Monday, December 28, 2009

Are you there, vodka? It's me, Kristabel.

This year Dad and Mama Xanax are spending the holidays with my brother and his family in New York. When they told me a couple of months ago, I knew I would miss them, but that it would mean a different sort of Christmas for me. No obligatory family events, no shopping stress, no oven-slaving, no fake cheer. I revelled in the thought of the fabulous Un-Christmas I was going to have.

Then I realized that it also meant a holiday without Mama Xanax's pecan pie. This would have to be remedied. Unfortunately I have a little pie issue. No matter how hard I try, I cannot make a decent pie crust. If it's not so tough it's unchewable, it's so flaky it falls apart during the rolling, and I end up piecing it together in the pan, and then the filling seeps out the bottom making everything a soggy mess. I've tried every recipe I can find, including the nasty no-fail vinegar crust. I've asked every expert pie maker I know for tips. I've watched others make them. I've read books. I've watched videos. And always failing, I have resorted to buying pre-made crust, which although it holds together, is really thin and awful tasting.

So it was with great skepticism that I read the rave reviews for a pie crust developed by Cook's Illustrated using vodka. Something about gluten not forming in vodka which keeps the dough moist and flaky...blah blah science stuff blah... But then I thought about my own life, and how vodka has often been the answer to a variety of problems. Why not pie crust? So I decided to try it.

Here are the ingredients: flour, salt, very cold unsalted butter, very cold shortening, sugar and vodka. Oh, and ice water. That's not in the picture. Sorry. Some people like to use all butter. Some people like to use all shortening (although why you'd want to do that and not have that sublime butter flavor is beyond me, and we're not even going to talk about that disgusting butter-flavored shortening.) I'm pretty sure you can do whatever you want; I just decided to follow the recipe this time. Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl.

Cut the butter and shortening into little cubes. If you use a food processor like the recipe in the link says, your cubes don't have to be quite as small. I like to do it the old fashioned way so I can pretend I'm Laura Ingalls Wilder. Except now I'm most likely old enough to be Ma Wilder. Sob.

Use a pastry blender or two knives to start cutting up the cubes of fat and mixing them with the flour mixture.

Keep blending and cutting until the mixture looks like yellowish cottage cheese. I realize that doesn't sound very appetizing, so just bend over and smell the butter. Then sprinkle the vodka and the water over the top of the dough.

Use a spatula to mix it all together. Now bend over and smell the vodka. Really I just like telling you to bend over.

Then use your hands to knead the dough until it's smooth and holds together. This is what happens when you ask your perverted boyfriend to take a close-up of the dough kneading. You get a cleavage shot instead. The dough will be very wet and very sticky. As will your cleavage if you're doing it right.

Split the dough in half, shape it into balls, flatten them into disks, wrap them in plastic and stick them in the refrigerator to chill. This dough is so sticky you have to chill it a long time in order for it to be firm and workable - probably at least two hours.

This was the perfect time to take a break and have a little Un-Christmas celebration: Chinese food and horror movies.

Spread some flour on the counter, unwrap your dough and roll it out to fit your pie pan. I was nervous, but look... no tears! It held together perfectly and was so easy to work with.

Put it in your pan and crimp the edges in whatever pretty way you want.

Then you get to fill it. I used the pecan pie recipe on the bottle of Karo syrup because that's what Mama Xanax uses. I also broke into her stash and used these amazing pecans from Georgia she has our southern belle cousin send every year.

One day I'm going to artfully arrange the pecans in gorgeous concentric circles on top of the pie. This was not that day.

Throw it in the oven and bake it based on whatever you've filled it with. It was so fun watching this pie bake. You could actually see the vodka bubbling along the edges of the crust as it cooked out. I was so transfixed, in fact, that I forgot to take a picture, but you'll see for yourself. Look at this beautiful thing.

And the taste test? Oh. dear. god. This is the best pie crust I've ever eaten in my life. And what's more...I actually made it. There's no trace of vodka at all. It's tender, flaky, buttery and absolutely perfect.

I took a slice to Grandma Xanax on Christmas day and excitedly told her about the new recipe. "Sounds like a waste of good vodka," she muttered, but this is a woman who could probably make pie crust in one hand while plucking a chicken with the other.


