The Pie Notes

A celebration of life with a touch of sweetness

Category: Stories (page 1 of 2)

Take a Vacation with Caramel Pecan Apple Pie

I spent last week in Auburn for an almost-end-of-the-summer vacation.

For the second time, Matthew and I went bowling with his roommate, Christian, and his girlfriend, Emily. They’re my favorites.

And for the second time, the girls lost to the boys. I didn’t mind too much since I finally got a strike.

With victorious grins, they requested that their prize be a homemade dinner.

Emily and I were on board with that! We went grocery shopping on Thursday and picked up ingredients to make chicken pesto paninis: sourdough bread, mozzarella, tomatoes, and chicken. Matthew had lots of basil from his gardening class, so we whipped that up in the food processor with some pine nuts, olive oil, and parmesan.

We sauteed a few thin chicken breasts, sliced them up, and built the sandwiches. Luckily we both had George Foreman grills, so it went pretty quickly.

We wanted a light side dish, so Emily thought of making a fruit salad, which is now one of my favorite snacks in the world. Diced Granny Smith apples, bananas, grapes, and strawberries = perfection.

And for dessert…you guessed it.

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Caramel Pecan Apple Pie.

Mhmmm.

It’s such an interesting pie that you won’t get tired of eating! (I warned you.)

As much as I love traditional pecan pie and apple pie, it can get a little boring sometimes.

This one has a gooey filling with caramel, pecans, and tender slices of apples. IMG_20160718_172601210

And according to Matthew, it is now his favorite pie.

The good news is it’s one of the easiest to make!

You blind bake the crust using pie weights, rice, or dry beans for a few minutes, like this…

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…and then bake it with the filling for a little while. It will transform into something magical and sweet.

In the midst of this sweltering hot summer, take a vacation to the crisp days of fall with all of the wonderful feelings and aromas that this pie provides. No harm in that, right?

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Unfortunately this is my last week to make pies for Copper Kettle Tea Bar since the summer is coming to a close and I’ll be returning to Auburn, but it has definitely been a rewarding and educational experience! They are so supportive of “locals with dreams” and it has truly been an honor baking pies for them. They are top-notch in every way…I couldn’t recommend them enough!

Recipe adapted from Aimee Broussard

A Sweet Trip to the Past: Lemon Custard Pie

I’m quite sentimental.

That’s why when any recipe has “Old Fashioned” or “Mom’s Favorite _____” attached to it, I’m all in.

There’s something special about connecting to the past through food, so in addition to all of my modern takes on traditional recipes, sometimes I like to follow the traditional techniques and ingredients as closely as I can.

This week I wanted a lemon pie, but not lemon meringue or lemon icebox…I wanted a lemon custard pie.

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Oh yeah.

Nestled in a flaky pie crust, it’s baked to golden brown perfection.

You don’t have to wait 4 hours until you can cut into it.

I REPEAT: You DO NOT have to wait 4 hours until you devour it.

It’s quite delicious warm, after sitting for about 15 minutes or so.

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Since you whip egg whites to stiff peaks and fold that into the lemony batter, it transforms the pie to a fluffy lemon curd custard. It’s seriously satisfying and will remind you of the olden days.

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Speaking of yesteryears, I have quite the inspiration to bake pies from my dear Papa’s mother, Anna.

Although I never met her, from what I’ve been told she was a loving woman who wore dresses everyday and baked pies and cakes like no one else.

She would make huge cakes, wrap them up, and freeze them to bring out for company. So smart.

When she made pies, she would roll out the leftover pie dough, fit it into a little pie tin, and pour in a little extra filling. She had to be able to test it out and make sure it tasted good, so she treated herself to the little pie.

Again, Anna was brilliant.

So in the spirit of my namesake, I gathered up some extra peaches and blueberries and rolled out that extra dough and made this little cutie:

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I honestly couldn’t tell you the exact measurements I used, but this is a guesstimate.

