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?

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No Kids Does Not Equal No Life

peaches

<rant>

I read a recent article in Fortune by Katharine Zaleski, a former executive turned working mom who felt the need to apologize to all the mothers she ever worked with. With her honesty, Zaleski brought light to an issue to which all working moms can relate but her article got me thinking about the flip side. Unlike Zaleski, I’ve never been judgmental of working mothers, but as a woman who has chosen not to have kids, I feel like I pay a different kind of price in the workplace.

I’ve been really lucky when it comes to the companies I’ve worked for and most of them have gone out of their way for parents – men and women – who need to adjust schedules or take time off. Rightly, companies treat family time as sacred and no one complains if someone, mother or father, needs to leave at a certain time, or arrive at a certain time, or come in late on Thursday’s because that’s the morning he or she volunteers in the classroom. Personally, I go out of my way for people with kids so they can do whatever they need to do as parents.

But, why is a person’s personal time more sacred if they have kids? What if I would like to eat dinner at the same time every night? Or what if I’m working on a book on the side and would like to keep to an evening writing schedule? Or what if I really love to do something and I like to go home and do it after I’ve put in my eight hours? Why aren’t any of those things sacred?

No, I don’t have kids. But I do have a life and parts of it are really important to me. I shouldn’t have to make excuses for wanting to go home at the end of the day or not wanting to work on the weekend. No one should, whether you have kids or not. Though I agree companies should go out of their way for working parents, no one’s work-life balance should be more sacred than anyone else’s.

Ironically, the publication of this posts was delayed by one of those perfect storm weeks at work which made me drop everything and buckle down in a way that would be very difficult to do if I did have kids. But, I must say, this post was not inspired by this last week with three deadlines and too much work to do. This is an issue that I notice every now and then in subtle ways which does annoy me but which does not leave me begrudging working parents like Katharine Zaleski.

Unlike some people, I have not forgone child rearing so I can work more hours and make more money. I have forgone child rearing because there are things I love to do and those things are not necessarily the things that pay the bills.

</rant>

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Reversing The Process

real food on a counter

I’m on a mission to get the factory out of my pantry and I am passionate about where my food comes from. I’m a regular at my local farmers market and all of the dairy products in my fridge are raw, straight from the cow. I make the vast majority of the food I eat from scratch. I even make all my own bread and all my own butter, and gradually, over time, that has become normal to me. I don’t prescribe to any particular school of culinary or dietary thought, but I have become very discerning regarding exactly what qualifies as real food.

I make generous exceptions so that I can continue to live and eat like a relatively normal person in public, but I make far fewer exceptions in my own home and I eat out far less frequently than most urban-dwelling women in their thirties. I bring my lunch to work more days than I don’t and I’m an anomaly around the office with my homemade lunches packed in thermoses, mason jars and waxed paper. To some people, the food I eat is dangerously decadent but I don’t believe in the kind of low-fat American diet which so many people swear by, doctors included.

For me, it’s about real food. It’s about food that was grown and prepared the way food was grown and prepared before the industrial revolution. It’s about food that has not been fucked with by corporations and people in laboratories. It’s about the kind of food my grandparents grew and raised and fed me. It’s about a way of life that existed for centuries before convenience was the driving force in the choices we make during those three times of day when we are supposed to feed ourselves.

For me, it’s about fruits and vegetables which grew because someone took the time to cultivate and care for them, not because the correct balance of chemicals was used to propagate them and mass produce them. It’s about meat that came from animals which ate the kind of food animals were meant to eat and lived the way animals were meant to live, not meat that came from some cow which some corporation kept alive with chemicals long enough to kill. It’s about knowing where my food comes from and what went into it before it gets to my table. It’s about meals which take time but which provide nourishment of many kinds. It’s about keeping alive ancient nourishing traditions which are dangerously close to extinction.

For me, food is not about convenience but that’s not always easy to explain to my peers, many of whom are so conditioned to make choices based upon convenience they have little awareness of such. When asked, depending on the context, I do my best to explain my choices in an appropriately concise fashion, but it’s hard for me because there is no single word that describes the way I eat. People know what you’re talking about, when you tell them you’re vegan or vegetarian or gluten-free, but people don’t know what I mean when I say I try to eat as much real food as possible.

And the hardest part comes when I have to explain what I mean by real food. I don’t want to offend or criticize and I don’t usually have time to explain the whole story of how I gradually slid down a slippery slope away from processed food and towards real food. And the way I eat challenges many beliefs which have become ingrained in the last few generations. It’s hard, for example, to explain what I mean by real food to someone who has been raised to believe that portion-controlled frozen lunches heated up in the microwave qualify as, “being good.”

