June 28, 2012

I Blame the Ghosts
(+ Tuscaloosa Tollhouse Pie)

Today I’m having chocolate-chip pie for lunch.  I’d like to act like this is some kind of aberration – that usually I eat leafy greens and quinoa and lean grilled chicken breasts, but we all know that’s not true.  Pie for lunch is not that unusual around here, but today’s example is even more grievous than usual – it’s not even a fruit pie, for god’s sake.  AND there’s an ice cream chaser.  Oh, and it’s Haagen-Dazs.  None of that “country churned, half the fat” nonsense here.

For this reason, I’m feeling a little guilty.  So if my ninth-grade nutrition teacher happens to come a-callin’, here’s what we’re going to tell her:

It’s the ghosts’ fault.

You see, I find myself in need of some comfort lately: I haven’t been sleeping at all well.  Finally released from the stress of classes and the sleep-destroying properties of a thesis, I immediately picked up Chris Bojahlian’s recent novel  The Night Strangers and found a whole new reason to up my morning caffeine dosage.  The book is about an airline pilot who survived a crash that killed most of his passengers and crew.  Suffering from PTSD and struggling with crippling guilt, he moves his family to a Victorian fixer-upper in rural New Hampshire for a fresh start – only to have his psychological haunting become very literal.   I bought the book because I admire the author, because I finally have time to read again, and because we’re thinking about moving to New Hampshire.  But mostly, I bought it because I’m a sucker for a ghost story.

If you pressed me, I couldn’t even tell you what I think about ghosts.  On an average day, my belief sits at about a 50 on a 100-point scale.  And yet I’m completely fascinated.  I devour novels about hauntings.  And as long as that book is sitting open in front of me, my belief rests firmly at 157.  Every page is punctuated with a glance over my shoulder.  Every strange household noise is immediately cataloged and evaluated.  And then I find myself lying awake at 3:00 AM, wondering if there’s always been a shadow in the northwest corner of the bedroom. 

Some people live for this kind of manufactured terror; I hate it.  I get no enjoyment from fear.  Yet none of my reactions to these books stop me from seeking them out.  Why?  Who knows.  I assume it’s probably some sort of complex that science hasn’t discovered yet.  Maybe they’ll name it after me.

Anyway, the creep factor in this book is pretty darned high.  There’s a Victorian house, and an isolated mountain community, and several pairs of twins, and some sinister kitchen implements.  And so, to deal with the crippling heebie-jeebies that come along with the subject matter, I’ve had to implement some protocols.  These, in turn, are affecting my sleep.

First and foremost, the book may not remain in the bedroom during the hours of sleep.  This means that tooth-brushing and face-washing occur, lights are turned out around the house, covers are turned back, and pre-bed reading commences.  Then, just when everyone has relaxed and calmed their minds from the day’s activities and are drifting off peacefully, I have to haul myself out of bed, turn on lights, and deposit the book in the living room - fully two rooms and a hallway away from where I’ll be sleeping - so that it doesn’t lurk on the nightstand and send creep-rays into my dreams.  Mr. Bear tends to watch this ritual with condescending amusement.  Mr. Bear doesn’t understand creep-rays.

But removing it from the bedroom is not nearly vigilant enough.  God only knows the shenanigans it could get up to out in the living room by itself.  That’s why I set at least one other book on top of it.  This serves the twofold purpose of  (1) Keeping the creepiness from seeping out through the pages (thereby infecting the air of the very room in which I intend to eat breakfast), and  (2) Covering up the book’s sincerely creepy cover art, which I’m pretty sure can serve as some sort of portal for drowned ghost children and their generally irrational agendas.  If the last chapter of the evening was extra eerie, I may put a second book on the top of the pile.  Just in case.  Cookbooks are the best for this.  They tend to be very heavy AND deeply grounded in reality.  Any ghosties trying to worm their way to the surface through those pages will get exhausted and give up around step 17 of “Individual Beef Wellingtons.”

But even after all these precautions, my evenings have been spent alertly watching the darkest corner of the bedroom; it has never shown any signs of attacking me before, but I see no reason to give it the opportunity.  And my dreams have been haunted by menacing Victorian scrollwork, decidedly atmospheric fog, and leering groundskeepers.  This has not been restful.  I need comfort.  I need a warm blanket, a screening of Annie, and a piece of pie.  I bet you’ve got a reason for pie too.  Eat up.  We’ll blame the ghosts.


Tuscaloosa Tollhouse Pie
 by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

This pie is like the gooiest chocolate chip cookie you’ve ever had, served still warm in a pastry crust.  I recommend copious amounts of vanilla ice cream with it; without it, I found the pie too rich and sweet to have more than a sliver – and that’s saying a lot, coming from me.  Regarding the crust: although the original recipe calls for Lewis and Poliafito’s signature pie dough, I had a mistakenly-purchased box of crusts in the freezer, and I used one of those.  Guess what?  Nobody died.  Pie crust has always been a necessary evil to me, anyway.  If you disagree,  (1) Know that you are wrong, and  (2) Feel free to use your favorite recipe.

Pie Crust  [1, unbaked ]
All-Purpose Flour  [ ½ cup ]
Granulated Sugar  [ ½ cup ]
Dark Brown Sugar  [ firmly packed, ½ cup ]
Eggs  [2, large ]
Unsalted Butter  [ ¾ cup, softened, cut into cubes ]
Whiskey  [ 1 tablespoon ]
Walnuts  [toasted and chopped, ¾ cup ]
Semisweet Chocolate Chips   [1 ¼ cups – about 8 ounces ]

1.   Do whatever you need to do to end up with a frozen Pie Crust in a 9-inch unfrozen pan.  Perhaps you will buy one.  Perhaps you will make one from scratch.  Who knows?  Keep me guessing.

2.   Heat oven to 350 degrees.

3.   Whisk together All-Purpose Flour, Granulated Sugar, and Dark Brown Sugar.  Set aside.

4.   With an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat Eggs for about 3 minutes until foamy.  Change to a paddle attachment.  Turn mixer to Low, and slowly add in the flour mixture.  Raise mixer to High and beat for 2 minutes. 

5.   Add Butter to mixer.  Beat on High until mixture is combined.  Add Whiskey and beat on High for 1 minute.

6.   Stir in Walnuts and ¾ cup of the Chocolate Chips.

7.   Add finished filling to frozen Pie Crust.  Smooth top of pie, and sprinkle with remaining Chocolate Chips       ( ½ cup).

8.   Bake for 25 minutes.  Loosely cover edges of pie with aluminum foil so that they don’t brown too quickly.  Bake for another 25 minutes.

9.   Pie is done when a knife inserted in the center of the filling comes out clean.  Set on a wire rack to cool before cutting.

 [Notes:  Although the recipe calls for cooling the pie completely 
before cutting it, it is better by far when warmed (and, of course, 
topped with ice cream).  I’d suggest popping your slice in the 
microwave for a few seconds before digging in.]

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