My dad died 17 days ago. He had been sick but I wasn’t expecting it. That also happened to be my daughter’s 6th birthday, and the day before my own. It’s been a fuck of a couple of weeks.
The dust has settled a bit. We waded through the wake and the funeral. It oddly reminded me of my wedding, where everything seemed too bright and dizzy and I had trouble remembering the details afterward. Too much to process in too short a time frame.
And since then, life has gone on. I hosted a birthday party for said 6 year old with 50 people in attendance 2 days after the funeral. I played hooky in the city and bought a cookbook. I’ve done laundry, but ignored the cleaning. I’ve brunched. I’ve cleaned out his apartment. I’ve napped a lot. I’ve felt alternately fine and then wept in large retching gasps with no warning it’s coming. This is grief for me.
I’ve had the banal epiphanies I usually associate with hallucinogens. That having complicated feelings about someone is not the same as having no feelings at all. That this puts me one giant step closer to my own death (which it really doesn’t). That I need to be a better mother, wife, friend. That most of things I spend a lot of time caring about don’t actually matter at all.
We did not have an easy relationship. He was not the kind of man that most people close to him would say that about. There were huge incidents and hurts of the type that scar instead of heal. He was without remorse. But he was also incredibly charismatic. He filled a room with the force of his personality. He could be incredibly generous (like secretly paying my cousin’s college tuition on the condition she not tell anyone). And he endured hardships that most people claim they’d rather die than undergo. I struggled to find balance with him.
More than anything, he loved to eat. Most of the memories he shared about his childhood involved food. There was his grandmother’s homemade fudge, his first job selling spudnuts door to door, the hot dog stand in California we returned to each visit we took to the west coast see his family. The black eyed peas and the coconut cream pie his mother made. My own mother tried over the course of my childhood to duplicate the pie. It was never quite up to the standard of his memory.
20 years later, I made him my own version. I don’t know how it compared to his long dead mother’s, who hadn’t baked him a pie in 50 years. But he oohed and aahed and made yummy noises and ate most of it by himself. With that pie, he did everything right.
I never made it again. No one else liked coconut except him. It was too time consuming. Anytime I thought of baking him another pie, old battles and resentments would surface and the pie pan would go back on the shelf. Someday I would make him another, when we had smoothed over the bumps. There was time. But of course, there wasn’t.
So I made one last pie. I don ‘t think he knows. I don’t even really believe he still exists in some form, except maybe as energy. He was a believer, though. He thought there were great things waiting for him on the other side. I envy that kind of faith. And for all our sakes, I hope he’s right. And I hope the smell of toasted coconut and sugar finds him somewhere, healthy, with a smile on his face and a huge appetite.
dad’s coconut cream pie
ingredients for crust:
from the Back in the Day cookbook
- 2 c. unbleached flour
- 1 c. cake flour
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 c. ice water, plus up to 3 more tbl.
- 1 tsp. white vinegar
- 1/2 vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into bits
- 1 stick (8 tbl.) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into bits
Whisk flours, sugar and salt together in a large bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, beat the egg with the vinegar and 1/3 c. ice water. Place flour mixture into a food processor. Sprinkle butter and shortening over the top. Pulse 5-10 times until butter is size of small peas. Return flour mixture to bowl and pour egg mixture on top. Use a fork to carefully mix together, adding more water, 1 tbl. at a time, if dough seems too dry. Do not overwork the dough.
Form dough into a ball and cut into 2 pieces. Flatten each piece into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill the the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
When dough is chilled, generously sprinkle your countertop with flour,then roll out dough to fit a standard size pie pan. Carefully place into the pan, and trim edges to 1″ past the edge of the pan. Tuck edges under and crimp the edges. Loosely cover with plastic wrap, and place back in the fridge for at least 1 hour until fully chilled.
When ready, preheat the oven to 400°. Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork, then line with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until dough appears set and dry, and is no longer shiny. Remove foil and pie weights and bake another 5-10 minutes until the crust turns a light golden brown. Remove crust from oven and cool on a wire rack until completely cool.
ingredients for coconut cream filling:
- 1 & 1/4 c. sweetened dried coconut
- 1 & 1/2 c. whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 2 tbl. cornstarch
- 2 tbl. unsalted butter
- 2 c. heavy cream (for topping)
- 1/4 c. confectioner’s sugar (for topping)
Preheat oven to 325°. Pour coconut onto a metal baking sheet and spread out evenly. Toast in the oven, stirring frequently, 5-10 minutes until it becomes fragrant and turns a light brown. Remove from oven and place onto a clean, cool baking sheet and allow to cool.
While coconut is cooling, pour milk into a medium saucepan. Slice vanilla bean down the middle length-wise (not all the way through), scrape the insides into the milk and put the scraped pod into the milk as well. Warm over medium heat, until bubbles just begin to break the surface of the milk. Remove pan from heat, and remove the vanilla pod and discard. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch together. While whisking constantly, slowly pour milk mixture into bowl. Whisk until combined, then pour mixture back into saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until it thickens and begins to boil, 3-5 minutes. Continue to cook for 1 more minute, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, and pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Whisk in butter until melted. Whisk in 1 c. of the toasted coconut, reserving the other 1/4 c. Cover surface of coconut cream with plastic wrap and let cool about 20 minutes. After it has cooled to warm, pour cream into cooled pie crust, smooth out and cover surface with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator at least 5 hours or overnight.
When pie has chilled, make whipped cream topping by combining the heavy cream and the confectioner’s sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Use the whisk attachment and set the mixer to medium, whisk until soft peaks form. Remove from bowl, spread over the coconut cream filling, and sprinkle the top with the remaining coconut.
You see some images I shot in his apartment on instagram.
If you like my pictures, you can see what else I shoot that doesn’t end up on the blog on instagram.