Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanks, here's some pie

One of the projects that the Rotary Club of Napa supports is the Pathway Home. Our club hosts the annual "Cycle for Sight & Rotary Ride for Veterans". Members of our club are very involved in activities with Pathway Home veterans, including special outings, regular bowling nights, volunteering at the Veterans Home, distributing a home made quilt to each veteran, and of course raising money for this privately funded effort. Veterans in the program may have traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorder, physical injuries, and sometimes disfiguring injuries. Please click on the links to learn more about the program, and plan on riding or volunteering at the next Rotary Ride on Saturday, April 21, 2012.

One of the little things we do is make homemade pies for the Pathway Home veterans for Thanksgiving. Yesterday the Rotary pie delivering crew requested the recipe for the pie I brought - so here it is. I hope the pie made the trip safely all the way from Napa to Yountville. There were some hungry looking fellows driving the truck.

I used the recipe published by David Lebovitz on his blog. I generally followed the recipe, as David recommends that practice when first making a recipe. This kind of pie - containing pecans, chocolate and bourbon - is one that I have known for years as a "Kentucky Derby Pie". There is a similar trademarked name. A lovely recipe for a similar pie can be found in "The South, the Beautiful Cookbook" - which uses ground pecans in the crust as well as unsweetened chocolate and dark corn syrup in the filling. Since I have always made a pie crust with a pastry blender, I thought I would try this method for making the crust. David also recommends NOT pre-baking the crust so that the filling and crust fuse together. We have not cut the second pie I made for our Thanksgiving, so I will report on the results in the comments section.
I did not have quite enough light corn syrup, so added a bit of dark corn syrup. The dark chocolate chips I used were 60% chocolate by Ghiradelli. These are large chips.

Chocolate Pecan Pie by David Lebovitz

The crust:
1 1/4 cups (175g) flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
4 ounces (115g) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1-inch (3cm) cubes
4 tablespoons (60ml) ice water

The chocolate-pecan filling:
3 large eggs
3/4 cup (150g) packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cup (200g) light corn syrup, rice syrup or golden syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (30g) melted butter, salted or unsalted
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 2/3 cups (190g) toasted pecans, very coarsely chopped
3/4 cup (120g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

1. To make the crust, mix together the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. (Or use a food processor.)
2. Add the cubed butter and mix until the butter pieces are broken up and about the size of small peas.
3. Add the ice water and mix just until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
4. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch (30cm) round. Transfer the dough into a 9-inch ( cm) pie plate letting the dough ease into the pan, rather than pressing it in. Tuck the overhanging dough underneath the area above the rim of the pie plate, to create a double width of dough, then crimp the edges and refrigerate until ready to fill.
5. Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC) and position the oven rack to the center of the oven.
6. In a large bowl, which together the eggs, brown sugar, syrup, vanilla, salt, melted butter, and bourbon.
7. Stir in the pecans and the chocolate chips then scrape the filling into the pie shell and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the filling puffs up slightly but still feels slightly jiggly and moist in the center.
Let pie cool completely before slicing.

Serving: Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream is a good accompaniment to pecan pie.
Storage: Dough can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to three days, or frozen for up to two months.
The pie is best eaten the same day although will keep for up to three days, at room temperature.

To go with the pie, my dear husband John made some of his special vanilla ice cream. We may have enough left for our Thanksgiving dessert later today!
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Preservation Blues

An interesting post by far away friend John D. Poole on his preservation picks for this past week got me thinking about how the preservation world changes, and how it remains the same. There are some abiding principles for historic preservation that are embodied in "the Secretary of the Interior Standards and Guidelines" developed by the National Park Service decades ago. About when I started my career in architecture. These have morphed over the years to include Standards for preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, reconstruction, cultural landscapes, and energy efficiency (the newest).

A long time ago, and many miles from here, I had the opportunity to work on the North Carolina Governor's Mansion. I wrote a little blog piece on that experience. Some time before that, while still in architecture school, I worked on the North Carolina State University campus. In English vernacular, I caused "a nine days' wonder". The buildings I spent my first summer in construction working on were Berry, Becton and Bagwell dormitories. It appears that they have been rehabilitated again. I find internet links by two firms with photos of the buildings, possibly an architecture and landscape architecture firm.

