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.
You see, there’s only so many apple pies one baker can make. When you tire of apple, you start to get really creative with pear. Pear Streusel. Pear Ginger, Apple Pear (whoa!), Pear Cranberry (whee!). Yes, so let’s just say that when a large brunt of your business is seasonal pies, winter can be a tough season. And spring’s sneaky 80-degree days and lingering, lingering light? The most welcome sight ever.
At the kitchen where I bake, we’ve been rolling up the delivery doors and letting the sun shine in. There are railroad tracks right across the parking lot, so there’s a breeze, the sound of the occasional train, mixers beating away, ovens opening and closing. It’s an afternoon in a bakery. And it’s all the sweeter when my station is filled with new juicy fruit that is just waiting to be folded into a pie and carted off to the farmers market.
But it’s not just the lack of colorful fruit that has had me in a bit of a Marge rut lately. The reality is that I haven’t checked in for awhile. With my vision for the business. As a small business owner, it’s really easy to get caught up in the routine of it all: the weekly errands, the bills and invoices, the cost analysis and bookkeeping and making the same recipe over and over and over. It’s easy not to step back from it all and think about what still excites you, why you’re still cutting 20 pounds of butter into flour on Friday nights. By hand. When you could be having cocktails on a patio if you really wanted to. Or at the very least testing a new recipe that excited you. There’s simply just not enough time–for weekend cocktails or new recipes, for that matter.
I just started reading this book by the co-founder of Ann Arbor-based bakery and restaurant, Zingerman’s, called Building a Great Business. Can I just say that I never, ever read business books? I usually find them dry and prescriptive and they generally make me anxious rather than excited. But this one’s different. In addition to the typical Business Plan/Recipe for Success bit that generally makes an appearance in books like this, Ari Weinzweig writes about the importance of Crafting a Vision of Greatness. He discusses how this differs greatly from a mission statement in that it’s more specific and is really a full-scale picture of what things will look like when you’ve arrived at where you’re going and things are working well.
Weinzweig states that it’s so important because it’s a statement of optimism in the future and you’ve got to have this with your business. It also allows you to create your reality instead of just reacting to problems. He stresses documenting it. Write down your vision. Heck, if you don’t know what it is, no one else is going to. Come to terms with it and be accountable for it, and the chances that things will begin moving in a forward fashion are much, much greater.
So over the next two weeks I’m going to come up with my vision of greatness. I’m really going to sit back and think about what excited me about Marge, what I want for the business in the next 1 year, 5 years, even 10 years. Who am I doing it for? Why? What exactly am I trying to do or accomplish? Because really, the answer to these questions is more than making the same exact number of pie slices each week and going to stand at the farmer’s market on a cold Sunday morning in May. There’s a deeper connection to the food I’m making and the reason I’m drawn to old-fashioned recipes and small-scale, artisan food production. So it’s time to revisit that and to get excited again.
A last point that Weinzweig makes is that, regardless of what business you’re in or what personal goal you’re pursuing at the moment, it takes a lot longer to make something great than most people think. So many of us put such high expectations on ourselves for things to fall into place in a short period of time (I’m guilty of this, too). Some of it has to do with our fast-paced culture and increasingly short-attention spans, but some of it also has to do with limited knowledge on the importance of staying power in most creative pursuits. There’s something to be said about just showing up. Sure, I need to sit down and document what I envision for the future of Marge. But I also need to just continue to go through the motions at the same time. Make pie after pie. Because that balance is important. And, frankly, that’s what I do.
Now I can’t guarantee that this pie will help you slide out of any creative rut you may find yourself in lately, but it will certainly help. That I know for sure.
I do like to use quick-cooking tapioca for many juicier fruit pies, but if you have trouble finding it, feel free to use cornstarch instead. And let the bubbling juices be your guide as to when the pie is truly done; some pies may take just a few minutes longer than others.
