Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cool and Luscious, Strawberry Pie.

We're used to the heat in the Pacific Northwest.  Big portions of the West are land-locked desert or high plains, both of which attract heat like butter to pancakes.  We have triple digits in July and early August, cools off to the 90s in the last of August.  It's October before we see the 80s.  The heat roils in from California, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico, followed by thunderstorms and eardrum-rattling lightning.  Possibly we're not in the Kansas category, but it's all I want.    

When the heavy, soaking rains come, we relish the sound, coolness, and the scent.  There's a word for it:  petrichor.  The smell of falling rain on hard, dry dirt.  It's delicious.  So until that happens, I go through gallons of iced tea, take walks in the morning before the heat sets in,  and run the air conditioner at night.  So far, Obi, my  giant, long-haired ragdoll is doing all right.  As I am.  

And when the occasion calls for it. I make Strawberry Pie.  My church buddy, Rick, just completed an Iron Man race in the north.  His wife, Suzie, is here for the summer, and we're celebrating his accomplishment.  A big deal, given the fact that Rick is 58. 

That calls for Strawberry Pie.  

For the crust:  The day before.  

1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt  -  run a whisk through it.
Add chilled, 3/4 cup shortning,  cut in pieces. Then I used two knives to cut in the fat. 

When the mixture resembles pea-sized bits,  I add 6-8 tablespoons for
iced water. Mix it all together and form a ball.  Put the ball in waxed
paper, a let it rest for about an hour, or overnight.

Roll it out, it's a big crust.  Roll, east-west, north-south.  When it's bigger
than the pie pan, gently put the crust in the pan.  Carefully make sure
the crust is patted into place.  Trim off the extra.  (I make a bigger
crust, because it's easier to trim than patch.)  Use a fork to press in
a pattern along the rim and to poke holes in the crust across the
bottom and along the sides.  Let it sit in the fridge, for an hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  You can use parchment paper
and a couple cups of dried beans to make sure the crust doesn't fall in
on itself.  Start checking on it at 10 minutes.  Let it cool at least an hour.
The hard part is done.

Here's the filling.  You'll need 6-8 cups of strawberries.  Wash them by
running cool water gently over them.  Cut out the hulls and cut the 
big ones in half.  Otherwise, let them be.

Take about 1 1/2 cups strawberries, and put them into a sauce pan.
Don't add any  water.  Take a potato masher and break up the strawberries.
Add  2 tablespoons of corn starch, 1 1/2 teaspoons SureJell, and 1/2 cup sugar.

Let the mixture come to a boil, and then let it cook about 10 minutes.  The
sauce will clear.  Take it off the heat, and let it cool for about 15 minutes.
You don't want to pour hot sauce over the rest of the berries.  That will cook
them.  You want them the way nature intended.

Then add the sauce to the strawberries,  stir just enough to coat the berries.
Pour them into your prepared pie crust.  You can press them into place a little
bit. Let the pie finish cooling in the fridge at least 4 or 5 hours.

Serve with sweetened, whipped cream.  It's cool, it's luscious, it's perfect.

I got the recipe from Cook's Country chefs.  They are beyond  brillliant.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Neighborhood

I live in the East End of a North West city.  It's an original neighborhood, platted in the 1860s, when our city was a warehouse/garden community for one of our much wealthier, gold-mining cities.  So the blocks are short and the trees are old.  Downtown is 10 minutes away if you are driving, 15 minutes if you are walking.  That proximity makes our land values on the high side.

We are eight blocks from the river, a block and a half from the foot hills of the Rocky Mountains.  You can see the tree line on the mountains, the dividing line between the mountains and the Great Basin, which is mostly dessert, stretching from here to Baja.  So do the mountains.

There was real money to be made here, and some of that is still evident.  Our movie theater downtown is an  art deco treasure.  It was a town of churches and a synagogue and women, which beget a lively, artsy social life, a civilizing factor.  Although the downtown tour guides will point out which blocks housed the brothels. Our city hall is on one of them.  We're sorta proud of that wayward history.

Some parts of our neighborhood have sidewalks, some of it doesn't.  I was really impressed with a guy who planted  his whole back yard in cherry trees, green beans, and squash until I ran into a garden this morning that occupied the whole front yard.

The architecture varies.  We have really modern pieces,  all angles and glass, some houses with Frank Lloyd Wright influences, a lot of bungalows, and a few very large suburban homes now.  We also have a handlful of those half-lot wide, lot-long houses, constructed for new families and retirees. Those are beautifully kept, painted rust brown, olive green, and brick red.  There are roses everywhere. I walked by one family home, a tiny, turn-of-the century cottage where the quarter-block garden was spent, except for the black-eyed  Susans.  Another charming cottage down the block was renovated with beautiful shingles and siding that were varying shades of taupe, right next to a vintage home, that was keenly in need of a similar update.  You sorta get the picture.

We're a community of thinkers, with more liberal notions.  There are lots of musicians, singers,
writers, community leaders, athletes, world travelers,  and people who know their way around a computer.  We walk and cycle every day.  There are families,  lots and lots of families.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Oh, Trout.

