Musings from Quince

Easy as Pie? YOU be the Judge!

Triple Coconut Cream Pie

Aah, pie, wonderful pie…..I don’t bake much these days, but when I saw the Cville Pie Fest coming up, I realized the one pie I do enjoy making which people always scream and swoon over might be a good contender…Triple Coconut Cream pie…yes, there is coconut in the crust, in the filling, and toasted on top (along with white chocolate shavings, of course).   And since it was for a very good cause, PACEM, it just seemed like the right thing to do, so I entered my pie in the contest.  The event was held yesterday, on a Sunday, which is probably the best day to hold something like this as it gives contestants most of the weekend to prepare….unless you happen to be working all day Friday and Saturday….and so my adventure begins…..

This pie is a complicated pie to bake – the steps are mind-boggling, from the crust, right on through to the end. With all the various stages of chilling the pie dough and cooking/cooling the filling, it takes 2 days, from start to finish.  Making a crust seems simple enough….just need the basic food processor, rolling pin, and ingredients, right?….Oh, the ingredients!  When I was in the check out line at the grocery store, people were staring at my cart – a cart full of baking goods…this was only the first trip…there were 4 more trips to the store for things I had either forgotten or run out of. 

 The first hint that making this pie might be an extra challenge was when I noticed my fridge had gone completely dead Friday night, after 9 years of perfect service – not good when everything has to be chilled in stages.  I called a friend in a panic state and we figured out I could take all the ingredients and supplies to Quince (we have a huge refrigerator on site) and continue the process really late at night or early in the morning.  I decided to just pretend everything was OK instead, and left the first pie dough in the fridge anyway, and went to bed.  When I woke up Saturday a.m., the fridge had miraculously come back on (though it was sputtering a bit), so I decided to just take my chances at home.  The first ball of dough had successfully chilled all night, so I then rolled it out, plopped it in the pie pan, and set the oven timer.  Of course, one doesn’t just throw something like this in the oven; the inside of the pie tin must first be lined with parchment paper and weighted down with uncooked rice or beans over the dough, to ensure even cooking.  Well, when I took the crust out of the oven and threw off the beans and parchment paper, I freaked because the crust was a tad too brown for my liking, so I had to make the executive decision to go ahead and make A SECOND pie for judging, offering up the first pie for the silent auction (hadn’t really planned on doing 2 pies)… that point I realized, on Saturday, that I needed another pie tin.  So, I sped to The Seasonal Cook after work, where I purchased one of those super-duper pie plates that is non-stick and weighs a lot…apparently this is the Rolls-Royce of pie tins, and the gal in the store instructed me to “season” the tin before using so the crust would brown evenly…OK, so what’s that all about?  “Well, fill the pie tin to the top with water and leave it in the oven for 45 minutes at 350 degrees…careful taking it out of the oven so you don’t burn yourself!”  At this point I was getting a little anxious – sounds complicated, and what if I drop the whole thing?  I’ll end up in the burn unit at UVA…but, I didn’t know what else to do.  So, when the timer rang, I was a little nervous as the tin was almost completely full with 350 degree water.  In the meantime, my cats really like to place themselves right behind me when I’m at the kitchen counter (I guess they think they’ll miss something), so I constantly have to look before I step.  They are mostly black and always sit on the black painted diamonds on my parquet floor, so it’s really hard to see them; anyone looking at me through the kitchen window will think I’m doing some sort of spastic tribal dance, when what I’m actually doing is trying to keep from tripping over the cats.  Anyway, I clear the area, open the door and in slo-mo manage to get the full pie tin over to the sink without spilling a drop!  Yahoo!!!

