The mystery of pie


Willem Claeszoon Heda, Still life with silver ewer and pie

A single-crusted pie pronounces its identity at a glance. Immodestly uncovered, it is open to any gaze. Whether boasting berries or garnished with cream, whether lined with graham cracker crumbs or a pale pastry, its is no subtle ploy.

It begs for the knife, the server, the plate, the fork, the mouth. It wants nothing but to be eaten, and the pie plate to be scattered with a few last crumbs for scavengers.

A double-crusted pie, though—what wonders hide beneath its golden upper crust? What potential awaits? What dinner or desert signifies? Modestly draped and carefully sealed, a lone slender slit hints at its filled glory.

Perhaps a fortunate fragrance will waft from pie to nose, offering olfactory fulfillment.

Perhaps the smell of savory sage promises poultry—a soothing, homey mix of meat and sauce and vegetables. It is a remedy for sadness, an invitation to stay cozy indoors.

Perhaps the gentle double-punch of woody cinnamon and budding cloves portends sugar-sweetened apples. The provenance of the apples is the pair of trees in the backyard; they offer their abundance as the leaves around them flame and fall.

Perhaps, instead, not smell but sight suggests what mind and mouth ought anticipate.

A dark dribble suggests steak—and ale for the cooking and the drinking. The sweet tang of sauteed onions and garlic fills out the flavor.

A trickle of indigo betrays blueberries. Ah, blueberries! Finally, after the long winter wait for their fresh-bursting flavor. The farm is only a short drive away, and the blueberry bushes stand row upon row. Wildly fecund, they give generously to both sparrow and picker.

Perhaps (again) the roundness of pies speaks to their infinite perfections. What culinary rule, after all, requires they inhabit a circular dish? Cobblers, crumbles, casseroles, cakes—round, rectangular, or square—no matter. Their substance is the same, whatever their shape.

Not so with pies. The plate that contains them also bears their name. Is the essence of a pie, then, bound up in its roundness?

How does one open the mystery? It offers no single starting point for slicing. Turn the plate and turn it again. Seek some slightly more pronounced flute in the crust, and see what success it offers the knife.

The first slice is always the most difficult to extricate. It is sloppy, usually, and set aside for the server’s serving. Still, sweet or savory, it satisfies.

Going back to the beginning, consider the crust. Finicky pastry! Keep it anything but cold, and it pulls apart, torn between counter and rolling pin. Over-handle it at your peril—its tenderness quickly turns tough. Fail to encase its edges in foil, and it burns. It tends toward chaos. Coax it carefully toward perfection.

In my beginning is my end, said the poet, and in my end is my beginning. So for the pie. Created for consumption, its mystery is fleeting, forgotten by the forkful.


Image source.

The details: “Quoth the raven”

"Open here I flung the shutter"

“Open here I flung the shutter”

Here is a delightful intersection of poetry and art: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” illustrated by Gustav Doré. Twenty-odd etchings illustrate the 18-stanza poem.

I learned about Doré’s illustrations of “The Raven” about a year ago, at an exhibit of illustrations of the works of Edgar Allan Poe at the Brandywine River Museum. Even though I’m not the biggest Poe fan, it was a fascinating collection. The artwork brought out the real creepiness of Poe’s stories. (And then there were the steampunk Poe illustrations…somehow fitting.)

The illustration accompanies this stanza:

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.

I like how the spectral bodies could almost be part of the building architecture. The figure in the bottom-left corner, with the slightly open mouth, has this look of melancholy regret—she almost looks with longing at the narrator in the window.

The image has very much the quality of an etching. I also found the below image, which looks more like a sketch or drawing. I know just about nothing regarding the provenance of artwork, so I haven’t a clue if this is a drawing from which the etch was made or what. It brings a slightly different emphasis to some of the features of the illustration.


Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Edmund C. Stedman, in his “Comment on the Poem,” notes that “The Raven” illustrations were Doré’s last works. Stedman offers this assessment:

As a “literary artist,” and such [Doré] was, his force was in direct ratio with the dramatic invention of his author, with the brave audacities of the spirit that kindled his own…He was a born master of the grotesque, and by a special insight could portray the spectres of a haunted brain.

Upcycling St. Clair

Fleming said his travels opened his eyes to Cleveland’s richness and potential.

