Test pies – on the path to redemption

In November of 2013, I won two awards in my school’s faculty pie contest with a modification of this amazing recipe.  My awards for Best Key Lime and Third Place Overall hang in my classroom, and I’m enormously proud of them.

Last year, my pie did not place.  And to be honest, it was not an award-worthy pie.  I made a pudding-based egg nog pie with a graham crust.  I won’t go so far as to say that it was listless, but it just didn’t have the same dimension and character as my winning pie did.

So this year I’m aiming to reclaim my place with a single malt pecan pie.  Once I’ve finalized the recipe, I’ll call it Single Malt Pecan Pie.  (I’m creative like that.)  I’ve made two test pies in order to refine the recipe for my contest pie.

documenting the differences

documenting the differences

test pies

test pies

The two pies have minor differences in filling and crust.  True, in order to be absolutely scientific about this process, I ought to have have four pies: crust A + filling A, crust B + filling A, crust A + filling B, and crust B + filling B.  But I’m going to trust that we can tease out the pros and cons of both parts of both pies without overwhelming ourselves in pecans, sugar, and whiskey.

I’m taking the pies over to my husband’s parents’ house for an analysis.  (I’m also bringing school photos of the boys and returning their appetizer platter.)


Update: I have just returned from tasting pies with the in-laws, and the better pie is the one on the right: butter crust and golden syrup.

better ingredients, better pie

Let’s hope it wins (or at least places) this year!

Single Malt Australian Pecan Pie

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled
  • 3 tablespoons shortening, chilled
  • 1/4 cup ice water
  1. Add flour and salt to food processor, pulse to “sift.”
  2. Cut chilled butter and shortening into small bits and add to the flour.  Pulse until it resembles a coarse meal.
  3. Add the ice water, little by little, pulsing until the pastry clumps together into a large ball.
  4. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour.  Use half for this recipe, and save or freeze the other half for another pie.
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup golden syrup (this ingredient makes it “Australian,” as I had it on hand from some Anzac biscuits I’d recently made, even though it’s nowhere near Anzac Day.)
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup whole pecans
  • 2 tablespoons single malt whiskey (I used Aberlour, because yum.)
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Mix all ingredients except the whole pecans, stirring thoroughly.
  3. Roll out the crust and place into a 9 inch pie plate.
  4. Pour the filling into the crust.
  5. Add the whole pecans, perhaps making a pretty pattern, dunking each pecan beneath the surface to coat in the sugary deliciousness.
  6. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour.
  7. Enjoy.  (And maybe win a contest?)



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Still Tryna Name This Soup

A few weeks ago I was sitting around in a robe in a lounge-like area of my doctor’s office, perusing outdated magazines with one hand and awkwardly clutching the neckline of the robe with the other.  I guess it was more like a gown – robe.  Grobe.

Anyway, I came across a soup recipe that looked fairly delectable, and I contorted myself in order to take picture of the page while still attempting to preserve my modesty.  The other woman in the room, who was loudly using her phone for its intended purpose, shifted in her seat, suddenly aware that she wasn’t alone.

Soup’s important to me.

A few hours later, I texted my husband that we’d be having soup that night as I cruised through the produce section of the questionably safe Safeway near our neighborhood.  I bought Yukon Gold potatoes, a Vidalia onion, a lemon, and a bag of baby spinach.  I snagged about pound of spicy Italian sausage, and I picked up some chicken stock because I didn’t have any homemade.  (Since I don’t ever have any homemade at my house.  Unless my mother left some of hers for us.)

We ate this soup with warm, crusty bread and spent much of the evening trying to name our creation.  (I modified the recipe in the magazine significantly; the original had kale and no sausage, and I recall that it also had a boring name related to its ingredients.)

So help a sister out – this soup needs a name that captures its fabulousness: hearty yet light, autumnal with a bright note of lingering summer, fresh, textured . . . Dag, I love this soup.

October soup.  No, that’s pitiful.

FullSizeRender (4)

Whatever you call it, here’s how you make it.

  • Three pounds of Yukon gold potatoes, washed and cubed
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
  • a decent amount of baby spinach (I’m guessing 4 handsful)
  • 1 lemon, separately zested and juiced
  • 1 pound spicy Italian sausage or chorizo, casings removed
  • 64 ounces of chicken broth
  • salt and pepper
  1. Brown the sausage over medium high heat in a Dutch oven.  Add the onion and sear until just brown.
  2. Deglaze with the lemon juice, scraping up all the seared deliciousness.
  3. Add the broth and potatoes; reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer for at least 20 minutes.  (I took a stroll around the neighborhood, admiring the brisk air and colorful leaves.)
  4. Once the potatoes are tender and you’re close to supper time, add the lemon zest, baby spinach leaves, and salt and pepper.  Heat up whatever bread you’ll be serving.  I love those ficelles from Trader Joe’s.
  5. Serve and savor.


