Chocolate Black-Bottom Pie + Growing Someone Else's Bones

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" - Luke 1:46/47

There’s something about the season of Advent that makes me feel like a kid again. I think I’ve always felt a sense of wonder at the anticipation and mystery of what Christmas will bring, even if it was strongly tied to Santa and presents when I was young. For a number of years, it was related to the overwhelming excitement I felt at getting to spend Christmas at Crooked Creek Ranch with so many of my favorite people.

This year feels different.

In some ways, the last few months have been really hard. For a while I felt cloudy-headed and a little bit lost and afraid that I would never feel like myself again (thanks, pregnancy hormones!). I worried anew that life would never be as good as it was during our last few years in Denver.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve started to recognize the work that God is doing in my heart and mind and soul and, even though it’s hard, it is so good.      

When we saw our little baby boy’s body moving around in my belly for the first time on the 20 week ultrasound, it was as surreal as I imagined it would be. There were two femurs and two humeri and ten fingers and all four chambers of another human being’s tiny beating heart. There was a little button nose that sort of makes him look like Charlie Brown from the side.

It was a holy and sacred moment, and the fact that Advent started just over a week later made it especially significant for me. Even though the temptation to try and be the perfect mom is so very real already, I’ve been learning that, at the end of all things, my deepest desire is that my soul would magnify the Lord. I feel a special kinship with Mary and Elizabeth when I imagine the two of them, pregnant, feeling the bones of their babies moving around inside of them, rejoicing over God’s mercy for those who fear Him.      

So when Dann forwarded me a work email last week asking for volunteers to bring dinner to a co-worker who just had a baby, I jumped at the chance to care for the new little family in one of my favorite ways. The fact that they specifically said they like Italian food and pie made it clear what we were supposed to do.

Dann whipped up a batch of his famous spaghetti and meatballs and I put together a Martha Stewart Chocolate Black-Bottom Pie, and we drove up to the house one night after he got done working. 

Since we don’t really know the best way to get everywhere yet, we ended up taking an accidental tour of the homes around Green Lake. So many of them were decorated with Christmas lights, though, and it reminded me why we were doing what we were doing. 

I’m looking forward to feeling the sense of wonder at the anticipation and mystery of what meeting the little buddy inside me will bring, even after this Advent season is over.   

Every Stranger's Face I See

photo 1.JPG

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.

IMG_9051.JPG.jpeg

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!

Blackberry Jam Hand Pies + Bearing The Weight

“Women who bear the weight of opposition, she wrote, create a shelter for the rest of us.”

- Sue Monk Kidd, Traveling With Pomegranates

IMG_2017.jpg

More than any other woman I know, my mom has fought hard all her life to create a shelter for the rest of us. She birthed five children all her own (mostly without medication, one who came out ass-first) and raised us all to be upstanding, moral citizens with proper grammar. Time will tell if she can claim to have raised five college graduates, but the baby just aced his Calc 3 midterm, so nobody’s worried.

IMG_1943.jpg
IMG_1950.jpg
IMG_1965.jpg

If you’ve ever met her, you know my mom really enjoys taking care of people. She loves having guests at her house, feeding them, making sure they’re comfortable. She’s been known to exchange her own relaxation and peace of mind for the comfort and care of others. And one thing I’ve never doubted for my whole life: that my mom would do just about anything to take the weight of whatever opposition came my way - physical, emotional, spiritual - in order to create a shelter for me. She’s a fierce mama bear in the truest sense.

IMG_1968.jpg

When my sister’s baby was born last month, my mom was the most excited. So excited, in fact, that she left her feet momentarily in the hospital parking lot because a) it was icy and b) she was in such a hurry to get inside. We didn’t know whether the baby was a boy or a girl until she was born, and my sister and brother-in-law chose to name little Vera after my maternal grandmother. My mom lost it as she told us the baby’s birthday was also the anniversary of my grandma’s death. It was one of the most special things I’ve ever witnessed.

