A long time ago, doctors made house calls, meaning it was fairly common to roll up your sleeve and receive a shot while hunkered down at home in your pajamas. When we were kids, our family physician was Dr. Seidenstein, an affable neighbor of my grandparents. “Doc” had a home office, but was more of a frequent visitor to our house where four children traded germs and malaises with abandon. It seemed that as soon as one of us was recovering from the latest ailment, someone else was coming down with it. My mother was in charge of temperatures, dispensing chewable aspirin as needed or simply placing a cool hand on a feverish brow. She doled out Smith Brothers cherry cough drops, Aspergum, and Sucrets in moderation and opened fresh boxes of Kleenex with calm precision. You knew you were really sick when the black and white television was wheeled into your bedroom so you could watch cartoons, or Captain Kangaroo, or I Love Lucy. Doc was a nice enough fellow, but the sight of him and his black leather medical bag making his way down the sidewalk sent me hiding beneath the covers. I always assumed his visits would culminate with a dose of penicillin administered via hypodermic needle followed by a chalky, cherry-tasting prescription. I was rarely wrong.
House calls have been replaced by urgent care centers and routine vaccinations are often in full view of a pharmacy check-out line; the one that sends you home with miles of receipts. Doctor’s visits have been forever changed by the pandemic and are more commonly conducted via a computer screen rather than in person. My long-awaited, highly coveted first dose of the Moderna vaccine recently became a reality. Keeping a respectful distance, I meandered through a now defunct department store that had been revamped into a vaccination site, repeating my pertinent information to a series of enthusiastic volunteers. Weaving in and out of makeshift barricades, I arrived at the final checkpoint where I was ushered into Cubicle Number 6 and asked to roll up my sleeve. In four weeks I'll be back for the second dose, because hiding under the covers is no longer an option.
Pie has provided more than sustenance in a year fraught with uncertainty, heartbreak, stretchy pants, and too many bad hair days to count. When time stands still it helps to take stock of what is essential. As spring wakes us in the morning an hour ahead of schedule and the weather hints at possibilities, it all feels a little surreal.
2020 gave us an abundance of unpleasantries but it did provide time for baking our blues away. Sourdough starters and pie-scapes crafted with matte knife precision provided distraction during a year we hope never to repeat. No matter how you choose to celebrate Einstein’s birthday, or the mathematical constant, or an excuse to eat pie, today is a fine day to be mindful of who and what matters. Personally, pie has always been about the divvying up and the sharing, not necessarily the math. But in honor of a numbers kind of day, thanks to the Shakers for their recipe combining two lemons with two cups of sugar, a pinch of salt, four eggs, half a stick of butter and a little flour. Sometimes it’s a good idea to focus on simple gifts because they have a way of becoming essential in challenging times. Happy Pi(e) Day to all.
One year ago, I was singing the Happy Birthday song on repeat while fervently washing my hands. The cabinets and drawers circling my kitchen were in a state of constant upheaval as I attempted to revamp, rearrange, and declutter. With way too much time on my very clean hands, surely I could have dabbled in sourdough or created my very best banana bread adventure. My mornings were wide open with nothing to do but organize an unruly collection of Tupperware, matching them with their appropriate lids and pitching the rest; instead I procrastinated.
The truth is I ignored sourdough starter like the very plague swirling around us, listening patiently while friends spoke of their ‘starter’ with the enthusiasm of a new pet owner. I baked zero loaves of banana bread, dodged the Dalgona coffee trend, and never entertained the idea of baking tiny pancakes for the sole purpose of tucking them into a cereal bowl. After numerous half-hearted attempts, I gave up on the Tupperware odyssey and shoved all of the mismatched lids to the rear of the cabinet.
The bane of my existence was what to make for dinner. A hot topic of debate, I struggled with what to prepare and also what to avoid. With each suggestion that flooded my inbox, I resisted. I didn’t want to cook on a sheet pan; sheet pans are for baking. For every reinvention of an old trend into a contemporary idea, I balked. Yes, I knew exactly where in the basement my mother’s circa 1970 canary yellow fondue set lurked. It hadn’t seen the light of day since Gene Rayburn hosted Match Game, and that was fine with me. The idea of getting creative with a slow cooker felt counter intuitive. With nothing but time to mise en place to my heart’s content, I shouldn’t be turning to a crock pot for inspiration. Ultimately, an oven cranked up to 425 degrees and a love of pie saved me.
Pot pies, hand pies, cast iron skillet pies, each one sparked a little joy. Yeast-driven doughs, pizzas and galettes provided inspiration and eased the curmudgeon o’clock hour. One year later, with the world still in flux, pie-for-dinner continues. Leftovers find refuge stored in a Tupperware container, sealed with a lid that mostly fits.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm