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simply little bird

4 February 2013


shortbread cookies

often, simple things delight us most. like watching Elroy’s jowls quiver as he snores through a power nap. or sitting in front of a 1940’s MGM musical with a bowl of butter-drenched popcorn. or a little hike, where you can breathe in crisp, clean Colorado air  at 9,300 feet on a sunny, summer day. or those evenings my dad would enthusiastically serve us an appetizer of half a grapefruit, sprinkled liberally with sugar and majestically topped with a maraschino cherry.

it was with that kind of simplicity in mind that i went about to create mom’s birthday tribute dinner. little big mom_Smi began with her childhood favorite, lamb rib chops. on the occasions i had the privilege to make them for her, our little bird would daintily pick up a diminutive broiled chop and eat every bit—until only the bone remained. she’d then look up and grin that signature grin of pure satisfaction. no lamb in my experience has been as tender and buttery as the Sea Breeze Farm chops i discovered this weekend. i was fortunate to meet the Vashon Island-based Sea Breeze team at the U District Farmers’ Market in Seattle—i appreciate the knowledge they willingly share and admire their farming practices. mom loved meandering through this market; i know she would have adored these chops.

to accompany the lamb, i served grilled asparagus on a bed of fresh linguini—tossed together in a sticky, rich balsamic reduction. simple, for sure, but packed with flavor. i like to think mom would have been grinning from ear to ear had she been at the table with us. she definitely would have enjoyed an accompanying glass of Vignalta Fior d’Arancio Colli Euganei. loved that bubbly.

for dessert, a melt-in-your-mouth Montmorency cherry shortbread cookie, sprinkled with a little organic cane sugar bling. it just wouldn’t be mom, without the bling.

for those of you who revel in the simple things, you can find the basic recipes here:

pasta and asparagus with balsamic reduction (again, i grilled the asparagus)
shortbread cookies (tweaks: roll the dough to 1/2-inch; add 1/2 to 3/4 cup tart, dried cherries to the dough; also consider adding some orange zest, but nix the icing)

i’ll be seeing you in all those old familiar places, little bird. like tonight, i plan to grab a patty melt at our favorite burger joint. not as elegant, perhaps, as our special birthday dinners at Ken’s Steak House or the Wayside Inn (and you can cool believe i won’t be wearing a dress), but my Vanilla Coke toast will be straight from the heart. cranking up 40’s on 4 and sending you a humongous hug and smooches on this birthday and always. with love.

little bird: belle of the ball

18 November 2012


this morning, i grabbed your  favorite mug, made a cup of tea and settled in to look through our family photo boxes. two years ago, you would have been sitting here next to me. and i would have been saying something like, oh, remember that snow storm?? you would have been saying something more like, oh, i loved that outfit! i’ve always thought we each had our own unique spin on the world. but with the passing of time, i realized we were much more alike than i ever imagined.

sure, you had impeccable taste. and style (like in the above photo. seriously, who looks that put together at the bowling alley??); i, while clean and tidy, am at home only in flannel and Levi’s. you enjoyed travel on the high seas; i’m completely content paddling along the shoreline. you were the belle of every ball; i prefer to watch the ball in some 40’s film. yes, on some levels we were seemingly incompatible. on what matters most, we were of one mind.

over the last 24 months, i’ve missed sharing our common ground. lively conversation and well-articulated wisdom (on your part, of course). family and food (today, consumed lobstah tails in your honor). long, brisk walks (we slowed the pace over the years, but our spirits sprinted). marathon shopping excursions (your stamina far exceeded mine). curling up on the couch with good books or to watch classic movies (i bowed to your seniority and bragging rights because you’d seen them in the theater).

i now grasp why you might have worn your fleece vest in the house, when the thermostat was set on 73 degrees. or you left that 1/8″ of half and half in a pint container. or closed the blinds at 3:30 in the  afternoon, on dreary November days. i embrace my inner Fran, when i do the same. and silently (well, sometimes i just shout it out, and the dogs roll their eyes indulgently) express my gratitude for your lifelong guidance and unconditional love.

can’t wait see you on the flip side, little bird. until then, bowl a 300 game. cut it up with dad on the dance floor. and keep sending the big blue heron my way. with infinite love and smooches.

summer, sand and sandwiches

30 September 2012


as i sit down to write this post, my mind rushes back to those first, early fall days of school. sitting at my desk, hands folded and donning a new dress (what a little lady) expertly chosen by my mother, i’d hang on every word uttered by my adored teachers. then, at their direction—and this was my favorite part—i’d choose a shiny new, razor-sharp #2 pencil and begin to craft my annual essay about  how i spent my summer vacation.

