Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quiche, aka Man Food

I love the expression "real men don't eat quiche". It comes in handy when I want to make fun of J, because I serve quiche for dinner at least a couple of times a month. He even takes the leftovers for lunch the next day. Clearly, I married a "fake" man. But I digress.

Quiche is extremely versatile, both in terms of the ingredients and in terms of when you can serve it. It really works for any meal - even J, who is adamantly opposed to the notion of breakfast foods for dinner, happily eats this during the evening hours. And aside from the pie crust, quiche is actually quite healthy. I make it for dinner on a regular basis because I tend to always have the ingredients around, and if you lay in a couple of those pre-made pie crusts, it's a pretty quick meal to prepare. The recipe below is for a basic spinach and tomato quiche, but you can play around with the fillings to suit your taste. I've done asparagus, red bell pepper, and goat cheese to good effect, and anytime I have leftover stinky cheese (frequently) it goes in a quiche. In fact, I often make quiche for the express purpose of using up leftover stinky cheese. I usually make a meatless quiche, but if you'd prefer to include meat, ham is an obvious choice.

5 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
about 1 cup frozen chopped spinach
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup cheese (parmesan or cheddar)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1 pie crust

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk the milk and eggs until slightly frothy. Whisk in seasoning. Add defrosted spinach*, tomatoes, and cheese, and stir until combined. Place pie crust in the pie plate and pour the egg mixture in. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and a knife inserted into the egg mixture comes out clean. This makes about 6-8 servings.

If I am serving this for dinner, I usually serve it with roasted sweet potatoes. Very easy to do, just peel and cube 2 or 3 large sweet potatoes, toss with a couple tablespoons olive oil, salt, and pepper, throw them in a covered casserole dish and bake alongside the quiche until fork tender, about 30 minutes. If I am serving this for brunch, I like to offer it along with a fruit salad and some form of incredibly unhealthy breakfast meat. If I am serving it for lunch, it's good with something like butternut squash soup.

*Defrosting frozen spinach is kind of a tricky business because you basically need to wring it out after it's defrosted. I just dump the whole soggy mess onto a couple of paper towels, wrap it up, and keep squeezing until I'm not getting any more liquid out. You will then be left with a tiny dark green ball that doesn't look the least bit appetizing. Throw it in the bowl and use your spoon to break it up enough to combine it with the rest of the ingredients.

Monday, March 29, 2010

No More Excuses

One of my favorite books is Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik. Aside from the fact that I wish I'd lived the life that inspired the book, what I really love about this book is that it's about living life without making excuses, without holding back. So often, we are told that when we have children, we have to delay gratification, put things on hold, wait until they're older. Paris to the Moon recounts the experience of Gopnik and his wife moving from New York to Paris when their son was six months old. It was a long-time dream of theirs to live in Paris, and being parents didn't hold them back from taking a huge leap of faith to achieve their dream.

It seems that there is almost always a reason to not do something when you have a child. J and I aren't the most motivated people in the world, and we often fall into the trap of making excuses for why we can't do something or go somewhere or just generally live a more interesting life. It's one of the primary reasons why we feel we're just not suited for the small town/suburban lifestyle - it adds one extra hurdle. Instead of being able to drive 10 minutes and end up at a museum or a baseball game or an awesome sushi restaurant, we have to drive a minimum of an hour, plan on being out for most of the day, and at this point in E's life, haul along most of his worldly possessions. So we tend to stay home, occupying ourselves with the many chores or projects in the house and yard. While we usually get a lot done, we end up feeling frustrated and bored, and that the weekend has passed almost without our noticing it or really even spending any time together.

Recently, we decided that we need to make more of an effort to spend our time consciously, to do the things that feel like real life instead of just filling up the hours. There are some great things within a 1-2 hour drive of our town. We keep waiting for the perfect time, for the weekend when there is no birthday party, no projects inside the house, no yard work, and I've come to realize that weekend will never happen, so we might as well just dive in. Below is a list of things we want to do. It's not quite packing up everything we own and moving to Paris, but it's a start.

Visit the farm that produces our meat
Art Museum
Visit cool small town with lots of fabulous local food markets, about 80 miles away

This past weekend, we checked the art museum off the list. Our weekend was incredibly busy - Saturday morning swim lesson for E, dinner with friends Saturday evening, Sunday trip to the city - yet, this morning, I felt more rested and refreshed than I have in a long time. During the course of our weekend, J and I didn't have any spats about whose turn it was to do some random household chore and E made it through the entire weekend without a single meltdown (unheard of lately). We were focused on each other, focused on doing things that fill us up and renew the connections between the three of us. The house is a disaster and the yard work was left undone, but I count this as our most productive weekend in a very long time.

