Saturday, November 24, 2018

American Pie

What could be more American than apple pie on Thanksgiving? Readers, you know that I am more of a cook than a baker, so when I got so many compliments on the pie I made this year at mom and dad's house it inspired me to get back to blogging after a few months off. I need to make this again.

The crust is adapted from the Foolproof Pie Crust recipe in Cooks Illustrated, courtesy of my neighbor, Marilyn -- one of the best bakers I've ever met, which is the sole reason I set aside my long-standing bias against all-purpose flour and shortening to try it out. See, I'm not a purist! The pie filling and baking instructions are adapted from Epicurious' Favorite Apple Pie recipe.

The pie itself resulted from a group effort: my landlady, Jacky, supplied some of the ingredients, including delicious Cortland apples from her recent trip to upstate New York; mom did serious KP duty peeling, coring, and slicing the apples; Matt mixed up the pie filling ingredients, with extra cinnamon for good measure (or perhaps a lack of looking closely at the measuring spoons); dad supplied the butter pecan ice cream to top our still-warm pie during the Thanksgiving dinner.

American Apple Pie

2 ½ cups + 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
12 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1 Tablespoon slices
½ cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
¼ cup vodka, cold
¼ cup ice cold water
5 large fresh apples
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Additional sugar, for sprinkling


Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add 1 more cup of flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around the bowl and any masses of dough have been broken up -- this will only take a few quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium mixing bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and 1/4 cup ice water over mixture. With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix in the liquids, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Pat dough into two evenly sized balls, flatten each to about 1" tall discs, and wrap each in a piece of parchment paper or wax paper. Chill your piecrust dough discs in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (and up to 2 days).

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Peel, core, and slice the apples into 1/4" thick wedges. Place apples in a large bowl and mix with 1/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice. (Matt lobbied for more cinnamon. He got it.)

Unwrap the first ball of piecrust dough. Sprinkle with a little flour and use a rolling pin to roll it out into a uniformly thick circle that is about an inch wider than the pie dish on all sides. (You can eyeball the size, or place the pie dish on top of it to check.) Gently lift the dough, then flip into the pie dish and gently peel back the paper. Gently press the dough to fit the pie dish contours, then trim the excess dough using scissors. Fill the dough-lined pan with the apple mixture.

Take out and lightly flour the second disc of piecrust dough on its piece of parchment paper, then roll it out to the same size as the first. Drape your top crust gently atop the apple mixture, again peeling away the parchment paper, then press the edges of the top and bottom crusts together, trimming excess crust as needed. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk. Brush top crust with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Carefully cut five 1" vents in the top crust for steam to escape.

Gently cover the delicate crust edges with aluminum foil -- this prevents them from burning.

Place pie in the oven and bake until the crust begins to turn golden, about 20 minutes. Rotate pie and reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Continue baking until the crust is golden brown and you can see the thickened juices bubbling, about 50 minutes more.

Cool on a rack for at least 45 minutes to allow juices to set before slicing. Delish. I just had the last slice with coffee this morning....

Monday, August 13, 2018

Bikers to the rescue!

Readers, there is nothing more attractive than a man doing good. Well, maybe a man on a bicycle doing good. And I am lucky enough to be dating one. Fancy that.

I hate wasting food. It is shocking the amount of perfectly edible food that is thrown away in this country every day, especially while an unacceptable number of Americans suffer from malnutrition and food insecurity. I regularly see giant trash bins outside of supermarkets and restaurants spilling over. I hear food waste and hunger statistics bandied about so frequently that the problems seem too big to take personally, and I worry that the majority of us don't understand that these problems concern each and every one of us. Some days I find it hard not to lose hope. But then there are moments that I realize that the solution can also concern each and every one of us....

Today I had the good fortune to accompany Matt on his first shift as a food rescuer: picking up already prepared, delicious, unsold food and delivering it to a great, local program that needed food. Usually a car is needed for this sort of assignment, but after a bit of research Matt learned that some food donations can be delivered on two wheels. It was actually pretty easy, and we ended what was otherwise a rather lazy Sunday feeling pretty good about life.

12:30pm - While checking his email at the farmers market, Matt learns that the load of baked goods he'd signed up on his Food Rescue app to deliver this evening was going to be a bit large for a single cyclist to haul, so he asks me to join him. I happily agree, eager to see the program in action.

1:00pm - Eat lunch near the farmers market.

2:00pm - Start watching Game of Thrones, Season 6. (Don't judge me, it's good. And don't you dare tell me what happens in Season 7!)

4:30pm - Thunder and rain begin.

5:30pm - Bike over to Seylou -- home to the most amazing whole grain breads, including croissants (I know, I couldn't believe such a thing existed!) -- to pick up bread donation.

6:00pm - Load 4 enormous bags of bread into our (thankfully waterproof) bike panniers and start heading north to Christ House. Rain intensifies.

