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Practice makes perfect(ionist)

Until Thanksgiving Eve, I never understood the allure of food blogs. Or the “joy of cooking.” I definitely understand the joy of eating. But cooking? I just didn’t get it. But this year, my mom tasked me with making my great-grandmother’s chocolate pie. She’d dug it out of the archives. It was handwritten by our Aunt Betty, Mom explained, and was appropriately titled: Grandma Madge’s Chocolate Pie. As Mom recited the instructions over the phone, she threw in words of warning. “When you’re cooking the chocolate, don’t leave the stove. Keep stirring. If you don’t, it will burn.”

So, I wrote it all down and followed the instructions. But as I stirred the chocolate, I noticed white globs of something beginning to form. What is that? I wondered as I poured the thickened mixture into the pie crust. I tasted it. If you’re a cook, you already know.

Egg. Little bits of scrambled egg.


I called my mom, trying to figure out what went wrong. I understand (sort of) about how you need to temper eggs so they don’t scramble. But the recipe didn’t tell me to pull out the handy dandy mixer and blend the ingredients before I dumped them into the pot. I’d thought a couple of stirs with the spoon was sufficient.

“You know those old recipes. They assume you already know these things,” Mom said. 

As I stood over the stove and stirred the chocolate for the second time, I could hear Aunt Betty, my “Mema” and great-grandma Madge laughing at me from above. It was good-natured—I imagined them poking fun at me in a “bless your heart” kind of way. Sweet little Angie—a modern day work-at-home-mom who doesn’t know how to make a chocolate pie.

Then, it was time to make the meringue. And when I pulled it out of the oven, this is how it looked:

meringue one
meringue one

Not exactly what I was going for. This link illustrating how to make meringue helped me as, for the third time, I attempted my great-grandma’s pie. And ta-da!-- this is how it turned out:

meringue two
meringue two

It was a very humid Charleston day, and later, the finished product melted just a little bit. But I was certain I could hear my maternal angels saying, “You did good, baby.” I thought so, too.

I learned so much more than how to make a pie. I’ve always considered myself a perfectionist, and I haven’t been very proud of that. Sometimes, my desire to make things perfect (which I know is impossible) holds me back. It's my way of stalling when I'm afraid to move forward. But this Thanksgiving, as I attempted my grandmother's pie not one, two, but three times, I was empowered by the determination I felt rising up inside. I noted what went wrong and saw how I could make it better. And I still had time to give it another try. In that moment, it was important to me to do the very best job I was capable of. That pie was a tribute to the women who had taught me so much, and it was a gift to my mom, who finally let me help prepare Thanksgiving dinner.

A lot of truth bubbled to the surface as I stirred those pots of boiling chocolate. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Angels of Christmas past and present

My great-grandma's chocolate pie