Spring always seems to be a time of transition. We move from hibernation and stasis into expansiveness and rapid-fire change. At least, that's always how it seems to work in my own life. I enjoy the hunkering down of winter. It gives me time to take stock, do some planning, and pull out the sewing machine for a creative burst or two. When spring hits, it seems that time evaporates in the extra sunlight.
This is positive energy, of course. It's the "I'm really busy, but busy with good things" sort of busy. However, it's still kind of a shock to my system. A shock I don't quite think I should get comfortable with.
I've been seeing a lot of feedback from the excessive busyness we tend to favor in our culture. The "Stop the glorification of Busy" movement has arrived, it seems. But what do you do when staying busy is tantamount to staying alive? Paying the bills? Sure, it's very nice and civilized to tell ourselves that being overly busy is bad for us, but just like many components of the "self-care" movement, this is an ideology that only works for those who don't have to. Work, that is.
Of course, I have to acknowledge that there are little things I can do to stop the craziness. Or quell it, at least. I'm one of those people who has a hard time saying no, especially if it's a friend asking for help with something. So I've been standing in front of the mirror practicing saying "no." Well, that's not really true. But maybe I should!
However, one little ritual never gets the axe because of being busy. Every Saturday, we walk down to the farmer's market and buy our produce for the week. I've been going to the farmer's market almost every week for several years now, and it never gets old. It's a chance to be out in the fresh air (even if it's raining or blisteringly hot), surrounded by good things to eat, and talking to farmers. It has the added bonus of teaching you all kinds of things about seasonality.
It's a bright spot in my week, and one that reminds me to slow down. That as much as I might feel that I'm on a runaway horse, I'm wearing the spurs and holding the whip. I am, to at least some extent, responsible for my own destiny and trajectory.
I've had pie on the brain for a while now. I think the last time I made pie was Thanksgiving, which, of course, is way too long to go between pies. Pie is, to my mind, a symbol of slowing down. You can't make a pie in too much of a hurry. You really need to spend a while fussing over the crust and tending the oven. So in the spirit of slowing down, I took advantage of some of the first rhubarb of the season and made a pie.
I usually make a strawberry-rhubarb pie. It's classic and perfectly delicious. But we're still on the cusp of winter. Strawberries are yet to come, and I won't rush things by buying those cottony and sad supermarket strawberries. So I opted for a favorite wintertime pie of mine--chess pie--but added a soupçon of spring by throwing rhubarb into the mix.
This pie works because chess pie is incredibly sweet and rich, and rhubarb is very, very bright and sour. The acidity of the rhubarb vibrates like a tightly-wound string in the midst of a deeply caramelized symphony of flavors. As you know by now, I always make my own pie crusts. It's one of those things I just can't let go of, no matter how busy I am. But you can use a frozen pie crust if you like. You won't get any static from me about it.
Note: This pie takes about an hour to bake--maybe more in your oven. It will seem, at first, as though the filling is not going to set, but be patient. Don't take the pie out of the oven until the very center is just a bit quivery--like gelatin--and the edges are set. The top of the pie will be quite brown.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roughly chop into 1-inch pieces:
8 ounces rhubarb (about 3 stalks)
Put the rhubarb on a lined baking sheet and roast until just tender, about 8 to 12 minutes. Do not roast too long or the rhubarb will get mushy.
Prepare the crust. If using a frozen pie crust, you do not need to blind bake it. For a great and simple crust recipe, see:
My Basic All-Butter Crust
Line a 9-inch pie pan with the dough, trim any excess, and blind bake until the edges are starting to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pie weights or beans, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake until the bottom of the crust is dry to the touch, about 10 minutes more. Glaze the crust with an egg yolk and return to the oven briefly, about 3 minutes, until the yolk looks shiny and is dry to the touch.
Prepare the filling. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together:
3 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup heavy cream or evaporated milk
(3 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Gently melt and pour in (don't pour scalding hot butter into the egg mixture or it can cause the eggs to curdle):
6 tablespoons butter
Whisk to combine. Pour the filling into the crust and scatter the roasted rhubarb chunks evenly over the top. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and bake until the top is quite brown and the center of the pie just barely jiggles, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool to room temperature before serving. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.