Stay Calm and Bake Pie — Episode 2, Mixed Berry Crumble

I am learning how to do the video shooting and editing on the fly — flying solo, at that. I am using Doug’s iPad to film and iMovie to edit. I’m starting to get the hang of splitting clips and splicing music. But the sound quality needs a lot of improvement. I need a wireless lavalier (clip on) microphone. I want to wait on shooting the next episode until I get the mic, but the next one is banana cream pie and Doug already bought the bananas… So to that I say, videos, like pies, are not about perfection!

In this berry crumble episode, I think (hope) you’ll find the baking instruction useful and the farm scenery soothing. Even if you can’t hear a damn thing! Enjoy and send me pictures of your pies — and stories of who you baked them with, and shared them with.

Someone commented on my Facebook page that all this pie is going to make us fat! I had a whole spiel about that in this episode but the footage got deleted somewhere along the way. I was blathering on about how this berry pie is “just fruit,” full of vitamins and antioxidants. I also added that while pie making is good for your heart and soul, exercise is good for your heart and body. So go for a walk or do an online dance class to balance out the eating. I don’t want to be preachy, but I do feel it’s worth mentioning.

Next episodes:

  • Banana Cream Pie 
  • Chicken Pot Pie 
  • Key Lime Pie 
  • hopefully a gluten-free pie in there somewhere, by request. 
  • and if I keep going, then Shaker lemon, spaghetti pie, French silk, peach…the list could be a long one!

 Please follow me on my social media pages:

And subscribe to my YouTube channel.

 Love, Beth

Cool Stuff from Chef’s Planet

I’m having lunch with my friend Carolyn tomorrow. Carolyn volunteered many, many hours last summer for my Pitchfork Pie Stand. She would come over on Thursday evenings and we would weigh and roll out pie dough, slice lemons (not her favorite job, especially picking out all those seeds, but she did it anyway), cut strips of fabric to make pie box ribbons, and so forth. Our work was aided, occasionally, by a glass of wine or a slice of pie, and always by animated conversation. I last saw her in early November when she brought over a homemade chocolate pudding pie — her mother’s recipe — to share on her way to shop for groceries in Ottumwa.

I needed to make a trip to the store myself, so we ate the pie, jumped in the car, and drove the twenty-some minutes to town together. We ended up at Aldi (my insistence, of course) and coincidentally it was the very week Aldi had pie baking accessories in stock. (Aldi offers weekly specials and the baking supplies are only sold once a year, just before Thanksgiving.)

We perused the inventory: rolling pins, pastry scrapers, rubber spatulas, mixing bowls, pie plates, lattice cutters, silicone baking mats and oven liners. All great stuff for bargain prices.

I didn’t need anything since my kitchen is well-stocked and I have given everyone I know these Aldi pie accessories for Christmas presents for the past several years, but Carolyn bought pie plates (2 for 5 bucks!) and an oven liner (one of the most essential items a pie maker can own). She wanted to buy a silicone baking mat but I insisted that I had a whole box of them at home — swag from a company called Chef’s Planet — and that I would give her one from my inventory.

The problem was, I hadn’t opened the box. Until today. Until I knew I was going to see Carolyn and wanted to make good on my promise.

There were no silicone baking mats in the box. The package had arrived sometime in July or August. I was in full-on hyper pie stand mode and I didn’t even have the capacity to open a box of free pie stuff. Sheesh.

I had already received a box of Chef’s Planet oven liners. I had been expecting that shipment and was waiting for it, thanks to the generous offer from one of the company’s regional sales reps. I go through oven liners quickly. I use them religiously, keeping several clean ones on hand, and swapping them out mid-cycle during my baking marathons to keep the smoke from boiled over pie filling at bay. Besides not wanting to set off deafening fire alarms or create panic among our local emergency crews that I’m burning down the famous American Gothic House, I also don’t care much for the resulting burning sensation in my eyes and lungs.

Enter oven liners. Genius.

I will say here too in an unapologetic plug and enthusiastic thumbs up for Chef’s Planet that their oven liners cost twice as much as Aldi’s but they are twice as good. The material is thicker and lasts longer. Well worth paying the extra few dollars.

