Saturday, March 4, 2017

Pastor Brad's "That's Just Kind of How That Rolls Out" Fruit of the Spirit Cherry Pie

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Lyman's "Thanks for the Keys, Lyman" Key Lime Pie

Nearly three years ago, as Will and I began mulling over the idea of welcoming another little person into our family, we knew the eventual outgrowing of our beloved first home would be one of the inevitable growing pains. The little green house on Quanah Way that Will and I had purchased just three months after our wedding had been the perfect home for our family of four -1200 square feet, three bedrooms, full of character and filled with nearly 11 years of memories.
Our realtor, Lyman (who had assisted us in purchasing our first home over a decade before), was actually one of the first people to know that we were expecting our third child. Before we had even shared the exciting news with our boys, Will and I met with Lyman to review our "dream home" wishlist: at least four bedrooms, a spacious woodshop for Will to run his side business from, an acre of land and that totally intangible "something special." 

Of course, Will and I had different priorities when it came to house hunting. While I longed for a individual space for each of our kiddos to grow into, a large kitchen and/or dining room with space for a big family table (and plenty of counterspace for rolling out pie dough), a spacious indoor laundry area and lots to explore outdoors for the boys, Will was much more focused on making a good financial investment. Well, that and privacy - he has always joked about wanting to be able to walk out in the front yard naked...not that I would ever let him.

So began our search. Because we weren't in any hurry to purchase a home initially, we eagerly saw a bit of everything in our target area and price range. But, I soon realized that I fall in love with homes rather quickly - picturing who would sleep where and dreaming of the perfect spot for the Christmas tree. Looking back, I think there were nearly ten homes I was ready to make an offer on. Thankfully, my husband moves a bit slower and we quickly settled into our respective roles of the dreamer and the realist.

So the beautifully redone (although pricey) 1920's house just down the street from my own childhood home was a no go. As was the completely impractical Victorian farmhouse (without central heating and air) within walking distance from the boys' school. And the remodeled two story with the beautiful kitchen and wrap around porch...on a tiny lot on a very busy street. It had to be out there somewhere...

And then, last December, we found what we thought was the "perfect" home - a ranch house that checked every box and then some: the world's largest woodshop, a huge master, just minutes from the boys' school on nearly two acres - with a creek! After a year and a half of searching, we immediately placed an offer - above asking - and held our breaths. Only to find that the sellers had accepted another offer - for $5,000 less.

The reality of losing the "perfect" home seemed so bleak and discouraging, I wasn't even sure I wanted to continue on in the house hunting adventure. But, Lyman assured us, "there is always another house." And although I couldn't see it at the time, we continued on. Only now, we had a new item on the wish list...a creek.

And, for all my doubt, Lyman was right. There were other houses. There was even another home that we placed an offer in on - with the perfect layout and a sprawling park-like backyard filled with oak trees and multiple gazebos. But, it too was not meant to be. 

And then came the text from a girlfriend I had known since junior high. Had I seen the property for sale just down the street from their house? Will and I did a quick check online and found that the home could indeed be the perfect fit for our family, but not necessarily for our wallets, as it was listed well over budget and still needed a lot of work.

But, several days later, with a fair amount of prodding, I was able to convince Will to drive by the property in question. And as we pulled into the drive, we both knew we needed to call Lyman yet again.
The first time we walked in the front door of the blue house tucked down the long, private drive and nestled into the oaks, I think I knew it was the one. But, the moment we set foot in the backyard and saw the expanse of green, with a trickling creek running the entire length of the yard and deer (yes, deer!) grazing in the meadow, I think we all knew. 
We promptly put in a low offer, crossed our fingers...and almost immediately heard back that they had accepted! We were moving.
At some point in the house hunting journey, I let it slip that I bake the occasional pie. I joked with Lyman that if and when we actually bought a house, I would bake him a pie, you know - as motivation to not pass us off on another realtor.

Well, now that we are nicely settled in our new home sweet home it's time to fulfill my end of the bargain with one homemade "Thanks for the Keys, Lyman" Key Lime Pie.
The tricky thing about making a key lime pie is that I am severely allergic to limes (and actually, most citrus fruits). As in, anaphalactic shock allergic. So, I opted to make this pie a family affair and recruited my little sous chefs to help me bake this go around.

