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Pie One: #52PieProject
Dec 30th, 2015 by alexfaye

All year I’ve been thinking that I am 57 years old, so it came as a bit of a jolt to realize that I am actually 58, and my pies still look like a child made them.  I am an adult woman, well into the second half.  I need to step up my pie game.

So this is the first in a series of pies I will bake on my way to casual competence. This was a gift pie I baked for my sister, VLC — Vicki Lee Coleman. I baked it on the day after Christmas, and somehow, we got into a fight that was triggered by a small thing (“please don’t take my picture when I’m eating dinner”) but ended up being about every thoughtless moment and every stupid thing I’ve done over the last four or five decades.  (She said she had a long list.)  My sister may not know where she put her car keys, but she does know that I did not call her that one time in 1999, and she may fling that oversight at me at any time.

This pie was created in peace and as it cooled, we raged.  We were too upset to eat dinner together, but over the course of the next hour or two, we eased ourselves to detente, and then sat down and had pie.
PieOneMy mind and emotions were whirling from the argument, but that first bite of pie with vanilla ice cream settled me into a sweet and lovely moment.  The warm berries and flaky crust called me back to my body, and it felt good.

I screwed around with this recipe, which calls for 9 tablespoons of fat — 4 butter and 5 shortening, and the other way around works also.  Higher butter content yields one thing; more shortening, another. I have read this; I do not have direct experience or knowledge.

I doubled the recipe to make top and bottom crusts, and because butter comes in 8 tablespoon sticks, I said to myself, OK, I need 16 tablespoons:  1 stick of butter and 8 tablespoons of shortening — I may have mathematically shorted the pastry 2 TBSPs of fat, I don’t think I did in actuality.  Cold shortening in a measuring spoon is mountainous.  The flavor and texture of the pie crust was delicious (I love a dry, flaky crust), but the dough did tear during rolling, and I had to patch it in several places.  About 15 minutes into baking, I applied a simple egg wash to try and shine up the top. I was envisioning a browner, glossier pie.

So: Would a little more fat make the crust more elastic (and therefore less likely to tear)? Is there something wrong with my rolling technique?  Why is the color uneven? Why isn’t the pie a bit more shiny?

Preparing the filling was a snap, and the pie held its shape after cutting.  The filling didn’t run out all over the pie pan.  I consulted a basic Food Network recipe for Cherry Pie, and here’s what I actually did: 2 cups frozen organic cherries, 1 cup frozen blackberries, 1 cup tart cherries, soaked in warm water and drained, all in the saucepan.  Whisked 1.5 cups of sugar and 4 TBSP cornstarch together, and added this dry mixture to the fruit in the saucepan, little by little. I ladled the filling into the pie crust with a slotted spoon, and ended up with about 6 ounces of leftover cherry-berry syrup, which I am saving for oatmeal or ice cream.  I did not overfill the bottom crust — there was still a bit of headspace when it was all said and done, and the top crust settled down nicely over the warm fruit.

As it was going into the oven, Maddy asked, “Did you put any herbs in there?”  That is an interesting question, isn’t it?  What would go well? Minced fresh basil? Mint?  Something lemony?

Next, I am going savory:  Pie Two:  Kale and Spinach Hand Pies for New Year’s Eve dinner.  And for New Year’s Day, Maddy’s favorite and a fitting way to begin the new year:  Chicken Pot Pie.

The green dresser
Apr 23rd, 2011 by alexfaye

Green dresser, circa 1944

My daughter Maddy moved out today.  She is 23 now, and moving into her first one-bedroom apartment is an important milestone.  And no roommate.  This is not college, where she is subsidized by savings and scholarships and loans – she went out and found this place, put a deposit down, and now must pay for it, month in and month out.  She has done the math a hundred different ways, and is sure she will be able to handle everything comfortably.  She has a good job in Pomona that looks like it will last for a good while.  Although…it seem as if this company may be acquired soon — the principal owner is eighty years old — and there is certain to be a shake up.  If she continues to demonstrate her worth, she may be spared and integrated into the new organization.  All this is new to her, but this is what I worry about.

But why worry?  That girl has always landed on her feet.  She’s smart, and resourceful.  And I don’t know anything about the company she works for.  I’m making it all up in my head.

