Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Hello there. It's been a while!

I feel like I should start by finishing my pie story. I didn't place. Sad, I know. But, I did get a nifty little score card in the mail that tells me how many points I go in each category! It was fun - kinda like a report card. I am officially a B+ pie maker (89% thank you very much) which I count as success for my first year. I can't seem to find that little card to break it down any more, but I do remember my highest points were in the crust, for which I got a 14/15 for flavor. I was pretty proud of that. My lowest were in apple flavor and texture. Boo.

Anyway, thanks to my sister and mom I have all sorts of new pie tools that will help with next (this) year's project. For the record, I think my favorite apple (for baking) is the Granny Smith. The Zester was good in theory, but just lacked the density. Or something.

Contrary to how my life seems on this little bloggy blog, I actually have been up to more than just pie making. Thank goodness. Let's see: my sister had twins babies! I became certified as a Pediatric Nurse! I moved into a new apartment (that is beautiful and spacious and not freezing and has no mice)! I went to Jamaica and worked in a Children's hospital for a week! I survived the worst winter in the whole entire world. Trust me, it's no small task.

Plans for this spring:

I want to buy a bike. Soon.
The rest is TBD

Sunday, August 22, 2010

meet me at the fair!

Today is the big day! Waking early, I rolled out my beautiful dough, sliced apples carefully, measured meticulously and assembled my fifth and final (2010) pie. I surprised myself when I woke with a smile on my face and butterflies in my stomach (silly!) and then, just prior to departure, began to imagine myself dropping the pie right outside the Creative Activities building, or having to put on my breaks really hard and (in slow motion) watching my pie fall to the dirty floor of my car... or worse, getting out of the shower to find I didn't hear the timer and everything was burned to a crisp. Oh dear. I probably should have baked it last night.

The good news is we arrived safe and sound! With plenty of time to spare! I felt curious about how people would be acting in line - competitive? Minnesota nice? Both at the same time! There were all kinds, much to my delight, and everyone was excited about their baking. Some women stepped into line with boxes full of bars and drop cookies and brownies, one even needed a moment of consolation from her husband right before she got in line! Others were like me, smiling, delighted with their single creation and happily chatting with other bakers about their fair experiences. The woman behind me in line made it very clear that she had gotten a blue ribbon her first time in the fair (for muffins made out of cereal??) & told her name to people as if they should know... hehe. I loved it.

As far as the actual pie goes, I kept it pretty much the same as 4G except I did go sans boiled cider. I think it does create a really traditional pie flavor, but I liked keeping it lighter and more of a pastry than a heavy pie. Anyway, I really wish I had more time to experiment - I was changing multiple ingredients each time so it was hard to know what change I liked and what I could do without. Five pies under my belt doesn't seem like much, but this is just my first year after all.

The judging happens today but I won't know the results until I actually go to the fair (they hang the list on the door somewhere on the fairgrounds). Anyway, up above are some pictures of my morning! It really was fun.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Things are back on track with pie 4G! Again, I let the crust get good and cold before rolling it out into perfectly shaped disks. I cut the butter and lard in by hand & I think this time I unintentionally left some larger chunks behind (notice: swiss-cheese like holes in the top crust). Didn't affect the taste at all, and I kind of loved the out-of-my-hands imperfection that formed while it baked.

And, the Zestar apples were a very good decision. As the pie was baking I was worried they were creating too much water (we had some overflow, which didn't happen with the other types) but in the end the texture, taste and consistency was nearly perfect. They are a semi-tart apple, I definitely wouldn't put them in the same category as Granny Smith, so with the lemon zest (which I went heavy on again, since it was so yummy last time), things turned out a little too puckery. So, for round five I'm going to stay with the Zestars, skimp on the lemon zest and call it good! Which is good since I just went to the grocery store and there were no Braeburns in sight! The only thing I have yet to decide on is the boiled cider. Friend or foe? It's a heavy taste, and I'm finding it tough to balance with the spices. The first time I used it, I added a whole 1/4 cup, which is what my recipe told me to do. It was kinda thick for my preferences, so last time I added 2 tablespoons instead. Still, I felt kind of overwhelmed by the flavor. Hm, what to do...

Regardless, tonight my 5th pie will be born! And tomorrow I will drop it off at the state fair! I don't even really care if I win, I'm finding, I'm just so excited to bring my All-Minnesotan apple pie to the fair grounds, along with all my competition, & then see it proudly displayed in the Creative Activities building next week. I'm super curious what the social culture is like on days like this. Are people cut throat about their pies? Or will we all be standing in line, chatty, exchanging tips and secret ingredients? Hm, I guess it won't be long until I find out!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Progress in the pie department took a significant hit this week. Forgetting to add the last cup of flour until after the water and vodka were mixed in does create some problems... mostly, chewy crust. And I wasn't even watching TV this time!

I also changed a few things with the apples. First, I have read on multiple occasions that it is best to make pies with two kinds of apples (one half tart, the other sweet). I've been using Granny Smith and Braeburn up until this pie when I decided to switch out the Braeburns for Fuij. Not a great decision, as they are very different consistencies (fuji: soft and spongy, grannies: crisp and wonderful). But, it did help me identify what it is that I find most appealing in pie filling. Haha, or should I say a-peeling?

Anyway, I've got 4G in the oven right now and I've made some good improvements in the apple selection department. Mostly, I decided that I'm in charge of the sweet vs. tart ratio and I must say that I favor the tart. Especially with fall coming.So, bubbling between the flaky layers of crust are Zestar apple! Wait, what are Zestar apples, you ask? Well, they are a University of Minnesota original (which I found very fitting) that were created to ripen early in the season in colder climates. I found them via the co-op, but they are grown and harvested in LaCrescent, MN. There are bumps and bruises all over these apples, but that makes me love them all the more. I can't wait to see how it turns out!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Apple Pie 2.0

Well, the second round in this baking series has come and gone. I feel a little embarrassed to say that I've only crafted two pies during this "summer of baking" but, hey, it's really hot in this tiny apt!

