Body, Mind, and Soul—and Pecan Pies

Today I baked two Chocolate Chip Pecan Pies. One was baked in a homemade crust that was waiting for me in the fridge. The other was baked in a store-bought crust I picked up this morning. Both pies were for thanking folks.

I based the pies on a church lady recipe from a church lady cookbook. Here’s what’s in it if you want to give it a go:

Homemade or Store-bought pie crust (both worked GREAT and looked equally appetizing)

3 eggs

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup corn syrup (dark or light will work–I used dark)

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup melted butter

pecans

chocolate chips

Mix together the eggs, sugar, salt, butter, and syrup by hand. Line the bottom of the prepared shell with pecans and chocolate chips–just enough to cover the bottom. Pour the mixture over the top of the pecans and chocolate chips. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Then turn the oven down to 350 and bake for 1 hour or until knife comes out clean (one hour worked for me).

I just love the way that sugary, syrupy stuff looks when I’m pouring it over the chips and nuts. And the smell is downright intoxicating. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get to taste any of the pie today. I baked them for two of our son’s teachers–music and P.E.

They don’t teach my son every day, but they do see him once or twice a week, and I really believe in the impact they both have on kids’ education. It’s been known for a long time that balance works–body, mind, and soul must all be in sync to help us function at our best. I know this is true for all of us, but I think it’s especially true for little boys.

Anybody who thinks that the education system of our country will improve by skimping on physical education and the arts is just WRONG. When my kid gets enough exercise, he sleeps better and eats better. When he has a song to sing or an instrument to explore, his mind is sharper and his heart is happier.

Who doesn’t feel better when they sing?

So I wanted to thank them. These two terrific people make my son’s life richer, so they make mine richer, too.

Who makes your life richer?

How can you let them know how grateful you are? Do it today!

Fingerprints and Pineapple Cream Pie

I’m gonna go ahead and show you today’s pie, Pineapple Cream Pie, before something crazy happens to that meringue. Right now, it looks just right. The meringue made an interesting design and behaved properly by becoming toasty brown in the oven set at 350 degrees.

But we shall see…

Making this pie was more of a process that I thought. I found the recipe on the internet–always a gamble. Even more risky was the fact that the original baker was unnamed, and while I’ve used anonymous recipes before, I always have a curious feeling about it–did they NOT put their name because it turned out really bad? So far, that has not been the case.

I chose this pie because I had crushed pineapple. We’re having company over tonight to watch a movie, which we do about once a month. One of the rules we have for ourselves is not to spend a bunch of money. We already have the movie, and we just make snacks out of what we have around. So Pineapple Cream Pie it is.

I prepared a homemade crust (again, had the stuff–didn’t wanna buy anything), and was reminded once again how I love the feel of that dough in my hands. It is a predictable recipe, so I can count on it feeling exactly the same way between my fingers each time. My fingerprints are all over it, but then they are gone again with kneading.

The filling is made on the stove top. It has crushed pineapple, butter (a whole big yummy stick of it), sugar, 3 egg yolks, cornstarch, and milk. Well, I set the kitchen timer to make sure that my crust had time to cool on the rack–30 minutes. I was thinking I’d have time to kill–wrong! Man, did I stir that filling. And stir. And stir. My sweet husband stirred for a while. I stirred some more. Definitely more than 30 minutes to thicken it up. Custard pies are funny that way–they’re runny…runny….runny….then SUDDENLY, hurry up and get it off the stove before it burns.

I poured the filling into the crust, which was plenty cool by now, and I had a bit left over.

So I ate it.

Warm, sweet, and delicious it was. Licking it off that wooden spoon gave me something to do while I whipped egg whites. And whipped. And whipped. And whipped. Until it was meringue. I spread the meringue carefully on top–all the way to the edges so it wouldn’t shrink up like some kind of awkward pastry beret on my pie. Then into the oven it went–me watching carefully to be sure it didn’t burn.

