Life-Changers & Events

Art of the Pie...and Life by Anne Livingston

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If you would like to know how to make the best pie on the planet, the kind that makes chefs cry out with joy, there is a pie class for you. It’s called Art of the Pie, and it’s taught by the warm and delightful Kate McDermott.

Yesterday I went to Kate’s Pie Cottage in Port Angeles and took this class. She keeps her groups tiny so that each of us students can have her full attention when we need it. The intimate nature of the class also helps us feel relaxed, which is important, because her Pastry Tip #1 states, “Keep everything chilled…especially yourself.”

When I was a kid, I first made a pie using a recipe from a cookbook. I had no pastry cutter and used two knives to cut the flour into the butter to make those pea-sized nuggets. Even that first step filled me with angst, worrying I wasn’t doing it right. I was the antithesis of “chilled.” So was my butter, by the time I was through with it.

Remembering my first pie-making moments and then watching Kate in action was a truly freeing experience. She tossed ingredients in, measuring with her hands, laughing and chatting with us. “Every pie is different,” she told us. She showed us how to measure ingredients by eyeballing it.

My inner kid, anxiously trying to get everything right, just relaxed and went along for the ride in her presence. We made pie, and we were chilled. I was actually a little overheated with excitement, but at least I wasn’t filled with angst.

In case you haven’t figured this out yet (I didn’t, at first), her pastry tips are also life tips. Her other two tips are just as vital to an awesome pie--and life.

Kate's Pastry Tip #2: Keep your boundaries.

Kate's Pastry Tip #3: Vent!

Kate showed us how to make these three Pastry Tips a reality. I think my "boundaries" were a little iffy (my pie dripped a bit in the oven), and this class helped me understand how to work on that, at least with my pies. I wonder if working on pie boundaries will help me with boundaries in life. I could see how making pie is a great activity for life meditation. 

This particular class was actually a gluten-free pie class. She teaches the gluten-free ones every once in a while. Making pie without gluten requires a different set of approaches and techniques. For example, using plastic wrap between yourself and your dough is key to working with it.

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It also helps to use two different rolling pins: a roller with handles works best for rolling out, and the more slender French rod makes it easiest to transport the dough to the pie plate.

Since I’ve only made pies with wheat flour before, it was especially fun to learn gluten-free pie strategies. Gluten-free baking is a relatively new field, and I felt like a baking pioneer working with these techniques. One of the women in my class experimented with different flours. I was impressed with her baking bravery! Just realizing yesterday how many flours and starches are available to us gives me a sense of many possible adventures with piemaking.

My husband, not a pie-lover, tasted some of this pie and, surprisingly, loved it. Remember, this is gluten-free pie, too. As for myself, many times I have enjoyed a slice of pie, only to leave the crust on the plate. I figured I was not a big fan of pie crust. However, this pie? While eating a slice, I would cut a forkful from the tip, then take a bite of that flavorful crust from the edge. At that rate, the crust was gone before the filling. What magic was happening, here?

If you want to know, I recommend learning with Kate. In addition to her classes at Pie Cottage, she also teaches pie camp! There’s one coming up on Whidbey Island this November in case you want to become a complete pie ninja and, you know, have a transformative life experience. Thank you, Kate!



Tomato Fried Eggs: A Chinese Comfort Food by Anne Livingston

How much comfort can you get from a different culture’s comfort foods? I wondered this when I started cooking at a girls’ international boarding house a couple of years ago. I distributed questionnaires to the girls and chatted with them about their favorite “homesick” foods. 

With the Chinese girls in particular, I was impressed by the depth of our culinary differences in their answers. Chicken feet! Preserved duck eggs! Fish balls! Beans for dessert! So many wonderful things they listed were beyond what I’d even heard of. Although I had trouble wrapping my mind around preparing a couple of dishes (prepping the chicken feet the first time was difficult), I loved almost every new dish I tried cooking, with the help of the girls’ advice, YouTube videos, and the kindness of a couple of Chinese women. I never fully mastered any one dish.  At least, however, I developed an appreciation and respect for real Chinese food, as elusive as it still is to me.

