Pie Crust

I’m posting this for my friend Vince. This crust? So easy and always perfect. I’m grateful that Vince asked because I have this recipe on a scrap of paper that I scribbled while watching the video below over and over. Kind of like when we were kids and we’d play the record over and over and write down the words? Ummm, right before the Internet. At any rate, this recipe rocks. One day, I’m going to Brooklyn on a pie field trip.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Crust
Makes dough for double-crust 9- to 10-inch pie

2.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2.5 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 sticks (2 lbs) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup very cold water
4 tablespoons cider vinegar

1. Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl.

2. Cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (don’t overdo it!)

4. Combine the water and cider vinegar & add a little of the water mixture into the flour mixture until it is fully incorporated.

6. Add more of the water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using a bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.

7. Bring it together & shape the dough into 2 flat discs, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.

Randomness.

Doorbell
Sunday night sharing. My head has been full of so many thoughts and I’m having trouble putting it together. So, I’ve decided to share some random thoughts. At least that keeps me writing.

  1. Isn’t this photo beautiful? It’s from a site called Little Visuals with photos from a young man who named Nic who died suddenly at 26. I’m really drawn to his photos.
  2. I started listening to the Love + Radio podcast. The first two I heard were amazing and the third was not. Deciding whether to keep listening.
  3. Speaking of podcasts, I heard this on Invisiblia and I keep thinking about it. I’m not there, yet. Still trying to get my arms around: Fear = thinking + time
  4. We don’t have a doorbell.
  5. I don’t like really windy days (like today). I didn’t mind heavy winds when I was little, but a friend told me years and years ago (in the 1970’s) about his fears and I totally absorbed it.
  6. Having all my boys together last week was so nice.
  7. We went to Hersh’s last night with friends we hadn’t seen for a while and the food and company were perfect.
  8. I have a speaking thing coming up that I’m really excited about. More later.
  9. We bought vintage dining room chairs – the same chair but from 2 different sources – that we’ll have upholstered to all match. It’s thrilling and I love them. Pix when they’re done.
  10. Sunday nights are my favorite. So quiet. So nice. Except that the work week starts again tomorrow, which is a bummer. Of course, this implies I didn’t work over the weekend (which isn’t true) but the pressure and pace are just different. Note: I love my work. But I do love the weekends!
  11. I just wanted to end on a weird number. Good night!

Getting inside the head of the executive chef at Chez Scherer

home-cooking

Today, as we travel the back roads north to go see a set of Mid-Century dining room chairs, I have the honor of having the full attention of our family’s most accomplished cook. Because he’s driving and has nothing better to do except play the license plate game (we only need Kentucky) or listen to the radio, Andrew has agreed to be interviewed for this post.

Ahhh, Andrew. Without whom I would surely eat canned soup and frozen lima beans for dinner. And pasta.

Wendy: Andrew, how often do you think about food?

Andrew: Now, okay. Do you want me to try to be funny or should I be serious? For instance, I could say it’s the thing I think about second most often. {author note: how predictable}

Wendy: Alrighty. How do you decide what to cook each week?

Andrew: I have a small range of standard meals that I tend to rotate. I also think about who is going to be home on a specific night, what season it is, and work in new recipes I find online and in my inbox – NYTimes and Food52 – to name a few and I love to make the recipes from each new Cooks Illustrated I get in the mail.

Wendy: What if I want something special? Like Bahn Mi. {Spoiler alert: I get whatever I want}

Andrew: All you have to do is ask. {See, told you}

Wendy: Once the menu plan for the week is complete, how likely are you to change it? If the family schedule changes, what does that do you your plan?

Andrew: Believe it or not, I’m actually quite flexible when it comes to meal planning, so all changes can be accommodated. {author note: LOL}

Wendy: What’s for dinner tonight?

Andrew: Is this a trick question? We’re grabbing a bite out before Everyman’s Theater tonight.

Wendy: Yeah, I just threw that in so my friends will see that you don’t cook EVERY night. There are nights like this and then the 1-2 times a month you make me cook and I make 20 lbs. of carnitas or some nice vegetable soup. You probably cook about 300 nights a year. Does that sound right?

