Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Santa's Milk (Er...Eggnog) and Cookies Pie

One of my greatest joys as a parent has been seeing the world through my children's eyes - the undeniable magnetism of a train, the jaw dropping vastness of the ocean and perhaps most pertinent to this time of year, the absolute magic of Santa. This year, I find myself soaking up the far-off twinkle in Wilson's eyes at the mere mention of Santa and his reindeer and Henry's cautious, wide-eyed trek to Santa's lap, for I know Christmases like these are numbered.

Our family has been so blessed to have annual, in the flesh visits from Santa (and often Mrs. Claus) on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Every year, I eagerly anticipate the look of awe on the faces of my boys and their little friends as the front door swings wide open - amidst cookie decorating and hot chocolate sipping - and the magical sound of jingle bells and "Ho-Ho-Ho"s fill the living room. It is absolutely one of my favorite nights of the year.

There is an undeniable magic in sitting on Santa's lap and putting in your last minute gift requests, just before he has to dash off to the North Pole to begin his busiest night of the year. Yet, Santa is never rushed with our flustered little ones, barraged by a flurry of camera flashes and reminders to "smile." He has nothing but time for those who still whole-heartedly believe in his magic.
Each year, after all the requests have been made, the pictures have been taken and Santa has headed back to the North Pole, just before we head to bed, we set out the traditional milk and cookies for Santa. But this year, I thought we might mix things up a little. I mean, how many Christmas cookies can the big guy really eat? So, here is our family's take on milk and cookies, a la pie - Santa's Milk (Er...Eggnog) and Cookies Pie.

The boys and I began with a sugar cookie crust, working granulated sugar, butter and an egg yolk into a paste using the back of a fork. Once combined, my little guys took turns measuring in the flour. Finally, I emptied the bowlful of crumbly dough into the tin and let the boys go wild pressing it into the bottom and up the sides (and all over the counter). Into the oven until golden brown and ten minutes later, cookies...check. 
Then for the filling - or the "milk" portion of the pie. In keeping with the holiday spirit, I opted for a more festive, grown-up take on milk. So the boys and I whipped up our first ever batch of homemade eggnog (minus the alcohol) in preparation for our holiday custard. 
Using my hand mixer (boy is this thing useful!), we beat granulated sugar into egg yolks until dissolved. Then we whisked in whole milk and heavy whipping cream before grating in a sprinkling of fresh nutmeg.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, we beat egg whites and a spoonful of sugar into stiff peaks and folded them into the yolk mixture.
And lest you think I have this whole baking with little ones thing down, when I say "we," I mean me with a side of "When can I have a bite?" on repeat, little fingers drawing designs on the table in sugar and other general unsolicited "help."
Milk, er...eggnog, check.

Then, just because I feel like the whole spirit of this blog is to give my loved ones pies I have actually created with my own two hands (or our six hands, in this case), we made our own homemade vanilla pudding mix. My "helpers" and I whisked together granulated sugar, cornstarch, milk powder, salt and the seeds of one vanilla bean.
Then for the assembly. I combined the homemade eggnog, milk, scratch-made pudding mix and freshly grated nutmeg on the stovetop until thickened. Once cooled, I poured the filling into the cookie dough pie shell, topped it with some whipped cream and sprinkles (because what is a Christmas cookie without sprinkles?) and placed it in the refrigerator until the man in the red suit made his Christmas Eve rounds.
Santa is a busy man, especially on Christmas Eve, what with sleigh packing and checking his list twice. Yet, somehow, he always seems to make a little extra special time for the little ones in my life. And for that, I am especially grateful. Because all I want for Christmas is to share in the magic of Santa with my boys, once again.
"Peace on earth will come to all
if we just follow the light
so lets give thanks to the Lord above
that Santa Claus comes tonight."
- Here Comes Santa Claus

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Joy's "New Life" Nutella Pie

I was 21 and just entering my senior year of college when I met Joy. Still reeling a bit from a series of unsuccessful attempts to "find myself" (in all the wrong ways, mind you), I had come to the realization that I had nowhere to go other than to give my life over to Christ. That single, powerful decision led to a strong conviction that I also needed to change a lot about the way I was living - beginning with my actual living situation.

So, when I heard that a group of four Christian college studets had rented a townhouse and were in need of a fifth roommate, I was both eager and nervous. Change - at least for me - can be anxiety-inducing. And I was finding that taking that first step in the direction of who it was God was helping me to become was stretching me in an unfamiliar, almost uncomfortable way.

