The Importance of Pie Weights

Only 24 days until CHRISTMAS!

And that's all that really matters in my world.

Yes, yes, Thanksgiving was lovely. Daniel and I celebrated our first Thanksgiving as a married couple and in our new house. Daniel roasted a 12 lb. turkey, made garlic mashed potatoes and green bean casserole while I was in charge of the stuffing (which we do not stuff into the bird carcass for various reasons which Daniel will be more than happy to go into should you require further explanation), and the pumpkin pie. Because I married a foodie, the term "convenience food" is near to taboo in our household. I suggested maybe, possibly, perhaps, using a bag of that nifty Pepperidge Farms, already seasoned, ready to go, stuffing mix, and got a look of incredulous horror.

So, we got loaves of bread, no, not Wonder Bread, the locally baked artisan bread, let it dry out, cubed it and then mixed it with sauteed celery, mushrooms and onions, rubbed sage, dried marjoram, poultry seasoning, fresh parsley, and fresh thyme, salt, pepper, and chicken stock. Chicken stock from a box! Sometimes a line simply has to be drawn. Then I spooned it all into our slow cooker (aka: crock pot) and let it go on low for about four hours.

Verdict: Very, very tasty, but slightly drier than I would have personally liked it. And I think the bread could have been cubed a bit smaller. So, next year, smaller cubes and more chicken stock.

Pumpkin pie. Gotta have it, right? Now, when it comes to pie, I do say no to those horrible refrigerated pie crusts that taste like cardboard. Sorry, there's just no substitute for homemade pie crust. And despite being a mild culinary disaster just waiting to happen, I have made my fair share of pie crusts.

One year, Jennifer and I made a shit load of apple pies over the holiday season to sell to people who hate making pies (everyone!) and I was mostly in charge of the crust creation. I've even made pumpkin pie before as well as elderberry and grape (it's an Erie thing) pies. Yet, somehow I have managed to avoid "par-baking" or "blind baking" a pie crust. All recipes I've ever used, just call for dumping the uncooked pie ingredients into the uncooked pie shell and popping the whole thing into the oven. Which, honestly, seems like the way to go.

In an effort to make a pumpkin pie that wasn't printed on the side of a can or involved evaporated milk, I decided to make this pie:

A half-recipe of your favorite pie crust, chilled
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk 3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Roll out dough on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to make 12-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang all around pie plate.

Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.

Remove pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate. Bake 5 to 10 more minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove plate and baking sheet from oven.

Make the filling: While pie shell is baking, whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks and vanilla together in medium bowl. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to sputtering simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to simmer pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Whisk in cream mixture slowly, until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Re-whisk mixture and transfer to warm pre-baked pie shell. Return pie plate with baking sheet to oven and bake pie for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees. Continue baking until edges are set (instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees), 20 to 35 minutes longer.

Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. (The pie finishes cooking with resident heat; to ensure the filling sets, cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.)

As you will have noticed, unlike the famous pie recipe that includes evaporated milk, this pumpkin pie requires a par-baked pie crust. WTF? Okay, fine.

The directions were explicit and I followed them exactly...sort of. I had no idea what pie weights were. You may be wondering how a person can reach the age of 33 without ever having come across pie weights, but there you have it. So, where the recipe directs the pie maker to "line crust with foil and fill with pie weights or pennies", I thought, "pennies. okay, I can do pennies". Having no inkling as to the purpose of pie weights, I dug in the bottom of my purse and found a handful of pennies, dimes and quarters and tossed them in the foil lined pie crust thinking I had nailed it!


As some of you may already know, pie weights are these little ceramic balls which ensure not only even baking of the bottom and sides of the pie crust, but also prevent it from bubbling and from shrinking. Having since done some research, people also have used dried beans or rice or stones in lieu of tiny ceramic balls like these. Also, crucial to the success of pie weights is filling (or nearly filling) the crust with pie weights. A smattering of a few coins is pointless. Needless to say, my crust shrank like nobody's business.

But, I soldiered on and completed the recipe - even the fine mesh sieve step, which is a HUGE pain in the ass but made for a really smooth silky pie filling.

