Sunday, December 23, 2018

Barb and Keith's Slice of Heaven Pie

  I have to admit, when I first met Keith, he didn't immediately win me over. In fact, I have a rather distinct memory of carrying my then one-year-old son, accompanied by my recently widowed mother, into our backyard to check on the guys' fence-building progress, only to hear an expletive shouted from the direction of their current project. That introduction - in combination with the fact that Keith was a recently divorced bachelor who appeared to spend, perhaps, a bit more time in the gym than I did - led me to suspect that he and I may not have had that much in common. However, I have learned over the years that my husband is typically a better judge of character than I, and I knew he recognized something special in Keith.

  Then along came Barb. Instantly, I loved Barb. She was warm and nurturing and smoothed out all of Keith's rough edges. Basically, she was a bit of everything Keith was not...and a lot of everything he needed. (Although, as in all good relationships, I'm sure the converse could be said, as well.)

  Over their years together, Keith and Barb have become good friends of ours, albeit friends that typically seem to be gifting us in one way or another. They have generously purchased a yearly Costco membership for our family, gifted us a brand new foodsaver, and aided in the completion of several home projects (whether through the lending of tools or labor). And while Will and I are not particularly good at accepting charity, we have grown to appreciate their abundant generosity as the demonstration of their gift-giving love language. 

  Barb and Keith are living my dream, with a beautiful second home in my favorite beachside town - Capitola, California. Will and I have visited Capitola nearly every summer since being married 13 years ago. Breathing in the salty ocean air while combing the beach for shells to the soundtrack of waves tickling the shore is literally my happy place.

  Well, as luck would have it, my birthday this year fell on Thanksgiving. And there is that little bit about it not just being any birthday, but my 40th birthday. So much for an all out celebration when there is turkey to be had and family to visit, right? Except has been complicated this year. In vague terms, there has been some heartache in our extended family that has made the idea of sitting down all together and giving thanks complicated. To the point that I told Will all I really wanted this year was to not have to do the traditional Thanksgiving Day rigmarole. 

  Enter Keith and Barb. When Will came home from work one afternoon in early October and mentioned something along the lines of, "Keith and Barb would like to offer us their home in Capitola for your birthday," it took me all of 3.2 seconds to respond with a resounding "Yes!" After all, what is there to be more thankful for than an impromptu family vacation to your very favorite location? I was all in!

  So, after celebrating an early Thanksgiving dinner with my sister's family, complete with my very favorites - potato casserole and a family dance party - we were free to celebrate me. That is, we could begin our stay at Keith and Barb's just as soon as we vacuum sealed the leftover turkey breast we had bought at Costco (using the membership purchased for us by Barb and Keith) with the foodsaver (also gifted to us by Barb and Keith). Hang on...I'm beginning to see a pattern here...

  Barb and Keith's home away from home could not have been more welcoming. They literally had every amenity our little family of five could possibly need, down to a very thoughtful make-your-own sundae bar, with all the fixings. That first night, the kids were in heaven and went to bed snuggled in their sleeping bags, three beds in a row, with full hearts and bellies.

  Although it rained two of our three day stay, Capitola and its salty ocean air was exactly the nurturing that my soul, teetering on the cusp of a new decade, needed. And when the weather kept us tucked inside, the kiddos enjoyed Jenga, Disney Jr., and curling up with a stack of library books. 

  Thankfully, we lucked out with clear blue skies on my actual day, affording us a beautiful, almost warm Thanksgiving morning spent on a nearly empty beach. Jumping in the waves, hand in hand with my two boys (who are just on the brink of being too cool to enjoy such things with their mother) and watching my three year old daughter dig her toes into the sand to admire her footprints, was the perfect way to usher in a newer, older me. 

  After a brief drive through town to see what, if any, restaurants were open for Thanksgiving dinner, we landed at a wonderful little Thai restuarant and celebrated forty years with chicken yellow curry and prawn pad thai. It was truly perfect.

  And what would a visit to the beach be without a stop at Marianne's Ice Cream - a Santa Cruz institution since 1947? This year, I opted for Marianne's "Heaven" flavor - a vanilla ice cream with chocolate swirl, peanut butter swirl, and brownies. As I dug my spoon down into that first peanut butter ripple, I realized I was, in fact, in heaven. Celebrating life in my happy place with my favorite people, thanks to Barb and Keith sharing their little slice of heaven with us. And a pie was born - Barb and Keith's Slice of Heaven Pie.