I went to go see the apartment yesterday; it’s cute.  It’s on a quiet street, tucked in an older Fullerton neighborhood, within walking distance from the “action” of downtown — corners of Harbor and Commonwealth.  It’s exactly the kind of place a 23-year old girl should live in:  tiny, clean, with families all around, and a big avocado tree outside.  Today, she packed her room, loaded up her car and drove away, with very little fanfare.  She said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”  My eyebrows shot up.  “Are you sleeping there tonight?,” I wanted to know. She shrugged.  Maddy has no bed, no fridge, no gas on for the stove, no coffeepot, no couch, no table, no chair.  But she’s all dressed up, and anxious to go find her friends, haul her stuff upstairs, and then drink too much.

I face the emptiness of my house with a mixture of elation and grief.  I am going to miss her, but I don’t think mothers should have a front row seat to their daughters’ 20s.  It’s not a pretty decade.  There are bad decisions, tragic love affairs and ill-fated liaisons; there’s vomit in the driveway and cigarette butts spilling over their ashtrays.  I moved far, far away so my mother’s worries were vague and diaphanous; she couldn’t really put her finger on what troubled her, whereas I see it all, up close.  I’d prefer to see less.  I am banking on Maddy emerging from this decade alive, wiser, and appreciative of what it takes to keep a household together, day after day, month after month, for years following years.  It’s no mean feat.

I have little money to help her, so we are relying on her dad, who has been generous and accommodating.  Today, though — he’s depressed, and not up for shopping with me.  He’s been in a whirlwind of activity all week with his sister and her family down for Easter vacation; he can’t do too much before he falls into his morass of dark emotion.

I called a green dresser back into service — it used to belong to my sister, but it’s been the garage now for at least 25 years — so when I pulled it away from the wall in the garage,  I found black widow spiders, rat poop and mold.  I ran inside to get a mask to go over my nose and mouth, and a scarf to cover my hair, and then I started to methodically clean this piece of furniture that we surely had on Winchester Street.  This dresser dates back to at least the 1960s; Vicki thinks that it might be from the 1940s.  I remember my mother painting it that crazy green color, but which house were we in then?  Spain?  Morocco?  Petunia Court in San Diego?  It has big round white ceramic drawer pulls – very 1970s in appearance.    I dusted it off, killed the spider nests, took a wire brush to every inside surface, vacuumed it, sprayed it with Lysol, wiped it down with Clorox, and left it disassembled to air out.  It was a process, and during my work, I thought of my mother, and moving away from her house many different times.

When I was 23, I was already in the north, flailing around.  My mother was in this house, the one that I live in today.  I had abandoned my Southern California life, and that included her.  I didn’t think of it that way at the time, of course, but I am a mother now, and I know now how she experienced my departure.

It’s not that I want Maddy to stay.  In many ways, I am relieved to have my house to myself once again; I suffered one hundred little indignities as Maddy’s roommate.  But my heart is breaking anyway.  My child is grown, and her life belongs to her; I am no longer needed.  Well, I haven’t been needed as a “mom” for a long time, and I suppose she needs to remind me of that simple truth as a declaration of independence.  Providing food, shelter, safety and entertainment is a paltry thing compared with being somebody’s capital-M Mom.  There was a time when she adored me, but now, as she completes her separation, she must articulate all of the ways she does not need me, the ways that she exceeds me, the things that she knows better, the ways that I oppress her with worry or care.  She has to push me to the side, as I pushed my own mother aside.  As I scrub out the green dresser that my mother painted, I regret my part in this stupid cycle.

It’s off to Target for a dish drainer and a broom, a pot holder and a dish towel.  She needs everything.  I try not to think about the San Luis Obispo yard sale I sat at 10 months ago, when everything I had ever given her was up for sale for a song.  She sold it all and hit the road with Hannah for their WWOOF adventure.  Less than a year down the road, she’s a full time quality control chemist, starting a new life, and she needs a broom.  She will be fine.  I will be fine.  Life is not through with us yet.

More writing I found recently
Dec 12th, 2009 by alexfaye

This must have been in 2005 or 2006.  Dad’s first surgery was in September of 2006.

