Friday, September 29, 2017

you're invited...

Where: The Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale
Why: To raise money for Mennonite Central Committee
When: Tomorrow!!!!!

Two days of prep work down. Now for a nap. We'll be back up at 11:30 pm (only 4 hours from now, sob), and then we're off to the races. Come see us!

PS. Bring cash and an appetite.
PPS. If you don't want to stand in a crazy-long line, hit up the donut stand BEFORE 9 o'clock.
PPPS. By the time you see me tomorrow morningassuming you comeI will not look nearly as alert as I do in the above photo. I probably won't even recognize you. I might not even know my own name.
PPPPS. I have no idea if this post makes any sense. I just took one-third of an Aleve PM. I am dog-tired. Good night.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

grape pie

Our grapes went gangbusters this year.

Once I got into the rhythm (after the first 12 pints of pallid jelly from underripe grapes, blech), I turned out batch after batch of jelly followed by a bunch of sweetened grape juice. (Confession: I’ve never really liked our grape juice—it always tasted sort of rotten-ish—but then this year I got lavish with the sugar. Plus, I quit diluting. Now we drink it straight-up over ice, all rich and sweet and deliciously grapey.)

I thought I was pretty much done processing grapes, but then I went out to the arbor to photograph my daughter picking a bowlful of grapes, the morning sun filtering through the leaves, and I was shocked to see that the arbor was still loaded.

And after all that juice and jelly making, too!

Clearly, it was time for grape pie.

So I sent one of the kids to the attic to hunt down my old-fashioned fruit strainer/musher, and then set about the business of making a grape puree: stem and wash the grapes, separate the skins from the eyeballs, cook down the eyeballs until they release their seeds, strain the sauce to remove the seeds, and then, finally, add the reserved skins back to the pale-green, applesauce-like sauce and then heat it through until I had a bubbling mass of dark purple, grapey deliciousness.

For the pie, I stirred some sugar and cornstarch into three cups of the puree, simmered it until thick and bubbly, added the juice of half a lemon and a pat of butter, and then poured the whole mess into a pie shell.

I topped the pie with a flurry of buttery crumbs and baked it in a blistering hot oven for thirty minutes. And then I had to fly out the door to rehearsal, leaving the pie to cool on the counter. 

When I got home that night, only a quarter of the pie was left. My husband reported that the kids had gone wild over the pie. Like, bonkers crazy. Loved it, rave reviews, the works, etc, etc.

I ate my piece with vanilla ice cream—my husband had a piece, too (his third)—and then I had another piece.

“I have to make more puree,” I said.

“Yes,” my husband said.

Because, see, grape pie is nothing short of revolutionary. So intense, so rich, so thoroughly grapey, grape pie is a pie like none other. In fact, I’d venture that until you’ve tasted a grape pie, you’ve never really lived.

Those, my friends, are the over-the-top, paradigm-shifting thoughts that flit through one’s brain while eating a piece of grape pie. That's how good it is. It’s no coincidence, I don’t think, that we frequently find ourselves dropping the ‘p’ in grape and replacing it with a ‘t.’ Great pie, we call it.

And truly, it is.

Good to my word, I spent the next day making grape puree, and now enough filling for eight pies is squirreled away in the freezer. What riches!

And now my younger son has grape fever. He’s created a signature grape sauce by cooking down whole grapes, straining them, and then cooking the purple sauce with clear jell and sugar until it thickens slightly. We had some at lunch today, drizzled over vanilla ice cream for dessert, be still my beating heart. 

And he baked a grape pie today, from his own puree (and some of mine, because he was short two of the three cups, ha!) and pastry, too. He’s so proud.

We’ll eat it for supper tonight, with ice cream. And there will also be an apple pie, made from the scrappy apples from our tree, and fat juicy burgers.

I’m excited.

Grape Pie 
Loosely based on a recipe from The Mennonite Community Cookbook.

This pie is best eaten the same day it is made. To make the grape puree, follow my instructions as written in the body of the post. Or these instructions.

The crumb topping is rather sparse, but it's plenty. Trust me.

