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Sunday, May 4, 2014

When All Else Fails...

I don't know about you, but there are some days when I just can't seem to get it together.  A writing project just won't come together; I can't draw what I want to draw to save my life; someone's spilled a glass of milk on your laptop's keyboard...  You know, the basic things that happen in all of our lives.

So, what to do?  What to do when the news that flashes across your computer screen is just too depressing for words...  What to do when an editor says that your writing stinks...  What to do when you've had to spend all afternoon figuring out how to install a high tech Japanese toilet because someone has flushed a bottle of nail polish remover down your toilet (not just the contents of the bottle...  the bottle)?  I'll tell you...

If all else fails...  bake a pie.  Or, take a nap.  Or, better yet...  bake a pie and THEN take a nap.

From what wise sage did I glean this timeless advice?  Well...  actually...  I made it up.  But just because some long-dead foreigner didn't say it doesn't mean it's not still worth consideration!  And, for today, I'm going to focus on the pie side...  Surely we all know how to take a nap, don't we?

For some reason, I find baking a pie to be the answer to a lot of problems.  Cakes can work, but cookies are just too mundane to fit the bill.  For real diversion and ultimate satisfaction, a pie is where it's at.

Pies are often thought to be difficult, requiring great skill and even costly ingredients.  In truth, nothing could be further from the truth.  A little shortening, some flour, salt and water and the minimum of handling will get you the flakiest pie crust ever.  The secret?  Be lazy!  DON'T mix too much, knead too much, roll too much.

Having said that, the whole process of making the pastry is both relaxing and nostalgic.  For some reason, making the little cup of iced water to moisten the flour and shortening reminds me of Sunday afternoons at home as a kid.  My mother was, and is, a pro-pie maker and nothing ever tasted better than those stray bits of raw pie dough and the leftover iced water.  Now, for me, it's soothing to measure the simple ingredients, to cut the shortening into the flour and to sprinkle tablespoons of water over it all, mixing just until it starts to form that ubiquitous ball.  Flouring the large wooden board and gently rolling out the dough gives a sense of satisfaction as you see your circle of pastry expand.

Once you've got the pie crust down, the filling's a cinch.  Pies are very, very forgiving.  Those old apples sitting in your fruit bowl?  Pie!  That plant with the gigantic leaves by your potting shed?  It might be rhubarb!  In a pinch, even Ritz crackers are known to turn into something of a miracle as a mock apple pie!

Perhaps my favorite part of the whole process, aside from the eating of the pie, is finishing it off...  Placing the crust atop the filling, crimping the edges, cutting little vents from which the steam can escape and, perhaps, creating some little decoration out of pastry scraps - cherries or acorns or leaves...  Finally, glazing it with cream and sprinkling with a fine shower of sugar.

What can be nicer than pie?  The making is a delightful diversion from everyday cares and the eating is, well, you're eating PIE...  Do I need to say more?

This weekend saw me baking a thoroughly delicious, exceptionally simple rhubarb pie.  The crispy crunch of the fresh stalks of tart rhubarb were a glad reminder that spring is upon us, and the bright pink juices bubbling around the edge of the baking pie filled the house with the welcoming scent of dessert, surely everyone's favorite air freshener!

If you, too, need a little break from the everyday, just remember my advice...  If all else fails...  Bake a pie!

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