Archive for December, 2010

Nothing’s as Easy as Pie

Or is it? I’ve always wondered where that saying comes from because making a great pie does not come easy to everyone. I come from a family of bakers in Fairmount where we were known for our pies. One aunt for her plum crumb, another for her apple, and my mother for her pineapple walnut chiffon pie, a mouthwatering tart if ever there was one. It’s very hard to make a perfect pie until you get the knack – the feel – of making flaky, crispy, rich crusts.

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer makes this pie article very timely, stating pie will surpass cupcakes in popularity this year.

Throughout the year I make my crusts with butter, oil or non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening, a good one is in Whole Foods, and if you’re used to soft-supermarket vegetable shortening, be forewarned, this stuff is hard and unmalleable.

But I can’t imagine a holiday apple pie without a lard crust. Find pure leaf lard, not a package that says hydrogenated lard. Hydrogenation is what makes fats unhealthy and turns it into trans-fat. That’s why margarine is so much worse for you than a little butter. If you’ve been following the war against trans-fats, you may know that beef lard contains just 40 percent saturated fat, compared with nearly 60 percent for butter and it’s good fat – monounsaturated.

For a good leaf lard, made from the fat around pork organs, take a fall weekend jaunt to Dietrich’s Meats in Krumsville, PA.  It’s worth finding because nothing else gives apples more authority than lard. It says winter food.

I didn’t get to Dietrich’s this year but spied a package of beef suet up in a Poconos supermarket and remembering how my grandmother rendered her own snow-white lard from beef kidneys, I snatched it up to experiment with. I rendered it over a medium heat straining the melted fat into a metal bowl where it soon hardened. Once I felt I had enough to use as part of the fat for my crust, I studded the remaining few ounces of suet with nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds and hung it out on my patio tree for the birds to winter on. They’re having quite a holiday out there and I enjoy watching them while I bake.

For Thanksgiving, I made a butter and non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening apple pie from a 2009 issue of Bon Appetit that made a French guest burst into tears at first bite. Alarmed, I jumped to her side. “I have never eaten such perfection,” she said and kept repeating it until the last bite.

Still, bakers always want to surpass themselves. So I made the same pie with the following slightly altered crust for Christmas day. I baked one and made another which is sitting unbaked in my freezer for later. I liked the general proportions of the Bon Appetit recipe and stuck close to them, substituting just a portion of my beef lard for the butter for that flavor burst. This is the hardest lard I have ever used and when chilled, it was difficult to cut in, so I grated it on the shave side of my grater and it turned out terrific, giving me the sturdy crust I wanted to travel to family on Christmas day without losing the bottom crust to fruit juices.

This makes a large pie with 4 lbs of apples and serves 12. Make this your once a year holiday crust. If you double it, you can have two disks of dough in the freezer. This makes a good single crust for custard pies as it holds its shape beautifully. My next post will be about fillings.

Butter, Vegetable shortening and Lard Crust

Butter a large 10” glass pie pan (Do not miss this step if you want to cut that first piece out without having it fall apart.)

3 cups unbleached flour

¼ cup sugar

1 ¼ t. salt

1 cup unsalted butter – 2 sticks

¼ cup leaf lard

1/3 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening

6+ TBSP ice water

Plastic wrap

Wax paper

Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces. Grate the lard over them and chill in freezer for a few minutes. In a very large wide bowl, whisk sugar and salt into flour and make a well in the flour. Dump all the shortenings in. Run your hands under the cold-water tap for a few seconds to cool your skin and dig into the flour and fats rubbing them quickly together with your fingertips until they break up into small flour-coated bits. Add the first six TBSP of ice-water and combine until you can gently shape the dough into a ball. Only add additional ice-water bit-by-bit as needed – too much and it will be sticky and yucky.

The dough should be malleable, firm and still slightly dry, but wet enough to roll. When it’s right, you’ll feel it.

Divide into two balls and flatten them, wrapping them in plastic wrap. Yeah, the way you’ve seen Martha Stewart do it. Chill for an hour while you make the filling or freeze till you want it.

Pull out a length of wax paper larger than your pie pan, double it and cut it off the roll. Fold that in half and slide your bottom crust inside for easy rolling. When you’ve it a good inch wider than your pan, slide a cookie sheet under it and stick it in the fridge while you roll out the top crust. Put that one in the fridge while you start handling the bottom crust.

