Monday, January 31, 2011

Stories (Reading to your kids)


A couple of times in the last few weeks, one thing or another has reminded me about reading to my daughters when they were little.  Sue and I did this pretty consistently; in fact, we doubt that a night passed that we didn't read to the kids before bed.  This practice lasted well past the time that they could read for themselves.

Elizabeth remembers me reading from "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" in an edition with wonderful illustrations by Edward Gorey. She wrote about it on her blog, which I find very touching.  One of my specialties was funny voices, and it's kind of fun that she still remembers them.  (By this point in my life, I no longer have to fake an old man voice...)  There was one book, I remember, that had something to do with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck visiting a haunted house.  I can do a respectable Mickey Mouse; my Donald Duck leaves a lot to be desired.  This did not bother Elizabeth, however, who asked for that book night after night.  Once, I was tired and tried to read it in a straightforward manner--just my dad voice.  No soap.  Elizabeth said, "No, Daddy.  It goes like this [insert four-year-old's squeaky version of a Mickey Mouse voice]: 'We're out of gas!'"  So of course I capitulated and did the voices as required.

Sue and I both liked reading poetry.  Sue admits that this was partly because you could sometimes get off the hook quicker.  After all, you're probably pooped by the time story hour rolls around, and no matter how romantic the notion of reading to your kids may sound, sometimes you're just not all that into it.  Poems are fun to read, and three or four of them will do the trick most nights.  One of my favorites was James Whitcomb Riley's "Little Orphant Annie," but I didn't get to read it too often.  Evidently, I was too convincingly scary on the last line of each stanza:  "And the Gobble-uns'll GIT you ef you don't watch out!"  (I added the capitals there on "git" to give a feeling for how I said it.)  Both Elizabeth and Miriam would cringe in horror if I offered to read it.  They probably still would!  But we had other favorites.  I recall one about a dragon named custard who liked mustard (or maybe it was the other way around...).  They loved my recitation of the Grinch every Christmas--and that was a whole lot of fun to read.  I still enjoy it.  We got lots of mileage out of Shel Silverstein's stuff, and I'm pleased that both girls still remember those poems well enough to quote them.  We had fun with Jack Prelutsky's poems, too.

Less pleasant, despite their unending popularity with the kids, were Richard Scarry's books.  I don't deny that they're great books, and kids love them.  But they have no plot.  They have big pages full of little details, and you can't skip any of them.  I confess I found reading them a chore.  Poor Mr. Frumble never did catch his hat, did he?  And Lowly Worm (what a depressing name!) seemed to have more than his share of trials.

Miriam enjoyed hearing invented stories.  I drove her to Montessori School every morning, and it was a ritual that she'd ask for a story:  "Read me a story, Daddy."  (It's a good thing I didn't actually try to read, because, you see, I was driving.)  Trouble is, it was early in the morning, and I am not  a morning person.  Making up a story on the spot when I was half asleep was a bit of a challenge.  One day, I hit upon what I thought was an ideal solution:
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Miriam.  She was riding to school with her father, when she said, "Read me a story, Daddy."  So he did.  And it went like this:  Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Miriam...
Miriam, however, failed to be impressed by the post-modern surrealism of this.  She laughed the first time, and maybe even the second time.  By the third time, she said, "Ready me a story, Daddy, but not what we're doing now."  That was the end of that.

So I'd slyly try to get her to tell the story.  "OK," I'd say.  "Who's this story about?"  "A princess."  "OK, a princess.  What's she wearing?"  "A yellow dress with orange flowers."  (Give her a break.  She was four.)  "And where was she going?"  And so on.  You get the idea.

I also specialized in corrupted stories:  "Once upon a time, there were four little rabbits, and their names were Isadore, Salvador, Matador, and Shut the Door..."  (NOOOOOO!!! was the inevitable cry from the back seat.  I was always a little sorry that neither of them ever appreciated the subtle word-play.)  Or I'd use a kind of stream of consciousness to let one story flow into another:  "Once upon a time, there was a little girl who had a wicked stepmother and three ugly stepsisters.  These sisters were so mean that every night, they would bring a pile of straw into the house and demand that the little girl spin it into gold.  But she would prick her finger on the spindle and fall asleep.  When she woke up, she found herself in a house with seven little men..."  (Actually, I rarely got that far.  I was usually interrupted by shrieks of "NOOOOO" mixed with gales of laughter.  But then I could get one of them to tell the story correctly...)

It's nice to think that some vestige of this remains with the girls' memories.  It sure was fun, even when it felt like work.  On more than one occasion, I made up a poem or a story that I actually wrote down.  There was one quite extended narrative about the adventures of Elizabeth's favorite toy, a pink stuffed mouse that went everywhere with her and had a terrible knack of getting lost.  Once we were on a long car trip.  After a lunch stop, Elizabeth said, "Where's Mousie?"  We had left him at the restaurant.  I backtracked--it was at least 30 miles--to go back and retrieve him.  The detour was well worthwhile:  Elizabeth could never go to sleep without that mouse.  He finally left us in an airport, and my best efforts to go back and find him were completely thwarted.  So I bought Elizabeth a new mouse and wrote a story about the terrific adventures the old one was having.  I don't know how well it placated her.

Here's one of my poems.  Elizabeth was just over a month old when I wrote this in 1985, and I read it to her often when she was little.  I still quite like it:

THE UPSIDE-DOWN CLOWN

Who's that fellow who walks on his hands about town,
With his heels in the air and his palms on the ground,
With his clothes inside-out and his head turned around?
He's the madcap, sad-sack, upside-down clown!

He smiles when he's sad; when he's happy, he frowns.
He thinks dirt is blue and the sky is dark brown.
For him, down is up and the up side is down--
He's a silly, dilly, upside-down clown!

And you know what is silliest 'bout this turned-around clown
As he goes into town with his hands on the ground?
He sees all the folks use their feet to get 'round;
He looks at them sadly and thinks they're upside-down!

But I hope he keeps on wearing pants for a crown,
Going in through the out and up by the down.  
For if he turns over to walk on his feet,
He'll see things like everyone else that I meet,
And I like him much better all turned upside-down,

As a madcap,
               sad-sack,
                           silly,
                                dilly,
                                     upside-down
                                                     clown!

