coffee_and_grapefruit_rob_richesThere are certain food and beverage pairings that make two delicious things even more delightful. Take Kenyan coffee and grapefruit, for example. Or sharp cheddar and red wine.

But there are other pairings that shouldn’t be attempted, one of which I’d forgotten about until this evening, when I happened upon it again.

I used to go to a Vespers service at my friends’ church and we’d often go out to eat afterward. The pub where we usually went had an excellent Buffalo Chicken Strip dinner that was my typical order. One night, I also ordered a glass of wine, White Zinfandel—a fruity, sweet wine.

I’d eaten a few bites of my chicken before I took a sip of wine. When I did, I made a face—slightly shocked, rather bemused.

“Well that was a strange combination,” I said.

My friends looked at my plate and my drink and put two and two together. “What did it taste like?” they asked.

I fumbled for a moment, trying to place my finger on the familiar, strange experience on my tongue. Finally, from the depths of my childhood it came to me.

“Pop Rocks,” I said.


I’m convinced that God made pie to bring me joy.

I baked my first pie of the fall season this evening. It’s a little shocking to me that I’ve managed to delay this long. I think I may have been actually tricked into delaying by the southern temperatures that have hovered closer to 70 degrees than 60. I don’t hate the temps, but I am frustrated that they’ve confused my internal pie-maker.

PieI’ve written before of my love of pie. I love pie. I love most kinds of pie. I have established myself as the pie-innards maker in my family. My father, on the other hand, has established himself as the pie crust maker in the family. That only bothers me a little bit.

Two years ago, Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and Philly and knocked out a power plant in Newtown leaving me without power for the better part of four days. Fortunately, I had a gas stove, so with a lighter and an iron skillet, I was still able to cook food and not forced to subsist on emergency rations—though I do remember drinking a whole lot of milk the first night.

I’d made a pumpkin pie right before the storm, and it became my primary sustenance in those four days. I kept it out on the dryer in the lean-to (because when the weather was 55 degrees or less outside, that made as good a fridge as any, and it saved me having to open my own fridge and let the cool out).

I’d slice a piece of the pie, set it in the skillet, light the burner and slowly warm it through. Toasty-bottomed pumpkin pie. A quality life choice.

My final evening without power, I was done. Our house had been built in the 1800s and between the drafty windows and the stone and plaster walls, all the warmth had been drawn away by day four. Power had returned to campus, so I’d worked that day, but when I got home and took one step inside my frigid kitchen, I looked at the pumpkin pie and bade it farewell.

Joy-in-a-pan though it was, sustenance though it was, balanced meal though I argued it was…Applebee’s had power again and I was going out to eat.

The Birth of a Song

[Editorial note: I’m kinda breaking my own rules for the #write31days challenge today; this one isn’t an sight or moment that recalls a memory, but just the moment itself—the anecdote was too good to dilute by tying it to another memory. I’ll blame Jonathan Rogers, who asked the other day why I need to connect the moments to memories (I answered, in essence, “cause I said so,” which always goes over really well). He had a good point: that the moments themselves are worth as much focus as the memories. It’s true sometimes; and so, though I’ll try to follow my “Sights and Memories” theme for the rest of the month, I’m fine with breaking it today.]

I sat beside the birth of a song this morning. The coffee shop was quite full when I arrived, so I asked a young man sitting at one corner of a large table if he minded if I took the other end.

Mayan MochaHe gestured a welcome over the din and I took my seat, photographed my Mayan Mocha like any good hipster in a Nashville coffee house and settled in to write and read and pray for a few moments before church.

He had a notebook in front of him, and a mug of coffee dredges. And, scarved and hair-mussed to perfection, he sat, one leg pulled up with a knee under his chin, humming, tapping a rhythm, and pausing from time to time to jot a few words in the notebook.

Ten minutes in, a young woman approached him. “Excuse me, are you—” The name was lost in Frank Sinatra’s voice soaring up to the final line of “My Way.”

The young man smiled and nodded. “Yes.”

She fluttered for a brief instant, then smiled back, her red lips curving upward toward her dark eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “You probably get this all the time. Can I get a photo with you?”

He nodded again, stood, leaned over her shoulder as she pulled out her phone, and smiled for the camera.

She left him alone then and he returned to his work, humming, tapping, jotting.

I sat near the birth of a song this morning. And I will never know which one.


I spent an hour or so this afternoon crushing graham crackers. If you’ve never done it, crushing graham crackers is harder than it looks. I will blame the shortness of this post on my tired hands that don’t want to type, rather than on the fact that I’m plumb tuckered out.

graham crackersThere was no rolling pin and only flimsy plastic bags that broke when cracker corners went through them, so the work of crushing had to be done by hand—my hands, working the crackers in the bag, punching, gripping and spindling, kneading.