Andrew: Yes. That sounds about right.

Wendy: And how many of those nights would you say dinner was a hit?

Andrew: I’d say 275. {I’d say 299. There was this one time that he overdid the 5-spice on a Chinese stew. But really? The food at our house is better than a restaurant most all the time.}

Wendy: How much time do you spend cooking dinner on an average weeknight? Average weekend night?

Andrew: On an average weeknight, I can generally get everything done in an hour, hour and a half tops. On the weekends, I might take a little more time.

Wendy: What is your favorite thing to cook?

Andrew: I really like to grill. {I really like when he grills, too. Yummy food. Easy clean up. Come on, Spring!}

Thanks, Andrew. Keep up the good work. LOL.

The view from here.

view
I’ve been thinking a lot lately. Clearly, I have been doing something other than writing here, right?

I started this blog on January 17, 2005. Ten years ago.

Ten.

My kitchen was green and white – country-style – as it was when we moved into it sight-unseen late summer 1999.

My business was growing, but I was unsure which direction it was going.

My sons were 9, 7, and 6.

I read bedtime stories every night. And loved it.

I was a little freaked out about being over 40.

I baked challah every week.

Andrew and I had time together every night after 7:30 pm. Except poker night. On poker night, I went out, bluffed, and laughed with my friends.

I blogged nearly every day.

This place. This blog. It’s been a wonderful escape and a way to express myself. Back then, it was a way to connect with the world outside my world before we all were so very, very connected. I’m grateful for so many things and so many people – and among them, my earliest ‘fake’ friends, Lori, Jenne, Leah. They, and so many others, made my world bigger. And better.

I think we all knew where this online thing was going… and that we’d be here – where we are now – at some point. Maybe we didn’t know exactly what was coming. But maybe we did.

So, I know what you’re thinking. “You’re quitting, right?”

No. Not right.

I’m just introspective. Ten years have passed and my life is unrecognizable.

My sons are 19, 17, and 16. The oldest is in his second year of college, the middle one starts this fall and the youngest will go fall 2016.

If I read at night, it’s to myself.

I’m sometimes a little freaked out about being over 50. Right now, I’m a little freaked out that my baby sister is turning 50 in a couple days.

I bake challah and pies and French bread and you-name-it all the time.

My kitchen – and my home – suit me. Perfectly. It’s a peaceful, happy place.

My business is growing and I’m learning and challenged every day.

Andrew and I get a little quality time each day, but as the boys get more and more independent, we have freedom we barely remember ever having before the kids were born.

And contrary to my expectations, I’m not sad that they’re independent and busy. I’m excited for them and love who they are and who they are growing to be.

My life has changed. That is true.

But it’s going swimmingly.

I’m not quitting my blog. I’m recharged.

It’s a piece of cake.

birthday cake
This cake was a long story in the making.

My friend, Wendy, was turning 50! I’d made my reservations to visit for the big celebration. And then, she asked if I’d make her a cake when I came out.

Well, yes!

First question I asked was what kind of cake she wanted. The answer? Almond cake with vanilla buttercream icing.

As delicious as it sounds, I had never made that particular kind of cake before. So I started researching recipes. I learned about how to make icing really white. I searched and searched for a fun cake topper idea. And I started baking.

The first couple cakes were not successful. At all. And when I finally found the right recipe, somehow one layer cooked well and the other was grossly undercooked in the middle.

Sigh.

Still, I took the good parts and used them as vessels to test icing recipes.

Fortunately, I had a lot of tasting volunteers. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Did I mention I ordered special vanilla online? And that certain butters are lighter in color than others? Or that if you beat the buttercream faster and longer, it becomes whiter? All true. And the icing was really pretty and white. And we came upon the perfect recipe. Done and done.

And then, the pom pom toppers that I ordered came! I opened the box with glee. But sadly, they were not white. And upon further reading on the Etsy listing, they were ‘soft white’ which is another way to say beige. I was going to return them and order a whiter white set until I realized that the shipping cost to return them was half the price of a new set. So I wrote the seller to find out how to ensure I ordered the whitest white poms and how much this cake mattered. And you know what she did? She sent me a new set for just the cost of shipping. And I kept the beige set. They’ll look pretty on a chocolate cake.

