Saturday, August 31, 2013

Cassandra's "Just Between Friends" Coconut Cream Pie

I have a hard time with stuff. Or more specifically, I have a hard time parting with it.

My father was notorious for tucking away orphaned screws, bolts and tire weights in empty coffee cans and yogurt tubs "just in case," and it is safe to say I have inherited his inability to purge. Although "collecting" has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, I never struggled with it as much as I did becoming a mother. Suddenly, everything had intense meaning - the onesies the boys wore as babies, the board books they had long ago outgrown and the rattles discarded in a basket at the bottom of a bookcase were all dripping with sentimentality.

At the same time, I have experienced firsthand the stress that comes with having more. A small house with two adults, two boys and two cats doesn't leave a lot of room for unnecessary extras. Pushed largely by my husband (who actually asserted that the attic would fall in if I put one more tub of outgrown baby clothes up there), I bit the bullet and decided it was time to part with a few things.

I opted to consign our baby items with a local children's consignment event, Just Between Friends. But I knew I wouldn't be able to price each piece myself. First off, I had approximately 300 clothing items boxed up and ready to head out on the next leg of their journey. Secondly, that sleeper that kept my precious winter babies warm all night - the one with the sweet yellow ducks on the front - well, it was worth more like $4 than the priceless value it had to me. So, I signed up online to have my items priced by a third party - a valet tagger - all the while secretly hoping that there wouldn't be anyone available and I would just have to keep all that stuff a little while longer. 

Then came the call - from a lovely lady named Cassandra. As I fed my kiddos their lunch that afternoon, I spilled my guts out to a woman I had never before met. I told her how difficult it was for me to part with these things. I told her how, honestly, I just wanted to cry at the very thought of parting with anything. And I told her how badly I wished for a third baby - and that maybe that meant I should just keep it all.

Cassandra listened and validated and empathized with my struggle...and I felt strangely safe handing my items over to her. 

So, several weeks later we loaded the truck to the brim with boxes and bags of clothing, books, toys and baby equipment and drove the whole lot to Cassandra's house. On the ride there, tears filled my eyes and a lump formed in my throat as I began to second guess this crazy venture. It was starting to feel a little too much like saying goodbye to my babies for my liking.

But, when I met Cassandra face to face in her driveway that day, I knew my things were safe. I recognized that God had put her in my life for a reason - that out of all the taggers and all the sellers, we were divinely paired together. She told me she would take good care of all of those things that held so many memories for me and I trusted her. I hugged her goodbye and drove down the hill from her house, sentimental but also keenly aware that I could breathe better under the weight of less stuff.

Over the next few weeks, Cassandra reached out to reassure me several times. In one particular email, she wrote, "I know this was hard for you to choose to sell these items. I prayed for you this morning and God put it on my heart to tell you that sometimes He may ask you to give up something in order to give you an even greater blessing later. Thank you for trusting me with your items. They will be well cared for as I continue tagging."

Cassandra has been such a blessing in my life. She has prayed for me and helped me find peace when I felt so unsettled. She has shared scripture with me when I have struggled. I have been uplifted and renewed by her Biblical knowledge and willingness to lovingly speak truth into my life countless times. I so admire the woman of God that she is and strive to be more like her to those He places in my life. 

Since that first meeting, I have sold items with Cassandra several times, and although I still find it difficult to separate the thing from the memory, it has gotten a wee bit easier every time. I have made a small amount of money and freed up that space in the attic. But, most importantly, I have made a friend. And if that isn't pie worthy, then I don't know what is.

When I began dreaming up the perfect pie for Cassandra, I found myself returning over and over to the idea of coconut cream. Largely, I think, because I had not yet made my own version of this classic pie and also because there is just something about coconut layered with meringue that connotes summertime and fresh starts. So, I set out to create Cassandra's "Just Between Friends" Coconut Cream Pie.

I began with my tried and true pie crust recipe, cutting equal parts butter and shortening into a bowlful of chilled flour and salt before adding iced water to combine.
After the dough had chilled, I liberally floured down my butcher block, rolled the disk into a uniform sheet of pastry and transferred it into the tin with the aid of my rolling pin. I then trimmed and crimped my way around the perimeter. 
While the chilled crust baked under a layer of parchment paper and dried beans, I gathered the ingredients for the filling - coconut milk, whole milk, granulated sugar and salt.
As the milk mixture simmered on the stovetop, I whisked together several egg yolks, cornstarch and additional sugar in a separate bowl. 
I tempered the yolks with the warm milk to avoid scrambling and added them to the saucepan, stirring until bubbles formed and the custard had thickened into a pudding-like consistency. I removed the custard from the heat and added a couple of pats of butter, a dash each of vanilla and coconut extracts and a hefty handful of unsweetened shredded coconut.

Once cooled, I poured the coconut cream filling into the blind-baked crust and placed the pie into the refrigerator to chill until firm.

