Category Archives: 50+

Overcoming My Fear of Pie Crust

For years, I avoided it.

The few times I experienced it were beyond stressful.

When I was forced to switch to a gluten-free diet, it became the impossible dream.

I am referring to pie crust… specifically, making pie crust.

Pie crust was one of those life skills that I just never seemed to pick up.

Back in the pre-gluten-free days, I did give it my best shot on a few occasions trying to make normal pie crust. I would get all the ingredients ready and clear off plenty of counter space for the rolling process. But somewhere along the way, I never really got the feel for it.

To me, it seemed that there was such a narrow window of opportunity to bring pie dough across the finish line. The dough couldn’t be too wet. The dough couldn’t be too dry. And you couldn’t roll it for too long or else risk overworking the dough, resulting in a crust the texture of cardboard.

These three factors, combined with my uninspiring results, were enough to keep me away for months at a time.

Rolling the dough was the part that challenged every ounce of patience within me.

The dough would stick to the rolling pin, the counter, my utensils and my hands… everything except the pie plate to which it was supposedly destined.

I would try a light sprinkling of flour on the counter and on the rolling pin to prevent the dough from sticking, but by the time I had something resembling a fully rolled out pie shell (if I got to that point at all), it seemed like the entire kitchen was covered in a light dusting of flour.

My pies would not be complete without a side order of anger, anxiety and high blood pressure.

Needless to say, because it was an exercise in frustration that left me feeling defeated, I didn’t practice often.

I never really needed to pursue thrill-seeking sports over the years. For me, just the thought of making pie crust would get the adrenaline pumping for me in the same way that skydiving might for someone else.

One could argue that “practice makes perfect”. As my career got busier over the years, even though “practice pie crust” was a recurring item on my to-do lists, it didn’t get scratched off the list very often. If I was stressed from work, why would I stress myself further at the prospect of perpetuating my failure at making pie crust?

Also, from week to week, when time (or energy) was in short supply, I didn’t have the luxury of being able to experiment in the kitchen. My recipes needed to be a sure thing, to keep the fridge or freezer well-stocked for the week ahead.

That being the case, I just avoided making anything involving a pie crust and just stuck to cookies and squares. The bright side is that I got pretty good at those.

Fast forward to my diagnosis of a wheat intolerance (about 15 years ago). When perusing the shelves of local health food stores, I did try some of the pre-made gluten-free fruit pies and meat pies. I recall some of those early ones were OK, while others had a sandy, gritty texture that had me excusing myself from the table to get some dental floss.

I did try making a gluten-free pie crust in those early years, but the result was even more disastrous than my experience with regular pie crust. A plastic Frisbee would have been more tender and flaky.

In more recent years, the health food store gluten-free pies definitely evolved and advanced. The really good ones were a little pricey, but I indulged from time to time.

It was the convergence of retirement and having an overabundant apple tree that pushed me to give gluten-free pie crust a try again.

By that time, I had already discovered the consistently positive results I experienced with recipes that I tried from America’s Test Kitchen. I already felt hopeful that their recipe for gluten-free pie crust (with its very precise instructions) might be my ticket to pie success.

I admit that the adrenaline was indeed pumping hard as I began, but I set aside plenty of time to go through it, slowly and methodically, following every instruction to the letter. On more than one occasion, I had to remind myself to breathe as I found myself in shallow breathing mode, as the stress of the graveyard of past pies kept surfacing.

But to my great delight, the apple pie turned out perfectly.

I chalked it up to beginner’s luck, but with a positive result comes the confidence to try again!

A couple of weeks later, I decided to try a tourtière, a French-Canadian meat pie, often served at festivities around Christmas and New Year’s. I called my Mom for a refresher on the family recipe for the filling which I would incorporate into a gluten-free crust.

When I set my mind to making it, the adrenaline was pumping even harder as there was not only the pie dough itself to get right, but I could feel the weight of generations of ancestral grandmothers and great grandmothers on my shoulders, making sure I don’t screw up this traditional dish, a symbol of French-Canadian culture for a couple of centuries.

No pressure here!

Again, I followed the instructions to the letter, taking my time to remember to breathe and to re-read each word meticulously. The preparation went well. The assembly went well… In the oven it went.