But back to the cake itself. The heart of the cake. I didn’t have it right yet. But that last version? It was really tasty. Could I improve it? And then, I decided to make the layers thinner. It was a eureka moment. So I made the cake again. (Not to try to get your sympathy here, but it’s a lot of steps and a lot of dishes. And a lot of eggs!) So I made the batter and split it between 3 layers.

And you know what? It came out perfectly! So pretty. The layers released from the pan perfectly. They were golden and perfect and even and lovely. That’s when I decided to take this actual cake with me to Omaha. So when they were absolutely cool, I froze the layers.

Now, you might be asking yourself how I planned to get the cake to the midwest in reasonable condition. Great question! It just so happened that the perfect styrofoam cooler and a box it fit into exactly. I’d just take the layers in the cooler with icepacks and check it through as baggage. I’d also pack my special, favorite icing spatula with me and the vanilla – and of course the pom poms. This plan was foolproof! I’d have layers and could make the icing in Omaha and assemble a beautiful cake.

End of story.

Except, as you’ve obviously already figured out, this was not the end of the story. Because…

Southwest lost the box.

It was almost midnight when I stood in the baggage office nearly in tears explaining to the clerk about my concerns that it would defrost and get stale. She gave me a piece of paper and told me that they’d do their best (and by the way, please step away from the computer and get behind the line).

At this point, I decided that the fellow who checked my bags curbside at Dulles took my cake home to his family. Do I know this was irrational? Yes, I do. But the thing is, I was in a terrible rush when my boys dropped me at the airport. I was supposed to fly out of BWI but that plane was delayed and I’d never have made the connection, so they rerouted me. My guys drove me (and unfortunately got stuck in horrendous traffic making them late for their dinner date with their aunt which sucked).

I never do curbside check-in but, as I mentioned, I was late and more than a little stressed. The guy was so sweet and I was relieved to dump my big bag and the box. He asked me what was in the box. I told him it was a cake. And that is why, when it went missing, that I suspected that poor guy. While I was very sad, I did actually invent a story in my head that he needed that cake. Maybe it was his daughter’s birthday and he had to work and didn’t get a chance to buy a cake.

Yeah, I have a great imagination like that.

So, back to my story. There was no cake in Omaha. Once I caught my breath, I saw that my friend had 3 9″ cake pans. Check. She and I went to the store and bought ingredients. And we went to Sur la Table and bought an icing spatula.

I called Southwest again and again. No cake.

And then, at nearly midnight they called. They had the box! Should they refrigerate it? (How nice that they asked, right?) I said no. Wrote it off. It was clearly defrosted and I knew I was starting over. I’d pick up the box the next day because frankly, I love that spatula.

We were headed to the airport at 5pm the next day anyway to pick Molly up. And since the cake was clearly a train-wreck, why rush?

The box. I got the box! And when we got back to Wendy’s house, I opened it and found a Christmas miracle. The ice packs were still frozen. The cake was perfect.

Perfect.

And so, the next day I whipped the heck out of a white, vanilla buttercream and put the cake together. I put the pom poms in and cut a sprig of greens.

That cake? It tasted like love.

Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps

adaptation from many, many recipes over the years.

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 – 2 teaspoons fresh ground ginger (not dried. I go heavy)
1 egg (lightly beaten)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I go light)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 (approximately) cup white sugar for decoration

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

In a large bowl, mix together the brown sugar, oil, molasses, fresh ground ginger and egg.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger; stir into the molasses mixture in thirds. It’s going to be stiff!

Roll dough into 1-1/4 inch balls. Roll each ball in white sugar before placing 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Smush the cookie balls before baking. I like to use a small spatula that leaves 3 line-marks on the cookies.

Bake for 11 minutes in preheated oven, or until center is firm. Cool on wire racks.
Makes 3 dozen.

Crazy quilt.