“If you’ve been other places, you see that this isn’t a backwater,” he said. “It’s an incredible, diverse city,” he said. “It took all that travel for me to appreciate how valuable it all was.”

from “St. Clair Avenue is poised for revival as Cleveland’s next example of ‘creative placemaking'” on

The Slovenian in me got an extra kick out of this article. I was practically raised on Azman’s kielbasa, and I’ve been to more than one wedding at the Slovenian National Home (my family can polka with the best of them, that’s for sure!).

As a “boomerang” who returned to Cleveland after more than 7 years away, I am happy to be back, and I’m excited about all that Cleveland offers. (At the same time, in this economy, I was grateful and relieved to find a job that will let me stay here.)

I want to see this region thrive, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Upcycle St. Claire develops. The Cleveland Flea? Sounds like fun to me! And maybe after, we can meet at Azman’s for a zelodec sandwich. Yum!

The details: The virtues of crinolines

I enjoy browsing older periodicals—looking at the layout, the illustrations, the style of writing, and especially the advertisements. What are the selling tactics? How are capitalization and punctuation used? What about the accompanying images?

crinoline advertisement from Le Follet 1863

This crinoline advertisement, from an 1860s copy of the French fashion magazine Le Follet (this is the British edition), points to some essential undergarment features, given the fashion of the day: “The Sansflectum is particularly adapted for the sea-side, as they will not rust; the Gemma for the ball-room, on account of its wonderful flexibility.” (Click through to see a larger image.)

In other words, these crinolines offer form and function.

Fashion plate from Le Follet. Relax and enjoy the sea breeze, knowing that your crinoline will not rust. —SMR

Hubbell’s, the maker, notes that the crinolines are patented—such a detail lends at-a-glance credibility and/or authority, regardless of whether it’s deserved.

Then there’s the bold, all-caps guarantee: “THEY NEVER LOSE THEIR SHAPE.” Clearly an important characteristic of a quality crinoline. Does that make a Hubbell’s crinoline an investment purchase? Should I expect to pay a premium for this kind of quality?

Fashion plate from Le Follet. Enjoy freedom from fashion faux pas. Your crinoline was made with ballroom dancing in mind. —SMR

Then there’s the implied purpose of a crinoline: “By their peculiar make, a Dress is seen to much greater advantage than with the ordinary shape.” It’s all about showing off—and Hubbell’s crinolines are designed to do so particularly well.

Of course, at 2.5 to 3 yards round, “in accordance with the prevailing fashion,” I’m rather grateful that crinolines and such are no longer part of a woman’s wardrobe.

What about this ad stands out to you?

The details: Just one drop

Deep purple bud with water drop

Just one drop of water pooling at the lower curve of this bud, gathering and reflecting its plummy color.

Then there’s the way the sunlight gives the leaves a waxy-looking finish.

This, by the way, is just a little bit of the glory that abounds at Longwood Gardens.

Because the details make all the difference between “What?” and “Wow!”

The details: Painters on the Brooklyn Bridge cables, 1914

These men are standing (and/or lounging) somewhere between 119 and 276 feet above the East River…if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say around 200 feet.*

Painters on the Brooklyn Bridge Suspender Cables-October 7, 1914

Flickr, courtesy of the Museum of Photographic Arts

The Brooklyn Bridge was finished in 1883, so this photo must have come from a later re-painting. Two things are particularly neat about this picture:

  1. You get a look at how this massive suspension bridge is held together (click through for a larger image).
  2. You get a sense of scale, given how the men are posed along the cables. The distance between cables might be hard to judge from the ground, but with the men standing and sitting along them, it’s much easier to guess — and be impressed.

I was inspired to look for Brooklyn Bridge photos by a book I’m currently reading: David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Great Bridge is a captivating read, chronicling both the human drama of the project and the physical construction of the bridge. I got interested in it because I had often wondered how the foundations of bridges are built in living, moving water.

*The bridge towers rose 276 feet above the river, and the roadway was 119 feet above the river (see McCullough, p. 224). These men are obviously well above the roadway — and much higher up than I’d be comfortable! (Though not quite as vertigo-inducing as the iconic “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” photo)

The details: Illumination

The Last Gospel illumination

Delicate paintings of insects and flowers illuminate the Last Gospel passage from the Gospel of John, in this fifteenth- or sixteenth-century manuscript. I would just as readily expect these drawings in a contemporaneous book of science, with the different parts of bug or bloom carefully labeled.

Reflection off the body and translucent wings:

The Last Gospel illumination, detail
Antennae and fringed petals:

The Last Gospel illumination, detail

Image source.

Because the details can make the difference between “What?” and “Wow!”

