Category Archives: Humour

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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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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My First Apple Tree (Part 2)

After a few weeks of non-stop activities surrounding the apple tree that wouldn’t stop dropping bushels of apples, I finally got a day off thanks to thunderstorms.

I took a moment to realize what a struggle it had become to wedge in the apple picking, the sorting and the distribution, between everything else I needed to do and before it got too hot and humid outside. I had to suspend pretty much all other garden maintenance work when I had only a limited window to work with in the early morning.

With the apple tree still dropping apples faster than we could collect them and everyone’s hands cramping from peeling the apples we gave them, I was feeling stressed.

With bags of apples accumulating quickly, getting progressively larger and waiting for the next “disposal”, we were attracting more than our fair share of insects and possibly fauna as I kept spotting partially eaten apples showing up in random parts of the property nowhere near the apple tree.

Funny enough, I realized that in the recent rush of apple activity, I was too busy to notice that my legs and glutes weren’t burning anymore. I guess the body adjusted to the intense activity… hello bright side!

When I took to the Internet to do some research, I discovered that yard work can burn about 300 calories per hour. That seemed to bring a whole new perspective and positive mindset about the time and effort I was devoting to the apples. When stretching, squatting and moving bags of heavy and wet apples was part of my daily morning routine, who needs a gym work out consisting of stretches, squats and weights? Continue reading

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My First Apple Tree (Part 1)

When we first moved into our home in the country, we were quite enamoured by the two apple trees on our property.

For me, apple trees bring back childhood memories of a Macintosh apple tree that sat on the property line between our place and our neighbours’. The girl next door and I climbed that tree, we played in that tree and we daydreamed in that tree.

It was the neighbours’ tree however, and the neighbour took care of it, so none of that maintenance work shows up on my CV of my life experience.
Was I prepared for fruit tree ownership in adulthood?

That first season after the move, neither of the trees on our property bore any significant amount of fruit. We ran through a few scenarios to explain the reasons why: Could it be the trees’ age? Could it be the drought that put the trees in survival mode? Perhaps the trees were biennuals.

Either way, I count my blessings retroactively that the trees didn’t create any additional work for us given how busy we were with other urgent home maintenance projects while unpacking and juggling busy careers.

This spring, the apple trees graced us with beautiful blossoms and the greatest hope that we might see some fruit in the coming months.

In early June, the tree with the yellow transparent apples started dropping the first of its teeny tiny fruit. To me, this was a sign that the tree was well on its way. At that point, the apples were too small for any functional purposes so I just picked them up and put them in the yard waste bags.

But every time I looked up and saw just exactly how many apples were in the tree waiting to reach fruition, I wasn’t sure whether I should be happy or afraid. It was a massive apple tree.

Either way, I had TV-inspired visions of leisurely mornings, pulling out the stepladder, picking a few choice pieces of fruit for that day and then spending time in the kitchen making glorious baked goods.

The Pollyanna in me had a very pretty sweet view of what life with an apple tree could be.

That is… until a couple of weeks later when the apples started to mature, and seemingly all at the same time. Some days, they dropped at a rapid pace like a violent hailstorm of apples. It was in that moment that I knew how Henny Penny felt. Continue reading

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Shopping Like I’d Never Shopped Before

Over the course of the Covid-19 lockdowns and closures of non-essential businesses, we had accumulated a short shopping list of items that weren’t available online, or for which some degree of browsing or comparison shopping was required.

When the province announced the first phase of reopening of non-essential stores, part of me yelled, “Start the car!” like in those legendary IKEA commercials, but the reasonable part of me took a deep breath and said, “Slow down… not just yet”.

At that point, my next vaccination was still a couple of weeks away and the variants to the virus still presented enough unknown risk for me to want to choose my errands carefully. The last thing I wanted to do was to be in the stores with hordes of other shoppers, making a June shopping trip feel like Black Friday or Boxing Day.

With the expansion of the vaccination program and the daily improvement in new case numbers, I knew that the appropriate thing to do was to wait.

But my neck was saying otherwise as I needed a new pillow in the worst possible way. The extra firm pillow I was using was well past its expiry date. In fact, it was probably past its useful life a couple of months after Covid-19 started, so it was no surprise to me to be regularly waking up with a kinked neck.

Not to boast or anything, but given that medium-sized hats are too small to fit my Charlie Brown round head, I often wonder if I go through pillows so quickly because of the sheer magnitude and associated weight of this globe of a skull.