  I began with my favorite, flakey pie crust (using a combination of butter and shortening) as a base, before filling the shell with a generous helping of fudgy, made-from-scratch brownies. Once the brownie layer had baked and cooled, I slathered the top with a gooey blanket of peanut butter ganache. Next, a layer of vanilla pudding (reminiscent of Marianne's vanilla ice cream) served as a canvas for homemade peanut butter nuggets and a slathering of chocolate ganache. Finally, a piping of peanut butter buttercream was the cherry on top (not literally...although that would be delicious)

  In my forty years on this planet, I have learned many important life lessons. First impressions are often wrong. It is always best to say thank you when given a gift (no matter how much you think you don't deserve it). And when you are lucky enough to find your own little slice of heaven, it is better shared.

"The expression 'pie in the sky' refers to a dessert so sweet, it could only be found in Heaven." — Pushing Daisies

Saturday, August 11, 2018

June's "It Looks Just Like a Birthday Pie"

I have always dreamt of having a daughter. A couple, in fact. The baby dolls, the tea parties, the ballet - it all just seemed so magical. But, after welcoming two amazing boys into our family early in our marriage, life as a boymom was totally my comfort zone.

So, nearly six years into the boymom gig, when the ultrasound technician informed us our third child would be a girl, I admit, I began to freak out just a bit. All of the girly things I thought I was ill-prepared for came rushing in, demanding my immediate attention. After all, I hadn't the slightest idea how to do girl hair. I mean, I could barely braid, much less French braid. I hadn't watched a Disney princess movie since my teenage years. And our house, up until that very moment, contained not a drop of pink. Could I really learn everything all those other girlmom's already knew in time for her arrival?

But, the instant I saw my sweet little June, none of that mattered. Her chubby cheeks and tiny, curled fists stole my heart. At that moment, my life was full. I had my baby girl.
As it turns out, life with a daughter has not been all that different than life with sons. Sure, it's way more fun (and also, more expensive) to dress her up. But so much of life with June is just because of who she is at her core. June is patient. She is nurturing - with her babies and with her real life family members. She is joyful - constantly singing and dancing. She is giving. Yet, she is also independent and is not easily swayed. God made her uniquely June.
My relationship with my own mother is complicated, as I'm sure many mother-daughter relationships are. And honestly, having a daughter gave me pause because I know firsthand just how difficult that relationship can be. But I'm choosing to view life with my sweet Junie as an opportunity to mend some of those hurts and mother her (as I attempt to do with all of my children) with a specific appreciation for the unique personality God has blessed her with.

Dear June,

Between you and me, I had always envisioned myself with a daughter. Since long before I met your Daddy, I dreamed of all things pink. But, after nearly six years raising your older brothers, I began to feel it just wasn't in the cards. Many times in my first five years as a Mommy, I remember feeling that living with three boys, while absolutely wonderful, could also be a bit isolating. So many times I prayed for you - or, rather, the possibility of you. And then God gave me a vision - a real life vision of a sweet little girl playing on the floor in her pink bedroom with long blond pigtails. And I dared to believe that you might be out there waiting for me, too.

You came into this world assertive and on your own terms - five days overdue and then in a sudden and intense rush to meet us 20 minutes after arriving at the hospital. Your welcome to the world was dramatic and scary and painful (and - my apologies - with a bit more yelling than my previous births). But the moment your Daddy text me the first picture of your sweet little face from down the hall where you were being poked and prodded and tended to, it was pure, unconditional love. The moment I set eyes on you, I knew you were exactly who our family needed.
One on one time is not usually something afforded third children. But, those two weeks spent together in the hospital when you were so very sick cemented a bond between the two of us. As we spent every waking (and sleeping) minute together, I grew to know you much quicker than I did your brothers. In many ways, there is a part of me that is grateful for that October. Our souls know each other so much more intimately because of it.

You have taught me immeasurably more than I would have thought any three year old could. You encourage me to literally stop and smell the flowers on every walk. You have convinced me that three (or four, or five) kisses before bed are certainly better than one. I love your "whobody's"- as in "Whobody wants to play with me?", the way you say wooden for other ("Where is my wooden shoe?"), and your constant use of the phrase "no matter." I love that you have your Papa's dimple, even though you never met him this side of Heaven. I love our slow mornings together spent playing tea party and sleepover and play doh. I love the way you fit just so in my lap while we snuggle together to read a huge stack of picture books or watch Daniel Tiger curled up on my bed. I love the gentle way you care for your babies, grinning as I watch you wear them in your doll carrier, just I as carried you for the first couple years of your life.
I look back on all the years we assumed our family of four was complete, never imagining how incomplete we really were. You bring grace, caring, and calm into our boisterous little family. And while you will most likely be my final baby, for the first time ever that feels ok. Because you complete us, Junebug.
I look forward to watching you grow into a "big girl" this next year, but I also dream of our future together as mother and daughter. Of teaching you to bake, helping you get ready for your first school dance, going wedding dress shopping, and someday watching you raise a daughter of your own. I am so proud of you and am immeasurably blessed to be your Mommy.