I'm interested in how other families experience this issue of making excuses and of waiting for the "right" time that in reality will never come. What do you put off, thinking that you don't have the time, money, freedom, etc., to do? If you've found a way to stop making excuses, what motivated you to break out of that pattern?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Guest Post!

Today, I have a guest post up on a blog I've really been enjoying, called An Attitude Adjustment. Jana's blog reflects on issues surrounding politics, feminism, faith, and motherhood, and she very kindly offered to share space on her blog with me. Please check out my guest post, Evolution of an Interfaith Family, and then check out the rest of Jana's fabulous blog!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Soup Season Finale

T.S. Elliot said that April is the cruelest month, but around here that would be March. It seems to veer wildly between seeping cold and pervasive damp, and brilliant sunshine with the tease of tulips and daffodils beginning to push forth from the earth. Still, in a few weeks, the sun and the flowers will have their way, and soup season will draw to a close, giving way to salads, pesto, and fresh berries. Here's a recipe for potato leek soup that revels in the last dark dregs of winter, yet still celebrates the whispered promise of spring. Leeks have a fresh, slightly tangy taste, but the soup has a comfortingly creamy texture.

Potato Leek Soup

4-5 good sized potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 pound leeks, cleaned and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
approximately 32 ounces chicken or veggie broth
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp crushed rosemary leaves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
a few tablespoons olive oil

In a large stockpot, gently saute the garlic, onions, and leeks until slightly softened. Add seasonings, potatoes, and broth, and simmer until potatoes are fork tender. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup and serve. This soup is wonderful with some nice bread and cheese, and if you eat meat, a few chicken apple sausages. If you have leftovers, don't be put off by its unappetizing appearance the next day - the flavor improves overnight. Just add some broth, heat, and enjoy. Makes approximately 8 servings.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Support of Slacking

All winter long, I've planned my first ever kitchen garden. Tomatoes, of course. Basil. Garlic. Peppers. Maybe some melons. Except...I really don't want to plant a garden. Despite the fact that I am a huge fan and supporter of the local food movement, of eating fresh, whole foods, and of Michelle Obama, I just don't want to plant a garden. So I'm not going to.

This feels incredibly rebellious. Among my friends and acquaintances, not planting a garden appears to fall into the same category as giving your kid Coke for breakfast. Scandalous. If you have the space, you plant a garden. But I make pizza from scratch, I buy my meat from a local farm, and I eat more lentils than anyone I know, so I've decided to give myself a pass on the garden.

Contemplating my potential garden, I found myself longing for the kind of yard we had in our old city - big enough for the pugs and a few tomato plants in containers, but really best suited for sitting outside and sipping wine on summer evenings. Instead, we have an unwieldy half-acre, exactly the kind of yard that cries out for a garden and one of those expensive wooden swing sets. The swing set has never been a possibility (our yard isn't level enough), and now that I've embraced my anti-garden stance, it seems our little slice of suburbia will lie fallow. Sadly, it can't even be used for sipping wine on summer evenings. Too many mosquitoes.

That I would rather drink wine in my yard than grow zucchini suggests I probably would not have been well-suited to life as a pioneer woman, but also that I am not unique. Whether it's planting a garden, sending our kids out in matching clothes, or reading a newspaper every day, we all have something we just don't want to do that we nonetheless feel we ought to do. The truth is (and we all know this, just may not want to actually accept it), stay at home mom or working mom, kids or no kids, suburbs or city, none of us can do it all. What have you decided to give yourself a pass on? And if you haven't given yourself a pass on something yet, I hereby give you permission to do so - it feels wonderful!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mommy Blog At Your Own Risk

I don't like to go for walks during the weekdays, because my small subdivision is usually deserted. It feels eerie, as if E and I are the last people left on earth. If you're a suburban stay at home mom, it can take real effort to find a community of moms (or even just one mom!) that will help alleviate that feeling of being the only one left. One of the real benefits to so-called "mommy blogs" is that they help fill the void of human interaction so many moms experience. But mothers who blog are widely ridiculed and judged, as shown by the comments on the New York Times Motherlode blog the other day.

