National Pie Championships

Road trip anyone? The National Pie Championships are just a month away. Might be fun to go check out the competition.

Actually, I think I’ll send in the application to be a judge. Who knows? This could be my dream come true, traveling the country with my crew of pie cronies, rambling from contest to contest, stopping here and there to chat with golfers, clowns, and people waiting at payphones.

It could be a fine life.

2009 APC Crisco®
National Pie Championships

Ramada Orlando Celebration Resort and Convention Center, Kissimmee, FL
April 24–26, 2009

Here’s one of last year’s winning recipes. Wish they had included a picture.

Key lime with raspberries? Not sure how I feel about that. What do you think?

Key Lime with Raspberries Pie

Key Lime with Raspberries Pie

On the Other Side of the Edge of the ‘Glades

Sea Kayaking in the Mangroves

Sea Kayaking in the Mangroves

I’ve been back from my trip to the other side of the ‘glades for more than a month, and I’m still waking up wondering where everyone is. I’ve had some remarkable dreams since returning to my own king-sized pillow-top bed, too, dreams in which my team-mates and I were Navy seals, or old-time sailors, or just obsessed campers, traveling in our pod of sea kayaks through the tangled green mangrove islands in and out of sunsets and star-filled skies.

Even now, though, I am surprised by how tired I am. This goes beyond my normal insomniac want-to-take-a-nap mode. This is bone tired. I focused on this trip for months, using it as my reason for pushing up my exercise limits, not just at the driving range, but in yoga class and biking, and out and about with Sue Ten and our rag-tag walking group. I even made a point of getting to the pool in the village for swim training with a triathalon coach. Now all I can to do is sit quietly and read Wind in the Willows on my iPod Touch, which as you know I have ensconced in a hollowed-out purple-leatherbound book.

Driving back from the trip, I remember thinking how happy I was that I would be home by 2:00 or 3:00 with plenty of time to go to the pool for a swim. I was convinced that I could knock at least five stokes off my swim, I felt so buff; and, of course, I’d be able to add unknown yardage at the driving range.  Then I hit Alligator Alley heading east, and the warm sun began to lull me. It wasn’t long before I pulled into a rest area and closed my eyes, waking up 20 minutes later in a whole new frame of mind.

By the time I made it to my turquoise conch cottage, all I wanted to do was sleep. I nodded to Hercules, our resident feral green iguana who was busily eating the hibiscus bush near my porch, walked in the door, and that was that. I woke up again around 3:00 a.m. to the sound of golf balls out on the all-night range, and I smiled to be home again.

Flash of Green About to Happen

Flash of Green About to Happen

During the next day or two, I enjoyed sharing stories of the trip with some of the folks at the pie shop. I told them about scorpion-eating women, travelling by starlight, visiting graves of long-ago settlers, gliding through the water. I told them, too, that my favorite part was the “solo,” the day and night when I camped alone, as did the entire team.  I made a sundial out of stones and shells and wrote a poem for Little Peach. I counted my blessings, which was easy. I took a lot of photos. I ate an apple and an orange and some trail mix. And, I watch the sun go down and saw the flash of green, to my everlasting delight.

On solo, I fell asleep in my little shelter, made with a tarp and an old sheet that Little Peach left at my house for a drop cloth. It had always seemed too bad to get paint on the cute little koala bears all over it, so I’d stuffed it into the back of my closet, and pulled it out for the trip. I loved looking up at those little koalas; they made me feel connected to my “real” world, the one that seemed so distant from the mangroves and the sea kayaks.

I carried most of you with me during the trip, imagined you stirring up the pot of beans for supper, or plotting out our course. I thought about what you might have added to our conversations, and how sweet it would have been to have breakfast together on one of those isolated beaches. I discovered that my yoga practice really paid off when it came to getting dressed standing on one leg, outside in primitive conditions: Balance, my dear Grasshopper, balance.

The Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico

Did I change? Did I grow? Did I discover any new zen thoughts? Did I improve my golf swing? Did I find any new recipes? Yes, absolutely. I came home in a state of harmony and oneness, content. I had accepted a challenge and felt that I met it. I felt strong and healthy and on course in my life, the life I share with all of you at the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range.

I doubt that I could have made the trip, or enjoyed it, without you in my heart and mind. In the past year or so, since I got myself single, I’ve learned what it is to have friends like you in my life; people who do not hesitate to shake me up when I need it, or call my bluffs (of which there are many), or tell me when I am drifting dangerously near the plummeting falls. I loved seeing you in what my new team-mates saw in me.

And once again, I discovered that my life in SoFLA has been a series of breathing lessons. And, in the words of John Lennon, “As breathing is my life, to stop I dare not dare.”

Happy Square Root Day

Hello my dears. I hope you had a wonderful Square Root Day. Remember, there won’t be another one until 4/4/16, but that will be here before you know it, at the rate things are going.

Last night at the Swing Barn, your second-cousin Darnell tried to act responsibly in Sue Ten’s absence and showed Murder by the Numbers as this week’s movie on the wall. He did better with the “root” part of the celebration, and made a really fantastic stew of potatoes, turnips, and parsnips, the sort of meal that only someone from a northern clime could really appreciate. Fortunately, a lot of our regulars are refugees from the land of ice and snow, so they dug right in.

At the pie shop, Prentiss and I were a bit more snobby. After all, anyone can figure out square roots. We deal with pi. Get it? Still, Prentiss ran a little high-stakes bingo game, allowing people to pay extra for cards with 1, 4, 9, 16, and 25 pre-stamped. Can’t wait to see what she will do for Pi Day.

I gave out free golf balls to anyone who agreed to play with only their 9 clubs. In other words, “Welcome to my world.” I know those other clubs are perfectly fine, but I only wax poetic about my nines, especialy my new nine wood which still gleams under the lights when my insomnia pushes me out the door to hit a few balls around 3:00 a.m.

I don’t really know why anyone would want to buy a whole set of clubs all at one time. For me, that would be sensory overload. One at a time, I say. Get to know the very tool that will later on break your heart. At least, the putter will. Then, after the break up, go though an appropriate period of mourning, and start again with a whole new relationship. Forget the past! It’s time to move on.

Yes, it’s true. I have once again fallen in love with a new golf club, and I’d like to say “It’s only a hobby,” but it isn’t. I think you know what I mean.

All in all, this latest Square Root Day was a good one. I don’t really remember too much of note for the one that fell on 2/2/4, do you?

Meanwhile, you might as well start getting ready for 4/4/16. Here’s some help from the www.mentalfloss.com website. See you then!

The holiday is the brainchild of Sequoia High (Redwood City, California) driver education teacher Ron Gordon, who enjoys calendar quirks. He’s tried to get schools to celebrate Square Root Day since 1981. Gordon also inspired a celebration of Odd Day on March 5, 2007 (3-5-7). He is giving away a prize of $339 to the person who has the best Square Root Day celebratory event. What can you do to celebrate Square Root Day? Math teachers expect students to calculate square roots. We should do something fun in addition.

445spongebobsquareroot.png

Robert X. Cringely at Infoworld has a plan for celebrating Square Root Day.

I don’t know about you, but I’m planning to celebrate by watching a “SpongeBob SquarePants” marathon while playing with my slide rule.

That’s only the beginning of the many ways you can celebrate Square Root Day. 445_potatoes1.jpg

The established custom is to cut root vegetables (carrots, turnips, radishes) into squares. Actually eating them may be asking too much. But potatoes are roots, aren’t they? Square (or cubic) potatoes can mean only one thing –home fries.

445_CarrotCake.jpg

For dessert you need to make a carrot cake. Square, of course. There are plenty of different recipes, all you have to do is find one that fits the ingredients you have. Enjoy it with some root beer. Oh yes, I’ll have a slice, thank you very much!

445puzzle.png

Buy yourself a square root puzzle. You won’t receive it in time to play today, but you’ll be ready for the next holiday in 2016.

444squarerootgame.png

You can play Square Root Clock online. There are plenty of online games that challenge your math skills using square roots, but this is the most photogenic.


