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Our dear friend Kendra moved to Shipley, a town in northern England,  just over a year ago. She told me something that was hard fathom: England does not have any canned pumpkin (or real edible pumpkins for that matter), thus no pumpkin pie.

I have to admit I was dumbfounded. Pumpkin is so apart of American culture, I just hadn’t considered not being part of everyone’s food world. Around late November, Kendra gets a hankering for pumpkin and  like other American’s living abroad, everyone around her isn’t aware of the most important food holiday of the year. Not only does this make it hard to celebrate Thanksgiving, it makes the need for pumpkin even stonger.

I could barely stand it. I had to remedy this pumpkin pie longing. So I shipped her some pumpkin…

… and eventually jumped on a plane to bake a beloved American Pie in the jolly old U.K.

The Youngs land. Our first tea in England! Manchester Airport

 

The plan: bake two pies so she had one for herself and one to take to work to introduce her British friends to sweet goodness of pumpkin pie. Then the baking began…

Ta-da!

Then everything went horribly wrong…

I want to blame the jet lag, but I can’t. I accidentally wrote down evaporated milk instead of sweet and condensed milk, thus making the worst testing pumpkin pies ever. It was like we cut the top off the beloved vegetable and ate it with a spoon– no sugar added.

Ah, grand plans have a way of biting back sometimes and not all cooking is perfect. I did leave Kendra with extra crust in the freezer, a can of pumpkin and a promise to make her as much pumpkin pie as she can eat the next time we’re together.

Sigh. Here’s to all good baking plans gone bad!

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Tomato sauce is red, cheese is white…

Every year John and I order a heart-shaped pizza from Papa Johns to celebrate Valentines Day. This typically happens a couple of days before the holiday (we always go to our favorite restaurant Cascones on the actual day) and the past few years we’ve shared our cheesy valentine with friends.

This year Josh joined us for pizza-love and our current Friday night ritual, watching Twin Peaks.

Not the most Valentines Day themed show in the whole world, but Agent Cooper does love his pie!

What was your Valentine’s Day menu? Tell me about it! Comment or e-mail me at thepiesthatbind@gmail.com.

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Lately we’ve taken to dining on the sofa more than usual. Not the best habit in the whole wide world (I blame the unforgivable winter weather- we coped with a mix of food, TV, and sofa). Hopefully this nightly cushion dining will become a “treat not treatment” with the spring thaw!

Who was there:
John
Stephanie

Where:
The sweet, sweet sofa

Menu:
•Veggie apple sausage
•Smashed roasted cauliflower
•Corn
•Twice baked potatoes with three cheeses
•Water
•Diet Coke

The movie Amelie…a new Valentine’s tradition.
A few Favorite parts:
The tour de France
The gnome
Her pasta dinner
The bird seed arrows
The color red
The romance of photo-booths

As some of you know, I decided to conquer bread making during my sabbatical.

Where I started.

I’m still working on it, BUT, things have improved.

Due to some good advice from Luke, a professional baker and friend of my sister, I have successfully baked a wheat bread loaf with a rounded top and I hope (fingers-crossed) to bake our weekly bread from now on. Once again food connects us all! Thank you Luke.

I also took several classes at the Culinary Center of Kansas City. These classes helped me connect the baking dots and took away some of the mystery when it comes to yeast and all-things-bready.

Next up: baguette and croissants, (if the baking gods are willing!)

Here are some images of my breads in various stages.

Bread rising in my homemade proofing box.

An old world wheel loaf.

In class: How did my brain get in that bowl?

Closer.

Fancy-pants Rustic Fougasse bread Baking Class with Eileen Usovics

Learning at the Culinary Center of K.C. with Chef Cody Hogan

Ta-da! Homemade Happy Bread!

Once upon a time I was an assistant children’s librarian and before that, in a land far, far away, called Barnes and Noble, I read story times for years and years. So as you can guess, I love to tell kids stories.

During my sabbatical I wanted to give back because I’ve been given so much. One of the ways I decided to do that was to read food inspired picture books to preschoolers at Operation Break Through.

Operation Break Through is a non-for-profit organization that give kids 3 weeks old to 18 years old, who are often homeless or low-income, a safe place to eat, learn and be a kid.

Mr. Adam’s class in the Green Zone became my little listeners. We sang songs, shared hugs and read tale after yummy tale. I wanted to bring them food treats, but that never worked out. To make up for it, I donated books to their classroom and collected food at our Ravioli in The New Year Party for their food pantry. Thank you to all our wonderful friends who contributed! Operation Break Through was very grateful!

Here are just a few of the food stories we read!

The Pigeon finds a hot dog

Big Fat Hen

Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear

Today is Monday

Market Day

Warthogs in the Kitchen

The Teddy Bear’s Picnic

The little mouse, the red ripe strawberry, and the big hungry bear

Ten Apples on Top

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

I Stink

Orange, Pear, Bear

I wanted to pay back all this good karma I’ve received by doing something for others.

Meals on Wheels seemed like the perfect vehicle (pun completely intended) to give back in a food-connects-us kind of way.

I started off with 4 stops, but my route grew to 6. The hard fact about Meals on Wheels is that as the food delivery person you may be the only human contact these home-bound elders have all day. You are a lifeline in a lot of ways.

At Christmas the cold paper sacks were decorated by children from local churches. I was so surprised to open up the cooler and find all the boring white paper sacks decorated with holiday cheer. I have to admit I was shocked by how many of the seniors were alone for Christmas and so grateful for the warmth of those marker stick figures and stickers.

I’m not allowed to mention my stops by name, but they were all kind older ladies, some with walkers or sweet smiles, some with barking dogs they called “door bells” and sneaky cats who wanted out every time I delivered meals. I always made sure to greet them by their name. Most days we just talked about the weather and the food. I brought them meals of sausage and sauerkraut, chili, mashed potatoes and turkey, fried pork and apple sauce, and lots of bread. The smells would fill my car and remind me  that I needed to eat lunch too.

My last stop, we will call her Fran, was my favorite. She was smart at a whip, feisty and loved to chat. I was in no rush, so I made a point to tell her all my food adventures. Week after week she remembered all the details and asked how things went. Then she would tell me food stories about “come as you are breakfasts” she hosted as a young mother and the first time she had Mexican food in California. We discussed the disappearance of cafeteria’s, the lack of really good chicken and dumplings, and apple pie with cheddar cheese on top. She liked to keep me on task about my blog, making sure I was working hard.

I picked up my food at a community center. Hazel prepared the meals. There were also seniors eating as a lunch group in a meeting a room connected to the kitchen. Hazel always smiled when she saw me and I made sure to bake them some treats during our months together.

When I said good-bye to all the ladies on my stop, it was so touching. For the first time, they invited me in to talk, to sit, to truly be their friend. Fran was the hardest to say good-by to. She squeezed my hand and told me I was the light of days.

On my first day my trainer Trudy, who has been a driver for 10 years, told me that I would be surprised how well I would get to know the people on your route. It feels like they are only a moment in my busy day, but that moment means so much more to them. When they pass away, Trudy told me, she often attends their funerals. The family of the deceased is usually surprised to see her there, but she explains to them, “I brought her food every week, so she became my friend too.”

Meals in pictures and video:

The Smithsonian.

Most of the food was named after American states or cities. I did eat K.C. baked beans.

Chinese at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show.

Wow, this pizza was good. So was the wine. That’s why I have no idea where I ate it.

The Good Stuff Eatery owned by Top Chef Contestant, but not winner, Spike.

Strange cheese-in-the-middle-veggie-burger at the Good Stuff.

At a restaurant owned by a Top Chef Master contestant and one of Oprah’s favorite chef’s I ate Oprah’s best friend Gayle’s favorite lemon pancakes.

(name drop, name drop, name drop)

We tend to eat in dark Italian restaurants when we travel.

At a well-known old restaurant and tourist trap.

Maryland Crab Cakes. They were worth the wait.

Bon Appetit from our nation’s capital!