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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mom's Foolproof Pie Crust

This is the basic pastry dough I use for most pies and tarts, and it's good for savory dishes like chicken pot pie, turnovers, quiche, and so on. It's my mom's recipe. For a sweet pie you can add sugar if you like, but it's not necessary—I tend to like unsweetened crust, especially for fruit pies. This is a flaky, tender crust, not a terribly sturdy or tough one, thanks to the vinegar and egg. It's easy to roll out and work with.

Pastry dough: This will make enough for a 10-inch, two-crust pie. Combine 3 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar (optional), and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups shortening (or part shortening, part cold butter if you like).
Cut the shortening into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or two knives held in one hand, until the pieces of shortening are about the size of ragged peas (?).

Make a well in the center of the mixture and add 1 egg, 1 tablespoon vinegar (any kind will do, or use a sweet wine like Marsala, or sherry—in this batch I used tarragon vinegar because it's the only kind I have at the moment besides Chinese black vinegar), and about 5 tablespoons ice water. Stir the egg and liquids together with a spatula. (Did I say any kind of vinegar? Well, I guess I wouldn't use black vinegar, or red-wine vinegar, or good balsamic vinegar . . . )

Using sharp folding and cutting motions with a wooden spoon or a spatula, stir just until the dough holds together.
Turn out onto the counter and gather the dough into a very rough ball. Use the palm of your hand to smear the dough away from you.
Then use a bench knife to scrape it back into a rough ball. Repeat twice. (This step is more important when using cold butter in the dough, as it helps to flatten the pieces of butter into shards, which will melt into flaky goodness when the crust bakes. Not so important with just shortening.)
Divide the dough into two roughly equal-sized pieces.

Wrap them tightly in plastic, smoothing them into an even and flat disk shape.

Chill in the freezer for about 20 minutes, or in the fridge for 30 minutes, until firm. The dough can be wrapped in a couple more layers of plastic and frozen for several months; defrost in the fridge for a couple hours before continuing.

Unwrap one disk of dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Whack it a few times with a floured rolling pin (a wine bottle or a thick dowel will do in a pinch) to flatten it a bit.

My dad made this maple rolling pin.

Rolling from the center of the circle out, just to the edge (but not over the edge), lifting the edges of the circle with the bench knife and reflouring the counter if necessary to keep it from sticking, roll the dough out to a circle large enough to line your pie pan.

Drape the circle over the rolling pin and transfer it to the pie pan.

Trim the edges, and patch and pinch the dough together if it tears.

Roll out the second disk into a circle about the same size. Fill the pie (don't forget, as I often do, to dot the filling with butter), then drape the second circle over the top. Fold and pinch and crimp the edges together. Cut vents.

Or you can roll out scraps and make a lattice top. Mr. Chalmers and the bug and I
got some blueberries at the Comer farmer's market on Saturday; for this batch
of two pies I cut them with supermarket berries I'd already bought.
If you like, brush the top of the pie with egg wash (1 egg beaten together with 1 teaspoon water) and sprinkle with sugar—none of this is necessary, but it looks nice. Bake until it starts to bubble over and leak, which my mom says means it's a good pie.
This is the kind of afternoon I love: pies cooling on the counter, beer chilled and ready for later, and it's raining out. Pouring, with thunder and lightning. I've gotten the jasmine and some ivy planted outside. The bug is happily giggling at her mobile and the dogs are not getting into trouble as far as I can tell. The only thing that could be better is if Mr. Chalmers were here instead of at work.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


On Antiques Roadshow last night a woman in K.C. had a bowl that reminded me of what our backyard looked like the other night after the rain. It was a Fairyland Lustre Wedgewood a little like this one, with a nighttime scene on the outside and daytime on the inside. Everything glistening and misty.

