Pie Time Revisited

Oooooooooh Pie Eaters I have missed you!!!!!! I thought when summer was over that pie days were over too. Not true! I have made two new pies since summer. (And I have made, like, 12 salty honey pies. No exaggeration.) I wanted to make some season appropriate pies when fall started and the first one I want to tell you about is Cranberry-Sage Pie.

I made it for a dinner party. It was tart, for real, but it was topped with some maple-parsnip ice cream that Naomi made! The sweet ice cream balanced out the tartness of the pie perfectly. You could also make some fresh whipped cream with some maple syrup added to cut the tartness. Doooooo it!

Ok Pie Eaters, time for a botany moment. Let’s do a little guided visualization. Close your eyes and picture the plant that cranberries grow on…did you do it? Were you thinking evergreen dwarf shrubs? Oh, wait…you were? Oh, I was picturing a long, thin, slimy stem rising up from the bottom of a bog with one lone cranberry at the top (not joking). You win again Pie Eaters!

Cranberries are pretty special little guys. According to Wikipedia:

“By measure of the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity with an ORAC score of 9.584 units per 100 g, cranberry ranks near the top of 277 commonly consumed foods in the United States.”

Basically this means that cranberries are high in antioxidants. Because “antioxidant” is a term that is thrown around a lot about food that is good for us, I want to give you a quick and dirty idea of what that means. In chemistry, the process of oxidation produces a free radical (actually more like this). This means an electron that has a high level of attraction, a force that can act on other molecules to change their structure. Anti-oxidants essentially put a cap on those free radicals, making them neutral and potentially protecting us from harmful molecular destruction. Hey, thanks cranberries! (But guys, it’s way more complicated than this, so don’t quote me!)

Next time I’ll tell you about (corn syrup-free) pecan pie! Less stressful to the planet and more yummy in your tummy! (Yes, I did just say that.)

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Sunshine Pie

Hello Pie Eaters!!! I just woke up on this blustery and soggy Sunday morning and ate a piece of Stone Fruit Pie for breakfast and, let me tell you what, I’m never going back to cereal!

When I was upstate a few weeks ago I ate a lot of peaches and plums and, folks, when you get your mouth on a good stone fruit it really is like eating sunshine. I was so enamored
with the juicy goodness…then my sweetie’s mom, Lori, told me about a stone fruit pie recipe in this month’s Bon Appetit and I said, HOT DAMN sign me up! This recipe was really fun to make and when the fruit was all cut up in the bowl it looked like a sunset. The recipe has you add sugar to the fruit, let it sit for an hour and then drain off the juice. This is a really helpful step if you want to have a non-runny filling. As a little pre-pie treat I added the extra fruit drippings to my iced tea and it was bangin’! I was feeling a little nervous about the lattice top but then I just looked the lattice top in the eye and said, “I will master you!”…and that’s just what I did, Pie Eaters. I used this helpful video as a little Lattice Top 101 and went for it. It wasn’t so hard! If you have been wanting to try a lattice top, now is the time!

So I don’t know if you have been picking up on all of my sun references in this post but it was a little foreshadowing for this week’s geeky science lesson on PHOTOSYNTHESIS! Don’t be afraid, I’m gonna break it down real simple-like. Photosynthesis is the bomb! It’s the process where plants take CO2 (carbon dioxide – the stuff we breathe out as waste), water and sunlight, and turn those things into sugar! Now if that’s not magic, people, please tell me what is. So when you bite into a fresh-picked nectarine or peach that is literally made from sunlight and still warm from the sunshine, and the juice fills your mouth and drips down your chin, it’s like you are tasting the sun. Then that fruit becomes a part of you as your body breaks it down, and in that process the sun becomes a part of you too. Do you see how lucky we are? This might not be how a scientist who believes in science would explain it, but I’m a scientist who believes in magic and that’s how I see it.

I also want to tell you that in the process of photosynthesis the light is absorbed into the plant mostly by way of a pigment called chlorophyll. It is present mostly in the leaves of plants and is what gives them their green color. Chlorophyll is best at absorbing light from the blue portion of the light spectrum, followed by the red portion. However, chlorophyll does not use the green portion of the light spectrum very well and that is why the color green is reflected from the leaves. Doesn’t that blow your mind?! The leaves absorb all the colors of the light spectrum but green, so that is what color the leaves seem to us. We associate green with life and health, but really it’s the least useful part of the color spectrum as far as our food source is concerned. Nature! You win!

See you next week, Pie Eaters!

p.s. Thanks Molly for taking the wheel while I was out! Your pies looked yummy! Wish I could have had a piece!

p.p.s. Thanks Olivia for the photos. You made the pie feel famous!

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

Okay Pie Eaters…this week’s pie was Salted Caramel Apple and it was really really good. Maybe one of my favorites so far! For real! My friend Maggie came over to help me make the pie, as she is an experienced pie maker, and she gave me some good advice. As I was running around the kitchen like a ding bat she stopped me and said, “Molly, you know what you need to do to make a good pie? RELAX! No one wants to eat your stress pie!” Point taken Maggie, I DO get really stressed out when making my pies, and it can really take all the fun out of it, and fun is truly my favorite.

As far as the pie goes, I added all the lemons the recipe called for and it made for a sweet but tart pie that was refreshing instead of syrupy and I left the skins on the apples because I like it better that way. I also left out the bitters but if you wanna make this pie and add the bitters let me know how it turns out!

I should tell you that I was going to make a peach pie this week but my plan was foiled. My mom taught me when I was younger that if you want fruit to ripen quickly you should put it in a brown bag with a piece of fruit that is already ripe. Then when I was in college botany I learned why this is. There is a plant hormone called ethylene that has lots of functions, which include bringing about the ripening of fruit, the opening of flowers and the shedding of leaves. So if you have a ripe piece of fruit, it is already giving off ethylene and if unripened fruit is exposed to it, that fruit will begin to ripen too! The fruit is communicating, people – how cool is that!?!

What you should also know is that ethylene is the highest produced organic chemical in the world. When I say organic here I mean it is a molecule with a carbon backbone, not organic in the sense of sustainable farming. This synthetic ethylene is actually used by “big-agriculture” to quicken the natural process of ripening. They will bring fruit into big “ripening rooms” and gas them with ethylene to induce ripening. I have a lot of feelings about these kinds of agricultural practices, but I won’t get into all of them here. I will say that this is the kind of thing that happens when we get farther and farther from our food source.

In the end my peaches rotted in the bag. I think they were overly communicative with their hormones due to the heat, so the peach pie will have to wait. Also, for the next two weeks I will be on vacation (biking around the Finger Lakes and then working as a camp nurse!) so another Molly has stepped up to write the next pie post. When I first met her we were both wearing pink wigs, unplanned! I think it was a sign that we would one day be the Pie-Makin’-Mollys!! I’m excited to read your posts Molly! Take it away!!

Salty Honey Pie

People!!! Salty Honey Pie, it’s bangin’!! I took it to a pot-luck and it sure was a crowd-pleaser. But people, I need to be honest and tell you that making a custard pie can be anxiety inducing. This was my first attempt, and I learned a lot.

The baking part is what feels most stressful to me. It’s a little easier to know when a fruit pie is done because the fruit starts to bubble. However, with this pie, the recipe says, “The filling will puff up like a marshmallow and the center will be just slightly wobbly.” Sometimes, when instructions are too vague for me, I flash back to how I felt when taking physics exams in college (i.e. like barfing). Puff up like WHAT KIND of marshmallow? One that looks burnt or one that is white and soft? Like a cooked marshmallow or one fresh from the bag? Also, the center of what is wobbly?

