Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Pie Diaries: Month 4

December: Cognac Cinnamon Blueberry Pie

As per the request of my family, December's pie continued the apparent tradition of alcoholic pies. (The choice was between the blueberry and a Creme De Menthe pie suggested by my friend Brece, which is sure to be January's pie!) The blueberries were hand picked and frozen by my mother and, working with what we had in the house, I decided to use Cointreau instead of proper cognac which I haven't drunk since having a particular experience one Tuesday evening in London. (Roskos, I'm looking at you. And I totally won that game of Rummy even though I think we lost most of the cards that night.)

(Twinkly liquor.)

As for this month's gluten-free pie crust solution, I used the often fabled, never before seen, store bought gluten free crust.

(Gasp! It's like catching a UNICORN!)

Here's the recipe:

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
5 cups blueberries, frozen or fresh
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp cognac (Cointreau is nice as well)

Preheat oven to 350*. In a roomy bowl, mix together the blueberries, sufar, flour, cannamon, salt and cognac. Stir until thoroughly combined. Pour in the pie crust, top with the ipper crust and bake at 350* for 45-60 minutes or until the crust is brown and the filling is bubbling over.

Note: Cool overnight for the best setting up, but this pie is juicy. Uding the tiny berries it might set up nicely; with the larger berries it stays pretty saucy, in which case, you might as well cut it after 2 hours when it is still a bit warm and enjoy the delicious juiciness with ice cream!

Prep. time: 40 min
Baking Time: 45-60 min

There was much skepticism in the making of this pie. Firstly, we all had our doubts as to whether or not all five cups of blueberries would even fit into the shell. Next, 1 1/2 cups of sugar seemed an awful lot. Since there was no indication that I should thaw the blueberries, I added the sugar (and the rest of the ingredients) directly into the frozen berries. Well, the sugar was very resistant to being mixed up evenly... I let the mixture sit on top of the heated oven, hoping the rising heat would help everything blend, but eventually I just gave it one last stir and dumped them into the pastry shell. Lo and behold! They all fit. A miracle! Less of a miracle was what happened when I tried to use a second gluten-free pastry shell as a top crust.


The thing about gluten is that it actually functions like it sounds: as a glue... holding together flour and the other elements of pastries. Sooo... when you take the gluten out, even if you replace it with something similar, the resulting product tends to be a bit, uhm... crumbly? As demonstrated by the above photo. There was NO sculpting the ugly out of that pie. Every time I tried to reconfigure it, the crust simply broke off. I opted to stop trying and stuck it quickly in the oven as-was.

(Galaxy pie!)

It baked down to something at least a little bit prettier. (Thanks, mostly, to my mother's ingenious sprinkling of distracting cinnamon. Kudos, mom!) But, I have to admit that this pie did not live up to my expectations. The frozen crust wasn't all that tasty. As is common with gluten-free products that are primarily made with rice flour, the texture was kind of sandy... gritty, even. I wasn't sure whether it was the overwhelming texture of the crust or if the sugar never really had set in but the even the texture of the fruit filling was a little rough. Delicious, undeniably, but the texture was ultimately distracting. Also, you couldn't really taste the Cointreau at all. Bummer. Ahh well... not every pie can be a perfect success. Better luck next year!

**Anyone have any flavor suggestions, favorite recipes or events to which you would like to request the presence of a pie? Let me know! 2010 is gonna be the year of creative cooking. That... and, y'know, other stuff.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reflections on Renegade '09

A few weekends ago I was lucky enough to share a booth at the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago! The weekend was stupendously cold and surprisingly full of motorcycles (not AT the fair... just between us and the fair...) but totally awesome!

(Us and other vendors setting up in just one of the rooms.)

We could tell almost at once that, for many of the vendors, this is was they did for a living. Their booths were beautifully cohesive- with background curtains and large logos. Our booth.. in contrast... looked more like all three of our studios all exploded enthusiasm:

(Too much stuff? Never!)

It was funny, actually, 'cause it ended up being kind of hard to see us sitting behind that mountain of brightly colored objects. So we had to position ourselves so that we could see customers and then JUMP OUT! at them and try to convince them to buy things.

(photo stolen from the Renegade Flkr of the event!)

(Sexy view from our table. Note the sun pouring in and BLINDING us.)

The fair was held at the Pulaski Field House... somewhere near Wicker Park. The space was great! There were five HUGE rooms, spread out over two floors, full of vendors. It was actually kind of overwhelming. So much of the stuff was really expensive (which didn't stop me from coming home with some choice purchases.) But it was really awesome to see so many people hand-making and selling their wares for the holidays... and even more awesome to see people shopping for them!

(The craft fair in full swing!)

We estimated that over a thousand people walked by our table! (Of that thousand.. somewhere around 200 picked up this one orange wallet I made without buying it. Lame! But hilarious.) Every room was packed! It was awesome.

