how greatly i appreciate

I sat here for a long time wondering what to write. Wanting to pick up right where we left off, but unsure of where that was, exactly.

There was a gin and tonic next to me, which was slowly drained until nothing but the spent lime wedge bumped against my lips as I futilely tipped the glass to my mouth. Still dripping rivulets of its own sweat, there was then more water pooled around the base of the glass, spreading across the forest green nightstand, than there was left in it, the inevitable outcome of a chilled highball meeting the still-warm breath of a late-summer night.

The dog was stretched out on the floor next to me, the front half of her body hidden under the thrifted bird-print chaise in the corner of my bedroom, a recently-discovered-but-now-favorite napping spot.

The boys, asleep across the hall, were mostly quiet, save for the occasional dream mumbling and thrashing about of duvet-bound legs.

I ordered Wylie's birthday present. (A personalized super hero cape. If it's half as cool as it looks online, he's going to be over the moon.) I became the last person on earth to set up a Paypal account. I fought with Paypal a bit while trying to retrieve money I had been sent. I thought a lot about pie.

I think about pie (and its close relatives) a lot lately. My Instagram feed seems full of them these days, all the scattered-about people I follow taking advantage of the late-summer berry and stone fruit harvests with pies and tarts and galettes. And practically every day at work, I'm rolling dough, cutting out circles, folding up the edges on individual black plum and walnut frangipane crostatas. Pie is my constant companion right now.

Which is why I was disappointed in myself when I realized that it had been ages since I'd made anything in the pie family for my family to eat. Not in over two months, not since the Pie Party. Seems that when I have my hands on dough every day, feeling the smooth coolness of it stretch under the gentle, rhythmic pressure of my rolling pin, smelling the intoxicating scent of nubs of butter melting and browning as the pastry bakes, I forget that none of it is for me. I forget that there are people in my life more important to me than restaurant customers who might enjoy some pie of their own.

I thought about all of this for a while, and when I had myself feeling good and guilty for all that lack of family pie-making, and had held my own virtual pie making session, mentally mixing and matching fruits and spices, assembling a cornucopia of crave-worthy pies, after all this pie obsessing, I ran downstairs and transferred a disc of pastry dough from my freezer to the fridge, to thaw overnight.

The next day, there would be pie.

But first, the next day there was a lot of non-pie business to attend to. Wylie's new preschool held an Open House. Which might as well have been an Open Play Day, for the amount of time the boys insisted upon staying there. Trying to quell the impatient, nagging voices inside my head, I told myself that it was very important for him to feel fully comfortable and at home there. Later, I frustrated myself to no end trying to track down a very specific style of baking dish, one which a Google search would lead me to believe exists only in the UK, except for the fact that twelve of them currently reside at 40 Paper. I had to fit in a couple hours' of work at the restaurant. At around the same time, I may also have forgotten to feed the boys lunch until it was loudly pointed out to me that they were starving, and there was the inarguable fact that I didn't have any fruit in the house to make pie with. Just a typical day, in other words.

Still, early on I had let the boys in on my pie-making intentions, and they had immediately picked up on my urgency. "When are we going to go home so we can make pie?" was the refrain my hectic day kept looping back around to, pushing me not to lose my resolve or my eye on the clock.

We managed to get to the market before it closed. We had a heated discussion about fruit, whether it was better to use summer-y fruit that wouldn't be around much longer, or dive into fall with the first local apples of the season. Summer won out, with the promise of an apple pie very soon helping to console the looser. Knowing that pie-making would seriously cut into dinner prep time, we picked up a box of what might as well be called Mother's Little Helpers, for how greatly I appreciate their assistance in getting vegetables into my boys on hurried, complaint-laden nights. We rushed home and turned on the oven.

Donning our aprons, we talked about pie dough.

"See all those yellow polka dots in the dough? That's butter. We need that butter to stay cold. Let's be gentle with the dough."

Starting with the rolling pin in the center of the dough, Kalen and Wylie took turns exerting uncharacteristic muscle control to maintain a light, even pressure as they passed the pin back and forth, top to bottom, each finding their own rhythm, pausing to shift the disc a quarter turn, dusting it with more flour, patting and smooshing any cracks that were forming.

"Wylie? Remember how we're being gentle? Please don't dig the butter out with your fingernail."

The kitchen heated up; our oven is an ancient and inefficient old restaurant range, which does double-duty as a furnace when it's turned on. The dough was getting soft, squishing under the occasional too-firm pass of the rolling pin.

"Kalen, can I take a turn? I want to figure out what size circle we need, so I can give you and Wylie the scraps."