As the familiar scent of Christmas permeated the kitchen, I already had a pretty good feeling about the result. When the top crust started turning a golden brown (like the apple pie did), I was already mentally high-fiving myself.

As luck would have it, it turned out beautifully. My partner and I both enjoyed it, as we did the leftovers.

With two home runs under my belt, I kept going. With the leftover pie dough I made apple turnovers which turned out deliciously. I made another half recipe of pie dough to make a couple of single serving tourtière pot pies (using the meat that was left over from the big tourtière) which turned out great.

Not only can I say I conquered my fear of making pie crust, but I have awoken a curiosity to expand the repertoire into other types of pies, pot pies and pastries.

Fortunately, with retirement, I now have the free time to explore the possibilities and to play in the kitchen.

I plan on practicing more, but I will be staying in my lane, keeping up with the gluten-free pie crust recipe that has worked so well for me.

Will I ever go back to trying to make a conventional (non-gluten-free) one? With the experience and confidence that came with making gluten-free ones, perhaps someday the inspiration, curiosity and courage will be in sufficient supply to want to try normal pie crust again. Time will tell.

Either way, I think I have overcome my fear!

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under 50+, food, home, Humour

“Help Wanted”: Resisting the Urge to Apply

As I headed into retirement, I admit that I felt a bit of fear that with all of the free time in front of me, I would suddenly be handed suggestions on places to volunteer and to help out in the community.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

What I didn’t expect was that I might become my own worst enemy in that regard.

With the steady increase of Covid-19 vaccination rates, much like everyone, I welcome the freedom that comes with the reopening of non-essential businesses.

I also look forward to the gradual (safe) reopening of restaurants and theatres to enjoy the date nights that used to be part of our weekly routine.

But for businesses to be able to deliver the services we’ve missed for so long, there is some serious hiring going on.

Help wanted signs are everywhere. I see them hanging in shop windows in town. I see them in Facebook groups. I see them in the community paper. Even the advertisement emails that I receive daily by the dozens are hinting that if you are a fan of the store and would like to discuss career opportunities, to please contact them.

Ironically – and don’t ask me why – but something stirs deep inside of me. It’s hard to describe. It’s a call to action of some kind. It’s like a quick response in my subconscious saying, “I can do that” and a gravitational pull toward the computer to update my CV… Could that be a Pavlovian response of some kind? Continue reading

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My First Wheelbarrow

It is hard to believe but at age 55, I am the proud owner of my first wheelbarrow.

I may need to qualify that further by saying my first wheelbarrow in my adult life. In my childhood memories, I do have glimpses of playing with a little plastic wheelbarrow but I don’t vividly remember whether it was mine, was it at a babysitter’s, or was it at a friend’s place. I don’t remember one being around our house, so it must have been at someone else’s house.

That being the case, I was no stranger to the benefits of a second class lever system, even if it was just to transport a haul of precious cargo like teddy bears, super-sized packs of crayons and the absolutely essential Fisher Price telephone. Even back then, I wouldn’t leave the house without being just a phone call away.

But fast forward several decades and here I am again, hauling stuff in a trusty wheelbarrow. What a full circle moment!

When I told my partner that I was writing this post, he asked if I mentioned how I was initially unconvinced when he first proposed it. I thought it was a good point to add. In never using one in my adult life (to this point), I truly had no sense of its potential.

I didn’t need one during my apartment years since I had no responsibility for the surrounding land or garden.

And for the last 20 years I was living in a condominium where pretty much all exterior landscaping was up to the property management company. I had responsibility over my 15 feet by 15 feet backyard, but let’s just say I never needed a device to haul things from one end of the yard to the other. Even just standing still, any given wheelbarrow covers six square feet, so it was hard to justify getting one.

In our rural property, I am surprised how we survived our first year without one. The reality was we didn’t have a garage in which to store it securely and to shelter it from the elements.

Once the garage was finished, the next hurdle was waiting for the pandemic lockdown to be over to be able to go buy one. Of course we could have purchased one from Canadian Tire with their super-efficient curbside pickup, but we wanted to get a good look, to see a few up close and to test some before committing to a purchase. Continue reading

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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Garden Weeds

In declaring my independence from the city and moving to the country, I felt a sense of renewed freedom that was truly hard to describe.

