March 26, 2014

Having a B&B for Me!

      I once had an aquarium in the hall at the top of my stairs. It hummed beautifully at night making a peaceful, bubbling white noise and the light cast a soft glow down the stairs in the dark of night. It held a dozen or so neons and other small fish and a beautiful pair of angel fish. It also contained the customary plastic plants and natural looking gravel, bubbling devices and comical old lady wearing a snorkel tank. I didn't peer into it very often, sometimes feeling bad for the fish captive inside, but I cleaned it regularly.
      Since there is no water faucet on my second floor, when I drained the tank I would syphon it out the window. Far better than hauling gross buckets of water down carpeted stairs. At the time the carpet was ballerina pink (what was I thinking when I did that?). Once the tank was cleaned and emptied however I did have to haul 35 gallons of fresh water up to fill the tank. One night we had a leak in the roof directly over the aquarium. In the morning I removed the one surviving angel fish and gave it to my daughter, then cleaned and refilled the tank and ran it without occupants for months. With the double filtering system I had installed, and no fish poop, the tank stayed sparkling for months on end. I didn't even miss the captive fish. There is something to be said for an empty aquarium I discovered, one that was just for me.
      If you know me at all you know I love my house. In my personal opinion there is nothing more important and essential to a happy balanced life than a home that brings you joy and peace. It can be wherever you want it to be and range from being a shack to a mansion but it has to make you feel comfortable and surround you like a warm hug. I love going out but I feel as if I am happiest at home.
      We don't entertain like we used to. We were once famous for our amazing Halloween parties and it wasn't unusual for us to have a wedding in the yard or build a stage to feature a band for a hot Fourth of July BBQ. Huge parties take vast amounts of energy and bunches of $ as well. Now I enjoy smaller gatherings with close friends, romantic teas and private conversations. But since I love my home and rather like myself I love being alone in it as well.
      This morning I decided I should put a timer on the lamp on my coffee bureau. There resides my morning coffee fixings, my favorite diner-style mugs, a thermometer with the outside temperature so I can plan my day. There's a chalk board for morning greetings and nearby a basket with a wide selection of tea. Although the windows have an eastern exposure in the early dawn hours the room is dark. How nice it would be, I thought, to have the lamp be on when we get up to make coffee. It would turn on early and instead of a glaring collection of bulbs on the ceiling fan just the little lamp would light my way into the room to prepare my coffee. It would be like a Bed and Breakfast just for me. Like an empty aquarium tank that I had simply for my pleasure.
      Snow fell again last evening. A good dusting that needs no shoveling but following a very cold and snowy winter it seemed rude somehow. I have been out in any weather near 40 degrees or higher if the wind was not too brutal and no rain or snow fell, working in the yard for days. I am more than anxious for spring this year. This morning I ordered a 165 gallon galvanized stock tank from a farm supply in the Carolinas. I have laid out a small level patio area, moved my grill and grilling table and I await an order for ferns and flowers from a gardening company. This spring I will be putting in a tank pond. I have a delightful little fairy which holds an urn to pour water into the tank. Beneath the beautiful river birch I planted some three years ago, that is now a full sized tree, I will have my pond. But this, like my empty aquarium, will not be to capture fish, it will be for me. I have mowed one too many lawns in the oppressively hot and humid Pennsylvania sunshine and this year my hard yard work will be rewarded with a nice plunge in a cool tank of water. I can hardly wait! Watch for pictures and I hope you have an amazing spring and very soon! Thank you again for visiting!

March 20, 2014

The First Day of Spring

It's finally here! In my neighborhood no season comes until the calendar says so and it's finally here! Spring! This year, after an unusually cold and snowy winter, and spending most of the last year writing indoors, I am especially anxious to get my hands in the dirt. I have tried to get a head start on the season, getting out anytime it was even the littlest bit mild and it's paying off. There is still much to do but I'm getting into the more fun part of the work and past the yucky jobs like hauling the junk out of the garage.
We've done a huge amount of work on this house in the thirteen years we have lived here and it seems we've pushed a mess ahead of us all the way. For a while it was the basement that seemed to gather all the tools and junk as we moved forward with our plans. It was a sad and crowded place. Yes, I feel shame.

After a few years the rest of the house was decent and one day I had had enough. I hauled it all out and turned it into a decent practice space for my husband and his band and a much better place to do wash and create. It is not a finished basement but it's a comfortable space.

However when I hauled out the basement much of the junk went into the garage where it waited for me. Tonight half of it sits at the curb. I am determined to have it clean before the fun starts in the yard. When the heat of summer hits I have a plan to cool off this year. It's not fancy but I expect it will do the job. Photos to come! Here's a little inspiration!