Link to the recipe at Serious Eats

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I heart Christmas typos.

That's how I like my Herald Angels singing too, sister!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dear Santa, No thank you. Love, Kristabel

Photo credit to Bumblebee, who was standing outside Broadway Animal Hospital laughing so hard the picture is blurry.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mountain Lions, Anacondas and Cupcakes Redux (aka Happy Birthday, you)

My cousin Keri will be celebrating her birthday tomorrow. I hope it's filled with all of her favorite things. I was fortunate to be able to see her on Thanksgiving, and we spent a few good hours reminiscing and completely boring our partners. Keri and I started Chocolate Covered Xanax over two years ago when she came to spend a long weekend in Bear River. We wanted to use it as a way to keep in touch with each other. On Thanksgiving we talked about the adventures of that weekend (and about how things just may slow down for her soon, and she can start writing again. Crossing fingers.) So I thought I'd bore our partners...and anyone else who's already heard this story...yet again. Because when I think back on it, I get that warm fuzzy feeling that only homemade limoncello and near-death experiences can give. And I get a little tear in my eye because I love and miss Keri and wish I was celebrating with her right now. And it's our blog; we can be sappy and repeat ourselves if we want to, damn it. Happy Birthday, beautiful.

Mountain Lions, Anacondas and Cupcakes
June 21, 2007

It's almost 1 a.m. on the longest day of the year. I should definitely be asleep by now, but the sudden realization that Keri and I could have died, or at the very least been made horribly unattractive yesterday, is keeping me awake. It could also be the amazing orgasm I just enjoyed or the late-in-the-day caffeine fix.

After spending most of yesterday drinking homemade limoncello while making Brady Bunch tiki talismans out of clothespins, Keri and I needed a break. I hadn't shown her much of the valley yet, so we set out on a little late afternoon drive. First we headed to the toilet graveyard that sits about a quarter-mile away from my house. I have no idea what past lives these toilets have led, but every time I go by, the rancher who owns the property seems to have added more, and I am usually compelled to leave flowers.

Suitably impressed with the graveyard, Keri wanted to see more of this great land, so we headed up the mountain toward Southmayd Ranch. It's an eerie drive - dark, wooded, steep - there is a patch of trees that seems to have been afflicted with a disease at one point as they appear black, dead and decidedly ominous. Once you reach the top of the mountain, the sky opens up, and there is an absolutely gasp-inducing view of the valley below. A small house sits at the top of this road with a deck that juts out over the side of the mountain. The house is very rustic - faded wood siding and a variety of different-sized windows. It looks like it was pieced together from parts of other houses abandoned long ago. There used to be a young couple that lived there, but on this day, there was no sign of life at all. The yard was overgrown, and from the little bit that we could see through the dusty windows, the place looked empty. We stopped the car, and Keri said to me with the persuasiveness of one skilled at peer pressure, "You know you want to break in and look inside."

We opened the gate at the top of the driveway and began walking toward the house. As we got close, I stood on my tiptoes trying to get a look at the inside. Not being able to see much, I continued walking past the house to try to get a look in the side windows. Keri, on the other hand, opened the front gate and began heading down the hill toward the deck. She had decided that the best way to see the house would be to scale the deck and get in through the screen door.

I stood watching her, admiring the fact that her six-foot willowy legs could easily climb the wooden posts while my short and stout ones are chronically planted to the earth. She had just about reached the deck when suddenly a noise came bellowing from the shadows underneath. It sounded like the whoosh of a gas heater being turned on followed by the deepest, most resonant growl I have ever heard, and I got the distinct impression that it was a territorial warning. We both froze in place. My eyes darted around wildly looking for large rocks, sticks, super hero powers or a strapping ranch hand with a big gun, but there was no such luck. Keri turned to me and said with extreme calm, "Did you hear that?" And suddenly we both realized we were definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. She turned and got out of the yard as quickly as she could, and we both walked back to the car swinging our arms above our heads and talking very loudly, which is what I've always been told to do when accidentally crossing the path of a mountain lion. Of course, we're not sure that it was a mountain lion......