Regular readers and my inner circle of friends will recall that in the city, I have had more than my fair share of lousy neighbours. Over the years, I have endured blaring music till all hours of the night, my backyard being used as a dog’s toilet and my driveway being used as a visitor’s parking spot, among other not-so-neighbourly infractions.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had exceptionally lovely neighbours as well and I miss them dearly, but the nuisance ones occupied significantly more of my head space than the delightful ones.

The move to a rural property meant less need to compromise and to accommodate the impingements of self-entitled neighbours in the name of “staying on good terms”. With so few neighbours, I had the distance I needed to breathe and to heal.

But in the country, there is a different impingement that has become an almost daily preoccupation: garden weeds.

When we arranged a first visit to see this property, it was mid-February and the 1.4 acre parcel of land was covered by snow. We knew that the place had a garden, as the listing referred to the patio as an “oasis”, but that was the extent of what we knew about the state of the landscaping. Continue reading

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Pandemic Pee Planning

Immediately upon receiving my second Covid-19 vaccination a few days ago, I looked forward to putting this chapter behind us and getting back to a life that is closer to the normal we once knew.

One thing I won’t miss about this lengthy chapter is the “pandemic pee planning”.

During the lockdowns, even though I was following rules to the letter and only leaving the house for essential groceries and necessary appointments, trying to manage my bladder around the limited number of public restrooms that were open to the public during that time added a whole logistical challenge in itself.

After a lifetime of being sold on the merits of proper hydration and drinking eight glasses of water daily, you can see where a potential problem ensues.

In a pre-pandemic world, if I was called to a three hour meeting, if a “health break” wasn’t on the agenda, I knew I would have to excuse myself at least once to make it through to the end or else I’d be wriggling around in my chair, crossing my legs like a pretzel.

As a younger employee, I stressed a lot about it as I did not want to appear disrespectful by walking out in the middle of a meeting. As much as I held great admiration for people who could hold their bladders for three hours, I had to admit and accept that I wasn’t one of them. As I got older and more confident, I worried less about it (which only seemed to make potential urgency worse) and was resigned to the fact that, “when you gotta go, you gotta go.”

But it is amazing how the ability to use a public restroom when you need it (or even a little proactively) was something we took for granted. Continue reading

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Screwed by a Cordless Drill

I’ll never forget how kind and generous my grandfather was after my parents split up. The way I saw it, he didn’t judge and he didn’t take sides. I just remember him offering repeatedly to me and my Mom, “Let me know if you need help setting up the new place and if you need me to bring my drill.”

When I moved out on my own, he made the same offer, including the part about the drill. In some way, even though he couldn’t do anything about big changes going on in one’s life, I think that the offer of bringing his drill was his way of showing support, a way of helping through life’s big transitions.

His drill was a classic, and probably considered vintage by today’s standards. If I remember correctly, it was hefty. It seemed like it needed a bodybuilder to pilot this heavy machine with the stiff cord, needing an extension for home improvements taking place atop a ladder. But it did the job.

When I was given my first Black and Decker drill as a gift, it was a bittersweet moment. I felt a sense of independence in being able to take care of my own minor repair work, but I felt bad at the possibility of chipping away at my grandfather’s sense of purpose. Just the same, it was a giant leap in my own journey of “adulting”, and in developing my capacity to perform minor home repairs, without having to call a professional.

I did get some pretty good mileage with that first cordless drill, and was even able to pay it forward in helping to some of my neighbours in my apartment building with the occasional light duty drilling job. I am certain that my grandfather would have been proud. Continue reading

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The Pre-Retirement Emotions

Over the course of my 33 1/2 year career, retirement always seemed so far off. Even though I took pre-retirement seminars in my 30s and 40s to get a sense of long-range thinking and planning, retirement was really not on my radar… until I turned 50.

It was the awareness of “a half century of existence” that triggered a huge mind shift and a process of reflection on how I wanted to spend the next half century (provided genetics permitted me to follow in the footsteps of my long-living relatives and ancestors).

There were many factors and sleepless nights that went into the decision of when it was time for me to sign off for the last time (… far too many to list in a blog post). However, without really thinking or looking too hard, it was almost like witnessing the parting of the Red Sea. It soon became obvious to me that June 2021 was the right time.