I finished the bulk of the paint job on the bug's room yesterday. What I want to do now is paint the mantel and doors. Maybe by tomorrow I'll have some after pictures to go with the before I took. The walls are "spiced butternut" yellow—bright and rich—with the existing white trim; looks great with the simple yellow-gingham curtains. The mantel is dark green (which actually looks kind of nice), and the doors are light green. I would like to paint them a rich Turkish or Mediterranean blue, sort of the color of The Goodnight Book, a sweet and only vaguely religious children's story and song collection our friends the Browns, of Marietta, gave us. I also have to either buy or borrow a stepladder so I can hang the bug's mobile from the ridiculously high ceiling.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


I certainly don't know thing one about interior decorating, but I kind of like how this bright-orange couch ('50s maybe?) looks in our pink living room. The colors are off in this picture, but the orange itself is pretty close. It'll look better with full bookshelves, I think (and no, I have not gotten around to fixing the shelves), and maybe with a round or swoosh-shaped coffeetable or footstool?

This is a couch that's crying out for throw pillows. Any thoughts on colors
or styles or knitting patterns to try?

The armchair that will go near it is a sort of celery color, the walls are peachy-pink, the mantle is very dark wood, and the front door has bright blue, green, and yellow stained-glass inserts.

And after living without dresser drawers for all of my adult life, I broke down and bought these at Agora downtown:

Today after a morning spent cleaning up the rental house in Athens top to bottom, we spit-roasted a pork picnic for about 3 hours, like the chicken but with just salt and pepper. It could've gone longer, but tomorrow for supper I'll do something nice with it. I made a very, um, insistent barbecue sauce to go with it (just a little spoonful on a plateful of chopped meat).

Barbecue sauce
: About 4 parts tarragon vinegar to 1 part ketchup, plus some granulated garlic, black pepper, cayenne, and a dash of Worchestershire sauce. Then add the juices from the resting pork.

Fairy World

The other evening—Thursday maybe—it poured with rain. Our first storm in the new house. There's only one leak in the ceiling as far as I could tell, in the kitchen where it looks like there used to be a wood or coal cooking stove. Not too bad. The roof repair guy is coming again this week anyway, so I'll have him check that area out as well as the other chimneys. The bug and I sat out on the front porch to watch the storm, and we could hear the pecan tree that's too close to the house groaning up against the eaves of the porch in the wind.

After the main part of the storm was over, it was cool and drizzly. When we went to bed it was still a little light outside and we had all the windows open to let in the cool breeze. From my pillow I could see the huge trees in the backyard silhouetted against the stormy sky, and the stone walls covered with vines, and beyond them, in the pasture where the dogs play, hundreds of fireflies. It was like a fairy world at midsummer.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Back in the Saddle

Just back from a day at Athfest, which the Super and the bug and I spent going from bar to bar, having nice cold drinks (I'm really appreciating dry and very red rosés right now) and snacking (nachos at the Globe and then Polish sausage with Comeback Sauce by the 40 Watt). I finally have a way to load pictures onto my computer again, so this will be sort of a catch-up posting, heavy on images.

I got the old hammock hung at the new house, which is good because the bug absolutely loves swinging in it. It's still one of the few sure things that will calm her down in the midst of a crying jag.

I think she was trying to say something when I took this, because her mouth is so deliberately
shaped here. She's been saying things that sound a lot like "Hello" and "Lemon" lately.

Thursday evening the bug and I sat out in the backyard keeping an eye on a rotisserie chicken, which we left going for 3 1/2 hours; it was ready right when the Super got home from work, and he said it smelled "better than anything." It was probably the best chicken I've ever made, and that includes all manner of Cornell grilled chicken and roast spatchcocked chicken with lemons underneath, which until now have been my stock in trade as far as chicken is concerned. As you can see, I put a drip pan underneath, and charcoal on either side. The temperature in the grill read about 220 degrees the whole time, and I kept it pretty steady, although the lid was slightly ajar because I wasn't able to punch out the notches in the side of the lid to make room for the spit attachment, so the temperature probably wasn't quite what the thermometer said it was. Chicken cooked to a whopping 210 degrees at the thigh, and was juicy throughout, almost like confit because it basically just cooked in its own fat.

This was taken toward the end of the cooking. Notice that there really isn't much
fat or juice in the drip pan; the spit rotated at such a speed that the juices simply
dripped along but never off the chicken itself. Brilliant.

One evening this week after the Super got home and took over bug-watching duties I went up the road to the blackberry patch.