If you have the chance to read to a child, go ahead and do it, even if you're too tired.  (We had a joke about that, too:  "Why is Dad like a bicycle?  Because he's two-tired!")  You'll be making memories for one of you--with a little luck, the one who gets the memories might even be the kid.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Venezuelan Coffee



My Venezuelan coffee pot,
courtesy of Noa, Michele, and Leonor
Earlier, I wrote about tea.  It's time to give coffee its due--and not just any coffee, but coffee from Venezuela.  (Thanks, Michele, for suggesting that I write about it.)

See, I am not all that fond of coffee.  It's usually so disappointing:  it smells fabulous, but oh, the taste--the bitterness, the sharpness.  Ugh.  So mostly I have stayed away from coffee.

And then Elizabeth went to Merida, Venezuela, for her Fulbright year in 2008 - 09.  When she came home for spring break in March of 2009, she brought back a little bit of Venezuela for everyone.  I had been dabbling with making espresso the summer before, finding that espresso mixed with generous doses of milk tasted almost like coffee smells. So Elizabeth brought me a bag of coffee that was grown and roasted by monks at a monastery located outside of Merida,  about 15,000 feet up in the Andes. 


It was love at first sip.



This coffee is so smooth, so mellow, that it glides down your throat, and it really does taste the way it smells.  I was, to say the least, hooked.  Not that it turned into a caffeine habit or anything--I can either have a cup of coffee or not, and I probably drink it three mornings out of five.  But if I do drink coffee, it pretty much has to be this.  No other coffee approaches this for taste.

Monasterio Trapense “Nuestra Señora de los Andes”
(Trappist Monastery:  Our Lady of the Andes)
Last summer, I got to visit the monastery where they grow, roast, and grind the beans.  I talked to the monks--gentle, quiet Trappists.  The drive there is literally up the side of a mountain--I was glad that Michele, my hostess, was driving (she's the one who gave me the quesillo recipe).  I'd have lost it on that winding road where it looks as though the car could just topple off the edge.

The monastery, so far from most human activity, is astonishingly quiet.  Indeed, when I got out of the car, the only sounds I could hear were the light breeze and some birds singing.  A few moments later, the monks began chanting (it was Sunday morning, and the service was beginning).

Afterwards, Michele (who knows everyone in Merida and the surrounding region) chatted with the priest who is in charge--I guess he's probably an abbot.  He was worried about a few things--friends who were in need, mutual friends of his and Michele's who were in poor health, another mutual friend who was in trouble with the government.  Despite all this, he exuded a remarkable calm.  After they caught up and visited, she introduced me to him.  I was so taken--and a bit cowed--by the atmosphere of the place and by his gentle demeanor that I hardly knew what to say.

 
Michele with the monk who sells the coffee.
The refectory.
A small chapel for private meditations.
Eventually, I said something about the silence at the monastery, the sense of serenity and quiet.  In such a place, I thought, you'd have the best possible chance of touching divinity.  He agreed.  "You come to a place like this," he said, "and you listen for God.  At first, all you hear are your own troubled thoughts.  But then, once you let all of that go, there God will be, saying, 'I was here all along.'"  I, who believe in almost nothing but the boundless resilience and creative energy of the human spirit, found his confidence inspiring.

The abbot and I talk of God and coffee.

Apart from personal matters, the priest was worried about something else.  New government regulations were making the production of the coffee more and more difficult.  First there were rules that meant they couldn't have too many employees, so they had to scale back their operation.  Then there were the endless challenges of shipping stuff overseas, especially to "El Imperio," Cesar Chavez's favorite epithet for the U.S.  That means that they cannot really sell the coffee in the US any more.  US sales, through a related monastery in Georgia, were an important part of their market.  Without those American sales, there isn't quite the demand there once was, though a lot of Venezuelans enjoy the monks' coffee.  The monks are men of God, not businessmen.  Business and earning money are secondary to them, so they accept the need to reduce production with equanimity.  That, too, is inspiring.

The coffee growing on the mountainside near the monastery.
And here's what the coffee looks at as it grows.

It's a shame, because Venezuela has so much to offer:  fabulous coffee (better, I think, than Colombian--but Colombia has a better publicist), the most amazing chocolate I have ever tasted, gorgeous scenery, and a rich, varied culture sustained by vivacious, generous people.  It could be a prosperous country (and it once was), but politics have gotten in the way.  It's sad, really, because it is such a wonderful place.  (Don't get me wrong:  no place deserves to be poor.  It's just that it would be so easy for Venezuela to be rich--even without oil.)

But actually, the coffee inspires happier thoughts in me than this.  I connect it with so many dear, wonderful people.  To a long list, I can now add another.  Though I have never met her (I hope to fix that in May), I admire her already:  she is the gifted potter who makes coffee pots in the particular style of Venezuela.  Her name is Leonor, and her pots have a special elegance.  It is the pleasing shape, the lissome wrought-iron stands she makes for them (others use wood, which is less graceful), and the wonderful heft of the pot (to say nothing of her signature flamboyantly scrawled across the bottom of it) that make it so special.  Noa brought me the pot in the picture at the top of this essay back in October, and it immediately assumed a privileged space on the counter.  When I use it to make coffee, I think of all of them--Noa, Leonor, the monks, Michele (of course!), and all the rest.

The pot with its sock filter in place, ready for the coffee to pour through.
Making coffee the Venezuelan way--or perhaps I should say Michele's way--is easy, and you don't need the special pot with its sock-like coffee filter made from an old t-shirt to do it.  Measure out water for the number of mugs of coffee you want (this is too good to stop at a dainty cupful), and put it in an ordinary saucepan.  Bring it to a boil.  Then, off the heat, add to the hot water a heaping tablespoon of ground coffee for each mugful.  Stir it gently, if you want.  Let it stand for a couple of minutes (most of the grounds will sink to the bottom of the pot), then pour it through a filter--a Melitta filter will work just fine.  As Michele says, putting the coffee into the hot water, rather than pouring the boiling water over the grounds, ensures that all the coffee gets wet.  It makes a delicious, mild but fully flavored cup of coffee.  Michele likes to add dry milk--a large spoonful per mug--to the bottom of the pot before she pours the coffee through.  I prefer to add heated milk to mine.  Either way, it's delicious.

Sometimes I make the coffee in the espresso maker, and this too is glorious.  I wish you could try it (it's a little mean to talk about it when this coffee is so hard to get)--trust me, it's fabulous.  You'd never accept anything else.

