; and the most satisfying thing of all, crimping the edge–I became a pie-making fool.
I made pies for all occasions and proudly took them all over town. And the pies changed me. That first night with my new friends, I went to bed thinking about how they’d been together 20 years and were still happy, still making their art. I dreamed that night of a simple life with a man for whom I could make pies and with whom I could sit in a garden and tell my stories. Fruit pie is humble. It has that effect.
(NOTE on 3/14: Since it’s not plum season, you have your choice: get your hands on some quality frozen plums–and they’ll be almost just as good. Or use the equivalent in apples. You can keep everything else the same. Fruit pie isn’t rocket science, especially not the fruit part.)
Plum Pie
Serves 6-8
3 sticks margarine 2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold and cubed, plus 1 stick Crisco, or 4 ounces lard
4 cups flour
3 tablespoons ice water
31/2-4 cups tart plums (or apples!), sliced
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch each of clove and nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup milk
1 egg yolk
Sugar for dusting
In food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse flour and butter and Crisco/lard together until integrated into a coarse crumb, but not totally combined. Drizzle in water and continue to pulse, until just combined. On work surface, form a ball with mixture. Chill at least 1/2 hour.
Cut ball of dough into quarters and roll one quarter about 1/4-inch thick and place into pie pan and cut off the excess dough to edge of pan. Roll out second ball. Using cookie cutter, cut hole directly in center of dough and set aside.
In a bowl, mix filling ingredients and pour into prepared pie pan. Place butter pieces evenly over plums. Drape top crust over filled pie pan. Cut excess top crust, leaving about 3/4 inch to hang over. Fold top crust, tucking it under bottom crust. Crimp edges with thumb and forefinger. Mix milk and egg yolk and brush lightly on pastry. Sprinkle handful of sugar liberally over pie. Bake at 425 degrees until golden brown and fruit inside has broken down and is giving off ample juices, usually about 50 minutes to 1 hour.
For more posts by Carolynn Carreno, go to:

Guest Blogger: Jack Iken (My Mom is Going to South Africa)

That’s me, Jack Iken. I like sticks. A lot.

My mom is packing her suitcase. The big one this time, not the small weekend bag. I don’t like it when my mom leaves. But she needs to take a break from her long days at the computer. She works too much (and doesn’t throw the stick for me enough.) I think she’s been kind of lonely too, since H left. (I miss H too. He was a good stick thrower.) She is going to Cape Town, South Africa to visit her good friend, my Aunt Alayne. I’ve known Aunt Alayne since I was a baby.

My mom is stopping over in Germany, which is where I was born, and it’s where my dad is buried in the ground. But my mom told me she’s not going to visit his grave because, she says, “He’s not really there.” Sometimes I think my dad is here in Iowa because my mom talks to him as if he is in the room. But I don’t see him. I wish I could see him. I wish he would throw the stick for me and let me pull off his socks and chase me around the living room like he used to. I miss my dad. So does my mom. I know this because sometimes she holds me really tight and whispers in my ear, “I miss your dad so much.”

Daisy and I are going to miss our mom when she’s gone. “Two and a half weeks isn’t that long,” she tells us. But in dog years two and a half weeks is more like three and a half months.

I know some things about my mom. I’ve known her seven years, which is like 49 years in dog time, so you could say I’ve known her for her whole life. I know she is afraid of leaving because she equates vacation with someone dying. Her dog before me, Gidget, died when my mom was on vacation. And my dad died when he was on vacation. She hasn’t left Daisy and me for more than four days in the past two and a half years. She hasn’t traveled overseas since she went to Germany for my dad’s funeral.

I always hear her telling people, “It’s a big world out there.” She tells them that when they get stuck in a rut or get too caught up in trying to hang onto something that isn’t working. She likes to give people encouragement and says other stuff like, “Think outside of the box” and “Get out of your comfort zone” and “Expand your thinking” and “Try something different.” Sometimes, when she’s trying to convince someone to really shake things up and go somewhere and be open to something new, she says, “You never know who you’re going to sit next to on the plane.”

