Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Ghost reveals headlines for remainder of 2020

Like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, I had a dream last night in which the future was revealed to me. Think things can’t possibly get worse? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Here are some of the upcoming headlines and stories the Ghost of the Rest of 2020 told me to pass along to my readers.

Category 8 hurricane splits Florida in two

August 29 — A Navy plane has spotted the southern half of the severed peninsula containing Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Ft. Myers and Sarasota, approximately 20 miles off the coast of Cuba. Reporting from the White House, CNN’s Jim Acosta says that, because President Trump recently changed his official domicile from New York to Palm Beach, which is no longer a part of the United States, he is an illegitimate president and must resign.

Coronavirus vaccine withdrawn after trial

September 27— Placed by the Trump administration on a fast track for approval, the vaccine, which was administered to 5,000 volunteers earlier this week, was withdrawn after it was discovered that all 5,000 indicated they plan to vote for Trump and, when questioned, were unable to name a single Democratic candidate for any office. “We’d rather spend the rest of our lives in our basements than submit ourselves to a brain-washing vaccine that has obviously been developed by pharmaceutical companies trying to win favor with Trump,” CNN’s Chris Cuomo told CNN’s Chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper.

CNN: Even Melania isn’t voting for Trump

October 14 —CNN last night reported 43 times between 7 pm and 8 pm that First Lady Melania Trump told one of the network’s interns she has no intention of voting for her husband in the upcoming election. CNN later withdrew the story after Mrs. Trump called the news desk to complain. Anchor Anderson Cooper said Mrs. Trump told him the story was a “big fat lie, just like that orange orangutang’s life has been.”

132 million mail-in ballots marked “Biden” received by Alabama Election Commission

October 19 — Joe Scarborough, co-host of CNN’s “Morning Joe,” insists that the ballots, which were delivered yesterday afternoon by the United States Postal Service, are most likely on the up and up. “The population of Sunbelt states like Alabama is growing at an unprecedented rate,” Scarborough told his co-host, Mika Brzezenski.  “Alabama’s Election Commissioner should consider them legitimate until and unless proven otherwise."

Manhattan buried by volcano

October 21 — The 433 residents remaining in Manhattan who refused to flee due to the Coronavirus are assumed dead from the volcano, which emerged without warning from the ground beneath the Central Park Zoo, burying what was once America’s largest city beneath a mountain of bubbling lava. CNN reports that President Donald Trump laughed when told the news, saying "They weren't going to vote for me anyway" and "Now I can collect the insurance payout on Trump Tower."

Biden replaced after debate gaffe: “Who are you people and what country did you say this was again?” 

October 23 — The Democratic National Committee, meeting in emergency session last night following the debate, named Hillary Clinton to replace Biden as the party’s candidate for president. CNN News President Jeff  Zucker praised the committee’s selection of Mrs. Clinton whom, he said, actually won the 2016 election but "Trump and the Russians stole it from her."

Kanye wins presidency

Nov. 4 — The world was in shock this morning after a record voter turnout in the United States which saw incumbent Donald Trump win Alaska, challenger Hillary Clinton win California, and Kayne West sweep the rest of country’s electoral votes. West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, announced at the victory party that she is introducing a new line of lipsticks named after former first ladies, including Betty Ford Fuchsia and Michelle Obama Opalescence, which will be released in time for the inauguration. 

Canada and Mexico station troops along borders to prevent Americans from claiming political asylum

Nov. 5 — CNN reports a line of cars containing panicked Americans bound for Mexico reportedly extends from Tijuana to Seattle. The line waiting to cross into Ontario from Detroit extends 725 miles all the way down I-75 to Atlanta. 

Thanksgiving canceled after Coronavirus infects turkeys, pumpkins and potatoes

Nov. 22 — Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN that Stovetop Stuffing and Heinz Gravy are the only staples of America’s national holiday deemed safe for human consumption. The Trump administration issued a press release insisting the food chain is safe, which was reported by all news media except CNN which, Trump told Fox News' Sean Hannity, is a “very, very bad company.”

Bleakest Christmas ever after Coronavirus claims lives of Santa, reindeer and elves

December 15 — Mrs. Karen Claus, in an exclusive interview with CNN, told the network that she is holding up well, despite the loss of her husband and his co-workers, whose deaths, she said, “are directly attributable to Donald Trump.” 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Chocolate pie like mom used to make

My mother bequeathed to me many things including shares of Apple I foolishly sold a couple of months after I received them, thinking the stock couldn’t possibly go up another penny. It has more than quadrupled since then. 

