Behind the Scenes with Angels

I thought that you would probably like to see how I got the goats to wear their costumes and look so angelic.

I’m a pretty decent animal trainer. I readied myself with a sliced banana, a food that they love but get rarely. When I train, I tell them when they’ve done what I want with a sound marker – a clicker – which enables me to communicate with precision. I slipped the clicker (that I have attached to a bracelet) onto my wrist. I brought the props and the treats into the barn. The goats are always excited to see me. They’re always optimistic that something good, or at least interesting is going to happen.



However, to be a really good animal trainer you must think through every, small step. Perhaps I hadn’t had enough coffee. Perhaps I was being a tad casual about this. I had carried the bananas out to the barn in a plastic bowl, which I set down onto a fence post while I organized the costumes. I turned my back on the goats.



Pip tipped it onto the other side of the fence. As the saying goes, Close, but no banana. Given the opportunity, he won’t make that mistake again.



The halos were surprisingly easy to get on the goats. I rewarded the boys for wearing them and they didn’t seem to mind.



However, at one point Caper was wearing both halos. I have no idea how that happened. He didn’t get double treats.



The next step was to get the wings on. Once again, the goats were enthusiastic.



Before the photo shoot, I hadn’t actually checked to see if the wings fit. As it turned out, the elastic straps didn’t stretch as far as I had thought they would (perhaps I underestimated the boys’ rotundity?) The best that I could do was to lay the wings onto their backs, which was not the look that I was going for.



Their was a brief moment when all of the stars aligned and wings and halos were on, but it didn’t last.



Besides, having their wings on required me to hover over the angels, which marred the angelic goat image that I was trying to get. (By the way, notice that one “angel” has his nose in the treat bag.)



In the end, I decided that a photograph of the goats wearing only the halos was as angelic as I could get. A better trainer (and elastics that fit the goats’ bellies) would have been able to get them fully winged. But, who cares? We all had fun.



(If you missed it, the Angelic Goats photograph is in yesterday’s post.)

Vintage Chicken Costume

I think this is a chicken costume.


Then again, there’s no comb on her head. Still, I think she’s a chicken.

A chicken wearing ballet shoes. What role could she be dancing? This snapshot has no history attached to it. So, we’ll just have to imagine.


Perfect Butter Pie Crust

Baked fruit is all well and good, and I’m never one to turn down a bowl of stewed peaches (with ice cream, please) or applesauce dished out as a dinner side. But, put that fruit into a crust and you have the magic that is pie. That crust is all important. It must be golden. It must be the perfect texture, neither too hard to penetrate with a fork, nor so soggy that it sags. It must be flaky and yet hold together. The demands of a perfect crust can put off even the most avid cook. Never fear! I’ve put together a tutorial of my all-butter pie crust.

Baking making a perfect pie crust does take experience. Crusts require handling just so. Give it a try. Try it again. Don’t worry. Just do it. Even the mistakes are delicious, after all, butter and flour always tastes good.

The recipe is posted on my FAQ page, here. A version of it will appear in my upcoming Farmstead Egg Guide and Cookbook, out in March of 2014.

I want to hear about the pies you’re baking!



Perfect Pie Crust to Use or Freeze

I like to keep homemade crusts on hand. I never know when I’ll have the urge to make a tart or a quiche or a chocolate pie. So, over the years I’ve perfected an all-butter crust that I can use immediately or freeze. Here is how I do it:

There are four basic ingredients. Flour. (I use unbleached, all-purpose King Arthur flour. If you can find it, white pastry flour is even better and will make a softer crust.) Frozen unsalted butter. Kosher salt. Ice water.

Each 2-crust recipe uses: 2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 sticks butter (6 ounces) and some water.

When you scoop flour into a cup, it can be compacted or loose, and your measurement inaccurate. For consistency I use a digital scale (10 oz = 2 cups flour). An added benefit is that weighing speeds the process (no fluffing the flour necessary)

Cut the butter into cubes. It should be frozen solid, so use your best chefs knife. If you find it too difficult to cut frozen butter, cut chilled butter into cubes and then freeze. Blending this dough with frozen butter is the key.

I use a food processor, which can, if overused, make the crust tough. Pulse the butter, flour and salt in the processor until the butter is the size of small peas. Pulse with quick bursts, not letting the machine run for more than a couple of seconds at a time.

Pulse in just enough water (about 6 tablespoons) so that the dough becomes crumbly and barely holds together. I pulse and pour at the same time.

Many pie crust recipes recommend putting the dough in the refrigerator for a half-hour or more. I’ve found that the butter-filled dough becomes too hard to work. By using frozen butter, the dough is chilled but malleable and is ready to be rolled out right away.

Upend it onto a lightly floured counter. Shape into a flat circle with your hands. Use your palms. Avoid poking with your fingers or doing anything that makes the dough sticky. At this stage you want to add as little flour as possible.

Divide this dough in half. Shape each into a circle. Refrigerate the half that you are not immediately working with.

Lightly dust your work area with flour. Shape the dough into a flattened circle. The rolling pin you use can make all the difference in success. Use a long, even pin like the one pictured. My rolling pin has years of butter worked into the wood grain. It is almost nonstick. I put rubber rings on the ends. These help me to make each crust an exact 1/4-inch thick.

Start with your dough in a fat circle and end with a thin circle. To do this, roll from the center out, and after every pass with the rolling pin, pick up and move your dough a few degrees. Roll the pin away from you, never towards you. It’s an outward stroke. Lift the dough frequently, and it will not stick to the counter. Do not try to flatten the dough with brute strength, but instead, roll, roll, roll. If the top gets sticky, pick up the dough and turn it over so that the floured side is now towards the rolling pin. If you have to add flour to the work surface, use only a light dusting.

You will see bits of butter in the crust, but the whole should be smooth and pliable. At this point, the crust can be set into the pie plate.

But, for crusts that I freeze, I want them in perfect circles and so I use a large, 12-inch, tart pan as a cutter.

The bonus is that the edges are prettily fluted.

Don’t reuse the extra dough for another crust – a second rolling will make it overworked and tough. Instead, get out cookie cutters and use the pieces to decorate the pies, or turn them into cookies.

Wrapped well, butter crusts stored in a freezer will stay fresh for a half year. To freeze, place on a cookie sheet, with parchment paper circles between them.

Then wrap tightly and label. To use frozen crusts, take one out of the wrapping and place on a pie plate. As it defrosts, it will sag into place. When it is just soft enough to press into the pan it is ready to use.

NOTE: To prebake a pie shell: Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Lay a piece of tin foil or parchment on the crust and then fill the pie with weights. If you don’t use weights, the center will bubble up and the sides will shrink down. I have ceramic weights designed for this task, but in a pinch you can use uncooked rice or beans. Bake for 12 minutes, remove the weights and foil and continue to bake. If you are filling the crust with pudding, then bake until thoroughly done and lightly brown. If the pie will be cooked further with the filling then bake until only slightly golden.

Making pie crusts is one of those cooking skills that you get better at each time you do it. I enjoy the seeing the transformation from such simple ingredients to a glossy crust. I like the feel of working with the dough. Embrace the process. Don’t expect perfection the first time (or two or three). But, do keep in mind that it’s hard to go wrong with butter and flour. If you make a mess, if you’ve overworked the dough, or added too much flour, roll it out anyway, toss on some grated cheese and make crackers (bake at 400ºF for 15 to 20 minutes). Have fun. Let me know how it goes.