had i been assigned the same teacher two years in a row, she likely would have been lulled into a coma by the redundancy of my essays: 50 percent dedicated to the blast i had at girl scout camp and the remaining 50 percent to the wicked-good times i had with my family at the beach. i was never bored by either.

an older me, sis at the Cape

my parents, younger sister and i spent several summers down the Cape (translation: at Cape Cod, Massachusetts): wonderful, lazy weeks of swimming, combing the beach for sea shells and soaking up sunshine—without the oppression of inland humidity. but some of favorite beach days were spent at Crane’s Beach, on Massachusett’s north shore.

we’d jump out of bed early on a weekend morning and throw on our swimsuits. my dad would back the Impala out of the garage and pack the cooler with ice. then, mom would yell, what kind of sandwiches do you want, peanut butter and jelly? GAG. i think Cheryl wants peanut butter. can i please have bologna? in my mind, i said a bologna prayer. anything to avoid peanut butter.

with sandwiches, chips, sodas and Oreos snuggled inside the cooler, we headed to Crane’s. upon arrival, mom and dad scouted out an ideal location, spread out beach towels and hunkered down with books. my sister took her pail and shovel and began the dig to China. i’d walk down to the shore and up through the garnet sand to the dunes; we’d all take dips in the frigid water to cool down.

in a few hours, mom inevitably declared time for lunch! as inevitably, Cheryl’s peanut butter sandwich attracted sand, and she’d cry. i’d happily sit on my towel, munching on my bologna. in the middle of the afternoon, we’d haul ourselves back to the Impala and make the drive back to suburbia. satisfied with yet another beautiful New England day at the beach.

this summer’s essay: i spent a lot of time at the farmers’ markets, enjoying the amazing weather and cooking up dishes with fresh produce. i made a few pies and grilled a fair amount of pizzas. but didn’t begin baking in earnest until this month. ever on a quest to find a replacement for the dreaded peanut butter, i stumbled upon Artisana nut butters. their team was kind enough to send me some samples, and i decided to test out the pecan butter with a dense, dark chocolate sandwich cookie recipe, reminiscent of our best days at the north shore.

little sis, this one’s for you. infinitely better than what was on your white bread. and now i’ll have some nut butter to put on mine!

Homemade Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
a recipe from the flour cookbook with a slight variation
makes 16 – 18 good-size cookies
plan in advance, as the dough sits in two stages for a total time of at least 3 hours before baking.


for dough
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly (recipe calls for chips; i used 4 2-ounce Schaffenberger semi-sweet squares)
1 egg
1 1/2 cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

for nut-butter filling
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup smooth nut butter (my pecan butter wasn’t completely smooth, but worked well and received kudos from those who snarfed them down and wanted more)
pinch of kosher salt


  1. in a medium-size bowl, whisk together the butter and granulated sugar until well combined.
  2. whisk in the vanilla and melted chocolate, then add the egg, and whisk until completely incorporated.
  3. in another medium-size bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda.
  4. using a spoon, stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture to form a dough.
  5. let sit at room temperature for an hour.
  6. transfer the dough to a 15-inch square of parchment paper.
  7. shape the dough into a rough log, about 10 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide.
  8. roll the parchment paper around the log.
  9. with the log fully encased in parchment, roll until smooth, maintaining the 2 1/2-inch diameter.
  10. put in the frig for at least 2 hours or until firm; reroll every 15 minutes or so to maintain the round shape.
  11. preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  12. cover baking sheets with parchment paper.
  13. cut the dough log into 1/4-inch slices, and place them at least 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.
  14. bake for around 16 – 20 minutes, or until the cookies are firm to the touch. they’re dark, so you won’t be able to see if they’re done by just looking.
  15. let the cookies cool to room temperature on the baking sheets.
  16. to make the filling, using a hand mixer, cream the butter on low speed for around 30 seconds, or until soft and smooth.
  17. add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until the mixture is completely smooth.
  18. add the nut butter and salt, and beat until smooth.
  19. scoop one rounded tablespoon of the filling onto the bottom of one cookie.
  20. top with a second cookie, bottom-side down, then press the cookies together to spread the filling toward the edges.