The pumpkin filling entirely engulfed the pie crust, but I baked it according to the recipe anyway and it actually came out tasting really really good. The crust, even though it shrunk, was flaky and buttery and the pumpkin pie filling was WAY better than the evaporated milk version.

VERDICT: Delicious pumpkin pie recipe, but DO NOT underestimate the importance of pie weights.

Note to Self: Ask Santa for pie weights.


He Ain't No Glenn Beck!

So, you all know my mother is a Libertarian, right? Remember this post? Well, it should come as no surprise that her husband is a Libertarian too…and definitely more hard core. While some Libertarian-based theories and ideas are interesting, perhaps even valid, there’s not been much wide-spread public support for Libertarian political candidates. They’re like the Socialist candidates – too extreme, too “out there”, too unfamiliar. Some Libertarians use a Republican cloak in an attempt to appeal to more of the mainstream crowd, but it doesn’t usually work. Ron Paul, anyone?

My stepfather, recently, did the same. Except that he was elected. To public office. County Council. I know, right?

My mom didn’t make a big deal about it. In her usual fashion, Bethany and I received an email saying something like, “well, Bill won, despite the media backlash”. Excuse me? “Media backlash”? What media backlash? She hadn’t said anything really about his campaign or the political atmosphere in Erie. I require more detailed information than simply “media backlash”, thank you very much.

So I called her and she said that he had been being harassed via phone and in-person on a daily basis by various local reporters and journalists. But, she said he was also receiving lots of calls from people as far away as California offering their support, encouragement and admiration. I guess when you hold extreme beliefs, you get extreme responses in return.

The next day, I received the Inside Erie online newsletter with the headline, “The Meaning of Beeman”. Whoa. Hey, that’s my mom’s husband! Ebert Beeman – known to friends and family as Bill. I would give you the link to the editorial written by Pat Howard, but it appears to be the only broken link on the Inside Erie website. Hmm. So here it is, if you want to read it:

"As I followed this region’s election night results on our live blog on GoErie.com, a member of the blog’s audience weighed in with an intriguing question. Did voters in southern Erie County choose Ebert G. Beeman for County Council in part to thumb their noses at interference by “elites” north of Interstate 90?

The question involves a reversal of the situation in upstate New York. Sort of.
In Beeman’s case, the local GOP powers that be, led by the county Republican Party, decided Beeman was too conservative – or simply too, well, out there – and urged voters to write in incumbent Republican Councilman David Mitchell, who had planned to retire. This newspaper’s Editorial Board also endorsed the Mitchell write-in campaign.

Mitchell siphoned off quite a few votes. But not enough to stop Beeman.
The Republican Party apparatus turned on Beeman as a result of some curious political views and practices – ranging from running afoul of the Internal Revenue Service to the tune of $2 million, to not having a valid driver’s license because of a dispute with the state, to advocating the sale of the Erie County Public Library.

In fact, county Republican Chairman Brad Moore claimed Beeman told party officials that he’s really a Libertarian and only ran as a Republican to appear more mainstream.

As Erie Times-News reporter Lisa Thompson detailed after the election, Beeman’s colorful views and paper trail might raise some issues as he prepares to settle into public office. And even when he does, he’ll hold just one of seven votes on council.
But the blog visitor’s question remains. Were people in the southern reaches of the county sending a message to Erie-area elites?

It’s no secret that a good many folks in our county’s southern tier feel they don’t get the attention they deserve from a government run out of a courthouse in the heart of the city of Erie. In the campaign for county executive, both parties’ nominees pledged not to forget the county doesn’t end at I-90.

There’s bound to be some of that when the county seat sits at the northern edge of the county, and well over half of the population lives in and around it. And one could see why people in southern Erie County might bristle at folks from up north telling them whom to vote for.

In any event, it will be interesting to watch when Beeman brings his unusual views to Erie’s halls of power. If he can find a ride to get there."

Bill's “curious views and political practices” were detailed in this article. And in this article.

Last week, when I received the latest installment of Inside Erie, the comments section was bursting with readers’ responses to “The Meaning of Beeman” editorial.

