Nana’s Cinnamon Rolls

Nana's Cinnamon Rolls

The woman who shared this recipe with me calls them Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls, but I call them Nana’s Cinnamon Rolls even if this lovely woman isn’t my Nana. I’m an inveterate collector of recipes and I will ask anyone to share, including total strangers and other people’s family members. Recipes like this are my reward and many thanks to my brother-in-law’s Nana for this one.

Ingredients – Dough:

  • 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs

Ingredients – Cinnamon Filling:

  • 10 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 tsp. cinnamon

Ingredients – Glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Maple syrup (or milk)
  • Maple extract or vanilla (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Instructions – Cinnamon Rolls:

STEP 1:  In a large mixer bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of flour and yeast. Stirring constantly, heat the milk, granulated sugar, butter and salt just until mixture is warm and the butter is almost melted (120-130 degrees). You can use a thermometer for this but you do not have to.

STEP 2:  Add milk mixture and eggs to the flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl frequently. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Using a spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can. (Dough will be soft.) Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough (3 to 5 minutes total). Shape dough into a ball.

STEP 3:  Place dough in a lightly greased bowl and turn once. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours). The dough is ready for shaping when you can lightly and quickly press two fingers 1/2 inch into the dough and the indentation remains.

STEP 4:  Punch dough down. On a lightly floured surface, divide dough in half and shape each half into a smooth ball. Cover and let rise for 10 minutes.

STEP 5:  On a lightly floured surface, roll each half of the dough into a 12 x 10 inch rectangle. Spread with 5 Tbsp. softened butter. Combine cinnamon and brown sugar and sprinkle half over rolled dough. Roll dough from the short side and seal edges with fingers dipped in water. Make a second roll with the remaining dough, butter and sugar mixture.

STEP 6:  Slice each dough roll into pieces about 1 inch thick using dental floss. Slide the floss under the dough bring it up and tie it right through the dough. You’ll get perfect slices without smashing the roll. Repeat to slice both rolls of dough. Arrange in a greased 13 x 9 inch pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled (about 30 minutes). Preheat oven to 350 degrees when you cover the rolls to rise.

STEP 7:  Bake rolls in a 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until light brown. Invert immediately on a wire rack. Cool slightly and drizzle with the following glaze.

MAPLE GLAZE:  Gradually whisk maple syrup into 1 cup of powdered sugar until drizzling consistency is achieved. If maple syrup is not available milk can be substituted and 1/4 cup chopped nuts can be added to either if desired. If using milk, maple extract or vanilla can be added for flavor.

NOTE:  If you want to make the rolls the night before, cover tightly and refrigerate once you’ve sliced them and arranged them in the pan. The final rise will take longer than 30 minutes when you take them out of the fridge and will depend on the temperature in the room. I take them out a couple hours before I want to bake them and bake once they’ve doubled in size.

For those of you who would like to print this recipe, click here for a printer friendly PDF version.

More about Wanda Shapiro • Novels by Wanda Shapiro


Many Thanks To The Adirondacks

Adirondack Mountains

I am feeling particularly sentimental this new year and I am feeling particularly grateful to have been born and raised in the tiny town of Johnsburg, in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, on the west bank of the Hudson River. I’ve been gone for twenty years, but I recently decided to plant a root back in my hometown, one that will provide nourishment for decades to come. I’ve lived in two big cities and two other small towns, but nothing compares to the village where I was raised.

Covering 200 square miles, the town of Johnsburg is home to approximately 2,400 people who live in approximately 1,000 households. Population statistics ebb and flow a little, but the average population density of 12 people per square mile has held fairly steady during my lifetime. There are two gas stations and one traffic light and nothing is open twenty-four hours. You can walk the full length of main street in twenty minutes or less (depending on how many people you stop and visit with) and there’s one school where approximately 350 students, in grades K-12, are all educated under the same roof.

When I graduated from Johnsburg Central School, I couldn’t wait to leave and there were times, as a teenager, when I was so sick of everyone knowing my name that I wished I’d been born into a more metropolitan family. I named my cat Cosmopolitan but the only traveling I did was in the library and when I did leave, I felt wholely inadequate next to my more urban peers. Little did I know just how well my village had raised me, or how well my childhood prepared me for everything that lay ahead. Little did I know just how lucky I was.

Now, I feel sorry for my more urban peers and now, I feel deeply privileged to have been born and raised an Adirondack girl. But when my husband and I decided to buy a house in Johnsburg, I could not have imagined the well of pride into which I would tap.

I will admit to a moment of panic as I prepared for a flight from LA to NY to look at houses, and when my husband pooh-poohed my house-buying anxiety I did not take it kindly.  In fact, I accused him and his entire of gender of infuriating pie-in-the-sky thinking when some things, like buying a house, are famously not easy. Thankfully, my husband diffused what could have been a lovely marital spat when he explained what he meant. He told me buying a house in my hometown would be easy. He told me my town would take care of me. He told me my town would welcome me and there would be people who had known me and my parents our whole lives who would be there to help. He reminded me what it was like when my brother died, how the whole town rallied to support my grief stricken family. And I knew when he said that that he wasn’t kidding. His sincerity dulled my anxiety and thankfully, my husband was right.

