When Jennie Perillo instructed us to “make a peanut butter pie and share it with someone you love. Then hug them like there is no tomorrow because today is the only guarantee we can count on” I complied. Jennie lost her husband Mikey to a sudden heart attack a week ago and this was his favorite pie. I don’t know her very well, but I’ve felt her charismatic character around the blogging universe and she’s always struck me as plucky and up for anything. In fact, Jennie was all slated to be a Nudie Foodie with the rest of us until unforeseen circumstances kept her from her photo shoot, which goes to show she’d be baking a pie for someone else right now if they needed it.
I decided to focus on the part of Jennie’s directive “share it with someone you love,” because this is my baby boy Bentley Danger’s birthday week and I can think of nothing better than peanut butter pie to help commemorate it. I need to stop calling him my baby- he’s three now, and lives wholeheartedly up to his middle name.
In our house we have no shortage of hugs- I have long-savored his tiny-but-muscled arms squeezed around my neck, even if it’s just to butter me up into giving him a lick off the chocolate mousse whisk. But I gave him extra hugs this week- to the point that he got squirmy and I held on tighter, wishing time would stand still and he would be my baby forever. But as Jennie said, today is the only guarantee we can count on, so I strive to make every today the very best today Bentley could have, even if it’s at the expense of work, this blog, or the trivialities of life.
I can only hope that at the end of a very long journey on this gorgeous earth, I will have the opportunity to reflect back on my years. I am sure I won’t dwell on how many degrees I earned, book deals I got, or accolades from fancy journalists I received.
Instead, my heart will swell from those who have touched it in extraordinary ways- my parents, my husband, my child, and so many of you reading this who I love, both near and far, both met and unmet, for nowadays a community made possible by the wonders of technology and social media is no less a community. In fact sometimes it’s stronger. As with the #apieformikey campaign. Today there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of people making a pie to lift Jennie and her two girls up and help them celebrate the life of a wonderful daddy and husband. That, my friends, is community.
For Bentley’s birthday I had planned to roast s’mores with the kids in our outdoor fire pit. I made marshmallows- nectarine and vanilla. I made Nancy Silverton’s graham crackers from her book, Pastries from the LaBrea Bakery. If you’ve ever yearned for graham crackers that taste just like they did when you were a kid, but Nabisco’s cardboard confections always seem to fall short, seek out Nancy’s recipe. I will never eat store-bought again. I was worried about the candles, though. Where do you stick candles on a s’more? The peanut butter pie came along at just the right time, although I, like everyone else baking one, sure wish it hadn’t.
I have been mentally under-the-weather the past few weeks. It’s that pesky, “what am I doing with my life” stuff. I sure appreciate technology and progress, but have to wonder if people living in hunter-gatherer societies ever worried about the inflated dramas of the human spirit. I’m pretty sure the question- what am I doing with my life?- was probably answered with- making sure you and your family have enough to eat and not getting killed in the process.
But because modern conveniences afford us the luxury of excessive self-evaluation, we’re always looking to become superhuman versions of ourselves. I am struggling with how much time I devote to ephemeral things, sometimes at the expense of what really matters, which, in this case is making sure I’m there for my rapidly-growing and very likely only child, Bentley.
His birthday week snapped me out of my funk and instead of tackling his party with the tenacious diligence of an apt student of Thomas Keller like last year (I made seven courses from the French Laundry for a toddler party- what was I thinking?) I decided to make things Bentley would actually like and be able to pronounce. His favorite cuisine is Mexican food, so I made beans, rice, and a can’t-quite-help-myself sous vide version of pork carnitas. There was a piñata. It was a rainbow, of course, a token of significance for the wedding between his two uncles we hope to attend next year in New York.
The children, and the children in us all, made their s’mores. I ate two. I sent the kids home with goodie boxes filled with silly toys, but I did not forget the adults. They got airline-sized bottles of Sauza Hornitos and all the necessary accoutrements to make Cadillac margaritas. Because if you’re going to make parents gamely-attend toddler soirees, at least you can send them off with a useful parting gift.
But I was selfish this year. I reserved one rendition of “Happy Birthday” just for Bentley and me. That was the one with Jennie’s pie. Which I converted to a vol au vent, because in my weeks-long funk, I made A LOT of puff pastry. Sometimes a girl needs to knead. I filled the puff pastry vol au vent with peanut butter cream and sung quietly, tearfully, to my baby who is now, by all counts, officially a little boy. When he blew out his candles with the haste of an excited toddler, I made a wish on his behalf. Then I whispered it to him, even though I know you’re not supposed to tell. It had to do with years. Many, many love-filled years together.