But, when I met the girls - Laura, JR, Erin and Joy - I instantly knew that God had put me in the right place. Not only did He have a plan for me, but He had hand selected a group of Godly women to accompany me on the journey.
All of my new roommates were warm and welcoming, and over the course of the school year, I learned so much of what the Christian life looked like from watching them. They patiently led and gently held me accountable. Not once did I ever feel judged by what I saw as my blinding newness to everything - Bible studies, prayer, devotionals, retreats...heck, even the lingo was new.

Although I formed significant friendships with each of the girls, Joy's warmth and gentle, nurturing way immediately drew me in. I found myself looking to her as a tangible version of who I could become in Christ - my spiritual mentor, if you will. I was struck by her genuine heart for God and her authentic desire to fulfill His plan for her life.
Soon after college graduation, I made the move back to Sacramento to begin my "adult" life of work and such. Contact with my former roommates dwindled as life became increasingly busy. But intermittently, throughout the years, I would think back to that time of spiritual newness fondly and wonder what became of the girls that helped shape my faith and identity in Christ.

After years of resistance (did I really need long-lost acquaintances to know what I ate for lunch?), I surrendered and joined Facebook. Almost immediately, I reconnected with Joy, who had recently moved back to Davis with her college-boyfriend-turned-husband, Matt, and two young children, Hannah and Peter. The friendship that has ensued in the months since has made me sorry I ever doubted social media.

When Joy and I met up for our first play date several weeks later, it was as if the eleven years that had passed since college (how am I possibly that old?) were just a blink of an eye. Unbeknownst to us, our lives had been moving on parallel paths - being a full-time wife and mommy to two little ones so close in age - separated only by thirty miles of freeway.

Wilson, despite his typical shy, silent treatment for the first half hour or so, eventually took to Joy's oldest, Hannah - in a big way! On the drive home, Wilson talked incessantly about Hannah - how pretty her hair was and what a nice friend she was. This continued for several days until Wilson called us in one evening after being tucked into bed and announced that he knew who he wanted to marry - Hannah. 
It has been such a pleasure to get to know Joy as a mom - motherhood suits her well. So when I learned that she was expecting a third little bundle of joy (pun intended), I could not have been more excited for her. And living in such close proximity to Joy's doctor served as the perfect excuse for frequent lunch play dates. 
Just last week, baby Abigail made her entrance into the world. And in my opinion, nothing deserves a pie more than the celebration of a new life. So, I set aside the more traditional baby gifts of onesies and booties in favor of a little Joy's "New Life" Nutella Pie.

Joy is the person I have to thank for introducing me to Nutella in the first place. I remember doubting the fancy new spread occupying shelf space in our college pantry. But I soon regretted my snap judgement against the more sophisticated, cultured cousin of peanut butter. It was love at first bite.

For days, I vacillated between the seemingly endless and tempting crust possibilities - oatmeal, hazelnut, sugar cookie, and on and on. Eventually, however, I opted to stick with my tried and true butter and shortening recipe, largely because Joy had recently requested a "crust workshop" and I figured a little preview was in order.
While the crust chilled, I prepared the filling, combining granulated sugar, light brown sugar and salt in a large bowl.

Into the sugar, I added heavy whipping cream, a bit of vanilla extract and a heaping cupful of the star of the show - Nutella. (I may or may not have also helped myself to a spoonful of the chocolately, nutty spread - all in the name of research and development, of course.)

Finally, I incorporated the egg yolks and blended the mixture until smooth, using my brand-spanking-new hand mixer! I had a hunch I might have one (or two) coming my way this gift-giving season and I am pleased as punch to give my poor arm a rest.
And the very best part of my new mixer? Definitely licking the beaters.
Once combined, I poured the thick, rich custard into the chilled pie shell and placed it in the oven to bake until loosely set. Then into the refrigerator to continue to firm up overnight.

Just to gild the lily, I whipped up a little whipped cream and piped small starbursts onto the pie in a circular fashion. (Plus, a little whipped cream is always a good distraction when you are trying to disguise cracks resulting from a not-so-graceful attempt to remove a hot pie from the oven). 
There is a certain comfort in the bond you have with someone with whom you have shared a home. They know you intimately - the good and the bad, the messy and the compulsive. With roommates, it is nearly impossible to hide the parts of yourself that you keep from the rest of the world, and because of that, they tend to know a more authentic version of you. 

Reconnecting with Joy has been one of my most personally fulfilling adult relationships. I always leave our time together feeling refreshed and blessed by her visit

Joy has always been good at seeing the potential in people - whether they be a college student just taking their first step in faith, a kindergartener embarking on their education or a new little one of her own to nurture and love. She is just the kind of person you want by your side at the beginning of any new journey, birth or rebirth - and as I have come to find out, the perfect companion for a little further on down the road, as well.

"You can't buy happiness but you can buy Nutella and that's kind of the same thing." - Unknown