Christmas Pie

I know Christmas was over 2 weeks ago. It has taken me that long to recover.

Dan and I spent 3 glorious weeks in the US for the holidays. We saw friends and family. We raced Hot Wheels with our nephew. We drank homemade eggnog and red wine that wasn’t chilled (why, Japan? why?!). And we ate. I gained 2 pounds in the first week, then stopped counting. I knew what I was up against when I witnessed my mother-in-law buy 8 pounds of butter.

I was responsible for at least a pound of that edible gold. For Christmas eve dinner I made two of my favorite pie recipes — deep-dish winter fruit and bourbon pecan.

I haven’t talked about my pie obsession in a while, probably because I am still grieving the loss of a real oven. So for a full afternoon my dad and I barricaded ourselves in the kitchen, drank brandy, and rolled out two beauties. It’s just not Christmas until the kitchen smells like cinnamon. Or there is day drinking. My Christmases involve a lot of that, too.

Try them for yourself!

Deep-Dish Winter Fruit Pie with Walnut Crumb Topping

From Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More

Pie Crust

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Walnut Crumb Topping

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Fruit Filling

  • 1 cup dried figs
  • 4 small apples, peeled and sliced
  • 4 pears, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen (In a pinch, I use craisins. This year I used brandied cranberries.)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (I usually skip this.)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

Crust: Combine flour, sugar, and salt in food processor. Add the butter and mix just until the mixture becomes coarse and crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Stir the water and lemon juice together, then pour over the dry ingredients and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. (The key is to keep the water cold so it doesn’t melt your butter. Keep your butter chunky, this helps create a flaky crust.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prep the rest of your pie. When ready, roll the chilled dough into a 14-inch disk, then line a 9 or 10 by 3-inch springform pan with the rolled-out dough.

Topping: Mix flour, brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl. Stir in the butter, then work it in with your hands until the texture of crumbs.

Filling: Remove the stem from each fig, then boil the figs in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Slice each fig into 4 to 5 pieces, put them in a large bowl, and add the apples, pears, and cranberries. Gently toss the fruit with sugar until evenly coated.

Transfer the filling to the pie shell and top with the walnut crumb. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the crumb is golden, the fruit juices are bubbling thickly around the edges, and the fruit is tender. If the crumb is getting too dark, cover it with foil while baking.

Bourbon Pecan Pie
Adapted from Bon Appétit, November 2006

Pie Crust

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water


  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 2 cups pecan halves, very coarsely chopped

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.

Crust: Combine flour and salt in food processor. Add the butter and mix just until the mixture becomes coarse and crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Pour the water over the dry ingredients and pulse just until the dry ingredients are moistened. (The key is to keep the water cold so it doesn’t melt your butter. Keep your butter chunky, this helps create a flaky crust.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prep the rest of your pie. When ready, roll the chilled dough into a 10-inch disk, then line a 9 or 10-inch pie plate with the rolled-out dough. Fold the extra dough under and crimp to make a decorative edge.

Filling: Whisk eggs in large bowl. Whisk in both sugars, then next 5 ingredients. Stir in pecans. Pour into crust.

Bake until filling is puffed and just set in center (filling may begin to crack), about 55 minutes.


Happy Blog Birthday, Saké Puppets!

Wow, how this year has zoomed by.

It is amazing to think that just a year ago, we had a very different life.

Starting this blog while preparing to move from one side of the world to the other was a hectic endeavor, though I’m glad we did.  It’s been interesting to look back, and a bit bittersweet to realize how far we’ve come in certain areas, yet how little progress has been made in others.

I’m thinking mostly about my Japanese.  When I realized the one-year mark was approaching, I panicked.  I was hoping to be further along by now.  Maybe I was too optimistic with my goals, or maybe I’ve just been lazy. Probably the latter. Rather than rag on myself, I’ll just make a pact — with you all as my witness — to keep at it, and in a year from now I’ll be reading manga with the best of ’em (er, by that I mean elementary school students and Doraemon, the children’s manga series about an earless robotic cat).

The time went by so quickly that I’m afraid I’ll wake up someday and realize I missed it all.  So, a few goals —

Where this past year was about exploring parts of Asia, the next year will be about exploring Japan.  I want to visit Hokkaido, Kyushu, maybe even Okinawa.  I want to visit Kyoto and Osaka, to hike mountains and take the train, and to volunteer in the tsunami-stricken north.  I want to get to know the country I’ve adopted as home.

