Sunday, October 30, 2011

apples schmapples

“What’s wrong with Stayman?” my husband asked over the phone. There was a fruit stand close to where he was working and he had stopped by to pick up some apples for me.

“There’s nothing wrong with them,” I said, “but according to my notes, we like York best for storing and Fuji for eating.”

“Okay, I’ll get some,” he said, and hung up. I didn’t hear back from him, so several hours later I gave him a ring.

“Did you get the apples?” I asked.

“Let’s not talk about it,” he mumbled.

“What do you mean? Didn’t they have any?”

“They had them.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

He exhaled heavily. “Let’s just say we’re never going back there again.”

“Um, hon?” I said, finally catching on, “how much did the apples cost?”

A brief silence, and then, “Twenty-five dollars.”

“Twenty-five dollars a bushel?” I yelped. “And you bought them? You dingbat!”

And then our barely-limping conversation tumbled rapidly downhill. Ugly, it was. When he came home and parked the two boxes of apples on the picnic table, tempers flared all over again. But he’d agreed to pay the 14 dollars—the difference in the cost between apples from my favorite local orchard and this overpriced stand—out of his personal money, so I shut up.


The following morning I lugged the apples down to the cellar and transferred the Yorks into one of our bushel crates—I needed the cardboard box to store my newspaper-wrapped sweet potatoes—and was dismayed to discover that the apples only filled the bushel three-quarters of the way full. Bushel containers are different sizes and there’s a chance ours was larger, but my favorite orchard gives us bushels that fill our crates, and for much less money, too, humph. The steam started to puff out my ears all over again. 

And then I noticed the apples were bruised. Squishy spots everywhere! So much for long-term storage.

I stomped upstairs and called my husband. “I’m taking them back,” I hotly announced.

He sighed, “Is it really worth it to drive all the way back just to save a few dollars?”

“Yes, it is. This place is ripping their customers off and I will not stand for it.”


The woman who answered the phone quickly handed me off to her superior.

“Yes, this is Loreen. May I help you?”

“Yes, my husband bought some apples from you yesterday, and I’d like to return them, please.”

“Can you tell me what’s wrong with them?”

“Well, yes. They’re overpriced, which is our problem, I know. But also, the bushels aren’t filled the whole way, and the apples are bruised.”

“Our apples are good quality," she said defensively, "and it’s not our fault that they cost more than other places. That was your choice."

"Yes, I know," I said, immediately regretting I mentioned the price. "But we got the apples for long-term storage and they won’t last, bruised as they are."

She then attempted to convince me—via a detailed explanation of their grading system—that the motley, not-full bushel of bruised apples was the best out there.

“So can I bring them back tomorrow?” I said.

She took my name and number and said she’d get back to me later on that evening.


“Maybe they’re dirt poor, barely hanging on by a thread,” my mother said. “Maybe your fifty dollars is what’s saved them.”

“Whatever, Mom,” I snapped.


Loreen still hadn’t called back by the time I had to leave for my evening church meeting, so I coached my husband on what to say if she should happen to call. “Her name is Loreen,” I said, not wanting him to be caught off-guard and accidentally give up the apple battle.

A brilliant idea hit me as soon as I slipped into the driver’s seat, and I was dialing my home number before I was even out of the driveway. My husband (bless his overpriced apple-buying heart) answered.

“Hello, this is Loreen from the orchard!” I blared in a southern, hickville accent (which is quite different from Loreen’s real voice, but he didn’t know that now, did he?) “There is no way in hell (except I pronounced it ha-a-ill) we is going to take back them apples!”

Silence, and then a shocked, “Excuse me?”

“I SA-A-ID,” I hollered, barely able to keep my voice steady, the giggles bubbling up from my belly like hilarious little hiccups, “THERE IS NO WAY IN HA-A-ILL WE IS GOING TO TAKE BACK THEM APPLES!”

“Um... okay...”

“Honey, it’s me!” I screamed, bouncing up and down in my seat and laughing so hard I could hardly see the road. “I love you so much! Hahahaha, heeheeheehee! Did I get you?”

“Wha—? Oh, man, that was rude. That was so rude. That was so rude!”