Despite everyone’s advice to shop around for the best mortgage, I decided go local with everything. My realtor was a friend of my mom’s who goes to church with my dad. My lawyer was the lawyer I worked for when I was fifteen. And I got my mortgage at the local bank which has changed management many times but has always been the only bank in town. I arrived in town on a Sunday and by Thursday at noon, I had an offer accepted on the first house I saw. And I have never felt like I was in better hands.

I did call my husband and admit he had been entirely right but even on that day, with an accepted offer in hand, I couldn’t have imagined the nostalgia-filled adventure I had embarked up. For most people, buying a home represents a new chapter in life, and it’s often a process filled with strangers. But for me, buying a home was a trip down memory lane.

I reminisced with my lawyer and his wife about when their first son was a baby and I was his first babysitter and before that when he was running for District Attorney. I heard about the parties my lawyer and insurance agent used to attend together when they were teenagers, and  before I decided to go with Stevenson Insurance, I called the bank’s insurance company for a quote only to realize I was talking to a woman from three towns over whose children grew up riding my Aunt Wanda’s school bus. Then there was the moment when my realtor and I put two-and-two together and realized my Aunt Marion was a dear friend of hers at the nursing home in the years before she died.

I got the scoop on the drilled well from Davey Wolfe down at Stewart’s and my Dad confirmed his cousin Pinky did a lot of the renovations on the house. Now, Pinky has retired so people told me to call Gerry Knickerbocker who, in my mind, was still just Georgia and Becky’s little brother. Later I found out that Rusty Leigh and his dad put the roof on my house, years ago, with a little help from old George Dunkley. Of course, if you know Rusty Leigh, it’s better if you hear him tell the story.

I ran into endless people in town, many of whom I hadn’t seen in years and I made countless trips to the hardware store with my Dad in tow. I reminisced with the two Kathy’s at Foothills Antiques about my older sister, Beth, and the days back when she was a teenage waitress at the Copperfield Inn and I ran into an old Warren County Sheriff friend from back in the days when I was teenage convenience store worker. The look on my Gramma Volcheck’s face when I told her I was buying a house in Johnsburg was priceless and when I got my first visit from Bobby Austin it made me feel like my maternal grandparents Bob and Bella Dunkley were actually somehow in the room. I was reminded of them again when I brought some bread up to my new neighbors, George and Judy Dunkley. They are our new neighbors but they have been family forever.

I was proud as hell when one of my more recently transplanted neighbors said, “Oh, you’re a real local,” and I was momentarily but deeply embarrassed when another neighbor asked if we were from New Jersey. The plates on our rental car made me realize old prejudices die hard but I couldn’t be prouder to be bringing some more Dunkley blood back to Cleveland Road.

My family rallied to fill the house with all the things we needed and they did it the we always do it in the Adirondacks, when there’s some kind of hole in someone’s life that needs to be filled. They rummaged through attics and basements and cleaned out their own cupboards and closets and surprisingly little money was spent considering the pile of belongings we were gifted upon arrival. My dad gave me back the beds he made for my sister and me when we were kids and I ended up with the Electrolux vacuum cleaner my parents bought when I was seven. It was a major family purchase from a traveling salesman, more thirty years ago, but where I grew up people understand quality and really take care of their things.

Where I grew up, people also really take care of each other and so many people took such good care of me during my first seventeen years on this earth that I could spend the rest of my life writing thank you cards. They didn’t leave me ill prepared. They didn’t protect me from the hard lessons life is bound to teach us all. They didn’t coddle me or fail to teach me the all the things I needed to know in order to venture out into big cities and thrive despite the rat race. They taught me that money doesn’t make you happy and they taught me to make time for the simple pleasures in life like a table full of friends and a home cooked meal on the table. They taught me how to do things and in doing so over and over again, they taught me how to teach myself things when they were no longer around. They taught me to take care of my neighbors and they taught me family is both the family you’re born with and the friends you choose and you bend over backwards for both because we’re all so lucky to have each other.

You don’t get to pick where your born and you don’t get to choose your family, but I got particularly lucky on both fronts. I was born into a family with deep roots in the Adirondacks and the older I get the more clearly I see the fingerprints of my upbringing on myself. I see the village that raised me in the way I live my life albeit now more urban and anonymous. I see the lessons I learned in the decisions I make and I try never to forget what really matters in life. I try to work as hard as my parents did when they were my age and I give them all the credit when someone compliments my work ethic.

Now, I have an opportunity to make my parents as proud of me as I am of where they raised me. I promise to take wonderful care of this little piece of heaven on the Mill Creek and I promise to be a good neighbor. I promise to come home and visit more often and I promise to remember the roots which have always nourished my life, no matter how far I’ve traveled.

Many thanks to the Adirondacks and many thanks to all of the people in the tiny town of Johnsburg who made me the person I am today.