I think she is trying to use her own advice on herself. But I know she’s scared about leaving us. And I think she’s even more worried after tonight because when she took us for a walk we heard like five hundred coyotes out in the cornfield. It sounded like they were having a big party and I kind of wanted to check it out. My mom said, “Get back here, young man. Right now. You don’t want to be at that kind of a party. That’s the sound coyotes make when they’re killing something. Now let’s get back inside. NOW. I mean it.”

Daisy and I will be fine. My mom just needs to go to Africa. Even though we are going to miss her, she needs to get out there and flap her wings like a big bird, like the big bald eagles that fly around our neighborhood. Birds always look like they are having so much fun. But, I wonder, do birds like to chase sticks? My mom needs to remember that even though she misses my dad and his death has made her more scared about life, scared about losing more people she loves – or dogs – she’s doing really well. She used to love traveling all over the world – I know this because she used to take me with her in the airplane everywhere she went. My mom always said I should have gotten my own frequent flyer miles, I went back and forth to Germany so many times.

I hope my mom brings me back some cool stuff. Maybe she’ll bring me a big zebra bone. Or a stick from a baobab tree would be really awesome. I promise to be good while she’s gone. Daisy too. And we promise not to die, not while she’s away. Not anytime soon. Promise.

I just want my mom to be happy. I want her to come home with a big smile on her face and some good stories to tell us, maybe even something nice about who she sat next to on the plane. And then I want her to not sit at her computer again all the time. I want her to remember it’s a big (stick-throwing) world out there.

Guest Blog: Pie Lady Goes South, Part 3 – by H

Pie Lady Visits the Mountain South, Part 3 (and Final Installment) — As Told by H

So…we are now back in the Iowa plains metropolis of Eldon, and it’s time to reflect upon a California Yankee’s introduction to the Southern Appalachians. Of course, I knew going in that this wasn’t going to be a match made by anyone associated with heaven. If there was a version of eHarmony that matched people with places, Beth and the Georgia mountains would never even make it to the point where pictures are exchanged. The mountains are too steep and the hollows too confining. And the hunters seem to outnumber the animals (except, of course, inside our cabin.) And then there are the Confederate flags

But we did have some adventurous hikes and see some nice scenery. (Pictured:  Amicalola Falls)

And there were some very nice meals at Cucina Rustica 

And Harvest On Main 

And for the pie baker supreme, there is the fact that Gilmer County Georgia is the apple capital of the South, and the orchards have some superb pie apples.

And where else can you get your picture taken with a stuffed bear (pronounced “barre”) inside a place that sells apple cider donuts, apple fritters, fried pies in 15 flavors, stone ground grits and candy and caramel apples? All this plus a petting zoo and an animated hillbilly on a tractor.

But despite all of these wondrous advantages, Beth is a reluctant visitor to the mountain South. Much as I would be visiting a hippy commune. Mind you, she isn’t a General Sherman who’d like to burn the place off the map, but she just didn’t find a connection to this craggy, homespun region. But then, she didn’t have the same introduction to it that I did.

Shortly after moving to East Tennessee years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. The good (southern) folks at University of Tennessee Medical Center had to carve me up and put me back together again. Then they had to essentially poison all of the cancer out of my body without killing me. I’d never met nicer or more caring people. And in the year after I was released from the hospital I rented a mountain cabin across from a small lake. I’d never seen or experienced such a calm and serene place. It helped me put myself back together and continue on with life. So for me, the mountain South will always tug at my heartstrings despite its shortcomings and throwback ways.

And I won’t give up on getting Beth to look at the area through a different lens, to feel just a little bit of what I feel. For there is always next fall, and the promise of a cabin with 10 or fewer stuffed bears and moose, no “Stairs of Death” and a road that isn’t like living through a daily episode of The Thrillbillies.

Guest Blog: Pie Lady Goes South, Part 2 – by H

The Pie Lady Visits the Mountain South — (Part 2) – as told by H

If you replaced “banjo” with “gunshots” this would perfectly represent Beth’s sentiments about hiking in these parts. It’s the height of deer season here in Georgia, and at times it sounds like the civil war is still ongoing. Although Beth and I share our Midwestern roots (Beth Iowa, me Ohio), I have lived south of the Mason-Dixon line for over 20 years, and I am well acquainted with the Southern Appalachians. I even lived in Top O’World Tennessee at one point, a place where a neighbor once showed up at my door with a large jar of canned bear meat.

