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March 14, 2018

Happy Birthday, Mitzi Bytes!

On the occasion of Mitzi Bytes‘ first birthday, and it being Pi Day (which is A VERY IMPORTANT HOLIDAY) I did the only possible thing and baked a chocolate cream pie whose recipe comes from literary comic icon Nora Ephron. The pie was delicious, and there’s even leftovers in the fridge, which is a fantastic way to be. We didn’t light any candles, but it’s still been a very good way to make a special occasion, a year since this novel came into the world. I’m so grateful for all the places it has taken me to, all the conversations its led me to have, and for all the readers who really engaged with the novel and its questions, and who saw the humour too. It’s all been a dream come true.

November 30, 2017

Eating all the pies

I felt very liberated when I read in a cookbook about pies that one should use store-bought puff-pastry always, because attempting to make puff-pastry from scratch was just stupid. I don’t really know if the author of my pie book is an authority (according to wikipedia, she’s an interior designer and pies are just a sideline) but I’m not going to ask too many questions, because puff-pastry makes pies so easy. Savoury pies, I mean, as in for a meal. I still have pretty strong feelings about pastry from scratch for fruit or dessert pies. But puff-pastry means you could have a meat pie on the table as an easy weeknight supper. And we were all over that while we were reading The Piemakers, by Helen Cresswell, which our librarian recommended to us recently and we read-aloud with pure delight. A story that reminded me so much of The Borrowers in tone that I kept forgetting that the characters were not miniature—although the giant pie dish in which they float down the river didn’t make the scale any less confusing. It’s about a family of pie-makers—the daughter is called Gravella, named for Gravy—and it all goes wrong when they get the opportunity to bake a pie for the actual king. (Too much pepper, cough cough.) But then they get another chance to redeem their pie-making reputation, and everyone in the village pitches in, and (spoilers!) the result is a pie-making triumph. We loved it. But it made us hungry. And let me tell you the other best thing about store-bought puff pastry? That it’s sold in packages of two.

May 22, 2015

My Grandmother’s Rolling Pin


This week at the 4 Mothers Blog, they’re writing posts that tell the history of their families through objects, and I’m so pleased to be their guest-blogger this week. I wrote about the solid wooden things that connect me to my family’s past, in particular my grandmother’s rolling pin, and pie, and how baking is a complicated feminist legacy.

You can read my post here.

July 16, 2014



The latest in our Pies of Summer file is cherry, made with a wholewheat oatmeal crust because I’d run out of all-purpose flour. And it was a pretty good crust. I think I’d make it again.

August 30, 2013

Peach Pie in Progress

IMG_20130829_163127The best part of living with me is my insistence upon baking when it is 37 degrees outside. Pictured here is a pie in progress, peach, baked to be taken away on our trip this weekend with my best friend of 20 years and her wonderful family. (When they were just starting to be a family, I wrote about them here. There are three of them now in their family, all excellent.) And I am just checking in right now as we’re waiting to confirm that Iris really is asleep before we watch Mad Men. I had a really wonderful visit to the doctor’s today where it was pretty much confirmed that my career prospects for neck modelling are shot. I am to invest in turtlenecks and pretty scarves, and live with this lump as long as I possibly can. (I can’t help but feel that Nora Ephron had no idea; I also think that if I end up with as few years on earth as Nora Ephron, I am going not to spend none of them feeling bad about my neck no matter how lumpy or eventually scarred it becomes. The great thing about never having been particularly good looking in the first place is that you’re not really losing much when you start to be hideously disfigured.) My biopsy results were inconclusive, as there were so few solids in the sample, but as my lump is cystic, the doctor assures me that the chances of it being cancer are slim. I believe him. This lump will be an ongoing concern, but not so concerning, and anything “ongoing”, of course, means that I am not going to die. It also means that I have to stop getting so excited whenever I have it tested, because it’s going to happen every six months. And so it goes. This is life with a body. I feel very, very lucky.

