A Pie!

There is nothing in the world of sweets that pleases me more than a fresh pie.  It’s work, and it is seasonal, but pie made with fresh fruit is always my idea of heaven.  So, for the long weekend, the pie is – as many others are making – Strawberry Rhubarb Pie.  This pie needs to be carefully balanced between sweet and sour, so if you are making it from scratch with a whatever-goes mentality, best to taste it before you bake it.  (Isn’t that another reason to bake – to eat raw dough and taste-test the ingredients?)

Method

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Pie Crust
for a 9-inch pan

2 1/2 c. flour
2 sticks (1 lb.) sweet butter, chilled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 tsp. salt
6-8 T. ice water

Pour a cup of water into a vessel; add ice cubes. Do this before you begin the crust.

Cut together flour, butter, and salt until resembles coarse corn meal. Add 3-4 T. water, blend in gently with fork. Add another 2 T. water; blend some more. If it begins to stick together when you mash it together, you are probably ready to roll it out. If not, add another T. of ice water, gradually, testing the dough, which should stick together. Divide dough into two balls, making one slightly larger than the other.

Roll out the larger of the two dough balls onto a floured board, turning as necessary. Roll out until about 4 inches larger than pan diameter. Place dough into pie pan; drape carefully into pan to make sure dough is not stretched. Trim ends to about 1 1/2 inches outside of pan.

Roll out second ball for upper crust. If you want a lattice crust, cut strips about 1 inch wide. On a piece of waxed paper, assemble latticework. Cover with another piece of waxed paper. Refrigerate until ready to place on top of pie. If you want a plain crust, roll out until it measures about 2 inches larger than pan diameter on all sides.

It is not uncommon to have to patch a pie crust, and the lattice is no different.  For the crust, take a trimmed slice of pie dough, dampen it with water on one side, and place it like a tire patch over the part of the crust that needs to be repaired.  That area should also have a few pats of water on it.  Press to seal.  In the area of the lattice, if a strip breaks, or is too short, do not hesitate to repair it as for the bottom crust, but to make it look nice, hide the broken strip under an upper strip.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Filling

3 T. brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
1/2 c. water
3 c. diced rhubarb stems
2 lbs. fresh strawberries, cleaned and sliced
2-4 T. tapioca
Mace, just a pinch of fresh
Juice of 1 lemon
More white sugar to taste

Combine together two sugars and water in a sautee pan. Bring to simmer until sugars are dissolved. Add chopped rhubarb, and cook slowly for a few minutes. Remove rhubarb from pan, saving syrup and returning to sautee pan, and mix in with fresh strawberries. Sprinkle tapioca into syrup. Simmer tapioca about 5 minutes, letting water evaporate a little bit from pan.  If you like a bit of juice with your pie, use less tapioca, and use more if you like your pie to stick together.  Taste (cool it a bit!) the syrup, and adjust using the juice of the lemon, and adding extra sugar to taste. When you like the taste, pour syrup over strawberry-rhubarb mixture. Sprinkle a bit of mace onto pie. (I like it plain, or with just a hint of mace – not much as the pie itself is so good!)

Pour fruit mixture into pie pan lined with dough. Cover with second crust, cutting slits into crust if you have not made a lattice; this allows steam to escape. Brush top crust with a egg yolk-water mixture, or an egg white-water mixture, or leave plain.

Bake the Pie!

Make sure oven racks are placed with one on bottom rack, and another in middle of oven. Line a cookie sheet with foil and place on bottom rack. Place pie on middle rack. Bake at 450 F for 10 minutes and then lower temperature to 350 F, and bake another 50-60 minutes until juices are bubbling and crust is golden.  Cool on wire rack, or let cool in oven if really drippy.

When you are ready to remove the pie from the oven, get another pair of hands.  My husband carried the pie, and I followed underneath, with a wire rack crossing the foil-covered cookie sheet, to prevent goo from getting on the floor.

Serve with cream, ice cream, or just pie itself.

Lemon Verbena Cake

I have a beautiful lemon verbena bush in a pot on the patio, and each time it blooms I think I need to do something with it.  For some reason, lemon verbena pound cake struck a cord, and over the past several days I have been looking for something that sounds good.  Nothing really did, so with a few web recipes, and some cook books, I made up a recipe.  I dragged out the big grey monster (a.k.a. the Kitchenaid Mixer), bowls, pans, and assembled myself a cake with fresh lemons from the neighbor’s tree, lemon verbena from my bush, and a bit of elbow grease.

Lemon Verbena Cake

2 sticks (l c.) sweet butter
2 c. white sugar
4 eggs
2-4 T. fresh lemon verbena leaves, rinsed and chopped fine
Lemon zest from 1 or 2 lemons
Juice of 1-2 lemons, placed in measuring cup
Half-and-half to make one cup, added to measuring cup with lemon juice
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
3 c. King Arthur’s unbleached white flour

Method

Preheat oven to 325 F for convection oven, or 350 F for regular oven.  Place rack in middle of oven.

