Friday, July 29, 2011

Bye-Bye Blueberry Pie

Unfortunately, once again, I don't have a super positive life update.  My grandma has stopped eating and rarely speaks, and when she does, hallucinates.  I used to work as direct support staff for disabled individuals.  Some of them were basically vegetables.  When I worked with those people, I had no trouble accepting their condition, because that is how I met them, in that condition.  I cannot describe how hard it has been for me to watch my grandma's transition to that state.  The few times she does look me in the eye, all I see is fear and confusion, knowing that she is losing her mind and her life simultaneously.  I have stood by and watched as the cancer has stripped her of her mobility, her dignity, and now, her sanity.

Given that she's awake for so few minutes a day, and barely speaking anymore, we've decided that it's time to start calling her friends to have them visit if they would like to see her conscious one last time to say their goodbyes.  This has been really hard to watch as well.  Throw in a nasty stomach bug for me and my grandfather, the discovery of my severe iron deficiency, and a truck/lawnmower accident on top of everything else, and it's been one hard week.

The damage: the lawnmower was not put in park (not my fault) so it rolled through the rear window of the pick-up when I stepped on the brakes... Oops.
Due to my stupid iron deficiency, I've been too weak to run or do Zumba, so I needed to turn to my other therapy, and the purpose of this blog: baking.  Everyone already finished the Peach-Blueberry Pie I made three days ago, so I decided to make another pie.  My grandma's most famous pie is probably her blueberry one, so I thought that as a tribute to her, I would try to replicate hers.  The recipe is also from our good friend, Betty, and has essentially the same steps as for the peach pie, just use four cups of blueberries instead of peaches, and add a tablespoon of lemon juice.  If I'm making a pie to honor my grandmother, I decided I'd better go all out and make a real lattice-top, the first one of my life.  I don't think it turned out too badly.  It's not quite Gram's pie, but I'll just keep trying until I get it right.

The filling
Cut dough into 3/4" strips (as even as you can)
Weave them on top of a plate or board
Flip quickly on top of filling (and don't make it look like this)
Rearrange the strips and then seal the edges with leftover dough
Pie heaven: Bake at 325°F for 25-35 minutes
How I am choosing to say goodbye.
Perhaps next week I'll have a happier update for you all, and a nicer looking pie.  Until then, let's look for the sunshine through the rain.
Love and cookies,

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Procrastination Pie

I don't really consider myself a good college student, because I'm really bad at one crucial skill: procrastination.  I am normally really good at getting things done well ahead of schedule.  After talking with my friend Jake, I realized I really have to get back to work studying for my GRE, which I am taking exactly one month from today.  When I finally got a few quiet minutes to myself, I started doing a few practice sections.  Well, it didn't go so well.  On the math I got 8 out of 20 correct, and on the verbal, 12 out of 20.  Needless to say, after all my studying I was pretty frustrated and cranky, so I haven't really had the desire to go back to it yet.  Today was the perfect rainy afternoon to study, but I was still feeling pretty defeated.  When my family not-so-subtly hinted to me that they would like a pie ("Gee Hannah, why don't you make us a pie?"), I jumped at the opportunity to occupy my time with something other than Pythagorean theorems and critical analyses. 

My grandma's good friend, Carol, comes to visit every other day.  Every time she comes to visit, she brings us a batch of fresh peaches that they have driven to Sunnycrest Orchard straight from Georgia.  Well, we've been on a bit of a peach-overload.  We have so many we don't know what to do with.  Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, except that now it's still blueberry season, so we also have a ton of blueberries to eat.  (Today we went to the patch and picked 32 LBS!)  I decided to use up a little of both, and made a peach and blueberry pie.  I took the recipe straight from my good friend Betty, and followed it exactly except for the addition of the berries.

Peach & Blueberry Pie

2 Pie Crusts:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup + 2 Tbs vegetable shortening
4 Tbs cold water

Whisk together flour and salt.  (I HATE sifting flour, so I've found a way to cheat: whisking it!)
Cut in shortening
Add water and mix with hands until mixture forms a flaky ball.
Divide dough in half
Flour surface and rolling pin well.
Roll out in a shape as close to a circle as possible.
Gently fold in half.
Fold again.
Transfer to pie plate and unfold.  Then patch holes with excess dough from sides. Ta Da!

3/4 cup sugar
5 Tbs all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 cups fresh peaches (should be slightly on the firmer side)
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
2 Tbs butter

Peel and slice peaches.
As gross as it is, I ate ALL the skins.  Yay fiber!
Add blueberries, sugar, flour, and cinnamon.  Mix gently with hands.
Transfer to pie shell and dot with butter.
Cheating Lattice-Top Assembly:
Roll out second dough ball and slice in 3/4" strips.