Reading through the comments, I was really shocked, but perhaps I shouldn't have been. Women, and mothers in particular, are always judged more harshly and criticized more openly, and blogging opens us up even more to that judgment and criticism. It occurred to me, however, that aside from giving women the chance to feel connected to each other, perhaps blogging can serve another, larger purpose - bringing the experience of motherhood into the public realm.

On the surface, motherhood seems very public. Baby bumps are considered fashion accessories; books and magazines about parenting abound. But the true experiences of mothers remain largely private. Our struggles with pregnancy, pre-natal and post-partum depression, the ugly truth about recovering from childbirth, the bleeding nipples as we learn to nurse our babies, the sleepless nights, the search for the right daycare - these are all kept quiet. We're not supposed to complain. After all, we chose to have children. Real life motherhood is a lot different than it looks on TV, and blogging allows us to tell the true story.

But mothers being more honest about their experiences in a public way inspires vitriol in some, and I believe the reason is these women pose a challenge to the status quo of mother as martyr. As more and more intelligent, thoughtful women share their experiences in a public forum, gaining public voices in their roles as mothers (as opposed to their roles as attorneys, teachers, etc.), more and more women will begin to critically examine the way society treats mothers and families. More and more women will begin to question the lack of systemic support for families once they learn they're not the only ones who struggle with issues such as pre-natal or post-partum depression, or ad hoc daycare arrangements. Over time, I have to believe that this will add steam to movements focused on developing public policies to support families, and in particular, mothers. (Year long maternity leave, anyone?)

I'm not suggesting that mommy blogs are going to change the world, but I am suggesting that blogs can be a powerful public forum, and there are many women out there creating public voices for themselves. Some are focused on supporting each other through the day to day details of raising kids, some are focused on more political issues that relate to motherhood, but whether it's diaper changing or day care subsidies, blogs are a game changer, and there are those out there who like the game just the way it is and will continue to disparage mothers who exercise this public voice.

Mommy Bloggers of the world, unite!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Build Your Own Risotto

When J and I first met, I subsisted largely on packets of instant oatmeal. My idea of cooking was boiling water for pasta, and I owned precisely one pot. J was quite appalled at not just my inability to cook, but also my disinterest in anything resembling a balanced diet. As soon as our relationship had progressed enough for him to take such liberties, he dragged me off to the grocery store to show me how to shop properly.

Since then, I've gained a full arsenal of kitchen gadgets, a discriminating palate, and the ability to do a bit more than just boil water. There is one recipe, however, that continued to elude me - risotto. J used to make it, but it looked so complicated that once I took over primary responsibility for cooking our meals, I never even attempted it. It wasn't until I decided to go rogue and ditched the recipe that the world of risotto opened up to me.

Risotto, I've found, is one of those dishes that doesn't really need a recipe. You just need to pay attention. It's relaxing to make and comforting to eat. Once you throw everything in the pot, all you need to do is stand there and stir, watching as the rice gradually releases its starch to create the creaminess characteristic of risotto. And the great thing about risotto is that you can throw just about anything in there and call it a meal. In the spring and summer we often grill salmon and asparagus for dinner. The next night, I take the leftovers and put them in risotto. In the winter, chicken breast and frozen peas make a great risotto. We also use shrimp from time to time. It can easily become a vegetarian dish just by eliminating the animal protein and increasing the veggies. I've seen, but have not yet tried, recipes for pumpkin and butternut squash risotto. Bottom line, risotto is a dish with infinite possibilities, and you don't need a recipe. All you need is imagination and watchful eyes.

olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 1/2 cup arborio rice
about 32-36 ounces of chicken or veggie broth, room temperature
about 3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

protein of choice, about a half pound - I usually cook chicken breast in the pot with the garlic and onions, but with seafood I cook it separately and then add it in at the end.

veggie of choice, about one and a half cups - Frozen or fresh is fine, just don't put it in the pot too early or it will get mushy. The exception is something like broccoli, which takes longer to cook. Add that in after the first round of broth is absorbed. But veggies like asparagus, bell pepper, or peas need to be added at the end.

In a wide, deep skillet, gently heat the olive oil for a minute or two. If cooking chicken breast, add 2 or 3 cubed chicken breasts now, and allow them to cook for about 5-7 minutes on medium heat, turning them frequently so they begin to brown. Add the onions and garlic and cook a few minutes until the onions begin to soften. Add the celery and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the arborio rice and about a third of the broth. This is where the serious watching and stirring begins. Bring the pot to a simmer.

