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.

Chocolate Pecan Ice Cream Pie + Makin' A Dragon Wanna Retire

“Dancing = vulnerability = joy. And that’s contagious.” - Brené Brown

I’m probably going to refer to this pie as Vera’s Pie from now on, even though its official name is Chocolate Pecan Ice Cream Pie with Bourbon Butterscotch and Pretzel Crust. It’s from this cookbook, and it was easier to make than I thought it would be but also quite possibly even more delicious than it looks in the photos.

When my sister Amy told me she wanted to visit me in Seattle before our baby comes, I was thrilled. The fact that she made it work to travel here alone with her 13-month-old daughter made me feel so loved and cared for, likely because my number one love language by far is quality time. I wanted to make sure they got to do everything they wanted to do while they were here, which Amy told me was mostly just to spend time with us and our cousins and meet our friends. I decided a spaghetti dinner was in order, and that I would make a special pie for dessert.

Now, I’m sure there’s some complicated culinary explanation that I’m unaware of, but whenever I think about the kind of dessert that should follow a meal made of pasta with red sauce, I think chocolate is the only way to go. It’s possible that the presence of red wine is often a factor I suppose, but when I think of serving, say, cherry pie after spaghetti, I think I’d rather skip dessert altogether. 

Anyway.

I’d been wanting to try out this pie, so I gathered the ingredients and worked on it little by little over the course of a few days, food processing the pretzels on Monday, making the chocolate covered nuts on Tuesday, and so on until our dinner on Thursday. You really should buy this book and get the recipe for yourself. I promise it’s worth it.

While we ate brunch after I picked Amy and Vera up from the airport, we were talking about how incredible it is that this little girl is growing into a real person, walking and talking and showing signs of her very own personality. Amy mentioned that when her husband dropped the two of them at the airport that morning they’d been discussing the fact that Vera trusts them so completely, and what a huge, weighty thing that is. I think it’s got to be one of the strangest parts of becoming a parent: the realization that you’re just you, the flawed and fallible person you’ve always been, yet in another human’s eyes you are mama or dada, which can mean the whole great big world.

One of my favorite things about little miss V is her entirely shameless love of dancing. So far she has about four moves, but they’re all as adorable and precious and hilarious as you’d imagine. I think my favorite is when she shoots both hands straight up into the air and rotates her hips from side to side. That one’s usually followed by a hands-in-the-air-clap-with-squat-to-the-beat. When she realized she could see herself dancing in our tv, she was mesmerized by her own moves, which I think is a pretty clear sign of total confidence. She’s still unaware of the fear of embarrassment, from what I could tell, and it was so much fun to witness her joy.

I also knocked another item off of my Seattle bucket list with the help of Amy and Vera. We didn’t go to the Space Needle for the Macklemore/pirate flag dance party (in part because, apparently, the Space Needle hasn’t given its employees raises in four years), but we sure did go out on the docks at Fisherman’s Terminal and dance around with a pirate flag in the rain. Well, Amy and I danced. Vera sort of stood there stunned, trying to figure out where we were and what the boats and the water were all about.

We hit Pike Place and the Seattle Aquarium, and made sure to take a walk down to the Ballard Locks. Vera entertained herself for hours by pulling bottles of vitamins out of a bin in our bathroom and carrying them around, shaking them to the beat of her own little drum. We had a dance party at least once a day, always to the tune of Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk’

And although Vera didn’t get to have any of the pie this time, I sort of decided that this pie and this visit were going to mark a commitment to remembering her dancing and her vulnerability and her JOY, to remembering that there isn’t anything to fear. It really is contagious.  

So here’s to you, sweet girl. May your dancing and your joy inspire countless others you will meet in your lifetime. And when you find yourself feeling afraid, come over for a slice of pie and some uptown funk.  

Blackberry Raspberry Hand Pies + Blaming The Boogie

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Remember my bake sale for books?

One of my sisters purchased a dozen cupcakes that I had up for sale, and she finally asked me to make them for her a week ago. Since I’m now working toward my goal of making 100 different kinds of pie, I convinced her that some individual hand pies would be way more exciting than cupcakes. I chose this Martha recipe and got to work.

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I found myself at home alone last week while Dann was working in Chicago and for some reason I listened to a LOT of Michael Jackson while he was gone. I’m not sure what prompted it (though I suspect it may have been Mindy Kaling’s tweet about the song ‘Human Nature’), but I was on an MJ kick the likes of which I had never known. I experienced a wave of what I would call actual despair as I watched this video and realized I will never have the opportunity to see him perform in person. 