Gently place over pie in criss-cross pattern
Remove excess and place remaining dough around the edge to seal the crust.
Bake in 425°F oven for 25-35 minutes until filling is bubbly and crust is golden brown.  Cool on wire rack.

This pie got thumbs-ups across the board.  My grandfather really liked it, my grandma actually ate a bite (she doesn't really eat anything these days) and said it was perfect, my mom raved about it, and I actually stared at the pie and confessed my love for it.  Ok, that might be a little extreme, but it is one amazing pie.

I had a little leftover dough, so I decided to throw some stuff together and I made a little baby blueberry pie with a crumb topping for our friend, Cindy.  I didn't really measure for this one, I was kind of just experimenting, so hopefully it turned out alright.  Happy Birthday, Cindy!

Baby Blueberry Pie with Crumb Topping
Get out there and pick some berries!
Love and cookies,

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Berries and Busyness

Well, you haven't heard from me in about 2 weeks.  That's because life here has been ridiculously busy.  My family has been off to several livestock shows and in the meantime, there are lawns to be mowed, a garden to be weeded and protect from the beetles, the various usual house chores, Zumba classes, and, as if we didn't have enough going on, it's berry season.

Because everything was so crazy with my grandmother, and then the weather was so wet and miserable, we missed the strawberries.  You can't pick wet berries because they'll mold, but it rained pretty much the majority of their short, two-week season this year.  Then came the blackcaps.  For those of you that don't know what a blackcap is, it's like a hybrid between a blackberry and a raspberry.  It's the color of a blackberry, the shape of a raspberry, and much sweeter than both.  They also grow on equally thorny branches, so you must cover yourself from head to toe to protect your skin while picking them.

We normally make jam out of blackcaps since they tend to lose their flavor if you freeze them.  By the time we'd picked enough blackcaps to make jam, it was also raspberry time, so we picked those and made both jams around the same time.

Raspberry Freezer Jam
Blackberry season is coming up soon, and we still have a few bags of last season's berries in the freezer, so I thought I'd use them up.  I made a batch of blackberry muffins for my cousin to take to one of the cow shows with him, but unfortunately left my camera at home.  Lucky for us though, it's now time for blueberries.  My mom picked a bucket-full and I decided to make blueberry muffins for everyone, following the same recipe for the blackberry ones.  Unfortunately, I can't follow a recipe to save my life, so I made a few mistakes changes.  My grandparents having also been having a few "regularity problems", so I decided to add some bran flakes and apple sauce to give them a little more fiber.  Here's what I did: 

Blueberry Muffins (with added fiber)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup bran flakes + 1/4 cup applesauce (definitely optional)
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

Fresh-picked blueberries!  Be sure to check for stems and bugs.
Mix together bran flakes and applesauce.  Set aside.
Sift together dry ingredients
Add all other ingredients, adding the blueberries at the end.  DO NOT over-mix.
Scoop about 1/4 cup batter into a well-greased muffin tin.  Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes.  (I somehow never end up with a full dozen of anything when I bake...)
Remove from oven, sprinkle granulated sugar on top, and allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove and transfer to a wire rack.

Blueberry Pudding
Another favorite recipe during blueberry season is what we affectionately refer to as "Blueberry Pudding," a layered dessert with a graham cracker crust, a cream cheese base, fresh blueberries, vanilla pudding, and topped with cool whip and chopped walnuts.  I'm not exactly sure where this recipe came from, but it definitely seems like it came out of a Kraft foods magazine.

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup melted butter
1 8oz package cream cheese (softened)
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups and 3 Tbs milk
3 cups THAWED Cool Whip (1 regular size tub)
2 (4 serving size) packages INSTANT vanilla pudding mix
walnuts (optional)

Mix together graham cracker crumbs and melted butter.  Press into the bottom of a 9x13in pan.  Chill for 10 minutes.
Beat together 3 Tbs milk, softened cream cheese, and sugar until smooth.  Fold in 1/2 container (1 1/2 cups) cool whip.  Set aside.
Beat together pudding mix and 1 1/2 cups milk until thick.  Chill for 5 minutes.
Carefully spread cream cheese mixture over crust.
Generously sprinkle blueberries, watching out for stems and bugs if freshly picked.
Carefully spread pudding over top of blueberries.
Spread remaining cool whip over top.

If desired, add chopped walnuts.  Refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving.

Well, that's all the time I've had for baking and blogging this week.  Maybe once it isn't a bazillion degrees out, I will make it to the berry patch and make a pie.  Stay tuned for more berry recipes, and stay cool.

Love and cookies,