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Autumn Arrives… and there are pies (and other treats) in the forecast!

23 Sep

Today in Ashland we awoke to gray skies and much cooler weather.  How did that happen?  Just a few days ago the temperature reached 95 and right now the thermometer is barely hitting 65!  Welcome to Fall everyone!

That last month of summer quickly slipped by me.  Perhaps I was busy but it went by so fast!  One minute we were camping and then it was back to school again (not for my kids but still) and the leaves are now changing.  Now before I get off on a rant (I know, you’re all thinking, “whew”) let me just share a few of the baked goodies that I managed to squeeze into the last few weeks.

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One day, Emile and I were on our morning walk when I saw my friend going to her car.  I called out “Hi… How are you?” She responded, “Not good.  My dog is hemorrhaging.  I need to bring him to the vet.”  I was stunned into silence and don’t even know if I managed to wave goodbye.  As we continued our walk, Emile turned to me and said, “There’s a pie in her future isn’t there?”  He knows me so well!  This gluten-free cheesecake/pear tart (which was later topped with toasted almonds – sorry, no photo of that) was brought to that woman to let her know that I understood the pain of losing a beloved pet.

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Then there were the quiches… with crimini mushrooms and peppers that I roasted (and what a wonderful scent they left in my kitchen!).  One of these was brought to a friend with an ailing partner.  My heart aches for them both.  The other quiche was for our new interim pastor (aka Mary Poppins) on the day that she arrived in the valley.  It was my hope that by bringing her something homemade she would feel welcomed into our community.

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These chocolate cupcakes were my contribution to my friend Marie’s birthday party.  We laughed trying to decide if they were my version of Ding Dong’s or Ho Ho’s.  All I know is that they are simply delicious and deliciously simple to make!  I make my favorite cupcakes, fill them with a squirt of whipped cream, and coat them in chocolate (melted with a bit of coconut oil) and then top with more whipped cream.  Yum!

Here is a photo of them midway through the process… I use a paring knife to cut a slit in the top of each cupcake and then a pastry bag to fill the centers with the whipped cream.  It’s really easy!  By the time you coat them with chocolate and top them with cream, the inside cream becomes a hidden delightful surprise!

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Last week I picked many bowls of delicious grapes at my friend Stella’s house and because I don’t own a food dryer, tried my hand at making raisins in my oven.  It took about a day at 175 degrees… and it worked!  They are the best raisins I’ve ever had (except maybe for the muscat raisins we used to get at the market in south San Francisco).  I probably picked 15 pounds of grapes… and they cooked down to about 3 pounds of raisins…. but they are soooooo good!

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Another treat that I made was for my neighbors, Ellen and Owen.  They came home after a very long “vacation” to visit their granddaughter (and her parents of course!)  As sweets are out of the question for Owen, I decided to make bagels to remind him of his time in New York.  I used this recipe by John D. Lee because it makes bagel making fast (just about 90 minutes) and very easy!  These bagels are incredibly tasty;  I know because I devoured one minutes after it came out of the oven.  Do try this recipe… you won’t be disappointed!

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Finally, last Saturday I created a platter of gluten-free sweets (coconut almond macaroons, raspberry-topped brownies, and peanut butter cookies) for supporters of the Ashland Schools Foundation.  They were treated to a beautiful event at Bel Fiore Winery and though I am sorry I couldn not attend, I was very happy to contribute.

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That’s about all I have to share right now.  Next time I write I hope to share tales of my visit to see my daughter, Alexandra, for her birthday.  She’s been working at Warby Parker since the spring and I am anxious to see New York through her eyes.  Til then, I wish you all sweet dreams!

Lots of Pies… and Butterflies!

18 Aug

How could it be that a month has flown by and I’ve not sat down to write about pies?  Actually, there are many reasons, most notably my Dad’s hospital stay and subsequent recovery.  This experience has been exhausting for both of us and I guess this is my main excuse for not writing. However, that has not kept me from baking!

Dad is getting stronger each day and as you can imagine, much of my summer has been focused on his care and recovery. However, if you know me at all, you know that I have found time to make quite a few pies. Truly, I think that baking has helped me to keep a positive focus.