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Jamie’s Thai Beef

I got my new debit card in the mail yesterday.  (Now all the banks are doing those special chips with the stronger plastic.  I’m guessing they’ll be more effective for breaking back into my house when I lock myself out.)

Anyway, my card says, “since 2001.”  Jamie pointed it out and reminded me that’s when we moved to Virginia Beach.  And then we spent a few minutes hurtling back in time to our tiny apartment with our tiny dog, no kids, and our weekly adventures trying out new recipes.

We had only been together for a few years, and we were still learning one another’s culinary preferences.  We’d spend a lazy Saturday morning cruising around the Fresh Market, sipping the gourmet coffee and gingerly selecting our ingredients.  (Remember when we had a little time and money back before we had children, dear?)  We’d work together in the kitchen to follow or modify a recipe, usually accompanied by a bottle of wine.

Jamie’s Thai Beef is a recipe born out of those golden early years, and we still make it at least once a quarter.

Original recipe

the original recipe

As you can see, it’s taken a beating over the years.  It’s also evolved based on adjustments we’ve made as a result of preferences and circumstances.

Here’s the batch we made last week.

soooooo delicious

soooooo delicious

We’ve played around with different vegetables, citrus zests, curry pastes, etc., and we still love how satisfying and spicy it is.  We congratulate ourselves when it’s a particularly “good batch.”

Here’s our current favorite recipe:

  • about 2 pounds good beef steak, trimmed and sliced into chunks
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 colorful pepper, chopped  (I used red, but orange and yellow also work nicely)
  • half a jar of red curry paste (about 5 teaspoons)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lime (orange is also good, sweeter)
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup torn basil leaves
  1. Heat oil to very hot in a wok or large braiser.
  2. Add onions and curry paste; stir briskly to sear evenly.  Cook for 2 minutes, then remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Cook beef in the same pan, searing until brown on all sides.
  4. Add the mushrooms and peppers; cook until tender.  Strain excess juices.
  5. Add back the onions, and add the soy sauce, brown sugar, citrus juice and zest, and coconut milk.  Stir thoroughly, and simmer over low for awhile.  Have a glass of wine and talk about your lives while the kids are avoiding the kitchen due to the spicy atmosphere.
  6. Add the cilantro and basil just before serving.  Enjoy over rice or with warm flat bread.  (Go with the rice.)



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Science folks, part deux . . .

Last month I reached out to you scientific types.

I’m still looking for some support.

Because my son made me some coffee this morning:

FullSizeRender (2)

FullSizeRender (1)

I’m not going to lie; I was worried.  That he’d start a fire.  That he’d make a mess.  That I’d have to drink the sludge, I mean, coffee.  And that it’d be chewy.

You know what?

He boiled water in his little homemade cistern, brewed the coffee directly into the mug, and I drank it.

And it was just right.  Seriously, it was just as good as my regular French press coffee.  Sigh.

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Science people – lil’ help?

I heart words.  I’m all about language.  (English major, reading specialist, all that.)  And my husband is also a humanities guy.  (History major, social foundations degree, big discussion proponent . . . )

We’re not science folk.  I mean, we completed our basic requirements in math and science, but we’re really linguistically-inclined.

And we met each other, talked, wrote, and talked more, fell in love, got married, continued talking and writing, had kids, more of the talking, enjoyed some literacy with the kids . . . you see what’s happening here.

Now we’re in a world of hurt.  Because our children seem to be math and science people.  And I mean, REALLY science and math folk.

For example, one of our children wanted to make his own butter from cream.  Actual shaking was taking too long, so he designed this contraption:

He's attaching a motor to the base of the milk bottle.

He’s attaching a motor to the base of the milk bottle.

Wiring the motor

Wiring the motor

Final adjustments

Final adjustments

We enjoyed amazing, frothy butter on our pancakes the following day.  (Jamie and I talked and talked about it.  “We can talk, or not talk, for hours.”)

And when my husband ordered me sweet new Sperry’s, my son turned the Zappos box into a working vending machine.  (He took it apart before I could capture it on film, unfortunately.  “Well, no one is going to buy a warm bottle of water when they can walk into the kitchen and get a cold one, Mom.”)