Happy third birthday, June.

Love, Mommy

Since her birth, I have sung the same lullaby to Junie every night before bed - "Moon, Moon, Moon" by Laurie Berkner. The chorus goes

"Look up, it's the moon
Look up, it's the moon
Look up, it's the moon up in the sky
It's big and round and I have found
That it looks just like a pizza pie"

Just to keep things fresh and exciting, every evening as we wind down and snuggle up together in her yellow chair, I change up the flavor of pie in the song. Sometimes it's a lemon pie...during the holidays, it's a pumpkin pie...often it's a Junie pie. And for June's third birthday, it's none other than a birthday pie.

For our sweetie pie's third birthday party, we chose to celebrate at June's Pie Shoppe and Bakery. Her four very best toddler friends and close family crafted and baked, ate far too many sweets, and celebrated with everything pie. But the star of the show was the confetti birthday pie, festively adorned in sprinkles - June's "It Looks Just Like a Birthday Pie."

June's pie began using my traditional crust recipe with a very special birthday twist. In a large bowl, I combined flour, salt, shortening, butter and ice cold water by hand before mixing in a heavy handful of celebratory rainbow sprinkles. The dough looked so lovely when rolled that I'm tempted to say sprinkles just may make it into my crust recipe from now on. 
I then transferred the dough to a pie tin to blind bake and cool while I prepared the birthday custard filling.

For the pudding filling, I combined sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan and gradually stirred in whole milk, until the mixture was thick and bubbling. Next, I carefully added in the egg yolks, whisking until the pot returned to a boil.

Or rather, that is what I intended to do. But it seems that the pressure of baking a birthday pie combined with all of the mental distractions of my life at the present time got the best of me. Four scorched pudding batches and half a dozen raw eggs spilled onto the floor later, I threw in the proverbial kitchen towel and reached for the good old Jell-O vanilla pudding mix. And do you know what? The world did not end. No one died. And all in all, the pie was rather yummy. Now, I know I'm typically a proponent of homemade rather than store-bought, but if homemade results in tears and fits and feelings of baking inadequacy, isn't it ultimately best to keep your sanity and just use the shortcut? 

Once cooled, I added more sprinkles (because when it comes to three year old birthdays, can one ever really have too many sprinkles?) and poured the beautifully set pudding (finally) into the pie crust.

I topped the entire pie with a cloud of homemade whipped cream, mixing heavy cream and powdered sugar in my festive new pink stand mixer until stiff peaks formed. The entire pie then received another generous helping of rainbow sprinkles and a truly magical topping - birthday cake crumble. (This recipe is borrowed from Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi and it is every bit as good as it sounds. Trust me...go make You and your inner three year old will be very happy.)
Three years later, June's hair is often natural and wavy and kind of a mess, much to her liking. We still haven't seen any of the Disney princess movies, although she has picked up Cinderella, Belle, and Elsa all on her own, thanks to Disney marketing. We have adjusted to lots and lots of pink - but I'm still holding off on the glitter. And all of those other girly things I was so worried I might not be ready for? Well, we're learning them together.

"Look up, it's the moon
Look up, it's the moon
Look up, it's the moon up in the sky
It's big and round and I have found
That it looks just like a pizza pie"
-Laurie Berkner

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Jamie and Kelly's Three Musketeers Pies

  Navigating a social life as a grown woman with multiple little ones in tow is tricky. The whole mommy friend game can feel a bit like a rerun of high school, only this time around everyone is dressed in expensive yoga gear and hawking a variety of direct sales products. It's challenging to find authentic girlfriends who truly love you and want the best for you. But, if through a bit of trial and error, you are lucky enough to find your tribe, it all just effortlessly falls into place. Jamie and Kelly are absolutely my tribe.

  While pregnant with my daughter, and with nearly 8 years of Mommyhood under my belt, I often wondered how exactly I would fit in with the new mommy crowd. And frankly, did I even want to? After all, this wasn't my first parenthood rodeo. And many of the concerns I had my first couple of go arounds (getting my babies to latch correctly, when to introduce solids, etc.) had been replaced by figuring out how to best align my newborn's naps around the older kiddos' school schedules.

  Thankfully, a new chapter in life brought with it a new cast of supporting characters.

  By God's grace, one of the mom's in my oldest son's first grade class also happened to be expecting, just about a trimester ahead of me. At morning drop off, Jamie and I casually bonded over maternity clothing, learning the babies' genders, and choosing names...and by the time our littles were out of the womb, we (and they) were fast friends.

