I look at our glorious Christmas tree and it brings me such happiness. Now not working, I had the luxury this past week of decorating the tree and the house leisurely and deliberately with enjoyment and all my corny carols. In the previous years I’d come home from work at the very least tired, knowing I still had dinner to prepare and the inevitable put-the-lights-on-the-tree skirmish between father and son to deal with. Every year I had hopes of having Christmas carols on, Christmas cocktails in hand, spontaneous teasings and laughter…the dog would have his Christmas collar on with its little bells ringing every time he took a step…it was a delightful aspiration just short of a Currier & Ives Christmas card. I’d put so much pressure on myself, everything had to be perfect. And that means perfect by MY standards, MY set of rules. I turned into a beast. I could feel it. The bone weariness of work, shopping, cleaning, baking, cooking and decorating. Fingers throbbed from polishing drawer upon drawer of silver. I walked with the slow heaviness of a primordial tortoise, my feet screaming with pain at every step. And no amount of stretching or twisting could touch that dull, tortuous ache in my lower back. In the middle of it all I could easily turn around, my eyes falling on a shelf in the kitchen where I’d forgotten sat a row of silver platters, black with tarnish, waiting patiently for the day I’d spend polishing them. And there was the year I opened my closet late on Christmas Eve to find all the boxes and bags of gifts I had forgotten to wrap. Too many late nights, early mornings and long days and I morph into the “Sea Hag” from Popeye, snapping and scowling, muttering curses under my breath…it’s positively hideous. And for what? So I can say with pride that I prepared the most savory vitello tonnato on the planet? So I can hold my head up high knowing deep in my heart that my table is equal in grace and elegance…wait, no!
Surpasses Queen Elizabeth’s at Sandringham? Oh, please. I discovered several years ago that not only is it not worth it and highly unattractive to behave in that manner, like a kitchen witch, but there is an easier way, a way that all in my household are happy and that peace and warm feelings are a constant. A little planning, a stable of tried and true outstanding recipes and a realistic timetable. Lists are invaluable; they will keep you on task and they will give you the sense of reassurance that you ARE in control. At your office when you might normally pop over to Facebook to see what’s going on COMPOSE YOUR LISTS. Believe me, everyone else is doing it. When you look over at your co-workers and they’re hunched over their computers do you really think they’re working on the Henderson Report?? Oh, hell no! They’re at their calendars figuring out how many days are needed for their 22-pound bird to defrost in the refrigerator. How far in advance can the potatoes be mashed and maybe this is the year we use nice paper napkins instead of the family damask ones. I’m tellin’ ya, make a list, stick with it and don’t freak out about the legions of people you’re expecting. And you’ll see how lovely it feels when, task completed, you can check off said chore on your list you so wisely composed. I no longer bake two or three different kinds of pies each Thanksgiving and Christmas. I choose to prepare my pies with handmade crusts so, to make it easier for me, I serve only pumpkin pies. Some years back I discovered that of the 15-20 friends and family members in my house none, NONE, really were interested in the apple pies. And they’re kind of labor intensive as the apples have to be peeled and cored. Pecan pies were barely touched and that was only after having scarfed down the star of my desserts…the smooth and sensual pumpkin pie. My people are all over that like a duck on a June bug. AND, for all my Southern peeps, this pie can be made with plain baked sweet potatoes in place of the pumpkin. (But my Southern folk know this already.:) I make my own pie crust, one which originally started as Craig Claiborne’s recipe but, many years later and hours tinkering with it, has evolved into my own version. That said, I am also a true believer in the store-bought, rolled up crusts in a box, perfect for a last-minute baking session. This pie is positively magnificent and, true to the saying, easy as pie. Make it easy on yourself. It is exceedingly better a day or two after baking, (that’s pretty great!), served chilled from the refrigerator with a fat dollop of sweetened whipped cream. The subtle flavors of the pumpkin, rum and warm spices unfold to bring about a swirl of deep and complex tastes that give these spices their celebrated status. This is the pie that will make your life easier AND have your guests swooning!
Again, this pie is much more delicious made a day or two in advance and well chilled. I often use a tart pan rather than a pie pan for no other reason than it’s what I’m in the mood to bake. The tart is served on top of the bottom of the tart pan with the collar or side having been removed so it’s a bit prettier. If you’d rather not include the rum in the pie or whipped cream that’s fine. It’s still a fabulous pie!
Over the Top Pumpkin Pie
yield: 1 10″ pie or tart
Pre-heat oven to 325°
- 1 15-ounce can plain pumpkin puree
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon dark rum
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1 partially baked 10″ pie crust or tart shell
- In a small bowl mix cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, ginger and allspice until well combined. Set aside.
- Using a large bowl combine pumpkin, condensed milk and eggs. Mix until combined.
- Add rum and vanilla to the pumpkin mixture, stir until barely combined then add spice mixture to pumpkin and stir all until combined.
- Place partially baked pie crust or tart shell on tin foil lined baking sheet. Pour pumpkin mixture in crust or shell and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour.
- Check for doneness by ever so gently touching the middle of the pie. It should be barely firm, not “jiggly” at all.
- If not quite done, bake another 10 minutes and again check for doneness using the pad of your finger.
- Remove from oven and cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 12 hours or overnight.
Rum Sweetened Whipped Cream
- 1 cup heavy cream, ice-cold
- 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1 tablespoon dark rum
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Place mixing bowl in the freezer with beaters in the bowl to chill for several minutes.
- When the bowl is cold pour the cream in and beat at low to medium speed until the cream is slightly thickened.
- Add the confectioner’s sugar, rum and vanilla and beat on medium then high until soft to almost firm peaks form.
- Serve immediately with each individual slice of pie.