Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Easy as Pie

Birthday time is here once again. In the span of six weeks, we'll celebrate four birthdays. You can imagine that birthday cake gets rather tiresome, if not downright stale, so instead, we sometimes eat birthday pie. YUMMY!!! I make all my desserts from scratch, because I enjoy it, and because I make better pie than any restaurant. No, I'm not bragging; I'm just not into false modesty. You know how you go to a restaurant and order pie and then leave some of the crust behind? Not this crust, baby. It's everything a pie crust should be: flakey and buttery and tender. So what's the secret?


That's right, don't let that butter sit out and soften and melt into the rest of the pastry. Tiny blobs of butter within the crust are what create the flakey texture. So don't over mix! The following recipe makes two pie crusts, one for now, and one for the freezer.

Two Flakey Pie Crusts:  
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks of unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 Ice water

1. Put the flour and salt in your food processor. Pulse for a few seconds. Add the butter, processing for no more than 10 seconds. The mixture will be coarse, because the butter should not be fully incorporated. If you don't have a food processor, you can use a pastry blender.

2. Add the ice water, drop by drop through the feed tube with the machine running until the dough holds together; do not process for more than 30 seconds. (It's okay if you still see small blobs of butter--that's the idea!)  

3. Divide the dough into two pieces for two crusts. You can wrap one crust and place it in the freezer for another day. The other crust should be placed in the fridge for 30 minutes before rolling it. Butter the pie pan before placing the rolled out pie crust in it. This ensures that the pie will ease out of the pan when you cut it, and it imparts a delicious, buttery taste.

I'm making lemon curd pie, so I need a completely baked pie shell. Here's how:  First, I roll out the dough and place it in the buttered dish.  

Next, I flute the edges:

Then, I poke holes in the crust with a fork to prevent the crust from rising while it bakes:

Finally, I fill the crust with weights (you can buy them at a cooking store) or pinto beans in foil to further prevent that sneaky crust from rising:

Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Remove the foil and weights until the crust turns golden, probably another 5-7 minutes.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Ken Slavin: Jazz Crooner Extraordinaire

and a fabulous friend as well. Ken and I went to college together, got in trouble together, and in spite of it all, we're still great friends. Anyway, here's just one of Ken's YouTube videos. This particular one promotes his new CD, I'll Take Romance. If you like it, you can view others at YouTube.

I'LL TAKE ROMANCE is available at and Apple iTunes, among many other online sites.

Kick back, take a break from all the stress, and enjoy this gorgeous performance:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Contest Time!!! BOY OH BOY OH BOY!!!

Seems like only yesterday we were packing boxes, preparing to move cross-country when a dear friend came to our door with this exquisite parting gift, made especially with us in mind.

As soon as the door was closed behind our visitor, I shouted, "WHAT in God's holy name is it?" My girls didn't know and were afraid to touch it, lest they be rendered unclean.

Although the dining room hutch and other precious items were destroyed in the move, you'll be happy to know creature made the journey unscathed. (Bless United Moving Company!) The girls bring creature out on those rare occasions when I'm in a really foul mood and the things that usually make me laugh, like Mooning Mommy, just don't work. This does the trick every single time, and I wind up with tears streaming down my cheeks.

Your mission, should you decide to accept, is: NAME THIS THING!!!

The person with the best answer wins the respect and admiration of the vast number of readers of this blog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I've Been Tagged

I've been tagged by Deniz. Sounds like fun, so I'll play. But I'm going to be like Suze, in that if you like this game, feel free to pick up and put it on your blog.
Da rules:
a. Link to the person who tagged you.
b. Post the rules on your blog.
c. Write six random things about yourself.
d. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
e. Let each person know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
f. Let your tagger know when your entry is up.

1. My first language was Spanish, not English. Unfortunately I've really lost fluency over the years, but still understand it and can bumble my way through a conversation.

2. I played Puck in a Midsummer Night's Dream when I was seven years old. Memorized the whole stinkin' thing. Still remains one of my favorite Shakespearean plays.

3. Used to eat dog biscuits when I was a kid, unbeknownst to any adults. Hey, if they're good enough for my friends, they're good enough for me. Mom found out when I tried to share some with her friend's children, who were highly insulted.