The first pie I made during this last month was a quiche for my Dad’s surgeon, Dr.Monte Stewart.  I greatly appreciate all of the time and care that he gave to my Dad. (I also brought Banana Blueberry Muffins to the nurses at Asante Ashland. They were so wonderful… I can’t thank them enough!)

quiche prep dr. stewart

A short time later, I made a gluten-free blueberry peach pie for my friend Marcia because she is always doing things for others.  I found her at home recovering from a minor surgery and really in need of a pick-me-up.  It made me glad that I was able to do that for her and I just love when this project works out like that!
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Yet another quiche was delivered to a friend who is caring for her ailing husband.  I love them both dearly and any time they allow me to bring food I feel honored to be allowed into their close family circle.
 
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At the end of July my Dad celebrated his 79th birthday.  As he was (and still is) in a skilled nursing facility, I brought him a pizza “pie” to share with some of the other clients there.  When I walked into the dining room, I overheard a woman named Linda say to her friend, “She’s (referencing me) is my new best friend.”  Then Linda wheeled herself over to my Dad’s table and quietly waited.  After I served Dad and his table mates, I turned to Linda and said, “Are you my new best friend?”  She seemed surprised but then smiled as she realized I’d heard her… and then graciously accepted a slice of pizza.
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After the pizza was served, I gave out slices of Raspberry Peach pie.  The moans of delight coming from those folks was music to my ears! 
 
Then there was the Paleo-Peach Pie that I made for a friend who is experiencing major challenges.  This pie was my way of recognizing and supporting her during this  trying time.  Here is the recipe that I found on http://www.scrawnyWOD.com.
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Last week I made another raspberry peach pie… and delivered it to my friend Robbin.  Years ago she was part of the Conservation Commision (her area of expertise is water conservation) and more recently she has been helping my friend Claudia with estate sales.  A short time ago I was at one such estate sale and found several pie dishes there.  When I asked Robbin how much they were, she took them to Claudia to ask.  Later I found out that Robbin had bought them for me!  I really don’t know what she thinks I need pie dishes for….but I wanted to thank her for thinking of me just the same!
 
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As we chatted, I told Robbin that years ago another woman had told me that she had quit baking (and began painting) because she saw baking as a “temporal” art.  For a while that made me sad because it’s so true.  The things that I bake are here today… and gone tomorrow (if they last that long).  
 
Yet temporal though they may be, over the last few years I have learned that some of these gifts of pie are remembered long after the pie has been eaten.  Perhaps like the butterfly effect, each pie, though small, may have more impact than I can ever realize.  It’s not a bad thing to hope for anyway!
 
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The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.

Rabindranath Tagore

And lastly, a silly picture of my family…  I am one lucky lady!

 
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Family, Friends, and a word about Kindness

11 Jul

So many things to share… and this time, I hope to do it with pictures (well for the most part!)….

Here is a photo of me and my Dad.  We took a drive to Crater Lake one Sunday… and he really seemed to enjoy it.  I’d forgotten how cold it could be… even in the summer!

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Then, a few weeks ago, a group of friends, many of them Rotarians, met to bid farewell to Lucka, our exchange student from the Czech Republic.  It was a wonderful year for her… and for us… and now Lucka is back home with her “real” family.  But we know that she made lasting friendships while she was here… and I’m sure it won’t be long before we see her again!

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Lucka’s Going Away Party

Recently, I’ve been lucky to have been asked by a few friends to cook for them…  what fun!

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And of course I found time to make a few pies.  One pie, a sausage, roasted pepper, and broccolini quiche found its way to a friend who has MS.  The high heat of summer makes her symptoms worse and so I thought this might be a way for her to enjoy a few meals without having to turn on the oven.

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Another pie, an apple blueberry, was made for a friend who was first diagnosed with cancer 25 years ago.  He is battling the disease once again, and I wanted to offer him something delicious – fresh from the oven… to feed his belly and his soul.  We’ll be praying for you, Caballo!

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Lastly, I wanted to share a message from our friend, Len, who passed recently.  He asked that rather than sending flowers, that his friends do something kind for a few other people instead. He wanted us to find people in need and instead of just giving them some food or money, that we also spend a few minutes talking with that person, asking their name, etc.  The gift to them would then be greater because we would also acknowledge their identity and hopefully grant them some dignity… something we all need.

