Pressing the edges of a thick, homemade piecrust into a pan one morning in March was simply a matter of routine for Karen Amarotico — her daily routine, in fact.
Sliced apples awaited peeling for pie No. 342 as the aromas of chocolate and crust wafted from pie No. 341, bubbling to perfection inside Amarotico's hot oven.
On a yearlong mission to express gratitude and kindness to others through her baking, Amarotico made a pie each day from April 7, 2011, to April 7 this year and gave them away to someone nice.
Today's crumb-top apple pie is bound for a longtime friend Amarotico wants to thank for always being kind. The chocolate-cookie-dough-piecrust concoction will go to a cousin who lives in another state as thanks for fond, childhood memories and a dance at a recent reunion.
Amarotico, who baked her first pie at the ripe, old age of 10, says the idea popped into her mind in the middle of the night. Wanting to find a way to show gratitude to others, the Ashland resident started with the notion of writing thank-you notes to people in her life. When her first, heartfelt note garnered no response, she was dismayed, then soon distracted.
"I was trying to think of something I could do, but nothing really jumped out at me," Amarotico recalls. "Then a friend of ours asked if I would be on a list to make dinner for this friend whose husband was having surgery.
"I said, 'Of course. Does she like quiche?' So I go to bed thinking, 'OK, I'm making a quiche for so-and-so, and I still need an idea for my gratitude project.' "
Amarotico's idea, combining her love of baking, helping others and storytelling, arrived just after midnight.
"At 2 in the morning, I sat up in bed and thought, 'I could make pies!' Of course, I wake up the next morning, and I'm afraid to tell anybody because I think I might be insane," she says with a laugh.
"So I called a friend and said, 'Could you please have coffee with me. I need you to talk me out of something?' "
That friend, Debbie Pool of Ashland, refused to talk Amarotico out of baking and telling great stories: two things she says her friend excels at doing. As a result, Amarotico began her quest April 7, 2011, and has been blogging about it at www.pieadaygiveaway.com ever since.
Amarotico has given pies to family and friends as far away as Florida, as well as to local friends and many strangers. On a vacation to Mexico last year, she even took no-bake and stovetop-friendly ingredients so she wouldn't miss a day.
"I had all these big bags, and no one said a word when I went through customs!" says Amarotico, a graduate of Culinary Institute of America.
Only one pie has been refused, by an elderly woman who a friend said was facing hard times. Even that lone rejection was part of her story, Amarotico says, pointing out that the pie did not go uneaten thanks to a hungry Salvation Army volunteer singing carols outside Bi-Mart.
Doing what she loves most and blogging about the experience for others to enjoy, Amarotico has amassed nearly 20,000 visits to her blog.
Her daughter, Alexandra Amarotico, couldn't think of a blog more suited to her mother's baking and generous nature.
"I cannot think of a day that I've known her where she didn't give something away, reach out a hand to others or volunteer her time, her craft or her ear to a friend or a member of our community," says the daughter.
Pool, the friend who refused to talk Amarotico out of baking 365 pastries, says she looks forward to her friend's blogs each day.
"She's really a very genuinely nice person," says Pool. "We've been friends for a number of years, and I've really enjoyed reading about all the people she knows. She's very active in our community.
"This was really the right thing for her to do. It's hard for her to not run into people who know about the pie project now. Everyone says, 'Oh, you're the pie lady!' "
One of her pies garnered a thank-you note that stated: "Thank you for being unusually kind."
"I just had to think, 'You know, it's too bad that it's unusual!' " Amarotico says. "We don't have all that long with the people we care about, and we all leave the planet sooner than we'd like. So why not be unusually kind?"