Friday, September 26, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

It's hard to count all of the ways that people give of themselves to us. Of course, family is there...doing ten thousand little things in so many little ways. And then the folks whose lives touch ours on a regular basis are there. The person who thinks of us that we might be able to use a no-longer-needed book or some clothes that one of the Hobbits might get some more wear out of. The friend who clips a recipe, thinking it might be one that I can convert for our use. Even the kindly soul who has found an article on gluten-free living and thinks the information might be useful for us. Almost every day, there are people pouring themselves in small ways into the support of our family. The matriarch who at separate times gave Dog a pair of opera-style binoculars when she found out that he liked to look at birds. Then made a book bag for Bug to carry his AWANA materials in and always made a point to be available to listen to him recite his lessons. (He surely misses her this year when he has to wait in line!) And also made the flannel baby blanket for Princess...the one that she prizes above all others, even at five years old. I'm deeply grateful for those people. They are irreplaceable and I've been given occasion recently to meditate on just how irreplaceable they are. As I get older, such people are becoming increasingly more precious to me.

But the kindnesses that are almost more touching and certainly more surprising are the ones shown to me by people who I don't really know and have ample excuse to ignore me with impunity. Recently, I was graced by such kindnesses. Tool Guy and I made a decision to change banks in the wake of a security breach of a regional store's data bases. Which entailed all of the joys concomitant with changing banks, ATM cards, and checking accounts. We usually only change banks when we are moving to a new location and I'd forgotten it can be. No doubt about it. As I get older I take change less gracefully. Glad we're not bebopping to new locales at the rate we did when we were younger!

I was totally unprepared when Walmart refused to take my check. Particularly stunning since the bank we chose has a branch in that exact store. (Which, of course, was closed at the time.) I know, I know...I shouldn't be shopping at Walmart anyway, but they are the only place that carry OTC antihistamines without corn starch in them. It did niggle the back of my mind as I stocked my cart, walking through Sam's that I might have the same problem. Surely not. They have a computer data base with my entire shopping history from the inception of my membership. They'd see that I never have bounced a check with them in thirteen years. Nope. When you are talking to a manager whose voice isn't finished changing, you aren't talking with someone who has enough life experience to look at rational reasoning and make independent decisions. He's acquired his position by sheer virtue of the fact that he's outlasted his peers who change jobs more frequently than the software in their Wii systems. Nuh-uh. He's going to fall back on the dictums of policy and entrench himself there. No talking to him. Good thing I've been stocking up for the past few months, because I felt gratified by the fact that there was nothing in that cart that I didn't have more of already in my basement. The cashier, at least, had the grace to be apologetic.

Still, it was frustrating to think that I would have gotten up early and taken Tool Guy to work, dragging along three Hobbits who would have preferred to sleep in, and gone on this exercise in futility, only to return home with nothing to show for it. So on my next stop--at the very store whose computers got hacked--I first visited the manager's stand and spun out my sorry plight. Although I'm a familiar face in the store...not many patrons regularly shop at break of dawn every other Friday, with three children in tow even during the school year...when one thinks about it, she really didn't know me. Even the worst offenders are known to neighbors and considered to be trustworthy. But Doreen was gracious and understanding and pre-approved my check. She even approached me a few minutes later while I was browsing the outer aisles to discuss the computer breach issue in further detail, sharing some of her own experiences in the matter.

Ginger Gold apples are in season right now and the price is certainly right. I stocked up on a whole boxful, as this is a favorite of the Hobbits. Tool Guy remarked offhandedly a few days ago that it's been a long time since we've had apple pie. Yeah. A really long time. I don't think I've made apple pie since before we went gluten free. And I can't say that I was a dab hand at rolling out crusts back then. My crusts were usually rather leathery. It was with much trepidation that I approached the task of making pie. In fact, I think I spread it over a two day period, because I wanted to think everything through carefully before I committed myself. So much for cooking dangerously, eh? The resulting pie was an absolute delight, however, and the crust was astonishing...flaky and melting on the tongue. Perhaps it's been so long since I've eaten wheat and even longer since I've eaten properly made pie, but this was the best pie I've ever eaten, let alone the best gluten free pie I've ever made...having the virtue of being the first. Heh.

Gluten Free Pie Crust

3 T Rice bran
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup potato starch
2 1/2 cups gluten free flour (I used a blend of brown rice/millet/teff/buckwheat)
1 t salt
1 t guar gum
2/3 cup lard/ghee/or palm shortening (In sheer desperation for this to work, I used equal amounts of all three)
5 T water

Sift dry ingredients together to blend well. With a pastry knife or with forks, cut fats into the dry ingredients until pebbly. Add water and cut until well incorporated. All of the recipes that I looked at for pies recommend chilling the dough. I found that chilled dough crumbled and this worked more readily when at room temperature. Divide dough into half. Using a silicone baking sheet under one half of the dough and a sheet of baking parchment on top, gently roll out the crust. Peel off the top parchment and re-place as necessary. When dough is desired size and thickness, remove top parchment and, leaving the dough sticking to the baking sheet, work dough into pie plate, carefully working the baking sheet away from the dough. With a fork, poke holes at intermittent spaces in the dough across the bottom of the plate.

When ready to place the upper crust, repeat the same procedure, cutting out the vent holes before placing the sheet over the top of the pie. I found it difficult to crimp the edges in the artistic fluting fashion so popular among pie bakers, so resorted to using the handle of a knife to approximate the pattern. Not sure if it is the nature of gluten free dough or the ineptness of my fingers. Only time will tell. If the taste tests are any indication, I'll be getting plenty of practice.

To prevent the edges of the crust from burning, I created a "collar" with some aluminum foil around the edges. Bake at 350* for 45-50 minutes.

Apple Pie Filling

6-7 cups apples, peeled and sliced (I soaked these overnight in water with a dash of lemon juice in the fridge, giving myself time to work up the nerve to actually bake this.)
2 T maple syrup
Vegetable glycerin mixed with maple syrup to total 1/3 cup sweetening
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
4-5 T tapioca starch

Sift dry ingredients to mix well. Add apple slices to the dry ingredients and stir well to coat completely. Spoon into pie plate and pour maple syrup/vegetable glycerin mixture over the top of the apple mixture, cover with top pie crust, and bake according to crust directions.

Ginger Gold apples remind me of our first taste of them a few years ago. In a passion of having discovered a new favorite food, they regaled Granny with raves about this wonderful "new" apple. Being the quintessential indulgent granny, she made it her business to stock up on them during their drive from Texas. Stopping in at a farmer's market, she found some and enthused over her jackpot, explaining to the patient farmer exactly why this was such a special find for children who had very little special to eat in their diets at that time. The lady walked over to a display of Ginger Golds and pulled out two more bushels and gifted them to my mother. The kindness of strangers. Sprinkles of gold.

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