Friday, October 22, 2010

Unexpected Beauty

It was not a dark and stormy night but a damp and chilly afternoon at the High Mountain Lodge. Who knew that the sun, obliterated by the clouds, still had enough gumption to turn the brown, dead fields into gold this afternoon....

Frequently it gets so staggeringly beautiful up here that you wonder if the Chamber of Commerce has a contract with some hideously expensive Hollywood special-effects company--as if the Winter Park/Fraser Valley C of C had enough money to conspire with the Big Boys to turn the valley spectacular at any season--including our current slow time....

Not that the Big Boys could pull this one off. They don't have enough imagination.

We live in a place where nature's gestures are overly large and embarrassingly dramatic. The clouds that in any other place would soar overhead, unreachable, here drizzle down the valleys like spilled buttermilk looking for a low place to sour the floorboards in the kitchen.

And, if the sights don't sock you in the eye, the smells in our valley would put a Paris perfumery to shame. Fallen wet aspen leaves have an indescribable dark aphrodisiacal musk to them. It doesn't take much for them to rot and become soil, but in the magical few weeks after they've given up dazzling our vision with their incomparable fall color and fallen to the ground, they ravage our nose instead of our eyes.

It's no wonder all the large mammals lose their minds this time of year. The elk go into rut and start to bugle; the foxes down in the willows scream at the drop of the hat; the moose do creepy moosey-rut things like destroying outhouses; and the coyotes, lordy, the coyotes behave like freshman frat boys having their first kegger.

When everything seems to be dying, the animals give the lie to the season. This is one of the most fertile times of the year. The colder it gets up here, the more life deepens, and when the snow is an even blanket hiding all that life, we'll be skiing on our future spring.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Curse you, Marie Callender!

Yesterday in the late afternoon when I was relaxing from doing one of the innumerable chores around the Lodge, I took a break to watch Stupid TV. I don't know what channel it was or what the program was about: it was TV, and hence, stupid.

But I do remember that between episodes, most of the commercials were about food. There was the inevitable ad about that KFC sandwich that doesn't have bread (NB: I actually broke down in shame and ordered and ate one of them. Neither the flavor nor the grease justify the guilt factor. Skip this one.) Then the ads segued to pizza. But I met my waterloo when the ads for Marie Callender's chicken pot pies came on the TV.

"Curse you, Marie Callender!" I shrieked at the top of my lungs (though the imperative verb I used wasn't "curse"). I was so hungry and those pies looked so good. But instead of driving to the Safeway and buying one of her damned Chicken Pot Pies, I decided to make my own.

Here's my recipe:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F


You will need a deep-dish pie plate. If you don't have one, get one. Glass is good.

Put 2 cups flour and a teaspoon of salt in a food processor equipped with the pastry blade; Turn it on.

Gradually add 2 sticks (1/2 lb) butter, cut into manageable pats--about 1-2 tbsp each, and dropped individually through the feeding tube of the processor.

After you've added all the butter, process until the mixture is thoroughly incorporated. It will look like corn meal. If you're not from the south and have never seen cornmeal, think a crumbly mixture of flour and butter.

Gradually add about 1/4 cup of very cold water. Process on pulse. The water should encourage the flour/butter mixture to form a ball.

Stop processing and, after removing the pastry blade from the machine, scoop the dough out onto plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for at least one hour before rolling out.


Microwave or otherwise heat to scalding 2-3 cups of milk. Hold at temperature.

Melt in a medium saucepan 1/4 lb (1 stick) of butter.

When the butter is bubbling, gradually stir in enough flour to form a bubbly paste in the bottom of the pan. It will take 1/4 and 1/2 cup of flour. You basically want a mixture that holds together on the bottom of the saucepan and makes you wonder if you added too much flour. Let the mixture cook for at least a minute or so (this is so the flour will cook and the sauce won't taste like that nasty milk gravy you had at your aunt's house last Thanksgiving). Then sloooowly add the hot milk, whisking it into the butter/flour (snooty cooks call it a "roux") mixture.

The sauce will dramatically thicken almost immediately. Add a very finely diced medium onion, or 2 tablespoons of dried onion to the sauce. Grate half a clove of nutmeg into the sauce. Correct the seasoning for salt--it will probably take at least a teaspoon.

Throw in 1 bay leaf and stir into the sauce. Let the sauce rest. Don't forget to fish the bayleaf out before you proceed with the recipe, or one of your guests will have a nasty surprise.

Final Prep

Sauté 3 chicken thighs or 2 chicken breasts in a butter/olive oil mixture. When done through but not dry, cut into small cubes. Add to sauce.

Microwave 2 cups of mixed frozen vegetables. Add them to the sauce. Don't worry about excess moisture.

Get the dough out of the fridge. Divide into two parts.

Roll out the 1st piece of dough to about 1/8 inch in thickness and line the bottom of the baking dish. Ignore the overhanging dough for now. (For an extra-crispy bottom crust, paint the bottom of the pie pan with melted butter before lining it with the crust.)

HINT: The easiest way to roll out pie crust is on a pastry cloth (think a linen or cotton dish towel that's been rubbed well with flour). After rolling the dough out to the proper thickness, position your rolling pin at the edge of the dough, then using the pastry cloth, drape the dough over the rolling pin. Then roll the dough (minus the pastry cloth) onto the pin. You can then unroll the dough into the pie pan with a minimal amount of grief.

Pour the sauce/chicken/veggie mixture into the dish.

Roll out and cover the pie with the top crust.

Trim and make look pretty. Pierce the top crust to allow steam to escape.


Place the pie in the preheated 425-degree oven on a baking sheet for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, decrease oven temperature to 325-degrees and bake for 50 minutes.

Let the pie rest for a few minutes before serving, but don't forget to salute Marie Callendar when you cut into it.


The pie crust is really the secret here, and food processors are the secret weapon. If you don't have one, you can use the old "cut the butter into the flour using two knives in a scissor motion," or you can use a pastry masher. My mother used the latter, and you could have taken her pie dough out of the bowl, rolled it out, then sewn the pieces up into shoes that would hold together better than leather.  For all I know, that's what they did during the Depression to keep children shod. But the food processor keeps the butter/flour mixture filled with air, so that when the butter melts into the flour during cooking, the result is thin flakes of tender crusty goodness.

The sauce is a classic béchamel--basically gravy with an attitude.

Instead of frozen mixed veggies, you can add just about any fresh veggies you want: broccoli or broccolini both work well. If you use fresh vegetables, nuke 'em until they are are tender and then dice them coarsely before adding them to the sauce. If you don't have a microwave, then steam the veggies. Whatever you do, DO NOT BOIL THEM. That's just wrong, and it sucks all the goodness out of the veggies.