Thursday, September 4, 2008

Another Pie for the Neighbors


Yesterday I went over to my neighbor's house to ask if she could recommend a new maid. Ours quit because our floors are too much work to clean. I would have quit too. When I mopped these Saltillo tile floors two weeks ago--3,000 square feet of big clay squares lined by rugged grout--I was so tired I could still feel my sore muscles two days later. And I'm athletic.

I knocked on Marisa's door and she invited me in for a cup of coffee. No, she didn't know anyone, but she would drive me down to the agency in a few days. I went to leave and, like some automatic Mexican reflex, she started handing me plastic bags to take home with me--a bag of pan de pulche bread (made with cactus pulp), a bag filled with potatoes the size of cantalopes, and a bag of apples. I am always impressed by the generosity I so regularly experience in this country. But I am still shy about receiving part. "No, please, I can't take all that," I protested, especially when I saw there were at least 20 large apples in the shopping bag. She pushed the apples back at me, insisting I have them. I realized I was insulting her by not taking them so I said, "Okay, then if I take all these apples, I am going to have to make you a pie." To which she responded with a sly grin, "That is what I was hoping." What a clever woman.

Marisa knew about my apple pie as I made one a month or so earlier, as a belated birthday present for her husband. (We had been invited to his birthday fiesta at the last minute and thus had shown up empty-handed.) My pie plate was returned two weeks later, washed and filled with Dulce de Leche caramels, a locally made candy. But there was no indication as to whether or not they actually liked the pie.

I lugged my produce-filled bags across the lawn back to my house and a few minutes later someone knocked on the door. It was Fatima, Marisa's maid. Marisa had sent her to clean my house, "but just for today," Fatima said. I wanted to protest again, but my tile floors were in desperate need of mopping, so I said, "Sure, come on in." Not just a clever woman, but an exceptionally thoughtful one too. We don't interact often and I was learning a lot more about her than just the fact she drives too fast down our quiet street.

This morning, in my freshly cleaned house, I got to work first thing on that apple pie. Marisa wasn't home when I delivered it, still bubbling hot, but her teenage son was. "This is for your mom," I said. He replied with a big smile, "She loved that pie you made before." He shut the door and as I walked away I heard him yell, "Hey, we got a pay de manzana." And I heard whoever else it was in the house yell back, "Yeah!"

A clean house, healthy food that will feed us for a week, and some pretty fine neighbors who appreciate pie. Life in Mexico is good.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pie: Obsession or Just a Nice Dream?

I had a dream last night—about pie. I was at the counter of some travel agency or chamber of commerce and I picked up a brochure. The woman working there behind the counter told me she had just finished taking a graphic design course—a very expensive class, she added—and that she made the brochure herself. (This part may have resulted from my real-life desire to take a Web design course.) I flipped through the first few pages of her brochure and came across an entire page about pie. Everywhere it said “pie” was highlighted in bold. The page was also in red, white and blue and decorated with stars and stripes (was I watching too much CNN last week with the Democratic National Convention?)

And that was it. That was the whole dream. But afterward I had insomnia and started thinking about what the hell is so important to me about pie. Why pie? Why not frogs, like my brother Michael, who used to catch them in the ponds near our house in Iowa and has had a collection of frog-everything ever since. Why not pigs like my sister Anne who after naming her company “Corn Fed Inc.” started receiving pig-everything for gifts? Collecting is one thing, but do Michael and Anne dream about frogs and pigs? I doubt it!

So, as three a.m. stretched into four a.m., I started thinking more about pie. I like pie. I like to eat it, I like to bake it, I like to give it away, I like to teach others how to make it—and like to teach them to give it away too. I like working with my hands, I like creating something from natural products born of the earth, I like the meditative aspects of peeling apples and kneading (but, remember, ever-so-lightly) the dough. I like what pie stands for, for a more peaceful and generous way of life, a hark back to the days before CNN when people weren't so "busy" that that they stopped by your house—without having to call from their cell phone first—for a piece of pie and cup of coffee. And so what if I dream about it once in a while? Better to dream about pie than about Sarah Palin practicing shooting her gun so she can cull the wolf population in Alaska. Sheesh.

In fact, given the alternative, I hope I dream about pie again soon.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pie: The Latest Trend in Fast Food?

On Saturday we crossed the U.S. border, taking a day trip from Saltillo, Mexico to McAllen, Texas. I hadn't been in the U.S. in two and 1/2 months. My, how things have changed: Pie, it seems, has become the latest trend in fast food. First I spotted a Dairy Queen sign (in McAllen there's a DQ about every two blocks) and it read: Special: Banana Cream Pie Blizzard. Unbelievable! Just a little further down the road was Burger King with its sign touting Dutch Apple Pie, along with Macaroni and Cheese. The idea of eating fast food sits about as well with me as John McCain becoming president. But, hey, if eating pie--in whatever high-caloric form you choose (DQ's medium-sized Blizzard has 780 calories)--brings comfort to the soul (though unlikely to the stomach) then I say, go ahead, super size it.