My goals with this second one was to focus on the filling. I got feedback that my spices were less than balanced the first go round, so I added a couple to try and give it some depth or diversity (or whatever - don't be fooled, I'm no spice expert). So, there was cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and cloves in this last one. And while that part of it was good, the filling was less than perfect. Which I must admit wasn't due to my ingredients, but rather a product of my addictive personality.

Has anyone seen Nip/Tuck? If not, be warned, it's almost impossible to peel your eyes away from those dark and twisty characters... which is especially dangerous while you are zesting a lemon into your state fair pie! No blood spill, thankfully, but I did end up zesting nearly the whole lemon when I had planned on only using a tablespoon. I thought I picked enough of it out, but the filling was super tart. The strange part was that my tasters raved about it! And, yes, even though I love them dearly, I am now a bit skeptical of their discretion when it comes to apple pie filling.

The thing that did go really well with this pie was the crust. Last time I made it I was SO excited to roll it out and bake it up all flaky and golden that I only let it get chilly in the fridge for about an hour. This time I was a bit strapped for time, so I made it and then let it sit (accidentally) for 2 whole days. I don't know what happens when you let things really sit and get truly cold, but the end result was a perfectly flaky and delicious crust. I haven't quite figured out how to resolve the whole "I want it to taste more like butter" issue, but I'm leaning toward experimenting with butter extract. (My insides are saying "NOOOOO, only use REAL butter", but from what I've read it's really hard to keep the flakes with real butter. Decisions, decisions).

This week needs to be about baking pies - the fair is but weeks away! And I will do my best, I promise!! Anyone have any suggestions or tips? I love feedback!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

There are very few things in my life that I get to see through to completion. I see patients come and then leave (in better shape than when they arrived), yes. But let's face it - closure is really hard to come by in my line of business. So, I've been experimenting with different "hobbies" if you will, to see what keeps my attention and what doesn't.

First off, I work out on a consistent basis and have discovered that it is most definitely a chore, not a hobby. I do love to knit, but often I find that too long of a commitment and I do (gasp) get a little tired of my projects toward the end. I enjoy reading, and it does fairly often bring closure, but it isn't a social activity. So, I have found baking to be my time (and tummy) filler of choice. And, yes, there is a difference between baking and cooking... at least for me. And I love baking & enjoying the finished product with my friends the very most.

For a while I was on a cake kick... tunnel of fudge cake, angel food with a citrus twist, almond and walnut cakes. Oh my, I am in love! It was earlier this summer that I decided I needed to turn this baking experiment into more of a project: a MN state fair themed project, if you will. The original plan was to perfect the sugar cookie and submit that to the state fair for judging, but that was so labor intensive and making a batch of sugar cookies is really an all day commitment. So, I decided on the pie baking category because, really, what says "State Fair" more than an apple pie?! You got it - nothing.

My mom has been so helpful in the research phase of this project - collecting recipes, finding food blogs, giving me resources that discuss everything from gluten chains in the flour to the importance of keeping the pH of your crust between a 5 and 6 (ps. baking is science, people!), etc etc. I paid extra attention to the tips on crust making, as I felt this would be my greatest challenge and decided to use a recipe from Cooks Illustrated for my first go round. And it was 97% perfect. The filling has some work to be done, and I'd like the crust to have more of a butter flavor (because I lalalove butter!!)... But, for a first timer, I was pretty thrilled with how it all baked out.

So, the plan for apple pie 2.0: more butter, softer apples, more balanced spices, and as always... maintain flakiness!! I'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Minnesota nurses are but a few days away from making history... again.

Maybe all ignorance is somewhat purposeful, but I've really tried to avoid learning much about the upcoming strike (why? Oh, I really dislike confrontation). But, while I am not a member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, June 10 is going to be a really big day in nursing history & I do feel somewhat a part of it. For those who might be out of the political loop - as it relates to nursing anyway - let me give you an update: after a long spring of contract negotiations, 12,000 Minnesota nurses will be participating in a 24-hr strike as a way of "defending their patients and their practice".

I'm not really interested in touching on the complexities of this issue (feel free to see the MNA website if this really "strikes" your fancy), but I am interested in reconnecting with the philosophy of nursing. Because when people get all excited about the issues, I find myself becoming more introspective than usual.

This may come as a shock to many, but the fundamentals of nursing theory is not the first thing I think about when I get to work. At least not in the organized manner in which it is presented in Nursing 301. But theory drives our practice, whether or not we recognize it, and most of our theory is based on our personal values. And, as a large majority of nurses will tell you, above all nurses value their patients.

I could go on and on about what nursing means to me. But, let me share with you part of a letter the nurses at my hospital received from our Chief of Staff during Nurses Week...

"Despite the rise of technology medicine remains a highly personal endeavor. And it must be so. I think that an unspoken question exists in the mind of every parent, and every child, when they come to us for care. The question we hear center on the mechanics of medicine: Where do I park?, where do I register?, how long must I wait?, what will be done?, will it hurt, will it help? and so on. The unspoken question is: Will you care about me? The answer to that question determines the worth of everything that follows. ... our patients and families value the physical presence of those who provide care. They treasure it! It is how they measure whether we care about them. And who is more present than a nurse?"

The rising voices of contract nurses in the Twin Cities have challenged me. Why did I pick nursing? What values influence how I approach my career and my patients? How do I find a place in this healthcare system that seems to be overwhelmed by tasks, efficiency, quantifying people's emotions and that pesky bottom line?

How do we maintain our presence?