Do you ever play the ‘if only’ game with yourself? It goes something like this: “if only I had a Mini Cooper, I’d be happy” or “if only I’d studied harder, I would’ve gotten into a better college” or “If only I had a bigger apartment, everything would be fine.” Of course you do. We all do. My ‘if only’ game is kind of more like a neurosis and an obsession rather than a fun hypothetical consideration. The earliest I remember it showing its ugly face? 5th grade. All of my friends brought those packaged pies from the grocery store — the ones filled with bright yellow lemon filling, gooey chocolate pudding, or glowing fake cherry. My mom packed me carrots, hard boiled eggs, and healthy sandwiches. I was convinced my life would be better if I had pies in my lunch. I’d be happier, certainly. I remember eying those pies on a daily basis and wondering what the hell was wrong with my family. If only.
Then in junior high I wanted crutches with a passion. This sounds odd, I realize. But those girls got a whole lot of attention. Older boys carried their books and friends crowded around to hear the story of how it all happened…for the twenty-ninth time. If only. Then in college, my ‘if only’ was all about real estate. Instead of settling into dorm life and putting up crumby posters like most normal young adults, I began searching the internet to see what kind of off-campus housing was available. I had to get out of there. And unfortunately this ‘if only’ hasn’t yet dissipated. For the past ten years, I’ve been obsessed with buying my own house, convinced that every problem–big or small–would surely dissolve if I had a place that was my very own. I’m tired of moving. I’m sick of moving boxes, and every month it seems silly to write a rent check that goes directly into someone elses’ bank account. If I had my own house, I’d work on tile projects and paint and buy mid-modern furniture at estate sales and have fruit trees and a yard and it’d be all mine. In fact, I recently discovered a house on Craigslist in Durham, North Carolina and I’ve fallen in love. I’ve never visited North Carolina. Or the South in general. After hearing about it, my sister suggested I get therapy.
Now I just finished the book, Life Would be Perfect If I Lived in That House, by Meghan Daum (who I adore, by the way. Check out her other stuff). In it, Daum describes her unwavering real estate addiction which she thinks was likely helped by moving around so much growing up. I’ve never identified so much with a memoir in my entire life. I read it in one day. And not just because I could relate, but because Daum explores the meaning behind this constant search, this tireless gazing towards the future:
I came to be the president of my own personal academy of domestic desire, the overseer of a pantheon of architectural structures and corresponding price tags that led to a most adolescent form of existential inquiry: Where should I live? Why can’t I afford to live where I want to live? How come where I want to live is so tied up in why I live?
I realized with each flip of the page I’d been biting my nails. I was anxious and couldn’t put it down. Why exactly was I so obsessed with where I should live? It was, I realized, getting in the way of actually living and had been for quite some time. Then I finish the book and find myself in tears. Daum writes:
Maybe learning how to be out in the big world isn’t the epic journey everyone thinks it is. Maybe that’s actually the easy part. The hard part is what’s right in front of you. The hard part is learning how to hold the title to your very existence, to own not only property, but also your life. The hard part is learning not just how to be but mastering the nearly impossible art of how to be at home.
And there’s the rub. Learning how to be comfortable with where you are at this very moment–not constantly looking for the next ‘if only.’ Do I have the answers for what this would look like? I wish. Do you? If so, please share. I realize living each day looking towards what will be isn’t healthy, but it’s what I’ve done for so long I’m not quite sure how to live any differently. So for now, I’m tackling one of my oldest ‘if only’s’ in the hopes that my current, most pressing ‘if only’ eventually works itself out. I’m making hand pies…a lot of them. And allowing myself to eat them at lunch or late in the afternoon or whenever the heck I feel like it. Because at this present moment, that feels right. And that’s all I’ve got.
These hand pies are special because they’re made with blenheim apricots, the fleeting summer stone fruit that is a bit sweeter than its cousins and infinitely more fragile. I found them at the Berkeley farmer’s market this past weekend and snatched them right up. They’re quite literally like taking a bite of summer sunshine itself. The crust is flaky and buttery: a good old fashioned pate brisee (Martha Stewart’s no-fail recipe). As long as you don’t let the dough get too warm and work with it quickly, it will be your friend. The apricots are cut into small pieces and lightly spiced with cinnamon and coriander, a splash of lemon and a dash of sugar. While I’d nab a bag of apricots while you can, these hand pies are versatile: add any fruit you have on hand or make a savory pie with your favorite greens, spicy lamb or ground beef, or herbed potato and cheese.
While a biscuit cutter would certainly be handy to get the round shape here, I just used the flip side of a round container with a mouth of about 4 inches. If you have a larger biscuit cutter (5 inches) and want to make more generous hand pies, go ahead. Don’t stress too much about size–it will simply affect the final yield of hand pies you end up with.
Dough recipe from Martha Stewart
For the dough:
For the filling:
Make the dough:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.
Prepare the pies:
Combine the apricots, lemon juice, sugar, salt, cinnamon and coriander in a small bowl and gently stir to combine. Put in the refrigerator while you prepare the dough.
Take out one disk of pie dough and place on flour-dusted surface for a few minutes to slightly soften. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it is between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Use a 4 inch biscuit cutter to cut about 10 circles (you may need to gather the scraps and re-roll). Set them on a large plate and put them in the refrigerator to chill for 10 minutes (don’t skip this step-it will make the pies much easier to assemble).
Prepare a baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper. Then, take apricots out of refrigerator, set a mesh strainer over a bowl, and pour the fruit into it, straining away the excess juice. Return the apricots to the original bowl and add the flour, tossing to coat.
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Remove the dough circles from the refrigerator. Put a small spoonful of fruit onto one half of each circle of dough. Using your finger, brush a little cold water along the border of the circle (to help it seal) and fold the top half of the dough over the apricots, pressing the edges gently to seal. Make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat with remaining dough circles. Brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the tops begin to brown. Don’t worry if some of the filling leaks out. Allow the pies to cool for 15 minutes before eating.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.