Unfortunately, at this point, it’s hard for me not to stick out and lately, more and more people have been asking me about why I eat the way I eat and how I cook the way I cook. I think of it as reversing the process and here on my blog, piece by piece, I’m going to try to explain what that means. In my next cooking post, I’ll define what I mean by real food and after that I’ll explain how I got started on this path.

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Dear Venice Drivers

VENICE BEACH, CALIFORNIADear people who don’t live in Venice but who try to navigate the back streets anyway:

Please accept this blog post as a desperate plea from a girl who lives her life pretty much AWOL, which in LA-speak means Always West of Lincoln. I live in the heart of Venice and I work in Santa Monica and I only venture East of Lincoln Blvd when I absolutely have to. And now that spring is here, I once again find myself frustrated by those of you who don’t live on the far west side but who try to navigate the back streets of Venice anyway. I know that traffic is worse this time of year, but please, please , I beg you, don’t venture off the beaten path to beat the traffic or find parking.

First of all, you’re probably going to get lost because Venice is not an easy little rectangle like Santa Monica. We’ve got the canals and we’ve got Abbot Kinney Boulevard which throws everything off on a diagonal. The streets aren’t numbered for your driving convenience, and more importantly, we have these funny streets which are two way streets even though they don’t actually fit two cars side by side. And this is why I’m begging you to stay on the streets you know.

I’ve only lived in Venice for a decade, so I can remember what it was like to be perplexed by these two-way streets which should, in theory, be one-way streets. But now, now that I’ve lived in Venice this long, I use these streets like a native to get away from all the traffic on all the streets you’ve heard of caused by all the people who like to venture to the far west side, but who think it’s too chilly, or too expensive, to live here. Now, I need these side streets to get by. I need these side streets to run errands on the weekends and I need these streets to get to work every day now that the soon-to-be end of the Expo Line has traffic in downtown Santa Monica entirely effed up. These side streets, despite how perplexing they are, are my life blood. I zip around on them in my compact car with my windows down and my music blaring and it’s all well and good until I meet one of you on one of those streets on which you cannot figure out how to drive.

Somehow, people who live in Venice know what to do on these streets. We use the drive-way no parking zones and that convenient no parking zone right before a stop sign to politely pull over and let the other person by. Or, if necessary, we cross the street and stop far enough behind the parked car in front of us so the other person can pull out and we can pull past. We know when to let the wrong person go at a stop sign just to make it easier for everyone to get past each other and we know when we both can drive towards the center of the street at the same time because there are two drive-way no parking zones in the middle of the block which will allow us to path each other unscathed. I used to wonder how people did it, but now I’m one of those people and there’s nothing more annoying than one of you people who freezes in panic at the wheel because the street you just turned down seemed like a two-way street until you made the turn and saw a car coming at you in a space that is not in fact wide enough for two cars.

If necessary, we wait patiently for the other person to drive half a block and we don’t get all uptight about it because we are not just trying to avoid traffic or looking for parking, we live here. We wouldn’t live in Venice if we didn’t have a little joie de vivre and we don’t have any trouble at all navigating our far too narrow side streets until one of you people shows up and panics. It’s true, you can find yourself in Venice on two-way street that is not wide enough for two cars, but it’s not rocket science and it’s not so hot on the west side so you can turn off your air conditioning, open your window, breathe in the ocean air and chill out for a minute.

And better yet, you could stay on the streets you know. Stay on the streets you’ve heard of like Pacific and Venice and Rose and stay off the streets you’ve never heard of like Riviera and Andalusia. That’s it. That’s all I’m asking.

Sincerely,
From a west-side girl

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The Highest Road On Kickstarter

aubrey_at_the_beach

On Monday, September 1st, I had the privilege of meeting Aubrey Benmark at the Santa Monica Pier, at the very end of Route 66. It was a privilege  because Aubrey has spent the last five months walking across America. Yes, you read that correctly, walking across America.

aubrey_end_of_the_trail

Aubrey funded her trip on Kickstarter and The Brooklyn Paper wrote a great article about her before she set out from her former home in Brooklyn, New York. And after all those days on the road, with so few conveniences, all Aubrey had to share were stories of human kindness. Aubrey will be sticking around LA to finish her book, The Highest Road, and I look forward to reading the whole story which could not possibly be told over a dinner or two.

