Thursday, November 22, 2012

A little giving of thanks

Time now for the second annual gratitude post.  It is going to read a lot like the first.

I love Thanksgiving.  I love all that it stands for.  Gratitude.  Food.  Family.  Friends.  It does make me miss my family back in Illinois, but I am always so glad to be able to spend it with this family I have married into out here in beautiful California.

Here is what I am most thankful for from this year:

1. Teaching--I so enjoyed team teaching a class on Steinbeck and the history of the 1930s with a friend this year.  We took a group of students to Monterey, we rifted off one another in class, we learned a lot about our own craft of teaching, and we lightened the heavy load for each other.  It was great fun as well as professionally satisfying.  

2. The Road Trip:  I love road trips.  I just do.  I love being trapped in a car and singing at the top of my lungs and telling the same stories and stopping at diners and putting my feet on the dashboard (when I am not driving, of course).  This year, the husband and I went to see the Avett Brothers four times.  Yes.  This year.  Four times.  And our only regret is that we didn't drive to Oregon to see them again (and I regret not seeing them in Iowa, but the logistics there would have been absolutely insane).  That meant we had to do a lot of driving around California.  And it was grand.

3.  Discovering the art museum with my niece:  This summer, my niece and I went to the  Art Institute of Chicago together.  We walked through the modern and postmodern art wing and explained what we saw to each other.  That kid has an amazing eye, and I would say she even taught me a thing or two about art.  Plus, we got to rush through the halls of the institute, giggling and pointing and getting really (too) close to the art.  

4.  The Beaches:  Oh, I went to a lot of beaches this year.  I love the ocean.  To think, I hadn't seen the ocean until I was 14, and I didn't see the Pacific Ocean until I was 24.  I love me some ocean. Always.  Everyday. All day.  Anytime.  

5.  Yoga Teacher Training:  I had a lot to say about that here. And I have so enjoyed teaching yoga to my students. They make my Mondays and Wednesdays so wonderful and full and happy. I especially love when we get to be outside.

6.  Health and my family:  Not everyone in my family is fully healthy right now.  But we're all here; we're all celebrating the day of the turkey.  For this I am so glad.  They are crazy, but they are mine.  And I love them.

7.  Our new girls as well as the tough, old girl.  They live somewhat peaceably together, although the old girl would be happy if the new girls would just pack up and move out.

8.  Friends:  I miss my best friends so much.  They live all too far away.  But I think of them often and love them immensely.  And I am so happy to have them in my life.

9.  Rome:  When I am rich, I want to live in Rome forever and ever. And ever. And ever.  Until then, I just want to keep going back to Rome.  I think the Romans will have me.  

10.  Writing: From this place to my journal, from some poems I am working on to some vignettes I have been writing.  I love it.  Now if only those letters of recommendations would just write themselves.  

I hope you all have a wonderful thanksgiving.  We're heading to the husband's parents' house.  There will be turkey.  There will probably be pumpkin pie.  And there will most certainly be macaroni and cheese.  I am not sure why there will be macaroni and cheese, but there will be. Don't ask.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Blueberry Pie

A little over a week ago, a dear friend of mine passed away.  He was a good man with the faux-surliness of a scientist that he used to mask what was quite possibly the sentimental heart of a poet.  When I came to California, he took me under his wing, teaching me the ins and outs of my new job at a new school.  For years, the husband and I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving with him, his wife, and other dear friends.

On those thanksgivings in a condo up Clarewood Lane, the Canadian flag would hang outside the front door limply (it was never very windy) but proudly.  Before dinner, there would be a standing rendition of the Canadian national anthem, with many of us just mouthing the words we didn't entirely know even though they were printed on cheat sheets for us.  Usually at some point, he would switch to the French and then chastise us more for not knowing those lyrics.  Once we settled into our chairs, he and his wife would serve the requisite turkey and mashed potatoes with Canadian flair, including the tightly-wound treble clefs of fern fronds and the deep indigo of blueberry pie, on blue and white china featuring the main buildings of Cal's campus (he and his wife, proud alums).  Spouses were never allowed to sit next to each other, and it was often hard to hear what your neighbor was saying because someone was often telling a bawdy and raucous story resulting in loud laughter.  Dinner was followed by brandy at the table until someone reluctantly got up, seeing as many of us had to teach the next day.

