Time for pie! A collection of pies for Thanksgiving.

img_7235Each holiday seems to have a specific dessert associated with it.  For me, Easter always brings visions of coconut cakes smothered in shredded coconut, Christmas calls out for cookies of all kinds and Thanksgiving is the day that pies are front and center of the dessert table.  No pie is more synonymous with Thanksgiving than Pumpkin Pie and with the current proliferation of all things pumpkin spice, I have decided not to include it in this small collection of recipes and instead, focus on a few others that are guaranteed crowd pleasers!

Right about the time of the onslaught of pumpkin spice laden goods, apples come into season.  While just about every pumpkin pie is based on a creamy, custard based filling recipe, apple pies are much more flexible.  Pumpkin is pumpkin but each variety of apple has its own characteristics and by simply switching out varieties, you can completely change the flavor of the filling.  Personally, I prefer to blend apple varieties to create a full flavored pie that has plenty of juice to keep the pie from being dry and enough heft in the slices to prevent them all from falling apart while they bake.

img_7243The skins of an apple contain pectin, which will make wonderful sauce or jelly, but is tough and chewy once baked, so be sure to peel and slice the apples as you make the filling.  Do not worry about the browning that might occur because the sugar and spice will camouflage the color.

img_7244For this pie, I chose Rome, Cortland and Golden Delicious.  Each one had flesh of a slightly different color.  The yellow hue of the Golden Delicious apples made the slices resemble rutabegas!  The Cortlands were a bit green and the Romes were bright white.  The texture and flavor of each was also different and ranged from crispy and tart to soft and sweet with a lovely scent.  If you aren’t sure of what varieties are suitable for pie, this comprehensive chart from Pick Your Own will be very helpful.

img_7250With my kitchen packed up for the move, my options were limited and I decided to skip the top crust and just go with a streusel topping.  That dome of apples looks a bit ridiculous but the truth is that the apples used for pies always juice out and collapse a bit in the baking.  For this monster, I had two and a half pounds of apple slices in the fillings-something I do not recommend for a 9″ crust!  For a pie that size, don’t go over two pounds.

One other thing I would like to mention, if you are intimidated by the idea of making your own crust or simply do not have the time or desire, don’t make one-buy one!  Usually, I mix up a large batch of dough divide it into the portion, roll out what I need for the pie I am baking and then freeze the leftovers.  This way, I always have a stash of dough to pull from the freezer any time I want to bake a pie.  Because we are in the process of a long distance move, I have run through my stash and had to purchase a crust for this pie.

img_7258A spicy crumb topping is a quick way to dress up a pie and to add a little crunch to the texture along with flavor.  It is also a lot easier to handle than a top crust which makes it the perfect solution if you are not keen on working with pie dough.  The recipe included  with this post is one of my favorite crumb toppings and it works just as well on cobblers, crisps, muffins and coffee cakes as it does on this pie so be sure to keep it handy!

img_7257Crumb Topped Apple Pie

makes one 9 inch pie, serving 8-10

2 pounds fresh apple slices-any variety suitable for baking

8 ounces brown sugar

2 tablespoons of apple (or pumpkin) pie spice or you can blend your own spices by combining 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom and 1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/4 cup all purpose flour or 2 tablespoons corn starch if you prefer starch to flour

Preheat the oven to 350.  On a sturdy baking sheet that will not warp and buckle in the oven, place a sheet of parchment paper and give it a spritz of grease.  Toss the apple slices with the sugar, spices and flour and pour it into the crust.  Cover it with the crumb topping, pressing it down lightly to pack it and to prevent it from falling off.  Put the pie onto the prepared baking pan and bake the pie until the juices are bubbling and have thickened, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Allow the pie to cool until room temp so that the juices set and it will be much easier to slice.

My Favorite Crumb Topping

1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup dark brown sugar (honestly, can be light or white, I just prefer dark)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or apple/pumpkin pie spice blend

1/8 teaspoon baking soda, optional-using it will make the crumbs lighter, omitting it will keep them crunchy


To call this a collection, I must include other recipes and these are two of my absolute favorite pies!  Rather than print the recipes here, I am including the links to my food52.com page;  Masala Spiced Pear Pie with a lattice top and Roasted Butternut-Maple Pie with Smoked Pecans

img_4740For the adventurous bakers, this gem from my days as the pastry chef of the Loveless Cafe, a Goo Goo Cluster Marshmallow pie is an unbaked pie but it does require making the crust, a ganache and a cooked marshmallow filling.  While a little time consuming, it is well worth the effort if you are a marshmallow fan, the recipe is also posted on my food52.com page and can be found here.  If you can’t find Goo Goo Clusters, visit the website and stock up or search for a store that sells them near you!