I called the fruit stand the next morning. (“She’s not going to call you back,” my husband had correctly forecasted.)

I cut straight to the chase. “Can I return the apples this morning?”

“The owner is out of town until Monday and I’m pretty sure he’ll say you can’t return them,” Loreen said, her voice hard. “Your dissatisfaction with the price is not our problem—”

“No, the apples are bruised,” I said slowly, clearly, my voice equally steely.

“Well, your husband had every opportunity to open the box and look at them.”

“Sooo," my speech slowed to a crawl, "you are not concerned with customer satisfaction?”

“Um, yes, but...” her voice trailed off.

“Are you really saying you won’t let me return them?”


“Okay. Well, thank you. This is really interesting and helpful for me to know, especially in how I relate to others in the valley.” Which is my pathetic version of a veiled threat.

Only later did I realize what I should’ve said. I should’ve said, “Well, Loreen, this has all made a very interesting story. Are you sure this is the ending you want?”


Dear Bowman’s Orchard,

You broke my heart, my consumer confidence, and my bank account. We’re through.

An Apple Lover


At least I got to be Loreen for a little. That was fun.

not one of Loreen's apples

This same time, years previous: dusting the dough, light-as-air hamburger buns and sloppy joes, how to freeze pumpkin

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Today's post is courtesy of my mother, Shirley Kurtz.

In a temper fit this past summer I got hoisted by my own petard.

I wanted hamburgers that evening, cooked on our dinky grill, over a scrap-wood fire instead of storebought charcoal, but my husband and I weren’t smart enough and procrastinated grilling till the heat had started to dissipate. The burgers huddled above the smoke, weakly oozing, rotting. Disgusted at our ineptness—we always seem to bungle meat, even using charcoal—I snatched up the small rusty grate, stomped into the house, and tried to shove it into the kitchen range’s gas broiler (if I’m remembering right). Naw, bad idea. Instead I transferred the patties to a cookie sheet and rammed that in, fuming and muttering.

Days afterward, setting out to bake, I discovered the oven wasn’t heating up. No fire shot out of the element holes, though I seemed to hear the rush of gas. Only later did I catch on. I’d broken my own stove—a tiny gizmo next to the broiler’s pilot light.

My quandary wasn’t unlike that of some years ago near Christmas when the oven knob on the range we owned at the time, a prized, elderly gas/wood cookstove, suddenly gushed flames. I had cheese sandwiches toasting in the skillet. It would be a few weeks till the defective part could be replaced. No oven over the holidays, uh-oh. The crisis reduced us to buying Walmart donuts. Making a birthday cake for me, our 18-year-old carried his batter in pans down the road to the neighbors’ to bake.

But this stove? I wasn’t sure the model now in our possession was worth fixing. It’s the ordinary type—my husband scavenged it from an abandoned, weather-soaked house, paying $15, and although Mr. Handsome Son-in-Law must have thought us insane, he voluntarily took the thing apart, scattering the metal tubes and little jiggy screws across our driveway, scraping off the crud, and then reassembling. But all these years later, the stove’s flabby oven gasket? The oven walls’ evaporated insulation? Why bother with repairs?

I vacillated and vacillated. It’s been months now, and our junker is still all I’ve got. I figure we’ll hit upon another bargain or else I’ll pick out something spanking brand-new. In the meantime I’m resorting to my large cast-aluminum cookpot, pocked in the bottom, with a bucket-type handle and a soaring lid with an eroded black knob, that once belonged to Grandma Kurtz. I’ve inserted a flat cooking rack from another kettle.

This stovetop baking is a mildly tricky operation. No thermostat. And if I preheat the pot I must prop two hot pads inside, against the sides, so I can lower the pie down in without charring my knuckles. Also, any bubbling over results in coal deposits impossible to scrub loose (a jackhammer might work). But, oh my, an apple pie, say, can turn out dazzling. A week or so after the first, I managed three such fruit tarts, causing our whole family who’d collected for the weekend to hiss in surprise and adulation.

