Friday, November 29, 2013

The quality of gratitude

quadrant of excellent pecan and the over-spiced sweet potato
My sister, Justine, hosted Thanksgiving this year, bless her heart, and I just brought dessert. 

Isabel made a Milk Bar grasshopper pie (like a mint-flavored brownie) and I made a Milk Bar pink grapefruit pie (stupendous, exotic), plus pecan, sweet potato, and raspberry pies. The pies were all done the day before Thanksgiving, so I dedicated myself to savoring a day of serious leisure, my first Thanksgiving off in eons. Relax. Enjoy. Feel grateful. Let someone else set the table, brine the turkey, have a fit. That was the plan. 

I'm an extremely early riser, but I stayed in bed later than usual on Thanksgiving morning trying to think of everything I was grateful for. Gratitude has become one of those vexing words, not quite ruined by use as an alternative lifestyle slogan, but almost. I wondered whether you have to be grateful to someone or something or whether you can just be grateful without any implied thank you. Would a better word be gladness? Except there’s something smug and unseemly about celebrating one’s gladness. And gladness for gastronomic bounty in 21st century America with our diabetes and junk food and industrial farming is problematic, and ugh, ugh ugh, you get the point, instead of feeling gratitude or gladness I was mired in tortured semantics before dawn.
Got up. After a short time, lay down again to read a book I wasn't loving. Because reading spy novels is what you do on a day off. Thought about going to see Dallas Buyers Club, thought about taking a walk, but those activities required too much effort so instead I got into little quarrels with Mark and Owen. Felt glum because I hadn’t posted anything on the blog in ages, but wasn't about to wrestle with those particular demons on a day of rest. Ditto putting the last swathe of plaster on the pizza oven or the final touches on the hard-hitting magazine story about grilled cheese sandwiches. So I took a nap that left me feeling groggy and even crabbier than when I lay down.
The grapefruit pie was a stunner.
Finally -- finally! --  it was 4 p.m. and we drove to Justine’s. Owen was holding the raspberry pie in the back seat and kept pretending he'd broken the crust and that juice was spilling everywhere because it’s hilarious when your mom shrieks. At Justine's I immediately commenced stuffing myself with bacon-wrapped water chestnuts. My father asked how I was. I said, “Kind of restless and grumpy and at loose ends.” He said, “Well, how about writing another blog post one of these days?”

I sighed and kept eating bacon-wrapped water chestnuts until I discovered the Alton Brown spinach-artichoke dip. That stuff is diabolical. You should make it.
Then suddenly I was feeling it. The Thanksgiving spirit. All these people I love were there in the same room, wearing their party clothes, and my sister had made two kinds of stuffing, two different salads, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, rolls, a magnificent turkey. My grandmother, who will turn 102 in January, looked like she’d come straight from a White House tea. She kept fretting that there were 13 of us at the table, but it wouldn't be a party if she didn't. My cousin and his wife convinced me to watch Orphan Black and I attempted to sell them on Enlightened. I ate so much of my aunt’s signature spinach casserole that I felt physical pain that persists as of this writing, but it was so delicious, that casserole, and I won't get to taste it again until Christmas. The raspberry pie was a soupy mess, but my niece Stella wolfed it down anyway. I'd made it just for her and it was a pleasure to see her pleasure.

Lovely night. You can't will or think gratitude into being, it just comes.
They look wistful. What were they thinking about?


  1. Your blog readers are grateful for your distinct voice. You're right, gratitude just comes.

  2. I approve of your pie-to-people ratio. My family's formula was always one pie per person. My in-laws provide one store bought pie for the entire houseful of people. (I take more issue with the quantity than that it's storebought). My MIL likes to boast about how she would NEVER make a pie crust, usually while she's watching me make a pie crust. I can't tell you how glad I am that one of the results of our Navy always-moving lifestyle is that for the past several years, my inlaws have come to us, and I can do things my way. An excessive amount of pie for all!

    1. I felt like I was underperforming with the pies this year. I usually do more and actually apologized for the scantiness. I think you need to take over the pies completely and change the paradigm in your extended family forever!

  3. When you make so many pies, do you do them all the day before, or do certain types do better sitting an extra day? Also, what's your favorite pie crust recipe? I made 3 pies the day before Thanksgiving, and my dough was so uncooperative that it took a lot longer than it ever has before (7 hours of steady work, all told). I was consumed by crust-centric rage fantasies by the end of it. I usually use Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything, but I'm wondering if I should try something new.