6:30pm - Bread delivered. Delivery volunteers adequately soaked and smiling, and about 50 pounds lighter. Rain stops. Head back to my apartment to change into dry clothes and watch a bit more Game of Thrones. Easy peasy.

Interested in helping to address hunger in your area? Consider joining the Food Rescue project, as a donor, recipient, or transporter. Or maybe starting a chapter in your town. Learn more here.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Get your hands on plants

Readers, I'm a night owl. It is a tough sell to get me out of bed, nevermind dressed and at a workshop at the crack of 9am. Especially during the summer, and especially the Monday after school lets out. But every so often an amazing opportunity comes along that has me out of bed and excitedly biking headlong into a humid, 100F+ degree day: the U.S. Botanic Gardens' HOPS Teacher Institute was one of these instances.

Over the course of two, very busy days this past June, I and a couple dozen other environmental educators explored water, soil, sunlight, and plants in ways that I can't wait to bring back to my classroom. We got to play with all kinds of cool gadgets: looking at the critters wriggling around in water droplets under our microscopes; analyzing soil samples as part of a CSI-style plant theft mystery; discovering that grape juice has more sugar than cola using our refractometers; making our own sundials; building a model watershed; making found object collages with photo paper and the power of the sun. We got to mess around with pH testing strips, create botanic paintings, dissect flowers, melt chocolate in a solar cooker, and fiddle with thermometers and compasses. I think my favorite moment was getting to poke at a venus fly trap. I'm sure that video clip, which for some reason I cannot locate, will surface if I run for public office one day....

Many thanks to our fearless instructor, Lee, who sent us all home with a GIANT bag filled with all of the tools we used throughout the training, so that we can get out students excited about plants and their surroundings, too! If you ever have a chance to attend this summer teacher training at the Botanic Gardens, go!!

(Ah, this photo? It's my view from Ollie's saddle, biking down Pennsylvania Avenue with our treasure trove of scientific tools, posters, and a banana tree seedling last week.)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Don't forget to vote!

Yes, I know that DC always votes overwhelmingly Democratic, but I'm telling you your vote matters. While we don't get to have a voice about, say, who runs the EPA, alas, there are folks who are doing important work to further human rights, environmental justice, and access to healthy food in our city. Don't forget to vote tomorrow: find out where here.

(Oh, that sign? Yeah, I couldn't stop giggling when I saw it last week on my walk to the P Street Whole Foods.)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Bee careful

The pungent aroma of raw honey and herbal tea permeates the air in my kitchen as I type this, and I think to myself: I'm glad I didn't die from a bee sting earlier this week. I love honey, and quite enjoy beekeeping, but after a bee sting about a little over a month ago I began to worry that I was developing a more serious allergy to the little flying ladies.

It was late April, and had finally stopped raining for a day. My beekeeping mentor, Kevin, and I were inspecting the West End Community Garden's five hives. All was going fine that sunny afternoon, except I was getting a bit antsy with us poking and prodding around, box by box, frame by frame, for a solid hour and a half as we checked for brood, hive beetles, and nectar stores. I had been feeling a little tickle on my shin for a few minutes, and began to worry that a bee had wandered up my untucked pant leg. Foolishly, perhaps, I gently shook my leg a bit while I tried to remain calm and pry another frame out of the hive. The tickle moved a bit further up the inside of my pantleg. I froze. I lifted another hive frame out for inspection. Further north still, the tickle moved. I shook my leg a little more and started to sweat. Bam! Stung. Right on the ankle, probably while the disoriented bee was trying to escape my khakis. It hurt, sure -- it always does -- but a few hours later my ankle began to swell. The couple glasses of wine I had at the WAMU donor reception that evening meant that popping a couple of Benadryl probably wasn't a good idea, so I just slapped an ice pack on it, put my foot up, and called it a night. I wasn't having trouble breathing, at least, and there wasn't a rash. See? Nothing to worry about.

The next morning, as Matt and I took the bus up to Connecticut for the weekend, the swelling and aching continued. By that night, one couldn't even tell I had anklebones. For the next week, I popped a couple of Benadryl a few times a day, icing and elevating my foot whenever possible. I got back to town and checked in with my doctor, and though the swelling was going down she immediately had me tested for bee venom sensitivity. I figured it was just a precaution: I've been stung a few times in my life and while it smarts for a few minutes, or at most a day, I never showed signs of a serious allergic reaction. Well. It turns out you can develop a serious allergy to bees. My bee venom blood test came back positive. Suddenly everyone I mentioned this to had a story to share about a friend or family member who had an extreme and unforeseen bee sting reaction. Not the best thing for a hypochodriac to be hearing.

My doctor prescribed an EpiPen. Wouldn't you know it, there is a shortage of EpiPens on the market right now. "Just call back at the beginning of July and check and see if we have any in stock," the pharmacy worker at Kaiser told me over the phone, "And try to stay away from bees."