The trick is to keep both crusts cold as possible and work fast. The colder the crust is the easier the wax paper will peel off. Peel back the top section of wax paper, lay it back and flip the crust, lay it flat and peel back the other side. Now you have loosely covered crust and you can peel back one side of the paper and easily slam the dough into the center of your prepared pan, pulling off the rest of the paper. Press the dough into the sides gently. Run the tines of a fork gently around the sides and prick the bottom all over. You may sprinkle a TBSP of graham cracker, vanilla wafer or even plain bread crumbs over the bottom to absorb fruit juices. Fill, place top crust on and seal the edges. Make steam slits or holes, glaze with milk or egg wash, and sprinkle with Sugar in the Raw if you like. Place on a four-sided jelly-roll pan or the fats will melt out and make a mess in your oven. Use the lowest rack and bake at 425° 15 minutes; turn oven down to 375° for about an hour longer. Cool for an hour to let the pie set up. This pie or its leftovers can sit out overnight, covered with a bowl. Refrigerating it hardens the crust and you’ll have to let it come to room temp or reheat it to serve again.

Dec 19th, 2010 | By Merilyn Jackson | Category: Dance Headlines

Kun-Yang Lin Dancers by Matthew Wright

At times unfolding like a book, a two-year comprehensive training program devised by Kun-Yang Lin read through meditative arts with Hsu-Hui Huang of Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Theater, the martial arts led by Dr. Chik Qadir Mason and the art of moving with objects with puppet artist, Hua Hua Zhang. Each master wrote a workshop plan that took the dancers of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers and other participants along a story-line that steeped them in their areas of artistic expression. In November, Losang Samten authored the final chapter in the project with workshops titled Tibetan Sacred Ritual and Dance.

As a child in the late 1950s, Samten escaped with his parents from Tibet to India. A former Buddhist monk, he first came to America in 1988 at the request of the 14th Dalai Lama to demonstrate the sand mandala art form, the first time the Tibetan mandala was seen in the West. In the following year he moved to Philadelphia, founding the Tibetan Buddhist Center here and making the city his home base ever since.

He’s since become a 2002 NEA National Heritage Fellow, a 2004 Pew Fellow, but may be best known for his role in Martin Scorsese’s 1997 film Kundun.  He played the role of Master of the Kitchen and served as religious technical adviser, sand mandala supervisor and, having been the Dalai Lama’s Ritual Dance Master at the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, oversaw the choreography and dancing.

To read more:

By Jennifer Lin

Inquirer Staff Writer

HARRISBURG – After four years, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board finally ran out of patience with the Foxwoods Casino project.

In a decision that shocked Foxwoods’ attorneys and left anti-casino activists giddy with victory, the commissioners voted, 6-1, Thursday to strip the project of its $50 million slots license.

What will happen next, no one knows.

Read more:

And my remarks on it:

Saving the S.S. United States

I couldn’t be more delighted that someone, i.e., Gerry Lenfest, has finally taken up my idea to convert the S.S. United States into a gambling hall (for the news story, click here) rather than allow Foxwoods to impose its imbecilic design further north on Delaware Avenue. (See “A shipboard casino for Philadelphia,” BSR, August 2009.)
If another casino in Philadelphia is inevitable, this ship couldn’t be a better place for it. The United States already has the potential of becoming a fabulously famous tourist attraction. Even at its current berth, it would cause fewer traffic/crime problems in the surrounding neighborhoods, as traffic could be funneled to it from the south, allowing the less used Oregon and Packer Avenues to take the brunt.
I do hope that Lenfest and other investors will prevail and, if so, use some of my visions for the ship as a glamorous, upscale hotel, dining and entertainment destination, rather than just gambling— which, as we are already seeing at Sugarhouse, draws mostly the most desperate. Above all, parking attendants should be at the entrances to ensure that no children are in any cars entering.
Merilyn Jackson
South Philadelphia
December 12, 2010

Pathways to Deeper Dance

Dance writer, Merilyn Jackson chronicles Philadephia Choreographer Kun-Yang Lin’s Innovative Training Program in Philadelphia.

Dec 4, 2010 11:20am

Nov. 9, at Polish consulate: journalists John Darnton, Dan Rather, Bill Wheatley, Andrew Gorski and others told funny stories of coverage of Solidarnosc hosted by former journalist, Consul General Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka. Leading Solidarnosc architect and advisor to the the current Polish president, Komorowski, Henryk Wujek and the scamp of the underground press, Konstanty Gebert, AKA David Warsawski, also spoke. Gebert eluded police for years while playfully confounding them. After the fall of communism he resurrected the Jewish community in Warsaw finding, to his his shock and theirs, many friends with Jewish ancestry. I supported Solidarnosc for eight years because of its public declaration of being anti-anti-Semitic in its famous list of 21…

Video of first event for 30 Year Anniversary at the Polish Consulate. Great clips of my friend Elizabeth Sachs who was colleague with Henryk Wujek and Jacek Kuron, Solidarity leaders. Nathaniel Czarnecki, my escort for the event is seen weaving through the background as am I. Nathaniel is the son of the Reuters photo-journalist, Joseph Czarnecki, who took the most famous photos of the period.

On November 9th, 2010, the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York, in cooperation with the Overseas Press Club of America, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the founding of Solidarnosc with a reunion of several U.S. foreign correspondents who witnessed the birth of the independent trade union.