All the while, my 7-year-old (almost 8, sniff) was working on painting a bird house he’d built. It was a Christmas gift from my mother that we were just getting around to. I love it, because there are no screens. No noises (except for little boy noises). Just imagination and creativity. Perfect.

I complimented him from time to time, admiring his work. He asked me, “Mama, do you think I’m an artist?”

“Yes. Yes, you definitely are an artist.”

I want him to remember–to know–that if an artist is what he wants to be, an artist is what he is. Or at least that I believed he could be one.Fingerprints in dough go away with kneading.

The impressions we make on those we love make a lasting imprint.

Empty Plates: Ash Wednesday

As I was preparing a homemade crust today, I started thinking about the terrific collection of pie plates I’ve accumulated during my recent days as a baker.These are just a few of them. I’ve gotten pie plates that are shallow, deep, clear, colorful, metal, glass, decorative, small, shiny, and plain. Today, I’m trying out a pretty one with pictures of apples inside–kinda funny for a Cherry Pie, but it was a recent gift, and I wanted to test it out. It’s a bit smaller than some, but I like it. It’s homey. It seemed just right for homemade crust and a simple fruit pie.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten Season. Today, and during all the days leading up to Easter, we pause to consider God’s love for us and the sacrifice that Jesus made when He died for our sins.

Many people observe this holy season by giving up–sacrificing–something in their lives. Maybe chocolate, Facebook, or another habit. Some will add an observance, such as scripture reading or prayer–perhaps acts of kindness.

I won’t share what I’m “giving up” this year, but I will say that I’ve changed my perspective.

For me this year, Lent is more about being empty. Open. Expectant.

Like each of those empty pie plates, we are open vessels. Each of us is different; in size, color, style, age, capacity. But I believe that in spite of our many differences, we can all be filled IF we are open.

Consider this Lenten season as a time to be filled–perhaps by service or sacrifice–a time to be open and expectant.

Taste and see 
how good the LORD is! 
The one who takes refuge in Him 
is truly happy!

Psalm 34:8

My Cheatin’ Heart

All right. Confession time. I did not make a pie on Valentine’s Day. I love pie–really I do–but a clever combination of laziness and frugality caused me to “cheat” on pies today. But it was for a good cause. 🙂

I have a fond memory of Valentine’s Day when I was a child. My mom set the table on Valentine’s Day, and under our napkins (red, if I remember correctly–my Mom loves red any day of the year) were little gifts. Mine was a chalkboard book. You could turn the pages and write on them with the chalk that was included. I thought it was fantastic. Even more delightful was wondering what was under that napkin!

My Dad would also give us a small box of candy or a carnation. I’m so glad to have found this card in a scrapbook of mine:

I loved those Valentine’s Day presents. And I loved that my parents cared enough to give them. We didn’t have a ton of money (no one with 5 kids does!) and I know it was an effort to get cards/gifts for everyone. It was worth it.

Every Valentine’s Day, I remember that chalkboard book and the carnations, and I try to make Valentine’s Day special for my family. I want them to know I care. And I want them to know they’re worth the trouble.

Ever since my kids were tiny, I’ve tried to do a little something special on Valentine’s Day. We get out the same old heart tablecloth, and we eat chocolate and open small presents. We love it every year. This year, I even made a special lunch for my husband. He works at home, so I like the chance to spoil him when I can. After all, he spoils me. I made him some Red Hot Valentine Nachos and some Orange Sweetheart Cookies

The cookies are actually how I cheated. They’re not pie. They’re not even close to pie, so technically, they don’t belong in this pie-lady’s blog. They were so tasty, though, that I had to share.

BUT, to make pie feel better, I put the cookies in a pie dish and took their picture.

I had such success with those cookies that I wanted to share the super-easy recipe:

1 box of cake mix (any flavor)

2 eggs

1/2 cup oil

Mix and drop teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees from 10-12 minutes.

I cooled them on a rack and then iced them with store-bought cream cheese frosting. So delicious.

Today, I cheated on pie. But I’ve also been on a mission to cheat on Valentine’s Day. Not to cheat on Valentine’s Day, but to cheat on Valentine’s Day.