We began with a traditional graham cracker crust, pulsing whole graham crackers in the food processor before stirring in a bit of granulated sugar and melted butter. We then firmly pressed the crumbly mixture into the pie tin using the bottom of a juice glass.

While the crust baked and cooled, we set to work on the key lime filling. The boys were instrumental in squeezing the juice from the bowlful of sliced key limes - no small feat when you consider just how many of the petite fruits were needed to reach nearly a cup of juice!
We then whisked in two cans of sweetened condensed milk, sour cream, and the zest of four key limes (grated so lovingly by my husband, as I needed some fresh air at this point) before carefully pouring the filling into the cooled pie shell. After another ten minutes in the oven, it was into the fridge to set overnight.

The next morning, my little pie bakers and I set to beautifying our very first key lime pie with homemade whipped cream piped into starbursts and lime segment garnishes. 
After nearly two years of showing us home after home on what we joked were our standing weekly appointments, while navigating us through the ins and outs of three offers, the emotional sale of our first home, and the purchase of "our forever home," I think we can all agree that Lyman has earned his pie fair and square. While he did accompany us to many houses that probably felt like a complete waste of his time - including a care home I am nearly certain was haunted, a Victorian with a large scale marijuana production in the basement, and even a couple of houses that prompted us to say, "Sorry, but we probably don't even need to go inside" - Lyman never once made us feel as though we were anything but his first priority.

Lyman cared for each member of our family and graciously tolerated an awful lot of crazy, loud little boy energy. He was always ready with reassurance in the disappointments and celebration in the triumphs. He is not only our realtor, but our friend, and that is certainly deserving of pie. Thanks for the keys, Lyman! We hope your pie was worth the wait.

"You know what they say: 'Why sit at a table that doesn't have key lime pie on it if you don't have to?'" - Sloane Crosley
Sloane Crosley
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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mrs. Kingsley's "An Apple for My Teacher" Apple Pie

In his short educational career, Wilson has been blessed with a string of wonderful, caring teachers. But his current second grade teacher, Mrs. Kingsley, is set apart.

To begin with, our family's relationship with Mrs. Kingsley goes back approximately thirty years to when my husband was a shy, toe-headed student in her third grade class at a nearby elementary school. How lucky we have been this year to share and compare stories of Mrs. Kingsley's class between father and son!
Secondly, she just "gets" Wilson. My firstborn is very much his own person - unwaveringly strong in his convictions, often despite the reactions of his peers. Mrs. Kingsley quickly recognized, encouraged and directed this strong will, choosing to find strengths in quirks that could have been viewed as challenges by less invested teachers.

Throughout this past school year, our dinner conversation has regularly consisted of the latest and greatest of the happenings in Room 6. Wilson loves that Mrs. Kingsley calls her cats her "children," that she exclaims "Sign her up!" when she makes a basket in the trash can from across the room and that she prods "Let the Mama through" when creating a path through her students. He enjoys her company so much that he painstakingly saved 700 Beaver Bucks (classroom incentives) to have a special pizza lunch with her at the end of the school year - and anyone who has had a second grader knows just how difficult delayed gratification can be. But I think what Wilson loves most about Mrs. Kingsley is that she provides a safe, warm and nurturing atmosphere for him to learn, grow and yes - even make mistakes. This is also what Will and I have grown to love about her.

So I wasn't the least bit surprised when Wilson mentioned he wanted to make a pie for Mrs. Kingsley as his end of the year gift to her. Because Will and I are actively attempting to instill a culture of giving and appreciation in our boys, combined with his growing interest in cooking and baking in particular this year, I decided to let Wilson take the reigns on this one. He worked busily on his gift - editing and revising his blog over the course of nearly a week, researching pie recipes and crust techniques and baking away (with me taking a back seat as his sous chef).