Crazy Quilt - photo credit to http://www.freeimages.com/profile/ba1969
Crazy Quilt – photo credit to http://www.freeimages.com/profile/ba1969

It’s Monday. So why does it feel like Thursday? My life feels like a crazy quilt. Struggling to keep my head above water, pieces of this and pieces of that and so many pieces and so much of everything and I really don’t know how to do it all. But I try to get the important stuff right.

College Applications. See? I made you sweat.

image credit freeimages/iprole
image credit freeimages/iprole

I remember all those years of back-to-school shopping buying those hard cover composition notebooks. And then, my oldest son graduated to the spirals. Wide rule.

The wide rules were harder to find; it seemed as if those college-ruled spiral notebooks were everywhere. I smiled to myself knowing it would be years and years before he was ready for these grown-up books. Heck, he still had fat pencils.

Time sped by faster than I could have ever imagined and even faster than the strangers at the grocery store told me it would.

Andrew and I strongly believe that college is a wonderful opportunity to grow up and find your passions. We always hoped our three sons would go and we started saving with a 529 state savings plan when they were very small. We’ve been consistent in letting them know that we hoped that’d be college-bound some day.

Some day crept up quickly and before we knew it, Davis took the PSAT exam at school. It was 10th grade and we were petrified to start thinking about what was coming next. He was a self-starter and assured us that he was doing the SAT Question of the Day – every day. He let us know that he intended to take the ACT exam, also.

We encouraged him early to find his passion and in 10th grade, he began taking studio art in addition to his challenging AP and GT coursework. He loved expressing himself visually. Encouraged by his teacher, he found a summer program at Maryland Institute College of Art. It was hard work. But it sealed the deal. By his junior year, on the AP Art track, it became clear to us all that he wanted to pursue an art degree. But what we learned was that the resources to navigate that path were a lot less available than a traditional academic path. And we had no idea where to begin.

Somehow – probably through our school’s attentive guidance department – we found out that there was an informational session in our county for students interested in pursing visual and performing art. We learned so much and talked to representatives from art colleges and liberal arts colleges with art programs. I think that was our biggest challenge – which to choose? Art school or a school with art? How to decide? What we learned – together – was that there are pros and cons and lots of good choices. We also learned to open our minds.

And then, the real work started. Davis started a list of schools to consider and began creating a cohesive (and fabulous) portfolio. At the same time, he took the SAT and, soon after, he took the ACT. He worked with an incredible coach to hone in on his school choices and on his essays.

Oh, the essays. I was so intimidated by the essays! Article after article (and maybe I should have stopped reading so much) told of the perils of a not-so-great essay and went on to describe what a good one actually was. His coach was amazing though and, after a couple re-starts, his essay brought me to tears and also made me smile.

My husband took him to visit schools to the north. I took him to one to the south of us and to Chicago. Divide and conquer. Of the 8 schools he’d decided to apply to, we visited 5. We just couldn’t swing the time or money to see the others.

Here’s the thing. I was overwhelmed by the process. I was freaked out that my baby was going to leave and that all these details needed to be managed and that there was so much to do. But, HE managed it. He studied. He wrote and re-wrote his essays. He worked his butt off to get his portfolio ready and he set up Skype and in-person portfolio reviews with his first choice schools for input. He filled in the applications and got teacher recommendations. HE applied for college.

I was over-the-moon proud knowing that he was ready for the responsibility of GOING to college. And I was proud of him for getting into the 8 schools he chose to apply to. I can’t resist telling you that a couple of them were extremely competitive.

His decision process once he had the acceptances was easy – well, easy to get to 2 schools. I asked him just the other day (he’s a sophomore now) if he thinks he made the right choice and he thinks that he did. I think that he did, too.

Our middle son is wrapping up his essays and will be applying to 6 schools within the next couple weeks. It was a lot less daunting the second time around, but it was completely different. Our third will be applying next year. I feel confident that that will be different, too.

All a long way around to say that the college application sounds really scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Letting your teens lead the conversation is a great start. Getting great advice from a coach, the school counselor, and other terrific resources is helpful.

Don’t Freak Out! Trust me, it does NOT make it easier.

You can do this.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.