My first “gift” was given yesterday.  On a very hot day I sat for a few minutes with “Henry.”  I met his dog and offered him a sack lunch and a cold bottle of water… which he said he would share with the dog.  At first I wondered how it would go… but It was really so easy to do and, not surprisingly, it felt like one of the best things I’ve done all week.

John Prine

Here is a link to the song entitled, Hello in There, by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, John Prine, that shares a similar sentiment.   Enjoy!

Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible.  Mother Teresa

Toffee, Moose Munch, a Pie, and a Cake too!

24 Jun

italy map

How can it be that three weeks have passed since we returned from Italy?  That’s almost unbelievable! It seems as if we were just there… and yet now we are back in our small town… and settled once again into our daily routines.  I suppose that is how life works.  It just speeds along… and the vacation that you waited forever for is suddenly over, and you find yourself back in “the real world.”

Well, fortunately our “real world” is not so bad.  In fact, it’s pretty darned nice.  We wake up every day in a peaceful place; war is not something we have had to deal with.   We have access to good  food and clean water, we have shelter, and more than our share of good neighbors and friends that help us in so many ways.  We are more than lucky; we are blessed!

Cary's Toffee

Before we leave the Italy trip in the past,  I want to share with you an idea that I read about recently and acted upon while on our vacation.  The author suggested taking along little treats (from his hometown but not home-made goodies!) and he shared how he gave the treats to the people who worked for the airlines (the stewards, the clerks at the ticket counter, etc) to thank them for their service and assistance (notice these employees are generally not tipped).   He also reminded us to say “Please” and “Thank you” more often (unfortunately not everyone does!)  His premise is that even though the airline employees are getting paid to do their job, a simple thank you, or a small gift will not go unappreciated.

I loved this idea and because I also LOVE Cary’sof Oregon Toffees, I brought along a bunch of their small boxes of toffee (and also a couple of bags of Harry and David’s  Moose Munch) so that I could try out this “gifting” technique.   The very first opportunity to gift someone came at the Lufthansa counter in Newark.  Our plane had arrived late and literally hundreds of folks were lined up trying to “fix” their travel plans.   We waited in line  and we watched the ticket agent for more than 30 minutes as he patiently handled crisis after crisis.

When it was finally our turn, he helped us rebook our reservation and because we were going to be late getting into Munich (and would miss the only flight out to Pisa that day), he also arranged for us to get a room for the night (and meals!).  I reached into my suitcase and brought out the Moose Munch (I figured he needed a larger gift as he would likely share it with his co-workers) and set it down in front of him. He looked surprised and said, “You don’t have to give me anything!”   I explained that we were just so grateful that he was taking such good care of everyone that we wanted to thank him.  His happy smile was our reward.

That was our first attempt at gifting and it was a great experience… and so we followed that up by sharing chocolates with the reservations agent in Munich, with the woman who owned the home where we stayed in Vernazza, and  the cooks at the villa, among others.  Each and every one of the “gifted” people was pleasantly surprised by the gesture and it felt so good that I wanted to pass this idea along.   Try it for yourself and see… and do let me know how it works for you.  It will be fun to hear how seemingly small gifts can have a big impact.

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Oh!  about the pie…  Yesterday I finally made a pie to thank a man whom I have never met for doing a huge favor for me.  Tom Marks, is an associate of Emile’s and he operates the Organic Produce Warehouse in Ashland.  Last summer Tom moved a very large refrigerator to my home; clearly not an easy task.  He didn’t have to do it… but he did it and that fridge has made a huge difference in my life.  This pie can’t begin to repay the debt of gratitude I feel, but it is a start!

To begin, I found some lovely blueberries and added some apples and put together a pie in just under an hour (a little long but I am out of practice!) and when it was baked brought it to Tom’s workplace (he was away from the office).  Later in the day I got a very happy email thanking me for the pie.  Thank you Tom for your much needed assistance!