Ultimately, Wilson settled on an apple pie as a nod to the tradition of bringing an apple for your teacher. So, without further adieu, I present Mrs. Kingsley's "An Apple for My Teacher" Apple Pie - as told by Wilson.

"Dear Mrs. Kingsley,

I know that you already know about this blog that I am writing. I hope you like it.

I think that you are an amazing teacher! You teach me so much like math, reading, science and money. It is so cool that you taught my dad and me! 

I love that you are so hilarious. My favorite memory will always be the time we went to the Jelly Belly Factory. 

Since you are such a good teacher, my mom and I decided to make you a pie. Since teachers love apples, we decided to make you an apple pie!

First, Mommy and I made the crust. I measured the flour, salt, butter and vegetable shortening. With my hands, I mixed the ingredients with ice water into a dough. My mom helped me roll out the dough into a pie tin.

Next, I did the apple filing. I measured the sugar, flour, salt and cinnamon while my mom cut the apples for me. I mixed the ingredients with the apples and we put it in the pie tin with the dough. I cut up little pieces of butter and put them on top of the apples. 
Then we rolled out the dough for the top of the pie. I used cookie cutters to make apples out of dough. Then I carefully set them all on top of the pie to make it beautiful. 
At last, I cracked an egg from the chicken coop (our chickens are so helpful) and I brushed it on the pie. Then I sprinkled sugar on top of the pie. I put it in the oven to bake. 
When we took it out of the oven it looked beautiful and delicious!
You are an amazing person! I will be so sad to leave your class. YOU ARE AWESOME! Those are the three words that best describe you!

Mrs. Kingsley, you were such an amazing teacher and I hope you will love this pie!
         your student,

“You can count the seeds in an apple, but you can't count the apples in a seed. When you teach, you never know how many lives you will are teaching for eternity.”
- Karen Jensen

Sunday, December 6, 2015

UC Davis Nurses' "Thank You For Caring For Our Little Pumpkin" Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

A lot has happened since I've last baked. Namely, the addition of the sweetest baby girl we could ever have imagined. On August 3rd, our little family of four grew by one to welcome our first daughter, June Sawyer. 
Even after five years, life with a newborn was everything I remembered and then some. With the birth of each of our children, I am reminded of the beauty of those slow, sleepy first few weeks with a new life under our roof.
But, shortly after June made our acquaintance and wooed us all with her lovely little self, she presented us with a situation we had yet to encounter as parents. While it is absolutely true that I am a much more relaxed parent the third time around, nothing (and no amount of years parenting) could ever have prepared me for the journey we were about to take together

It was a Monday evening like any other that Will and I first noticed June's spitting up had increased. By Wednesday, she was projectile vomiting, followed by what appeared to be looser than normal stools. Still, she didn't have a fever. So we went into the pediatrician who assured us that June should begin to bounce back in the next 24 hours with the introduction of small feedings of Pedialyte.

Except that she didn't get better. By the next morning, June wasn't keeping anything down and was so lethargic I could barely wake her. And there was that bothersome little matter of no wet diapers in almost 18 hours. A call to the advice nurse confirmed my sinking suspicion  - we needed to head into the ER.
Luckily, a family friend (and emergency room physician) was able to provide immediate care for our sweet little one. After an abdominal ultrasound to rule out a physical blockage, it was determined that June most likely had a virus. IV fluids were started to address dehydration and we were told she would need to be transferred by ambulance to a nearby children's hospital to be admitted.
And that was when my world stopped spinning. Sure, we'd spent many evenings in the emergency room with our firstborn son's asthma. But the hospital? That was unchartered territory.

I struggled to wrap my head around our precious ten-pound, two-month-old little girl being rushed away from our home and our care. Big brothers who had just barely made their little sister's introduction now had to adjust not only to her, but Mommy, being torn so abruptly from the rest of the family's daily life. I didn't know how long we would be gone, but I did know that June wasn't spending one second away from a parent. And that meant a sudden and painful absence from the other part of my life - the lunch packing, driving to school, volunteering in the classroom, doing homework Mommy that my boys had never been without. It was then that the weight of having three children hit me hard. The realization that my heart was in more places than my body could simultaneously be was more than I could bear.

