Challenge Yourself!

Thanksgiving makes me think of pie. Actually, it makes me bake pie. I’m the baker in my family, and Thanksgiving is when I’m really called for duty. This is because I have all of my mother’s pie recipes, plus one that I made up myself with inspiration from my mother’s “Mystery Jelly” recipe (yep, that’s what she called it). Also, I have my mother’s pie crust recipe. I’ll tell you the secret later. In any case, I have become the pie baker. (Right now, the first of at least four Thanksgiving pies is in the oven: pecan. Pumpkin and fruit pies yet to come).

pumpkin pie

The pie I didn't enter (a little too brown on the top)

So I’m thinking about pie. And believe it or not, that is making me think about bravery. Here’s why:

Earlier this year, I entered the first-ever “pie bake-off” sponsored by my public library. I didn’t win, but that’s not the point. I entered pretty much on the spur of the moment. I think I had heard about the bake-off less than a week in advance, and I thought it would be a lark. Plus, here I am with all these amazing recipes from my mom, and I kind of wondered how they would stand up to competition.

So one Saturday morning, I woke up and made two pumpkin pies. Pumpkin because my mom’s pumpkin pie recipe is amazing and unlike any I have other tasted. Two because I wanted two chances to get it right; if one ended up slightly overbrowned, or just a bit overcooked or undercooked, then I’d have another to enter in the bake-off.

So far, so good. Now off I head to the bake-off, where as I’ve already mentioned I didn’t win. But something else happened that was, to me, kind of amazing: I met some people with great stories and got inspired.

Here’s the scene: There are about 12-15 bakers in the competition. We arrive with our pies and arrange them on a display table for the competition, and then we sit around. Some of us talk; some of us read; all of us wait. The waiting is broken up at some point for each of us as we’re called aside and photographed with our pie, but for the most part we just wait — for other entrants to arrive, for the judges to arrive, for the competition to begin.

Oak Park, IL Pie Bake-off

Some of the bakers with their pies

Once things get started, we stand behind our pies and wait for the judges to come along and look at each entry and talk briefly with each of the bakers. Then each contestant cuts a slice of pie for the judges, then slices and plates the rest of our pie for a public tasting that is yet to come. And then we stand around, waiting, not sure how long the judging will take. Prior to the public tasting, we get an opportunity to taste any three pies we choose. Then the public comes in, and we stand with our pies again, ready to talk about our pie with anyone who’s interested; but mostly these people are here to eat the pie, not talk to the bakers. (And I don’t blame them; how often do you go to the library and discover free pie for the taking?!) So, basically, the bakers are still standing around. Eventually we wander away from the pie table and sit down in the chairs that line three walls of the room. And we wait.

So with all of this waiting, we do a lot of talking. We get to know each other a little bit. We start by talking about our pies, but we end up knowing a bit about each other. And here’s where I got inspired. There were some serious bakers in this competition. people I was completely intimidated to be competing against – for example, the woman who had won her local library’s bake-off the week before and had home-made ice cream to serve with her pie. But these weren’t the people who inspired me. In fact, it wasn’t anyone’s baking that amazed me — it was bravery.

  • One baker had spent the previous week going out over and over — to the library, of course — to find cookbooks with pie recipes she hadn’t used before, trying them out at home to see which one she could be confident entering in the competition. In the end, she chose an almond-pear tart with marzipan.
  • Most amazing to me, one woman who entered the bake-off had never baked a pie before in her life. She got up that morning, baked the first pie of her life (raspberry – yummm), and drove to the library to enter it in a competition.

See what I mean? How brave is that? I picked a recipe that’s been tested over the years — the highlight of many, many Thanksgivings — and wins praise every time someone takes a bite. But these women took their chances on something new, in one case doing something she had never before done. I can’t even imagine being that brave!

But I can be inspired by it. And so can you. What is it you’re afraid to do? And what’s the worst thing that can happen if it goes horribly wrong? Will anyone die? If so, then you’re right to have your doubts and second thoughts. But if not, then why not give it a try? Start a blog. Ask for a raise. Speak your mind even though people might disagree. Try a new way of doing things. Bake a pie when you’ve never baked one before, and then enter it in a competition! Even if you don’t win, you’ll learn something, you’ll feel better about yourself, and you just might provide inspiration to someone else.

Special Bonus
Thanks for reading this far. Here’s your reward: The secret to Mom’s pie crust is to never touch it with your hands. Every time you touch it, it gets a little bit tougher. (I’ve been told that it actually absorbs a bit of grease/oil from your hands; I don’t know if that’s true.) But if you don’t touch it, you’ll end up with an amazingly flaky, tender crust. I put plastic bags on my hand whenever I need to touch it – so I’m never actually in contact with the dough.

And now a second bonus, because it’s Thanksgiving and I want to do something nice. Here’s a recipe for roasted root vegetables on my friend Dan’s Budget Cooking Blog. Try these. They’re easy, and they’re amazing!

5 thoughts on “Challenge Yourself!

    • Hey, Dan – is your preference subscribe by email or by RSS? There’s an RSS link on the home page (right column). Haven’t figured out how to add it to individual post pages yet. I’ll probably do the email subscribe also, just haven’t got around to it yet. I just launched the thing last weekend!

  1. I (secretly) love to bake, but I’m horrible at it. This inspires me to keep trying. :)

    I love that you’ve taken something so specific and made it work for so much. It’s interesting the things we learn in the oddest moments of our lives. Bravery at a pie baking competition? That’s awesome! Great blog post, Kim. Everyone needs to bake a little more pies in their lives.

  2. I’m so glad I finally read this, I’m late but at least it’s before the Christmas pie baking season! You’re so spot on about bravery and pushing your comfort zone. A lot of folks get weird about cooking and especially baking, heck, I still get weird about cooking huge slabs of meat. We see everyone on TV produce beautiful meals, we’re so afraid to mess up. I think that’s why everyone loved Julia Child, she owned her mistakes, it’s part of the process. You need to fake confidence with pie dough, but be gentle. I’ve been using the same recipe forever but just tried a new one for Thanksgiving (and a new pumpkin pie filling recipe too – why not experiment on those you love?). Both were fantastic, the dough uses vodka — a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. I’ll share it on my Gusto blog soon. Thanks, Kim!

  3. Pingback: A Cheap Birthday Excuse to Post Photos | kkish: My Spot

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