But, eventually, the children get older. They learn to read, they learn to reason, they learn to Google. The cracks in the literacy long con begin to show, and by the time middle school rolls around, those cracks have become craters your kids will gladly lob grenades made of logic and algebra into. While I may no longer be their go-to when it comes to chemistry or Kierkegaard, I have realized there are areas where I am not merely proficient but masterful. For example, I can fold fitted bedsheets. I can fix a leaky faucet. Last year, I kept a basil plant alive for 10 whole months. And, I can cook. Damn well, I may add.
Though I have cooked professionally for close to 20 years, you do not need my level of know-how to dominate in the kitchen. The kitchen is where the little things shine, because when you break it down, all recipes are a series of small actions, and you probably take your mastery of them for granted. Can you peel a potato, or boil a pot of water, or use a sharp knife without fear of dismemberment? Well look at you, a true maestro of minutia! You are already more than capable of so many highly impressive things.
Bring your kids into the kitchen and you’ll quickly realize that even if you consider yourself a cooking novice, in reality, you are a bastion of basic competency.
Though I’ve had plenty of experiences in the kitchen, this existential epiphany was recently cemented when my 13-year-old son asked me to teach him to make key lime pie.
Now as far as pies go, key lime is quite possibly the easiest one to execute in the whole dang taxonomy: You make a graham cracker crust, you do a little stirring, you toss it in the oven, bada bing bada boom you got pie. It’s so simple that I didn’t think there was anything about key lime pie that could qualify as a teachable moment. Then, I let a middle-schooler loose in the kitchen. I will never underestimate key lime pie, and its ability to break a person, ever again.
Key lime pie begins with pulverizing graham crackers with a bit of butter and corn syrup in a food processor and then pressing it into a pie pan. There is no rolling, no crimping, no racing against the clock to keep the butter cold.
As I stood agape in my kitchen, wondering how it was humanly possible to get a patina of cracker crumbs on every visible surface, I remembered how making a proper graham cracker crust is not a latent ability. I flashed back to when I was 13, struggling to press it into the pan evenly because my hands were not yet familiar with its texture, quietly hyperventilating because I was unsure how much pressure to exert. Should I tamp it down tightly? Leave it loose and sandy?
These were not questions that could be easily answered by cookbooks or recipes. I make a fantastic graham cracker crust because I’ve made hundreds, if not thousands, of them. I make a graham cracker crust that will knock the socks off any child, no matter how big of a smarty pants they are.
To make the filling of a key lime pie, you need to know how to whisk, and that’s about it. If you can vigorously rotate your wrists, you’re golden. But I’m good at whisking because I have muscle memory. When I whisk, I make a key lime pie filling that’s perfectly smooth, lusciously creamy, and 100 percent contained in the bowl I’ve made it in. There is key lime nothing on my face or my pants. I grabbed the bowl and showed him what real whisking looks like, then handed it back to him and told him to repeat. As an amateur whisker, his motions were nowhere near as graceful.
You got served, son. You got served so hard.
The beautiful thing about key lime pie, though, is even if it’s a bit of a disaster, it will still be delicious. Once you look past any aesthetic flaws and appreciate it’s bright, sunshiny flavor, you’ll want to take another crack at making it. And another. And another.
Eventually, you find just the right amount of pressure in your hands, just the right amount of flexibility in your wrist. Once the motions become as natural as breathing, you can use these powers to shock and amaze. You pass these hard-earned lessons to your children and celebrate when they, too, declare victory over the small stuff.
You tell them that as long as they’re living under your roof rent free, you expect them to regularly make you key lime pie.
Key Lime Pie
No need to go searching for key limes to make this pie. Use bottled juice combined with egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk to make the filling for this classic dessert.
Active time: 15 min; Total time: 25 min, plus at least 2 hours 20 min cooling time
Storage: Leftover pie may be refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Note: The pie needs to be refrigerated for at least 2 hours before you plan to serve it.
- 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons (41 grams) light corn syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 1/2 ounces (185 grams) graham crackers (about 16 crackers)
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 large egg
- Finely grated zest and juice of 2 small limes (regular limes are fine)
- 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) bottled key lime juice
- Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving (optional)
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
Make the crust: In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the butter, corn syrup and salt and heat in 30-second increments on HIGH until the butter melts. Stir to combine and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the graham crackers until they turn into fine crumbs
. Add the butter mixture and pulse until fully combined. Using your fingers, press the crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie pan and bake for about 10 minutes, or until set and just a shade darker.
Make the filling: In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, egg and lime zest and whisk vigorously until thick and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk, bottled key lime juice and fresh lime juice until fully combined.
Make the pie: Pour the filling into the parbaked shell and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until set. Set the pie on a cooling rack for 20 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.
Calories: 346; Total Fat: 15 g; Saturated Fat: 8 g; Cholesterol: 110 mg; Sodium: 35 mg; Carbohydrates: 47 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 35 g; Protein: 7 g.
From food writer Allison Robicelli.