Year Two will also be a year of creative work.  It took a little while to settle in and find my way around, and I’m glad I took that time, though I’m ready for bigger things.  I want to keep stitching and learning and really come into my own style.  Both Dan and I have projects we vow to move more towards the  “completed” end of the spectrum than their current resting places near the starting line.

I’m grateful for this blog, for pushing me along in the right direction.  Having a year of writing to look back on has been really valuable — to see the growth and our changes in style.  To all our readers — thanks for hanging in there, encouraging us to keep studying and exploring, and for keeping us connected to friends old and new.

Happy Birthday, little blog.  Cheers for another great year!  Now let’s eat pie.

Murder Pie

One of the reasons I love blueberry pie — it always looks like something went terribly wrong…

Blueberry Murder might make a good name for my pie shop.

These are from Pie Night at Chef Miri’s.  That one hiding in the back?  Chocolate Banana Cream.  It sort of has a deep-dish thing going on, which is a very good idea.

Feeling Toasty

I’d like to take you along on a little journey… to buy a toaster.  In Japan, purchasing an electronic appliance is no small feat:

And this was just the toaster side of the aisle.  Ovens, ranges, and fish broilers had their own sections.  Dan and I had initially planed to purchase an oven — after my stories of pie-woe, we were urged by many to stop whining go out and get one for ourselves.  But it quickly became clear that our apartment didn’t have space for the huge “counter top” oven/steamer/grill/microwave robot contraptions that were out there. (If you need a reminder, you can see photos of our tiny apartment here.)  And so, back to the toasters.

I was amused by all of the options.  They had single-slice mini toasters, double-decker toasters, toasters shaped especially for pizzas, toasters in colors to match your teapot, high- or low-tech.

This one is advertising a touch screen computer panel, but I was more interested in the panda cake it claims it can make.

This toaster would have been perfect for one of my old roommates… you know who you are, Carb King.  “What’s for dinner tonight?  Toast? Pizza? Baked cheese? Toast?”

We settled on this beauty simply because it was big (4 slices!) and had easy-to-interpret controls.  Maybe it’s not quite right for an overstuffed apple pie, but it could probably manage a few tarte aux pommes.

Or an open-faced avocado and cheese sandwich.  Since bringing this new friend home, I’ve been eating toast for approximately 2.8 meals a day.  Don’t judge.

I Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  A bold statement, I know.  Though really, it’s a no-brainer.  I love to eat and drink good wine, and my favorite way to do those things is slowly and with friends.  I don’t even like turkey that much.  But I love the ritual.  I love that it takes all day to prepare a meal, mostly from scratch.  I love talking and fussing about the turkey.  I love gathering with my friends and family to eat and gossip and laugh.  I usually like to wear a new sweater.  Oh, and I love the pie.

I love Thanksgiving dinner so much, that when I met a woman with an American restaurant a few weeks ago, I offered to help her with her Thanksgiving catering and peel potatoes, just for fun.  And so this past week I spent a few mornings at her shop, chopping and slicing (and chatting her ears off).  So maybe I had an ulterior motive and was hoping she’d take pity on me and be my friend, but that’s it.  I knew her turkeys were already called for.

I spent Thanksgiving Day at home, cooking a pumpkin soup and preparing for our first US holiday away from home.  I had time (a first!) to think about the things I am thankful for.  And then I got a message from my new friend the Caterer.  She had some turkey leftovers and would I like them?  Yes!  Please!  When I stopped by her shop, she presented me with a beautiful tray of… an entire Thanksgiving feast for two.  It was amazing.  Wild rice, brussel sprouts, cranberries — all the things I didn’t realize I’d been missing.

And so we had our first Thanksgiving away from home, and it suddenly didn’t feel so far away.  Big dinners with my family happen frequently, and not just on holidays.  So I feel lucky.  And turkey and new friends have now popped into my life unexpectedly.  I can’t help but think of all the kindness and love around me.  For all of this, I am thankful.

For those of you in Tokyo, I encourage you to check out Cravings — the food is wonderful!  Tel: 03-6400-0188, 1F 1-3-12 Minami Azabu Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0047

A Tourist in Familiar Lands

Is there really a difference between being a visitor to a place and being dubbed a tourist?  Perhaps.  I know many people who dislike being pegged as tourists, but in Tokyo I can’t help but look like one all the time.  I sometimes even use it to my advantage. People are happy to help you find your way, the next train, or the best dish at a restaurant.  In Japan especially, a crowd usually forms for a reason, because the site or snack being ogled is worth it.  That being said, when I visit many cities in the US, I try to blend in, go off the beaten track, and look as little like a tourist as possible.  Why I make a distinction, I’m not really sure.