She also left me a huge secretary. No, not an overfed Girl Friday, a seven-foot-tall piece of burled walnut furniture consisting of glass-enclosed bookcases atop a pull-down desk atop a chest of drawers. I tell visitors it has been in the family for generations.The truth is, mom bought it at an antique store sometime in the 1960s and I remember sitting in the car for hours listening to the radio as she was inside the shop, haggling with the dealer. Having come of age during the Depression, Mom never paid the asking price for anything. By the time she was finished negotiating, anyone unfortunate enough to think he could earn a profit on anything he sold Ruby Dryden was more than happy to sell it to her for a pittance so he could get rid of her and take a couple of aspirins and/or stiff drinks and lie down. But I digress.

Of all the things mom left me, perhaps the rarest and most valuable is her chocolate pie recipe which I insisted she write down as she made one for my birthday — I always chose pie over cake — during a visit to our Connecticut home twenty-some years ago. Mom was an old-fashioned cook. She didn’t use written recipes, she kept them in her head. I knew that, someday, when she was gone, my all-time favorite chocolate pie recipe would be too, which is why I had her write it down.

I’ve been thinking about that recipe all week. Last weekend I attended a cookout at my niece Marilyn’s house in Ohio, where I was visiting my brother and sister-in-law who live nearby. Marilyn asked her mother, Nancy, to bring a pie. Knowing I love chocolate pie, Nancy ordered one from a local gourmet market. A few hours later Marilyn called back and said she wanted a peach pie, so Nancy called a Dayton pie shop to order a second pie. The bakery informed her they didn’t take orders but assured her there would be a peach pie if someone showed up at 7 a.m. the next morning when they opened, but warned that, if we got there a few minutes after 7, it would likely be gone. Because we Drydens take our pie seriously,  I set my alarm for 6:30 and was standing outside the door by 6:55.  I was the only customer in sight. “You must love peach pie,” the clerk said, as she placed the pie in a box and sealed it with a sticker with the bakery’s logo. “I hate peach pie,”I told her truthfully. The only fruit I’ve ever consumed has been served in the form of a pie and peach ranks right down near the bottom of the pie spectrum in my book, just above pumpkin, rhubarb and gooseberry. 

When dessert time rolled around, I ignored the peach pie but cut myself a generous slab of the chocolate which, I had to admit, was darn near as good as mom’s, but not quite. For starters, it was a chocolate cream pie. Mom never topped her pies with whipped cream. She always topped the pies I preferred — lemon, chocolate and butterscotch — with meringue.  I consider a golden brown sky-high meringue as essential to a perfect pie as the filling and the crust.

This morning, I dug out mom’s recipe and decided to give it a go.

This is the first time I’ve tried to make it and I’m going to a) give it my best shot and b) hope mom remembered to write down the recipe correctly.  If mine turns out the way I hope it will, you can feel confident following the step-by-step instructions from the woman whom God in heaven has no doubt conscripted as his personal pie maker. 

And if I screw it up? ?

I’m going to call the Dorothy Lane Market in Dayton, Ohio, and see if they will FedEx me one of their chocolate cream pies, but I somehow doubt the whipped cream topping would survive the trip.

Step 1: Prepare the crust

(Note: I took photos of each step in case you’re one of those visual persons who, in our digital age, is no longer capable of reading text unless it is accompanied by a picture.)

Mom didn’t bother writing down her recipe for piecrust because she knew I couldn’t have come even close to making one like hers. She advised that I should buy a frozen crust, which I did.

For years, mom used lard— rendered pig fat— to make her crusts.  Once my father started carrying Crisco in his grocery store, she began using that. She said a Crisco crust wasn’t as good as a lard crust but that nobody born after the Harding administration would know the difference.

I bought a frozen pie crust from my local Publix. According to the ingredients on the wrapper, Publix uses palm oil and soybean oil rather than lard or Crisco. 

Publix’ instructions say to remove the foil pie pan containing the crust from the plastic wrapper (duh) and allow it to thaw for 15 minutes, after which you should “thoroughly prick crust” (unless you’re a thorough prick in which case you probably refuse to follow instructions anyway).  After pricking, “place on baking sheet and bake on middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes until piecrust is golden brown, and cool completely before pouring desired filling into crust.”  Why would anybody pour their undesired filling into the crust? 

At the risk of sounding like former Congressman Anthony Weiner, here is a close-up of my pricks. I didn’t know how thoroughly I should “thoroughly prick crust” so I used a fork to prick it all over as shown. A question for you pie cooks reading this: Are these pricks "thorough" enough? Please advise.

Here’s the Publix frozen crust just out of the oven. Damn! The crust fell while it was baking and no longer comes up to the top of the foil pie pan which means that, once I prepare my “desired filling,” I won’t be able to pour it up to the top of the pan because it will ooze back behind the crust. I guess I will have to eat any unused filling out of the pan it cooked in because mom always told me I shouldn’t waste food. 