Cooper came with me, because Wagner had gotten to come with us the last time. On the way to the berries, we saw a deer in the woods; Cooper chased it frantically, but came back to me when I called him. While I picked berries a few yards into the brambles, he waited patiently, sitting at the side of the road.

I got only enough for a small rustic tart: just pastry dough (light on the shortening, as I didn't have enough for a full batch of dough) folded up around a pile of berries, which I'd mixed with some sugar, a little tapioca, and a few drops of vanilla. It was delicious: tart, sweet, seedy, and the crust was actually pretty good despite its low fat content (I brushed it with egg wash and sprinkled it with sugar before baking).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Summer's Arrived

We're all moved into our new house—the TV and everything else came out from Athens on Saturday (although there's still a lump of goat cheese from our visit to Split Creek Farm in the fridge that I want to pick up). I would very much like to post some pictures of the place, and the crazy old furniture I bought, but the camera is effectively out of commission for the time being (thanks, Wagner).

In the meantime, imagine high tangles of blackberry bushes, the ones close to the road coated in a fine layer of dust. The Super and the bug and I (and Wagner, who managed to escape the confines of the famously painstakingly erected fence to come join us) walked up the hill to check out the ripening progress, and sure enough the blackberries are in. It's summer in Georgia! You have to get the super-ripe ones, though, or they're very astringent. Otherwise, they're small but sweet-tart, which is how I like them—with a little bite. If I can figure out the logistics of it, I'll take the bug up there today to get a bunch of them for pie or cobbler. (The Björn won't work in this case because of the thorns and the poison ivy protecting the berries. I might have to carry her swing up with us, and park her in a clearing while I pick. Or wait till evening when her dad gets home.)

Other projects for today, which you won't mind not having pictures of, include cleaning the toilet that had been turned off (and used) for six or eight months, disposing of another dead bird in the house, dealing somehow with the trash problem (we won't get pickup for another two weeks, and we've been adding to the bin for about three weeks now) . . . stuff like that. Oh, and an editing job I have to send back tomorrow but haven't started except to bring it from the car to the house and open the envelope it was in.

Projects for the near future include making pies, assembling and using the new rotisserie attachment for the grill/smoker, knitting some quick and easy throw pillows to break up the vast expanse of bright-orange couch in our living room, finishing the curtains for the baby's room, painting said room, more Wagner-proofing, planting jasmine outside our bedroom windows for next spring, digging a hole in which to plant a fig tree, deciding what kinds of trees or bushes to plant in the side yard to block views of the good Christian neighbors' house, planning a secret garden in the little front yard opposite the magnolia, and practicing my badminton serve.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

This Is . . . the South

Building a fence in 98-degree heat (I'm guessing; one thermometer claimed it was 105) isn't so bad, in retrospect.

As long as while you're retrospecting you're sipping an ice-cold Pimm's Cup in air-conditioned comfort as the baby and the dogs sleep peacefully and the sun goes down.

Pimm's Cup: I don't know if this is authentic, but this is how I did mine this evening. Fill a chilled glass with ice cubes, add 2 or 3 ounces Pimm's No. 1 and a lemon slice, stir, fill the glass with Sprite, stir gently, garnish with a cucumber slice. Certainly it shouldn't be in an old fashioned glass, as here, but rather in a Collins glass.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Bug

You might want to skip this post if you're not a grandparent of the Bug. She was being especially cute the other day, so I took some pictures. The lighting is weird, but you take what you can get.

As usual, she's wearing the bib that Courtney knitted for her. Also the dress that
Jennifer, another colleague of the Super's at the press, gave her.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Our Dirt

So many people—thank you to all of them!—came way the heck out to Nowheresville, Georgia, on Saturday to help us build a fence for our dogs. Our dogs who, as we were conspiring to keep them contained, spent the whole day playing and lounging in our yard, almost never venturing out of our sight, and who, it turns out, really do come when they're called.