Also, we are often finding machinery disarticulated in the name of science.  Funny burning smells?  Every day.  And where are the pliers, ever?

“Mom! Check this out!” instills simultaneous fear and admiration.

My boys will be scientists of some kind, for sure.  And I want to foster their joy and talents. But I got nothin.  I’m buying informational texts left and right, but I’ve got no practical game.

My mom subscribed the kids to Tinker Crates, and they have loved getting the packages each month.  (And I have loved the hour plus of intense absorption that affords me some much-needed down-time each time the kids get a package in the mail.)

But other than that, we’re scrambling.

So everyone with a science bent, weigh in.  How can we support our budding scientists?

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Handy Annie

When you’re a family of two teachers and two school-aged kids, summers are unbelievable.  We swim, we play tennis, we play golf. We read, we nap, we bake. We build things out of Lego bricks, we visit friends,  we take long walks together.  It’s a glorious time of family bonding and celebrating, and I am ridiculously thankful for this gift.

At times, however, the clutter and logistics of having all four of us home all day every day begins to amplify.  I start to get all shirty about toys being left about, and I begin wanting to reorganize rooms.

This was the aftermath of a Nerf war yesterday morning:

You should see all the rounds littered about our family room.

You should see all the rounds littered about our family room.

I decided it was time to acknowledge the arsenal and accommodate it.   But surprisingly, neither Nerf nor Elfa makes anything resembling a gun rack.

So I took to the interwebs.  I looked at hundreds of photos of people’s homemade Nerf storage solutions, and I incorporated lots of ideas from all over.  In the end, I decided to build something out of peg board, 1x3s, screws, spray paint, and various hooks.  (Everyone tried to talk me out of the paint thing, but I knew that the black background would allow the colorful guns to take the spotlight.  Upon completion, everyone agreed that the paint was essential.)

Send me a message if you want the particulars, but I’m not super crafty and it only took me a couple of hours, so I’m guessing most folks could fashion something similar without many details.

Here are some shots of the finished project:

Most of the guns hang on these little hooks.

Most of the guns hang on these little hooks.

We used some of the heftier pegs in the kit to display some firearms Men in Black - style.

We used some of the heftier pegs in the kit to display some firearms Men in Black – style.

The finished structure - I could not love it more.  I sort of wish it were in my room . . .

The finished structure – I could not love it more. I sort of wish it were in my room . . .

Ammo boxes.  My son prefers to store his rounds in the

Ammo boxes. My son prefers to store his rounds in the “TactiCOOL” box he made.

“TactiCOOL” shield

Listen, building stuff is extremely satisfying.  I’m feeling inspired to take on a few more projects . . . or, I may just research rum punch recipes for my upcoming family reunion at the beach instead.  Either way, God bless summer.

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In which I allow my son to deconstruct a laptop

I had an old, virus-infected laptop computer with no battery that I had given to the kids.  It eventually because too infirm even for their purposes.  (There was a Minecraft-related incident that we won’t speak of again.)

So, I let my son perform a laptopsy.  He systematically deconstructed and examined every piece of it.  He was so tremendously engrossed in the process that he didn’t even notice the photo-documentation.

Notice the tools gathered in preparation.

Notice the tools gathered in preparation.

"probing to determine muscle tone and skeletal girth"

“probing to determine muscle tone and skeletal girth”

The first incision...

The first incision…

He moved up to the dining rooms for better lighting and the table space.  This is getting serious.

He moved up to the dining room for better lighting and the table space. This is getting serious.

seriously awesome, I mean

Seriously awesome, that is!

Some parts disengage more easily than others.

Some parts disengage more easily than others. Dag.


“He’s got it up now.”


Whoa, this is a bigger pile of detritus than I expected out of that old thing.


so many cool parts

Stay tuned to see what he builds with the parts . . .

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Things that have made me go, “hmmmm”

Some weird jazz has been swirling around me in the last two weeks, and I can’t help but wonder if something apocalyptic is brewing in my realm.


Still though, strange.