Finally for the meringue - that airy, sticky, glossy cloud on top that is the crowning glory of this pie. Using my handheld mixer, I beat together egg whites, cream of tartar and vanilla extract before gradually adding in the granulated sugar, a spoonful at a time, until stiff peaks formed.
I spooned the meringue over top of the custard, using the back of the wooden spoon to create a series of random peaks, before dousing the entire pie with a generous amount of unsweetened coconut flakes. 
Then, into the oven...just until slightly golden and toasty.
I readily admit that change and letting go are not my strong suits. Yet, I have found time and time again that taking that first uncertain step often results in unexpected riches. When Cassandra sent that beautiful reminder my way that "sometimes He may ask you to give up something in order to give you an even greater blessing later," maybe, just maybe, she was hinting at the blessing of a new friendship as well. And for friendship and pie, I will always make room.
"The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk." - Dustin Hoffman

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Guest Post: Kristi's "Happy Birthday Beautiful" Better Than Cake! Butterscotch Oatmeal Pie

At the Pi(e) Day Party earlier this year, I sent each of the past years' pie recipients home with an empty pie box and small tag reading, "It's true what they say - it is infinitely better to give than to receive. That's why I'm passing the rolling pin to you. Here is an empty box, just waiting to be filled with your homemade creation and gifted to someone you love. And if you're up for documenting your baking endeavors, I'd love to share your story on the blog! So pie it forward. It's your turn to "Bake Somebody (else) Happy." 

I am honored to be able to share Tim's story today in another Bake Somebody Happy guest post. It was an absolute joy to bake with him. Here's to more men in the kitchen!

I still can’t believe I am sitting down to write a blog about baking a pie. Well, I guess technically I baked it, but Erin was by my side guiding me through the entire process so I wouldn’t mess it up. I am sure I could have managed on my own, but I needed this pie to actually taste good. So why not recruit the help of a pie wizard like Erin? After all, she is responsible for this endeavor.

When she asked all of us that were lucky enough to attend her Pi(e) Day Party to “pie it forward” and bake somebody else happy, I thought it was a great idea and had every intention of one day fulfilling this request. Little did I know that it would only be a few short months later and it would be for a woman that I love dearly. Funny how things work. I don’t bake and I don’t fall in love easily... And I definitely don’t write about it to share with the entire pie loving world - which is everybody right?

Who doesn’t love pie? Pie beats cake everyday of the week and twice on Sundays. When I asked Will and Erin who I should bake a pie for, Erin right away suggested that it be for a girl as a way to impress her. Of course, I shunned that idea. What kind of creep bakes a pie for a girl they just met? PIES ARE A BIG DEAL! Bigger than flowers, bigger than a home cooked dinner. To my own detriment I tend to move slow, making sure I really like someone before I go all out. I am somewhat particular and can be slow to open up. But this was different. I knew Kristi was “pie worthy” by the second week of dating. Maybe even the second date. Now that is fast. PIE IS A BIG DEAL.

Of course my closest friend and his wife would be the first friends that Kristi was introduced to. Will was concerned that they wouldn’t be the first to meet her. This made me realize that he could already tell how important Kristi was to me by how I talked about her. I am happy to say that Will and Erin gave their stamp of approval and are extremely happy for us. Kristi, like me, thinks Will and Erin are pretty awesome and have a beautiful family. If your friends are any reflection of who you are, I definitely put my best foot forward with this introduction. I am lucky to have such great people in my life who look after me. Little did Kristi know that during this first visit for dinner, I was already talking to Erin about possibly baking a pie for her. I think Erin was more excited than I was. As usual, I down played this pie baking adventure. It was no big deal, just making a birthday pie for someone I love. Oh, that’s right. THIS PIE IS A BIG DEAL.

My idea for the recipe for Kristi’s birthday pie was to combine a few of her favorite sweets. This included Cold Stone’s Oatmeal Cookie Batter ice cream and oatmeal butterscotch cookies. After discussing the idea with Erin and exchanging a few emails, she came up with a great recipe for a pie with an oatmeal cookie crust and butterscotch custard filling - just what I was looking for. My only request was to add a whipped cream topping and possibly some butterscotch syrup. Once the recipe was perfected, I was off to the store with the list of ingredients we needed to complete this masterpiece. Kristi was out of town for work the night before her birthday, so it was a perfect time to bake the pie. I just had to tell a small little tale about going out to dinner with Will so she would not be suspicious when I missed her nightly call.