More about Wanda Shapiro   •  Novels by Wanda Shapiro


My First Steps Towards Real Food

mason jars with dry goods

So far in my reversing the process series, I have talked about my mission to get the factory out of my pantry and I have defined real food, which does not include all of the edible food-like substances we regularly call food. I explained how this process was the most positive kind of slippery slope, so now I will explain how I got started on this journey, more than a decade ago.

It was 2003 and I was living with my husband and a close friend in the Catskills. We lived for almost a year in this small town called Andes, an hour outside of Woodstock where we had moved in 2001. We had a beautiful house on a hill in the country and I was spending more and more time in the kitchen. My grocery lists at the time included things like: E.L. Fudge cookies, white bread, Velveeta macaroni and cheese, bullion cubes (the green chicken ones and the red beef ones), ramen noodles, Tropicana orange juice, and Entenmann’s pastries. My grocery lists also included their fair share of kale, root vegetables, lentils, quinoa, free range chicken stock, and organic dairy products, because I had already been living in Woodstock for more than a year and that town was on the cutting edge of the organic, whole food movement.

Even before my first ah-hah moment, my grocery shopping habits were already telling a tale. By 2003, I was splitting my shopping between a big box wholesale club, the local grocery store chain, the local butcher shop, and the local “health food store” which was what we called coops back before Whole Foods was a ubiquitous brand. And while I was buying more and more each week at the health food store, I was still making a separate list for those family favorites which were not available at the health food store. But the difference between the products from the different stores really started to bug me.

At that time, what was really bugging me were the artificial colors and artificial flavors, so I sat down one day to discuss this with my husband and roommate. Had I been living alone, I would have just stopped buying those things, but when you are in charge of feeding more than one adult, you can’t just change the whole routine without getting some buy-in. The guys had to admit they didn’t realize what they were eating, and on principle, everyone agreed artificial colors and artificial flavors are not good. We agreed to gradually stop buying a lot of things but we also agreed to not go crazy all of a sudden.

That was really how it started, with the personal rejection of artificial colors and flavors and from there each subsequent change to our food life was a natural extension of the last. Over the years, we’ve stopped buying a lot of things and we’ve started cooking a lot of things entirely from scratch. We’ve stopped shopping for edible food like substances and we’ve started shopping for ingredients to make real food, which is delicious.

I wish I could give you the exact progression of what we gave up and when, but these were the key milestones along the way, by category:

  • Hydrogenated oils like peanut butter and Crisco
  • Modern, industrial cooking oils like vegetable oil and canola oil
  • Pasteurized milk and cream
  • Dairy products made from pasteurized milk
  • Industrially canned vegetables like beans and tomatoes
  • Prepared chicken and beef stock (and before that bullion cubes and powdered stocks)
  • Industrial raised meat, fish, poultry and eggs
  • Factory-made desserts of all kinds from cookies and pies to cakes and ice cream
  • Pasteurized juices and pre-made drinks
  • Artificial sweeteners like high-fructose corn-syrup and bleached white sugar
  • Prepared breads of all kinds
  • Boxed cereals of all kinds

At this point our kitchen is more or less devoid of all of the above, with a few exceptions. For example, I do break down and buy organic cream cheese every now and then and my husband never gave up pasteurized pomegranate juice. This also all goes out the window almost anytime we eat at a restaurant, but when it comes to our grocery list and the food we prepare at home, we mostly have gotten the factory out of our pantry.

It’s taken more than a decade but only recently did it feel like a mission. For many years, each individual choice was a natural progression and they were simply individual choices which are sadly impossible to order in my memory. We didn’t make changes according to the neat categories above. For example, we stopped buying spray canola oil long before we gave up canola oil entirely and there was a time when I bought half my butter and made the other half fresh. We switched to organic milk before we switched to raw milk. We switched to dried beans years before we started canning our own tomatoes. There were years when homemade ice cream was just a treat, instead of the norm. I do still buy a few cheeses made with pasteurized milk, but less and less frequently, and I do still buy one bottle of light Karo corn syrup per year to recreate the my childhood birthday cake for my own birthday.

Over the years, each change was an individual choice and some changes were harder to make than others but as the small changes accumulated into more obviously categorical change, the remaining more industrial foods in our kitchen started to stand out. For example, the canned tomatoes started to stand out when they were the only thing left in a can I was buying on a regular basis. The canola oil was also hard to defend next to the farm fresh olive oil, the homemade butter, and the beautiful organic pork lard from the butcher shop.

And a lot of the changes were easy to make. Giving up store-bought ice cream really wasn’t that hard once I found the raw vanilla ice cream recipe on page 550 of Nourishing Traditions and the chocolate ice cream recipe on page 26 of The Perfect Scoop. Now, I make all my own ice cream and the vanilla ice cream recipe above is so simple I can make it in less than 30 minutes, including the time in the ice cream maker. And I had a similar experience with bread. I thought it would take years to start making all my own bread but one cook book changed a big slice of my food life in less than a month. With Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, I didn’t need to buy bread, and no one in my family missed the store bought version of anything once I started playing around with the recipes in that book.