445_Square_Dance_Group.jpg

After all the food and math, grab seven of your friends and have a square dance. Some basic instructions are at Square Dancing 101. Allemande left, 2 by 2! Image by Wikimedia user Deirdre.

445_squareroottree.jpg

If you are so inclined, you might go looking for a real square root in the world around you. They are kind of rare. Image by Flickr user arsheffield.

445_pi-pie.jpg

And if that’s not enough fun for you, we’re only a couple of weeks away from Pi Day! But celebrate Square Root Day wisely. The next such holiday will be on April 4, 2016.




The Gimme

I was born knowing how to make pie, but golf is always brand new to me. Learning to bake pie is a sweet succession of improvements: lighter, flakier, zingier; but golf still surprises me. Both are nice ways to spend time; one is a steady and comfortable satisfaction, while the other is an unexpected burst of delight.

The latest burst has been my discovery of the golfing term “gimme.” I tell you, it just cracks me up. I first read about it in my copy of Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, in which he advises parents against giving their golfing children gimmes. “Hole every putt,” said Penick, “no gimmes.” Tough love or real world? Maybe both.

I like it. Keep playing until you see that ball drop into the hole. Make no assumptions about what that little sucker is going to do on its own.

I read some time ago about a championship bowler who was asked in an interview: “What was bowling like for you as a kid? How did it feel back then when you missed the pins?” The golfer replied, “I never missed the pins. I don’t know what that feels like.”

Now, come on. All kids miss the pins. Gutter balls are a sad but true part of kiddie golf. As the interview went on, though, the bowler explained that his father owned the bowling alley, back in the days of pin boys. The pin boys were instructed to set up the pins just a few feet from the foul line. As the boy grew older and played better, the pin boys set the pins farther and farther down the alley–but not unless they knew he could hit them.

In some ways that’s a gimme, too, but I see it more like making sure the ball always goes in the hole. I wish I had learned to bowl that way, under the guidance of someone who truly wanted me to know success.

Of course, the next question is, if I had had that experience, “Would I still be me?”

Sometimes people ask me for pie recipes. Then, after they read the recipe, they follow-up with suggestions and recommendations for changing the recipe. I usually say, “That’s fine. Do what you want, but don’t call it my recipe anymore.”

In truth, I feel the same way about making changes in me. I can change. Sure, I know I can. Probably. I might even learn to be more like the Stepford Girlfriend, become more of a perky chameleon, but I have to wonder what I might lose along the way. Would I still be me?

Then again, who else would I be? I suppose I’m committed to the concept of holing every putt, but damn I do like that gimme idea. Life could be so easy, if I could just change my definition of me.

You may wonder why I’m so philosophical right now. Don’t worry. It will pass. I’m going offline for a week or so while I explore the world on the other side of my edge of the Everglades. No phones, no Fry-O-Laters. I’m leaving Prentiss the Pie Apprentice in charge, and I’ll took forward to talking to you when I get back.

Looking for Golf in All the Wrong Places

I’m headed home from a long trip to the Northwest, and I really just can’t wait to get home to SoFLA and find out what all you all at the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range have been up to in my absence. My apprentice Prentiss at least sent me a message today, just a few hours ago, in fact to tell me she misses me. I suspect she just now noticed that I’ve been gone for a week.

Sue Ten also called to say she’ll be heading out of town shortly after I get back, so the changing of the guard will be quick and efficient. Neither Prentiss nor Sue Ten had much to report. I take this to mean that all is well, or they just really don’t want me to worry about anything in advance. I haven’t heard about any zombie attacks on SoFLA, so I will just hope for the best, and expect the worst, as usual.

In my week in Seattle and points north, I saw very little evidence of golf. There was that one woman on the Bainbridge Ferry, though. Then, in the SeaTac airport this morning, I saw the odd little sculpture below.

Metal Golf Guy, as seen in the SeaTac Airport

Metal Golf Guy, as seen in the SeaTac Airport

I sent a copy of the photo to the Morning Guy, and he did not seem to find it as amusing as I did. I can tell he’s already thinking ahead to long-term maintenance and is worried about me cluttering up the dooryard with such junk. If it were a little smaller, though, it might make a great hood ornament for the E-Z cart, or maybe it could ride on the roof. I’ll have to take that up with Joe Sparkle Junior.

I’ve been passing some of my flight time paging through the “Sky Mall” book, which is my son Chandler’s favorite magazine. His twin sister Rose prefers the parody version, “Sky Maul,” and I have trouble telling the two books apart.

I’d hoped to find some nice golf gadgets in Sky Mall, but I am sadly disappointed. The one true golf item that I can find is a collection of 14 “club links” which are little monogrammed discs to be affixed to one’s clubs. They are available in goldtone, silvertone, or black aluminum; no pink, no Palm Beach green. The message seems to be that these are for people in the habit of losing their clubs. I don’t think I’ll be encouraging this trend: If we help people identify their lost clubs, then we are only cutting down on our supply of rental and “try this” clubs.

I will, however, tell Sue Ten about the Sky Mall’s “Giant 8-in Cupcake” which is supposedly easy to make, and fun to serve. You know as well as I do that she is always looking for something fun to serve, and yes she is still ready to serve. I’m hoping she’ll be joining the FOAS (food on a stick) movement, soon, too. FOAS is not only fun to serve, but can be fun to eat, too, especially FFOAS (fried food on a stick) and DFFOAS (deep-fried food on a stick). Yes, Sue Ten is ready to serve, just like Sarah Palin – remember her? — and I am ready to eat.

Too many days in the Northwest seem to have turned my head to thoughts of warmer clothing, even as I am mere hours from my flip-flops and shorts, so I’ve got to say I am fascinated by the Sky Mall’s “Carbon Fiber Heated Vest.” I’m not quite sure how this works, but I’m all for new technology and I’ve got to tell you that the phrase “laminated microfleece fabric” has the same distracting effect on me as seeing something shiny out of the corner of my eye. Yes, I want it, and I don’t know why. I’m pretty sure it will improve my golf game on nights when the temps in SoFLA dip dangerously below 70. I need to be prepared.

Another tempting item in the catalog is the Kodak EasyShare Wireless Digital Frame, which promises, “The Power of the Internet, Now in Your Picture Frame.” If I can have the Power of the Internet in a picture frame, why not in my golf bag, my pinkie ring, or even my rose tattoo? I’m intrigued.

And, yes, Sky Mall does sell the “Swami Golf GPS” but I think they should combine GPS unit’s “Insta-Lok” technology with their “Electronic Feng Shui Compass,” and if they do that, I’ll be happy to become the exclusive SoFLA distributer. Really, what could be better than GPS Feng Shui – for golfers? Find out how far away the dragon is, align your shot accordingly, live well, and prosper.

Supposedly, the Feng Shui compass operates “with the same compass technology used in aerospace guidance systems,” and that’s not all! It also locates and calculates energy fields to help you align your physical surroundings. I can’t wait to get one of those for the driving range. We may have to move a few palm trees around, and reroute our feral green iguana Hercules on his daily stroll, but I’m sure this will all pay off in better golf for all of us, with or without the Swami GPS Golf option.

All right, my dears. We are just about to land, and you know I’ll soon be out on the range under the lights, so come on by. I’ve got hours to go before I sleep, but if I don’t see you tonight, I hope to visit with you soon at the pie shop. Remember, Prentiss and I are a long way from finding the perfect slice of Key lime, so send in your pictures and recipes, or drop in and sample our latest possibilities.

A Couple More Slices of Key Lime Pie

At least this time I remembered the camera.

All right, my dears, I did find Key lime in the Northwest, despite our initial stumbling block of the possibility that it might truly turn out to be a “seasonal” dish. Seriously: They’ve got a point. January is not a good time for the Washington State citrus crop.

Here’s a shot of the pie served at Flyers in Oak Harbor, Washington.