Raw expectation
photo by Jennifer Jo, 2011

Apple, apricot, black raspberry
photo by Jennifer Jo, 2011

I can roast potatoes in the pot. Squash works, too. No plans for a groundhog quiche like our Pittsburgh son’s, but I have other ideas languishing up my sleeve. Give me time. The pleasure, I think, comes from the warring—the dueling—no, the permission I’m granted to flaunt my contradicting impulses: my frugality as well as my wastrel inclinations. I’m infatuated with the possibilities—the notion of depending upon a stingy blue fringe of burner flame, not hedonistic gusts of oven gas, to procure the most succulent and carnal of temptations.

I don’t expect I’ll get to Jennifer Jo’s pie party. We live 90 miles across the mountains. Besides, a God’s blood pie—what I’d want to bring, like the pies in a long drawn-out story I’ve written, pies as richly grape-y as any communion-cup sip—deserves a perfect crumb topping and I’ve not experimented enough, yet. I’m not positive the pie’s topping crumbs would achieve, in my big old pot, the desired crispiness. But reminiscent of the other dichotomy, that of a certain God-awful savory sacrifice, my consummate sacrificial offering would surely slay the crowd at Jennifer's house. It’s a dubious, arresting thought.

Grape crumb
photo by Christopher Clymer Kurtz, 2009

Tips for Stovetop Baking

For open-face fruit pies, set the burner flame on medium(?) high(?)—just experiment. When your peeks assure you the pie is done, switch off the burner, keep the kettle lid off, and wait a bit to lift out the pie (for the sake of your knuckles).

For pumpkin pie, hold off on pouring the filling into the crust until you’ve put the pan into the kettle. Like with the fruit pies, let the edges of the crust get quite brown.

A two-crust pie might prove too daunting. Won’t the steam trapped in the kettle make the top crust gluey? Hm, give it a try.

You might accomplish a passable fruit cobbler—the kind with oatmeal crumbs. A cake-type cobbler? Dunno. And what about cookies, dropped onto a sheet of foil? Dunno. Lofty meringue pies? Help!!

Roast large or chunked vegetables by arranging a large piece of tin foil over the cooking rack and up the walls of the kettle and then layering the food inside. To avoid overbrowning, wedge small wads of crumpled foil against the kettle sides where they’re touching bare food or liner foil weighted with food.

How about “oven” fries—potato or sweet potato? And baked corn, in a glass dish? I wonder.

Friday, October 28, 2011

under the grape arbor

Whenever I send my kids outside to play, I have this secret hope they’ll play deeply imaginative games of the sort I played when I was a kid—games like driving matchbox cars around the roots of trees, building little houses out of sticks, hosting acorn-cup tea parties for their stuffed animals, etc. My kids tend to play bigger, wilder, louder, but a mama can always wish, right?

On Wednesday, my wish came true. The oldest two had friends over for the (night and) day and as soon as they finished their plates of cheesy scrambled eggs and toast, all six kids headed outdoors where they stayed for the entire morning and part of the afternoon. I was in the throws of a brutal cold and gladly seized the opportunity to rest on my bed of snot and sneezes...except for all the times I got up to run outside and snap more photos. It was bliss.

They raked all the leaves from the floor of their new home under the grape arbor, rigged up a pipe for “communication,” wrapped bare feet with old rags to make moccasins, and gleaned food from the garden. Rhubarb leaves cradled their stash of tomatoes, green beans, basil, peppers, and asparagus fronds—another rhubarb leaf on top, and they had a “refrigerator”—and red raspberries got pressed into juice. They even set up bowls of soapy water for their “kitchen sink.”

I had planned to make pizzas for lunch but by 11 o’clock my senses got the better of me, as in, Why, pray tell, would I make more work for myself? I handed the guest girlfriend a piece of paper and pencil and told her to write down everyone’s sandwich orders. There were apples, too (and later on some leftover birthday ice cream cake, and even later, some sweet potato pie and whipped cream). The kids carried the basket of sandwiches out to the arbor where they had a shivery feast. It was so nice and quiet in the house!   

It's been two days since the friends left, and my kids have yet to return to their grape arbor house. A cold wind blew in last night and rain is in the forecast. Soon there won't be any grape leaves to shelter a game of make-believe and we’ll spend our days huddling around the wood stove, reading and bickering and dreaming of grape arbor houses and involved games of pretend.