Rainy with a chance of mushrooms

img_7202We have grown mushrooms on many occasions.  The kits available make it easy to grow shiitake, oyster and buttons but for serious hobbyists, purchasing innoculated plugs and loose spawn are the preferred methods.  Last year in the spring, Darry innoculated some oak logs with shiitake plugs and 16 months later, we are harvesting mushrooms for the first time here in Virginia.  It takes a long time for the mycelium to spread out within the log and when conditions are right, it produces fruit; mushrooms are the fruit of the mycelium.

img_7204Fresh shiitake look very different from the ones commonly found in the supermarket.  Notice the shaggy appearance of the cap?  It was surprising to me as well-I forgot about that!

img_7207While many mycelium grow in wood, many more grow in the ground.  The mycelium for a web that spreads out under the soil surface and when the conditions are right, mushrooms pop up.  Right now, stink horns are popping up all over the ground under our crape myrtle and in areas of our former vegetable garden.  They are bright orange and are the subject of more than a few less than “tasteful” jokes in our yard.  The greenish-brown top has a strong odor which attracts flies who in turn, spread the spores of the fruit.  Without flies, these stink horns would not be able to reproduce.

img_7212Stink horns are very fragile and do not last long.  They come up early in the morning and by late afternoon, this is what they look like.  The good news, mushrooms growing in the garden is not a bad thing.  Not only are they good at helping to compost things like wood, they can also improve the soil in the garden and increase the yields of vegetable plants.  When you see them growing in the garden, leave them there and enjoy the benefits of the mycorrhizae-the symbiotic association of the mushroom mycelium and the roots of plants as they grow in the same space.

img_7218Along with the stink horns, our former garden is full of these fragile mushrooms.  They are rather small, notice the blades of grass?  And just like the stink horns, they do not last long and are generally gone by late afternoon.  The mycelium for this mushroom is all over the garden area.  They came up in beds and walkways and all over the front yard.  We let them do their thing and left them to break down in the beds.  This spread the spores and allowed them to spread and it also helped to improve the soil.  If you are looking for good, organic garden soil, be sure to grab a bag with mycorrhizae in it and see the difference it makes when you have active and living soil in your garden!


Chihuly Nights; visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden after dark

img_2378A few years ago, while we lived in Nashville, we went to an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s work when it was at The Frist Museum.  It was a wonderful show and we really enjoyed looking at the colors and the shapes of the blown glass pieces.  At the same time, Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, also in Nashville, was featuring a night time exhibit of additional works, but as luck would have it, we never made it out there.  When I went to Atlanta last month, I learned that the Atlanta Botanical Garden was featuring a night time exhibit and I made sure I did not miss it again!

img_7092Using my camera, I took pictures as we walked around the garden and how I wished I could have used my tripod to get better shots!  The glass works are pretty amazing in daylight but once the sun sets, the lights used in the displays give the glass a completely different appearance.  For one, the colors glow.

img_2380If you have ever visited ABG, you are familiar with the raised walkway that takes you high above the gardens.  In this area, the view was almost magical.

img_7101These white glass pieces almost look like balloons or torpedoes.  Because I was using my camera hand-held, it was hard to really get all of the details.

img_7104This looked like a giant succulent from above and below, it looked as if it was alive.

img_7106The reflection pool really captured the movement of the glass tubes.

img_7110While I could see the tiny blue lights up close, they got lost in the distance.  The entire area glowed orange, as if a campfire was nearby.

img_2382This was one of the exhibits that the camera just couldn’t handle.  Called a Fiori Boat, the large structure in the top pool was floating on the surface of the water with the large glass orbs, known as Niijima Floats.  In the background is the Earth Goddes Sculpture whose hand forms a waterfall.

img_2381Covered in moss and surrounded by water, she was an amazing sight in the dark.

img_7124Water lends itself well to the glass and many of the exhibits were in a water setting.  To really see the difference in the photos from the camera and my cell phone, compare this shot to the next one.

img_2383It would have taken me a lot of time to catch this look with the camera.

img_2385Looks like icicles to me.

img_7142As we prepared to leave, a final sculpture greeted us near the gift shop.  They look like blossoms to me!  Truly art imitating life-garden life to be specific.  Do yourself a favor, while you can visit during the day, buy a ticket to the show and go after dark.   The show closes at the end of the month, hurry, don’t miss it!

Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand-100% Goodness

img_7079On my most recent trip to Atlanta, I had the chance to visit Delia’s Chicken and Sausage Stand.  Like any other place that calls itself a “stand,” Delia’s is a little building with outdoor seating along the side of a very busy street.  Don’t let the lack of indoor accommodations scare you away; this place is worth the trip!

img_7078Having placed our orders, we went outside to grab a table.  The seating area is covered which means that you will not bake in the sun and if it is raining, you can still sit down at a table and eat-personally, I hate eating a meal in the car!img_7088The staff is friendly and were a pleasure to deal with-they even let me take photos!

img_7090Judging by the location of these seats, they must get pretty busy.  These seats are near the parking area and in full sun during lunch.

img_7083By now you must be wondering what chicken sausage is.  The short answer; ground chicken with spices and herbs which is cooked up and tastes a lot like an Italian sausage but isn’t nearly as greasy.  We both chose to order The Chickie Philly Classic which is chicken sausage with onions and peppers with classic sauce (cheese sauce) and chipotle mayo on a hoagie roll.

img_7085However, I had mine without the cheese sauce-I just do not like cheese on my Philly sandwiches!img_7086The sandwiches are large and filling but those fries…my weakness for seasoned fries well documented.  These were too good to pass up.

img_7087When I said the sandwiches were large, I wasn’t kidding!  We were glad to have spent a couple hours walking on the Dolls Head Trail because it made eating a lunch this big seem less decadent!

img_2373After lunch, we headed over to Highland Row in search of a piece of furniture.  While we were not successful in that search, we did find quite a few creepy doll heads and dolls that would have been a perfect fit for the Doll’s Head Trail if they allowed you to bring in new stuff.  The rule is that you cannot bring in stuff, you can only use things found in the park to make displays for the trail.

img_2374She looks so innocent…

img_2376These were just so weird.  The way they sat upside down…

img_2377These were just creepy.  The one on the right almost looks like a real baby while the one in the middle looks like an alien in need of new eyes!

Since we are knee deep in the move, the house is on the market, everything I own is packed up and the garden has been tilled over and seeded with grass, I do not have much in the way of baking to share here-or gardening for that matter!  There are still a few things about that trip to Atlanta that I will try to share with you.  In the mean time, please keep your fingers crossed that this move goes quickly and smoothly!

Doll’s Head Trail in Atlanta


Over the last 5 years, I have made many trips to Atlanta to visit our daughter.  Each time, we have explored a new place and on my most recent visit, Alix took me to the Doll’s Head Trail.  The trail is located within the city perimeter, tucked away in Constitution Lakes Park and while it is not exactly easy to find-so signs are posted for it, it is well worth the effort needed to find it.  That is provided you have an open mind, a fondness for “found object” art and a dark sense of humor.  The area itself is full of history and at one time, was the site of a brick manufacturer but what it is really known for is that it frequently gets flooded and that is key to the art installations on the trail.  Unlike most art parks/trails, where adding to the displays or even building new displays is not allowed, on the Doll’s Head Trail, you are encouraged to use objects found within the park to create work.  Actually, the only rule is that it must me made from garbage and junk already present in the park and if you carry in new things to use, they will be removed.


img_7058The dolls heads are everywhere, so is graffiti.


img_7048We wandered slowly along the trail, continually finding little treasures

img_7049and graffiti, lots and lots of graffiti

img_7050some of the work was clever and imaginitive

img_7051other things were humorous

img_7053quite a bit of it was creepy


img_7055img_7059img_7060img_7061img_7065This collection of shoes was amazing-look at the moss on the boots.  Love the Shoeless Joe Jackson reference, had to explain that one.

img_7066And of course, a common sense public announcement.  This will be a place I must return to on occasion, especially after a big rain event.  It will be very interesting to see what washes up and how it is used in the artwork on the trail.

img_7069The park is also a nature center and we happened to catch this little guy out shopping for lunch.

img_7070He was a little reminder to look at everything because you just do not know what you will find out there.

img_7068Like this tree which was easily 20 feet from the trail in some very tall and thick brush.

img_7072Of course, we had to leave our mark as well.

img_7075we did so in honor of our cats! Chicken Wing and The Captain are now part of the trail.


Asheville; the beer and barbecue version

img_7001After hiking up Black Balsam and climbing the equivalent of 75 floors (yes, we are fitbit geeks), we were thirsty and hungry.  Luckily, Asheville has an abundance of breweries and barbeque restaurants.  We left the car at the guest house where we were staying and walked a few blocks over to Catawba Brewing Company and Buxton Hall Barbeque.  Honestly though, I have not developed much of a taste for beer and did not indulge in any of the brews on tap.  Catawba Brewing Company is located in a large open space with plenty of seating options to match the number of brews available on tap.

img_7002Beer Kegs are all over the space.  These were located near the entrance and under the chalkboard that announces upcoming events and releases.

img_7006The back wall of the building is lined with windows, the seating area is bright and open racks of kegs line the walls.