I work in school gardens, lady! And what exactly am I paying hundreds of dollars a month for, if my insurance company doesn't have a common medicine in stock and can't be bothered to call me when the potentially life-saving medicine is ready for me to pick up? Honestly.... So now I carry around a bottle of liquid children's Benadryl to chug if I get stung. Because I certainly wasn't going to miss out on the honey harvesting last week. Luckily we were only messing with the bees for about 30 minutes, then it was on to the serious -- or perhaps not so serious -- harvesting of the honey from the frames:

Bees, I would like to propose a truce. I will continue to make sure your hive stays healthy, and you don't sting me. We can split the honey 50/50. Okay. Okay! 60/40, you win.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Use Less Plastic

Anyone who has been to my apartment or my classroom has a pretty good idea how I feel about plastic. I am perhaps an old lady before my time, compulsively washing and rewashing ziploc bags and drip drying produce bags that show up from time to time for reuse until they are no longer functional (at which point I trek to my local Giant* to recycle them, along with other plastic bags and the odd bit of saran wrap). I've had the same roll of plastic wrap in my kitchen since I moved from my old apartment in Columbia Heights nearly five years ago. I give stern looks to friends and loved ones who don't use cloth shopping bags... and I really try not to do the same to strangers in line at my local Whole Foods or the farmers market, but sometimes I can't help myself. Don't even get me started on how often I have washed and reused old yogurt containers....

But it's not just me, I swear! It's reinforced by the company I keep. My students in the Student Sustainability Corps -- an opt-in, after school program for kids in grades 3-8 -- are just as adamant about responsible use and disposal of plastic. I credit that largely to my friend and co-conspirator in all things sustainability, Karin, who also teaches at the school. Once kids learned about where their plastic utensils were coming from earlier this year -- how plastic forks they had been using in the cafeteria every day were made and transported, how long they were used for, and where they often ended up -- they FREAKED OUT. And came up with some brilliant solutions, including Finger Food Fridays: having foods in the cafeteria that don't even require utensils at all! This simple, replicable idea caught the eye of some pretty big muckety mucks in city government, who recently awarded them a city-wide award:

But they didn't stop there. These bright and determined young people kept on thinking about things any kid or school could do to reduce their use of plastic. They created and posted signage to encourage their peers to be mindful about their plastic utensil usage and consider reusable water bottles, researched compostable utensils, and even brainstormed ways to create a reusable lunch kit (cloth napkin made out of an old tshirt + a small, metal fork and spoon). They took their ideas to the annual Anacostia Environmental Youth Summit... and won first place for their idea to improve the local watershed by reducing plastic's entry into it in the first place. They came home with a check for $1,000 to implement a watershed-improving project of their choice. Reusable lunch kits, here we come!

I'm so proud of these kiddos. Now let me ask you:  what are YOU doing to improve our local watershed?

*An aside on Whole Foods: don't take your plastic bags there for recycling. I've informally audited their bins over the course of a handful of months and I can tell you unequivocally that the people who shop there apparently can't be bothered to put their TRASH in the clearly labeled TRASH BIN nor their COMPOST in the clearly labeled COMPOST BIN in the P Street store. The also-clearly-marked RECYCLING BIN is a disaster. Maybe they pay some poor worker to go through each bagful afterwards, but I doubt it. While I can't seem to help myself fishing trash and food waste out of the recycling bins in my school's cafeteria, I draw the line at doing the same at a grocery store. So I bike eight blocks in the other direction specifically to Giant so I can drop off my plastic bags for recycling in their PLASTIC BAGS ONLY bin, which, incidentally, does not have TRASH or COMPOST in it. Thank you, Giant Food. :)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Swim to Work day

I've been a dues paying member of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association for almost a decade now. And though I bike to work most every day, today was the first time I officially registered for Bike to Work Day. Mother Nature decided to weed out the fair weather bikers, it seems, but the upshot was that the Shaw rest stop on my way to work had plenty of size small tshirts and snacks for those of us who braved the wind and rain. So did the rest stop in Foggy Bottom on my way home, so I picked up a tshirt for Matt, too, who recently was in a little bike accident and so was not able to bike -- or swim -- to work today. (Oh, he's fine, just a little banged up, and with a front brake that needs adjusting.)

But seriously, this rain. It's been nearly a solid week of precipitation, readers! My cabbages have more than doubled in size over the past two weeks, as have the lettuces, kohlrabi, late-starting sugar snap peas, and too-early-transplanted tomatoes. My plants have gone a bit nuts in the school garden, to be honest. The flora may be loving this break in the drought, but I am getting a little bit tired of it. Also: my rain pants, it seems, are no longer waterproof. *sigh* I think there's an REI sale coming up soon, at least....

As Ollie and I sloshed through the rain on the way home from school this afternoon, I mused that perhaps WABA might broaden their efforts beyond cycling to triathalon training. Then they could have easily marketed today as Swim to Work Day!