One of the dishes that came up in conversations and questionnaires was something called “tomato eggs.” I looked it up online, but as simple as the recipe sounded, I wanted real-life help. The school’s Mandarin teacher graciously came in to show me how to cook it while she was in between classes. Thanks to her and a few practice runs with good response from the girls, I feel like I have the hang of at least one authentic Chinese comfort food recipe, using ingredients found in many American kitchens.

And how is it as a comfort food? Oh, it hits the spot just right. Luxurious texture. Bold flavors. And yet the simple preparation and the short ingredient list make it as comforting as a plate of mac & cheese. You’ve got to try this if you like tomatoes and eggs. When prepared properly, the sum is so much greater than its parts.  Give it a whirl sometime this summer when you have extra tomatoes and want to try something new for breakfast (or lunch! Or dinner!). I feel like making it again, right now.

Tomato Fried Eggs

Serves 3

Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup high heat oil, such as canola or sunflower
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly
  • 3 or 4 roma tomatoes, or 2 larger tomatoes, chopped in large chunks, about 3/4”
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

 Directions:

  1. Beat the eggs with the soy sauce and the white pepper. In another small bowl, whisk the cornstarch in with 2 tablespoons of water.
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the oil to the pan. When the oil shimmers, add the scallions and the eggs. Stir the eggs and scallions around quickly with a spatula, until almost completely cooked. Remove the eggs to a plate.
  3. Wipe out the wok or skillet, return it to the burner, and add the remainder of the oil. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle the salt and sugar over them. Cook for 1 minute, stirring with the spatula. Stir in the cornstarch slurry to thicken the juices, about 30 seconds.
  4. Return the eggs back to the pan, gently stir them in with the tomatoes, and serve immediately.

The Tin Table by Anne

This weekend is special for my friend Hallie Kuperman.  She owns the Century Ballroom, and Friday kicks off  The Century's 15th anniversary party, which this year will be a weekend-long celebration. You are invited.  Have you ever seen this place?  It's upstairs in the Oddfellows Hall on Capitol Hill.  Shiny wood, swirling dancers, vintage details...it is a timeless place that sends music out of the open windows and into the world, intriguing passersby outside.  Those inside feel lucky to be there. In fact, I remember dancing at The Century's first anniversary party--how can it already be 14 year ago?--and thinking how amazing it was to be part of such a magical place.  I still do.  A few years ago Hallie extended that magic right across the hall by creating the restaurant The Tin Table.  It's named after a giant tin fire door they found inside a wall during remodeling.  It now proudly welcomes guests into the heart of the dining room, repurposed as a majestic table.  I love that they reclaimed this treasure that was stuck, hidden behind walls, and they brought it out into the open for people to sit at and celebrate around.

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Recently Hallie asked me to take some shots of The Tin Table's latest menu for their website.   Chef Travis Chase has such a natural and elegant style!  He just makes it all look effortless.

Chick Pea Fritters.  Honey Yogurt, Frisée, Cucumber, Chive Oil,  Preserved Lemon

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Sturgeon. Shaved Fennel, Red Onion, Red Pepper, Scallion, Harissa Vinaigrette

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Braised Beef Short Rib.  Creamy Parsnip Purée, Braised Greens, Rapini, Smoked Port Reduction

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Cassoulet . Pork Belly, Lamb Leg, Flageolet Beans, Herb Brioche Crumbs

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 Warm Pear Tart. Cream Cheese Crust, Pears, Praline Ice Cream, Goat Caramel

If you come out to The Tin Table, I hope you enjoy one of these beautiful dishes.  Or maybe try the egg noodle tagliatelle with rabbit ragu and black trumpet mushrooms.  It's the soul-feeding kind of dish that makes you feel like your dearest one lovingly prepared it for you after a long day.  Especially if your dearest one has a sense of elegance, style, and beautifully balanced flavors.

Whether you come out this weekend to dance and drink a toast to the Century, or you visit another day to sample some of Chef Travis' creations, I think you'll find yourself deliciously transported into a place that could be your second (fabulous) home.