  • 2 peaches, diced
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, tossed in 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 /2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp milk or heavy cream
  • turbinado sugar
  1. Roll out two small rounds of dough and fit one into a small pie tin. Chill.
  2. Toss together all ingredients and pour into pie shell. Cover with second round of dough and brush with egg wash (egg and milk). Sprinkle with sanding sugar.
  3. Place on foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F on lower third of oven until crust is beginning to turn golden, about 15-20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake until juices are bubbling, 20-30 minutes.
  4. Let cool completely on wire rack.
  5. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream!

I hope you enjoy! Try to use an old fashioned recipe this week, or use a technique that seems outdated. It might just brighten your day 🙂

Lemon filling recipe courtesy of Taste of Home

A Tasty Compromise: Tiramisu + Pie = All-Time Favorite Dessert

Well, my friends, I’ve finally found it.

I’ve found my favorite pie.

I’ve always been a little conflicted between tiramisu (my favorite non-pie dessert) and pies in general.

If it were my last day on earth and I only had one sweet treat to enjoy, before I would have chosen tiramisu over pie (shhhh, don’t tell anyone).

Let’s face it, it has all of my favorite flavors: coffee, a creamy dreamy filling, coffee, chocolate shavings, and, um, COFFEE.

Yes, I like coffee.

A lot.

So if you’ve never tried tiramisu, let me walk you through it.

Bottom layer: ladyfingers, which are like spongy Italian cookies, lightly soaked in strong coffee, arranged on the bottom of a dish.

Middle layer: a filling traditionally made of egg yolks, sugar, and mascarpone cheese (an Italian cream cheese that tastes amazing).

Top layer: chocolate shavings or sifted cocoa powder

Of course, there’s variations.

For a dinner party I threw in Auburn last semester, I, of course, made Italian. Honestly, I think it’s the easiest type of meal to fix because it’s usually a one dish dinner with a salad. The best part is it seems like you’ve been slaving away all day long!

Since I was pretty busy that day, I made this Williams Sonoma slow cooker lasagna recipe. It changed my life. Why? Because you don’t have to cook the lasagna noodles on the stove. It’s a beautiful thing. So cheesy and meaty and wonderful!

I made a quick salad to go alongside with cucumbers, tomatoes, and parmesan cheese. I don’t know about you, but I am NOT a “food separator.” I absolutely don’t mind if my peas mix in with mashed potatoes, or if my lasagna mixes in with the salad. I was nice and offered salad bowls, but I think my guests agreed with me on this 🙂

And for the grand finale, I made Giada’s tiramisu. I mentioned it was a busy day…that’s why I made it the night before!

It never disappoints.

But still, there was this void. Here I am, being the pie girl, and my favorite dessert is tiramisu. Something is wrong here.

May I introduce to you, dear friends, my absolute favorite dessert/pie/food/anything in the world: TIRAMISU PIE. 

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Isn’t she lovely?

It just makes sense.

Let me walk you through this one:

Crust (because that’s really what tiramisu is missing): Pepperidge Farm Chocolate Collection cookies crushed up, combined with melted butter and sugar, and baked.

Filling: A thick, not-too-sweet mascarpone and cream mixture with a special ingredient that sends it over the top–white chocolate pudding mix.

A layer of coffee-soaked ladyfingers…whether you’re addicted to coffee or not so crazy about it, it’s just the right amount for anyone to enjoy. Definitely not overpowering, but it breaks up the sweetness.

Topping: chocolate whipped cream with chocolate shavings sprinkled on top.

Now how could that be anything but perfect?

(It can’t be.)

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And plus, I’d say this is one of the easiest pies to make. It’s perfect in the summer because your oven is only cranked up for a few minutes.

It’s so refreshing, but you still feel like you’re indulging.

I’m absolutely in love with this pie. I’m enjoying browsing through Aimee Broussard’s blog  and cookbook, which is where I found this recipe! I added the ladyfingers because that’s my favorite part of tiramisu, and I can’t leave out the coffee. You certainly could skip that part if you choose.

Make it! You’ll love it!

And if you don’t want to make it, you can order a slice at Copper Kettle Tea Bar this week.