Make the filling

Measure and pour the following into a large bowl:

1/2 tsp salt...

3/4 cup of sugar...

1/3 cup of flour …

... to which you add cornstarch, filling the measuring cup up to 1/2 cup. In other words, add enough cornstarch to make a total of 1/2 cup of combined flour and cornstarch. (There will be a pop quiz after you have completed reading this post so make sure you understand this perfectly before proceeding.)

Add 3 heaping tablespoons of cocoa. 

Mix all the dry ingredients thoroughly with a fork and place in a large saucepan.

Add 2 cups evaporated milk …and 1/2 cup water.  But don’t turn on the stove yet. (Note: There are more than 2 cups of milk in these cans. Throw away the unused milk unless you are one of those people who actually put canned milk in your coffee like mom and her friends used to do. )

Separate two eggs. No dummy, I don’t mean put them side by side, 

as if you’re separating two fighting children. 

Crack each open carefully, hold over a cup and gently toss the yolk back and forth in the two halves of the shell as the white part of the egg falls into the cup. Once all the white has fallen into the cup, drop the yolk into a bowl. Throw away the shell unless you’re one of those people who “thinks organically” and keeps a compost pile by the side of your house in which case you can throw the shell onto that, which will attract rats, raccoons, ants and other pests you don’t want while emitting an odor that will make your neighbors think you have an outhouse instead of an inside bathroom. 

If you see a red speck in one of the egg yolks that looks like this, congratulations — a chick is (make that was) on the way. You murdered it when you cracked the shell. It will never breathe life, never bring pleasure to little children at Easter. Throw that egg away and crack open another and repeat the “back and forth” separation process.

Beat the two yolks with a hand mixer and set aside. 

Place the cup with the egg whites in the fridge — you will need them later. 

Cook chocolate mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. I don’t understand why you can’t use any old spoon but I did what mom said and looked high and low for a wooden spoon, which I finally found in a little-used drawer.

Uhh, this wasn’t looking right. As I was cooking, I was seeing clumps of cocoa and/or flour and/or corn starch in the liquid mixture, so I got out our trusty vintage GE hand mixer and beat the clumps away. Presto, within a minute or two it was smooth as silk. 

When the chocolate mixture is thick (mom didn’t define "thick" but I think she meant about as thick as ketchup), take two tablespoons of it and add to the bowl containing the beaten egg yolks. This is called tempering. If you would have added the yolks directly to the pan containing the hot chocolate, you would have had scrambled eggs. Beat two tablespoons of chocolate mixture into the yolks.

Add the contents of the yolk and chocolate bowl gradually into the saucepan with the rest of the chocolate mixture.

Stir until mixture reaches the boiling point. (Spoiler alert: This is where I think I went wrong. I stirred that mixture until it was as thick as concrete  but it never did boil. The good news: I don’t have to lift weights for a month. I got a great upper body workout stirring and stirring and stirring, waiting for the mixture to boil. Finally, I couldn’t stir it any more because it was so thick, so I took it off the stove.)

Add 1 tablespoon vanilla extract to mixture. (I forgot to take a picture of this step but if you can't envision it you have no business being near a stove, much less in a kitchen.)

Pour mixture into cooled, thoroughly pricked pie shell.

Make meringue

Pour reserved egg whites into a bowl and beat with mixer, gradually adding three or four tablespoons of sugar. 

Beat until meringue holds up in peaks.

Spread on pie and brown in medium oven (mom didn’t define “medium” so I set it on 350 degrees) until meringue is flecked with brown.

The result?

The pie, to my amazement, looked perfect — every bit as authentic as mom’s (sans the homemade crust). And it was all for me. My wife doesn't like chocolate pie any more than I like peach pie. 

Alas, it was inedible. The filling was way, way too thick -- "gummy" is the word that comes to mind -- and generally flavorless. It wasn’t burnt but I perceived the presence of flour and/or cornstarch. I couldn’t finish my first piece. The meringue, however, was excellent. 

An earnest plea

Has anyone reading this ever made a successful (e.g. not only edible but delicious) chocolate pie using the same basic recipe as mom’s? 

Some recipes I’ve found call for chocolate bars or chocolate chips but mom always used cocoa — Hershey’s to be specific, nothing fancy like Ghirardelli. Her plain-old Hershey cocoa chocolate pies were incredible, so I’m looking for help from someone who has made cocoa-based chocolate pies. 

Otherwise, I’ll be calling that gourmet market in Dayton, Ohio, first thing tomorrow to see if they can ship me one of their cream-topped pies and if they can’t, I’ll be moving there permanently.

Life is short and then you die. And until I do, I don’t want to live in a world without chocolate pie like mom used to make.