“This is absolutely delicious.” The interviewer covered her mouth with a laugh and put down the fork to pick her pen. She waved it over the pie like a wand. “I’m going to ask the most obvious question that you could ask someone of your caliber,” the interviewer said. She poised the pen over the paper. “How did you get so good at making pie?”
The baker glanced around her little shop and for a brief moment, marveled herself at its hectic pace and the long line of customers. The framed articles and reviews had started to climb up from the clear front counter to the walls. The air smelled like gingerbread and burnt sugar. She gave a little laugh. “I burned a lot of pies.”
The interviewer frowned. “Burned?”
“Oh yeah.” The baker grinned. She adjusted the little knot that tied her hair back and caught a glimpse of the lines of scars along her wrists and hands. “See that?” She pointed them out, all of them. “Dozens and dozens. I burned them all.”
“Sure.” The baker shrugged. “You gotta make your way through all the burned ones first.”
We are back.
Many changes are afoot here for myself and Nicole over the last few weeks. Some are big, outward, obvious, great. Some are small, internal, seismic shifts. I can speak openly about my own so that’s what I’ll do.
Before I left for vacation, I went to the doctor. I’d been having trouble with stomach for months and it was time to finally face the music that something was definitely Not Right. The doctor ran some tests and agreed- something definitely was Not Right. It’s all totally manageable (with a change to my diet as opposed to medication, which was a relief) and I’m completely and wholly fine most of the time, something I’m grateful for as I know many, many other people aren’t as fortunate. But still. When you love food and new things and want to continue a life that’s full of both, and everything, and anything, hearing that there have to be limits (or you will suffer) is… difficult. It’s an adjustment. It’s a tiny, baby heartbreak. I am still coming to terms with it.
Part of the reason why I was drawn to cooking and baking in the first place was because I am one of those creatures that love, and relish, control. And part of the uncompromising truth of getting older is recognizing that you have less control than you realize. And, actually, cooking/baking (of all things) helps you accept this realization- a place where you try the exercise the most control (the kitchen) teaches you again and again and again that you have less control than you realize.
You could do everything absolutely perfectly and still the dough will not rise. You could do everything absolutely as written and still, it tastes flat and uninspired. You could everything right and use your instincts and those tricks you learned and still, the end result has to go into the garbage. You accept these little lost battles with a shrug and you roll up your sleeves, you put out the fires and you go back to work. These moments should be discouraging but they’re actually not, in a weird way. They happen all the time. They happen so much and so often, dispersed between many, many, many more victories, that the loss loses its sting. It’s not you; things just didn’t work out this time. Move on.
Roll up your sleeves and bake another pie.
Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie
1/2 Cup of softened unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons of sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 Egg yolks
1/2 Cup of lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two
Fresh whipped cream, for garnish
Coarse sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.2. Crush the crackers finely, but not too finely (use a food processor or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin or use your fists and some spare rage). Add the sugar to the crumbs, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8-inch pie pan.