Adventures in Baking: Maple Pumpkin Pie

On October 27-31, The Long Dark held an in-game Halloween event titled 4 Days of Night. I was excited to see my favorite game do an event for my favorite holiday, so I made time on each of the four days to settle in with a cup of hot cider and bask in the spooky nighttime atmosphere of 4DoN, and I’m beyond glad I did. It exceeded my expectations. I took a ton of screenshots, which I may post at a later time, but for now, this post is about baking.

On the 31st, players were treated to pumpkin pies that had the affect of keeping us warm to help combat the intense blizzard that also descended upon that fateful day. Being a baking enthusiast, I loved the look and idea of the pies, so I decided to whip up a real one on Halloween night.

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The 4DoN pie’s defining visual feature is the paw print in the center. It’s easy enough to shape out of dough, and I placed it on top when the pie was a little more than halfway through baking. I probably could have placed it earlier because it turned out to have a lighter color than the crust, but it was still baked through.

I decided on a whim to add some maple flavor as a nod to The Long Dark‘s Canadian wilderness setting. I used maple extract, which added slightly more flavor but didn’t come out as strong as I would’ve liked. Next time I bake this, I think I’ll include maple syrup to give it even more of that distinct maple flavor as well as a denser texture. It was still delicious, though, and you really can’t go wrong with the combination of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger.

I also want to be sure to add that I adapted this recipe from this one, using adjusted measurements and different flavor combinations. My version makes two thinner pies, so you should have half of the mixture leftover for another pie. If you want to make one deep dish pie, you’ll have to bake it longer, I think about 65-75 minutes total.

The Long Dark‘s Warming Maple Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients:
The innards of one small pumpkin pureed, or 1 15-oz. can of pumpkin (I used a local brand of organic canned pumpkin.)
2 eggs plus one egg yolk
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated cane sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream or 1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1 tsp pure maple extract
2 tsps cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
A pinch of salt (I always use ground Celtic sea salt, but this is up to you!)
1 pie crust plus leftover dough for the paw print (You can use store-bought crusts for this or make your own. Here’s a great recipe for an easy crust.)

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cut out a paw print from excess dough. I just free-handed it based on the in-game image.

2. Beat eggs and mix in dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, maple extract, spices, and salt. Stir until well mixed, making sure there are no lumps from the sugar.

3. Add in pumpkin and heavy cream or evaporated milk. Stir until well mixed.

4. Pour mixture evenly into pie shell.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

6. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake an additional 30 minutes.

7. When the pie has about 15 minutes left to bake, place the paw print dough shapes in the center of the pie and continue baking until done. The pie should be a nice brownish orange color, and it should be well set but still slightly wet.

8. Serve and enjoy the warming, wildlife-repelling properties of your pie on a long autumn night!

Adventures in Baking

I’m not a baker. I’m a baking enthusiast.

A baker is someone who knows the science inside and out, who can whip up something magnificent out of a handful of ingredients, who can bake a multi-layered cake with mascarpone frosting and perfectly sculpted fondant without batting an eye. I’m not any of those things.

I understand enough of the science to bake something that tastes good, but I’m still learning. I usually have to use a recipe as a starting point, although I tweak and try to add my own twist as much as I can. I struggle so much with cake it’s not even funny. I revel in the little things, my favorite of which are whipping meringue, using sea salt as garnish, and trying to find excuses to add cinnamon to everything.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I want to start chronicling my adventures in baking here with the hope that I’ll see improvement as I continue to post. I’ll share photos, insights, and inspiration. Hopefully, I’ll eventually be able to post my own recipes fresh from my newly minted baker brain.

For now, here are a few things that inspire me to evolve from a baking enthusiast into a baker:

Jake Cohen’s Instagram – He’s a food critic who covers more than just baking, but his flawless cookies and galettes leave my mouth watering. He once liked my Instagram post showcasing my chocolate chip blondies and it made my life.

The Great British Baking Show

The Great British Baking Show (or The Great British Bake-Off, as it’s known in the UK) – I feel like everyone and their mother (including mine) has seen this show, but it’s always worth mentioning. I went into the new season skeptical about the change in judges and hosts (except Noel Fielding, who I already loved via The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd), but by the end I was declaring it my favorite season yet. I wanted all the bakers to win, and I loved Noel and Steven’s banter so much I wanted them to start their own spin-off show.