Of course, it's mid-summer across the Northern Hemisphere.  Our summers include corn on the cob, home-raised tomatoes, trips into the mountains to get cool. Chances are, once we're there--we'll go fishing.

Trout Fishing.

You can find trout in mid-sized creeks, in shady spots where it is cooler, and where the flies and the bugs hover over the ripping waters.  You can also find the fish in high mountain lakes, where the water is so cold the only way the fish don't freeze is to keep moving.

At least that's what my dad told me.

My dad and his buddies used to bring them home on ice.  My mom refused to clean them.   That and pheasants and ducks. The rule at our house: You catch it; you clean it.

But she did cook them.  And she did it magnificiently.   One of the best things you will ever eat is trout that is cleaned, not 10 minutes out of the water, then dredged in flour and fried in butter quickly and simply in a cast iron skillet over the fire.  Mom would fix the smaller ones that way, not much more than five or six inches long.  In camp.  On the same morning they were caught.

Now, my brother brings back steelhead steaks in the fall, and sometimes he'll fix them for my birthday in December.  They are particularly luscious, somewhere between a trout and a salmon.

But I have my ways too.

Poached Trout in Wine

1 fish, 8-10 inches long, for each person you are serving  (I never much embraced fishing.  I get them at Albertson's.)  Gut the fish, if that hasn't been done already.  I leave the heads on, but it's all right if the heads are  taken away.

1/2 cup of smaller, white mushrooms, sliced, for each fish.
2-3 green onions, for each fish
Butter.   Saute the mushrooms and onions in butter, until they are soft.
5-6 basil leaves, for each fish.

Salt and pepper the inside of the fish.  Stuff the fish with the onions and mushrooms.  Layer
the basil leaves on top of the vegies and lay them in a fairly deep baking pan.  Think lasagna
pan.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour a bottle of white wine over the top of the fish.  You'll need a bottle for every 3-to-4 fish.
Cover the pan(s) with tin foil or a lid.  Bake for about 20 minutes.  Start checking at 10 minutes.
When it's done properly, the flesh will flake easily, and it will be ever-so-moist.

The wine: something neither too sweet nor too dry.  You want the  delicacy of the trout to come through.

Yes, you do.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Princess

We don't have the family whom you'd think would produce the necessary girl for princess status.  Her dad is an outdoors-man and hard-headed, truth-telling businessman; Mom Maggie is the pragmatist in the family: I get so tangled up in life that I may or may be aware of what, exactly, I'm wearing.  I have been known to wear four or five mismatched pieces of clothing.  Your teeth can hurt looking at me.  But we have one: a certified, rarified princess.

She was born that way.  Maybe it was  all those majorly cute clothes her doting aunts and uncles bought her when when she was a baby. Maybe it was her long-golden hair her dad braided or pony-tailed every morning.  Maurice of Boise, he called himself in those days.  Certainly, it was the multitudes of Barbi dolls that sprang up like dandelions around  her house. We'd thought that no daughter of ours would ever have Barbi dolls, but we were wrong about that. And how.

These days she's very successfully navigating the atolls of young adulthood.  She has a job she likes.  She's planning, thinking about graduate school.  She has an apartment.  She wants a kitty, one of the very cute variety.  She's smart enough to be a writer and a philosopher both.  

Still has her princess status intact:  This was on her Facebook Feed.  From Christian Louboutin's collection.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Isabelle and Aubrey

 Some kids come into your life, peaking around their mother’s legs.  Others barely notice
your existence.  Others roar in, in this case, driving/riding on my cousin Julie’s walker, one in a seat, screaming “Hi, Julie.”  Isabelle is the red-haired four-year-old.  Aubrey is two and blond, the sweetest of souls.  These days, when they see me, they run to hug my knees.  I couldn’t be more charmed by them.

Our church provides dinners on the nights we have class.  The cost is minimal, but it
saves our way-busy moms a step.  Dinner is at 5:30; class is at 6:30.  Isobelle and Aubrey, along with their mom, Kiersten, got there a bit early.  Kiersten no more than got their coats off and turned around, and, poof, both kids were gone. 

We found Isobelle in the sound booth, with Shane, our longhaired sound tech, and she was asking him a million questions.  Aubrey wound up in the kitchen, which was a hallway and half-a block away, which had startled our cooks.  Aubrey’s mom was a half-minute behind her.  But somebody had picked Aubrey up, protecting her and keeping an eye on such a fleet-of foot two-year- old. 

Both kids made instant friends with everybody.  But it wore Kiersten out. It was another six weeks before Kiersten came back and the kids had mastered a new lesson:  Stay where your Mom can see you.

When Isabelle turned four, Julie and I were invited to her party.  Both of us brought appropriate books for presents.  Mine was the kind of book that matches the English words with little drawings of the word. Both kids mastered the books in record time.  They were READING.

So, here’s to my two little favorites: kids full of spunk, courage, regal cuteness, intelligence, and love.  They, early on, adopted Julie, walker, wheel chair and all.  Trading rides for knee hugs.  They are firecrackers enough.

Happy Fourth!