  • I noticed something was up with Catwalker 2 last weekend when I was talking a walk and eyeing everyone’s landscaping choices.  (I’ll admit I’m a bit like Tom Hanks’ character in The ‘Burbs.)  I spied two unfamiliar women wearing matching shirts and walking a total of five dogs.  I figured they were dog walkers, and I went on my way.  When I rounded the corner to return home, I saw these dog walkers chatting with Catwalker 2, whom, you may recall, is presumably terrified of dogs.  It appeared to be a completely cheerful, comfortable conversation. (Hmmm. She’s either had some miraculous therapy, or she specifically hates my dog, my mom’s dog, and/or me.)
  • Had I not been driving, I would have tried to capture this next anomaly on video: a man was simultaneously smoking a cigarette and vigorously jogging.  He was a lanky, white-bearded octogenarian wearing a legit track suit and a driving cap.  Having grown up in North Carolina, I’m certainly familiar with folks who smoke and who also exercise.  But I have never seen someone doing both at the same time, and I must say that it shows enormous dedication.  I mean, this guy was committed: he wants his Camel, and he wants to get in a run.  Why choose?  Check, and check.
  • On my way home from the same jaunt to the store, I caught site of a disconcertingly covered man driving in the car behind me.  Picture this: it’s a thousand degrees and sunny.  The man has on sunglasses. (Reasonable – so do I.)  He’s wearing a hoodie with the hood up.  (Getting a lil cray.)  And he has a wide, pastel-striped winter scarf wrapped over his mouth and neck.  And he’s driving toward a bank.  (Hmmmm, I’m gonna head on away from here right about now.)
  • You know those key fob-style store loyalty cards?  I’ve got a whole mess of them, and I keep them on a dedicated ring so I can readily produce any given card to claim my discounts and bonuses.  Anyway, I’m not awesome about keeping all my details and info updated.  (I have other talents.)  And yesterday, I was buying a ream of card stock at one of the big office stores.  The cashier scanned my items (including a plethora of minutiae gathered by my son) and my card, which was rejected.  “Card not found.  You gotta number?”  I told him not, that I hadn’t been maintaining my info.  “Oh well, no worries,” I conceded.  He looked up at me and said, “It’s fine.  I’ll just give you five dollars off.”  WHAT?!?  I don’t need to tell you how super-psyched I was about that scenario.  Never had my laziness produced such a sweet outcome at the hands of a generous stranger.

Nothing out of the ordinary has happened to me today, but I’m hopeful.   How about you?



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superior egg sandwich (or, laziness wins in the sandwich realm)

I woke up this morning with a sandwich idea.  (That’s regular, right?)  I turned to my still dozing husband and semi-shouted, “Listen to this sandwich idea!  Doesn’t this sound great?!?  Instead of egg salad, you spread honey mustard on white bread and put slices of hard boiled egg on it?”

“Sure, sounds good,” he murmured as he rolled over and closed his eyes again.  (My husband is patient.)

Well, I was excited, anyway.

We got up, brewed and sipped our coffee, touched base with family (my sister’s having the baby Monday, and my dad called about the radio spot my mom’s doing about Meals on Wheels) and did some serious yard work.  As my husband cleaned up after the yard work, I crafted what may be my new favorite summer sandwich.

And we both ate most of our sandwiches before I took any pictures, but here’s the second half of mine:

superior to egg salad

superior to egg salad

Next time, I may add some baby spinach leaves and tomato slices, but probably not.  It’s amaze-balls just like it is.  No heavy mayo, no messy escaping pieces of egg, and minimal effort – perfect for a lazy afternoon.  And it goes well with iced tea.



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Friday fondue

For the past three years, my husband has been working full-time and going to graduate school at night.  “Aw, what?!  Dad has class again?!” has been a fairly regular exclamation of disappointment around here.

But last week, Jamie went to class for the last time.  And next weekend, we’ll be going to his graduation.  Even though he has become a Master of Educational Psychology in Social Foundations of Education, we’re still going to call him “Dad.”

Big family celebration is on tap for the weekend, and we’re all very excited.  Jamie’s parents, his sister and her husband and kids, my parents, and we four are all getting together for a roast beast (actually, grilled tenderloin) and assorted accoutrements the night before Jamie dons the crazily-sleeved robe and hood.  The boys bought him a tie striped in the colors of his soon-to-be alma mater, and I’ve arranged a couple of surprises (including custom treats from One Creative Cookie.)  It should be a grand affair, and it ought to be, after all his hard work.

But since we’re actually rather low-key folks, we celebrated on a smaller scale this weekend.  We had fondue.  My husband is a big fan of most things 70s, and our fondue pot is a source of great pride and culinary joy for him.

In honor of the fact that Friday family movie night is no longer complicated by class schedules, we fired up a movie, lit the Sterno, sliced the sirloin into cubes, and prepared the dipping sauces.  We even dug out the special fondue plates we received as a wedding present.  We went full-tilt on this fondue event, and we loved every minute of it.

I only took one picture, though, because fire and distraction don’t mix.

That's a whole lotta meat for our little family feast.

That’s a lotta meat for our little family.



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