But silicone baking mats? I don’t remember what made me think that was what was in that second box of Chef’s Planet swag. I just know I didn’t think I needed any at the time. So the box got sent to the pie stand storage room in the basement. And there it has stayed. In the dark. Unopened. For several months.

Imagine my surprise today when I discovered the box was filled with my other must-have pie tool: pastry scrapers. (Chef’s Planet calls them “Prep Taxi Food Scoops.“) Oh, I was really mad at myself. I have really needed a few extra of these this past month! I could have been using them for my pie classes!

There was more in the box. There was a nifty colander measuring cup. Pretty clever. It will be useful when making berry pies next summer. And last but not least — no, not silicone baking mats, but something like them. Some kind of hybrid sheet that works as an oven liner on one side and non-stick rolling mat on the other. Chef’s Planet calls it a Multipurpose Nonstick Kitchen Mat.

So all this to say, I stumbled upon a win-win today. I opened the box and didn’t find what I was expecting. I found something even better. And because there were two Multipurpose Nonstick Kitchen Mats in the box I have one to give to Carolyn when I see her tomorrow. I also accomplished one tiny step toward the goal of cleaning out my storage room. There’s one less bulky cardboard container taking up space. And next time I get something — swag or whatever —  no matter how busy I am or what I think is inside, I will open the box as soon as it arrives. It could be a good surprise.

More AGH Video…And My Kohler Sink is the Star

My friend Jo Brown works for Kohler and when she found out I lived in the American Gothic House she suggested I might want an old-fashioned cast iron farm sink, a brand new top-of-the-line one made by Kohler. “Good for all your pie baking,” she said.

“Yes, but only if you come down to see me when they install it,” I insisted. I hadn’t seen Jo in eight years. We had worked together at MSN.com as web producers. She and her husband John came to my wedding — to the ceremony Marcus and I had on a farm outside of Seattle. (It was one of three ceremonies we had, ensuring we were thoroughly married.) Time marched on and with it came life changes. Jo and her husband had moved to Wisconsin and I moved, alone and grieving Marcus, to Iowa.

Jo did come down to Eldon, in late August after the gorgeous new sink was installed, and instead of my kitchen being a construction zone we were in full-blown pie-making mode for the Pitchfork Pie Stand. She pitched right in, rolling dough and peeling apples — while her video crew shot footage of us using the new Kohler apron-front sink. It was a win-win: I got to spend time with Jo — I was reminded of how much I loved her lightness of being, her easy laugh and her wisdom — and she earned points with her bosses for scoring this great PR opp.

While I love, love, love, love, love my new Kohler sink, what I love even more is that this sink brought an old friend back into my life. We won’t let eight more years go by without seeing each other again, of that I am certain.

Thanks again, Jo — and thanks, Kohler.

Click here to see Jo’s version of the story in her blog post on the Kohler website.

All I Want for Christmas is…Pie Supplies, Not (Footie) Pajamas

For Christmas, my mom gave me pajamas. These were not your ordinary pajamas. They were not from Victoria’s Secret or Gap Body or Soma. These were bright pink fleece with a dog appliqué on the chest. So far, not soooo bad. I love pink. I love fleece. I love dogs. But the pjs were a one-piece zip-up affair with the feet in them. Yes, footie pajamas. And not just plain footie pajamas — the feet were like built-in doggie slippers, complete with floppy ears and flapping tongue. Now I admit, I loved wearing footie pajamas long past the socially acceptable toddler years, but, um, hey, Mom, I’m not 4 – okay, er, 14 — anymore!

I know she was proud of her purchase because all of my siblings had heard about them long before the Santa wrapping paper was ripped off the box. When I talked to my brother Patrick in Seattle, he immediately asked, “How’d you like your gift from Mom?” I groaned loud enough for him to pull the phone away from his ear. Still, his laughter came through the receiver loud and clear.

“I wouldn’t want to be caught dead in them,” I said. And I meant it. I always think about how Marcus died so unexpectedly and so suddenly, he didn’t have time to pick out a stylish outfit or groom himself before the paramedics rushed in. In his case, it didn’t matter. He was wearing what looked best on him, his birthday suit, which made it easier for them to hook up their defibrillators and needles anyway. But, yeah, I do think about how I will go out when my time comes, what situation I’ll be in, and what may or may not be covering my body. I can tell you this: it definitely won’t be pink fleece footie pajamas with built-in doggie slippers.