I get home from work early Saturday evening and know that I’ve got to hustle to get the second crust baked and the filling done, ready to chill overnight….one annoying feature of the filling is that once it’s cooked, it has to be placed in an ice water bath to cool it down even more before popping it in the fridge.  At that point, I’ve run out of dishes, and coconut is all over the entire kitchen….I manage to somehow get everything done and set my alarm for 5:30 Sunday morning so I will have enough time to whip the cream, toast the coconut, shave the chocolate, and drop those pies off by 10:30am……

Sunday morning I leap into action….I’m really upset because both crusts are a tad too brown (the new pie tin actually shrunk the entire second crust a little, in addition to browning too much….geez…) but there’s nothing I can do about this now.  In the name of being time efficient while I’m waiting for the final stage of cooling, etc.,  I decide to run a few loads of laundry in between things….you’ll love what’s next.

Dexter = Cheetah

  I come up from my basement and throw a huge mound of warm, dried clothes on my bed and proceed to fold things….little do I know that Dexter, my all-muscle cheetah-like cat is revving up to do a major sprint from the far side of the kitchen all the way over to a warm mountain of clean laundry on the bed.  I dropped something on the floor at the same time he takes off, and he manages to slam into my head at full speed, not only bending my eyeglass frames, but scaring the hell out of me and him.  He freaks out and hides under the bed while I loudly moan in pain.  What next?  I slowly recover, give him a few hugs, and can’t wait for all of this to be over with!  I amazingly manage to get both pies done, hope nobody notices the crusts being a little too brown, and get them submitted in time.

My pie didn’t win any awards, but I received the highest bid for a pie during the silent auction.  The nice thing about all of this is that the bidder got to take my pie home for $25 and enjoy it, and I had the chance to help out a group in need.  All 20 of the judged pies were divided up into individual bites and were sold individually at 3 for $1.  I’m happy to say I watched many people enjoying my pie, including a little kid who gave it a thumbs up.  Next time, I’ll watch the crust bake more closely….even after all the drama, I still feel like I have enough momentum left in me to get one more TCCP made sometime this week.  Any takers?


All Quiet on the Chimney Front
August 12, 2010, 4:52 pm
Filed under: Seasonal, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

At Your Service!

Thought I’d add a little “blogette” about the chimney drama going on at home this week.  I am pleased to say the scent of orange-vanilla room deodorizer has diminished greatly, and the once overpowering “scent of squirrel” has now left the building.  So, future dinner guests, there will be absolutely no indication that anything was ever awry in that cute dining room!  I’ve attached a photo of my chimney sweep team installing the chimney cap this morning, which will prevent any critters or botanical bits from entering the flue and causing potentially major problems!!  My advice to you at the moment is to run outside, check for overhanging branches around your roof & chimney which may provide a gateway for critters to come knocking on your chimney(s) door, make sure your damper is closed, and make sure your fireplaces are all fully serviced before the weather turns chilly (yes, that day will eventually get here)… the meantime, figure out a way to keep cool during these dog days of summer…….

No More Squirrels!

Mirkwood Chimney Rescue

Chim-Chiminy….Fun at Home, not really!

Well, well…..just when I was ready to get serious about a few decorating tips, something came up over the last several days which I feel compelled to write about!  Those of us who live in houses, whether owned or rented, indeed are aware that on occasion, certain types of unpleasantries must be dealt with in a timely fashion or else the situation at hand will only worsen, requiring even more $$ and time to correct.  I think it was 5 days ago that sounds began emanating from the fireplace in my dining room.  The damper is always closed, of course, but it sounded like a critter or 2 had found a way to get right down to the grate at the bottom.  My 3 cats were all sitting in a row, right under the damper, staring in wonderment, waiting for something to somehow fly or run out; a couple of days later, a rather nasty odor, downright gross, began to fill the dining area, and I surmised something must be (there’s no delicate way to say this) dead in the chimney.  Ugh….with temps. in the high 90’s you can imagine my dismay….I checked out the basement to make sure it wasn’t the source (no problem) and then noticed outside that a few maple tree branches had grown quite a bit and were now hovering over part of  the roof, providing a natural springboard for critters to use as they scampered about from branch to branch.