He recently switched from a cane to a walker, thank God.  In the years of his terrifying virility, he stood 6 feet 5 inches — long arms, long legs, and hands as big as plates.  Even now, stooped, frail, and failing — the muscles of his once powerful arms and legs stringy and loose — his falls are spectacular:  two hundred and thirty pounds falling in five directions.  The world is momentarily displaced; I hear the dull thud of bone and flesh even in my sleep, and run to find him.

Always, the ribs crack.  Recently, I stood studying his bright white pelvis, bigger than my head and floating nonsensically in a field of black, partially obscured by mysterious grey clouds (arthritis, scar tissue), while a white coat traced a hairline crack with a perfectly manicured finger, dispassionately reeling out his careful analysis:  nothing we can do. Age is degenerative, unstoppaple, inevitable. Thank you, Dr. Science.

Once, to save himself from falling, he slapped his huge hand down on the coiled red burner of the stove.  The blister covered his entire palm; it rose up slowly like the Houston Astrodome — a big bubble of skin, a leather balloon.

After the last fall — a catastrophic one that required a midnight ambulance, hospitalization, convalescent care, and appointments with physical therapists — I outfitted our house with supportive acceessories, reflecting on how much we take our mobility for granted.  I appreciated anew the horror of the bathroom: a nightmare combination of precarious balance, tile and water and soap — and gazed darkly into the future.  When I stand perfectly still, I can hear the crack of bone on walls, the shattering of safety glass.

So when I came home last week and saw the walker, I struggled with relief and sadness.  Without it, his gait is startlingly familiar, evoking childhood: he staggers through the house like a drunk, catching himself on furniture, counters, door jams.  His size thirteen feet drag along as if he were wearing cement shoes.  He cannot feel them, he says.  They are blind, stupid appendages on the ends of his legs, laced into bright white athletic shoes.  He prefers the cane, thinks the walker is for sissies.  For him to have it out is an acknowledgment, a white flag of surrender. He needs to surrender, maybe.

Of course, I want his safety, but on another level, I need him to resist just a little bit longer.  I rode his shoulders through the helplessness of childhood.  I was suddenly 7 feet tall, and invincible.  He swung me in wild circles, holding just one hand and one foot.  And on the other days — Bad Daddy Days — I learned to avoid his bad smell, his sloppy affection, the slurred insults he hurled at my mother.  First I was a mouse; I grew into a liar. I found ways around the threat of him and his swinging, punishing hands. I resisted him; I subverted his agenda, threw secret obstacles his way.

Tonight, my champion and my foe grips his walker, and drags himself on a senseless round from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen to recliner.

I got fat
Oct 4th, 2009 by alexfaye

When I start to live in my head too much, and neglect my body because of the Dance of a Hundred Things to Do, my body slides down the hill FAST.  This is a surefire sign of aging:  take a walk, and every joint hurts:  toes, hips, shoulders, ankles.  Clothes feel tight.  Negotiating small spaces is awkward.  Simple everyday yoga poses are a challenge.

I think, somewhere Alex, there’s a woman your age training for a marathon, a triathalon; she’s swimming laps, she’s riding her bike.    Somewhere there’s a woman my age who is a competitive body builder.  She’s got her body fat percentage down low.  And although those women might not have — as Annie Lamott suggested once — rich inner lives, I’ll bet they are pretty grounded.  When you care for the body, the spirit and the mind calm down.

Anyway, I can’t write a blog post right now that is simply a repeat of the most boring litany in the world:  “I’m going to get myself back in shape.”  Ho hum.

I was talking in class about the urgent getting in the way of the important.  That’s a Steven Covey idea:  the urgent needs to be done now, but does nothing to advance the goals I have set for myself.  Writing, sitting zazen, stretching and strength training,  playing golf, gardening, taking long rambling walks…these activities have to supercede the Dance of a Hundred Things.  And yes, I know the trick of putting those things on the Dance Card, and marking them “A” for top priority.  So I will do that, but I always laugh a little in my head when I look down in my Franklin planner and see on the list, “Sit Zazen.”  It seems like a funny little zen joke.

Anyway, now it’s back to work.  First, I have to run out and buy cream for my coffee.  Very important.  And cook the chicken, and iron the blouse, and wash the dirty clothes, and make the Powerpoint, and send the email, and check my homework, and get myself ready for a busy day tomorrow.  Calling the city inspectors to come out and look at the sheeting on my roof so we can purchase roofing material, and get a roof on the house before the rain falls.  If it ever does.  We are in a drought, but still.  Why tempt fate?