The day before, I unwrapped all the goat meat and put it in a large tub (which fit in our new fridge!), poured a marinade over it.
Goat marinade and mop: For the marinade, I mixed up orange juice, lime juice, cumin, ground cayenne, onion salt, and minced garlic. I splashed a bunch of Worchestershire sauce into the tub for good measure. For the mop, I boiled the marinade that was left in the tub after the meat had been put on the grill, then Miller Lite was added.
At one point I had lime juice all over my hands, so I gave the bug a taste. She squinted, looked puzzled, and then immediately broke into a huge smile. (She was indifferent to the taste of peach juice on my fingers the next morning. Loved smoked chicken wing essence, and the Super says she wanted more and more of the goat juice he let her taste. Also, not surprisingly, a dab of sweet iced tea—decaf—on her pacifier quieted her right down during a fussy spell. In other baby news, she's slept through the night for the last three nights—first time doing this. And she rolled over, back to tummy, for the first time on Saturday.)

That night, Superintendant Chalmers and the bug and I picked up two carsful of fencing material at Lowe's and went out to the house to drop it off and dig a pit for the goat. This is the progress we'd made on the latter task by about eight o'clock:

That chain-link gate in the corner is what we'd put the goat on.

The idea was to dig a pit in which we would build a fire, put a grid with the goat on blocks a foot or so over the fire, and then cover the whole thing with a tarp at ground level. We knew the ground would be hard—Georgia clay—but we didn't know it would be essentially solid rock. I've done a fair amount of digging (and not just in loamy Florida sand), but I've never encountered dirt like this before, so hard and full of granite stones that you couldn't shove the spade in without meeting incredible resistance a quarter-inch in. But we were determined. It started to rain and was getting dark.

The bug was asleep next to the new smoker under a semiprotective
flounce of mosquito netting. Does anybody know how many bug bites
a two-month-old can withstand before sustaining permanent damage?
Because she looks like she has the plague.

We decided to improvise by building up walls around the edges of the hole we'd managed to dig, using, among other things, old motorcycle fenders (I think that's what they are) we found in one of the sheds out back. A lot of thought and effort went into figuring out how to do this.

Up at dawn in Athens, the day of the fence-building party, I made a quick run to Wal-Mart to buy a changing pad for the baby to replace the one the dogs had destroyed while we were digging the pit in Carlton (they were all sold out, so we've been changing the bug on the floor, which is especially onerous when you've been doing light manual labor the last few days). So we load up the car with dogs and head out to the house. I'm afraid I don't have pictures, and my recipes will be inexact because I kind of just threw these things together, but I made up a large peach cobbler (in a beautiful red ceramic three-quart baking dish) and an apple crisp—or maybe it was technically a crumble, slump, or brown Betty . . . I don't have the energy to parse this right now.
Peach cobbler: This is your basic Northern-style cobbler, but large. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put a lot of sliced fresh peaches, some sugar, a squeeze of citrus (I used lime and orange this time), and a couple tablespoons of cornstarch in a large saucepan and cook, stirring, until the peaches are softened and bubbly-hot. Pour the peaches into a 3-quart baking dish and keep hot in the oven. In a medium bowl, combine about 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I like White Lily for this biscuity topping), 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cut in about 5 tablespoons shortening, then stir in 3/4 cup milk. Drop clumps of the dough onto the hot peaches. Bake for about 30 minutes, until browned and bubbly all over.

Apple crisp or whatever: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toss 6 cored and sliced apples (I like a combination of sweet crisp apples like Gala or Winesap and tart Granny Smiths for baked apple desserts such as this) with some citrus juice, some sugar, a few tablespoons of flour, and lots of cinnamon; put in an 8- or 9-inch baking dish or pan. In a medium bowl, use your fingertips to combine about 1/4 cup softened butter, about 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 cup chopped walnuts, and lots of cinnamon. (Again, these are very approximate; just keep adding stuff till it feels like a crumbly mixture that can be easily pressed into clumps that hold together.) Put the nut topping all over the apples, squeezing handfuls of it together to form irregular clumps. Bake for about 30 minutes, until browned and bubbling.
The Super got the goat-pit fire going with some charcoal and hickory, and let the chain-link gate burn on its own for a while just in case there were any toxins on it. When the fire died down he put the meat on and covered the whole thing with a tarp. The tarp was somewhat too close to the heat source, though, and it started to burn and melt. Speaking of toxins.