Found: An app for saving and viewing my Internet reads

Do you suffer from Too Many Open Browser Tabs Syndrome? Or Where-Do-I-Put-This-So-I-Remember-to-Read-It-Later-itis? I’ve been there, too.

Thanks to the Internet, I’m always finding articles and posts on that I want to read. Just a quick scroll through my Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook feed can produce a generous number. But rarely do I have time to read them right away.

For years, I would open an article in a new tab and leave it there till I got around to it.

This created a cluttered screen and an overshadowing sense of unfinished work. Those webpages were accusing me of neglect, even though I’m the one who decided I wanted to read them.

When I started using Evernote, my computing life changed (it was probably helped along by the fact that I also purchased a tablet). Inspired by The Secret Weapon Getting Things Done® method, I began clipping articles to Evernote and tagging them “Read.” Then, when I had the time, I would pick up my tablet, find a comfy chair, and easily sift through my clippings.

Doing this greatly cut down on the number of open, lurking, unread webpages. Ahhh, wonderful.

It also made me more selective with my interwebs reading. That article that sounded soooo interesting at the moment I spotted it? Lost its allure a few hours (or days) later. Time = saved.

But then I ran into a problem. This month, for the first time, I’ve nearly run out of Evernote storage space, with a week still to go. You see, unless you subscribe to Evernote, you have a limited amount of storage space per month, hence a limited amount of clipping space (It’s a generous 60MB, and the subscription fee for 1GB is not outrageous. But right now I’m sticking with free.) Plus, I don’t always want to keep every article I clip. So if I clip an article then later delete it, I’m wasting (as far as I know) part of my allotted monthly portion.

Mind you, I’m not complaining about Evernote. It’s free, and I use it for more than just reading: I write down and flesh out blog post ideas, organize my networking contacts, file recipes I find online, and keep track of my to-dos. It’s fantastic, and I highly recommend it—along with a thorough tagging system to keep things organized.

Still, I was out of space. I needed another solution before the browser tabs took over—and one appeared just in time.

As they say, there’s an app for that.

Pocket app screen shot

“‘Cause I got one hand in my pocket…”

It’s called Pocket (formerly “Read it Later”). It lets me save webpages, blog posts, articles, etc., with a click. All I had to do was sign up and install the extension for my browser. Easy-peasy, and faster to use than Evernote’s web clipper.

Like Evernote, Pocket saves the content of a page, not just the URL. Also like Evernote, it syncs across devices, allowing me to save something on my laptop then access it on my tablet (or vice versa).

Depending on your organizing preferences, Pocket gives the options to tag, archive, share, favorite, and delete items. It also has options, similar to an E-book reader, which let you increase or decrease the font size, select either serif or sanserif text, and view the text as either white-on-black or black-on-white (and sepia, at least on my tablet).

Plus, if I decide that I do want to save the article to Evernote after all, I can use the “Share” option to send it over. I haven’t tried it yet, since I’m nearly out of Evernote space.

Results so far: My computer screen remains de-cluttered, Evernote space is used effectively, and all my reading is right where I want it. I like it.

The fine print: Nobody paid me to write this tribute to Pocket. I wrote it ‘cause I like it. I’m also not making money off the link to Amazon.

The details: Font flourishes

Stocking factory advertisementThis 1886 hosiery advertisement is not as much about the quality of the hosiery as the character of the company and its workers: wholesome, orderly, and clean. (Not really fitting my own nineteenth-century factory stereotypes.)

For me, though, the lettering is what really makes the ad, with its flourishes, curlicues, and drop shadows.

Like this:

Stocking factory advertisement, detail

And this:

Stocking factory advertisement, detail


Image source.

Because the details can make the difference between “What?” and “Wow!”

Sound effects: Handbag v. purse

Woman with handbagI have a German friend who uses the word “handbag” rather than “purse.” It’s a difference I immediately noted, because of the different feel of the word. (She speaks English with a British accent, which surely accentuated the difference.)

At any rate, consider: Judging only by the sound of the two words, who is more elegant, a woman carrying a “handbag” or a woman carrying a “purse”?

“Purse” is a brusque single syllable. It opens with the plosive “p” and moves into a slightly growling “rrrrrr,” wrapping up with a hiss. It’s related to the verb “purse”—as in, “purse your lips”—which refers to puckering, contracting, or wrinkling. Not particularly flattering.

“Handbag,” in contrast, has two nice open “a” sounds. The word as a whole begs to be elongated—please, it says, take your time saying me. The “nd” sound helps out with this effect. There’s a certain luxury to it.

Image source.

I’m not a linguist. I’m just listening.