Birthday Pie + Mystery Ingredient

Eric’s birthday was last week and true to form, he asked for a birthday pie.  Since the strawberries are early this year, I decided strawberries it had to be.  My mom was down visiting for spring break, entertaining Greta and me while I baked this.  She mentioned she had just read about using a mystery ingredient to make pie crusts the best they can be.

Read on to find out what I added and how and why it improved my pie crust.


For the filling:

4-1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries (the more you use, the higher your pie will stand when baked)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup instant tapioca power (because strawberries have no pectin and need this to gel)
2 tablespoons butter

1.  Mix together in a medium mixing bowl.  Let stand while preparing the crust.
For the crust:
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup shortening
6 tablespoons ice cold water
2 tablespoons vodka (WHAT?!?!)
1.  Preheat oven to 425.  In a medium mixing bowl, use a pastry blender to cut in cold butter until pieces are coarse crumb size.
The most important pie baking tool.
2.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon ice cold liquid at a time; gently toss with fork.  Push moistened dough to side of bowl.  Repeat using rest of liquid.  Dough will be dry, do NOT give into temptation to make dough moister by adding more liquid.  This will make your dough tough.  Divide dough in half; form into a ball.
3.  On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to flatten ball of dough.  Roll dough from center to edges into a circle 12 inches in diameter.  Do not overwork the dough and do not allow dough to warm up.
4.  Carefully transfer dough to pie pan, by wrapping around a rolling pin, not allowing it to stretch.
5.  Transfer filling into pie pan.  Repeat step 3 and 4 for second ball of dough.  Gently drape second circle of dough over the filling.  Use your fingers to seal the edges of the dough.
6.  Brush dough with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Cover edges in foil.  Place piece of foil on bottom rack of oven.  Place pie in preheated oven, on middle shelf.  Bake for 20 minutes at 425. Reduce oven to 350, remove foil, and bake another 40-50 minutes longer or til crust is golden and filling is bubbling.
7. Let cool on wire rack.


The pie did not last long – 24 hours to be exact.  This was by far the best crust I have ever made.  In doing some more research, I found that the vodka makes pie crusts flakier because during baking the alcohol evaporates much better than water can.  This leaves your pie with the perfect crust.  Even with the juicy strawberries the crust stayed flaky – something that does not always happen.  Some bakers use only vodka and no water in their crusts.  I intend to play around with this ratio with future pies and will keep you posted on what I discover.
According to Cooks Illustrated:
The trick to creating consistently great dough depended on the amount of water incorporated, and in particular how it was absorbed. There had to be a substitution that would keep the dough moist but not create too much gluten, which is produced by combining water and flour and makes for a leathery crust. After many dry, crumbly, dough “don’ts,” we discovered the perfect liquid to use. Vodka! It added moisture, but is only 60% water—the other 40% of vodka is ethanol. The alcohol doesn’t create dough-toughening gluten, so when we baked up this pie dough, we had a perfectly flaky AND tender pie crust with absolutely no vodka taste (all the alcohol evaporates in the oven during baking).

Garage Rebuild Update

We cleaned, moved, organized, and shoveled garage debris. 
We had great entertainment/moral support while working on the garage. 
Eric’s man cave is looking BIG!  
New view from my kitchen window on Tuesday evening.  
We added a new gate, so that now our kitchen door is inside the backyard. 
Eric standing inside the doorway of the new garage. 
It has 3 windows.  
Painting it red.  It is not actually that red though, it’s more of a brick reddish-orange.  

Spring Break Goodwill Trip #2

A friend of mine asked me to take her thrift store shopping, using words like pro, guru, and genius after my name.  I however, believe these are silly terms to describe my life-long habit of thrifty shopping and insider knowledge from having worked at Goodwill for a couple years.  However, once I stopped to really think about it, I do have a method to my thrift shopping.  So after much debate, I decided to share these (sometimes ridiculous) methods with you.  
1. Have a plan.  Plan how long, what stores, what time of day, and what items you need/want.  It is so easy to become overwhelmed in large thrift stores and if you are hungry, tired, thirsty, towing a tired child, or in the midst of the thrift store rush hour (around dinner time), you will have the most unpleasant time.  Set a budget and bring cash.  Some thrift stores do not accept plastic.  Bring a friend for an even better time.  Two sets of eyes are better than one and you have someone to be realistic with you while trying on outfits.  That dress is so last season.  
2. Know what you need/want.  Check your closet before leaving home.  Make a list, if need be.  If you have at least an idea of what you are looking for, you will better be able to hunt through the vast amount of items available.  
3. Quality.  Look for quality brands and quality pieces.  For example, something from a big box store (Target, Walmart, K-mart) is not worth buying used when you can spend a couple bucks more on a new item.  Quality pieces are also important – avoid stains, wear, and tear.  It is not worth your time or energy to try and revive worn out pieces.  
Ask yourself, the following questions: 
  • Will I wear this more than once?
  • Where will I wear this?
  • Will this be something I still love in 1 season…1 year…5 years?  

