Think of all the holidays you have spent in your life. Think of all the places you have been. How many steps you have taken in your years. Certain dates can be markers, memorializing whatever you have done or whatever has happened to you; I think of holidays in this way.
I have seen snow patch dark skies over idyllic cobblestone in southern Germany on Christmas. I once mourned the loss of my dad two years after his passing in a bathroom at a New Year’s party in Upstate New York when I was 16; you can’t always control the tears when they come. I have spent other markers, holidays in my own life, in different cities, in different spaces, with different people. I have watched the family I have made in Minneapolis sit down at the table to try my Honey Buttermilk Biscuits together in celebration of the 25th of December. I am not religious, but I do know that it is important-when it is cold out and dark out, when the world not-so-subtly hibernates around you-to feel loved.
About a year ago, I baked my first pie. I wore my Alice in Wonderland apron to a new friend’s house. She taught me to tent aluminum foil over the crust to prevent it from darkening too much [also, why aren’t there simple fixes like this for getting burnt in life]. I keep thinking about how it has been a whole year since that marker.
The people whom I have allowed to know me best have always told me I would make good pies. Until my Cherry Lattice Pie with Tahini Cardamom Crust, I never tried. It seemed so daunting! Why would I want to do something difficult.
A: Because sometimes, digging yourself out of difficulty makes you see how damn strong you are.
I reached a point last year where I realized how quiet my voice had become. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it in the moment, because I hadn’t known it was gone until then. I spent Christmas Eve with Wendy (and lovely Alexa and Jason, whose comics are amazing and charming and quirky, just like they are). The next morning, on Christmas Day, I worked; I picked up my mother at the airport; I drove to Asheville, where I stumbled upon the words, “Bad Apples Make Good Pie.” One year later, I feel like a pretty bad apple [pie-wise, at least].
I have spent this week so far surrounded by people who make me feel loved. I saw my dear kindred spirited friend on Skype. I made preserves. I held hands with people I love at Riverview Theater and I was scolded for eating popcorn when I am not supposed to because the people I love give a shit and it feels really nice. I took dorky Christmas photos with my friend who is family. I saw Ryan Gosling, who I am pretty sure I kissed once in Toronto before he was famous in the States, in La La Land. The very near future will find me baking blueberry pies for this weekend’s festivities. Who knows what next year will look like, but goodness, has 365 days made a world of a difference in my new life as a salaried, prevailing, ecstatically wondering, exceptionally inspired, over-caffeinated semi-ashtangi / mega-emoter / pie baker.
One of the people who used to tell me to bake pies, who once gifted me a rolling pin and a ceramic pie dish to encourage me to do so, has tried all of the pies I have made in the last year. When he took a forkful of this one-with its gooey apple and asian pear filling, with its sweet and savory white cheddar-scented, walnut-studded crust, with its faintly bacon-y cinnamon streusel-he sighed, and asked me why it worked. I don’t know. I don’t understand where this came from. But at the same time, I do: it has been a year of legitimate transformation. A year since my first pie, a cranberry one. I keep thinking about how that first pie had been someone else’s recipe, and how I am kind of amazed that, at some point, I started to write my own.
Apple-Asian Pear Pie with White Cheddar Crust and Bacon Streusel
Makes 1 9-inch pie
2 slices applewood smoked bacon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup white cheddar, finely grated
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp bacon fat, at room temperature
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup white cheddar, finely grated
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
3-4 tbsp cold water
1 Asian Pear, peeled and sliced thinly
4 Granny Smith Apples, peeled and sliced thinly
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground allspice
2 tbsp corn starch
Streusel: In a saucepan on medium heat, cook the bacon until brown and crisp, reserving the bacon fat in a separate bowl. Refrigerate the bacon fat until it solidifies, about 10 minutes. Chop the cooked bacon. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, bacon, oats, white cheddar, walnuts, and sugar. In a medium bowl, beat together bacon fat and butter. Mix in the dry ingredients, mixing until crumbly and moist. Set aside.
Crust: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, walnuts, cheddar, sugar, and salt. Rub the butter into the mixture with your fingers until combined (it will be a bit crumbly, and that’s okay). Pour in water one tablespoon at a time, folding it in with your hands, until the dough holds together when squeezed with your fingers. Roll the dough into a ball or disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to an hour before use. When ready to proceed, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out the dough into a 12-inch round on a floured surface. Carefully transfer the dough to the pie dish. Trim any overhang and set aside to prepare the filling.
Filling: In a large bowl, add asian pear, apples, sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cardamom, and corn starch. Stir to combine, then gently pour into the prepared crust. Evenly sprinkle with Bacon Streusel. Bake for 50 minutes, tenting with aluminum foil as necessary, should the streusel begin to brown too much. Let cool completely before serving.