With about a tablespoon of soft butter and some waxed paper, thoroughly grease a 10-inch bundt pan.  Make sure to get every crevasse and nook filled up.  Dust with a generous amount of flour, and tap out remainder.  Set aside.  (I took my butter and pan outdoors to hasten the process – hot sun, melty butter!)

In mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating in thoroughly.  Add chopped lemon verbena leaves and lemon zest, beat some more.

In another mixing bowl, sift together flour, salt, powder, and soda.  Alternately add the half-and-half with lemon juice (it will be curdled by now) and a third of the flour.  Liquid-flour-liquid-flour-liquid-flour.  Beat very thoroughly after each addition, scraping down the sides as necessary.  Be sure to really beat the batter a lot – the more the beating, the finer the crumb.

Bake for 60 to 75 minutes (1 hour to 1 1/4 hours).  Test by inserting toothpick into cake – if it comes out dry, cake is done.  Also, check to make sure that the cake is pulling away from the pan edge a bit.

Pray to the cake-baking gods!

Cool cake on rack 5 – 10 minutes.  With small knife, gently pry away cake edges from pan; tap on pan multiple times to loosen.    I banged on the bundt pan with a wooden spoon after I took the cake out from the oven, and used a filet knife around the center tube and around the edges of the cake.  After this, I placed a plate under the cake, tapped some more, and it came out very nicely.

My cake took about 1 1/4 hrs. to bake; I let it cool 15 minutes before inverting it onto a plate.  While the cake was still warm, and I wanted to flatten the bottom a bit, I pushed on the cake with a towel until I was happy.  Also, I think my generous buttering of the pan, along with a proper cake-god dance, did the trick.  I finally just dusted the cake with a bit of powdered sugar, through a sieve, because I do not care much for glazes.

Altogether, I am rather pleased with myself!

Pork & Chiles

We have an ongoing love affair with pork, and with chiles.  Hot chiles, sweet chiles.  With little left in the freezer, although it is a bit warm outside, today just seemed to be a perfect day to make an oven-braised pork stew.  This really is a mish-mash, and despite its color, it has dried red chiles in it, and hot fresh green serranos and jalapenos.  Braised in an oven-proof kettle at 275-300 F, this is a dish which needs a bit of attention, can be as dry or wet as you want, and makes a delicious meal for summer or winter, depending on your mood.

Pork & Chile Stew

Pork & Chiles Stew
2 lbs. pork loin, cubed
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
3 serranos and 3 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped
5-8 dried red chiles, sweet variety, such as ancho
8-10 cloves of garlic, chopped and smashed
1 T. ground cumin
2 T. coriander seeds, ground
2 T. fresh oregano
1 c. chopped parsley (I would use tomatillos, but don’t have any right now, and don’t feel like going to the market)
2-4 c. dark beer
2-4 c. chicken broth

Preheat oven to 275 – 300 F. Use a lower temperature for a longer, slower cook. Allow yourself about 6-8 hours of cooking and prep time before serving.

In an oven-proof kettle with an oven-proof lid, heat some cooking oil, brown cubed meat. Add onions, stir until soft. Add all herbs and seasonings as you chop – just add them and continue to stir and add until all is cut up and sauteed together in the kettle.

Seed the jalapenos and serranos under running water, being sure to wear nitrile gloves. Chop fine, then thoroughly clean up cutting block, discard pepper seeds and bits. Then take off the gloves, discard them, and wash your hands. Add to the stew.

Pour in beer and some chicken broth, to cover the meat. Bring to simmer.

Place in 300 F oven on middle rack, cover with lid. Plan to let it bake / braise at least 4-5 hours, or longer if you use 275 F. Add extra liquid if stew appears dry – you need to check it!

After about 2-3 hours of cooking, take the dried sweet red chiles out of their package. (I like Mojave brand, or just the ones in bins at local markets.) Break them up, remove stems, and sautee in some oil over low heat. Make sure they become rather soft. Then pour a couple of cups of boiling water over them in the pan (watch out for splatters!) and let soak for about 20-30 minutes. When this is done, transfer chiles and some soaking liquid to a blender, and puree the mess until all the peppers are broken up. Add this liquid to the stew, stir it in.

Continue to cook the stew for a few more hours, checking liquid levels. About an hour before you think you want to eat the stew, you can add some drained, rinsed canned hominy, or, like I did, some baby potatoes.

Serve with tortillas, shredded cheese, sour cream. Garnish with cilantro or something pretty, like more parsley or whatever you want.

P.S. The picture is not any indicator about the tastiness of this dish! I took it last night under fluorescent lighting and forgot to adjust it – and at 1600 iso. Not the best shot. However, the pan really is green – its a “lemon grass” Le Creuset Dutch oven – love it!