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Do you know how I know this is my favorite pie? After I tested this recipe last week, mom and I went to see Love and Friendship, a movie based off of Jane Austen’s novella, Lady Susan. 

Literally the entire time I was thinking about that pie and how badly I wanted another slice. It was quite difficult to keep up with the British accents and complicated relationships when my brain was in utter turmoil.

The movie was enjoyable, but that pie…oh boy.

I’ll stop now.

And leave you with this.

tiramisu pie

Gardens, Farmer’s Markets, and Sweet Peach Hand Pies

Aren’t peaches the perfect summer fruit?

They are sweet and incredibly refreshing, especially after working in a garden.

During my little Auburn vacation, I went to SpringHouse to help out in the culinary garden on-site. Matthew goes there every week to  assist the gardener and he invited me to tag along.

It was an absolutely beautiful day. Surprisingly not too hot (probably due to the sprinklers soaking us from head to toe) and clear blue skies.

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Pre-gardening Matthew

All of the vegetables are grown organically, so naturally there is quite a bit of work to accomplish.

We weeded, picked more red onions than you could ever imagine, and staked tomato plants.

Somewhere in between I got attacked by giant ants. I threw off my gloves and ran towards the sprinkler…the sprinkler that was moving in a circular motion. I tried not to get right on front of the stream of water, so I ended up running around the bed of eggplant chasing it while swatting at my arms.

Not my best idea.

I got all of them off eventually, but let’s just say they left their mark on me.

All of that aside, I absolutely love gardening. There’s something about pulling your food out of the ground or picking it off the vine that is so comforting and rewarding.

Plus, it tastes worlds better than the stuff in the grocery store.

They grow black cherry tomatoes there, and a couple weeks before Matthew had called me just to tell me how delicious they are.

He plucked a perfectly ripe one off the vine for me and I was immediately hooked. Best tomato I’ve ever tasted. It’s sweet and plump and juicy, and the color is a deep deep purple.

After our gardening adventures, we headed back to Auburn, but not before stopping at a roadside stand to buy a few peaches to snack on.

We ravenously pulled them out of the bag. I had one, Matthew had five.

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Post-gardening Matthew

They hit the spot.

And our shirts were completely covered in peach juice. Were we complaining? Nope.

Fast forward to last week. The Auburn Farmer’s Market happens every Thursday during the summer and I had never been! I was planning on making roasted chicken thighs with roasted vegetables for dinner, so I needed some fresh local ingredients to make it even better.

We got new potatoes, the most beautiful onions I’ve ever seen, a green bell pepper, and black cherry tomatoes. For the salad, we found bibb lettuce, cucumbers, and microgreens which really sent it over the top.

And of course, we got distracted by all of the sweets.

My sister Sarah had told us about Cindy Cakes a couple weeks ago, saying it was the best pound cake she’s ever had. We took her word for it and bought a peach pound cake. We ended up slicing it and warming it up on a cast iron skillet. The sugars caramelized and a yummy crust formed. Perfect with a cup of coffee.

We also picked up a bag of kettle corn–sweet and smoky–and a couple individual pies that were very tasty.

And in true Matthew/Anna Claire style, we got a couple Chilton County peaches to snack on in the car.

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Post-farmer’s market Matthew

I just realized how many pictures I take of him while he’s in the driver’s seat…

That was one of my favorite experiences I’ve ever had in Auburn. There’s nothing quite like the charm of a farmer’s market, and the opportunity to meet the people behind your food is special. If you have some extra time in your day, stop by and support your local farmers. It’s so important that they have a community to back them up.

And your tastebuds will thank you profusely.

In the spirit of local ingredients and portable snacks, I’ve decided to experiment with some hand pies. Never heard of such a thing? Take a look at my previous post and scroll down to the dessert section of our SpringHouse meal.

Since the peaches have been so wonderfully delicious lately, I made some peach hand pies.

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If you like flaky crust, this is the dessert for you.

Every bite has buttery crust and ooey gooey sweet peachy filling.

I can’t stress this enough–buy fresh, good quality peaches! Every time I have used Chilton County peaches from the farmer’s market, I’ve had good luck. You’re taking a risk if you use anything else.