IFBC Part III - What Would Penny Think of this Pic? by Anne

Penny De Los Santos, a phenomenal photographer for magazines such as Saveur and National Geographic, sent me into engrossed contemplation about my photography these past couple of weeks since the International Food Bloggers Conference. And I’m not alone.  Dana Treat

Her presentation on food photography moved us to tears, shouts of laughter, and a standing ovation at IFBC. When I sat there, inundated with her stunning images and her passionate wisdom, I felt helpless with a heart swelling out of its shell—enough to break that shell. The tips and gems of her philosophy about photography were simple, perfect, and true, and they hit me at just the right time. It was food for the soul.

I would like to share another batch of pictures from the conference, imagining what Penny might think or say.

First, I loved her reminder about a picture telling a story. Surely I have heard this tip before, but Penny’s pictures illustrated this storytelling in a deep way, further helping me to get inside this idea. Even if my story is simple, it helps to involve the viewer in what she’s seeing. For this reason, although I made several compositions of the gemlike beer glasses below, my favorite is the one that has a hand in it. I am really in love with that hand.

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Penny also suggested that photographers give food some space—some room to read what is happening. Here, I did it:

Theo Chocolates

Here, I didn’t:

Grapefruit

In this picture above I made a shot of something that you, the viewer, may or may not even understand, but I couldn’t help myself. This grapefruit peel, striped with light and riddled with texture, called to me. I don’t know how I could have given it space while still being inside the pitcher, unless it was in a series of photos showing the final Sherry cocktail, the “Fino Sling,” being poured here:

Making a Fino Sling

I think it turns out that I love hands. And stuff being poured.

Anyway, Penny says to find the light, and then make a picture. I'm all over that.  I found some light in that pitcher of grapefruit peels, and if I hadn’t been ravenously hungry after a long afternoon of panel discussions, I might have taken more time with this picture story.

In her presentation, Penny also encouraged us to stretch ourselves by concentrating on different compositions. You know you are in a rut if you keep taking the same kinds of pictures over and over again, at the same angle, at the same distance.  

She also encouraged us to give ourselves assignments and take at least one picture (such as a “journal” picture) every day. I love this—it’s so true that the more we produce, the more we grow. I like how she told us to trust our instincts. To listen. To make pictures (not take them). And to be open. This one is really hitting me right now. Being open. Speaking of an artist being open, check this guy out.

Flamenco Guitarist for Secret Sherry Society Cocktail Party

Is he open? Is he serene or is he distant?  From my perspective I felt like a giant wall thicker than those bricks between me and him when I took this picture. What do you see? When I first saw him, he seemed to be ignoring all of us, his audience, when he played.  Maybe it was a soulful thing. For some reason, I find this picture compelling in its closed-off quality. He’s a handsome dude, but it just adds to the discomfort. What do you think?

Look at this guy, now.

Mike Dash, owner of Rolling Fire Pizza

He’s also looking off into the distance, doing his creating thing, like the guitarist. But he looks more serene and open to me. He has spaciousness in his demeanor, but the other guy doesn’t. Was it the shot I took? Was it their own spirits at that moment or even all the time? Hard to say because photos are so elusive. They are simultaneously a single moment and forever. Beautiful photographs me feel happy and lonely all at once for this reason.

It just occurred to me that I find (m)aking pictures of people and food to be weirdly similar. Once I get into working on a shot with, say, an apple, it doesn’t take long before that piece of fruit becomes like a person for me—complete with a personality and a presence and a history. The big difference is time: many foods—but not all foods—are more patient than people. So I have time with an apple, to find its side that says the most about its soul. We don’t always get that chance with a person on the street. All the more reason why I admire Penny’s work. She really seems to be plugged into the world with gusto, and you can tell by her pictures.

Anyway, I feel so grateful to Penny de los Santos for bringing me into a new place of openness with myself and others as I create pictures right now. It seems like I’m getting back to making pictures of people again, after a fairly long hiatus from portraits, and I think this change will actually help my food photography. And I think it means that my heart is growing and my eyes are opening. After her talk I even had the courage to find a candid laughing moment of Penny in all her vibrant power. 

Penny de los Santos

Thank you, Penny.

