Sunday, October 23, 2011

Peace of Pie

Well, after a very rough last few weeks, I am finally home for a much-needed fall break.  Things have been far from easy for me.  Between grad school applications, exams, presentations, research projects, TAing, juggling a social life, my Zumba® class, lots of volunteer work, maintaining a long-distance military relationship, and some unfortunate medical issues, I am spent.
A gorgeous drive home to set the tone for a beautiful break
For those of you that have not yet heard, I was informed this week that I have some pre-cancerous cells in my body.  It is NOT CANCER at this point, so I consider this good news.  I was, however, cautioned that I need to start paying better attention to my body.  I need to start eating healthier, exercising more, getting more sleep, and keeping away from stress.  I feel like I do OK on the eating healthily and sleeping parts, but my schedule doesn't really allow for a lot of extra exercise, and certainly doesn't permit breaks from stress.  But I am determined to change this.

The reason I created this blog was to document how I use baking as therapy to de-stress my life, and how I create beautiful things that spread happiness to those around me.  This morning I decided to bake an apple pie for my grandfather and I was reminded of why I fell in love with baking in the first place.  I was at home, in my own kitchen, with the lights off, listening to the sound of the creek and breathing in the fall air.  I moved slowly, finally going through a recipe at my own pace, not rushing against a clock so I can get my homework done or make it to a meeting on time.  Today I was in the kitchen with my thoughts and my pie, and the rest of the world seemed to fall away for a while.  I think I reached pie nirvana.

Even if you don't make this pie, I hope that you can take a few minutes out of your day to stop everything and just breathe.  Listen to your thoughts and be alone with yourself for a little while.  Take some time to appreciate your life and all the people in it.  And if you do have the extra time and some apples, then it can't hurt to make this pie while you're achieving your inner peace.

Chai Apple Pie
Adapted from Betty Crocker's 2-crust, 9" apple pie recipe
2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup plus 2 Tbs vegetable shortening
1/2 tsp salt
4-5 Tbs cold water

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs chai powder (you can definitely add more if you like more spice)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs butter
5 cups peeled and sliced hand-picked apples (the firmer the apples, the better)

Crust Directions:
Crust ingredients
Put all crust ingredients in a bowl, starting out with 4 Tbs of water and adding a 5th of dough is too dry/crumbly
Cut the shortening into the flour (I love being home so I can use the pastry cutter!)
Mix the dough into a ball with your hands (mess avoidance is not an option)
Divide the dough into two separate halves
Roll out the dough until you have enough to line the bottom of a pie plate
Fold dough in half...
...then in half again to aid in transferring to the plate
Patch up any holes and trim excess off the edges

Filling Directions:
Whisk together all the dry ingredients
Peel and slice the apples, then mix them with the dry ingredients
Once apples are well-covered, pour them into your pie shell and dot with butter
Add your top crust, make slits, brush with melted butter, flute the edges and cover them with foil
Bake with foil for 30 minutes at 425°F, then remove foil for 15-20 minutes.  Remove from oven when crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling through the slits
Cool on a wire rack
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream for the full effect
I think eating this pie brought as much happiness to my life as making it did.  I only make pies in the seasons they belong in, and I've been waiting to make a traditional apple pie.  We made a few French apple pies this week in my baking group at the outpatient mental health clinic, but those had crumb topping and no ice cream.  This one was the real thing.

I normally feel a lot of pressure from my family to make pies "just like Gram," and I've been letting it stress me out.  Today, I decided that if I am going to bake for therapeutic reasons, I am going to bake my way, with the ingredients that make me happy.  If I am inspired by a package of chai powder on the counter, I am going to add it, just because I feel like it.  If my overly-critical family doesn't like them, they don't have to eat them.  This is my life, and I am finally going to take control of it.

Wishing everyone a peaceful fall pie season.
Love and cookies,

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