We just finished watching Pushing Daisies on Blu-Ray (alas, it got cancelled after two seasons). It’s a show made for the format with super-saturated colors and a very stylish look that really sparkles on a high definition television. The main character of the show is a pie-maker and seeing all the great pies on the show triggered an interest in making pies as something more than the occasional apple pie for a potluck or baking a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. So, at least for now, I’m making pies on the weekend.
Pie number one was a double-crust peach pie. The peaches were a little under-ripe, and I think the filling had too much almond extract in it, but it was still really good. The crust is a very simple butter crust (½ cup butter, 1 2/3 cup flour, 5 T ice water for a double-crust or 1/3 cup butter, 1 cup flour, 3 T ice water for a single crust), with 40% whole wheat flour. I’ve also started using chilled vodka for some of the ice water. According to Cook’s Illustrated it acts as enough of a binding liquid to allow you to shape the dough, but when it bakes the alcohol evaporates, leaving a drier and flakier crust than if you’d used water.
Pie number two didn’t quite come out as expected because I wasn’t able to get the quantity of blueberries that the recipe called for, and I mis-calculated the difference between a 9” and 9 ½” deep dish pie plate. I wound up adding a sliced peach and apple to the top of the filling so I’d have enough fruit to fill the pie, but either I didn’t add enough cornstarch for the additional fruit or I didn’t bake it long enough so it’s a bit runny. It tastes great, though (I mean, pie, right?). The cranberries are actually lowbush cranberry (sometimes called lingonberry), which isn’t quite the same thing as the berry most people buy in the supermarket around Winter Solstice, but they do offer a nice tartness and red color to the purple-blue sweetness of blueberries. And they’re local, from the Farmer’s Market.
After a week and a half in Berkeley and a quick trip to Anchorage for work, I finally feel like things are getting back to normal. Last weekend we bought a bunch of stuff at the Farmer’s Market, including a small basket of raspberries. I had planned to make some raspberry bars, but when I looked at them today, they seemed a bit soft for something like that. On Sunday we picked a half gallon of blueberries from the power line, so making preserves from the combination seemed like a good idea. Here’s the recipe I used:
- 1 small basket fresh raspberries (approximately 2 cups)
- Same weight of fresh blueberries (~2 cups)
- 1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped small
- Juice from ½ lemon
- 1 T water
- 3 cups sugar
- Bring fruit and liquids to a boil.
- Boil 5 minutes to soften apples.
- Add sugar and mix.
- Purée in food processor.
- Return to boil.
- Boil 10–15 minutes until the pectin is ready (it gels on the back of a spoon as it cools)
- Pour or ladle into hot canning jars (2 pint jars for this quantity), boil in hot water bath for 10 minutes.
I’m not sure if the apple is necessary, but the recipe I was looking at included pectin and I didn’t have any. The Interwebs informed me that apples contain a lot of pectin, so I threw that in the pot as well. The food processor step was included because I wasn’t convinced the apples would get mushed up enough to disappear in the mix.
Yesterday I had a chance to actually cook something on our new stove. We got it on Wednesday, moved it into the house on Thursday, converted it to propane and hooked it up on Friday, but we’ve been so busy with moving and taking care of Ivan that we hadn’t had a chance to do anything except boil water on it. I made pancakes and bacon. The stove has a large oval shaped central burner with a griddle that fits over the top of it, but I used our cast-iron griddle on the left two burners instead. Like the electric range we bought six months ago, the new stove is able to heat my biggest cast-iron pan from edge to edge and cooked a full pan of bacon evenly with a minimum of rotating.
The pancakes weren’t as good because I need to learn the correct burner settings again. I'd just gotten used to the electric, but I'm already enjoying the gas stove. It's nice even heat, it's really easy to manipulate the burner settings because you can actually see the flame. This particular stove has a simmer burner in addition to the central griddle. I tried the simmer burner last night, but I think it’s set a bit to high at the moment.
We debated getting a dual-fuel range but Consumer Reports tested electric and gas ranges in July and didn't find any differences in evenness or temperature control between the two, and the dual-fuel models we saw were all more than twice as expensive as a single fuel range. I bake a lot of bread, so I think the moisture produced during propane combustion might actually be a good thing for the crust. I'm hoping to have a bit of time during the week to try out a recipe from my new bread book.
Soon we should also receive the firebox parts for our wood-burning cook stove. Last weekend I managed to get all the melted, warped, and cracked pieces (!) of cast-iron out of the firebox, and called Lehman's. They sell the stove we have, and also sell parts for it. Shipping all that cast iron from Ohio to Alaska is going to cost more than $100. But it'll be worth it. It's been cold and rainy all weekend and I wished I could have fired up the wood stove. Gotta move some firewood from the old house.
On the subject of temperatures, we’ve already noticed that it’s much colder at our place than in the rest of town, and certainly by comparison to our old house in the hills. I’ve got a little plot on the sidebar (labelled ‘Temperature anomaly’) that shows the difference between the morning temperature at our house, and an average of the temperature readings from the Fairbanks area. Each blue bar represents a single day’s observation going back two weeks and the orange lines show the average anomaly for each week. Thus far, it appears that we’re about 10 degrees below the Fairbanks average when it’s clear, and pretty close to average when it’s cloudy.
We're still moving stuff from the old house to the new one, but are nearing the end of that process. Unpacking has now overtaken packing so the house is starting to look more like a place that people live, rather than an empty storage unit. We’ve got the first floor set up much the way the previous owners had it set up with a little entry way / pantry next to the door, a “dining room” in front of the big south window, the entertainment center next to the sliding glass doors, and a couch on the opposite wall (formerly known as the “red wall”.) Right now we’re using a bookshelf as shelves for the pantry, and we haven’t figured out what to do with the area to the right of the couch (where there was a little office), but at least it’s functional. I think some sort of storage bench next to the door, a storage unit under the window, and a better pantry unit will help organize things quite a bit before the complexities (coats, boots, snow, extreme cold, etc.) of winter arrive.
Most of the stuff that had been in the library / junk room in our old house, as well as the stuff from the office (we had a lot of rooms in the old house…) have been shoved into the third room on the second floor of our new house. This is supposed to become an office in the near future, but at the moment it’s looking a lot more like a new take on the “junk room” concept. The red cabin, which is absorbing everything from the garage also has this appearance. Until we can get a handle on unpacking some of the boxes, both areas are going to be pretty hard to navigate.
Still, it’s all progress. I’m sure it’ll be awhile before it really feels like home, but having a bunch of our normal stuff close by and out in similar places certainly helps.