Dulce de Leche Banana Cream Pie + Practicing My Purpose

"And a mess is still a moment I can seize until I know,

that all will be well.

Even though sometimes this is hard to tell,

and the fight is just as frustrating as hell,

all will be well."

- The Gabe Dixon Band

It’s been over two years since I started work on my pie goal and almost seven months since I made my last pie. Life was a bit of a whirlwind for a while after baby Abe was born, and making pie was just not a very high priority. He’s going to be six months old on Saturday, though, and he’s doing so great and we have a fairly solid routine down for the time being and last week I had a good reason to make a pie, so here I am to tell you about it.

When we were living in Seattle, my sisters and a few of our mutual girlfriends started getting together for regular dinners, partly inspired by this book. The first time I heard about their gatherings, I was ambivalent: so thankful that they all had each other and this wonderfully rich way to spend time together, but also so so sad that I didn’t get to be a part of it. They sent me this one night, though, and it lifted my spirits for at least a couple of days. So when my sister sent an email inviting me and the rest of the ladies for dinner a month ago, I was so excited I offered to make a pie.

The menu took shape as a Mexican meal, so I started looking for something along the lines of a Mexican pie for dessert. When I came across this recipe, I knew I’d found the one. It looked simple enough that I could probably pull off making it during naptimes, which was essentially my only criteria.

It wasn’t until I found myself looking for a can of Nestle La Lechera Dulce de Leche at the grocery store that I realized I was a little conflicted about serving this pie to people I love. I’m still not actually sure - because I didn’t want to look - what ingredients comprise Nestle La Lechera Dulce de Leche.

Ever since Abe started eating solid food, I’ve been struggling to make peace with my diet. Mostly because I don’t deny myself much of anything if I feel like eating it, and I’ve always believed that moderation is the key to generally staying healthy and not making oneself miserable. I absolutely believe that eating or drinking just the right thing at the right time can do more to improve my mental health than any medicine or other treatment. But now that I’m responsible for so many of those decisions on another (tiny, unwitting) person’s behalf, they feel so much more important. And I really don’t want to screw it up.

There have been days when I mentally beat myself up for not making all of Abe's fruit and vegetable purees from scratch in the food processor. I’ve had moments of feeling like a bad mom because, on occasion, he gets a bottle of formula instead of breastmilk. And when I start thinking about whether or not I want to be responsible for ever giving him something like a slice of pie made with Nestle La Lechera Dulce de Leche, well, you can imagine the inner turmoil.

I found myself in tears about it last night, telling Dann about the weight of all my little decisions that may or may not make my son grow up to become the man I hope he will be. And as soon as I’d spoken it out loud to him, I felt the weight dissipate. Because I know, ultimately, that who Abe grows up to be is so largely out of my hands. And for goodness sake, it’s so infinitely not dependent on what he eats as an infant. Not that I want to raise him on a steady diet of junk, but if he one day has a slice of pie with some weird, non-real food version of caramel sauce in it, it doesn’t mean he’s going to end up in prison. And as we talked about it, Gabe Dixon Band’s song ‘All Will Be Well’ played in the background on my Weepies Pandora station. I believe it was the Holy Spirit at work.

And this pie was a hit, even with the Nestle La Lechera Dulce de Leche, among a group of women I would certainly describe as healthy and food-conscious (we had these spaghetti squash and black bean tacos for dinner - YUM). Sometimes a little bit of dessert just doesn't hurt, and I'm here to tell you that it's okay to rest in the peace of knowing that all will be well.

Every Stranger's Face I See

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Last weekend Dann and I drove out to Snoqualmie Falls, in part because we’d heard it was beautiful and also because it was 85 degrees outside all weekend, which meant it was borderline life-threatening in our apartment. We snapped a few pictures of the waterfall and had brunch at the hotel restaurant there. Then we drove back to our neighborhood and saw the movie Boyhood, which put me over the homesick edge. I was miserably sad for the next 24 hours. I think it’s finally sunk in that we’re not on a trip, that this is where we live now. And as much as I believe we’re in Seattle for the right reasons and that there are good things for us here, I miss the place I still think of as home. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss the mountains. I miss the way a Lamar’s cake donut is perfectly soft and delicious on the inside but just a little crispy-crunchy on the bottom because the air is so dry in Denver.  

I miss this little girl like crazy:

I've been surprised by the realization that leaving the place I've known as home for the first time ever at age 32 is not easy - in fact, it’s been much harder than I anticipated. I’ve only been here for three months, so I know a lot can happen (and I trust that it will), but lately I've been having a hard time imagining a life here that's as good as the life I knew in Denver. I suppose you could say I’m grieving.

And because sometimes I am a drama queen, on the hardest days I watch this and just cry and cry:

The good news is we get to visit Colorado in just over a week and we'll be able to spend time with some of the people I've been missing most. There's something about knowing the trip is on the calendar that makes me feel a little bit more hopeful about being here now.

I came across a tweet from Donald Miller yesterday that said, "Every healthy thing grows and changes. Nothing stays the same unless it's dead. Let's stop resisting change. God invented change." So while I might be sad for a little while longer, I'm glad to know that growing through all this change is a good indication that I'm healthy and that I'm alive.     

