Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had in a while. As I lay in bed last night, I remembered advice from a book I once read:
If a day has been good, take a moment to ask yourself why it was good. Whatever you did on that day, do more of it every day.
My day was pretty ordinary, but it included time with family, hearing birds and raindrops, conversation with friends, hearing people laugh, getting stuff organized, and not hurrying. And pie. One of the highlights of the day was making Coconut Cream Pie. It was delicious, and more importantly, a joy to make, and I’m even a little sad not eating it right now, especially since I’m sitting at my desk pretending to like the raw cucumbers I’m eating.
It’s hard to know why, but I’ve been sort of longing to make a pie. I know this is true, because I bought flaked coconut at the store last week. Nobody just randomly buys coconut–there has to be a reason.
Anyway, I used a recipe I’ve used before from this book. It was the very first pie cookbook I purchased, and I’m telling you, this guy Ken knows how to make pie. I highly recommend it for his clear explanations, helpful tips, and the wide variety of recipes he includes.
The thing about coconut cream pie, or really any custard pie is that you MUST pay attention. You have to commit to standing by the stove for a good 10 or 15 minutes and doing nothing else. This is a struggle for me as a diehard multi-tasker with a very short attention span. As I’m typing this, spell-check is teaching me that multi-tasker isn’t even a word, which is probably a good indicator that trying to be one is a bad idea. ANYWAY….
You have to stand there and whisk. And whisk. And whisk. Whiskey whisk, whisk whisk. Sadly, there’s no whiskey involved…but you whisk on. Because if you don’t keep whisking and watching and paying attention, your custard is going to be gross. It takes about five seconds for delicious, loud-noise-worthy, lick-the-spoon-tasty, creamy custard awesomeness to turn to lumpy, burnt, garbage. Trust me.
Because of this fact, you have to have everything prepared. This means that before I even turned on the stove top, I had to find teaspoons, measuring cups, the all-important whisk, the butter (pre-diced), and anything else that needed to be at one-arm’s reach. This is a challenge for people like me. Let me give you an example of why.
Right now, as I’m working on this, there is a yogurt covered raisin pressed between my thigh and my desk. This is because I insisted on trying to somehow keep typing while reaching for a handful of food. I don’t want it to fall, because then I would have to bend over, and it’s snack time, not workout time. As if a two-second break would ruin everything. I just refuse to pay attention sometimes.
Raisin removed. Focus reinstated.
Back to custard. You whisk and whisk, remove it from the heat, and then quickly (still whisking with one hand) add butter, vanilla, coconut extract, and coconut.
Meanwhile, as if paying attention wasn’t hard enough, in the oven is more coconut, toasting to go on top of the pie at the end of the process. Timing is everything, and I’ve never been able to set a timer that really knows how long coconut takes to toast. The internet lies. Cookbooks lie. I’m here to tell you the truth. Check it constantly, or you will have to top your pie with blackened shards of used-to-be-coconut.
So this time, the stars aligned, and more importantly, I kept my eyes on that custard. I paid attention to how it looked, smelled, and felt under the whisk. I was prepared ahead of time. I allowed myself time to pay attention.
The pie was tasty, and I had the privilege to share it not only with my family, but with friends down the street, one of whom ate her part right on the front porch. The best part was that the pie gave us a reason to sit and talk while our kids played and laughed loudly on a summer night. Thanks, Coconut Cream Pie.
I have heard the saying, “He was so poor he couldn’t even afford to pay attention.” Here is the truth I realized on this completely ordinary and impossible-to-repeat day:
I can’t afford NOT to pay attention.
It would be an expensive waste of time to NOT pay attention to birds, rain, laughter, conversation, the smell of custard (burnt or not), or any other ordinary, beautiful or painful thing that I get to experience. It is a travesty to squander the taste of summer vegetables, cool water when it’s hot out, or the feeling of accomplishment you have when you finish a difficult task. We must even pay attention to the hard stuff–sadness, disappointment, frustration. It’s the only way to get the full value of each moment–each day.
Like money, time is gone once you spend it, so you may as well get what each moment is worth.
“…paying attention requires no equipment, no special clothes, no greens fees or personal trainers. You do not even have to be in particularly good shape. All you need is a body on this earth, willing to notice where it is.”
—Barbara Brown Taylor
from An Altar in the World