My famous last words right before moving out of New York City back in February: “I love this city Mary, but I doubt I’d really miss it.”
And here I am, eight months in, experiencing this sad nauseating flip in the pit of my stomach every time I hear Jay-Z and Alicia Keys belt out “…let’s hear it for New York, New York, NEEEW YOOORRK!”
Sigh. New York, the city that can transform an unsuspecting innocent diner just looking for his ordinary meat and potatoes into an insatiable raving food fanatic. You can’t help it, something about that city…maybe the hype, maybe the love for life, maybe the constant competitiveness to one-up each other on the most mundae of things, be it the most authentic pizza or the crispiest fries…something about it just sucks you in.
I remember standing like a lone statue for over two hours just for a slice of cheese pizza at the famed Di Fara’s in Brooklyn, even after they had locked the doors from the outside to any new orders, totally hypnotized by the rickety motions of the old man Di Fara himself as he tenderly sauced, cheesed and basiled each and every pie. Or doing a little heat dance to keep my toes warm in the biting cold outside Magnolia bakery, jittery with excitement about reaching the front of the block-long queue and strategizing about how I could grab that glittery Christmas themed cupcake before someone else got their paws on it (it was much later that I switched loyalties to an LES bakery: Sugar Sweet Sunshine).
Or leaving my tourist cousin and her friend stranded clueless on a random street corner, just so I could sprint through slushy November rain and touristy traffic to make it to the Little Pie Company store before closing time. Because after all, what’s a sprint through the grime and a lost cousin if you could have a legendary pie, aka the Little Pie Company’s Sour Cream and Apple Walnut pie, grace your Thanksgiving dinner table? A small price to pay I say. And I’d wager that anyone – anyone who’s drowned their senses in those velvety folds of bubbling hot apple slices, soaked in sour cream and sugar and cool milky streams seeping out from the vanilla dollop up top – would agree.
That pie was one of my first transformative food experiences in New York, even as I was hunting down apartments before my move to the city. I had the fortune of hijacking a friend’s room on 10th ave, just steps away from the Little Pie Co., and would cross the devilishly aromatic pie shop each morning before hopping into the subway to begin my apartment search for the day. I’d fallen so deeply in love with those plump slices of baked apple and the filling-sodden pie crust that I bought four pies to pack in my carry-on right before a short summer trip back to Dubai.As I sat in my room in Dubai, reminiscing about everything that looked, smelled and tasted of New York, I was possessed by this absolutely ludicrous idea to recreate the pie. Ludicrous, because my last attempt at making pie crust was strong evidence that I was lightyears away from being able to pull off anything as ingeniuous as the famous sour cream apple walnut pie. But rationality was not the predominant feeling of the moment. I was on a mission to create the pie that was arguably the first of many mindblowing food experiences that I’d had in the city.
The only compromise I made was to make mini bite-sized apple pies, rather than one big gigantic pie. Why?
(B) The undetectable goof-up theory: I’d like to believe that it’s easier to get away undetected when you goof-up on small scale, bite-sized things, partly because of baby theory A (most people get distracted by the cuteness, and pay less importance to taste), and partly because there’s less of anything to taste of. You’ve gobbled it up in one go before you could do the second and third tastes critical to arriving at any discerning conclusion.(C) The rescue-your-guests theory: Even if you do end up serving something that tastes utterly toxic, your well-intentioned group of family and friends are obligated to get through just a singular swallow to redeem your efforts in the kitchen. There’s no massive chunk that they have to painfully wade through before assuring you that, indeed, the craggy pink rock you’ve placed on their plate is one of the most phenomenal renditions of strawberry shortcake cake they’ve tasted in a long time.
The online copy-cat recipe for the Little Pie Company’s apple pie, together with one of the many pate brisee recipes I’ve read online (I’ve read so many that I can’t even remember which one it was), gave me a small, fleeting taste of New York, only vaguely resembling the earth-shattering apple pie on 43rd and 10th ave that I so love. Everyone who sampled the pies at work and at home seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed them…but only I knew how they were really meant to taste.