Flyers Pie

Flyers Pie

Flyers was a fun place to meet and eat. I did enjoy the aeronautical theme, and general exuberance of the place. Or maybe that was just the exuberance of my dining companions? For dinner, I had a “prime rib dip” which I’d known in a former life as a “French dip,” but I guess I should just be happy that they didn’t call it a “Freedom dip.”

I should never order this sandwich because I know it will never be as good as the one I had at the Limelight Cafe in Denver in 1972, but I am – as well you know by now – an optimist. Golf, after all, is a game for optimists, and so is the search for the perfect slice of Key lime pie.

Needless to say, the pie at Flyers met our expectations, which were low. We gave them points for presentation, and for adding nuts to the crumb crust, but the overall impression was that the whole concoction had only recently come out of the deep freeze. “Fresh” was not a word that sprang to mind, or to tongue.

The next day, we ventured by ferry to Port Townsend, and enjoyed some time out in the water. Granted, we were inside the ferry with our toes close to the heater, but we were there. I have a vague memory or two of being in Port Townsend before. Maybe you were there with me? I’m pretty sure Little Peach was my chaperone on at least one trip to that part of the world, and I did miss her this time around. She has such a wonderful knack for asking all the right questions, and that’s a gift that I envy. Traveling without her is always difficult, and when I get home, I know I will hardly be able to answer half of her well-placed questions, just because I didn’t ask. Ah, well.

In Port Townsend, this time, I did have a marvelous piece of salmon for lunch, perfect in every way. I left a gold star on the menu on my way out the door. We did give this particular slice of pie high marks for the chocolate crust, yes indeed. I like a little experimentation, when the results pay off.

Port Townsend Pie

Port Townsend Pie

The filling, though, was exceedingly tart. We weren’t surprised, though, since we had already leafed through the restaurant’s cookbook, in fact we bought a copy, so we knew this particular offering was full of lime juice, no mention of fresh limes. At least they did not spoil the pretty presentation with a garnish of Persian lime, and I liked how the whipped cream was a decorative option.

I copied the recipe, which was pretty basic. Just speak up if you want a copy so you can try it out yourself, and let me know what you think. It might be just the ticket to make you think of sunny SoFLA when you, too, are far from home.

Whole Earth Everything, now on the Pie Shop Shelves

I’m excited to discover that the Whole Earth Catalog, including the CoEvolution Quarterly, is now available online. I can only hope that Mad Magazine will soon follow suit and provide me will full access to every single Alfred E. Issue.

In truth, though, I would really rather have hard copy in my hands, and — in the case of Mad — a flashlight, too, so I can read it under the bedcovers after lights out.

While Mad helped grow the the love of lyric poetry that Sue Ten and I still share, CoEvolution helped feed my lust for science, especially science that involves space exploration and the concept of other worlds, yet to be explored. Okay, I’ll admit that Star Trek did that, too, but CoEvolution made it seem legit.

I was living in the high desert of Arizona, far from my beloved ‘Glades, when I was a truly avid reader of CoEvolution, and I often succumbed to the temptation to follow direct mail links, much as I now back link through blog posts. Of course, it was different in a small southwestern town, where the post mistress pretty much knew everything about me from reading my incoming postcards, not the mention the occasional incoming coconut.

So, I’m sure she was not at all surprised when my subscription to CoEvolution let to a membership in the L-5 society, which in turn led to stranger and stranger letters of solicitation from people needing money to build their own space ships. I wonder how they made out.  I would have donated more to the cause myself, but I really had enough trouble at the post office already.

I did just now do a quick search through the Whole Earth website index, and was disappointed not to find more positive reference to golf, or pie. I was sure they would at least mention the zen value of The Inner Game of Golf, and I was absolutely stunned not to find some whole-grain inedible pie recipes. Still, it was fun to revisit the space colony pages and imagine a future where we can all be together in a world of our own, where our priorities center around golf, pie, science, and poetry.

Oh, wait. We already have that, right here at the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range. All we need now is you.

You Are Here!
You Are Here!

Key Lime Pie: The Search Begins

I was a little startled lately to read that “key limes are the pink flamingos of Florida food, and they are a celebrated part of local color.” I don’t know what startled me more, the confusion of the color of the limes with pink or the realization that I have, apparently, missed the local key lime festival again this year.

I presume that the author was referring to the rarity of both flamingos and key limes, at least in Florida. There are flamingos in other parts of the world, and the same is true for “key limes” which are actually from Malaysia. How interesting, I think, that two items that say “Florida” to so many people are, in fact, phantoms from a not too distance past before plume hunters, hurricanes, and civilization tore through SoFLA.

Meanwhile, Prentiss and I are starting our search for the perfect Key lime pie. The challenge begins with some basic questions: Graham-cracker or pastry crust? Meringue or whipped cream? Cooked or uncooked filling? Fresh limes or lime juice? And, of course, can a Key lime pie be made with regular, old, every day, produce department limes?

We’ll let you know how our studies progress. I’m all for trying out a gingersnap crust, and I’m totally opposed to making the pie with any time of lime but a true “key,” but on the other hand, I’d rather use bottled juice from real Key limes than use fresh limes that aren’t Key at all.

Prentiss and I do agree, however, with the no green food coloring rule, and we’ll immediately rule out any recipe that even hints at artificial color.

I’ve been studying up a little on the history of the Key lime, and I’m not surprised to learn that no one knows who made the first Key lime pie. After all, who made the first apple pie, chocolate silk pie, or Alan Shepard pie. Oh, wait, that last one would be me.

It is possible, however, that the first Key lime pie of not was made by one “Aunt Sally,” the cook for one William Curry, who laid the foundation of his fortune as a “ship salvager” in the mid-1800s. Today, the staff at the Curry Mansion Inn in Key West still crank out the pies. Perhaps a field trip is in order to investigate the current incarnation of Aunt Sally’s pie.

There is, supposedly, no record of a written Key lime pie recipe written down before the 1930s. The supposition that “everyone just knew how to make the pie” puzzles me, because now I want to know how “everyone” forgot to make the pie. Was there a plague of amnesia, as there was in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude? Was there perhaps a cataclysm or sorts, wiping out the knowing bakers? Or did the Key lime pie bakers decide en masse to take their knowledge with them to the grave? Or elsewhere?

Here’s another aspect of Key lime pie history. A crucial ingredient in Key lime pie is sweetened condensed milk, which was invented by Gail Borden in 1856. No sweetened condensed milk, no Key lime pie. At least nothing that resembled our current dessert. As for the limes, they probably started growing as soon as the Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500s, bringing yellow-green golf-ball size limes from Malaysia. And they continued to grow until the hurricane of 1926 which wiped them out. Most limes in Florida now are Persian, not Key.

The lime trees that remain are said to be “ferocious” in nature, and I’m not really sure what that means at all. Prentiss and I will try our hand at growing a few around the edge of the driving range, maybe start a little grove down the lane by my turquoise conch cottage.

Floridians are quite passionate about their Key limes, and their Key lime pie.  In 1965, Florida State Representative Bernie Papy, Jr., introduced a bill that would have levied a $100 fine against anyone who advertised a Key lime pie not made with Key limes. Alas, the bill did not pass.  But, in 1994, the legislature did decree Key lime pie as the OFFICIAL Florida state pie.

Florida State Pie:

photo of key lime pie

Prentiss and I will be more than pleased to hear from you. Seriously, if you have a treasured Key lime pie recipe, we’ll be glad to try it out, and we’ll let know how all of us at the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range rate it. And you are always welcome to drop by and rate our Key lime pies, too.

Coffee–and more–in Space

I love the idea of coffee: hot, black, creamy, dreamy, precious. I only drink it about once a year, which makes me one of the few people in the known universe who understands the fantastic drug-like properties of the brew.

Seriously, my dear, if you drink it all the time, your resistance to its charms is so strong that you don’t even notice them, not unlike any other long, and yet comfortable marriage. Stay off the stuff for a year, and take a sip, and it’s honeymoon time all over again.