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As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.  John F. Kennedy

PS: Before I sign off, I’d like to invite anyone interested in learning how to make beautiful (and gluten-free) cakes to come to my class at the Ashland Food Coop on July 8.   You can read more about it here… and I hope you’ll consider joining me.  It promises to be a delicious evening!

Lastly, here’s a photo of a wedding cake I made recently with pints and pints of fresh organic berries.  It was such fun to make and I love how the berries are the only adornment it needed.

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Our Italian Adventure

4 Jun sylvia and karen

It’s been three weeks long weeks since I last wrote.  One reason for my absence was due to an accidental splash of coffee on my computer keyboard… ugh!  The other reason for the delay is that for two glorious weeks, Emile and I were traveling in Italy.

Italy… I still can hardly believe it but we were really in Italy.  The impetus for our trip was created by a classmate of Emile’s who has been living in Italy for the past 30 years.  This classmate, Sylvia, is a teacher and has recently studied to become a tour guide.  Sylvia organized a week-long reunion at a villa in Tuscany for her high school classmates…. but wait, I’ll speak more about that in a moment.

Emile and I left for our trip a week ahead of the reunion date to explore Italy a little bit on our own.  We flew into Pisa, and then spent about five days in a place called Cinque Terre, a group of five villages built along the hillsides abutting the sea… and each one is breathtakingly beautiful!

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The village of Vernazza

While there we walked, tasted wonderful food and wine, and collected pretty stones and other gifts from the sea.

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Ocean treasures:  Beach glass, broken tiles, and small pieces of copper.

After a week spent relaxing on the “Italian Riviera” Emile and I traveled to La Spezia, then to Lucca,  and then on to a town called Ponte a Moriano where the villa was located.  When we left the train we found a small store/bar at the station and decided to wait until others arrived.  Sure enough, within thirty minutes, Emile’s classmate, Lydia, arrived with her husband, David.  Soon afterwards we all walked up the hill to the villa.

The group of students for whom the reunion was organized attended a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania called Westtown, and there were about 100 students in their class.  Of those, fourteen came to Tuscany to celebrate, and most brought along a spouse.  It was the first time in over 35 years that some of those folks had seen each other and I thought it was remarkable how soon we all (spouses included) were at ease with one another.

Our “organizer extraordinaire” Sylvia put together a week full of activities for us including a tour of Pisa (to see the Piazza dei Miracoli, or the Square of Miracles, home of the Leaning Tower), a walking tour through several museums in Florence (home of Michelangelo’s David), and  a trip inside the marble mine in Carrara ( where the marble for David came from).

Sylvia also arranged for us to dine together each night at the villa… beginning with wine on the lawn and ending with a sumptuous feast. She did this all with grace and humor and she catered to so many personal requests that I think she earned a few gold stars for patience as well.

One of those “special” requests came from me… because I wanted to make a “pie” (okay, it was actually two cobblers) for the group.  Sylvia took me to the grocery store and helped me find the necessary ingredients.  Sylvia understood that this was my way of reaching out to everyone and took it in stride… and I appreciated that.

On the last day of our time together I knew I wanted to make a pie for Sylvia, but we were late in getting back from Carrara and all of the markets were closed for the afternoon so I couldn’t purchase any fruit.  There was nothing I could do but try to figure out a plan B.

the wood fired oven

That evening we were treated to pizzas baked in an outdoor wood-fired oven… and as I sat at the table with Sam watching the cooks I noticed that there was a cherry tree above my head… groaning with fresh cherries.  The cook, Christina,  told me that the cherries would be eaten by the birds if we didn’t pick them… and so that is what we did. In no time at all we had plucked a large bowl of cherries and Sam and I and a few others sat and pitted them as we watched the sun go down.

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Early the next morning I went to the kitchen and found the last bit of butter and made a crust with it and put it into the pie tin that I had brought from home (I know, I’m just a little bit crazy).   Then I mixed the cherries with sugar and cornstarch and searched for a topping for the pie.  In short order I found the Amaretti cookies that I had purchased and crumbled them on top of the pie.  Then, once we figured out how to turn on the Italian oven, the pie was put in to bake.

