Review: The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal – Hugo Award reads

Calculating Stars, Kowal-Reviews / Hugo Awards The Calculating Stars (Amazon)

I remember Mary Robinette Kowal’s excellent short story, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars,” from my award list reading a few years ago. It went through some nomination drama and eventually appeared on the 2014 novelette ballot (I didn’t vote that year), winning the category.  That story launched this series, as I understand it, by introducing us to Elma York – America’s first woman astronaut in an alt-history world where humans took to the stars much earlier.  You can read the novelette for free on Tor.com.

SPOILER BIT SO SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU’RE GOING TO READ THE NOVELETTE:  To me, the strength of the novelette lies in the excruciating choice that Elma must make in the twilight years of her life, to accept the mission because sending an aging body into space means the radiation won’t destroy the health of a younger astronaut, but trade away her chance to spend time with her dying husband in his final weeks of life. I knew nearly nothing about Elma or Nate (obviously), but the emotional punch of that story has not faded in the least since reading that story.

OK, SPOILER FREE AGAIN.

So I was genuinely interested in this first book of a two-prequel series by Kowal that promises to fill in the background of this “Lady Astronaut” who clearly (we know from just the title of the novelette) made it to Mars.

The world Kowal builds in The Calculating Stars is detailed and precise. It’s a nearly exact 1950s USA with one HUGE difference – a meteor strikes the seabed just off the coast of DC and Baltimore, obliterating the Eastern seaboard.  The US is forced to confront the reality of impending climate change (this is a similar theme to Stephenson’s Seveneves, which I hated so much).  Two chapters in, I knew I was reading a better book than Stephenson’s.  Kowal packs in the necessary scientific explanations of how a meteor strike would alter the earth’s climate to be hostile to life (cf: dinosaurs, way back when) and man’s only option is to take to space. So… they do.

This is the story of Elma York, a Jew and “calculator” who crunches numbers in the pre-digital era, echoes similar themes that occur in Hidden Figures. (My goodness, if you haven’t seen that movie yet, drop everything and go find it (like on Prime). And I’ve got the book on my pile to read, because I’ve heard it’s far more extensive than what they could fit into a film.).

That said…. this just wasn’t the book for me. Maybe it’s me? The writing is very good – crisp sentences, solid plotting, clear structure.  The story has stuck in my brain and keeps returning to my mind, so clearly the characters meant something to me.  But it felt too much like a history book that I hadn’t signed up to read, you know?

Elma  discrimination as a woman; she’s told outright that no women will fly to Mars, though she knows (as should everyone) that eventually a colony would need women around.  Of course, she’s a crack WASP-era pilot and spunky intelligent woman….but not without flaws that could imperil her trip into space.

I’m so divided about this book. I feel like I’m supposed to root for it, like it, give it to everyone I know, and feel smug because it’s progressive and all.

I think that’s the problem. Maybe I didn’t need Elma’s history filled in for me, because I’d rather read the actual history of the women in the 50s and 60s and 70s (and for decades centuries previously) whose contributions to science have always been overlooked.

Somehow, the alt-history tale of American misogyny and innovation falls flat (to me) compared to the actual horrors of 2019 or 1969 or Jim Crow, or the actual achievements of the Apollo project and Grace Hopper and Sally Ride and Mae Jemison (America’s first black woman in space).

Rating: 3.5/5  – it’s not you, Kowal, it’s me.

Buy a copy: Kindle | Print

Recommended for folks who enjoy the space program, the nuts and bolts of the relevant engineering problems, and alt-history.

Hugo Ballot: Middle

Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers

Review-Record Spaceborn Few-Chambers-Hugo Awards 2019Record of a Spaceborn Few (Amazon), by Becky Chambers, is the first book I picked up this spring when the 2019 Hugo Award nominations were announced. Having read and enjoyed her first two – not without flaws, but a very promising start for a new writer — I was excited to dig into book 3 of the Wayfarer series.

Clearly, this book sparks strong reactions. Goodreads reviews fork between 4’s and 2’s. Chambers is quickly growing as an author with the sensitivity to personal and social issues relevant to space opera stories. She’s not LeGuin, but there’s a lot of Ursula in her.

RoSF is a quiet book. It moves smoothly from scene to scene, not quite as smooth and snappy as a Scalzi (he’s almost too snappy, honestly, in recent works, bordering on becoming his own cliche), but flowing from point to point like a backwood stream.

Chambers’s Wayfarers series tells unconnected stories (so far) of various people in the same universe, where Earthers had to leave our planet in generational ships due to the destructive effects of climate change. They were limping along in deep space when an alien race found them and share crucial technologies  (power production, materials, food, etc) and laid the foundation for the Terrans to join the galactic community.

This third entry in the series takes time to explore what earlier books had not — the life of the humans who have elected to live in the orbital community of still-functioning generational ships, rather than leaving to work on transport ships or moving to a planet.

In many ways, the Earth fleet is a backwater small town, and its citizens face many of the same questions as someone from Nowhere, USA:  do I stay? leave? Are there jobs here that I want to do? What will I lose by leaving my community? What would I lose if I stay?

And likewise, there are always at least a few folks moving back, either because they seek their roots, or there’s something about the life on the fleet that appeals to them. The promise of the Earther fleet: we will feed you, house you, clothe you. No one will go hungry, or be left without aid. But in exchange, you will work, you will conserve materials and resources, you will learn to be part of the community.

*****
The novel tells its story by weaving together the journeys of five disparate residents of one Earth fleet ship:  a teen boy trying to decide what he’ll do with his life, a woman whose husband is gone on long-haul mining runs while she raises their two kids alongside their extended family, a 20-something drifter who left his lackluster planet life to find his roots in the generational ships, an ship archivist who cherishes her role preserving culture and making interspecies contact, and a young woman who serves as one of the Collectors of bodies once a person dies – nothing is wasted on a spaceship; human remains are composed and become part of the life cycle of the ship.

I enjoyed Chambers’ quiet revelations of these characters’ lives and decisions. Sometimes books need to be all explosions and action — and there are moments of fast-paced drama in this novel, though not many.

But big setpiece spectacles can leave out the quiet questions that would follow any sentient being into space, until eternity — why am I here? What am I supposed to do with this life?  How do I balance the tensions of family and community obligations against my own ambitions?

Books hit you differently at different times in your life. Perhaps I would have tired of Chambers’s third novel had I read it as a teen, but as a 40-something woman staring hard at the second half of her life, I appreciated Chambers dedication to asking the human questions that persist, regardless of whether we take to the stars or stay here.

The Collectors’ rituals especially interested me. Death is part of life, so how could we make loss more meaningful and purposeful? I loved the image of a “caste” of caretakers who help families navigate grief partly through training and partly by helping return the bodies to the “ground” whence they came, to be composed into the soil for the ship’s gardens.  Rituals reveal what a culture values, and Chambers’s future humans offer us an inspiring template (though not without its flaws).

Some criticize Chambers’s world for being too optimistic, lacking the ugly edges of a real human society.  I prefer to see her as standing in the best of the optimistic sci-fi tradition o Star Trek (for example), holding firm in the belief that we all stand to gain much by seeing examples of humans who have solved some of the worst problems of humanity.

Buy: Kindle / print

Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended for fans of her earlier books, and those who appreciate the quiet social science of LeGuin (but don’t expect that level of craftsmanship in the writing).

Hugo ranking – I haven’t set my 2019 voting ballot yet, but I will put RoaSF somewhere in the upper half.

In Memory of Nancy

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Nancy,
I cannot believe that you are gone. I’m sure everyone is saying that, but it’s because we’re all genuinely shocked and angry and sad that this is how it ended. I know you’re rejoicing in our Father’s house, but the rest of us are poorer for having to truck on through life without you.

I didn’t know you well but we became friends thanks to Melinda, and I always felt that our shared career teaching English kept us connected. That, and A.F.I.

Your fervent advocacy for your students inspired me to be better and do better for those who often lack the knowledge or voice of privilege. When Mel told me that you’d passed away last week, my thoughts immediately went to your students. Your loss is going to affect them so much. I hope someone else steps into your shoes of giving a damn about kids that so many other adults have written off.

I’m glad we got to see you as often as we did, though it was never often enough.

May your friends and family rest in God’s comfort and peace, and be joyful in their memories of how awesome a person you were.

Nancy Vasquez, 1974-2019

A saga of cinema, 2018 style: MoviePass, Sinemia, and beyond

 

Because 2018 has to be #extra in every way, today’s post centers on the rise and fall of the cinema discount services….as experienced by me. 😉

A Saga of Cinema,
OR How I Wish MoviePass Had Actually Worked because Sinemia is Trash

donewiththis

ACT I: MoviePass, Enter Stage Left

Oh, MoviePass! How you stole our hearts a year ago with your discounted dreams and your completely unrealistic, unsustainable business model!

netflix-for-movie-theaters-f8018310f6279e8dThe wonder of an idea truly too good to be true: $9.99 a month for all the movies you could see (1 per day, with no repeats). The promise held for the first half of 2018. We saw 10 movies in January alone, most of them Oscar contenders. It was a new age of cinema in our little corner of South Carolina!  We saw art films, indie films, action movies, cheap thrillers, and stupid comedies I would have never set foot in a theater to see.

Vice ran a really neat farewell piece a few months ago, offering anecdotes from MoviePass subscribers who detailed how they’d used the service to fill lonely times in their lives or escape the crushing poverty of urban life in an expensive city.  The stories resonated with me as I scrolled down the page on my iPhone during a late evening media binge.

Vice: MoviePass is dead but not forgotten

I remember the thrill of seeing that red, shiny card when it appeared in my mailbox after an excruciatingly long wait. (Seriously, it took like 2 weeks to get the thing.)  The app was a bit fiddly, but when it was ON, it was great.

Our local Regal regarded us with suspicion, demanding a driver’s license for any ticket purchase. Why? We were handing the theater $16-20 in ticket sales every time we went to see a movie, and that money was 90% coming from MoviePass rather than my pocket. In fact, we bought more beer and popcorn at that Regal in 6 months than I’ve ever bought (or ever will) because we weren’t dropping $20 just to walk in the door of a theater.

If American cinema chains die off in the next 10 years, it won’t be due solely to Netflix and home theater installations. Chains will die because they refuse to lower the costs of entry.  MoviePass proved that people will come see movies in droves if you make the ticket affordable. The profit margin on popcorn and soda is IMMENSE compared to the profit on an individual movie ticket.

A few theater chains realized they could adapt this model for themselves, but one of the joys of MoviePass was its agnosticism. It didn’t matter if the movie I wanted to see was playing at Regal or AMC or the oddball local chain with three theaters in North Georgia. As long as it was on the app, I had only one thing to manage. And for the most part, MovePass’s app and card worked well.  Until….

Act II: Exit MoviePass, carried on a stretcher

Nothing gold can stay, as Emily Dickinson wisely observed.

MoviePass’s demise this summer was one of my favorite social media disasters.

Perhaps the only good entertainment given to us in 2018 comes from watching angry Twitter users light companies on fire for poor customer service. And so it was with MoviePass, when the pile of cash finally burned down (seriously, I didn’t know there was so much money to burn, and I don’t know why I can’t get access to it for my own business ventures, you know?) and they had to cut people’s options.

This went about as well as you’d expect, and at least we all got to laugh about it…..while crying a bit, because the days of “all you can eat movies for $10/mo” was coming to the exact conclusion we all foretold.

Our movie binge slowed down in July, which was ok since honestly, nearly everything playing in the theaters was crap. And we had lots of Netflix to catch up with…..

Act III: Sinemia, maybe to the rescue?

So what is a MoviePass lover to do after the breakup? How do we assuage the sadness of bleeding $9 a ticket for any local movie showing, unless you happen to be free at 2pm on a Tuesday?

There aren’t many other subscription options out there, but after doing some research, we decided to try Sinemia.  The Family Plan offered 12 months of service, 3 pairs of tickets to any movie at nearly any theater (2D), for about $22 a month. That’s $3.67 a ticket plus surcharges (which, turns out, are $2-3 per ticket every time). Still a bit cheaper than our local theater for evening showings, and definitely cheaper than big-city prices when we roll up to Greenville for movies that don’t open near us.

Cool.

Except…..

My Sinemia Experience: A Side Story

Round 1: September Signup

Basically simple. Downloaded the app. Bought a subscription plan. Logged in, set up account, checked theater listing.

Can’t use the service till I’m set up for Sinemia “Cardless,” so we wait.

And wait.

And wait.

waiting_cat

It took like TWO WEEKS for Sinemia to set up our account for careless use, which is the only option provided for subscribers these days. (I think. It’s pretty hard to get real information from Sinemia due to general disorganization in the app and a shocking lack of detail on their website.)

