Why Hello There, and welcome once more to Kitchen Catastrophes. I will forewarn you all: today’s post is probably not going to be very funny, or particularly informative, except in one very specific field. Today’s post, if you missed the statements last week, and the one a few weeks ago, is basically solely devoted to my father, who passed away a month ago today. It will be about my relationship with him, his history, and about a pie. If none of these things interest you, I understand, and will see you either Thursday or next Monday. If you wish to come with me on this journey, I thank you.
A Dismal Disclaimer
Before we truly begin, I wish to make something clear: today I intend to be honest. Completely honest. This may be…jarring for some of you. I apologize.
If you don’t understand why it would be jarring, let me clarify: I make it a point to say quite frequently that I am not a liar, and I have not lied in years. And, if asked, I will point out that part of the REASON I can say this proudly is that my definition of a “lie” isn’t exactly the same as everyone else’s: I only count untrue statements as lies if they’re for selfish or malicious intent. A ‘white lie’ is not a lie to me. But, I acknowledge, it is not honesty either.
Thus we come to the first dilemma. On the one hand, I want to say “Luckily, it’s great that one of my dad’s favorite foods serves as such a great metaphor for his life.” And launch into an explanation about him and his connection to the dish.
On the other: that sentence is fucking bullshit. I’ve been writing about food for 6 years now. With a couple hours of thought, I could have made ANY food work as a metaphor for his life. I chose the dish because it was his favorite, and while yes, I like the way the pieces fit metaphorically, I know that’s by no means unique. People are complicated, and food is relatively simple. It’s pretty easy to draw seemingly authentic parallels.
If I had the patience and desire to make Veal Scallopini, another of his favorite meals, for instance, there'd be a lot of different points made.
And, on a personal note, I wouldn’t label the fact that I am called on to commemorate my father through a pie before I turned 30 as “lucky.” Luckier than many, yes. But still not in the range I'd give it a thumbs-up.
I tell you all this as a…validation, technically. A show of good faith that what I write here is the truth as I believe it. If it at times sounds overwrought, flowery, or pretentious, that’s because I am those things. But I’m also willing to say that “my dad used to beat me” in a post eulogizing him. He did. For a couple years. I don’t consider it his FAULT: He did it because a medication he started taking for chronic back pain caused him to become depressive and mentally unbalanced. After maybe 2 or 3 years, he realized that this wasn’t him, and he had his medication changed. He never verbally apologized, to my knowledge, but…how could he? What would he say? He was broken, and in doing what he thought was right in his broken state, he hurt us. I legitimately don’t think he had the vocabulary for that apology. It's not a nice thing to talk about, but it's true.
So when I say “Though he wasn’t a perfect person, I loved my father”, understand that I am speaking from a place that has been tested and tried. That, for a time, I didn’t love him. We were too different, too frustrated, and too confused with each other. But that was in my teens, which is already a frustrating and confusing time, and he was suffering under medical side effects. We mended. We moved past it.
Anyway, we’re here, technically speaking, for pie. So we should probably start making it.
The Lime is Key, of Course
My dad’s love of key lime pie is one of the more emblematic things about him, because his love was particular, connected to his past, and somewhat remarkable. My dad grew up in Southern California, but had relatives who lived in Key West, so he would spend summers there. That’s where he gained his love of Key Lime Pie, and why he was almost never satisfied with versions he tried in the area: he had it with fresh, local Key Limes juiced for the pie. Of course the shelf-stable mass-market stuff didn’t hit the spot. That’s like serving Jiro Ono a can of Bumblebee when he orders Tuna.
This is not a man who wants to try your "Chicken Of The Sea."
Thinking about those trips from California to Florida really helps me understand my dad’s constant desire to travel. This is a man who lived all up and down the west coast in his teenage years (not...entirely by choice) , and who spent a shit-load of money ensuring his sons got to travel. My family would spend several days in Blaine, on the Canadian border every year to be a part of the Hands Across the Border event…which is next weekend? Huh. What coincidental timing. My dad sent myself and my brother Stephen to Australia as Student Ambassadors, he sent all three of his sons to National Jamboree, and he sent Stephen and Nate to Europe.