Watch and stir, watch and stir. When the simmering liquid is mostly absorbed by the rice, add more broth. It is important that the broth not be cold, because if it's cold, it will prevent the rice from fully releasing its starch, and the starch is what makes the rice creamy. Watch and stir, watch and stir. Add more broth as the rice continues to absorb what's in the pot, until the rice is tender. Taste test the rice occasionally to keep a gauge on how much longer the rice might need. Once the rice seems almost tender enough to eat, but not quite there yet, add the veggies and cooked seafood if using. Also add salt and pepper at this point. Add more broth, watch and stir. Once the rice is tender, remove the pot from the heat and stir in about a half cup of parmesan cheese. Reserve the rest for sprinkling on top of the individual servings.

The quantities I've given will feed about 4 adults as a main dish, but everything can be easily adjusted to increase or decrease quantity. The main thing to keep in mind is that you need roughly 3 times as much broth as rice. Water can be used in a pinch. Enjoy!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Yet Another Reason to Move to Paris

I maintain an ever-growing list of reasons to move to Paris. Items on the list include (in no particular order) baguettes, the fact that Stella the Pug would be welcome just about anywhere, and fabulous health care. The newest item on my list? Being able to drink wine without feeling guilty.

Around here, Friday night is wine night. When we first moved here and were in the throes of culture shock, we found solace in a little wine shop downtown. It's run by lovely people who stock really excellent wines at great prices. They do a tasting on Fridays at 5pm, so we'd usually go for that, and then either pick up a pizza at the pizza place across the street, or go home to roll out the pizza dough I'd left rising. We got to know the people who run the place and soon our wine runs included some friendly conversation as well. In a town where we knew practically no one, it was a welcome change of pace. It was a little outing that over time became a little ritual, and it gave shape to our week.

We love wine. Thinking about the meal you'll be eating, choosing a bottle that will complement it, and tasting how the flavor of the wine evolves as you drink it - these are all things that we find really enjoyable, and we've never questioned whether enjoying them in front of E was appropriate. He would come with us to the wine shop, sit on the counter while we tasted that week's selections, and we'd let him smell the wines on offer. We've always felt that it's important for children to see their parents and other adults drinking alcohol responsibly, and we feel that including E (to the extent possible) in our wine shop visits, wine tastings, and letting him see us drink our wine at dinner would ultimately help him develop an appreciation for the context in which wine, and other alcohol, should be enjoyed - with mindfulness, as part of a meal, and with family or friends.

Lately, however, I've started to second guess our approach. A couple of times now, E has asked to try our wine. This is just natural curiousity; he's also asked to try my coffee several times. We've explained that wine is a special drink that grown-ups have, and that he can try some when he's older. Still, there's this part of me that wonders if we shouldn't be drinking in front of him, and feels slightly guilty for doing so. I know that it's the norm in many European countries to include wine as a regular part of the meal, and to begin offering small amounts of wine to children at relatively young ages. The time we spent in Paris confirmed that wine is treated with far more respect than it is here in the U.S. It's a central part of the meal there, and it's hard to imagine families in that context second guessing whether they should have a glass of wine with dinner just because the kids are around, but in this country the Puritanical attitude towards alcohol consumption makes it hard not to second guess yourself.

Ultimately, I don't think hiding your alcohol consumption from your children is healthy - for you or your child. It suggests that alcohol can't be part of a balanced life, and it suggests that as adults, we should eliminate anything from our lives that isn't child-centered, fitting ourselves into our childrens' lives rather than fitting our children into ours. Of course, there are exceptions to this. If you're drinking so much that you think you need to hide it from your kids because it's setting a bad example, chances are good that you're just drinking too much, period. But if you feel the need to hide moderate and responsible alcohol consumption from your kids, then it's probably worth rethinking your approach. Moderate and responsible alcohol consumption in the presence of your kids allows you to introduce an element of balance in your life by no longer denying yourself something you enjoy simply because you are in the presence of your children. It also gives you the opportunity to model a healthy attitude towards alcohol consumption and to model balance in general to your kids.

