Lisa Sweet Cambridge is a communications professional writing about all that retirement brings to her life ... some of it is sweet and some requires grit.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pie Perfection

My goal this summer is to make a pie (from scratch) using every fresh fruit … well, not all in the same pie, of course.  And, using only fruits I like. So, that limits the possibilities somewhat, but has already exceeded the number of pies that I have made in my entire lifetime.
Peach. Check!
Apple. Check!
Lemon. Check!
Cherry. Check!
Assorted berries. Check!
Strawberry. Check!
Every single pie baking exercise has presented its own unique challenges.  
The lemon meringue was too soupy – had to eat it with a spoon.  

The cherry pie required pitting cherries (duh!), but in my case without a cherry pitter. I thought a fondue fork might work until I stabbed my thumb with it. Turned out that the best solution was the big end of a chopstick.
The assorted berry pies (more appropriately should be called tarts) – well, I forgot to set the timer on the oven, started talking on the phone, and voila!  -- tarts were a little overdone resulting in berries that were very dark and a little dry. However, covering them with a large blob of whipped topping or ice cream eliminated having to look at the berries, and they tasted super.

The peach and apple pies were divine on the inside, but the crusts were a challenge. Crusts are always a challenge!
Yesterday, I made a strawberry pie and I nailed it! My crust was perfect and I’m going to share how I did it.

I started with a recipe given to me by Dan’s dear departed Aunt Ruby, who grew up on a farm in Iowa when everything was made from scratch. Her pies were always fabulous. However, using her recipe, I wasn’t quite getting it. Something in my technique or touch must have been wrong because it just wasn’t flaky enough. And, I never seemed to have enough dough to make a double-crusted pie, top and bottom. I imagine that was because back in the day, pie pans were only eight inches.  Mine are all nine inches.  So, I made a few adjustments and my AARP (Adjusted Aunt Ruby’s Pie) crust recipe is below.
But, first a few tips:

·         You can use only Crisco or only butter, but some combination of the two is better. I go with ½ and ½.
·         While you’re sifting the flour, sugar and salt, let the Crisco sit in the freezer. Five minutes should do it. And make sure your butter is cold. Everything must be cold!
·         An easy way to measure the Crisco, if you aren’t using premeasured bars, is to fill a 2-cup glass measuring cup with cold water to the 1 1/8 c. line. Add the 6 T of butter and then add enough Crisco until the water line hits the 2-cup mark.
·         Let your 3/8 c. of cold water sit with ice cubes in it for a few minutes. Again, everything must be cold.
·         The vinegar is critical. Don’t leave it out just because it sounds weird.
·         If you leave the dough ball in the refrigerator much longer than 30 minutes, it will get quite hard. That’s okay because it will soften as you roll it out. But, just beware. I thought I had ruined mine and almost tossed it in the trash.
·         When you roll out the crust, don’t skimp on the flour. It’s okay and your dough won’t stick.
·         If you’re making a single crust pie shell and don’t have pie weights, use beans. Or, until I purchased pie weights,  I used coins that I stole from my shoe-shopping jar, wrapped in foil.

AARP Crust
2 ½ c. flour
2 ½ t. sugar
1 ¼ t. salt
½ c.  Crisco
3/8 c. butter (=6 tablespoons)
1 egg
2 ¼ t. white vinegar
3/8 c. cold water

·         Mix and sift dry ingredients in large mixing bowl.
·         About a tablespoon at a time, cut butter and Crisco into flour mixture.  
·         In small bowl, mix egg, vinegar and water.
·         Stir egg mixture gradually in to flour/butter and mix until it forms a ball.
·         Wrap dough in saran wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Now, I just need to master the technique of making the rim pretty once I place it in the pie plate.  If anyone has tricks or tips, I’ll gladly listen.
As I mentioned, I’ve made more pies this summer alone than in my entire lifetime. Since beginning chemo, Dan has a real sweet tooth. We now always keep desserts in the house. And, since I retired, it just seems only right that I make them all from scratch.  Well, all except the stash of vanilla wafers that we always have on hand.  

I’ve also discovered the best whipped topping ever. Another side effect of Dan’s chemo treatments is lactose intolerance. And, I endured the Whole 30 diet a couple of months ago. Since then, I too have removed most dairy products from my diet. The best solution for whipped topping for pies is Coco-Whip by So Delicious. It is a coconut milk-based whipped topping and is divine!
Thank you for reading my blog. I lack a theme because I have so many topics I want to write about.  I might cover anything from cooking to gardening to sewing to tips for retirement (which I recently did and learned a lot about how to prepare for this new stage in life.  I’m still learning.) Perhaps some updated geneology for the Sweet/Gwaltney family. I’ll try to refrain from political commentary but, with the RNC and DNC right around the corner, I may not be able to keep my thoughts and sarcasm to myself.

To coin a phrase, I’m good at many things, but a master of nothing. Maybe that’s why I want so badly to “master” the perfect pie crust.

Please come back and God bless!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Let me just start out by saying -- I've never blogged before. I don't even know what I will say over the course of time. Hopefully, I'll surprise myself and have something interesting to put out there. Perhaps I'll surprise even you and make you a dedicated reader with some interest in the life of this ordinary gal who is recently retired and navigating a new phase of her life.

Despite a degree in journalism and a long and successful career in communications, I must tell you that I truly dislike writing, but I know that lately I'm being called to do this blog.  It's been gnawing at me for some time now. Every night when I lay down to go to sleep, the first thought that pops into my head is that I should get up and write something ... but what?

Maybe I do have some things to write about afterall. The question is ... is there anyone out there who would really care enough to read it? I guess I'll find out. Let's give it a shot, shall we?

Let me introduce myself. I am recently retired from a medical school in the Midwest where I served as the head of the communications department.  My husband and I have three children, four grandchildren, two dogs, three grand-dogs. I love to garden (newly found passion), cook, sew, crochet, knit, travel and read - just to name a few of the things that keep me busy. I don't like to write and I don't like to exercise, but I find that these are two necessities to remain sane. I'm also a cowgirl wannabe.

I consider myself very fortunate that I could retire early - I'm a few years premature of Medicare and traditional Social Security. My retirement was a more or less spontaneous move I made in March after my husband was diagnosed with stomach/esophageal cancer.Lots of factors played into our decision for me to retire and that is a blog in and of itself. (If you've ever seen the movie "Nell," this would be where she pokes me on the forehead with her index finger and says "you 'member dat!")

I'm not quite ready to get into why I've titled my blog "Sweet Grit." For now, suffice it to say that Sweet is my maiden name and a name that I'm quite proud of. However, this is the perfect day for "Beginnings" because it is my Mother's birthday. She would be 88 today. She's been gone for almost two years and I miss her "sweet grit" every day. Happy Birthday, Mama Lew! This is in your honor!