I thought of my mom’s hands, kneading the bread dough on the kitchen counter at least one afternoon a week when I was growing up. I’d get home from school, get a snack, and as I sat on one side of the counter eating it, she stood at the other, kneading the bread dough, pushing, balling, working it with the heel of her palm.

There was a rhythm, a force, a regular tempo she followed, keeping the conversation going all along, listening as I talked about my day.

When I was in college, my sisters and I helped Mom out at a Mother-Daughter retreat where she was speaking. We did a Q&A for the final session and someone asked for wisdom on spending quality time with her daughter.

My mom said, “Well I always tried to be doing work in the kitchen when you got home from school so you could debrief your day. I arranged my days so the afternoon was in the kitchen.”

My sisters and I blinked at one another. “That was on purpose?” we asked.

Mom often said that kneading bread is all the therapy she needs—she got out her aggression and worked through the tension and stress of the day. And as I worked to knead the graham crackers, I let myself get lost in the rhythm, the crushing, the turning of my knuckles. And thoughts I’d been swirling around settled themselves into pleasant places and rolled on to the tempo of the work.

Making Applesauce

I made applesauce today. It was technically my third batch of the year—though the second was scarcely worth mentioning. I’d gotten a few apples from the store that were mealy, and rather than suffer through them in apple form, I cooked them down one morning for breakfast. They were delicious once you changed their texture.

Making applesauce is a bit of a family tradition. I haven’t a clue how many years we’ve been doing it, but almost each autumn, some conglomeration of my mom, my sisters, other extended family and friends, and I have had an applesauce day. This year, Dad stepped up to the plate and he and mom handled it alone—as neither of my sisters or I were nearby, scattered about the world as we are.

I’ve thought of making applesauce other falls, and once or twice I’ve run a few apples through the mill, but a busy life and a kitchen with very little counter space conspired against taking on a big batch. But now I’m in a new place, a new job, a new house, and all of them have a bit more space in them for things like applesauce-making.

So I tackled the task this evening, definitely on a smaller scale than the family applesauce day, but enough for eating, for freezing, for giving away. And with each step, moments of applesauce days past moved into the present.

I wash the apples, only two bags of them, thinking of the year after Grandpa Warnemuende died and Grandma was selling the house with its apple trees in the yard. We went out with the apple picker and got as many Jonathans as we could, deeply dark red. It was our last chance to enjoy the bounty of those trees. And enjoy it we did–all 100+ quarts of it. The sauce that year was almost the color of raspberries, bag upon bag of fuschia-infused flavor filled our freezer for the winter.applesauce

I chop them up, using a butcher knife and only worrying about removing stems. The seeds won’t make it through the mill and will be tossed with the skins. While I’m at it I think of using Mom’s ulu knife to chop the other year, getting the hang of the rounded blade, the rhythm of the twisting wrist, the beat of the blade against board. I wondered if any Native Alaskan had ever thought of using the traditional blade for chopping fruit, and then I wondered when the remote villagers first saw apples, and when they spread their palates beyond the native blueberries and lingonberries that grow on their hillsides.

I toss them into the pot with water and turn on the flame, letting the heat and moisture do its work. On applesauce day at Mom’s, we only rested during the first pot’s cooking—for there was always more than one pot, and when you finished milling the contents of one, another was ready. But during the first pot’s cooking, if all the knives were in others’ hands, I could sometimes get a moment away to join my niece Keren, laying on the floor playing with the rattles and toys hanging from her playmat’s arches. I’d hold my hand above her face, catch her attention, and she’d reach up with her tiny gnarled hands and grasp my fingers, pulling my hand down into a hug.

I transfer them from pot to Foley mill, grateful I found it at an antique flea market in Lititz a few years back, walking through with my nephew Zach. He was intrigued by the device I picked up, this metal contraption with a red wooden handle. I showed him how you could use it, told him you put the apples in the bowl and then turned the handle to squish them against the mesh bottom. The pulp would go through, I explained, and the skins would stay in the bowl. And when the mesh got covered with skin, I told him, moving the handle in the opposite direction, you just turned the blade backward to scrape them up again.

And bowl by bowl I empty the pot of apple chunks, put them through the mill, and add to the memories categorized under “applesauce” in my mind.

