I seem to have developed an unexpected streak of energy in recent weeks. It’s been a little over two years since I retired, and I never followed through on my initial plans for what I was going to do in retirement. Oh, I did start an exercise program, which led to my broken foot. Having a broken foot sidetracked other plans, and then I managed to re-injure it last summer. Still, there are tasks like sorting through old photographs that can easily be done sitting down, so that is hardly an excuse.
Even though I didn’t make any resolutions this new year, however, I have been tackling tasks that I had previously declared a vague intention to do whenever I felt guilty about being a lazy slob. I have a housework schedule that I have been following weekly (although I have had a cooking and laundry schedule that I have followed for years, so it hasn’t been all sitting around eating bonbons.) I’ve also been tackling one big cleaning project a week. This week it was clearing off the kitchen counters and giving them a good scrubbing, and then putting back only the most necessary items.
I have joined a group from church in volunteering at a food pantry we support.
And then I have been doing odds and ends just for the fun of it, like baking. I used to love to bake, when I was younger and more energetic. Mostly I made bread, but I did make cakes and pies, too. I didn’t often make cookies, but while going through the pantry last week, I discovered some Ghirardelli white baking chips (the kind they used to call white chocolate chips), some chopped pecans, and brown sugar, and they just seemed to scream “cookies!” There was even a recipe on the back of the baking chips bag for white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies. I only had pecans, but what were the Ghirardelli folks going to do if I made a substitution, sue me?
Somewhere along the way I recalled why I rarely make cookies. (Christmas wasn’t that long ago. You would think I’d remember.) Mixing up cookie dough is easy, especially with my trusty stand mixer. Baking the stupid things is what takes forever. I had cut the recipe in half and still had to shuffle four baking pans in and out of my oven, since I wasn’t sure how far the dough was going to spread and I don’t trust the bottom rack of my oven not to burn anything. Even if I had a wider oven with better heat distribution, I hate repetitive tasks like dropping batter from a spoon. I’d much rather bake a pie. For instance, that night for dinner I made chicken pot pies with leftover roast chicken, but even easier is pecan pie.
Pecan pie is the easiest because you can buy the pecans already shelled and halved. Canned apples don’t have the same just-as-good-as fresh flavor as shelled pecans do. Pie dough takes a little more effort to whip up than batter, but not much, and all you need to do once it’s mixed is roll it out and fit it to the pan. The custard for the pie only takes measuring and stirring, except that you do have to melt butter, which is hardly a chore. Every time I bake pecan pie for my husband, whose favorite it is, I feel like the wife in the old Rice Krispies commercial who used to pretend it took hours to make her Rice Krispies Treats and then got taken out for dinner. I use a traditional old recipe followed by generations of southern women. It’s on the back of the Karo syrup bottle.
Since yesterday was Valentine’s Day and we had decided to put off dining out until next week, when the restaurants are less crowded, I decided to make us a special dinner, including the pecan pie. I actually got up early to bake the pie, making it seem extra virtuous.
One thing I discovered a year ago that makes pie baking even easier is Crisco baking sticks. It’s the familiar shortening packaged in sticks, like butter but larger, with convenient measuring lines marked along the sides of the packaging. I first bought them when I found a recipe for Logan’s Roadhouse style rolls and it called for a small amount of butter flavored shortening. Not wanting to buy a large can for a few tablespoons, I bought the sticks instead.
And never made the rolls. The Crisco sticks sat until I needed some for baking and what was left in the old can we had smelled suspiciously rancid. Now I don’t think I will buy anything else. The sticks stay wrapped and away from the air, unlike a small amount of Crisco sitting in a can, and opened ones can be refrigerated, so they don’t go bad nearly as quickly. Even after making the pot pies and the pecan pie, I still have some left.
Enough left to maybe, finally, make the rolls. Since I'm on one, anyway.