Friday, March 30, 2012

Honeymooners' Honey Pie

Will and I walked into the banquet room of the sushi restaurant and glanced around. Family style eating made both of us nervous. In general, we are not really communal, sitting with strangers kind of folk. Did we risk it, sit at an open table and hope someone sane sat next to us? Or did we take control and strategically place ourselves next to a "normal" looking group? We decided on the latter. "How about over there?" I said, pointing to a table at the far end of the room where another couple was already seated. We took our seats and introduced ourselves to Daniel and Briana.

Shortly into the meal, I realized this couple was different. I felt strangely comfortable with them, almost like reconnecting with old friends. Briana mentioned that she and Daniel were engaged and we started talking about the proposal, the dress, and all things wedding. We shared stories of our little boys and heard about their jobs and schooling. We learned that they were attending and actively involved in a church downtown and we discussed our faith. By the end of dinner, I felt like I had known them forever.

During a quick moment alone, Will and I agreed that we really liked Daniel and Briana. They reminded us so much of ourselves when we were first married. We didn't really want to end the night with a "It was nice to meet you" and head back to our separate lives. As I usually do in this sort of social situation, I pressed Will to say something. When he said, "Would it be weird to get together again?," Daniel responded that he had just been thinking the same thing. So, we exchanged cell phone numbers, said goodnight and walked to our cars. Once inside the truck, Will said, "I hope we actually do see them again." So unlike him to go out and unexpectedly make friends. So unlike both of us.

Within a couple of weeks, we invited them over for dinner at our house - sushi takeout with the kiddos and pumpkin brownies for dessert on the back patio. My oldest, Wilson, can be a tough guy to win over, but he loved Miss Briana and Mr. Daniel. As I put him to bed that night, he even asked if they could come over and play again. We had a wonderful evening playing Mexican Train and talking about everything from wedding planning to their affinity for Dungeons and Dragons to Will's growing (literally) interest in beards. We even shared a laugh when Briana admitted they had been a little nervous coming over and had given our address to a friend "just in case."

Over the next few months, we exchanged text messages, met downtown for Ethiopian food and became Facebook friends. I even enjoyed a rare girls' night out with Briana. I really was growing fond of her. In some bizarre way I was feeling both friendly and maternal toward her. After all, her mother was only five years older than me. And I saw a lot of myself in Briana.

Then we got it - the wedding invitation! Will and I were so honored to attend their beautiful ceremony earlier this month. As we watched Daniel and Briana exchange vows, I so clearly remembered our own wedding ceremony. Watching them navigate this wonderful place in life gives me such déjà vu. Don't tell my husband I told you this, but he actually teared up! Now, I am the crier in our family. I can shed a tear over just about anything. But, Will does not cry.

As I watched them share their first dance with each other and then with their parents, I was overcome with emotion. First, because their love for one another is so evident, you can actually feel it. Then because I was reminded of my own dad as we danced at my wedding seven years ago and my heart ached at missing him. And, finally, because I saw my future when I watched Daniel dance with his mother. I could so clearly envision dancing proudly with my own sons when they are grown and starting their own lives with the women they choose to marry. It is a very strange thing to simultaneously relate to someone as your past and future self. And a great blessing, I think.

Daniel and Briana are on the cusp of a wonderful new life together. I hope their marriage is long and sweet. How about celebrating with a slice of Honeymooners' Honey Pie?

Following last week's graham cracker crust, I had been hankering to get my hands into some good old-fashioned pie dough. But, I had some crust difficulties this time. Mostly because I was overzealous and jumped the gun instead of waiting the recommended hour rest time in the fridge. And partially because I am just way too hard on myself. I mean, who cries over pie crust? Um, me. (I told you I could cry about anything.) So, I fought the crust a little more than usual. I am not completely happy with the aesthetics of my crust fluting this time. But, pie making has been a lesson in accepting "ok" instead of demanding perfection. I think this probably translates to life outside of the kitchen as well.

