Friday, November 27, 2009

Pie crusts and other life fragility

Happy Day After Turkey/Tofurkey/Thanking! I surely meant to post yesterday, but the morning brought a 10-mile row (SUCH flat gorgeousness of water! I got to head downstream again, through the sometimes-impossible/windswept basin -- I keep thinking "this is for-real my last row downstream" and then I get another. Conditions made me want to row forever, whereas many of my body parts were begging for a halt by the end), and then a whirlwind house tidying and an emerging pie crust crisis and frantic phone call to my mother (who handled with her usual genius skill), well, then my people started arriving, and we didn't seem to stop until after 11 p.m. So, the words just bounced around in my head. Oh, the shot to the left I took from my car on Comm Ave. on the way to rowing. I stopped at a light, looked over and saw the cornucopia of bread atop the electrical box and thought "wha-?", wondered if it were a Thanksgiving offering. I wouldn't even know how to prepare a suitable offering for all I have to give thanks for. Maybe an Everest-sized mountain of bread products, so please the gods?

I'm working on getting the "real deal" shots that Ellen took with the table fully set -- it was absolutely gorgeous, and just like the meal, the most amazing blend of Thanksgiving dishes (both food and china), pulled from the traditional (descendant of Southern family, in my case) and adapted (descendant of Guyanese and his own unique culture, in Sam's case, and in Ellen's, a blend of Eastern/Southern/Western U.S. background that shaped her and her approach to cooking). Here's at least see an aftermath shot that still shows off Sam's table artistry.

The favorite dish, incidentally, was Sam's adapted cheesy/rice/bean loaf. It's SO good. Lotsa cheese, black-eyed peas, some other beans, rice, spices ... SO good. Adapted from the recipe my mom found for a cheesy walnut loaf and his memory of his mom's bean loaf. Love it.

I didn't think to take a picture of the finished pie product until after we'd sliced and devoured, so I'll have to use mere words for what I think of as the "stubby" pie crust update. Bottom line, it was certainly edible. It wasn't pretty. It did cause me to briefly meltdown. I secretly was quite pleased with how well it was going prior to the rolling out. Hardly any handling of dough, minimum of water added, ball o dough formed, popped in the fridge. Yay. I got a dinner invite the night before, so didn't do the pie making then. Figured I'd get up and do it first thing, no prob. Well, by the time I got home that night ... got enough sleep ... realized no way was I sacrificing a long row in perfect conditions ... then got myself and house presentable for guests ... well, it was about half-hour before their arrival. Now, these are supremely lovable and loving mellow guests but, still, guests. And we had cooking to do!

So, I grab the dough outta the fridge, grab my marble rolling pin, flour everything to all get out, and try to roll. It cracks. I push back together. It seems too small! I hope. Then, opt for a smaller pie pan. I take a deep breath, I try to carefully yet confidently pry dough off surface (I floured! it's marble!). It comes off in pieces. I desperately try to drop it by pieces in the pie pan. I curse my confidence for not buying a premade crust as a backup. I swear at the dough, try again. F&%# it with the manhandling, I'm TOUCHING this dough! I form a ball. Flour, flour. I try again. I realize the world will not end if there is no pie, as my stubbornness simultaneously kicks in that this pie crust WILL be made! I call my mother in a panic. No answer. I contemplate grownup aloneness in the world. I mush the doughball between my palms. My mother calls back. I don't attempt to sound calm or collected. We realize MY recipe called for way less butter/Crisco (the glue, if you will) than hers -- how is this fair?? I started my first-ever pie crust attempt at a disadvantage?? Too late, too bad. She advises to add cream (then talks me down when I take the cream out and OH MY GOD IT'S SOLID! WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE CREAM?! It's probably too cold, she says, shake the container well. Oh. OK.), talks me through rolling out (pointing out that, apparently, you're supposed to let the dough WARM before rolling out. Oh. How would one KNOW such a thing??), gives me a few last-ditch options (oh, thank god for last-ditch options, thank everything for a mother who can provide them).

So, I flour, flour, flour, carefully, lightly (with a nigh 50-lb rolling pin) work the dough out, pausing to turn, turn, don't let it stick, roll, roll, pause, turn, turn, flour. It could/should be thinner and bigger, but I decide, I am done, I can't ask more of myself or the little dough ball. I carefully fold it in half (no breaking, exhale), carefully pry it up (no breaking, exhale), plop it in pie plate. It's not quite big enough, as I knew it would be, so I improv with my mom's last-ditch instructions to press it into the pan. So, the crust comes up the sides, but certainly doesn't do the crimped rim thing that most pie crusts do (mine's a trailblazer, naturally). I make the pecan filling easily, pour it in, stopping just below the stubby little pie crust (all the filling would've fit in the larger pie plate I just bought, but no matter), pop it in the oven. The pie and crust are declared tasty by all lovable and loving mellow guests. And my mom has promised to walk me through the process at Christmas, so I promise to all assembled to redo a pie post-Christmas. Anyone need a pie crust? I'll be needing the practice.

So, pie crust is a fragile thing. It will take practice, patience, guidance, a good recipe and plenty of flour to master. Like any/everything in life. Reading today's paper, I was struck by some much deeper life fragilities, offered/exposed for the world's reading (caring?). There's apparently a Chinese dissident who's being denied return to his homeland, though he's tried eight times. Finally, in despair, in protest, he's stopped at the Tokyo airport, refusing to pass through customs into Japan, refusing to cede defeat. So he lives in the airport, only wanting home. I wonder how he can possibly live. And then, an account of the increasingly harsher life turns for the homeless folks living along the river/under the bridges in LA. These people all came from, have/had families. They tried/try to make their way in the world. This is the best they can do for now. Poverty, addiction, physical and mental illnesses. This unimaginable, impossible life. My own life, so impossibly, wondrously, good. So full, so blessed in every way, from birth.


Today's holiday aftermath was lovely. Awoke to cozy, snuggle-in-and-stay rain and soft grey skies. Spent the morning reading the paper over multiple cups of tea, flanked by Sucio (WIlla isn't much for leaving bed these days, making her, once and forever, Bed Cat). Perfect setting to fight back the whisperings of a cold that tried to push their way back into my throat. Lovely, loungey day. Took a stroll through the neighborhood at dusk, found a few more spots to check out. I love the glimpses of people's homes and lives as I walk by, all the stories and living happening within. Ellen and I were just talking about this as we did a post-dinner stroll yesterday. One of the things I dig so much about the Boston area generally, is the combination of all its compactness with its twisty-turny-ness, so that I can still get lost in my own neighborhood, still find new spots nearby, emerge in a place I can't anticipate, then recognize with laughter. I love that about this place. In a world of fragility and unknowns, some of them can be delights, alongside the heartbreaks.

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