Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tanie's "Say Cheese" Toffee Caramel Cheesecake

With each passing year, I develop a deeper appreciation for just how quickly motherhood goes by. When those babies are little and needing to be held 24 hours a day, you never imagine that someday your firstborn will be ten years old and that an entire decade of being a Mommy will have felt like the blink of an eye. When you're in the midst of diapers and middle of the night nursings, each phase feels like an eternity. You swear you'll never forget exactly how their little voice sounded or their cowlick stood straight up or their tiny hand felt in yours. But, I'm here to tell you, time makes all of those details fade.

When my dad passed away shortly after the birth of my firstborn, I realized how important preserving family memories truly was. I decided then that - no matter how busy life got - we would all press pause and dedicate one afternoon each fall to document our current stage of life and celebrate our growing family.

Tanie is the magician who makes all of this possible. I met Tanie when she was a colleague of Will's, back when we were just dating. Tanie and her husband were actually married on the very same day as Will and I - although, when you are a teacher, I imagine the first weekend after school is out for the summer is wildly popular for weddings. As our lives paralleled each other's, weddings led to babies, which led to a career change for Tanie - from middle school history teacher to stay at home Mommy and part time photographer. 

Tanie's work is obviously gorgeous (as is she), but even more than that, her serving heart and absolute genuineness shine through her photography. She patiently doubles as my sounding board and stylist when the rest of my family couldn't care less about wardrobe possibilities. Year after year, she gracefully puts up with Will's generally grumpy attitude about having his picture taken, the boys' lack of compliance tolerating the "fancy," yet perfectly coordinated clothing Mommy has so agonizingly selected for the occasion, and general toddler lack of focus. And, yet, she manages to capture the very best of us, year after year.
So, just what does one bake for their favorite family photographer? A "Say Cheese" Cheesecake, of course! Sure, a cheesecake is not technically a pie (I mean, the word cake is right there in the title), but it is baked in a crust, so we're rolling with it - Tanie's "Say Cheese" Toffee Caramel Cheesecake (Pie).

I began by prepping cheesecake's usual sidekick - a graham cracker crust. Only instead of the typical graham cracker crumb/brown sugar/melted butter combo, I gussied it up with my secret ingredient - a handful of nutty toffee bits. I pressed the buttery crumble into the pie tin with the bottom of a juice glass and placed it into a low oven until warm and toasty.

While the crust baked, I prepared a batch of homemade caramel sauce - well, actually two batches, as the first hardened completely, forming a solid brick of caramel...But the second batch of granulated sugar, light corn syrup, butter and heavy whipping cream bubbled to golden sticky goodness - caramel perfection! 

As the caramel cooled, I prepared the decadent cheesecake filling - combining softened cream cheese, sour cream, whole eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla extract and - just to guild the lily - a warm, gooey ladleful of homemade caramel sauce. I poured the rich caramel filling into the cooled toffee crust and baked the cheesecake low and slow, carefully wrapping the pie tin in a damp dishtowel to prevent cracking the top.

I woke the next morning to a beautifully cooled toffee caramel cheesecake and set to work on the finishing touches - a generous puddle of toffee caramel atop the pie and a piped ring of my signature homemade whipped cream.
My heart aches when I look back over the years - from the train enthusiast phase of our oldest, to the long-gone toddler cheeks of our middle kiddo, to the joyful introduction of our third and final baby. But, I also catch myself smiling when I remember all that took place behind the scenes - the epic meltdown of our oldest about footwear, my walking boot so cleverly disguised by strategically placed family members, and coordinating the so loved chickens that have long since seen their demise. I love that we have been blessed to beautifully document who we were and where we have been as a family. 

I am so very grateful for Tanie's friendship, generosity, and talent. Her ability to capture who we are as a family at a very specific point in time is truly a gift that will last forever. I can't wait to see what next year brings!
“Say Thanks" is sometimes more important than "Say Cheese".” - Vikrmn

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Rorlings' "Pardon Our Dust" Sawdust Pie

So often in my life - especially in my life as a mother - I find myself wondering if I am the only one. The only one to eagerly wake my little people in the morning with a prayer for patience and the best of intentions - only to end the day feeling I have failed everyone? The only one to find myself caught once again in a homework battle of epic proportions despite my resolve to enforce personal responsibility just the day before? The only one who knows how discouraging it can be to spend your days forcing a square peg into a round hole? 

Knowing Carrie has made me feel so much less alone.