Now, the remaining industrial products in my kitchen really do stand out and there are still a few I would like to eradicate. For example, although now organic, I still buy prepared mustard, ketchup and mayo. They look weird to me there in the door of the fridge with their labels and their expiration dates, but this particular category is hard for me to make from scratch because I don’t eat any of them and I gag at the smell of mayo. I did try to make friends with mayo by making it from scratch a while back, but it was an utter disaster and I have not gotten back on that horse since. I will some day but until then, I’ll buy those three things at the coop and I won’t feel guilty about doing so.

I take my food changes one day at a time and one change at a time, and there’s always a list in the back of my mind of the next food challenges I will take on. Next on my list: puff pastry, croissants, ricotta cheese, and mozzarella cheese. Oh, and this Greek soup called avgolemono, which is a good example because sometimes I take on a particular recipe I’m craving while sometimes I take on a whole category of food change. Sometimes I’m driven more by desire and sometimes I’m driven more by disgust, but each small change makes space for the next small change and quite quickly, they add up to a more nourishing lifestyle which promotes thoughtful living and provides an endless history of traditions to explore.

If you look at my food life now, it’s not a modern life. On the face of it, and if you don’t count the meals I eat out, I have given up all kinds of modern conveniences, but I have also found a new kind of efficiency and rhythm with food which is much less time consuming than you would think. But, you can’t just change your life in a weekend. And I can’t tell you exactly where to start because the changes you choose to make should be specific to your life and your taste.

The good news is, whatever changes you choose to make now will be easier than they were when I started on this path. And I will continue to share my story here with my reversing the process series which will hopefully save you some time along the way. Feel free to contact me anytime with questions.

Finally, I would also like to make a note about my mixed use of singular and plural pronouns in this post. That was an editorial red flag for me as I was finishing this post but I decided they were appropriate in this case, and more than that, my use of them reminded me of something I failed to include about this kind of change.

For me, reversing the process has been a personal, individual choice for change, but it has also been a process that my husband and I have gone through together. Sometimes, we take on a particular change together. Sometimes it’s more of a change I tackle myself which we then integrate into our lifestyle. And while I do the majority of the cooking per se, my husband is actively involved in our week-to-week food life from shopping and food prep to actual cooking. For example, I was having trouble getting in the rhythm of making our own whole grain cereal. We would end up running out and I wouldn’t have time to make a new batch for weeks. So, my husband wrote down the recipe I had concocted and now, he is in charge of keeping the pantry stocked with cereal. In some ways, change is easier when you live alone but change is not impossible when you are in a relationship. It does however require some conversation and it will be easier if there is some sort of foundational, philosophical agreement about what is driving you to change.

More about Wanda Shapiro   •  Novels by Wanda Shapiro


From Web 2.0 to Web WTF

<really long rant>

This post is for all my friends and colleagues who work in digital. We used to call it the IT industry, but now we just call it digital, and if this industry wouldn’t mind, I would like to ask it to slow the fuck down. I never thought I would miss the Web 2.0 days, but in all honesty, I would do anything to turn back technological time. I wish cell phones were just cell phones again and I wish no one ever invented the cloud.

Now, we build websites and apps. We design software user interfaces and digital marketing campaigns. We create content for more social media networks than I can keep up with, and we have to make sure everything we do works on a bazillion different permutations of operating systems, browsers, devices and screen sizes, not to mention all the audiences, personas and strategies. There are no less than ten competing varieties of every kind of platform and technology, and vendors are popping up every day selling all kinds of different services which are all supposed to provide some kind of marketing miracle for all the poor shmucks who make a living sell things or helping people sell things.

And I am one of those poor shmucks.

Now, we have to figure out how to design and build all sorts of digital things so they work on all sorts of devices and, in the agency world, we have to do that with clients of all kinds breathing down our necks.

I remember when the VP of Creative Services came back from the Internet Retailer Conference one year and said, “If I hear the phrase ‘Web 2.0’ one more time, I’m going to kill someone.” But as a project manager, the Web 2.0 days made me giddy. Finally, finally, we could create in code, almost anything a designer could imagine. We could create rounded corners using CSS and if the designer got too crazy we could always call the flash guys. Finally, I didn’t have to explain to designers (and clients) why we couldn’t do things because coding technology had finally caught up with Photoshop. And this progress was happening in parallel with the platform-ization of the digital landscape. And platforms were great, platforms got installed and customized instead of built from scratch. And if you didn’t get too crazy with the design, you could leverage the platform and limit most of the heavy lifting to CSS. And CSS, we never really thanked that technology thoroughly because we were getting caught up in all the other progress.

But at this point, I really do just want to turn back time. Because how the hell are we all supposed to keep up? I used to joke that this wasn’t rocket science, but I’m tired of keeping up and responsive website design didn’t turn out to be the godsend it seemed like it was going to be. I remember being in the let’s-let-flash-die camp, but now, I can hardly remember why. Oh, right, it was the smart phone. That’s why we needed flash to die. Because those two technologies couldn’t play nice together, or at least that’s what I remember after so much technological water under the bridge.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what point in time I would like to turn us back to, but it was somewhere around the advent of the smart phone. But those early days of the smart phone weren’t too bad. All of a sudden we had all these new projects. Suddenly, companies didn’t need one website, they needed two websites. And no one expected the mobile website to be nearly as cool as the regular website, so it wasn’t so hard. No one minded, the use of really janky “wrapper” technology and those were the glory days of web services and custom API development. Yes, we had problems with data synching and the mobile websites we were cranking out were kind of clunky. But everyone felt so cool with their new smart phones it took them a minute to get hyper-entitled about usability and page load times. Things were starting to get complicated, but at least back then we could easily justify separate, additional budgets for the development and maintenance of mobile properties. And really, the expectations were relatively low, both on the client side and on the user side.

