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8 posts from January 2011

26 January 2011

101 Things – Art of the Pie

 

Since living here I’ve learned how fanatical Americans are about their pies. 

In Britain a pie is a homely thing, most often made with apples, with a soft filling and a thin, light, crumbly crust. 

As in so many other things, an American pie is an altogether less delicate and more robust affair. The piecrust is generally thicker, crunchier, and baked to a deeper golden hue with a chunkier filling. Aside from apples, a whole cornucopia of different fruits is used, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest, with its fabulous stone fruits and soft fruits.  I remember watching Twin Peaks (which, incidentally, was set in the mountains close to Seattle) back in the day and being bemused that such a thing as cherry pie even existed.  It seemed so much more exotic and truly American than apple pie, which to me was just my British father’s favourite dessert and had no American connotations at all.

 

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After finding out that I had a hitherto undiscovered talent for pie-making, I was determined to broaden my horizons further and take a pie-making class so as to learn how to make a classic American pie. Fortunately Seattle is home to one of America’s top pie gurus, Kate McDermott of Art of the Pie, so I added her class to my 101 Things List and two Saturdays ago, off I went.

The classes are held in the kitchen of her West Seattle home, where Kate first demonstrates her techniques and then you get to make your own pie to take home.

Kate first made her pastry. Her recipe is here and in all honesty, it’s not that different from the recipe I used for my Bramley Apple Pie.

Kate too is a fan of using pure leaf lard and European butter.  She gets her lard sent mail order from Pennsylvania - when I told her that you could get 100% pure lard in the chiller cabinet in any British supermarket, she nearly wept.  She specifies using King Arthur Flour, which she keeps in the freezer. Apparently this has a higher protein content than most flours, similar to Italian doppio-zero flour in Europe.

Kate’s not a great believer in strict measuring.  She doesn’t use scales, but instead pretty thrifted teacups and roughly-measured tablespoons. For her it’s all about the texture.

 

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The big revelation for me was her method of rubbing in.  I’ve been making pastry on and off since I was tiny and used to help my mother and have always assiduously rubbed all the fat in until the mixture resembled tiny breadcrumbs. Instead Kate prefers to rub the fat in a little less so that you have mixture of crumb sizes – some like sand or cornmeal, others like chopped nuts, some the size of peas.

It seemed strange to see the finished pastry streaked with fat, but it’s the fat which gives her crust its mouthwatering flakiness and crispness.

While Kate’s pastry was resting in the fridge, we set to making our pie fillings. In January Kate uses high quality frozen fruits instead of fresh. I decided to unleash my inner Kyle Maclachlan and make a traditional American cherry pie.

To make Kate’s cherry filling you just add plenty of sugar and the merest hint of nutmeg and lemon juice to frozen pie cherries and then stir in a third of a cup of flour and a little quick cooking tapioca to absorb the juices. I am thinking of experimenting with adding ground almonds instead, but that will be for my next pie.

I also generally have a lot of trouble rolling out my pastry. Kate showed us how to give it a couple of hard thwacks with her sturdy ‘French pin’ to show it who was boss

 

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and then roll it out using a pendulum-type motion.  I loved using her old-fashioned rolling pin, which is hand crafted from solid maple by Vic Firth Gourmet in Maine. Apparently he used to be timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra before moving first into drumstick manufacture and then into rolling pins. Stories like this please me greatly and I have since bought one of my own. They’re available on Amazon.

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Kate then filled her pie – a blackberry one – dotted the top butter and then showed us how to craft a lattice top

 

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And here is my cherry pie.  I’m assuming you can imagine how proud I was of this.  Also I really want the little thrifted pot Kate uses for her eggwhite and water wash.

 

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Then all our pies went into the oven and we spent the rest of the afternoon drinking champagne and eating Kate’s utterly delicious rhubarb pie, talking about pie, and reading about pie.

 

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I think this almost qualifies me to be an honorary American.

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More photos here.

Downton Abbey – On Location at Highclere Castle

 

Late last autumn the UK part of my Twitter feed started buzzing with chatter about Downton Abbey, a new ITV period drama, set in the halcyon years of the Edwardian era just before the outbreak of the First World War.

