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.

Sweet Potato Pie + Harvesting Light

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Did you know that pie crust is typically made of flour, salt, sugar, and butter? A splash of cold water or possibly (in the case of this pie) a bit of buttermilk? I’m a tiny bit amazed every time I bake a pie at how simple the crust is. Just a few plain ingredients, the right amount of mixing, and voila! A new and remarkable thing.

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As I put this pie together last week, I realized that Christmas is close and it feels different to me this year than it has for a long time. When I was a sophomore in college, my aunts and uncles and cousins on my dad’s side of our family started this tradition of spending Christmas at a cabin in the mountains. It was something I looked forward to all year every year, and I always felt my most content while I was there.

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Then, as college kids do, my cousins and siblings and I grew up and married people and moved to new parts of the country, and started having babies. And this year, for the first time since I was a sophomore in college, my family isn’t spending Christmas at that cabin in the mountains. (We were sort of starting to outgrow it…) When it hit me full force in my feelings last week while I made this pie, I suddenly felt terribly sad.

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I started to lament the fact that the story of this pie would be a sad, fractured one, me telling you all about how it doesn’t really feel like Christmas and how some of my family seems so far away and how even hearing Bing Crosby sing White Christmas wasn’t making a difference. 

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But then Ingrid Michaelson’s voice came through on Pandora’s Christmas Radio, and I immediately started weeping and laughing and (almost) jumping with joy. Because you see, Ingrid Michaelson will always make me think of my brother and sister-in-law, who danced to one of her songs at their wedding for the first time as husband and wife. And on the day I made this pie, they were one week away from the scheduled date of arrival of their firstborn baby. It suddenly didn’t matter anymore that I’d been feeling sad, because the overwhelming joy I felt just imagining the little life getting ready to make its entrance here, on earth, was all I could contain in those moments that followed. And Ingrid (and Sara Bareilles) sang:

 

I still believe in summer days

the seasons always change

and life will find a way

 

Ill be your harvester of light

and send it out tonight

so we can start again

 

Is love alive?

Is love alive?

Is love alive?

 

I wanted to shout at the dang iPad, “Yes! Yes, Ingrid! Love IS alive!” 

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Instead I finished the pie with a smile on my face, dreaming about who the baby would be, whether it would be a boy or a girl (I thought boy all along), what he/she would look like, and making peace with the fact that families grow and change and leave and come home, and that at the center of it all is love that’s ALIVE.

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PS - Baby Jay was born this morning at 8:21 eastern time, weighing 6 lbs and 10 oz, and measuring 21.5 inches long. To say I love him already would be a gross understatement. I'm amazed. A new and remarkable thing indeed.

Apple Pie + Bumbling About Joy

"Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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If my last pie was a big fat fail, this one was a hilarious happy accident.

My sweet cousin Calee invited me, along with all the other girls from our generation of the family, over to her house for dinner last week and I figured it was the perfect occasion for a good, from-scratch apple pie. I had most of the day to put it together, bake it, let it cool. I even recently purchased an apple corer/slicer. I was prepared. I was confident. I was ready for a pie comeback.

The day before this dinner party, I’d tried to buy tickets to the Iron and Wine show at The Paramount, but it was sold out (even though none of the websites I’d been keeping an eye on—artist, venue, ticket merchant—said it was sold out). I spent about ten minutes feeling really bummed out about it. Then I posted something about wanting tickets on twitter and facebook and decided to let it go, figuring if it was meant to work out it would. I didn’t go so far as to pray specifically that God would give me tickets even though, yes, sometimes I convince myself that might be how it actually works.

While I gathered my pie supplies, a friend replied to my facebook status and put me in contact with one of her colleagues who had a pair of tickets she wasn’t going to use. In the blink of an eye, I’d paid for them with Square Cash and was giddy with excitement about getting to go. It felt like a true sign of the presence of God and it put me in a pretty good pie-making mood.

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Since I’ve had a few bad experiences as the result of not taking the time to read a recipe all the way through, I read this one multiple times and even read a handful of the “helpful” reviews. I planned to use “a complete top crust with designer slits cut into it” in place of the lattice top. I added cinnamon and nutmeg and vanilla to the sugar syrup (which I would absolutely do again - Dann said the smell of it cooking on the stovetop made him dizzy it smelled so good), and “mixed half of the syrup with the apples themselves before putting in the pie crust”. 

I poured the syrup-coated apples into the bottom crust and placed the top crust over them after carefully cutting designer slits into it.

This is where things sort of went wrong.

Because I sometimes lose all common sense when attempting to follow directions perfectly, I poured the other half of the syrup on top of the pie. I got about point five seconds into the pouring before it occurred to me that I’d crossed my wires and mixed up the reviews and pouring syrup on top of a complete top crust is not a thing people do and that maybe the whole pie was ruined before it even made it into the oven. The designer slits were no longer visible.

I put the pie in the oven anyway, because I figured the worst thing that would happen is that it would look ugly. Then I panicked and made Dann look at it and tell me if he thought the syrup on top would burn and/or start a fire. He told me to keep an eye on it, then said: “You know, when you try a new recipe maybe it’s a good idea to stick to the original directions the first time, without making any adjustments. Then you have a control.”

Okay, SCIENTIST. 

He was right, though, and I’ll probably heed his advice when trying new recipes in the future. When I pulled the pie out of the oven, this is what it looked like:

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I told myself it might not be edible and that I might need to stop and buy a pie on my way to dinner because I didn’t have enough time to start over. I spent about ten minutes feeling really bummed out about it. Then Dann told me he believed it was possible the pie could be even better than it would have been had I made it correctly, and I decided to let it go.

Later that night, I cut into my inside out apple pie and passed slices around to some of my favorite women in all the world, hoping it wouldn’t gross them out or make them sick. And you know what? That shit was good. I may have eaten both leftover slices the next day while preparing to sit and listen to Sam Beam singing “it's a heartfelt silly sort of bumbling tune about how you're bringing me joy”.

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These are the moments I cling to as evidence of the presence of God: when a show I didn’t think I’d see and a pie I was certain I’d ruined turn into the best parts of days filled with joy.    

Peach Custard + Smiling To Keep The Sky From Falling

I'll do a dance to make the rain come
Smile to keep the sky from falling down, down, down, down
Collect the love that I've been given
Build a nest for us to sleep in here, you know it's real

- St. Vincent, 'All My Stars Aligned' 

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It's cool and cloudy here this morning, and it's supposed to be rainy for the rest of the week. Dann left to go on tour with these nice folks yesterday, so I'm here in Denver experiencing the first true signs of fall alone. I don't mind it, really.   

Last week I had some blogger friends over for a meeting of sorts. We brainstormed and planned and laughed and ate pie and I’m excited to tell you more when the time is right. For now, let me tell you about baking this pie while listening to St. Vincent

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I came across the recipe on Melanie's blog and decided I'd have to try it. It's a pie, but without a traditional pie crust. I figured it would be just the right kind of easy.

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One thing I learned as a result of making this pie is how to blanch peaches. It made peeling the peaches a snap, and it really wasn't complicated. If you're ever in need of a tutorial, this is the one I used

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While I put this pie together, I listened to St. Vincent's Marry Me, which is my favorite of her albums. She's such a talented songwriter and lyricist; I'm always pleased to remember that I own her stuff and can listen to it over and over. Turns out she's also a bit of a comedian.

Happy Tuesday to you. Keep smiling. 

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.