September 24, 2010

People in real life

I am an enormous fan of people in real life, which was why I was very glad to welcome Nathalie and Julia to my house yesterday as part of the “people around in the daytime” collective. We met for the purposes of pie, a date set ages ago, and it did not disappoint. Neither guest argued (to my face) with my pie’s alleged status as “best in Toronto”, which was kind of them (and maybe even genuine? Seriously. I make good pie. It is the one thing I’m pretty much 100% confident about). There was also cheese, and wine, (and Lesley Stowe crackers—  I could eat these until I died) which pretty much certified the afternoon as the very best ever, and we talked about books, and writing, and blogging, and Harriet fell in love with Nathalie’s five-year old.

It’s nice that somebody in my family goes to work so I can have this kind of life, and I was kind enough to save him leftovers.

September 22, 2010

There is no such thing as a canon

All the books of my dreams are coming out in the UK this fall: I want to read Comfort and Joy by India Knight, Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, and Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker (which is epistolary and about a postbox, if a book could be so full to bursting). I am going to read Room by Emma Donaghue, which seemed like the most wretched book imaginable when I first heard of it, and I still think so, but too many intelligent readers have convinced me to go there anyway. I have just moved Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting (which I keep calling Lift Lighting in my head) up near the top of my to-be-read stack, due to his Giller nomination, and Robert Wiersema’s review. I am going to be rereading Nikolski, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Small Ceremonies in the coming weeks. Also from the Giller longlist, I think I am going to read Lemon by Cordelia Strube, and the rest I’m not really fussed about. Because I already read This Cake is for the Party, and it was wonderful, and Jessa Crispin has given me permission to shrug off everything else: “There is no such thing as a canon — what you should read or want to read or will read out of obligation is determined as much by your history, your loves, and your daily reality as by the objective merits of certain works.” Rock on, and bring on the old dead British ladies then with their hideously outdated Penguin covers and pages smelling of must.

In others, I am going to the Victoria College Book Sale on Saturday, but with a budget (how novel) and also, I am obsessive-compulsively fiction writing lately, which is wonderful, because I thought I lost the knack with the advent of my child, but I’m at 10,000 words and haven’t yet thought about giving up because the whole piece sucks (and the thing about having once completed three drafts of a bad novel is that you learn that just barrelling through to the conclusion won’t necessarily work out okay in the end, but at this point I still feel like there might be some worth in bothering).

And also, there is a pie in my oven. And on Saturday, that oven will be replaced with a new one that doesn’t require a barbecue lighter to start.

July 4, 2010

Pie in the sunshine

Will you tolerate another picture of a pie in the sunshine? This time a cherry pie (my first! Hulling is tedious, but the pie is delicious) in stars because I don’t have a maple leaf cutter. Purchased with cherries from our farmer’s market, which supplied much of the deliciousness we partook in this weekend. We had a wonderful Canada Day in the sunshine, with friends for dinner, and then spent the rest of the weekend soaking up the city. We went to Trinity Bellwoods Park on Saturday, and I’d forgotten about wading pools, which meant that Harriet had to go swimming in her clothes. She was all right with this, however, and also got in lots of swinging, and sliding, and crawling in the grass. A similar day was had today at Christie Pits, where we also watched an old-time baseball game, went swimming in the city pool (not just wading, and we were equipped with suits and towels), and then played afterwards underneath shady trees. The parks in this city are better than any backyard you could dream of. It was a whole weekend as good as the pie.

The one problem with all this goodness, however, is Harriet’s “separation anxiety”. Quite a difference from last year at this time when Harriet didn’t like anything, she now doesn’t want to leave anything she encounters– she cries when we take her out of the swing, when we take her out of the pool, when she has to get off her bike, when her dad leaves the house in the morning, when the UPS guy leaves the house after having me sign here, when she has to put her ball down, when anybody (including complete strangers) is playing with a ball and she can’t have it, when we get to the last page of Over in the Meadow, and heaven forbid I take my keys out of her mouth, and suggest she not eat my credit card. She’s also taken to pointing at things she wants and screaming in a way that shatters eardrums. I now understand why sign language might have been useful (but still, not I how might have implemented it into life).

