Several years and two little boys later, Barbara and Kent are indeed everything I had ever hoped for in a grandparent to my little ones. As a child myself, I never had a particularly close relationship with any of my grandparents. But to see Wilson and Henry with Will's parents does my heart good - the way Kent religiously carries Wilson out to the car after a visit (despite the fact that, at five, he is much too heavy), the way Barbara is always offering the boys a snack and a jacket (for fear that they may catch cold) and the way they take such a genuine interest in everything the boys do and say. My kiddos are incredibly lucky to have so much love.
Barbara and Kent have always been generous - and that's putting it mildly. They routinely gift presents that are far too extravagant and spoil us all with package after package at Christmas. But this year, they really upped the ante. As I opened my birthday card last November, I fought back tears as I realized that they would be taking our entire family of four to Disneyland! Immediately, my mind raced with excitement and anticipation. For months leading up to the big day, I daydreamed and planned and made list after list - complete with park hours, parade routes, ride height requirements and even Yelp food ratings. It's fair to say I may have been even more excited than the boys.
And finally, the big day was upon us - Disneyland Day! On the short flight into LA, Will sheepishly shared my five-page-overly-detailed-scheduled-into-ten-minute-increment itinerary with his parents. I held my breath waiting for their response - yet, my in-laws didn't bat an eye. It appeared they were up for the challenge.
For four days, my heart swelled over and over as I watched Barbara and Kent create beautiful memories with my children and provide them amazing experiences we would never have been able to at this point in our lives. My love for them - as grandparents and as people - grew tenfold. As I watched Barbara and Wilson board the Dumbo ride, hand in hand...
as I sat between Wilson and Kent giggling and fully engaged in a game of their own secret language at dinner...
and as they patiently and lovingly accompanied us on train after train after train.
Never once did they complain or even mildly suggest that they might have another plan. They were content to share in these first experiences of ours - happy just to see the wonder in my little guys' eyes as they took it all in.
When all was said and done, our stay at the happiest place on earth was more than I ever could have asked for. I admit that I sympathized all too much with Wilson's tears as we loaded up the double stroller and exited the park gates on that last afternoon. But I know Will, the boys and I will forever cherish the memories of our time there with Grandma and Grandpa. And for that, I think Barbara and Kent deserve one big "Thanks a Latte" Pie.
Barbara and Kent love a good latte like no one else I have ever met. They don't bother with coffee or mochas (and certainly not Frappacinos - my personal Starbucks weakness). Make it a latte or nothing at all. Years ago - I suspect in response to too frequent trips to the Starbucks across the street - my in-laws invested in a rather impressive espresso machine. Ever since, Will and I have been politely turning down homemade lattes.
Before our plane even took off, the search for lattes began. A pair at the Sacramento airport Starbucks, two each morning before entering the park and two each afternoon inside the park. Kent only half jokingly admitted that he had researched any and all possible latte vendors within walking distance of Disneyland. (And I get it. I am much the same way about my Diet Coke. Imagine my relief when I learned that Disney carried exclusively Coca-Cola products.)
So when it came to baking a gratitude pie for Barbara and Kent, the inspiration was obvious - their favorite drink in pie form, aka Grandma and Grandpa's "Thanks a Latte" Pie.
I began with my usual pie crust recipe, combining flour, salt, butter and vegetable shortening into large crumbles before adding just enough ice water to bring the dough together. And this time, I had a few extra hands "helping" me.
Once chilled, I liberally floured the cutting board, rolled the ball of dough into a uniform sheet and carefully transferred it into the tin. Then I trimmed and crimped the edges and pricked the bottom with a fork before placing the finished shell, weighted with dried beans, into the preheated oven to blind bake.
The most important ingredient in a latte pie is decidedly the coffee. So, of course, I went straight to the source when selecting the perfect blend. Although I am almost certain that Starbuck's employees are rarely asked for their assistance in recreating a pie based on one of their signature drinks, lucky for me, the barista did have a definite opinion. I took her advice and purchased the dark Italian roast, as it most closely resembled the espresso traditionally used in lattes.
Armed with my VIA Ready Brew Italian Roast, I set to work whisking whole milk into a saucepan of sugar, cornstarch and salt over medium heat.
As the filling thickened and began to boil, I removed the saucepan from the burner, carefully tempering the egg yolks with the hot mixture before adding them to the pan. Finally, I added a pat of butter to gloss the filling.
Once cooled, Will and I sampled a spoonful of the filling against a latte we had purchased just for this purpose. And the verdict? Similar enough in intensity and flavor, while maintaining the sweetness characteristic of a pie.
So, I poured the cooled filling into the pie shell. But, it just didn't feel complete. And that's when I remembered Kent saying that his mother had made the best whipped cream, sweetened with honey. While I had never heard of this particular technique, a quick Google search resulted in several recipes replacing the more commonly used powdered sugar with honey. Finally, I topped the pie with a generous heap of homemade, honey whipped cream and...voilà! "Thanks a Latte" pie.
My in-laws have always demonstrated unconditional love to our growing family. They have helped us in times of need and gifted us in times of celebration. They treated us to an amazing honeymoon. When we shared that we were expecting our first child, they purchased not only the crib, but nearly every diaper my boys ever wore. But this trip to Disneyland really took the cake (or pie, rather).
Barbara and Kent are loving and generous and there to share joyously in the parts of life that matter most to my little guys. They are living reminders of the kind of grandparent I hope to be someday. And for that, all I can say is "Thanks a latte."