Sunday, October 3, 2010

The No-Fail Pie

I am good at a lot of things. I teach really well. And I can sing. And I can teach people how to sing. And I'm good at things that have nothing to do with teaching or singing. Like writing, or so I'm told. But it turns out there is at least one thing that I just cannot do.

I cannot, to save my life, make a pie.

I made this shocking discovery the week of the Carol Brady experiment, while trying to make a raspberry pie for my husband as June Cleaver. Oh, sure, it turned out alright I suppose. And Ryan absolutely loved it. Ate every bite. But I knew better. I knew it wasn't quite right. The crust just barely covered the pan. And it took me four tries. And it was tough. And just... not perfect. June's pies were perfect.

For a while, I was willing to let it go. But then I got some encouragement. My Mom bought me a proper pie plate. And a friend of hers gave me a recipe for a No-Fail pie crust.

Then, a few days ago, a friend of mine jokingly referred to me as the kind of girl who doesn't make pies. It was a joke, and made sense in the context of the conversation. And I said I took it as a compliment. Because I am a working woman, and an academic, and a really fun Mom. But people don't necessarily think of me as the girl who sits at home and makes pies.

But it got to me. I can be the girl who doesn't make pies. But I cannot, and WILL NOT be the girl who CAN'T make pies. I just couldn't accept it.

So I went to Whole Foods, and got myself some apples, and at 8:30 at night I set out to make a pie. And by 10:30, it was all I could do not to throw myself on my kitchen floor in hysterics. (fortunately, it's a very small kitchen floor. Even someone as little as me would have trouble finding the room for a full-on fit. So that kept me upright, if nothing else.)

I just couldn't get the crust off of the counter. I mean I COULD NOT get that crust off of the counter. The No-Fail crust. The one I wasn't supposed to be capable of messing up. And yes, I floured the counter. And the rolling pin. And yes, I know to roll it up over the rolling pin and then unroll it into the pie plate. It was too sticky. I slid a knife under my third version of the crust (repeating to myself that one is not supposed to over-handle the crust or it gets too tough. But what choice did I have?) Finally, on my fourth try, I was able to get several large pieces into the pan, which I mashed together with my fingers. So it sort, kind of looked like a pie crust.

I lifted my big bowl of apples- which were starting to brown because peeling them and coring them and slicing them took me ninety minutes- and dumped them into the pie plate, knowing I still had a top crust to deal with. But I planned to cheat- a lattice top is far easier, since I only have to get the crust to come out in strips. Then I just have to make it look like a pie. I'm an artist. I can do that.

I put my desperate pie attempt into the oven at 11:45. It takes fifty minutes for a pie to bake, and I was already exhausted, but I refused to let this beat me. Halfway through the baking process, Ryan woke up from the sofa to find me surrounded by dishes with flour all over the counter.

"What in the world are you doing?" It was a fair question.

"Making a pie." An obvious answer. "You can go back to sleep if you want. I'll wake you when it's ready."

I opened the oven with very low expectations. But honestly, it looked like a pie. I may have done it! Until I cut into it, to find a watery mess. The slice I had carved out for myself fell apart entirely on my plate, making it more of an ice cream topping than a stand-alone dessert. And I assure you, that's what it became.

It's been a few days since my pie debacle, and I've had some time to reflect. I sit here, at my computer, eating another slice of my gooey, not-very-sweet mess, and I realize. This is not about pie. Well, OK, in the very most literal analysis, it's a little bit about pie. But it's more about that No-Fail crust. If it's supposed to be No-Fail, and I couldn't do it, where does that leave me?

My years of struggling with infertility brought up some really interesting issues in therapy. And I distinctly remember the day when my therapist and I discovered that one of my biggest hurdles was understanding the failure. To be perfectly honest, I have had very few failures in my life. I applied to one undergraduate program, and one graduate program, and later, one more additional graduate program. I applied to one teaching position when I graduated. The year after I graduated from NYU, I went to only six auditions. This is because I booked four of them. My best friend and I decided to start a theatre company. So, we did.

And I don't say all of this to proclaim how cool I am. I tend to do things at which I excel. This makes success much more likely. I go to the auditions for which I know I'm right. I pick jobs and schools that I know are right for me. But in all of my successes, I never learned to fail. And I'm starting to realize- this is a problem.

So now, I'm stuck with a decision. Do I practice, and learn to make the perfect pie? A big part of me says yes. Because that's what I do.

But maybe I won't. Maybe I'll take this as a failure. I'll be the girl who totally can't make pies. Because in the grand scheme of things, maybe that's not so bad.

Who am I kidding? You know I'll be at Whole Foods tomorrow.


  1. Our dear friend Greg challeneged me to make a pie this past spring. I do not turn down challenges. When we first cut into it and I could see the insides were still runny I had to walk out of the room. Why is it that we feel we need to excel at everything?

    We put the pie back in the oven for an additional 30 minutes. I let it set overnight and the next day it was pretty perfect. Greg never even tried it.

  2. I've never even tried to make a pie from scratch before, but I think I will now. I don't really like pie, except for apple pie, so maybe that's where I'll start. And now you've got me craving apple pie! I make a pretty good apple crisp though, and I'm happy with that!

    And I think, as far as trying until you get it right, you could definitely learn how to do it right. It's a learned skill. Something you have control over. Not, like, becoming fertile, or growing a third eye.