A Tale Of Two Pies

It was the best of pies, it was the worst of pies…sometimes even a recipe you’ve made a million times, a signature dish, a go to move, something you can make in your sleep, turns out so poorly it wakes you right up out of our baking slumber. This week, I was invited to a backyard bbq fundraiser at Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s house, and when your go to The Mayor’s house, you don’t go empty handed.

I wanted to bring my apple pie which is actually Martha Stewart’s Classic Apple Pie. I set about the crust making, the apple slicing, the dough rolling out,  while only giving a glance or two at the recipe I’d looked at a thousand times. Maybe I was a little cocky, because after realizing I’d forgotten to dot the apples with butter before closing up the pie, I just pushed some butter through the air vents. Wrong! I put the pie in the oven and  as it baked away,  I thought, how bad can it be? It has a crust and it has apples. Hard to mess that up. Then I realized I’d missed at least 3 steps. I forgot the flour in with the apples, I forgot the butter, I forgot to chill the pie after I had it assembled…and I set the oven to the wrong temperature! Crikey! By the time I rescued The Mayors pie, I elected to bake another.

Well Yeah I Still Ate A Slice!

This time I just slowed the whole process down and didn’t try and get ahead of myself. Instead of picturing myself waltzing into The Mayor’s with a Martha worthy pie, I pictured every step of the process as it happened.

And if that isn’t a recipe for life, I don’t know what is.

How About Them Apples?

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Traction In The Rain

The last few days, I’ve had several conversations (some internal, some, er, external) about traction: what it is and how to get it. According to the dictionary, traction can be defined as -n 1. The act of drawing or pulling, esp by motive power 2. The state of being drawn or pulled 3. med The application of a steady pull on a part during healing of a fractured or dislocated bone using a system of weights and pulleys or splints 4. The adhesive friction between a wheel and a surface, as between a driving wheel of a motor vehicle and the road

Traction, that steady pull between forces, allows us to move forward, move closer, heal, and in the context of business, grow. It’s a bit of buzzword these days. And while my traction conversation started as a business one, it got me thinking: does my life have traction? As a kid, my interests drifted and even swerved; I wanted to be a dancer, a doctor, a pianist, a potter, and yes, obviously, a poet. I took a lot of dance lessons and even went to NYC to study for a few months, but none of those things got traction. It took me six years to ramp up enough traction to get through college. Even Kevin and I took a couple of decades to lock our business down.

My father always told me I was a late bloomer, which was a very gracious way of saying, “You’ve got no traction.” My teachers would always tell me I had my head in the stars, aka: none of your ideas have traction. And the problem of not having it, of skittering across the road of life, is that at a certain point you realize how much energy you’ve expended spinning your wheels. So, now what? The only answer I could come up with is to keep baking, keep loving my dog, and keep writing The Shawnologue. And if those are the only three things I do for the rest of my life, I’m ok with that. Now, you know what did have traction? Summer in Seattle. Over 50 straight days with no rain and we’re still getting berries at the farmer’s market. To celebrate the last bit of summer, I baked:

Martha Stewart” s White Cupcakes With Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

Be sure and fold the egg whites in slowly to get an extra light and fluffy cake.

The frosting is a delicious combo of meringue and buttercream, oh yeah, and jam. Put a tiny organic strawberry on it for a little flair.

And can I tell you, from the reaction to these cakes, this baking thing might actually have traction.

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Blonde On Blondie

Can you feel it, that hint of fall in the air? Labor Day’s come and gone, white pants and bikinis have been packed away, and the kids have returned to school. I’ve baked the two best fruit pies of the season, Cherry & Honey Caramel Peach, and I know Apple Pies are just around the corner. But this little lull before the fall bounty starts rolling in seemed like the perfect time for a little touch up on my fruit-less skills.


To touch up…to improve by making minor corrections, changes, or additions. Today, I’m touching up my baking skills by adding The Blondie to my repertoire (and I’m touching up my personal appearance by making a minor correction to my hair color!).

With the fall moving in on us, the holidays are right around the corner and “the holidays” means having a battery of delicious bite-sized treats for the cookies boxes. It’s not too soon to start trying out a few new things, plus I’ve loved every treat I’ve ever made from The Foster’s Market Cookbook.

One of the great thing about this recipe is that it makes THE biggest batch of Blondies; perfect for back to school treats, bake sales, and yes, after tasting these beige beauties, cookie boxes.