Posted on Mon, Dec. 6, 2010

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

At the Painted Bride over the weekend, Charles O. Anderson’s Dance Theater X took us to the past and the future to show us what our world could look like in 20 years.World Headquarters features photographic projections, which Anderson designed with Bill Hebert and Troy Dwyer, of President Obama’s first days in office, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Nazi death camps. They show us that with just a few more cataclysmic events, our planet could take the few of us left back to our more primitive selves. The World Headquarters of the title has fallen, as represented by the images of the World Trade Center towers falling, and society has broken down.

Hailing from Richmond, Va., Anderson earned a master of fine arts from Temple University and is now an associate professor of dance at Muhlenberg College, where he also heads the African American studies program. For World Headquarters, he was inspired by the late science fiction writer Octavia Butler, but also drew on Essex Hemphill, Sam Shoemaker, and Walter Benjamin for what was a bit too much text that he wrote with Dwyer.

Anderson virtually turned the Painted Bride into a makeshift encampment. He had a section of seating removed and replaced with scrounged objects from children’s books to walkie-talkie, from teepee to TV. The dancers visited this set from time to time but danced mostly on the stage, which held additional seating to accommodate the large audience.

As Professor Bankole Olamina, Anderson led the eight ragtag survivors of “The Pox” in dances ritualistic and mournful. Anderson’s robust dancing hangs from his powerful, undulating shoulders and ripples electrically through his body’s bent knees, essed torso, and imploringly released fingers. Raising the staff he wields, he is clearly the Moses of this tribe.

In the beginning, he leads them in the piece’s most poignant dance. All wear mesh hoods and, with bodies bent over in grief, propel themselves forward as best they can.

It was good to see Michael Velez dancing locally again. He’s late of Koresh Dance Company and working in San Francisco. As Zebulon Pierce, he represents the progenitor of what could be the next generation of these survivors. Shavon Norris and Karama Butler stood out even in the group dancing, but all performed this work they helped create with conviction and skill. In this parable of parables, Butler, as Olamina’s daughter, states: “God is change.”

Hua-Hua Zhang Puppetmaster

Dec 4th, 2010 | By Merilyn Jackson | Category: Artist Profiles

By Merilyn Jackson for The Dance Journal

Dance is a career that parallels those of athletes in terms of length – short, and actors in terms of character development – elusive.

Dance training – especially on a professional level – is rigorous, endless, expensive, often leads to painful injury, and the repetition can just be a boring pain. But it can also lead to the joy of attaining perserverance and the mastery over a difficult combination and, in the end, the gratitude of an appreciative audience after a soaring performance underpinned by good technique.

Last year, choreographer Kun-Yang Lin devised an innovative training program with master teachers that he hoped would reinvigorate his company by engaging their skills, mind and sense of self. It began with the first visit by master teacher from Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Theater Hsu-Hui Huang and expanded this year with the return of Huang, followed by Chik Qadir Mason in Martial Arts, Hua Hua Zhang a master puppet artist now living in Boothwyn, PA and concluded with Tibetan ritual dance master Losang Samten (who will be the subject of the next installment in this series.) Lin’s intention is to provide his company dancers’ (and any others who wish to participate) with new pathways that can lead them to reach ever deeper into their psyches to bring out emotionally expressive nuances that trump mere technique. As anyone who has watched Lin himself dance knows, the externalization of these inner impulses create a more organic experience for the audience.

To read more:

Posted on Sat, Dec. 4, 2010

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer


Parsons Dance Company dances the rock opera/ballet
“Remember Me,” lambasted by critics, loved by audiences.
After two years of touring, choreographer David Parsons’ Remember Me finally landed in Philadelphia Thursday night at Annenberg Center. A brilliant hit, it slams at the highbrow expectations of New York critics who’ve labeled it superficial and more soap than rock opera. Some say it’s a pop-opera; the Village Voice’s Deborah Jowitt called it a dansical.

None of this matters to audiences, which erupt in applause at the end of each act and bolt from their seats to cheer before the finale’s last notes fade. This is the kind of show that would have elicited flowers flung on the stage in another era.

What puzzles me is that Twyla Tharp gets nary a raised eyebrow for her Broadway excursions with Billy Joel and her Sinatra syndrome, while Parsons has his feet held to the fire for collaborating with the East Village Opera Company (EVOC) to create an uber-sexy, easy-to-follow narrative as entertaining as any opera from a century ago – a gorgeously performed work for our time.

Read more:
PLEASE NOTE: For some reason, my best line was edited out of the article and now reads incorrectly. It should have read, as I’ve corrected it above: “What puzzles me is that Twyla Tharp gets nary a raised eyebrow for her Broadway excursions with Billy Joel and her Sinatra syndrome…”

I meant it that way because Tharp has gone off the deep end on Sinatra and I’ll gag if I ever have to review one of those pieces again. What’s with that?


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