Self-Sufficiency Series

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

An experiment with pie crusts

It was my turn to bring dessert to our neighborhood potluck last Sunday. Since the hosts were expecting a full house (I think we had 16 people) I decided to make three types of pies: peach, apple, and blueberry.

But this time I decided to try something different: I used lard for the piecrusts. Even though I've been making pies for something like thirty years, I never used lard because I grew up hearing how awful and terrible lard is (health-wise). Accordingly I always used margarine in my crusts, supposedly because hydrogenated vegetable fats are "healthier" than animal fats.

But the older I get, the more I'm realizing there's a lot to be said for "natural" fats (and let's face it, lard is natural). Besides, I've always heard how pie crusts made with lard are incomparable for flakiness. So I gave it a try. (Doubtless all you expert pie-makers out there are chuckling at my naïveté.)

I pulled all the home-canned goodies from the pantry (I actually ended up using four pints of blueberries, not two).



Peach (in the works).

Rolling out the tops. Incidentally, it's worth noting the smell. I'm not used to the smell of lard and it was a little off-putting while making the crusts. I told Don I hope the smell wouldn't come through after they were baked.

I always like to brush my tops with a bit of milk.

Baked and out of the oven.

And how did they taste? Ooh la la, wonderful! The crust was beautifully flaky, just as promised. I'm a convert. I bought a larger tub of lard to use for upcoming Thanksgiving pies and now I wonder if I'll use anything else. All you expert pie-makers are right!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Date night

On Monday Don and I did something we haven't done in three years: we went on a date. As he put it, we'll go on a date once every three years whether we need it or not.

The occasion for this date was the Moscow Ballet coming to Spokane to perform The Nutcracker. Don knows how much I adore ballet (I used to be a serious dancer, many years and many pounds ago), and although the art form doesn't ring his chimes, he loves me enough to accompany me to an occasional performance. This is why I'm crazy about the man.

We started our evening at a Japanese restaurant. We've been to this restaurant on a few other occasions (in fact, on our previous dates) and enjoy it very much. It's a small hole-in-the-wall place which, we learned, is the oldest authentic Japanese restaurant in the region. It's been open since 1946.

It's not fancy -- linoleum floors and Formica tables -- but the food is superb and the staff is charming.

They have lovely little tea rooms apart from the restaurant portion. At 5 pm on a Monday night, the place was deserted.

After dinner, we made our way to the Bing Crosby Theater several blocks away.

The Moscow Ballet is a touring company and is on the road constantly. This bus is their moving dormitory. The semi truck barely visible in front presumably transports their costumes and props.

The performance was held at the Bing Crosby Theater, a beautifully-refurbished movie theater from the old glory days. I'd never been in this theater before and it's lovely. Just about the first thing you see is a ramp leading up to the balcony level.

Beguiled by the beauty of the building (and because we arrived at the theater early), we wandered upstairs. From the second floor, the stairs became pierced metal spiral stairs that led to a lounge on the third level.

We wandered up to the fourth story and peered down the stairwell.

But the refurbishment stopped at this floor. We saw another stairwell in battered condition...

...with peeling paint on the ceiling. If this is what they had to start with, then the refurbishers are to be commended for their brilliant work.

The inside of the theater.

Since it was a movie theater, the stage was very tiny for a full-scale ballet, and the dancers were challenged to work within very confined spaces. Frankly I don't know how they did it, but they did.

First act with the party scene. Naturally I didn't use a flash, so forgive the blurriness.

We agreed the man who played Herr Drosselmeyer bore a striking resemblance to the actor Bill Murray.

The doll. Amazing dress.

Dance of the Snowflakes. This is normally a very grand dance, and the corps did an excellent job considering their limited space.

During the intermission, a long-suffering ballerina was available to take pictures (at $20 each). She was the soul of patience.

The second act opened with a pas de deux called the Dove of Peace. Each dancer wore one wing and it was lovely.

The pairs from the Land of the Sweets.

Spanish variation.

French variation. Because there were more "poses" during this dance, I was able to get some fairly clear shots.

Arabian variation. These dancers were amazing and athletic. In these shots, the male dancer is lying on the stage and supporting the female dancer as she, flat as a board, descended almost to the ground.

The sheer muscular strength required of both dancers was astounding. The audience burst into applause when they did this.

Russian variation. Unfortunately this couple was moving too fast to get any clear shots.

The Waltz of the Flowers. I've never seen this dance with men -- usually it's a corps of all women -- but I think the troupe didn't have room for the full contingent. Either way it was excellent.

The grande pas de deux. Normally this is danced by the Sugarplum Fairy, but in this variation it was danced by Clara (called Masha in the Russian version) and the Nutcracker.



Altogether it was a wonderful performance. Because they were performing on such a small stage as well as being a touring ballet, they didn't have the large number of performing children traditionally associated with The Nutcracker. But they made up for it with beautiful choreography, superb dancing, and breathtaking costumes. Wonderful time!