But now, everyone wants everything. They want the website and the iOS app and the android app and they want the strategy for the website and the app. And they want the social media campaign and the search engine optimization, and they want the social media campaign to work miracles while the paid media campaign has a zero dollar budget. They want viral video and cartwheeling menu buttons which all work seamlessly across any device you can think of. They want data of all kinds and they want everything to be integrated with backend systems even if those backend systems are dangerously out of date because the parts of the website no one can see never get any of the budgetary love. Everyone wants to lower their overall cost of ownership, but no one wants to face the pink elephant in the room which is a digital ecosystem which was been taped together over the years by a revolving string of marketing and technology resources who were all just doing the best they could with what they had that month all while racing to keep up.

If you’re lucky, you work at a company which survives by nibbling on one or two relatively isolated slices of the digital marketing budget pie. If you’re kind of lucky, you work client-side where you have to worry about the totality of the digital landscape, but only for one brand. But if you’re not lucky, you work at an agency, that does everything.

Regardless of how lucky you may or may not be, my job and the jobs of my friends and colleagues are appreciably harder than they were eight years ago and the budgets are tighter than ever due to the continued slicing of the marketing budget pies. But there comes a point when marketing professionals must admit that a pie sliced into too many pieces is no longer edible.

And really, people want everything. People want websites that are the most awesome things ever no matter what they are trying to sell. The website needs to work miracles and drive engagement like no one has ever seen. The website needs to look perfect even on the marketing director’s nephew’s android phone when he turns it sideways at dinner to show her something. The website needs to be easy to update and the website needs to look as awesome on your iphone as it does at on your work computer. Never mind that your work computer is running IE8 on Windows XP because the giant corporation you work for hasn’t updated, or can’t update, their software due to some other old technology dependency. Oh, and that website which is all responsive and shit which really does look so awesome on your iphone, the same one that needs to work on your work computer with IE8, it also has to be ADA compliant so a blind person can use it on their ipad, in portrait mode. Oh, and that website, it also has to fit the design sensibility of someone’s boss, whose design sensibilities are stuck in the Web 2.0 days. And worse, the design of that website is going to be performed by committee, and we all know that is never good.

And of course, everyone wants everything yesterday and it’s not just users who want everything. Industry professionals who are well aware of the exponentially complicated nature of what we do, are genuinely surprised when a website built two years ago for less than market value doesn’t work on a first generation kindle fire in portrait mode.

Sigh.

Later today, I will reapply my happy face and I will not let progress get the best of me. But sometimes, I really do wish I could turn back the digital clock to the good old Web 2.0 days.

</really long rant>

More about Wanda  •  Shapiro Novels by Wanda Shapiro


Persian Mulberry Pie Recipe

Persian Mulberries

I promised this recipe to a lovely woman named Ruth I met at the Santa Monica farmers market. She understood why I was rushing to the Weiser Family Farm stand for the Persian mulberries and her ears perked up when she heard about the pie I was planning to bake.

Many thanks to Alex Weiser, fam and crew for another fabulous crop of Persian mulberries. If you haven’t tried them, I suggest you put them on your bucket list. They look like wet black berries and they have an indescribably strong flavor I wait all year for. They are pricey but they are worth every penny and the rhubarb in this pie keeps the cost of the berries down.

Ingredients – Pie filling:

3 cups Persian mulberries (drained)
2 ½ cups rhubarb (diced)
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp. cornstarch

Ingredients – Pie Crust:

For the top crust:

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. pork lard
4-6 Tbsp. ice water

For the bottom crust:

1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 Tbsp. pork lard
6-8 Tbsp. ice water

NOTE: For best results, I recommend using organic ingredients, especially when it comes to meat and dairy products.

Instructions for the pie crust:

Add salt to flour. Cut butter and lard into flour with a pastry cutter until it looks like coarse crumbs. Add water 1-2 table spoons of ice water at a time. Mix thoroughly with a spoon with each addition of water until a ball of dough forms in the bowl. Gently and quickly form the dough into an even ball and transfer to a well-floured surface. Gently and quickly press the dough into a disk approximately 2 inches thick. Wrap the disk in wax paper and repeat this process for the second crust. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Refrigerate for up to 12 hours and don’t worry if the crust is stiffer when you try to roll it out.

NOTE: I know most pie recipes provide one list of ingredients that is supposed to be used for the top and bottom crusts. However, that way you end up with too much dough for the top and not enough for the bottom crust. After being frustrated by this for years, I re-wrote the recipe to make two more logically proportioned crusts.

