Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ines Bakes a Pie

"A" is for Amor (love)...for the love of pie, and oh so much more. (Look closely, there's an "A" in the middle of the pie.)
Here it is! The first pie produced in our new house in Mexico--and the first "American-style" pie baked by my artist friend, Ines de Leon. Perhaps it's Ines' artistic talent that made her an ace student-of-pie.
When I invited her over for pie (a month after we arrived and we finally had furniture) she emailed me and said she couldn't wait to taste it. I emailed her back and said, "First make, then taste." After all, she's the one who insisted she wanted to learn how to make apple pie (and she agreed to teach me how to paint in return). She was still game.
Because she is currently working on a new art piece in her studio, mixing acrylic and chunks of coal on a large canvas, she arrived with black coal embedded under her nails. I loaned her my nail brush and then we got to work. With the nimble fingers of a painter, she took control of the dough (and didn't overwork it like most first-timers), sliced those Granny Smiths (imported from New Zealand), dumped an inordinate amount of cinnamon on top, and created a masterpiece worthy of the Louvre.
When her pie came out of the oven, however, she broke the news to me that she wanted to save it for her boyfriend who was coming to town in three days. Save it?! I should have been suspicious when she asked how long a pie will keep. "About a week for apple," I had said. If you think I get tired of eating pie, think again. After making hundreds of pies (for all those Malibu celebrities), the scent of apples and cinnamon wafting through the house still makes my tastebuds fire. So, naturally, I was a little disappointed we wouldn't get to sit down for a cup of coffee and a slice.
Worse, she asked me to keep the pie at my house because if she took it home her daughter, who has food issues, would eat the whole thing in one sitting. So there the pie sat in my refrigerator taunting me every time I opened the door. For three days.
But this story has a happy ending (these are the only kind of stories I like). After the second day she called and asked if my husband and I would like to come to dinner on Sunday, and meet her novio. And eat pie. And we did. And we were happy. We ate her homemade enchiladas, fried red chile tortillas filled with cheese and onions served with green salad. "Northern Mexico-style, the way my mother made them," she said. We drank tamarindo soda. And finally we were presented with the pie. Even after three days in my refrigerator the crust was still flaky, the apples slightly crisp, and the cinnamon, well, let's just say it was prominent. The four of us sitting around her table could have been actors from a scene in the (Mexican) film "Like Water for Chocolate," where whatever the cook was feeling at the time she prepared the food, those who ate her food experienced the same feelings. What we were feeling was amor, baby, amor.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Mexican Artist's House

Ines de Leon is my first friend in Mexico. We met in May (2008) when my husband and I were house hunting and got fed up when the relocation agent showed us one too many generic, overly insulated, American-style houses. "Show me a place where a Mexican artist would live," I begged. "A place with Frida Kahlo colors." The agent replied, "I know a Mexican artist." The next day we were introduced to Ines, her art, and her fabulous house. This is what I was looking for -- simple, rustic, and rich with colors and life. I would have liked to give Ines the boot and say, "Just leave all your dishes and coffee table books, your antiques and your paintings." Instead we became friends. And my husband and I found another Mexican-style house to fill with our own colors, our own life experiences.
While we chatted about Ines' big, brave, bold paintings she asked what I did. "I write. And I bake pies," I told her.
"Will you teach me to make pie?" she asked, her eyes bright with interest, her smile as warm as the Mexican sun.
"Will you teach me how to paint?" I replied, smiling back at her.
And, thus, a friendship was born.
Stay tuned for my next post... "Ines Bakes a Pie."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Special Delivery: In Mexico the Fruit Comes to You

No need to wait for apple season to make a fruit pie. It's PEACH season! Or durazno in Spanish. This little neighbor and her four brothers and cousins show up at our door twice a week towing their wooden wagon filled with produce from their grandpa's farm. Last week it was zucchini. They are an enterprising bunch, future entrepreneurs, and silly me, the first time they knocked I thought they were bringing a "welcome to the neighborhood" gift. "Five pesos for two, ten pesos for three," they chimed. My jaw must have dropped, but I composed myself and coughed up the cash. How could I resist the smiles -- and the baby teeth?

PS: These peaches are waaaaay too small to slice for pie (see photo). And they're a little green. We tried ripening them in the sun. Big mistake. The worms hatched, the fruit flies arrived, and the peaches ended up in the compost. Still, they were worth the 50 cents (US) we paid. Can't wait to see what los ninos bring next time.

Monday, July 28, 2008

‘What Am I Doing?’ Baking More, Blogging Less

My friend Susan, a journalist, emailed me an article last week about using Twitter, a new social networking/"micro-blogging" vehicle, to promote your book (or whatever it is you want to promote). I read the article then sent Susan an email telling her what I thought of it, and included one passage of the article that in particular set me off.