People like Aubrey exist on this planet to remind us all what is possible. Aubrey had an idea and she did it. Some people thought she was crazy, but she felt a calling to do something drastically different than her status quo and she did not shy away from that idea. I’ve known Aubrey since she was seventeen and I feel increasingly fortunate that our paths in life happened to cross.

What crazy idea do you have that you haven’t had the gumption to pursue? Think about it, and ask yourself, what would Aubrey do?

You can follow Aubrey on instagram @zodiacguru17 and on facebook at facebook.com/aubrey.benmark.


Making Your Own Bread

bread

I have been making all of my own bread for years and the cooking question people most frequently ask is, “How do you make bread?” Everyone is always expecting some complicated answer, but it’s really only a few clicks away. The following book – Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day – changed my life and helped me get the factory out of my bread box. I have baked many of the recipes in the following book but the rustic boule and the ciabatta are my every-day sort of breads. Although I don’t make it nearly as often, my favorite is the cinnamon raisin bread which takes a little practice but it well worth the effort.

artisan_bread_in_five_minutes_a_day_cover

Depending on your kitchen, you may need to purchase a few other items in order to embark upon this bread baking adventure, but nothing you can’t purchase inexpensively on Amazon. You will need a baking stone, a dough bucket and a pizza peel, but you can get away without the oven thermometer or the dough scraper.

Someday, I will post the video I made for my Dad about how to make bread, but for now, this reference will have to do. This book really is all you need to wow your friends and family with professional quality bread, and there’s nothing to it but to do it.


Why Indie Literature

Adirondacks October 2009 029

While some writers are still driven by anger and rejection, for me, going indie was business decision made after a good deal of research and soul searching. It was not a decision I made lightly, and it was not a simple decision, but in the end it was not a difficult decision. Here’s why I decided to go indie:

Because I realized I could.

There was a time when I thought it was impossible to self-publish literary fiction successfully, but I gradually became aware of the advances in technology that are empowering writers in the same way film makers and musicians were empowered by technological advances in their respective fields.

Between print-on-demand technology and the social media revolution, I realized there was nothing standing between me and my audience. Aaron Shepard’s book Aiming At Amazon clued me into the wonders of Lightning Source Inc.’s international printing and distribution services and my friends were beginning to drag me kicking and screaming into their 21st century, social media based world of uber-connectedness. Despite the fact that the majority of self-publishing success to date has been in the non-fiction and commercial fiction arenas, I could see that there was nothing between me and my audience expect my laptop and an internet connection.

Any doubts I had once I realized what was possible were rooted in the bad reputation self-published fiction has amassed which is not unfounded.  It’s true that many self-published novels are downright embarrassing but I saw an opportunity to bring a new level of quality and professionalism to the self-publishing arena.

I could see I had a lot to learn, but I’ve always been a do-it-yourself kind of girl and Google has made it possible to learn anything. I’ve also had the good fortune of working in a wide range of industries which has given me confidence in my ability to learn new skills and become fluent in new technologies. When I considered the various roles that go into the production and promotion of a novel, there weren’t any rocket scientists on the publishing house org chart.

In the past, if you wrote a novel, you needed a publisher (preferably a big one) for printing, distribution, and publicity—but given the evolution of technology, the established publishing industry really has outlived its usefulness in all three arenas.

Because the publishing industry is in shambles.

There was a time when a writer couldn’t complain about the publishing industry without out sounding whiny, but those days are long gone. The demise of the publishing industry has been on the front pages for years now and long before I realized what was possible, news coming from the book world had become increasingly frightening for wanna-be writers.

The publishing industry which once harnessed the economies of scale is now being crippled by the diseconomies of scale and the horror stories of writers caught up in the turmoil are well known. Books are being orphaned, industry professionals are changing jobs like it’s a game of musical chairs, and the big publishers are paring down imprints left , right and center. The corporate scramble to restructure and remain viable has left writers in the lurch.

While some writers are attached to the dream of the book deal, I wasn’t sure if I wanted decisions being made about my book by conference rooms full of disgruntled publishing industry professionals who have been through pay cuts and layoffs. While many of them may be well meaning book lovers, they’re still in conference rooms and they’re similarly caught up in the scramble to restructure and remain viable. By the time Black Wednesday happened, I had already decided to go indie, and now, bad news from the publishing industry isn’t frightening at all.

Because big publishing isn’t selling literary fiction well.

