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It's November now, and Thanksgiving is less than four weeks away. Many of you are probably beginning to plan your big holiday meals. Here in NJ, we just try to avoid any phone calls to 911. My mom (rest her soul) was not a good cook, and my sister and I managed to take after her. I have had my fair share of kitchen disasters. Let's just say that we don't talk about blue cheese at casa blue jersey, but my sister wins the prize for kitchen pyrotechnics.

My sister's love affair with her local fire department began after she had graduated from college and was working in retail. She had gone home for lunch one day, and she decided to make some egg salad. She put a couple of eggs on to boil. Then she decided that the eggs were taking too long, and she made herself a green salad. She ate the salad, left the eggs boiling on the stove, and went back to work. About two hours later, one of the secretaries pulled her out of a meeting. She told my sister to go home NOW. Her kitchen was on fire, and the fire department was at her house. I bet you have never seen a metal pan that had melted!

Before my sister got her own apartment, she had shared houses and flats with a number of roommates. In the process she had inherited some heavily pre-owned kitchen equipment. One item was a toaster that had had about eight previous owners. One morning my sister decided to make some toast for breakfast. She put two slices of bread in the toaster, and the entire appliance erupted in flames. Cue the local fire department. My sister did not realize that you have to clean out the crumbs in the bottom of the toaster every decade or so.

My sister's next disaster involved popcorn. She had inherited one of the old-fashioned popcorn poppers. The machine stood on three legs and had a large dome. You poured oil into the base, and the popper heated the oil and (under normal circumstances) popped the corn. Unfortunately, the machine my sister had inherited from a former roommate had one wobbly leg. As the oil was heating, the machine tipped over and caught fire. My sister managed to put the flames out this time, but the smoke set off the apartment smoke detector. She did not want the fire department to come to her house again, so she tried to dismantle the smoke detector. She was standing on a chair, deconstructing the smoke alarm, when the local fire chief (who was also her landlord) burst through the front door.

This story has a happy ending. Shortly after the popcorn popper disaster, my sister met my future brother-in-law. For their first date, he invited her to his place and cooked her a three-course dinner. She married him and lived happily ever after. Needless to say, he does most of the cooking. He also works as a brewer for Bell's which is a wonderful craft beer.

Let me leave you with a fairly fool-proof recipe for apple pie. I make these pies with our lovely NJ apples, and I have not had to phone the fire department yet. My mom never made a pie from scratch. When I was in junior high, my mom tried a couple of frozen Mrs. Smith's apple pies--just heat and serve. She gave up on those after she took one out of the oven, dropped it on the floor, and the cat tried to eat it.

APPLE PIE (for a 9-inch pie pan)

You will need enough crust for a 2-crust pie. I will admit that I often cheat and use a prepared crust, since I have had a number of disasters with scratch pie crust.

Pare 6 apples and slice them thinly. I like Granny Smith and Stayman-Winesap apples for pies. I pick them at Terhune's in Lawrenceville NJ. Terhune's is a great farm run by good Democrats.

In a large bowl, mix:

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
a pinch of salt

Mix these ingredients together, and add the apples. Stir to mix well

Line the bottom of your 9-inch pan with pie crust, and pour in the apple mixture. Dot with 1-2 tablespoons of butter, and top with the second crust. Cut a few slits to allow the steam to escape. Cover the edges of the pie with aluminum foil. Bake the pie in a preheated over at 425 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil during the last 15 minutes of baking.

You can substitute 1 tablespoon of baking spice, which include cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice for the cinnamon and nutmeg.

I made this pie this morning, and no one has had to go to Princeton Hospital yet.

On a more serious note, food stamps were cut yesterday. Please consider donating to your local food bank. Also, for those of you who live and vote in NJ, be sure to vote yes on the referendum to increase the minimum wage.

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