Visions of Greatness or Something Like It

[strawberry rhubarb pie
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.

strawberry rhubarb pieYou 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.

strawberry rhubarb pies
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.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

  • Yield: One 9 inch pie

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.

Ingredients

Crust:

Martha Stewart's Pate Brisee
(or your favorite pie dough recipe)

Filling:

3 cups trimmed rhubarb (1 1/2 pounds untrimmed), cut in 1/2-inch thick slices
3 cups hulled and halved strawberries
1/4 cup golden brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon orange zest, optional
1 large egg, beaten (for glaze)

Instructions

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.

Comments

  1. kickpleat

    It took me 6 years into running my own business before I read my first business book. It was the book "The Boss of You" and it's for women running their own businesses - it's the opposite of dry and it really helped me to focus and think ahead. I'm going to read it again because I could use a refresh. But onto the pie. Pie!! Looks amazing and those strawberries look so ripe and red. I can't wait for local strawberries...soon. Pie...soon.

  2. Ashley

    Thanks for sharing your lessons learned through that book. I too expect greatness before I've really had a chance to learn, stretch and savor the journey - which really is the best part.
    I'm so impressed by your business and all you do.

  3. Anne Zimmerman

    About the staying power: I was at a writers lunch yesterday feeling all proud of myself {Finally! I can say I have a book!} But as we went around the table introducing ourselves, everyone else had 2 books. Or had just gotten back from war reporting in Kabul. Or was writing the Next Great Memoir, going to famous writing workshops, etc. A gentle reminder that I'm actually at the beginning, and staying in the game takes mettle. Le sigh.

  4. Anna

    Megan - Thanks for the reminder. I think it can definitely be hard to go from the following your dream to making your dream a reality to all the work that reality takes. I definitely think it is important to find a balance between the romantic and dreamy ideas, the day to day work and the vision of greatness you wish to achieve. I am not sure what my vision is for my tiny business or if I want to switch gears entirely, but I appreciate your thoughts on this!

  5. Kasey

    Inspiring, Megan! I'm often one to try to run a marathon before a 5k but I think that old saying is one I always come back to, "slow and steady...wins the race." I love rhubarb...yum! Sorry I missed you at dinner this week- hopefully soon! xo

  6. Molly

    With gorgeous and creative pies like that, I know you'll have a wonderful sense of what you want in two weeks from now. I wish you the best of luck in your journey.

  7. Katie

    I've never seen a crust so flaky! That pie is a thing of beauty!

    I may need to check out that book. I've achieved a goal or dream from long ago, and these days I'm far from inspired when I wake up in the morning. More like, I wish I could pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep. Definitely time for a rethink and possible change in direction. Thanks for the reminder to take the time to do that!

  8. Kristina

    YOU are a vision of greatness sweetness! You are made of kickass and awesome sauce and I miss you.

  9. Denise | Chez Danisse

    "What exactly am I trying to do or accomplish?" Yes yes. A good exercise. I also like "...it takes a lot longer to make something great than most people think." Good stuff, Megan. Thank you.

  10. Tracy

    Is this what the tapioca was for? :)

    Sounds like I could use this book! Right now I'm going through the motions...and that's good but you are right. It's important to take a step back and really figure out what you are doing this for. Good luck this weekend!!

  11. Danielle

    A lesson I've learnt (from all the inspiring food producers I've met this year), is that in order to do what you love, you also have to deal with what you're not exactly fond of, but what is necessary. It's two sides of the same coin. The key is in finding a balance, and taking time out to dream and peep into the future is great therapy for the monotony of everyday business stuff. Can't wait to hear about your dream, and - again - yay for rhubarb! xo

  12. Kim K Meredith

    Local strawberry time is fast approaching here in Lancaster PA and the rhubarb is already being cut. I only hope that I can get these two together for what looks like an amazing pie!!! Thanks!

  13. Staci Shultz

    Megan, this pie looks *gorgeous*, and you've definitely convinced me of the aesthetics of rhubarb, if not the taste. ;) And can I tell you how pleased I am you're reading Ari's book? I miss Zingerman's so much, and I tell everyone I can about that fabulous business. Ari is so kind and so generous, and I'm delighted that he's sharing his wisdom with you. :)

  14. Dana

    My husband has a bookshelf full of business books and I'm just starting to realize there may be some things in there I could use...

    I think your big picture question is really important and timely for me, so thank you for putting it so beautifully as usual. And the pie! If I didn't know better, I would think that was puff pastry. So flaky and perfect!

  15. El

    Would you believe I've actually read the Zingerman's book? It's surprisingly good. It will be interesting to hear about your vision. In the meantime, the pies are a vision unto themselves. The strawberry pie looks fabulous.

  16. cory

    wow - your crust looks near perfect! in the side shot where it is baked i can almost taste all of those perfect flakey layers! this looks amazing. i have been making pie dough in my food processor but always feel that i forfeit just a bit of the flakiness, even if i am very judicious with the number of times i pulse it together. well done...strawberries are just now at our NYC farmers markets and they are a welcome red blip on an otherwise very green radar!!

    :)

  17. Allison

    This pie looks so stunning. I know what you mean about getting into ruts. It sounds like you're getting out of yours though!

  18. Evi

    We made a rhubarb-blueberry, delicious! Check it out on our site. Good luck with everything, can't wait to hear the updates! =)

  19. Adriana

    super inspiring post! i also need to step back and rethink about why I'm doing what I'm doing (a PhD), because I'm drained, out of energy... maybe making this pie would help! looks so delicious and it's perfect for the season!

  20. amanda@seegirlcook

    yum! this looks so delicious. i especially love the idea of the smaller pies...so cute!

  21. Mary

    Beautiful post, Megan - love your writing. I met Ari at 18 Reasons. He is really amazing because he is a businessman but doesn't sound like one. Thanks for the link. Looking forward to reading more. Btw: your post also reminds me I need to visit your stand and buy some more pie.

    1. megang

      Yes Mary, that's the perfect way to describe him: he's very non-businessy, which I like. Someday I aspire to be as involved in city events as you! Seriously...

Join the Discussion

Winter Soups and Stews

Smoky Butternut Squash and Three Bean Chili

Smoky Butternut Squash and Three Bean Chili

If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.

Read More
5 Tips For Cooking with a Baby + Power Greens Soup

5 Tips For Cooking with a Baby + Power Greens Soup

Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time,  summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light. 

Read More
Minestrone Verde with White Beans and Pesto

Minestrone Verde with White Beans and Pesto

We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine).  Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).

Read More
Simple Cooking: Pasta and Chickpea Soup

Simple Cooking: Pasta and Chickpea Soup

One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen. 

Read More
Returning Home

Returning Home

And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today. 

Read More