Beth however, (in-spite of her many world travels) is pretty much a neophyte in Dixie. She gaped in slack-jawed horror at the 30-foot-long confederate flag waving in the breeze over the local Rebel Market and gas station. I explained that the owner of this establishment would likely explain to her that the flag is an expression of “heritage not hate,” but to say that she remained unconvinced would be a notable understatement…

But…Beth is quickly finding that there are good as well as gun-toting rebel elements in N. GA. Yesterday I took her to breakfast at a place I was clued into by a local several years ago. It’s a small country store with a restaurant of sorts tucked back into one corner. One GOB (good ole boy) cooks and serves. If you do something silly like not ordering any meat, he’ll put some of his homemade sausage on your plate anyway. And you don’t get a ticket when you’re finished, you just amble over to the cash register and tell the lady what all it was that you ate and drank. Beth was dubious when I set a plate down in front of her that contained a huge halved biscuit smothered in gravy, two fried eggs and a piece of sausage.

But now? Now she is asking me when we are going back.

She is not, however, asking me when we are coming back to this particular cabin. This cabin affords privacy and a nice view but it has some notable drawbacks. One would be a death defying road that leads up to the place. It’s steep enough to be a bobsled run, has places with ruts big enough to swallow a SMART car whole, and has a blind hill that the stars of the FUEL TV series “Thrillbillies” would shirk in terror from. And if you survive the road up here, there is an equally deadly feature that awaits you inside of the cabin. Through reading the cabin guest book, we found that this wooden horror has a name. Behold, the Stairs of Death…

If you’ve ever been to the amusement park Cedar Point in Ohio, just think of the ride named “Demon Drop” as this is merely a non-mechanical version of it.

There is another feature of this cabin that while not dangerous, is nonetheless somewhat horrifying: the décor. One family wrote in the guest book that they tried for days to count all of the assorted bears inside the cabin, but it was simply too exhausting and mind numbing. After about 5 minutes on the inside, Beth declared, “No, I can’t take it” and proceeded to apprehend armloads of stuffed bears, bear statues and a moose or two and jam them into closets. We have one closet that now looks like a décor bear version of Gitmo. They will stay incarcerated until freed by the cleaning service after our departure.

But today it is sunny and nice and we are going horseback riding in the mountains. We may not make it back up the road to the cabin, but up until that point it will be a great day.

Note to readers: Daisy is doing much better. We will probably leave here a day or two early so she can be part of the early release program at the kennel.

Guest Blog: Pie Lady Goes South, Part 1 – by H

The Pie Lady visits the Mountain South 
(Part 1) – as told by H

It was a decidedly rough start to this adventure, as the days immediately before departing on this trip were rough ones for Beth. Her cartoon character terrier Daisy had surgery, was sick afterward, and had to be left in the care of a veterinarian the day before we left. Although the care, rest and limited activity afforded by lodging at the vet’s office was a good option for a post-surgery dog, leaving a dog for over a week (especially an ailing dog) is anathema to Beth’s constitution. It was traumatic with a capital T, as Beth is one of the dog-lovingest individuals anywhere on the planet. A sick Daisy meant that Beth got little sleep in the days before we headed south, so she was stressed and sleep deprived when it came time for our Sunday morning departure. We discussed not going at all, but the cabin was already paid for, and Beth rallied enough to get herself, me, Jack (terrier), Miska (Chow), Naf-Naf (guinea pig) into my car and onto the road.

Twelve hours in the car wasn’t exactly what Beth needed on that particular Sunday, but we both survived the trip, aided by listening to old radio episodes of Suspense on XM Radio. I’ve wanted to take Beth to the South almost from the day I met her. Why, you ask? Because Beth is about as un-southern as a woman can get. The often uttered, “Woman, get me a beer” which is a staple request/order from men throughout Dixie, would be one of the quickest ways I can imagine to get an instantaneous “Fuck off” response from Beth. If I had to label her geographic/cultural makeup, it would be California Yankee. And “CY” is about as far afield from “MS” (Mountain South) as you can get. This is why I knew it would be both fun and amusing to take Beth to the Georgia mountains…

The Happy Chair

Upon arriving, Beth still need a bit of attitude adjustment, so on the banks of the Toccoa River, she was boosted up into the Happy Chair.