What I mean is this:

Are we really gonna let the greeting card industry tell us when to show love to people?

How crazy. So cheat on it. Send a card with a big ‘ole heart–in JUNE. Buy some flowers for your spouse or your kids–ON A THURSDAY. Sneak around. Do someone else’s least favorite chore. Cook a favorite meal. Call your mother. Give a tiny present all wrapped up with a bow. ANY DAY. ANY TIME. JUST BECAUSE EVERYONE YOU KNOW DESERVES LOVE.

Today, and every day, do loving things with reckless abandon.

 

No skipping steps!

I actually made two pies this evening. The first was good old Chocolate Chess Pie, which I’ve made five or six times in the last few months. It works every time, and almost everyone loves chocolate. I took it to a youth group thing that my daughter is attending this weekend. She’ll be staying in a host home, and I wanted to do something nice for the folks who were willing to have teenage girls hang out with them all weekend.

The second pie was one I haven’t made until today: Like Virginia Diner Peanut Pie. It really is called that–I guess it’s not exactly the pie, just like it. Whatever. This recipe was from my PIE cookbook that I ordered before I began my pie adventure back in September. I was drawn to it for a couple of reasons.

1. I had all the stuff. Since my pie making days are rarely planned–I just sort of suddenly want to do it–I have to use what’s on hand.

2. My hubby loves peanuts. A lot. It was a good chance to make a nut pie without it being pecan. He’s allergic to pecans.

3. The recipe is based on one from a Virginia restaurant. I grew up in Virginia, and I love the place, so making it feels like home.

I was tempted to skip the crucial first steps of freezing the crust for 10 minutes (to keep it stable) and pre-baking it with pie beans. These early steps take up almost 30 minutes before you can even begin to think about putting the filling in there.

The filling has corn syrup (I mixed light and dark because I didn’t have enough dark), sugar, eggs, salt, and plenty of chopped peanuts.

I probably could’ve skipped those first steps, but I knew what would happen if I did. If you don’t freeze the crust, it’ll end up falling in when you pre-bake it (especially if you’re using a deeper pie plate, which I was). If you don’t pre-bake the crust for at least 15 minutes, you’re gonna have a soggy crust on the bottom. Will the pie taste bad? Probably not. Will the pie be the best it can be? Definitely not.

 

There are a lot of things we can get away with not doing…or doing.

But there are consequences for sure.

Do you have to make a grocery list? Nope. Will you spend more and forget stuff if you don’t? Yep.

Do you have to book your vacation lodging in advance? Nope. Will you run the risk of staying somewhere creepy? Yep.

Do you have to train for a marathon? Nope. Will you keel over in the road if you try to do it without training? Yep.

Too often, I try to take shortcuts in life. Does it work sometimes? Yep. Is it always the best way? Nope.

Today, my extra efforts paid off in a big way. What a delicious pie! We added a scoop of vanilla ice cream to complete its awesomeness. It held together nicely and had a perfect contrast of sweet, salty and crunchy.

You may have heard someone say,

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

I do think that’s true. And I also believe that when something good happens because of hard work, that thing seems even better.

Accomplishment is satisfying. No doubt about it.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might… Ecclesiastes 9:10

The Master Baker

Even though I know in my head that baking and science go hand in hand–that it’s really chemistry–in my heart, I still think that it’s magical and miraculous to see what’s in the bowl turn into what’s in the pie plate. Just look at the plain old, ugly brown cocoa powder in the bowl. Nothing much to see or taste here.

 

It’s a wonder. To me, anyway.

Today, I prepared a Chocolate Chess Pie for a good friend’s 50th birthday. She’s a fine lady who cared for our son when he was very small. You can’t put a price on trusting your child with someone, and we could’ve never paid her enough. I’ve known her for over 10 years now. We’ve gone on trips together and worked together.Through some circumstances that probably neither of us could’ve planned, we’re co-workers again, and I’m so thankful! She is a sweet, sweet person, and the world is lucky to have had her for 50 years! I hope she’ll have another 50 full of blessings.

