First a Cook
I love ritual, especially those involving food and connection with family and friends. My favorite ritual is Friday night Shabbat dinners. It’s quite lovely when we get together with extended family for Shabbat, but I am especially fond of those that we share quietly in our dining room as a family of four. There is something intimate and palpably sacred about taking a bit of time each week (or at least every other week when we have the girls we share with my ex-husband) to slow down a bit, light candles, share a challah, a cup of wine, and a meal ending in a dessert that’s fancier than the girls’ typical scoop of ice cream or bit of chocolate.
My parents were devout Catholics when I was a child. On Sundays we entered a quiet church, our family of five sat, kneeled, and stood rigidly in pews for the 45-60 minute mass, and then exited as silently as we came in. There was little-to-no congregating. We never broke bread together or otherwise socialized aside from the solitary Eucharist. The religious, cultural, and ritual practice of Catholicism took place in church—in a place where hushed obedience was the only apparent form of piety.
Values and beliefs aside, the dining room table based practice of Judaism was a natural fit for me. My Judaism is home based, food forward and family focused.
There must have been a time before I started cooking, but I don’t remember it. Cooking has always been my way of gathering and loving my people. In college, I cooked dinners of braised beef and mashed potatoes or grilled salmon and vegetables. I made roasted garlic aioli for grilled chicken sandwiches on crusty bread and at parties I served artichoke white pizza when it wasn’t typical to be offered more than a cup of warm beer, if that.
In grad school, I made friends (and friends of those friends) with people who love food—if not cooking—as much as I do. We had monthly dinners that always included cheese or an appetizer, wine, crusty bread, salad and dessert. Every. Single. Time. I loved the way dinner was elevated to ritual by including all of these elements and sharing them around a table.
The years since school have included countless developments and lifestyle changes (marriage, kids, divorce, dating, (re-) settling down). But cooking and gathering loved ones around the table has been one of few constants in my life. I dabble with baking, but am really a cook at heart and my approach to pie (were you wondering when I would get there?) reflects this completely.
My pie personality = follow the precise measurements of pastry + taste and adjust filling.
In other words, I almost always make the same all butter pastry no matter what pie I am making. My crust is not fancy. I do not make decorative crusts (I only last year made my first lattice topped pie along with the help of a friend who is both a scientist and an MBA). I do not put sugar in my crust. But it is flaky and delicious and everyone thinks anyone who makes homemade crust is a superstar. (If I’m a superstar, it’s not because I make homemade crust. But that can be our secret.)
Once the pastry is made, I treat the filling as a cook would. I may read a few recipes to see what others have come up with, but most of the time I just follow some basics (3-ish T. flour or corn starch, at least 1/3 c. sugar, acid, extract, spices, salt) and then mix and taste as I go. I use whatever fruit I have and buy whatever is in peak season. I love mashups of two or more different fruits in a pie and I rarely make the same exact pie twice. In fact, I certainly have my signature pie (coming soon, I promise), but never wrote a recipe before my first post here for cherry pie.
A couple of weeks ago I ordered 1/4 peck of apples for the week for my kids’ lunches but ended up with a much bigger bag than anticipated. Apple pie is a go-to fall dessert, and I’m not ready to surrender to the start of the school year just yet, but I had to use these apples before they went bad. I combined them with the previous week’s pint of blueberries hidden away in the back of the fridge giving my apple pie a surprising brightness in both flavor and color. (And then I carved a heart and the word “love” on top only because I was inspired and challenged by my partner in pie, Emily.)