Of course, most of the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range are coffee fiends, so we do what we can to keep them happy, or at least in check. While my apprentice Prentiss and I continue our search for the perfect key lime pie recipe, we are also seeking out the perfect coffee chaser.

This lovely espresso pot might just be part of the puzzle:

otto-stove-top-espresso-maker.jpgIsn’t it gorgeous? I found this in a www.boingboing.net, |

Gorgeous Otto espresso maker is like time capsule from the future, full of joe

It is 9:48am and I am drinking instant coffee out of a gigantic mug shaped like the hollowed out brain pan of an anthropomorphic cow. I love the ease and comfort of instant coffee. Simultaneously, I am admiring the OTTO espresso maker, with its bright, world-flipping mirror polish, as metallurgically liquid and mercury-like as some sort of device sent back in time by advanced creatures from the last moments of the universe to record our lives. The discordancy of it all is enough to make a hungover Berliner sneeze brain out of sheer incredulity.

OTTO espresso maker – stove top espresso maker [Appliancist]

Of course, by the time Prentiss and I come up with the perfect pie-coffee combo, we may all be drinking our coffee in space:

Space travel, by the way, seems to be getting more interesting all the time. This teaser from The History Channel even makes me wish I had a TV:

Will Work for Pie

I’m sorry to say that I have not been able to keep up with Pie Shop chores as well as I expected with The Morning Guy gone on his vacation, although vacation might not be the right word for it. Let’s just say “during his absence.” So, I was understandably relieved then when I saw a guy out the the I-95 access ramp, holding a sign that said, “Will work for pie.”

Now, some may say it’s risky business to bring a stranger in to one’s place of business, but I say, “Damn, man. He’s willing to work for pie.” Even The Morning Guy wants pie, ice cream, coffee, and free golf. This new guy is a bargain. I will, however, take your warnings under consideration, but first let’s see how much pie he can eat.

My son Chandler and I have both had odd experiences with panhandlers in the past. I still remember being asked for money for food by a young denizen of the streets in Denver.

I was hesitant to talk to him since I could see my bus approaching, but I decided to open my heart and I reached into my capacious bag and pulled out my lunch to share, remembering how one of my undergrad profs had done that for me on more than one occasion.

I handed over my tuna fish sandwich, but to my surprise, the scruffy young man did not thank me. No, he held the skimpy lightweight baggie up to the light, as if expecting to see something revelatory on the bread, perhaps the image of Lord Vader. I don’t know.

“What’s in this?” he asked.

“Tuna, mayo, a little relish.”

“Relish?”

“Yes. Relish. Are you hungry or not? If you don’t want the sandwich, I’ll take it back.”

He thought it over and kept the sandwich, by which time I had missed my bus. I watched him scuffle off, still sniffing the baggie, and poking his finger into the pristine white bread.

I waited to climb on the next bus. Starting to feel a little hungry myself, I got on, sat down, and discovered that someone had left his or her lunch on the seat. Sure enough, it was a tuna fish sandwich, plus a second baggie with six Oreo cookies in it. Score! I came out ahead on that one.

My son Chandler, one of the twins, told me once that he had been in process of moving and had a lot of cupboard-cleanout stuff in his car, and decided to hand those groceries over to a guy who regularly camped out by the side of the road. This camper was not an especially good beggar, but a persistent one, and probably by the end of the day, he would have collected enough coinage and low-end swag to get him through the night.

When Chandler arrived at his new digs, however, he discovered that he still had the bag of groceries in his car, so what had he given the panhandler? An extensive collection of cookie cutters and pastry tools. He drove back to the highway, somewhat relieved that our man was still there, and made a swap, not without being soundly scolded for improper gifting. Apparently, cookie cutters, not matter how festive or celebratory, are not what most panhandlers are seeking.

We are both now a little more cautious and careful now about what we hand out to strangers on the road, or on the sidewalk. Still, I have a weakness for someone who will work for pie, and when my new friend and I reached the pie shop, I got out my to do list while he had some quiche lorraine and coffee for breakfast.

Sparkle told me that Sue Ten was on the phone, so I stopped to speak to her for a few minutes, during which the new guy moved on to a plate of deep-dish apple pie with cheese. I told Sue Ten I would talk to her later, and said, “I’m getting the cabinet doors fixed,” to which she replied “It’s about time.”

She had an unfortunate experience in my conch cottage one day. I was in my rocker out on the porch and heard her yelp of surprise when one of my cabinet doors came off right in her hand, because the screws in the hinges were missing.

“Oh,” I said. “That one. I never use that one. The screws in the hinges are missing. What were you looking for?”

She said she was looking for cake plates — like I have those! — and ended up just bringing her whole cake, delicious as usual, out to the porch with two forks, a quart of milk, and a Mason jars.

“You should get that cabinet fixed. It’s just a couple of screws.”

“I know.”

“You need to call a plumber about the faucet in your bathroom, too.”

“I know.”

“The broken mini-blinds in your bedroom are atrocious.”

“I know.”

“How do you like the cake?”

“It’s wonderful.”

And it was: Lemon cake with chocolate fudge frosting, my birthday dish of choice for many years. Remember that combination of flavors, I started flipping through my recipe file looking for a lemon chiffon recipe with chocolate-cookie crumb crust, when I noticed that the new guy’s plate was empty. I wasn’t really ready to tackle the cabinets yet, so I slid over a piece of chocolate-pecan-bourbon pie, and looked at my list again.

Maybe this guy could help me bring some more books up from the cottage and put them on the new pie-shop shelves. Joe Sparkle Junior had already restocked the soda machine and was  out on the E-Z Cart slowly, meticulously scooping up golf balls. While I was reviewing the list, I noticed that someone had left an unfinished crossword puzzle on the counter, so I started to ink in a few entries.

The new guy finished off another cup of coffee, and smiled. I gave him a piece of banana cream pie with extra whipped cream and he went right to work on that, while I finished the puzzle and looked over my latest crop of Post-It notes, realizing that each one was a project in the making, not something to be tampered with by rank amateurs, such as the new guy and me.

He finished his pie, and I said, “I think we’re good. One for the road?”

He nodded, and I wrapped up a slice of blueberry cheesecake for him, then we headed out to the highway again. I dropped him off where I found him, and gave him $20 for his time.

When I got back, I parked at the Pie Shop and walked down the lane to my cottage, where I noticed that Sue Ten’s bike was on my porch and the light was on in the kitchen. I approached quietly to peek in the window, but she wouldn’t have heard me anyway over the whirring sound of the cordless screwdriver as she patiently replaced the missing screws.

I walked back up the lane, and started fixing some steak and mushroom pie for her supper. I don’t know what I would do without her: Not that many people are willing to work for pie.

Mark Your Calendar

National Pie Day is January 23, 2009

  • Created by the American Pie Council®, National Pie Day is dedicated to the celebration of pie. As part of our American heritage, this day is a perfect opportunity to pass on the love and enjoyment of pie eating and pie making to future generations.
  • Each year the American Pie Council® sponsors the National Pie Championships® where some of the best pie makers in the United States and Canada enter their pies to compete for the “American Pie Council’s® Best Pie in America” award. For more information on who has the best pies in America, Click here.
  • To celebrate National Pie Day share the warmth of the ultimate “comfort food” by giving the gift of pie to a friend or neighbor. Your generosity will be long remembered.
  • If pie making is not in your schedule, stop by your favorite pie shop or grocery store and bring home a gift of love and enjoyment for the whole family. The coldest of January days will be warmed by a special pie dessert.
  • Watch for winning recipes on our web site or first hand in our newsletter, Pie Times by joining the American Pie Council®.
  • To get tips on getting media coverage for your company on NPD, Click here. (Downloadable PDF).

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

Life has been pretty hectic this week at the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range. I am still catching up after taking some time off to go to a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. Ideally, the balance skills and core strength that I am learning in my yoga practice will ultimately pay off for me in a better golf game, or at least in balance and core strength. Period.

