I had a pie disaster on Thursday morning. (Yes, that would be Thanksgiving morning and yes, my job, my one and only job, was to bring the dessert.) My crust, which was a new recipe, would not roll out. It was super sticky and wouldn't get firm, even after being left overnight in the refrigerator.
Luckily I had a few tricks up my sleeve.
My first trick was having a back-up box of Trader Joe's pie crusts* in the freezer. This is a trick all cooks should remember: always have a back up. I had bought the box only the night before, a little suspicious that the dough I had resting in the refrigerator was not going to behave. Dramatically, there was only one box left in the store's cooler. I figured that this was surely a sign and snapped it up, lickety-split.
The second trick was to be flexible: back-bend, yoga-star, double-jointed, freak-show attraction flexible. If I hadn't had the pie dough backup, I was ready to turn my filling into a pumpkin pudding or even pumpkin mousse. I knew people tend to like the crust so I had a package of profiteroles on hand (see trick number one, above) which would have made a nice garnish and added some of that buttery crunch to offset the dense, sweet custard filling. It would have been hard to give up that perfect circle of pie, but I had a plan B and I was willing to use it. It turned out that I didn't have to but this willingness to allow things morph and change had its rewards (see trick number three, below.)
The third trick was to dream big in the midst of disaster. Why not throw down the gauntlet and go for broke? The misbehaving dough, which had been made with a little lard and was therefore already primed towards something savory, was patted into a square pan, spread with a bit of creme fraiche, dotted with blue cheese, covered with thin, overlapping slices of pear and finally sprinkled with fresh thyme. It was baked until the crust was crisp and crumbling and the pears were soft and starting to brown around the edges. Cut into little squares, it made a delicious nibbly-bit before dinner. It was a big hit.
The fourth trick was to remember that while pie is indeed a very important part of a Thanksgiving feast, it is not the most important thing. There were many things happening that Thanksgiving day, not the least of which was the whole turkey/gravy/stuffing/mashed potatoes universe created by my host. There were dogs to pay attention to and poisonous mushrooms to be cautiously considered on a walk in the forest. There were fires to build and dishes to wash and chestnut soup to discover and devour. So the fourth trick was to have some perspective.
There was a fifth trick, too, which was to find appreciation, find the little nugget of gold hiding in the dung of disaster. In my case, there were many nuggets. I learned a lot from my trickster pie dough. I learned the importance of having a back-up (and that the Trader Joe's pie crusts really are an acceptable alternative.) I leaned to step back and to not become, not identify with, my problem and that that gesture can help me have a clear enough mind to find an elegant solution. I discovered a new, nibbly-bit recipe and a little something about working with lard in a dough (it has to be really cold!)
But mostly the day was about appreciation. I appreciated spending time in the country with friends and in the company of dogs who wanted nothing more than to drape their bodies across my lap in front of the warm fire. I appreciated the astonishing things that you can find growing from the forest floor and the fact that someone before me figured out, probably the hard way, that we need to be very careful with these kinds of discoveries (Amanita muscaria). I appreciated the enormous, delicious feasting and the celebration of communion that is at the heart of this holiday. Thanksgiving is about gratitude but gratitude needs to be mixed with appreciation in order to fully bloom in us. We need appreciation to stabilize and ground us, to help us discover what is most important and to always keep whatever that is close, and warm, and well-fed.
Maybe the most important trick, then, is to find that appreciation in real time, in whatever is happening in front of us. Right there in the middle of our lives with all the disastrous pie doughs and dog paws and bowls of chestnut soup. Right there in the middle of the feast.
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*Note: Do not apply this trick with inferior pre-made pie crusts. While Trader Joe's version isn't as good as a well-made home made crust, it's really not that bad and certainly will do in a pinch. Pillsbury, on the other hand, most certainly will not.
Related: Weekend Meditation: Peace and Quiet
(Images: Dana Velden)