Round 2: Let’s try it out!

Early October.  Movie #1 of three goes down just fine, and we watched something….can’t remember what….hadn’t been to the theater since mid-August.

The user experience was clunky, but it worked. You buy a ticket in advance using one of the other ticket services (atom, Fandango) and Sinemia generates a one-time-use credit card number for the transaction, then bills your card on file for the “convenience fees” and “service charges.”

I’m beginning to realize the pain of advance ticketing. Is it really worth $2-5 just to buy a ticket on my phone instead of with cold, hard cash at the theater? Why is convenience so damn expensive? Get with it, America!

Round 3: I knew that was going too well …

And then it all went to hell. lol

IMG_0145In late October, I tried to buy tickets for movie #2 of the month (we had to use our 3 pairs of tickets by 11/2 or they’d expire). No ticket service would accept my Sinemia number, and my own credit card company panicked when a bank in Turkey tried to charge $3 (for the convenience fees).

Wait. Why is Sinemia using a bank in Turkey?

Um, no. International charges are death. My bank and credit card companies would rather lower my interest rate than ever let me buy something with an international origin. You should see the gymnastics I go through if I back a non-US project on Kickstarter.

Email #1: late October

There’s no Sinemia support. It’s laughable, really. If you click the “Premium Support” button in the app, a pop up tells you to email their support account. It’s not even a live email ink!  Hilarious AND infuriating AND incompetent -all at once!

IMG_D63C3A5B1D57-1

So I emailed them and asked for a refund. I’m not paying for a service I can’t use, and their app is a literal mess.

Crickets.

Email #2: The Saga Continues

A month later (last week), I emailed again with a firm “refund the rest of my annual subscription because your service and app are crap.”  THAT got a response. (I was nicer in the actual email, but my patience is wearing thin.)

The CSR explained a couple things to try and I decided to give it another whirl for some movies last weekend. (I gotta see Ralph Wrecks the Internet!)

Round 4: A continued failure

We tried twice last weekend to use the Sinemia Cardless option to buy tickets in advance (because that’s really our only option, since I don’t have a physical Sinemia card).  In both cases, we got a payment-not-accepted error at the vendor sites.

This was happening to a bunch of people this weekend – Twitter was full of folks trying to reach out to Sinemia for support.  Sinemia emailed back to me (and said on Twitter), “wait 20 minutes before using your virtual card number.”

What? 

I’m in another round of emails with support….because this just isn’t working.

Update, 12/5: Sinemia just announced the return of their physical debit card, thanks to subscriber outrage over the failures of their careless system.  Downside, it costs $15 to order one of those cards, so it’ll take about 5 movies before subscribers see the savings (from convenience fees at atom or Fandango). Also, given the snail-pace that Sinemia support seems to follow, I can’t imagine having this card in my hand anytime before January. :/

Still, if their card will work like the MoviePass card did, this might make Sinemia a valid option for us – though I’m not sure the savings are worth the hassle.

Epilogue: After Sinemia & MoviePass

With MoviePass dead and Sinemia a hateful mess with poor customer support, what’s an aspiring moviegoer to do as we head into a new year? What lessons can we learn?

  1. I wish MoviePass and Sinemia would merge. Sinemia should run the subscription models – because they’re not bad – and broker contracts with theaters.   MoviePass should take over the app and card/payment management.  I know MoviePass had some outages, but overall their app and user experience were 10,000x better than the Sinemia app.
  2. App designers and UI/UX professionals should study the Sinemia app as an example of horrific user interface design.  It’s some of the worst I’ve dealt with.
  3. The market is ripe for discounted theater ticket subscriptions. If anything, the MoviePass social experiment proved that we common folk are tired of shelling out $10-$16 PER TICKET to see a film at the box office.  I would love to sit in a theater full of people, sharing an experience and laughing (or cringing) together. But I’m not going to sacrifice the grocery budget (or future vacation funds) to do so.   Takeaway:  MoviePass put a lot more butts in seats at the theater in the first half of 2018, and theaters should take note and lower prices
  4. The TomatoMeter — which distributors hate — is more important than ever. Under MoviePass, I saw all kinds of films that I wouldn’t have paid full price for.  I didn’t care if the Rotten Tomatoes score was meh, because I wasn’t out a wad of cash. Theaters should learn from this – maybe offer bigger discounts on movies entering their last release days.  Seriously, the theater industry deserves whatever pummeling they get.  MoviePass was a gift and they reacted with acrimony.  And film production companies should note that RT isn’t responsible if their movie is too crappy to earn my dollars. *coughs* Robin Hood *coughs*

 

As for us, we’ve pared back our theater expenditures again and I’m likely going to fight Sinemia for a refund unless their service improves.