But in the end, it's not so much how the coffee tastes--wonderful as that is--that makes it so special.  Well, that does make it special, but the people I think about when I drink it make it even more so.  I have been dabbling in writing poetry since the spring, so I tried to capture this in a poem:



MORNING COFFEE

There is a legion in this cup,
a host revives with every sip:

My sagacious, intrepid daughter,
returning in spring from the Andes of Venezuela,
first presented me this coffee as a gift, a memento
of her grand sojourn into worlds and words unknown—
she with her idealistic, questing spirit is there
(and so is her sister, for I cannot think of one without the other).

Soft-spoken monks grow the beans on the slopes of those soaring mountains.
A wise priest leads them; he spoke of God
as we perched beside the monastery,
two ageing mountain goats in the windy stillness—
the spirits of the monks and priest
rise on the steam like smoke from a censer.

An American expatriate taught me to steep it perfectly;
we drank the coffee from stoneware mugs
on  the cool, serene veranda behind her house
in a village nestled at the foot of Pico Bolivar one soft June morning—
she and that morning surround me,
and I can smell the scented air.

To a friend who loves coffee
I gave some that I brought home in my suitcase.
Like a trader carrying precious cargo in a spice caravan, I bore it home
and sent it with a mug and a note explaining how to make it flawlessly—
that friend frolics in the milk
as it swirls and eddies into the mug and rises to the top like sea foam.

A woman who lives on the road to the páramo
fashions pots of a unique design.
Another friend brought me one of them: it stands in my kitchen
so that I pour the coffee from a pot made from the earth where the beans grow—
potter, friend, and soil;
all are here.

But most of all,
there is you.
We sit sipping the dusky, mellow warmth,
marshalling a militia of memories
and speaking softly to one another
of those we love.

Next time you have something you connect with loved ones, think of them; speak of them.  There is nothing more important than that:  not coffee, not pots, and certainly not politics.  It's the people and the relationships that matter.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Recipe: Almond Torte (A Cake Even a Diabetic Can Love)


I've been diabetic for over 10 years.  It's not the biggest cross one could bear, but (as Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof), it's no great honor, either.

Sometimes people like to make me what they think of as diabetic desserts.  Usually this means that somewhere along the way they used artificial sweetener instead of sugar.  But this isn't the key to eating properly as a diabetic:  you have to cut down on all carbohydrates and keep your intake of them fairly constant.  So that means everything with starch and sugars must be counted:  grain, fruit, everything.  Not just sugar.  And in fact, you can eat almost anything--but if something is loaded with carbs, you can only have a little.  Usually, that seems more like a tease than anything else, so it's better just to skip it.

There's a further wrinkle:  starting back in April, I paid very close attention to what I was eating.  I cut out almost all carbohydrate for a while, and I began to lose weight (something I've always needed to do).  I've managed to lose about 55 lbs. since then.  But there was an unexpected side-effect:  I lost much of my taste for sweet.  Baked goods generally taste too sweet to me now.  This is actually a pain, because my brain still wants them, but my mouth rebels.

So finding a cake I could make for my birthday was a real challenge.  And then I thought of this really lovely cake that Sue's mother loved so much.  There is less than a cup of sugar in it, just a little bit of bread crumbs, and a tablespoon of flour.  In place of flour, you use ground nuts--almonds are the first choice, but I've made the cake successfully with walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts.  In the entire cake, frosting and all, I estimate there are about 270 grams of carbohydrate.  That means if you get 8 slices out of the cake, each serving will have only 33 grams of carbs.  And if you're really parsimonious and cut the cake into 12 pieces, each serving will have just 22 grams of carbs.  (I say have the bigger piece.)  Basically, that's the same as a medium pear.

So here's the cake, complete with a trick I just recently discovered:  if you add gelatin to whipped cream, it stabilizes it remarkably.  It will keep -- I kid you not -- for weeks.  I made some on January 7, and it's still in my fridge today, just as good, more than 2 weeks later.  So you can frost this cake with whipped cream, refrigerate it, and serve it later.  Terrific!

ALMOND TORTE
6 eggs, separated, plus 1 whole egg
cream of tartar, pinch of salt
1 cup ground almonds (or walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts)--measure the nuts after grinding in the food processor
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/3 cup white bread crumbs
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon almond extract
whipped cream frosting (see below)

Preheat the oven to 275* F.  Butter the bottoms of 3 8-inch cake pans (somehow, I could only find 9-inch pans in my cabinet, so I only made 2 layers--3 is definitely better).  Line them with waxed paper, then butter and flour the insides of the pans.  (I use Baker's Joy, which is a spray that combines oil and flour, for this purpose.)  Set the pans aside until ready.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy.  Add a small amount of cream of tartar (1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon will do) and a pinch of salt, then beat at high speed until soft peaks form.  Gradually beat in 1/4 cup of sugar until the whites form stiff peaks.  Set aside.

Using the same beater, beat the whole egg and the yolks in another bowl until they are thick and light yellow in color.  Gradually beat in 1/2 cup of sugar.  Beat until the mixture is thick and pale, almost white.  Beat in the ground nuts and the bread crumbs.  Stir in the almond extract.  This should now form a dense, moist mass.

Mix 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into the egg yolk mixture to thin it.  Sprinkle the flour on the batter, then quickly but thoroughly fold in the rest of the whites, deflating them as little as possible.

Divide the batter among the 3 pans--they should be about half full.  Level the tops with a rubber spatula and place the pans in the center of the preheated oven.  Bake for 35 - 45 minutes.  When it is done, the cake will shrink from the sides of the pans and a tester inserted in the center will come out clean.  Cool the layers for 10 minutes in the pans, then remove them to greased wire racks to cool completely before frosting with whipped cream.  Chill the cake until ready to serve.  If desired, garnish the top of the cake with more ground nuts, or with chocolate shavings (I do well just using a swivel-bladed peeler on a bar of bittersweet chocolate), or both.

WHIPPED CREAM FROSTING
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons water
3 cups whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract  (for other purposes, use 2 - 3 teaspoons of vanilla)

Soften the gelatin in the water, then microwave on high for 10 - 15 seconds until the gelatin is dissolved.  Cool for 2 - 3 minutes.  (The gelatin must be liquid, but not hot.)