i sent some of these babies with Tootie to her monthly staff meeting. rumored to be a huge hit (hope you enjoy the recipe, gals!). much like Oreos, a perfect accompaniment to a tall glass of whole organic milk. i bet they’re even better eaten at the beach.


alternatively, you can make a vanilla cream filling with the following:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
pinch of kosher salt

homing beak-in

31 August 2012


i’m an early riser. seven days a week, i spring out of bed (ok, sometimes i groan and roll) at the crack of dawn to begin each shiny, new day. in the state of Washington, it’s mostly each dreary, new day, but you get the drift. during the week, i sometimes schedule 6:00 a.m. conference calls with an east-coast design colleague. and i usually begin the calls with my  i-haven’t-talked-with-humans-yet disclaimer. (Michael, the designer and stalwart friend, is always patient with my initial incoherency.) but there’s something sacred about the morning stillness that beckons me to haul myself up to be a part of it.

for the past few early Saturday mornings, Tootie and i have driven an hour north to Bellingham, where we like to stroll through the farmers’ market packed with just-picked organic produce. before we head to the market, we stop for tea, then take brisk walks along the bay near Boulevard Park. last week, we jumped off the interstate and headed toward the boardwalk. just before our turn, my eye caught a brown state park sign: Larabee State Park, 7 miles. as many times as i’d driven on that road, i’d never noticed that sign. hmmm. me: want to go on a little adventure before the market opens?? Tootie: sure! 

i maneuvered quickly into the left turn lane, heading south on Chuckanut Drive. each twist and turn in the road brought a new delight: a large property overflowing with brightly colored perennials. two does and three spotted fawns bouncing lightly along the tree line. ancient, moss-covered trunks embracing the roadway, their branches forming a welcoming arch as we traveled toward the park. soon we spotted a sign for the park’s boat launch. ever-inquisitive paddlers, we turned west toward the bay. in minutes, we pulled into the lot at Wildcat Cove.

the early-morning fog hadn’t completely lifted. a brisk wind slapped the choppy water against the shoreline. the small, rocky beach spilled over with the empty orange shells of Dungeness crabs. i looked up toward the cove’s southern-most point and then i saw her standing in the shallow water: a great blue heron. seriously? compelled by the bird to take an unplanned jaunt to the park that morning and specifically to the cove? well, i like to think she was the beak-in. certainly made me feel like mom is never too far away. i didn’t have my camera with me, but Tootie managed to take a blurry shot with her phone’s camera. mom would never have passed up a photo op.

we went back to the cove the next week. the sun shone; the water, calm and glassy, lazily lapped the rocks. ho-hum. ma? she wasn’t around. but this big boy sat atop the tallest pine in sight. majestic, to be sure. but not as cool as the great blue heron. we hiked through the park, then went up to the farmers’ market. we stuffed our bags with Ailsa Craig heritage onions, heirloom  tomatoes and Krimson Lee peppers. with our booty, we made enough zingy tomato sauce to top future pizzas and pasta and to deck out some eggplant parmesan and lasagna. while spicy sauce has always reminded me of my dad, i imagine when i eat this Italian fare, i’ll be thinking lovingly of little bird.

celebrate the stars and stripes (and strawberries)

3 July 2012


i spent a lot of years playing in my school’s marching band. ok, i was a band geek. and darn proud of it. whether out on the field or in a parade, decked out in the 1950’s uniforms we inherited from classes long past, or just sitting in a rehearsal, band became my haven and heaven. not merely a class i’d attend during third period, band was the place i fine-tuned my listening skills, developed the discipline of practice and deepened my understanding of and commitment to ensemble. did i mention band meant hanging out with my dearest friends (translation: BFFs)??

the fourth of July and the thought of John Philip Sousa marches brings these warm memories flooding back. if you’re hanging out with family and friends on the 4th, i invite you to bake them this super simple, moist and fruity cake. constructed with fresh, juicy and perfect local frog strawberries (any strawberries will do), this cake can help usher in the evening’s fireworks.

i’ll be listening to Sousa marches (more intently to the piccolo parts, of course) and firing up the grill. i might have to turn on the Boston Pops for a few (right, ma?). and i’ll be thinking how amazing it is to live in the U.S.A. what will you be up to? happy 4th!