It’s so funny how things turn out. A recurring theme for me is WANTING TO KNOW RIGHT NOW what will happen in life. As I’ve said before…

Too bad.

OR too good. We’re just not always meant to know. As frustrating as it can be, I have to believe that there is a greater purpose. I know there is. Sometimes it just takes a while (maybe a long while) to figure out.

Here’s an example. Almost exactly eight years ago, my husband and I were struggling to know if we were meant to have a second child. We love being parents, and we had always pictured ourselves with more than one child. We wanted a sibling for our sweet daughter, and we thought we understood the timing for that wish. We didn’t. We had been hoping for years to grow our family, and it just wasn’t working out.

One Sunday, a friend of ours–who has since passed away–and his wife brought their new daughter to church with them. She was about to turn two. She was a beautiful, shy little girl from South Korea. I’ll never forget the impact that she has had on our lives. That very day, we knew in our hearts that we would adopt a child. Barely seven months later–shorter than a pregnancy–we brought home our precious son from Guatemala.

Now, you can be sure of this: When we were tired, disillusioned, anxious, and unsure about this very important decision for our family–when we thought we knew the way to handle things, we probably would not have guessed that things would turn out the way they did.

We are so thankful that God did not answer our prayers the way we wanted Him to.

God turned something uncertain into something beautiful, joyful, and precious. He does it all the time. I know I just forget to pay attention.

Right now, we have stuff to work out in our lives–just like everyone else. We are praying for a way–the right way. Our prayers may not be answered in the way we anticipated, but we trust that what happens will be even better somehow.

Turning the ingredients–however messy and disorganized they look–into something beautiful and delicious is God’s specialty. He’s the Master Baker.

Dry Spell Pie

I confess: It’s been 10 days since my last pie. Time to get back in the apron.

I guess I was in a bit of a dry spell. Often when I bake pies, it gives me a chance to slow down and think. Recent days have been full of thinking, but short on slowing down, so I am thankful for the chance to bake a bit today.

The best thing about the pies I bake is giving them away, so when I go too long without giving, I start to feel weird. Too much time to focus on myself. I have certainly learned this as a central truth in my life:

If you feel down, look up.

If you feel needy, give.

If you feel lonely, love.

Someone must have known I needed perspective, because I got some today.

At church, I learned of a woman who is going through a hard time–AGAIN. She has been seriously ill for quite some time, and this week, her father passed away. I’m not close friends with her, but my heart felt so heavy for her. It wasn’t so long ago that I lost my Dad, and that’s big grief, for sure. But I wasn’t sick. Not a bit. I’m gonna be all right, and she is still sick. Fair? Definitely not.

Once again, I’m reminded of how fortunate I am. My problems may seem big on any given day, but they’re really quite small when you look at the big picture. It seems my gratefulness was having a dry spell of its own. Looking inward too much turns into a big dry, scratchy desert of selfishness. And when the gratefulness comes back–when finally manage to look outward and reach out to others–it’s like a much-needed rain for our souls. Thirst-quenching.

Since I don’t know a way to ease this woman’s pain, I took her a pie. She lives with her family, and I’m sure they, too, must be so weary from this endurance race they’re all in. I hope that a taste of something sweet will give a moment’s relief. And if it doesn’t, I pray that they’ll at least know someone cares about what they’re going through.

The pecan pie I baked was pretty standard. Lots of nuts, sugar, butter and corn syrup–recipe was from a church lady cook book. In the bottom of the pie, however, I added some chocolate and butterscotch chips. I know they’ll taste fine, but they’re sort of symbolic.

It’s about what’s underneath. The surface of some things, like pecan pie, seems predictable. We think to ourselves, “I know how this is going to turn out.”

But sometimes–not every time–there’s something unexpected underneath. Something sweeter. Something different. I pray that this family, and so many others who are struggling, will find something unexpectedly sweet underneath their circumstances.

Today, I wish you renewed thankfulness, and something sweet in the midst of your circumstances.