“You could be like Ralphie in ‘A Christmas Story,’” Patrick said.

“I’ve never seen it.”

“You’ve never seen ‘A Christmas Story?’”

“No.”

“This kid gets pink bunny pajamas from his aunt, and his parents make him wear them. That’s what your pajamas remind me of.”

“Well, they’re not going to be my pajamas much longer. I’m taking them back. Mom enclosed the gift receipt. She must have known I wasn’t going to like them.”

“Yes, I figured,” he said. “But she had fun buying them for you.”

“Yeah, and telling everyone about them.”

The pjs were from Target. I love Target. And while Southeast Iowa isn’t exactly a shopping Mecca, it does have a Target. I had decided that I was going to use the store credit to buy new underwear.

Someone either told me recently, or I read it somewhere, that they were tossing out all their old undies and getting new ones to symbolize a fresh start. I liked this logic. After all I’ve been through the past 16 months, I could definitely stand to get rid of the dingy old boy shorts and threadbare thongs, and kick off the New Year with some new lingerie. Yeehaw.

The trouble is, I got to Target and I just wasn’t in the mood. Or, perhaps, digging through the sale bins of black lace and white cotton and plaid and flowered and polka dot and everything else in every size all mixed together killed the mood. It wasn’t just the disorganized display though. The prospect of buying underwear made me contemplate my future. Will anyone ever see me in these? Will there be new love on the horizon? How can I even meet a man when I live in such an unpopulated place? And anyway, does the style or color of underwear really even matter in the scheme of life? Even if these new ones are marked down to as little as $2 a pair, do I really need to throw out the old ones which are perfectly fine?

I got so fed up with myself I threw the ones I had already picked back into the bins and walked off in a huff.

I had two other things on my shopping list:
1. Silver polish. I use my grandma’s silver as everyday flatware and her beautiful cutlery is due for a cleaning.
2. Detangler. For my hair, which is getting harder and harder to comb seeing as I haven’t cut it since July.

I wove in and out of the aisles, and somewhere in between Cleaning Supplies and Hair Care I stumbled upon Kitchen Gadgets. There I was, as instinctive as a Golden Retriever sniffing out a tennis ball, homing right in on the pie supplies. Perfect! I’m waaaaay overdue on getting a Christmas present for my niece, the 16-year-old beauty who I taught to make pie last summer. In an instant, I knew just what to get her. My adrenaline pumped, my pulse quickened, my mood lifted as I grabbed not one, not two, but five Chop N’ Scoops. I could send one to Lauren and give the others as presents later. They were $2.99! (I got ripped off paying 10 bucks for mine at that BBB store.) I also put in my heretofore empty basket a set of paring knives (my favorite for peeling apples) for my niece — they were a crazy 99 cents — along with a set of pastry brushes for $2.50. What a score!

As I drove home elated about buying the pie supplies (you know how I love a good bargain) I forgot all about my underwear buying mission. I figure I don’t have to really think about it again until spring anyway because as long as I’m spending the cold winter in an Iowa farmhouse the only kind of underwear I need are long ones. As for the pajamas, I shouldn’t have to worry about those again…until next Christmas.

Thanks anyway, Mom. It’s the thought that counts!

Essential Pie Tools

I opened my Pitchfork Pie Stand at the American Gothic House two and a half weeks ago and have been reminded that making pie in large volumes requires more than my usual two tools of a rolling pin and a mixing bowl. I have also discovered some new, indispensable items…some you can purchase, some you cannot.

1) Transport Vehicle (er, preferably a station wagon or pick up truck)

First, you need a vehicle to transport supplies. A big vehicle. While I am madly in love with my Mini Cooper, I have had to make multiple trips to the city in order to haul the 50-pound bags of flour and sugar required for baking pies for a business. Not to mention, 50 pounds of apples, pictured below. Maybe I should have let my car salesman talk me into the Mini Cooper Clubman after all.

2)  Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer

What pie baker’s rock have I been living under all these years?  How could I have not known about this apple peeler/corer/slicer device?!  Seriously, I’ve been making pie for 30 years… Even the Amish, who don’t have Internet or phones, have been using these since they were invented. Which was probably around 200 BC.

