Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Best Berry Pie Recipe

photo by Sally

An accomplished home cook once said, "Good pies come from experience," but it doesn't hurt to have a great recipe and high quality ingredients! Berry pies are always a favorite, especially during the summer when the berries are fresh, but this recipe also allows for frozen fruit.

Best Berry Pie

Pie Crust Ingredients: 
  • 2 cups (240 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. (5mL) kosher salt (or sea salt)
  • 1 tbsp. (15 mL) sugar
  • 1 cup (240 g) Crisco butter-flavor shortening 
  • 5-7 tbsp. (75 to 105 mL) cold water (Use a measuring cup with a little water and some ice cubes so it will be really cold, but make sure the ice cubes don’t pour out)
  1. The best pie crusts are cold and have been “at rest,” so begin at least four hours to one day before you want to bake the pie. Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl.
  2. Cut in the shortening until it is the size of small peas.
  3. Then add the water, one tablespoon (15 mL) at a time, until the dough cleaves together and forms a ball.
  4. Divide the ball into 2 parts and flatten each one into a pancake shape. Then wrap each one in wax paper, put in a Ziploc bag and refrigerate. The dough will rest and then become cold. Use within a day, making the pie with fresh or frozen berries.
Fresh Berry Filling Ingredients: 
  • 4 cups (600 g) fresh blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, sour cherries, loganberries or a combination of several berries, gently rinsed and dried on a paper towel (the berries should be small to medium size. Sometimes blackberries are huge and need to be cut in half or into thirds) 
  • 2/3 to 1 cup (130 to 200 g) or more of sugar (taste a berry and add the right amount of sugar according to the level of tartness)
  • ¼ cup (30 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. (10 mL) quick cooking tapioca
  • 1-2 tbsp. (15 to 30 mL) butter

Frozen Berry Filling Ingredients: 
  • 20 oz. (565 g) frozen blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc. or a combination of berries)
  • ¼ (30 g) cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. (30 mL) quick cooking tapioca
  • 2 tbsp. (30 mL) melted butter
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Ceramic Pie Bird
Allows Steam to Escape
  1. If using frozen berries, defrost them until they separate easily. Put the prepared berries into a medium size bowl.
  2. In another bowl, combine the sugar, flour and tapioca; then gently sprinkle it over the berries until they are well coated.
  3. Let the berries stand for 15 minutes while you roll out the bottom pie crust.
  4. Preheat the oven to 450*C (842*F).
  5. Dust the pie pan with flour. Roll out the bottom pie crust with a floured rolling pin and place into the pie pan. If you have a “pie bird,” place it in the middle of the bottom crust.              
  6. Then gently turn the fruit into the pie shell. Dot fresh berries with butter; for frozen berry recipe, mix the melted butter in before you place the berries into the crust.
  7. Roll out the second pie crust and place it over the fruit. If you are using a pie bird, it helps to make a 1-inch circular hole in the middle of the crust for the bird’s beak to stick out through.
  8. Seal the edges of the upper and lower crusts together and cut several slits in the top crust for steam to escape.
  9. Bake the pie in a 450*C (842*F) oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350*C (662*F) and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown (45 minutes for the frozen berries). Let cool on a rack. Serves 8.
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Monday, April 16, 2012

Hawaii Department of Taxation and TVU Legislation

photo by Hailey Jones

The Hawaii Legislature's recent rash of bills aimed against the Bed & Breakfast and Transient Vacation Rental (TVU) industry has roots in the dysfunction of Hawaii's Department of Taxation. Proponents of HB1707, SB2089, SB2079 and HB2078 claim that many nonresident vacation rental homeowners are not forthcoming with their General Excise (GE) and hotel-type Transient Accommodations (TA) taxes, so the legislation is necessary. Opponents argue that the Department of Taxation should simply enforce current tax laws and operate like the IRS.

First, a little history. In 2007 there was speculation that many private owners of Hawaiian vacation rentals were shirking their responsibility as taxpayers, so the Department of Taxation (DoTax) conducted an audit on the industry. They wanted to see if there was any merit in the accusations, but came to the conclusion that the majority of the establishments were tax compliant and that there was no significant fraud.

Since 2007 there hasn't been any new investigation on the subject, but speculation has remained, particularly among property managers whose businesses have suffered by the growing competition from owner-managed vacation rentals. The estimates of tax fraud have been in the tens of million of dollars, but the claims lack documented evidence and appear to be conjecture.

Hawaii Department of Taxation Audit

The State of Hawaii routinely asks their State Auditor to conduct audits on various government agencies, and in 2010, one was done on the Department of Taxation. Unfortunately, the result was sixty-two pages outlining the incompetence of this important agency, describing acute management conflicts in a dysfunctional work environment. There were so many internal conflicts, the Governor’s Office was forced to intervene in 2008. 

EasyClickTravel.comThe DoTax had contracted with an Information Technology (IT) vendor to develop and install a new computer system, but ten years and $87 million later, the project still wasn't complete. Unbelievably, the DoTax leaders had allowed the vendor, a Canadian firm, to become entrenched in their IT infrastructure under managers with no IT background or formal project management training. The DoTax couldn't synergize data from different computerized tax systems or the new IT system.

