My daughters and I have created a little tradition in the way that doing something more than once with a child sacralizes the thing into a trigger for both comfort and expectation. In this case, we have spent the last two Labor Day weekends in Astoria—a beautiful port town situated just where the Columbia widens and begins to spill into the Pacific. We love it both because it has sweet restaurants and a charming Sunday market on summer weekends, but also because it is a working port where we can watch the huge cargo ships come into harbor under the guidance of tiny pilot boats that have just risked catastrophe by crossing the bar that the captains call the Graveyard of the Pacific.
This year—like last—was a beautiful trip. Perfect weather, high times had by all. But, the trip ended in drama and mayhem. Let me put it this way – open window, bumblebee in the room, panicking child, fingers (attached to the other child) smashed in the hinge of the bathroom door. We had it all—blood, screaming, ice, blame, and—finally—an exhausted sleep from Astoria to Portland. I drove silently. Part way home, the smasher whispered—so as not to wake the smashee—Mama, tonight is a night for apple pie. Seriously, if we’ve ever needed apple pie, it is tonight.
Let me tell you, the last thing I wanted to do was drive home and conjure up an apple pie. I wanted to get out of that car, do essential laundry, and let everyone retreat to their corners for Advil and quiet. But, the darling smasher persisted, arguing that apple pie healed all wounds.
Now, I am a moody pie maker. I like to have time to shop thoughtfully, to chill all the ingredients just right, to have at least relative silence in the presence of pie making. The one thing I do not want is for emotional drama to require pie. But, on other hand, sometimes it does. And, this was clearly one of those times.
So I dug through the pantry and patched together the ingredients for a free-form apple galette. It’s a good choice in a pinch. It doesn’t have to chill quite as long or roll quite as evenly; it can come down to single-crust sloppiness transformed by cinnamon and lemon zest.
I cut corners in several ways—didn’t chill the flour, added a smidge more water than I knew was ideal to get the crust to come together quicker, let the dough rest in the fridge for the bare minimum of one hour. I also used apples that were not quite perfect for pie—Red Delicious: too soft, not enough tart kick—because that was what we had in the house. But, after a couple of hours of yeoman (rather than artisan) pie baking squeezed between cooking dinner, doling out Band-Aids, and ordering baths, we sat down together and ate pie. The pie turned out to be terribly crooked and amoeba-ish, and the whipping cream I thought we had in the fridge had gone off, but there we were at the dining room table—the smasher, the smashee and me and also my husband and my step-son and his girlfriend. And, things were right again. Or right enough. Someone had asked for pie despite the fact that the mood and the stars were just wrong for it. But, there we were telling stories about our trip—our tradition—and laughing about the bee and the screaming and eating a pie that was nowhere close to perfect but was good enough.