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Saturday night’s all right for baking

Saturday night I started cooking and cleaning and I couldn’t stop. Which is really weird for me because, while I love to bake, I hate to cook actual food, and I loathe the vacuum even more. If you wandered into our house unannounced you’d think that two exceptionally lazy college kids live here. Dishes in the sink. Towels on the bedroom floor. Lots of thrift store/Target stuff (this one has less to do with lazy and more to do with the fact that Oliver is a magpie who never met a Goodwill he didn’t love, and I am a Target addict.) I’ve long thought that our relationship works because we’re the same kind of messy and so no one’s ever nagging anyone else.

I digress. Saturday. Ostensibly this fit of domesticity started because my cat brutally murdered a mouse. Our kitchen floor looked like a tiny Game of Thrones set – complete with a beheading. But, whenever I find myself scrubbing the baseboards with Lysol wipes at 10 on a Saturday night, you can bet there’s something else going on.  And there is. Something else going on. I will tell you about it later though. (Hand off the panic button Grammy. No one’s pregnant and no one’s breaking up with anyone.)

All you need to know for now is that resulting energy eventually lead to one of my more random and creative pies: apple/sweet potato with extra flaky crust. This was less a fit of inspiration and more a result of really wanting to bake, but not having any other ingredients to use. I was skeptical.

Side note: It's super hard to take a picture of yourself while holding two hand fulls of fruit.

Side note: It’s super hard to take a picture of yourself while holding two hand fulls of fruit.

But it actually turned out great:

Ugh, the lighting in the kitchen is the worst. But even still you can tell that this pie is badass .

Ugh, the lighting in the kitchen is the worst. But even still you can tell that this pie is badass .

I treated the sweet potatoes just like apples. Instead of mashing them and puree-ing them, the way you would for a traditional sweet potato pie, I baked them until they were soft enough to slice and then layered them into the crust just like apples. It’s been a while since I’ve broken down a recipe for ya’ll (normally I’m just a lazy ass and link you to past crust recipes) so I decided to do that below. Crust is first, filling is second.

The crust:

Let’s be honest, we’re all in this for the crust. I’m pretty proud at how good I’ve gotten at making them extra flaky and awesome. To make this one here’s what you’ll need to make a double crust:

  • A stick of butter. 
  • A stick of vegetable shortening. I used Earth Balance. You can use Crisco if you want.
  • 2 cups of flour.
  • 1 cup of cake flour.
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • Teaspoon of salt
  • Tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of ice cold water

To get ready to make this crust you should do a couple of prep steps. Cut up your fat into cubes and freeze it. I let mine freeze for at least 30 minutes because the colder the fat, the flakier the butter. Once your butter/shortening are cold enough you’re ready to begin:

photo (2)

Step 1: Sift your flour – both kinds – and cornstarch into a bowl. Mix in the sugar and salt.

Step 2: Mix your very, very cold vegetable oil into the flour with your hands. Knead it until it completely breaks up and is the size of tiny peas.

Step 3: Do the same thing with the butter. Butter gets colder than vegetable oil so this will take longer. My hands always get really tired. I don’t know if there’s an actual chemical reason for this or not, but I have also found that the crust is better and flakier if you follow this order, instead of mixing the vegetable oil and the butter oil in at the same time.

Step 4: Slowly knead in the water. This is something else I’ve learned. Used to just dump it all in at once. Now I mix the water in two tablespoons at a time and, again, it just comes out better. Knead the water in until you’ve used the entire half cup and the dough is clumping together in a flaky, but still held together, ball in your bowl.

Step 5: Divide the ball into two, smash each ball into a pancake about 1/4 inch thick, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for at least an hour.

The filling

Great! Now you’re ready for the filling.  It’s actually a little bit tedious to make. Hang in there. Worth it. You will need:

  • Four medium size apples and an apple core-er. Is that a word? One of these.
  • Two medium size sweet potatoes and a peeler.
  • Whatever spices you like. I like cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice and I used a tablespoon of each.
  • A tablespoon of agave nectar (which I like to use instead of sugar. If you like sugar, use that, but I don’t know how much you should use.)
Had to sneak my awesome rolling pin in there...

Had to sneak my awesome rolling pin in there…

Step one: Deal with the sweet potatoes. This is the tedious part, unless you happen to like peeling potatoes. Peel them, wrap them in tin foil and bake them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or so. Basically, you’re pre-baking these so that they don’t turn out raw when you put them in the pie with the apples which, obviously, have a shorter cooking time.  You’ll know they’re ready to come out when they’re easy to slice, but still firm.

Step two: Core your apples. Peel them if you want. I didn’t because after the potatoes I was burned out on peeling. Once the apples are cored slice them into thin slices and put in a bowl.

Step three: Once your sweet potatoes are slice-able, cut them into slices the same width as your apples. Mix them in the bowl with your apples along with the spices you’ve chosen and the agave nectar.

Simple, except for the stupid peeling. Once this is done, you’re ready to roll out your crust. I use this method, although last night I was actually out of wax paper so I just used the “absolutely coat the dough and the counter in a ridiculous amount of flour method.” It worked ok.