At least, that's what I'll be dreaming about.

This same time, years previous: applesauce cake, garden inventory 2009, pizza with curried pumpkin sauce, sausage, and apples,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

sweet potato pie

On Saturday, we dug the sweet potatoes.

I should clarify. My husband dug the potatoes, I snapped photos (the light was superb), and the kids picked the occasional potato and a basket of worms.

Then they fed the worms to the chickens.

The chickens were pretty keen on the whole worm business, though sometimes they got confused and tried to eat a finger.

For a couple weeks now, I’ve been begging my husband to dig the potatoes.

It’s not like I couldn’t do it, of course—I just wanted him to. I’ll pick up the plants from the greenhouse, water and weed them, and cook them all up into yummy food, just don’t make me dig them.

After digging them, "we" rinsed them off and set them to cure in the barn.

In a couple weeks, once their skins are thoroughly dry, we'll wrap them in newspapers and store them in an upstairs closet. Potatoes all winter long, yay!

The main reason I wanted my husband to dig the potatoes was because I had pie on the brain. I wanted a sweet potato pie. I needed a sweet potato pie.

from the first time

I made a sweet potato pie last month. It was my first ever, I think, and I loved it. It was destined for the blog, I knew, but I wanted to make it again, just to be sure. And I wanted to experiment with cutting back on the sugar just a little. Plus, new recipes have been a little sparse around here lately and I miss ‘em. My cooking juice has boiled dry. The pot needed freshening, and sweet potato pie was my way back to you, babe(s).

But look, it’s Wednesday (four whole days after Saturday) and I’ve just now gotten around to making the pie. I fully blame the whopper of a cold that hit me upside the head and turned all my nose fluids to water. You can’t get much done when you have to stop every thirty seconds to honk your snozz and wash your hands, even when you try to streamline things by draping a cloth diaper over your head for easy nose wipe-age.

But I persevered!

I roasted the sweet potatoes on Monday ... and then went on a walk in the rain with my sister-in-law, during which we expounded upon the marvels of the sweet potato (they’re so easy to grow! they go in anything! salads! stews! curries! pies! cookies! mash ‘em! fry ‘em! bake ‘em!) so that by the end we had pretty much decided we were never going to plant a boring old white potato again (okay, so we’ll still plant a few).

I made the pastry on Tuesday, and then pulled it all together on Wednesday, today, real quick first thing while the Ibuprofen and caffeine were still coursing through my veins.

I burned it, too.

But oh well. It still got rave reviews. The spice combo is perfect: ground coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, and all that vanilla, and the earthy, sweet potato flavor shines through. So decadent and filling and comforting.

It’s a good pie to have for breakfast, or to eat out of hand after coming home from a hard day of roofing, or to top with a cap of whipped cream.

Give it a go. I bet you'll love it.

P.S. My new about page is up and running, whee!

Sweet Potato Pie
Adapted from Joy the Baker

I used roasted sweet potatoes, but you can cook them anyway you please. Just make sure you mash them so there are no lumpies—my handheld electric beaters did the trick just fine. I also reduced the sugar by a quarter cup.

2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup white sugar
10 ounces evaporated milk
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
½ recipe rich butter crust in a 9 or 10-inch pie pan, crimped, and refrigerated

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the sweet potato puree, brown sugar, and spices and heat till warm. Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the milk, white sugar, eggs, and vanilla. (A hand-held immersion blender works like a charm.)

Pour the pie filling into the pie shell (but first taste it—wouldn’t this make a fabulous ice cream?) and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes before reducing the temperature to 325 degrees and baking for another 40-60 minutes until the center is puffed, making sure to cover the edges with foil if they’re threatening to burn.

Cool for at least an hour before serving.

