Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Recipe: Skillet Apple Pie

Hopefully, I've timed this post to coincide with a moment when you're looking at a pile of apples on your counter and wondering what to do with them. You could bake up the apple bread recipe that my friend Mary sent me. I haven't managed to test it yet, so do tell if you try it.

On the other hand, I have made and can heartily recommend Skillet Apple Pie. It takes a lot of the crust-handling stress out of making an apple pie and enables a really juicy fil
ling that would likely overwhelm the bottom crust of a standard pie. Easier and delicious? Sign me up!

If I do say so myself, this pie was the dessert highlight of our family Thanksgiving weekend last year.

From Cooks magazine September/October 2008, green comments mine:

Skillet Apple Pie
Serves 6 to 8 (plan on smaller pieces than a regular pie if you have more than 6 people)

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoon vegetable shortening, chilled

6 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, but into 1/4 inch pieces
3-4 tablespoons ice water

1/2 cup apple cider (see note at right)
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon (as if - bottled lemon juice is usually in my fridge; lemons, not so much)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional) (Right. I'm making apple pie without cinnamon.)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 lbs. sweet and tart apples (about 5 medium - see note below), peeled, cored, halved and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (see note)

1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons sugar

1. FOR THE CRUST: Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined. Add shortening and process until mixture has texture of coarse sand, about ten 1-secon
d pulses. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture. With blade of rubber spatula, use
folding motion to mix. Press down on dough with broad side of spatula until dough sticks together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more ice water if dough does not come together. Turn dough out onto sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into 4-inch disk. Wrap dough and refrigerate 30 minutes, or up to 2 days, before rolling out. (If dough is refrigerated longer than 1 hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable.)
3. FOR THE FILLING: Adjust oven rack to upper middle position (between 7 and 9 inches from t heating element) and heat oven to 500 degrees. Whisk cider, syrup, lemon juice,
cornstarch, and cinnamon (if using) together in medium bowl until smooth. Heat butter in 12-inch heatproof skillet over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add apples and cook, stirring 2 or 3 times until apples begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. (Do not fully cook apples.) Remove pan from heat, add cider mixture, and gently stir until apples are well-coated. Set aside to cool slightly.
4. TO ASSEMBLE AND BAKE: Roll out dough on lightly floured work surface, or between 2 large sheets of plastic wrap, to 11-inch circle. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over apple filling. Brush dough with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. With sharp knife, gently cut dough into 6 pieces by making 1 vertical cut followed by 2 evenly spaced horizontal cuts (perpendicular to first cut). Bake until apples are tender and crust is a deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes; serve.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

A new Sunday ritual

Our family has recently stumbled upon a new ritual on our way to church on Sunday mornings. We observe a period of silence for at least half the ride. Despite the short time of this silence (our whole ride takes about 15 minutes), the significance is striking. I haven't polled the others, but I know I feel less distracted and more prepared for worship when we arrive. The fact is that I don't allow much time for silence in my life in any context. There's almost always a radio or mp3 player on, especially when in transit. Short of that, if this whole family is together, chances are someone has something to say, even if it's "why is there a tractor on the street?"

I say that we stumbled upon the ritual because it arose not from a family meeting or a parental epiphany. We parents just called for silence on a particularly back-seat-babble-heavy day . We weren't intending to start a tradition, but we noticed the calming results immediately. The next Sunday, we just said "okay, we're going to be silent now".

We would likely have more trouble enforcing this if our youngest hadn't just turned four. An eight- and four-year-old are capable of the discipline it takes to remain silent for even a few minutes. Of course, they're actually rather good at enforcing rules, so they have sometimes reminded (shushed) mommy or daddy when one of us has forgotten and felt like we had to say something this minute. We might all do well with more silent times, but I'm glad we've at least carved out this little niche in our week.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sexist dryer

In our new house, we inherited a dryer that believes in very traditional gender roles. I don't know how long it's been there, but apparently it hails from an era in which we believed the dryer was an appliance to brighten a lady's day. No more high-effort clothes-wringing. No more backyard clothesline. For you, the fortunate lady, this machine lightens your load and frees you up to do more interesting things with your time.

It reminds me of the "Lady" school sports teams like the "Lady Lions" or "Lady Bears". I wonder what a "Lady Kenmore" mascot would look like and whether the team would rally behind her.

Aside from the dryer's intrinsic bias, I take issue with the design of the door. For the last ten years (and probably longer in apartments), I've had a side-hinged dryer door that swung open and tucked against the front of the washer. This little lady has this Murph
y bed/diving board affair that makes it rather challenging to get back into the back of the dryer and get the last few stray items. I see no advantage to this design; if I had younger kids, I'd worry about them putting their weight on there and bending/breaking it.