 

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We managed to er, acquire it just after Christmas and loved it, though it hit every single ‘missing England like crazy’ button I possess.

It’s a typically English class-ridden frothy costume drama, about the fictional aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, with a fine, witty script by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park); Maggie Smith, being Maggie Smith at her most imperious; a stellar cast of well-known British actors and ridiculously exquisite costumes.  It’s currently being shown in the US, and the US part of my Twitter feed is now similarly alive with love for it.

The star of the show though, is Downton Abbey itself, or more properly the splendidly overwrought Highclere Castle in Berkshire, the seat of the Earls of Carnarvon, which was rebuilt in 1842 in High Elizabethan style, by Sir Charles Barry after he’d finished building the Houses of Parliament.  The gorgeous park is by Capability Brown.

Here are some of the spectacular locations – the costume designers and camera folk must have thought they’d died and gone to heaven.  Literally every frame is a visual feast.  The last episode airs on Sunday in the US, but I think it’s available to download from iTunes and from PBS.org.  A new series is coming this autumn.

 

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More stunning photos of the locations are here

24 January 2011

Introducing Flora and Harriet

 

The Minx’s first word, when she was around ten months old, was ‘ca’ and ever since she’s been asking us for either a cat or a dog or (though not as frequently) a sibling.

Since we decided that a sibling was definitely NOT going to be provided, she was fobbed off with vague promises of a pet ‘when you’re old enough’, which turned into promises of a ‘cat when you’re six’.

 

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The Minx turned six in the middle of this month, and we soon realised that she would not let us postpone the fateful day a moment any longer and we signed up to get emails from cat adoption agencies.

Last Thursday we unexpectedly heard of a kitten adoption event at a local shelter and after meeting them on Friday night brought home two small grey kittens on Saturday. So my weekend was spent somewhat differently than I had anticipated and our house has already turned into Grey Gardens.

Here they are – Flora has three white socks and a white bib and Harriet is completely grey.  I am realising that cat photography makes kid photography seem like a walk in the park.

And as you can see someone is absolutely besotted.

21 January 2011

Adventures in Knitting – The Decadent Cowl

 

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So after the tiny needles and fiddly techniques of Carmen Banana, I was ready to knit something quick, easy and luxurious, low-stress and for ME.

I needed a cowl and found a pattern, which was apparently inspired by a wool and silk Burberry cowl which cost $750.

Because I didn’t have any suitable chunky weight yarn I decided to use two skeins of Sundara Yarn’s Aran Silky Merino held double, which is why this knit ended up being rather decadent (though since it cost nothing like $750 I consider it to be a bargain).

 

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I highly recommend this pattern, even if you’re pretty close to being a beginner. It introduces a few intermediate techniques such as a provisional cast on, grafting (Kitchener stitch) and simple cables, but there are plenty of videos online you can watch to help with these and otherwise it’s very quick and easy with spectacular results.

The yarn I used makes a soft, dense and snuggly fabric with a slight sheen from the heavy silk content, which also helps it drape beautifully.

All in all it was a wonderful, stress-free, indulgent knit, except for the grafting bit at the end.  This is how  much yarn I had left when I finished, and any knitters out there will appreciate just how close to a heart attack I came.

 

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Here’s a self portrait of me wearing it. The composition is somewhat odd as I’m holding the camera in my outstretched arm while looking at myself in the mirror. However it’s still better than most pictures of me the Husband takes.

 

 

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As usual there are more details on Ravelry. Come and be my friend!

20 January 2011

Life Calendars - BrigadaCreativa

 

I’m trying to work out whether these ingenious poster-sized Life Calendars from BrigadaCreativa are a fabulous or downright scary idea.

 

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You can start on any day of the year, and every day you fill in the appropriate emoticons until you end up with detailed pictorial record of your year, before your eyes.  In black and yellow.

 

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Even more terrifying is the The Love Calendar, where you’re supposed to fill in portions of the hearts according how much conversation, caresses, time together and sex you've had with your partner that day.

 

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I can see this becoming exhibit one in divorce cases the world over.

 

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If you’re brave enough to get one of these, (and I’m actually tempted to get the emoticon one, as it would certainly be extremely revealing), they’re available from Brigada Creativa’s Etsy shop. Go on, I dare you!