Eldon is a small town (pop. 998) so word travels fast. When Priscilla Coffman heard I was opening my pie stand and would be baking 10 pies for my first day of Saturday business she showed up like a Fairy Godmother at my back door early Friday morning with a box. “I thought you might need this,” she said, and then proceeded to demonstrate how this simple yet genius contraption works. (That’s Priscilla doing the demo below.) You skewer the apple onto the prongs, lining up the stems with the corresponding holes, and then just turn the handle. The peelings come off in one long skinny strip, the apple is evenly sliced, and the core stays behind on the prongs when you pull off your skinned apple. Amazing! Miraculous! And speedy! How did I ever live without this?
3) Fairy Godmother
See Priscilla Coffman above. True to form, she just brought me basket full of pears tonight, fresh from her 30-acre property. Yes, I will be looking for a pear pie recipe. From the cookbook she loaned me. (The endless generosity of the people here in Eldon never ceases to impress me.)

4) Bash N’ Chop
This is the best ten bucks I have EVER spent! I’ve seen these scraper/choppers before and always meant to get one. I finally used the $25 Bed Bath and Beyond gift certificate I got for Christmas last year and brought one home. (Note you can get it for $5.99 on the Bed Bath and Beyond website but it goes for $9.99 in the store. Hmmm.) Even if I paid $4 more for it, this scraper tool is a dough maker’s dream. You can scrape your counter clean, keeping the rolling surface smooth, and getting rid of the gunky debris and crumbs that accumulate in your workspace. You can also cut balls of dough. I’ve even used it to help scoot my pies in and out of the oven. Why did I wait so long to get one?
5) Friends
I’ve had a steady stream of houseguests since I moved in just over one month ago. Unsuspecting houseguests. They think they are coming here for… for what? A vacation? Ha! From the moment they arrive they get an apron wrapped around their waist and a rolling pin placed in their hand. The funny thing is, they all seem to have a really good time making pie. My friends Stacy and James (below) traveled all the way from Portland, Oregon and apart from a little bike ride through Eldon they never left the house. Instead they managed the pie stand sales while I cranked out more pies in the kitchen, and then when I had to catch up on email and bill paying they cooked meals for me and made more pie dough. They left my freezer filled with pie shells. Even after all that they said they want to come back. Come back? I didn’t want them to leave!
My current baking endeavors may require a lot more time, resources and tools than before, but that just means there’s more opportunity for pie — and it’s meaning of sharing, comfort and community — to reach that much further.

Swag Update: Welcome to my Test Kitchen

While it was great to get the pie swag, I doubt I’ll be a likely candidate to receive more free pie stuff after I write about my baking experience on Sunday. So if you’re not a PR person, read on.

As I was saying….On Sunday, I set up my bowls and pie plates in my “test kitchen” (i.e.: a butcher block island in the middle of my studio apartment). I put on my new (Pillsbury) Love the Pie t-shirt (Doh! 2 sizes too big), cut open the bag of the Stone-Buhr flour (nice soft consistency! Like baby powder), and finally opened the “Pies, Pies, and More Pies” cookbook. Suddenly it was like being back in Sister Katherine’s biology class during Catholic high school (but without the plaid skirt and kneesocks). Akin to torturing me with a textbook, putting a recipe in front of me is just asking me, no BEGGING ME, to break the rules — a skill I perfected during those teen years.Broken Rule #1: The recipe calls for use of a food processor. Yeah? Well, my version of a food processor is my grandmother’s silver fork. So pretty, isn’t it? No electricity is required. And it’s much easier to clean!
Broken Rule #2: With a consistency like cookie dough, why bother rolling it? For that matter, why waste 30 minutes out of your life chilling it? I just pressed it into the pie plate and it worked. Besides, no one would see my finger prints once the fruit was in it.

Broken Rule #3: Switch cookbooks mid-recipe. I did use the egg yolk and heavy cream the dough recipe called for (proving that I can obey — within reason), but when it came to the strawberry filling I didn’t have any gelatin powder. So “Pies, Pies, and More Pies” got the boot. I hauled out another cookbook — “The Grand Central Baking Book” — and found a strawberry pie recipe that uses cornstarch instead, an ingredient I did have on hand.
The miracle of pie is that no matter what rules you break, it usually tastes good! But I needed to find out for sure. The problem was, I made this pie for a Memorial Day brunch. I couldn’t cut into it. I had to take to the party.