Don’t worry. I found my mental safe space and calmed down. I waited until the filling puffed up and resembled a perfectly roasted marshmallow which was about 65 minutes in the oven. When I pulled it out the entire filling was slightly wobbly, not just the center of the filling. I let it cool for an hour and sprinkled with finishing salt. I found the kind the recipe suggested at a little market near my house, but any flaky finishing salt will do. Mine didn’t look as pretty as the one in the recipe but it was truly off-the-charts delicious, even if it wasn’t much of a looker.

Finally, geeky science fact time. This week, in honor of the ladies and gentlemen that worked so hard to make this pie possible, I would like to talk about bees! Did you know that a bee colony will visit around 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey? The term “busy bee” isn’t just alliteration, people – it’s honest to god fact. They also have this bonkers way of reproducing called a haplodiploid sex-determination system. It’s complicated, but basically means that the girl bees come from fertilized eggs and the boy bees come from unfertilized eggs. I’m going to leave you with this quote:

“This haplodiploid sex-determination system produces a number of peculiarities; chief among these is that a male has no father and cannot have sons, but he has a grandfather and can have grandsons.” (Haplodiploid sex-determination system,” Wikipedia)

Dear reader, welcome to galaxy brain.

Probiotic Superfoods: How to NOT Destroy All of Society

In my family, we always say that failing to take a full course of antibiotics once you’ve taken the first pill has the potential impact of destroying all of society.  There’s truth in this; taking a partial course of penicillin encourages infectious bacteria to develop resistant strains that will eventually be untreatable, and then we all might get scarlet fever and die.

But there’s an even bigger truth: not taking that first pill, and instead letting our bodies fight infections and develop antibodies, and constantly eating foods that encourage them to do so, actually makes the world a better place.  In addition to potentially creating resistant bacteria strains, antibiotics like penicillin wipe out all the good bacteria in our bodies with the bacterial equivalent of a cropdusting treatment.  And these days, antibiotics are showing up not only in our pharmacies, but sometimes in our milk and meat. So when we buy a corporate-big-farm-produced ice cream cone, we might actually be KILLING EVERYONE IN THE WORLD SLOWLY.

Oh dear.

Of course, the antidote to this glut of antibiotics is the magical, wonderful PRO-biotic.  Probiotics are living microorganisms that make our bodies (aka the “host organism”) better, strengthening our immune system and our digestive system, and keeping all our other systems clean of toxins and functioning well.

Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and bifidobacteria are the most common types of probiotics, and are in fermented foods with live cultures, like yogurt or (or kefir), miso, and the original probiotic superfood: saurkraut.

Saurkraut (and Kimchi, which has the same deal going for it) is what happens to cabbage (or daikon) when it gets old.  Fresh cabbage is already pre-populated with the bacteria required to lactoferment itself.  And, as all things, it really does get better with age- cabbage in its raw form contains substances called ‘goitrogens’ that can block the production of thyroid hormone, but goitrogens are reduced or eliminated through the fermentation process.

My friend Michaela of the awesome local Crock & Jar is a master-fermenter, and she gives great workshops on how to make your own krauts and fill the world with probiotics.  (She’s giving one tomorrow on Governor’s Island at Cook Out NYC , which is also benefitting Just Foods Farm School).  I got my hands on a few jars of her spicy kraut and pickle kraut, and when I’m not just standing in the kitchen eating them by the forkful, I use them to make probiotic-y awesome meals like these:

Pickle Kraut Tempeh Reuben*

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 slices of Tempeh
  • a few slices of your favorite whole-grain bread (all I had was sourdough, which is also good, but I think the seedier the better)
  • a handful of Crock & Jar Pickle Kraut or your favorite (or your own homemade!) Kraut
  • 1 teaspoon organic ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon ground horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon mayonaise or nayonaise or whatever you use
  • a dash of paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole seed mustard or some toasted crushed mustard seeds
  • a little soy sauce
  • a handful of fresh spinach or collards or other greens- bitter is fine!- steamed, strained, and seasoned (I used kale because I had it in the garden)
  • a few sliced and sauteed mushrooms- creminis or shitakes are the best
  • some cheese if you want it (mine was pepper jack, but you can use anything! really!
  • a little butter or oil
ingredients!