Instructions for the pie filling:

Drain mulberries for at least one hour or overnight in the fridge. Slice rhubarb lengthwise and dice into ¼ inch pieces. Place both in a large bowl. Mix sugar, flour and cornstarch until thoroughly mixed. Add dry mixture to mulberries and rhubarb in three or four batches, mixing well with a spatula between each.

Instructions for the pie:

Preheat the oven to 425. Roll out the crusts and place in a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan. Add pie filling being sure to evenly distribute any sugar mixture which is left in the bottom of the bowl. Crimp the edges of the crust and slice a vent in the crust with a sharp knife. Bake immediately for approximately 1 hour on a cookie sheet to catch any drips. Rotate pie front to back after 30 minutes. If the pie is not browned to your taste after 1 hour, leave it in for another 10-15 minutes. Let pie cool completely before slicing and serving.

NOTE: I know this seems like a high temperature for a pie but a butter-lard crust requires a higher temperature than a butter-only crust or a crust made with vegetable shortening. One of the nice things about butter-lard crust is that the edges of the crust won’t burn before the pie is done. You won’t need those crust covering rings, even at 425. If you use a different pie crust recipe to make this pie, bake according to the temperature and time of the other recipe.

For those of you who would like to print this recipe, click here for a printer friendly PDF version.

More about Wanda Shapiro • Novels by Wanda Shapiro


Living Without Paper Towels

cloth napkin

As I started reversing the process and started getting the factory out of my pantry, I started to think about all the things in my kitchen which people didn’t have before my grandparents were alive. Coincidentally, as I was having these thoughts, I happened to see a documentary film called Greedy Lying Bastards which connected the Koch brothers with commonly purchased products like paper towels. These two diverging trains of thought finally pushed me over the edge and made me give up paper towels.

That was more than a year ago but I’ve done it. I’ve completely given up paper towels and here is what you need if you want to do the same.

Stop buying paper towels.

You can’t stop until you stop. I tried minimizing the use of paper towels, but the household dependency on them didn’t end until I stopped buying them.

Buy more kitchen towels.

If you want to live without paper towels, you are going to need more kitchen towels. They don’t have to be expensive, but they should be 100% cotton and if you want to maximize absorbency, you should stop using fabric softener. You may want to keep two kinds of towels, one for cleaning and one for everyday use, but I didn’t do that until after the first year or so. Now, I keep one stack of older, more stained, cleaning towels, and one stack of newer, less stained, kitchen towels for every day use.

Create a place to hang towels in use.

This should be near the sink or near wherever people will reach for when they would reach for a paper towel. I have hooks for three towels which are in use and one is generally sitting on the counter below, ready for easy access and use during miscellaneous kitchen tasks.

Create a place to hang dirty towels where they can dry before laundering.

If you don’t want smelly laundry, you need somewhere to hang towels which are too dirty to use, but too wet to put in the laundry. You will need to train the people in your kitchen to put the dirty towels in the right place where they don’t get used again until clean. Towels which have touched the floor, have cleaned up raw meat messes, or which have been used a lot should be hung to dry but should not be used again. I have three hooks in a prominent location for towels in use and four hooks for dirty towels in a more out of the way location.

Buy cloth napkins.

You may want to buy one kind for every day use and one kind for more formal dinners, but either way, you will need enough to replace paper towels or paper napkins at every meal. How many you will need will depend on the size of your family and I recommend 100% cotton napkins for their more natural feel and for their better absorbency.

Use cookie sheets and cooling racks for draining bacon and fried foods.

I didn’t think of this until I stopped buying paper towels, but a cooling rack on a cookie sheet is actually better for draining fried food than a paper towel on a platter. It prevents condensation and keeps the food much crisper than the paper towel alternative you are used to. I tried newspaper once, but the chemicals on the print grossed me out.

Buy cotton and silk bags for storing produce in the fridge.

I used to store lettuces, herbs and produce wrapped in paper towels, in plastic bags. Over the years, I learned that plastic was death to vegetables in the fridge, but paper towels were my saving grace. Eventually, I found the kootsac etsy store where you can buy the best cotton and silk bags for produce storage. Esty store owner Morgen sells the silk bags for bulk dry goods, but I recommend them for lettuces, greens and herbs which are best stored in the crisper. For sturdier produce, like broccoli and scallions, I use the cotton bags, also purchased from the kootsac etsy store.

Use terry cloth towels for washing windows and mirrors.

Wash off the dirt and mess with a wet cloth and buff dry with a dry terry cloth towel. You can’t get a streak-free clean with a damp towel, but you can buff a mirror or window streak-free with a dry terry cloth towel. You don’t need paper towels or newspaper, and you don’t even need window cleaner.

Use kitchen towels for patting dry meat.

Anyone who cooks meat well knows a dry muscle is necessary for a good sear. So, pat your meat dry with a kitchen towel, just like you would with a paper towel. Hand wash the towel in the sink with some dish soap and hang it to dry with the dirty towels. Red meat will stain your towels but you can keep two kinds of towels to contain the staining.

When you make a horrible mess, sacrifice a towel or two.

