Pie (Decorating) Anxiety

“I’m scared of pie,” the founder of the bakery where I work once admitted when I asked her why we didn’t make it. And legend has it that the second thing I said to my new employer when she took over said bakery, after “Hi, I’m Gretchen,” was, “Can we make pie now?”

So what I’m saying is–I’m not scared of pie. In fact, I’m cocky enough to have blogged about my “pie secrets.” But still surprises me how many people do feel the pastry fear. Then I  a couple of weeks ago, I decided to get fancy and DECORATE my pie for a community harvest potluck, and I took a walk in the shoes of pastry fear.

Here’s the thing. I’m not scared of pie because I started making it when I was about twelve. Add forty-five years of pie making, and…ten thousand hours? Probably not hyperbole in this case.

But decorating? Never. Closest I ever got was to fashion a few generic leaves, maybe some berries, or stars for July 4. Easy-peasy blackberry piesy.

I think these are Doughtree leaves, from the family, uh, Crustia.

I’m wise smart old enough to stay off Instagram, but nonetheless, images of gorgeous pies have made their way to my brain via Facebook, and friends who know me as a Pie Woman. So I finally got ambitious stupid curious. How hard could this decorating thing be?

But as soon as I rolled out that top crust, my stomach clenched with anxiety. Should I stop here and go watch a video? Should I be rolling this onto wax paper? Why did I decide to diverge from my happy, thoughtless pie path?

Leaves. Okay. I got this. But not without help. And since the visual arts are not my strength, I decided to look up images of maple and oak leaves and then copy them onto cardboard as templates.

Did I mention visual arts are NOT my thing?

So far so…well, let’s go with “okay.” But it needs a little something more. Braids! Who can’t do braids? At least I didn’t have to google images for that.

Rustic is good. Rustic is good. It’s a PIE. Rustic is good.

Better. But let’s add a few o’ those trademark generic leaves, eh?

Cautiously optimistic…

OK. This is as good as it’s gonna get. Let’s bake this puppy!

Blackberry-strawberry, in case you were wondering.

Lessons learned:

a) Do use templates. Just cut them a little smaller next time. Or buy cutters in cute shapes. (But I’m too cheap for that.)

b) Do use wax paper to avoid mushing your cutouts. Chill or freeze them before applying.

c) Chill, but don’t freeze your braid strands. (Ever tried braiding frozen dough?)

d) Stay humble. In baking, as in life, there is always something to fear…and learn from.

Will I keep decorating pies? Probably, though only on occasion. I’m a happy imperfectionist, and pie is, in my opinion, meant to look rustic, so I don’t NEED to decorate. But I think it’s good for me to brush up against that fear now and then. And the compliments are nice too.

Placeholder Post: Still Here–Not Sure Why

You may have noticed Wing’s World has gone pretty silent lately. Usually when I’m planning to head off on a trip and ditch the cyber-world I’ll prewrite a few posts, or I’ll make a statement about taking time off.

This time, I just…stopped.

I don’t enjoy reading politically-themed rants, so I sure as hell don’t want to be writing them. But since my tax dollars have started separating little kids from their parents, I’ve haven’t really felt like writing about, oh, I don’t know, Canada geese or raspberries or bluegrass, in my usual random style.

I did consider a post about the joy of picnics. But when I didn’t even bother taking a picture of the rockfish/roasted kale/avocado & brie wraps I made, I knew my heart wasn’t in it.

(The wraps were still delicious.)

So I went on a walk/talk with myself today to consider my lack of posting-verve. Here’s what that sounded like:

I’m a writer. This blog is how I connect with my audience, between books. (Yes, I am working on the next one. No, I don’t want to write about that now.) Could I stop blogging? Of course. Should I? Who gives a shit? Is this the kind of blather anyone wants to read?

But when I got home a package was waiting: the new modem Centurylink had promised, to bump up our wifi speed and make uploading pictures to my blog take less than, well…a century to link. I’ve now hooked it all up, but I need to test it out.

So without further ado, here’s a picture of me at work in Holly B’s Bakery, taken by my photographer friend Robert Harrison.

Photo: Robert Harrison. Pie dough: Holly B’s Bakery.

Oh, MY! That was fast. (You’ll just have to take my word for it.)

Will the thrill of quick uploads be enough to re-ignite my blogging spark? Stay tuned. And stay useful. And kind, people. Please be kind.

This Is Your Brain On Proofs: Why Proofreading Is–Or Isn’t–Like Making Bread

Ever wonder what someone’s brain sounds like after ten straight hours of proofreading proofs?

 

Exactly what it says.

“Proof. Poof. Why do they sound so similar?”

“‘The proof is in the pudding!’ Shouldn’t that be, ‘The proof is in taking a BITE of the pudding?’ I mean, plenty of pudding LOOKS great, but don’t judge a pudding by its looks, right? That would be like judging a book by its cover. Which people shouldn’t do. Which is why I’m currently proofreading these proofs.”

