Monday, September 29, 2014

I Excel at Eating My Feelings: A Story About Pie and Peebs.

We'll get to the Autumn tree cherry pie eventually, I promise.
I spend most days with my feelings switched to the "sarcastic apathy" position. When something comes along and causes me to step outside my comfort zone, I usually try to stay busy cooking, cleaning, baking, decorating, whatever, until the catalyst for change has receded and I can go back to feeling better about myself and my unwavering witticism. On occasion, something can happen that causes me to actually have to stop all those robotic, repetitive motions that help me cope with change and deal with what's going on.

It comes as no secret to anyone that people aren't my cup of tea; my heart was made to love and nurture animals. The word "pet" simply does not justify what the animals that past or present make up my home mean to me. They are my family, my children, and last week we lost the world's spikiest daughter to a congenital heart defect. We took Peebs into the vet thinking she had pneumonia due to her lack of appetite and labored breathing that happened in a matter of one night. It came as a huge gut punch when the vet and tech took her back to X-ray and her heart failed; after the vet's many attempts to revive her, she died on the table in X-ray alone, without her people by her side. Nothing any of us could have done would've prevented this from happening. It was simply her time, but this never makes things any easier.
The face that starts a million "Awwws."

I have always been so unbelievably fascinated by Peeberton: how something could be so small and delicate, yet strong-willed and so tough was incredible. She was pretty much the animal version of me, and I was her person. I was one of two people in this entire world who she would actually let give her belly rubs and the occasional butt scratch (we all love them). I made it my mission to give her the best life a hedgehog could ever have from the instant she became ours. My favorite moments were spent watching her chow down on fruits, eggs, chicken, etc., and when we had time alone, to stretch out on the couch and wrap her in her blanket before laying down and placing her on my chest. Feeling her little feet shuffle around on me until she found the perfect spot and plopped down (with more oomph than any other one pound creature, might I add)  made my heart burst. It it odd to think that such a small, bristly creature could bring such a large, much needed softness into my heart. I am rendered with an unbelievable crushing guilt that her life was cut so short. Every time I go into her room in the morning to open the blinds, my heart feels so very empty now that she is not there to help me greet the day and generally be cranky about having to be awake in the first I said, we got each other. Until we leave this house, I will forever tell her goodnight when I close the blinds at night, too.

I am not good at expressing my feelings outside of the written word. I could never fight back the pain and tell people how even though she is gone, she is still in my soul- in my introverted and quiet ways, in my devotion to my "people," in my perseverance to keep fighting no matter how big the problem is compared to me- she is my 'spirit hedge' now. And how lucky I am to have loved and cared for a creature so much that saying goodbye to her is so hard.
My hedge, my heart.

