It was during my third hour of weeding that I said to myself, “And I thought this was a good idea because…why?” Not the weeding. No. That was simply part of “the sickness” as the Rooster refers to it.
That along with deciding now would be a good time to take down the cat house which had been sitting unused, out-of-sight since our kitty went up the Happy Hunting Grounds – God Rest his furry soul – a year ago.
That and deciding now would be a good time to clean out the crawl space under the house which held such relics as a Princess Palace tent, a puzzle alphabet mat and foam that was going to be used for window seats four moves ago. (Sad thing is our last move was 9 years ago. You do the math.)
No. All of those things were just symptoms of my “entertaining sickness.” (aka The Crazy Projects Carrie Deems Necessary to Complete Before Hosting a Party at Her House Whether or Not the Effort Will Be Noticed.)
The cause was deciding to auction off “Cooking with Carrie” events months ago (as if I’m Rachael Ray for crying out loud) for various organizations to be held at my home during the month of April.
Now, here it was April and I was tired. The incessant gray weather wasn’t helping my energy level. And the end of my to do list seemed…well, to never end.
I forced myself not to think too far in advance. To simply keep going. To check one thing off my list at a time.
Weeding – done
Wine glasses labeled – done
Groceries purchased – done
Heavenly little handmade chocolate bars tied with raffia – done
Rain boots on, clippers in one hand and bucket in the other, I headed into my backyard the day before the party. The sun miraculously came out adding a shimmer to the outside world as it reflected off the raindrops still clinging to the trees.
As I clipped the branches, my thoughts turned to my Mom. Everything about spring reminds me of her – the daffodils, the purple hyacinths, the different shades of green, the sweet cherry blossoms, the brighter days.
My Mom is beautiful. And yes, she’s beautiful on the outside but what I’m really talking about is on the inside…where it counts.
She’s a bit like spring herself. Just when you can’t take another day of rain, there she is providing you with a much needed bit of color. And not in any loud, pomp and circumstance sort of way but subtly. Subtle in the way that when you are with her, she’s fully present. She listens. Really listens. She gives you and your thoughts a feeling of importance. And you feel your spirits lifted after you’ve been with her.
I set the table with the “good” plates, the “good” glasses, the “good” silverware. I used the linen napkins, tablecloth and runner. And then, standing back to admire the table, I once again thought of my Mom. The way she always sets a beautiful table for us.
The ways she clips fresh flowers from her yard and thoughtfully places them on her table and around the house. The way she lights candles, turns on the music and brings us all together for a family dinner. Again, her seemingly quiet yet thoughtful gestures giving all of us a feeling of importance. We mean so much to her that she would take the time to create such a lovely setting for our meal.
Twenty minutes before my first party, I was ready for my guests. Cesaria Evora was playing in the background. The comforting aroma of candles burning warmed my house. The cherry tree branches were so beautiful inside my home that it didn’t matter it had started to snow outside…in April.
And it was in that moment I realized why I had done all of this.
Because with this busy life I lead, I don’t take the time to do this very often. To dress-up my home and invite people in. To share a meal. To spend a couple of hours getting to know new people. Learning more about friends I already cherish. Passing along what I know and love about cooking so they can go home and do the same for their families.
And hopefully, if only for an hour or two, I make them feel important. Extra cared-for.
At the end of my last party, as the last guest walked down the drive, I heard her kindly remark to no one in particular, “I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
I smiled as I closed the door and said quietly, “Thank you Mom for teaching me how to do this.”
Apple and Rhubarb Baked in a Pie
Inspired by Apple and Rhubarb Pandowdy, Rustic Fruit Desserts
When I set out to decide what to serve for dessert for my parties, I looked to what is in season and let me tell you, here in Oregon after 5 straight months of rain, there’s not much…in season. A few apples still holding on, some citrus coming up from California and…rhubarb. So what does one do when she is left with only rhubarb to work with? She tries a bunch of rhubarb recipes. Interestingly, rhubarb also reminds me of my Mom. She always made a warm, rhubarb compote for us when I was growing up that we would spoon over vanilla ice cream. I always loved the way the tartness of the rhubarb and the creaminess of the ice cream mingled in my mouth but…not everyone is a rhubarb lover.