We first started by making the oatmeal cookie crust. A whole stick of butter and half cup of brown sugar - oh this was going to be good. The crust came together fairly quickly and it was time to press it into the pie tin. Trying to get it nice and evenly dispersed in the pan was a little harder than I thought. Being a perfectionist, I couldn’t leave it alone and kept fighting with it to get it just right. With a little help from Erin, it was ready to set in the refrigerator while we made the filling. 
Being a sucker for chocolate pies, I was not sure that the butterscotch custard filling was going to be as good. But when we started heating it over the stove, it smelled delicious and I couldn’t wait to give it a try. With the amount of brown sugar that went into this filling, I may have a new favorite pie. Well, actually it was already going to be my favorite pie for many other reasons than just the flavor. Once it thickened up a bit, it was time to put it in the refrigerator to thicken some more before we poured it into the pie crust.
It was now time to put the pie crust into the oven and move onto the finishing touches for the pie - the whipped cream topping and butterscotch syrup. I had no idea how easy it was to make homemade whipped cream and it tasted great. 
At this point, we could smell the oatmeal crust cooking and I began thinking to myself that this pie was going to be awesome. Awesome enough to make me want to attempt another pie in the future. Maybe Kristi could help me with that. The butterscotch syrup came together perfectly, taste tested and approved by the great bearded one. It’s funny how Will was chiming in as the flavor expert - I felt like we were on an episode of Chopped. But, we all agreed that it was really good.

Getting the crust cooked just right without burning the edges was a big concern, but I think we pulled it off. Pouring the butterscotch custard into the pie crust, we were almost done and it was looking like a real pie! It was getting late, but we still had a few finishing touches. It was fun to try to get perfect little stars of whipped cream on top, I think I did a fairly good job. 
Then it was time to decorate it with the syrup, which was pretty fun. It felt like splattering paint on a canvas, but then I just wanted to keep adding more! The last ingredient was the only part of this pie that was not homemade, but was the perfect touch - bits of toffee. This was Erin’s idea and I think it was great.
I have to say I was pretty proud of myself at this point, this pie looked amazing. We took some photos of the pie and it was time to box it up and get it home to the fridge before it melted.
Now just to think of a clever name that would accurately describe this pie and how special Kristi is. My mind was drawing a blank, but at the last moment I just wrote what I felt and thought it was a worthy title. Thus, Kristi’s “Happy Birthday Beautiful” Better Than Cake! Butterscotch Oatmeal Pie. A bit long, but pretty much sums it up.
I could not wait to get home from dinner so I could give Kristi her pie. I told her we could not have dessert at the restaurant because I had something better for her waiting at home. I really hoped this was the case - I think it was too late to go out for ice cream at this point if the pie was not a success.

As I brought out the pie, complete with birthday candles to Kristi, I could not have hoped for a better response. She had a great big smile on her face and was completely surprised. I had hinted at doing something special for her a while back and thought she might have figured out what it was, but she had no clue! This was a great birthday present and the first time anyone had baked a pie from scratch for her. I am so happy that she thought PIE WAS A BIG DEAL, too!
After getting her to pose for a few photos, it was time to dig in and find out how good this pie was. It definitely surpassed all of my expectations and we both loved this pie. I think all of Erin’s pies have been pretty amazing, but this one was probably the best. But, in all fairness, I am a little biased. Kristi loved this pie and I was so happy I could make it for her birthday. It is the little things in life that can make the biggest difference and I am glad that this small gesture could bring her so much joy and show her how much I love her.
I am positive I have driven Erin nuts with how long it has taken me to write this blog for Bake Somebody Happy, and hopefully my words are worthy of her great webpage. It is a wonderful idea and I am glad I could be a part of it. Kristi and I are looking forward to coming up with another pie to bake together, so I can help her “pie it forward.” Hopefully she will have a blog to share in the future! I could not be happier with how this pie turned out and I could not be happier now that I have found Kristi.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Guest Post - Grandson's Green Grape-of-My-Eye Pie

At the Pi(e) Day Party earlier this year, I sent each of the past years' pie recipients home with an empty pie box and small tag reading, "It's true what they say - it is infinitely better to give than to receive. That's why I'm passing the rolling pin to you. Here is an empty box, just waiting to be filled with your homemade creation and gifted to someone you love. And if you're up for documenting your baking endeavors, I'd love to share your story on the blog! So pie it forward. It's your turn to "Bake Somebody (else) Happy." 

But, I was completely caught off guard when my father in law phoned to ask if he might be able to drop off a pie for my oldest son, Wilson! I am honored and humbled to be able to share Kent's story today in another Bake Somebody Happy guest post.

Wilson's sparkling grinning eyes were his grandpa's joyful prize.
He literally gasped at the amount of freshly harvested grapes proudly displayed on grandpa's kitchen counter. "That's a lot of grapes," he beamed, smiling in anticipation.

Several rapid heartbeats later, it was decided. This boy needs a Green Grape-of-My-Eye Pie. Call it a celebration of his starting school next week...or an appreciation of a baby boy who has grown with guidance from loving, nurturing parents into a delightful and earnest young person.
Years pass so quickly. Moments ago, it seems, a proud and frightened new father appeared at the waiting room door to announce Wilson's arrival. Since then, it's been a five-year blur of diapers and trains, first tooth and trains, lost teeth and trains, family outings and trains, a new brother and trains, birthday parties and trains, babysitting and trains, beach vacations and trains...and trains.
And now his journey takes him to school. Don't cry (too much) Mommy.
Wilson, you are a precious fresh bundle of life that brings happiness to all who cross your path. You are a special gift that keeps on giving, and your grandma and I love you dearly. We hope you enjoy your Green Grape-of-My-Eye Pie.