4. Sometimes I am clairvoyant, but only about useless things. So I don't get lottery numbers, or help the police out with crimes, or know the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa's body. One of my kids has inherited this as well. Example: I took the then four year-old to the library. He INSISTED on the drive over that the library was closed. I insisted right back it wasn't. We got there and the library was indeed closed because the roof had caved in only hours before. CREEPY!!!

5. I met and interviewed the man who discovered the PLANET Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh. Still is a planet as far as I am concerned. He was quite old by the time I met him, and very stooped over. I was extremely nervous (was a kid in college) and he was kind, as he didn't strangle me for asking the same questions he'd been asked repeatedly.

I've tagged: the episcotarian unipaganist
Novel Woman

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Part II: What's Your Writual?

Here's Part II of the post I started last week.  I've included the photo above of the wretched sewing table mentioned in last week's post just because Novel Woman asked me to do so.  You will remember that I do have a gorgeous quarter-sawn oak desk and chair, but prefer to write in the space above.  I open the blinds in the window and have a view of the mountains.  

Good gracious, I can't listen to anything if I am writing.  Occasionally I'll pop in one of those awaken-your-creativity CDs that plays mindless tones.  I think it actually helps.   

Aye.  I have my two most understanding friends with me all the time I'm working.  Sparky is a brilliant novelist in her own right, as well as an actress.  Her current WIP is based on a true story.  I'm sure you'll remember the commune disaster of the 1960s in which the residents, ratty-vampire-undead creatures, terrorized northern New Mexico.  In her novel, Spark, as she is known to her close friends, explores the theme of freedom of religion vs. fencing sheep.  With infinite skill, she centers all this around a very moving love story.   
Mojo is also with me.  He may not be the brightest bulb, but he's the most loving fellow you'll ever meet.  

When the writing is going badly I'll read aloud something to him, and no matter how much it sucks, he always wags his tail in approval.  Sometimes you just need someone to lie like hell and tell you you're great.  

Anytime, anywhere from dawn until 10 p.m.  

The inside of my eyelids, with the covers pulled over my head.  Nothing like a good night's sleep to inspire me.  

Teenagers talking in my face about whatever, but wouldn't trade their ramblings for anything.  I'd like to make a video of my very own valley girl helping me shop for new tennies, but she says no.  "OMGosh NO!  MOTHER!!!  Those shoes are soooooooo gray.  You've got to be careful with gray, Mother. Before you know it, you'll be swallowed by it!"  

ALSO:   Smells of food cooked or burning in the kitchen below my loft.  I cook by my nose, which means I know when something's done by the smell. Or when Sparky rings a sleigh bell on the bottom hinge of the front door, I bolt, because she's telling me she has a potty emergency. Mojo just craps on the carpeting, so no worries there.  Or phone calls from mother; but that's a whole nuther post.   

Monday, April 21, 2008

Turning 17

Do you remember turning 17? I don't. It's pretty much a blur for me, sort of like the photo above, where my daughter has made it to one of the final rounds of Musical Chairs at her birthday party last Friday night.

To commemorate the event, she ordered a very special frock from the design studio of yours truly. She needed it by 5 p.m. I finished it at 4:59 p.m; and no, I'm not kidding. Tensions were high, but it turned out beautifully.

The pattern was a Vintage Vogue pattern from 1952. Daughter chose dupioni silk, woven in two shades, one a hot pink, the other a green. Strangely enough, the resulting color is periwinkle, but changes according to the light. First, I made tiny button loops, the sort found on bridal attire:

Finally, I got the whole thing together.

So was she happy with the dress? You can see for yourself.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I'm Starting to Lose It--AGAIN

See the beautiful little girl in the photo? Don't you think she's far too young to be setting out on her own into the cruel world next year? WHO just asked how old that photo is? It doesn't matter-- just look at that innocent face; she's really as sweet as she looks. She will be the second of my chicks to be launched.
I took this little girl yesterday for a tour of Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. I was sold from the opening lecture, where they had a string trio serenading us as we ate continental breakfast and chugged coffee. Yes--I had to chug many cuppas after getting up at o'dark thirty to make the drive--anything for my darling.