And sigh a sad sigh about the one good thing that happened in the first half of 2018 that we lost anyway.

Update: February 2019

We’ve had another run-in with Sinemia’s “customer service,” though I use that term lightly. It’s painful to use that term for an email address that no one seems to check.

We ended up keeping Sinemia in November because they finally updated their app and the service sort-of worked.  It all went to hell again a couple weeks ago when I checked in for a movie in the app (as requested) and saw it confirm. The WiFi/reception was spotty because it’s a theater, but I did check in.

Cue my surprise two weeks later when I’ve been charged a $22 penalty for not checking into a movie. WTF.  I *did* check in.  And even moviePass with its ridiculous “take a photo of your ticket” ploy to annoy people out of using their service (I’m not kidding; they admitted it) issued a warning in the app if you didn’t upload the stub. They didn’t slap you with the equivalent of a month’s service charge. This is bullshit.

Fighting again for a refund of the charge and/or the service. Pretty sure anything we save through Sinemia is not worth the effort.

Exit: Voting

This is a short entry in the series I’m writing about my breakup with Evangelicalism.  You can find the first entry here

Yesterday I posted a Voter’s Manifesto – mine.  You can read it here.


Morning after in America

It’s the morning after an election in America, and the pundits have only just begun to wag their jaws about the implications of yesterday’s voting. Blue wave? Red wave? Referendum on Trump?

I’m not here to discuss it, y’all. I’m done.

I’m at the stage in the breakup with Evangelicalism where all the ways in which my former lover acts like an ass confront me. Especially when I’m trying not to think about it.

It’s like when you run into the friend of an ex, and he tries to make the argument that “Bobby is a great guy, you know?” as if that made Bobby’s douchey behavior toward you irrelevant. “I mean, he’s trying, ok?”

As if rampant nationalism, racism, xenophobia, a lust for power, and idolatry of individualism and the “self-made man” and capitalism weren’t warts on the face of the Gospel.  “Evangelical” literally derives from the Greek word that we translate “Gospel,” euangelion. What’s sad is that I see the clear connection between evangelicals’ theology and their actions at the voting booth, arising from deep-seated racial and cultural fears, and from long-standing racism that’s buried so deep into evangelical culture that it’s hard to notice unless you tune your eyes to see it.

I’ve realized that I’m well and truly over this breakup.  I have nothing against “Bobby’s” friends. I’m not severing ties with anybody.  I don’t need other people to agree with me or follow me out. You do you, and stand before God with a clear conscience for your own actions.


I’m still puzzled, though I’ve given up trying to understand.

Like how the hell Evangelical women can feel like this for a man who belittles and demeans women almost  non-stop:

White Evangelical women Republican vote November 2018
From NBC News https://www.nbcnews.com/card/nbc-news-exit-poll-white-evangelical-women-stand-squarely-republicans-0n933236

I don’t need my Evangelical friends to explain why they picked the side of the “culture war” that makes as its goal the disenfranchisement of non-cisgender, non-heterosexual people….. or rejection of people seeking asylum and respite from oppressive regimes whose origin is closely tied to over-zealous American foreign policy…. or an absolute loyalty to an anti-abortion stance above actual policies that reduce abortion.

Or how the combination of these Culture War factors drive intense support for a president whose “base” is energized by race-baiting and xenophobia.

Vox headline Evangelicals
From Vox
https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/10/29/18015400/2018-midterm-elections-evangelical-christians-trump-approval

Fear is ugly

“There is no fear in Love, for perfect love casts out fear,” as the Apostle John wrote.  I can’t sanction refusing to see beyond apparent moral infractions to take care of people in need.

“Who is my neighbor?” Jesus shut down that sanctimonious shit from the Pharisees. You can’t play games with the great commandments. Love God and Love your neighbor.  You don’t get to choose not to love because you’re afraid of who they are, because they got pregnant without being married first, because you don’t approve of gay love, because you don’t like their atheism or Islam, because you think they’re lazy and unmotivated.

