Who Is Anastasia?

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New Castle, Indiana Zone 5, United States
When I was 55, I decided to embrace the things I love and hold precious and dear, regardless of anyone else's thoughts and opinion. I am a visual folk artist who loves flowers - my own flowers, grown and/or painted by me. I love good, hearty, exotic foods, and I love to prepare them myself. I love the secret garden situated in my backyard, regardless of how overgrown and wild it gets. No longer able to afford a vacation, this will have to be it for the time being. In the winter months, I still enjoy it. Anyway, here I am sharing my art, favorite recipes, cocktails, gardening tips, and just my usual vents and bantering. After all, I'm old enough to say whatever the heck I want to now ...


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Stacey Torres ART Prints

Stacey Torres ART Prints
A very limited selection of reproductions from my paintings can be found here

July 2, 2010

Said Simple Simon to the Pieman, Let me Taste Your Wares ...

A little over a month ago, I got a surprising message on Facebook. It was from Indianapolis Star reporter, Jolene Ketzenberger, whom I had 'friended' a few months back. Jolene writes about all things food, and sometimes when I'm stressed or feeling out of sorts, I will read one of her delicious articles, and I'm instantly soothed.

However, it was her message to me that changed my life - well, for a few days, anyway. Ms. Ketzenberger invited me to be a judge in the Indianapolis Star's annual pie contest. Me? Did she mistakenly push "send" to the wrong person? No, she was asking me. Well, of course I said yes -- the voice in my head, actually said, "hell, yes!" but I kept my cool. After all, I had arrived, as a world class food judge and critic (the voice in my head continued to speak.)

Jolene knew I wrote food articles and enjoyed some of the recipes I regularly post on facebook (many of which feed directly from this blog). Would it be a problem for me to travel the 50 miles to Indianapolis to assist in this labor intensive project. Before the voice in my head butted in again, I hesitated not one bit. I believe the words I chose were, "Heck yes! I'd be honored."

Ms. Ketzenberger advised that the contest would be the following Monday at the Indianapolis Star, and I immediately went into pie tasting training. The few friends I told were so excited for me, especially Donna Jobe Cronk, my good friend and Neighbors Editor at The Courier-Times newspaper in my hometown of New Castle. Donna was responsible for me meeting Jolene, so I had to make her proud.

On the morning of the blessed event, Jolene Ketzenberger escorted me through the sacred halls of the Indianapolis Star, a little bit shocked at the near silence in their newsroom. I was told that it's often quiet and subdued, unlike the bustling energy I often experienced in the newsroom at The Courier-Times. This was like an inviting sleep tank, with the faint scent of pie drifting through the vents.

When we entered a small conference room, my knees began to shake and buckle. Mine eyes had seen the glory! Pies, glorious pies were lined up in the center of the conference table, and I thought my heart would stop.

Now, here's the thing. I'm not really a dessert eater, and eat pie on rare occasions; usually strawberry pie on Mother's Day. That morning I came with an empty stomach ready for battle.

There were nine pies awaiting judgment, and I was a little disappointed that the tenth entry (Gingery Pineapple Pie) did not arrive for the contest. However, the other pies more than made up for its absence. These included: Orange Candied Almond Pie (it was very pretty); Graham Cracker Pie; Summer German Chocolate Pie (a sleeper!); Bacon Maple Apple Pie (yes, I said bacon); Pear Pie with Maple and Candied Ginger (beautiful pie!); Triple Very Berry Pie; Amazing Margarita Pie (mmmm); Coffee Toffee Pie; and Rhubarb Lemon Chess Pie (darling pie).

Let the Judging Begin

The four judges (the fifth judge was unable to attend) began the task of tasting the pie entries. I made a vain attempt to look cool and confident as I started to sample each pie. Jolene sliced the pie -- I say sliced because these were not sample slivers, but normal dessert slices -- and passed them around in the order the pie appeared on the score sheet.

We were instructed to rate the pies based on appearance, crust, filling and portability, with a score from one to five. Easy enough, I thought as I began to sink deeper in my comfy chair. The Indianapolis Star's peaceful newsroom would be perfect for an after dessert nap.

It was right about that time, when I noticed Star employees edging closer and closer to the conference room, not so discreetly peeking at us with urgency in their eyes. It was then that I learned the contestants were instructed to bring two pies for the contest - one for judging, and one for pictures (translated, employees get to eat). They wanted us to hurry the heck up!

We all tallied up our scores, commenting on each pie's best features and where others fell short (very few fell short of anything). These pies had Star Power. We had agreed that the Pear Pie with Maple & Candied Ginger was the winner ... or, so I thought. Some of the judges began to toss around various opinions and critiqued the pies a little more closely. What? What does this mean?

It means we taste the pies again; at least the top three or four; I don't know, I was almost in a coma at this point. But, having considered some of the other judge's suggestions and having had a chance to digest my opinions and taste the pies anew, I too had a slight change of heart. Once again we voted, with the final results:

First Place: Amazing Margarita Pie, by Mary McCarthy
Second Place: Coffee Toffee Pie, by Joan Whelden
Third Place: Pear Pie with Maple & Candied Ginger, by Julia Hunter
Honorable Mention went to Pat Rittgers for her Triple Very Berry Pie, and Heather Johns' Summer German Chocolate Pie.

But the highlight of the day for me was the honor of being in the presence of food royalty. The judges, who had all done this before, came from Central Indiana's foodie honor roll, including A. Rene Trevino (owner of Rene's Bakery in Broad Ripple); Drew Appleby, who is a professor and co-founder of IndyEthnicFood.com; Kelly Maucere (owner of My Sugar Pie in Noblesville); and, the queen herself, Jolene Ketzenberger.

This was a day I'll never forget. My experience was not just pie in the sky, but an unexpected treat and learning experience as I cautiously set foot in the baking world. I still have so much to learn. I will forever be grateful to Jolene Ketzenberger for inviting me to my first pie fest. Never in my wildest dreams would I believe I could eat (no, I didn't just taste) at least 12 pieces of pie in an hour.

Please visit the Indianapolis Star today for Jolene Ketzenberger's wonderful article, including the recipes for the winning pies.

Did I mention I had to pull over twice on the way home for coffee?


  1. SWEET!!!
    Do we get to see the recipes?

  2. You had me going....each pie sounded so wonderful and tasty as you were describing them before tasting. Then my stomach tighten up and hungry grabbed me by the throat and all I could remember was the Maple pie thing. I cried when it did not make the top five. German chocolate came to my aid by salivating thoughts down my throat of something familiar as I waited for it to be number one. My mind finally opened up to new pies to try and I calmed down enough to enjoy the rest of this great article. On my way to the bakery right now! Mmmm just such a edible read!

  3. You're going to the BAKERY??? Ah, go on, make it yourself! The recipes are in The Indianapolis Star's article. LOL - Enjoy yourself!


I would love to hear from you regarding this post. Please feel free to leave your comments. All the best, Anastasia a/k/a Stacey

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot
A simple garden meal in the shade. No, it's not my backyard, but it looks identical to the one I grew up with at our home in Queens. Looking for an original pic of it to post soon!

Old Fashioned Tips