We both slammed the doors of the car and sat shakily trying to breathe for several minutes. As soon as I could get a steady hand on the steering wheel, I turned the car around and began the descent back down the mountain. With the windows open and the smell of the evergreen needles wafting in, I could almost forget our narrow escape.

I was just about to turn on some roller-skating-in-the-driveway-in-my-Joan-Jett-headband music when a movement from the woods caught the corner of my eye, and I heard a rustling sound near the edge of the road. Choosing to ignore it, I remained looking straight ahead. And then I heard Keri say the words that every girl loathes to hear while in the dark forest,

"What the fuck was that?"

Apparently, we had disturbed a giant snake in his journey across the road. Keri said that it was about the diameter of a stop sign pole, although my boyfriend says that it got bigger every time she told the story. Boys. She watched it rise above the road in a writhing, angry snake dance and slither off into the trees. I looked at her incredulously. "How'd we get to Jurassic Park?"

Rolling up the windows and locking the doors, I continued down the hill and was ecstatic to see the open pasture and my cute little house - where only birds, deer, bats and the occasional mischievous raccoon or possum frolic nearby.

After our frightening adventures in the wilderness, Keri and I came to a quick conclusion that a little baking therapy was in order. And that it must, of course, include chocolate.

I'm a scratch baking kind of girl - organic butter, high-quality chocolate, real Mexican vanilla. I'd rather have an invasive medical procedure without anesthesia while being preached at by Pat Robertson than serve someone a cake topped with that nasty, tongue-coating frosting made from Crisco. But in this case, instant gratification was definitely more important than gourmet quality.

At our grandparents' house in Samoa, there was always a crystal bowl filled with wrapped candy sitting on the coffee table. Keri's favorite was the triple-layered coconut neapolitans, and mine was the chocolates filled with fruit cream - especially the ones with the delicious orange filling. It was just these candies that I thought of as I opened the cupboard and saw a box of Trader Joe's chocolate orange cake mix. Perfect.

I mixed up the cupcakes while Keri whipped up a lovely orange juice glaze. In about a half-hour we were happily licking sweet chocolate crumbs and tart citrus icing off our fingers. That once-uncomfortable feeling of having narrowly escaped tragedy somehow mixed with the lusciousness in our stomachs and became something more akin to a fuzzy daydream.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Art Appreciation

Mark and I had a lovely time in SoHum today. We went to the Winter Arts Faire at the Mateel and saw all sorts of beautiful handmade goods and art. We ate some delicious squash lasagna and listened to some hippie dippy Christmas celtic music.

After that we headed into Garberville where we walked around looking at more beautiful art and people until the rain caused me to come down with a severe whining disorder. We ducked into a coffee shop, got warmed and caffeinated, and all was right with the world again.

I thought I'd share my very favorite piece of art. It was hanging above our table, and I couldn't stop staring at it. Its title: Mystery Hottie.

I think a better title would be Mystery Hottie Wearing a Bad Toupee.

Or....Mystery Hottie Hasn't Noticed a Mangy Shih Tzu is Sitting on her Head. Feel free to add your own suggestions.

P.S. Mystery Hottie can be yours for only $200 at Flavors Coffee Shop.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Did you hear that? (Double Bonus DYHT week)

Date: December 8
Time: 12 p.m.
Place: Cafe Court, Bayshore Mall, Eureka, CA

A somewhat neurotic man and a very helpful woman are eating cheap Chinese food and chatting.

Man: I've been wanting to put my computer out in the living room instead of the bedroom, but I'm afraid that when the neighbor kids jump on the trampoline they'll be able to see the porn through the window.

Woman: Well, you could hang a curtain.

Man: Good idea. Did you know that I always clear all my private data everytime I get off the computer? All the history and everything.

Woman: Why? So your dog won't see what you've been looking at?

Man: I'm afraid that if a burglar ever comes in my house, he'll steal my computer and then see all my porn.

Woman: Huh. I think you should just stick a note on it that says, "Dear Burglars, please don't judge."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Did you hear that?

Date: December 5
Time: 7 p.m.
Place: An Arts Alive venue in Old Town, Eureka

A man, as part of a large crowd enjoying a holiday choir performance, turns to the woman standing next to him and says:

"That was the biggest jingle bell clusterfuck I've ever heard."