Week 4, part two: cutie patootie peach hand pies

I made two different types of pie this week. Yes I am a little wacko. I figure next week at this time when I’ll be back at school there will be no chance of spending so much time in the kitchen so I might as well seize the moment and bake to my heart’s content. Also, I was a little worried about how tasty (or not) my gluten-free dairy-free baby pies were going to be, so I decided to make some peach hand pies for the birthday picnic too. Backup pies, you could say.

Who doesn’t love the idea of portable pie? I’d say that hand pies definitely fall into the category of ideal picnic food. These ones were made in record time because I’d thought that the picnic was a late afternoon picnic and it turned out to be a noon picnic which meant I churned these puppies out at high speed. I didn’t get to do all of the chilling recommended, which always makes me stress a little. They sure looked adorable all nestled together in their foil container when they were cool, and they garnered a chorus of “ooh”s when they arrived at the picnic. One of the party-goers said she imagined how heavenly they’d be with a bowl full of soft-serve to dip them in, and just a few minutes later, an ice cream truck pulled up at the park. So we almost got to experience that. Next time maybe.

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Week 4, part one: gluten-free dairy-free baby birthday pies

Let me start off by saying that before yesterday, I had never made gluten-free, dairy-free anything. To be honest (this might offend a few gluten-free dairy-free people out there), at the beginning of my search, I wondered if searching “gluten-free vegan pie” would yield the same results as googling “yucky pie” or “boring healthy pie”. Sometimes I’m not the postergirl for open-mindedness. I now know that there was no call for that kind of sarcasm or snootiness. I know this because I managed to make gluten-free dairy-free baby pies that were pretty yummy, and along the way I found a host of vegan and gluten-free blogs that had plenty of tempting and beautiful looking food. I ended up making something that I could imagine making again, which I hadn’t expected.

The gluten-free and dairy-free combo is what made the exercise a lot more challenging. Every time I found an interesting gluten-free recipe I’d discover it had butter in it, or milk. Add to this that the birthday baby hasn’t yet been exposed to nuts, so I couldn’t incorporate any ground almonds or almond milk to add another layer of richness. At one point, I emailed my friend to ask, jokingly, if her baby was allowed to have bourbon. She said okay as long as it was only a little (probably afraid to add another thing to the “no” list). I replied that I’d been kidding and she fired back quickly to say that she’d obviously failed the underage drinking for kids test.

No surprise that this challenge was an uncomfortable experience for a perfectionist. My pie needed to taste good and look good – not just good, great. It needed to look like I’d been baking gluten-free dairy free delights for years. I did not like the fact that many of the recipes I found listed ingredients that sounded like they belonged in a science lab: sorghum flour, guar gum, xanthan gum… This was a strange new world indeed, and I was not feeling like I wanted a cupboard full of guar gum. I just wanted to make a baby a birthday pie. Gluten-free girl and the chef is the place to hang out to feel way less scared of gluten-free cooking. Unfortunately many recipes I found there had dairy. I did some more digging and thought I found the answer… Continue reading

Pieless Friday

Since I started with my pie project, by the time Friday rolls around, there is no pie left. Actually this week we reached the end of the pie much faster because I gave half away.

Since I’m all out of pie, Friday seems like a good day to make a list of other folks’ yummy posts that I savored this week out there in the foodosphere. There may not be pie in the fridge, but there’s plenty to get hungry about.

Sweet Amandine’s strawberry trifle makes me want Christmas to hurry up and get here already.

Over at Orangette you’ll find something to do with blueberries other than bake a pie.

Not without salt’s beautiful post made me think about being grateful for the time we have to share food with those we love. And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it.

Brown butter cobbler, and some stunning summery photos of a plum bounty by seven spoons has to inspire you to get out there and enjoy a farmer’s market this weekend.

The Wednesday Chef says it’s “the best banana cake the world has ever seen.” Now you know what to do with those brown bananas.

Cakespy shares her frozen hot chocolate recipe. It may finally be time for me to buy a blender.

17 and baking’s red velvet cheesecake post is about a lot more than icing and sprinkles. Read it to feel inspired to do something you love.

Have a sweet Friday!

(plate photo from stockxchng)

Week 3: coconut cream pie is not for wimps

There are pies I can eat for breakfast. There are pies I could eat every week. This week I have learned that Coconut Cream Pie does not fall into either of these categories. Coconut Cream Pie is not for wimps. It is not for vegans. (At least not the one I made. No indeed). It is also not for people who like to accomplish things after dessert. It is tasty though. Tasty verging on naughty.

Confession: before Saturday, I had never eaten coconut cream pie. This is surprising because coconut is one of my favourite tastes and I’ve not been known to say no to creamy, vanilla-scented pastry cream. When I worked (read: slaved) in the kitchen at the schmancy Belgian bakery here in town, one of my secret walk-in refrigerator treats was a spoonful of pastry cream with a raspberry plopped on top. One bite of cold vanilla fruitiness, and then back to work!