img_7007When I mentioned the large amounts of brews available on tap, I really wasn’t exaggerating.

img_7010Located right next door to Catawba Brewing is Buxton Hall Barbeque.  They had me at pie…This pie case immediately caught my eye, and those are real pies, not just for show!

img_7011Like the brewery, the space is large and open and so is the kitchen.

img_7021We were seated near the bar.  The restaurant was packed and it was a Wednesday evening, after Labor Day.  Like many of the restaurants around town, the sources for the ingredients used in the kitchen are on the menu.  Since we were starving, we ordered full plates!  Fried chicken is a weakness of mine and I will order it on occasion but when I read that this version was made with smoked chicken, I had to order the quarter dark plate.  Alix decided to indulge in barbeque and neither of us was disappointed!  It is easy to see why Bon Appetit and Southern Living magazines called Buxton Hall Barbeque one of the best new restaurants for 2016.  Be sure to save room for pie, we had a slice of the Banana Pudding Pie and it was worth every calorie; creamy custard, homemade cookies and caramelized marshmallow topping, the perfect end to a wonderful day.

img_7024An open kitchen means that everyone can watch you work.  Seeing this cook prepping away brought back many memories of long evenings spent working the line and prepping for the next day.  Back then I worked in the pantry and spent many hours picking stems off spinach leaves and peeling shrimp 10-50 pounds at a time; I do not miss that at all!

img_7025Looking forward to going back to Asheville so that I can try some more of the restaurants.

Gan Shan Station; hungry hikers paradise

img_6986One of my favorite things about traveling to new places is the chance to try new restaurants.  Trust me folks, Asheville did not disappoint!  Every meal we had was well worth the visit.  After our big hike up to Black Balsam Knob, we followed another recommendation from the wonderful folks at Local Provisions (the first being the hike up to Black Balsam Knob) and went to Gan Shan Station for a late lunch.

This small indoor space makes great use of the natural light and we were seated at a table that was next to the large wall of windows in the front of the restaurant.

img_6988Having hiked at least 6 miles (did 9 miles of walking for the day), we quickly drained the water bottles placed on the table.

img_6990This old building was perfect for camera play-I loved the light fixtures hanging above the tables.

img_6991Sorry, couldn’t resist…

img_6992My choice for lunch was a spinach and tofu salad.  Trust me when I say that this is not what I expected.  It was also as delicious as it was different, those crunchy bits on the top…Seriously though, this dish was only offered as a special and for those of you who visit the restaurant, I hope they offer it again!  It had a little bit of a bite to it but the crumbled tofu and cooked spinach were well flavored and served cold-perfect and refreshing for the hot day and the hike we had just completed.

img_6994The rest of our meal included pork dumplings and fried tofu.  Be sure to check the special board to see what fillings are available for the dumplings because they change them frequently.  We devoured them!  The filling was a typical Asian style pork recipe with ginger and garlic and all of the other ingredients you would expect to find but it was the sauce that made them.  It was a creamy peanut sauce with what I think was a touch of red curry and if we had been there alone, we might have fought over who was going to have it all.

The fried tofu was light and crispy, fried to perfection in a well seasoned starch mixture and again, the sauce was a big part of the success of the dish.  It was not your typical salty-soy sauce and we used it freely as we ate the crispy sticks.

img_6996Between us, we also shared a grilled vegetable salad that included squash, peppers and avocados.  This was the first time I ate a grilled avocado and honestly, I don’t think it made any difference to the flavor; ripe avocados are the food of the gods and nothing can improve that!  Again, be sure to check the special board, that is where the good stuff is.  At least it was on our visit because most of what we ate, was ordered off the board and not the menu.

img_6999And if you need any proof, we joined the clean plate club and walked away feeling full but not stuffed!  It was the perfect way to refresh ourselves after our hiking adventure.

img_7000The verdict, if you are in Asheville, take the trip over for lunch, it isn’t in the downtown area but it is worth the time you will need to get there.  My plan is to go back sometime and try the dinner menu.

img_2344Remember that mention of Local Provisions?  We were staying nearby and walked over for cocktails before heading out to dinner.  When I read the description for the Midnight Voyage, I had to have one.  It was the first time I have ever tasted Honeysuckle Vodka and I probably could have consumed a quart of this mixture!  The cocktail is a blend of honeysuckle vodka, Creme de Violette, St. Germain and lime juice.  It was a little sweet, very citrusy and just a bit floral; it was also like a glass of grown-up limeade that did not remind me of really bad margaritas, which is something lime juice generally does for me.  They knocked it out of the park with the addition of a stem of begonia flowers.  How is it that this gardener did not know that begonias are edible???  They have a tart flavor that will get you at the back of your jaw but in this drink, they were the perfect addition!