Now I’m having to fill in for The Morning Guy while he is on vacation, and that means actually getting up in the morning. I’ll admit that I’ve been very spoiled in that regard, but I’ll be fine. I have some excellent notes here about how to restock the soda machine, notes which I will immediately pass on to Sparkle Junior and your second-cousin Darnell.

Personally, I’ll be busy working on plans for the Pie Museum, and I know you are looking forward to the day when that opens, although you might well wish we’d get to work on the putting green first.

Perhaps we will.

I already hit a snag in trying to find out about that “Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie” nursery rhyme. It seems that there are a number of stories about what the words really mean, if anything at all. As I read through the possibilities, I definitely found myself leaning toward the Blackbeard the Pirate version, because it is entertaining if nothing else.

Sadly, the idea that “Four and Twenty Blackbirds” was some kind of pirate code was actually concocted by the folks at Snopes.com as an example of “False Authority Syndrome,” in which they pretty nicely prove that we are all fairly gullible folk.

I was disappointed, because I like pretty much any combination of pirates and pie (or golf and pie), and I had hoped the story was true. In fact, I’d already pictured one helluva nice display for the museum, including a signed copy of Tim Powers’ fantastic book On Stranger Tides, which should definitely be on the pie shop bookshelves by now.  If you haven’t read it yet, I’ll consider lending one of my copies to you, but plan on paying a hefty deposit before you take the book out of my sight.

I did, though, find some other references to the four-and-twenty which were interesting, although a bit of a downturn after the pirate possibility, but how do you like this? A 1549 Italian cookbook does, in fact, contains a recipe “to make pies so that birds may be alive in them and flie out when it is cut up.”

Or am I just falling victim to False Authority Syndrome again?

If you know any more about this particular historical pie, do let me know. Check your copy of The Annotated Mother Goose and let me know what you learn.

While you do that, here’s a nice Tom Waits song that recycles some of the nursery rhyme — the “sing a song of six pence” part — in a whole nuther way.


Mixtape from http://favtape.com/search/tom waits midnight lullaby

Eating Humble Pie

Ever since I took up golf, people have been telling me what a “humbling” sport it is, but I find most of life to be humbling, in one way or another.

Just when I think I’m doing a good deed, and flying rapturously into your imaginary embrace of gratitude, I discover that I am totally off-course, perhaps even in free fall, and I remember that no good deed goes unpunished.

Take, for example, the sad case of the lost-and-found cellphone.

In my not unusual insomniac state the other night, I gave up on sleep, pulled on some clothes, left my turquoise conch cottage around 2:00 a.m., and wandered up the lane to the driving range. A couple of my fellow night-golfers were already there, as usual, and we nodded as we do. No need to talk, just hit a few balls and give sleep another try.

This, as you may understand, is one of the reasons why I am so very glad I have The Morning Guy around, since morning is pretty much foreign territory to me. Ah, but from 2:00 to 4:00 a.m., I know each shadow on the wall by name.

To my delight, I was soon in the zone, hitting with ease and grace, thinking that maybe one of these days I’ll try out something besides a nine iron, but no rush. I was doing so well, in fact, that I made an error in judgment and sent a gloating text message to The Morning Guy, knowing full well that his phone would be safely turned off, wherever he might be enjoying his vacation.

To my surprise, just a few minutes later a response came in from his phone. That alone was enough to rattle me, but the kicker was that the message — judging by spelling, length, and content — was from a person or persons unknown.

Having lost my place in the zone, I immersed myself into the problem at hand, and deduced that The Morning Guy’s phone had been lost and found, and I quickly cast myself into the fantasy that I was now the heroine who could save the day, and the cell phone, by pulling the strings needed to reunite man and machinery.

Oh, yes. I was giddy with anticipation, delighted to think how happy The Morning Guy would be with me; so happy, in fact, that he might even give me that long-promised up-close-and-personal golf lesson.

Unfortunately, by the time I did make contact with him, I was not only wildly tired, but also a bit light-headed from living so comfortably in the future, and I’d totally discounted how upset he might possibly be about the lost phone.

In the real world, all I had to do was say, “Someone found your phone. Here’s the number to call,” and I would have been good to go. But I was so damn busy giving myself a really nice, shiny medal for tracking him down out of town and far away — which was certainly far from easy — that when it came time to deliver the news, my words were sadly both sarcastic and silly, thereby canceling out both my effort and my intent.

His somber response was to inform me that my fun at his expense was not fun to him.

Ay yi yi!

I fell to earth in a heap, and I have been banging my head against the pie-shop wall ever since.

All I can do now is to eat the mandatory slice of humble pie, the traditional meal of those who must learn through experience how to act submissively and apologetically, especially when admitting to an error.

I don’t mind the metaphor of humble pie, and it seems fine and appropriate, but I’m not too wild about the real origin of the phrase.

In England in the 1500s, the name used for deer entails, liver, and heart was numbles, or possibly noumbles, nomblys, or even noubles; a hundred years later the term had morphed to a more uniform “umbles,” which were in fact a common pie ingredient. Even Samuel Pepys, a notorious blogger, was known to enjoy a bit of umble pie, as stated in his blog on July 5, 1662: “I having some venison given me a day or two ago, and so I had a shoulder roasted, another baked, and the umbles baked in a pie, and all very well done.”

At the same time, the word humble came into play, meaning “of lowly rank” or “having a low estimate of oneself,” and before long the two terms merged, giving us the current concept of behind the phrase “eating humble pie.”

Interestingly, if you are a fan of pie history as am I, humble pie has followed the path of mince pie and turned itself from a simple meat dish into a tasty and sweet fruit dish. Now, if I were one to stretch metaphors even more than I do already, you might already be seeing a happy ending to this story, and I hope you are.

Time will tell if I have survived this particular meal, but meanwhile, here’s a recipe to put us both on the right path:

Humble Pie

Prepare an unbaked pie shell

Prepare a filling made from:

3 large sweet apples, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 1/2 C of fresh cranberries
1 C light brown sugar

Place filling into pie shell.

Mix up following ingredients and sprinkle on top of the apple-cranberry filling.

3/4 C finely chopped walnuts
1/4 C light brown sugar
1/4 C flour
3 T softened butter
Cinnamon, nutmeg & ginger to taste
Pinch of salt

Bake in a 425-degree oven for 20 minutes.

Cover pie with foil and turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake another 30 minutes.

Serve with excessive humility, apologizing as much as necessary to make yourself feel better. I’ll tell you when you can stop.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

A few weeks ago, some of the girls and I got together for what I thought was to be an “Evening in India,” but what turned out to be a continuation of my month-long birthday celebration. What a treat! We had a lovely time sitting by the pool over at Pancho Villas, the new gated community down by the beach, and then we had quite a bit of Indian food for dinner, punctuated with photo ops, and followed by a screening of the Bollywood movie Water.

The only thing missing, we decided, was pumpkin cheesecake.  I should mention here that we did have pumpkin pie, and we did have cheesecake, too, and while alternating bites was certainly delicious, the combo would have been even better, so I promised to add a pumpkin-cheesecake pie recipe to the Slice of Heaven menu, and here it is.

For the crust:

Make a graham-cracker crust. Surely you know how to do that by now.  Cinnamon grahams are the best for this spicy sort of concoction.

For the filling
1 1/2 C canned pumpkin
3 eggs, the larger the better
1 1/2 t cinnamon, 1/2 t nutmeg, 1 t ginger, 1/2 t salt
1/2 C dark brown sugar – pack it in there
24 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 C sugar
2 T whipping cream
1T cornstarch
1 t pure vanilla
Dash of bourbon

For the topping
2 C sour cream
2T sugar
Another dash of bourbon, maybe a little more generous this time

Preparation

Make the crust and chill. Don’t skimp on the “chill” part.

Whisk together the pumpkin, eggs, spices, salt, and brown sugar.

Cream the cream cheese and sugar, then whip in the cream, cornstarch, vanilla, and booze. Add the pumpkin mix, and keep at it until it’s all smooth and mellow.

