Pumpkin pie and the bigger questions

By Erin Dunigan

It was Thanksgiving. This year my family could not make it down to La Misión, as has been our custom for years – Thanksgiving in Baja. My mom always makes the mashed potatoes and the green beans. Melissa and Steve, my compadres, are in charge of the turkey (even though Melissa is a vegetarian!). Martha, who is like my second mom, makes the southern style cornbread stuffing and the most important item of the day – the pumpkin pie. Because of this family tradition, I have only once, when I lived in Scotland, actually made any of the Thanksgiving dinner myself. It’s not a bad deal, really. Until, of course, your family can’t make it to Baja for the holiday. As the holiday approached I didn’t really even think about it. That is, until the day before Thanksgiving. That is when it hit me – the undeniable craving for a piece of pumpkin pie. And that was when it also hit me – wait, even though my family isn’t coming, the truth is, I could make a pumpkin pie myself. It was as if a chorus began to sing hallelujah. Yes! I will make the pie – and even better, I won’t have to share it!

So, I set about looking for the perfect pumpkin pie recipe. I didn’t want to bother Martha by asking for hers, so I let google be my guide. I found one that seemed to be just right. I went to the local market and made sure that my ‘manteca’ was the vegetable kind, not the pig kind – pork pumpkin pie is an experiment I’d rather leave for someone else. As I began on the crust I realized I had hit an impasse – it called for parchment paper on the raw crust, which then needed to be filled with weight such as uncooked dried beans to keep the crust from ballooning when being precooked. I knew I didn’t have parchment paper. Where might one get parchment paper? Perhaps the new Climax in Puerto Nuevo might carry it, but I had just got back from buying a turkey breast there and didn’t want to hop back in the car, especially with the rain coming. So, I turned to google again, seeing what I might use as a substitute. No luck – no clear answers. Foil didn’t seem to be a good option, nor did wax paper, which I did happen to have, albeit from the 1970’s. So, I decided to turn to the expert – Martha. I sent her a text asking her what I could use instead of parchment paper. She had a few follow up questions but then asked, “How long does the recipe say to pre-cook the crust before you put in the pumpkin mixture?” I looked and reported back. That was when she sent me a photo of the recipe from her cookbook – the same one she’s been using since 1955.

Prepare pastry.
Chill thoroughly.
Combine ingredients for filling.
Pour filling into chilled pastry and bake in a hot oven until the center is done.

Wait! No parchment paper?! No pre-cooking of the crust?! Just ‘pour the filling into the chilled crust and put in the oven.’ Cue hallelujah chorus a second time.

The thing is, without realizing it, I had been asking the wrong question all along. I was focused on the specifics of what I lacked – “What can I use instead of parchment paper?” In so doing, I neglected the larger question, “How do you cook a pumpkin pie?” I even had an expert in my corner, so to speak. But the 60+ years of experience that my expert provided did me no good as long as I was asking the wrong question. It made me wonder, in life, how many times do we get stuck in the details, or focused on what we lack, and so miss the larger question that might actually lead us to what we wish for? In this case my goal was a humble one – pumpkin pie. But it was also one I almost didn’t realize for my failure to ask the bigger question.

It made me wonder, what are the bigger questions, just waiting to be asked?

Erin Dunigan is founder of Not Church. For more information regarding gatherings and events, please see www.not-church.org or www.facebook.com/notchurchbaja

On Duty and Delight

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
—Howard Thurman

It was summer. The last place I wanted to be, if I admitted it, was in the hospital. But that is where I found myself, not by choice. The good news was, I wasn’t there as a patient.

A summer chaplaincy internship was one of the requirements for my graduate program and since I had avoided it the summer before by taking Greek, if that gives you any indication of how much I wanted to avoid the summer hospital chaplaincy. I had heard horror stories about it from others who had gone before me – dealing with intensely traumatic situations, screaming family members, fear, grief, anxiety, anger – none of which said ‘summer’ to me.

But there I was, in the hospital on a bright sunny Southern California day. My ‘job’ was to cover the third floor, knocking on doors and asking the patients something along the lines of ‘how are your spirits today?’ Kind of like the people who come knocking on your front door selling their God or religion or their politics – except these poor people were confined to hospital beds and couldn’t pretend not to be home. It was awful. What made it worse was that when I introduced myself as the chaplain many people assumed that the chaplain visit could only mean one thing – they were dying – and so panicked. It was awful.

So, on this particular sunny summer day, I made an executive decision. I would ditch. Not completely, as I needed the internship credits and couldn’t justify leaving the hospital. But I would ditch my door to door work on the third floor and head down to the hospital lobby where I knew there to be a coffee cart. An ice blended mocha sounded like the perfect solution to my predicament.

With my deliciously chilly ice blended mocha in hand, I looked for a place in the lobby to sit down. “If I sit down and talk to someone, then I can justify ditching in case my supervisor walks by,” I thought.  I know, not the best of motives, but alas.

So, I spotted an older woman sitting alone and went to sit near her. She too was drinking something and we struck up a conversation. She was a delight. As it happened, she was there waiting for her husband, the patient, to have some tests. We chatted about life. When she asked what I was doing there I explained that I was working as a summer chaplain. “Oh, I hate chaplains,” she responded, not intending any ill will toward me, just stating her obvious opinion. We continued chatting. As we neared the end of our drinks she said, “Why don’t you come with me to visit my husband – I’m sure he’d love the visit.” I was dumfounded, but agreed. We walked down the hallways on the first floor until we came to his room, where she introduced me to him and I sat down. About an hour later a nurse came in to do some more tests and so I took my leave. “Please come back and visit again tomorrow if you’d like,” he said as I was leaving.

Again, I was dumfounded. What had just happened? A woman and her husband who ‘didn’t like chaplains’ and ‘weren’t at all interested in religion, church, or religious people’ had just asked the Presbyterian chaplain to come back for another visit. But more than that, the Presbyterian chaplain (me) who didn’t want anything to do with cold calling people in their hospital beds had not only just had a delightful ‘chaplain’ interaction, but was agreeing, willingly, to go back for more the next day. What I thought had been cheating – going to get an ice blended mocha instead of dutifully fulfilling my assignment – had actually turned into the most life giving interaction I had had all summer. I had viewed my responsibility as one of duty and drudgery.

But the real magic happened when delight snuck in the back door.

Erin Dunigan is founder of Not Church. For more information regarding gatherings and events, please see www.facebook.com/notchurchbaja

Not Church News

Second Sunday is coming right up . . . so it’s time for Not Church on Sunday, November 10th.

Poco Cielo will once again provide pre-ordering for breakfast, which will be served at the hotel . . . following Not Church. They’re really going out of their way for us, so it would be great if you could support them and stay for a meal with friends after the gathering.

Norte will meet Nov 20 at 4pm at the Beach Comber…

And, there will be a joint gathering in December, details coming soon!  Stay tuned.