I harbor no delusions that E won't someday be in a frat house somewhere doing kegstands before he's reached the age of majority (although preventing this is yet another incentive to move to Paris, along with the aforementioned baguettes and health care). I do hope, however, that he will develop respect for alcohol - not just for the damage it can do to his body if used excessively, but for the positive things it brings to life. Taking the time to choose a wine, enjoying the process of preparing a meal that will complement the wine and be complemented by it, and sharing that time with family and friends.

I'm interested to know what others' experiences are in this area - how do you feel about drinking in front of your kids, what is your kids' reaction? Did your parents drink in front of you growing up, and do you think it impacted how you view alcohol consumption? Please share your thoughts...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lentil Appreciation Week

In honor of Lentil Appreciation Week*, I offer the following two lentil recipes. As I've mentioned before, I have great enthusiasm for lentils. I started cooking with lentils as a way to reduce our meat consumption, but now I just love them for their legume-y selves - they have a unique flavor and texture, they're very quick and easy to cook, and they're an excellent source of protein and iron. As an added bonus, they're ridiculously cheap. Bottom line - if lentils were in possession of any more positive qualities, they could probably figure out a way to get health care reform passed.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I have no idea if such a thing exists, and if it does, when it takes place. For the sake of argument, let's assume it does indeed exist and it's being observed now.

Lentil Soup with Chorizo and Ham

3/4 cup red lentils
3/4 cup green or brown lentils
2 chorizo sausages, cooked and diced
1/2 cup ham, cooked and diced - optional
16 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
32 ounce carton chicken broth
1 onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp black pepper
about 2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

In a large stockpot, gently heat olive oil and add minced garlic and onion. Saute on low heat while chopping celery and carrots. Toss the celery and carrots in the pot and continue to cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add in the oregano, thyme, black pepper, lentils, tomatoes, broth, chorizo, and ham. Turn the heat up to medium high and allow to simmer until the brown lentils are tender. The red lentils will break down during cooking and make this soup nice and thick. Keep an eye on the soup during the cooking process and add water to achieve the desired consistency - the lentils absorb a ton of liquid. Once the green/brown lentils are tender, they will stop absorbing liquid.

This soup takes about 45 minutes to make, start to finish. It's a very filling soup and freezes well. If you're serving it as the main dish, you'll probably get 6-8 servings, depending on portion size and whether you've made a thicker or thinner soup.

Vegetarian Lentil Chili Bake

I must admit that I struggled with this recipe. Not the recipe itself, but what to call it. I have issues with any recipe that uses the term "bake" in this way - tuna bake, chicken bake, etc. It brings to mind dishes that involve Ritz crackers and cans of cream of mushroom soup, and while these foods certainly have their place in the world, that place does not tend to be inside me. (It's the food snobbery again. Sometimes even I can't stand myself.) Nonetheless, "bake" seems to have a place in this recipe, as it accurately describes what you do with the dish once you've made it.

1 cup red lentils
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
(1) 16 ounce can dark red kidney beans - drained and rinsed
(2) 16 ounce cans black beans - drained and rinsed
(1) 8 ounce can tomato sauce
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 or 2 packages cornbread mix, plus whatever the package indicates you need to make it - I use Jiffy and it calls for milk and an egg.*

In a large pot, heat olive oil over low heat and add minced garlic and chopped onion. Cook for a few minutes, then add lentils, tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, and jalapeno. Turn the heat up a bit to get things simmering, and add chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook until the lentils are softened and the chili has a nice thick consistency. Keep an eye on things because you might need to add some water or broth. Stir frequently to keep the chili from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

While the chili is cooking, mix up the cornbread and preheat the oven according to the package instructions. When the chili is done, pour it into a casserole dish and put spoonfuls of the cornbread mix on top. Make sure to leave some space between the spoonfuls; otherwise the bottom of the cornbread topping won't cook through. Bake according to the package instructions.

*When I make this recipe, I usually put half the chili in the freezer. Half the recipe will fill an 8x8 inch casserole dish and uses 1 package of cornbread mix. If you want to make it all at once, you'll need an 11x13 inch casserole dish and two packages of cornbread mix to cover the top. A half recipe makes about 4 servings, a whole recipe will make about 8.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Embarrassing Kid Questions

Embarrassing kid questions fall into two categories: the sort of question that makes you wish the floor would open up and swallow you, and the kind that are not in and of themselves embarrassing, but have the potential to be. One of my more noteworthy experiences of the first sort took place during a trip to the grocery store. I guess it was a bit chilly, because E started asking, "Mama, are those your nipples?" in a very loud voice while we waited in the check out line. (The floor did not accommodate my wishes on that particular occasion.) In a case like this, there isn't really anything you can do except distract, distract, distract, grit your teeth and get the hell out ASAP.

The second category is more problematic because the questions tend to be important ones. To really do your job as a parent, you shouldn't distract or ignore the questions, because these kinds of questions give you the opportunity to expose your child to different ways of living and different ideas. About a month ago we were in the city and passed a woman dressed in full hijab. E didn't notice her, but if he had, I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd pointed and asked in a voice better suited for shouting across the playground, "What is that lady wearing?" He just isn't exposed to this kind of diversity often enough to consider it normal, and so the only way for him to learn is to ask, even if I'm embarrassed in the asking. (Knowing my background, though, I'd be likely to launch into an extended lecture discussing the cultural meaning of her clothing and the context in which women make the choice to wear the hijab. Not exactly appropriate for a kid who isn't even three.)

There are so many interesting, exciting ideas that I want to share with E, different types of people and families and lifestyles that I want him to be exposed to, but the reality is in this town, he might not encounter a family with same sex parents, or a family from a drastically different culture, or someone who has a disability. The lack of diversity here means that more things will need explaining and more situations and people will seem "odd" to him, maybe even things about our own family - why we celebrate two faiths, why he is the only kid he knows without siblings. The challenge is to determine how to combine the simple explanation that adequately answers the question at hand with the complicated one that places the question in the larger context of a big, interesting world, all wrapped up in a tidy, toddler-friendly package.

If you have any thoughts or experiences about these issues, I would love it if you'd share them. Any suggestions about how to get my kid to stop talking about my nipples in the grocery line are welcome, too.

Try, Try Again

I've set lots of goals for myself over the years. Some I've achieved, some I haven't. For years now, one goal I've struggled towards has been making my own pie crust, and I am proud to say that I have officially achieved Pie Crust Success! Although I've been a bit traumatized by my past pie crust failures, I recently felt compelled to give it one more try. Something about the task of making pie crust just seemed so elemental to me, and I also didn't like the idea that I wasn't making pie crust because I couldn't, instead of not making it because I was choosing not to. With the gauntlet thrown once more, I gave it another go and was pleasantly surprised.

There are three key factors to which I attribute this victory. First, the recipe. It's from Nigella Lawson's book, How to Be A Domestic Goddess. She not only provides a simple recipe, but she also presents the idea of making pie crust in a non-intimidating way, suggesting that it's something you just need to practice doing in order to ultimately do it well.

The second key factor in my success was my food processor. Nigella's recipe calls for the use of a food processor, and while you don't absolutely need one to make pie crust, it makes it much easier and faster.

The final crucial element was counter space. I've had the opportunity to attempt this recipe in several different kitchens over the years, all with varying amounts of counter space. My most spectacular failure took place in a kitchen with a three foot span of counter space that came up to roughly the top of my thighs. There was just no way to get the right amount of leverage to roll out the crust, and when rolling out crust (or any dough, really) you don't want to handle it too much. If it gets too warm it gets sticky and becomes impossible to roll out, so you really need a decent space where you move swiftly as you take nice long strokes with your rolling pin.

A couple of notes from the trenches: If you have issues with shortening, get over it. An all butter crust just has too heavy of a flavor for savory dishes, plus shortening makes the crust a bit easier to handle. You'll have to play with the proportion of butter to shortening to see what works best for you.

Finally, be open to it. Making pie crust can be incredibly, shockingly satisfying - it's practical, it's tactile, it's sensual, it's spiritual. The way the dough feels in your hand as you form into a disk is weighty and basic. Making pie crust is one of those fundamental tasks, repeated over and over, generation after generation. Rolling it out, it doesn't quite seem possible that flour, fat, and water could yield this beautiful ivory sheet, thick and almost alive. When you pull it out of the oven, you can see that it's not perfect, but that's the point. The edges are rougher than with a premade crust, it tears more easier as you lay it on the pie, but it bakes beautifully. It's crusty, flaky, and flavorful, and it came from your hands.

Pie crust success was a long time coming for me, more than six years, and I have to say, the satisfaction I feel when I see the final product of my efforts is on par with the satisfaction I felt when completing my dissertation. Of course, that took just as long, so perhaps it's no surprise. Both goals, long struggled towards through a cycle of defeat and success, achieved.

Now, I turn my attention to bread.