No cover-judging!

“And you know when they say ‘pudding,’ they mean dessert, right? Those ol’ British Commonwealth types, they actually ask their mums, ‘What’s for pudding, then?'”

“Hope they get their just desserts. I mean puddings.”

“You know what else proofs? Bread. Or anything with yeast in it. That’s what we bakers call the rising part: proofing. Isn’t that the OPPOSITE of what I’m doing now? I’m poking holes in my own prose, deflating its presumptions of quality.”

Proof of bread proofing.

“Or am I? I mean, proofing my proofs IS helping their overall quality rise in the long run, right? Well, yeah…but only after I make all those corrections. So the proofs have to flatten themselves in humiliation before they can rise. What’s the bread equivalent of proofreading?”

All THESE corrections.

“Did you know that the German word for ‘test’ is ‘PRÜFUNG’? So guess where ‘proofing’ comes from? And, yup…’proving.’ All these words have to pass their test. Just like the bread does.”

Proof of croissants proofing.

“If I quit proofing these proofs too soon, will they go ‘poof’ and prove me a fool?”

“And don’t even start me on loafing puns.”

Happy Whatever of July

“Does Canada have a July Fourth?” goes the riddle. The answer still makes me chuckle. (I’m not writing it here; if you don’t know it already, think about it.)

My own personal riddle goes more like, “When does July Fourth end?” Answer: “Are we there yet?”

OK, maybe that doesn’t qualify as a riddle; pretty sure riddles are funny. My point is, for people who work in the tourism/food industries, Independence Day is one killer holiday. And when it falls on a Tuesday (which is generally the best day for small food businesses to close), what should be a three or four-day weekend suddenly becomes a week-long tunnel. (In the case of Holly B’s Bakery, where I work, it’s a tunnel of Love & Butter.)

20 to a pan. On July 4 we baked 19 pans…and still ran out.

Not complaining! It’s great work. I’m just throwing this out there to remind everyone to be kind to their servers this week–they are probably exhausted.

(And to explain why I’ve been AWOL for a week. I’m back…and might even have something intelligent to share by the next post!)

Till then–Happy Birthday, America! Now I’m going back to bed.

Reuse, Recycle, Renew Your Appetite: “Upcycling” Cooking Boo-Boos

If you’re like me, you HATE throwing away good food. The more you need to toss, the more you hate it. So imagine the loathing that accompanies needing to compost an entire 20×30″ pan of overbaked brownies, for example. This tragedy plays out all too commonly in commercial kitchens.

But it doesn’t have to!

At Holly B’s Bakery, we are becoming (we modestly think) the masters of up-cycling “useless” food. Let me give you three scrumptious examples.

Example #1: those overbaked brownies. We tossed them in the Cuisinart with a little butter to glue them back together, then pressed them into a buttered pan as a pre-baked crust…which we then proceeded to top with dulce de leche cheesecake filling. Sprinkle with sea salt…bake…heaven.

Honestly, it’s more like cheesecake frosting on a brownie. Only more so.

Example #2: over-toasted Cappucino Bars (our name for espresso shortbread with tiny chocolate chips and a cinnamon-espresso glaze). Once more into the “Cuize” with…wait for it…a glob of ganache (a.k.a. the essence of a truffle: dark chocolate melted with whipping cream). And a healthy dash of Kahlua. Form into balls, dip into more (much more!) ganache with toothpicks, and voila…Kahlua Truffle Balls.

Even better than they look. Seriously.

Example #3 isn’t due to an overbake, but rather a scraps problem. When you cut croissants from dough, you end up with bits. Lots of bits. What to do with them? After only a couple of weeks of croissant-making, we were drowning in bits.

Too…many…bits!

So…we baked them. Note: please force yourself past this part of the process. If you stop here and just start eating warm croissant bits, all is lost. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Mmmm…the bits…the bits are calling me. DON’T GIVE IN.

Once baked and cooled, we bag them and freeze them until it’s time to make strata. Guess what? It’s always time to make strata.

Strata before…

Strata = croissant bits (Most people just use stale bread–I recommend this! Much healthier. A little less delicious.) + beaten eggs + a little milk or cream + tomatoes (fresh, canned or dried) + cooked greens of any kind + sauteed onions and mushrooms + mozzarella. Topped with Parmesan. Baked till brown and bubbly.

Strata after. Yes please.

And the best part is feeling so good about avoiding waste! No, I’m lying–the best part is eating your creation. But that no-waste thing is pretty cool.

So…what do you think? Pretty droolly, right? Got any delightful/delicious food-upcycles of your own to share?

