Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Small joys

When I was little, there was a party on Easter Sunday held every year at our friend Kristin's house, a few minutes away from ours. My mom would bring her strawberry-rhubarb pie, and there would be an egg hunt after we ate lunch. A few of the adults would hide all the hand-decorated eggs in the yard, contributed by the families, and then we’d begin the low-awaited search. I’d brag to my friend Kara about the big (but hollow) chocolate bunny my mom had given me, and she’d show me, in turn, her collection of various other candies. Afterwards, my sister and I would cart home our Easter basket filled with eggs, both the real ones and plastic ones, and try not to eat the chocolate all at once.

It’s been a while since there’s been one of these parties, to be sure. And sadly, I don’t remember what happened on Easter the last few years, or if I even came home for the holiday while in school. Missing someone who is not ever coming back can make life seem rather bleak, to say the least. It can make you bitter and depressed on even the sunniest and most beautiful of days, and make you forget that it’s your favorite time of year.

But it seems there are always small joys to be found; the tasting of the first strawberries, for instance, or the sweet earthiness of roasted asparagus. Or seeing the wild irises blooming on the headlands at the end of the day, creating a landscape dotted with deep purple, and delighting in the pink tulips blooming in the garden, and the way our cat, Turtle, spontaneously plops herself down on the deck, begging for affection. Or, perhaps, just sitting down to a supper of minted pea soup. A soup that defines the season, in so many ways.

Now that we’re all grown up, Kristin doesn't have her party anymore, but that’s okay.* After all, there still can be fruit pie, and freshly-cut grass, and a celebration of Spring near the end of April. This year, our friend Sal invited us to an Easter party at her house – a potluck. We decided it be fitting to bring a strawberry-rhubarb pie (what else!), and although we couldn’t find the original recipe, we found one in Bon Appétit that turned out just fine. More than fine, in fact.

We got the strawberries at the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, where they were juicy and perfectly ripe. The rhubarb we found at Whole Foods, though, since they didn’t have any at the market. I briefly considered making a crisp, but my mom convinced me a pie would be better, and she was right. Sometimes, it's worth the extra effort. I modified the recipe slightly by adding orange zest, using vanilla-infused sugar, putting less cinnamon in the filling and making an all-butter crust, but otherwise followed it pretty closely. We brought both whipped cream and ice cream so that people could choose whichever they preferred, and the pie was gone within an hour. The fruit created a lot of juice, which bubbled up and over the rim of the pie plate, but luckily it set up quite a bit once it cooled, so it wasn’t terribly difficult to section off slices. And the crust, well, I have to give credit to Martha Stewart, for her pâte brisée recipe is spot-on. It goes perfectly with the sweet-tart fruit, all ruby-hued and soft. 

What a pretty looking dessert, too, don’t you think? Such vibrant colors! Bring it to your next Spring fête, and you’re sure to be complimented, like I was, by many a kind potlucker.

*Especially since now, we get to have tea! Kristin invited us over on Sunday for teatime, complete with a lemon cake and berries, and it was just lovely. And it certainly seems to have brought back some memories.

Lattice-Topped Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
Adaped from Bon Appétit

-       1 recipe pâte brisée

-       3 ½ cups ½ -inch-thick slices trimmed rhubarb (1 1/2 pounds untrimmed)
-       1 16-ounce container strawberries, hulled, halved (about 3 1/2 cups)
-       ½ cup (packed) golden brown sugar
-       ½  cup sugar
-       ¼ (heaping) cup cornstarch
-       1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-       1/4 teaspoon salt

-       1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)

Prepare pie dough and allow to chill at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring dough disks out of the refridgerator while you prepare the fruit. Put fruit and the next five ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently to blend; set aside. (can prepare one hour ahead).

Meanwhile, roll out the one of the disks to a 13-inch round and carefully transfer to pie plate. Trim excess dough to a ¾ -inch overhang. Roll out the second disk and, using a fluted pastry wheel, cut into about fourteen ½-inch-wide strips. Spoon filling into crust. Place seven of the strips over the fruit and form a lattice by weaving the remaining strips over and under the bottom strips (or simply place strips perpindicular to the bottom strips on top). Trim ends of dough even with the bottom crust, fold strips ends and overhang under, and press to seal. Crimp edges decoratively.

Brush glaze over crust, and transfer pie to a baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake pie for until golden and filling thickens, about 1 hour. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.

Serves 8.