Get out your chilled crust and fill it up with this lovely mixture.

Bake in the middle of the oven at  350°F for 50 to 55 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick. When it comes out clean, put the pie on a rack to cool for at least five minutes

Meanwhile, whisk together the sour cream, sugar, and bourbon..

Spread the topping over the pie and bake it for another five minutes, and you are good to go.

Most of these items have no place in my kitchen

Seriously. What would I do with this stuff?  The Pie Shop is pretty specialized, and the turquoise conch cottage kitchen . . . well, I have told you about the spider-web problem, haven’t I? The only way to deal with it right now is to ensure that all cupboards are empty at all times so I can get to the spiders with the dust-buster as easily as possible. (Some might say as easy as pie, but not me. I know pie is not easy. It’s a gift.)

Still, some of you, especially those of you who are good enough to drop by with the occasional covered dish, might get a kick out of this list.  I don’t know why the authors are so down on toasters, though.  I keep my scan toaster right out here on the porch, and can’t imagine life without it. Or without you. Keep in touch.

http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-worthitornot8-2008oct08,0,4672867.htmlstory

Kitchen essentials, and items you can pass by

Where should your kitchen dough go? Two expert — and opinionated — cooks weigh in
By Russ Parsons and Amy Scattergood, Times Staff Writers
Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times
CREPE PAN: Worth it? Or not?.

Value is a relative concept. Just ask the folks at Lehman Brothers. But when it comes to ingredients and kitchen tools that beckon to the enthusiastic home cook, it’s important to the bottom line — in this case, a great meal — to take a look at what’s really worth your hard-earned cash — and what isn’t.

We scrutinized our kitchens and the merchandise. Our thumbs-up, thumbs-down verdicts on a couple of dozen popular or hyped cooking items follow. No apologies — we’re opinionated. Some gadgets and goodies are grossly overvalued, others just don’t get their due. We considered cost, efficacy and practicality — as well as the happiness factor. Because for a true chocoholic, a 3.5-ounce bar of Michel Cluizel Noir de Cacao 72% cacao really is worth $6.

Obviously, a lot of this is open for discussion, even heated debate. Is a 1-ounce tin of Spanish saffron really worth $199? How about a $60 Rachael Ray fondue pot?

With apologies to Socrates: The unexamined kitchen cabinet is not worth opening. And it’s certainly not worth filling up with even more stuff.

Worth it? Or not?

Mortar and pestle

When it comes to kitchen tools, I’m a big fan of the simpler the better. And you can’t get much simpler than a mortar and pestle. Basically nothing more than two rocks that you use to grind food, it hasn’t really been improved since the Stone Age. But when something is perfect, why mess with it? You can spend $100 on a French marble one from an antique store, or you can pick up one made of granite at a Thai grocery store for less than $25. While you’re shopping, pick up a wooden pestle as well — those granite ones get really heavy when you’re stirring in oil a drop at a time for aioli.–R.P.

Good corkscrew

Don’t laugh. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to take a good bottle of wine to someone’s house and find that the only corkscrew they’ve got is one of those $1.99 drugstore ones with solid screws that are good only for splitting corks. Come on, spend an extra couple of bucks and get one with a hollow auger (it will look like a corkscrew rather than a sheet metal screw). You can find them for around $10 and you won’t believe the difference.–R.P.

Instant-read thermometer

I have worked with chefs who have been cooking so long that they can tell within 5 degrees the temperature of a roast just by giving it a good squeeze. For the rest of us, there’s no excuse not to have an instant-read thermometer. A perfectly good one costs less than $15 and you’ll never serve bloody chicken again.–R.P.

Good dried pasta

Cheaping out on spaghetti, rigatoni and penne is false economy when you can find terrific brands such as Latini, Rustichella d’Abruzzo and Maestri selling for only a couple of bucks a box more than the industrial stuff. The differences between brands may be hard to appreciate when you’re tasting the noodles by themselves, but taste them with a sauce and you’ll be blown away by how much clearer and more defined the flavor is. –R.P.

Small kitchen scale

In a perfect world, we would measure all of our ingredients by weight. That’s obvious for baking, where the way you scoop flour into a measuring cup can make as much as a 20% difference in quantity. But it’s also true for other kinds of cooking. Measuring by weight opens up the hidden ratios of cooking in a way that volume measuring can’t (in fact, my friend Michael Ruhlman is writing a book on that subject). For example, a classic mirepoix has equal weights of chopped carrots and celery and twice as much onion. That ratio doesn’t show up in cup measurements. You can find a really good digital electronic kitchen scale for less than $30. The two things to look for are a capacity of at least 10 pounds and a “tare” feature that helps those of us who are not mathematically inclined to allow for the weight of bowls, etc. –R.P.

Heavy-duty roasting pan

Especially with the holidays staring us in the face, this is one of the best investments you can make. And it is a bit of an investment — a good roaster will probably cost in the neighborhood of $150. But if you’re going to splurge on a good pan, this is one of the places to do it. Look for pans with low sides that allow air circulation. Avoid lighter pans, which may be cheaper, but won’t brown the meat well, and nonstick pans, which may seem convenient, but don’t caramelize the pan juices.–R.P.

Expensive red wine vinegar

One of the great puzzles in food marketing is why no company has stepped up to make a great-tasting red wine vinegar. It’s not like it’s cloning wild mushrooms or something. In fact, just about any idiot can make it at home quite easily. I’m a prime example. I have kept a big jug going on my counter for more than 15 years. A couple of occasional bottles of sturdy $5.99 red wine and dregs from dinner parties are all that is required to keep me in clean, fruity, complex vinegar whenever I want it.–R.P.

Mini food processor

What’s the point? Anything small enough to fit in the feed bowl of one of these can be just as easily and quickly chopped by hand. Find it in the cupboard, put it together, find a plug, pulse twice, take it apart, clean it up, put it away. Give me a chef’s knife and a cutting board any day.–R.P.

Expensive nonstick skillet

If you’re spending more than $30 on a nonstick skillet, you’re crazy. I know, because I have done it repeatedly. And two months later they’ve got the same set of nicks and dings as the cheapo pan I bought at the restaurant supply store. Of course, it goes without saying that nonstick anything else — saucepans, roasting pans, etc. — is a complete waste of money, unless you truly are a serial scorcher.–R.P.

Expensive knives

My wife is going to howl with laughter when she reads this because I’ve got two knife blocks jammed full, and more in a drawer. But 98% of all the cutting I do is with a chef’s knife or a paring knife. The rest of it, I confess, is nothing more than a cutting-edge indulgence. So let’s agree never again to mention that 12-inch antique French carbon steel ham slicer, OK?–R.P.

Big red wines

How many grilled black-pepper-coated steaks are you going to eat in a year? That’s about the only possible dish these high-alcohol, high-extract wines can pair with. I’m looking at you, Paso Robles Zin! Who are you kidding with 15.5% alcohol? And these days there are even some Pinots that get that high. If I want Port, I’ll buy Port.–R.P.

White truffles

There is no one who loves white truffles more than I do. But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had white truffles in this country that approach the quality of the ones you get in Italy. There, you can smell the truffles being sliced from across the room. Here, most of the time you practically have to bury your nose in a dish before you get any of their perfume. Luxury ingredients are wonderful when there is a payoff; otherwise they’re the culinary equivalent of gold-plating bathroom fixtures.–R.P.

High-quality coffee

Skimping on coffee is one of those things — like buying cheap shoes — that never ends up working out. Sure, a pound of fair trade, organic, artisan-roasted Ethiopian Yrgacheffe is going to set you back more than a can of Folgers (about three times as much), but you’ll get a far better cup of joe, therefore increasing the caffeine happiness factor and probably decreasing the amount of coffee you’ll need to drink in the first place. Quality over quantity, anyone?–A.S.