These are good at room temperature, but even better when warmed up in the toaster oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

It’s the perfect summer bite–go try one at Copper Kettle Tea Bar this week!

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Peach filling adapted from Bakerella

Our Dinner at SpringHouse

My favorite restaurants have definitely changed over the years.

First it was Chuck e Cheese. My 4th birthday was there, along with Sarah’s 7th birthday. (We’re only three years and one day apart!) So of course, it was my childhood fav.

Then it was Olive Garden, because, well, they have tiramisu. And giant salads. And the Tour of Italy. All of which I can eat in one sitting. I simply must have Italian roots–that’s the only explanation for my Italian obsession.

Next came Maggiano’s in Nashville a few years ago. When Sarah and I visited with our Aunt Debbie, I was in heaven. Lots of bread (half of which I stuck in my purse when we left) and so much pasta. And the best part? With some of the menu options you get a FREE MEAL TO TAKE HOME. We were all over that. Hence, my favorite for years.

In high school I was a member of the Interact club which is involved with the Rotary Club of Foley. Every Friday we were invited to attend their meetings at the Gift Horse Restaurant. Let me put it to you simply: If you live in Southern Alabama and haven’t been there to eat, you are missing out. The second you walk in you’re transported back in time. And the food. Oh, the food.

The grand buffet holds everything from pasta salads and deviled eggs to hot entrees including fried chicken, sweet potato casserole, seafood gumbo, macaroni and cheese, famous fried biscuits, and, my all-time favorite: apple cheese.

Scared at the thought of such a side dish? Don’t be. I can’t keep track of how many times I have insisted that my friends and family try it. It is just that good.

Needless to say, The Gift Horse will always hold a special place in my heart, and will always be considered one of my favorites.

This past semester has caused me to add to my list.

Enter SpringHouse in Alexander City, AL (aka Lake Martin).

Let me just walk you through our meal from last week.

We ordered for appetizers lima beans with buttermilk aioli, cornbread crumbled over the top, and fresh dill along with an oven roasted tomato topped with goat cheese and crispy breadcrumbs. Unfortunately we were too hungry to even think about taking pictures.

For our entrees I ordered this fresh, beautiful, vibrant dish of vegetables (which is so unlike me–I usually prefer meat with my dinner), but I knew that it would be perfect.

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And it was.

I don’t know what my favorite component was…possibly the zucchini gratin, creamed corn, carrots, crowder peas, lightly pickled cucumbers, cornbread…such a hard decision.

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Have you ever considered the thought of eating stingray?

We hadn’t, either.

Our waiter was pretty convincing, so Matthew ordered it.

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No kidding, it was the best fish I’ve ever tasted.

And that squash was perfection.

I need to stop writing about this…my mouth is watering.

Next came dessert, which did not disappoint.

Matthew ordered the blueberry handpie with lemon curd ice cream.

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He stuck his fork in it and I yelled, “STOP! I have to take a picture of it!”

It’s just so beautiful. The crust was flaky and the blueberry filling was warm and sweet and tart.

And to finish, one of the best desserts I’ve ever ordered–ever–was the ice cream sandwich.

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This isn’t your ordinary ice cream sandwich.

Butter pecan cookies (thin, sweet and salty, slightly chewy) held together a thick layer of peach ice cream. That was the best ice cream I’ve ever had, as well. It tasted like I was eating a peach. The freshness was unbelievable.

Yes, I ate every bit of it.

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We were too eager to take a picture beforehand, so this is the “happy tummy” picture in the car.

Luckily, we went with our friends Kathryn and Chris back in May and managed to capture the beautiful views.

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The rolling hills make my heart happy.

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We’re SpringHouse believers! Are you?

Picnics, Dancing, and Jazzy Key Lime Pie!

What a weekend.

Between all of the pie recipe testing, grocery shopping, and preparation for some of my family coming in for the weekend, I decided it was high time for a picnic.

