Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The smart-aleck doesn't fall far from the tree...

My Dad died 6 days ago, and the funeral is over, the flowers have been distributed between the church and cemetery, and family is gravitating back to their "normal" lives that aren't quite normal anymore. Because there is another hole in the fabric of my family...when my nephew passed away a few years ago (has it really been that long?), I identified that hole at a family function. Something was out of place, I had a weird feeling we shouldn't start, that we had forgotten something...then it suddenly and painfully occurred to me that it was George, or rather the lack of George - an absence so strong it created a vacuum that pulled tears right out of my heart. We're going to feel it with Dad too - he was the spark in the room, the joke, the smile and the twinkle with a mission to make you smile.

I think he delighted in having 6 kids, because there was always a willing target for teasing and story telling. My younger sister had a birthmark on her stomach, and he told her many times that she got it because Mom spilled coffee on her when she was a baby. He had a scar on the corner of his eye, and when I would ask how he got it, he would tell me that when he was in the Army, he was driving a jeep and a Jap sniper jumped on him from a tree and cut him with a knife. He was a Marine reservist and never served active duty, but I didn't know that. He taught us Polish jokes and "Pull my finger", and when we were being obnoxious would tell us he was going to find a board with a nail in it to spank us with.

He was, in fact, so fun at times it would get him in trouble with "The Boss" - mom didn't put up with our shenanigans as much, she was busy with the important business of forming us into responsible adults and devout Catholics by way of torture (housecleaning), penance (The Rosary..."On your KNEES, maggot!"), and clean living (whole wheat bread - YUCK).

One time we were getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner at Mom's (most of us were adults at that time), and mom was ordering Dad around like a 4 star General. She repeated a command, expressing her annoyance that she had to tell him again, and Dad said "I don't know why this is such a big deal, it's not like the Pope is coming for dinner"....and just as when we were small, we cleared the room in a nano-second, cowering in the basement while listening to her hand him his cajones upstairs and waiting for the "All Clear".

Another was when my sister and I were pre-teens, and we lived in a cool old house in Portland with a covered concrete slab porch. We had one ancient pair of roller skates, the kind you wear over your shoes, so we shared....we each wore one and would skate in circles on one foot around and around on the porch. Mom came out and told us to get ready for bed, but she went back in and Dad told us we could skate a little longer - my sister took a corner too fast and put her hand out to steady herself, and it went right through one of the front windows. Mom heard the crash and came out yelling "This wouldn't have happened if you had gone to bed like I TOLD you!!", and Dad had to admit he had usurped her authority....I bet it was a painful ride to the hospital for more than ONE of them.

Dad had a wicked sense of humor, and utilized it right to the end. A few years ago he had a stroke, and ended up getting a stent to open his artery. He was under observation at OHSU, and was in ICU so only 2 of us at a time could visit him. My older sis and I went in while Mom took a break, and we noticed right away Dad was acting weird. He kept lifting the edge of the blankets and petting something underneath - we finally asked him and he said he had a fuzzy caterpillar in there. We exchanged a WTF glance, and sis went out to tell the nurse. He came in and said "So Dave, your daughters tell me you have a fuzzy caterpillar under the covers?", to which he replied, completely deadpan "I've never seen these two before in my life". Even tho the pain meds they gave him were making him hallucinate (he also told his team of brain doctors that OHSU used to be a big yellow Mexican grocery store), he knew that we ratted him out and paid us back in full.

So if you've been paying attention, you will know that my dad's favorite food was blackberry pie - with vanilla ice cream of course. I made 3 of them on Sunday and broke them out as a kind of "toast" to Dad's memory at the after-funeral get-together; there wasn't enough, as usual. I'm going to give you the crust ingredients because it's a 2 crust pie, but you should go back to the original crust post if you need help with technique. Mom and I have made a LOT of these over the years, and I think it's all of our favorite too...and nothing quite screams my Dad like homemade blackberry pie.

Dad's Blackberry Pie

2 Cups flour, use scoop to dump in measuring cup, DO NOT shake or pack
1 tsp. table salt (don't use kosher, it's too big)
5.5 oz. butter flavor Crisco (that is 2/3 C. if you don't have scale)
5-6 T. ice water

Mix flour and salt with pastry blender, cut in shortening, then stir in water with a fork until dry is just incorporated. Carefully and lightly press together and cut in half with sharp knife, roll out 1/2 and place in pan, cutting excess off to the edge of pie plate.

4-5 C. frozen (or fresh) blackberries
3/4 C. sugar (if berries are very tart, use 1 C.)
1 tsp. lemon juice (trust me, it needs this)
1/4 C. flour (add 1 more T. flour if frozen berries)
1-2 T. butter

Put berries in large bowl, add sugar, flour and lemon juice and stir gently until combined. If berries are frozen, stir and let stand 15 minutes, then stir again, continuing until they've thawed just enough to incorporate dry ingredients. But no longer...if it turns juicy, your pie is gonna make a BIG mess in the oven. Scrape every last bit of blackberry goodness into your pie shell, then cut 5 or 6 pieces of butter and scatter over the top. Wet the edge of the bottom crust, roll out the top and place over the filling, pressing edges lightly to seal. Cut to 1" past edge, then fold excess under and crimp by pressing index finger and thumb of one hand together, and put on edge of crust, nails pointing out, then use your other index finger to push the dough between them up and to a rounded point. Then you move your thumb and index finger one depression over and do the next one and so on. Someday I will take a picture of that - my SIL says it's hard, but she's kinda whiny. Cut slits in the top at least 1/2" long so they don't seal shut...exploding berry pie mess is not pretty even if it does smell good until it catches fire on the oven floor.

I like to brush the top with water, then sprinkle sparkly sugar all over it...makes it look like fairy food. Bake at 375 for 50-60 minutes, checking around 40 to make sure it's not too brown. If you have a ways to go and don't want it to get darker, just pop a square of foil over it. And if you are worried about messes, put a cookie sheet underneath...caramelized berry pie brittle sounds better than it actually is when you scrape it out of your dirty oven. Let cool almost completely if you can, and don't worry if it leaks or looks and I will be the only ones who give a shit.

A couple caveats: if you know you are using Himalayan blackberries, you will need to use less sugar. They are too sweet in my opinion, and just not as good as the ones that are growing over the derelict cars and 400 55 gallon drums full of who-knows-what in your neighbors "Eden-like" property next door. And you really shouldn't use them because they are an invasive plant, or at the very least be chopping down the vines and burning the roots once you've whored out their berries for your pie. And for Lord's sake, DO NOT put cinnamon in it. My Mom swears she always did, but as she taught me how to make them and I don't ever recall that, I choose to think she is just messing with me. ps, I am not a cinnamon hater, it just doesn't belong in oatmeal cookies or blackberry pie.

And if Heaven is everything you love, then I know Dad is sitting on a cloud (because that's what you do in Heaven), eating a whole berry pie with a giant scoop of vanilla bean....and he doesn't have to share with ANYone.

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