Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Crust of a Hint.

I am fortunate enough to have berries all summer long. In late June the black raspberries start popping up everywhere, and when they fade out at the end of July, blackberries happily take their place. With so many berries, I've been baking all summer. Berry muffins, berry pancakes, berry crostatas. I consider a crostata to be my easiest dessert. Roll out a pie crust, throw down some fruit, sprinkle with sugar, fold up the sides and bake. Simple. I know many people would not agree with me. I'm always reading the woes of fellow bakers who can't make a good pie crust. In all honesty, I've never understood the frustration. Pie crusts always come out marvelously for me. When I began making them, I always followed a recipe, usually from Barefoot Contessa or Joy of Cooking. Eventually, I did it so much I didn't need a recipe. I do it from memory, a conglomeration of every recipe I've ever read. As such, my crusts are slightly different every time. Though always good, I've finally stumbled on what I deep to be the winner. In an attempt to make all of you love the art of the pie crust as much as I do, I'm going to share my recipe here. This is how I do it, from start to finish:

  • Before you get any of your other ingredients together, get out your butter and shortening (I use Crisco). Cut four T of butter and four T of shortening into squares and put in a bowl. Put this in the freezer along with some water while you prepare the rest of the crust. It is important for the butter and water to be very cold.
  • Measure out a little over one cup of all-purpose flour into a bowl. I recently received these measuring cups. Although they're adorable, The cup measure is actually closer to 1 1/4 cup. That's the one I used for my crust and it was perfect. Sprinkle in a dash of salt and 1/4 c of sugar.
  • Now get the butter/shortening out of the freezer. Using your fingers (I always do this by hand), incorporate the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles rolled oats or little peas.
  • Get your cold water and pour in about 2-4 T (sorry, I never measure). Incorporate (with your hands) until a soft dough is formed. Wrap in wax paper and put in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  • Roll out between two pieces of wax paper
  • Put fruit on top. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon if desired. Roll up the crust around the fruit. It won't cover all of it.
  • Bake at 400 for around 30 minutes.
It is certainly not necessary to arrange the fruit as I have here. But I'm a tart lover at heart and can't resist making such beautiful displays.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Saturday was the perfect day to go for a sail. I feel lucky that living in Pennsylvania I was able to do this, but there's a great state park nearby with a glorious lake for sailing. I hadn't sailed since I was about 13 and did a sailing camp with my friend who'd moved to Florida. I didn't really remember any of the necessary skills, which was perfectly alright, as it wasn't my boat and I wasn't in charge. Just along for the ride. In my opinion, that's the best way to sail. I don't feel the need to learn how to do it for myself. I was content just lay at the front of the boat and look up at the beautiful sails on our boat. We were definitely the best dressed boat out there that day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Make Drinking More Fun

No, in this case I'm not talking about alcohol. If I were, this post would be quite different. Usually alcohol is what we use to make other things more fun. To make alcohol per se more fun, all you really need is a person or two to flirt with. But what about the every day? What about orange juice (and we're not talking mimosas)? I'm usually not much of an orange juice drinker, but now that I have this fun juicer, I feel like drinking it everyday. This clever two part juicer is pretty and practical. Just juice the orange halves on top and the juice falls through tiny holes, which block seeds and allow pure Florida sunshine to fall into the bottom (which also has an easy-pour spout).

Those of you who know me know that I am a big tea drinker. I usually go through a pot a day. Sometimes more. Tea is already fun. There are loads of options and it comes with great accessories--tea pots and cups. But I just got one accessory that goes beyond these staples. And it makes tea even more fun. A lovely tea cup caddy is the perfect way to store and display delicate tea cups.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

An Alliterative Age

Yesterday I turned 22. This was the year I thought birthdays wouldn't be as important anymore. I've hit all the big ones--16, 18, 21. All that's left for me are the decades. 30. 40. 50....80? I was wrong. Birthdays for me just get better and better each year. This year was no exception. To start, I must say I've had some pretty good birthdays. As a girl, I started getting excited for my July birthday sometime in February, because that's when my sister's was. I had fun, elaborate, but not excessive birthday parties, which always included a treasure hunt and a sleepover. One year I even had a Hawaiian luau, complete with shrimp, pineapple, grass skirts, and the hula. When I turned 13 I had a surprise party. When I turned 18 I was in Florida visiting my friend Catherine. We ushered in my birthday by having a picnic breakfast on the beach to watch the sunrise. To say I've had some great birthdays would be an understatement. This year, I thought it would end. Not in a sad, wistful way, but in a "life goes on" way. I can't be a kid forever. It has to end sometime. But what yesterday really told me is that it doesn't. I can be a kid forever. I will be.

