Pie Crust v. Essay Writing

Sometimes I wish pie crust were a food group. It’s more like every food group, though, amiright? It has everything in it a human needs to survive–carbs, fats, water–and it’s delicious. This is a kid who used to (and secretly still does) love the taste of flour, so pie crust is just heaven.

Even more heavenly, I came across a ratio for pie crust that has been borderline life-changing. Instead of measuring things, which I don’t do anyway, I can just get the right ratio of ingredients together. So: for 2 cups flour, use about 1 cup shortening (I try to use slightly less), and 1/2 cup ice water. It’s a good idea to use cold butter, too.

This is more than enough for a large quiche bottom, or for two thin smallish pie crusts. It’s also enough to make a large rough something or other and then have some leftover dough to play with. (Best thing ever: jam on goat cheese wrapped in pie crust.) All you do is put some flour in a bowl, dice butter or Crisco or whatever (you can use a combination, it’s fine) and start mixing them into the flour. When this is nice and crumbly, add a bit of ice water. Try to form into a ball. Keep adding tiny bits of ice water until you can make a ball. There–that’s good!

I didn’t believe the ‘refrigerate overnight’ trick for a while, but it seriously makes it much easier to roll the dough out. If you have thought of making the dough that far in advance, props to you, and do let it chill out. Then the next day it should be super easy to roll it out. I just scrub down a section of countertop, sprinkle a little flour, and use whatever flat-ish objects I have on hand to roll out the dough. A drinking glass or glass jar can work as a rolling pin, but you don’t need to get that fancy. In a pinch, an unopened can of beer or, of course, the flat of your hand, will do. Or rolling pins. Those are allowed.

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Homely, but delicious!

I suppose it could be more convenient to buy pie dough, but this isn’t very difficult or time-consuming. If you’re going to spend 20 hours on a Netflix binge, you might as well make up a batch of this stuff and throw it in the freezer. It’ll keep. Also, you can adjust the recipe a little bit to balance with the taste of whatever you’re putting in the pie. To me, this is one of the big advantages of doing something yourself–you can do it better, more precisely, and with more specific end results.

If you’re going to put something sweet inside, you could add a little sugar or replace a tiny amount of the water with honey. You can add a pinch of salt to amp up the saltiness, and sometimes I’ve thrown stuff like baking powder in to make it a bit fluffier and that works too. A bit of milk will also change the taste a bit… the type of shortening you use will really shift the flavor… butter is great for everything, but an animal lard can be really nice with a meat pie.

Anyway, the beauty of making a pie crust for me is how transparent the whole process is. It is one of the simplest things to make and it can be used in so many ways, to have so many flavors. I think if given the option, I would eat everything in a crust. Unlike bread, there is no mysterious leavening when you have to just hope and pray that your baby is going to grow up. Unlike cookies, there is a little more sense of utility. You make this thing, and then you can use it in five million ways.

Writing, by contrast, is not like this. Writing is, in many ways, not nearly so utilitarian as pie crust. Even worse, it’s finicky and fussy and falls flat even more frequently than bread dough. It is really the culmination of a series of abstract processes, none of which you can hold in your hands, none of which you can roll out onto the countertop with a beer can. The only thing you can do with a rolling pin in the writing process is use it to beat yourself senseless in hope of one day–maybe one day!–making a tiny bit of sense.

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Writing, for me, often looks like this. It is kind of dark and dingy and miserably boring. There are a lot of words and, I am afraid, very little meaning. It is not delicious. When I am “finished,” which I never feel that I am, I cannot bake it or just happily eat it raw. I cannot put goat cheese in it and smile for hours.

Writing is more like brushing my teeth. I do it, I do it many times a day, and I get a certain grim satisfaction every time I sit down and plug away at it. (Though I spend considerably more time writing than brushing my teeth, for the record.) The tools matter, too. I recently bought a French toothbrush and it is amazing. I love a good pad of blank paper, half-sheet size, with a kind of grippy pen. Right now, that’s what’s working for me. Once I have ideas laid out, I turn to my Mac. I am a big fan of the way of the “Focus View” option in Word that opens your page all by itself on your screen with only black space beside it–no toolbars or other programs open in sight.

But laying ideas out? That’s not like putting laundry out to dry. When I sit down to express a thought, I often have a fully-realized sense of things in my head. As I start writing, that usually falls apart, unravels. If I am lucky, if I am “in the groove,” or if I’ve provided myself enough material to come back and prune later, I may be able to regain some sense of that completeness through the writing process. But usually not.

For every post I write for this blog, I’ve written at least one other that I don’t publish. There are easy posts and hard posts. When I’m talking about a physical object, that tends to be pretty easy. I have the object itself as a literal touchstone; I can keep coming back to that to figure out what I’m trying to say. The idea, in effect, is outside of my head. When I’m trying to better grasp some element of behavior or to make a more intellectual point, it’s much harder to pin down my thoughts or make a cohesive explanation. Even harder to provide a sense of something that mimics the sense I have in my brain. Harder still to do this without making the reader feel terribly belabored by my word choices or just the sheer quantity of words.

It is this mind-numbing quality to writing that forces me to make pie crust. Also to do yoga, to spin wool, to ride horses. Doing things that engage me more physically have the effect of pulling me out of my mental labyrinth and then allowing me to enter again with possibly refreshed eyes, like the way one re-enters a house after being away on vacation. Writing is a compulsion.

Really, I prefer pie crust.

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