Like many misadventures, it begins small. An overheating oven is repaired.
Next, I buy new bakeware. It's 40-per-cent off after all. I celebrate my new pans by baking a batch of cookies, then some muffins.
Soon, it seems there is always a browning banana in need of transformation into bread. I bake a few versions of chocolate cake. No big deal.
At least, I think I'm doing fine. But I've begun to linger over the Pasty/Pie section of my cookbooks. I'm slowly getting mixed up in the art of pastry. I learn that a pie crust requires a delicate mixing of dry ingredients with shortening and water. I learn that adding just one extra tablespoon of water will result in a pie that needs to be sliced with a steak knife.
But it does not take long for my pie crusts to graduate from tough to flawlessly flaky. Soon, I'm baking a pie more than once a week: blueberry, cherry, apple. I take requests from my eager children and am rewarded with high praise. Thanksgiving comes and the occasion begs for pumpkin pie. I deliver two perfectly spiced pies, and an inflated ego, to my mother's home. I am caught up in recipes and tips. My pies should be photographed and framed.
I take more and more pleasure in pastry's creative touches - fluting and fancy latticework. I add little hearts to the edges and cut diamond shapes for the steam to escape. The process is never rushed, and each pie is more beautiful than the next. I discover that my hobby is as much about my love for art as it is about my love for baking.
I begin giving slices of pie to my ex-husband whenever he comes to pick up our kids. He becomes my taste-tester/reviewer, and always with five-star raves. Granted, he also knows not to bite the hand that feeds him free dessert.
Now the baking is really escalating. I am scouring online recipes for ways to mix things up. I integrate foods I don't favour much: peaches, oatmeal, blackberries. I find myself absorbed all day in pie making, and then having to scramble to make a nutritious supper. Being in the kitchen all day is not the life I planned, but I just keep getting better and better. There is nothing more delicious than success.
My children's school sends home flyers about childhood obesity and how to prevent it. Pie isn't mentioned. Phew.
Of course, I know better. Although my children are eating small portions, it's probably better to limit desserts to once a week. While grocery shopping one day, I reach for another pound of shortening and realize that I bought one just last week. How many times have I been in the baking aisle? My midsection replies, "Too many."
My thighs feel heavy. My weight is wobbling up. Of course, it is! At this point, I have earned the distinction of Pie Maker. I decide to bake a pie I don't like. I'll give it to my ex-husband or mom, I reason. It will be used as practice and I can still keep up with my hobby if I give the food away. I choose one I've always hated, lemon meringue.
It seems that many families have a dish or dessert that was done to death. While I was growing up, it was my mom's lemon meringue pie. Countless days, I came home from school, asking, "What's for dessert?" only to see a lemon pie cooling on the counter. Blah.
In my kitchen, however, I soon come to admire my mom's efforts. The fussy recipe barks directions like, "must be room temperature," "for only 1 minute," "stir constantly," and several pesky "set asides." I feel battered with commands and tired from whisking.
But when I taste a tiny section of the pie, I am shocked that it is so good. Intrigued, I eat a piece. I decide I've made the best lemon meringue pie ever.
Perhaps the best pie ever.
Later that day, my children disagree emphatically. In fact, my son's words are, "Ewww, why did you put that white stuff on top?" And, unlike their father's, my children's reviews include "disgusting" and "gross."
But what do they know? Maybe kids just can't appreciate this pie.
It's left to me, and shamelessly, I include dessert with my three meals a day. As a result, the pie is gone quickly. I don't even give my ex-husband his share.
With my least favourite pie completed, I realize that I can't bake a pie I don't like.
And now, four months' worth of pies, cookies, and cakes made of overripe bananas are showing in my cheeks and chins. I hear the strain of my pant zipper. My love of baking is showing. Or is it my lack of self-control showing?
After the greatest pie ever, I don't make another. I'm serious about losing my "baking weight."
So it is with sadness and resolve that I hang up my apron. My fridge returns to a landscape of green foliage and my fruit bowl overfloweth. I remain optimistic and think of leaner days, when my oven overheated by 200 degrees and I still thought that I hated lemon meringue. I remember when, not long ago, I was blissfully thinner and unaware that a brilliant pie maker lurked inside.
Elizabeth King lives in Hamilton.
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