    1. Seven hours of steady work on three pies? Wow. That would make me furious too. I've been using a recipe from Nanci McDermott's Southern Pies that calls for weight measures. So easy. You just put a bowl on the scale and scoop everything in. I can't believe I used to put fat (crisco or lard) into measuring cups. The crusts are good. Maybe not the best ever, but good. I don't know if pies get better with time. I would guess really sugary, dry pies like pecan are better made ahead than cool mousse pies.

    2. I'll check out that recipe. Yeah--my dough seemed simultaneously too dry (too crumbly and wouldn't stick to itself, so I couldn't get one sheet out of it) and too wet (stuck to everything except itself). I may stick to graham cracker crust for a while. ha!

    3. Let me begin this comment by saying that I grew up in a pie-making family, and my husband is a pie junkie, so you see I live in a pie world. You must try the vodka pie crust recipe from Cook's Illustrated! I loathe bought pie crust, but have used it at times to decrease my frustration with my ineptitude with pastry. Then I found this recipe! It makes it all so easy, it keeps well in the frig for a few days, and you can freeze it for later. I make it up in batches in the food processor the day before I need it. It makes pie making a pleasure. After many years of not enjoying the process, only the pie, I now enjoy both immensely. Please try it. They have a copy of the recipe on Food 52 this year. I never use all the liquid it calls for.

    4. Looking it up now. That's quite a rave review. I hope I have the same experience as you!

    5. Yes, I have a trusted Facebook friend who posts about her vodka crust every Thanksgiving and has done so since the dawn of Facebook. I will have to try it too, Beckster. Thanks.

    6. I have to second the Cook's Illustrated vodka crust. I had been using the recipe from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. The vodka crust was just easier to work with and I am not good at anything that takes patience and paying attention, so easy is better.
      Also, my apple pie tastes better the second day then the first, but starts to get mushy on the third.

  4. This is a bit gushy, but you and your daughter (excellent eyeliner) and grandmother all look very beautiful. Love that you made a pie just for your niece.

  5. I made two pumpkin pies (although Trader Joe's canned pumpkin was watery, alas), one sour cherry streusel pie, a NY cheesecake and a hazelnut brown butter cake (my favorite) for twelve people. I felt guilty for not having something chocolate.

    Once, years ago, when I was cooking Thanksgiving at my sister's house in Oakland, I informed my daughter that I wasn't making any pumpkin pie, because one of my sister's guests had offered to bring it. She scowled and said, "It better be a homemade pumpkin pie." I said, "Oh, come on, she wouldn't offer to bring the pumpkin pie if she weren't going to make it herself!" Sure enough, the guest arrived and plonked two Costco pies on the counter. My daughter turned and informed me, "You owe me a pie."

    1. Hazelnut brown butter cake sounds delicious.
      I wouldn't eat a Costco pie on Thanksgiving. It would depress me.

  6. Can you give the weight measures for your pie crust? I cannot find it anywhere and the SF library states they don't have that book.

    1. Nancie McDermott's book is great, if you ever come across it. Ok, you put 3 oz. fat (lard, but I'm sure Crisco would work) in a bowl on a scale. Then add enough flour to bring the weight to 8.5 ounces. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Proceed as you normally do for pie crust and then at the end add 4-6 TBS ice water. Makes enough for a 9-inch single crust.

  7. One of the advantages to hosting Thanksgiving is that holiday malaise doesn't really have time to set in. I'm glad your holiday turned out so well and wow, "just" bringing dessert in your family is hardcore.

    Sad story: one year I offered to make apple pie for my inlaws at Christmas, which I'd done before. One of the sisters in law said no no, she was bringing pie. Here's the sad part: they were Safeway pies. That's right! They prefer grocery store pie to homemade! And I never cooked or baked for them again.

    This year we hosted T-day and had friends over. Having managed somehow to produce non-pie-loving children, they and I made pavlova for dessert. It was demolished. I am so totally making that grapefruit pie for Christmas, though.

  8. I made a tarte tatin last week and decided to put bourbon in the pastry instead of vodka {which I'd tried once before but didn't really rock my world}. That was delicious!

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