March 5, 2014

The Promise Pie


     Good Morning!  There are tons of things that go into my books and Piecrust Promise was no exception. I wanted to share a few more photographs and bits of information. Also last night I got to taste the beautiful apple crumb pie that is on the cover of the book. It was delicious! The pie was made by my daughter Jessica. She is an extraordinary pie maker, of all types and sizes, and has told me that when she bakes pies it's as if it takes her to another time and place. When she shared with me the kind of things that go through her mind while she's baking she inspired the description of Corrine and Lee at the beginning of Chapter Sixty-Six. When I needed a pie for the cover of the book I knew right where to go and I was thrilled that she shared her thoughts, I was looking for a pie but I got so much more.

      I have to say the same for all of the readers who visit here, everyone who messages me, emails me and takes the time to put their reviews up online. I love to write but it's much harder in a vacuum. When I hear from my readers I learn and I'm inspired. You, sitting right there, right now, reading this, you are the reason I will always want to keep writing. That's right, you. 

      I wanted to share a map I found online as part of my research for Piecrust and the Oklahoma Land Rush. I love a map, it always offers so much perspective. This piece is one I found really inspiring. The second map is more detailed and shows the major rivers in Oklahoma, rivers that would have had to be crossed during the Land Rush. Piecrust Promise takes place in April of 1889.

      The next picture is a very inspirational view of Fort Reno in an 1891 lithograph. If you look closely maybe you can see Lee Highland's quarters <wink>.

      And last, but certainly not at all least, here is the Promise Pie Recipe. I hope you try it, in your kitchen, or your imagination. Again thank you so much for visiting!!!

The Promise Pie
From the kitchen of Jessie Ramsey ©2014

Promise Apple Crumb Pie

1 unbaked Basic Flaky Pie Crust
Pie Filling
Crumb Crust

 Jessie’s Basic Flaky Pie Crust:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup cold, unsalted butter cut into pieces
½ cup cold water
½ cup cold vegetable shortening cut into pieces

Mix the flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl. Drop the cut pieces of butter into flour mixture. Toss to coat butter. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it is broken into pieces the size of small peas. Add the vegetable shortening. With pastry blender, cut shortening into the mixture the same as with the butter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of water over the flour mixture and toss it with your hands. Continue to add water one teaspoon at a time, mixing it with your hands, until the pastry packs into a semi-sticky ball. Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight. Remove pastry from plastic wrap and flatten with hands until it is about 1 inch thick. Roll out on a floured surface into desired thickness and size. Press into a lightly oiled and floured pie dish. 

Pie Filling :
3 Medium Granny Smith Apples
4 Macintosh Apples
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons instant flour
Filling Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Wash, peel and core the apples. Slice the apples into ½ inch thick pieces (thin pieces tend to get soggy). Mix the apples in a large bowl with the fresh lemon juice. Melt the butter in a large pot or skillet over medium heat. Add apples to melted butter and sauté apples until the edges begin to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. In a separate bowl, mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, and granulated sugar. Add sugar mixture in with the apples until apples are completely coated. Sprinkle mixture with instant flour and allow mixture to cool to room temperature. For a thicker pie filling, add more instant flour if desired. While mixture cools, prepare crumb crust.

Crumb Crust :
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sliced almonds
6 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces
1 tablespoon milk
Optional: Replace 1 cup of sliced almonds with ½ cup of sliced almonds and ½ cup unsweetened flaked coconut

Crumb Crust: In a food processor, combine the flour, granulated sugar, salt, almonds and coconut (if using). Pulse until mixed. Pour mixture into a bowl and add butter. With a knife or a pastry cutter, cut butter into mixture until mixture forms small crumbs. Sprinkle with milk and mix with hands, pinching any leftover butter chunks until uniform.
Assemble Pie:
Once the apple filling is cooled, place pie crust into a lightly oiled and floured pie dish and fill with apple mixture. Place pie crust shield over exposed crust or wrap crust in aluminum foil. Place pie on the baking sheet to catch drips and avoid a soggy crust bottom. Place pie in center of oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove pie from oven and reduce temperature to 375°F. Carefully scoop crumb topping into the center of the pie slowly spreading it toward the outer crust. Press down gently on crumb crush to pack it down on top of apple mixture being careful not to burn hands on any apple mixture.  Place pie back into center rack of oven on baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil or baking shield. Continue baking for 15 minutes or until juices around the crust begin to bubble or crumb crust begins to darken. Remove from oven and cool on rack about an hour before serving.