Mr. Chimney Sweep, c.1910

Per usual, things like this usually happen at the very end of a work week, or during a holiday weekend, so I figured I’d call my chimney sweep on Sunday to set up a Monday appt.  In the meantime, I solicited advice from an assortment of friends and family on what they would do.  ALL of the male species told me to just open the grate, let the dead whatever fall out, and dispose of it.  Are you kidding me????  Look, I can set a mouse trap with the best of them, and even dispose the mouse & trap when I have to (this acquired skill took me quite awhile to master), but I draw the line on this one. Molted snake skins don’t freak me out either, but this is something I just will not do….I also note that none of the men volunteered to come over and take care of this for me!  All the gals said….”Chimney sweep, of course!”

So, I started calling my chimney sweep, (who henceforth shall be known as “Tim”) and finally reached him.  I could hear the lack of enthusiasm in his voice once I told him what I needed help with, but I guess he could hear the state of desperation in my voice….he rearranged his day and showed up this morning…..the stench at this point was nauseating, and he immediately identified the smell as that of a decomposing squirrel…great…I’ll spare you the goriest of details, but I am forever indebted to Tim for “getting things taken care of”!  He admitted this was the worst part of his job and had a few stories to tell about similar situations (again, I’ll spare you the gory details).

I know it seems hard to believe at this point, but the days of frosty mornings and chilly nights are less than 3 months away, so you want to be  totally prepared to participate in the delights of a wood-burning fireplace.  I recommend the following:

1) Make sure all chimneys are capped.  These caps can be installed from the outside, for about $275 in about 15 minutes, and they last a lifetime! (Mine is being installed as soon as the parts come in).

2) Keep dampers closed when chimney not in use.

3) Find a reliable chimney sweep for fireplace maintenance – you’d be surprised at what can collect (creosote, etc.) along the walls of the flue during a typical winter season. 

4) Keep tree branches trimmed away from all rooftops to prevent a fire hazard, and to discourage critters from scampering over your rooftops, potentially creating problems!

Thank God for Tim!

Tim, Chimney Sweep, 2010

I’d just like to say how happy I am that there are people out there to take care of things like this!  Now, if I could only get rid of the orange-vanilla room deodorizer (this is what they use) permeating every square inch of my house….time to turn on the attic fan and let it go crazy!

About 12 years ago, when I lived on/near UVA grounds, the damper of my chimney got stuck and I had to call the fire department…..4 fire trucks showed up en masse after what seemed like an eternity, completely blocking off the residential circle I lived on. The house had completely filled with smoke and I was starting to panic….one of the firemen walked up my driveway in full garb carrying an axe, prepared for most anything!  Even he had a hard time unjamming the grate….it was in December, freezing cold, and we had to open all the windows while the giant fans blew out the smoke.  I remember at one point I had about 6 firemen standing in my living room – one of them was a gal, and she and I started talking about the Christmas wreath I had hung over the fireplace mantel! Imagine that!  Even then there was an opportunity to discuss home aesthetics with another professional.
Well, I’m anxious to hear if any of my readers have had similar experiences with their fireplaces.  I really love those comments, so keep them coming!

The Virtues of Dining… Alone!
July 1, 2010, 8:20 pm
Filed under: Essence, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

My Baby!, c.1970

Well, I can remember the first time I dined alone…..I was 16 and enjoying a phase of self-discovery which had opened up the moment I got my driver’s license.  Not only was I sporting a brand new 1970 Camaro (dark metallic blue, yes!) in 1970, I felt on top of the world with this new-found freedom.  I drove to school during the week, and prayed Mom would hand me a long list of errands to run on Saturdays, requiring me to get in the car and go somewhere, anywhere!  Coral Gables, South Miami, downtown Miami, anywhere!  Usually I headed into the Gables, parking on Miracle Mile, which offered a ton of great shops and restaurants.  One restaurant which was a family favorite was Chippy’s, a New York style deli with a typically lengthy menu featuring all the usual sandwiches, sides, entrees, and desserts (I will never forget their homemade tangerine sherbet!) seen in great Jewish delicatessens.  One day, I was out and about, and decided to pop in there with all my packages, for a cherry coke.  I was seated in a booth and before I knew it, had ordered a BLT….from the first bite, that was the best BLT I’ve ever eaten in my life….was it the perfect bacon?  gobs of mayo? deli bread?  crisp lettuce, runny tomatoes? 