She does take things hard, does Harriet. She has never ever left a  playground and not had eyes streaming with tears… Though she really is a happy kid, recovering quickly from her traumas. At left is a photo of us taken last week by Star reporter Vinnie Talotta, which is pretty much our Hats most of the time.

Anyway, I am very busy lately working toward an upcoming deadline, and I’ve also gotten involved in a reading project (which I’ll tell you about when the time comes) that involves me having to read 20+ books in the next two months. This means my library books are way backlogged, and some even due back without having been touched, and my summer rereading project has totally stalled. I should be able to step up some in the days ahead, however, and I look forward to reading Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive, rereading Joan Didion, and writing up a post about our next meeting of The Vicious Circle and this month’s book, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. And updating you about my ongoing obsession with bananas, of course. You’ve probably been waiting for that.

May 21, 2010

The most beautiful thing I have ever created…

…is this pie, obviously. Whose butterfly cookie-cutter top (idea stolen from a pie at Madeleine’s) breaks my top pastry sheet into pieces, which is what always happens anyway, but at least in this case, I get to do it on purpose. The pie’s innards are Ontario rhubarb, non-Ontario strawberries, and plenty of the one thing that makes rhubarb so delicious– sugar! And the whole thing was so delicious. A fine way to start the Victoria Day long weekend, and just the thing after an afternoon in the sunshine.

August 17, 2008

An affinity for pie dough

I’ve been baking pie all summer, having decided it was a very good way to honour summer fruit (and keep some around for the dead of winter), and also because it has never once been so hot that turning on the oven has been ridiculous. (I was also inspired by watching Waitress.)

This summer I’ve made strawberry rhubarb pie, strawberry pie, raspberry pie, peach pie and blueberry pie. Each of these pies has also had its filling run into the bottom of my oven (which I never clean) and so a smoke-filled kitchen has become the usual. Each time the pastry has been delicious.

As you can see by the photo, when I bake I make a mess. I do clean it up afterwards, of course, but what you can also see by the photo is my grandmother’s rolling pin. I know very little about the origins of said rolling pin, and it is quite likely she picked it up at Zellers in 1998, so it is probably not a valuable heirloom. But I find that I like that it was hers, I like that I roll out my piecrust with it, the pin she would have rolled her own piecrust out with. Genetics aside, my grandmother and I never had a whole lot in common, and so I appreciate the connection that is this.

In my family, people like to take one another apart to figure out how we were constructed. My mania for pie-making, for instance, my mother wonders about, for she’s never had much of an instinct for pastry. I think she wonders if I was a changeling, and so it brings her some comfort to attribute it to an atavistic pie gene instead. To tie it back to my grandmother, but I resist this. Mostly because I am twenty nine years old and would like to believe that I am a singular creation, not the product of anything, nor susceptible. I am ME, and I bake pie because I do, and also because I really like to eat it.

My grandmother was good at all grandmotherly things, very dutiful and I’ve saved the notes she wrote me when I was younger, admonishments, some of them, to be a good girl. Never a demonstrative woman, it was through these gestures, like her pies and like her cookies, that my grandmother showed her love. And so it is unfortunate that I, in addition to pie-baking, have always had a talent for delightedly irritating people of my grandmother’s sensibility. For asking questions like, “So, if your name is Helen, then your nickname must be “Hell”, right?” You can see that I’ve always been adorable.

I took my grandmother’s rolling pin when we cleaned out her kitchen after she died, mostly because I didn’t have a nice one. I didn’t think much of it, pie after pie, for such a long time– that my hands, like her hands did, are rolling out the dough. That object, the rolling pin, had been in her cupboard and that it lives in mine now. I never suspected that we’d come to have this much in common, this affinity for pie dough, and it took me awhile to admit it was anything in common at all.

These things creep up on us, I think, the innumerable ways we can be wrong about ourselves, who we are, and the whole wide the world around us. The connections discovered, too late it seems, but maybe not. The bits and pieces we carry, how they can become invested with meaning, continuing life on and on.

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