I ended up with two recipes that I found to be absolutely delicious but not overly “rhubarby.” The Apple and Rhubarb Pie I have listed below and a Lemon Buttermilk Rhubarb Bundt Cake. I ended up serving the cake because it was easiest to prepare the day before and I didn’t have to worry about reheating it or serving it with ice cream. I cannot recommend it enough but since the recipe isn’t mine and I didn’t “adapt” it even one eensy-teensy bit it wouldn’t be right of me to post it on my blog. However, you can find the recipe in the book Rustic Fruit Desserts by Portland’s own Julie Richardson and Cory Schreiber.
As for the pie, the recipe is below and I implore you to make it up and serve it warm with vanilla ice cream. Heaven.
Ingredients for the Crust
1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 c (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/8-1/4 c of ice water
Ingredients for the Filling
2 c rhubarb, diced (3-4 stalks)
5 c apples peeled, cored, sliced and quartered (4-5 baking apples)
juice from 1/2 a lemon (approx 1 tbsp)
1/2 c packed brown sugar
2 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp kosher salt
pinch of nutmeg
Vanilla Ice Cream
First make your crust. Don’t be afraid. Very, very easy. You can do this with a simple pastry blender, your fingers or a food processor. I avoid hauling out my food processor if I can help it. I do not like to clean it but I love making crust in it.
Put your flour, salt and sugar in a medium bowl or the bowl of your food processor and mix until just combined. Add your butter to the flour mixture by cutting it in or processing it in your food processor. Process it just until the mixture starts to look crumbly. Slowly add in your water just until the dough starts to hold together. (Not more than 30 seconds if using your food processor.) Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Gather into a ball and then, flatten into a disk. Wrap in wax paper, place in a ziploc bag and put in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. (I usually double all of my pie crust recipes and put half in the freezer where it can stay for up to 3 months. That way it’s always handy if I need to make a little something sweet at the last minute.)
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Butter a 9-inch deep dish pie plate and set aside
Now, for your filling. I know I’ve said this before but if you plan on baking with apples you really must invest in an apple peeler. I bought this one last fall and it has made all the difference.
Peel, core, slice and quarter your apples and put them in a large bowl. Dice up your rhubarb and add it to the bowl along with your lemon juice. Mix. In a smaller bowl, combine your brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Once those ingredients are mixed together, add the mixture to your apples and rhubarb. Using a large wooden spoon or your clean hands, combine the fruit with the sugar and spice mixture coating evenly.
Pour your filling into the prepared pie plate.
Take your dough out of the refrigerator and on a lightly floured surface, roll it out so it’s about 1/2 wider than the circumference of your pie plate. Lay it over the top of your fruit and then, tuck it in down on the sides. If you still have crust that didn’t tuck in you can roll it over on itself.
With a sharp knife, cut a few slits in the top of the crust to vent the steam as it bakes.
Put your pie on a cookie sheet (to catch any drips) and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Then, turn down the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 25-30 minutes or until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbly around the edges.
Simply looking at your masterpiece when you pull it from the oven should make you want to start humming, “Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye, apple and rhubarb baked in a pie” or at least, I did.
Let it cool for 30 minutes or so on a wire rack but serve it while it’s still a bit warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Scrumptious….
After the initial serving, cover it with a kitchen towel leaving a few spoons in the dish. People will come by and “sneak” a bite or two in the wee hours of the night or early morning and before you know it, it will be gone.
PS: A little side note, those of you in the Portland area near a TV on Wednesday, 4/20, can tune into AM Northwest on KATU Channel Two at 9:00 am where I’ll be making this little Sixpence Pie with Helen or Dave.
Still have not tackled the 6-year old’s closet. Was distracted by cat house and crawl space as I indicated above. I did, however, clean out a large wicker basket full of magazine clippings I’ve collected over the years…as in 20 years. Interesting to see how different things caught my eye at different times of my life. And conversely, interesting to see the things I’m drawn to over and over again….shades of green and recipes with vegetables. Clearly I have a thing for green. Could be due to the fact that I reside in the rain forest we affectionately call Portlandia.
Goal for this week: To get the stuff I pulled out of the crawl space, out of my garage.
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2011