This same time, years previous: the morning kitchen, signs, news, and daydreams

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

the quotidian (10.25.11)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

*a homemade parachute, a windy day, and a boy with a dream
*a toilet-side game of Uno
*a police helmet: which reminds me of a certain beloved children’s picture book (I’ll give you three guesses)
*supper fixings: the celery and onions are for the potato soup, the glass of red is for me
*freshly dusted marshmallows
*restocking the jelly cupboard
*the first frost and the last garden salad, sob
*the blind piano tuner at work: within minutes of him setting up shop, I found my oldest daughter walking through the kitchen with her eyes squinched shut and a mop in her hand, tap-tap-tapping the floor, and my younger daughter was fumbling around the back hall, a large hankie covering her eyes. The kids are intrigued by the thought that they could take off all their clothes and run around naked and he wouldn’t ever know. (I didn’t let them try it.)
*the first piercings: a surprise for the girls, their papa's treat (the younger daughter chickened out, but then, she hadn't been incessantly begging for the adornments like her big sister)
*take it to the microscope: what any good princess does after getting bitten by a spider
*team work
*a rainbow!
*math lessons made easier by holding a sleeping baby
*eating breakfast while trying to stay warm: here’s to hoping he doesn’t topple

This same time, years previous: cheddar cheese fondue, apple tart with cider-rosemary glaze, my oldest son's birth story

Monday, October 24, 2011


My son turned twelve on Sunday, though we celebrated it on Saturday.

Next year he’ll turn thirteen, the start of a new age in our house: six years later and we’ll have four teenagers. The thought both excites and saddens me.

I’m not scared though. I don’t buy all that hoopla about the teen years being such a trial and tribulation. Those were the toddler years, in my opinion. I’ll take teenage sass and smarts over unverbal tots any day.

Not that it will be easy, of course. Nothing is.

The main reason I’m sad about the new age dawning is that it’s one more sign that I’m growing old. It’s one thing to talk about getting old when you’re twenty. It’s another thing to experience it, or the twinges of it, when you’re thirty-six. I don’t mind the internal part of getting old, the build up of experiences, the collected wisdom, the accumulated friends and family, but the physical part of getting old? That part scares me.

Is there any way to age gracefully? Does anyone walk into old age willingly, eager to embrace the wrinkles and sagging upper arms and achy joints? Or are humans programmed to fight it, to push against it, to grieve it?

This same time, years previous: buttermilk pancakes

Sunday, October 23, 2011

a silly supper

I hardly cooked all week long. One night we had scrambled eggs and toast for supper. Another night there was a hot dog roast at a friend's house. And yet another night we had a sit-down dinner of caramel popcorn and apples and peanut butter. So high end, we are.

Here’s the bowl of peanut butter. A small child could drown in it.

I was mixing a big tub of whole wheat peanut butter (meaning, all-natural) with a jar of sugary store-bought peanut butter (so the oil doesn’t separate out as much) when supper time swung around, so I just plunked the whole bowl down in the middle of the table. The kids ate it by the serving spoon full. And they finished off a good six to eight (maybe ten?) apples and all but two cups of the popcorn. They were so full that no one even made mention of a bedtime snack.

What are your favorite snacky suppers? Or, "silly suppers," as my husband grew up calling them.

This same time, years previous: brown sugar syrup (our standard syrup recipe)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I couldn't stop

In case you haven’t noticed (Google readers, I’m talking to you), I’m in the process of revamping the blog. It all started because I wanted some tabs along the top, and then once I got going I couldn’t stop. I went to over to my brother’s house for a crash course in computer junk (I’m so illiterate it’s not even funny) (except it is funny—my brother is forever laugh-snorting at all the obvious stuff I don’t know), and then I went home and stayed up too late doing formatting type things. I dreamed in (or about—not sure what’s the difference) HTML format and woke up exhausted. And eager to get going again.

Except I got waylaid by my header, partly because I lost the picture and couldn’t find it anywhere, and partly because I was ready for a change. I played around with sunsets and blue skies and it was all just so-so. On a whim, I jotted down my blog title and quote, snapped a picture, and suddenly I was off and running. The kids helped hold mirrors and white papers to reflect the light, fetch rosemary and sprinkle cocoa, and peppered me with advice and opinions. We never did get around to math or piano that morning.

Now I’m spending lots of brain time thinking up little new headers. I might get inspired to break out the paint, or maybe even do paper cutouts or make “Mama’s Minutia” out of bread crusts.

I will be the next Carl Warner. Watch out.

This same time, years previous: a moment of silence, classic cheesecake, love, the Tooth Fairy, boy in a blue dress