The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell – Christine McConnell has my dream life. Not the one where she has a super popular Instagram and a Netflix deal to showcase her artistic and culinary creations, as amazing as that seems. No, I want the life where she lives in a Gothic-infused house filled with strange resurrected creatures and just bakes all day. How can I achieve that?

Simply Recipes – I’ve been following Simply Recipes since it was a one-woman blog, and it has since grown to include several writers as part of the Serious Eats platform. I kind of miss the old days when every recipe would come with a personal story, but I still love it. The recipes are simple, as the name suggests, which means they’re the perfect base for me to start with and then tweak and add my own flavor. It’s a great site if you’re just beginning your baking journey as it can really help you learn the building blocks of a recipe.

And here three of my favorite personal creations, which I hope to share more about in the weeks to come!

Circe by Madeline Miller

saintanything

I’m shocked Circe is only 385 pages long. It feels like a vast and sprawling epic, as though it could be five or six books in one. It feels like oceans and mountains and multitudes, which is surprising not only considering its length but also because the majority of it takes place in a single location, the island of Aiaia where Circe is exiled. Somehow, despite this, it spans countries, centuries, viewpoints, and emotions.

Expanding upon the Greek myth, this book casts the Titan goddess in a new light, one that is feminist and humanist. Circe gains a deeper respect for humans than her fellow gods, who fail to see them as more than pawns. Her unique viewpoint among divinity is informed by her own treatment by her family, who revile her as much as any mortal when they’re not being actively worshiped by them.

Circe offers explanations for its protagonist’s habit of turning sailors into pigs and her desperate act of transforming the nymph Scylla into a monster. It adds depth to a common narrative surrounding powerful women — that they must be ill-tempered, ugly, and generally unlikable, luring men into their capricious traps. It allows Circe her flaws and mistakes (she’s still jealous of Scylla) but gives her agency and remorse. Her story here is told by a woman, not by a man as a thinly-veiled allegory that furthers the stories of other men (namely Odysseus and Jason).

Circe reads much like a coming-of-age story. At its core, it’s about a woman who comes into her own, transforming from an idealistic young Titan into a self-determined sorceress who learns how complex humans can be, alternately wanting to save and eschew them, all the while dealing with the familial difficulties that arise from being part of a pantheon of gods in a world that is defined by such things as status and beauty.

Miller’s prose is exquisite. It moved me to tears, particularly during one part which I wouldn’t dare spoil because it should be discovered the way things once were, by witnessing it in its rawest form. I can’t wait to read Song of Achilles, Miller’s other published novel about heroic yet ill-fated Achilles and his lover Patroclus.

Bottom line: Miller’s epic is a sympathetic retelling of Circe, whose sweeping insight had me reeling as I experienced her pain, love, and solitude through the author’s clear-flowing prose.

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The Momentum of War: American Involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Note: This article was originally written for a university class on Eurasian politics and security. It discusses how the war’s momentum has changed from the Bush administration to the Obama administration. There’s more to explore and more complexities that have arisen since Trump was elected in 2016, but I’ve saved those for a later discussion.

American diplomat George Kennan warned that war tends to change momentum once it gets going, evolving from the initial purpose into something entirely different by the end.1 American involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be encompassed by that idea. What began as a desire to preserve and promote American values, exacerbated by an attack on American soil, has become a much more complicated entanglement with various interests and groups in the region. Furthermore, it has facilitated an “identity crisis” in Pakistan, which has led to a military state that the U.S. has had to contend with even while cooperating with it.1 For Afghanistan’s part, it has remained a country whose stability has often been neglected in favor of other states’ competing interests. While Afghanistan has served as the main stage of the conflict between American interests and al Qaeda, the Taliban, and later the Islamic State (ISIS), it has also developed into a proxy for Pakistan’s interests in the Kashmir insurgency and the U.S.’s interests in Iraq.