Using a metal bowl and beaters that have been in the freezer for at least 1/2 hour (you could also put the cream in the freezer for a while--it all works better when everything is quite cold), beat the cream until soft peaks form.  Add the sugar and flavoring and beat until you see streaks in the bowl.  Slowly pour the gelatin into the bowl with the beater running (be sure to pour it quite near the edge of the bowl:  if you pour it onto the beater, you'll have flying gelatin) until the cream is stiff.  Chill until ready to use.  This will keep for several days in a covered container in the refrigerator.

There is more than enough here to frost a 3-layer cake.


This is an elegant, light, and very satisfying dessert.

Even for a diabetic, there needs to be a little sweetness in life.  But it doesn't have to kill you, and it can taste delicious!

Monday, January 24, 2011

On Teaching


Classes began last week, and with the beginning of a new semester comes a new challenge.  I am teaching a course in Choral Methods for students who aspire to be public-school music teachers.  This is the first time I've taught a course like this.  I'm trying to give the students what I know about running a good rehearsal and making a choir sound good.

By the second class, I had an experience that reminded me of something I believe is a fundamental truth of teaching.  It has to do with our role as teachers in helping students to achieve their goals.

On the second day of classes, I got an email about a student who might come to sit in on my class.  She wanted to see if it was what she needed and wanted.  The email related the student's history--let's call her Jennifer.  The story was a little sad but not all that unusual.  Jennifer really wants to be a music teacher.  She has a lively and approachable personality that children will respond to.  She went to a college here in Phoenix (not ASU) where she did reasonably well in her music classes.  That college, however, doesn't offer teacher certification.  She went to a different college (these two schools have an arrangement) to try to complete that portion of her work, but because of weak piano and sight-singing skills, the professor at the second school felt that she wasn't ready to student-teach.  She completed her music degree at the first school, but she has not been certified to teach.  She's hoping to fix that at ASU.  But she's discouraged.  She's gotten the message that she's not good enough.  She can see her dream slipping away.

Now, this must be said:  the professor who told her that she wasn't ready to student-teach was probably right, and he was performing an important function.  We need to be sure that the men and women who stand in front of our children are qualified.  Somehow, though, his message got garbled, or perhaps he didn't deliver it clearly.  Instead of hearing "you're not ready to student-teach now," Jennifer heard "you can never student-teach."

This is a shame, and it goes to the heart of something I believe--maybe the main thing I believe--about teaching.  It is not our job to tell students what they cannot do.  It is our job to find out what students want to do and to show them how they can accomplish it.  We have to be realistic, certainly, and we have to accept that, in spite of our ecouragement, some students won't achieve their goals. 

Our job, as I see it, is to find out what students aspire to.  Then we should give them our best reading of their abilities.  We should help them to figure out what they'll have to work on to get their skills and abilities to the level required to be successful, and then we should give them strategies to accomplish that.  Sure, some students will give up because the task is just too overwhelming, or because their desire to do whatever it was they said they wanted to do isn't strong enough to overcome the inertia of addressing the deficiencies.  Or maybe somewhere along the way they discover a different, more consuming passion that is better suited to their abilities.

But that is fundamentally different from saying to a student, "You will never be successful at this.  Find something else to do."  We cannot know that, and in any case, it's for the student to discover.

Teaching, I think, is like drawing a map.  To help Jennifer, I need to figure out where she is starting and  where she wants to end up.  My job, then, is to help her determine the route--like a GPS system.  If she figuratively wants to get to New York, it will matter whether she's starting in Jersey City or Los Angeles.  But while it's a whole lot easier to get to New York from Jersey City, it's not impossible to get there from LA.  I think too often we see someone who is metaphorically in LA and decide for them that they shouldn't bother to try to get to New York.  What if, instead of saying, "Calculating," your GPS receiver said, "Sorry, that's too far, and you'll hate the ride.  Pick another, less taxing, destination"?

More than one student has surprised me by completing a journey I didn't think was possible.  It happened just last fall.  A man who had been working (or more properly, procrastinating) for a long time on his doctorate faced an absolute deadline:  if he didn't finish his work in time to graduate in December, the clock would run out, and he would never receive a doctorate from ASU.  When he wrote to me on October 15 saying that he was determined to finish, I was skeptical, to say the very least.  He had to have a completed research paper ready to present to his committee for a defense on November 22.  Though I knew the topic, I had not seen even one page of the project. I was pretty sure that he hadn't been working on it consistently because he was fighting with the ASU bureaucracy instead.  They had relented, so he could finish--theoretically.  I told the student that he had set himself a superhuman task.  But the key is that I didn't say that it was an impossible task.

He began to send me sections of his paper.  To my relief, he was a decent writer, though his stuff needed work.  I filled the Word document with comments and corrections and sent it back to him.  The next section I got was markedly better, and so it went until he did indeed have a respectable paper he could defend in November.  After the defense, he made the final edits the committee demanded, and I got to put a doctoral hood on him in mid-December.  It was  a victory for both of us.

I frankly didn't believe that he would finish, but I didn't act on the belief (except to warn him that his road was very hard and would have to be traveled in record time).  I let him decide whether or not he could make the journey.  Yes, he might have failed.  But the fact is, he succeeded, and I didn't predetermine either his failure or his success.  He chose success and did the monumental work that was needed to achieve it.

I'm hoping I can do the same for Jennifer.  She is meeting with me later this week.  I will try to figure out what her piano and sight-singing skills are, and then I will give her a candid assessment of where I think she is on the path to her dream.  Then I will help her to map out a way to reach her goal.  If she is really determined and disciplined, I'm sure she can do what she wants to do.  It is not up to me to tell her that what she wants to do isn't for her--because I don't know that.

Why do teachers sometimes discourage students from trying to achieve their goals?  I think it's a well-meaning but misplaced desire to protect the student from disappointment.  Certainly, trying and failing is very discouraging--it might even be devastating.  But isn't it worse to wonder your whole life if things could have been different if only you'd tried?

I can see both points of view.  I may be harming a student by giving him or her what turns out to be false hope.  But I still think it's better for the students to decide how hard they are willing to work and how determined they are to pursue their goals.  It's not up to me.

So I will continue to keep my fears for the students' success to myself.  Though I may be worried that a student will fail, I will not allow that fear to limit a student's dreams. I will continue to try to draw road maps.  To me, that is what teaching is all about.

When I talked briefly with Jennifer after class last week, I felt again that this is the right choice.  I could tell that she was shocked when I said, "Your piano and sight-singing skills probably do need work, but that doesn't mean they'll never be good enough.  Let's see if we can figure out a way to get them good enough."  She got teary-eyed.  I hope it's not too melodramatic to say that she looked as though she had gotten her life back--because that's just how it seemed to me.  I am meeting with her on Thursday, and we will draw the map.

