Celebrate all Occasions with Pie!

Or balloons.

March 12, 2011

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Personally, I love birthday cake.  I mean I love all things birthday and all things cake.  All kinds, all reasons. (Don’t get me wrong, I also love cookies, brownies, mousse, crisps, crumbles, breads, and all other gluten and glucose laden foods.)  Pie, however, I came to appreciate later in life, having had an unfortunate blueberry pie experience as a child.  *What?!?*

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Houston, Texas sometime in the early 80s

“Time for my after school snack,” she thought to herself happily.  “I could have chips and queso, or cheese and crackers; hmmmm, let’s see what’s in the fridge.”  She opened the door of the side-by-side refrigerator, perhaps expecting to find some leftovers from dinner or maybe some coldcuts, and broke into a toothy grin.  Right there on the middle shelf, at arms reach, but just high enough that she couldn’t see all the way inside, sat a pie.  As she pried the foil off the top, the dark, gooey center called to her.  “Mmmmm, chocolate pie.”  With only a brief thought that this might be for an occasion and thus, she shouldn’t eat it, she dipped her index finger inside and with eyes closed in anticipated bliss, licked her finger.  But the delight she expected was instantly replaced by revulsion as she tasted something unfamiliar, and definitely NOT chocolate.  Sadly she learned that this unpleasant surprise was blueberry pie.

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Although I still suffer from intense disappointment when reality does not meet my expectations, I have since learned that blueberries are delicious in many forms, including pie.  But I have to confess that it took me a long time, and vanilla ice cream training wheels to learn that.  In any case, here we are tonight, celebrating with pie.

Yesterday was J’s birthday.  Those of you who know me well know that birthdays MUST be celebrated.  There is always much hoopla, many treats, fun times, and presents!  (Unless Hurricane Irene blows up your plans or your birthday is on the first day of school.  Then you just wear a monkey-festooned badge announcing to all who encounter you that you are the Birthday Girl.)  J doesn’t always share my belief that birthdays are so special. (I must interrupt myself here to note that when J and I disagree, he’s almost always right.  Yes, I just posted *that* for all the world to see.)  In this case however, he couldn’t be more wrong.  Once a year, those who love you are granted the opportunity to lavishly display their gratitude, to remember for themselves and to demonstrate to you how lucky they are to know you and how happy they are that you know them, to celebrate you.  And as the birthday boy or girl, you get to appreciate another day and another year, with all the promise that the future holds.  Birthdays rock!  But I try to respect his wishes, so I kept my promise that there would not be a surprise party.  I didn’t send anything to his place of work, nor did I encourage his students and colleagues to make a fuss (this year, see photo above for evidence of my previous bad behavior.)  I simply had a lovely dinner with him and gave him some gifts.  (And sent multiple “happy birthday” themed texts throughout the day.  A girl’s entitled to some indulgences!)  At the insistence of our neighbors, J and B, we will also have a belated celebration both of his birthday and the end of grad school this weekend.  But yesterday, I didn’t even make him a birthday cake.  Before your eyes bug out of your head, know that I offered.  Someone at work had made him a cake, and he insisted that he’d had enough sweets for the day.  Besides, he admitted, he’d rather have birthday PIE.

So today that’s exactly what he got.  And coincidentally, tomorrow is Pi Day!  (Middle school teachers are such dorks!)  While J diligently wrote lessons, logged internship hours, and drafted essays for grad school, I hung upside down at yoga class and baked pie.  (Other than a minor burn and a nick on my finger–rough day in the kitchen for me–I definitely got the better end of that deal!)  In the One Girl Cookies cookbook I found the perfect inspiration for a recipe–strawberry rhubarb pie with a twist.

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I’ve always associated strawberry rhubarb pie with summer.  I love the balance of sweet and tart, the fresh bite of the berries against the soothing cool of vanilla ice cream.  But Dawn Casale of OGC had an interesting idea.  She added orange zest to the filling and made an oat crumble topping that included crystallized and ground ginger alongside ground nutmeg to build a bridge between the warm winter fragrances and the fresh spring berries.  Considering that today is the day we removed our martenitsi, the timing was perfect.  (For more on the Bulgarian tradition, see here.)  So, having seen the first cardinal of the season, the crocuses and daffodils blooming, and the first flowers on the cherry tree, we celebrated his winter birthday and the beginning of spring with a seasonal pie.

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I made some changes to the recipe, first omitting the recommended crust and instead using my favorite, the Smitten Kitchen all butter, really flaky pie dough.  Additionally, I added a little extra rhubarb and left my slices on the large side because I like the tartness and the texture.  Lastly, I substituted 1/4 cup of almond flour for 1/4 cup of all purpose flour in the topping recipe because I wanted a little less floury flavor, and I thought the almond would be a nice addition with the oats.  The end result is a beautiful blend of tart, crunchy rhubarb and sweet, soft strawberries, light, flaky pie crust and crispy, spicy crumble.  It’s a little wet inside…next time I’ll probably pre-bake the pie crust a little, and make the bottom a little thicker.  (You can see in the picture that I had a little excess on the sides and definitely misjudged the shrinkage, thus, my crimping job is “homemade” in appearance.)  Perhaps in the future I can find a way to vent it a little bit too?  It’s not the prettiest pie I’ve ever made, and luckily, it doesn’t have to be because it’s not being presented as a whole.  This time, all that matters is that each slice tastes delicious, and it does.

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Pies for birthdays?  Pies for spring time?  Pies for Pi Day?  Pies for dinner?  You bet!

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