Thou shall not give into temptation….
….unless you are someone like me who nearly got kicked out of Catholic school.

Broken Rule #4: Grab a slice for yourself before taking the pie to a party. Just fill in the missing piece with whipped cream. No one will ever know!

The problem is, they did know. I thought I was being so clever posing the question on Facebook. “I just made a fresh strawberry pie. Would it be wrong to have a piece before I bring it to the party?” A friend at the brunch had seen my post and told everyone before I even arrived.

The ensuing flack was worth it. What a great pie! Or as my friend Lyndsay put it, “OMG, your strawberry pie was so f***ing good!” Another friend, Toby, said, “This crust is AWESOME. What’s in it?” Oh the irony!

It just goes to show what can happen if you don’t follow a recipe. And if she had had a piece, I’m pretty sure even Sister Katherine would have approved.

Pie Swag!

When I was writing for magazines as an outdoor adventure/sports and fitness journalist I got a lot of swag — free stuff — from companies who hoped I would review their products. Back then I’d get packages in the mail containing fleece jackets, snowboard boots, trail running shoes, bike clothes, water bottles, carabiners, poison oak repellent, and the like. I did write the reviews and they were usually glowing, probably because my mother always preached, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” I would never get hired as a film or theater critic because I’m not capable of producing the scathing, career-ending diatribes they write. And as I’ve said before, I barely qualified as a pie judge for the National Pie Championships because my pie taste isn’t very discriminating — I like all pie! So those companies got lucky with me.When I returned to Portland last week I was surprised to find a pile of packages on my doorstep. Reminiscent of my adventure journalism days, it was SWAG! But this time it was pie swag. I shake my head when I see what direction my career has gone. I used to get sent on extreme adventures, assignments that no one else would take — sky diving, scuba diving with sharks, a week-long trail running trip, bicycling across Iowa, and the most hard core of all, the 10-day, 300-mile Eco-Challenge race across the Utah desert. These days my most challenging assignments include peeling apples, scraping pie filling off the bottom of my oven, learning how to use my new iPhone, and getting to my grief therapy appointments on time.

Still, getting the pie swag was thrilling. For one, that means these PR people not only found my pie blog, they weren’t completely turned off by all my talk of death and grief in between the occasional pie story. (Hey, EVERYONE dies, so yeah, we NEED to talk about it!) Secondly, I could use all this stuff.

Here’s what the booty included, and my preliminary reviews of it:

1. A 5-lb. bag of Stone-Buhr Flour touted as the “first certified sustainable flour. Locally-grown by family farmers in the Pacific Northwest, milled near the fields and farms it was grown on – in Spokane, Washington.” Sounds environmentally responsible. But does it taste any different? Make a better pie crust? We shall see!

2. A newly released cookbook called “Pies, Pies, and More Pies” by Viola Goren (Imagine Publishing, 2010), which is about — you guessed it — pie! Her baking techniques call for a food processor — of which I am not a fan! I have never owned one as I insist that handmade pies be made with your hands. And her dough calls for egg yolk and heavy cream, which seems too rich for my puritanical pie values. HOWEVER, I am going to keep an open mind, and reserve judgment until I give it a try. After all, I didn’t think I would ever like gluten-free pie, and look how that turned out.

3. A red t-shirt from Love the Pie (find them on Facebook and Twitter.) It’s Pillsbury’s Social Media arm of their publicity machine and one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of corporate PR. They are not pushing their packaged pie crust, they are focusing on building a bigger pie community. They get the idea of a soft-sell and I admire them for that. AND it’s working.

What perfect synergy. I can use the flour to make a recipe out of the cookbook while wearing my new t-shirt! And what great timing. I just bought four pounds of strawberries. So instead of spending the Memorial Day holiday climbing Mount Whitney or dog-sledding across Alaska, I’ll (quite happily) be trading my adrenaline rush for a sugar rush — and making pie.