I eased our roughly 12-inch diameter circle of dough onto a sheet pan and quickly shoved it in the fridge to regain its composure. The boys got out their little rolling pin to practice with their golf ball-sized pieces of dough; rolling was fun, the liberal, frequent application of flour turned out to be more fun. It got goofy. Pastry dough has a fairly short life span in a hot kitchen, though, so this stage of the show was brief - after all, they wanted to be able to eat the pie crust cookies they were making!

We moved on to the fruit. Wylie has been garnering much praise and admiration around our house lately for his "fruit salad." Simply bananas and peaches, what makes it remarkable is that he does it all himself, working diligently to make sure all the pieces of fruit are cut to the proper size. Kalen has been warily watching from the sidelines, not sure what to make of all his brother's unassisted-sharp-knife use, but apparently pie is a bigger motivator than salad, and he and Wylie went to town chopping up a handful of late-season nectarines.

This took a while. And a while longer. I was glad I had bought those veggie-patty-things, as I scurried around behind my pastry cooks, popping a trayful of animal shapes into the toaster oven and getting some chorizo sizzling in a skillet. Dinner was going to be haphazard and late, but at least it would be more than just pie.

And about that pie. I keep calling it pie because that's what the boys kept calling it. Technically, due to the fact that it only had a bottom crust and was going to be a free-form affair, we should have been calling it a crostata or galette. But it's hard to change the terminology after you've been talking about making pie all day, so pie it was.

We tossed the chunks of nectarines with wild blueberries, cane sugar, lots of lime ("That's sour, Mama! Put in more sugar!" "No, trust me, it's going to be fine after it bakes."), ground ginger, and some tapioca starch for thickening. The boys stirred, and stirred and stirred, and I was glad we hadn't started out with lovely crescents of nectarine, which surely would have been broken and pulpy by the time it was determined that sufficient stirring had taken place. The whole lot was dumped in the center of our dough circle, minus a lot of the liquid that had amassed during all that stirring. And then my perfectionist, control-freak pastry chef side reared its head, and I shooed the boys away as I commandeered folding and pressing the edges of the dough up around the fruit, tucking it in as gently and lovingly as I would soon be doing to my own boys.

Because wouldn't you know it, pie-making when your kids are in charge can take you way past bedtime, way past an acceptable time for six- and almost-four-year-olds to be eating dessert. Which is why those pie crust cookies were so important, as was the vanilla ice cream bought to go with the pie. For two little boys, presented with bowls of sweet, flaky crust and rich, intensely vanilla-y ice cream, along with promises that breakfast would be the pie that was still tantalizingly bubbling away in the oven, all was still right with the world, and the pie-making had been a success.

End of Summer Pie/Crostata/Galette
Yields one roughly 10-inch diameter "pie"

1 disc gluten-free pastry dough
5 nectarines, skin on, pitted and roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces
1½ cups wild Maine blueberries (frozen is fine)
1 cup cane sugar
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
zest and juice of one lime
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of fine sea salt
egg wash, for brushing crust
granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a sheet tray with parchment or a silicone baking mat and set aside.

On a gluten-free-floured board, using gentle pressure and additional gluten-free flour as needed, roll out the disc of pastry dough to a roughly 12-inch diameter circle. Rotate the dough after every couple of passes of the rolling pin, to make sure it's not sticking to the board. Depending on how rustic you want your pie to look (and whether or not you want scraps to make "cookies" with), you may want to use a paring knife to trim the scraggly edges of the circle. Gently transfer the dough to the prepared sheet tray, patching any cracks that may form. Refrigerate if you think it may be a while before you're ready to pile fruit onto it.

In a medium bowl, gently combine the nectarines, blueberries, cane sugar, tapioca starch, lime zest and juice, ground ginger and sea salt. Spoon this mixture into the center of your pastry circle, reserving any accumulated juices. Spread the fruit out to within 1½ inches of the edge of the dough. Carefully fold the dough up around the fruit, brushing with egg wash as you go to help seal the edges of the folds to each other. Press together any cracks that form. (If your dough is too cold, it will be too stiff to bend and will just break. Let it warm up a bit until it feels smooth and pliable.) Give the whole crust one more brush with the egg wash and sprinkle it with granulated sugar. Refrigerate the pie until cool and firm, 15-20 minutes.

Remove pie from fridge. Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of the reserved fruit juices over the filling. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown all over and the filling is thick and bubbling. Cool on the tray. Serve warm or at room temperature, with ice cream if it's dessert or with coffee if it's breakfast. Pie keeps, wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature, for up to three days.
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