Matthew came home from Auburn this weekend so in addition to pies, I whipped up some picnic favorites. Roast beef sandwiches, pasta salad with every veggie known to man, deviled eggs, fresh fruit salad, banana bread, fruity water, and rhubarb spritzer iced tea from Copper Kettle Tea Bar made for a perfect afternoon meal in the Foley Heritage Park.

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It brought me back to when I was a kid. That folded picnic blanket was made by my mom, and probably explains why I am obsessed with gingham. My sisters and I spent many an afternoon under the sycamores with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on that blanket.

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Ah, the memories…

We spotted an Airstream trailer parking near some festivities in the park, so we strolled over to discover that it served coffee! I ordered my typical hazelnut latté and Matthew enjoyed a café au lait. Talking with the owners was just as much of a treat as the coffee.

Before we knew it, it was time to go DANCING!

Seaside Stomp, a swing dancing workshop in Pensacola, FL, was kicking off the weekend with a dance complete with a live band.

We had a blast seeing all of our friends from Auburn and scenes from across the south.

Speaking of swing music, I can’t think of a better way to describe this week’s pie at Copper Kettle Tea Bar: Jazzy Key Lime Pie.

This one is rich, thick, and zesty! The almond graham cracker crust is inspired by my trip to Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House in Savannah, GA almost 6 years ago. It adds a little extra flavor and texture to the creamy, refreshing pie.

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When I spend time baking I enjoy listening to music that reflects my mood, the food that I’m preparing, or even the weather. More often than not, that music ends up being jazz.

I’m convinced that the sweet sounds of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet alongside Ella Fitzgerald’s vocals make any pie taste better.

It’s funny how so many swing-era songs have desserts in the title–everything from “Banana Split for my Baby” and “Shoo Fly Pie” to my all-time favorite, “I Like Pie, I Like Cake.”

There’s one thing that may be better than listening to this music…that’s dancing to it!

This video pretty much encompasses everything I find to be joyful and perfect about swing dancing. Watch it if you like to smile.

And this may be part of the reason I’m growing my hair out again 🙂

Here’s to summer, jazz, dancing, and dessert!

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Filling recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.

A Little Baker’s Dream

 

IMG_20160522_174150511_HDRChocolate and I go way back.

It all started with a dream. Watching my mom and older sisters baking away in our farmhouse kitchen, I thought, “Hey, I want to do that, too!” I channeled all of the culinary confidence a six-year-old could possibly hold, tied my apron strings, and marched to the counter that happened to be just a tad too high for me.

My sister, Sarah, assigned me easy tasks such as handing her cup measurements and fetching vanilla extract in the pantry. We were making chocolate chip cookies. Emphasis on the chocolate chip. Sarah noticed that I wasn’t doing half bad at my menial responsibilities. To my surprise, she gave me arguably the most important job of all–the pourer of chocolate chips into the beautiful, buttery dough. With wide eyes, a half smile, and an expanding ego, I tore open the bag, held it by the bottom, and right as I lifted my hand to pour–you guessed it!–disaster struck.

Morsels. Went. Everywhere.

Everywhere, except into the bowl.

I’d never thought about how many chocolate chips are really in a bag, but after picking each one up off the floor and counter, I’d estimate approximately 2.7 million. Luckily, we had an extra bag so all of our effort wasn’t wasted completely.

I didn’t have high hopes in my dream of being a great baker coming true.

Fast forward a few years. I was more comfortable in the kitchen, a bit taller, and more motivated than ever to prove to myself I could make something delicious. I decided to make for my family chocolate chip cookies without any help. I pulled out the trusty Southern Living cookbook from our aged wooden bookshelf, gathered the ingredients, preheated the oven, and got to work. By the time I was finished mixing and ready to scoop the dough, I noticed it looked different than usual. A little stickier, more liquidy, but hey, it had chocolate chips this time! Surely an improvement. I went for it. Eight minutes later, the oven beeped and I opened the door.

“MOM!!!!!!” I shouted. “What’s wrong with my cookies?!”

It was one ugly, transparent, rock hard sheet with sad little hills of chocolate chips.

