I need to get off the pie. I recently spent three days straight practicing pie for a Pi Day challenge handed down to me at work. Here is what those three days looked like:
The challenge: Make a pie with the Cleveland Orchestra logo in it.
The bigger challenge: Take something that is not meant to be perfect and make it look perfect.
I’m the new kid on the scene at the Orchestra so it was fun to collaborate with coworkers and dream up this Pi Day endeavor for our social media efforts. But I knew the product would have to match the expectations of the orchestra: perfect.
I am the least artistic baker around. If you ask me, the prettier it looks, the worse it tastes. By the time I’m done baking something, I do not have the energy to devote attention to decorating. That’s why they invented sprinkles.
Pie is my soul food. It’s nearly impossible to take a pie as you would a cake and make some artistic monstrosity out of it. When a pie comes out of the oven, you have to accept it as it is and know that what truly matters is what is on the inside. The crust is usually a bit too brown around the edges. The juices inevitably bubble up in spots you didn’t realize were open. Sometimes the middle of a custard pie sinks from an air bubble and on many occasions, that pretty crust you crimped shrinks while baking, disappearing down the sides of your pie plate. When you put a pie in the oven, there’s an unspoken agreement that you will accept it as it is when it comes out. You have no control over what is going to happen in that next 40 minutes, so if your pie takes an unexpected turn and you have guests waiting, well, you just have to offer them something imperfect with the confidence that it will still taste amazing.
In preparation for my big undertaking, I studied Instagram for the best artistic pies. My hero in the pie art category is @jojoromancer. She creates pie art that is beyond what I ever thought was possible. Seriously – go take a look. Unreal.
The problem with Instagram? You only see the perfect. Here’s the reality of what it took for me to create my finished product:
Practice pies and crust
Looks like stenciling was a bust. There is no way to make a smooth top crust on pie. And look at those surprise juices I mentioned.
A lesson in how to make crust art
Cracks, tears, dough sticking to the pie stamps, more weak attempts at stenciling and painting with food color. Not even close.
The realization that decorative crust takes on a different life in the oven
See that right there…so cute right? Yeah, well those music notes drowned in berries as the filling cooked down and the crust pieces shrunk a bit. I had to have new music notes on deck and put them on top about 10 minutes before the baking was done.
If you look closely, you will see the tips of the drowning music notes hanging on for dear life to the edge of the pie.
It might be pretty, but is it edible?
Not. Edible. I was going for color with this guy and made strawberry rhubarb. The frozen rhubarb I used was the most disgusting thing I have ever tasted. This was dumped into the trash after the photo. #fakepie!
Crust comes in handy as a cover up
Those music notes? Same thing as their larger cousins above. I had to put new ones on half way through baking. Some are glued with frosting. Want to know what’s under that crust piece? A giant air bubble that left an unfortunate blemish on the beautiful golden top.
Pie making delivered yet another life lesson through this experience. You cannot make something imperfect perfect. You can only cover it up and offer staged perfection.
Isn’t that such a metaphor for this very public, social-media drenched life we lead? Humans, at our core, are imperfect beings. Yet we spend so much of our energy trying to find strategic ways to cover up these imperfections. From something as basic as the highlights I put in my hair, to more substantial ruses that filter hard family dynamics, or personal unhappiness, life seems to have turned into one of these fake pies.
I don’t feel like making things look perfect all the time. It’s way too complicated. Going forward, I’m going to pay closer attention to my tendencies to do this and also make sure I’m adjusting my expectations of others…like parenting these little imperfect people that I wish could just follow my directions perfectly.
Maybe we should all make a pact that we are not going to spend our energy trying to make the imperfect perfect. There will be things in our life that need work, need adjustment and truly need to be improved. This idea is about having reasonable expectations for ourselves and each other. Like the pie that comes out of the oven on its own terms, we have to have an unspoken agreement that we’ll accept ourselves and each other however we need to be at that moment. Sometimes things will be truly lovely and sometimes they will be a little broken. And in those broken moments, we can find comfort that we don’t need to cover it up.
For now, I’m going to spend more time trying to perfect being imperfect.