I mean, how can you not be happy looking at this scenery?

Beth already has an appreciation for the scenery and outdoor recreational opportunities here. But southern culture? If only I’d taken a picture of the look on her face when the GOB (good ole boy) asked another GOB in the grocery store if he’d shot anything yet. More on this later…

Guest Blogger: Jack Iken

Hi. My name is Jack Iken. I’m seven years old. I’m half Jack Russell terrier, half Yorkshire terrier. I like playing stick, I like belly rubs, and I really like grilled meat, especially filet mignon.

I’m blogging for my mom today because she doesn’t feel good. She was going to take the weekend off and go on a mini-vacation. She said something about wanting to take a break from the “fishbowl,” but I’m not sure what that means because we don’t have any fish. She even closed the pie stand for the whole weekend, which was a big deal because people like to come here and buy her pies. (I like it when people come to buy pie because sometimes they’ll throw the stick for me and rub my belly.) But on Saturday, my mom woke up with a sore throat and a cough so we had to stay home. I was disappointed because when we go on trips she always takes us someplace fun. Lately we’ve been finding lakes where we can hike and swim. (I like swimming, especially if it involves going after a stick.) However, I didn’t mind staying home because she put a mattress on the office floor where it’s cooler, turned on the air conditioning, and we got to nap all day. And Daisy (my sister) and I really like napping. But we like napping even more when our mom is in bed with us.

Mostly she slept, but she cried a lot too and said to me a few times, “I miss your dad.” She was sad because his birthday was yesterday, July 2nd. He would have been 45 in people years. That’s 315 in dog years. I wonder how much it is in spirit years. That’s what my mom says he is now: a spirit. I think that means like a ghost, but a good ghost. (I’m not scared of ghosts, but I am scared of fireworks. So I’m glad we stayed home where it’s safe from all those explosions outside.)

I don’t tell my mom, because I don’t want to make her feel even sadder, but I miss my dad too. He was a really good dad and a really good stick thrower. One of the things I miss the most is when he came home from work every night and took off his shoes, he let me pull off his socks, like tug o’ war, and when I would get one off I would run all over the house with it and he would chase me. Then I would get tired of running and pull off the other one and he would chase me again. I really miss that. He was the best dad. He bought me cool stuff, like the Chuck It ball thrower and a ‘Life is Good’ collar. And when we lived in Portland, where it rains all the time, he bought me a really nice fleece-lined raincoat. My dad – his name was Marcus Iken, that’s where I got my last name – he also liked to grill and he always saved me a piece of steak. That’s how I learned that I like filet mignon so much.

My mom just bought a new grill so hopefully she will cook some steaks when she feels better. That is, if she doesn’t stay mad at me, maybe I’ll get some steak treats. I got in trouble from her yesterday – I was in so much trouble I got yelled at really loud and even made my mom cry — because I went into the neighbor’s yard and I’m not supposed to go over there. What made it bad is that I didn’t come back when I was called, and I was gone a lot longer than usual. She says she called me like 20 times, but I didn’t hear her, I swear. Those neighbors took pictures of me last time I was in their yard. They were Polaroid pictures and in them I was circled and labeled “the black dog.” (Daisy was in some pictures too, they called her “the white dog.”) These neighbors are so against having dogs on their grass they showed our pictures at the city council meeting. I think they wanted me to go to jail or something.

The city council people didn’t do anything about it, and I made friends with the sheriff a long time ago, so now the neighbors are trying to find another way to keep me out of their yard. My mom is afraid they might try to shoot me or poison me or trap me in a cage and she is really scared I could get killed over there. That seems silly. There are bunnies to chase! And squirrels! The way I see it, Daisy and I are doing the neighbors a favor by chasing other animals out of their yard and keeping the vegetables in their garden safe.

But me getting in trouble added another reason my mom was upset yesterday, on my dad’s birthday, and when she was sick. I was very sorry and tried to lick her face to tell her I promise to try harder next time to listen and come when I’m called.

I hope she gets better soon because this writing a blog thing is hard work and it takes time. I’m ready for another nap. If you ever come to the American Gothic House and you see me in the front yard, my name is Jack Iken. I’m the black dog. Daisy is the white one. I like playing stick. I like having my belly rubbed.