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Food Friendly May: Fill Your Pie Hole

As Food Friendly May comes to an end, it’s only right and fitting that I do my best to pass on what I know about one of the most universally frustrating challenges faced by cooks the world over: pie crust.

I honestly don’t know if what I have to say will do the trick for you or not because I am one of those revolting people who just plain has The Touch for pies. I made my first pie crust at seven. My mother nearly cried. Pie crust was her culinary Achille’s heel and somehow she’d produced a daughter who seemed incapable of turning out a bad pie crust.

This is why I rarely attempt to explain to anyone how I do it: because it comes to me so easily that I don’t know why what I’m doing works so well. It just does.

Still, I can pass on what I do in hopes that someone will find it helpful. There are a few hints I know that might be useful to somebody. For one thing, start with very cold ingredients. The colder the better, as long as you can still work them. I even put my flour in the fridge before I start work, because it’s always produced a better result. I don’t know why this works, only that it does for me. The other really important one – and I cannot stress this enough – is not to overwork the dough. Once it almost holds together, stop fussing. Once you get it about the right size, stop rolling and get it in the pan. Pie crust is never improved by extra efforts, but can be by a quick hand.

So what’s my recipe? It’s simple enough. Here’s hoping it works for you:

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Food Friendly May: Let Us Eat Cake

My friends, this is the final weekend of this particular May, and so tomorrow will mark the end of my Food Friendly May posts. That means it’s definitely time to roll out the desserts! I’ve had cake on my mind a lot of late, so I thought today I’d share one of my favorite cake recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks: The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. This is the recipe that makes me dance gleefully in the fruit and vegetable aisle of my friendly neighborhood grocery store when really, really ripe bananas go on mega-sale. In fact, it’s been known to produce drooling of a Pavlovian nature when I tell friends ‘bananas were on sale today,’ because they know what wonders lie in wait when they come to visit.

Cordon Rose Banana Cake:

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Food Friendly May: Agua Fresca

Growing up in California, I was introduced early to a good deal of Mexican food. One of my favorite discoveries as a small child was agua fresca. I will never forget the first time I was handed a glass on a hot, summer’s day and drank deeply of this incredibly refreshing beverage. It was watermelon, still my favorite flavor of agua fresca, though I’ve enjoyed many other delicious versions. It can be done with nearly any fruit, but melons and strawberries always seem to be the most popular flavors. It can also be done with cucumber and lime, though I must admit I haven’t tried that one out. I probably will sometime this summer, because it sounds both interesting and remarkably refreshing.

Anyway, I found an actual recipe (I’d never really used a formal recipe for this before, but the proportions look right and the steps match pretty much what I’d been doing) at a website called What’s 4 Eats, which is devoted to recipes from around the world. Here’s what you do to make agua fresca (fresh water):

3 Cups fresh fruit, coarsly chopped

6-8 Cups water

1/2 – 3/4 Cup sugar, depending on tartness of fruit and personal taste

1/4 Cup lime juice (optional)

1: Add fruit and 2 – 3 Cups of water to a blender and puree well. Strain through a seive into a large pitcher.

2: Add the rest of the water (to the six-cup point) and 1/2 Cup sugar. Stir well. Add more sugar and more water until you reach the desired consistancy and sweetness. Serve chilled. Makes 2 1/2 Quarts.
Trust me, there is nothing better on an icky hot day than agua fresca. In fact, I may make some strawberry today. Mmm…strawberries.

Food Friendly May: The Drinks Are On me!

The last few days have been revoltingly hot around here. No, I’m not going to get into a discussion about how much hotter it is where you are or ‘well at least you’re not freezing your nipples off, Twistie.’ I am hot. This bothers me. It’s nine in the damn morning and I’m already doing everything in my power to cool myself off. This is Not Okay.

My cat is particularly unhappy with the situation because he wants to be cuddled and he’s wearing a fur coat…and determined to give back all the heat he sucked from my body in the winter when I was freezing my damn ass off.

In case you couldn’t tell, hot weather makes Twistie grumpy, and I ain’t talking Snow White’s army of little people, either!

And so it is that I turn with longing to the refreshing, cool drink.