“Did you add flour?” she lovingly asked.

“Of course I did!” I answered in an irritated frenzy.

Then I thought about her question and hesitantly looked over at the unopened container of flour on the counter.

“Well, maybe I didn’t…” I said, absolutely defeated by the science of baking. All I wanted was a big bowl of mom’s spaghetti and to never think about chocolate chips or flour again.

About that time, dad came in the back door after working in the field and saw the sheet of cookie paper cooling and his discouraged daughter on the verge of tears leaning against the counter. He nonchalantly broke off a piece and tasted it.

“Anna Claire, this is so good!” he said with lit-up eyes. “I love crispy cookies!”

My spirits were instantly lifted. Despite dad’s “preferences,” Mom helped me put flour in the dough and make the rest of the batch. I didn’t let any of my siblings lay a finger on dad’s special “crispy cookie.”

Needless to say, I rarely forgot to add ingredients after that incident, but when I do, I can count on my sweet mom to help me fix the problem and dear ole dad to eat my creations with a genuine smile on his face.

The good news? There isn’t flour OR chocolate chips in this delectable pie!IMG_20160523_210446809

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Recipe adapted from Lee Ann Fleming, Food and Wine

Insight from the Journal of Years Past

Life oftentimes gets in the way of living.

For the past few months, somewhere between writing papers, answering the daily question, “To cook or not to cook?” and contemplating what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, I started to neglect my love for this blog. Looking back, I maintained my passion/obsession with swing dancing, which has brought me incredible amounts of joy and friendships across the southeast. Now, I’m trying to find a balance for all of my interests.

When I feel a wave of sentimentality, I am always drawn to my old journals. Those pages have two effects on me:

1. They invariably present the question, “How could I be so painfully immature?”

2. They produce another wave of relief that I have (thank you, Lord) grown up.

In regards to number one, how deep-thinking can an eleven-year old be?

Every now and then, however, I’ll come across an entry that really speaks to me and the situations I am facing. That insight recently came in the journal I received years ago from my beloved teacher, Mrs. Earley, who made a lasting impression on me to approach life with curiosity and kindness.  It’s unlike me to share my entries, but this one is an exception since it revolves around PIE!

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A bit abstract in its subject matter, but true nonetheless. I knew pie could teach lessons, even to a teenager!

With all of the darkness the world has to offer, there’s double the amount of goodness. You may have to dig at times but it’s always there.

To be happy or not to be happy? To keep a journal or not to keep a journal?

I vote a resounding “yes” for both.

A Sweet Mother’s Love

Peaches are currently occupying a large chunk of my life. The mere thought of the fresh aroma, sweet juices, and glorious texture of this season’s beautiful ripe summer fruit makes me very, very happy.

I thought I’d add to my peach repertoire on the good ole blog.

I’ve made a couple peach pies this summer, but I am still in the process of tweaking the recipe. A girl can only eat so many slices.

So here is an extraordinary Blueberry Peach Crisp. It’s an easy to assemble, easy to serve option for a last minute party or after-dinner dessert. If you already have the oven on for your meal, slide this crisp right in there and in less than an hour, you’ll start catching whiffs of those bubbly blueberries and peaches beneath a layer of warm, crumbly, crispy goodness. Oh, the joy. By the time you’re finished feasting on that roasted chicken or plate of spaghetti, your crisp will be ready!

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Growing up in the farmhouse, all eight of us would be sitting around the dining room table sharing stories from the day, enjoying the wonderful homemade meal that Mom prepared for us (as she did essentially every night…talk about a super-mom!) and right as the plates started clearing, I’d breathe in the scent of her peach cobbler baking in the oven. All seemed right with the world. Even doing the dishes afterwards wasn’t so bad, as long as that cobbler was in my life.

My mom really is a miracle worker. And knowing that she cherished every minute of raising her six kids is comforting and refreshing all at the same time. The love that poured (and continues to pour) out of her every moment gives me a ton of strength to try to better myself in order to help those around me.

