Week 14: it’s not pretty, but ugly oaty maple pie is darn tasty

This week’s pie was a sure test of my goal to try not to see the world entirely through my perfectionist glasses. That is because this week’s pie was not pretty. Honestly, as I took it out of the oven I said, “Why hello Ugly Pie.” This was for sure Perfectionist Me talking, because my fella looked at it over my shoulder and declared, “No, it’s not ugly, it’s rustic.” It was too late however, because since that moment we are both calling it Ugly Pie. (As in, “Hey, can I have some Ugly Pie?” “Is there any Ugly Pie left?” “I sure feel like a little Ugly Pie…”) We have a little green book that we use to record the best things that we make so that we remember where we got the recipes months down the road, and this pie made it into the Green Book. It was entered into the book as “Ugly Pie.”

The discovery of Ugly Pie reminded me of another entry in our green book. At least five years ago I made a cake that was so sad-looking, it became legendary. I think I remember taking it out of the oven too soon, and then realizing my error about ten minutes later, I stuck it back in trying to save it. But to no avail, because it sagged in the middle as it cooled and it ended up a little too brown on the edges. Back then I was even more of a perfectionist that I am today, so needless to say, I did not take the ugly cake very well. We lived in a condo at the time and my perfectionism had driven me to dump a few desserts I deemed to be “failures” down the garbage chute, even though my boy tried to stop me. (One of those times he managed to, and thank goodness, because if not, we might never have tasted my now famous peppermint patty brownies. I cannot believe I almost pitched those). This time it was all I could do not to march that cake down the hall and send it hurtling down the chute to a dramatic and satisfying end. I didn’t do that though. I remembered the brownies. Instead, I wrote a note beside the cake and left it to finish cooling in all of its ugliness on the kitchen counter and I went for a walk so I wouldn’t be home when my guy found it there. I did not want to talk about my cake. I did not want to look at my cake. I wanted my cake to disappear, but I resisted and instead of being wasteful and silly, I disappeared instead. I just needed a little time apart from the Ugly Cake.

This is the note (stuck into our green book):

(Pretty good penmanship for a cake, huh?)

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Week 11: well, even apple pie is sometimes a little forgettable…

I think the reason it’s taken me so long to post about last week’s pie is that it was perhaps the only pie that has disappointed me so far on this pie journey. It was a little forgettable, and so I considered not even posting about it. The perfectionist in me was thinking, why bother?

But that would be cheating. That would be against my mission statement. I promised I would present every single pie, good, bad, and just a little forgettable. Besides, I did learn a thing or two from this pie, not to mention it raised a pie mystery that I hope to solve in the weeks ahead. However, since I don’t want you going and making a pie that is less than worth it, I’m not going to bother posting the recipe. You get a picture, you get my musings, you get a great song, and that’s it!

Here’s what I think went wrong with this pie. I rushed. I really didn’t have time to be making a pie last weekend, but I tried to anyway. I didn’t have time because I was going with our friends to an amazing food event north of the city, called Foodstock. You can learn more about it here, and see some great pictures that really capture the spirit of the day here. In a nutshell, a mega-quarry is being planned on some of Southern Ontario’s more beautiful and productive farmland (genius, right?) and so chefs and musicians and local folk planned an amazing event to raise money that will be used to hire experts to help create the best plan to fight it. It was awesome and delicious and inspiring. I have to hope they have a chance to stop it. I grew up not too far from the proposed quarry site and the idea that more of this rich land could be devastated angers and saddens me profoundly. It was heartening to see so many people come together to say we need to start really thinking about the future of what is left of our landscape.

So, I rushed the pie for a worthy cause. I underbaked the pie and the apples did not have time to reach that luscious sort-of-falling-apart, melting caramely stage that is most desirable. I do not like it when the apples end up with a little crunch to them – it makes me think of grocery store apple pie. The flavour of the filling was good, but the texture was lacking.

Which brings me to the pie mystery. I sent the pie into the oven loaded up with apples. I really packed them in there. It looked bountiful as I draped the top crust over the fruit. However, after I took the pie out, I noticed that somehow in the baking process the top crust had set and the apples seemed to have shrunk away from it, leaving about an inch worth of sad, fruitless space between the top and the filling – a gaping black hole of sorts. This did not please me. Not one bit. This is a mystery to me. Aside from underbaking and using a different filling recipe (the same apples though), I can’t think what factor could have caused this. If you know, or if you have a good guess, please pipe up.

Finally here’s a great song, which I chose for this week because Sarah Harmer was at Foodstock, and she sang it that day. It brings tears to my eyes. (I didn’t cry over my mediocre pie though, just so you know!)

Gluten-free vegan pie: the life of the party?

We are just over a week away from celebrating the first birthday of our dear friends’ little one. Let’s call her “the Nut.” (I can do this because it is her for real nickname. I am not a mean auntie). This kid is lucky because her parents are the coolest for all sorts of reasons, one reason being that they are a-mazing cooks. Dad is a professional pastry chef and Mom is just naturally a genius in the kitchen. Needless to say, you anticipate eating at their house weeks in advance. They are the sort of people who put together a dining “experience”: multiple snacks and appetizers, a main with all sorts of elements, and a dessert that makes you swoon (sometimes several). And they do all of this with complete ease, wandering out of the kitchen to chat and turn up the music and have a drink and hang out. Your glass is always full. The spicy olives / homemade feta and roasted pepper dip / garlic bread bits are plentiful. They are natural cooks, completely relaxed. Their love of food is not just about eating; it’s also a real love of making food,. They enjoy the process. I don’t think everyone who cooks can make this claim.

So for the Nut’s first birthday, her Mom is planning a picnic. (I told you she was cool, didn’t I?) I have offered to make pie, since that’s my thing right now. There’s just one problem. The Nut has a gluten / dairy sensitivity. I more or less live for gluten and dairy and so have never been at all motivated to explore the world of gluten-free or vegan baking. Of course, Perfectionist Me wants the birthday pie to be the best gluten / dairy-free pie possible. I’m feeling a little… lost (intimidated, anxious, clueless…).

I think I will start by considering Gluten-free Girl and the Chef’s piecrust. Perhaps with berries tumbled in? A little vegan ganache? (I cannot believe I just typed those two words together). If you have advice, please, do not be silent.

Whatever I come up with, I wish I had time to order some of these adorable wedge-shaped pie boxes from Petit Moulin because you’d have to love a piece of pie – vegan, gluten-free, conventional – that was wrapped up like a birthday present like this, just for you. Here’s hoping gluten-free vegan pie turns out to be the life of the party and not a perfectionist’s nightmare.