Today’s recipe comes from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. Trust me, even if you’re not vegetarian (and I’m not) Deborah Madison’s books are well worth every penny, being full of delicious, easy to follow, fabulously imaginative recipes for vegetables. Whether or not you serve them with meat, you’ll definitely find some great stand bys to serve you well for years to come.

Anyway. There’s a small section in this book devoted to breakfast drinks, but many of them are also perfect for cooling down on a hot afternoon. Being fond of nectarines, I’m particularly enamoured of the Nectarine-Mango Frappe. Mmm…nectarines.

2 Nectarines or Peaches

1 Large Mango

1 1/2 Cup Buttermilk or Yogurt

A few drops Vanilla

6 Ice Cubes

Fresh Lemon or Lime juice to taste.

Peel and slice the fruit, then puree in a blender or food processor with the yogurt, vanilla, and ice until smooth. Add lemon or lime juice to taste and serve. Serves 2 – 3.

That’s it. It’s easy enough for me to do even with my brain melting like a clock in a Salvadore Dali painting.

And if I might recommend, these glasses would be superfantastic to serve this in!

Dragonfly Glasses

Food Friendly May: Mother’s Day Memories

When my mother was a new mom, my father started a tradition: breakfast in bed. Scrambled eggs, toast, crisp bacon, her inevitable strong fresh-brewed coffee, and a bowl of sliced strawberries dusted with sugar and doused in half and half.

As the years went on and my brothers and I got bigger, the tradition continued. Of course, it grew to involve three young children bouncing around on the bed with her arguing over who got the sunday comics first. The menu, however, remained the same. Scrambled eggs, toast, crisp bacon, strong fresh-brewed coffee, and a bowl of sliced strawberries dusted with sugar and doused in half and half.

Even when the children all grew into responsible adults and began leading lives away from Mom and Dad, the tradition continued. Those of us in town continued to perch on the bed with Mom and eat that same breakfast. I took over brewing the coffee since I turned out to be the one who followed in Mom’s footsteps while my brothers grew up to be tea drinkers like Dad.
Then Mom told me a secret one Mother’s Day – her very last, as it turned out. Every year she looked forward to and dreaded Mother’s Day. She loved the presents, she loved the breakfast menu…but she detested beyond expression trying to eat it in bed! She just never had the heart to tell Dad because he was so proud to have come up with something that romantic on his own.

So who out there has a Mother’s Day tradition that involves food? I’d love to hear about it!

Food Friendly May: Of Hamburgers and Hippos

Once upon a time in San Francisco, city of fog and whimsy, there was a restaurant – nay, a Mecca for burger lovers and fans of a now-obscure puppeteer and children’s book illustrator known as Wolo – that showed how a humble foodstuff, when done with love, care and a touch of ingenuity could be an amazing thing. That place was known as The Hippo.

The Hippopotamus Hamburger Restaurant awed me when I first walked through its doors at the tender age of ten. The walls were covered in glorious murals of cartoon hippos doing decidedly non-hippo-like things. The girl hippos wore polka-dotted hairbows. The ones viewed from the rear were seen to wear matching bows on their tails and little heart-shaped tattoos on their rumps. The boy hippos looked smitten at the girl hippos. Some of the boy hippos wore spotted neckerchiefs and tall chef’s toques. They looked proud of their work, and well they should have. What was done in the Hippo kitchen was positively magical.

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International No Diet Day

I know it’s not my usual day, but I just had to butt in and remind everyone that today is International No Diet Day. In honor of the day ignore diets, which foods are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (Unless, of course, we’re talking a serious medical question like diabetes or a potentially lethal peanut allergy. After all, the idea is for people to enjoy life through enjoying foods they love without guilt, not to kill anyone.), or what effect one freaking donut will have on your waistline.

Me? I had some yummy pumpkin granola for breakfast, sundried tomato ravioli in pesto sauce for lunch with a devil’s food cupcake chaser, and I’m looking forward to a tasty dinner of turkey burgers, brown rice, spinach salad, and fresh strawberries for dessert. Why? Because I love eating every single thing on that list. I was having a craving for cottage cheese, but I don’t have any. Hmmm…maybe I’ll head to the store and have some as a mid-afternood snack.

Whatever you eat today, though, remember to savor it.