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Monday, November 30, 2015

Journey Into Insanity and Thanksgiving Adventures

One of Denver's cows!
If I were to give advice to anyone wanting to make a round trip between central Asia and the United States in less than a week, I could sum it up in one word:  Don't.

Scott and I went to Denver last week for a conference.  The travel portion itself went about as well as could be expected.  None of our flights were cancelled, like when we went to the same conference last year.  We didn't have to sit next to anyone objectionable, like what happened when we flew back to Kazakhstan after our winter break last year.  Still, though, it's an awful lot of time in planes and stumbling through airports between flights, with all sorts of opportunities for having jet lag and contracting minor diseases from our fellow passengers.

I used to adjust to new timezones very quickly, and never really understood the problem of jet lag.  Now, I totally understand.  I didn't do so badly in Denver itself.  I woke up several times each night I was there, and felt wide awake each time, but always managed to get back to sleep.  Coming back to Kazakhstan was another story.  We returned late Wednesday night, and I got some sleep then.  I then proceeded to put in a full day of work on Thursday, and thought for sure I would sleep soundly Thursday night.  Wrong.  I was up most of the night, and looking down the barrel of another full day of work on Friday.  I'm so disappointed; I feel like I've been stripped of my only (somewhat) super power.

Regarding the diseases we had the opportunity to catch from our fellow passengers, Scott was sick with a cold most of the time we were in Denver, and is still recovering.  I thought I might escape this one, but then I started coughing on Friday.  It's the type of cold with a dry, itchy cough that seems completely impervious to any cough suppressant once I lie down, and I'm looking forward to recovering.  I spent much of last night trying to arrange the neck pillow I take on long flights so I could sleep sitting up.

On the bright side, Scott's conference presentation went very well, we got to catch up with some old friends and colleagues, and we got to eat some of the foods we had been craving.  While we didn't get to do as many Denver-specific activities as I might have hoped, the mountain views were very pretty.  Also, we shipped some stuff to my parents' house and I got a flu shot.  Try not to envy my glamorous lifestyle too much...

We celebrated Thanksgiving with some of our friends here on Saturday.  Thursday was a regular work day here and many of us had been traveling, either to conferences, or on student recruiting trips.  I volunteered to make a "pumpkin" pie out of butternut squash, using this recipe.  I was excited to try making the pie with butternut squash, and we had most of the ingredients we needed.  We didn't have any brandy on hand, but Scott suggested that local cognac would be a good alternative.

I had two problems:  I didn't have a pie pan (or anything remotely similar), and though I've made pie crust before, I didn't feel like doing it in my kitchen here.  Before we left for Denver, I purchased some sort of frozen pastry dough that I thought might work as a pie crust.  I intended to buy one of those disposable aluminum pie pans while in the United States.

On our first morning in Denver, we trekked out to Whole Foods to eat at the breakfast bar and pick  up some important provisions like peanut butter.  I kept my eyes peeled for an aluminum pie pan, and didn't see one.  What I did see were aluminum pie pans with graham cracker crusts.  For some reason, it didn't occur to me to just buy one of those and use the crust they came with.  I suppose my ability to reason was another casualty of jet lag, and I was kicking myself all day Saturday for not having purchased one of those.  There were no supermarkets particularly close to our hotel in Denver, so our Whole Foods trip was our only chance to take care of that problem.

As Saturday approached, I emailed everyone in our Thanksgiving crowd to ask to borrow a pie pan.  Our good friends/next door neighbors offered a silicone cake pan that they had baked a pie in, and I gratefully accepted it.   On Saturday itself, though, I started having doubts.  How would I get a crusted pie out of the silicone cake pan without having it crumble?  Also, would one pie even be enough for a crowd?

I doubled the filling recipe to take care of the problem of feeding a crowd, but was still at a loss for how to make the pie.  I did some looking on the internet, and came up with the idea of baking two things with the filling:  crusted mini pies in my muffin tin, and a crustless larger pie in the silicone baking pan.

I used a coffee mug as a template to cut out circular pieces of pastry dough to line the muffin tins.  I put it in the oven to bake.  When I checked back, the pastry dough had puffed up like giant flaky muffins, way past the point of using them for pie crusts.  So, that plan was obviously out.

My next plan was to bake two crustless pies, one inside the silicone cake pan and another inside a bread pan.  The one inside the bread pan was obviously not going to look very pie-like, but I thought ensuring enough dessert for everyone was more important than appearance.

Amazingly, in spite of the improvisation, the two crustless "pies" turned out well.  I would definitely make pie out of of butternut squash again.  I like using canned pumpkin for baked goods when I'm back home, but I think the roasted pureed butternut squash was somewhat more flavorful.  I'll look forward to having a pie pan and options for crust next time, though.

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