After an hour or so, Sylvia and the rest of the group began to congregate in the kitchen… oh my, I forgot to mention the kitchen.  This is it…

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Gorgeous isn’t it?  Well, anyway, it wasn’t long before I was able to present Sylvia with her pie… it’s a small token of thanks for all the time and effort that she put forth to make this trip so special.  We were all very lucky to share this time together.

Sylvia, me, and Sam

Sylvia, me, and Sam

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The Creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo. Mark Twain

 

Mother’s Day… and a few pies

12 May

The last few weeks have been a bit crazy.  My Dad was sent to the hospital once again because he had an infection… and I had a few events to cater.  At times it felt like I was barely keeping my head above water, but somehow everything worked out.  Dad is home and doing better… and all of my events went well.

wedding photoThe Wedding Table

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I woke up feeling a little blue.  I know that I was lucky to have a mother that loved me… but I still mourn her passing all these years later.  I know that I am not alone in sadness.  I am very aware that this day is hard for many.  There are grieving mothers mourning the loss of a child… and many children mourning the loss of their mother.  And so while my husband slept I got up and started making pies…  it’s something that helps me feel better. Each of us has our own way of coping…  baking just happens to be my way.

The first pie that I made was a quiche for a friend of mine who lives nearby.  She is not only a mother, but also a grandmother, and she and her husband are raising their special-needs grandson.  I admire them both so much for what they are doing… and when I see them with their grandchild, I am humbled by their love and dedication.  If more people could be like them, this world would be a much better place.

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Mushroom and Pepper Quiche

Next I began prepping a Strawberry Rhubarb pie for a man at church who recently celebrated his 97th birthday!  Two years ago I baked a cake for him on his 95th birthday, and amazingly he is still going strong.  Last week he wasn’t at church because he was attending the 75th reunion of his college class… not surprisingly only one other student made it to that celebration!  I am so inspired by this man’s love of life! I just hope that I can live out my years as joyfully.

dan's pieStrawberry Rhubarb Pie prep

And now I would like to end this post on a very happy note: I want to mention that this week my husband and I are preparing to leave for a long-awaited vacation in Italy.  We both have been to Italy before, he when he was just 7 years old, and me when I was 18. Clearly, it has been a very long time… but we are both looking forward to this exciting adventure.  And just so you know, I will be packing a few pie tins in my bag… just in case I get the chance to gift a pie! Wouldn’t that be fun?

Caio for now!

 

“All that I am, or all that I hope to be,  I owe to my angel Mother.”  Abraham Lincoln

 

 

Friends, Pies, and Pepper

28 Apr

Lilacs in our yard

Though I haven’t written in a while, I want you to know that I’m still here and in the last few weeks I’ve made a few pies.  One, a Triple Berry Pie was delivered to a nurse named Nancy at Ashland Hospital.  She was very kind to my Dad and I wanted to thank her for all the care that she showed him.

pie for nurse nancy

Another, a Mushroom and Pepper Quiche, was delivered to a friend shortly after she returned home from the hospital.  It was much appreciated by my friend and it felt good to know that I could help her on her way to recovery.

quiche prep for DeeDee

Another pie, my go-to Apple Crumb Crust, was delivered to a woman I met when she was having a yard sale.  Her name is Josie and I overheard her saying that she is moving to Guanajuato, Mexico – one of my favorite cities!  I was amazed at the idea of her packing up a home that she’s lived in for years and moving to another country.  That kind of adventurous spirit certainly needed to be rewarded… and what else would I bring but a pie?

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And one day last week I made these delicious Gluten Free Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies to thank my friend Don for coming to my aid when my car battery died at the worst possible time.   I made one phone call to his workplace and in just a few minutes he showed up and got my car started.  I didn’t have time to bake him a pie (so much going on!) and I hope that these brownies gave him some indication of how grateful I was for his help.

Gluten Free Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

This last week was especially challenging as my dear kitty of 18 years, Pepper, was preparing to leave this world.  She was the epitome of grace as she ate less and less, and then not at all.  The last few days she sipped only water until that too was unnecessary.  In the end, she left peacefully with a final “meow” as I held her close.  I feel that we were lucky that she chose our home to come to live in all those years ago… and am grateful for all the time that we had her… but I’m still very sad to see her go.

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“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  Anatole France

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.”  Will Rogers

 

 

 

 

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