A little more than a month ago, on Pi(e) Day, my baby brother got married on the South Side in Pittsburgh in a gorgeous, renovated train station (in southwestern Pennsylvania, this has become a real industry; although I’m certainly not complaining, I will say that I suppose this is one way of dealing with America’s crumbling infrastructure: when in doubt, turn a would-be functional building into a restaurant, gym or gourmet food hall!) It was a blustery day, the kind that I’m always surprised by when I end up on the east coast in the dead of winter, but it was nevertheless lovely to be there–to get to take part in the ceremony, see my family, meet his new in-laws.
As befits my brother’s character, the wedding was a small, no-nonsense affair: a short ceremony, hors d’oeuvres and champagne and a generous meal followed by more pie than anybody besides him could ever contemplate eating. The only thing that was uncharacteristically missing was dancing; it may be impossible to believe if you know me and my (pathetic) dance skills, but I happen to be related to somebody who can actually moonwalk. Of course, that’s just one of the many differences between me and my brother: he is huge and athletic; I am diminutive and will happily run away from anything that looks like a competitive sport; he is loud and boisterous, whereas I crave the quiet; he is the king of video games, while I live surrounded by stacks of books. To many people, it doesn’t make any sense that we’re related. This, in fact, became one of the refrains of the wedding: “How can that really be Michael’s sister?” To be frank, it got a little weird at times; I started to feel like the alien invader from California (too much sunshine, maybe?). Perhaps it’s not immediately apparent, but if you look closely enough, we essentially have the same blue-green and gold-flecked eyes and heart-shaped face; besides that, I think our short list of common interests run to a belief in the superiority of our grandmother’s baking, a love of dogs and the ability to quote Zoolander in any situation, appropriate or not. That may not seem like much, but as far as I’m concerned, sibling relationships could be built on a weaker foundation.
I really was trying to be a good sister that weekend. I don’t know why, but it suddenly felt like I had one weekend to make up for all the important events in his life I had missed: high school graduation when I was living in Japan; graduation from the Air Force Academy when I was swamped with grad school work; his graduation from nursing school…Call it my increasing morbidity as I get older or call it my realization in the post-academia years that there’s so much more to life than worldly achievement and sounding/looking/being smart, but I simply want to do better, maybe just to be present in the ways that matter.
So, besides one breakfast with my oldest friend (27 years and counting!) at a very exciting South Side waffle house, I was exclusively devoted to the wedding. Although I had fantasies of going to a museum or two and having a nice dinner out with the Greek, in one weekend, I was instead a photographer (amateur though I may be), a dog walker and, most importantly, a pie baker. This may not be my natural baking forte, but I did my best to rise to the occasion. I will forever maintain that the saying “As easy as pie” is misleading (cake is by far simpler), but I do think that making the pie dough the way my grandma taught me–that is, with vegetable shortening (her recipe is here) and not with the much touted butter–results in a better, flakier crust, one that can be easily handled and that rolls out beautifully. More importantly, since shortening can’t soften in the way that butter can, crust made with it doesn’t require nearly as much fuss as one made with butter.
Once I felt I had (semi)mastered the dough and, let’s be frank, there wasn’t much time to master anything, the rest of the work really was incredibly simple. I had settled on two flavors: one the famous salty honey pie from the Four and Twenty Blackbird Pie cookbook and the other, given the fact that I’ve been calling 2015 the “year of citrus” since January, a Clementine Chess Pie based on a recipe I found on the Southern Living website (something about that magazine just speaks to me; I suspect it’s the southern appreciation for beautiful patterns, pickled things and manicured gardens). Both disappeared within a matter of moments, which, considering the “pie anxiety” I sometimes suffer from (at its heart, it’s really a fear of tough crust. My grandma once told me that when she first started baking pies for my grandpap after they were married, he refused to eat them because the crust was too tough. One could say that this is an example of family lore gone wrong), was really heartening. Some people preferred one over the other (the Greek loved the Salty Honey, while my Dad raved–and continues to rave–about the Clementine Chess; the latter does deserve a redo, one that will make an appearance here come the start of the next citrus season when I’ve figured out a few adjustments I want to make to the recipe), but that’s the way it will always be. The important thing was that I got to contribute to the wedding in a meaningful way and make my brother some of his favorite dessert….Even if he did insist on doing his younger brother act and make it seem like my pies were inedible.
That said, one of my favorite parts of the evening was discovering the amazing cake topper his wife had found. As I mentioned earlier, my brother is a serious video game player. The topper feeds into this narrative, showing the bride pulling the groom away from a television that reads “Game Over.” Just like he couldn’t resist making fun of my pie, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of glee when I saw the poetic justice and beauty of the topper. Ultimately, I suppose that, no matter how good one’s intentions are, siblings will, for better or for worse, always be siblings.