Stars and Stripes Strawberry Cake
as found on smitten kitchen and adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe


6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
1 1/2 cups organic all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 scant cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole organic milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

optional topping
heavy whipping cream, vanilla bean and sugar


  1. preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. butter a 9-inch, deep-dish pie pan or 9-inch cake pan.
  3.  in a small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. in the bowl of a stand mixer, with beater attachment, beat butter and scant 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  5. add egg, milk and vanilla, and mix until just combined.
  6. add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.
  7. pour cake batter into prepared pie plate.
  8. as close  together as possible, arrange strawberries in a single layer on top of batter, cut side down.
  9. sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.
  10. bake cake for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325°F, and continue to bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 to 60 minutes.
  11. let cake cool in pan on a rack.
  12. to serve, cut into wedges, and top with whipped cream infused with vanilla bean.

as mom would say, mmmmmmmmmmmm. enjoy!

give me a break

30 April 2012


you crack me up, roly poly
especially after a grueling, humorless workday
i crack you up, well, because, i’m genuinely funny
you are infinitely more modest
self-sacrificing and fragile
my perfect dinner (breakfast, lunch) companion
i’ll catch you on the flip side, baby

dedicated to my dear friend, Paul, and his eggceptional chickens

yeah, Elroy thought i was talking about him, not some silly egg. sorry, dude.

Go, Dutch Baby, Go
a slight variation of a Cole Dickinson recipe, as found in the Williams-Sonoma catalog


for topping
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
2 heaping teaspoons bakers’ sugar
fresh berries

for batter
3 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose organic flour
3/4 cup organic whole milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) organic butter


  1. preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. in an 11-inch French skillet over medium heat, melt the butter; set aside.
  3. in a blender, combine the eggs, flour, milk and vanilla; mix on high until frothy, about 30 seconds (stop and scrape down the sides, if needed).
  4. place the skillet with the melted butter in the oven (recommend covering the handle with foil to avoid burns).
  5. carefully pour the batter into the hot skillet.
  6. bake the Dutch baby until it’s lightly browned and the sides have risen, about 15 – 18 minutes.
  7. while the baby is in the oven, scrape the vanilla bean into the cream and whip with the sugar until light and fluffy; set aside.
  8. wash/slice berries; set aside.
  9. remove the Dutch baby and let cool for just a few minutes; the sides will fall, so don’t get deflated.
  10. divide the Dutch baby into wedges, then top each with whipped cream and berries.
serve with a side of bacon or a glass of whole milk. or both.

wake-up call

27 December 2011


time to get up, a voice said softly, as one of my counselors drew back a canvas flap of our spaciously appointed platform tent. ok, thanks, i replied. hunkered down in my cozy, bright orange, flannel-lined sleeping bag, i wondered if the temperature inside the tent was even colder than it was outside. irrelevant. it was my early-morning destiny to get up before the rest of my campmates and high-tail it down to the dining hall. today, it was my privilege to serve as a hopper.

in stunning camp uniform

fewer girl scout camp chores were more revered than hopper. hoppers set massive dining tables with shiny silverware and sparkling glasses. they neatly stacked plates, positioning them strategically in front of where the head of the table would reign supreme. and they ensured that serving spoons, condiments (like real maple syrup and homemade jams) and pitchers of icy water were at the ready. most importantly, when the cooks had piled serving dishes high with hot food, hoppers were poised to swiftly and gracefully move the delicious fare from kitchen to table.

i unzipped my sleeping bag and gingerly put my feet on the cold wooden planks. shivering, with lips the color purple, i threw on a sweatshirt, shorts and sneakers, cursorily brushed my teeth and speedily hiked to the dining hall. upon arrival, i went about my hopper business. those counselors who didn’t have direct camper responsibility stood on the back porch chatting and drinking cups of steaming-hot coffee. a few of them looked disheveled, as if they’d been up (or out) late the night before. the cooks and their assistants stirred large pots of oatmeal and cream of wheat and scrambled dozens of eggs. they talked and laughed as they fried bacon and flipped pancakes.

i grabbed two metal pitchers and walked down the hill to the pump, where i filled them and tried valiantly not to spill a drop on the return trip. carefully placing them on my table, i stood back to evaluate my work. yes, i was ready. the breakfast bell sounded, and campers and counselors filed into the dining hall. i stood at my post, craning my neck just a little, hoping that two of my favorite counselors would choose to sit at my table. after singing a short grace , it was time for hoppers to jump into action. we maneuvered to the kitchen window, picking up heavy serving dishes and carrying them back to our designated tables. there, sitting at the left hand of a favorite counselor, i watched my table like a hawk, fetching and refilling to give the best possible service. i loved every minute of it. when other campers weren’t elated with their assigned hopper kapers, i happily volunteered to take their places. i’ve been hanging out in the kitchen ever since.

