Friendship + Apples + Almost Famous = Love

I had a test yesterday, but it was hard to concentrate because all I could think about was getting home so that I could make pie.

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After submitting my last answer, I got in the car and flew to the grocery store, where they rewarded me with a free flower and a smile. Hooray for Valentine’s Day!

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Trip doesn’t understand yet that flowers are not to be eaten.

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Dan and I have a bit of a running joke in our house, where if I ever express uncertainty as to what to make, or claim that I am bored during the day, he tells me to make an apple pie for him. No matter what day it is or what occasion might be coming up, you can be sure that Dan wants apple pie. What better day than Valentine’s Day to finally indulge him and make him up a pie? Betty helped out.

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Also, what better day than to hang out with your totally awesome friend Bailee, who will take awesome action shots of the whole pie-making process? None.

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Action!

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(Oh, Bailee, please forgive me for posting this picture, but you cannot possibly understand how much I love it.)

Not only did we make pie, but we also completely embraced our Palentine’s Day, watching Attack the Block, my new favorite British sci-fi action movie (not a packed genre, I know), eating carrots and hummus in an attempt to be healthy before the rest of the day’s festivities, and laughing more than seems healthy at my failed attempts at crust.

Yep, you read that right. There was some spectacular crust failure going on, either from too warm temperatures or too much shortening. Knowing me, probably both. The poor crust was somehow both sticky and crumbly, and just would not get off the countertop and into a pie plate without me losing my mind. Solution?

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Hearts! We broke out the cookie cutters and got to improvising. My original idea was for them to turn out something like this, but we all know that Pinterest can be a real danger zone when it comes to overestimating your own abilities. That said, I think that things looked pretty cute once we got rolling.

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Cute!

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We attracted some attention.

If you noticed earlier, there were two apple pies on my counter. One of these was going to one of Dan’s coworkers, a super nice man named Mike who unfortunately lost his wife this past fall. We wanted to brighten his day by including him in our baked goods rotation for Valentine’s Day, but I wasn’t too sure about the hearts. Solution #2?

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Stars!

Can you tell that Bailee is ridiculously taller than me? It makes these shots that I normally have to stand on a chair to get seem super simple. Anyone else think that she should come and do blog photos all the time? Me too.

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Super messy doughy countertop.

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But look at those pies! Everything got a light eggwash and a sprinkling of sugar before going into the oven.

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The shapes kind of…melted into the apples a bit, so they lost their definition, but I still think that they came out really festive.

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And then you don’t need to say that love is the secret ingredient, because it’s right there on the top, in full view. Love in sugary buttered form.

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I’m sure that no one will be shocked to hear that Dan and I each ate a piece of it before going out for Valentine’s Day dinner.

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It just seemed like the right thing to do.  Even with all the crust failure, it still tasted amazing.  Warm and cinnamon-y and perfect.

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Gifts were exchanged. I got Dan the adorable Zombie in Love, illustrated by one of Dan’s favorite artists, Scott Campbell. He got me one of the original double-sided placards from when Almost Famous came out in theaters.

This is more than just a poster, really. I don’t believe that I have ever told this story before on the blog, so let me tell you about the day that Dan and I met. In 2006, I used to play D&D with a couple of people that Dan lived with. One day, we decided to go over to their house to play a minifigure-type game, and Dan was there, getting ready to watch a movie. He put in Almost Famous, which I had also never seen, and I asked if I could watch it with him. He said that would be great and asked me if I wanted a drink. For the next two hours, he kept asking me questions about the movie and the music, so much that I originally thought that he wasn’t really paying much attention to the movie for some reason. He later told me that he was doing this intentionally to get me to talk to him.

Cue the “awwww.”

About a week later, he showed up at a piano bar when my friends and I went out, and we spent our time together making origami napkin animals and flowers at the end of the table. We started dating a week later and have been inseparable ever since. Ever since that night, Almost Famous has been our movie. We even plan to name our first child (if FutureBaby ever becomes a reality) William, because William Miller is the name of the main character. Yes, we are dorks. But it means a lot. Hearing that Philip Seymour Hoffman died a few weeks ago really hit me where it hurts because he is responsible for one of the most wonderful moments in that movie. In movies period, really.

Sigh. I’m getting sad about it again just writing about it. Let’s look at a picture of a tiny owl instead.

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He also got me a tiny owl. It’s pretty great.

After the pie, we got ourselves all fancied up…

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…and went to one of my favorite places.

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Tujague’s is a New Orleans institution. It’s super old, and super dedicated to doing things the way they’ve always done them. An oak bar that’s over a hundred years old with cloudy glass, cracked terrazzo tile, white tablecloths, and prix fixe. It’s one of my favorite places.

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Then there was a lovely walk in the French Quarter, just to round out the evening. There would have been coffee at Café du Monde, if we felt as though there was any more rooms in our stomachs, thanks to crawfish gnocchi, corn and crab chowder, amazing steak and shrimp, and caramel cheesecake. And the apple pie we ate before we left, of course.