  I love my time with Jamie largely because she is truly one of the most verbally affirmative people I have ever known. She oozes affection, greets everyone with a hug, and routinely calls her friends "Love" (a quirk my husband can attest that I have since acquired). Whether we are attending library storytimes with the babes, working the leather stamping booth at Pioneer Days, or hosting toddler playdates at each other's homes, Jamie exudes warmth and nurturing. Her friendship is a breath of fresh air in a world that is so often inwardly focused.
  Whereas Jamie and I naturally eased into a friendship, Kelly and I met under rather unusual circumstances. You see, much to my horror, it seems that my oldest son, Wilson, had kissed her adorable daughter, Sadie, on a dare during an end of the year kindergarten field trip! Thankfully, as we bonded over our firstbornsindiscretions, I recognized in Kelly a kindred spirit.

  Whether we are grabbing burgers with the big kids before our annual viewing of The Nutcracker, trick or treating around the neighborhood, or having our toes painted while the toddlers watch Daniel Tiger on cell phones in our laps, my time with Kelly is always life giving. Never one to wallow or complain, Kelly sees the best in most every situation. She radically encourages tolerance and giving in her girls and is such an encouragement to me as a mother, wife, and friend. 
  Beyond being beautiful people inside and out, I feel absolutely blessed that both of these women also have children (and therefore, built in friends and playmates) the ages of my oldest and youngest. They graciously keep my little one and I occupied with weekly Friday morning playdates - to those dreaded, germ-infested (but toddler adored) indoor playgrounds, for picnics and train rides at the zoo, or to explore a new-to-us local park. While they provide entertainment, snacks, and love for my daughter, they also minister directly to my need for friendship and adult connection.
  Both Jamie and Kelly consistently encourage me to be the very best version of myself - whether that be in trying yoga or Pilates for the first time, scheduling a bit of self-care to get massages or pedicures, or talking through a tough parenting decision over sushi and Diet Cokes...until they literally shut the restaurant down and begin vacuuming around us (only to be followed by another hour of chatting out in the parking lot before heading home).
  They also encourage my little people to be the very best versions of themselves. As summer was drawing to a close last July, Kelly suggested that the older kiddos host a lemonade stand and collect money for UC Davis Children's Hospital, where our sweet June had spent nearly two weeks of her early life with a devastating virus. With just a bit of help to set up, the kids quickly and enthusiastically collected $232.06 to be donated to the hospital! I could not have been more proud, watching our almost fourth graders (and my bonus almost second grader) enthusiastically waving signs, serving the people in their community, counting their donations, and ultimately delivering their earnings to the children's hospital.
   Jamie and Kelly really are the very best girlfriends I could ask for in this stage of life. They laugh with me, come alongside me when I'm feeling blue, and generally make me feel safe and secure in the craziness that is motherhood. So, for my two favorite, loyal sidekicks, a 3 Musketeers pie...or rather, two 3 Musketeers pies, seemed an obvious (and delicious) choice. Without further adieu, I present Jamie and Kelly's Three Musketeers Pies.

  I began with an Oreo crust, combining chocolate cookie crumbs with a bit of melted butter before pressing the crumble into two pie tins, using the bottom of a juice glass. While the crusts baked and then cooled, my sous chefs and I unwrapped umpteen bite-sized 3 Musketeers candy bars, reserving a handful for garnish (and maybe a small snack for later). We then pulsed the chocolate covered bites of nougat in a blender until they came together in a nearly smooth, peanut butter-like ball.

  Next, we folded in softened cream cheese, a bit of powdered sugar, and a generous helping of homemade whipped cream.

 Once the cooled crusts had been filled to the brim with the sticky, candy infused filling, they went into the refrigerator overnight to set.

  The next morning, I slathered a fluffy, cloud-like layer of the remaining vanilla whipped cream over top of both pies before meticulously placing a circle of halved 3 Musketeer bites around the perimeters. And voilĂ  - two Three Musketeers Pies ready for delivery (over yet another sushi dinner, of course).
    Jamie and Kelly are my go-to girls. They are my tribe and my village. They are the women I fall back on when I realize I spoke too harshly to my 10 year old before school, for advice about what to wear for family pictures, or when I need 8 million pep talks about what color Will and I should paint the exterior of our house (and then assure me I am not totally crazy for choosing black...even though I know they think I am). When family life, other mommies, or schoolyard bullies get to be too much, they are my sounding boards and my cheerleaders.

  In the course of one's life, it's a real gift to happen upon one genuine friendship, but two true girlfriends is definitely something to be celebrated...with pie, of course!

“All for one and one for all.” - Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers