Ten Hours of Chatter

“Ten hours of chatter,” said Marilyn, when she saw my post in Facebook late in the day, but early for her in China. It was productive chatter, though, I think — and something I needed to help me move ahead, or at least sideways.

Thanks to all who chimed in and push me out of my dense daydreaming and inertia.

I still have a lot of questions about friendships, connections, time, memory, and communication. Click on the “comments” link to continue the conversation.

And, no, you do not need to use your real name. This is all a fantasy, maybe even a dream.

Making Pie Crust

You must not work the dough too much.
Fine flaky crust
requires a light touch.
I cut the shortening into the flour,
rocking the cutter as I go.
There was a time, though,
when I would grasp two knives
and cleave the ingredients,
both pressing them together
and slicing them apart.
When young, I did not remove my rings.
I don’t even wear them now.
Back then,
I liked the look of gemstones
dappled with bits of dough.
Grandmother would not have approved, though,
and even now,
I know she is watching me.
Not that grandmother taught me how to bake.
Oh, no.
If anything, she showed me that I
could be a real woman
and never cook a god damn thing.
But that’s another story.
She did, however, make a pie crust
that was so flaky
I could peel it apart
with my silver dessert fork,
and find a new horizon
in every translucent layer.
My grandfather was talented with pie, too.
No matter how many people
sat at his table,
he could cut a pie
so that everyone there
had a slice of equal size,
and he always had two.
Somewhere along the line
I learned to lay down waxed paper
instead of a pastry cloth.
I think that is a Nebraska trait.
And when I make my pie crust now,
I travel back there for a moment or two.
I visit the women at my welcoming church
who invited me, the young mother, to join them
in cookie packing one holiday weekend.
One after another, the women came in,
brushing the snow from their sensible boots,
dropping down bags of store-bought cookies,
and saying, “I really don’t have time to bake.”
I knew I was in the right place.
Long ago, for a rolling pin, I chose a wine bottle
that drew me in with its rich green glass.
Now I wield the wooden pin
that I have carried with me for years.
I wonder when the handles broke off?
I wonder why?
It hints of violence in the kitchen, doesn’t it?
I don’t recall any—at least not involving pie,
although …
I did once throw
a fairly hefty farm-grown watermelon
at my fairly hefty farm-grown husband.
But that’s another story.
Now for the best part:
The crust is elegantly thin,
and ready to be transferred to its vessel.
Sometimes I choose the glass pie plates that I bought
when my favorite bar went out of business
and sold off all its cookware.
I don’t believe I ever ate a pie there,
though I would, sometimes, sit at the bar and drink
Glenlivet scotch, and toast the memory
of my late great father-in-law.
My war with him was never open,
but I still think I won.
I’m here now, am I not?
We can only speculate on his whereabouts.
So, where were we?
Ah, the pie crust,
submissive in its pan.
My mother would have me
prick it with a fork,
but I say no.
I go another route,
more seductive, more sublime.
I pull out my crimper
and begin the ritual
of pressing the dough,
embossing the crust
with rosettes and with stars.
It’s a gentle motion of marking territory:
This
pie
crust
belongs
to
me.
Many times,
if I am making a single-crust pie,
this effort remains hidden,
like wearing your best undies
when you go out to play.
But sometimes…
sometimes
I’ll do a two-crust pie,
and then I get the pay-off:
The aahs.
The oohs.
The how-did-you-do-its?
My crimper is a sacred object.
I rank it high in holiness.
Perhaps it is as holy as –
please don’t laugh –
my bean pot.
Both were gifts from Hazel,
wonderful, funny, austere, searching Hazel,
a city girl
who had learned to navigate country life
but never lost her style or poise.
I was barely in my twenties, and she was …
well she was just a little older than I am now.
I was in training to marry her long-haired poet son,
but I never did.
I’ve always felt
that he would have married me
for my incestuous pie crust alone.
It looked like his mother’s.
It tasted like his mother’s.
But in the end,
pastry was not enough.
I triumphed in pie crust, but I did not win in love.
I excelled in pastry, but I failed in common virtue.
And now I know,
pastry is never enough.
And yet, there are days …
there are days
when nothing will console me,
nothing will hold me,
nothing will soothe my fretful soul
quite like making a pie.
And as for the boy I did not marry,
Well, that really is another story.

Copyright 2000, Barbara Jean Walsh

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.

A Night Out at the Hu Ke Lau

What can it be like to be a member of the Show at a Polynesian restaurant in Chicopee, Mass.? I can only wonder what the six dancers, four musicians, and the MC do the rest of the time.

You may remember that this is the place where we all went out to eat on Fathers Day in 2006, the day after Becca and Paul’s wedding. I seem to remember that Paul work a construction-paper tie, but that could be wrong. No, I’m sure that’s right. And we had a group photo taken against a mural of some island scene.

So, I did know what to expect, and I was somewhat disappointed when Macy told me that there was no longer a stuffed alligator in the lobby. We got there in time for the warm up act, before the dancers came out, and my main observation for that is that the keyboard player exhibited a wan appearance that most moviemakers would key into for a serial-killer suspect. Of course, the real serial killer would be more of a surprise. During the fire dances, the smell of lighter fluid permeated the air.

You can tell I am still very much a small-town girl by the fact that I was fascinated by the glowing plastic ice cubes in the drinks on most of the tables, including ours in time. I will definitely want to order some of those for the pie shop, especially for that late night sip of cold water with your lemon meringue.

Back to the dancers: Our MC took us on a journey through several islands where all the dances involved a great deal of hip movement and fire. I liked it, but probably not as much as the wedding-rehearsal group at the edge of the stage did. They got a lot of special attention, and rightly so.

I also did not previously know that “Tiny Bubbles” was the Hawaiian National Anthem, and I enjoyed singing along in my usual combination of ignorance and enthusiasm.  One of the closing songs was “I’m proud to be an American” which I remembered from living in Ozarks, but in the Ozarks when they got to the line about “stand up” everyone did actually stand up.

It was all over by 9:00, and the cast member were free to take off their makeup and leis, and do what? I had to wonder if they thought it had been a great night, or just anohter job. They reminded me very much of our own Elvis impersonator in Delray, well known about town, and easy to spot even in his police uniform, because he was still sort of Elvis all the time. So maybe the dancers are the same way, local celebrities, smiling across the footlights, even when they are just shopping at the five and dime.