Thursday, November 24, 2011

I'm thankful for apple pie.

It can be a happy thing when an experience fails to meet your expectations.*  
Making pie, for example.
At some point I got it in my head that making pie, especially the crust, was difficult, and best left to experienced pastry-makers. The plethora of ready-made pie crusts available at grocery stores fed into my belief. It must be tricky or time-consuming, if so many bakers opt for the pre-made version.
I decided to test that belief this year, and volunteered to make apple pies for Thanksgiving. After briefly browsing through cookbooks, I went to the source of all my kitchen knowledge: Mom.
As usual, she came through, and showed me the pie crust recipe she's used for decades. As I copied it, I was astonished: four ingredients, five basic steps. Could it be that simple?
As for the filling, her instructions were even easier, and not even written down: add chopped apples, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. I could do this.
Yesterday I made my first attempt. Following the simple instructions, I had pie crust dough within minutes. 
I filled the crust with the apple filling, topped it off with the rest of the dough and popped it in the oven. About 40 minutes later I opened the oven door and voila! I had pie!
  Giddy with success, I called my mom to tell her -- and to thank her for all her kitchen mentoring.
This morning I did it all over again, and now I have two apple pies to bring to the Thanksgiving feast at my folks' house. We'll all be there: Mom, Dad, two brothers, my sister, plus spouses and grandkids. 
And those are the ingredients for a most happy Thanksgiving.
I wish the same to you and yours.
*In writing this, I couldn't think of a word that means the opposite of "exceed," the usual word used with "expectations." I searched the web and found I'm not alone in the hunt for that elusive word. Some writers have proposed "deceed." What do you think?

Last but not least, here's the recipe:

Mom's Apple Pie
(Makes dough for 1 covered apple pie.)

  Put 3/4 cup of Crisco in a mixing bowl.
Pour on 1/4 cup boiling water, and add 1 Tablespoon of milk.
Whip with a fork until smooth and thick like whipped cream.
Sift in 2 cups sifted flour and 1 teaspoon salt.
Stir quickly until you get a nice, smooth dough.

Peel and chop about 4 Macintosh apples.
Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon to taste.

Grease pie plate with Crisco.
Split dough in half.
Roll out half of the dough on a lightly floured surface.

This next step is a neat trick from my mom, which I wouldn't have thought to do:
Once the dough is rolled to the needed size, gently roll it back onto the rolling pin. Rest the rolling pin on the top edge of the pie plate, and unroll the crust into the plate. It works!
Fill the crust with the apple mix gradually; sprinkle a bit more sugar and cinnamon onto each layer.
Roll out the top crust and lay it atop the apples. Crimp edges with a fork, and use the fork to gently poke vent holes in the top crust. Trim excess dough from the edges.
        Optional: Gently brush top crust with an egg wash (one egg, mostly whites, beaten with a bit of water).

Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes.
Reduce to 425 degrees and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The cat's in the bag.

"There's no snooze button on a cat who wants breakfast."
  That's one of my favorite refrigerator magnets, and since I feed our two cats in the morning, I knew something was wrong yesterday when only Peanut turned up at my feet.
April was missing.
My first thought was that she was stuck in a closet somewhere. I walked through the house, checking all of her usual hiding places.
No April.
Beginning to worry, I opened every door, every cupboard, even the washer and dryer. 
No April.
My heart sank. 
Our "girls" are indoor cats. We live too close to a busy road to let them be anything but. Lately, though, April has had a hankering for the great outdoors. Whenever we come in the back door, she's right there waiting. She slipped out a couple times recently, but we always managed to wrangle her back in within seconds. 
Somehow she had slipped out unnoticed. 
I checked the yard and the garage, calling out her name.
No April.
I called my husband at work, and explained what I feared. I made a quick "Lost Cat"  flyer with her photo and made copies at O'Neill's, the local grocery, tacking one up on their bulletin board. I taped a few on nearby telephone poles, and left more with a friend who promised to post them around her block.
Leaving a bowl of cat food on the back steps, I left for work around 10 with a heavy heart. Since I had to work until 6, I worried that April would come home, but no one would be there to let her back in.
Enter my wonderful husband. At lunch time I got a text message: He came home from work to scour the neighborhood.
His first report: no luck, no April, no cat of any description.
Meanwhile the skies turned gray and the temperature dropped. I know cats have fur to keep them warm, but I pictured her cold, wet and miserable. Then again, I thought, maybe that would be a good thing, give her an incentive to come home.
At 2:45 I got the call that made my day: April was back! 
Taking a break from the hunt, my husband had been working on a bike in our driveway. He looked up and saw April poking her head out from beneath our back steps. (And no, she hadn't been there earlier. I checked.)
Very slowly, my husband moved toward her. "Hi, April," he said, oh so casually. Then he scooped her up and "threw her back in the house." (I'm sure it was a gentle toss.)
Her great outdoors adventure was over. 
For readers with outdoor cats, this may seem much ado about nothing. Cats come back, I know that. I've heard of at least two cats who found their way home, one after months of absence. Unfortunately I also know of pets who never found their way home. Besides, this was our cat. She was not used to the outdoors, or traffic, and for seven hours I had no idea how this story would end. I felt terrible.
When I got that wonderful phone call, I whooped with joy and relief (even though I work at a library). I called my friend to tell her she didn't have to post those flyers, and I called O'Neill's, to say they could take the flyer down. The man who answered sounded as happy as I was when I told him the good news. 
Last night while we were watching TV, April took turns burrowing into both of our laps, purring away. When I woke up this morning, she was in her usual spot: Sitting on my bladder, staring down at me, waiting for me to get up and feed her. It's true: There is no snooze button on a hungry cat.
As I type this, April is curled up on the footstool, resting her head on my ankle. Is she remembering her big adventure? Will she dream of slinking through back yards and climbing trees? Was it fun, scary, a bit of both?
We'll never know. She is a cat, after all, and she's not talking.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Frosty outlines: fleeting beauty.
My dad has been diagnosed with a serious illness. 
The past two weeks have been a bit surreal. I often feel like I'm walking around in a protective bubble. It's shock, I'm sure. One of the mind's defense mechanisms.
Writing has helped. I started "Momentary Joy" because looking for the treasure in ordinary moments has been a practice of mine for years. These days, it's a necessity. 
Another fallen find.
This morning, I accompanied our dog as he "checked the perimeter." We walked through the back yard full of frost-tipped leaves. I came back just 10 minutes later to take pictures, and found the frost fading fast. Had I waited longer, I would have missed my chance. 
Later, I picked up a friend for breakfast (a more than momentary joy). While I stood in her back yard waiting for her, I looked up and saw bold yellow leaves fanned out high against blue sky. I felt the sun's heat against the back of my legs, and the top of my head as it tilted back. A moment of peace, and warmth.
When hard things happen, one of side effects can be a heightened awareness. I've been reminded (and I know it sounds obvious) that the present moment is the only place we exist. It is all that we are given -- and it is indeed a gift. 
I will always remember something my dad said to us during one of his first days in the hospital, something he repeated, because it was important to him:
"Enjoy your life." 
Good advice, Dad. 
May we enjoy many more moments with you.