After applying for construction labor jobs at 17 companies, including the one my father worked for - I found myself still without a construction job the summer before my senior year of architecture school. I had the rather naive thought that since many of my classmates (all men) worked for higher wages outdoors instead of cooped in a massive underground bunker of a drafting room, that I would do the same thing.  I did not realize that no women had yet broken the gender barrier in construction in North Carolina. With Clancy & Theys Construction Company, I decided to make my stand. I was rejected by the General Superintendent after two visits to the field office. As I departed the office on the second visit, it occurred to me that the administrative office was upstairs. I walked up the drive to the upper level of the building, in the front door, and encountered Linda. I told Linda that I'd like to see Mr. Clancy or Mr. Theys. She smiled and showed me right to Mr. Theys who was discussing labor for the NCSU dormitories project with with job Superintendent, Mr. P. Against his every instinct, compunction or religious belief, Mr. P. ended up with the first woman on his crew. By end of summer he took the newspaper crews and photographers in stride. Clancy & Theys got some good publicity, and I got the kind of experience that a pioneer receives.

I learned a few lessons that summer. One of our best laborers was a man the same age as my father. John A. was illiterate, but could operate any kind of equipment and fix things with tie wire that looked unfixable. He taught me how to do heavy labor all day without killing myself. He worked on all the subsequent projects I worked on, and was one of my mentors in the field.

By 1977 I was the Superintendent, and he worked on my crew.

We worked on the rehabilitation of McNider Hall, University of North Carolina School of Medicine. It has probably been renovated again since then. Mr. Theys asked me one day when I was "back at the shop" putting gas in one of the trucks what I wanted to become in the construction business. I answered "a superintendent".

He said, "Do you think men would take orders from a woman?"

I said,"If she's the boss they will."

Within a month I was Assistant Superintendent, and in a few more, I was Superintendent. The men did take orders from a woman.
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Making blueprints

I joined Twitter in early July to tweet about Napa Porchfest. I use the same name - "mizblueprint" - on Twitter.  At the time I wrote the first thing that came to mind as my introductory line, "I used to draw for a living. Pushing a mouse and plinking a keyboard is not quite the same thing."

My earliest languages were English and crayon. My Mom was amused when I drew portraits of my family on the wall above my crib. I remember what those drawings looked like. I drew each family member as a cookie. With arms and legs, feet, hands, faces, ears - and one with a bite taken out of it. I learned years later that in the universal visual language of children, the drawings were rather typical. They may have been a little earlier than many, but I talked early also.

I recall drawing incessantly.  After I learned to read, I alternated reading and drawing. Then swimming, bikes and childhood games filled my days. In the evening, I would draw. Mom saved and framed some early work, and I sold a drawing at about age 12. This was to my father's boss, but he actually hung it in his living room, so I was pleased.

At the end of sixth grade, I wanted to study art with a wonderful teacher who emigrated to the US after escaping from Hungary ahead of the Nazi invasion during World War II. As one of six children by then, I had to choose between piano lessons and art lessons. Not a difficult choice, really. By seventh grade, my art teacher suggested that I might have the skill set to become an architect. Click! What a perfect fit, thought the twelve year old me. I could draw for a living.

In those days, my father often had blueprints at home due to his job as an engineer and construction manager. These were real blueprints with blue backgrounds and white lines.  I recall the change to diazo blueline prints, which were the material of my life in architecture for many years.
William Corlett blueprint

The childhood idea of drawing for a living changed as computer drafting developed. For almost 15 years I continued to draw with graphite and ink on vellum as the world of computers altered the practice of architecture. Now my opening quote is a rather poignant statement about the in-between state in which  many of my generation find ourselves. Are we computer jockeys? The visceral feel of the pencil or pen against the paper - the sweep of the arm - the flourish of a free-hand sketch on yellow "flimsy" - the former tools of our trade - are rapidly disappearing. A colleague has given up his office and returned to a home office. He has also returned to hand drawing. Is there a place for that in the business of architecture?

And what about the childhood idea of drawing for a living? "I used to draw for a living. Pushing a mouse and plinking a keyboard is not quite the same thing."