Monday, December 28, 2009

First Annual Poke Pie-A-Palooza

We've had a doozy of a Christmas this year and I was once again reminded of how incredibly lucky I am to life this incredibe life. It's really a crime that any one person should be so lucky. I don't know what I ever did to deserve so many amazing family members - both by blood and by marriage - and so many cherished memories but, damn, I'm glad I did it.

Our holiday season started with the Christmas celebration with my in-laws over a week ago and was followed in rapid succession of holiday cheer by the following events:
  1. A Christmas Eve gut-busting dinner here at One Carbon Hill Headquarters,
  2. Present opening on Christmas morning followed by dressing the girls in their Christmas best,
  3. A lovely Christmas dinner with all of The General's extended family at GG's on Christmas Day,
  4. An open house filled with cookies and other assorted goodies (including some quality snuggle time with Gizmo) at my grandparent's home,
  5. And wrapping up with my family Christmas at the Old El Paso the day after Christmas.
While all of our Christmas gatherings were wonderful, today it is my family's Christmas that I would like to discuss at length. The reason for this is mostly because I was asked on more than one occasion by said family members whether or not one particular event from our evening together would receive blog time and by "asked" I sort of mean "encouraged" or maybe even more appropriately "guilted".

My family has lots of stories that make us laugh coming out of Christmas gatherings. Most of them surround food in some way or another. My family - my dad, mostly - is notorious for mixing things up and trying something new each year primarily involving food. There was Shortcake's first Christmas in which at Thanksgiving we each wrote the name of our favorite restaurant on a slip of paper and the restaurant name pulled out of a hat was where we ate our Christmas dinner because my mom was not mentally or emotionally coordinated enough to cook AND get in all her five month old granddaughter watching time simultaneously. Last year each family brought their favorite soup for dinner (our, in my parents' case three soups which brought the grand total to FIVE crock pot filling soups for a family of six) and a few years ago (maybe the year I was pregnant with Punkin?) my dad made my favorite meal to-date, a chicken pasta dish that still haunts me in my dreams.

Speaking of pregnancy and Christmas dinners, the most notorious Christmas dinner of all time was what I like to refer to as the "Chicken Enchilada Incident". For some reason my parents - I'm not really sure who's to blame, but one didn't stop the other so they're both equally guilty as far as I'm concerned - thought making chicken enchiladas was a fantastic idea. I was newly pregnant and deep in the morning/afternoon/evening sickness portion of gestation, and seeing the jar of what appeared to be fermenting chicken pieces sitting on the kitchen counter was enough to send me over the edge. A few brave souls tried the dish but even my parents admitted it was a major flop. My brother was sent out for McDonald's for a starving Cari shortly after our meal concluded and if eating greasy foods didn't cause me to vomit at that particular time in my life I would have indulged in the Golden Arches as well.

You'll understand, then, that it came as no surprise to me when my mom called a couple of weeks before Christmas to announce my brother and parents had devised a new culinary adventure for this year's gathering. The menu had been set for a very typical ham, potatoes, and salad but dessert would be served with gusto this year in the form of a pie baking contest in which the original four Pokes would compete. I pondered the idea, realized that I would be away from the house all day the day before our party and then spending most of the following day packing for our trip, and decided baking a pie in the midst of all that would serve no purpose other than making me crabby. I therefore delegated myself the official Pie Contest Moderator. Making rules is really what I do best anyway.

So there we were at the Old El Paso on a snowy Saturday afternoon, three pies baked with three judges to impress. The judging criteria was explained, belly aching and bartering insued, alterations to the scoring system were made, and finally the pie unveiling began. To highlight the importance of this contest let me give you this tidbit of information: Pie was consumed before dinner was even served. And I wonder why none of my pants fit today and my double chin jiggles when I move my head side-to-side.

First up was my mom's entry, a tribute to Americana with a caramel apple pie. What is not pictured is the three sparklers she had lit as part of her presentation. Her delivery was lackluster and although the crust was spot-on the overall taste left a little to be desired. As my dad would declare later, "You've made TONS of pies better than that one!". Christmas or not, we're not afraid to crush the egos of our loved ones in the name of competition.

Working as a team, unbeknownst to my distraught mother, my dad and brother then called each judge into the kitchen individually for a presentation and delivery worthy of the Food Network. Staged on the glass platter is my brother's creation, a pie featuring oatmeal, maple syrup straight from the trees of Vermont, and a toasted coconut topping served with a scoop of homemade ice cream. An unorthodox entry to be sure, but it was delicious. The consistency was similar to that of pecan pie according to some of the other diners and although I thought it was lovely more than a tiny sliver would have been too much. It produced the dreaded "thick spit" effect, always a negative in my book.

Also pictured here is the entry from my dad, an Apple-Pear Strusel with double crust. It, too, was served with a scoop of homemade ice cream but the bonus here was that his pie was the only one served warm. Although unmelted bits of Heath Bar toffee nearly cost Cari a tooth, his pie held its shape incredibly well and was also surprisingly tasty. The tartness of the pear really did it for me.

Shortcake participated in the pie judging as well but whether she loves any and every kind of pie equally or if she's just too tenderhearted to hurt the feelings of her loved ones, she gave every piece of pie she ate a perfect score of 25.

Always the oddball, Punkin bypassed pie and chose to snack on an apple instead.

I think she may subscribe to the mantra that" it isn't dessert unless it's chocolate" as declared by many members on the other side of her family.

After all the pie had been served and analyzed, The General, Cari, and I put careful thought into the judging process. Each pie was judged on a scale of one to five on the following criteria:

  1. Delivery: How nice does the pie look when displayed as a whole and how well was the pie described by its baker
  2. Presentation: How does the pie appear when served on a plate
  3. Taste: Self-explanatory. How good is it?
  4. Crust: Let's face it - a crust can make or break a pie therefore warranting its own category
  5. WOW! Factor: Left up to the judge's discretion, this category provided the opportunity for extra points for that extra effort
Also added to the scores were a special "Chef's Choice" in which the three bakers awarded first, second and third prize in the order they felt was most fitting. The pie receiving the most first place votes received five extra points, second place received three points, and third place received one extra point.

Once the smoke settled and all results were tabulated, the breakdown went like this.

First Place: Dad (91 points)
Second Place: Erik (88 points)
Third place: Mom (75 points)

Personally, I think the best pie won although I believe my brother got robbed on presentation and delivery points. Not surprisingly, Mom won for the crust category but she felt morally robbed when she learned that her competition had been in cahoots almost the entire time. As my brother declared: "I might have gotten second place, but really as long as mom didn't win I won". Can you feel the love?

To make up for the mass quantity of calories consumed during this contest, Wii Fit was unveiled. According to tabulations provided by this device, apparently a fruit salad making contest might be a better choice for next year's gathering.


Munchkin said...

i think you guys just like to put palooza at the end of things

Anonymous said...

YES>>>This contest was NOT PLAYED FAIR! But, I win in the long run...According to 2 (Fever) votes the Apple Carmel pie was their favorite (thanks Wilma and Kyle)So I am declaring Gramma Poke as the Survivor Christmas Pie Winner.

Better luck next year you SNAKES! Maybe Russell can give you some tips! Gramma Poke.


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