Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Apples

A lot of things may be happening now.  One project that I was going to start may need to be postponed.  There was a lot of energy being channeled toward it.  Now, without direction, that energy is simply being absorbed by the surrounding tissues, the way it is with saline solution after a surgery.  Before it all disappears I am looking for another enterprise, and I still have my house to simplify, toilet training, and another undertaking that will require research and planning.

Right now, though, I want to focus on something simple, something that implies family and sun and good times.  I am talking about potato salad.  This is the season for it; starting around Easter and running through Labor Day.  It makes an appearance at almost every picnic, barbeque, and holiday party.  Unfortunately, many times it does not appear in its best form.  Rubbery potato salad bought in a plastic tub from the grocery store shows up all too often, and dampens the mood around the table.  Homemade potato salads have their downsides too.  While its simple, wholesome (obviously I do not mean healthy) goodness should bring people together, it also has a tendency to cause divisiveness.  Even in a single family, there are preferences for potato salads with mustard, lots of mayonnaise, or dill, to name a few examples.  There are also rivalries between family members.  Squabbles break out because Aunt Linda wants to bring her potato salad to the reunion, but Aunt Theresa thinks her own recipe is much better.  Families divide into camps along those lines.  I will not necessarily call these arguments petty, because if I am going to that reunion, I want to make sure that the best salad is present. 

Which, of course, I tend to think of as my potato salad.  It is adapted from a recipe from a 2007 issue of Gourmet.  I am fairly traditional when it comes to potato salad.  I want the potatoes smothered in mayonnaise, with hard boiled eggs and celery, and a touch of vinegar.  This recipe has everything I could wish.  It’s creamy with a hint of sweetness. The potatoes are still chunky so you don’t feel like you are spooning mayonnaise whipped potatoes into your mouth.  Also, it is one of the few potato salads my husband actually gets excited about, and that is saying a lot.

My Favorite Potato Salad adapted from Gourmet, June 2007

I will list ingredients as they originally published it, but I tend to add a little more of everything that the recipe calls for; more mayo, more cider vinegar, more onion.

3 lbs potatoes, cut into ½” cubes
¾ cup mayonnaise (I use Hellman’s, and typically use closer to a cup)
3 T apple cider vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard (I like to use a country-style, grainy variety)
1 ½ tsp sugar
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
¾ cup finely chopped sweet onion
¾ cup finely chopped celery

Cook your potatoes and allow to cool to room temperature.  I like to use red potatoes, but any will do.  Be sure to let them cool completely.

In a large bowl, whisk your mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper.  Taste the dressing to make sure the seasoning is where you want it.  I typically add a little more vinegar and mustard, because I like it to be tangy.  Then, stir in the potatoes, eggs, onion, and celery.  Sprinkle with paprika if desired, and serve. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Faces called flowers

This morning I took a poetry break, which is something I think I need to do every morning.  My a.m. routine is one full of bustle.  After taking care of my sons' needs I am already a little ragged by 9:30.  Both of them are morning kids, and want to play and talk from the moment they wake up at 7:00.  This morning, as I drank my coffee, I read a selection of e.e. cummings' poems on Spring.  I was immediately calmer, and have been coming back to them in the hours since, trying to center myself.

This poem below especially grabbed me.  I have read it many times before and loved it for his voice and his imagery.  I have been thinking a lot about how to live a simpler life, more full of meaning for me and my family, and right now, this poems seems to sum it up.

by e.e. cummings

when faces called flowers float out of the ground
and breathing is wishing and wishing is having-
but keeping is downward and doubting and never
-it's april(yes,april;my darling)it's spring!
yes the pretty birds frolic as spry as can fly
yes the little fish gambol as glad as can be
(yes the mountains are dancing together)

when every leaf opens without any sound
and wishing is having and having is giving-
but keeping is doting and nothing and nonsense
-alive;we're alive,dear:it's(kiss me now)spring!
now the pretty birds hover so she and so he
now the little fish quiver so you and so i
(now the mountains are dancing, the mountains)

when more than was lost has been found has been found
and having is giving and giving is living-
but keeping is darkness and winter and cringing
-it's spring(all our night becomes day)o,it's spring!
all the pretty birds dive to the heart of the sky
all the little fish climb through the mind of the sea
(all the mountains are dancing;are dancing)

Thursday, April 7, 2011


As far as the gustatory pleasures go, there is nothing better than pie.  I am a little hesitant making such a definitive statement.  I’m batting a few other things around in my head right now: chocolate, cheese, beer, chicken cannelloni with white and red sauce… Nope, pie still wins.  I had originally thought to make this entire blog focused on pie, but decided against it when I thought of the extra pounds I would end up putting on.

