Friday, June 8, 2012

The Comfort of Pie & Words When Missing Dad

The upcoming Father's Day is going to be my first one without my father and it's hitting me pretty hard. I stayed up until about 2:30 a.m. sifting through photographs. Just me and my memories in a sleeping house. And lots of tears. I did find a photograph of the two of us that I wanted to share:

Happier days...of course, at a restaurant. He loved eating out and taking the whole family --not just the immediate, but as much of the extended he could gather together -- on his culinary adventures.

Another thing I discovered suddenly early this morning...I thought I had a handle on my grief. It's been exactly five months and four days since his death. I thought I had dealt with it. Well, I haven't.

"Grief was like a deep-dish pie whose filling takes longer to cook: it cannot be rushed." ~ Making Piece: A memoir of love, loss & pie by Beth Howard.

Since I'm finding it difficult to write about my dad today, I'll share about this book I'm reading, or re-reading. Yes, it was sent to me by the publisher Harlequin (their non-fiction department) for a review in the newspaper, but it explains grief through the language of pie and it touched something deep inside me. I understand life through words and food...and this has both.

Howard, a freelance journalist and a piebaker, writes about dealing with life after the death of her 43-year-old husband. He dies just hours before signing the divorce papers. There's guilt and love, forgiveness and passion in the pages. The author sums up her book perfectly in the introduction:

“You will find my story is a lot like pie, a strawberry-rhubarb pie. It’s bitter. It’s messy. It’s got some sweetness, too. Sometimes the ingredients get added in the wrong order, but it has substance, it will warm your insides, and even though it isn’t perfect, it still turns out okay in the end.”

Being a piebaker, Howard deals with her grief to a large extent by baking pies. Lots and lots of pies. She writes:

“With each push of the rolling pin and each pie that came browned and bubbling out of the oven, my soul was soothed and my heart mended a little more.”

I like pies, but I'm not a piebaker and bake pies only occasionally. So her route won't be my route. However, I have been a life-long reader and now, I'm a writer. Words have always sustained and supported me. So I seek refuge in reading and sometimes in writing. Thankgoodness for books. Making Piece is ultimately about courage and survival and living with purpose. So thank you Ms. Howard for your sharing your story and letting me make sense of my grief through your words.

One day, I don't exactly know when, I hope I will be able to sit down and write about my dad and my family and my grief with grace and love. Make it coherent.

My dad loved all things sweet, and apple pie was definitely on the list. He was the captain of a passenger ship and at meal times, passengers were invited to sit at the Captain's Table. Very formal affair.  My father was also a storyteller and would love entertaining his guests with stories. One time he was so busy talking, he accidently grabbed the ketchup boat instead of the cream and spooned it all over his piece of apple pie. Mouths fell open and people stared. Instead of admitting his mistake, my dad just calmy ate his pie to the last crumb.... My mom and I still laugh about this story. So I'm sharing a recipe for apple pie from Making Piece, ketchup optional.

Beth Howard’s Apple Pie (from Making Piece)
 (makes a double crust)
 2½ cups flour (but have at least 3 and ½ cups on hand, as you’ll need extra flour to roll dough and to thicken filling)
 ½ cup butter
 ½ cup vegetable shortening
 Dash of salt

Ice water (fill one cup, but use only enough to moisten dough)
 In a large bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour with your hands until you see marble-size lumps form. Pour in ice water a little at a time, sort of “fluffing” the flour to mix in liquid. When the dough feels moist, do a “squeeze test” and if it holds together you’re done. Your dough should feel tacky, but not wet. (Do not overwork the dough! It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t!) Divide the dough in 2 balls. Form each ball into a disk shape. Roll flat and thin to fit your pie dish. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough to keep it from sticking to your rolling surface. Trim excess dough around the edges with scissors so that it is about 1 inch wider than the dish edge.

Filling: (Beth originally learned this from Mary Spellman)
 7 large Granny Smith* apples (depending on size of apple and size of pie dish)
 3/4 cup sugar
 4 tablespoons flour
 Dash of salt
 2 teaspoons cinnamon (or more, depending on how much you like)
 1 tablespoon butter (to put on top of apples before covering with top crust)
 1 beaten egg (to brush top crust before putting in oven)

(*It’s also okay to use a combination of apples, try Braeburn and Royal Gala. Do not use Fuji or Red Delicious—they lack tartness. Also note, the approximate rule of thumb is three pounds of fruit per pie.)
Lay the prepared bottom crust into the pie dish. Slice half of thepeeled apples directly into the pie, arranging and pressing them into the dish to remove extra space between slices. Cover with half of your other ingredients (sugar, fl our, cinnamon, salt), then slice the remaining apples and cover with second half of ingredients. Add dollop of butter. Cover with top crust and crimp edges, then brush with the beaten egg (this gives the pie a nice golden brown shine). Use a knife to poke vent holes in the top crust (get creative here with a unique pattern if you want). Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes or so, until juice bubbles. Poke with a knife to make sure apples have softened. Do not overbake or apples will turn mushy.

Here's a list of other #Letslunch posts honoring Dads:

Emma presents Dad's Ham and Rice
Eating My Words has On Dad & Onion: A Love Story
HapaMama has a great post on her dad and his taste for diversity
WokStar has great pictures and Poached Salmon with Bokchoy
Pat's Father's Day Tribute is Egg Candy

#Letslunch is great virtual feast where food bloggers from around the world come together once a month to cook around a theme. If you want to join in the fun tweet at us with the hash tag #Letslunch and we'd love to have you join the party. :)


  1. Someone once told me that the sadness never goes away, you just find a place in your heart for it. I don't know if that helps at all, but I can definitely relate to your story. And the pie quote seems true to me as well. Anyway, I wish you strength through the tough times. Take care and thanks for sharing this very personal story.

  2. Thank you Charissa for your kind words & visit.

  3. I'm sorry you lost your dad and are missing him so much. The pain will become easier over time, but you will find that you will remember him at the oddest times even years later. For me, ten years after my father's passing, I still can't look at National Treasure the movie without thinking how cool my dad would think the movie is because he was a free mason. And he loved science fiction and movies like this which we shared often. I also find he returns to me during times that may seem small to others, but they are huge to me because he's not there to share them. It's often in the silly things, the things we once shared as father and daughter that are special to my relationship with him that I miss him most. A great detective book or a new weird science book I'd usually share with him or a wonderful winery or cool restaurant. I still miss him. I won't ever stop.

    But he's always with me. In my daughter's long fingers and artistic personality and in the beautiful things I discover as I grow older. I see him in the whispers of moments that others couldn't possibly know. That is the gift of a great father-daughter relationship.

    Keeping you in my prayers and lots and lots of hugs!

  4. Thanks my friend. You're right, the memories come at unexpected moments and while they hurt right now, they truly are special. Thank you for sharing your insight.

  5. Thanks for this heartfelt post...your honesty is so moving and your funny ketchup story is such a beautiful way to finish. I hope that the wonderful memories of your dad will always be with you - so that he will always be with you, in your heart. And I will definitely try to make this apple pie to honour the fathers who are no longer with us. Lisa x

  6. Rashda, I am glad you came upon that book just when you needed it. As usual, an honest and also funny post. The ketchup story says a lot about your father.

  7. Thanks for stopping by Lisa & Linda...appreciate your kind thoughts.