Sunday, October 26, 2014

How (Not To) Make An Apple Pie and Burn Your House Down

My daughter recently had her first kindergarten field trip to a local apple orchard. It rained hard all day long, but that didn't seem to dampen her enthusiasm.  She proudly brought back a bag full of apples that she'd picked, and in a moment of Betty Crocker-ness, I suggested we bake an apple pie.  I'd just checked out the book How To Make An Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman from the library, and coincidentally, it has an apple pie recipe in the back of the book.

It's a wonderful book, with images of gathering semolina wheat from Italy, finding fresh eggs in France, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, and sugar cane from Jamaica. It would make a really interesting Google Lit Trip.  And I thought the recipe in the back was going to be easy...but I was in for a surprise.

The recipe calls for a whole lot of butter, 1 cup for the crust and 2 tablespoons for the filling. I'm no pie expert--I have avoided pie-making since the time I made a blueberry pie as a newlywed and it took me an entire day. (I'm still waiting to get those 9 hours of my life back, Joy Of Cooking.) Who am I to judge when it comes to butter? I followed the recipe. But when the pie went into the oven, it didn't take long for butter to start dripping out of the pan, creating a pool of oil on the bottom of the stove. It smelled delicious, though, and other than the butter mess, it turned out to be a pretty tasty pie. I made a mental note to clean the butter spill out of the oven once it cooled down...but I forgot about it.

The next day, right around dinnertime, I turned on the oven to bake some chicken. I started smelling something burning, and suddenly the memory of the butter ooze came rushing back.  I opened up the oven door and saw flames inside. And I knew that you aren't supposed to put water on a grease fire...but I couldn't remember what, exactly, you were supposed to throw on it.  I briefly contemplated calling 911 to ask, but that seemed a little silly. I almost Googled it, but the fire seemed to be growing rather than shrinking, so I wasn't sure that I had time for that. I took a deep breath, opened up the oven door, threw a little bit of water on the fire and slammed the door shut. There was a poof, lots of smoke....and the fire was gone.  (So technically, yes, you can put water on a grease fire. I've since learned that baking soda is a better choice.)

We ended up having peanut butter sandwiches for dinner that night, and I made sure to clean out the oven after that fiasco. Amelia told me that she's writing a story about the fire in Writer's Workshop at school, which I can't wait to read--I'm sure her perspective on the whole thing will be interesting. She's started asking me whenever I cook, "Mom, is something on fire? Are you being careful?"

I'll add this incident to my long list of failures in the kitchen.  It will be in good company with the jell-o that didn't gel and the pot of chili that I accidentally cooked with nutmeg instead of chili spice.

If you're feeling adventurous and apple pie isn't really your thing, there's also How To Make A Cherry Pie and See the USA. It, too, comes with an accompanying recipe--but I don't think I'll be trying it anytime soon.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Becoming My Mother

If you ever visit Burlington, Vermont, you'll find lots to see and do.  Walk along the sparkling  water of Lake Champlain and visit the vibrant downtown.  If you're a shopper, you'll find no shortage of options.  My favorite place to shop in the Burlington area is on Dorset Street.  It's not the University Mall with its conglomeration of chain stores.  Across the street from the mall, in a small plaza, is a thrift store called Replays.  For the six years I lived in the Green Mountain state, that was my go-to place for collecting unique pieces.  Some of my best finds included a v-neck Banana Republic shift that is still my favorite little black dress, a charcoal gray blazer that could have been tailored especially for me, and a yellow fleece that became my security blanket for long winters.  Once, though, Replays provided a serendipitous retail therapy experience that left me with a surprising realization.

One autumn, just a few months after my daughter was born, my mother came to visit. My mom just happens to be the queen of thrift store shopping and gladly accompanied me on a visit to Replays.  We split up as we browsed through the store and I met her near the dressing rooms.  She went into one to try on a skirt, and re-emerged a few minutes later wearing a navy wool A-line piece that looked vaguely familiar.

“So what do you think?” she asked, spinning around.

I walked a little closer for a better look and then burst into giggles.

“What's so funny?” she asked.

“Well, it's a nice skirt, but it can get kind of itchy. I just donated that a few weeks ago,” I replied.

“You're kidding! That's like finding a needle in a haystack,” she said.

I wondered what that said about my own fashion choices as my mother, almost 30 years my senior, was collecting a piece of my former wardrobe. I stood beside her and looked in the full-length mirror.  I smiled at the reflection of three generations--my mother and I, with my daughter sleeping against my chest in a sling.  I was struck by how alike my mother and I are in appearance: the same brown hair and similar oval faces, mine smooth, and hers showing the evidence of time with fine lines. The same petite frame and pear-shaped body . I thought about all the fashion lessons I'd learned from her over the years: that skirts and sundresses will always look better on our body type than shorts in summertime, that classic pieces are always better than fads, and the how-tos of finding high quality clothes at bargain prices. I  thought briefly of that phrase becoming my mother.  But I realized that perhaps becoming more like my mother wouldn't be a terrible thing.

Since my daughter was born I've been able to fully appreciate all the sacrifices my mother made to raise four children.  She has always offered support, encouragement, and shown me unconditional love. Through  the skinned knees of childhood, drama of adolescence, and the joys and disappointments of adulthood, she has been my biggest cheerleader. She chose to be a stay-at-home mom while my brothers and I were young, which meant pinching pennies for several years.  She started her teaching career later in life and has become a phenomenal educator, creating a classroom environment that shows the same dedication to her students that she has always shown her own children.  I have learned so much from her both personally and professionally.

As I looked in the mirror that day I made a promise to my daughter to try to be as good a mother to her as my own has been.  I realized then that becoming my mother wasn't something to dread, but something to aspire to.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom, and thanks for everything.