4. Never underestimate the power of tailoring.  If you find the perfect quality pair of pants but they are on the long side, by all means hem those babies.  This is relatively inexpensive to have done.  The same goes for jackets, skirts, and dresses.  Taking in the bodice of a dress or dress shirt can be done, however, be realistic.  
5. Avoid pressure to buy.  It’s ok to walk out empty-handed.  The last thing you want to do is crowd your closet with unnecessary items.  
6. Frequency.  If you dont find what you are looking for the first time, don’t be discouraged.  Donations come in all the time, so it pays to keep looking.  
7. Try on the clothing!  This seems obvious, but trying on is a must.  Even if you normally wear that size, put it on.  Someone before you may have altered it.  It helps to bring along items you may normally wear under outfits: slips, camisoles, leggings, pantyhose.  It also may be helpful to already be wearing something slim fitting just in case a fitting room isn’t available, that way you can try your items on over your clothing.  
8. Always inspect before buying.  Look over items carefully before purchasing.  Many thrift shops do not allow returns.  
9. Post shopping.  Wash everything.  Check again for spots, tears, rips, etc.  Bring items to dry cleaners and tailors immediately.  If you wait too long, your items may end up back where they came from.  Do a closet clean-out.  Post thrift shopping is a great time to clear out some of the older, unworn items filling your closet.
Some of the finds from this week:
J. Crew cotton dress…
with pockets!
Banana republic capris. 
New York & Company tank. 
Jones New York tank. 
Ann Taylor blouse.
Red capris. 
Chanel top. 
All of these, and more, were under $50!  

Easy DIY Bedside Organizer

{UPDATE: Since this post was created, we have moved and have created a new use for this bedside organizer.  Click on the link to see the updated idea of a DIY Charging Station.}

Our home is an older, smaller home.  With that being said our bedroom has room for only one nightstand. The only nightstand is on my husband’s side of the bed leaving me with the second window wall next to my head.  I needed somewhere to put my reading materials, Chapstick, hair ties, and such because they had been piling up on the floor next to me.

So I headed to a discount store, looking for solutions.  I found a sea foam green metal desk letter organizer for a whole whopping $8!  This is the white version of my desk caddy.


I love the cut out designs, which will also serve a functional purpose for my bedside organizer.

I used the removable tab hooks, measuring with the metal organizer, ensuring that the cut out leaf designs would line up perfectly with the hooks.  These hooks are my new best friends – they can go up anywhere and come down easily without taking away paint.  And they are cheap!

The finished bedside organizer.  It is lightweight, cheap, roomy, and a nifty color.


Good Goodwill Hunting

Today was a day filled with: running in preparation for my May run, shoveling gravel, moving bricks, sitting outside enjoying spring, biking, Target, dinner at Sticks & Stones, and Goodwill.

My irises are blooming. 
Leather Thinsulate-lined jacket from Goodwill. 
Cute baby clothing from Goodwill. 
Hanging out during dinner at Sticks & Stones. 
PERFECT Chanel top from Goodwill.  
Yummy at Sticks & Stones. 
Sleeve detail from Chanel top. 
Enjoying the spring weather.  

Happy Easter

Easter was a blast this year!  We spent it with friends and their children.  We had an egg hunt, a scavenger hunt with excellent clues, ate hot cross buns, and then to Tandoor Indian Restaurant for the lunch buffet.  
I had loads of wonderful photos, but for some reason my memory card decided to reject my efforts to record the day.  So you are looking at the few that I have.  Above are the up-cycled stuffed bird and fish made for our friends’ kids.  
Dough waiting to be baked. 
I made hot cross buns as well, they are a tradition in my family’s Easter celebration.  I lost the finished photos, alas.  
The recipe I use is from the Joy of Cooking, which is my cooking Bible.  I use a 1975 edition because it has items such as how to skin and cook a squirrel, how to cook black bear, and other fun things one could only dream of creating.  
Hot Cross Buns
Scald 1 cup milk.  Scald means to bring mixture just to a boil.  Add and stir until dissolved: 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 cup raisins, 2 tbsp butter, 1/4 tsp salt.  
Sprinkle 1 package active dry yeast over 2 tbsp 105 – 115 degree water.  Use a thermometer for this step, if water is too cold or too hot, you will kill your yeast.  Add to the milk mixture wen it has cooled to lukewarm.  Beat in 1 egg.  Stir in part of the 2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour.  Knead in the rest.  Use only enough flour to form a dough that can be handled easily.  This means the dough is not too sticky, for me this means it sticks to my hands a little but does not significantly stick to the board I am kneading on.  If you add too much flour your final product will be too dry.  
Brush top with melted butter.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).  I turn on my oven to 350 degrees for 1 minute to get the perfect warm place for rising dough.  