Took out a loan so Maddy can finish her senior year.  We didn’t want to, but we had to.  I wonder where we will be next year, as she tries to enter the job market.  Chemists are eminently employable, but Maddy has something specific in mind (brewing), so we’ll see how it goes.  She has lived a charmed life thus far, and there’s no reason I can think of that this good luck and wind-at-her-back needs to change.

Here she is — cute as can be.  The truth about parenting is that it is the same as running a long race.  You look out at the tree in the distance and say, “I just want to get to that tree, and I’ll be OK.”  Then at the tree, you set a new goal, “I’ll just run to where that red truck is parked up ahead, and then I’ll let myself rest.”  So, I thought getting her through high school was the biggest challenge:  the challenge of the driver’s license, the parties, all of the trouble that can waylay a young person.  Then, the goal was just to get her settled at a good college.  But now, as she approaches graduation, I worry about her work life.  “Worry” is the wrong word — Maddy has proven herself to be a smart and resourceful person.  But I do want her to land somewhere where she will be able to use her skills & her education; where she will be appreciated and valued, and where her work will be interesting and engaging.  That she will be surrounded by people who “get” her.  What a luxurious thing to think about, though.  So many mothers must carry much deeper concerns for their children, and here I am hoping people “get” my daughter and that her work will be interesting.  I understand that I am blessed.  Nobody can love a child as completely as a mom, but of course, children don’t really get that; they are not supposed to, or they could never move out on their own.  I know I didn’t understand how hard my mother prayed for me.  Loving my daughter taught me to reconsider my own mother anew.  cutemaddy

Big Project #1
Jul 4th, 2009 by alexfaye

Here is what I am doing, and it seems like the right way to go about it, but who knows? I have little experience in these matters.

  1. Use high pressure setting on hose to wash down wooden patio furniture.  Use brush to get cobwebs, smog, and other smud off.  Let it dry.
  2. The pieces we are talking about are:  round table, four benches, adriondack chair and ottoman, chair, side table.  9 pieces.  Good grief!
  3. Snap “before” photo.
  4. Use the sander to smooth out rough spots.  I don’t think I want to try to go down to the bare wood!  But maybe I will have to.  Gosh, I hope not.
  5. Lay down a tarp to protect the bricks, and brush on the new Olympic redwood semi-transparent stain and wood sealer.  Let it dry.
  6. Evaluate.  Discuss.
  7. Snap “after” photo.

If this works, you know what’s going to be Big Project #2?  THE REDWOOD GARAGE DOOR.  It’s a mess, but it could, maybe, be beautiful again with a little work.  Then, after that? My kitchen hutch.  I’d like to sand the sealer off, get to the bare wood, and stain it green (I’d like the wood grain to show, and I saw both a green and a yellow stain that was attractive, that would work) and replace the white ceramic knobs with faceted glass knobs.  I’m sure I’ll be writing about this as I go along.  I’ve never been very handy, but I want to learn.

I’ll never forget when Carlos and I got that hutch at the unfinished furniture store when we were first married.  It seemed like such an adult purchase, and I do believe it was the first piece of new furniture I ever picked out and purchased — everything else had been inherited or scavanged.  We were living in that little one bedroom apartment on Ocean Blvd, and expecting Maddy.  I was enormous — feeling very unattractive and having a hard time getting around.  Carlos had agreed to brush a coat of sealant on the wood, although he confessed that he didn’t see the point, and was just doing it to humor me.  In Southern California, we often will have a bright, sunny day in the middle of January or February, so he hauled the thing out onto the patio, took his shirt off, and got to work.  About an hour later, he came in, all happy and sunny and brown and said to me, his big pregnant wife, “Boy! If I would have known that working on furniture would attract so many women, I would have been doing stuff like this all along! Man! I must have talked to a dozen different women in the last hour!”  Oh, Carlos.  Sweet, helpful, and sort of dumb about what his very pregnant wife would want to hear.  More than twenty years later, I look at that hutch and remember that afternoon.  Yep.  Time to refinish it.

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