Many thing have changed since I went to university a couple of years ago. WHO just snickered? YOU again, you rude person? Okay, so what if it has been more than a couple of years?

These huge universities have every resource imaginable for students these days, including writing centers that can help with all those papers, tutoring centers, etc. And then there's the travel abroad. I can see myself now in a garret in Florence or Venice or Paris studying away with only a candle illuminating my way.
Okay, I've gotten off track here. Anyway, the University looked fantastic. Students there do amazing things like triple major in violin performance, bio medical chemistry, and river dancing. Ft. Collins always makes those lists of the best places to live. The infrastructure is all quite new and appealing. What's not to love?

And what of the little girl? The petit poot scrunched up her little freckled nose and shoulders and said: "Eh." So I sent her to time out, and decided I am going away to university myself. MEOW!!!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Part I: What's Your Writual?

Here's a great story today on the BBC, describing the writing rituals (writuals) of some famous Irish authors.

I thought I'd take a go at the questions myself.

Where are you?
Although I have a gorgeous library desk made of quarter-sawn oak that I bought using some money from my first book, I often sneak back into my bedroom to write on a ratty old sewing table that the former owners of our first home left behind. I suppose it was too disreputable to accompany them in their move upwards. I love the skinny drawer in the table, just big enough to hold a thimble-full of secrets. I wrote most of my book on that table, and it sits in front of a tiny window that has a great view of the mountains. I like to place fresh flowers I buy at the summer farmer's market in that sill.

What are you writing with?
Like most everyone else, I write on a laptop. I can take me Darlin' Gwenevere wherever I please, including the coffee shop, holiday, etc. But what I love best is to write in longhand. I feel most connected to my wicked subconscious when my hand is racing across the page and I see my own script. I'm fussy about the whole process. I love fountain pens, and picking out ink. And the pad of paper I use, while inexpensive and readily available at the office supply, must be thick enough not to bleed. Can't stand to use any fancy journals, as I find myself stilted by the prospect of writing something good enough to slip between the leather covers.  

What's the oddest object in front of you?
I'll change the question to say "What is the most 'unusual' object in front of you?" Directly on the wall above my desk I have pieces of wood with some Santos (saints) painted on them. They're primitive and loving and make me feel like I'm back in New Mexico where I bought them.  

I'll continue this post next time.  How about you?  What are some of your writuals?  

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Just What Do They Do While We're Away?

Came home unexpectedly and found Sparky all dolled up. I asked her what was up, but all I got was the it's-none-of-your-business-look.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Is it Okay to Read Crap?

We all know if we want to be great writers, we must be voracious readers as well.  I think that's pretty obvious.  Many assume that a corollary of this sage advice is that we should only read the good stuff:  classics, the well-written, the prize winners.  In fact, we must never pollute our minds with the junk food of the book world, such as beach reads, genre fiction, or anything poorly written, lest we imitate.  

I violently disagree.  

And I found out yesterday that I am in good company.  As yet another means of learning more about the craft of writing, and for sheer pleasure, I listen/watch lectures from The Teaching Company. (As an aside, I've never bought anything from this company that wasn't outstanding.) Right now I am watching Dr. Timothy Spurgin discuss the English Novel. Jane Austen was the subject of the latest lecture.  She was one of the first novelists to grow up reading novels,since the first novel, Pamela, published 1740, appeared only a few years prior to Austen's birth in 1775.  Austen read voraciously, as we would expect a great writer to do, but she also read widely, including what we would consider to be junk.  Austen's close-knit family also read aloud in the evenings, which would have given Austen the opportunity to see and hear what worked and what didn't.  This reading aloud surely helped Austen develop her ability to create first-rate dialog.  

I know I've learned just as much about good writing from reading the low-life stuff as I have from reading the classics, because when I read something that just doesn't work for me, I ask myself WHY in quite specific terms, and vow not to imitate.  Besides, sometimes you just have to have a hot fudge sundae, because it's fun.  

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Road Less Traveled

We awakened this morning to Spring snow--the wet, heavy stuff that makes everything beautiful for a couple of hours, then melts away.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Gift From a Fairy

Only a fairy could have left something this magical and beautiful on my car this morning. I like the fact that only some of the frost is in focus. The blurry blobs in the background are the mountains.