Shape dough into 18 balls and place on a greased baking sheet.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.  Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven about 20 minutes, until golden brown.  Watch carefully, as buns that are too brown are dry and not very tasty.  Decorate with the traditional cross using milk glaze.  
Milk Glaze
Sift 1/4 cup powdered sugar.  Add 2 tsp hot milk and 1/4 tsp vanilla.  
The whole gang at Tandoor. 

First Friday of Spring Break: Garage & Swiffers

Glorious spring break!  Here at last!

My first Friday of spring break was a busy one.  We started by tearing down the garage – it has been coming down piece by piece on its own for quite some time.  We decided to speed the process up (just) a little.

It took us about an hour to empty our very disorganized garage.  There really wasn’t all that much, but it was messy!  We put some in the house, some in the car, and the rest (non-valuables) on the back deck.  We discovered that we have enough old paint to paint the house 5 times over.

Then, some colleagues, who also happen to do great construction and roofing, came over to demolish the garage.  They tore off boards, stripping it to its frame.  Then, chopping away at the supports, they managed to flatten the garage into the yard.  I had already moved all my plants away from the garage.

The trailer set to load up the scraps. 
Here is the garage falling video. 
After it went down, all pieces were chopped down to a manageable size and loaded onto a trailer.  The trailer was taken to the dump.  The only really salvageable piece was the garage door. 
Here is the empty yard and brick foundation.  Today we get to clean bricks to reuse for a patio.  The building will go up next.  Thankfully, we have a sunny forecast for the rest of the week.  

A very confused dog.  Where did my garage go? 
After the garage came down, I headed inside to work on a few projects.  First on my list – DIY reusable Swiffer wipes.  I hate hate hate using the throwaway Swiffer items, but I really love the size and ease of the Swiffer.  So, I compromise and make my own.  
I started with an old flannel pillowcase.  I used the freebie Swiffer wipe that came with my dry mop, laid it on the fabric, and cut out a rectangle.  
I got 5, double sided pieces from one standard pillowcase.  Then, open them up, cut them apart, and iron flat.  
Sew a simple zig-zag seam around all unfinished edges to prevent too much fraying.  Some fraying will occur with use.  If you use tee shirts, there is no sewing required.  
A few other variations from top to bottom: old washcloth, washcloth with tee shirt edges, tee shirt only. They are not the neatest-looking sewing projects, but they will get thrown through the wash many many times.  

North Carolina Museum of Art

We took a field trip on Saturday to Raleigh.  Eric had a conference and I wanted to see the new and improved North Carolina Museum of Art.  When we arrived at the North Carolina Museum of Art it was a stormy, rainy afternoon.  I was not even thinking that a stroll through the sculptures would be possible.  So, biding our time, we headed indoors to look around.  Greta was very alert and drew a few stares as she flapped her arms and kicked in reaction to some of the artwork.  What can I say?  She’s the daughter of an art teacher!  We looped through the old building to see Portraits by Beverly McIver first.  I was impressed with her style of painting, and loved her use of color and large bold brushstrokes.  Then we headed over to the main collection, did a few laps, had lunch in the cafe, and grabbed some postcards.  At this point, the rain had stopped so I decided we would venture a sculpture tour.  

The first lap around the sculpture garden and the new building. 
Checking out the Rodin Sculptures. 
In trying to get Greta to take a nap, I kept walking.  To my surprise, I found trails with more art!  The trails sign had 4 options for our walk.  I love this idea – get people exercising and looking at art.  
So, off we went.  
We walked past the amphitheater…
over a bridge…
around a pond…

and through the woods.  This is one of the best parts of spring in North Carolina – the dogwoods.  Then the sun came out!
Victory for me!  A sleeping baby at one of the first sculptures we came upon.  At this point one could have kept walking back toward the museum or headed farther down the trail, where it eventually links up with the greenway to Umstead State Park. 
The prairie views were spectacular – kind of made me homesick for Iowa.  
A fun wind sculpture, Wind Machine.
Above, Crossroads from the path and Crossroads, detail.
The trail looped around back to the new building.

On our way back to the parking lot we stopped to take a photo of our reflection in the new building.  
I was completely amazed at the new facility at the North Carolina Museum of Art and found myself jealous of those who reside in Raleigh.  What a great way to spend an afternoon – indoors and outdoors.