This would not have happened, I think, if we'd managed a deeper pit.

So we took the tarp off for a while.

Completists may notice that there's a piece missing.
Extra points if you can identify all the parts.

The Super put one especially meaty hunk of goat on the actual smoker, along with his famous chicken wings in the style of the Slick Pig, Murphreesboro, Tennessee. I won't give away the details of the award-winning (not really, not yet) chicken-wings recipe, but it goes something like this:
Smoked chicken wings: Marinate chicken wings in some combination of soy sauce, Worchestershire sauce, and molasses overnight. Smoke long (hours and hours—I'd say at least 6) and low (150° to 175°F), using hickory chunks with charcoal in the first hour or so, then just charcoal, until the meat shrinks back from the ends of the bones.
The Super prefers that the wings be cut into two pieces, tips cut off,
but we didn't bother with that this time.

When we had all the fires going and the iced tea chilling in the fridge, we took a break and had a couple beers. It was ten a.m. Since nobody had shown up yet, we donned work gloves and started pulling out and chopping down the weeds and overgrowth around where the fence would be. I carefully left two blackberry bushes. We ate the four ripe berries we found on them. I also left a lot of the English ivy so I could come back and dig it up later, possibly to plant at the base of the new fence to make it look more, um, verdant.

Here you can kind of see the granite posts we'll use for
some of the fenceline; the rest will be steel posts.

We also started attaching the welded-wire fencing to the existing stone posts using lengths of fourteen-gauge wire. I neglected to take pictures of the fence-building project itself, but you can see some of it on Courtney's blog. One of the Super's coworkers, David, showed up with really good wirecutters and this brilliant Tool for pounding the steel posts into the ground: imagine a tube with one end capped and handles on each side; you slide the tube over the post and bang it down on the top of the post; the tube shape helps guide it so there's no chance you'll miss the post altogether as there is when you're using just a sledgehammer. Probably one fifth of the fence got built yesterday, but David loaned us the Tool to use until we finish the fence ourselves.

Three knitters in addition to Courtney—Alison, Jenny, and Anne Marie—showed up bearing cookies, strawberry wine from Georgia's own Fox vineyards, and a vanilla infusion that smells absolutely lovely. They were all quite helpful, and Anne Marie in particular seemed to know a thing or two about fencing. Jane from UGA Press came with her husband, Bob; they were kind enough to bring a homemade pound cake, lots of beer, and iced green tea—Jane also gave me a vintage Weave-It set (more on that, I'm sure, when I've had a chance to try it out)! Andrew from the press came with more beer, as did Jon even though (in my understanding) he couldn't do manual labor because it was the day before Pentacost (I may very well have this information wrong). Ben, despite being busy planning a two-week canoe trip down the Oconee, arrived in the evening with two geneticists.

Cooper and Wagner had the time of their lives, and were very well behaved. The NeighborDog spent most of the day with us, which we didn't mind at all until he made off with a goat leg.

Right: back to the goat. It smoked and grilled slowly for about, oh, ten hours? Nice rosy smoke ring. The outer bits were flavorful and extremely chewy—some might even say dry. The inner meat was chewy and less flavorful, and there was still a fair amount of connective tissue that hadn't broken down. I'm guessing that if we'd wrapped the goat in something to keep the moisture in (banana leaves, maguey leaves, rinsed and wrung-out burlap sack?) it would've been better; also the fact that we weren't able to cover the pit very well certainly contributed to the drying-out. The Super plans to make up a sauce, tomato-based probably, to mix into the leftover pulled meat, of which there's a lot, but not as much as you'd expect.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Cooper and Wagner

These guys, for the record, are the reason we're building a fence at our new house, and thus the reason we've been playing with goat and cobbler and hauling beer all week.

We love them even when we come home to find that they've
eaten another pen and tracked ink all over the house.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Okay, so it's not a whole goat, but it's an entire goat.

And it fits in our fridge, with plenty of room for some beer and the gallon of whole milk they gave us gratis at the Carniceria Tapatia in Gainesville. We'll start with a dry rub tomorrow morning, then use a mop as it smokes on Saturday. At least that's the plan as it stands now. We should really start digging that pit.