Aside from the general instability in the publishing industry, the plight of literary fiction is also well documented.  News from the book world has been frightening for writers in general, but it has been downright horrific for authors of literary fiction. And it started getting scary for literary authors long before the publishing industry was in obvious turmoil.

Given my desire to actually make a living as a writer, and given my desire to continue writing literary novels, I had to face the facts. These days, a literary author can get a book deal with Random House, and still not make a living as a writer.

It’s no secret that the majority of the publishing industry prefers properties it deems more commercial and when advances went through the roof for those properties, they got lower and lower for the literary ones. In the literary arena, advances have gotten smaller and print runs have gotten smaller and publicity budgets have gotten smaller. Given these trends, the limited print run model has been particularly devastating for literary authors. This model doesn’t give writers a long enough window in which to build an audience and too often literary novels end up remanded and go quickly out of print.

That’s not to say traditional publishing isn’t selling some kinds of literary fiction well, but at the moment their successful titles seem to be international/immigrant fiction which I love reading, but don’t write. My fiction leans slightly towards the avant-garde side of literary fiction and the publishing industry doesn’t think there’s any money in it.

The publishing industry blames a mythical shrinking literary audience for their business decisions but it’s simply not true. The film and music industries tried perpetuating similar myths but the popularity of indie films and music proved them wrong a long time ago.

Because readers are ready for indie literature.

The indie business model is about individual artists and entrepreneurs leveraging available technology to bring products or services directly to audiences and markets. Indie ventures are having success across a wide variety of industries because they bring a level of originality and quality to otherwise homogeneous markets. This holds true for all kinds of indies, from film makers and musicians to crafters and coffee shop owners. Where they can, people across the country are opting for Local Grinds instead of Starbucks, the band you’ve never heard of instead of the band everyone’s heard of, the movie that plays in one tiny theater instead of the movie the plays in every theater in America, and that t-shirt on Etsy instead of that t-shirt at Target. Not everyone, but there will always be a segment of the population that is dissatisfied by the homogeneous albeit multitudinous variety of products provided by large corporations.

Readers are no different, and in my opinion literary authors are particularly well positioned at the moment to be the next industry to go indie in a household-name kind of way.  We forget sometimes, but “indie film” and “indie music” were not always part of the American lexicon. And there was a time when no one thought an indie film could win an Oscar. But now, “indie film” means something and we all know what it means. And now of course, the film industry, and the music industry, are scrambling to reproduce and emulate the increasingly popular indie films and indie music. Even Target is trying to bring an Etsy-esque motif to their products.

We are bound to see the same progression in the publishing industry. Indie literature is not a household word yet, but it will be. For sure. And when I took a step back and looked at my own writing career, the writing on the wall was so clear and easy to read.
In defense of their own business decisions, the publishing industry attributes its abandonment of literary fiction to a shrinking literary audience but readers are ready for indie literature.  I knew that when I decided to go indie and since the debut of Sometimes That Happens With Chicken I’ve realized readers are even more ready than I thought they were.

And those two little words say it all – Indie Literature. Indie literature is exactly what I write. Sometimes That Happens With Chicken is indie literature. Volume Two is indie literature. And indie literature explains everything about my business model. And my audience, my audience loves indie literature. And when they hear those two words together, they know exactly what I’m talking about. That’s why, in the end, going indie was not a difficult decision.

I’ve been called a pioneer, but I’m always a little uncomfortable with that description because to me the word pioneer connotes risk taking. And when I took a long hard look at my writing career, a book deal with Random House looked a whole lot riskier than becoming my own publisher.


Riding This Platform To Freedom

riding_this_platform_to_freedom

People redesign websites for all sorts of reasons, but for me, this redesign is all about freedom. My last website was great, and a lot of talented professionals pitched in to make it awesome. but that was four and a half years ago and I have come a long way since then. Technology has also come a long way since then and now, I’m setting out on my own.

With this new site I will be free to write about more topics and I am no longer dependent upon my friends with website development skills. And you will be free to read my posts across a wide range of devices because the WordPress theme I installed is fully responsive.

It was a little intimidating and I had a to google a few things but I was able to:

  • set up my own hosting;
  • install WordPress;
  • update my domain service;
  • select and install a premium WordPress theme; and
  • customize it all to fit my requirements.

It has been an empowering experience and thanks to my husband, who threw down a challenge I couldn’t resist, I did it all in one long weekend. As of this post I still have a little work to do but I’m confident I will be done by the end of this Labor Day weekend.