Sometimes, you make a horrible mess, and sometimes that means you have to throw out a towel or two. My first real mess after giving up paper towels was a quart jar of sugar-mint syrup dropped from waist-high, right in front of an open fridge. It was horrible, and there was glass everywhere, and there was a house full of people waiting for dinner when it slipped out of my hand. The first words out of my best friend’s mouth were, “I bet you wish you hadn’t given up paper towels now!” I swept up the mess, broken glass and all, with a couple towels and threw them away without a second thought. I did the same when I dropped a jar of honey and I am sure there will be other horrible messes in my future.

Good luck!

Giving up paper towels is a relatively big adjustment for any household, but it is possible. It takes a certain amount of retraining, but humans lived for thousands of years without paper towels, just like they lived without pasteurization and microwaves and saran wrap. You don’t realize how many times a day you reach for a paper towel until you actually stop buying them, but there is something so gratifying about not putting them in your shopping cart ever again. Since I gave up paper towels, I have also given up plastic storage bags and saran wrap and I’ve never owned a microwave. You’ll be surprised what you can live without if you try.

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Defining Real Food

real_food

In my first post about reversing the process, I explained that I’m on a mission to get the factory out of my pantry and I promised to explain what I mean when I say I try to eat as much real food as possible. Like I said before, this is a little hard to talk about because I really don’t want to offend anyone but the commonly accepted definition of food now includes what I would call real food and what Michael Pollan calls, “edible food-like substances.”

Humans have been producing food for thousands of years without synthetic chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Humans were gathering for elaborate feasts long before scientists were engineering food in laboratories, and still today when you have healthy soil, you can build a sustainable farm. You can raise healthy animals for food, milk and eggs, and you can grow all sorts of food bearing plants, depending on your geographic location. You can grow food for yourself and if you choose, you can grow food for other people. It’s the circle of life and it includes people and animals and seeds and plants and soil and water.

We give scientists credit for all sorts of advances in food and agriculture technology, but we are presuming a lot when we call each new industrial process an advance. Science has given us synthetic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds, and farms which can grow an enormous amounts of one thing with relatively little manpower. Science has given us pasteurization, hydrogenation, homogenization, irradiation, and shelf-stabilization. Science has given us food that can be mass produced and stored for long periods. Science has given us factories which produce packaged foods in numerous varieties using very few real ingredients which are highly processed and mixed with a lot of different kinds of chemicals. Science has given us food that is convenient, predictable and loaded with flavor, never mind if it’s frequently artificial. Science has given us food which requires no work if you don’t count the dollars you pay for it or the non-communicable diseases you might develop from eating it. I don’t mean to hate on science, but science has given us food our forefathers wouldn’t recognize as food. Science has given us food that is not real food.

Real food is food someone from one hundred years ago would recognize. Real food does not require chemicals or laboratories or factories. Real food is nurtured by real people living real lives on healthy soil. Real food comes from farms that grow more than one thing. Real food does not come in colorful packages with ingredients listed in fine print. Real food doesn’t require any fine print.

Since real food and not real food have been so co-mingled in our lifetime, I have provided two lists below. The first list includes real food, which I try to eat more of. The second list includes edible food-like substances which are not real food and which I try to eat less of. I’ve eaten all the things on the second list and I used to eat them all with regularity. Now, while I make plenty of allowances out the world, I make far fewer allowances at home, but reversing the process has taken me more than a decade and it wasn’t one single choice I made one day.

Gradually, over the years, I’ve started eating and cooking more real food. It’s not as convenient, but real food is not about convenience, it’s about nourishment. Real food is nourishing not just in the ingestion, but in the preparation and each time we make a choice in that direction we are supporting ancient traditions.

In my next post, I’ll write about my first steps towards real food and my journey down this path, but for now here are two lists which will help clarify what I mean when I say I try to eat more real food. Neither of these lists are complete, but they are a good start and should give you the idea.

Real food includes:

  • Organically grown fruits, vegetables, grains, rices and nuts
  • Meat and eggs from organic pasture raised animals
  • Raw whole milk and cream from pasture raised cows
  • Butter made from raw cream
  • Oils from olives and nuts
  • Naturally rendered animal fats
  • Fresh and dried beans
  • Home canned vegetables and preserves
  • Fish which swam in wild waters
  • Bone broths
  • Naturally fermented foods
  • Cheese and dairy products made from raw milk

Not real food includes:

  • Hydrogenated oils of all kinds
  • Synthetic trans fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • Hydrolyzed proteins
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Canola oil
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Artificial flavors
  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Natural flavors (which are not natural)
  • Pasteurized dairy products
  • Other pasteurized foods
  • Chemically grown fruits, vegetables and grains
  • Industrially canned food
  • Irradiated food
  • Meat and eggs from industrially raised animals
  • Farmed fish
  • Anything bleached, homogenized or irradiated
  • Cheese and meat products that require the word product because the aren’t actually cheese or meat
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Preservatives like sodium benzoate potassium benzoate
  • Food grown from genetically modified seeds

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Cherry Pie Recipe

cherry_pie

As promised in my last post, and in celebration of spring, here’s my cherry pie recipe. It’s a short season so I’m on a mission to see how many pies I can squeeze into 2015.