Here’s some of what was written:

“Maybe Ebert Beeman will bring some common sense to the council table. We definitely could use some.”

“Ebert Beeman: The voters might be in revolt to the same old status quo. We need a big change in all of the political arenas. This might be the start. It is long overdue. I am not saying I am in his corner, but we need big changes.”

“Great! Another one of Glenn Beck’s minions. Just who we need on County Council.”

“Ebert Beeman’s election is a sign of plain stupidity. Who in his or her right mind would want this yahoo in public office? I don’t care what kind of message I wanted to send. I would want the most qualified person in that position, not some jerk who will cause only havoc. He has already caused a big stir for nothing. Public officials should be above reproach, not someone who can’t figure out how to live within the boundaries of the law. To me, that is just plain stupid.”

“Ebert Beeman was elected because taxpayers are sending the message that the spending has to stop.”

“Let’s hope that Ebert Beeman brings much-needed new ideas to council. After all, he is their elected representative and should be treated with respect, not quips about his ability to find a ride to council meetings. “Grow up” comes to mind, as does “waaaaah”!”

“Ebert Beeman only has one vote on County Council, but I’m sure it will be the “one” that will make or break a lot of things going on in county government. So maybe “the powers that be, north of I-90” should pay a bit more attention to the rest of the county.”

Okay first of all, Bill is nothing like that raving lunatic Glenn Beck. He may have some “curious political views and practices” but he’s not an idiot.

He watches Bonanza re-runs. And held the family cat like a baby. He likes to grind his own coffee beans. He enjoys moving dirt around in his yard and wears straw hats with holes in them.

If you met him at a party, you might think he was reserved, even shy. He isn’t very tall. He doesn’t enjoy meaningless small-talk, but mention politics and he’s suddenly animated - in a gruff sorta way that isn't so much intimidating as entertaining.

He once rescued me from a snake that my cat thoughtfully brought into my bedroom. He doesn’t particularly like rules that don’t make sense to him, but he does like quirky people. He can’t cook, but once offered to make my mom dinner. “Dinner” consisted of KFC and Hostess Twinkies.

He once tried to start up a pirate radio station that never quite got off the ground. He concocts weird schemes and tells you about them with a glinty eye so you never quite know if he's serious or not. His sister in New York state, who I've housesat for, has a really sweet Old English Sheep dog. And his mother insists we use her pool in the summer.

He may be unconventional, quirky, definitely something of a scoff-law, but he's no Glenn Beck. He may be idealistic, but he's also intelligent. And he may loathe the government with a white-hot fury, but he wouldn't do anything to endanger the rights of the people. Love him or hate him, he's just another human being with maybe some unconventional ideas.


Friends for the Non-Religious

Remember last month when I was bemoaning my limited options for meeting new friends in this post?

Well, like 11 days later, this billboard was put up right here in the Bible Belt Buckle by a group called Secular Life. How awesome is that?

It seems to have infuriated some of the local kooks (see HERE), but I, for one, am excited that such a community exists and happy that they decided to advertise. I am intrigued, to say the least, and definitely intend to take a closer look at this group.


Just Happy To Be Here

Seems my endless bouts with various illnesses are over - knock on wood - and I'm just happy to be here. Things are good. I feel almost guilty in my happiness. Ya know, sorta like survivor guilt? Life is less hectic than it has been in a long time, and honestly, I can't think of one single thing that has me stressed.

Work is fulfilling right now. My hospital project in Myrtle Beach got funded and is being bid and I started another project, an E.D. expansion and renovation, which is small enough to be fun and manageable, but large enough to keep me busy. I've finally got a handle on my IDP process and it's exciting to be moving in the right direction professionally. Our ACE team this year consists of 15 high school students who, so far, are all bright and enthusiastic, and a group of dedicated mentors who make me proud to be their team leader.

Daniel's work, while not terribly challenging for him, is at least stable (which counts for a lot in this unstable economic environment). To help combat the unstimulating nature of his job and help further his career, he is going to be taking some classes towards his masters degree in economics, which is very exciting.

