Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pie Smackdown

This blog thing started out innocent enough for us.  Post a few pictures of what we've been up to to keep the family informed, keep a journal for ourselves, etc.  What I didn't know is that I would really start to enjoy reading other people's blogs, too, but that reading them would get me in trouble.  Back in November*, SkiBikeJunkie was bragging about how fantastic his wife's pies were on his blog, and in a moment of foolishness, I challenged her to a pie-baking duel. It was an offhand comment, but a small blogging circle picked up on it, and before I knew it, we had a flavor (pecan), date (P-day), and time set up for the pie contest, complete with neutral judges UtRider, Blackdog, and Watcher, only one of whom I had met before.  I knew that Rachel was a good cook from browsing her blog and from tasting her amazing brownies at a Revolution team party.  This would be a challenge!

* Isn't November national pie month or something?

Between November and P-day, I practiced my pie making with at least eight pies.  I was having trouble with the crust getting too tough and, in one instance, down-right crunchy.  I finally realized it was the butter-flavored Crisco* I had been partially substituting into an all-butter recipe for flakiness.  Once I switched to about 2/3 butter and 1/3 regular Crisco**, the crust came out perfectly.  On P-day, I left the pies in the oven just a tad too long so the crust was over-browned, but it was still delish.

*In most food I make, I strive for all-natural ingredients.  Hydrogenated vegetable oil, a.k.a. Crisco, is by no means all-natural, but it makes a darn flaky pie crust that is easy to roll out.  Unless you are eating eight pies in two months, it probably won't kill ya.

** My Mom, maker of fantastic pies for decades, uses lard, real lard, like from a pig.  The lard sold in grocery stores these days is mostly hydrogenated oil packaged as lard.  I have shopped around for real lard at two health food stores, but they shooed me away, probably because lard isn't exactly a health food.  I never got to a butcher shop, and just settled for Crisco.

Watcher and his wife were kind enough to host the event - neutral turf and all.  They also understood the importance of ice cream and coffee to a true pie-eating experience.

The pies arrived.  Rachel's (two on the left) were clearly prettier than mine, but how would they taste?

We served


They ate

and ate! Almost all four pies were devoured.


But in the end, my pecan pie was judged to be just a tiny bit more to these particular judges' tastes, so I took home the crown and Rachel got a squeaky horn.  However, Rachel's pie was more to the liking of the special Youth Judging Panel, and since Rachel has to feed her children, it is probably a good thing that they love her food.

What a fun night eating pie with new fun people.  Drew was definitely glad he could participate as an eater, even though he was disqualified from judging because he might have voted for my pie (that is, if he ever wanted me to make more).
For an impartial account of the contest, written by Watcher (whose blog, by the way, is always chock-full of way awesome posts about the natural world in Utah), surf to here, where you will find a full explanation of this picture.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Little Vanagon that almost could!

Bobke, our 1980 VW Vanagon, has been going through a big overhaul.  Quite a few years of neglect and several owners who tried to cut corners to keep him running took their toll.  The last owner, unable to get him running, decided to just park him in the back yard for a few years up in Idaho.  Then we came along and decided to bring Bobke back to his original grandeur.  The engine was rebuilt, new hydraulic and fuel lines were installed and a set of new 15-inch wheels complemented the initial rebuild to get Bobke back on the road. 

Air Cooled Engineering of Salt Lake City has performed all work on Bobke to date.  One of the big obstacles we faced was replacing all the mismatched parts used over the years with original parts.  The people at ACE have been great to work with and the owner of the shop has been a great resource of information for us as we tackle this rebuild.   

Last week we were informed that the engine rebuild was a success and Bobke was puttering away at the shop waiting for us to pick him up.  With my parents in town to witness the new arrival home we all decided to go down to the shop and pick up the Vanagon.  Lucy was given the honor of driving Bobke back from the shop while I rode shotgun.  

Even though the initial inspection showed that the transmission was in good shape a big ol' gremlin made an appearance only 3 miles from the shop.  The bearings in the torque converter of the transmission were bad and brought Bobke to a sputtering stop in the middle of four-lane State Street.  There was a bit of confusion and mayhem, but in the end we were able to get Bobke back to the shop via a tow truck.  The transmission was pulled and has been rebuilt.

Chewed up bearing rings.....Bad!

The shop will re-install the engine and transmission on Monday, and we hope that on Tuesday we can drive Bobke home.  We have dreams of adventures when Bobke will deliver us to some never discovered pristine overlook where we can pop the camper top and kick back with a beer in hand and relax.  Unfortunately we know there are quite a few potholes between that vision and right now.  A little bit at a time and some day we will be there.  At least that's what I keep mumbling to myself :-)

Like I stated earlier, my parents were in town for a few days and we really enjoyed their company and catching up on their adventures.  They stopped by on their return voyage from a cruise ship adventure through the Panama Canal. 

Dad and Mom enjoying the evening at The Dodo restaurant in Salt Lake City

Mom delved into the genealogy library for a few days and Dad helped me out with projects around the house, including installation of a gas insert for our fireplace and cutting out wood panels for the air compressor cabinet in the garage.  They had to return home to Pennsylvania so they could shovel walkways and driveways around the house after receiving 27 inches of snow this past week.  It was great to hop off the hamster wheel for a few days and spend time with them.  Their visit was timed perfectly, as Lucy had competent and willing pie eaters to test recipes for her upcoming Pie Smackdown.  No one was disappointed and no one went to bed hungry.

Posted by Drew

Do you know what is in your ductwork?

I recently helped friend Jen move into her new house.  It was a big day she had waited a long time for and Drew and I are very happy for her.

The moving crew; girl power!

She hired one of those services to come through the house and clean the ducts of allergens and dust.  They had trouble getting the cleaning brushes down the main duct that runs to the upstairs loft.  This is why.

Holy cow! 

Her dog Dazee was the lucky recipient of all these balls found in the duct.