"Calculating..."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Recipe: Pan-Fried Pork Chops and Pork Chops with Apricots


Pork chop with apricots.  The plate looks grotty because I paused for the picture while eating  the chop.
I'm 55 years old, and in my lifetime, pork has changed.  Responding, I guess, to the notion that pork was just too durn fatty, breeders have gone for a leaner product.  The trouble is, less fat means that it's likely (indeed, it's nearly inevitable) that pork will turn tough when you cook it.  It's probably healthier for you, but honestly, it just doesn't taste as good, and it's murder to cook properly.

As any good cook knows, pork fat is a wondrous thing:  a little bacon fat can make sauteed things divine.  What's split pea soup without a ham hock or better, the bone from a good-sized ham?  Lard is by far the best shortening for pie crust and biscuits.  And so on.  So honestly, I mourn the loss of good, greasy pork.  (Let's pause and remember all my Jewish forebears, who are now turning over in their graves.)

Last night, we wanted to have Bucatini all'Amatriciana, a really delicious pasta dish (look it up in Marcella Hazan's first book, The Classic Italian Cook Book).  But making a meal of pasta, as we did in our youth, is no longer a healthy ticket for us, so we decided we needed some protein to accompany it.  The market had some really gorgeous, thick, center-cut pork chops. We bought four:  two for last night and two for tonight with the rest of the pasta.  Both times, I managed to avoid the curse of shoeleather and turn out some toothsome chops.  Here's how.

PAN-FRIED PORK CHOPS

Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat until it is quite hot--nearly smoking.  Meanwhile, season chops on both sides to your taste (I used Jane's Crazy Salt on mine).  When the pan is hot, film the bottom with oil and carefully set the chops into the pan.  Be careful not to crowd them, and watch for flying grease.  Turn the heat down a bit--say medium-high.  Let the chops sear for 2 - 3 minutes, until they are mostly brown with just a little gray on the first side.  Resist the urge to move them around in the pan or to peek.  When the bottom is seared, flip the chops over.  Cover the pan.  If you have thick chops (mine were), turn the heat to low for about 2 or 3 minutes.  Then turn off the heat and let the chops stand in the hot pan.  The residual heat in the pan will finish the cooking.  If the chops are thin, just turn off the heat when you cover the pan.  They should stand for at least five minutes after you turn off the heat, but as the pan will gradually cool, it's no problem to leave them in there longer; they're not likely to overcook.  I guess mine were in the pan, covered, for about 15 - 20 minutes.

When I took the chops out of the pan, there was all this lovely liquid, and I couldn't let that go to waste.  So I stirred in about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and let it reduce a little.  Then I swirled in about a tablespoon of butter to thicken the sauce.  Over the chops it went--just delicious!

Tonight, I wanted something different.  We have had some dried apricots in the cabinet forever, and it was time to do something with them.  Putting them with pork seemed natural.  (I also tried to bake some apricot-pecan bread today.  While it tasted delicious, the recipe still needs work:  the bread overflowed the pan, made a mess in the oven, and then collapsed!  When I perfect it, I'll share it with you.  I think I just need a bigger loaf pan and less leavening...)

OK, so here's the other pork chop method.

PORK CHOPS with APRICOT-MUSTARD SAUCE

2 thick-cut pork chops
1/4 onion, chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup vermouth
boiling water
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
soy sauce

Salt and pepper the chops on both sides and set them aside.  Put the chopped apricots in a 2-cup measure and add the vermouth.  Microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Remove the measure from the oven and pour hot water over the apricots to cover.  (Mine had soaked up nearly all of the vermouth, but it turned out fine, so don't worry.)

Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat until it's very hot.  Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan.  Carefully add the chops, turn the heat down to medium-high, and sear them for 3 minutes on one side.  Turn them over, turn the heat down to medium, and add the onions.  They will saute quickly.  When they're nearly clear, add the apricots and all the liquid in the measure.  Let this bubble for 3 or 4 minutes.  Stir in the mustard and add a dash of soy sauce.  Cover the pan and turn the heat to low.  After another 2 or 3 minutes, turn the heat off and let it stand for as long as necessary (see above).

Remove the chops from the pan and turn the heat under it to high.  Stir the sauce while it reduces and thickens.  When it's quite thick, taste and add more soy sauce if necessary, then top the chops with it.  Enjoy!

Both times, the chops came out tender and juicy.  I think it's the combination of searing with relatively slow cooking afterwards that does the trick. 

I seem to have reached a new phase in my cooking:  until now, I was pretty much a follow-the-recipe kind of guy.  Now I'm more likely to try to invent something.  I hunt around on the internet for something similar to what I have in mind, get ideas of how to do it, and then go from there.  Sometimes, as with my dense and sodden apricot loaf, it will be a partial failure ("partial" because, I'm tellin' ya, it tastes good! just don't look at it...).  More often than not, it will work.

Delicious but dense and collapsed apricot bread.


So try something new.  Take a chance.  What's the worst that'll happen?  You'll have to go out for pizza.  (Which reminds me of the time I tried to thicken gravy with powdered sugar--it sure looked like corn starch--but that story will have to wait.  We did go out for pizza that night.)

And hey, there are worse things than pizza.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Recipe: Popovers (and an hommage to Maine)



We spend every summer on Mount Desert Island in Maine.  This sounds unbelievably posh, even to me.  And, in fact, it is.  We have this boon because of the Mount Desert Summer Chorale, a really delightful group of volunteer singers I've conducted since 2000.

Thanks to them, we are on the outskirts of Acadia National Park from late June to early August.  Mount Desert Island is seriously one of the most beautiful places on the planet.  Allow me to convince you by regaling you with a just a couple of photos I've taken over the years.

This is a famous spot just down the hill from where we stayed last summer. (DS photo)

The view from atop Cadillac Mountain.  (DS photo)

The Bubbles and Jordan Pond.  (DS photo)
The photo on the left is Jordan Pond, and this is important, because one of the things to do when you're on Mount Desert Island visiting Acadia National Park is to go to the Jordan Pond House in the afternoon for tea and popovers.  If you're really hardy, you'll bicycle there (I think we did that once) and have tea as a reward.  You have to do something to earn this, because a pot of tea and two popovers will set you back about ten bucks.  It's almost worth it for the atmosphere and for the fact that the popovers are really rather spectacular.  They're proud of their popovers there, as well they should be.  Just take a look at the photo below.