The ??th Annual What I’m Thankful For List

Thanksgiving is still several days away as I write this. But the more I contemplate the fearful unknowns and the ugly knowns of my country, the more I feel like turning back into a third grader and writing my I Am Thankful For list. This is one is completely off the cuff; I’m not even wearing cuffs. Just letting my mind ramble over bright spots. Like…

–having a job where I get to work with interesting, supportive people, and to make stuff like this:

(Courtesy Stephanie Smith and Holly B's Bakery)

(Courtesy Stephanie Smith and Holly B’s Bakery)

–having friends to sing with at (very nearly) the drop of a hat:

(Photo: Anne Whirledge-Karp)

(Photo: Anne Whirledge-Karp)

–being able to enjoy other people’s dogs vicariously, since we no longer have one:

"Which hand has the treat?" "Both?"

“Which hand has the treat?” “Both?”

Road Trips to visit Cute Cousins (more on this later):

"Quick, hide their ice chest! Then they can't leave!"

“Quick, hide their ice chest! Then they can’t leave!”

Will I be doing more of this in the coming months? Yes. Does it help? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Count whatever blessings you can, and be careful of one another.

Oh, and if you’d like to share some of your blessings here, I would love that.

Meatza Or Prepples: What’s Your Favorite Foodword?

Probably I’ve been working too many hours next to an oven this summer, because I’m finding ridiculous amounts of joy in making up foodwords with my colleagues at the bakery. For example…

Prepples = apples prepped for pie

Meatza = obvious

Charden = what everyone’s garden turns into this time of year (unless it’s zucchini, but that doesn’t make a good foodword)

Loafening = making loaves slowly

Strompost = what we call our compost, which is taken home by the family of my colleague, Laura Strom

Plumble = a plum crumble (the best kind!)

Rhuberry Rasbarb Squares

Ready to be turned into plumbles, rhuberry rasbarb squares, and...blue -peach scones...bleach scones? Maybe not. (Photo by Stephanie Smith)

Ready to be turned into plumbles, rhuberry rasbarb squares, and…blue -peach scones…bleach scones? Maybe not. (Photo by Stephanie Smith)

I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea. Your turn now: what foodwords have you or your family invented?

 

Love & Butter & Luck: Yes, Island Life Is Sweet–Just Not Always Equally So

Our beautiful island and its sweet bakery, Holly B’s, were featured last week on Seattle’s KING 5 Evening Magazine. Here we are, lookin’ smooth:

http://www.king5.com/mb/entertainment/television/programs/evening/at-lopez-holly-bs-the-love-and-butter-legacy-lives-on/170800955

Seeing this take on my life of Love & Butter, I am struck by a couple of facts:

  • I am blessed to adore my job, but I only need to work part-time. There are plenty of folks on Lopez who work two or three jobs to make ends meet.
  • I am blessed to be able to do the hard physical work my job requires. I know many folks who, through illness, injury, age, or some combination of those simply cannot work where I work, no matter how much they would like to.
  • I am blessed with wonderful, supportive, easygoing co-workers & boss. How many folks I know who cannot say that!
How we roll...(photo by Stephanie Smith, Boss Extraordinaire)

How we roll…(photo by Stephanie Smith, Boss Extraordinaire)

I could go on, but you get the idea. Love & Butter, yes–but also sheer, dumb luck. I try very hard not to take that for granted.

 

 

Croissant Dough “Log Booms”: Because Even Luxuries Can Use a Little Repurposing

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. This truism plays out daily in a million yard sales and Craigslists. What’s cool is when it applies to food. Luxury food. Specifically, croissant dough.

Allow me to explain. When the bakery I work in was bought this winter, the new owner brought with her a new–and undeniably better–recipe for our signature croissants. If you’ve read this blog in the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard me moaning about how much muscle power this new recipe required. Life has eased a TREMENDOUS amount since my boss bought us a “sheeter” to roll that stiff dough for us, and the pain in my neck muscles has eased along with it.  But the dough still requires many more steps than the old recipe, and takes up both more time and more space in the fridge. In short, the stuff is gold.

Which is why it bugged the HELL out of me when we began accumulating croissant scraps. See, under the old regime, we simply rolled our dough out into a giant rectangle, cut that into squares and then triangles, and voila–croissants. Of course, given the human touch, those croissants were extremely variable in size and shape. Under the new regime, we use our sheeter to bring the dough to a uniform thickness, then a hand roller to cut out perfect triangles, like this:

Adorable, aren't they?

Adorable, aren’t they?

Result: perfect-looking, perfectly-sized croissants. And tons of scraps. What to do with them? No WAY was I letting anyone throw them away. Do you know how much labor and time each scrap represents? Step away from that compost bucket!

Dough scraps...or unrealized edible glory?

Dough scraps…or unrealized edible glory?