Immediately upon being admitted to UC Davis' Children's Hospital, we were shown to our private room where June was assessed and Will and I answered the same questions for what felt like the 100th time that day. Over the course of that first day, I learned two important things. One - June and I weren't going anywhere anytime soon. And two - pediatric nurses are, in fact, angels on earth. 

Laurie was our day shift nurse on that first Thursday afternoon. She conducted herself in such a calm, confident way that I instantly felt my anxious energy subsiding. Although Laurie only officially acted as our nurse once over the course of our twelve day hospitalization, her care set the tone for the rest of our stay. On her days as charge nurse, Laurie would pop in just to say hello. And on that terrifying evening six days in when I began to suspect that June's first IV (in her inner elbow) may no longer be performing, she asked if it might be alright if she carried and accompanied June to the treatment room - not because it was her job, but because she had become a friend. 

Several days later, as Halloween quickly approached, Laurie came to our room bearing pumpkins for the boys to decorate and the tiniest, sparkliest Cinderella costume for June to wear at the hospital's festival. In an attempt to make June's new IV (that had been placed in her scalp) less scary for her older brothers (and most likely for Will and I, as well), several nurses had begun to refer to it as her "crown." As a mother, I was moved to tears by this gesture. My boys had been regularly declaring that this year was going to be "the worst Halloween ever." And I have to admit, Halloween was not high on my priority list at the time. But because of amazing nurses like Laurie who gave up their own holiday to treat their patients to as "normal" a day as possible - complete with costumes, crafts, trick or treating at the nurses' stations and plenty of attention - June's first holiday was a day we will always remember.

As that first marathon day of emergency room to hospital ended and slowly turned into night, we were introduced to Rachel, who would become our primary nurse. Rachel was exactly what I needed in the quiet hours of that first lonely, heavy night, as I settled into the seriousness of June's condition and struggled to nurse a baby who couldn't keep anything down. Her sweet, quiet demeanor absorbed the weight of my often uncontrollable tears and fears that felt much heavier during the nighttime hours. But, I could rest and maybe even sleep a bit knowing June was safe in her care.
Each evening after Will and the boys said their goodbyes, I found myself sinking into a bit of a depression. But with Rachel's help, June and I found a means to combat that isolation. Once the older patients had returned to their rooms for the night and the hall lights were dimmed, Rachel would help me arrange June's mess of wires and situate her safely in her Moby wrap for a walk around the floor. I eventually began to welcome and even look forward to our evening ritual - logging up to two miles an evening by the end of our stay - as a time when I could work out physically the stress of the day. Looking back, in some strange way, I almost miss those nights - just my baby girl and I all snuggled together
On our first evening without Rachel, I was introduced to Brooke. Brooke was a young mom who worked as a night nurse, freeing up days to care for her fourteen month old daughter, Harper. Her company was a welcome light in those long, dark nights. Although June was my third child, I found myself returning to a bit of an anxious parent in this strange, new hospital world. But, hearing Brooke's stories about Harper - and even watching a video of her taking her first steps - gave me a hope and a vision of what the not too far off future with my own daughter might look like - if only we could get healthy.

I will be forever grateful for Brooke's willingness and ability to balance motherhood and caring for her patients. I have often thought that had I met Brooke in any other scenario, we would have been fast friends. But she absolutely stole my heart when she mentioned that she might consider naming a future daughter June. I cannot think of a more touching tribute to those dreary, scary hospital days than a fresh little June, full of promise (no pressure, of course).
But, of all the nurses I encountered during our stay, Lorinda tended most directly to my needs as a mother. Her contagious enthusiasm for her job and optimism in the face of daily setbacks was exactly what I needed as I struggled to keep it together without my husband by my side. She simultaneously cared for my mental and physical health - bringing me tea and juice throughout the day so I wouldn't have to leave June's side, listening patiently and compassionately to my tear-filled ramblings and calling me out when I so obviously needed a break.