This Started it All

 Who knows, but I spun into orbit, finishing off the entire thing with all the chips on the side.  Wow!  Guess what, I did it again the following weekend, and before too long, this had become my little secret ritual.

Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, Fl

  At the time, I was quite svelte, so I wasn’t compromising my shape in any way. And what does one think about while dining like this?  Plenty!  Making plans, taking notes, reflecting on the week, figuring out my wardrobe for the rest of the weekend, thumbing through the latest issue of “Seventeen” magazine….it went on and on…. Usually that evening there was a school-affiliated game of some sort (foot or basketball) to plan for, or it was date night, or whatever, but I never told anyone what I had been up to earlier in the day!

It’s something that’s stuck with me my entire life.  When I traveled a lot for business and had a free night, it was either go out and explore, or sit in my room and order room service.  Believe me, unless you’re dead tired, ordering room service is a nasty, calorie-laden, expensive waste!  As business travel took me to most of the great urban centers in our country, I became an expert at figuring out the perfect place to go on my own.  My very favorite experience of all time was in Manhattan; I had been traveling all week, was exhausted, and decided to see what I could come up with.  It was around Christmas time (c.2000), so people were having holiday parties in restaurants, filling them up, but I decided I’d take a chance.  I rang up Picholine, a cheese-a-holic’s delight, explained my situation (in town on biz, on my own) and did they have room for a party of one?  The guy couldn’t have been nicer, and said if I didn’t mind being seated in the bar, to come on over….full menu, the works!  So, I got all gussied up, grabbed some design magazines, and ended up having a fantastic evening.  I went crazy – rack of lamb, etc. etc., but nothing prepared me for the cheese cart which pulled up to my table….in the meantime, I’d been conversing with people seated on both sides of me, having a great time, but dialogue ceased when I laid my eyes on the most extensive selection of the most gorgeous cheeses I’d ever seen.  I was handed a tri-fold brochure describing all the cheeses on the cart, and I took my time choosing a variety of 6, with the help of the expert….of course, I then selected a glass of port, and basically ate my way into oblivion ( I was still relatively svelte at that point)…..the bill ended up being about $200, worth every penny, and no, I did not expense this meal.

Picholine's cheese trolley

Which brings me to the present.  Living in Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, Annapolis, Washington D.C., and now Charlottesville, I admit I have practiced solo dining in all of these cities, and to this day find it perfectly gratifying to spontaneously pick a place and order up. It’s scaringly easy to do this after closing Quince at 5 or so every day, and it’s usually a spontaneous decision made at the last minute.  Unfortunately, when I think about the untold dollars and millions of calories I’ve ingested honoring this activity (and no, I no longer can be classified as svelte in any way, shape, or form), I absolutely cringe!  But, it’s a great way to unwind and run into people I haven’t seen in awhile.  I usually treat myself once a week or so – again, I’m not talking about the drive-thru or chain restaurant, but some place I can get a great glass of wine and a tasty treat….and yes, delicious hummus and grilled shrimp (thank you, Mas), an order of the best mussels in the area (thank you, Duner’s), or calamari salad with 60-second sirloin (thank you, Bang) can be respectably healthy for the most part.  And, of course, it’s always a blast catching up with Francois across the street from Quince at The X Lounge, about happenings “south of the tracks” in our Warehouse District neighborhood!

Why do many people resist dining alone?  Everyone should try it a couple of times – it’s a chance to be with yourself and explore your surroundings in an enjoyable way.  If you’re traveling, or have a free night without obligations (that could be a tough one!), grab something to read (if you want to) and head out.  You may end up not reading, but having great conversation with people around you, if you choose! Let me know how it goes!