I’m Thankful for Pie

What am I thankful for this year? The real list is too long, so we’ll cut it down to photo-essay-size.

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I am thankful for friends who used to be far away, but are now close by.

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I am thankful for close friends who are now far away, and the technology that lets me pretend that they still are as near as ever.

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I am thankful for this handsome man who manages to take fabulous pictures of us, against all odds.

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I am thankful for this handsome little man who can’t manage to not be photogenic.

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I am thankful for pie crust.

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And pie filling.

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And the pie that comes out of the oven. (Joy the Baker‘s Easy No-Roll Pie Crust and the Pecan and Walnut Pie from the November 2010 issue of Real Simple magazine, by the by.)

And at the end of the long, long list that has been edited to remove such fancies as Haribo Coke Bottle gummies and my new salad spinner, I am thankful for you guys who come and read what I have to write about baking, crafting, and general nerd-dom. You guys are great and seriously make my day everyday.

Now get out there and eat some pie.

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Nerd Cred

One of my coworkers told me that I had ‘nerd cred’ the other day, and although it was mostly in regard to my voracious consumption of podcasts (Nerdist, Stuff You Should Know, Radiolab, Freakonomics, Savage Love…I’m addicted, it’s true), I couldn’t help but interpret it as a sort of badge of honor.

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When I like something, I tend to like it to extremes. When I want to bake something, I often find a recipe that’s complex and finicky and make the hell out of it, usually over and over again. I taught myself how to knit, and have barely stopped doing it over the past 11 years, usually taking on large and complicated projects that test my sanity several times over. During grade school summers, my brother and I used to dedicate ourselves to beating certain Nintendo and Sega games in record time, bruising our thumbs in the process and taking lots of pictures of the final screens in hopes of one day sending them in to Nintendo Power magazine.

I’ve got an impressive repertoire of musical theatre scores memorized, and I can recite Little Shop of Horrors, Aladdin, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? backward and forward from pretty much any point in the script. I own the full Karate Kid boxed set on DVD, as well as all of Home Movies, the BBC version of The Office, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Arrested Development, and a respectable portion of the Degrassi universe. I have knitted myself, and several others who have asked nicely, Karate Kid headbands.

A large portion of any spare time that I might happen to run across is devoted to catching up with Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, and Cracked, and have been hopelessly devoted to the mastery of Penny Arcade, PvP, Real Life, and xkcd ever since I realized back in the early days that the internet was more than the chat rooms on AOL.

As you can see, my nerd love crosses many boundaries and yet still knows no bounds, and I am not ashamed.  In fact, typing it all out seems like it’s just a list of awesome stuff that everyone should like.

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Possibly the nerdiest part of my nerd love lies in role-playing games. Despite the plethora of ridiculous titles I just dropped in the previous paragraph, I bet some of you just had a moment at their mere mention. Even the nerdiest of the nerdy think that playing D&D is just plain too much.

These people are wrong.

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How can the sight of this complicated-looking paperwork not make someone blithely happy? Crazy people…

I started playing D&D with one of my best friends, TJ, when I visited him in Boulder after Hurricane Katrina. I’d be staying there while a session would be in progress, and I could either sit it out and drink wine, or jump in and play, and still be able to drink some wine. Guess which one I picked.

Before the hurricane, I had merely dallied about in the role-playing universe with very little commitment to anything in particular. I had played my fair share of Final Fantasy, helped friends paint Warhammer armies, and played a few rounds of Heroquest. However, writing my character’s intensely complicated backstory with TJ on that very first night (fueled by more wine, of course) opened my brain up to a new, ridiculously geeky universe of which I have yet to take my fill.

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I played with the same core group of people in Boulder the entire 5 1/2 years that I lived there, and to leave it behind was more difficult than I thought it would be. I have D&D to thank for my entire relationship with the love of my life (no, he doesn’t play, unfortunately, but was the friend of a friend who did, and we’d have never met otherwise, being from opposite sides of the country and all).

Last year, TJ wrote an amazing one-man show about how awesome the entire experience is, and I teared up the first time that I read it because he stated it much better than I ever could. It’s not just about pretending to be a hero for a few hours. It’s about having a great time with your friends and being intensely interested in the same insane things and not having anyone judge you about it for a few hours. And also killing dragons. What more could a theatre nerd want?