In the days following her passing, I spent a lot of time baking up a storm to help me sort out my emotions, so that I could subsequently eat my feelings. I may or may not have wanted to just have ice cream for dinner one night. What can I say...its better than driving to the nearest Costco to obtain their entire supply of Pinot Grigio to drink my feelings. I've never had an ice cream hangover before, and I refuse to believe that a food so good could ever cause pain beyond a brain freeze (and if you're mixing the proper ratio of ice cream to hot fudge to Andes mint chips- this never happens). Along with cinnamon caramel pull-apart rolls I made for brunch this weekend, I also made my mother's homemade cherry pie recipe. This is the next best thing to getting an actual hug from my mother when I'm feeling down in the dumps.
Because it is absolutely delicious and fall-themed.
This ain't canned-filling pie, oh no. Way better than that. I mean, there is a can with fruit involved, but not that simple fruit cobbler stuff. While I initially wanted to carve a hedgehog into the pie, I decided that unbelievable cuteness would've rendered me unwilling to ever cut and actually eat the pie, so instead I carved a tree losing its leaves into the top of the pie. I will explain how to do that in just a moment, but first let me show you how simple this delish pie is to make!
So I used pre-made pie crust, gimme a break, its been a tough week.
You could make your very own pie crust if you like. I've done so before, but find the pre-made Pillsbury pie crusts are simply the greatest thing ever when you want a pie that works excellently as a serving dish for vanilla ice cream- golden brown and crisped to perfection. So here's what you need for the ultimate comfort food pie:
  • Two pie crusts @ room temperature (the Pillsbury stuff comes with two, yet another reason to cut corners!)
  • 1 can TART cherries in their juice- not cherry pie filling- just Oregon canned tart cherries that even I can find at my shitty Walmart in the fruit aisle next to cereal
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 1/4 tsp of almond extract (the only extract better than vanilla)
  • 1/8 tsp of salt
  • 3 TBS of flour
  • 2 TBS of butter- that's where the nice "hugging" feeling from Mom comes from. Thanks, butter.
Yeah, I occasionally eat a cherry or two during this process.
Dump all of the ingredients except butter (and the crust, obviously) together in a bowl and mix. Boom- there's your pie filling. I know, right? So easy, but so good! Take one pie crust and gently place it into a pie tin.
Yeah, don't just take a spoon to this and start eating...resistance is key.
Throw the pie filling into your dish lined with the bottom crust, and then take your butter and cut it into little slices and dot the top of the pie with it. You don't need to be as OCD as me and make sure all butter is evenly spaced, as I sincerely hope you're nowhere near as bat-shit crazy as I am.
I will cut you.
Take a small paring knife and trim the excess bottom crust around the entire pie, like so. Once the bottom edge has been trimmed flush with the pie tin, top your pie with a zebra. Just making sure you're paying attention. Top it with the remaining pie crust, and get ready to flute the edges so your pie is sealed and you can make it look next-level awesome.
To flute: Take your thumb and index finger, and press them into the edge of your pie.
This will create a nice indentation.
While keeping your index finger and thumb on the crust, place your other thumb into the indentation and push in,
pressing your thumb into the indentation. Repeat, moving your "original" thumb into the new indentation
while your index finger creates a new dent, and your other thumb presses firmly and kind of pushes in the crust again.
Pushing in creates those pretty little waves your see here alongside my horribly
unmanicured fingernails. Whomp, whomp. The space in between these fingers is where
my other thumb was pressing in. Can't take a picture of that as I do not have three arms. Yet.
Repeat around all edges of the pie until you're left with a gorgeous fluted crust!
Now, you could be a lazy bum and simply cut slits in the top crust to vent, or you could go the extra mile and decorate your pie like a decent human being. Anything goes here, really- I've done hearts, a turkey for Thanksgiving, an airplane because why not, etc. I chose to do a tree losing its leaves because it is officially fall, and I think everything baked during this fine season should have something to do with either pumpkins or trees or you're totally missing the point.
Free hand, take a paring knife and lightly outline a tree into the top pie crust.
Carefully cut out your outline, being sure not to pierce the bottom crust.
It will leave you with a strange Pagan-esque looking symbol on top of your pie-
Dean Winchester would be proud. Plus one if you love Supernatural and got that reference.
Now comes time to make the leaves. Take the scraps from your tree outline, roll them together, and then flatten them out on top of a piece of parchment paper.
Use the paring knife to draw a curved line into your dough.
Draw an oppositely curved line on the other side, and you've got a leaf!
Take it a step further, and lightly draw in veins on the leaf with your knife.
Then lightly place the leaves around your branches,
and you can make some that are "falling" into another leaf pile on the ground.
Now, I recommend placing your pie in the fridge for at least a half an hour so that your crust can settle in and decide not to completely crumble apart in the oven. Crust is a wicked, feeble mistress. Once your settling time is up, take small sheets of foil and line the edges of your crust while the oven preheats to 425.
I find this to be the most maddening part of making pie.
One side goes on, the other side falls off..grumble, grumble.
Once your oven is ready for action, bake your pie at 425 for 40 minutes. Once the 40 minutes are up, remove those pain in the ass foil shields and let your edges brown for an additional 10-15 minutes in the oven. Remove and let sit:
C'mon, I JUST want to eat you...
I won't lie to you...the hardest part about making a good pie is waiting for it to cool off so it isn't liquid hot magma and you can eat it. I try to make my pies after lunch so they are ready for eating for dinner. I mean, after dinner. You can't have pie for dinner! You can, however, have it for breakfast because it is a fruit- and pastry-based meal...turnovers-schmurnovers.

Baking pie will make most of life's horrible experiences at least somewhat tolerable because you can't be 100 percent depressed while eating a good dessert- this is simply a fact. I want to thank everyone for their unbelievable outpouring of support over the past week. I am reminded at times like these that there are decent, loving people out there in this world who understand loss and how hard it can be to lose a loved one, and I am very fortunate that these are the people I call my friends and family. You all are simply wonderful, so thank you for letting me pour my heart and pie out to you this week, and any other should I need to. Til next time, my fellow eaters!
That's all, nothing left to see here folks...just an adorable hedge tush.

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