Because if you've read my blog at all, you've heard me say it before - I don't do well with failure. I have a tendency to set crazy high expectations for myself and get a little frustrated when I don't meet them. When I started learning to play the fiddle, the biggest thing my teacher wanted me to practice was having a better poker face. To not have that grimace on my face that says to everyone, I just messed up. Because that grimace would lead to tense muscles, which would make it almost impossible for me to play. Just try and relax and feel the music, he'd say. I never was able to make that happen.
I brought that attitude with me to the kitchen when I started to really cook again. I was inflexible and rigid, following all my recipes verbatim. And I'd get so frustrated with myself if after all the effort I put into a dish, it didn't turn out. My guests were always the understanding ones. The ones that'd say, it's not that bad. And they'd eat it anyway, while I'd grimace with every bite.
I'm happy to report though that I've come a long way. Probably because of my connection to all the homegrown ingredients I cook with, I've found a new rhythm in my kitchen. A fluidity and ability to problem solve and improvise when things seem like they might not work out. Don't get me wrong, I have to work hard to keep that scowl at bay when something fails beyond repair, but that scenario happens less and less.
This new found culinary flexibility and lightheartedness comes from many sources. It comes from the experience I've gained from the hours and hours I've spent laboring over my stove. It comes from the countless blogs I follow and the recipes I try from those that tried (and photographed) them before me. It comes from subscribing to foodie magazines that inspire and teach me on a regular basis. It comes from setting aside one day a week to challenge myself with something new I've never cooked before. And it comes from the knowledge I've gained from the people around me.
I recently had one of those grimace-inducing moments when I checked in on an apricot pie, only to find it looking like a greasy, gooey mess. The all-butter crust that in the past, I've made with success, seemed to sink into the pie. The fluted edges I made with care seemed to melt into one continuous, lackluster edge. I needed help.
So, like any savvy urban homesteader® would do, I reached out to someone in my community that could help. I emailed Kate, friend and writer of the pie blog, pie-scream.com. I asked her if I could sit in her kitchen while she baked a pie so I could learn her ways. And she responded with the most delightful reply, not only agreeing to my request, but also proposing a skills trade. I would help her transplant some rhubarb and put some raised beds "to bed" in exchange for a one-on-one pie making workshop in the kitchen of a friend.
While I would normally consult a cookbook, look on the internet for help, or pay to take a class, the mutually beneficial nature of a skills trade seemed to offer so much more. It's an opportunity to solve problems and get assistance while also building community, strengthening friendships, and helping others. So, next time you use Google and your own devices to learn or fix something on your own, consider also the friends, family, and community members you know who might love to lend you a hand. And think of all the skills you have to offer others in return. Because those skills and the knowledge you have that you might sometimes take for granted, might be just what someone is looking for.
Before I go, I'll leave you with some of the insights I learned from my afternoon of pie:
Take your time and put yourself into it. An impatient pie will taste like one.
Make your crust with your best tools - your hands. The food processor may be faster, but it will leave you with a very uniform dough rather than some larger chunks of butter that will ultimately become delicious flakes in your crust.
Making crust is like mixing grout - you add water a little at a time until it comes together just perfectly.
Don't over handle the dough. Show it who's boss then leave it already.
Honey makes the most lovely sweetener. When it comes to filling, it comes down to five things: fruit, lemon juice, sweetener, salt, and thickener.
When rolling out the dough, start in the middle, then show it where you want it to go. Use kitchen sheers to cut off the excess.
A little creativity with the vent holes goes a long way.
And even though you're tempted, don't cut into that pie for a few hours! Let is set first. You'll be so glad you did.
Learning from a friend, or in my case, my own pie mentor, is more meaningful and fun than solitary trial and error will ever be.
But don't just take my word for it. You can learn from my pie mentor too. Check out pie-scream.com to learn more about the amazing crust we made.
And be well, my friends. Happy fall!
-Stacy, Seattle Seedling