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Archive for February, 2011

I met a new friend today, Dave Seah.  He’s Taiwanese-American, lives in New Hampshire, and he’s a writer–like me.  Plus, he’s my age, so we can feel old and curmudgeonly together.  But Dave is far from curmudgeonly.  He’s much more positive and hopeful than I am, so it was good to hang with him.  We talked for almost 3 hours.   He gave me the following advice:

“Think of your writing as a gift to put out into the world.  And think of it as a good gift.  A really good gift.  Not like a fish aquarium.”

I was following him until he said “fish aquarium.”

Dave had a friend who had just started dating a new girlfriend soon after he broke up with an old girlfriend.  The new girlfriend wanted to get her new boyfriend a present and she wanted to get him a fish aquarium.  She told this to Dave.  She said her boyfriend liked fish and she thought he would like a fish aquarium.

Dave did not think this was a good idea.  Knowing his friend, Dave thought he would be pretty particular about keeping fish and would probably not go for something his new girlfriend could find at Petco.  Essentially, Dave told her, she would be giving him a new set of chores to keep the aquarium clean.

She didn’t listen to Dave.  She bought the aquarium.

They broke up not too long afterward.

Dave said I could blog about this.  So I did.  Because my writing (and his story) is a gift to the world.

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Front Page News

On Monday, Milo and I went shopping at our local grocery store for a few supplies before the next snow storm came in. The guy at the fish counter said I looked familiar.  He said, “Did you do something with pies?”

“I did bake a pie,” I said.  “I won second at Mack’s apple pie contest on Saturday.”

“That’s it,” he said.  “You’re in the paper!”

“Really?”

“Yeah, hold on a sec.  I’ll get it for you.”

And there it was.  Front page news.  Me and Milo.  Told you he was photogenic.

I bought some extra salmon from the fish guy.

To read full article from New Hampshire Union Leader, click here.

Pelham resident Sabina Chen beamed with her son, Milo, while showing off her winning ribbon Saturday afternoon after earning second place for traditional pies in the 21st Mack’s Apple Pie Contest.

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The Pie Contest

Pie heaven!

Mack’s Apples is a venerable institution in Londonderry, New Hampshire, family-run since 1732.  There are sprawling orchards with well-groomed trails.  In the winter, the kids invade an impressive hill behind the farm stand for sledding.  I can see the sleds zooming down the hill as I pull into the parking lot with my pie.  Contest rules required all pies to be registered by 1:30 and judging to begin promptly at 2:00pm.  Milo was napping when I left around 1:00, so Daddy was to bring him later, while I went ahead with my pie.

The farm stand is a rustic, weathered building with brightly painted signs.  Bins of apples and pumpkins line one side, while the other side has shelves of local New Hampshire foodstuffs: maple syrup, apple butter, pancake mixes, candies.  Instead of shopping carts, there are big red-flyer wagons that Milo loves when we come here.

On the day of the pie contest, the farm stand is starting to fill up.  You can smell the warm cinnamon and sugar as you walk in. There were two categories for the pie contest: traditional and non-traditional apple pies.  Traditional pies were described as two-crust pies with an apple filling.  Non-traditional pies were any pies with predominantly apple filling, but could include other fruits, nuts, cream, etc.  My pie was a traditional pie.  I had wanted to limit the variables in my first pie contest, so I went with the traditional pie.

My pie was registered pie #9–a lucky number in Chinese culture.  A contest official took my pie and laid it on a long table along with the other pies.  There weren’t too many pies on the table yet and I thought, oh, maybe the competition wouldn’t be too bad.  But as the room filled up, the table filled up too.  By 1:45, there were 23 traditional pies on the table.  Wow.  That’s a lot of pie.

Lining up with the competition: 23 pies total.

I had taken a seat next to Lorraine, a lovely grandmotherly woman who sat in the middle of the long room and wore an apron.  Lorraine had entered the contest six times and always wore an apron.  Two years ago, she won the whole she-bang.  This year, she had submitted two pies, one traditional and one non-traditional.  She used the same pie recipe that had won two years ago.  She does so every year.  She said there were people came year after year and it was great to see the familiar faces.

With our new friend, Lorraine.

Judging sounded like a complicated process, but a well-oiled machine.  There were twelve judges, six for traditional and six for non-traditional.  During the first round, two judges taste each pie and award points: 3 points for appearance and 7 points for taste.  After those scores are tallied, the top 8 or 9 pies from each category are advanced to the final round.

Milo and Daddy joined us just in time for judging to start.  Milo was an instant hit, of course, but I couldn’t use him to influence the judges.  They were all too busy gobbling down pies to notice him.  He flirted with Lorraine and with others gathered around us.  He squirmed off my lap and took off down the room.  He got his photo taken over and over.  I was sure his picture was going to make the local paper.  Milo is a photogenic charmer and he knows it.

The first round of judging completed, they announced the pies that would advance.  “Pie number 1.” “Pie number 2.” There was a cheer as each pie was announced.  “Pie number 6.”  This was Lorraine’s pie.  She was pleased.

I tried to keep my hopes down.  There were so many pies, chances of winning were slim, especially among this bunch of very experienced bakers.  Though it would be nice if my pie made it to the final round, I thought.  It was slightly nerve-wracking.

“Pie number 9.”  That’s mine!

Nine out of 23 pies advanced to the finals.  I was happy.  It didn’t matter to me who won at that point.  It was nice to know my pie made the cut.  (ar.)

For the final round, the judges switched sides: traditional to non-traditional and vice versa.  For this round, all six judges per category taste all the pies and award points accordingly.  Sixty points total.

By this point, Milo had taken command of the room, freely wandering off into a crowd of strangers.  Blake and I had to tag team him to corral him, until he discovered the forklift parked in a back corner.  Thankfully, he had a grand old time with the forklift until it was time to announce the winners.

Second place, with a score of 54.5 points, Pie number 9!

I must say, I was stunned.  Out of 23 pies, I won second place.  And with a pie that I had yet to taste.  I had an inkling it was pretty good, but it must have been really good to stand out in that field.  It was the first time I had entered such a contest, the first time I had offered up something I had cooked to judgement other than that of my family and friends.  Apple pie.  I felt humbled and grateful.  And quite a sense of accomplishment.  More than I had felt in quite a while.

When I finally did get a taste of my pie–there were only a few bites left in the pan–I had to admit, it was pretty good.  The apples, which I had pre-cooked, were just the right tenderness, not too sweet, not too tart.  The crust was flaky and light, but not too dry.  Even Blake, who (ahem) doesn’t like apple pie, said the crust was really good.  So I guess I was on to something with my baking experiment.  Third pie’s a charm.

My new friend, Lorraine, said she would cut out all the articles she read about the contest and send them to me.  We promised to meet again next year, if not before.

For my recipe of Third Try Apple Pie, click here.

Standing out in the crowd, with pie.

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