Ingredients – Pie filling:

2 1/2 lbs cherries
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Ingredients – Pie Crust:

For the top crust:

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. pork lard
4-6 Tbsp. ice water

For the bottom crust:

1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 Tbsp. pork lard
6-8 Tbsp. ice water

NOTE:  For best results, I recommend using organic ingredients, especially when it comes to meat and dairy products.

Instructions for the pie crust:

Add salt to flour. Cut butter and lard into flour with a pastry cutter until it looks like coarse crumbs. Add water 1-2 table spoons of ice water at a time. Mix thoroughly with a spoon with each addition of water until a ball of dough forms in the bowl. Gently and quickly form the dough into an even ball and transfer to a well-floured surface. Gently and quickly press the dough into a disk approximately 2 inches thick. Wrap the disk in wax paper and repeat this process for the second crust. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Refrigerate for up to 12 hours and don’t worry if the crust is stiffer when you try to roll it out.

NOTE:  I know most pie recipes provide one list of ingredients that is supposed to be used for the top and bottom crusts. However, that way you end up with too much dough for the top and not enough for the bottom crust. After being frustrated by this for years, I re-wrote the recipe to make two more logically proportioned crusts.

Instructions for the pie filling:

Pit cherries using a cherry pitter and place in a large bowl. Mix sugar, flour and cornstarch until thoroughly mixed. Add dry mixture to cherries in three or four batches, mixing well with a spatula between each.

Instructions for the pie:

Preheat the oven to 425. Roll out the crusts and place in a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan. Add pie filling being sure to evenly distribute any sugar mixture which is left in the bottom of the bowl. Crimp the edges of the crust and slice a vent in the crust with a sharp knife. Bake immediately for approximately 1 hour on a cookie sheet to catch any drips. Rotate pie front to back after 30 minutes. If the pie is not browned to your taste after 1 hour, leave it in for another 10-15 minutes. Let pie cool completely before slicing and serving.

NOTE:  I know this seems like a high temperature for a pie but a butter-lard crust requires a higher temperature than a butter-only crust or a crust made with vegetable shortening. One of the nice things about butter-lard crust is that the edges of the crust won’t burn before the pie is done. You won’t need those crust covering rings, even at 425. If you use a different pie crust recipe to make this pie, bake according to the temperature and time of the other recipe.

For those of you who would like to print this recipe, click here for a printer friendly PDF version.

#happyspring

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LA Does To Have Seasons

jacaranda blooming

Los Angeles is accused of being a lot of things which I cannot refute. Los Angeles can be deeply superficial and way too many people get way to much plastic surgery. The traffic here is ridiculous and despite how many people moved here from places which actually have weather, no one here remembers how to drive in the rain. This city does make people soft and there’s nothing I can say to argue with any of that.

However, many people complain about the lack of seasons which supposedly is what drives them back to all the different places from where they came. But LA does to have seasons and this one is my favorite. Spring here is about cherry pie and stone fruit. Spring here is about jacaranda blooming and pelicans flying north in awe inspiring bunches. Spring provides warmer temperatures in the coastal micro-climates and for those of us on the far west side each year is marked by another stretch of May grey which sometimes extends into June gloom.

We don’t have snow to deal with or large variances in temperatures to mark the passing of the year but we do have spring, summer, fall and winter here, and some of us do revel in each. We have trees that turn colors and leaves that fall. We have all sorts of produce which cycle through abundance as one season turns into the next. For me, the seasons here are more about food than anything else, but there are signs of passing time all around Los Angeles.

Even if they are too busy or self-centered to notice, people should stop complaining that LA doesn’t have seasons. They should admit that wasn’t why they left LA to go back to where they were from, and they should pick one of the other reasons to hate LA as an excuse for why they didn’t stay.

Tomorrow, I promise to post my cherry pie recipe so you can take time to revel in the small things life has to offer. And in the meanwhile, I’m going to go enjoy this beautiful spring day in Venice Beach.

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A Few of My Favorite Sentences

book page

I read a lot but occasionally I read a sentence that stays with me – and I’m pretty sure I just stumbled across another one. I recently read The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles who is new to me. I made a sort of random reach for the bookshelf but I got lucky and I am sure I will never forget this sentence. In describing a scene of forbidden attraction between two characters in Victorian England, Fowles wrote the following five simple words which I found running through my mind long after I put down the novel.

“The moment overcame the age.”

My other favorite sentences include the first sentence of The Stranger by Albert Camus.

“Mother died today.”

This sentence which appears multiple times in The Cider House Rules by John Irving.

“Shit or get off the pot.”

This sentence from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

“The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance upon Monseigneur.”

And then, there is one really long sentence in A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was going to include it in this post but I went back to look at it and it’s nine hundred words long. I even typed it all, but it’s not nearly as awesome out of context as it is when you stumble upon it. I’ll never forget where I was when I read that sentence, and found myself flipping back to find where it started. In the edition I have, it starts on page 323 and ends on page 325 and it is really great when you get to it.

Do you have any favorite sentences, sentences you’ll never forget?

More about Wanda Shapiro • Novels by Wanda Shapiro