Neal Brubaker loved coconut cream pie and his red Vespa. (Kate Lawson)
My father spent the last several weeks of his life thinking about meals he planned to enjoy once he beat the disease that was rendering him so ill. He waxed poetic about the burgers at a joint he liked to frequent near his home, he dreamed of the Italian dishes at the family-owned Tony’s and the authentic tacos he discovered at a tiny hole-in-the wall, and he relished the thought of the massive buffet where he loaded up his plate three or four times at lunch (he liked to enjoy a big meal early in the day and noshed on apples, crackers and cheese at night with his scotch). Meanwhile, we couldn’t coax him to take a bite of potatoes, a sip of milkshake or even a spoonful of pudding and he grew weaker by the day. “I just don’t have an appetite,” he would say while the horrible digestive disease called C Diff would ravage his system.
My dad was fit, giving his rowing machine a regular run for its money, hefting his kayak for a drift down the river and for awhile tooling around the neighborhood on his shiny red Vespa. And he so loved a good meal. Steaks and chops, shellfish — especially stone crab and oysters — were his favorites. He didn’t care for cake or casseroles; he didn’t like pasta but loved pie, especially coconut and banana cream pies that my mother made so deliciously without breaking a sweat. My earliest memories of him are grilling a large sirloin on a little hibachi grill on the back stoop of our Dearborn Heights home. It didn’t matter if it was July or February. The steak was black on the outside and red on the inside and big enough to feed a family with four kids.
He found the exit door in early December and never got to enjoy all the wonderful meals he so eagerly recalled. But every time I’m in the kitchen making a meal that I know he’d love, I know he’s right there with me. “Ann, be sure to make plenty,” he would always tell my mother, “I always want there to be enough.”
For Father’s Day, I will make a coconut cream pie. I know it won’t be as delicious as my mom’s, but with just the two of us, there’s certain to be more than enough.
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons (or more) ice water
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 ½ cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄8 teaspoon coconut extract
2⁄3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 ¼ cups chilled whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1⁄8 teaspoon coconut extract
Blend flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and shortening; using on/off turns, cut in until mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle 4 tablespoons ice water over mixture. Process just until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic. Chill 1 hour.
Roll out dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap to 14-inch round. Transfer dough to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Fold overhang under. Crimp edges decoratively. Pierce bottom of crust all over with fork. Freeze crust 15 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep frozen.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line crust with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 20 minutes. Remove weights and foil. Bake until golden and set, about 10 minutes. Cool. (Crust can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature.)
Whisk ½ cup sugar, eggs, egg yolk and flour in medium bowl. Bring milk and coconut to simmer in medium saucepan over medium heat. Gradually add hot milk mixture to egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return to same saucepan; cook until pastry cream thickens and boils, stirring constantly, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in vanilla and coconut extracts. Transfer pastry cream to medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface to prevent formation of skin. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. Transfer filling to crust. Cover; chill overnight.
Toast coconut in heavy small skillet over medium heat until lightly browned, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Cool completely.
Using electric mixer, beat cream, sugar and coconut extract in medium bowl until peaks form. Spread whipped cream all over top of filling. Sprinkle evenly with toasted coconut. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Serve cold. Serves 8.
Per serving: 593 calories; 40 g fat (25 g saturated fat; 61 percent calories from fat); 52 g carbohydrates; 28 g sugar; 162 mg cholesterol; 266 mg sodium; 8 g protein; 2 g fiber.