Another theory, presented by a salesperson at a mattress store, was that foam pillows do eventually break down over time through body heat and sweat. I accept that possibility too, but it seems that I go through pillows the way other people go through tissues. 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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Life Without a Doorbell

Shortly after we moved into our new place, it didn’t take very long for us to figure out that the doorbell didn’t work. All it took was one seemingly unhappy tradesperson standing at the door for an unspecified period of time, waiting for us to answer a door that didn’t actually ring.

Fortunately, after he knocked (the universal back-up measure when doorbells don’t seemingly elicit any kind of reaction), we sprang into action and answered the door immediately. When the tradesperson saw us test the doorbell to confirm that it actually did not work, he understood and was a good sport about it.

Ever the good Canadians, we tripped over ourselves with a chorus of apologies. To ensure that we didn’t waste anyone else’s valuable time, we immediately put up a sign saying, “Please knock loudly, doorbell doesn’t work.”

To live without a doorbell during the pandemic didn’t seem like a huge loss, at least at first. Obviously, we wouldn’t be having friends drop by to check out the new digs for some time, so that wouldn’t be an issue.

Given that we were contemplating building a garage as well as installing a back-up generator, both of which requiring the presence of an electrician, we didn’t make the doorbell a huge priority. We just assumed that we could piggy back the doorbell on one of those jobs, rather than set up a house call for just the doorbell.

To me, having no doorbell actually brought with it a bit of a sense of relief. Back when I lived in the city, there were days when I would have liked to yank the doorbell out of the wall for the revolving door of aggressive door-to-door salespeople that rudely ignored my “no peddlers or solicitors” sign. But thankfully, a provincial law outlawing door-to-door sales calls of that nature ended that practice before I performed my first doorbellectomy. Continue reading

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The Move to the Country: One Year Later

Over the course of the pandemic, as working off-site became the new reality for a number of office workers, there seemed to be an apparent shift in thinking: If one can work remotely, is proximity to the office a must?

To my surprise, articles emerged about the beginning of a trend, an interest in migrating from the city and its suburbs to more rural properties. I guess we were just a little ahead of the curve when we chose this country property as the backdrop for our approaching retirement years.

For the record, it wasn’t a completely random choice. This is where my partner grew up and where his parents live now. While I may be a little farther away from my own mother and stepmother, to pay them a visit would entail little to no traffic along the way, which is a relief in itself.

I know that a few people in my immediate circle of family and friends wondered (… or should that be worried?) if I had made the right decision.

Even I will admit that I was very entrenched in city life. I liked being within walking distance to shopping. I was a heavy consumer of entertainment and cultural events. I appreciated variety in restaurants and food offerings. The vibrancy of the city and many of its amenities were always important to me.

But I think I surprised everyone, including myself, in terms of how quickly I took to rural living. I was definitely ready for the change.

During my years of city life, for the most part, I had delightful neighbours. Unfortunately, in my first apartments, I had to deal with a few self-entitled morons whose understanding of “quiet enjoyment of premises” as described in our rental agreements, held different interpretations.

For me, there were sleepless nights, not only from blaring stereos and surround sound systems at all hours, any day of the week, but from the constant internal struggle for the balance between being an accommodating neighbour and still being able to feel calm and relaxed in my own home. Continue reading

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The Language of Rural Life

Over the course of our first year following our move from the city to the country, it became apparent that I was lacking one asset: vocabulary.

For someone who loves words, who writes a weekly blog post and who aspires to become a screenwriter in retirement, who basically eats, sleeps and dreams about writing, how can that be?

The reality is that I grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa. And by suburbs, I mean outlying parts of the city, but leaning more toward the city than the country.

Up until last year, I hadn’t been fully aware of the differences, intricacies and nuances of language simply by moving from an urban to a rural postal code. As a result, the gaps in my lexicon have left my interlocutors with squints and raised eyebrows.

The first glaring problem was my inadequate ability to distinguish between conveyances.

For example, if I was ever arriving home a little late from an errand in a neighbouring village, I might say, “Sorry, I was stuck behind a slow-moving truck on the highway.” My partner realized that I used “truck” for just about any vehicle that didn’t qualify as a car, as I later used the term to also describe every type of construction vehicle that ran across our lawn when we built our garage.

Upon realizing that “truck” was pretty vague to someone born and raised in the country, I adopted the expression “agricultural vehicle” as a seemingly more accurate catch-all term for farm vehicles. At least that would distinguish the conveyance from let’s say, a pick-up truck, a dump truck or a tractor trailer hauling “stuff” (which I should also more accurately describe as goods, crops, livestock or building supplies, as appropriate). Continue reading

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