½ recipe of rich butter pastry
3 cups grape puree (from four cups of whole grapes? Five? Not sure...)
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
juice of half a lemon (1-2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon butter
½ of a recipe of crumb topping (recipe follows)

Line a 9-inch pie pan with the pastry. Crimp the edges. Set in the fridge until ready to fill and bake. 

Measure the grape puree, sugar, and cornstarch into a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbly and slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and butter.

Pour the filling into the pie pastry. Top with crumbs. Bake on the bottom oven rack at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until the pastry is deeply browned and the filling bubbles.

Cool to room temperature. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Crumb Topping
Adapted from The Mennonite Community Cookbook.

¾ cup flour
¼ cup each brown sugar and white sugar
6 tablespoons butter

Mix everything together with your fingers until sandy and crumbly. Use half the crumbs on one pie and freeze the rest for another pie.

This same time, years previous: a day in the life, the quotidian (9.21.15), the quotidian (9.22.14), when the relatives came, vacationing till it hurts.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

the unraveling

I’m up to my ears, people. UP TO MY EARS, I tell you. I’m in another play, and this, I'm learning, is how plays begin for me...with me crawling into a hole and dying. Rehearsals start, and, BAM, I’m drowning. All the lines! All the lines! How will I ever memorize all the lines!

For two weeks now, I’ve crept around the house in the pit of despair, the hundreds of lines like thick chains wrapped around my ankles and wrists. With every step, I rattle and groan. I lose sleep at night and nap during the day. I come home from rehearsal and crash on the couch. I have zero energy. The exhaustion is constant.

The actual memorization gives me straight-up panic attacks: I memorize a line and then imagine standing on stage and forgetting it. WHY DO I DO THIS. I don’t know. I can’t seem to stop. My terror is unbridled. It threatens to consume me.

“Bird by bird,” my husband says. “Give it time.”

He’s right, of course. I know that.

I just can’t feel it.

Then there are the waves of crippling self-doubt. The other actors are trained! They’ve gone to school for this stuff! They teach it! They understand it! Acting is their world! And me? I still get confused between upstage and downstage. 

I confide this to a friend and shebless her heartsnaps, “So what? Sometimes all the training gets in the way.”

I don’t know if that applies to me, but, briefly, I feel better. I'll take it.

And then, right at the end of the second week of rehearsals, there’s a shift. I begin to get off-book. My terror lessens and my confidence rises. Maybe, just maybe, I can do this, I think. Also, Hey-hey! This might actually be fun!

So to sum up, I’m in a play! It's awesome! I get to tell jokes and ask lots of probing questions and chainsmoke! I want to feel pumped about it, like this:

But mostly, I feel like this:

Accepting ego strokes, bottles of wine, and votes of confidence.

Love, always and forever,
The Basket Case.

PS. Shows are October 12-15 and 19-22. For tickets, go here.

This same time, years previous: the big bad wolf and our children, baking with teachers, candid camera.

Monday, September 18, 2017

the quotidian (9.18.17)

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

If you ever get the urge to top a lemon blueberry cake with a tahini-sugar drizzle, don't.

By the quart: grape jelly.

Vintage tuna and macaroni salad, with peas.

Too bad I made two: a fresh tomato pie with grilled chicken and basil that no one much liked.

 Apples from our tree 
Scrappy and free
For pie

Oh, girls!

Snip-snip—OOPS, giggle-snortsnip. 
(I have no idea what I'm doing.)

What. You lookin' at me?

(Photo by my older son.)
In search of shade. 


Curious George.

A window for Chomper.

When dragons sleep....

This same time, years previous: nectarine bourbon pie, historical fun, in defense of battered kitchen utensils, the quotidian (9.16.13), the quotidian (9.17.12), goodbye summer, hello fall, the potluck solution, cornmeal whole wheat waffles, hard knocks.

Friday, September 15, 2017

cast iron skillet steak

My younger son calls steak “steek,” as in, “Man, this is good steek.”

“Hon, it’s steak,” we corrected.

He stopped chewing. “Um, no,” he said. “It’s s-t-e-a-k. That’s steek.”


I’ve cooked steak twice now, and so far only on the stovetop. The first time, it was just me and my husband at home. We watched a series of how-to-cook-steak videos together (here and here), and then I cooked each steak individually, testing the firmness of the meat against our own skin (there’s the finger test—so cool!—and the arm test), and then cutting it in half to see if we were getting the desired results.