At first we tried to eat our way out of the problem. “What kind of cheese shall we put on the scraps today?” That lasted about two days. We of all people know exactly how much butter is in that dough, since we put it there.

So we put our heads together, my boss and fellow bakers and I. How could we re-think the scraps into something value-added, something we could actually sell? At first I started making these cute little twists:

Dried apricot, brie, rosemary, pecan...mmmm.....

Dried apricot, brie, rosemary, pecan…mmmm…..

But they took too long, without using up enough scraps. We wanted to sell ALL of it, not add more hours to our shift. So…why not just load the “raft” of scraps up with something delicious? Something like…

OMG that looks incredible! What IS it???

OMG that looks incredible! What IS it???

That one’s savory–artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, feta, and fresh herbs, if you want the details. (We also played with figs, goat cheese, and prosciutto; with pesto and arugula; with…you get the idea.) But it still needed a name–something catchy, maybe something including the name of our island. Someone suggested “Lopez Life Raft,” since the lined-up scraps suggested logs lashed together…which made us think–aha! You know the way northwesterners traditionally chain up logs in big clumps to tow them across water? A log boom? Yes! THAT’s what this yummy thing is. Lopez Log Boom.

When we make a sweet one with raspberry jam, we can't help but call it a Log Jam. Can you blame us?

When we make a sweet one with raspberry jam, we can’t help but call it a Log Jam. Can you blame us?

Here’s what’s funny, though. When I first presented the Log Boom with a flourish to some customers, my boss told me quietly, in the kitchen, not to call them “scraps”–bad connotation. My response: This is Lopez, where recycling is a high art, and our Dump/Recycling Center/Take It Or Leave It is our proudest institution! People LOVE scraps. 

So, dear readers, next time you’re at your favorite (non-Lopez Island) bakery, ask them what they do with THEIR croissant scraps. We could start a national Log Boom Dough Recycling movement! 

Oh Boy, Another Life Lesson: My Love-Hate Relationship With French Macarons

Am I the only one out there who HATES doing things I’m not good at?

Hatesss it, Precious.

It’s the reason I don’t play volleyball. Or badminton. Or softball. No one ever taught me the fundamentals, therefore I fundamentally SUCK at all three. [Softball, are you kidding me? That ball hurts when you catch it wrong! I’ll stick with cross-country, thanks.]

This attitude, I just this week realized, extends far beyond the playing field and into the kitchen. I’ve always shrugged my shoulders at French cooking, after a youthful flirtation with Julia Child. “Too fussy,” I’ve always said. “Too many steps.” For decades, I’ve stuck with American, which in my case means about a third Asian, a third Mexican, and a third Mutt food. [Can you say tuna-cheddar eggrolls with spicy salsa?] 

And dessert? German, baby. Or good old American PIE.

You’ve heard me bitch about the new croissant dough we’ve been making at Holly B’s Bakery. My boss and I have taken to calling it “Croissant-fit” and joking about charging people to come make it for us–free workout, folks! But the actual steps of croissants aren’t tricky to follow. All you need is muscle.

Enter the French Macarons. Not the coconut thingies; these macarons are made with ground-up almonds and egg whites and sugar and human tears. We’ve never made them at my bakery before, and we’re getting a lot of compliments on them. But they make me hate my life.

These little boogers. (photo by Stephanie Smith)

These little boogers. Gluten-free. Also evil. (photo by Stephanie Smith)

They are notoriously, ridiculously, insanely picky to make. The ingredients have to be not just measured but weighed. Don’t even think of starting to beat your egg whites until your boiling sugar has reached 239 degrees–but don’t let it go past 244. And that’s just the mixing. Then the plopping-out-of-the-pasty-bag part (can you tell I’m new at this? I’m sure there’s a French word for it) is the trickiest of all.

Don’t squeeze out too much. Don’t tilt your bag. Don’t hold it too high or press too low. Don’t drag the tip. Don’t swirl. Just…DON’T.

The other day when I got done trying to follow these directions, my boss noticed my face or my body language or my general loathing of existence. “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” she said kindly. “They’re hard.”

“I just HATE not being good at this,” I blurted. And there it was. Gretchen the Proud Pie Maven has met her match in a crumby little cookie. Steep learning curve in baking? Moi? 

So THAT’s why I’ve avoided French cooking all these years!

Watching the little suckers in the oven, I confess to feeling some pride despite myself. Hey, they’re puffing! They’re not cracking! Okay, most of ’em have “nipples” where I dragged the pastry bag tip, but look, there’s a smooth one! Kinda cute really…maybe a nice lemon butter cream in there…or cinnamon…?

So, yeah. Another Life Lesson, at age fifty-something. If you force yourself to do something you’re not good at, two things happen: 1) you get humble, and 2) you improve. And both of those things are good.

Bring on the macarons. But please let me keep making pie too. A girl’s got her pride.