My birthday began when I woke up around 9. Dad was at work, Mom was out, and my siblings were asleep. I read my Bible and did some journaling. I then decided to make some blueberry/black raspberry muffins for breakfast. Right as I was putting them, Mom walked in the door. "Hey birthday girl, how about some red raspberries and whipped cream?" Um, yes. We had a glorious tea party with the muffins, raspberries and whipped cream. I couldn't stop smiling.

Little raspberry soldiers.

That wasn't the end of my day. At the farmer's market I got fresh peas for my lunch, and basil so spicy and fragrant, I smelled it before I saw it.

The rest of my day was spent in the sunshine, and then off to Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle for Irish whiskey, beer, music and dinner. After dinner, my family presented me with an array of glorious gifts. I now have enough anthropologie to start my own kitchenware store. Or at least my own kitchen.

Friday, July 11, 2008


I'm a color person. I love bright colors. I love to see them, I love to wear them. For example, I love this cheery hibiscus:

Although I often gravitate toward colors of this caliber, like every rule there are exceptions. Some days a soft lavender or faded gold are just what I'm looking for. I like black. And I even like gray. Love it, actually. In the winter, it's one of the colors I'm most drawn to.

But one color I've never been much for is brown. Brown has always seemed the most bland and boring color. Even its name seems unfortunate. Cream is also a boring color, but at least it sounds lovely.

Imagine my surprise when this caught my eye:

I was sweeping the floor yesterday and had to stop when I saw this, the biggest moth I have ever seen with my own eyes. The floor is brown and the moth is brown, but it still seemed rather exciting. This moth was half the size of my palm. And it just sat there. I was right next to it and it didn't fly away. I thought maybe it was dead, but when I touched it, this happened:

I know those large dots are nature's way of protecting innocent moths. They're meant to look like eyes and scare away predators. But they charmed me. I couldn't help but stare. How miraculous that something so beautiful could be hidden underneath all that brown. It strikes me now that the flower and the moth have something in common--both are accented by the same saffron-y, golden-y yellow. Which shows that when a color has a good supporting actor, it can always be a star. Even brown.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

I eat my peas with...

Ravioli. It's been awhile since I made fresh pasta, so I decided to last night. I'm on a search for the best dough recipe. Usually, regular flour doesn't give me quite the results I'd like, so I tried using semolina flour, and was met with success. Next time, however, I think I'd like to try a combination of the two. For those interested, the exact recipe was a cup of semolina flour, one egg, 1-2tsp of olive oil and 1-2tsp of water. I kneaded the dough for a couple minutes then let it sit while I prepared the filling. I know some people add eggs to their ricotta, but I kept it simple with just a bit of salt, a good sprinkling of fresh ground pepper, and a generous chiffonade of basil leaves. The basil was the perfect ingredient to push the ravioli into the realm of all things wonderful. I used a roller to roll out sheets of pasta, put dollops of filling on half and folded the other half over. I cut the squares out with a knife and used the tines of a fork to make sure they were sealed. I kept the ravioli in the freezer while waiting for the water to boil, and dropped them in the salted boiling water for about three minutes. Success.

The peas were fresh from the Sewickley Farmer's Market, and were simply delicious sauteed in butter and sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A lovely summer dinner.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Last weekend was my Grandma Marie's 80th birthday. We had a huge surprise party for her with extended family from out of town, and of course, lots and lots of food. Though I had my hand in on the party, as did all seven of grandma's children, it was mostly a success because of the superb planning skills of my mother, the middle child. We had a white tent in our yard, flowers and old pictures everywhere, and my mom walked around serving her now-famous breadsticks and polenta to everyone.

That's my grandma up there. All took was one person to say, "Marie, get up and dance," for her to stand up, kick off her shoes, and start to move. I hope I still love life as much in sixty years.