We also cooked several potatoes that my parents had given us (because we were out of potatoes and we simply had to have potatoes to go with our steak), mashing them up, peels and all, with lots of hot milk, butter, and salt.

And then we ate and ate and ate.

And ate.

And ate some more.

“The steers were grass fed,” I said, “so basically we’re just eating grass, right?”

My husband snorted at my slightly faulty logic—okay, okay, erroneous—but the meal did feel incredibly satisfying and nutritious and healthy. Sanctimonious, practically.

(Oh, and then I—get this—left the big tupperware container full of gorgeous strips of medium rare steak out on the counter overnight. I was so mad at myself! But then I emailed my aunt, an excellent cook who is also a non-alarmist pragmatist, and she said we could still eat it so we did, in fajitas with onions and peppers, yum.)

Then this past weekend, we cooked up a couple porterhouse steaks and three New York Strip steaks. (I had wanted to try ribeye and strip, to compare the difference, but my husband didn’t listen to my instructions, oh well.) So far—all two times—we cook our steaks on the outdoor cookstove, on the deck, because cooking steak is a frightfully messy business! By the time I’m done, the deck is speckled with grease droplets.

And we even put an old sheet down to try to catch the mess. Guess we need a bigger old sheet next time....

Here's what I want to know: How in the world do all those fancy, white-aproned chefs in the videos manage to cook their steaks without getting grease everywhere and setting off the fire alarm? I do not understand.

Probably I’m just not classy enough.

That evening, the kids were home (all but my younger daughter), and they all—every single one of them—went bananas.

My older daughter cut the porterhouse steaks off the bone, and they all picked through the piles of steak searching for the rarest—bloodiest—morsels. My younger son adulterated his steak with store-bought BBQ sauce, but the rest of us doused ours with the red wine and butter sauce I’d made from the pan drippings.

I was looking forward to leftovers so we could have steak and eggs some morning, but no such luck. I guess if I want leftovers, I’ll need to cook up some more steaks.

Which is fine with me, really.

And everyone else, apparently.

Cast Iron Skillet Steak

*Get steaks that are 1¼ to 1½ inches thick. (I think ours are a little on the thin side.) So far, sirloin steaks are my favorite.
*If the meat has a good cap of fat, leave it on. You can remove it after cooking.
*Make sure the steak is at room temperature before cooking.
*Until you know what you’re doing, cook one steak at a time.
*Helpful tools: long-handled tongs, a stopwatch, a meat thermometer.

And hey, I am still a newbie at this steak-cooking business, so if you have tips, please share. I'm planning to try them on the grill next....

For the steaks:
steak, at room temperature
salt and pepper
butter and olive oil
fresh rosemary or thyme, several sprigs
a couple cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
1 large glass of red wine

Liberally salt and pepper the steak on both sides.

Place the skillet over a medium-high flame. When hot, drizzle in some olive oil. Add the steak. Start the stopwatch.

To make sure the steak cooks evenly from both sides, flip every minute. After a couple flips, sear the sides of the steaks, holding the meat upright with a pair of tongs.

About half way through the cooking time, begin seasoning the meat: After each turn, brush the top with butter, rub it lightly with garlic, and brush it with the fresh herbs that you’ve just swished through the hot oil.

For medium-rare steaks, cook for about 8 minutes or until the meat reaches 145 degrees. Place the steak on a plate and tent with foil.

Repeat the process until all the steaks have been cooked.

For the red wine and butter sauce (optional), add a little fresh oil to the pan, mince the garlic and toss it in. Add the sprigs of whatever herb you were using. After a minute, dump in a glass of red wine. Cook for a couple more minutes until the wine is reduced by half. Whisk in 3-4 tablespoons of butter. Strain the sauce.

After the steaks have rested for 5-10 minutes (or however long it takes to finish cooking all the steaks), slice them at a 45 degree angle across the grain and arrange on a plate. Pour over any meaty juices that have collected in the bottom of the “resting” plate. Serve with buttery mashed potatoes and the red wine and butter sauce.

This same time, years previous: black bean and veggie salad, the quotidian (9.14.15), cinnamon sugar breadsticks, whole wheat jammies, Greek pasta salad.