Allergen-Free Chocolate Mousse Pie + The Secret To Survivin'

Every gambler knows

that the secret to survivin' 

is knowin' what to throw away

and knowin' what to keep

'Cause every hand's a winner

and every hand's a loser

and the best that you can hope for

is to die in your sleep

- Kenny Rogers, 'The Gambler'

I’ve been in survival mode a little bit lately.

Between trying to finish the school year strong and preparing for a cross-country move, the rest of life has felt extra busy but also extra significant. I’m exhausted, but I don’t want to miss out on anything because very soon I won’t live here anymore and then I won’t be able to do the things even if I’m feeling totally energized. I keep telling myself: “You can sleep when you’re dead.”

So when I found out I would miss my sister Amy’s birthday party while we were in the mountains last weekend, I was bummed. We haven’t been together to celebrate either of our birthdays for years, and I think we both thought this would be one of the first. She wasn’t mad, but it was one of the only things that I’ve actually had to miss because I can’t literally be in two places at once. Sometimes, if I could I would. Mental health be damned. 

I decided I’d stay up late the night before we left and make a special birthday pie that I could drop off for the party on our way out of town. I figured it would be a sufficient contribution in my absence. I didn’t figure I’d have to track down non-hydrogenated shortening and dairy-free chocolate chips, but I’m doing all kinds of new things these days, so why not?

Amy was recently told by her pediatrician that she should cut eggs, dairy, soy, and nuts out of her diet in order to figure out whether or not her girl Vera has a food allergy. So I was in search of a pie that didn’t call for butter or eggs or milk or nuts or anything made with soy. But I wanted something that still tasted like life and celebration and a little bit of indulgence.

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So I turned to the homie over at Oh, Ladycakes and found just what I was looking for. I used dairy-free chocolate chips, soy-free pretzel sticks, and straight coconut milk in the mousse, but otherwise I followed her recipe exactly. The finished pie looked pretty good, but I didn’t taste it before dropping it off for the party. I just crossed my fingers and hoped it would make my sister feel special.

If I had to choose one thing to do with the rest of my time in Denver, it would be to spend every day with my sister and her little girl. I would go to their house and just be there, helping if I could, holding the baby as much as possible, trying to make sure she doesn't forget about me. When Amy moved back to Denver last summer (after living in Philly for 3 years), I wasn't working and we had all sorts of plans for what our days together would look like once the baby came. I think there's a part of me that's still grieving the loss of that time we thought we'd have together. When I think about being so far away from the two of them, it makes me even more sad.

After arriving in the mountains last weekend, I received a text message from an unnamed source that said: "Your pie is the tits! Happy birthday to Amy!" along with the photo of her blowing out the candles. I felt a pang of sadness seeing people I loved all together celebrating one of my all-time favorite humans, but I was relieved and glad to know that the pie was a winner. Later that night, 'The Gambler' came on the Pandora station we were listening to, and I immediately thought of Amy and smiled. She LOVED that song when we were kids. I'm pretty sure she used to listen to it on repeat on my dad's record player.

If there's one thing I'm learning these days, it's that the pain of leaving the places and people I love the most is a good indication that maybe I've been doing something right. And as much as I love 'The Gambler', I think Kenny Rogers may have gotten one thing wrong. I don't think the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep (though that is how I've always said I wanted to go out). I've had the honor and privilege of being Amy's sister for the last 31 years, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Happy birthday seester!

Salted Bourbon Caramel Banana Cream Pie + Things I've Never Done

"Sleep don't visit, so I choke on sun

and the days blur into one

And the backs of my eyes hum with the things I've never done"

- Radical Face, Welcome Home

Three years ago, when Dann and I were first married and living in Boulder, we would blast this song every time he came home from being on the road with the band. I have one very distinct memory of an early evening drive from the airport back over the hill on highway 36, springtime sunshine illuminating the faces of the flatirons, while we belted out the words “welcome home” with all the windows down.

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned about married life, it’s that sometimes it doesn’t look the way you hope or expect it to and that the best you can do is show up, say what you mean, and be willing to make real sacrifices. It’s been both the hardest and best thing I’ve done in my life so far, and I consider myself lucky that I get to experience it with my favorite person in all the world.

So when Dann was offered a fantastic job in Seattle just over a month ago, it wasn’t at all what either of us was hoping for or expecting. And yet, there it was. Quite suddenly, the opportunity to move to a new city, to try new things and meet new people and have new adventures together. It wasn’t easy to imagine leaving Denver - I've never lived anywhere outside of Colorado and I LOVE this city - but we decided that now is always the best time to try something new, and he accepted the job. We’re planning to move once school gets out in June.

I made this pie for Dann a couple of weeks ago, when he was headed back to Denver from Seattle after his first two weeks on the job (he’s alternating two weeks here with two weeks there until I’m done with school). I hadn't slept well while he was gone, thinking about everything there is to think about after making such a big decision and then having to be separate from one another. I wanted to welcome him home with something special, plus he doesn’t usually get to share in the pie goodness. I figured celebrating an occasion this momentous called for a fancy pie. And although this one didn't end up looking quite how I hoped or expected it to, it was damn good and well worth the work.