Monday, October 8, 2012

Angela's "When Life Gives You Lemons" Lemon Meringue Pie

Early in our dating relationship, the simple mention of "Angela" - one of Will's female co-workers - gave me pause. Will and Angela ate lunch together, swapped books, met for matinee movies and even braved the holiday crowds to shop for my Christmas gift. I will readily admit, I was suspect. You could even say threatened. Just who was this "other woman?"

Thankfully, I didn't have to wait long to find out. Just a few short weeks into our whirlwind romance, Will arranged for us to go on a double date with Angela and her newlywed husband, Rich. Although I may have gone into dinner ready to "size up my competition," I left with the most wonderful new friends. (Not to mention the reassurance that my new love's sibling-like interactions with his female co-worker were completely platonic and did not warrant my growing insecurity.)

Angela and Rich quickly became our go-to couple friends. We went out to dinner together, celebrated birthdays (including a surprise for my thirtieth), made holiday trips to Apple Hill for pumpkins and Christmas trees, stayed up until the wee hours of the morning playing Mexican Train dominoes and celebrated the ringing in of each and every New Year together. Over the past near decade, we have shared the joys and losses of pregnancies, supported one another through the deaths of several loved ones and welcomed three new little people into the world. 
In many ways, Angela and Rich were more like family than friends - they were the people we chose to do life with.

And then things changed. Following a sudden separation and ultimately, a divorce, Rich all but vanished from our lives. And I have to admit, our foursome felt a little empty and slightly awkward as a party of three. I struggled with the nagging feeling that Angela had really always been Will's friend, first and foremost, and I wasn't sure where that left me in our dwindling group.

But Angela and I quickly found our own stride, meeting for much needed girl days filled to the brim with shopping and sushi. We forged our own friendship - just the two of us - in a much deeper way than we ever had before. And it felt natural. Over the past year, I have begun to really appreciate Angela for the woman that she is - not Will's co-worker, not Rich's wife, not even Elizabeth's mommy - but just Ang.

The past year and a half has been full for Angela - full of challenges I'm sure she would have preferred to do without. But through it all, she has displayed more grace and composure than I imagine most women could have mustered up. She truly has made the most of the circumstances she has found herself in, however bitter or sour they may be. Taking a page out of Angela's book, I thought it only appropriate to whip up Angela's "When Life Gives You Lemons" Lemon Meringue Pie.

Before I get ahead of myself, I should probably mention that I have a citrus allergy. And not the innocuous type that causes a couple of hives and a little itching. No, no - I am plagued by "ugly" allergies - the kind that leave swollen lips and constricted airways in their wake. In short, I was willing to risk possible anaphylactic shock and EpiPen usage in the making of Angela's pie. Now that, my friends, is love.

I realize this may sound absurd to the average lemon-consuming American, but I have absolutely not a clue what lemon tastes like. I've never had a lemon wedge in my Diet Coke, never stopped by a lemonade stand for a quick thirst quencher on a hot summer day and certainly never had a slice of lemon pie. Basically, I had no idea what this pie should taste like, nor was I able to sample along the way.

So, I began with what I did know - crust. In what has become almost second nature, I combined the usual flour, butter, shortening, salt and ice water with my fingertips. I rolled the dough into a thin, uniform sheet, draping it over the rolling pin to transfer it to the tin, and used my shears to trim the excess before fluting the edges. Then, I lined the shell with a layer of foil and weighed it down with dried beans to blind bake until lightly golden and flaky.

As is the case when baking any pie (or any other baked good for that matter), I have found that the most important component in achieving a successful flavor comes from using the best, freshest and often most local ingredients available. Because I planned to utilize the zest of the lemons in addition to their juice, I opted to purchase organic fruit for this pie.
In a saucepan over medium heat, I combined cornstarch, superfine sugar (granulated sugar that has been ground into finer crystals) and the zest of two lemons. Zesting these sunny little lemons struck the fear of God into me. Although I wore latex gloves when handling all citrus (sexy, I know) and remained ultra-cautious not to touch my face under any circumstance, I did, in a moment of panic, find myself literally needing a breath of fresh air to refocus on the task at hand.
I had every intention of juicing my very first lemon all on my own. I promise I did. But that small rational voice in the back of my head - the one that reminded me of just how important breathing is - won out over my desire to be independent. So, I called Will in from the other room to do the dirty work of juicing for me, directing from a distance to avoid being splattered.
I strained and stirred the lemon juice, the juice of one orange and a bit of water into the saucepan. Once bubbles began to dance on the surface, I removed the mixture from the heat to stir in butter, several egg yolks (setting aside the whites for the meringue) and one whole egg. Finally, I returned the pan to the burner and stirred until the custard had thickened.
Being a total novice when it came to meringue, it would be fair to say I was ever so slightly intimidated. First off, there was the French-ness of it all - always cause for concern when you have absolutely zero training. Secondly, whisking the "good old fashioned way" had become a thorn in my side (or rather, my arm).

Nevertheless, I forged onward, separating half a dozen eggs retrieved from the backyard coop (it doesn't get more fresh or local than that). I began by whisking egg whites, superfine sugar and salt into a froth over a double boiler. Once the foam had warmed slightly and the sugar had dissolved, I removed the bowl from the heat and whisked until stiff peaks formed.
Lest you thought I had a particular affinity for whipping by hand, nearly a half hour of continuous whisking to achieve perfect peaks led to the spontaneous announcement that I will never again whip a meringue, or whipped cream for that matter, by hand. My birthday is quickly approaching and I see a hand-held mixer in my future.

Finally, I dolloped spoonfuls of meringue atop the still warm filling, being careful to anchor it to the perimeter of the pastry. Then I piled the remaining meringue into the center of the pie and used the back of a wooden spoon to create a series of decorative peaks.
I returned the pie to the oven, set on a low broil, and kept a close watch, removing the pie once the meringue had just begun to crisp.
I am happy to report - with the proper precautions, a careful little voice reminding me not to touch my face and quite possibly just some good old fashioned maturity of the immune system, my first lemon pie mission ended without a trip to the emergency room.
My time spent with Angela, particularly over the past year, has reconfirmed what I have always known to be true. I genuinely love the woman that she is - not just because of our history or that my husband met her first or because she has always been a part of my adult life - but because she truly is a beautiful person. I am honored and proud to call Ang one of my dearest friends. She is a shining example of how to pick yourself up by your bootstraps, lean a bit on those around you that love you and make something better when life gives you lemons. 

"Only goes to show that the limit is the sky. If life gives you lemons then you make lemon pie.” - Jay-Z


  1. SO impressed that YOU made a LEMON pie Erin!!! and yay for no trips to the emergency room!!!

  2. I love this blog!! So glad that Angela posted this on her FB page. This is a great blog post Erin, I think Angela is something pretty awesome too!! you are now on my "to follow" list of blogs!! Bright Blessings!

  3. Although I haven't met you, Angela has told me a lot. She values your friendship so very much and after reading this, I can see why. Angela is an amazing woman and I am glad she has friends like you and Will in her life. By the way, she totally couldn't put down your pie! :)