The thing is, I think I’d probably choose a fruit pie over a cream pie nine times out of ten. Is this because I delude myself into thinking that I’m getting something remotely “good for me” with a fruit pie? Perhaps. Blueberries = antioxidants. Peaches = fiber. I think it’s more about the contrast, of flaky crust to syrupy fruit, the sweet tang against slight salt of butter. A cream pie is really… creamy. And this one was mostly sweet, and sweeter. You can’t pretend it isn’t decadent, maybe even a touch insane, to be eating all that cream. I admit I felt a little giddy as I scooped up my last forkful of this week’s indulgence. When I was done, I lay on the couch in a coconut cream stupor and vowed that tomorrow I would run. I would run far and fast.

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One perfect pie story in Molly Birnbaum’s Season to Taste

Today I finished Molly Birnbaum’s memoir, Season to Taste. I enjoyed it as much as I’d hoped. It made me think about my big nose (thanks Dad!), my favourite kitchen scents, my most powerful food memories, and how most days, I take all of these for granted. (It also made me think I might need to change my name to Molly in order to be a great food writer. Further evidence). Molly’s story is quite something. After an accident when she was hit by a car while jogging, Molly lost her sense of smell. Any food person would understand why this would be a profound loss, since taste is inextricably linked to smell. Add to this fact that at the time, Molly dreamed of becoming a chef and was planning on pursuing this dream at the Culinary Institute of America. She put all of this on hold and shifted her focus to learning everything she could about her condition, all the while desperately hoping that she could recover even some of what she had lost. Her book is her account of this amazing journey back to taste. I guarantee that Molly’s story will teach you a great deal about the science of scent and the power of this sense to influence your perception of the world, your relationships with others, and your enjoyment of life. One of the most impressive aspects of the book is Molly’s talent for making the science accessible (and interesting) to non-scientific folk, and her storytelling is charming and honest and evocative.

From a pie-lover’s perspective, this memoir has a sweet pie story close to the beginning. Molly writes about her memory of the “baby pies” her mother and her grandmother used to make with the scraps of pie dough leftover after rolling out the crust. The scraps would get baked up with butter and cinnamon and sugar. I remember my grandmother doing the same thing. She’d roll out the bits she hadn’t used and cut them into circles with a glass, or else just leave them as they were. She’d arrange all of oddly shaped pieces on a baking sheet and maybe brush them with a little butter and dust them with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. My sister and I would stick around in the kitchen, hovering, until they came out of the oven and then we’d eat them fast, not even letting them cool for fear the other would get more. My sister and I couldn’t agree on a lot of foods when we were kids, but those sugary pie cookie bits were worth fighting for.

Molly follows the baby pie story with another about making an apple pie in Namibia. It was her first attempt at pie. It has a happy ending. This story is perfect proof of how pie can be healing and restorative, both in the making and the eating. It reminds how pie is about more than its simple ingredients. Pie is hopeful. Pie is community. Pie matters.

Molly’s book is full of goodness and sweet and truthful observations about food and life. Like pie, I plan to share my copy with someone soon.

Gluten-free vegan pie: the life of the party?

We are just over a week away from celebrating the first birthday of our dear friends’ little one. Let’s call her “the Nut.” (I can do this because it is her for real nickname. I am not a mean auntie). This kid is lucky because her parents are the coolest for all sorts of reasons, one reason being that they are a-mazing cooks. Dad is a professional pastry chef and Mom is just naturally a genius in the kitchen. Needless to say, you anticipate eating at their house weeks in advance. They are the sort of people who put together a dining “experience”: multiple snacks and appetizers, a main with all sorts of elements, and a dessert that makes you swoon (sometimes several). And they do all of this with complete ease, wandering out of the kitchen to chat and turn up the music and have a drink and hang out. Your glass is always full. The spicy olives / homemade feta and roasted pepper dip / garlic bread bits are plentiful. They are natural cooks, completely relaxed. Their love of food is not just about eating; it’s also a real love of making food,. They enjoy the process. I don’t think everyone who cooks can make this claim.

So for the Nut’s first birthday, her Mom is planning a picnic. (I told you she was cool, didn’t I?) I have offered to make pie, since that’s my thing right now. There’s just one problem. The Nut has a gluten / dairy sensitivity. I more or less live for gluten and dairy and so have never been at all motivated to explore the world of gluten-free or vegan baking. Of course, Perfectionist Me wants the birthday pie to be the best gluten / dairy-free pie possible. I’m feeling a little… lost (intimidated, anxious, clueless…).

I think I will start by considering Gluten-free Girl and the Chef’s piecrust. Perhaps with berries tumbled in? A little vegan ganache? (I cannot believe I just typed those two words together). If you have advice, please, do not be silent.

Whatever I come up with, I wish I had time to order some of these adorable wedge-shaped pie boxes from Petit Moulin because you’d have to love a piece of pie – vegan, gluten-free, conventional – that was wrapped up like a birthday present like this, just for you. Here’s hoping gluten-free vegan pie turns out to be the life of the party and not a perfectionist’s nightmare.