But what else would you expect from such an unenlightened appliance?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Annoying Intrusion

I find the way grocery stores track consumer behavior and attempt to manipulate it pretty interesting. The most obvious manipulation - cash register coupons - range from the intuitive to the head-scratching. How do they decide what to incent me to buy based on what I've bought up to now? For example, I discovered recently that spending $100 at my regular store when I don't usually spend that much triggers a coupon at the cash register for a free gallon of milk on my next visit. On other trips, I get a coupon and think they're depending on a buggy algorithm.

On my last trip, though, when I looked at what the cashier handed me, I found something annoying. Rather than a register coupon lagniappe, she handed me an advertisement. For Kleenex with some kind of space-age polymer in them. Already disgusted with receipts as long as my arm (and filled with useless messaging), do I now have to figure out what to do with an advertisement? I'm managing groceries and usually one or more children; the last thing I want to do at that moment is think about getting that slip of paper home to my recycling bin. By teaching me that I should expect something of value - a relevant coupon - they have also trained me to look closely and consider this advertisement. That Pavlovian manipulation irks me the most.

If you share my dismay at this intrusion, I propose a little consumer civil disobedience: leave the ad at the register. Make it the store's problem. Just think if everybody did it - cashiers awash in ads for Kleenex and Depends.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A love (?) note

Charlie asked me this morning to pack a granola bar in his lunch on Friday. Knowing my memory, I told him I was happy to do that but that he'd have to remind me. Also knowing my memory, he disappeared downstairs to his art table.

He reappeared with this note. Who do you love? Chocolate swirl granola bars, that's who.

After sweating Charlie's spelling through K-2, I'm so pleased that when he needs to lobby for a specific school lunch dessert in 3rd grade, he spells everything correctly. He's also very precise about the terms of the agreement he sets out for us. Hmmm, could this child's mother be an attorney? Finally, in case the message doesn't hit all the way home, we have the ransom-note-style signature and the Mike Wazowski sticker.

There is no chance that I will forget what to pack in Charlie's lunch on Friday.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Attempting the Shoeless House

Our new house has a lot more hardwood floors than our old house. After the move and a few weeks here, we realized going shoeless might be our only chance to keep the floors anywhere near clean.

We would have attempted this in our old house except that we had no proper entry hall. The front door plunked you in the living room, and the back door entered into the micro-kitchen. Stopping to take off our shoes - especially as a family of four - never felt practical or possible.

Now we have the dream entry hall but find that we need something else: discipline. I find it relatively easy some of the time to stop and deshoe, but I'm stymied by a few things.
  • What do I do when I need to run out the back door to throw something away or dump the compost? Stopping to put my outside shoes on seems like too big a deterrent to a short, necessary trip.
  • In general, what do I do about going out the back door when we put the shoe rack in the front hall? Do I put my shoes on up front? If I do that, I'm tracking the dirt to the back door.
  • What do we do about guests? Westerners who haven't made this choice in their own homes don't necessarily adjust well. I know; I've done the "Oh, should I take off my shoes?" routine as a guest in other people's houses. Many people say not to worry about it. But then what? You have to clean because you didn't tell your friends to deshoe?
  • And the doozie in my life: what the heck do we do when we've gotten out to the car and then realize we've forgotten something inside? Stop and deshoe when we're already late and harried. Because we always seem to be late and harried.
I'm probably turning something reasonably simple - take off your shoes except when circumstances make that difficult - and making it more doctrinaire and principled than it need be. That would be like me.

I'm interested in a little dialog and feedback on this issue from those who've succeeded at the transition and those who have failed/given up.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dear Indugu

We know our eight-year-old, and we know he's a sports nut. Still, we didn't anticipate the direction he would take the assignment "make a card for our sponsor child in Africa". After decorating the front and back of the card with images of a football and baseball player, he really gathered steam when writing out the inside. (BTW, apparently baseball players have enormous left hands.)

I'm sure that Bernald, a
five-year-old in Zambia will get a lot out of this, after the capable translator figures out the right idiom for "sucker-punched".

I hope most of all that Bernald and his Zambian family and friends don't believe that all Americans take pre-season football games this seriously.

We all signed the card, even Teddy (just turned 4), who gets all of the letters in his name right, although they appear in a very creative order and some repeat. Practice makes perfect.

Let me know if you need translation of the sentiments being expressed across the Atlantic.