   

17 January 2011

101 Things - Food Photography with Clare Barboza

 

Over the last week or two, I’ve been dealing with a severe case of ‘I’ve got so much to do in every direction that I must go and hide and gibber quietly to myself in a darkened room’ which I’m finding is not the optimum solution to my ever-lengthening to do list.

So it’s mostly going to be pretty pictures until I emerge from under the layers of work, admin and clutter which are currently overwhelming me.

 

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On Saturday I took some time off from the insanity, to do yet another photography class to keep me going on my 101 Things list. (By the way, I have apparently inspired Lara at Food. Soil. Thread and Helen at CountrysideWeddings to similar madness, so please go and encourage them too).

Clare Barboza, whose Child Photography class I recently took, is also a mega-talented food photographer and works out of the same awesome studio as Lara Ferroni.

The class was extremely useful. We talked about lighting and basic technique; critiqued photos Clare had taken; took shots of beautifully prepared and plated food cooked by Chef Becky Selengut and Marc Schermerhorn; tried plating and styling our own shots, critiqued our shots as a group and then got some tips on post production.

Here are some of the shots I took. My hit ratio of good shots to crap is still frustratingly low (and these had to be significantly worked on in Lightroom) but I feel like I’m starting to grope my way towards a style. The lighting and the studio props make everything so easy though.

I know I always say this (hey, what can I say, Seattle is STUFFED with prodigiously talented photogaphers) but again I can’t recommend this class highly enough if you’re into food photography. I believe Clare has got another couple of classes coming up, check on her blog if you’re interested.

 

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14 January 2011

Lady Marmalade – Blue Chair Fruit

 

A few weeks before Christmas I was lucky enough to get a place at a marmalade-making class hosted by Seattle Bon Vivant, and taught by Rachael Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit, who is also the author of the Blue Chair Jam cookbook.

Actually I really wanted to get to the jam-making class, as I’ve not historically been a great fan of marmalade, but that coincided with my trip to Pender Island, so marmalade it had to be.

In fact the class was fascinating and hugely informative, and since the Husband is a huge marmalade fan, my learnings were not entirely in vain.

We tasted various preserves;

 

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learned the best way to prepare and chop the pre-blanched fruit;

 

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watched the fruit bubble through various stages of cooking;

 

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tested for done-ness, and then poured the amber nectar into dozens of tiny jars.

 

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I learned to taste the mixture just before the final boiling and add a little fresh lemon juice for an extra layer of sparkle, and we were shown the best and easiest way to jar the preserves – heating the jars in the oven, rather than sterilising them in boiling water, and using a wide mouth funnel to fill them easily. Why haven’t I had one of these handy tools in my kitchen before?

 

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Here’s Rachael admiring her handiwork, wearing her super cool retro apron.

 

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We were given four jars of differently flavoured and textured marmalades to take home, and my goodness they were a revelation, particularly to me who’s always disliked the thick. chewy, unpleasantly bitter traditional British shop-bought stuff.

Rachael’s marmalades melt in the mouth, and are bursting with zingy citrus flavours which overlay the subtly bitter chewiness of the peel and the rich sweetness of the (amazing quantities) of sugar.

I was so inspired that I bought the Husband (who is the chief jam maker chez nous) a copy of Rachael’s wonderful book and one of the beautiful Mauviel preserving pans she uses for his Christmas present. 

This was not of course in any way, shape or form a present for me. Oh no.

04 January 2011

A Bit of Baking

 

And a Happy New Year to you too!

I might not be posting much this week. I’ve been knocked for six by a huge cold; am working on another blog which I will be launching this week, hopefully tomorrow; am working on a very inspirational online photography workshop led by Darrah Parker; and preparing for the first day of my Advanced Interactive Marketing Course at the University of Washington on Friday.

In the meantime here are a few images from my New Year’s baking – mini cupcakes for a New Year’s Party and some mini mince pies made with my unbelievably good homemade mincemeat (gosh, I’m so proud of that stuff), just because really.  There has been much discussion of cake v pie around the Internet recently but I truly don’t understand why you can’t just have both.

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Where do you stand on cake versus pie? Are cupcakes really passe’? What’s with the American obsession with pie? Anyone fancy a mince pie?