A few notes about these Blondies: eggs should be room temperature, beat the butter & brown sugar on high and it takes a while to get it light and fluffy so be patient, and I might actually add a little less chocolate chips than the recipe calls for.

And if you’re interested in my hair color touch up, I actually thought it had gotten a little too blondie this summer, so we toned it down a touch today. Think of it as a natural seasonal sepia shift, I mean that’s what fall is all about, after all.

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Go Ask Alice


Yesterday was Alice Waters’ birthday, and to celebrate I baked myself a pie. Alice Waters cooked up the whole idea of bringing California consciousness to French cuisine when she opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley in the 1970s. If you’ve ever shopped at a Farmer’s Market, asked the origins of a piece of meat, or used the word sustainable, you might consider celebrating Alice’s birthday with a locally sourced organic dish of your own.

I’ve never eaten at Chez Panisse but I have cooked copious amounts of vegetables using her classic cookbook as a guide. I received it as a gift at the greatest Secret Santa exchange of all time, back when radio station employees had so much extra cash that we were buying each other expensive hard cover cookbooks as Secret Santa gifts. Thanks, Santa!

What Alice taught me was to be patient and keep it simple. Vegetables when bought in season, grown naturally don’t need a lot of fuss to be delicious. Be patient and keep it simple is my mantra in the kitchen and elsewhere. Alice also pioneered the notion of shopping locally, so when preparing my Honey Caramel Peach Pie I chose local honey:

Local eggs that get delivered to my coffee shop (C & P in West Seattle) whenever the chickens feel like roosting.

And best of all, local, organic Red Haven peaches from Cliffside Orchards purchased from a saucy young lady at The West Seattle Farmer’s Market.

Even the butter, milk and whipped cream came from Darigold, the local farm co-operative in Washington State.

And every year when I eat this pie, I think this is the pie of the summer. I can taste the sunshine, so rare in these parts that every ounce of it must be savoured. I can taste the simplicity of happy hens, and the busy-ness of bees working together to whirl up the flavor into a soft singular note.

And I think of Alice Waters whose birthday always falls right around the time the peaches reach their peak of ripeness and a simple pie can capture their perfection. Happy Birthday, Alice!

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3 Is A Magic Number

Ok, so I lied. I lied about a couple of things. First, in my post titled Mother’s Milk, I stated that I would not bake another thing until I had perfected the very first recipe in The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum’s. Anyone who enjoyed reading about Kevin’s exploits pitting cherries knows that vow of baking celibacy lasted less than a week. Who am I? Kristen Stewart?

Pound Cake Round One

In the next Pound Cake post, I mentioned that one of you had suggested I just ditch the “original recipe” that turned out dry and flavorless and try another. I made a big grandstandy statement about wanting to complete this biblical journey like following a star to a manger in Bethlehem.  What? Did I just compare myself to a wise man? Not wise.

Pound Cake Round Two

Perhaps the lesson I’ve learned is not to put such rigid limitations on creative endeavors, but as I’ve noted from Day One of the Shawnologue: rigidity is a baker’s best friend. And really, who messes with something called The Cake BIBLE?

Well, cue the shower for frogs because as I mentioned I lied, cheated, and strayed! I went back to my trusted teacher Martha Stewart to read her doctrine on The Mother Of All Cakes. I watched her make one and picked up a few techniques that might improve my results. She used cake flour and sifted it twice. Her butter looked even softer than what I generally consider to be softened butter, and I liked the way she spooned the flour into the butter mixture.

Martha has a couple of Pound Cake recipes: one very simple one (Classic Pound Cake) and one slightly more complicated (confusingly, also called Classic Pound Cake). I actually used the first recipe, while watching the video of her making the second. (Woah, what is this jazz? When I start breaking rules, even self-imposed ones, I really start breaking rules!)

The results?

Pound Cake Round Three

I’m pleased to report, they were better. Nice texture, buttery flavor, solid shape. On a scale of one to Sara Lee, I’d give it a solid seven. But I’ll also tell you that my little dalliance with Martha only made me more committed to Rose and her Cake Bible (hear that Robert Pattinson?) Think of it like the Amish tradition of Rumspringa. I needed to get out there and enjoy all the worldly pleasures of the modern Pound Cake before I could truly appreciate what the Bible teaches me about Pound Cake.

So, it’s back at Recipe 01:01 to be followed chapter and verse. This time though I will approach the recipe with a better understanding of what it takes to make The Mother Of All Cakes and I will treat the cake with all the respect she deserves. By eating her. (See that? What I did there? It was a vampire thing)




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Cherry Oh Baby

In anticipation of The Great Cherry Pie Challenge, I decided to see what Kevin was getting himself into; he claims he can pit enough cherries for a pie in 15 minutes or less.  I’m convinced it’s more labor intensive than that, especially now that I see that no one can even agree on the best method for pitting. Check out this vid from the good people at Whole Foods with 4 separate techniques!

And there’s this interesting method illustrated in lifehaker that came to us via our friend Susie Tenant:

Pit Cherries Cleanly and Easily with a Chopstick and Bottle

Initially Kevin claimed he’d be able to do it with nothing but his thumb, but when he arrived, he came armed with a paperclip. He googled techniques, too! There’s the competitor I know and love. He stood over the sink with 2 lbs of Bings we’d bought at the farmer’s market this morning, I set the timer and he was off. See how he did right here:

He did it, of course, and I had to swallow my pride and tell him he was the winner. Kevin always wins! But as Kevin mentions, it wasn’t easy. Perhaps that’s why when I read up on Cherry Pie recipes, most of them called for canned or frozen. I had no idea! I did find this recipe that called for fresh cherries.

Sweet Cherry Pie

Kevin"s Bounty

Because Kevin rose to the challenge, I tried to up my game, too. Not only have I never made a Cherry Pie, but (true confession) I’ve never made a lattice topped pie. So Kevin and I went back to the web and watched a little demonstration and then we went at it.

Not Too Shabby!

A Quick Egg Wash


Get In The Oven, Cousin

(And the pie came out of the oven, Kevin cried, “Oh my god!”)

So that got me thinking, maybe this is a new way to manoeuver Kevin into helping me in the kitchen more often. “There’s no way you can shave 3 cups of chocolate in 10 minutes?” “It’s not humanly possible to peel 3 pounds of apples in less that an hour.” I like this; this is how you turn losing into an advantage. This is a strategy. Kevin should be proud. Now, how do I get Kevin not to read this blog?

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch Cherry Bomb!

Last week, Kevin, Charlie and I road tripped down to Eugene, Oregon for the Olympic Track and Field Trials. Kevin had been a track star in High School, and like all track starts of a certain age (or maybe, simply, all track stars) had worshipped runner, Steve Prefontaine. Questions? See below:

Pre ran and died in Eugene, and Kevin wanted to see where he had done both. The trials were held at the legendary Hayward Field where Pre had set more records by the age of 24 than most athletes will set in a lifetime. In 2005, Rolling Stone Magazine ran a two page Nike ad with the image below, and the headline, “Where Are All The Rock Star Runners?”

That ad still hangs on the wall of Kevin’s office. People who know Kevin are often surprised to learn that he was a jock in high school and college. Maybe it’s the long hair or the gentle demeanor, but Kevin comes off as more a Zen Master than a master competitor. But don’t let the tea bong fool you, Kevin is a monster competitor who does not know how to lose. Ask the dude with the black eye on Kevin’s broomball team from his amazon.com days, or his parents after the yearly indoor full-contact Easter Egg Hunt with his cousins that nearly destroyed their home, or me, who after years of tennis coaching has never beat him and he’s never taken a tennis lesson in his life.

I bring this up because on the road to Eugene, Kevin asked what my plans were for the 4th. I said, “I’d like to make a pie.” I’d made this blueberry beauty last year and thought I might go for a repeat:

(I used this Martha Stewart recipe, and ad libbed the crust based on a photo I’d seen. Easy!)

Kevin said I should try something new. I told him I’d never made a cherry pie, always wanted too, but the cherry pitting seemed so labor intensive. Not to mention that I’d never done it before and I thought it would take forever. Kevin then laid down what shall now be called, The Cherry Pie Challenge. He said, “I can pit you enough cherries for a pie in 15 minutes or less.” I said, “No way, it takes like, 200 cherries.” Kevin said it absolutely would not take 200 cherries and even if it did, he could pit them in 15 minutes or less. I said, “Ok, but I don’t know how to pit a cherry so we’ll have to watch a video on you tube.” He laughed in my face.

And here we are, on the 4th of July, gearing up for Saturday’s Cherry Pie Challenge. What could be more American? And here’s the good news, win or lose, I don’t have to pit the cherries for the pie. Now who’s the winner??

So, who’s got a great Cherry Pie recipe that requires A TON of cherries?

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