If Only

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.

Apricot Hand Pies

Apricot Hand Pies

  • Yield: 18-20 Handpies
  • Prep time: 35 mins
  • Cook time: 35 mins
  • Inactive time: 1 hr
  • Total time: 2 hrs 10 mins

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

Ingredients

For the dough:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted, chilled butter cut into pieces
1/4 - 1/2 cup ice water

For the filling:

2 cups apricots (about 14 small apricots)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (3 Tbsp.)
3 Tbsp. sugar + extra sugar for sprinkling on top
pinch salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. coriander
1 egg yolk, beaten with 2 Tbsp. water (for egg wash on top)

Instructions

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.

Comments

  1. allison lemons

    ah yes, the "if only" game. I followed many of my "if only" scenarios, only to find that my problems seem to follow along as well. But sometimes, when you do things for the right reasons, everything seems to fall into place...

    Anyway, it was so good seeing you! I hope you had a great day in Oakland. And your pies looks amazing. I want to try them with nectarines!

  2. Maddie

    I know how you feel—I played the "if only" game when I moved into my apartment (the first unfurnished one I had). My game went like, "if only I painted all these rooms and decorated, this would feel like a real home!" I drove myself nuts for about six weeks before taking a deep breath and contenting myself to having a starter apartment, not the "perfect" one.

    One thing I've found helpful, when you can't seem to live in the moment, is to become a tourist in your own city—start seeking out fun, quirky things to see and do, things that you'll look back on fondly years down the road, long after you've left.

  3. susan

    And then what if... one morning you woke with no "if only," and no daydream, no staring out into the spaces between the new leaves and morning sun, no grass is greener, no fantasy about a house in North Carolina (a beautiful state with heaven on a beach), and had to get up, go to work, and be content with that being alll there is?

    I love this recipe and love your writing and blog!

    Thank you!

  4. Anne

    I always coveted those artificial hand pies too. these look better. much better,

  5. Shannalee

    I feel like we would have great fun together.

    (a) I love that you still remembering wishing for pies in your lunch in fifth grade.

    (b) I love that you're honest about playing the "if only" game that we ALL do sometimes, in some ways.

    (c) Oh those quotes were so good. It takes a certain kind of bravery and beauty to be exactly where you are, to embrace it, to make the most of it. I want to get really good at that kind of skill. I think you do too.

    1. megang

      Thank you so much for all of your sweet comments! Shout out to Tracey, Dana, Tara, Ali, Maria, Anne and Andy. Thanks for sharing your 'if only's and pie compliments...means so much to have ya'll around.

      And yes, Shannalee I'm sure we'd have great fun together. No doubt about it. Thank you for your sweet words, as always.

  6. Maria

    Love these. They are the perfect summer treat!

  7. Ali (Three Baking Sheets)

    It's natural (but often frustrating) to want more, to always anticipate the next step once you think you've hit a comfortable stopping point. I've definitely played the "if only" game a few (dozen? hundred?) times in my life.

    Great post. These hand pies look a zillion times more scrumptious than those Hostess faux pies.

  8. El

    Where to begin? Let's just say the hand pies look great. Now onto the rest. Obviously, I won't offer "advice" because that's never a good idea. The only thing I can do is tell you what worked for me. Let me just preface this by saying that it's my belief that smart people don't do well with too much time on their hands. Meaning that being "busy" isn't enough. There's a tendency to over-think things...to fixate and obsess. And, it's clear that you're smart.

    That said, what helped me the most was going back to school- getting around productive, goal-driven people and throwing myself into my work. I don't mean showing up for classes and taking a few notes and hanging out with the study group. I mean, reading beyond the course work, attending events, teaching and taking on related outside work. Result? A healthy group of friends, improved self-esteem and as a bonus I met my husband just before graduation.

    I'll admit, the student loans were a nightmare to pay off but what I put into it and what I gained personally in the process was worth it for me.

    Is there an equivalent for you? Is there something you can throw yourself into that will help you redirect your energy?

    And for the record, fixing up a house isn't all that it's cracked up to be. You'll just have to trust me on that one ;>)

    In short, at the end of the day- the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Everything you need is inside of you. You'd be surprised by how powerful you really are. Seriously.

    1. megang

      Where to begin, El? Thank you so much for your comment and advice. I agree that being "busy" isn't enough...and it's so often an excuse too, isn't it? When people ask how you're doing, it tends to be my first go-to response. Yes, I'm definitely a fixate-r. School sounds like it was amazing for you (and a husband to boot!)...my mom went back to school later in life to get her doctorate and it was an incredible experience for her, too. I've started thinking very seriously about opening a little bakery and am beginning recipe testing, brainstorming etc. So that could be good...we shall see. Thanks again for all of your support!