Serious Thoughts on Pie

I’ve been copying posts from my old Xanga blog to a document for safe keeping today and I came across this delightful post from 2004 which I feel the need to share again. My thoughts on pie remain adamantly so formed:


Originally posted, Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I get to make pies tomorrow morning.  On Sunday, my sister made the comment that she was tired of apple pie.  I consider that statement to be utter sacrilege.  There is no way a good human being can be tired of apple pie unless they have made a pact with the devil.  That is my firm belief.  But then, my sister is far more of a chocolate fanatic than I, and apple pie does not go well hand-in-hand with chocolate.  But in my opinion, cinnamon can take the place of chocolate in most situations – I do not disavow the necessity for chocolate at certain points in everyone’s life, but cinnamon is a close partner in satisfaction.

That stated, you now have my views on chocolate and cinnamon, but have you completely caught my love of pie?  I hereby state emphatically that pie is next to godliness.  In almost any form, pie is the perfect dessert.  And fruit pie is the perfect dessert, or breakfast, or lunch, or even dinner.  I’m not a great fan of blueberry pie – I prefer my blueberries to still resemble berries, nor am I a great fan of cherry pie, unless it is homemade without using that canned slop.  But apple, raspberry, multi-berry, even peach pies are edible at any time, in any place.  Pumpkin pies are best when enjoyed with a slathering of whipped cream on top, and are also edible for most meals of the day.

Making pie crust is a delicate art, one which I strive to perfect, though my father is leaps and bounds ahead of me in the practice–and he’s only been making pies for three years.  A good pie crust is light, buttery, flaky, etc.  It falls apart when one’s fork punctures it, and the innards of the pie should ooze all over the plate, tempting the eater to lick his plate when finished with his pie (reason X why pie should be enjoyed solitarily, so that the eater can lick his plate without facing censure from society).  A good pie crust is not at all sweet – thus giving the eater the joy of the sweetness (preferably tart sweetness) of the pie innards without interference from the crust.

One final note – it is my firm belief that crumble tops are of the devil – they are cop-outs to making a pie top and get soggy too quickly.

In her own defense, Loren posted this comment:


My dear little sister >:)~

I am mortally anguished by your associating my boredom with apple pie and any sort of pact with the devil…But then, come to think of it, there is certainly a common link made between that dark creature and chocolate…No, I will not recant!

Much love, Loren


Random and Ridiculous

An occasional assortment of things I’ve found of (humorous) note:

1. T’other day, I drove through a neighborhood on the way home from work. In one lawn stands a light post. That day, there was a bright yellow recycling garbage can upturned over the lamp post. I’m still not quite sure why.

2. Sometime in the media blitz that followed the American Idol win of Kris Allen, I saw a clip from the first morning after his win. He arrived at a red carpet press gathering early in the morning after only a couple hours of sleep to begin the morning show interviews. Upon arrival he was greeted by a woman (some sort of publicist or something), who asked him if he’d gotten any sleep and then offered to get him a cup of coffee. He accepted the offer and she took off. A little while later she returned, and pulling him aside between interviews handed him what I know to be a Venti-sized Starbucks reusable mug. “Thanks! Oh, look at this,” Allen said, admiring the mug. “Yeah, we’re being eco-conscious, too!” the woman replied. “Vanilla latte, right?” Kris took a gulp. “Wow,” he said. “Thank you.”

And I laughed. Originally offered: Cup of Coffee: $1 at a 7-11. Received? Mug: $19, Vanilla Latte: $5. Yep, that “cup of coffee” was worth nearly $25. Welcome to your new life, Kris.

3. Yesterday, my friend Courtney and I went to Max & Erma’s for dinner. The closest one is more than half an hour away, so it’s a treat to head there. I, confident in my memory of the direction, did not look it up again before going. My confidence obviously misplaced, my memory failed me and when I took what I thought was the right exit, I found myself feeling that I was headed in the wrong direction. Courtney offered to pull out her GPS and fix the problem for me by typing in Max & Erma’s and getting the Garmin to lead us there. When she did so, the woman in the little box informed me that I was headed in the right direction and that Max & Erma’s was less than four miles ahead. Still slightly suspicious, I believed the determined voice of the woman, and drove on. Then she told me to turn right. Doing so, I found myself in a neighborhood. Continuing along, I followed her directions through the neighborhood back to a main road where she told me I’d arrived at my destination. I looked right. There was an STS Tires, Honeybaked Ham, and Curves. None of those were Max & Erma’s. After a little fiddling, I found the right town on the Garmin’s map and she eventually led us to our destination, which was, after all, in the direction I’d originally thought was correct. Silly GPS.