Continue reading “The Momentum of War: American Involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan”

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

saintanythingI’ve been a fan of Sarah Dessen for a long time. I got into her books after watching How to Deal, which I honestly don’t remember much about except that it starred Mandy Moore and introduced me to The Flaming Lips. I liked it when I was 14, though, enough to go out and buy the two Sarah Dessen books it was based on—That Summer and Someone Like You.

Dessen’s books are often cited as essential contemporary YA. They follow teen girls who are usually going through a significant transition in their lives. Romance is involved, but it takes a backseat to the other major events, which lead to personal growth and often familial healing. 

Saint Anything follows this basic Dessen formula, but the details are what make it stand out against her other books—and other YA contemporaries as well. It’s sprinkled with pizza and lollipops, nighttime jaunts through the woods, a band that kept reminding me of Hep Alien from Gilmore Girls, and a group of best friends better than any best friends have ever bested. The plot digs deeper than most of Dessen’s previous books, confronting things like unwanted sexual attention. Its moments of conflict and reprieve are equally balanced, and the dialogue is interesting and believable. Through it all, Dessen weaves details that felt so natural that I kept being reminded of my own high school experience.

Bottom line: Saint Anything is Dessen’s most recent book and her magnum opus, with characters I wanted to hug and scenes I wanted to hide in. It’s going to be a tough one to follow.

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Playing Oxenfree as a Perfectionist

Also posted on Destructoid’s Community Blogs

Oxenfree is as good as they say, “they” being practically everyone who’s reviewed it so far, but it frustrated the hell out of me. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m here to argue that my frustration played a huge part in making my experience with the game enjoyable, an integral part of it, even.

See, I’m a perfectionist, a one-hundred percenter, if you will. I finished Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s campaign months ago, but I’m still going back to it to find those last few stray mosaic pieces and venture through the labyrinthine Deep Roads. I stopped at nothing until I found and shot down every damn dangly skull necklace in 2013’s Tomb Raider. I don’t know why I have this quirk. Perfectionists are usually equated with adjectives like “neat” or “tidy” or “anal retentive,” but in most areas of my life I can more accurately be described as “scatterbrained.” My desk is cluttered with books and probably important neglected documents that should be filed away somewhere. My bed hasn’t been made since I moved out of my parents house and forsook all expectations of my adulthood.

My frustration with Oxenfree didn’t lie in its collectibles, though, all of which I found easily, with minimal excess time spent happily scouring the island while listening to the trippy soundtrack. As I picked up Maggie Adler’s letters and tuned my radio to anomalies at rock piles, I contentedly thought to myself that this extra bit of effort was allowing Alex and Jonas to spend more time together, perhaps bonding in that way people bond when they don’t always have to talk, when simply being in each other’s presence is enough. Therein lies my frustration with Oxenfree—in Alex’s relationships, particularly with Jonas, and the way they culminate in the end. After everything I thought I had been building toward, the ending completely caught me off guard.

Continue reading “Playing Oxenfree as a Perfectionist”

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

darkplacesI decided to check out Dark Places after loving Gone Girl and ended up loving it even more.

While I really enjoyed Gone Girl, I didn’t connect with its main characters the way I connected with Libby in Dark Places. Flynn’s characters are always deeply flawed, sometimes unlikable, which isn’t a bad thing and in fact is often what makes them interesting, but Gone Girl‘s Nick and Amy feel far removed from anyone I know in real life. Libby is not only easier to relate to, but her growth and development throughout the book are insanely well done.

In the beginning, she’s depressed and stagnant. She has floated through life aimlessly since she was seven, when her mother and two sisters were brutally murdered by an unknown killer who may or may not have been her older brother. For the most part, she’s avoided thinking about it, but as the story progresses and she begins to examine that night more closely, she finally finds purpose in unraveling the mystery behind the killings.

I adored her relationship with Lyle, which serves as the catalyst for piecing the remains of her life back together after being shattered by her family’s deaths. (I recently learned that he’s going to be played by Nicholas Hoult in the upcoming movie adaption, which I think is a spot-on casting choice.) I like that their relationship remains platonic and open to interpretation. What Libby needs above all else is a friend, and Lyle provides that for her at a time when she’s desperate for it.

Bottom line: Dark Places is as dark and morbid as you’d expect from a Gillian Flynn novel but with ten times more heart.