IMG_2009.jpg

So when my dad asked if I could make dessert for my mom's birthday dinner last weekend, I knew a special pie was in order. (I bought a ravioli stamp recently after reading this post, in hopes that it would solve the age-old mystery of filling:crust ratio in a hand pie. It did not, but no one complained.) I wanted my mom to feel special and celebrated, to feel appreciated for all the ways she's worked to shelter me for my whole life. 

Here's to you, mama. I'm glad you were born.

Mile High Chocolate + Having It All

“In many countries, having it all is learning to read. Having it all is getting to choose whom you love. Having it all is walking to school without worrying that you might get raped on the way." -Delia Ephron, "Bakeries"

IMG_1837.jpg

Last Saturday started with a cup of coffee and an essay entitled "Bakeries" by Delia Ephron, from her book Sister Mother Husband Dog. In this essay (adapted version here), Ephron details the delight she finds in the freedom and ability to visit an array of New York bakeries when she has a hankering for something sweet. She then calls out the decidedly American struggle to “have it all” that so many women write/talk/worry about for what it is - simply complaining.

IMG_1802.jpg
IMG_1803.jpg

She writes: "One of the most revolting parts about the American female version — and there are many — is that having it all defines “all” one way: marriage, children, career. It assumes all women want the same thing. Success rests on achieving three goals (life viewed not as a continuum, but an endpoint), and these goals, as it happens, are exactly the ones that will declare you a success at your high school reunion." 

Now, obviously I would like to be among the people declared a success at my high school reunion. I've always wanted to fit in and I've always wanted to be good at things. When it comes to this weird American woman trifecta, however, I'm less and less convinced that it's something I could sanely handle, let alone something I actually want.

IMG_1822.jpg

Dann was out of town last Saturday and I could feel an isolation pity party coming on, so instead of spending the day overanalyzing my life choices and whether or not I will ever "have it all", I decided to make a pie to take to the football-watching party I was invited to on Sunday. The Broncos were playing in the AFC championship, so I googled "Mile High Pie" and found this recipe from Bon Apétit. 

IMG_1839.jpg

On my way to pick up the pie ingredients, I stopped at the mall and spent more money than I should have on newborn baby clothes for my new niece. I justified it by telling myself she’s not mine so I don’t have to do it regularly, that I just get to spoil her without fear that I might be raising a spoiled child. I was beside myself with delight, having it all.

As I finished putting together the pie crust, my mom called to ask if I could head over and take care of making dinner for my sister and her husband, the new parents. Of course I went, new baby clothes in hand, and offered to help however I could. For nearly two straight hours, I held the beautiful sleeping baby, having it all.   

IMG_1843.jpg

And then I came home to finish the pie. It was after midnight when I got done, but it didn’t matter. I had a deep peace about my life in those hours spent beating the egg whites, melting the chocolate, whipping the cream. I have a comfortable home, a functional kitchen, a killer new rolling pin that my mom gave me for Christmas, friends who invited me over to watch a football game, family that cares to see me, and the most precious gift - the tiny little life that I held in my arms while her mama and papa took a well-deserved nap. I went to sleep that night satisfied, having it all. 

Sweet Potato Pie + Harvesting Light

IMG_1715.jpg

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.

IMG_1654.jpg
IMG_1636.jpg

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.

IMG_1640.jpg

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.

IMG_1656.jpg

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. 

IMG_1665.jpg

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!” 

IMG_1683.jpg

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.

JAY!.jpg

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

IMG_1415.jpg

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.

IMG_1421.jpg
IMG_1431.jpg
IMG_1439.jpg
IMG_1458.jpg
IMG_1460.jpg
IMG_1462.jpg

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:

IMG_1464.jpg

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”.

IMG_1486.jpg

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.    

Apple Cider Cream Pie + Making My Soul Grow

IMG_1322.jpg

I had a serious pie fail recently. I wasn’t sure how to tell you about it until now.