But, hey! It was Valentine’s Day! We’re allowed to be ridiculous and share our love of food along with our love of each other, right?

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Thanks so much to Bailee for her awesome pictures and fabulous company on this very lovely of Pal/Valentine’s days! I hope that all of you had a wonderful time yourselves and got to spend some quality time with the people and things that you love, like I did.

Oh, and I love you guys, too. Don’t forget that.

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A Perfect Picnic

How do you make the perfect Sunday picnic? Spend your Saturday morning making pie and potato salad, of course!

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My kitchen counter should look like this every Saturday.

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Get out your Betty Crocker cookbook and slice up some apples. Try to get particular about peeling them properly, but lose the muster quickly.

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Make a fluted crust properly for the first time in your life. Stand back and admire things for a minute while no one is watching you.

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Fill it all up! Top it with crumbly goodness and bake it.

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Dutch Apple Pie! Perfect for a springtime picnic in weather that already feels like the middle of summer.

Inbetween all of those steps, because you can’t not do at least two things at once, at least, if you’re me, which you are in this scenario, make your favorite potato salad. (That’s a lot of commas!)

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My absolute favorite is everybody likes sandwiches‘s Incredible Lemony Potato Salad, but made with small red potatoes instead of Yukon Gold. It’s pleasantly mayonnaise-less, which makes it great for picnics, or anything else involving warm weather and transport. All of that celery, basil, and lemon zest gives those potatoes a real brightness and tang.

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I’ve made it more times than I can count, and it never lasts long in my kitchen.

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Schlep it all down to a lovely park (Fountainbleau State Park in Mandeville), with some added sandwiches, fruit, wine, and bicycles, and you’ve got the makings of a perfect picnic.

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Dan and I conquered some very winding and swampy bike trails, including a moment where I very nearly skidded out of control and could have landed either in a giant mud pile or ran into a tree. Luckily, neither thing happened, but, according to Dan, I looked really cool while avoiding certain death.  Because we do not use the camera during these things, we will never really know, but I will gladly assume it to be true.

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I also made it out of the park with only one mosquito bite, which is pretty much a miracle. Usually I am serious mosquito bait. Plus, I’m super sensitive to the bites. At the end of most excursions into the wilderness, I am a blotchy, itchy mess.

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We definitely earned that lunch. White wine (Riesling, my favorite) and lovely sandwiches of roast beef, ham, tomato, and baby Swiss on wheat bread. Might be my new sandwich du jour.

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Dan traded out his cheese for jalapeno peppers from our neighbor’s garden and radishes from ours. You can’t see the sweet, sweet pain on his face here, but it was hard for him to get through that sandwich, delicious though it was.

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Of course, we couldn’t forget that amazing potato salad, plus fruit salad that I threw together with apples, grapes, and strawberries with just a touch of sugar and cinnamon. I’m not ashamed that we basically ate the whole thing.

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After lunch, we went on a trip to see some alligators. Dan was desperate to see an alligator. Little did we know how lucky we’d be on that front.

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Some of us look really cool while awaiting an alligator.

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Others spend our time doing our best alligator impression.

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This is not zoomed in or doctored up. The alligators basically swim right up to the docks, making you wonder how many people completely disregard the giant “Don’t feed the alligators” signs that are posted.

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It was almost like I’d already been there.

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After another bike trail and brush with mud (considering how finicky and prissy I am because of how frightened I usually am to ride my bike, this picture is a badge of honor), we sat down to eat our pie.

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A perfect ending to a perfect day.

I hope that everyone had a really lovely Easter, and that you spent it with people you love, doing things you love, just like we did. We might have to make this a tradition.

Tastes Like Fall (or also, the one where I feel sad, and then I make a galette)

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I am not at the place where I originally wanted to be in my life. At the age of 29, I am working in an entry-level retail job (that I really enjoy, don’t get me wrong) that has absolutely nothing to do with the bachelor’s degree that I worked so hard to earn over 7 years ago. I am currently putting myself through school, still going through menial prerequisites in order to get accepted into nursing school in the very near future.

I am, and have always been, a straight-A student, but my work ethic tends to just make me feel angry lately. I force myself to work hard and do well on tests regarding subjects that I really don’t care about, and watch other students (of whom most are 10 years or more younger than me) skate by and seem to have lovely, exciting lives and either the same or better jobs than me.

I’ve had higher-paying jobs with more responsibility. And this fact occasionally makes me look at my current life with more than a little tinge of depression. I know that I’m working towards a larger goal. I know that lots of people change careers and their lives at mid-stream and end up being very successful. I know that the hard work that I put in now will result in multiple rewards later down the line. However, it’s hard to remember this when you’re standing at a cash register, ringing up someone who used to be a close friend from high school, realizing how much you’re stuck in this weird life you didn’t think you’d be leading.

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Then today, I realized we had lots of apples in the fridge and the temperature was starting to drop. I realized that I now had the opportunities to have evenings free to spend with Dan and time to enjoy something while I worked on homework. I decided to make a galette.