Popover at Jordan Pond House.  (web photo)

 Well, I'm a cook.  I know that popovers are eggs, milk, and flour.  So how hard can it be?  Thanks to my sister-in-law Martha, who presented us with a very serious-looking popover pan a few summers ago, I embarked on a quest to make a decent popover.  It turns out to be tricky until you know how (and don't worry, I'm going to tell you how).  The first few batches I made were dense and heavy.  We ate them anyway, but they were rather leaden.  Recipes for popovers are maddeningly contradictory.  Some say you should preheat the pan; others say you should put them in a cold oven.  A few recipes use baking powder; most do not.  Some say that you should let the batter stand overnight; others make no mention of this.  I tried a number of variations, and now I have a foolproof method.  It works every time, and the popovers, I'll modestly say, rival those at Jordan Pond House.  Those are mine in the photo at the top.  Here's how mine look inside:

My popovers (DS photo)
So, here's what I do:

POPOVERS

3 large eggs
1-1/4 cup milk (any kind works--except half-and-half!)
1-1/4 cup of flour, sifted before measuring (this turns out to be the key:  use too much flour and disaster will strike)
1/4 teaspoon of salt

Whip the eggs until they're frothy, then add the milk.  I now do this in a blender, but a whisk works just fine too.  If the mixture is cold, warm it for 30 - 45 seconds in the microwave, just to take the chill off of it.  Now add the flour and salt to the liquid and stir well until the batter is completely smooth.  It will be the thickness of heavy cream or egg nog.

Heat the oven to 450* F.  (I do suggest doing this after you mix up the batter, just so that the batter can stand a bit.)  When the oven is hot, pour the batter into a well-greased popover pan, to just below the top of the pan.  (Non-stick is definitely best here.)  Place the pan in the oven on the lower middle rack--no need to set the pan on a cookie sheet, though some instructions tell you to do that. (I find it browns the popovers too much on the bottom.)  Bake for 15 minutes.  Then, without opening the oven door, lower the heat to 350* F and bake for 30 minutes more.  Don't open the oven until the whole baking time is up.  Remove the popovers from the pan and serve hot.

Popovers just out of the oven. (DS photo)
Here's how they'll look.  I made this batch a few days ago--the last morning the girls were here.  Popovers, you see, have become a bit of a ritual in our house since I mastered the technique.  

A few notes:  the one problem I occasionally have is with the popovers sticking.  A good non-stick pan prevents this.  I spray mine with cooking spray.  If you don't have a non-stick pan, be sure to grease the cups very thoroughly with something like Crisco.  Don't use butter or even cooking spray if you worry that they'll stick to the pan.  (Remember, these are basically eggs, and you know how eggs stick to everything.  There's no additional fat in the batter to help with this.)  I especially like the popover pan from Chicago Metallic, a company that makes really good bakeware.  (See the photo below, though you can also sort of see it in the picture I took of my last batch.)


  
Popovers made in this pan will have all the grandeur of those at Jordan Pond House, but it's not the only option. Just to see what would happen, I made a batch the other morning in a pair of plain old muffin tins.  Here's the result:
Popovers in muffin tins, just out of the oven. (DS photo)
As you see, they "popped" nicely out of the pan (well, one didn't, and of course I've got that one front-and-center in the photo!).  And they were nice and puffed inside, too, just not as big as the others.  (The batter made twelve in the muffin tin; the Chicago Metallic pan makes six.  So you can eat twice as many if you use a muffin tin!)  Again, if you have a non-stick muffin tin, there will be a lot less swearing in your kitchen when the popovers are done.  The next two photos show muffin-tin popovers.

The little popovers on a plate.  (DS photo)


Here's how the little popovers look inside.  (DS photo)
But what if you don't have a non-stick pan?  Just grease the bejeepers out of the pan with Crisco.  Have a small sharp knife ready when they come out of the oven, because you'll probably have to run it carefully around each of the popovers to release them from the tin.

The biggest problem with popovers, I've found, is using too much flour.  Under no circumstances should you skip the sifting. (Confession:  I usually do skip it; it seems so unnecessary in most cases.  But don't skip it here.)  By sifting the flour and then measuring it, you'll get the right amount.  Knowing that some people like to weigh it instead, I weighed mine the other day; it was 6.5 ounces of flour.  Doing it by weight would probably be just fine.

Serve them with lots of butter and jam.  Jordan Pond House offers strawberry jam, but I think of blueberries when I think of Maine, so I like blueberry jam on mine.  I also like marmalade.  I hope you'll try making them, because they're fun and delicious.  Let me know how yours turn out.

I'm sure part of the reason I'm so keen on popovers has as much to do with where I've eaten them (in Maine) and who I've had them with (my hilarious sisters-in-law, Martha and Edie, and Sue and the girls, not to mention some really terrific friends).  Food is like that:  it can take you back.  So whip up a batch of something--popovers if you want--and make some memories.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Coming Attractions

This has been a busy week, so I've fallen a bit behind.  My next post will be a recipe for popovers--a sort of specialite de la maison, if one can use so pretentious a phrase for such an uncomplicated thing.  I've also got a recipe for a really lovely cake made with ground almonds--something a diabetic can eat.

So stay tuned.  More soon, I promise.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Palin Speaks


Earlier this week, I wrote here with some passion that I thought that Sarah Palin should say something more about the shootings in Tucson.  She has now done so, and in fairness to her, I thought I should post it here.  Read the story and--more importantly--watch the video, and draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Tortoise Goes International


To my amazement, people are reading this blog, and it isn't just my mother.  The blog has been visited over 500 times since I started it, which is astonishing to me.

What's especially surprising is the overseas readers.  There are several in Venezuela, but that's to be expected, since I'm writing about friends there, and they know about it.  But who is reading this in the UK?  In Malaysia?  Tanzania?  (I might have a guess about that one, but I'm not sure.)  There's even been one visit from someone in France!

Do let me know what you're reading and enjoying--or not enjoying. (If you'd rather not leave a comment, you can email me privately if you prefer.)  It's a great honor to think that somebody other than my family is finding something interesting here.

By the way, if you want to keep abreast of the blog, there are a couple of ways to do it.  I'm announcing posts on my Facebook page.  I'm also posting tweets on Twitter, where you can find me here:  @DavidSchildkret.  Feel free to follow either one.