...a relatively easy concept: sign up, start sending out 140-character updates of what you're doing, and get dedicated people following your posts.

“Dear Susan,” I wrote, “This article makes me want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head. Don't we spend enough time on the computer and cell phone as it is?! And who are these ‘dedicated people’??? People with nothing else going on in their lives?”

I realize my rant was a little reactionary – and I apologized for my “fire in the belly” – but it threw me right back to Year 2000, the year I left my job with a booming, and very well-funded, dot com in San Francisco. I quit because my boss kept reminding me our goal was to get people to spend more time on our web site. Words like stickiness, page views, eyeballs, monetize, and virtual were being thrown around as readily as the money spent on business-class tickets to visit our client in London. Our site, however, was about outdoor adventure and my goal was to get people to spend more time outside. Shouldn’t that have been the obvious objective of everyone else too? Weren’t we all there working 80-hour weeks because we were passionate about climbing and biking and sailing and, therefore, propelled by the satisfaction that at least we were motivating others to get outdoors, even if we were chained to our computers? Moreover, I could not have been the only employee who held the knowledge that, no, you cannot feel a granite wall by looking at the Internet and, no, you cannot smell pine trees or feel the salt spray of the sea on your face while sitting at your fucking desk. We could have been the cast of a reality TV show—called “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

When my annual review came up I first listened to my bosses’ praise and their offer for the highest salary raise allowed, and then I broke the news to them. “I am giving you my two week notice. I just feel the need to do something with my hands, something tactile, like bake bread. Or pie.”

The amazing thing is that they understood. They nodded. They smiled. They even seemed a little envious. “You need to rent the film ‘The Muse,’” said my female boss. “Andie MacDowell’s character starts a baking business—cookies, I think. That could be you.”

And it was me. Sort of. I moved back to Los Angeles and promptly got a job at a tiny bakery/gourmet take-out in Malibu, where I became a pie-baker-to-the-stars. (I’ll write more about that later.) I had no qualifications, I only told the owners that I’m from Iowa and, thus, as a good Iowan I know a thing or two about pie. They hired me on the spot. Even in a city as hectic as L.A. I was able to simplify my life, riding my bike to work, baking all day – oh, the Zen of peeling apples – and doing yoga in the evenings. I went from 200 emails a day to 10, from 25 cell phone messages to two. Instead of worrying about crashing servers or million-dollar budget overruns I worried about Robert Downey Jr. liking my peach crumble or if I put enough sugar in Dick Van Dyke’s strawberry-rhubarb pie (his favorite). Living low-tech, however, has its price. I went from a six-figure jet-setting job to making $7.50 an hour sweating by the convection ovens in a crowded back-room kitchen. But I was calm. And happy. I wasn’t squandering my precious life in front of a computer. I didn’t have a MySpace page or blog that needed constant updating. I wasn’t trying to collect virtual friends in chat rooms (or find a date online, for that matter). And I certainly had no need to “Tweet” to my “dedicated people” every hour to tell them “Hey, big news: I baked another pie today” or “Barbra Streisand’s chauffeur is picking up a lemon meringue pie at 5” or “I have to take a pee now.” Instead of advertising my every move to the world it was enough to be connected to the other women working next to me in the kitchen. It was enough just to “be.”

Fast forward five years: I (finally) have my own web site designed for my career endeavors beyond baking—to generate work that pays the rent. I stay connected with my old dot com coworkers through a professional networking site called LinkedIn. And I recently launched this blog—with the purpose of encouraging people to bake more pie, and to build community IN PERSON, not spend more time online. But I still don’t have a MySpace or Facebook page. I spend at least six hours at my computer every day as it is. That’s more than enough. I need to have enough time to walk the dog, study my Spanish, enjoy a face-to-face conversation with my husband over dinner, put my face in the sun, and smell those pine trees.

Susan wrote me back. “I agree. The digital-obsessed world does scare me—this insatiable need to communicate every nanosecond. But it's real and I feel I at least need to know the lingo and possibilities of the digital age if I want to be a viable job candidate anywhere. Even Congress is tweeting for heaven's sake! Ahhh! Maybe there will be a backlash and more and more people will move to Vermont to raise goats and live off the land. Now there's an idea!”

Yes, move to Vermont—or to Saltillo, Mexico. And bake pie. (Because for me, it’s always about pie. But I like the idea of raising goats too.)

And then, a few minutes later, she sent me another email: an invitation to receive her Twitter updates.

And what did I do? I sucked up my I-will-not-be-a-trend-or-technology-follower snobbery and I accepted. I spent the five minutes creating a Twitter account, because who knows? Maybe I will use it to promote a book about pie someday.