Here’s how you assemble the pie:

Step 1: Roll out the dough for the bottom crust and transfer it to the pie pan using whatever method you find works.

Step 2: Fill the bottom crust with your filling. Some people just dump their filling right in all at once. I prefer to layer. I built a bottom layer of apples, a middle layer of sweet potatoes, and a top layer of apples.

Step 3: Roll out the dough for your top crust and transfer it to the top of the pie. I like to cut any excessive dough hanging over the edges off with scissors before I start shaping the crust.

Step 4: Shape the crust. This is kind of hard to do in my opinion. I basically just crimp it using my thumb and forefinger, but some people get really creative with it so go nuts.

Step 5: Bake. I baked mine at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. I accidentally burned the edges of the crust, so maybe do a little less time. I really think bake times depend a lot on your oven, so try 40 minutes and keep an eye on it.

And that’s how you end a night of furious stress-cleaning, cooking, and baking. I used to stay up all night having fun on Saturday. Now I stay up all night and bake. Weirdly, I’m ok with that.

 

 

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“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone.”
― John IrvingA Prayer for Owen Meany

Today I’ve written three posts and deleted them all. What is there left to say about August 29th that I haven’t already said? What points could I possibly make about unexpected accidents, that John Irving didn’t say better above?

Love you Mom.

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“Cross train” is just a fancy way of saying “walking fast up a hill”

According to my new marathon training regimen, Sundays are “cross train” days. The idea of cross training strikes me as a little bit funny since it makes me sound like a serious athlete, which I am not. I love running. It’s my medicine and my therapy. I take its benefits and challenges seriously.

But, I am far from someone who should say things like “Sunday is my cross training day” in regular conversation. This is further complicated by the fact that I hate the following common cross-training-for-runners activities: swimming (I don’t know how), bike riding (ugh, the seats! They’re the worst!), power walking (blerg, slow and humiliating!) yoga (sitting still and quietly stretching for an hour?!) and the elliptical machine (it’s for 19-year-old naturally skinny college girls who want to read US Weekly while they “work out.”)

SO.

I’ve landed on hiking. Which I realize is basically just walking sort of fast, up a hill. But, it’s not boring, Oregon is full of good places to hike, and steep hills will give me strong quads.

This past Sunday, Oliver and I headed out to the Columbia River Gorge – which you probably  remember from the time you floated your wagon down-river during the last leg of the Oregon Trail – and saw some waterfalls.  The Gorge is full of ’em. Some you’ve heard of – Bridal Veil, Multnomah – some you probably haven’t.

Accessibility ranges in difficulty from “park your car, walk across the street, see waterfall, lazy-ass” to “park car, hike one mile up a steep hill, sweat an embarrassing amount, get passed by a toddler on her way up. Then, see waterfall.”

My favorite discovery of the day was Fairy Falls, which is a relatively challenging climb up an un-maintained trail with what seems like 1 billion switchbacks, about a mile above Wahkeena Falls.  While we were walking we discovered that there’s actually a loop that you can do from Wahkeena to Multnomah and back. We’re going to try it the next Sunday that I’m not flying off somewhere.

I’d still prefer a nice, long run, but I’m excited about the idea of working our way through the other dozen or so Gorge waterfalls. Maybe I’ll get to the point where I can run these hikes instead of walking them. If I’m ever going to turn my Western States pipe dream into a reality, I’ll have to start somewhere…

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Happy Galentines Day!

Galentine's Day gifts

These heart shaped pies were making the rounds on all the blogs this weekend, so no need to re-hash the recipe here. (Just click the clicky if you want to know how to make them yourself.)

Instead I just want to quickly celebrate Galentine’s Day, a holiday given to us by my hero Leslie Knope. To be honest, I’m no Leslie. I don’t have the energy to make my gals a self-portrait mosaic out of the glass from their favorite diet soda bottles. But, I DID have time to watch Practical Magic and make these pies for three of my favorite Portland ladies.

(By the way, Practical Magic is a movie that is absolutely impossible to watch without shame. I feel like even my cat is judging me. Oliver mocked me mercilessly for the entire 90 minutes it was on. So, you guys, I promise that I this weekend I also watched The Graduate.)

I’m not a Valentine’s Day hater by any means. I actually really like it and I’ve only had one truly terrible V-day in my life (it involved an Applebee’s…whoops!) and in retrospect, I brought most of that one on myself. BUT, I love the idea of taking time out to celebrate the gals who keep me sane.

Just like Valentine’s Day is a totally made up holiday that’s still a nice excuse to do nice things for your significant other, Galentine’s Day is an even more made up holiday, that’s an awesome excuse to celebrate the fact that lady friends are the best. And probably more likely to appreciate heart shaped baked goods.)

It was REALLY hard to take a photo today without looking like a crazy person, so this is the best I could do.