if you’re looking for a speedy breakfast treat, try these lemon pancakes. a little more upscale, perhaps, than we may have been served at camp. but the huckleberry compote isn’t out of the realm of New Hampshire girl scout cuisine.

lemon pancakes with huckleberry compote
a variation on a Emeril LaGasse recipe
makes enough pancakes for four


for the compote
2 cups huckleberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tapioca flour (or corn starch)
2 tablespoons water

for the pancakes
1 cup organic all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
a pinch of salt
1 cup organic buttermilk
1 large organic egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into tablespoons
confectioners’ sugar


  1. in a saucepan over medium heat, combine huckleberries, lemon juice and sugar.
  2. bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook the berries for 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. in a small bowl, dissolve the tapioca flour into the water.
  4. slowly add the tapioca mixture to the huckleberries, and stir until thickened.
  5. set aside and keep warm.
  6. in a small mixing bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  7. in a medium mixing bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg and 2 tablespoons of melted butter until completely incorporated.
  8. add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, and whisk until slightly smooth; retain some lumps.
  9. fold the lemon zest into the batter and let rest for a few minutes.
  10. in a skillet or griddle, melt a few tablespoons of the butter over medium heat.
  11. to form each pancake, pour 1/4 cup of the batter into the skillet.
  12. cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until the batter bubbles, and the pancake is golden brown.
  13. continue to add butter and cook pancakes until you’re out of batter!
  14. serve by sprinkling pancakes with confectioners’ sugar.
  15. place a generous dollop of compote on each serving.

an alternative: serve the pancakes topped with fresh raspberries or blackberries.

whoopie – Winnie turns 98!

5 September 2011


today, Winnie the English bull terrier turns 98. that’s 14 in people years. she’s as spirited and demanding as she was at three months, when she first became a member of our family. yeah, sometimes she forgets things. like why she was walking down the hallway. but who doesn’t? she’d rather snatch a little nap before dinner, instead of gnawing on some rubbery-tasting toy. but who wouldn’t? and if she can look pitiful and manipulate someone into giving her part of his/her dinner, well, who could blame her?

Winnie spent the afternoon sunning on the deck and taking a spritely jaunt around the yard. tonight we’re serving her an appetizer of flax treats, followed by a course of organic dog chow sprinkled with pieces of  organic flank steak. for dessert? a slurp of vanilla ice cream. only a slurp, so she can retain her girlish figure. she’ll be in bed by 7:00. but who wouldn’t, after such a glorious day?

the humans took their hats off to Winnie by baking and consuming a few too many whoopie pies; you’ll find the delightful recipe below.

many happy returns of the day, pumpkin! my life and cherry coffee table wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Chocolate Whoopie Pie with Mint Buttercream Filling
a variation on a recipe found in whoopie pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell
a really cool whoopie pie cookbook 

makes about 40 2-inch cakes = 20 2-inch whoopie pies


for the cakes
1 2/3 cups organic all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (i use Scharffen Berger)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons organic butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons organic vegetable shortening (i use Spectrum)
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

for the filling
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
4 tablespoons organic butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon mint extract
1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. preheat oven to 350F.
  2. line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  3. in a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  4. in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, shortening and brown sugar on low speed until just combined.
  5. increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes.
  6. add the egg and vanilla; beat for another 2 minutes.
  7. add half the flour mixture and half the buttermilk to the batter in the work bowl and beat on low until incorporated.
  8. scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  9. add the remaining flour mixture and the last 1/2 cup of buttermilk, then beat until completely combined.
  10. using a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop, drop the batter one tablespoon at a time onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cakes at least 2 inches apart.
  11. bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes each, or until the cakes spring back when pressed gently.
  12. remove from the oven, and let the cakes cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
  13. to make the filling, in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the confectioners’ sugar and the butter, beginning on low and increasing to medium speed, until the mixture is crumbly, about 1 minute.
  14. add the heavy cream, vanilla, mint extract and salt.
  15. beat on high until smooth, about 3 minutes.
  16. to assemble the cakes, spread the filling onto the flat side of one of the cakes using a knife, spoon or pastry bag with a round tip to pipe the filling.
  17. top with another cake, flat-side down.
  18. repeat with the rest of the cakes and filling.
down cakes with a tall glass of icy-cold whole milk.