Our house and our neighborhood feel like home. Everytime I pull into our driveway, I get a warm fuzzy feeling. Even the ugly peach color doesn't dampen the joy. And while we're still working on the house, we are doing it in a more leisurely fashion. There's none of the sense of urgency felt with the earlier improvements. There's no deadlines to be met. So, we remove wallpaper, and patch walls, and paint, but not to the exclusion of everything else in our lives.

On the weekend, we'll walk down the street to Mitchell's for breakfast and Sip for coffee and the air is crisp. And the trees are bare. Our neighbors are outside too. And we're grinning like idiots because we're just happy to be here. Even the mundane chores in life - raking the leaves, taking out the trash, going through the mail, cleaning the bathroom - seem tinged with delightfulness lately. I can't explain it.

I feel very fortunate and I'm incredibly grateful (to the point of feeling guilty, as I may have mentioned). Is everything perfect? Of course not. There's lots of little speed bumps in the road. Last week our basement was invaded with wasps and we had to call the Orkin man. But we had the means to be able to call someone to deal with the wasp infestation, and that is a very, very comforting feeling.

Contentment is maybe what I'm experiencing. But there's also an energized undercurrent of excitement. And...well...plain and simple, Happiness.

I have to remind myself not to continually question feelings of happiness, as if I didn't deserve them. Or by not questioning, I am somehow being ungrateful. I'm the type of person who is always sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop, which keeps me from enjoying the shoes. And I do enjoy shoes. We should all enjoy the shoes that we have while we have them. And that didn't really make any sense, but do you know what I mean?

Anyway, I'm just happy to be here, and I'm going to enjoy it.


Illin' - Again

So, the sore throat/irritating cough featured in my previous post, turned into pneumonia last Wednesday. Peumonia. Jesus-tap-dancing-christ!

At the insistent behest of my husband and sister, I went to the doctor Wednesday morning after a restless night of wheezing/coughing/not-breathing. I seriously thought it was just a bad cold and almost skipped the doctor in favor of the pharmacist (I despise going to the doctor, remember?)

As it turned out, I had a pretty high fever. Who knew!? And after multiple swabs and chest x-rays, I was given a steroid shot, a really cool nebulizer treatment which made me feel like I was smoking a hookah, some serious drugs, and an order to GO HOME. Apparently pneumonia can become quite serious. Who knew?!

Anyway, not feeling quite myself yet, but definitely can detect visible health improvements. So, yay.

I'm blaming Egypt (yes, the entire Egyptian nation) for the various ailments that have plagued me since the end of September. If I hadn't gotten that stomach parasite in Egypt which caused all sustenance to be be immediately evacuated upon ingestion, my immune system wouldn't have been weakened. And if my immune system hadn't been weakened, I wouldn't have caught the flu on the flight home. And if I hadn't caught the flu on the flight home, then I wouldn't have had...well, the flu. And if I hadn't had the flu then my body wouldn't have been as susceptible to other germs. And if I'd had reasonable defenses against other germs, I wouldn't have gotten pneumonia. Egypt is to blame. Clearly.


Whiny Review

If just when you think you are 100% healthy and completely over the flu-like illness that's been plaguing you since you returned from your trip to the Middle East, you suddenly develop a scratchy, tickly, raw, drippy throat and subsequent cough, DO NOT purchase this product with the hopes that it will soothe your misery in the least.

Yes, I was lured in by the clever marketing ploy of declaring this substance to be "Max Sore Throat Relief (plus Coating Protection!)"

Pure snake oil, my friends.

IF you can manage to spray this stuff directly onto the part of your throat (you know, the part that is sort of located up and way the hell to the back, right where the nastiness from your nose drips down making you cough until you feel like you're going to throw up) that is causing your discomfort, you may get a few seconds of minimal relief. And the liklihood of actually hitting that general vicinity is slim despite the encouraging looking spray nozzle.

"#1 Pharmacist Recommended", my ASS!

So far, I've found that a constant intake of either, A.) ice cold water, B.) hot green tea, or C.) room temperature orange juice provides much longer lasting results. Although the downside to this method is the frequent pee breaks.