"Is your neighbor worth loving?" ~ Fred Rogers
When asked about hate crimes, Fred Rogers asked this question.

The quote above comes from a great interview with a National Geographic photographer who was asked to document the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting last week. She’s from Pittsburgh, so she had initially resisted the assignment to work in her hometown. But she went out anyway and captured powerful images.

Her graduate thesis focused on hate crimes, and she interviewed Fred Rogers as part of her research.  He asked her this question: “Is your neighbor worth loving?”

Cuts to the heart of the issue, methinks.


I live in one of the reddest states in the South. South Carolina Republicans won nearly every race yesterday, with only a couple exceptions.  (Article)

It’s hard to believe in change when the momentum around uniting Jesus with the GOP is like digging something out of cured concrete.

But I have faith.

My faith in the core tenets of Christianity informs my priorities, and voting is actually about priorities rather than moral absolutes.  I believe that many Americans can learn to see a way to vote for priorities that don’t disenfranchise others in our nation.

Maybe I’m a fool, I don’t know. One can hope.

A Voter’s Manifesto

My voter’s manifesto

As an American, I believe in the core values established by our Founders and refined through our history that prioritize the freedom of the individual to choose for themselves in pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. But we must also question our assumptions as Americans to ensure our system does not become a tool for abuse in the hands of the wealthy or powerful, or that individualism does not become a tidal force tearing apart our communities.

People have the right to make their own choices until those choices begin to harm others. The role of government includes negotiating boundaries between competing claims to protect the rights of citizens who would be unduly harmed by someone else’s exercise of rights.  These discussions must consider hidden harms reverberating still from America’s history of racism, slavery, imperialism, sexism, and xenophobia.

As a Christian, I believe that caring for my neighbor trumps raw issues of power or money, meaning that I’m willing to lay the burden of protecting vulnerable people on the backs of those who have resources, like taxing individual wealth or corporate profit and using that money to fund health care or social programs. However, government programs cannot fix core social issues. Only deep and difficult community development work will solve those.

As a Christian, I value life across the spectrum of human existence. And I believe that laws excel in defining justice but don’t do much to change human behavior.  Complex issues require complex, multifaceted solutions. For this reason, I refuse to be a one-issue voter.  A single stance on a hot-button issue does not define an entire candidate. 

I believe the responsibility of the majority is to protect the rights of the minority, even if that means giving ground on majority culture and rights.  Those who are vulnerable or recovering from systemic oppression deserve greater protection than those who naturally enjoy the benefits of majority power. As an educated white Christian heterosexual woman, I acknowledge my privilege.

When I step into the voting booth, I do not see my vote as a simple statement of belief or a referendum on my conscience. My vote represents a series of pragmatic choices driven by issues that matter to the current cultural zeitgeist and to me as an individual. Therefore I will vote for imperfect candidates within the two-party system because that is the system we have.  I do not refuse others the option of supporting a third-party candidate if they choose to do so, but I rarely find the outside candidates compelling.

Likewise, I exhort myself and others to offer charity toward others who vote under different priorities. I may disagree with someone’s press, assumptions, and priorities, but I vigorously uphold their access to a free and fair ballot.  American civil discourse will improve only when we voters recognize that we share many of the same priorities (healthy citizens and functional communities, a strong infrastructure, just and fair laws, protection from harm).  Where we differ is in the mechanisms for promoting those goals.

Honey Apple Pie with Walnuts & Cranberries (Recipe)

honey apple pie recipe
This is the real deal, folks! Out of the oven, cooled down, glazed with honey on top, about to be EATEN.

This is the pie you need to make to celebrate the arrival of FALL! 