I guess what I’m saying is to make everything you do special and enveloped with purpose. Sit at the table with your family for supper. If you’re alone, invite a friend over. Get to know those around you on a deeper level. In the digital age, distractions run rampant, but don’t get sucked into that nonsense. There’s a time and place for everything, and I think it’s about time we all try to recognize what it means to be present. Simplification helps.

As my dear mom always said to me, “Simplicity is happiness.”

I’ve been faithfully saying the same for quite some time now. Every time I make an effort to simplify my thoughts and actions, the reward is exponentially more fulfilling than fleeting accomplishments that further complicate my life. And I am fully aware that the world can throw curveballs without the slightest warning. That’s why we simplify – to be prepared for the unexpected.

Gee, blueberry peach crisp must stir up my philosophical principles.

Just look at it!

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I love this one. An updated peach cobbler I’d say, for the experimental days. The blueberries really add another level of flavor and complexity…a winning crisp in my book!

Thanks Two Peas and Their Pod for the great recipe!

Here’s the printable version for you –

Blueberry Peach Crisp

And don’t forget that you can scroll through all of my other recipes here

Enjoy!

 

 

A Nibble of “cioccolata”

This afternoon at the university, I attended a guided tasting tour of Italian chocolate by Francine Segan, a noted food historian, public speaker, and author.

She has been featured on Food Network, Today, and in multiple magazines around the world, among many other things!

I don’t know what was more fascinating–the history of the decadent treat we all know and love, or Ms. Segan herself.

Her vibrant personality and extensive knowledge of all things culinary captivated us all. I have to be honest…sometimes my mind drifts during ‘lectures’ even if it is on a topic in which I am interested, but not this time!

I have never heard much in the past on Italian chocolate in particular. I always figured Belgian or Swiss chocolate was supreme. Ms. Segan informed us of the significant footprint that early Italian chocolatiers had on the chocolate we enjoy today (every single day if you’re anything like me!).

They were the first to take the cacao bean from other European countries (who mostly enjoyed it with sugar) and transform it into an ingredient that could be used in savory dishes, and even pair it with other complimentary flavors such as orange and hazelnut.

In fact, Italy has an additional classification of chocolate. The typical white, milk, and dark chocolates are joined with another type–Gianduiotto. 

 

Its upside-down boat-like shape is made up of a mixture of cocoa powder, sugar, and hazelnuts. I knew I liked Italians. We didn’t taste this little beauty, but something tells me it could rival Nutella!

Fortunately, we did taste a variety of authentic Italian chocolates, from white to extra dark to stone ground Sicilian chocolate with a lovely hint of orange. The latter was my favorite–nothing like anything I have ever tasted before. Unlike the others that melted on my tongue rather quickly, this one required a bit of ever-so-slight chewing. The amazing thing was that after, literally, two chews, it instantly melted, coated my mouth, and left behind a few tiny chunks of the chocolate. It reminded me of the reason we add nuts to our desserts, because we want texture, right? Here, the chocolate itself added the texture, all because of the delicate and quite laborious way it was processed. Go Sicily!

And a fun fact: In Hershey’s early days, when they were still trying to figure out how to stabilize milk, they began selling chocolate with slightly rancid milk. Think about the last time you ate a Hershey’s kiss–it had a twinge of sourness, yes? Once they implemented the new way of stabilizing, the customers didn’t like it! So, a tiny bit rancid (but completely safe) milk it was.

Overall, it was a very pleasurable experience. I was delighted to meet Francine Segan and hear about her journey, as well as converse with other food lovers in attendance.

Chocolate really is a wonderful thing. Appreciating good chocolate and savoring its flavors makes quite a difference in your experience of eating it. I am so grateful to have opportunities like this to learn more about ingredients, others, and even myself!

***Update: Last night, I threw in a square of leftover Italian dark chocolate from the event (how it lasted that long I have no earthly idea) into my spaghetti sauce, and I have to say that it was the absolute BEST sauce I have ever made. I usually add a dash of sugar to cut some of the acidity, but I just added the chocolate this time. It offers such a depth of flavor that you can’t get from granulated sugar. Perfection. Please try it.

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