Anyway, back to the honey pie. (I just love saying that. It makes me smile.) This was my first experience with blind baking a crust. That should partially explain why I was so unprepared and had neither pie weights nor dried beans handy. Thankfully, my ultra-practical husband quickly calmed my panic with a trip to the backyard and a quick rinse of some gravel. The pea gravel worked beautifully placed into the parchment lined crust. But that reminds me, I need to put pie weights on the grocery list.

While the crust was in the oven, I prepared the ingredients for the honey custard. I was slightly concerned about the possible texture issues that the cornmeal might pose, but went ahead anyway. Then I stirred the melted butter, vanilla and honey into the dry ingredients. I absolutely love honey. I am giddy when it drips over the side of the jar and requires me to swipe it up and lick it off my finger to avoid a sticky disaster. It makes me feel like I'm getting away with something.
Then for the basic ingredients of any good custard - heavy cream and eggs. I bought lovely little organic brown eggs at the store this time, but I am so excited to be getting our own chickens this spring! Having a coop right in my very own backyard just seems so homespun. And probably means lots of custard pies.
I poured the custard into the pre-baked crust and put it into the oven. 45 minutes later, I had myself a beautiful toffee colored pie. Well, at least the filling was pretty. And it smelled heavenly. 
When the pie was completely cooled, I sprinkled the top with sea salt. I am completely obsessed with the whole savory dessert thing lately. It's a match made in heaven. Salted caramels, chocolate covered bacon...Ooh, that gets me thinking...Bacon pie anyone?
As Will and I have said so many times about our meeting Daniel and Briana, "It was a God thing." There clearly is something bigger than us at work here. God brought them into our lives for, I am certain, a very specific and probably still to be determined reason.

The beginning of every relationship, whether marriage or friendship, has a honeymoon phase. There is so much to be said of an old friend, but there is also something wonderful about a new friend, when you know the memories are still in the making and the best times lie ahead. I can't wait to see how it plays out.

"God always has another custard pie up His sleeve." - Lynn Redgrave

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Redeagle Rocky Road Pie

There are certain people that if they had not crossed your path, the trajectory of your entire life would have been very different. Tom and Adrienne are these people for me.

I first met the Redeagles nearly ten years ago. I was working as a child development specialist in a home-based early intervention program when I took a new little girl named Layne onto my caseload. All I knew from the paperwork the regional center had sent my way was that Layne had Down Syndrome. I had long thought that people with Down Syndrome were among the most special people in the world. God just made them a little better at enjoying life than the rest of us. What I did not know was that meeting Layne would so drastically change my life.

I instantly fell in love with Layne and grew quite close with her family. Her mother, Adrienne, and I chitchatted about life and love (or the lack of it on my end). Adrienne was busy planning a wedding to Layne's dad, Tom, and as is often the case with people that have already found "the one," they soon started scheming to set me up with another of their single friends. I had been on a couple of awkward and not particularly successful blind dates and wasn't eager to repeat the process. Also, didn't this blur personal and professional lines? I tried to blow them off.

But, one evening as I drove to meet Adrienne for dinner, she called my cell phone and said, "I hope it's ok, but one of Tom's friends is coming, too." Ugh! I had been set up! But, it was too late to back out.

Tom is an unlikely matchmaker - a reserved electrician with a penchant for golf and designer clothing. But, when I met Tom's friend, Will, I instantly liked him. Actually, I think it was just about as close to love at first sight as you find outside of the movies. A year and a half later, we were married. And, now, nearly nine years after that first awkward introduction, we have two amazing little boys.

My husband can tell many a tale of the trouble Tom has seen (and caused) since they first met so many years ago in junior high. In fact, as parents we often joke that we dread the day one of our sons brings a "Tom" home. But, lifelong friends are hard to come by and often come in unexpected packages. Tom is one of the dearest friends Will, and now I, have ever known.

The path for the Redeagles has not been without bumps and a couple of detours, but as time does for so many of us, the rough edges have smoothed and softened. In recent years, they have had their fair share of reason to celebrate. We were honored to share their excitement in the birth of our godson, Drew, last year. And I am so proud of Adrienne's college graduation with a masters in social work and a new job at the very company I was working for when I met them.