Directions:

  1. Mix the ketchup, mayo, paprika, mustard and horseradish together.  Feel free to mess with the ratios to get it to the perfect zing and zang for your taste.
  2. Splash a little soy sauce in a pan with some oil and fry up your tempeh until it’s a bit browned.
  3. Remove your tempeh and assemble it with all the other ingredients between two slices of bread.  Make sure your cheese is against one slice and your sauce against the other to keep the whole thing messy and delicious.  Throw the greens, shrooms, tempeh, and kraut in the middle.
  4. Heat a little oil or butter in your pan on medium and toss the sandwich on it, pressing it down with the spatula to brown the bread and melt the cheese.  Flip it over to do the same to the other side.
  5. Eat it with some of the delicious local berries from the farmers’ market. Feel healthier immediately.

*Bonus! Tempeh is ALSO a probiotic food, so this recipe gets pro-pro points.

sandwich heaven

I can eat my weight in this stuffSpicy Kraut Lettuce Wraps

Ingredients:

  • A cup or so of day-old rice (see Tony’s Plastic Bag Rice Recipe)
  • A cup or so of Spicy Kraut or Kimchi, roughly chopped
  • Fresh, carefully washed, lettuce leaves – I like green leaf or butter lettuce, but anything will do
  • 1 egg
  • A little soy sauce OR a smear of miso paste mixed with water (full of probiotics!)
  • A few shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • Fresh chopped scallions to taste
  • A little bit of olive or sesame oil

Directions:

  1. Heat a little oil in the pan and throw in the mushrooms, scallions, and miso/soy.  Saute for a minute or so.
  2. Throw the rice in the pan with everything else and mix it around.
  3. Beat the egg with 2 tablespoons of water.  Drizzle it over the rice, stirring it in as you do.
  4. Remove all this from the heat and put it in a glass or ceramic bowl.  Add in the kraut and toss.
  5. Place 2-3 tablespoons of the rice mixture into a leaf of lettuce and roll it up like a burrito.  Eat immediately!

Pie Time!

After giving me an amazing blown glass rolling pin for my birthday(!), Ora challenged me to make a pie a week for the duration of the summer and share my adventures on The Big Ceci. Upon accepting that challenge I had only made one pie in my entire life…so we might be in for a bumpy ride, folks.

Growing up in rural Ohio, we had a few rhubarb plants in our yard, and since my birthday is in late May (rhubarb season) my mom has always made me a rhubarb pie for my birthday. So I thought it only fitting to start my pie-perfecting journey with a rhubarb pie…and here it is:

I used Martha Stewart’s recipe, and I’m going to be honest, people: it’s one of the best damn pies I have ever had! Perfect amount of sweet-tartness and buttery-flakeyness. My mom uses flour as a thickener but cornstarch is much better. Flour makes the glaze cloudy and can change the flavor but cornstarch is flavorless and makes a really glossy thick glaze. I used a bit less sugar in the filling than called for as there is sugar in the filling and in the crumble top. I like it tart!

Also, while doing some quick research on rhubarb I found this:

“Rhubarb is usually considered to be a vegetable; however, in the United States, a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was used in the United States as a fruit it was to be counted as a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties. A side effect was a reduction in taxes paid.” (“Rhubarb,” Wikipedia)

What kind of government takes a plant to court? Rhubarb is “usually considered” to be a vegetable because it is one. Fruits, in general terms, are the sex organs of a plant. They house the seed and are derived from a flower. Edible fruits co-evolved with animals so we would spread their seeds. Plants are smart: if you cover your seeds with something sweet it increases the chances that someone will eat them and then spread the seeds through their digestive processes (trying not to get graphic). Vegetables are the edible parts of a plant that support the flower: leaves, root or stalk (i.e. rhubarb).

So now with a quick botany lesson behind us, I’m looking ahead to next week. I’m going to try and stay in season and local, if possible, for the duration of the pie challenge and I’m wide open for suggestions! See you next week!