Pie!  Under one name there are endless variations and opportunities for creativity: flaky butter crusts, airy yeast crusts, sweet nut and cookie crumb crusts, flavorful cheese crusts. These crusts can hold flawless fruit-filling, creamy chiffon, indulgent custard, decadent chocolate, and rich, savory delights.  Pie evokes history; a rustic galette stirs imagined memories of being a peasant, eating on an oak table in the French countryside some time in the undefined past.   It’s part of tradition; the three pumpkin pies your father makes every Thanksgiving, even though there are now only three people gathered around the table.  It can be casual and unpretentious, an old-fashioned American apple pie, or elegant and sophisticated, a Tiramisu Black Bottom tart.  From a purely romantic point of view, nothing else showcases Nature’s seasonal bounty so well as pie.

To celebrate the magnificence of pie, we recently hosted a party.  I made four pies, a pumpkin, apple, banana-cream, and a strawberry-rhubarb tart.  I was originally feeling a little bad about making a pumpkin pie for an April party, but since it was hailing and 50 degrees that day, my guilt was assuaged.  Luckily for my husband and me, most of the pie was eaten between the ten or so guests.  The strawberry-rhubarb was devoured before the end of the night, and we sent the last two slices of pumpkin home with a only slightly protesting friend.  It was all too easy for us to finish off the banana-cream the next day.  Only the apple pie did not get completely consumed, and sadly a quarter had to be thrown out. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Tart – adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum

Thank you, Rose Levy Berenbaum, for the countless pies you must have made to get each one so perfect.  Every pie I made was from your book.  With much regret, I must return it to my local library and I have used all my renewals. But, I will be purchasing it soon.  I will have to check out your Cake Bible next.


The recipe for this crust is very methodical and a little time consuming, but the resulting pastry is impeccable.  I do feel rather bad about using so much plastic wrap and a freezer bag, so I’m working on a way to get the same result with a slightly different method.  If you want, just use your favorite all butter crust recipe.

8 T unsalted butter, cold
1 1/3 + 4 tsp of pastry flour or 1 1/3 cups of all purpose flour (she advises making your own pastry flour by combining 2 parts all purpose flour to 1 part cake flour)
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder – optional (be sure to uses a non SAS baking powder); if not using, double the salt
2 ½ - 3 ½ T ice water
1 ½ tsp cider vinegar

Divide the butter into two parts, 5 tablespoons and 3 tablespoons.  Cut the butter into ¾” cubes.  Wrap both portions in plastic wrap; put the large portion in the refrigerator and the smaller portion in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.  Put the flour, salt, and baking powder in a gallon size freezer bag and place in the freezer at the same time.

Chill a medium size mixing bowl.

Empty the flour mixture into a different bowl and whisk to combine the ingredients.  Take out the large portion of butter, and using a pastry cutter or rubbing with your fingers, blend the butter and flour until it resembles a coarse meal.  Put this mixture back in the bag, along with the butter from the freezer, and expel all air.  Next, take a rolling pin to flatten the cold butter into flakes.  These large pieces of butter are what make the crust so flaky and delicious.  Place the bag back in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

Empty the mixture into the chilled bowl, being sure to scrape the sides of the bag.  Sprinkle with ice water and vinegar, and toss gently.  At this point, I gently knead the dough by hand, just until it holds together and is a little stretchy.  Then, flatten it into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour but preferably overnight.

Roll the dough and press into a 9 ½” tart pan.  Cover and put back into the fridge for an hour.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line the crust with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes.  At that point, remove weights and foil, prick crust all over with a fork.  Bake for about 10 more minutes or until golden brown.


1 large egg white, slightly beaten
1/3 cup currant jelly
4 cups rhubarb cut into ½” pieces or 4 cups quick frozen, no sugar added rhubarb, juice reserved
2/3 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
1 T cornstarch (2 T if using frozen rhubarb)
2 cups sliced strawberries

Brush the still warm, pre-baked pie crust with the egg white to moisture proof the crust.

Heat the currant jelly in small saucepan until bubbling.  Strain into a small cup and let cool until no longer hot.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, salt, cornstarch, and rhubarb.  Let it stand at room temperature until the rhubarb gives some juice. (If using frozen rhubarb, add about a 1/2 cup of the reserved juice.  I used frozen and had lots of liquid left over, so just use your best judgment.)

Stirring constantly, bring the rhubarb mixture to boil over medium high heat.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You want the liquid thick and the rhubarb tender.  Remove it from the heat and let cool.  You can stir during cooling if you would like it smooth, or you can leave it alone for more texture.

Pour the rhubarb into the pie crust and arrange the strawberry slices on top in concentric circles.  Brush with the glaze (you can reheat the glaze to make it liquid again if necessary) within an hour of serving. Don’t expect any leftovers!