I met Carrie just beyond the playground gate almost five years ago, when my oldest and her youngest were in the same afternoon kindergarten class. Fairly quickly, we began to recognize a striking and comforting similarity in our kiddos. Carrie readily empathized with the struggles that come along with raising a quirky, determined little person. She happily commiserated when the teacher had expectations just a bit too far out of reach. And, most importantly, she became my confidant on days when I felt I was failing as a Mommy. 
But, it wasn't until Wilson invited Carrie's daughter, Brianna, to attend his class at church the following school year that we became more than just "mommy friends." Our weekly church dates, along with dinner out afterward, is one of the highlights of my family's week. Our littles have enjoyed countless Saturday evenings running through the bushes outside the church building while the grown ups discuss where to take our rambunctious group of nine. To their delight, my boys have often had the opportunity to demonstrate their growing independence by sitting at their own kid's table (so graciously supervised by Carrie's teenage daughter, Madi) - with ample reminders to watch their volume, of course. These evenings together have solidified our friendship not only as women, but also as couples and families. 
It is a rare thing to thoroughly enjoy the company of both partners in a couple, especially when you take into consideration the dynamics of each pairing. In fact, it can seem nearly impossible to find the perfect "couple friends." But, even Will (who frankly detests most social engagements) can admit that spending time with Carrie and her husband, Lee, just felt natural from the start. We have both immensely enjoyed our foodie double dates, laughter-filled evenings playing Pie Face or Bean Boozled with the kiddos, and holidays spent ringing in a New Year or shooting off fireworks alongside the Rorlings. Nearly six years after the divorce of our previous go-to-couple, it seems we have finally met our match!
Over the years, Carrie has become someone I know I can count on when the going gets tough. Her shared Christian faith, ability to see God's hand working in difficult situations, and affinity for prayer have been a true comfort to me.

When our daughter was hospitalized shortly after her birth, Carrie was one of only two friends that I asked to visit us - largely because I knew she would be someone I wouldn't have to protect from the experience, but rather a friend that would lovingly support and lift me up. At the hospital, Carrie appeared completely unfazed by the the wires, machines, and constant beeping and gave abundant grace for my week without a shower or sleep. She really was just there to love on us...and bring some yummy scones for nourishment.

Amidst the multiple heartaches we experienced in our house hunting search, Carrie and Lee once again encouraged us - faithfully reiterating that God had already chosen our forever home and we just needed to wait patiently until it came along. Her experience as a realtor, his work as a contractor, and both of their encouragement as friends meant that there were several houses that we asked the Rorlings to follow along on a second viewing. They were our sounding board when we wondered if adding an addition would be possible, if taking on an older fixer upper would put us over budget, or if the street was just too busy to be child friendly. 

When we finally did find our forever home, we asked Lee to do our inspection and give us an idea what issues might come up during the renovation of a nearly abandoned, half-century old home. Before we ever even moved in, Lee spent several long afternoons alongside Will, helping to paint and pull up the carpet to reveal the long forgotten hardwood floors underneath. Meanwhile, Carrie spent her mornings helping me clean and organize, even getting down on her hands and knees to scrub the grout between the 1960's slate tile in the entryway!

In the months since our move, Lee's construction knowledge and eagerness to help has been indispensable. He has spent many a weekend teaching Will to install new interior doors, drywalling in a sliding glass door to make way for a new picture window, and discussing layouts for a future master and laundry renovation. And have I mentioned, he rarely allows us to pay him for his work? I think it is fair to say he has a lot of free dinners coming his way.
The Rorlings have proven time and time again that they are true friends in every sense of the word. They are always ready with a helping hand - whether in prayer, carpooling, or home improvement. They love us and our kiddos, despite the noise and mess we so often bring with us. They regularly "pardon our dust," if you will. So, without further adieu, I present to you The Rorlings' "Pardon Our Dust" Sawdust Pie. 

Having gifted so many pies over the years, I sometimes find it difficult to really zero in on what type of pie to bake for someone new. Fortunately, as I was wasting time away on Pinterest one afternoon, I spotted a recipe for a pie I hadn't yet heard of and my interest was instantly piqued. Sawdust pie! Despite it's rather unappealing name, sawdust pie is basically a conglomeration of all things good in a pie crust - sugar, graham cracker crumbs, pecans, coconut, and chocolate chips. What's not to like?

So I began by preparing my tried and true pie dough recipe - raking flour, salt, shortening, butter and ice cold water into a crumble. Once combined, I rolled the disk of dough into a thin, butter-laden sheet, gently transferred it to the pie tin, and fluted the edge in a series of v's.

While the crust chilled in the freezer, I prepared the pecans by toasting them gently in a low oven until evenly golden and nuttily aromatic.

I then prepared the filling by whisking together egg whites, both light brown and granulated sugars, a pinch of salt, a bit of melted butter, and a splash of vanilla extract. To the wet ingredients, I added equal amounts of graham cracker crumbs, shredded coconut, and toasted, chopped pecans - the sawdust portion of the filling, if you will. Finally, I stirred in a hefty handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips before placing the pie in the oven to bake until the top had risen and formed it's own crunchy, golden crust.

Once baked and cooled to the touch, I whipped up a quick batch of homemade vanilla whipped cream and piped a string of rosettes around the fluted edges. Finally, a sprinkling of freshly toasted coconut, and voilĂ  - one Rorlings' "Pardon Our Dust" Sawdust Pie ready for delivery.
When we are truly vulnerable with each other, we come to find that we are all just works in progress - as mothers, as people, and as friends.  Whether in our journey as parents, becoming owners of a new-to-us older home, or growing together in our faith at church, the Rorlings have graciously allowed us to be a work in progress. Hopefully a little better off than we were yesterday, but certainly not yet to our final destination. And I have found the journey to be so much more enjoyable with friends by our side who lovingly pardon the dust we kick up along the way.
"Sawdust is man glitter." - Unknown

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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