Friday, November 26, 2010

100% From Scratch Pumpkin Pie

I cooked all day yesterday, just for the three of us. I made nearly everything - except for the butter, the drinks, the bread for the stuffing, and the fried onions for the green beans - from scratch. Even the mushroom sauce for the green bean casserole was from scratch. It was warm and sunny. We cooked with the windows open, peeled potatoes in our shorts.
It was a non-stop kitchen extravaganza, but we did find time for playing games - Candyland and Memory - while the chicken roasted. I couldn't see roasting a turkey for two adults and a toddler, so we had chicken with herbs. 

As we sat down to dinner, the song we danced to at our wedding - I've Got You Under My Skin - came on. It seemed like a sign - a sign of all that we have to be thankful for, a sign of commitment and what it really means to be in a committed relationship, a reminder that everything about us - even our beautiful girl - starts from one tiny, simple, sacred space together. 

It was a beautiful day, and the only thing that would have made it more beautiful would have been if our table could have somehow magically been surrounded by all our friends and family, all the people we love so much, living or not. That would have made the meal absolutely perfect. 

Most of what I made came out well, but not everything. The mashed potatoes weren't quite right, and the bread cubes I cut up for the stuffing were too large. The best part, without a doubt, was the 100 percent from scratch pumpkin pie. I've never before made a pumpkin pie that started out as an actual pumpkin, and now that I have, I'm not sure I'll ever make another one that starts out as a can. This pie was so absolutely perfect - great texture, delicious pumpkin-y taste - that the minimal (and I mean minimal) extra effort needed to roast the pumpkin instead of opening the can was completely worthwhile. The best part - even better than the fact that I still have about half of this pie left - is the fact that I have another pie pumpkin from Flying Cloud Farm in my collection of winter squashes, patiently waiting for its destiny in my pie plate. 

 100% From Scratch Pumpkin Pie 

For the crust: 

I use this recipe from Martha Stewart for my pie crusts. For this particular pie, you can halve the recipe. 

For the filling: 

1 whole, honest-to-goodness pie pumpkin 
2 large eggs 
3/4 cup brown sugar 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 
1 cup half and half 

Preheat the oven to 425. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil or parchment and oil very lightly with vegetable oil. Without scooping out the seeds, roast the pumpkin, cut side down, until tender and browned - about one hour. Allow to cool completely. Discard seeds and scoop flesh (even browned spots) into a medium bowl. Puree using an immersion blender. When smooth, press through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl, discarding any solids left in the sieve.

To the pumpkin add the eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla, and spices. Whisk until combined, then whisk in the half and half. 

Reduce oven temperature to 375. Place the pie crust in a 9-inch pie dish. Line the pie crust with tin foil, and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until firm, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350. Pour prepared filling into baked crust. Bake until set, about 1 hour. Allow to cool on a wire rack for one hour before slicing. Serve with homemade whipped cream, and kiss those cans goodbye.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A few weeks ago someone told me, wisely, that I should write down all the cute and funny things that Dora says and does. If I were actually finding time to do this, I'd have plenty of material. Like the time recently when she said to me while using the potty "girls stand up, and boys sit down". I asked how she knows that and she said, "because it's true". We went camping recently and she enthusiastically introduced herself to all sorts of people, kids and adults alike. She walked up to a woman dining at an outdoor restaurant and reached for her sweet potato fries, "hey, can I have one of these?"  A jogger ran by us at a waterfront park and she said, "I hope that man doesn't fall in the water!" Today she asked Brian why his chest is so hairy, and tonight, when I suggested she share a cookie with her friend, she said, "yeah, I can do that, because I'm really very nice". 

There seems to be no shortage of funny, charming, or observant things running through her mind at any moment. She's pretending all the time, imitating us, saying things we say. But she's coming up with her own things, too, showing us the little individual she's becoming. I feel now as I did when she was a tiny baby on her first day, wrapped up like a burrito in my arms. I looked at her, amazed at how different and interesting she was, and overwhelmed by how much I instantly liked her. 

 Last month she spent her first overnight visit away from us, staying a whole week in Ohio with my dad and stepmother. I enjoyed the time apart at first, the time to focus uninterrupted, the easy mornings, the spontaneous dinners out, seeing a movie together. But I missed her so much, too, our house feeling instantly cold and empty without her. A sock lay strewn across her bed, waiting. I woke up in the middle of the night terrified, panicked at the thought of the miles that lay between us. My home did not feel right without her in it, and I wanted her back as soon as possible. 

We met in West Virginia to exchange child and dog. We had lunch at a crowded, buffet-style restaurant. I took Dora into the dingy bathroom, and instantly thought of my mother, of all the dirty West Virginia bathrooms we braved in our years together, driving to vacation in the Outer Banks. I missed her so much at that moment, longing for her to be there, to see me now, to know me as a mother, to know Dora. 

Back at the table, the season's first snow falling outside, Dora looked at me and said, "where's your mom?" We've talked about my mom a lot before, but she's never asked me so directly about her. "Well, that's an interesting question," I said. "Remember how Mackeson got sick, and then he died and went to heaven? Well, that's what happened to my mommy. She's in heaven now." Dora pondered this a moment and said, "that's her home?" "It is now," I replied. 

I drove us home through the last signs of fall and the first snowflakes of winter. We passed flaming red poison sumac pointing to the sky, bright orange maples, the ground around them blanketed in gold. Above us was a bright, amazing sky - gray, foreboding clouds, layered with thin white filament and backlit with a powerful glistening sun. I wondered how it was possible a 3-year-old could not only charm me with her witty and often funny observations of the world, but also somehow be so insightful and knowing as to ask questions that shoot right into my heart like an arrow. 

I was asked recently about how I've felt my mom in my life since she died. Some people report dreams, or feeling a presence. For me it has been much more fleeting, much more like glimpsing the tail of a comet. Her smile appearing on Dora's face for an instant, or my hand looking just like hers in the evening, turning pages as I read to Dora, my mom's silver and turquoise ring glistening on my finger.  On the first anniversary of her death, Brian and I drove over to Lake Lure, me anxious for something to do other than sit around the house thinking about what I had been doing one year before. It was a surprisingly warm day. We walked Murphy along the lake, empty vacation homes all around. The cherry trees along the water's edge were covered in tiny, pink blossoms just beginning to open, and it was only January 7th. 

When my mom died, I hoped that I would someday have a daughter, that I would someday have that mother-daughter love in my life again. Now that I've been blessed with my amazing little girl, I want nothing more than for her to know all she can about my mother, to know who she was and what she meant to me. When she asks me her witty questions, or when she eats and writes and draws with her left hand, or when that mischievous smile crosses her face for just an instant,  I wonder if she already does.