But, I will never forget the morning that she came into our room declaring what a beautiful day it was and insisting that I really needed to get outside to enjoy it. As she loaded Junie up into the most adorable wagon you have ever seen, I knew she could sense my fear. What would I do if her monitors started beeping? Surely I was not equipped for this solo venture out into the real world. And then she said something I will never forget (and have repeated to myself many times since) - "Just let her be a baby." How simple, yet complicated that was. In less than a week, June had become a patient in my eyes and I wasn't certain I knew how to let her be a baby anymore. But, that short break to breathe in the fresh air and reaffirm that life was indeed still going on outside of the hospital walls was exactly what I needed to renew my spirit. When we returned to our room one hour later for June's bath, it was with a renewed focus and strength as a mother.
In the beginning, the hospital represented sickness and sadness and I literally itched to get out. But as that first day turned into two and slowly into a week...and then ten days without much improvement, I felt my mindset change in regard to leaving this place. In a strange way that I am not even sure how to articulate yet, I grew cautious of discharge - not only because of the fear that June's health now rested squarely and solely on my shoulders, but because I knew on some level I would miss what we had cultivated in that little room on the seventh floor. June and I had grown so much in our own relationship with all of the one on one time not typically afforded a third child. But, we had also adopted our own family of sorts - our "hospital family" - the people who had become our support system, caretakers, confidants and friends when our biological family couldn't be by our side. These amazing women - along with all of June's nurses and doctors - had become so much more than medical professionals. Their fingerprints and hearts were forever imbedded in the life of our family. 

When we think about all that we are thankful for this year, these extraordinary women top the list. Even as we were pulling away from the hospital on that Monday evening just over one month ago, my seven year old proclaimed that we would probably need to make pies for the nurses. And several days later, when my husband voiced the same thing - asserting that the act of blogging might even help me process the whole experience - I knew that my next pies were already reserved for the most special group of women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Seeing as how we were hospitalized in late fall, and particularly over the Halloween holiday, a pumpkin pie seemed only fitting. So, in honor of Laurie, Rachel, Brooke and Lorinda, I proudly and humbly present the UC Davis Nurses' "Thank You For Caring For Our Little Pumpkin" Pumpkin Chiffon Pies.

In keeping with the fall theme, I began my crust by processing graham crackers, pecan pieces, and a touch of both brown and white sugars until finely ground. I then added just enough melted butter to the dry mixture to hold. Using the bottom of a juice glass, I firmly pressed the crumble into the pie tins and baked the crusts until golden and toasty.

Meanwhile, I combined pure pumpkin puree, salt, gelatin, egg yolks, evaporated milk and my own modified blend of pumpkin pie spices - cinnamon, ground ginger and clove - in a saucepan and cooked on medium heat until boiling.

While the pumpkin filling cooled, I began my first homemade marshmallow creme by whisking egg whites into soft peaks. In a separate saucepan, I brought granulated sugar, water, and light corn syrup to a soft boil before streaming the hot syrup into the egg whites and gently folding the resulting creme into the cooled pumpkin filling.

Finally, I poured the fluffy pumpkin chiffon filling into the pecan graham cracker crusts and topped the pies with a generous piping of maple whipped cream for a bit of sweetness.

 Over the course of twelve days and eleven nights, Junes nurses did so much more than weigh diapers, check vitals and administer IV fluids. They became our family. I knew, as medical professionals, they would care for June physically (she is now a happy, healthy four month old little girl who likely remembers nothing of those two weeks at the end of October). But what I didn't expect was that they would care for all of our hearts so well.

For parents who rarely ever leave their children in another person's care, it is such a strange thing to trust strangers - literally - with your child's life. I vividly remember Lorinda commenting on my husband's ability to care for our older children while also supporting June and I at the hospital. She told me I had been given the greatest gift of knowing that my children would be ok in the unimaginable event that something ever happened to me. And while I know she was referring to my amazing husband, I can't help but think that her sentiment applies to the loving care we received from strangers  - turned friends - as well. And for that, we will be forever grateful.

"Far up in the deep blue sky,
Great white clouds are floating by; 
All the world is dressed in green;
Many happy birds are seen,
Roses bright and sunshine clear
Show that lovely June is here."
- F. G. Sanders