UPDATE:  I just added an email subscription box.  Find it to the right.  If it works the way it's supposed to, this will allow you to receive an email whenever I post to the blog.  There are a couple of verification steps that will ensure you don't get a bunch of spam.  Sign up if you want so that you won't miss a spine-tingling moment of the hilarity.

Here are the stats--I just pulled them.  These are the page views by country since the blog started.

United States
:  468
Venezuela:
 25
United Kingdom
:  6
Tanzania
:  4
Malaysia
: 3
France: 

The Smell of Snow


I live in Phoenix, Arizona, now, where today the temperature is in the sixties.  But my friends on the East Coast are getting buried under yet another snowstorm.  As I heard about this on the radio this morning, I had a sudden flashback:  when the announcer mentioned snow, I smelled bread baking and hot chocolate.

This goes back to my childhood in southern New Jersey.  It didn't snow often there--maybe one or two good snows a winter.  When it did, school was likely to be closed, and then it fell to my sister and me to shovel the driveway and the walks.  I still remember how much effort that took!  (If I tried it now, I'd probably keel over.)  While we were outside, Mom was busy in the kitchen.  She was a public school teacher in those days, and so when school was closed, she'd have the unexpected bonus of a day off.  That meant something good to eat.

Usually, there was a cup of hot cocoa ready for us when we came inside from shoveling.  There was also a loaf of white bread baking in the oven.  In fact, the only time I can recall my mom baking bread was on snow days.  So for me, snow instantly conjures the smell of hot cocoa and bread--an oddly and wonderfully warm association for such a cold thing.  (And by the way, I think cocoa should always come in a stoneware mug.  To me, it's nearly a sacrilege to serve it in a chi-chi teacup, or worse, some slender, curvaceous glass contraption, unless that's all you've got.  Cocoa is down-to-earth stuff that should be treated with heartiness and hearty respect.  It doesn't need dressing up.)



I don't much miss the cold and snow, but I do kind of miss that hot chocolate and the bread.  Oh, I can bake a very respectable loaf of bread (almost any kind you want), and I can certainly whip up a cup of hot cocoa.  But somehow, it just isn't the same.

Monday, January 10, 2011

In Praise of Arepas


North Americans don't seem to know much about arepas.  If they did, arepas would be as popular as tacos--maybe even more so.  Arepas are everything Americans love:  they're convenient, they're adaptable, and they're fast.  Heck, they're even low-fat.

My corn arepas (no help from Noa!) baking on my griddle.

I first encountered arepas when they were featured in a Food Network program.  Shortly afterward, I went to Venezuela and had the genuine article.  I found that Bobby Flay over-complicated things in his TV show.  Venezuelans tend to put rice, beans, and some flavorful meat into the arepa, not stuff with exotic sauces.  On my next visit to Venezuela, I got some first-hand tips on making arepas from my friend Noa, but then, best of all, Noa came to the US to study with me and lived in our home for seven weeks.  During that time, she made tons of arepas.  Noa makes arepas the way generations of Venezuelan women have made them:  there's no recipe.  You put some grain in a bowl, maybe add a bit of salt and baking powder, then mix in enough hot water to make a smooth dough.  Probably you let it sit for a few minutes to absorb the water better, then you shape the dough into patties.  These get cooked on a dry griddle until they are nicely browned on the outside and cooked through.

It's simple food, and probably ancient.  The method is so simple and straightforward that it certainly doesn't require elaborate equipment.  It's easy to imagine cooking these on a stone next to the fire.

An arepa I made and am about to devour.

The part Americans would love is that you split the arepa (a little like a pita bread, though usually they don't form a hollow pocket of their own) and then stuff it, sandwich-like, with whatever you have on hand.  I'm partial to a little cured meat (salami is good), maybe some cheese, and some salad.  The arepas are especially good if you butter them before you stuff them.

In most of Venezuela, arepas are made from cornmeal.  They especially favor Harina P.A.N., a pre-cooked cornmeal that makes a very reliable dough.  But Noa quickly proved that almost any corn flour or meal would work just fine.  In Merida, where Noa is from, they make arepas from wheat flour.  I had tried a few there but didn't like them as well as the corn ones.  Or so I thought.  When Noa made some from scratch in my kitchen, they were heavenly.  Noa doesn't mind improvising:  she'll toss just about any combination of flour and cornmeal into the bowl.  We had some whole wheat flour around, and it made quite delicious arepas.

Noa left in mid-December, so for the last month or so I've been on my own in the arepa department.  Noa was always very kind about my arepas, no matter how misbegotten they looked.  I've gotten better, but they're still nothing like hers.  Even so, they're satisfactory, and they're a whole lot better than doing without them altogether!

One or two arepas, suitably stuffed, make a lovely lunch.  It's just enough, and it's very satisfying.  When I get better at making them and have a reliable method, I'll try to post some directions here.  But meanwhile, if you run across arepas someplace, try them right away.  You'll be glad you did.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, "The world is so full of a number of things, / I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings."  How true!  And so many of them are things to eat!  So many things, so little time.  And how many of them do we not even know about?  I had to wait more than fifty years to find out about arepas.  I have a half-century of arepa eating to make up for.  I'd better get busy...

As you sit down to eat, Venezuelans say, "Buen provecho."  It's more than "enjoy your meal" or "have a good appetite"; it's more like a wish that the food will sustain you well, that it will provide well for you.  So, "buen provecho."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Wild West


Last week, the shopping mall near our house--the one I will reluctantly go to if I absolutely have to visit a mall--was locked down for three hours because there was a man with a gun taking hostages.  Fortunately, that incident ended without anyone getting hurt.

People at a Safeway in Tucson yesterday who went to meet their member of the US House of Representatives, Gabrielle Giffords, were not so lucky.  Nineteen people were shot, at least six of them fatally, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl who wanted to meet Giffords.  Giffords is fighting for her life after taking a bullet to the head.

To some people, violence like this is an argument for making guns more broadly available.  Their reasoning goes that people might be less likely to do such heinous things if they knew that someone else present was likely to be carrying a gun.  I do not accept this logic.  I think that if there were more guns, more people would get hurt or killed.  The shooter, we are told, posted a farewell on his MySpace page; clearly, with or without other armed people at the scene, he did not expect to leave it alive.  It's hard to see how having more guns around would serve as a deterrent to someone like that.