It was cancer.  Some tight fist in his own body that grew soon enough that it took over.  In the end, he was eating foie gras and chocolate in a rush of what little enjoyment there was to be had in food after having denied himself such luxuries following his heart attack some years before.  Might as well.

He died one Thursday morning.  I miss him.

In his honor, we have done three things.  When the husband and I got married (on the weekend of Canadian Thanksgiving no less), we were gifted one of the last remaining bottles of our dear friend's favorite thanksgiving brandy and a set of beautiful snifters.  We toasted our friend as we drank the last of the brandy.  Then we sat down to eat one of the most delectable blueberry pies--even if we didn't wait long enough to let the filling set and it pooled around the most divine crust.  Finally, I read a poem from Coney Island of the Mind, a book that this scientist said changed everything he knew about the world when he was a young man.  Like I said, a poet beneath that exterior of logic and rationality.

I give you the poem and the blueberry pie.  Both testaments to this good man.

Constantly Risking Absurdity
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Constantly risking absurdity
                                             and death
            whenever he performs
                                        above the heads
                                                            of his audience
   the poet like an acrobat
                                 climbs on rime
                                          to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
                                     above a sea of faces
             paces his way
                               to the other side of day
    performing entrechats
                               and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
                               and all without mistaking
                     any thing
                               for what it may not be

       For he's the super realist
                                     who must perforce perceive
                   taut truth
                                 before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
                                  toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
                                     with gravity
                                                to start her death-defying leap

      And he
             a little charleychaplin man
                                           who may or may not catch
               her fair eternal form
                                     spreadeagled in the empty air
                  of existence

One Year Ago: Roast Pork with Apricots 
Two Years Ago: Granola

Blueberry Pie
from The New Best Recipe

1 Pie

2 1/2 cups four, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6-8 tablespoons ice water 
6 cups blueberries
1/4-1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (we used about 3/4 cup)
2 teaspoons juice and 1 teaspoon grated zest from 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoom ground allspice
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
3-4 tablespoons Minute tapioca, ground for 1 minute in a food processor or a spice grinder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

For the Pie Dough
1. Process the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor until combined.  Add the shortening and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds.  Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture: cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles course crumbs, with butter bit no larger than small peas, about ten 1-second pulses.  Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.

2.  Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of the ice water over the mixture.  With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix.  Press down on the dough with the broad side of the spatula until the dough sticks together, adding up to 2 tablespoons more ice water if the dough will not come together.  Divide the dough into 2 balls and flatten each into a 4-inch disk.  Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days before rolling.

For the Pie Filling 
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a rimmed baking sheet on it, and heat the oven to 500 degrees.  

2.  Roll out the dough on a lightly flours work surface to a 12-inch circle.  Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate.  Working around the circumference of the pan, ease the dough into the pan corners.  Leave the dough that overhangs the lip of the pie plate in place; refrigerate the dough-lined pie plate.

3.  Toss the berries, sugar (amount depending on how sweet the berries are and how sweet you like your pie), lemon juice and zest, spices, and tapioca in a medium bowl.  Let stand 15 minutes.

4.  Roll out the second piece of dough to a 12-inch circle.  

5.  Spoon the berries into the pie shell in the pie plate and scatter the butter pieces over the filling.  Place the second piece of dough over the filling.  Trim the top and bottom edges to 1/2 inch beyond the pan lip.  Tuck the rim of the dough underneath itself or pinch the two edges together.  Cut four slits into the dough top.  If the pie dough is very soft, place in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Brush the egg white on the top of the crust and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.

6.  Place the pie on the baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 425 degrees.  Bake until the top crust is golden, about 25 minutes.  Rotate the pie and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees; continue baking into the juices bubble and the crust is a deep golden-brown, about 30-35 minutes longer.

7.  Transfer the pie to a wire rack.  Cool to room temperature, which is much longer than you think.  And it's worth it to wait (which we did not do) because then the innards are more solidified.  However, it is just as tasty still warm and oozing all over the place.  Just not as pretty.  If you can swing it, let this puppy sit over night.