Don’t get too particular about the measurements  – if you use a store-bought crust, then the rest can be estimated as I’ve noted below.   The base recipe was something I found on Google at the Betty Crocker site, but I quickly diverged from those directions to this. 😉

Why I love this pie:

  • The cranberries and walnuts keep it from getting too candy-sweet, as apple pie can be. I can’t speak to how this pie would turn out if you left out both. I think you could safely omit one of them and end up with a balanced product, if you don’t have cranberries or nuts on hand.
  • The honey brings more than just “sweet” to the party. I used a local wildflower honey, and there are light notes of that in every bite. If you have access to a high-quality flavored honey like tupelo or orange blossom, use it to glaze the crust at the end. Regular (read: cheaper) honey is fine for the filling.  Save your expensive stuff.
  • Walnuts add a nice crunch to the filling — I like that, rather than just mush. You could easily use almonds or pecans or any other nut you love if that’s not walnuts.
  • Don’t skip toasting the walnuts. Throw them into the oven for a couple minutes while it’s preheating. But keep an eye on them! They burn easily!
  • I’m a fan of Pillsbury rolled-up pie crusts. I haven’t made a pie crust, aside from a special pecan pie recipe I make a couple times a decade, since the early 2000s. If you have a favorite homemade recipe, I’m sure it’ll work just fine here.
  • My pie didn’t ooze all over the oven – a plus! But it was mounded quite high when I put it in the oven, so I placed it on a wide piece of foil on a cookie sheet to catch any drips.

Lori’s Honey-Apple Pie with Walnuts and Cranberries

1 package of 2 pie crusts. I use the rolled-up ones by Pillsbury. If you want to do a crumb-oatmeal topping instead, go for it.

5 medium to large apples of any flavorful variety. We’d just hit the local farmer’s market, so I had Jonagolds, Arkansas Black, Fuji, and another type I forgot.

a couple handfuls of chopped walnuts, like 1/3 cup. Toast them in the oven for a few minutes on the cookie sheet you’ll put under the pie later, as the oven pre-heats

a couple handfuls of fresh cranberries, rinsed. You could probably use frozen whole cranberries. I don’t think they’d need to be thawed

about 1/3 cup honey, divided. You’ll need 4-5 T for the pie filling and a couple more teaspoons at the end

a few T flour

a large dose of cinnamon – probably 1 T

about 1 tsp of salt

1 T cold butter cut into pieces

PIE DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees with a rack on the bottom notches.
  2. Peel the apples and chop into quarters. Trim any remaining skin from the ends and take out the seed core. Chop into big 1.5in chunks and toss in a large bowl.
  3. Add 1-2 T flour (I used 2-3 spoons), 1 T cinnamon (be generous!), any other spices you like on apples, and 1 tsp of table salt to the bowl and toss with two forks till the flour and spices are coating the apples pretty evenly.
    I didn’t add lemon juice because these apples were really juicy already and I didn’t care about browning. I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt tho.
  4. Using a big tablespoon, drizzle 4-5 T of honey into the bowl and toss into the apples in a couple batches. Don’t worry too much, just try to distribute the honey. Lick the spoon.
  5. Put the bottom pie crust into your dish, pushing into the edges and leaving the overhang. I did a 9″ pie plate (Pampered Chef stoneware) but you could add another apple and do a 10″ pie, no problem.
  6. Scatter the cranberries across the bottom of the pie plate.
  7. Spoon half the apples into the crust.  Add the walnuts in an even layer.  Pour in the rest of the apples, mounding high in the center.  (Seriously, this was a TALL pie.)
  8. Chop 1 T of butter into little bits and scatter around the top of the apples before placing the top crust.
  9. Wet the edge of the bottom crust with your moistened fingers (water, duh).  Then lay the top crust onto the pie. Press the edges closed, pinch all the way around, then turn the edges under and flute.   Cut slits on top.
  10. Bake at 450 for 30 min, then cover the edges with a metal ring or foil and lower the heat to 325 degrees. Bake another hour.  It’s a pie, you can’t overbake it unless you scortch the edges. Go for nice golden brown on top. Pull the pie from the oven when it’s bubbly through the slits and the top crust is thoroughly cooked.
  11. Once out of the oven, use a teaspoon to drizzle 1-2 tsp of honey over the top crust and smooth it out using the back of the spoon. The hot pie will liquefy the honey and make this job a little easier.
  12. Let the pie cool for several hours on a wire rack.  The filling will settle and the top crust might stay tall. That’s fine. You now have a pocket for ice cream! 😉

Seriously, y’all.  We thought this was delish!   The interior filling is dark and aromatic without being too sweet. I’ll definitely make again.

Update, 10/30: I’m surprised by how well this pie holds together. Here’s the piece I had for breakfast this morning. Perfect pie shape. Flavors have melded well. Light honey sweetness accents the savory walnuts and tangy cranberries. Definitely will bake another of these for Thanksgiving.

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