I have this tendency to think if I can’t do something perfectly, I shouldn’t try to do it at all. I spent a lot of years worrying about what other people think about who I am and what I do, and it’s still something I have to fight against, to be sure. As I continue to get older and know myself better, though, the less concerned I am with what other people think. This freedom is definitely one of my favorite things about aging, so far.

So this pie did not work out like I hoped it would. I burned the crust. I’m pretty sure the cider was still hot when I added the rest of the ingredients to it, so instead of a nice creamy custard I ended up with a sort of clumpy, frittata-like filling. I didn’t even whip the cream to put on top, because I thought it would be a waste. The pie tasted terrible, as you may have guessed from the photo. And I haven’t tried making another pie since.

Over the weekend, though, I got my pie mojo back. It was because of Kurt Vonnegut and a tap dance routine.

My tap teacher asked me weeks ago if I would be up for performing during Denver Arts Week with her and the other instructors at the studio where I take my tap class, and of course I agreed. I figured if I could learn the steps and have enough time to practice, I could probably pull it off.

But oh my, were those steps fast. And even though I’d been practicing, I didn’t feel confident about my ability to do the routine perfectly when I woke up on Saturday morning, so I practiced for a straight hour in my kitchen. At one point, someone banged on a shared wall, rattling my nerves and making me want to give up. I actually told Dann there was a tiny part of me that wanted to back out and just stay home. He told me to stop being ridiculous.

As I finished getting ready, Dann asked if he could read me this letter from one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut. The whole thing is certainly worth reading but this is the passage that got to me, that gave me the courage to decide “I got this. It’s just a little tap dancing in front of strangers.” Vonnegut says:

“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.”

I arrived at the performance ready to experience becoming, and I have to say, it was absolutely worthwhile. I didn’t do every step perfectly, but I did most of them and I truly had fun. People applauded and no one yelled at me and after we were done with the performance we WALKED ON STILTS. I think my soul grew three sizes that afternoon. 

When I woke up the next day, I decided it was time to move on from the failed pie. I mean, I made it, so it still counts toward my total of 100. Just because it wasn’t perfect and didn’t taste good and ultimately ended up in the garbage doesn’t mean it didn't happen. I'm thankful for all of these things coming together on Saturday, and I'm excited for the next pie, to experience becoming some more.   

Lemon Blueberry Pie + The Price Of Tulips

"Sometimes I say I’m going to meet my sister at the cafe

even though I have no sister—just because it’s such

a beautiful thing to say."

- Karin Gottshall, 'More Lies

IMG_1268.jpg

There’s something about having a sister that I’ve never been able to put into words. My sisters are probably the two people who know me best in the world, and I’m constantly thankful for my relationships with each of them. I truly like them both and enjoy their company, but I’m also aware that if they’re ever upset or annoyed or frustrated with me, they won’t be shy about saying so. I also know I can count on them to call me on my own bullshit, when I’m acting selfish or immature or unkind.

So when I offered to make a birthday pie for my sister Kate while we were in Telluride, I knew it would have to be a special pie.

Luckily, I had just the idea waiting in my back pocket.

IMG_1198.jpg

While I was looking for the best place to go for my own birthday meal, I came across a lemon meringue pie on the dessert menu at Fruition and I almost went there for dinner just so I could try it. In the end, I opted for brunches with girlfriends at a couple of other fun places, but I didn’t forget about that pie. I decided I’d try my own version when the time was right.

IMG_1191.jpg
IMG_1238.jpg
IMG_1255.jpg

I used this crust, this lemon curd, and this blueberry compote. For a first try, I’d say this pie turned out pretty well. I’d like to try it again with the meringue and fresh blueberries, but overall I think it worked out better than I thought it would.

And while making pie in a foreign kitchen wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, it was a treat to get to bake with my mom and sisters there on the other side of the kitchen counter, watching the Broncos beat up on the Jaguars.

Such a beautiful thing to say, indeed. 

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

IMG_0449.png

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. 

IMG_0444.png

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. 

IMG_0452.png

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. 

IMG_0467.png

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.

IMG_0476.png

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Recipe from Magnolia Bakery via The Huffington Post