Dutch oven

A few years ago I bought a 4-quart Staub enameled cast iron Dutch oven on sale at a cooking store, and I think I’ve used it more than all the rest of the pots and pans in my kitchen — combined — since then. I don’t even put it away; it lives on my stove. These lidded pots usually cost $100 to $200 (the price varies a lot, depending on the size and manufacturer), but you can use them on the stove top and in the oven, for soups, braises, casseroles, boiling pasta and making sauces. I even use mine to make cobblers. They conduct heat amazingly well, are pretty enough to serve in, and they’re so durable that they’ll survive us all. Bargain cast-iron Dutch ovens from the hardware store may not be as pretty, but at a fraction of the price, they’ll work almost as well.–A.S.

Whole vanilla beans

Imitation vanilla extract should come with a government warning label: You have no idea what you’re missing. Even extract made from real vanilla has nothing on the beans themselves. Scrape the seeds into sauces and doughs, steep the husks in vats of crème anglaise for ice cream. You can reuse the beans too. After they’re dried, bury them in your sugar bowl for homemade vanilla sugar. Yeah, they’re expensive ($1 to $2 for a single Madagascar bean), but when you want the flavor to shine through, they’re worth it.–A.S.

Saffron

Tagged as the world’s most expensive spice — you can buy a 2 1/2 -pound case of saffron on amazon.com for $4,410 — saffron is the key ingredient in many regional dishes, such as paella and bouillabaisse as well as certain pilafs and tagines. They depend on its unique grassy flavor and startling yellow color. Authenticity has its price, of course, but it’s not so bad when you consider how little you need of the stuff. It’s also another one of those wacky ingredients that make you think, wow, who comes up with this stuff? Dried crocus stigmas. What demented gardener thought of putting that in the stew?–A.S.

Microplane

Yeah, you may think that a box grater is all you’ll ever need — until you use one of these gizmos for the first time. The fine metal graters are inexpensive (around 10 bucks, less if you shop at hardware stores) and seriously useful. Grate cheese, nutmeg, a chunk of 70% cacoa chocolate; zest citrus without worrying about grating the bitter pith. And never a scraped knuckle! I keep mine right next to my stove — and I have no idea where my box grater is anymore.–A.S.

“Larousse Gastronomique”

The updated 2001 edition of this classic food encyclopedia may weigh 8 pounds and cost $85, but it’s worth every ounce and every penny. With listings from abaisse (a sheet of rolled-out pastry) to zuppa inglese (a 19th century “English” dessert invented by Neapolitan pastry cooks), loads of recipes and definitions, and compiled with the help of luminaries such as Joël Robuchon and Pierre Hermé, it’s as fun as it is useful. And if you get tired of reading entries on chicken galantine, it makes a great panini press (wrap the book tightly in plastic first).–A.S.

Toaster

The toaster is another one of those kitchen appliances that just takes up too much space for no reason. Bagels get stuck in them, crumbs burn up in the trays on the bottom, you have to remember to clean the trays on the bottom. They don’t have to be dear, but they sure can be: $30 for a Black & Decker 2-slice; $320 for a Dualit 4-slice. But who eats toast any more anyway? I like grilled bread much better, made outside on the grill or inside in a cast iron skillet. Can’t they put something else on bridal registries? If I ever get married again, I want a Pacojet.–A.S.

Flavored salts

Pricey little tins of “gourmet” salts flavored with kaffir lime-coconut, ancho chile-ginger, Madagascar vanilla, green Thai curry, whatever. Oh, please. If you want “gourmet” salts, just grate some lime or sprinkle some toasted spices into a bowl of sea salt and be done with it. And really, any product that has to label itself “gourmet” to justify the hefty markup ($10 to $20 for tins averaging 4 ounces) is just asking to be scorned.–A.S.

Crème brûlée torch

These dainty, prissy little tools, sold in kitchen supply stores for upward of $50, take all the fun out of burning sugar in the first place. You want a good caramelized top on your crème brûlée? Use a blow torch. They cost about a quarter of the price, work a lot better — and you can solder pipes with them too.–A.S.

Filet Mignon

If you have to wrap bacon around a piece of beef to give it flavor, then you’re better off spending your money on a cut that actually tastes like something. Filet mignon goes for around $30 a pound these days; a nice New York steak costs two-thirds that, sometimes less, and it has twice the flavor. No bacon necessary.–A.S.

Crêpe pan

Crêpe pans are very cute, and not even that pricey (maybe $40) unless you want a copper one (then try $200). But what’s the point when you can make terrific crêpes on any nonstick pan or cast-iron skillet? If you must get one, buy that obscenely expensive and beautiful copper version. Because the only thing you’ll ever use it for is as a prop in a setup for painting watercolor still lifes (a bowl of fruit, a baguette, a crêpe pan).–A.S.

Fondue and the pots that go with it

A fondue pot (the contraptions run from $50 to $150) is almost as silly as fondue itself, a questionable ’70s-era dinner party fad. If you absolutely must have a fondue party, spend your money on a DVD of Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm,” and melt your cheese or chocolate in a double boiler or a Dutch oven instead. Fondue forks? Use skewers — or break out your real forks.–A.S.

» Discuss Article

The Heart of Saturday Night

I’ve been thinking about Darnell a lot lately. He’s always seemed like family to me, even though he’s your second cousin, not mine. I’m so glad that he moved back to SoFLA and got out of New York City, although it was always fun to hear the women on the Montel Williams Show talk about him, even though they never really had too much that was too good to say about him.

I guess what brings him to mind is that I keep hearing that Tom Waits song, “Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night,” in my mind, and I love that one line, “Telephone’s ringin’; it’s your second cousin.”

Yes, that would certainly be the heart of Saturday night here, or any other night for that matter. Darnell does a good job of looking out for all you all, especially now that he’s found that elusive place called home.

Since Slice of Heaven is open 24-hours-a-day, I don’t really have the sense of Saturday night that I once did, if I ever did. For me, it’s always Friday night when I want to be out and about, and that’s some of what drew me to the driving range part of my life. Fish and chips and an endless bucket of balls? What could be better than that?

I know I will look forward to spending some time out there this evening after the sun goes down. I hope I’ll do better than I did on Monday, when almost every single shot was low and stupid. I mean, so low that some of them just jumped right back and bit my ankles.

I know I’ve been a little distracted lately, maybe overdue for a break from the usual routine, so you’ll be glad to hear that my dear friend Little Peach and I are going to take ourselves on a little adventure in about a week, when we head to Havana to celebrate my 60th birthday. We’ve packed up our guidebooks and our comfy walking shoes, and we’re ready to hear some new tunes. I don’t know that I’ll get to enjoy any golf there, but we are determined to come back with at least one new pie recipe, and I’ll tell you all about it when we get home.

In the meantime, though, I have a busy week to survive taking care of business in the city. I’ll be leaving the Slice of Heaven in the capable hands of Sue Ten, The Morning Guy, and Sparkle Junior. I’d love to know if you are a Saturday night person, or a Friday night one like me. In either case, though, I hope you find the heart of it and it’s just what you always wanted.

Spawn of Satan Pie Recipe

Spawn of Satan Pie Recipe

Created in Honor of NY Yankee Derek Jeter’s Birthday

Ingredients:

3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cup cut-up cooked chicken
1 1/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
2 t fresh chopped oregano
2 t fresh basil
6-oz tomato paste
1 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
2/3 cup Bisquick
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Grease a 10-inch by 1-1/2-inch pie plate with butter.

Alternate layers of Ricotta cheese and Parmesan cheese.

Mix chicken, 1/2 C Mozzarella, garlic powder, oregano, basil, and tomato paste.

Pour over Parmesan cheese layer.

Whisk together cream, eggs, Bisquick, salt & pepper

Pour into pie plate.

Bake 30 minutes.

Top with remaining Mozzarella, then bake an addition five to 10 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Spawn of Satan Pie

I’m out on the driving range before noon today, but I can’t concentrate.

Today, I will blame the New York Yankees since their fans are coming out of the woodwork to mourn the passing of their blessed temple in the Bronx. All my hits are off kilter, low, and lethargic, obviously affected by all that negative energy. In time, I give up and go back into the pie shop to get out of the heat, as much as anything.