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Since moving, we have made it a point to still get together once a month to slay our monsters through the beauty of technology. I used to always contribute dessert to our get-togethers, and this week was no exception. Delicious little lemon sugar cookies, specially designed to assist with devastating monsters, from everybody likes sandwiches (she’s going to think I’m stalking her with how often I link to her recipes!) went through the mail and found their way to the battle map.

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See! There they are! Along with my super nerdy loot and hit points Excel spreadsheet.

While my loved ones and fellow adventurers enjoyed their cookies, I settled in with my spell list…

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…and some wine (are we noticing a pattern here?)

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…and tore up some Skinwalkers! And various other sundry baddies.

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And it was awesome. There’s a little lost in the translation, but what always makes these evenings so great — the friends, the jokes, the joy of the experience — is all still there. I can’t wait until next month.

Five years training. Hard, hard work. Night school. Pilot. Chocolate Biscuits.

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Is there anything more lovely than cookie-makings in the strainer, waiting to be sifted?

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Here are the beautiful beginnings of everybody likes sandwiches‘s Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies, all sifted and ready to go. As you’ll soon be able to see, here’s also where the realistically-colored pictures come to an end.

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All that dark cocoa makes my camera’s contrast go crazy, resulting in delicious cookies that are particularly hard to photograph.

Here again I used my new cookie scoop to get more uniformly-sized cookies. The dough for these cookies is fairly loose and hard to shape, due to the oil involved, so the less touching, the better.

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The original recipe also calls for flattening the dough into discs, but I’ve found that makes for very thin cookies that don’t hold much jam. And we want these babies to be full of jam. Packed. So again, I try to touch them as little as possible.

You first bake the cookies about halfway, and then take them out, use your 1/2 teaspoon measure to make indentations in them (because you used your thumb the first time you made them years ago, and the lingering memories of scalding hot cookie dough make you eager not the make that mistake again), and fill them up with jammy goodness.

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You also have to hold very still and stay on that shutter button to get a picture of this in time-lapse style, just because. We usually use raspberry jam, but since strawberry was what was on hand, it was going right in.

I also can’t keep typing the word jammy without thinking of this bit of brilliance from Eddie Izzard:

I wish that there was the original version of this somewhere, but the Fisher Price one will have to do. Just imagine everything coming out of the mouth of a British man in fantastic makeup, having a hankering for chocolate biscuits. It’s about 2:04ish when he starts raving about jammy dodgers, but do give a listen to the whole thing (otherwise my title for this post makes absolutely no sense).  He does love his jam.

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With a multi-step process like this, having two ovens helps. I thought it was a bit odd at first that my parents chose to go with both a gas and an electric oven, but while cookie-making (and I’m sure during Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations), I have a deeper understanding and appreciation. I can have some cookies on their first go through the oven while prepping the next for the second step, all at once.  It’s quite exciting.  However, multiple timers going off all at once does nothing to help the sanity.

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After that second trip in the oven, the jam molds itself into the cookie, turning the entire thing into a wonderful sweet treat that tastes like brownies and summertime.  These are Dan’s favorite cookies (and probably favorite baked good, next to pumpkin pie, that I make at all), and usually when I’m making them, I just tell him that I’m making his cookies.

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The obligatory bite-out-of-the-cookie shot. Look at that.

And the fact that I obviously need to redo my nail polish.

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For the whole of the week, I’ve been looking forward to coming home from work/school and cozying up to a little plate of this jammy happiness with some milk…

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…some craftiness…

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…and the dreamy, sad eyes of Josh Charles kicking serious ass on Sports Night.

I’m on the last disc, and that makes me a bit misty.

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There’s always some casualties when making thumbprint cookies, usually from pushing too far through the dough when making the little jam wells. However, the whole texture this time was a bit off for some reason. My cookies didn’t really set quite as well as usual, resulting in really soft brownie bites rather than denser cookies. I’m not sure if I made a mistake in doubling the recipe (because how could you not double this up?), or if it’s just the altitude shift (since I’ve only ever made this recipe in Colorado). They still taste delicious, though, so I’m in no hurry to find the ‘problem,’ if you could even call it that.

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Nope. No problems here.

Facing Some Fears

I have a bit of an embarrassing confession to make. I’m a little scared of my sewing machine.

Of sewing machines, in general, actually. I don’t know what it is about them. The pointy, stabby bits? The hidden machinery cranking away loudly? The speed and fact that it’s constantly pulling things into the pointy, stabby bits? Scary.

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The beast itself. Notice the manual sitting right there? I’ve owned this machine for about 10 years, and I still need the manual in order to thread it and wind the bobbin properly. This is ridiculous.

I’m also kind of scared of my iron.

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However, I’m in love with the way the act of ironing smells. And the legs of my grandmother’s old ironing board are a bit of a work of art.

Put these fears together, and you have to wonder why on earth I’d want to tempt fate and make something. I have a wonderful purse that I’ve had for years that used to get a huge amount of compliments. It is small and cute and originally meant to be a knitting bag, but got upgraded to my everyday bag (when I’m actually using a purse, that is, which is not terribly often due to the invention of pockets and my love of those little clamshell credit card wallets). However, due to my overwhelming love for this object and the fact that it is only made of cloth, it has started falling apart, particularly at the handles. This does not elict compliments.

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I had a ton of fabric for a Halloween costume that never happened sitting around, plus a copy of Bend the Rules Sewing by the fabulous Amy Karol, or angry chicken, as I tend to think of her. I bought the book forever ago (probably around the same time that I moronically thought I’d be sewing a Halloween costume for myself in one weekend).  More recently, I’ve been thinking about taking the plunge and putting all of these things together into a handmade creation and decided to finally use my day off and make something of myself. School and my new job have made me forget that I am a crafty person, so I jumped right in.

Meaning, I took several days to write ‘make purse’ on a to-do list and didn’t do it until today.  And that the whole thing took me about 3 hours, if we’re counting prep work, trying to find the stupid bottle-thing that helps you fill your iron with water, re-learning how to thread the machine, reordering my Hulu queue, checking Facebook a few times, taking a few deep breaths, and then just going for it.

First, we face the iron and the intimidation of interfacing.

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Which turned out to not be so scary when you actually follow the instructions.

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Although still a little nerve-wracking in the clutch. Part of what I’ve gotten used to with knitting and crochet is the fact that any mistake can be unwound and fixed relatively quickly. With sewing, there is cutting and stitching, and everything is just that more permanent.  And really, really hot.

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I persevered, though. I glued some stuff to some other stuff with my iron. I was quite proud.

Then I cut out all the rest of the fabric. Again, experienced some anxiety during this process, but with my handy drafting triangle by my side, I felt a little more comfortable. But then I had to turn some ends under and press them, an activity that has always made me extremely nervous. As I type these words, I realize how stupid it is to be so intimidated by inanimate objects, but these are the facts.

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Again, we have success. Also, renewed determination in the idea that I should probably make this ironing board a new cover.

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Then, I sat myself down and faced my demons. Or just a tiny needle with variable speed control. And I sewed.

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And then sewed some more.

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And I got the miracle of a pocket! And after that, I realized that maybe I might be pretty good at this. Maybe I’m tapping into a hidden talent. Maybe it’s just like baking where all I need to do is enjoy the process and follow the directions in order to make something great.

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And then I make a huge mistake and sew the outer pieces together stacked on top of each other rather than with right sides facing. In true Jinger-fashion, I got cocky about my perceived skill in something and then quickly got slapped down back into my place by the crafting gods.

Keep in mind that I am also using a relatively tiny stitch length in order to keep the sewing machine from going too fast and eating my fingers because sometimes they do that in my fantasy world. I spend the next 20 minutes or so getting well-acquainted with my seam ripper.

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I persevere again, despite my flailings and the crappy light that the sewing machine floods into my pictures.

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And then something happens. Suddenly, I’m finished. And it doesn’t look terrible.

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It actually looks pretty awesome.

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And it has a pocket!

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It holds things in it, just like a purse. It is a purse. I made a purse!

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And then had cold homemade vegetable pizza to celebrate.

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It didn’t take me long to put all my stuff in it, which is probably just too much stuff, but I was excited. I can’t wait to use it. I’m also excited to try sewing other stuff, but I better keep my seam ripper nearby, just in case the crafting gods decide to teach me another lesson, which is highly likely.