Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wineberry pie

aving the recipe is only half the battle. It took several pies for me to get the pie crust to behave in such a way that I could roll it out, instead of trying to piece something together out of the fragments that never became a whole. Your only hope in this matter is to start with a good recipe and figure it out for yourself. The very best book ever is "The Pie and Pastry Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I've gotten so many recipes out of this book, if you know me, you've probably had one. In my mind, the best kind of cookbook isn't just recipes but philosophy and information, so that you actually have some clue why things need to be just so. Absolutely essential for the baker. Go get it. shoo.

This past weekend I had the good fortune to spend a night atop a mountain in the Shenandoah region, and came back (thanks to Wortklauberlein) with a pound of fresh berries from the bazillions of vines lining the roads. The local population informed us that they are wineberries, a particularly sweet variety of raspberry. There's nothing so satisfying as baking or cooking with food you've picked yourself. er, or that someone has thoughtfully picked for you.
pie, berries, fresh, handpicked, appalachians, shenandoah, wineberries, blackberries

"Deluxe flaky pie crust" 21 oz
    14 tbl unsalted butter, cold.
    2.25 cups flour (pref. pastry)
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp baking powder
    7.5 tbl ice water
    1 tbl cider vinegar
0.5 cup sugar (I only had brown)
2.5 tbl cornstarch
pinch salt
1 lb berries, washed and picked over for passengers.

  1. Pick a pound of wineberries and a few blackberries from Flattop Mountain. Or your backyard. Or somebody else's backyard. I don't think you can buy wineberries in the store, but this recipe will likely work with whatever berries you have handy.
  2. Make pie crust:
    • cut butter into small cubes, freeze for 30 min +
    • put flour, salt, baking powder in gallon size ziplock bag, shake to mix thoroughly.
    • add frozen butter, expel air and use rolling pin to (patiently) roll butter into flat flakes. Shake bag to redistribute when mix gets bunched up at one end. Freeze for 10 min.
    • sprinkle water and vinegar into bag, toss to mix.
    • keeping the bag open, knead from the outside of the bag until dough forms a single lump. To do this, you'll need to use the bag to fold the dough onto itself (don't touch it directly). About halfway through you'll get frustrated because it's not holding together yet. Put it in the fridge for a few minutes and come back to it. Once it's a lump, divide into two pieces, one for the top and one for the bottom crust. 
    • Refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight. 
  3. Roll out bottom crust on lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness. Lay in pie pan, cover and refrigerate at least 30 min, no more than 3 hours.
  4. Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt, whisk together. Toss berries gently in this mixture and let sit for 15 minutes. 
  5. Toss gently again and pour into bottom crust.
  6. Roll out top crust to 1/8 inch. I used a lattice pattern, but you could do a full top crust and cut a hole in the middle for steam to escape. Lay top crust over berries, use water to glue and fold edges under (or over) and crimp using a fork or your fingers.
  7. Refrigerate pie, covered loosely in plastic wrap, for about an hour.
  8. Preheat oven to 425 at least 20 minutes before baking. Use a baking stone if you have one and put it on the lower rack. Bake pie for 30 minutes or until juices are bubbling and crust is browned. Put a baking sheet or foil underneath the pie plate to catch drips.
  9. Let cool for at least 2 hours before serving, probably more like 4 if you have the patience.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mini reviews: Etiquette and conversation, or, "An echo is sufficient"

any of the books I looked through in search of advice on how to be a good conversationalist made the same points: remember that you are conversing with someone, not interrogating or soliloquizing.  What I'm looking for is how to ask good questions, what topics to bring up and just what to say in general. Many sources point out the usual topics: weather, travel, news, even the forbidden politics and religion, and strongly recommend against talking about yourself. The easiest way to remember this is to avoid using "I" and "Me" as much as possible. It can be tricky at first and often leads to getting even more tongue tied, but making conversation or writing without the dreaded personal pronouns is an entertaining challenge.

Emily Post's EtiquetteEtiquette focuses on how to be polite and interact appropriately in any situation. The seminal work on traditional etiquette is perhaps my favourite reference out of all that I read through because it takes a more conservative view of manners and proper conduct. Sadly, the young men whom I ran some of Post's points past were more of the opinion that the "liberated woman" doesn't need the door held, her dinner paid for, or any sort of special consideration. She is equal, therefore she is one of of the guys! Mais non, the liberated woman just doesn't want to do all the damn dishes herself. Again.

Grace Under Pressure- This is the book of tactics for those situations you'd never admit to being in. Pulling your reputation back together after a mishap at the company party, getting by at an ex's wedding, and generally how to be gracious and sensitive no matter what. On conversation: a good section on how to start conversations, balancing questions and responses, listening (which makes all the difference when it comes time to reply), getting out of bad small talk, insults, and introducing yourself to strangers. Comes with entertaining anecdotes and scandal (clearly the selling point: this would never be me!).

21st Century Etiquette- Frankly, don't bother with this one. Outdated references to electronic mail and chatrooms, "teens" as children, slightly condescending "quizzes" at the ends of chapters and generally a bit simplistic.  And there wasn't much on conversation.

What do you say when...- More quizzes. I suppose this is a style, as if it were a workbook, but I don't love it. Also a more traditional viewpoint with some good thoughts, and short, so a quick read. There's a good section on romantic meetings that also applies to platonic interactions and meeting new people. Worth it because the book is dedicated to conversation.

books, etiquette, conversation, manners, review, library

The Art of Mingling- Finally, we get past some of the more clich├ęd approaches (Haven't I seen you somewhere before?) to ideas on how to continue the conversation. Some of the ideas will sound pretty awkward ("This party is a virtual utopia" comes from the a-z list of words to build from when at a loss), but there are plenty such as watching from afar with another wall flower, asking a group a random question to poll responses and start a debate and so on. Kind of dorky to be seen with, but essentially quite useful.

Conversation: A History of a Declining Art- Certainly this is the most expansive and in-depth of all those I checked out... which unfortunately means I did not have time to read it in its entirety. However, I can say that having skimmed a bit, it looks to be perhaps more useful than any of the aforementioned because not only does it include methods from historical conversationalists (hello, Socrates?), but it's actually worth talking about the subject matter when you're done. Will take this one out later to read in full.

Then we come to The Art of Conversation and The Art of Civilized Conversation. Different authors and publishers, but you can just see the expression on the face of the former when she discovered the latter. These are both dense, full of lists, do's and dont's and bullets. The first, however, has the following passage:
"In the 1960s... computer pioneer Joseph Weizenbaum created Doctor, a software program that adapted a psychotherapy technique for bouncing back patients' statements as questions:
User: I have been rather depressed lately.
Computer: Are you depressed often?
User: Yes, almost all the time.
Computer: Why do you say yes almost all the time?
User: Right now I feel like I could cry.
Computer: Is it because right now you feel like you could cry that you came to me?
One morning he was appalled to discover his transfixed secretary at a computer, unspooling her sorrows into Doctor's clunky, copycat code. ...So the thought that an echo is sufficient to convince us we're being listened to, that the bogus Doctor could seduce the secretary, carries the degrading suggestion that much of human complexity—those worries and wonders we store up and long to share—may also be illusory, empty, and that we are mere bundles of reactions, mysterious and meaningful only to us."

Thanks to the Arlington VA public library for having all these books and putting them on hold for me.