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I bebopped around my kitchen for hours listening to The Essential Michael Jackson and putting these little treats together, and I was so pleased when they came out of the oven. They were not quick or easy, but the hard work definitely paid off in the end. I tasted one with some vanilla ice cream while it was still warm and wished I could keep them all. There's just something about a berry pie. 

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Here's to Michael and Martha and taking time to do things well.

Frozen Lime Pie + Giving Up Neurosis

"The point wasn't about the recipes. The point (I was starting to realize) was about making people feel at home, about finding your own style, whatever it was, and committing to it. The point was about giving up neurosis where food was concerned. The point was about finding a way that food fit into your life." -Nora Ephron, 'Serial Monogamy

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Last week, as I searched for a good pie to take to an outdoor summer barbecue at my friend Niki’s house, I came across Nora Ephron’s Frozen Key Lime Pie on Martha Stewart’s website and I knew it was the one.

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Now, a bit of background on my friend Niki. She and I were college roommates, and we have always loved throwing parties together. In college, we rented a huge television from Rent-A-Center for one week (I don’t think they were supposed to let us do that) when we had a party for the Big 12 Championship. Niki taught me how to remove the pit from an avocado, and I made my first bowl of guacamole. 

When we lived in the same building in Denver after college, we had a winter celebration pre-party before heading to the Parade of Lights. The party mainly consisted of walking into Niki’s studio to get a bowl of her famous green chili, then crossing the hall into my one bedroom to find a seat and the rest of the food. I thought making hot chocolate with milk for everyone to take to the parade would be a good idea. We didn’t plan for it to take over an hour to warm up enough milk for all our guests on my tiny gas stove. 

One year, for our birthdays (they’re only one week apart), we made one hundred cupcakes for what we thought was going to be a fun picnic at the park. It poured rain all day and we had to make a last-minute decision to move the party to a local pub. 

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Niki and I have certainly shared some neurosis-inducing entertaining experiences in our days as friends. And yet we both love inviting people into our homes in order to share a good meal, stressful as it can be.

So when I came across Nora’s pie on Martha’s site, I couldn’t help but imagine the two of them like the two of us: good pals, sharing something delicious with each other and the world.

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So the pie. My local grocery store didn’t have key limes, so I went with regular limes. Apparently key lime juice can be found in a bottle most anywhere, but I decided that juice from freshly squeezed regular limes would probably taste better than key lime juice from a bottle. I had no basis for this decision, but I made it and went with it.

One of my problems with pie is that if you make one to take to a party, you can’t really taste it before you serve it to make sure it tastes good. I typically like to taste things before I serve them to other people, so I can know what I’m feeding them and, honestly, because Gordon Ramsay always gets mad at the people on Kitchen Nightmares who don't taste their own food. 

So when we showed up at Niki’s on Saturday night, I had a pie I felt a little nervous about serving since I hadn’t exactly followed the recipe or tasted the thing, and Niki had burgers on her grill.

Then came the torrential downpour.

It rained hard for close to an hour. Dann ran back and forth to the grill with an umbrella, saving the food. We put the corn in a pot of boiling water on the stovetop, and broiled the burgers in the oven. All the guests got comfy in the kitchen and living room. It was a typical party experience involving myself and Niki. It wasn’t what we’d all been expecting, but it was still a super good time. 

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Oh, and my frozen regular lime pie?

It was a hit.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie + The Function Of Prayer

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” -Søren Kierkegaard

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One of the best things I've already learned about baking pies is that it is not difficult to make a pie crust from scratch. It really only involves flour, salt, butter, cold water, and the littlest bit of patience. I've found, too, that mixing the dough by hand is the best way to tell when it's done, when the consistency is right and it's ready to be chilled. 

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Last week, as I stood in the kitchen with my bare hand in a bowl full of flour and salt and butter, I found myself deep in prayer. First for the family I was making the pie for, then for everyone and everything else that was on my mind. It was a sweet couple of hours alone in the kitchen, cutting up the fruit, measuring out the sugar, zesting the orange. It slowed me down in a way that made it easy to turn my thoughts toward the one who made me. 

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Sometimes I think that preparing food to share with other people is one of the holiest things I know how to do. It's a way of being generous with my time and my talents. It's a way of connecting to the people I call my community. It's a way of meeting an actual physical need that we all share, no matter our differences. 

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I’m learning there is so little that I actually need in order to be content day to day. Putting this pie together helped me see it a bit more clearly, and will serve as a good reminder when I need it down the road. It was a joy to make, in the truest sense.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Recipe from Magnolia Bakery via The Huffington Post