How to Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

There’s a little market in the town where we vacation that’s hot and dirty, and there’s never anyone at the cash register. They sell wine and lentils, and cold drinks, not much else, and if you ever plan to check out, you have to go hunting in the back kitchen where there are always a few sweaty women wearing tank tops and bandanas making pizzas. It’s really good pizza, the kind where the crust is the centerpiece, and the toppings are a bonus.

My husband ordered one while we were there, and they forgot to set the timer, burned it, and made us a new one. They have this way of making their mess-ups seem like your fault for ordering something. Yet you go back, again and again, like a beggar, because their pizza is that good.

The store never changes, never looks like it’s cleaned, never increases it’s stock or its advertising. It hasn’t gone “Gourmet” and yuppy like the donut shop did a couple years ago, when a couple of “artisan” bakers bought it from Mike, the old man who doubled as baker and charter fishing boat captain.

Over the years I’ve noticed that the messiest kitchens often produce the best food. It’s not a law, by any means, but sometimes it happens that certain kitchens are just ripe with fermentation, predisposed to the flourishing of various probiotic elements, from the Kombucha fermenting on the counter to the smashed grapes turning to wine and raisins on the floor. It suggests the kitchen is in constant use, that the chef within has had much practice and enjoys his work there.

My own kitchen isn’t very hippy dippy. I make bread every so often, and cookies, the occasional hearty stew. Those are the only things I really enjoy making, and on those days, my kitchen is a disaster. Otherwise, it’s a disaster of a different kind–a couple cabinet doors have fallen off from my children using them as a ladder to climb up on the counter and get into the cereal cabinet. There’s also currently a hole in the floor–a bit of overlap that my husband cut down to the studs when he renovated the laundry room. It will be fixed when he finishes making the new kitchen cabinets, sometime in the next year.

But it does stay relatively clean since for the most part I avoid cooking anything other than an egg or oatmeal. I guess you could say that we’re on a whole foods diet, since I’ll sometimes put a banana on each of the kids’ dinner plates and call it a side dish. We eat our vegetables raw usually, and if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll sometimes mix two or more raw vegetables with a dollop of olive oil. Some might call this a salad, but if I call it that, the kids won’t eat it.

Anything really good that comes out of our kitchen is my husband’s doing. He’s the one that investigates new recipes, garnishes plates, and insures that everyone also has a little starch in their diet. Otherwise we’d live on meat and fruit (which maybe makes me paleo by default? Can I hate-cooking myself into paleo?). It’s gotten so the kids see him as the primary cook in the house, and actually I have found myself after a long day home with the kids, asking him as he comes through the door from work what’s for dinner. And before thinking ill of me, please consider that he likes it that way. All my dishes suffer from garbanzo beans, so really, he prefers his own cooking.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve abdicated something by not being a better cook. My grandma didn’t like to cook either. She didn’t keep good snacks around. She didn’t like it when the grandkids went through her cabinets looking for food, and as a consequence, going to her house was sometimes a drag. She wanted us there, but she didn’t want to feed us, which made us not want to be there.

My other grandma didn’t distinguish herself with excellent cooking, but she welcomed people with food. She seemed to enjoy feeding people–even if it was just a stale box of vanilla wafers– which made us go to her, instinctively, to be fed. She wanted us there. She wanted us to be satiated–and we were both.

And then there’s pie. I like to differentiate between old pie and new pie. By new pie, I mean the kind embraced by young pie-makers fueled on Pinterest and pretty aprons–pies that are baked in scalloped pans to be photographed. By old pie, I mean the kind that the gray-haired battle axes in the Alter Society supply for the parish picnic, the kind of pie the women sort of complain about making, but they’ll do it out of curmudgeonly duty, because dammit, no one knows how to make pie crust anymore.

At this year’s parish picnic, our table was the last one released to go through the line. I could see the pie going, one table at a time, as people walked smilingly back to their seats, carrying blue-berry and strawberry rhubarb confections. I just knew, there wasn’t going to be any pie for us, and my husband and I seriously discussed just leaving and going home to make peanut butter sandwiches.

And my dad makes pie, really good pie. He was cook in the army, and when we were little, he used to close the kitchen doors on baking days and cuss out a pie. These days, once the coast is clear and it looks like the pies will make it, my mom will call up and say, “Dad’s making pie…” and I’ll work out a way to get there for it even though they live forty-five minutes away. If you cook it I will come.

So yes, I feel like I need to want to feed people, whether out of duty or delight. I’m feeling like I need a dirtier kitchen and a signature dish, something my children and my husband cannot refuse. And I’m feeling like it should be pie, that maybe pie keeps your children closer than good catechesis or home-schooling.

This is “new pie.” But don’t be fooled by my choice photography. They were not good pies. Not enough sugar. The crust was bland. And the apples too firm.

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About Elizabeth Duffy