IFBC Part II -- Twitter: A Foodie Greek Chorus by Anne

dinner Turns out, the unscheduled panel speaker for IFBC was a whole bunch of people speaking as one, from smartphones and laptops, via the group social media tool, Twitter.  The humans sitting in the audience became an amoebic brain full of distinct voices but also unified by intelligence, b.s. detectors, and humor.   Having taught for many years, I’m interested in group dynamics over the course of a school year. Each group develops its own memorable personality.  Apparently, using Twitter fast-forwards this effect at, say, a food bloggers' conference. 

If you do not use Twitter, imagine sitting in a high school class in which everyone is passing notes to each other, and you can see all of these notes yourself, and contribute, too.   Instead of slackers waiting for summer, though, the note-passers (the “tweeters”) are grown, smart, motivated people who share your own passion for something--in this case, food.   The tweets are full of insight, jotted notes of what was said aloud, and also lots of funny comments that will surely get you sent to the principal’s office if you don’t control your chortling in the first row.

Early on at the conference, the Search engine optimization session seemed to cause people to get squirrelly.  I know this because my laptop screen started scrolling Twitter feed faster than I could read it.  You might be thinking that it’s hard enough to listen to the speakers without having to read commentary about it simultaneously.   Yep.  So, how can I explain the value of this Greek chorus that was going on in the bottom half of my line of vision all weekend?

That bottom half of my line of vision was part of the weekend’s magic for me, a relatively new Twitter user.  It was like simultaneously watching a dance and a rough, interpretive sketch of the movements, right below it. 

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This loose sketch, by the way, was also useful for those who weren’t able to be at the conference.  They were grateful to feel like they were there, if only partially.

If I missed an important point that a speaker brought up, there was nearly always someone to tweet that particular comment—more than once or twice, depending on how compelling it was.  If people started to get bored, overwhelmed, or tense, there was often humor to lighten the moment.   It was like having a second brain the size of a room--one that was at times much smarter than me. I was blown away by the relentless brightness of comments, onscreen and also aloud at the microphone.  

Further into the conference, we had a session called “Writing with the Five Senses,” with Kathleen Flinn, author of The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry.  We wrote about lemons, using each of the five senses individually (This was more challenging than I would have expected, for some reason.  My sense of taste has sounds and my sense of touch has flavors).

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My fellow participants shared aloud some gorgeous, evocative descriptions of these lemons.  Kathleen wasn’t afraid to point out places where the descriptions bordered on erotic, even beyond the navels, protrusions, juices, and nipples.  Because so many people in the room were already in mind-meld mode, the sexual tension in the room was palpable.  Reminder: we were writing about lemons. 

I felt awkward about this feeling until my friend commented (aloud, not onscreen) to me afterwards that he noticed this room-wide feeling as well.  We, as a 250 person group, had somehow become One over the course of a few hours.

When my husband first told me about Twitter awhile back, I was passionately unimpressed.  Why would I care to log on to catch up on my buddy's nachos after his soccer game?  However, in certain cases, such as this conference, I feel like Twitter is an aid in bonding, learning, and definitely giggling.  Hey, three of my favorite things.  Besides lemons and other juicy things.

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Cheers to the International Food Bloggers Conference by Anne

1pouring wine Have you felt unbearably at a loss while staring at a blank thank-you card, even though--and especially when--your heart is stretched taut with gratitude?  It’s taken several tries to even get rolling with this blog post, because I have so much to say and share.   

Oh yes, and by the way, I just returned from a pivotal weekend at the International Food Blogger’s Conference, held right here in Seattle.  I went last year, too, when I had just launched Bring to Boil, and last year was a crucial learning experience, full of helpful tools to get rolling with the blog.   

But this time, I’m altered.  Altered, but it’s an awkward, unfinished state, especially today—my thoughts are like raw, naked corncobs that have been shucked quickly, with white strands of silk just sticking out everywhere and getting tangled in my fingers.  It’s annoying and sticky. I’m gonna go ahead and write while my hands are still tangled, so please excuse any typos.

So, beginning at the beginning, Friday evening's welcome party included an interview with Morgan Spurlock, the documentary filmmaker who made Super Size Me, the film that showed first-hand how unhealthy and fattening MacDonald's can really be.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Why did they have him come? He’s a filmmaker, not a blogger. 