the odd couple: the pig and the cow

20 October 2009


chicken pot pie

fictional hero Forrest Gump said he and lifelong love Jenny went together like peas and carrots. some perceived them, perhaps, as an odd couple. but most as a beloved one. and so, to me, has become the pairing of the pig and the cow.

much like barbecue, cooks of all abilities are impassioned about the contents of their pie crusts: all-butter. all-shortening. a perfect split. or something more asymmetrical. ever on the mission to improve my mediocre attempts, i’ve spent what some might deem an inordinate amount of time  researching the topic. until i unearthed my pie crust true north: a fusion of rendered leaf lard (the fat that protects a hog’s kidneys) and european-style butter.

great cooks have already waxed poetic about this winning combination—a combination that yields the most flaky, memorable crust ever known. so, i set out to try my hand at re-creating all its glory. first, i sent an e-mail to Heath Putnam of Wooly Pigs to ask if he had any leaf lard on hand. Heath was kind enough to give me a call to let me know he planned to bring some leaf lard to the next Seattle University District Farmers’ Market. then, early (i’d say bright and, but it was one of those Pacific Northwest gully washers) on Saturday morning, my friend Lourdes and i met at the market. even though we got soaked to the skin, we had a totally fantastic time and left with Wooly Pigs’ leaf lard in shopping bag. the next step? rendering the lard.

i learned a ton about rendering leaf lard from Ashley’s wonderful not-without-salt post and by watching her video, where she uses the stovetop method. there’s also a very nice compilation of other leaf lard-related references on her blog. feeling elated, but pooped after our market outing, i chose to render my leaf lard using the oven method. lessons learned?

  1. exercise patience during the oven-rendering process (i.e., stop looking through the glass door every 20 minutes; the temp is only on 200F; go to bed). rendered leaf lard in mini muffin tins
  2. probably don’t store your beautifully rendered, precious-as-gold lard in muffin tins (one of the methods i read about); go out and get a nice Ball canning jar. easier to manage and store.
  3. pie crust born of the perfect union of pig and cow can be used for both savory and sweet applications. oh, and from my new vantage point, simply cannot be surpassed.

i introduced the pig and the cow to the chicken (they became fast friends). you’ll find the results here, created mostly with a bunch of leftovers. a rich, hearty filling that takes advantage of  the flavors of seasoned rotisserie chicken. and, of course, topped with that heavenly, flaky, to-die-for crust. sigh.

Odd Couple Chicken Pot Pie
a variation based on a turkey pot pie recipe from Emeril’s TV Dinners


for the pie crust
recipe of your choice. mine new favorite is here. i don’t pretend for one second to know how to make it like Kate McDermott of Art of the Pie, but i aspire to learn one day.

for this recipe, you can choose to have a top and bottom crust or just a top crust. i went with the latter.

for the filling
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion (e.g., Walla Walla, yellow)
salt and pepper
6 tablespoons unbleached organic flour
2 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup diced potatoes (i just cooked small Yukon Golds in boiling for about five minutes, then let cool and cut up) or any leftover potatoes (not mashed!)
1 cup leftover, diced sweet potatoes
1 cup diced carrots (i used whole petite carrots and threw them in with the Yukon Golds for about two minutes)
1 cup sweet young peas, fresh or frozen; defrost if frozen (i used fresh snap peas)
2 cups shredded cooked, leftover rotisserie chicken or turkey


  1. preheat oven to 375F.
  2. grease a 9-inch square baking dish (i used 4 small, individual casseroles).
  3. heat butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.
  4. add the onions, season with salt and pepper, cook/stir for 2 minutes.
  5. stir in the flour and cook for 3 to 4 minutes to make a roux.
  6. stir in the chicken stock, and bring the liquid to a boil.
  7. reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 4 to 6 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken.
  8. stir in the half-and-half and continue to cook for another 4 minutes.
  9. season with salt and pepper.
  10. stir in the potatoes, carrots, peas, chicken and any other leftover vegetables.
  11. season to taste.
  12. if you’re using a bottom crust, line the baking dish with the rolled-out crust.
  13. pour the filling into the prepared pan.
  14. place the top crust on top of the filling. unbaked pot pie
  15. carefully tuck the overlapping crusts into the dish, forming a thick edge.
  16. crimp the edges, and cut vents in the top crust.
  17. place the baking dish on a cookie sheet.
  18. bake until the crust is golden brown, around 25 to 30 minutes.
  19. let cool for 5 minutes before serving.