If you take Tom and Adrienne out of my life, I have no Will, Wilson, or Henry. Tom and Adrienne gave me the three greatest gifts of my life. The least I can do is make them a pie to say "thank you."

But, what to make? Tom is a meat and potatoes kind of guy. He makes the most amazing BBQ and cheesy potatoes worthy of breaking any diet. But, he does have one weakness. Dessert. Every time we are invited over for dinner, chocolate cake is sure to follow - or chocolate chip cookies, or chocolate ice cream. You catch my drift. So, I knew chocolate was key. Throw in a few almonds and marshmallows, and you've got yourself a Redeagle Rocky Road Pie.

For this concoction, I started with a graham cracker crust. I honestly don't know why anyone would buy the pre-made crusts that have been sitting on the store shelves for who knows how long when smashing graham crackers to smithereens is so much fun. And, apparently, loud. My four year old called me in and asked if I could be a little more quiet. He was trying to sleep. Whoops. Sorry. Who knew pie making was so disruptive?
Then, I made my first double boiler to melt the chocolate gently without scorching it. This pie making adventure has been so full of firsts. Like my first ganache. Yeah, that's right. I can just whip up a ganache now. No problem.
I roasted and salted the almonds, chopped them up and piled them in the pie shell with a generous helping of marshmallows. Then, I poured the ganache over the top and put it into the fridge for an hour to set.
As soon as the timer dinged, I headed back to the kitchen for my favorite part - the finishing touches. I arranged whole almonds and marshmallows over the top and thought I was just about done when my husband said, "I think you should torch those marshmallows." Well, who does he think I am? It's not like I just have a blow torch sitting around. But, he was right, and the oven broiler set to low worked just fine.
And, while we're at it, why not drizzle the leftover ganache over the top? And, sure, chocolate shavings, too. The more, the merrier. Next, I am going to conquer the chocolate curl.

Sometimes it's conquering the obstacles in life that makes you who you are. Here's to all the bumps in the future being covered in fluffy marshmallows, toasted almonds, and melted chocolate. I will forever be indebted to the Redeagles. And no, I don't quite think that a pie is a sufficient enough "thank you," but, it's a start.
"There is nothing better than a good friend, except a good 
friend with chocolate." - Linda Grayson

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mom's Not Your Mama's Pecan Pie

I had the perfect childhood. No really. At least, until my preteen years, when, let's be honest - there is no such thing. Just ask my husband. He teaches middle school.

I credit my mother for allowing me to grow in an environment in which I was sheltered from the harsh realities of the world. I was allowed to be a child for much longer than most of my peers, and I now see that this was instrumental in forming the adult I am today. My mom was at home with my sister and I full-time, and I know her example is why I chose to be a stay at home mom. I had the best kind of mom. The kind that watched all of the silly shows my little sister and I put on in the living room, let me choose my own clothes at a young age (even if I did insist on leg warmers everyday of kindergarten), stroked my hair in a way only she could when she sang me to sleep, and always said she loved me. She still does.
My relationship with my mother has hit a few bumps, especially since my father's passing nearly four years ago. I think it has taken a certain amount of patience and persistence on both of our parts. It took Mom awhile for her to figure out who she was without Dad, and even a little longer for me to accept this new version of my mother. I really just wanted her to stay exactly the same, although I now acknowledge that this is not even possible. It's probably always the case when you lose a family member - the rest of you have to figure out how to finish the puzzle without that missing piece. And everyone else has to shift a bit to fill in that hole.

Recently, our relationship has been more of a priority for me. My boys love their Nonna. And I love watching her with them. It takes me back to when I was little. I think you have to become a parent yourself before you truly appreciate how much your parents love you. When you hold your own child for the first time, you have this 'Aha' moment of sorts. You think, "This is how it must have been for my mom when I was born."