I immediately stopped caring once he got started, though, because he’s hilarious. I relaxed into enjoying his casual interview, led by Warren Etheredge, that at moments felt more like a drinking game than cerebral challenge.  

Then, when I wasn’t looking, we were talking about changing the world.  The conversation turned to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and how to help our country become well-fed and healthy, rather than ironically riddled with both obesity and malnourishment.  Suddenly, the tables—and videocamera—were turned back on us, the food blogging audience.  How can we make things better?  Morgan spoke of “street blogging—“  sure, sit in your house and write, but write your article and throw an event!  Call the news! Wake people up!    

My friend Diana, whom I met last year at this conference, spoke up to share how she’s doing her part.  She quit her job some months ago when she realized that the mission of her blog, to help people learn how to cook cheaply, nutritiously, and deliciously, was not completely effective on its own as just a blog. So she found government funding and now teaches free cooking classes to low income families who might not otherwise afford them. 

Do you have chills? I do. 

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Diana is a kind, vibrant woman with a smile the size of sunshine, and a frequent flower in her hair.  She works hard to keep a positive outlook on life, moment to moment, and each time I see her, she radiates this warmth to you as well.  She’s a true inspiration to me and thoughts of her--and Morgan Spurlock's challenging quesions--kept me up on Friday night, lying in bed and wondering what my role in changing the world might be.   Check out Diana’s blog.  She even has the approximate cost per serving on her recipes.

I'll stop for now.  Part II of IFBC -- complete with some food porn -- to come.

Bastille's Marinated Octopus with Chickpeas and Rooftop Arugula

Food Styling Workshop by Anne

biscotti As the food stylist Delores Custer says, "When you like a food photograph, who do you usually give credit to? The photographer."  And where are the credits for the food stylist?  "In the gutter."  I thought she was making some kind of bitter joke, but actually, the gutter is the place in the magazine that's so close to the binding that we hardly see it.  I just went and checked the gutter of a few magazines and saw no credit for the stylists.  From here on out, though, I'm keeping a lookout and giving due props for pictures I like.

A food stylist is responsible for making food both visually appealing and mouth-watering.  These two qualities don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.  Have you ever seen a food photograph that is gorgeous and artful but not necessarily something you would want to eat?   Maybe that shot was intended to "sell" something else besides the food (such as a lifestyle shot).  Or maybe the person is a great photographer but has little experience with styling and shooting food.  I could go on about this for a long time. It's a fascinating and subjective part of food photography--making it mouth-watering.  Delores would show us two beautiful food shots that were presented differently and asked us which we would rather eat.  The response was, literally, 50-50. 

Even though "mouth-watering" is subjective, food stylists do have some great tools that they bring with them on shoots to help optimize a food's beauty and delectability.  Some common tools include a small atomizer to create subtle moisture on produce, a paintbrush and vegetable oil to create sheen, and tweezers to carefully move tiny items around, such as a wilted piece of lettuce.

Delores pointed out that a food blogger has to be the art director, food stylist, prop stylist, and photographer for food shots.   Good point!   I have a hard time imagining these jobs being separated out for four people. I wonder what that is like. Those people would have to be real team players.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons Delores split us up into pairs to style food for our photographs.  This was challenging and completely hilarious.  Viv and I paired up.  Viv is a gracious, gregarious, generous soul who didn't mind that I was completely spazzing out with the vegetables.  At one point someone stopped by our table to see what we were up to, and it looked like a salad spinner sneezed on our table.  Whatever we were working on seemed to be buried under three kinds of lettuce.  We laughed more than we styled.  After much flailing with the salad concept (the "art director's" job), our various chopped and sliced veggies evolved into something kind of elegant-looking. This final arrangement took about 3 minutes after half an hour of the aforementioned spazzing and flailing. 

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As another part of the assignment we also took some pictures of biscotti (as seen above and below), but in comparision to the salad assignment, this seemed more natural and effortless. 

