Oh joy – the holidays! As I write, it is Thanksgiving, and we have much to look forward to. The sweetness of fresh faces, babies, and family (both blood and chosen), alongside decadent and savory, and the things we are honestly grateful for – these things will all nestle at table together.
And, as if they stand invisibly behind us at that very table tapping us on the shoulder, all our memories are cued up to make their cameo appearance. I remember reading once that no matter how old we are, we only ever have had X number of Thanksgivings and Christmases, X being our age. And if you don’t count the ones you were too young to remember, that means we’ve really only had a small number of them. I don’t know about you but I’ve had more cups of coffee this week than I’ve had Christmases ever – so it’s no wonder the ones that stand out come back to haunt me or alternatively cheer me on. Whether the holidays are gloomy or glorious to you, chances are you have good reasons for feeling that way.
This Maple Pecan Pie is perfect – and the photo I took of it was prior to baking, while it was still so good I could eat it raw. I am not the world’s greatest baker – not for lack of trying. I love baking but I’m not fussy enough for my work to be appreciated by real bakers, but that’s why I have found it’s important to have excellent recipes. This is one of them. Just say the name and people moan.
Before we eat a slice, there is not one thing that has gone wrong. The real maple (is there any other kind?), eggs, vanilla, nuts, crust, and butter have all married well, and the anticipation is as triumphantly sweet as the first bite will be. And so it is with holidays.
There’s always a chance for the perfect Thanksgiving to be everything and more than all we expect, but with hopes so high, there’s also always the chance for other outcomes that are not nearly as welcome. Last year our Thanksgiving was one for the books, and the memory of it is wafting through my thoughts as I prepare this week for an utterly different experience. The mingling of what I just had and what I will have is hard to hold in one metaphor. I bet you know what I mean.
You will remember that in 2015 in New England on Thanksgiving Eve, we were socked with a nor’easter that changed everyone’s plans – and I mean everyone. Around here, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t have a story of what they expected to be doing for Thanksgiving and what ended up happening instead.
My family had crammed our happily scarved and mittened selves into a huge SUV for a drive down to New Jersey together with our pies, fresh-baked rolls, only to find ourselves halted for fear of threatening snow conditions. You know it’s bad when a die-hard New Englander admits defeat. We had given it our best effort, driving an hour south at about 20 mph to a town that is normally only 20 minutes away, and we had voted to turn the car around.
But what do you do when you can’t get where you’re supposed to be going for Thanksgiving? I had no turkey, no potatoes, no stuffing at home, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to whip up a Norman Rockwell holiday with zero notice. So as we crawled with traffic back home that night, we decided that it might not be too late to shop for fixins’. Dave and I made up a menu as we traveled on the highway through the squalls, he ran in and shopped for it, and I determined I would wake in the wee hours of the morning to start cooking my tush off. Thanksgiving would be saved.
Inspiration hit around 7 am, after my lovely little turkey was in the oven, with my sweet family still snug in their beds. Weeks ago, I had declined an invitation from my nephew in order to be with Dave’s side of the family, but that nephew lived much closer. Hmmm, I wondered. What if we crash his party – and how could he refuse me, armed with our turkey, pies and fresh-baked rolls to contribute?! I texted my them to see if it would be alright. In the end, poor Rick and his lovely wife had 3 turkeys that day, more guests than it’s intelligent to have, and an unforgettable celebration. All because things did not go as planned.
So much for perfect. It happens despite our well coiffed ideas – and I’m glad for that. I’ve never forgotten this quote by Julia Cameron, from her book God is No Laughing Matter.
At all times, in all places, good is present and active. In the midst of terror and suffering, goodness is still stubbornly afoot.
I found that book during a very dark time, and I’ve always held on to the simple sweet idea of goodness – an unquenchable character of God. The trouble with goodness is that our eyes can be too swollen from crying to see it. This happened to me a few days ago; a heartbreak left me puffy and dry from the Northeaster of realizing that it was time to let go of a dream. A really good one. Have you ever cried so hard you were tired the entire next day? I had to cancel a coffee-date 24 hours later just because I couldn’t risk crying again, and losing another 24 hours to exhaustion. Not all my heartbreaks actually steal days, but this one was a doozy. Let’s just say I had ratcheted my hopes up way too high, only to behold I had been very foolish to do so. A repeating theme for me.
Today, as the high hopes of still threaded dreams wait to unwind in my hands, I think about that unbaked pie, still perfect. The results are not yet in. Will this day, it’s familiar friction and it’s grand tales of longing, touch the real need we have for true belonging, legitimate gratitude, and the feeling of being blessed that I remember from my favorite Thanksgivings?
What can I do to secure that kind of day? While there’s still perfect laying out there?
I can make the pie, do the work, and open my heart to love, despite old pain and sometimes burnt crusts. I can do my part and arrive ready for nothing else to matter more than the mercy of forgiving love and the hearty appetite for it, that no storm or heartache can steal from me.
Happy Thanksgiving, all.
Maple Pecan Pie
1 single pie crust (your own recipe Pillsbury from the market)
1 c pecan halves, 4 perfect ones set aside for the end
1 c pure maple syrup
1 c packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 stick of melted butter
- Lay scratch or store bought pie crust in you prettiest pie plate.
- In a bowl, blend sugars and eggs.
- Add vanilla, melted butter, and fold in pecans.
- Pour this mixture into the pie crust, and lay 3 or four perfect pecan halves in a flower shape in the center of the pie. I submerge them in the batter before laying them decoratively so they get the same sugar crust as every other pecan in the pie.
- If you’re feeling fancy, take some extra crust (two shells come in the box!) and with a cookie cutter, cut out maple leaves to lay randomly over one side.
- Crimp the crust as you like it.
- Bake at 400 for 5 minutes, turn the oven down to 350 degrees, and bake for about 40 more minutes. This crust tends to brown too fast, so after about 30 minutes in the oven, I usually make a crust shield out of foil. This ring protects the crust from getting too browned.
- Cool before eating (unless you want your tastebuds burned off). Great with vanilla bean ice cream.