Dan and I spent last week on a whirlwind trip through San Francisco and Washington, DC.  A business trip for him, I was lucky to be footloose and fancy free in two of my favorite cities.

In San Francisco my days were filled with friends and their favorite haunts, and I spent my time eating and drinking in good company.  Not once did I set foot in a museum (gasp!).  During this trip I finally felt like I was getting to know SF like a local.  Well, as much as possible when taking taxis to our swanky hotel on Nob Hill so as to avoid the steep climb…

Then it was off to DC for the second half of the week, where I hit more tourist sites than I did when I actually lived there.  Taking in the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery for the first time (shame on me, that place was great!) was one of the highlights, as was the updated Asia and elephant trails at the Zoo and the Rally to Restore Sanity at the National Mall.

Since for me travel is really about food, I’ll share my week in meals: huevos rancheros (just 30 minutes after we stepped off the plane), delicious puerto rican pollo al horno, scones du jour (ginger, lemon, pear, blackberry), tacos and more tacos, Blue Bottle coffee, visits to Arizmendi bakery, the Ferry Building and Tartine, deep-dish and wood-fired pizzas, egg scramble and grits, Taylor’s pastini salad, some of the best baba ghannouge I’ve ever had, and maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but oh-so-lovely California and Virginia wines were consumed, uh, probably every day.

For those who are counting, I had pie three times (apple 1, pumpkin 2).  If you include pizza, you can up that six.  I also had four scones and one cheese & berry danish.  They aren’t really pie, but they count for their buttery pastry goodness.

So what does it mean to be a tourist, anyway?  Last week I found myself acting more like a tourist in DC, a city I know well and lived in for years, while in San Francisco, where I’ve spent a total of 6 days, I flitted from cafe to bakery to hair salon like I owned the place.  Sure, maybe a visit to Alcatraz would have enriched my experience in San Francisco.  Right, sort of like a visit to DC’s Air & Space Museum on a Saturday afternoon (for those of you not in-the-know, that would be a death sentence.  NASM be crazy full of strollers.  You’ll certainly lose a toe).

So what really helps you get to know a place?  Personally, I think it’s in the tacos and cheese grits.

Crafty Pie

In the wake of my tirade pie-rade the other day, I couldn’t resist a little of this:

While wandering through my friendly neighborhood craft store Yuzawaya, I came across the make-cute-things-out-of-felt aisle.  Usually able to resist its powerful magnetic pull, this time I fell victim and I came home with a sweet little kit of my very own.  I blame the pie.

I haven’t yet delved into too many Japanese craft kits (and there are many! glass, wood, felt, wool, paper, plastic… hobbies are serious business) but figured I could handle this one — just cut the felt into shapes and stitch it together like in the photograph.  Right, piece of cake, er, I mean easy as pie.

I should know better than to trust my own clichés!  As anyone who has made a pie knows, pate brisee is not easy (damn you, ice cold butter chunks that make it impossible to roll you into a flat pie crust shaped circle!).  I opened the kit this morning, and the pieces are teeeny.  I don’t think I can cut them that small, let alone stitch them into something smaller.  Apparently my big Norwegian hands are not well-suited for cute felt things.

Also, I forgot that there might be directions to follow, and that they would be in Japanese.  What can I say, pie + crafts make me crazy.

I’d Pie for You.

Oh man, do I love pie.

I’ve got nothing against cake and will hardly ever turn down a piece of fluffy goodness if offered.  But pie!  Mmm.  The buttery flakey goodness of pie crust, combined with the slightly-sweet-but-mostly-tart fruit filling.  Mmm-mmm.  Don’t get me started on custard-filled pies.

I wasn’t always a pie person. I have to admit that in my early years I was a gooey chocolate brownie sundae kind of gal.  But then I met Dan, who one year requested a pie for his birthday instead of a cake (gasp!), and it was a done deal from there on out.  Once you get to know a pie, and learn to appreciate its simple rules and total free form willy-nilly insides, there is no turning back.  Someday, perhaps I’ll have my own pie shop.  I’ll call it the Pie Hole.

Pie is good any time of year, but fall is a pie-maker’s season.  Apple pie is a humble standard, but Thanksgiving brings out the bourbon-infused, pecan pumpkin crazy lady in me.  The late summer blueberry season gets me excited, and then fall hits and BAM! It’s really pie season.

And so, fall approaches in the fair metropolis of Tokyo, and I find myself without an oven, without a pick-your-own orchard, and without pie.  Can someone please make this and just tell me how good it is?  Or, maybe not tell me.  I don’t want to know.