My mother says that this was because he wanted us to see more, to be exposed to more of the world while we were still young. He felt that, as children, we would be more open to new experiences, that we would try things that we might turn down as adults. He wanted us to see more of the world, to be more open to the new and different. Which is weird, as we'll get to in a bit, but let's redirect to the food for a minute.
I didn’t use real key limes for this recipe, because I live in Washington, not California, and Key Limes are hard to come by in this area. Of course, because Irony is a smug fucking piece-of-shit, I found a bag of them at a grocery store literally the day AFTER I made this pie.
And because I have not yet cracked the code on Time Travel, that means we will be settling for this.
The reason you use Key Limes instead of normal ones is that they’re sweeter. My concern was that, using a bottled variety, that the taste might be dulled. So in addition to the juice the recipe called for, I added the zest of a normal lime, as well as half of its juice.
And, while it may sound stupid, that line reminded me of a joke made about my father years ago: my friend Jason VanGeelkerken, who served in Boy Scouts with me, where we went on many hikes with my father over the years, was describing my dad to a mutual friend of ours. (As I recall, the friend had said something to the effect of “Does Jon even have parents? I assume he leapt into our world fully formed from a logician’s nightmare”, or some other complimentary insult.)
“Mr O’Guin is a man of zest, in every sense of the word.” Jason asserted.
“You mean he has a bold, mesquite flavor?” Our friend snarkily replied.
“You know…yeah, if I had to pick a flavor for him, I’d pick “mesquite”.” Jason replied after some thought.
I always agreed with that idea.
And the Girl Condense Me Down
You may think it more than a little inappropriate that I just referenced a Sublime song about hand-jobs during my father’s memorial post. To which I have three replies:
A: I need a couple laughs in here somewhere;
B: Fuck you, he was my dad, and I’ll mourn how I see fit;
C: I consider it part of the memorial itself. It’s important to remember that my father was not a man too willing to be burdened by societal expectation in the pursuit of humor. This was a grown man in his late 40’s who flipped a pad of butter off the end of his knife into his son’s face at a restaurant and cried out “Butter Facial!”
This is a man who told an 11-year-old Jon a joke whose last two lines are:
“You mean the one that fucked the gorilla?”
“Shit, it’s already in the papers?”
So don’t @ me, fam.
I have been told this is the modern version of "Step off, Son." If this is not accurate, please send all correction emails to idontreallycare@illestmotherfuckerontheblock.Lycos.com
Anyway, the next ingredient is Sweetened Condensed Milk. If you don’t know the history of Sweetened Condensed Milk, quick summary: before refrigerators were common, it was pretty hard to keep milk safe and drinkable for any distance away from the cow it came from. While it was first condensed in France, condensed milk was independently discovered and mass-produced by an American named Gail Borden Jr, who decided to make the product after several children died on a trip from England due to bad milk from the ship-board cows. (This was back in 1851, when a ship still took around 20 days to cross the Atlantic.) After several failures, he eventually created and successfully produced condensed milk. The sugar was added to help it last longer, and last it does: you can put it on an unrefrigerated shelf for literal YEARS and it’ll still be good.
It was actually hugely popular during the Civil War: a (then standard) 10 oz can of Sweetened Condensed Milk weighs less than a pound, but contains almost a full day’s worth of calories, including 28 grams of Protein and Fat. It’s basically a high-calorie protein shake. So a bunch of soldiers ended up drinking it, liking it, and then buying it for their homes after the war. The company that Borden founded has been making Condensed milk for 160 years now.
Of course, we bought Store Brand, because saving money is a long-running culinary trend of our family.
I told you all of that, somewhat contrary to the earlier comment that today isn’t going to be very informative, because I like the parallels it holds with a lot of things my dad cared about. My father was a big believer in the Boy Scouts of America. He liked films about cowboys, and shows about cops, and movies about soldiers, mostly soldiers in World War 2. Order, tradition, and Honor. These are things that had stood the test of time to him, to be valued.