Prepare your pie: Roll out 2 dough disks to 12-inch round; transfer one right into a 9-inch pie pan and trim any excess overhang (leave 1/2-inch overhang), leave the second one out as it will top the pie once filled.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine first seven ingredients (along with the optional orange zest) in a large bowl and gently toss to combine. Spoon filling into bottom crust. Scatter little pats of butter on top of the filling and place the second disk of dough on top of the pie. Fold edges under and crimp as desired. Brush with egg mixture and cut a few slits in the top of the pie to allow steam to escape.
Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F and bake pie until the top is golden and the fruit filling starts to bubble, about another 25 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.
My good friend Keena was working in India for the last few months and just returned to Seattle, eager to experience as much Pacific Northwest summer as possible in September. I'm with her on this one: It just so happens that towards the end of this month, the farmers markets I've been doing will also come to an end, so things seem like they're both simultaneously gearing up (hike! picnic! beach!) and wrapping up at the same time as I also feel a sense of wanting to cram in as much as I can before the days start getting noticeably shorter. And truly: there's no better recipe to commemorate such efforts than these fresh corn grits with oil-poached summer tomatoes.
For many years, I've always made a summer to-do list. I usually set to work on it right at the beginning of June when the days feel long and ripe with possibility. The list often involves things like learning to bake sourdough bread or making homemade ricotta, doing an epic hike I'd read about in a local magazine, training for a marathon, or reading specific novels. It is always a pretty aspirational list, and I generally don't make much of a dent in it -- resulting in the guilty feeling come late August that I'd wasted too many lazy afternoons when I could've been baking sourdough or making ricotta or doing memorable, epic hikes. But this summer is going to be a bit different: there will be no list. We wait so long in Seattle for long stretches of sunny days, and now that it stays late until 9:30 (or later?), I want to see more of our friends and find stretches of time to do not much of anything except catch up, tan our legs and eat farmers market berries. That's my list.
I received The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl + Spoon cookbook in the mail not long before we moved to our new house, and I remember lying in bed and bookmarking pages I was excited to try but also feeling overwhelmed with where to start: the truth is that this summer has been a relatively low-inspiration / low energy time in the kitchen for me. I'd been chalking it up to pregnancy but when I think back and if I'm honest with myself, my cooking style tends to be very easy and produce-driven during these warmer months. I rarely break out complicated recipes, instead relying on fresh tomatoes and corn or zucchini and homemade pesto to guide me. But last night I cracked open Sara's book and pulled out a few peaches I've had sitting on the counter, fearing their season may be nearing its end. This morning as I was making coffee, I sliced up the peaches, toasted the pecans and churned away -- having a bite (or maybe two) before getting it into the freezer to firm up.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
We just returned from my mom's cabin on Lake George in upstate New York where we often spend the 4th of July. As usual, each bedroom was packed with family members (this year the couch was even occupied for a night), and our days with reading, lounging on the dock, swimming a bit, maybe jogging down the road or playing tennis if you were feeling ambitious. We drank a notable amount of seltzer water; I managed to read three books and my mom threw us a family baby shower complete with balloons, chocolate cake and Mike's rhubarb bars. In previous years, my mom has planned most of the dinners and even some lunches, but for breakfast we'd all fend for ourselves. I'd often bake a pie or a batch of brownies in the afternoon and everyone would help out where they could, but she would largely do the shopping and brunt of the cooking. This year was different: having just moved from California to Vermont, my mom had a lot on her plate and sent out an email before the holiday weekend asking us all to chip in and help with the meals. Sam and I claimed Friday dinner: we grilled sausages and Sam made his famous deviled eggs. We cut up some unusually seedy watermelon that I found at the co-op in Burlington before we drove out to the lake, and I made a summery quinoa salad that I expected to be kind of epic. The trouble was that it wasn't. I overcooked the quinoa until it was kind of a congealed mush and everything just went downhill from there. But I knew that the idea was strong -- to pack a whole grain salad with all the things of summer (corn! tomatoes! basil!) -- so when we got home to Seattle I tried again. And this time it's a winner.