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A galette is a rustic tart/pie that’s not too picky about whether or not your crust technique is perfect or if you have enough or too much apples or whatever extra tasty bits you might want to throw in there. It tastes awesome all the same.

I always use Pinch My Salt‘s Apple Galette recipe. It’s served us well so many times in the past and is easily adaptable to whatever fruit you may have in mind.

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One thing that I always do to make my pie/tart-making easier is a trick I learned from Joy the Baker and her Easy No-Roll Pie Crust Method. When making crusty-type things, I always throw my butter in the freezer for a few seconds, and then grate it with a cheese grater into the bowl before blending it in.

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It makes incorporating those ingredients so much easier. It makes life better. Trust me.

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All those sugared and spiced apples (I always add plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg in there) get poured into that lovely buttery, flaky crust.

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Then you just fold up the sides as prettily or as lackadaisically as you want, egg wash the sides, and sprinkle with some raw sugar and cinnamon.

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Yeah, I might have a slight cinnamon obsession, especially in the fall. Like I’ve heard Giada de Laurentiis say before, cinnamon feels like a warm hug. A hug I feel like we all need right about now.

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Pull that bad boy out of the oven and marvel at its delightful rustic-ness. Let’s get a closer look.

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Closer.

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Better. Crusty, flaky, warm, spicy, tart, and delicious.

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I had to cut a piece to get a good picture of the sweet, gooey insides, but I had to leave it to the side and not eat any until Dan gets home. It was a struggle.

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I mean, look at that. Good grief.

I know that making pies is not the answer to all of my life’s problems, but it certainly helps. It helps to know that I can make something like this come out right, even when other things aren’t perfect. It helps that even if the pie’s not perfect, it’s still going to taste amazing and will make someone I love really happy. It helps that it smells like fall and lets me know that time is still passing and that my goals are getting closer.

It just helps.

Morning Ritual Tryout – Apple Pancakes

Because Dan and I have such different work schedules, we try to make the little time that we have together slightly special. But only slightly.  Don’t know why, but I feel like this requires pancakes.

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Wow, I’ve gotten much better at making pancakes. These are almost IHOP consistency. (Don’t laugh. IHOP is freaking delicious and everyone knows it.)

Now, this isn’t exactly a ritual yet, but it needs to be.

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Combining the basic pancake recipe from The Big Book of Breakfast (which might be my favorite cookbook ever, no pictures or anything, but, oh dear, so much breakfast), with some apples cooked all up in some butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, might be the best way to start a morning together.

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Even though it does make it almost intolerably hot in the kitchen for a little while.  I do love my gas stove, but it’s hard to love something that makes your face so hot.

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What? Let’s look again.

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Yes.

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Should this be our new whichever-morning-we-might-get-to-spend-together ritual? I think so. Followed up by going to get granitas at PJ’s at some point? Yes.

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Dan likes his apples with extra apples. Right on.

The only problem is that I always end up making 4-5 too many pancakes and keeping them in the freezer where they call to me as I pass by the kitchen. They tell me that it’s okay to have pancakes for lunch. They are dirty liars. But delicious liars.

Oh man, I need to stop spending so much time at home.

Challenge Accepted

For me, part of baking (and really almost any hobby that I try to tackle) is trying to accomplish something that seems difficult. I realize that a large section of baking and cooking in general falls into this category since I’m not exactly an expert, but part of the fun is challenging myself. When my dad didn’t show any particular interest in what his birthday dessert should be, and Dan suggested apple pie, I knew this was a “challenge accepted” type of situation.

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Is it just me, or doesn’t this apple look quite pretty in my apple corer?

I’ve never made a double-crusted fruit pie before. Only pumpkin pie, at which I’ve actually grown quite proficient thanks to Libby’s Pumpkin Pie recipe on the back of the can and Joy the Baker‘s awesome no-roll pie crust. This, however, was going to actually take more finesse than I typically exhibit. I had to go for the big guns.  The classy touch.  The Betty Crocker cookbook.

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I needed practice.  In learning the things that all bakers seem to instinctive know but that doesn’t come naturally to me.  Like, in cutting and peeling things properly.

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And making crust. Crust that doesn’t fall apart and rip at the merest touch.

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Nearly there, but I think that my rolling pin is working against me. I bought a non-stick fancy-pants one a while ago, and I really think at this point that I’d do better with a baseball bat. No amount of flour and refrigeration and tender care keeps the stupid thing from sticking to whatever I put it to. I thought I was pretty clever using my star-shaped cookie cutter for the vent, but again, the dough had different plans and shaped itself accordingly.

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I’m getting a little to fascinated with these in-the-oven shots. It think they look fairly futuristic, especially with all the tin foil.

In our haste to deliver said pie, I forgot to take more pictures, so excuse the iPhone quality and odd lighting for the rest.

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A little wonky, a little burnt, but a lot delicious.

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I’m going to have to concentrate especially hard on not cutting myself a piece for lunch.