And that drive to the tested, to the familiar, to the old-school, it was sprinkled in many of his choices. He was not a man excited to try a new type of cuisine, not without a safety net of something he knew he’d like. He ordered the same pizza from the Italian restaurant in town every time, the same entrée from his favorite Mexican place.
In his later years, while I was away, he took up the hobby of wood-turning: forming pens, bowls, wine-stops, and more, by carving wood while it spins on a lathe.
This, for instance, is a bowl he made. It's a very nice bowl.
Last week, I discussed the pedigreed position of Meatloaf, stretching back to Rome and Ancient Egypt: Wood turning, while potentially a craft you’ve never heard of, is similarly pedigreed: There are carvings of Egyptians using lathes on the very monuments that fill their ancient cities. Rome knew woodturning. I think that idea appealed to him. Something with tools, that he could do with his hands, with an ancient and storied history.
Traditions were important to my dad. It was an impulse we often clashed over. My earliest adventures were in the world of fantasy and sci-fi, which taught me that there was always somewhere new to explore, with new rules and sights and wonderful things to encounter. I feel guilty ordering the same thing more than twice in a row at a restaurant, because I’m not pushing myself.
Somewhere around a year and a half ago, before his diagnosis, he and I were in a restaurant. He ordered the same pizza he always ordered. I ordered the White Pizza. And he turned to me, and asked “So is it just that you like all that weird shit?” And I didn’t have an answer for him.
I didn’t often have answers when he asked me about myself.
Egg on Your Face
The last ingredient that goes into a Key Lime Pie is eggs. That’s really it. You mix eggs, condensed milk, and lime juice, and put it in a crust. It’s simple. And dad had a somewhat simple view of the world, as hinted at by the movies he watched. But it should never be forgotten that “simple” is not the same as “easy” or “stupid”. He believed there was right, and there was wrong, and those were things you could be certain about. My father believed the right thing was the right thing, even if it wasn’t popular.
But we’re not here to talk about simplicity. My father, much like myself, was not a simple man, though he did a credible impression of one. He was a man of many hats, literally and figuratively: in his youth he lived out of his car trying to be a rock musician. Then he moved and became a roofer. Then he moved again, and became a MALE NURSE at a Veteran’s Hospital, where he would meet my mother. This is a man who taught Fire Safety to Boy Scouts, and told stories of the Pipe Bombs he made as a rowdy teen. And through it all, he moved with aplomb. I only recently learned that my dad actually lived in Central America for a while, because he simply never thought anything of his time there had been relevant to tell me.
Anyway, we’ve wandered afield. We were going to talk about eggs now.
As you’ve heard, and seen, several times on this site, my family has been raising chickens for the past year or so.
Shown here having escaped the confinement of the back yard to...eat bugs and grass in a corner of the front yard. Turns out Chickens don't really care where they eat, as long as they get to eat.
However I don’t know if I ever actually said aloud is the exact time-line of that choice: my father decided to get my mother chickens ten days after he was diagnosed with cancer. We didn’t actually GET the chickens then, but that’s when the process went from “hypotheticals tossed around idly” to “Jon, I need you to research and print out details on these two types of coops.” And while the chickens have been something of a pain in the neck over the last year, they’re also quite soft, and rather cute, and only one of them bites.
What I like most about the eggs in this equation is the ultimate heavy-handed symbolism of the act, and the ingredient: My dad, when faced with his own mortality, chose to ensure that life at the O’Guin house would go on, and grow. He bought his wife pets; pets that she would have something to care for and spend time with. Pets that would add to the household, by laying eggs.
And bringing in life was one of my father’s best tricks.
The line his sister used to describe it was: “Greg never encountered a stranger, simply a friend he hadn’t made yet.” He was a man who would sit outside a store while his wife went inside, and have met 3 people before she came back. A man interested in learning your interests. In this, more than any other trait, I felt my father was a great man. When he was up, and about, my father was vital. Alive and invested in a way few people are these days. He moved people, he got things done, and he tried to make friends while doing it.
