September 2006


My weekends of late have been spent engaging in culinary pursuits, as most workdays I’m too unmotivated to do anything that involves massive amounts of effort.  Chopping is about the best I can do, Monday-Friday.

A slice of chess pie is a blurry, sweet monolith on the table.

Lately, I’ve been teaching myself to bake, particularly pies. Baking’s a good thing for me to do, as it requires discipline and following the recipe in correct proportions; usually when I cook, I’m fairly cavalier about the whole thing, tossing in this and that.  Partially, I’ve been inspired by reading Pascale Le Draoulec’s book American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America’s Back Roads.  It’s fascinating from three angles–Le Draoulec’s life and how she interacts; the stories of the people she meets because of pie; and the pies themselves.

Of course, I’m not nearly as dedicated to the cause to make my own crust, yet, mostly out of fear of buggering it up.  I do use the kind that comes in rolls, not that which is already in a tin (see below stories for details).  However, I have tried various types of pies, all of which have come out successful.  So far.

  1. Lemon meringue pie.  I first made this earlier in the summer, when Mom spotted it in one of the grocery store advertisements.  I said I could do better for less money, which is probably true.  That time, I had used a frozen crust in a throwaway tin and basically broke the pie taking it out of the oven, though it still tasted good.  This time, it didn’t break at all.  The only problem was that I hadn’t grated the peel finely enough, but that’s an issue with the grater we have (the fine holes are too fine for rind).
  2. Chess pie.  My family is distinctly and utterly Northern, and so we’d never even smelled this kind of pie, though read about it.  It was, to be honest, fantastic, rich and very sweet.  I would say make it with the meringue, even if you don’t like it, or use whipped cream, just as an offset.  Ethan Becker describes chess pie as ‘pecan pie without the pecans’, which should give you some idea. 
  3. Apple pie.  Dear god, I never realised what a pain in the tail peeling apples is, as I’d never done it before.  Now I know how, which is good, but it took me 30-40 minutes to do five apples into bakable slices.  I do encourage one to use Golden Delicious or some other mid-firmness tart apple, as I heard to do, as it held up really well even after several days.
  4. Pecan pie.  Wanted to compare this to chess pie, and while it was good, my opinion of it was slightly coloured by the fact that I was Stupid and burned myself while blind baking the crust, and therefore was in a mood for the whole thing.  Not to mention that Mom took it out of the oven earlier than I would have.  Still, very good.  I do it with dark corn syrup and light brown sugar, which is caramelly enough but not too ridiculously rich.  (That, and it was what we had on hand, as I am Cheap.)
  5. Microwave butterscotch pie.  This recipe was acquired by Le Draoulec while she was on the road, and it was, indeed, fairly easy.  However, I daresay it got a little stiff over a few days and wasn’t nearly as butterscotch flavoured as I would have liked.  I think this weekend I may try the Joy of Cooking butterscotch cream version, though my brother doesn’t like butterscotch much.  We shall see.

Of course, the whole feminist reclaimation aspect of baking is something I’ve been taking into consideration.  How domestic can one be, after all?  Never mind that I eat as much pie as I make…screw salads. 

That’s where I stand on pies, at the moment.  Too chicken to make my own crust, yet addicted to the richness of bakery, a la Weebl and Bob.  If anyone who reads this has any suggestions as to types of pie (make sure the fruit’s not ridiculously out of season), please let me know.

EDIT: By the way?  The beginning of this sounds far more pretentious than I meant it to.  Still not used to writing essays that aren’t in acaspeak, I guess.  (almost put ‘suppose’ there.  please forgive.  and the British spellings, too.)

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So I have to say that, like Haverchuk, I was a bit dubious about the Whole Foods Market thing.  Particularly since, as he points out, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has been pimping it right, left, and center for months.  This whole week the ante got upped to the front of the food and business sections, Sunday and Wednesday, and the front page of the  paper itself Wednesday as well, I believe.

Well.  It opened.  Wednesday, 9 AM.  And now I have been, but not on Wednesday.  It is, suffice it to say, an experience.  I’d been to a much smaller Whole Foods Market (Hadley, MA), but it was nothing like this.

First of all, getting to the East Side from my house is an experience in and of itself, because of the way Milwaukee is built and the current Marquette Interchange construction project.  Then there’s the getting around the East Side bit.  And then there’s the part where the parking is all under the building.  It’s great, but it’s also spooky as hell, all clean new concrete.  Very…The Running Man or something, dystopian, but with actual attendants showing you to places.  This will probably become less surreal eventually.  If you park, you have to take the escalator up to the store level.

So, the first and major thing you notice about Whole Foods Milwaukee is that it is bloody huge.  I suppose it’s probably the size of a megastore, but in the vast lack of space that is the East Side, that’s like building a football stadium.

The second thing you notice is that they have everything.  (Except wanton wrappers, which they did not have.  Hopefully egg roll ones work instead.  I don’t see why not.)  I can’t think of any food item that I would want that they wouldn’t have, and it would probably be organic and/or locally grown, no less; they also have plenty of baby items, kitchen accessories, and health/beauty products.  I didn’t know there were habenero pepper farmers in this state, but apparently there are.  Not to mention the fact that there’s rows and rows of deli selections, and not just a mere salad bar.

The third is that there are samples everywhere.  God knows how long this will last, but I had about ten of them.  Some were okay, others were very good (olive and garlic tapenade?  cheese pizza?  more please.), and it was definitely an incentive to buy things, as were the smells of grilled brats, fried fish, soup, bakery, deli, etc.

Fortunately for my wallet, because I have to now replace my brake pads on my car to the tune of $275, I stuck to the egg roll wrappers and an immense organic avocado (on sale for $1.50), and since I was driving back on the freeway, I didn’t try the Wine-O-Matic.  Rather unfortunate name, I think, though retrocutesy.

So the verdict?  I liked it, had a great time, but it’s not going to become my regular shopping destination, because I don’t buy the groceries around here and don’t have the money to do so.  Essentially, it was almost like being a tourist, buying a few souvenirs and restraining oneself from blowing one’s whole paycheck.

It is best not to go there hungry.  And, if you don’t live on the East Side or Downtown, or don’t buy exclusively organic products at home, it’s also best not to shop there regularly, at least not right away.  The price is one reason, and the crowding and availability is another.  It’ll be my go-to place if and only if Outpost’s branch near here on 70th and State doesn’t have what I’m looking for.

Incidentally, the last time I looked?  They had wanton wrappers.