  9. Tara

    Oh my, this post really spoke to me! I've been mindfully trying to move away from my own "what if" game for a couple of months now. And am really proud to say that I'm starting to feel more content with my life than I have in a long time. I think the process is probably different for everyone, but certainly the end result is well worth the effort! Thank you for being so honest about it, and good luck!

    Oh, and those hand pies look wonderful. I, too, was one of those kids who longed for a mother who would pack processed pastries in my lunchbox! So glad she never gave in to my whining. ;)

  10. Dana

    Such a well written post that really resonated with me. I do a lot with "if only" and "should have". Some days I live in the moment but often I am up in my head making myself crazy. Thanks for the reminder that other people struggle with this too.

    I remember using my allowance to buy a Hostess lemon pie because my mom would only let us eat homemade baked goods. I was so excited but after I took that first bite, I was crestfallen. Yuck! Your little pies are beautiful and a perfect way to use apricots. Thanks for the great read.

  11. La Bonne Chef

    I agree with Susan that we need our "if only", but I also advise to be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

    I grew up eating Hubigs Pies in New Orleans. The lemon filled were my favorites. I will look for apricots at tomorrow's Farmers Market and give your delicious looking recipe a try. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Tracey

    Wow - These pies are breathtaking! The crisp, flaky crust and the juicy filling have me salivating. I stumbled upon your site and an loving it! The photography is top notch. Thank you!

  13. The Wind Attack

    I do the exact same thing. I'd really love to own a house someday, but I know it's a long way off. So I've learned to enjoy wherever I live. I've painted my apartment walls and bought mid-century furniture off craigslist and I too have learned to appreciate being able to make good food... even if I always think "if only I had a better kitchen..."

  14. Dana

    I keep seeing hand pies around the food blogland; I didn't get it before, but is a hand pie an empanada?

    I'm 'if only'-ing for a house right now. As unhealthy it is to live for the future and forget that the present is passing by, it is important to look forward, to scheme, set goals and hope. As always, the balance is something most of us need to learn to achieve.

    The empanadas look lovely, I've never had apricot in pie before. It looks like a charming pie filling.

    1. megang

      Dana: they are kind of like an empanada I suppose, but the crust is not quite as hearty...lighter and flakier and in my experience empanadas are generally savory, no? Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Mary

    This post is so beautiful, Megan. Turn "if only" around: how many people can write as well as you; cook/bake as well; take pictures as well; and food-style as well? You have such mad talent!

    Now to those hand pies... Must. Make. Soon.

  16. Evan

    I thought I was the only one who wished for crutches!! I always envied the other girls who broke their foot or twisted their ankle because they got to get out of class early and people carried their books! ha Whenever we played "house" when I was little I would wear a wrist guard and wrap it with gauze to pretend like I broke something! haha

    Oh and these hand pies are now on my list of things to make :)

  17. Kate

    Ironically, my current blog post is all about stopping in the moment. I think we spend an inordinate amount of time caught up in 'if only' thinking, and it causes us to miss the beauty that's happening around us right then and there. I'm guilty as charged, and thankfully learning to stop, to appreciate and to savor the tiny things that make today something that will never happen again. It's hard. It's being mature, and focused and able to stop our brains from wanting something we don't have. Being able to appreciate the life we have, the place we are and the moment we're living right now is a huge gift that we should give ourselves. I could sit back and love it to death, enhanced by one of those little pies. I can just about taste that delicious apricot.

  18. MomGordon

    Here I am, hunched over my computer in the far corner of the porch at Lake George where the signal seems to find its way from across the lake. I was musing yesterday about how fortunate I am and with your post I added to my "fortunate list"- a daughter whose lovely writing touches my heart. I miss you! (You're keeping the cast iron frying pan out of the sink aren't you?)

  19. lola

    ooh those look so good!

  20. Xiaolu (6 Bittersweets)

    Amazing looking treats and great post. I have the same issue with always looking forward and planning but not appreciating the moment enough. Working on that day by day.

  21. Sook

    I play the "If only" game all the time! :) Your little pies are so adorable and beautiful! I bet they are tasty too!

  22. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite

    Megan, I find that as I get older I ask myself less and less "What if?". A bonus of getting long in the tooth, I guess. I spend a good number of years in my 20s wondering that exact question and it really didn't get me very far. Only int eh last few years have I really started to feel like I am in a good place. My blog has really helped that, actually.

  23. bellini valli

    Life is all about "if only" around here. "If only" I would seize the day and appreciate each as it comes. Today would be wonderful if I had some hand pies:D

  24. Dana

    What temperature did you bake these at? This recipe is terribly tempting in photographs, but a little difficult to follow!

    1. megang

      @Dana: 375 F! Thank you for pointing out the omission (eek!). Enjoy the recipe! ~m

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