I could not stop making pies.

It was as if a force larger than me began channeling itself through my hands, the hands that suddenly needed to be wrapped around the stickiness of pie dough. This led me to spend the better part of November experimenting, playing, and testing different recipes, all in search of the perfect pie crust.

The irony is that for most of my life, while I’ve always loved pie, I have not been a fan of pie crust.  I would eat around the crust, especially the dry outer rim. The softer bottom was often closer to the texture of the fruit, usually apple, so I didn’t mind that so much as it really was just a carrier of the sweet filling.

But in the last couple of years, I developed a deep longing to play with dough.  I found myself yearning to make bread in my little city kitchen, even though I had never baked a loaf before.  I would dream of the smell of yeast, the crunch of the crust, the tang of the chewy interior.

I tried it once, and it was an epic, dense failure.  I came to believe that yeast doesn’t want to blossom with life in my kitchen. Or maybe I just was an incompetent baker and it was not for me.

And then I found out I have a gluten sensitivity, so my bread making experiments were temporarily derailed.

But, the whispers of “pie” soon began haunting me, and I needed to quiet them.

Working butter, flour, and water in my hands became more than just baking.  At times it feels like the nagging thoughts in my head and each unnamed worry are being worked out as I make the dough.  It’s become culinary therapy, the place where everything else is held at bay, if only for the moment.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I watched my nephew as he was transfixed by one of those rainbow bracelet looms that kids are obsessed with these days. He is a bundle of energy, this kid.  When he visits my parents, he spends the better part of his stay running up and down the hall, sometimes with a ball, sometimes with a hackey sack-esque pillow, sometimes with just his imagination.

But the loom kept him quiet and still for hours.  Literally, hours.  In him I witnessed the power of his jewelry meditation, as he strung together one rubber band after the other. He’d emerge from his room bleary eyed, but calm and content, proudly showing off the bracelet he’d just made.

This is what pie dough has become for me.

One day as I wandered through a bookstore—always my favorite way to spend an afternoon—I came across a cookbook, all about pies.  It was authored by the owners of a Brooklyn bakery that I’d heard of that had intriguing combinations, but had never visited the shop.

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As I flipped through recipe after recipe, I became breathless with the anticipation of what I wanted to make first.

Now, if there was ever a time when I didn’t have a spare moment to try something new, it was the past few months. But I’d come home late from work, paradoxically exhausted yet fully wound up, and I would suddenly have the urge to play with butter and (gluten free) flour and water.

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Then, there is the repetitive deliberation of slicing, in this case apples and sweet potatoes…

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…and the fun in sprinkling a comforting crumble topping of oats, butter, and warm spices that evoke fall.

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The finished Sliced Sweet Potato & Apple Crumble Pie tasted of the season, a warm hug of a dessert (or, okay breakfast…shhh).

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And, there was the post-Thanksgiving Cranberry Sage Pie.  An earthy filling of cranberries, apples, cinnamon, allspice and an unexpected hint of sage, it’s a pie that makes you want to cozy up with something – even if it’s only a slice.  I had a little fun with the top crust, before brushing it with a little cream and letting the flavors mingle and bake.

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My pie skills are improving, and  in the midst of the holiday season, I know how I”ll keep stress at bay.

And the secret to the perfect pie crust? When the dough gets too warm, give it a rest in the coolness of the refrigerator.  Taking time to just hang out is important to a dough’s success.

Maybe everything I need to know about life—at least for this moment—is in the crust.

And, a little apple cider vinegar in the dough works a bit of magic, too.

The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, www.amazon.com.  

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