There were people who didn’t like him, sure. He was a demanding man when work was involved, exacting. He often spoke in a confident and sometimes coarse way: but what can you expect of the man? He was a nurse at a Veteran’s hospital, a roofer, and, for a time, a wanna-be rock star. He spoke the language of the common man, loudly and proudly.
A Taste, and a Final Coda
Once you’ve got it all sorted out, you bake the pie for 10-15 minutes, then chill it for several hours. We served it as part of dinner on Sunday.
How did the pie turn out?
I don’t know.
I don’t eat Key Lime Pie.
Is this a normal color for it? I have no idea.
I ate this one, of course. But I had nothing to compare it to. Because I was never interested in it. I hadn’t eaten a Key Lime dessert in years before yesterday. It was…fine? It tasted like a lime pie. It was tart, and sweet, and cool. I liked it, but didn’t love it.
And that serves as a dark mirror to this whole process. I don’t know how to feel.
One of the things my father taught me, more through implication than words, was the importance of control. The suppression of negative impulses for the greater good. This... was not as beneficial of a lesson as some of his others. Because deep down, I’m just…cold. All the time. In the totality of the figurative sense: there’s a part of me, deep inside, that’s bored, that’s calculating how best to turn everything to my benefit, that just doesn’t CARE about anyone’s problems but my own, and frankly doesn’t care too deeply about those either. I don’t like that part of me, I know it’s not particularly healthy, so I just ignore it most of the time, but it’s still there.
I always thought, when this moment came, that I’d break, at least a little. That the polar ice inside me would crack, the bitter salt water would run out, and I’d have some kind of catharsis. That I would reach some kind of understanding. I thought it would suck, that it would be ugly, and painful, but that it would make me stronger, like re-setting a misaligned bone.
But it didn’t happen. I only cried when I had to tell others. Because it hurt me to hurt them. Since then, it’s like…static. A cold static that brushes over me every time I have to remember. “I wonder what dad will be watching when we get home.” Bzzt. “Oh, I should tell dad about-“ Bzzt. And it just… it doesn’t HURT, not really. It’s not like resetting a leg; it’s not even like stubbing a toe. It's like when you ALMOST hurt yourself, like you step wrong, but don't fully roll your ankle, or you drop a knife point down NEXT to your foot: that visceral cold shock on your spine.
My father is gone.
I made a pie.
It hurts, but it’s fine, and I’m okay with it, except for all the ways I’m not. I’m a perfectly calm and composed mess.
The pie is good, though. I think.
Look, normally, I’d put some cute reference to what I just talked about here to convince you to support us on Patreon, but there’s nothing cute about this. I’d normally ask you to share the post on Facebook, which you can, of course, but I fully get that your friends may think it’s weird you shared a 3,000 word eulogy that included child beatings and Sublime. So…just thank you, for being here. For sticking with us, even just through this mess of a post. Thank you.
THURSDAY: WE’RE GONNA TALK ABOUT THE CHICKENS AGAIN, BECAUSE, THEY’RE MY FATHER’S FEATHERED LEGACY. HEY, THAT’S A NICE LINE. I MIGHT USE THAT AS THE TITLE.
NEXT MONDAY: WE GO BACK IN TIME, AND MAKE SOMETHNG SWEET THAT MY BROTHER LIKES TO EAT, BECAUSE, WELL, HONESTLY, WE HAVEN’T DONE DESSERTS IN A WHILE, SO TWO IN A ROW IS FINE WITH ME.
Key Lime Pie
½ cup key lime juice
The zest of one lime, and half of its juice
3 egg yolks
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 9-inch graham cracker crust. Storebought is perfectly fine.
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all the ingredients except the pie crust in a bowl, and stir until smooth. (About 5-6 minutes.) Pour into the pie crust, and bake the pie on a baking sheet for 12-15 minutes. It’s perfectly fine if the pie jiggles when it’s removed.
2. Let cool for 30 minutes, then chill overnight. Serve with whipped cream.