4. In the course of the above adventure, Courtney informed me that when she first got the GPS she wanted to call it Jack Bauer, ’cause it was so often useful for getting her out of a pinch. But, realizing that the little black box had a woman’s voice, Courtney found that Jack Bauer was probably not the best namesake for the little device. So instead, she named it Sydney Bristow. “I usually just call it that to myself, though,” she said. “Not many people understand.” I, of course, understood completely, having often attempted to name myself Sydney Bristow whenever I have some sort of experience that I can remotely connect to being spy-like.

A Few Notes on My Weekend

1. While originally intended to be a party of multiple members of an older generation and multiple members of a younger generation, Friday night ended up being just me and Kristina – so, at least we got one representative from each generation – since the Rebeccas were both busy, as was the Christine, the Courtney, and the Bonnie. Anyway, the purpose and intention of this gathering was to introduce the wonders of Newsies to the younger generation. Kristina, born in the year the film was released (oh, goodness I’m old!) had never seen the movie. As a girl who spent many, many hours of my teen years watching Christian Bale and David Moscow singing and dancing their way through the streets of New York (or, at least, Disney’s version of the streets of New York), I felt it was my civil responsibility to correct the egregious error of Newsies omission in Kristina’s education.

She liked it. My favorite moment of the evening: after telling me that she’d just recently seen The Dark Knight with her brother and his girlfriend, Kristina began to examine the Newsies DVD case. She pointed to a picture of Jack and said, “Who is this actor? He looks familiar.” My reply: “Um, well, that’s Batman. Much younger.”

2. Friday morning when I got to work at five AM, it was thirty-five degrees outside. By noon on Saturday, it was ninety. This weekend, when I wasn’t working, I spent time in front of fans and finding new things to freeze in my freezer.

3. Last weekend I mentioned to mi madre that I’d love to have some of the Tupperware popsicle forms that we had when I was growing up. She went to the basement, pulled out her two sets, and handed them to me. Thrilled, I packed them up and brought them back to Philly. I was not expecting to use them quite this soon, but I was glad to have them yesterday afternoon when I had apples to use up before they went bad, so I quickly made applesauce and then filled the popsicle forms with it. I’ve been eating applesauce pops for a day…they’re delicious.

4. So far, with the applesauce pops, tank tops and shorts, the fans, and the shades down at every sunny window, I’ve managed to remain at a decent body temperature these past few days. However, I’m looking forward to Wednesday when the high is supposed to be sixty-eight.

And looking forward:

5. Tonight is Chuck’s season finale. I live in fear that it will not be renewed. If that is the case, I will weep. Okay, maybe not weep, but definitely be sad. That said, I’ve decided that I would totally hire Zachary Levi to be in my coffeshop sitcom, if only just to hang out with him, ’cause he seems pretty cool.

The Random and Ridiculous

I’ve come to the conclusion over the years, that to survive in this world you have to have a healthy sense of humor about its foibles and ridiculousness. Here’s a few things I’ve found funny in the last week.

There are still political signs in people’s yards. Seriously? I mean, the election was four months ago! If your sign’s for Obama, well, people, he’s in office – get over yourselves! If your sign’s for McCain, um, he lost, it’s done, no changing it now. And, if you’re the one random person on Bethelehem Pike that still has a Hillary sign in your yard, give it up! She was out of the running almost a year ago!

On Tuesday, I went to IHOP to celebrate the National Day of Pancakes (and Fat Tuesday, of course) with a free short stack. There was a woman at a table near us who called over the waitress and informed her that the bacon she had was not turkey bacon, but was pork. The waitress assured her it was turkey, but when the woman wouldn’t believe, took it away and brought her new turkey bacon. A few minutes later one of the cooks came by and the woman caught his attention and asked him what brand the turkey bacon was, because it tasted like pork. Really? Isn’t the whole point of turkey bacon to taste like real bacon? So why are you complaining when it does?

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. I’m pretty sure three quarters of the penitents went to Mass and then came to Starbucks afterward and stood in line for their lattes and mochas with ashen crosses marked on their foreheads. Here’s my question: if they came straight from Mass to Starbucks, what are they giving up for Lent?

This morning we had a customer tell us (as she ordered an apple fritter) that Starbucks food was horrible, because (and this is a direct quote), “I mean, even my dog will eat it.” Right, ’cause dogs have really discerning palates. She then proceeded to inform us that we should get our food from some bakery in downtown Philly which, “isn’t as good as it used to be because the new owner is all about profits and is cutting corners on making stuff.” Uh, so why would we want to get food there?

I have also concluded that I want to create a sitcom set in a coffee shop. That’s my new goal in life.