I told my mom about the pie project over the phone one afternoon. Her response to my new venture was so enthusiastic and supportive. She reminisced about her own mother's flakey homemade pie crust. She told me how much my dad loved the cherry pies my grandmother made when my parents were first married. She shared fond memories of the cinnamon and sugar pie crust cookies her mother used to make out of the leftover dough when she was a child. I thought I could hear a wavering in her voice, and I realized she was probably just missing her mom in the same way I so often missed Dad. In that moment, I felt bonded to her in a way I had not expected.

Mom immediately emailed me grandma's pie crust recipe. When I conducted a blind taste test of three different pie crust recipes, Mom was the first volunteer. And this is the fascinating part - she immediately chose her mother's recipe. After trying the first and second crusts, she took one bite of the third and said, "I think that's my mom's." After nearly 30 years, my mom could still pick her mother's crust out of a crowd. And she preferred it.
Mom collected a variety of crust and pie recipes for me - from family, friends and neighbors. Amongst them was a recipe for pecan pie. I instantly knew what pie I would make for my mother- her mother's pecan pie. But, I wanted to put a spin on it to make it my own. And what makes everything better? Chocolate. Possibly my mother's favorite food. I love that three generations of women had their hand in this pie - my grandmother, my mom and I. So, without further ado, Mom's Not Your Mama's Pecan Pie.

When it came to crusts, there really wasn't much of a decision to be made. It had to be Grandma's. What is so interesting about my grandmother's recipe is that it uses boiling water instead of iced. Nearly all of the other crust recipes I have come across stress the importance of cold ingredients. But, not Grandma's.

Although the pecan pie only called for a bottom crust, I made the full recipe. I knew exactly what to do with all of that leftover dough - make pie crust cookies for my mother. I didn't exactly have a recipe for this one, so I hope they live up to their inspiration.
I rolled out the remaining dough for the crust and placed it into the pie plate. Then for what I have determined is the hardest part of pie baking - crimping the edges. I experimented with fluting this time instead of the fork tines. And I have to say, I was pleased. All in all, fancier, I think.

I toasted the pecans a bit ahead of time, selecting only the intact halves for this recipe. 
I mixed together the filling, adding bittersweet chocolate chips and vanilla extract to the recipe my mother had given me, and poured it into the crust. Then, I arranged the pecan halves. I was a bit meticulous about this. I have to admit, I loved the order of it. I could have stood at that kitchen counter all day and placed pecans in concentric circles. I think I have found my calling!
Then, into the oven for 45 mins until the center had puffed and the edges had turned a soft golden brown. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. Now, let's just hope it tastes good...

Well, Mom actually said my version tasted even better than her mother's pecan pie, so I count that as a huge success. Like I said, chocolate makes everything better. I have found that this rule applies to pie and sometimes even relationships. Thank you, Mom, for the way you have loved me from the day I was born to the adult I have become 33 years later. I love you.
"A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, 
promptly announces she never did care for pie." - Tenneva Jordan

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bye Bye Miss Megan Apple Pie

Since we have become parents, my husband I have had repeatedly said that the most important people in our lives are the ones who love our children. Miss Megan is that in a nutshell.

Walking into Wilson's first day of gymnastics class, I didn't know what to expect. We had done mommy and me music and movement classes through park and rec and a variety of story time activities together, but this would be the first time he was in a class without me by his side. Just Wilson, a handful of other barefoot three year olds, and his first teacher, Miss Megan. I was so nervous watching my baby walk through that gate to his first "big boy class."

But, over the weeks and months of attending gym class, Wilson and Miss Megan grew closer and closer. She incorporated trains into gym activities to interest Wilson, pretending that the balance beam was a train track. She encouraged him when he was fearful and praised him when he tried new things. She was patient with his forward rolls and understanding of his somewhat irrational fear of the "donut." Wilson grew drastically - in coordination, yes, but also in confidence and social ability.

As a mommy, I appreciated Miss Megan for the teacher and role model that she was for my child. But I also got to know her as a friend. I began to look forward to our chats after class and was often the last one to leave the gym.

When Miss Megan married Mr. Derek last fall, Wilson was so excited to be invited to his first wedding. Shortly after, Miss Megan announced she would be leaving her coaching position to spend more time with her new husband. We knew we would miss seeing her on a weekly basis, but because she had also begun doing private sitting for us, I knew we would keep in touch.