In January, I notified my manager and my colleagues of my plans, and then began the process of completing the stack of forms to formalize the decision. Once the forms were submitted and I received confirmation that everything was in order, that was the moment when I realized I had pulled the metaphoric pin on the metaphoric grenade. The countdown was on!

I don’t know if it was just me, but from there, it wasn’t a gradual trajectory from January to June. Once that decision was carved in stone, a surprising roller coaster of emotions ensued.

I was already prepared for the idea that, much like in the completion of a major project, there is joy, pride and satisfaction in a job well done. Continue reading

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What I Know For Sure About Writing

When I attended retirement planning seminars over the course of my career, the psychologists who provided guidance on how to mentally prepare for the transition always seemed to ask the same question: What do you want to do in retirement?

To me, the answer has always been a no-brainer: writing.

My first glimmers of self-awareness about writing came in high school and university. Of all of the assignments in a students’ life, I enjoyed writing essays and compositions the most – and the longer the better – despite the groans from my fellow classmates.

When I stepped into the career world, by some strange stroke of luck, I often ended up in work teams where my colleagues were more than happy to let me raise my hand and volunteer to write lengthy reports, business cases, user manuals and web content while others would probably rather raise their hand and volunteer for root canals.

Writing tasks made me so happy because they presented learning opportunities in an area for which I held a keen interest in becoming better and better.

I enjoyed writing for my managers and executives, as it presented a unique learning opportunity to learn and adapt to their respective writing styles. With the knowledge that I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for them, I never took personally any comments about what I produced. In fact, after working on a few memos, I truly relished getting to a point where I could receive a request, get a few key points about what is intended in the message, and go back to my desk to draft, edit and return a product that was exactly what they wanted and in their own voice. There was no greater compliment to me than when they said “André, this is like I wrote it myself!” Continue reading

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How Music Can Change One’s Mood in a Split Second

This past week, as I was out for the once-per-week, masked, sanitized, and respectfully socially-distanced grocery store run, I had one of those moments that have become all too familiar.

As I turned my king-sized grocery cart around a corner, I was disappointed to see someone going in the wrong direction, completely contrary to the arrows on the ground. I asked myself, after 13 months of Covid-19, have we not gotten the choreography down yet?

But before the cranky old man within me had a chance to fully surface and irritate me for the rest of the grocery run, the grocery store’s speaker system launched into the first notes of Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun”.

As I started humming along (hey, if there’s only 25 people allowed in the store at one time, I can softly hum with a smile under my mask) my mood instantly changed and the non-compliant grocery shopper was already deleted from my consciousness.

When you review the lyrics, it’s not like “Soak Up the Sun” is one of the cheeriest songs ever written, but the chorus, the music and its associated music video convey to me a certain lightness and free-spiritedness that have often helped me let go of some of the little irritants in life.

Have you ever noticed how songs seem to have that power over us, to – please forgive the cliché – turn a frown upside down? And have you ever been in a situation where you are driving around, enjoying a string of one good song after another, and actually hoping for red lights to slow down your commute to enjoy the tunes?

Much like with “Soak Up the Sun”, it doesn’t always have to be about uplifting lyrics, sometimes it can be all about the music itself and a skillful arrangement that just strikes the right notes to raise ones spirits or even better, to energize. Continue reading

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My Mixed Emotions Over a New iPad

You would think that I would have been over the moon with delight about purchasing a new iPad. I wasn’t. In fact, I was annoyed at having to accept defeat.

My previous iPad was purchased in 2012, and throughout its nine years with me, it has been the source of countless hours of information, education and entertainment. It has also been an indispensable work tool in the development and maintenance of the blog that you are reading now.

With my iPad, I’ve sent hundreds of emails, listened to hours of music and read several books. I’ve binge watched shows on it when I wasn’t feeling well. I’ve passed time with it in airports (long before Covid-19 came along).

To me, the iPad was probably one of the best inventions ever, combining so many devices in one, enabling me to travel lighter, especially when I commuted to work by bus. My bad back appreciated this device many times over.

You would think that I could accept that a nine year run with any technological tool is an amazing feat these days, but there is a bit of a stubborn streak within me that just couldn’t bring myself to make that admission. Continue reading

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