 

 

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Apple, pear, cranberry

This pie is dedicated to my friend Leslie, who I haven’t seen in far too long. She used to volunteer with my organization and is someone who I met in my second or third week on the job more than three years ago. She’s one of a small group of women who (perhaps unbeknownst to them) helped my survive in Oregon after my mom’s car accident. In those first few months afterwards, trying to navigate the new realities of my life, she and her group of fellow school-district volunteers made me feel safe, like I had people I could count on if I really needed to.

She’s one of the nicest, hardest working people I know. Turns out, she’s a pie-baker too. We were Facebooking (huh. Just realized I hate that this is a verb!) around Christmas about holiday baking and I got this message from her “three words: Pear. Raspberry. Pie.”

Obviously, I had to try it. Can’t find any raspberries anywhere, so I substituted in cranberries since we had some still frozen from Thanksgiving and then I decided to throw some apples into the mix because we have a kajillion of them and even I can’t eat apples fast enough to keep them from rotting.

Almost done - waiting for me to add the lattice top.

I decided to use the crust I used for this pie because I have way too much whole wheat flour and need to get rid of it. I made a lattice top out of a crust I already had in the freezer.  Come to think of it, this whole pie was kind of centered around using up the random ingredients I have laying around.

Filling Ingredients:

4 apples (use whatever kind you like best. I used Pink Lady apples because that’s what we had.)

4 pears

2 cups of cranberries

1/3 cup agave nectar

1.5 tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice (or some mixture of nutmeg and cinnamon if that’s your style. I needed to use up the pumpkin pie spice so…)

I baked it at 375 degrees for about an hour and it must’ve turned out well – Oliver ate a slice about 30 minutes ago, declared himself “so full of food!” and passed out.

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Things I wish someone had told me about the first marathon

Amazing that I crossed the finish line looking this happy, considering how much I didn't know about getting through this race.

The first time you do anything it gets burned into your brain. I remember the first time I drove (with my dad down to the end of Speedway and back, with him yelling at me the whole way), the first time I saw Oliver (at a party I desperately didn’t want to be at) and I remember nearly every single first day of school from elementary school through college. So, of course, I’m going to remember the details and feelings of my first marathon for a long time.

What I’ll probably remember most is how – despite months of training and reading everything I could about running a marathon – I was utterly unprepared for the realities of the race. Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to be truly prepared the first time you do anything.

That said, there are a couple of key pieces of advice I wish I’d gotten (or actually listened to) before the race and in that spirit, thought I’d share the things I wish someone had told me about running a marathon:

  • It’s really hard after mile 20. That whole “hitting the wall” thing is legitimate. I thought “hey once you hit 20, there’s only six more to go… and six miles is nothing.” Oh sweet, naive Megan of four weeks ago. Six miles are definitely something after running 20. Most training programs only have you train up to 20 miles if you’re a beginner, but in retrospect, I’d advocate a longer training timeline to allow for running the full distance at least once. It would have been nice to know what I was in for. Lacking the time to do that, I recommend doing what you can to get mentally tough as well as practicing meditation so you can calm your mind at mile 20.5 and keep yourself from freaking out. I just read a story about a marathoner who does long division in her head the entire last six miles – so you can try that too.
  • Vaseline. Put it everywhere that you think your clothes will rub. I didn’t think much about how awkward and painful it is to have your clothes rubbing against thin, sensitive skin for hours and hours. As a result, I was the blister queen. I had gnarly foot blisters as well as what I can really only describe as adult diaper rash.
  • Get a heart rate monitor. I didn’t think I needed one since I’m far from an elite runner, but I’ve now learned that doing some good old zone training would have helped me better understand a realistic pace goal and probably would have helped me get in better shape. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on the fanciest heart rate monitor out there, but as I get in shape for the Lost Dutchman in February, I’m finding it incredibly helpful to know my minimum and maximum heart rates.
  • Don’t skip training runs. I learned recently that for every week you don’t excercise you lose 10% of your fitness. That’s scary, especially when I think about training runs that I skipped. Granted, I got pneumonia in October which was a about a three-week set back, but after that I have to admit I got pretty lazy about mid-week training runs. I never skipped a long run (when I was healthy), but I did lose a lot of midweek motivation which I think hurt me. It’s easy to talk yourself out of a Tuesday or Wednesday run – “it’s only six miles, how much does that really matter?” – and skipping one, once in a while might not matter, but those skipped runs add up on race day. As I head into the next race, I’m committed to not skipping a single run as tough as that is for me when I’m on the road for work.

And with that… I’m out the door for my last run of 2011. Only 35 training runs left until the next race.

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Happy Halloween

catt

I’m all dressed up and medically forbidden from having anywhere to go. I have pneumonia. It’s the worst. I can’t run. I can’t even really enjoy a walk without needing my inhaler. So uncool. But I decided not to let it stop me from my ultimate cat lady fantasy costume. I’m just having fun passing out candy to little kids (and the occasional adult – what’s up with that) and eating a slice of an amazing vegan pumpkin pie I made yesterday.

Think positive thoughts for me!

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November 1, 2011 · 3:11 am