Little did we know that we would also gain Mr. Derek, who is the only adult we have met that enjoys playing trains as much as Wilson. He has truly been a wonderful addition to our collection of friends. I mean, who else would save an enormous couch box from their work and bring it over to paint and turn into a train with my boys?

That is why we are so sad that Miss Megan and Mr. Derek will be leaving us and moving onto new ventures in Tennessee. We truly will miss our friends. As Wilson said just before their move, "Daddy, take a picture so I can remember them."
I decided on an apple pie for Miss Megan because she and her husband are just as wholesome as they come and because, come on, what else do you give a teacher?

I meticulously read and reread the instructions in preparation for my first official go at it. I froze my mixing bowl, my pastry cloth, and even my flour. I have to say, there is something hugely satisfying about smushing cold butter, Crisco, and flour between your fingers and watching it turn into something that resembles play dough. It brings out your inner child.
I had bought seven beautiful granny smith apples from Whole Foods earlier in the week and couldn't wait to cut into them. They called to me from the bowl on the counter, "Bake me."
I cored and sliced each apple, carefully layering the fruit and dry ingredients and topping the whole shebang with a second crust. 
At this point, I had to remind myself that homemade pies are supposed to look homemade. I attempted to cutesy it up by cutting out apples with a cookie cutter and the leftover dough. I gave the whole thing an egg wash and sprinkled it with raw sugar.
Then, I waited. Impatiently. Checking the oven every five minutes. Expecting to ruin the whole thing by either burning it or having it turn to mush. But, to my surprise, it baked beautifully! I had actually made a pie! From scratch! Now I just had to wait the two days until Miss Megan and Mr. Derek came over for their going away dinner. Ugh! Waiting...
The best part of baking a pie is sharing it with the people you love. After dinner, the dessert conversation drifted to fond memories of Miss Megan's grandmother's pies and the pie Mr. Derek ate during his time away from home on his mission. It turns out pie really is connected to people and memories. Pie is love. And that ultimately is my goal in all of this - to say thank you to the people I most appreciate and so rarely get the chance to tell. So thank you Miss Megan and Mr. Derek for all you have done for all of us, but especially for Wilson. We love you both! I hope you enjoyed your pie.
"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness." - Jane Austen

"You Need a Hobby"

I am a full-time wife and mommy, which also means that much of my life resembles groundhog day. Wake up, feed and dress the kiddos, clean the house/do laundry/pay bills, run errands, feed the kiddos again, play trains, put said children down for naps, welcome daddy home from work (yay!)...You get the idea. And while I wouldn't change it for the world, I needed a little shake up.

Laying in bed one night, listening for the umpteenth time to both the joy and exhaustion that is a mommy's life, my husband said "You need a hobby." I thoroughly agreed, but what could I do? I had learned the hard way that scrapbooking brings out the perfectionist in me in a very bothersome way. Quilting sounded like fun, but expensive in the start up.  I never was particularly coordinated, so sports were out. Then he said it - "You should bake pies." My immediate reaction was, "That's ridiculous." With the exception of the brownie cheesecake my husband requested every year for his birthday and my old standby, bread pudding, I never really had been much of a baker. But, deep down inside, I had always wanted to be that mommy that made her own granola, only fed her children organic foods, bought primarily wooden toys, and crafted daily. Alas, I often fell short. Yet, something about baking pies seemed so quaint and sweet and motherly. So domestically old school. Yes, I wanted to bake pies!

But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to do something for the special people in my life with these pies. After all, who has the metabolism to eat a pie a week? So, I settled on Bake Somebody Happy - my project to bake and bless the people that have blessed me. So, as I teach myself to bake, I will thank someone one pie at a time. Here, you will find their stories, as well as some pie related stuff. And with that, I'm off to Bake Somebody Happy...

"Pie is accessible, affordable, all-encompassing. Pie is meant for sharing. Pie connects people... Pie makes people happy. And happy people make the world a better place. That's why the world needs more pie." - Beth Howard