I take out my notepad and start working on a recipe for “Spawn of Satan Pie” with a special Derek Jeter Crust.  Jeter’s favorite food is chicken parmesan, so this is a no brainer, and I know I’ll be getting calls from Sue Ten over at the Swing Barn once the pre-game show starts at six.

It’s one of those hot, humid SoFLA days that keeps people indoors, so I’m not expecting much excitement today. I gave The Usual Idiot the day off, and I’m thinking this might be a good time to varnish the new combination step-ladder book selves out in the back room, with the exhaust fan going full blast. The Morning Guy copied the design that I found last week, and he’s already built the prototype, finished the sanding, and vacuumed up every stray bit of sawdust. He’ll be leaving me snitty notes if I don’t get moving on this project soon.

I like varnishing, especially roll-and-tip with warm varnish.  It goes on fast, the tipping with a foam brush breaks down the bubbles, and then I can just pull up a chair and watch it dry. In truth, it’s more fun to watch it dry if someone else did the application work, but I know I’ll see plenty: curtains, holidays, bugs in their death throes, visions of alternate universes, dreams of another time and place. It’s all entertainment to the receptive mind. Varnish, sand, repeat. Shampoo, rinse, repeat. Signs of infinity in the known universe.

I’m sure, too, that the sound of the fan will drown out the noise from the over-emotional Yankee fans at the swing barn. If not, I have a set of Ruger firing-range ear muffs that should do the job.

Before I can put them on, though, the phone rings.  It’s Sue Ten. “Boyd’s here.”

“I wondered why Hercules was heading that way.”

Hercules is our resident feral green iguana, a gargantuan beast by all accounts, and for some reason, he has an attraction for my second ex-husband Pretty Boy Boyd. Hercules’ affection, however, is not returned. Boyd has a deep abiding dislike of all things reptilian, including his own lizard brain.

I look out the window and see my old car in the far side of the parking lot. A lime green Toyota Celica, it was a parting gift, or bribe. Call it what you like. It was the WD-40 that lubricated the exit door to get Boyd out of my life.

“What’s he up to?” I ask Sue.

“He’s pretty quiet so far,” says Sue. “Not annoying anyone too much.  Just the usual ranting about The Royals and how many players started out in Kansas City. Apparently, he no longer has a television at home.”

“And what’s he calling home these days?”

“Hard to tell,” says Sue. “A couple more drinks, and I’m sure I’ll have his full life story. Again.”

“Sorry, honey, but he’s your customer,” I say. “The restraining order has expired. Give him some waffle fries on the house. If he’s busy eating, he won’t be able to talk as much.”

I’m rattled, but I go back to varnishing anyway. Roll. Tip. Roll. Tip. One. Two. Lift. Swing. Lift. Swing. I’m reviewing this morning’s practice, more convinced than ever that negative Yankees energy was my enemy, and Boyd was all too often a fan of The Best Team That Money Can Buy.

I had not watched baseball for years when I met him, but he awoke something deep and significant in me: A Red Sox fan’s utter hatred of the New York Yankees, and it felt good for me to know an emotion that deep and pure. Yes! It’s the opposite end of the mood-spectrum from that mystifying ability that some people have that allows them to say, in any situation, “It’s all good.” Anti-Yankeeism consists of a certaintude and clarity of vision found primarily in extreme religious sects, and it’s a wonderfully cleansing experience. I do recommend it.

Boyd was never much of a golf fan, though. So, now I can picture him at the bar, telling his usual two golf jokes. “Oh, yes,” he says, “I agree with Mark Twain that golf is a good walk spoilt.” Not that he’d know what a good walk is either.

And when someone asks him if he plays, he say, “I do. I love golf, but I always have trouble getting the ball through the windmill and into the clown’s mouth.”

By now he is telling Sue his one remaining joke. “You know why a bartender is like a priest?”

I can see the beatific look of unbearable patience on her face now, her chin cocked to the side, her hand smoothly reaching for the taser under the counter.

She doesn’t answer, just raises her eyebrows a bit in a questioning glance.

“They both serve wine and take confessions,” says Boyd, laughing too loud, and then raising his own eyebrows — in surprise.

The bar goes silent, except for Madeleine Peyroux on the jukebox singing “I’m All Right.” Maybe even singing my favorite line, “Wherever you are, you’re still driving my car.”

Hercules has planted himself directly behind Boyd’s bar stool. Boyd’s already pale skin goes white, and then he yelps. As I hear it later, Hercules has nudged off one of Boyd’s baby-blue flip-flops and has chomped into Boyd’s big left toe.

Everyone else in the room backs off, except for Sue, safely behind the bar.

There’s that beatific smile again.  “I believe you are supposed to remain calm,” she says. “Can you do that, Boyd?”

He nods.

“Now, my understanding is that we need to turn this sucker upside down to get him to release you. Are you ready?”

She motions to a couple of the regulars, one in a Yankees tee-shirt and the other in a faded-orange Oriole shirt. They pick up Hercules and twist him, and Boyd’s toe in the process, with no positive results.

“What about the alcohol trick?” Sue asks.

“Okay,” says the Oriole’s fan. He picks up Boyd’s schooner of Guinness and pours it over Boyd’s foot and Hercules’ face. The well-fed iguana still does not budge.

“Only one more thing to do,” says Sue. “Load them both up and get them to the emergency room.” She points to the door.

“I can’t do that,” says Boyd.

“Oh yes you can,” Sue. “It’s either that, lose your toe, or spend the rest of your life with an iguana attached to your foot.”

She gives the two good Samaritans a quick hand signal and twenty dollars, and they load up Boyd and Hercules, droppng them both in the back of a blue Chevy pick-up truck.

I look out the window just in time to see the truck take off down the hot and dusty road. Boyd’s white ponytail has come undone, and I know by the time they reach the hospital, he will have a serious case of uncombable hair syndrome, as well as the more obvious foot-in-iguana-mouth condition.

Sue is already on the phone giving me the delicious details, but I notice, as we talk, that there’s a little activity going on by the back door of The Swing Barn. Usually, Sue keeps that door shut tight to minimize uninvited guests, such as large feral green iguanas.

I’m about to tell her I’m surprised to see the back door open, and then I see The Morning Guy, laughing to himself, closing the door and walking away. No need to mention that to anyone.

And it’s time for me to bake some chicken-parmesan pie before the game gets underway.

Vodka in the Pie Crust

Somehow, a chat with Becca, Paul, and Macy this morning went very quickly from ghosts to silly putty to play dough to eating play dough to eating library past to making — of course — pie dough. “The new secret ingredient is vodka” said Paul. So I’ll have something new to try out when I get home. Of course, this means I will have to break into my hurricane supplies to get the vodka, which will make this crust a Category One provisions. (I’m saving The Glenlivet for Category 4, and tequila shots for Category 5. Bourbon for 3 and possibly mojitos for 2. Keep in mind, that I usually do not drink at all, but at different times in life, Hurricane Rules Apply.)

So, here is the Vodka Pie Crust recipe .  .  .  .

Cook’s Illustrated’s Foolproof Pie Dough

When we talked to Cook’s Illustrated publisher Chris Kimball about the November 2007 issue of the magazine, we asked what recipes really stood out in it this year. This pie crust is one of them, he said. “It’s a brilliant recipe,” Kimball said. “The secret ingredient in it? Vodka.”

Foolproof Pie Dough

– makes one 9-inch double-crust pie –

The trick to this pie crust is the inclusion of vodka. Eighty-proof vodka, which is 60 percent water and 40 percent alcohol, adds moistness to the dough without aiding in gluten formation since gluten doesn’t form in ethanol. Although the recipe includes 8 tablespoons of liquid, the alcohol vaporizes during baking, resulting in a tender crust that only contains 6 1/2 tablespoons of water. Because of the extra liquid, the dough will be moister than most standard pie doughs and will require up to 1/4 cup more flour.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

Procedure

1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.