Three Perfectly Imperfect Homemade Pies

Made some hot pepper jelly dip Saturday and it was pretty dang good. Things have been winding up, slowly, these past few weeks with the cold getting colder and everything in the papers leaving me without words, really; the kids coming home for break, the question of whether the turkey would thaw in time (it did), holiday events popping up left and right, and all those ads for Black Friday this and Cyber Monday that. It’s enough for a relatively sane person to throw his or her arms up and holler, “Whatever!” or “I don’t care” or “It doesn’t matter!” Three phrases I do my best never to utter. They’re so without feeling, so dismissive, and if I’m going to put words out there I’d at least prefer words like, “Really” and “Seriously” and “Well isn’t that a humdinger.” All questions made statements by assumption that with whomever I am speaking would readily agree.

What DOES matter is my concern. When you REALLY think about it. I thought about it, all Thanksgiving Day as I cooked up a serious amount of food. What matters. And then, as I caramelized the onions and cooked the celery for the stuffing, I felt the list coming on. And it ended up sounding like Maslow’s hierarchy. Food. Water. Sleep. Comfort. Acceptance. So on. And so on. And then, I thought, those are NEEDS we have. Of course they matter. But what is at the heart of it all?

By then, I was on to the pie making. I gently rolled the crusts and lay them down in their plates. Then mixed the fillings – apple, pumpkin, blueberry – and poured each in its turn. At last, the top layers: Dutch crumbs for the apple; leaves cut from pastry for the pumpkin; lattice for the blueberry for dear old Uncle Tom. A brush with milk, a sprinkle of sugar, and into the oven they went. An hour later, there they were. Three perfectly imperfect homemade pies. Made with good thoughts and tenderness and spices and hope.

They mattered, those pies. To me, they did. They were one way I might show love on Thanksgiving Day. And Gratitude, too. But mostly love. And when all was said and done, and everyone was asleep on the couch or on the floor or tucked away up in bed, pure love poured out of every open window (got a bit overheated early in the day). And when there’s love, nothing much else matters, and everything does, and that we find ways to show it and share it is our only real purpose in life. Well, mine anyway. What matters to you might be quite a bit different, but I’ll bet love pops up in there somewhere.

On to the next thing! With gratitude, and love. And leftover pie.

Spicy spice. Oh, yes. Here’s an appetizer, the likes of which Great Aunt Wanda called, “an appeteaser.” Mmm Hmm. Yes, honey. Knock yer socks off and then some. And you’re sure to have requests so make some copies, for Pete’s sake.

Hot Pepper Jelly Pecan Dip

2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups sliced green onions
2 cups chopped pecans
1/2 to 1 cup mayonnaise
1 jar hot pepper jelly

Mix cheese, onions and nuts in a large bowl. Stir in enough mayonnaise to hold together. Press cheese mixture into a shallow dish or pie plate and chill. Or if desired, press into a round cake pan lined with plastic wrap, chill and unmold onto plate before serving. Top with pepper jelly.

Serve with Wheat Thins or other crackers.


One Bowl, Two Forks, and a Bottle of Good Red Wine

Made sweet potato salad on Saturday and it was not bad. Had black beans in it, too, and garlic and some red onion and cilantro and lime. All good. But it was the roasted sweet potatoes that made it just right, the kind of food I want to hide from everyone ‘til they’re all in bed and that’s when I get the bowl from the fridge and curl up in my blanket in the corner chair by the window and savor every bite of whatever it was I so selfishly hid away. But it was not to be. Mr. S could smell the cilantro all the way down in his workshop, and once I roasted the potatoes in a bit of olive oil and garlic, well, that was that. It was our dinner, that salad, along with a ring of smoked kielbasa and the last of the red wine, and a bit of vanilla ice cream with peaches cooked in brown sugar.

We talked about food, intending to plan out our Thanksgiving meal, but things got out of hand. We digressed. Our favorite meals (his is homemade pizza, so much so that we’re planning to spend a summer month down the road building a stone pizza oven out back, and I for my life – beef stroganoff, garlic pork roast, salmon, chicken and dumplings, homemade macaroni and cheese — can’t pick just one). We both agreed bacon is a staple, and butter, too. I voted for nutmeg and we at last disagreed. It’s cinnamon for him, all the way. And to almond extract, we both said “YES,” and to frosted sugar cookies, and apple pie, and homemade whipped cream and homemade root beer, which my grandma used to make and I did once and maybe we ought to give that a whirl one summer month as well.

I’m thinking it’s not so much the food itself, though, as with whom one shares it. Or cooks it, for that matter. Or bakes. Though I love to bake alone, I much prefer the kids in the kitchen with me, mixing and pouring and cutting out and frosting. I prefer the banter and the songs, the stories and the laughter to the quiet of rolling out pie crust in the fading light of the day. It’s the gathering about the table that makes the sauerbraten such a memory; it’s how we all take our peach pie and ice cream to the porch in the heat of July. How Mr. S and I share dessert, even though we often end up ordering two. Or three.

The best foods are those attached to memories of people and times we love, our parents and grandparents, our childhoods and all those Thanksgivings and Christmases and summers at the lake. Food becomes tradition that way, and each year when we put the cranberries on the table, we remember one grandma; and potato salad, the other. S’mores and buttermilk pancakes, fish fry and lemon bars, blueberry muffins and stuffing and fattijmand and pie.

And coffee. See, the first time we ever met, well, Mr. S asked me if I’d like a cup of coffee, and I said yes, and he brought me perhaps the best cup of coffee I’ve had. The coffee itself wasn’t the thing as much as how he smiled as he handed it to me. My gosh. Coffee hasn’t been the same since, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

He went to bed early Saturday night, and I washed the dishes and listened to music and thought about what new dish I might make when the kids come home next week. Something different. Something to remember. Maybe we’ll at last get Chinese takeout this time, like we always say we ought to. Why not? Traditions don’t last forever, and new ones have to start somewhere. Ain’t that the truth.

Here’s the salad Mr. S and I shared. I recommend one bowl, two forks, and a bottle of good red wine. No glasses required.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad
1 lb sweet potatoes
1 small red onion
3 T olive oil, divided
1/4 tsp salt
Juice and zest from 1 lime
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed if using canned
1/2 cup cilantro
1/4 cup pepitas (optional)

Preheat oven to 400˚ F. Peel sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4 inch cubes and place on a sheet tray. Chop onion into 1/4 inch pieces and add to the tray. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil on top and add 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Toss until sweet potatoes are well coated. Spread into a single layer and roast until sweet potatoes are tender and starting to brown, 35 to 40 minutes.
While the sweet potatoes are roasting, combine remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a jar with the lime juice, 1 teaspoon lime zest, minced garlic, and chili powder. Shake well.
Once sweet potatoes are done, transfer to a bowl. Add in the black beans, pepitas, and cilantro. Drizzle with the dressing and toss until salad is combined. This is best done while the sweet potatoes are still warm.