I learned a lot working with Viv.  Much of this seemed to occur to me after the fact.  Her natural elegant flair was really great to be near, and I will be able to take that with me to future sessions behind the camera.  I'll bet that lots of people learned much from their partners in that class.  It was a really good idea.  And--I'm not surprised to learn--Delores used to teach 5th and 6th grade!  Go, teachers!

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Love in the Kitchen by Anne

cocina.con.amor.anne Last Friday I was excited to teach a cooking class -- "Cocina Con Amor" -- a Spanish-themed meal for February.  Yes, I wanted to take Valentine's Day into consideration, but really that kind of love was not the sole inspiration for the class.

The central ideas--and a huge driving force in my cooking--had to do with increasing joy in the kitchen and having that translate to even more delicious food for your beloved family, friends, & guests.  The techniques and tips focused around decreasing annoyances & avoiding feeling overwhelmed (as with a dinner party).  I talked about the mostly make-ahead dinner and gave a sample plan for the week before a dinner party, and I gave some concrete cooking and anti-annoyance prep tips.   The evening was so much fun, thanks to the lively and wonderful class participants!  I'll list the menu at the end of the post.

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot lately about how to keep my mood joyful when preparing food.  I mean, moods happen.  What do you do when you're feeling tired, grumpy, sad, or distracted?   Here's what I've been doing lately:

  • Play favorite guilty-pleasure music.  This one is huge for me!  I have one CD that will make my tired and grumpy body start dancing, in spite of me.  I feel a little like a marionette, tugged upward against my will by guitar strings, but it spreads to my brain eventually. It shocks me how well this one works.
  • Think about some things I'm grateful for, especially the people who will be eating the food
  • Pay close attention to the thing I'm doing right then.  This most often occurs to me when I'm cutting things.  Thank goodness, right?  It's nice having my fingers.  It's also fun to listen closely to the rumbling bubbles of pots boiling.
  • Drink water.  This helps the tiredness, anyway.
  • Don't cook, after all (frozen pizza is our lazy last-minute standby)

What are your tricks?

Caramelized Onions & Idiazábal Cheese; Marcona Almonds; Castelvetrano Olives

Cocina Con Amor Menu

  • Tapas/Pintxos - idiazábal cheese skewers with caramelized pearl onions; marcona almonds; olives 
  • Salad - mixed greens with dried apricot, hazelnuts, and sherry vinaigrette
  • Main -cerdo al chilindrόn (saucy braised pork with serrano ham, tomatoes, and fresh & dried peppers)
  • Side -  fideo con azafrán y limones preservados (short capellini scented with saffron & preserved lemons)
  • Dessert - traditional spanish flan

Apple Inspiration by Anne

honeycrisp apples The other day I offered an apple slice to my friend, Heather.  She doesn't care for apples, but I had forgotten this fact.  She politely took it from me, then exclaimed in a surprised voice, "This is delicious!  What kind of apple is this?!"  It was a Honeycrisp. 

This apple is indeed crisp--in an incredibly light and sweet way.  It's an ethereal, angelic apple.  Heather was converted.  That week, she started doing research on Honeycrisp apple trees, to see if she could grow one in her yard.  Her husband kidded her about it, but she said, "Look.  There's a fruit I have hated my entire life.  The other day I ate one that completely converted me.  That is pretty significant."  Wow, when she put it that way, I was pretty moved.  I love foods that change your mind like that.

One thing I don't adore is pie.  I wonder if I can have a conversion experience, too.  The other day I was in a cookie bakeware shop called "Cookies" in Ballard, and the owner and I were chatting about various baking challenges.  She mentioned that Kathy Casey makes apple pie by placing a thin layer of marzipan on top of the crust before filling it with apples.  The marzipan acts as a barrier between the liquidy filling and the crust, which gives the crust a chance to have its own independent, crust-y texture.  This is very intriguing to me, even though I also am not a huge marzipan person, either.  It keeps coming back to me, though.  I'm feeling a pie experiment coming on.  Have you ever done this (with marzipan)?  

I could even use Honeycrisps, which supposedly keep their shape well in baking.  However, for this upcoming pie experience, I want to use the trick I read in Cook's Illustrated:  Use a variety of apples in the same pie to create a complex apple flavor.  Wowza.  Bring on the conversion.