i come from a long line of cheaters.
it’s true. long ago i learned that a snowfall of sugar atop a freezer-case pie, makes it a cinch to pretend that you just hoisted the dome of flour and lard straight off the so-called pastry board. cinnamon on jar applesauce approximates authenticity. hard-cooked eggs sliced, pin-wheeled around the deli potato salad–ditto.
parsley and paprika, perhaps, a cheater’s best friend.
i believe it was my grandmama who first taught me the art. a fine catholic woman, a woman who said her rosary, pinned the veil to her head before walking to church, she thought nothing of cranking open a half dozen cans of reese’s potato salad, dumping into a bowl the size of a sink, then getting to work.
hard-cooked eggs; check. parsley she tucked in little bouquets, or sprinkled like so much mown grass. paprika, somehow, signed off the deal, sealed the lid on the notion that from peeling to boiling to slicing and mixing, not a soul knew the shortcut that lurked in the pantry.
my mama picked up the curriculum with mrs. smith’s hot apple pie. she taught me the sneak peek over the shoulder, make sure no one’s looking, then lunge for the sugar bowl. dip spoon and tap in soft little drifts that disguise the factory origins.
and so, living up to my dishonest roots, i carried on yesterday noon in a way that would make them both proud. i was bushed and exhausted, for starters. but seeing as i’d left them all in a lurch over the weekend, had jetted off to the desert, left them to fend for themselves at a.) a pancake house for friday night dinner, b.) a chicken shack for saturday dinner, and lord knows what in between, it seemed we needed what the commercials of old called a good square meal (where the geometry comes in purely escapes me).
poor boys, inhaling all of those triglycerides and trans fatty acids, what they could use was a mama to stoke them with slow-cooked deliciousness.
or at least that was the aspiration.
the reality fell something short.
it was the pie that i spied that got me to cheatin’. there in its plain cardboard box, on the shelf where the cheater pies squat, it couldn’t have feigned any more innocence. all it was was a crust and a heap of squash innards. the squash of the season, of course, la pumpkin. but there was a sheen, and a barely burned crust.
why it looked as if i’d done it myself, let it go just a minute or two too long in the oven. mais, parfait.
not wanting it squished i tucked it under the cart, down where the toilet paper usually goes. i swear it was not that i was trying to hide my bakery debauchery.
once home, i found the sweet scalloped stand that makes every baked thing an occasion. i tucked it off in the corner, feeling so smug that at the end of the dinner, at the end of a very long day, i could saunter over to my pie-staging corner, lift, twirl, and present.
i’d say not a word about its provenance. fact, i found myself suddenly and wholly subscribing to the u.s. army’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell line of thinking.
it was all in pursuit of one simple thing: to wrap the meal and the day in that home-baked sense that there’s a someone who cares enough about you to sift, roll and swear at the bits of the pastry that stick to the counter.
i do think it worked. as a matter of fact, the little one invited a friend to come just for the pie.
turns out i did not have to lie. no one asked, i didn’t tell. all they cared was could i please cut them seconds.
i felt my grandma swellin’ inside my ol’ cheatin’ heart. last night i dreamed it was raining hard-boiled eggs, followed by downfalls of sugar.
do you too cheat in the kitchen? take shortcuts? legitimate sneaks through the alley? cough it up, spill the tricks i should know….