And, of course, hanging out with friends made the weekend all the more better!

(The gluten-free cupcakes didn't hurt, either.)

As a first craft fair experience, I'm glad I got to participate in one as monumental, and as established, as Renegade. There has been a lot of conversation over the past few years about the nature of the so-called Handmade Nation and it's place in the DIY movement. One of the main goals of these movements is to connect individual artists to buyers while at the same time endowing everyone with the permission that is often deemed necessary for making. It is about the power of the individual and the momentum that is made possible through community. And I was really looking forward to experiencing some of that at Renegade. But I have to admit that I'm not sure I really did.

Perhaps it is the pervasive nature of professional branding (in the style of corporatization) or perhaps it is the competitive nature of sales events but I noticed that, especially on the first day, there seemed to be an unspoken agreement between the vendors to not interact. (Except for the six year old daughter of a vendor in our room who adopted us immediately. She sparkled, we sparkled... it seemed like a good match.) It really wasn't until a few hours before packing up our wares that we even started to interact with the vendors in our immediate vicinity. Ok ok, I guess I can't place all the blame for this separation outside myself; I had as much agency to strike up conversations with other artists as they did with me... but there was this sense that, as professionals, there was a strict customer/vendor relationship that was to be adhered to. And there was no getting around the intense sales mentality. I found myself slipping easily back into the sell-sell-sell mindset as I talked to customers, which is something I have intentionally abandoned since working retail. I very much prefer to use my making as a tool for building connections: sewing needed objects for friends and if possible, trading them for it instead of asking for money. Now, I know Mr. Obama would call me a "rabble rousing anti-capitalist" for such behavior... and most of my friends would point out that I actually love making money and selling stuff but... I don't know. It's just something I think about kind of a lot.

So... in conclusion... although I had a total blast at the craft fair, I don't think I'll be doing another one in the near future. (Unless Lucy and Nellie ask me to 'cause I just can't say no to those ladies.) Instead, I'd rather be part of the conversation: what is the role of the handmade object? What is the role of the hand-making? What does this say and how can we use this momentum to bring people together? Mmm... sounds like a good craft night convo to me.

*** Oh! And on a related note! I have a ton of leftover merch that will be for sale on my etsy after the holidays! I wanted to get them up there in time for Christmas but seeing as I leave for MA tomorrow that doesn't look too possible. But come January I promise riches of make-up bags, belt bags, wallets, and post-cards galore!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Renegade Craft Fair, Chicago: This Weekend!

Hey there friends and family- It's that time of year again: the Walmart and Macy's have opened their doors to the thousands of screaming (do they scream?) Black Friday shoppers, "Cyber Monday" sales have been perused, and economists are already calculating the profits. But this holiday season, wouldn't you rather support individual artists by purchasing their handmade goods? Of course you would!! Which is why you should all take the time out of your busy weekends to come to the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago! Now, I know that some of you will claim that you live "too far" to come all the way to Illinois to buy my pretty things... but that's no excuse. (Well, actually, it's a pretty fair excuse but I'm feeling unforgiving.) So, those of you who are able to make it will have to make up for all of you who can't by buying even more. :0)

"Over 150 of today’s finest indie-craft and contemporary design talents will be setting up shop at the Renegade Craft Fair Holiday Sale on December 5 + 6 from 11am – 7pm at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse!

Those looking to shop handmade and support small business this holiday season will surely find something for everyone – from jewelry and clothing, to ceramics and stationary, with everything from bath products, housewares, posters, comics and plush objects in between – at this large-scale, free-to-attend art, craft and design extravaganza!!"

See? All of your shopping needs met in one location!

I will be bringing a bevy of beautiful bags in all shapes and sizes: grocery bags, make-up bags, pencil cases, fanny pack (yes, just one), mini zips, hip/belt bags, i-pod cases... you name it, i've sewn a bag you can put it into. And each one made out of super cute printed fabric and durable, hard-wearing cordura. (Or recycled canvas, in the case of the grocery bags.)

(belt bags with birdies, cute little french animals and robots!)

I'll also be selling pre-ribboned sets of my handkit postcards! (Spoiler: there are still a couple of sets up on Etsy in case some of you non-chicagoans want some...)

I'll be sharing a table with the totally amazing fiber artist extraordinaire, Nellie Kurz, and illustrius author and comic artist, Lucy Knisely! Rock stars! And, to top off all of that excitement, I'm happy to announce a collaboration between Lucy and myself: a series of limited edition bags made by your's truly out of printed fabric designed by Lucy!

(When our powers combine...)

So good, right? I bet you have something tiny that you're just dyin' to put into that baby bag...

So come on down to the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse and see us on Saturday or Sunday! Lucy will be doing little watercolor sketches and Nellie and I will do our best to be equally as entertaining, we promise!