State Auditor Marion Higa further discovered the DoTax lacked controls over tax payments, assessed real properties inequitably, and inefficiently examined returns and returned refunds. She noted that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service had conducted a safeguard review of Hawaii's DoTax, and had raised concerns about computer security. Her conclusion in December 2010 was that the DoTax and its IT infrastructure faced a precarious future. With the typically slow pace that government takes to right a ship, it is doubtful that by April 2012 much progress has been made. It would be a tremendous security risk for property owners to display their registration numbers on internet ads, as the Legislature hopes to require by law.

Vacation Rental Home Industry and the DoTax

The Legislature received the State Auditor's findings over a year ago, but very little has been done to remedy the DoTax. Instead of addressing their dysfunctionality, bills like HB1707, SB2089, SB2079 and HB2078 are crafted, which would shove the burden of tax collection onto third parties.
photo by Ashley Ingram
In an e-mail to this author dated April 11, 2012, Senator Rosalyn H. Baker, sponsor of the problematic legislation, wrote that the "Department of Taxation has thoroughly refuted the assertions that TVU owners were tax compliant. There is no security risk to disclosing a registration # [on internet ads]. DoTax clearly understands privacy and confidentiality issues and has systems in place to take care of same."

However, the evidence compiled in the December 2010 audit contradicts Baker's statements. The Senators and Representatives of Hawaii need to overhaul the DoTax before they address issues of tax fraud. Until the DoTax works out its IT and internal problems, it will have trouble conducting a legitimate investigation of the vacation rental home industry.



Read more: Hawaii State Legislature Passes House Bill 2078

Friday, April 13, 2012

Best Ever Apple Crisp Recipe

Apple Crisp With Ice Cream

Apple Crisp is also known as Apple Betty or Apple Crumble, but no matter the name, it is a favorite dessert, especially during the fall harvest. Top the Apple Crisp with ice cream for a special treat.

How to Make Apple Crisp

Ingredients for a Single Recipe:
  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • ¾ cup (90 g) sifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. (2.5 mL) ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. (1 mL)  ground nutmeg
  • Dash of kosher salt or sea salt
  • ¼ cup (40 g) chopped walnuts or wheat germ (optional)
  • ½ cup (120 g) butter
  • 4 cups (600 g) tart apples, pared and sliced
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) freshly squeezed orange juice or lemonade
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Ingredients for a Double Recipe:
  • 2 cups (400 g) sugar
  • 1 ½ cups (180 g) sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. (5 mL) ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. (2.5 mL) ground nutmeg
  • 2 dashes of kosher salt or sea salt
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or wheat germ (optional)
  • 1 cup (1 stick or 240 g) butter
  • 8 cups (1,200 g) tart apples, pared and sliced
  • ½ cup (120 mL) freshly squeezed orange juice or lemonade 
  1. Combine sugar, flour, spices, salt, and nuts or wheat germ.
  2. Cut in butter until it is the size of small peas and mixture is crumbly.
  3. Mound apples in buttered 9-inch (23 cm) pie plate for single recipe or 13 x 9 x 2” (32.5 x 23 x 5 cm) pan for double recipe.
  4. Sprinkle apples with orange juice or lemonade.
  5. Then sprinkle the flour and butter mixture over the apples.
  6. Bake at 375*C (212*F) for 45 minutes or till apples are tender and topping is crisp.
  7. Serve warm with ice cream. Serves 6 for a single recipe, 12 for a double recipe.
I have an apple tree in my backyard that produces bushels of apples every fall. Since the apples aren't sprayed, they are organic and especially fresh. To use up the harvest, I make Apple Crisp for every potluck and company dinner during the autumn season. This recipe has been a mainstay for my family for years, and I hope you enjoy it, too.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Niles, California Celebrates Silent Films of Early Cinema

Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

Before the movie industry settled on Hollywood, the early twentieth century saw countless film studios proliferate across the country, including one in Niles, a little town in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Niles is currently celebrating its 100-year anniversary of their involvement with the silent films industry beginning April 1, 2012. "Niles can rightfully claim that it was the most financially successful and productive film studio in Northern California during the silent era," states Rena Kiehn of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, which is sponsoring the event. Her organization caught the attention of Morley Safer and Sixty Minutes in 2010, which subsequently aired a documentary on them.

Gilbert Anderson and Broncho Billy 

1915 Pierce Arrow in Niles Centennial Film Celebration

On April Fool's Day in 1912, the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company rolled into town on a train chugging through Niles Canyon, led by Gilbert M. Anderson, better known as Broncho Billy, the first western movie star. He put his stakes down and over the next four years, produced over 350 films. The fifteen-minute one-reelers were then distributed around the globe, including the studio's legendary film, The Tramp, starring Charlie Chaplin. 

Dan Ercig in Costume
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To mark the centennial milestone, fifty-two locals in historic costumes reenacted the famous train ride, riding from Sunol through Niles Canyon. After disembarking, they paraded down Niles Boulevard, accompanied by a brass band and antique autos, and arrived at the Plaza for the presentation of a proclamation. Hand crank movie cameras caught the action on film and afterward, silent films were shown at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

Fountain in Niles Plaza

Niles is commemorating their slice of movie history through June 2012 with several events, including the creation of a new silent film, The Canyon. It will be a one-reel western produced with the equipment and techniques of the silent era, like a 35 milimeter Bell & Howell 2709 hand-cranked camera. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, located at 37417 Niles Boulevard, is dedicated to preserving the early cinema history of the San Francisco Bay Area and shows silent films on Saturday nights, honoring American movie pioneers in an authentic setting. Their mission to maintain the spirit of silent filmmaking exudes an enthusiasm that is contagious to all who visit.


Museum Board Member Roy Goucher