It was my Uncle Jim’s 60th birthday on Saturday so I hitched a ride to Paris, Ontario with my brother and sister-in-law for the festivities at my cousin Erin’s place.
She and I used to play like there was no tomorrow when we were kids. We would spend most of our visits at Aunt Sandy’s, weather-permitting, in the branches of a big old red maple tree in the front yard. And there were a few summers when I spent a week with Erin and her family in Waterford, Ontario. We played baseball outside and we’d dance and sing along for hours to the Beach Boys in the cool basement, escaping those hot, humid August afternoons.
Now, Erin has three kids. I like these kids because they think I’m younger than I really am. (One time when I aggressively pressed the youngest one–when she was three or so–to take a stab at guessing my age, she answered, 17! HA! You gotta love kids!) Anyway, their mom Erin really likes to feed people. She and her husband Neil preserve the fruits and vegetables that grow in their garden, make their own cheese, harvest their own maple syrup and rear their own chickens.
And Erin’s a bit of an experimenter too who often creates her own recipes: in fact, as soon as I walked in the door she had me sticking my fingers into three dressings she’d concocted: a homemade Caesar salad dressing, a coleslaw dressing and a BBQ sauce, which she made me taste back to back with a very popular store-bought brand. (For the record, the two were indiscernible.)
Erin and I share a real interest in old cookbooks too–not fancy ones by famous authors (although she does have a bordering-on-unhealthy obsession with Gordon Ramsey) but the small town regional sort that our grandma Adeline would have used: the kind that have been produced by Five Roses Flour, church groups and Mennonite communities for decades now. They’re often written in a vernacular that makes reading them feel like you’re sitting around a kitchen table chatting with good friends. And sometimes the recipes within are so simple that you wonder why anyone bothered to write them down. Thank goodness they did: they’re often some of the most comforting things to prepare–and eat.
Speaking of comforting, the first thing I did when we arrived at Erin’s was to grab a piece of what everybody else was eating: Aunt Sandy’s coffee cake.
While I ate that, I planned my plate-filling passage around the tables stacked high with food.
I also monitored the kids who’d congregated around the chocolate fountain that Erin had procured for the event.
After a perfect lunch of cold cuts on still-warm crusty rolls, salads, pickles, olives and cheese, a few of us hunkered down and looked through some of those old cookbooks and I resigned myself to execute a couple of the dishes the next day. I had company coming after all: after reading my friend Erinn’s recent blog post about Sam Shepard I invited her over to watch Baby Boom, a very important film from the 1980s starring Sam and Diane Keaton.
I was set on making a meat pie after hearing my cousin’s mouth-watering description of a Dutch meat pie that her mom has made for years. And I also decided to make butter tarts. I’ve never made them before, but I’ve been craving them for weeks. My Baby Boom dinner choices required two batches of double crust pie pastry but I don’t have a go-to pie crust recipe, despite having researched the subject extensively. Mind you, I’ve tried countless recipes, and I’ve experimented with using lard, vegetable shortening, butter and combinations of those fats. Believe it or not, I’ve never really made a pie that I’ve flipped for but I’ve flipped for plenty of pies.
I settled on a very simple 100 per cent shortening recipe from Edna Staebler’s Food that Schmecks. Many of you fancier types may be questioning the exclusion of butter from my crust. I don’t blame you: crusts made with butter taste better and I love that golden colour of the dough too. But I don’t think I’m skilled or patient enough to incorporate that finicky fat into my pastry: whenever I do (and despite using freezing cold butter, letting the dough rest, blah blah blah) the resulting crust is always a bit stiff. And besides, some of my favourite pie crusts–all impossibly flakey–have been made with only shortening. That, along with the fact that nearly all of those charming recipes books I love so dearly call for only shortening (the really old ones usually demand lard) in their pie crust recipes, made me confident that my recipe choice was perfect for my light meal of meat pie and butter tarts.
Unfortunately, I had some trouble this time around rolling out the dough. I don’t know what the fuck happened.
I ended up just sticking pieces together like a puzzle and pushing them down into the pie plate.
The tarts were a little easier to assemble. And I used a little trick that my Uncle Ron mentioned to me just the other day about filled the shells with nuts and raisins before pouring in the liquid butter mix, rather than putting those things directly into the butter mix: this way you can ensure each tart will have just enough stuff.
Like clock work, Erinn rang the bell at 6:00pm. After a short yarn, I whipped us girls up some mojitos to drink and we started watching our movie. At the half-way point, when Diane Keaton’s character decides to leave her big job in the city and move to a 200 year old house on an apple orchard farm, we paused for snacks and wine.
I’m glad the Beast came home after the scene where Sam Shepard tries to help Diane Keaton change a flat tire in the middle of the night on a country road and Diane is all bossy and wants to do it herself and then Sam grabs her by the waist and kisses her and Diane goes limp like a doll in his arms because IT’S SAM FUCKING SHEPARD because the Beast would have witnessed us squealing and screaming and kicking our feet in the air. To my surprise, the Beast actually joined us to watch the conclusion of the critically acclaimed film.
After that, we ate our dinner not in the dining room where all civilized people would feed a guest, but in front of the television. I know, right? Just writing that I made a dinner guest watch a movie while eating dinner makes me wince, especially considering it was Erinn’s first time over. But it all just happened quite naturally. Besides, the only obvious way to follow Baby Boom is to watch another very important film from the 1980s called Willow, a little movie directed by Ron Howard, written by George Lucas and starring Val Kilmer.
I thought the meat pie turned out great: the savoury filling was perfectly seasoned with just a little dijon, salt and pepper and the pastry was light and flakey. I especially loved the combination of the pie with the simple greens that I’d dressed in a white wine, garlic and dijon vinaigrette. I noticed, however, that neither the Beast or Erinn helped themselves to salad.
The butter tarts turned out just okay: their interiors weren’t gooey enough for my liking.
I also made a small batch of pina coladas by whizzing up canned pineapple pieces, coconut milk and rum with my hand blender. Something was missing though. Sugar? I don’t know. Maybe it was just that pina coladas don’t go so well with butter tarts.
But it didn’t matter so much: the three of us were quite content sitting on the couch with our plates in our laps watching our movie.
It felt like we’d done it a hundred times before.
Pie Crust Recipe
*For the butter tart filling I simply melted 1/3 cup of butter and added that to 1 cup of brown sugar beaten with 1 egg, plus 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tbsp milk or cream. Add as many raisins and nuts as you see fit.
Dutch Beef Pie