Fleece in Hand

Handspinning!  Something I learned years ago.  I have not had anything to put in my fingers of late – knitting is just at a dead standstill for now – and the end result was an awful restlessness which nothing could satisfy.  Thinking, taking pictures, hiking, reading, blobbing, drawing – nothing, but nothing, had it.  Then I looked at my spinning wheel, and went out to the garage where I have some carded fleece stored.  And there was the answer.

Moorit Shetland

A small fleece, carded and ready to spin, was on the garage shelf, stored with lavender.  Below it is a heathery grey one.  Two balls of lace-weight yarn were already spun.  What I am doing now is a bit heavier, but not much, and the two will be plied together for something.  This is true satisfaction!

Group Activity

Personally, I find too many group activities overwhelming.  Too many people.  Too much stimulus.  Too much to distract from the focus of the group.  Certainly, lots can be learned from seeing what others do, but too much can also be lost in the mix.  I am a definite introvert, and while I like people, I prefer them in small doses . . . unless its a despotic situation, and I am the despot!

Anyway, one thing rather nice about the internet is the fact you can belong to some kind of group activity, but not be overwhelmed with others.  I like a number of flickr groups for this reason – photographers with similar interests, occasional comments, groups with a focal theme and good postings.  These are groups I can check in with, and check out of, and no one gets hurt feelings.

Fugue 4

One I am finding particularly enjoyable is “Our Daily Challenge, 2” – the second group formed as an offshoot of the first.  Highly original and creative photos emerge from a daily challenge.  Themes for the day have included Distorted, Runs or Running, Hidden, and so on.  What the photographer does can be staged, spontaneous, an impetus and go out and shoot something familiar but with a different skew. This puts a creative push behind photography.

Today’s theme is Distorted.  I could putz with software and create special effects, I could destroy something and have a distorted item to snap.  Instead, I have a zoom lens that creeps.  It moves along and can be rather frustrating.  But this is what made my theme for Distorted – the blur from the creep.  So I simply moved the lens in-and-out, using a small f/stop to have a longer exposure.  I was very, very pleased with the results.  (No, I am not the first person in the world to do this.)  The pleasure lies in the pattern repetition, somewhat recognizable in some of the pictures, and hinted at in others:  Fugue.

Art in the Garden

The Conejo Valley Botanical Gar4den has on longterm loan seven statues from the Morris B. Squire Art Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit established by Morris Bear Squire, an artist who lives in Santa Barbara.  A number of them – seven specifically – have been installed throughout the property, and three have been placed in the Kids’ Adventure section.  I have seen two of them, but did not really check them out too much, as I was in pursuit of butterflies.

Statue at the Gate

This is the one right inside the entrance of the garden, and I am rather amused by it.  There is something rather fun about it.  It’s a dreadful photo of it.  The colors are what I like, and now that I look at it a bit more, I recall the leaves at the top also caught my eye.

Sculpture is rather an elusive like-don’t like thing.  For one thing, at home, I think of 3-D art as something needing to be dusted.  Given my aversion to housework, which gets done out of necessity and vanity more than an overwhelming need for cleanliness, that is the first thing that comes to mind.  How can this be easily cleaned?  Solution:  hose it off.

That aside, just having artwork in a garden is always a risk factor.  What is the art, where is it placed, how does it work with the environment?  And then the eternal question of “what is art?”

For now, I have only glanced at this sculpture.  I saw another in the garden I did not like, but that is because there were people in the sculpure, painted on, and rather amateurish.  Snobbery on my part, but the fact is, people do not hold much appeal to me when painted onto a statue.  I glanced at that one and walked on.

Yesterday, the real art in the garden was the garden itself.  I love that place – so many wonderful plants and trees and paths to follow.  Flowers are blooming like crazy, and the butterflies were flitting around.  I sat on a bench, and just watched them.  I have forgotten that beauty of the butterfly because I am too busy running around after other things, not chasing butterflies in the woods like I once did.  There were more Monarch butterflies than any other but I did capture another orange one.

Small Visitor

Yesterday was so much fun – time to look and think and watch and do.  Home, then, to lie in the sun and listen to an audiobook.  Been awhile I have actually done nothing.  And then I even got out my spinning wheel and some dark brown Shetland to spin.

Art?

I cannot say that working with a computer and software is any form of art.  Maybe it is, but I don’t see it.  To me, the computer is a tool, and mastery of the tool is one way in which art can be created.  Writing and designing the software is an art – it requires a vision and a goal, and like art, software evolves and changes, sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worst.  (A lot of times, software becomes increasingly kludgy as it evolves.)

This is what I mean . . . here is an original picture, below, of water lilies taken at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Water Lilies

This next image is edited in the pixel bender filter in CS5.

Water Lilies and Pixel Bender Filter “Oil Paint”

Finally, this is the same image, with increased contrast added in CS5.

Water Lilies – Pixel Bender Oil Paint – Increased Contrast

Is any of this art?  Or is it just manipulation?  I don’t think I would ooh! ahh! over any of these, nor would I pay good money to hang these on the wall.  But, they are fun to do!