As was reflected in my post about a Hallmark-inspired Fall Harvest To-Do list, autumn is upon us, and a staple on the fall Hallmark movie list is Pumpkin Pie Wars starring Julie Gonzalo and Rico Aragon. It’s definitely one of my tried-and-trues. Who doesn’t enjoy watching two attractive people fall in love over baking pumpkin pies while simultaneously navigating a longstanding family feud and bringing out the best in each other?
So I love this movie, and I love pumpkin pie . . . but I possess zero kitchen skills. In fact, to be completely transparent, I keep no groceries in my refrigerator. I do not have a spice cabinet, baking supplies, or any other cooking staples on hand to whip up something spur-of-the-moment, like Hallmark leading ladies do in their kitchens. Here in NYC, the land of small kitchens, I’m not so much of an anomaly (I actually have friends who store shoes in their kitchen cupboards!), but I admit that it is very un-Hallmark-like to use my kitchen to essentially house my collection of coffee mugs (because each day must begin with caffeine).
Although every major life conversation throughout my formative years happened around a kitchen table, as an adult, it’s the room where I feel most uncomfortable. Give me a boardroom to dominate, a lecture hall filled with people to present to, or a team to manage, and I’m your girl. Put me in a kitchen, and I will shrink into a corner, uncertain of where to place my hands or what utensils to grab, and very nervous about messing up.
I am used to extended family ribbing me about my lack of dexterity in a kitchen, but what I don’t ever share is that growing up, my mom didn’t let me help in the kitchen. Whenever I’d enthusiastically offer help, she’d shoo me away, claiming that “her nerves” couldn’t handle it. My help was not wanted and I was never encouraged to participate. Rather than a great chef or baker, I became a great kitchen counter sitter, sidekick talker, and food taste tester.
If you’ve been following my journey since the start (The Mistletoe Inn… in Real Life), you know I lost my parents during high school. Needless to say, no one ever showed me what to do in the kitchen, and the older I’ve gotten, the more nerve-racking it’s become to enter the kitchen of capable women and not know what I’m supposed to do.
But this is my year of Hallmark. There are countless movies (an absurdly high number, in fact) that highlight cooking and baking. So what’s a girl who wants to live out Pumpkin Pie Wars in Real Life but has zero culinary skills to do?
Sign up for a pumpkin-pie-making class, of course!
I found the class on CourseHorse, at Pels Pie Co. and soon I was off to Brooklyn once again for another Real Life adventure. The day before my class, the shop owner who would also be my teacher, Alison Pels, emailed me to ask what type of pie I’d like to make. I said pumpkin of course, but I also learned that I was in a class of one. You cannot make this up, I thought to myself as I read her email. Here I am, trying to mix things up, get out of my comfort zone, meet new people, go out of my normal geographical footprint, and I end up in a class of one.
As it turned out, a class of one suits me just fine. All kidding aside, this might be my favorite In Real Life adventure to date. I loved everything about learning how to bake a pumpkin pie. Most of all, I loved being at Pels Pie Co.
Upon signing up, I had assumed that the classroom would be some sort of sterile environment—white walls, stainless-steel tables—with a boring teacher standing at the front of a room of amateur bakers. I never envisioned walking into the warmth of a hopping neighborhood café that specializes in pies. There is nothing cold or sterile about Pels. It’s all vintage warmth with a chandelier over the entryway, colored Christmas tree lights along one wall, potted plants, natural light, and a long, soft seafoam-green countertop.
The customers represent a diverse cross section of people: A group of retired African American women were celebrating a birthday, enjoying wine while ordering off both the savory and sweet sides of the menu. Meanwhile, a young man was taking advantage of tea and Wi-Fi, since his internet connection wasn’t working at home and he needed to work on his fifth-grade lesson plans. Suffice to say, every table and counter top was filled all evening.
When I arrived, my teacher, Alison, greeted me with an Australian accent and told me to grab an apron off the wall while she assisted customers. Our baking station was in the back half of the café, but in full view of the entire establishment. As it turned out, my teacher would be seamlessly navigating between giving me instruction and waiting on customers.
Alison encouraged me to use my hands as much as possible, and I found it surprisingly relaxing to use my fingers to squish two sticks of butter into pea-sized pieces and then massage the flour and butter together. When Alison wasn’t supervising me, I enjoyed a glass of red wine, and upon noticing the arms of my black sweater were covered in flour, I couldn’t help but smile. I was official now.
Just as I was about to go on autopilot with the rolling pin, Alison stopped me to explain that rolling out pie crust is intentional. I needed to make the round shape with purpose. When I’d finally created the circular form, I used my thumbs to push the crust into place inside the pie tin and my index finger and thumb to indent the top of my crust. I loved how physically involved I was in the making this pie. It made me feel connected to my own nourishment.
In Real Life I learned how to make a pumpkin pie just like the character Casey McArthy who at the beginning of Pumpkin Pie Wars, was more comfortable with the business aspects of the bakery than with the actual baking. Clearly I could relate to this character. Although the visual aesthetic of Pels Pie Co. was different from anything in Pumpkin Pie Wars, it personified the authentic warmth of a local business that is a part of a connected community—which is exactly how a local business would be portrayed in a Hallmark movie.
Most important of all, I had fun. I conquered my fear of the kitchen and publicly at that. Plus, I got to observe the café from within the kitchen and feel like an insider in a location where I am usually relegated to an out-of-the-way corner. It was a wonderful experience, and, as I mentioned, probably my favorite Hallmark In Real Life experience to date.
In case you are wondering, my pumpkin pie turned out delicious and looked beautiful. I happily shared it with my entire team at work the next day and with a few friends that evening. It felt great to spread love by sharing something homemade. Hope you, too, are enjoying your Fall adventures… In Real Life.