Much has been said about the way in which our overheated political rhetoric might contribute to a climate of violence that makes an incident like this more likely.  I share that fear.  While we do not know much yet about the shooter's motives or his state of mind, the very fact that we think he could have been inspired by the political hate speech that is so prevalent now is argument enough.  People have the right to say what they want, but they also must take responsibility, especially if they command a public forum, for the consequences of what they say.

During the congressional campaign, Sarah Palin's political action committee issued a list of "targeted" seats.  These were in districts where the incumbent was a Democrat, but which McCain and Palin had carried in the 2008 presidential election.  Such a seat was deemed a possible win for the Republicans, because that looks like a swing district.  So far, so good.  But it's at least an eerie coincidence--and a lot of bloggers pointed it out in the hours after the shooting--that a map on that website showed those congressional districts in the crosshairs of a rifle.  One of those districts was Giffords's.  Did that metaphor inspire or encourage yesterday's incident?  It's a question worth asking.

In view of that, Palin needs to do more than post a generic message of condolence on her Facebook page.  She needs specifically to repudiate violence.  She needs to make it clear that she wants nothing to do with people who would interpret her "targets" literally.  I am not saying that Palin is responsible for the shooting.  I am saying that an unbalanced person might take that map as a call to action, and she needs both to distance herself from such actions and strongly condemn them, lest she be misunderstood.

Palin's 24-hour silence on this subject leaves me wondering what she really thinks.  She has to be aware that people are making the connection.  Is that what she wants?  If so, that's even more frightening than yesterday's terrible events, because it bodes more such days.  And where are the news media?  Has no reporter tried to ask Palin about that map and its possible role in the attack on Giffords and her constituents?  If Palin won't say anything voluntarily, someone should at least raise the issue.

Arizona is the center of lively debates on many things:  immigration, health care, the economy, the housing crisis.  We're known here for being outspoken and even a little extreme--on both sides.  But spreading guns around and letting such debates extend to physical violence is simply not the way a rational, just society solves problems.  Sarah Palin ought to say that, joining the many other politicians who have already said it.  And we all ought to think about how we can air differences without dehumanizing those who disagree with us  and without depicting them as enemies

Yesterday was terrible.  My wish is that it never be repeated.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Recipe: Cranberry Cream Pie


Assuming there are any faithful readers out there, I'm letting you down.  I haven't posted the recipe for the Christmas pie, nor have I given the instructions for the really good horseradish sauce I made for the roast beef, etc., etc.  I promise to try to catch up.  So herewith is the cranberry pie.  This is adapted from one given to me by Jacob Herbert, who in turn got it from his great aunt Mina.

Photo courtesy of Miriam Schildkret
CRANBERRY CREAM PIE

6 c. cranberries, pulsed a few times in the food processor to chop VERY roughly 
2 c. sugar
3 T. each flour and cornstarch
1 t. cinnamon
pinch of salt
zest of one large navel orange
1-2/3 c. whipping cream
1 unbaked deep dish pie crust (see below)


Preheat the oven to 450* F.

Combine the cranberries with the sugar, flour, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt, and orange zest in a large bowl.  Mix thoroughly.  Scoop this into a deep-dish pie pan (preferably glass) that has been lined with pie dough.  Add cream to come just below the surface of the berries.

VERY QUICKLY (or the bottom crust will get too soggy), make a lattice top for the pie.  Brush it with cream and sprinkle with sugar.

Put the pie in the oven and reduce the heat to 425*.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 350* and bake another 45 minutes more, until the filling is bubbly and the crust is browned.

Photo courtesy of Miriam Schildkret
Cool and serve.  (Serving notes:  I do not recommend reheating the pie:  the filling will turn runny, as I learned from bitter experience at Christmas!  --It was great the next day.  You could serve this with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you want, though this is one fruit pie that I can enjoy without ice cream.)








BASIC PIE CRUST

Here is the formula I generally use for a 2-crust pie like this one.

2-1/2 c. flour
2 sticks cold unsalted butter (or one stick butter and 1/2 c. cold Crisco--this makes a crust that is easier to roll, but a tiny bit less flaky.  If you want the flakiest possible crust, use lard for half of the fat.)
1/2 t. salt
1/4 - 1/2 c. ice water

Combine salt and flour, then cut the fat into the flour.  You could pulse it several times in the food processor (the most reliable method) or cut it in using two knives or a pastry blender.  Either way, there should be pea-sized bits of butter in the dough.  (It is the large bits of melting butter that make the pastry flaky in the end.)  Add water carefully just until the dough forms a ball.  (Again, you could pour the water into the food processor with the motor running until the dough gathers, or you could do it in a bowl, stirring with a fork.)  Beware of adding too much water; it's better if the dough is a tiny bit crumbly, even though it will be harder to roll out.  Do not overmix or knead.  Gather the dough into two flat disks (one slightly larger than the other), wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Roll the larger of the two disks into a flat crust and line the bottom of a pie plate with it.  Chill for at least 30 minutes before filling.

Once the bottom crust is filled, roll out the top crust, either into a circle, or if making a lattice, into an oblong.  Place the circle on top of the pie and seal.  To make a lattice, cut the dough into 9 strips using a crimped pastry cutter.  Lay five strips vertically across the top of the pie.  Seal the edges nearest you.  Fold back the first, third, and fifth strips towards you and lay a new strip of dough across the others--left to right.  Now bring the folded strips back to a flat position and fold down strips two and four.  Lay another strip of dough across this, left to right.  Repeat this process until you have used all of the dough strips, which will now form a woven pattern on the top of the pie.  Seal all the edges by turning the ends of the strips under the edge of the bottom crust.

Bake according to the recipe instructions.

Further note:

The bottom crust here does tend to be soft, almost no matter how fast you work.  Next time, I'll try one of two tricks:  brush the inside of the bottom crust with a beaten egg white before filling it OR combine a tablespoon each of flour and sugar, and sprinkle this mixture on the bottom of the crust before filling.  (The egg white method seems more likely to me.)  If you try one of these, let me know how it works for you!

I love cranberry pie, because it's so unexpected.  We think of cranberry as a jelly (with or without hunks of stuff in it) that goes with turkey.  But it's a fruit, so why not make it into a pie?  The color of the filling, an outrageous red, is utterly fantastic, and the flavor is a great combination of sweet and slightly tart.  Best of all?  You get to make something really wonderful out of something hard and sour.