“People lose people [or pets] they love every day. My loss is no more important than anyone else’s. I just share it in an honest way because our cultures shuns death, as if dying weren’t part of living.” —Jennie Perillo
Grief is a strange beast. As my regular readers know, my sweet, insane, beautiful fourteen-year-old kitty passed away almost two months ago. If you ask me how I’m doing, overall I have to say pretty much okay. We’re hanging in there. It’s true that there’s still a giant, Watson-shaped hole in our lives. We miss him. The house is too quiet, the sadness lingers in the background. But I have certainly transformed from the blubbering mess I was shortly after his passing into something that resembles a normal, functional adult human. I can talk about him without tearing up (usually). I can smile and laugh when we reminisce. We’ve displayed his ashes, after hiding them away for weeks, which has provided palpable healing. But, as I’ve learned, grief is not an emotion, it’s a process. It goes through its paces on its own schedule, like a broken bone healing in a cast. Grief does its own thing, and won’t be rushed by you or anyone. And I’m often thrown by the surprising and specific things I miss.
I work from home, and not a day went by that Watson didn’t feel compelled to “help” me do my work. And if I may be totally frank with you, I found it annoying. If I was in my office writing or working on my computer, he had to stride in and interrupt with demands for attention. If I was in the kitchen cooking or baking, he had to follow me and stay underfoot, all the while clawing the lower cabinets and yelling for morsels of whatever human food I was preparing. I cannot count the number of times, over fourteen years, I scolded him to please, for the love of God and all the other deities, just go away.
And now that he has, there’s a lonely, gaping hole in my work, and I don’t always know what to do with it. Or how to handle it. For as much as he legit got in my way, I now realize it was less of a distraction and more of a rhythm I had fully integrated into my daily routine. I find that I almost don’t know how to write or cook without him there being a pest. I don’t mean that literally, of course. I still understand the technique of creaming butter and sugar, or searing chicken thighs. But I’ve realized I’m having to relearn how to work in this completely new, eerily quiet environment I was never prepared for. Before he died, I rarely walked through the kitchen in a straight line. Instead, I was always sidestepping the cat, shouting, “Dammit Watson, move, you’re gonna trip me!” Now there’s no tripping hazard, and it’s like I have no idea how to just walk directly from Point A to Point B. I sit down to write and it’s like part of my brain won’t turn on until he waltzes into my office, meowing and purring at me. Except he doesn’t anymore.
It’s grief, I know things will heal more with time. Such a strange process though. Things that served as distractions and irritants were the things you didn’t know you cherished so much, and relied on so heavily.
Mr. Wallace long ago nicknamed Watson “Least Decorative Cat Ever”. I always called him my little buddy. Usually it was said with affection, occasionally with a tad bit of exasperation. I just never knew how true those words really were.
Brown Butter Pear-Apple Pie
- 1 unbaked pie crust for a regular 9” pie
- 4 tbs unsalted butter
- 2 golden delicious apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
- 2 ripe bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
- ⅔ cup natural cane sugar (I used Turbinado)
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 3 tbs all-purpose flour
- 1 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
VANILLA BEAN CRUMB TOPPING:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup natural cane sugar (I used Turbinado)
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
- 6 tbs unsalted butter, melted
- On a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out your pie dough to about a 12” round circle (of course this assumes you didn’t purchase your pie crust already rolled out). Grease a 9” pie plate (regular, not deep-dish), and transfer the rolled pie dough. Tuck the edges under and use your fingers to neatly crimp the edge all the way around. Refrigerate while you prepare the filling and topping.
- Preheat your oven to 425℉. Place the center rack in the lower third of the oven. Now melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy-bottomed pot. Use a stainless steel pot if you can, I can’t tell you how much peace of mind this will give when browning butter, when you can actually see the color changing in real time. Cook the butter until it browns but doesn’t burn; it will smell nutty and fragrant. This happens quickly, so don’t walk away. Let butter cool 5 to 10 minutes.
- Add the apples, pears, sugar, salt, and flour to a large mixing bowl. Toss to coat well, then add the browned butter, making sure you scrape those browned bits on the bottom of the pot (flavor!!). Add the lemon juice and stir well to combine. Let sit on the counter so the juices can thicken while you prepare the topping.
- Whisk the flour, sugar, salt and vanilla bean seeds together in a small bowl. Pour in the melted butter and stir to thoroughly combine. You should be able to grab a handful of the mixture and have it clump together like damp sand, holding its shape.
- Retrieve the pie crust from the refrigerator and spoon the filling into the crust. Smooth it to as even a layer as possible. Grab small handfuls of the topping and squeeze to form a solid piece. Sprinkle the topping over the filling, breaking the larger clumps between your fingers to create some small and some larger pieces. You’ll likely be left with some scraggly crumbs that refuse to cooperate into solid pieces, just sprinkle them over the top last. They’re fine.
- Bake 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350℉ and bake for 35 to 40 minutes more. You don’t need to remove the pie from the oven when you turn the temp down. Your end point is the top and crust edges are golden brown but not burned (use a pie crust cover if the crust itself is browning too fast), and the juices are bubbly. Cool completely before serving.