Rhubarb and Rosemary

I took a late afternoon walk with my dogs today, unsure of which direction we would go, and after some persistent tugging by Jack on his leash, ended up at the house of my neighbor Sylvia. She welcomed us into her huge garden and we sat in the sun while Team Terrier dug up her newly planted flowers. (She swears she didn’t mind.) I have learned to trust these aimless afternoon wanderings as they often lead to unexpected surprises. Good ones. When I was about to leave, Sylvia jumped up and said, “Take some rhubarb with you.” She walked over to a raised bed overgrown with leaves bigger than pie plates. I thought I was looking at squash until she pulled the curtain of leaves aside to reveal the red stalks below. Simultaneously twisting and pulling the roots, she yanked out a handful of stalks. We hadn’t made it to the gate before passing a rosemary bush on Pacific Northwest steroids. Sylvia plucked a branch of that too. “I know what I’m doing tonight,” I told her. Naturally, making a rhubarb pie. Sylvia is one of my “Bad Borrowers” but since I forgot to ask her for my Limoges plate while I was there, and she sent me home with a bounty of produce, I’m giving her temporary reprieve from the list. I already know where tomorrow’s afternoon dog walk will take me. Back to Sylvia’s to deliver a piece of the rhubarb pie. On a paper plate.

Good Borrowers, Bad Borrowers

I have a list taped to my refrigerator to keep track of all my dishes out on loan, all of them were used to deliver pie to neighbors — either a slice, a mini size, or a whole pie. The list includes:

Syliva: Limoges dessert plate
Stacy: Pyrex pie dish
Sharon: Bennington Pottery pie dish
Elizabeth: handmade ceramic bowl

Weeks have gone by and even after I’ve mentioned my desire to have my prized dishes back (the Limoges belonged to my grandmother, the handmade bowl from Germany was a gift from Marcus, the Bennington Pottery was a gift from Nan), even left friendly reminder notes, I have not gotten my dishes back. I am now placing these friends on my other list: “Bad Borrowers,” those who do not return things promptly. Shame on you! I am running out of serving dishes to bake pies for others in need.

But there is one friend who not only goes on the “Good Borrowers” list, she moves straight to the top! She is Heather, my new neighbor, who stopped by to say hi on Saturday. I was outside vacuuming the RV and MINI — getting ready for another road trip?! — and she sat down on the steps, in the sun, chatting with me while I worked. Eventually it occurred to me to just stop what I was doing, to be neighborly. To pause. To breathe. “Can I make you a latte?” I offered as we continued to chat on the sidewalk. “Come on upstairs.”

Heather was only half way through her coffee when her boyfriend came by and she had to go. Knowing I had given her my highly cherished mug, the one with the picture of the motorscooter that reads “My journey begins today” — another irreplaceable gift from Marcus — I bravely said, “Go ahead. Take it with you.” But if anything happens to that mug…

Less than one hour later, the coffee mug was sitting on my staircase filled with the most vibrant (one could even say flourescent) daisies. My eyes grew wide with surprise and my mouth broke into an even wider smile.

There is an old etiquette rule about never returning a dish empty. I’m impressed that Heather has either read Emily Post’s book on good manners or she is simply by nature a very thoughtful, conscientious person. And while I feel it is sufficient to return a dish clean with a simple thank-you note, I would settle for unclean and no note just to get my things back in a timely manner. So look out, those of you on the “bad” list. You’ve been publicly outed!

Pietopia in Portland

Speaking of pie contests, I just received a letter and news clipping from a friend in Portland (where we lived before moving to Mexico). The article, from The Oregonian newspaper, was about a pie contest. Contestants wrote 300-word essays about what kind of pie would best describe the way they were feeling right now–with their recipes included. Winners brought their pies to a farmer’s market for passersby to get free pie. Free!

The woman who had the BRILLIANT idea to create this is Tricia Martin who says, “I wanted a creative way to bring people together through taste” and “The great thing about pie is its cross-generational appeal.” Yes! I couldn’t agree more.
This made me so homesick for Portland–for missing the contest, and for all those berries I didn’t get to pick this year–that I might have to make one of the contest-winner recipes listed on her Pietopia blog–the “Homesick for Miami” pie. OK, Miami is as far as you can get from Portland, but maybe it would still work.
I love seeing this–this creativity, generosity, and homespun comfort in action that pulls a community together. It gives me hope that the world isn’t completely going to hell.