I turned 34 yesterday. 33 was a busy year for me, and I’m doing my best to be okay with that.
I really started trying to deal with issues that’d been stalking me most of my life, and finally named my demons- Depression and Anxiety.
Lately, my body has been complaining about the tolls I exact from it. Working long, busy hours, and relying on exercise as a stress reliever without truly resting is a lot for anyone to ask of the meat robot they’re piloting. Mine has been more than patient, but lately my back and shoulders have been asking me to lay off for a while.
I published my first book at age 32. I have three other manuscripts in progress, and frankly haven’t advanced as much on them in a year as I might have- much less advertised or placed faith in the book I finished that it deserves.
Yes, the world is in the middle of a fucking pandemic that my government is not managing very well. The omnipresent background anxiety has been playing havoc with my own, and what I will tactfully refer to as the recent “appropriate social unrest” makes the act of writing a fraught experience- but pretending it isn’t happening or that it somehow isn’t appropriate would be against my sense of self.
So, on the first full day into my 34th year of life, coinciding with the 244th “birthday” of my country in crisis, I chose one of the most contemplative activities I know.
I made pie.
We parked our “usual” distance from the Portland Farmer’s Market today. I’d already eaten breakfast and was initially intending to exercise when Emily awoke and decided we should go. As such, I was vaguely tasting lunch, but Emily hadn’t eaten anything yet.
Eating at the Market is always a fun thing for us- poking around for new vendors we hadn’t tried yet, and sitting on benches eating our lunch off our laps. Out in the open and surrounded by the fresh ingredients for sale, eating at the market was great way to get our imaginations fired up- while simultaneously making sure we didn’t buy more than was needed. Never shop for ANYTHING on an empty stomach.
This time was a little different. The market was still going on despite the pandemic, but now all hot or ready-to-eat tents were placed on the outside of the actual market. This was to discourage people from lingering in the market itself, and find places to sit and eat outside of the main area. It was mildly annoying to have to enter then exit the market to see everything offered, but ultimately not that different from our beloved experience. Em enjoyed her Chicago-style pizza long before I sat down with my chicken and gravy biscuit sandwich, and she still needed coffee- her favorite stand being inside the market. I ate just quickly enough to enjoy the biscuit and remember why I don’t get heavy lunches quite so often.
We came home laden with the few things we really wanted beyond “Get Outside the Fucking House”- fresh berries for Em to make jam, two interesting bottle of wine, and a bag of smoked fish from our favorite fishery. He gave us extra pieces of black cod and rockfish just because “we were here and it was so good.”
The last time I’d made this pie was initially for a job I’d been intending to get- but at the last minute I decided “bringing pie to a job interview” was a bit more Weird Coast than I wanted to get. I’m from New Jersey- I was told East Coasters have a reputation for NOT being goofy flakes, and taking things seriously.
I didn’t get the job, but the pie was delicious. We picked strawberries from a local farm- big ripe ones with barely a hint of white inside, and sweet as sunshine. Goat cheese came in a small jar from a local farm- I think the owner had a French accent. The rest of the ingredients came from our backyard and fridge.
Pie is meditative. To do a simple thing well, means doing a number of other simple things well first. The butter was cold. The berries were fresh, and the sugar and cornstarch weighed out according a ratio I rely on. The filling was made and cooling while I made the crust. There are few things in this world I never need to double-check, and making pie is one of them. You do the simple things right, in the right order, and you get something lovely.
Pie is also honest. Every perfection and flaw is right there on the plate at the end. Every place you rushed or cut corners can be seen or tasted in the first bite. With so little to compete for your attention, it’s easier to focus on technique and flavor in pie. It’s all on the fork for your tongue to see. Was the crust mixed right, or did the butter get too warm?
Was the fruit cooked long enough, or can you taste a faint dry tang of corn starch? Beyond whipped cream or ice cream, there’s no way to realistically hide a shitty pie- or complicate a good one.
We always put effort into the things that are important to us. We always have time for what we make time for. Too many of us, ironically, never find time to reassess just where exactly that time is going. When we do, when we discover just what most of our time and energy is being devoted to, it’s not always the answers we want.
If you don’t put the effort into the right things in a pie, you wind up with a shitty pie. But it’s generally still a pie.
I’m back up on the porch. Em is watching “Hamilton” and invited me to join her, but it’s a bit loud for what I need right now. Hawaiian shirt on, whiskey in a glass next to me, trying to get enough words down before I feel it merits stopping for dinner. The light is hitting my yard and Mt. Tabor beyond in just that way that makes me want to sit and watch the leaves move.
I officially graduated culinary school in 2014. After 6 years of baking on two coasts, publishing my first book, and learning to get my demons under control, I can’t help but feel the next “big” stage in my career is coming soon. In the last year, I’ve learned I have a few more skills I never considered, and a way of relating to people I never credited myself for. Somehow, these are the things that will choose where next year takes me. I can only hope I’m doing enough of the simple things right, and in the right order, to make the best of them.
Right now, the pie is cooling, whiskey is good, and the world looks beautiful. Tomorrow will be dealt with tomorrow.
I will start my 34th year of life with sweet summer pie, warm whiskey, and thoughts worthy of a world I want to see.