Easy Apple Slices (& dancing)

Around this time, many moons ago, it was family weekend at Northwestern. Somehow, by divine intervention and miraculous scheduling – my entire family came. Mom, Dad, sisters, and grandma.

Easy Apple SlicesThis was a big deal for a few reasons: 1) my parents had been divorced for the better part of two decades at this point and 2) they all rode down in the same vehicle.

So, including me, that’s six members of a very blended and extended family packed into my grandmother’s Chevy Envoy careening down neighborhood streets of Chicago.

Fresh Picked Apples

My entire life had been a carefully choreographed dance between parents and spouses and step-siblings and half-relatives. We knew the steps well, could glide smoothly across the floor. Most of the time. But sometimes, missteps were made, there was uncertainty about who was leading and who was following, the rhythm would get lost.

If and when this happened – there was always a failsafe way to get back in step. Food.

We spent the better part of that weekend dancing from one meal to another. One, two, three…one, two, three…one, two, three. Breakfast, lunch, dinner…breakfast, lunch, dinner…breakfast, lunch, dinner.  

We ate really good bbq, less good dining hall food, and everything in between.

 Easy Apples Slices

The most vivid memory I have from that weekend is going out for custard. I really, really wanted my family to meet my friend, Sam. He was the first person I’d grown close to at school and what’s better than diffusing a would-be awkward familial situation than by throwing one more person into the mix?!

We picked him up behind one of the journalism buildings. He jumped into the back of the overcrowded car, lowered the hatch as he clambered up into the trunk. We drove the few blocks to Andy’s; my family peppering Sam with questions while he jostled about in the back. Out of the trunk, into the line.

Finally – a place certain to make my entire family happy. My mom and grandma were pleased by the site of fresh custard churning out of the machines. My older sister and dad were game for anything that had the words “apple pie” in the title. Sam and I were satisfied by simply being off of campus. And my little sister wasn’t old enough to drive, so she had no choice but to be ok with where she was.

Easy Apple Slices

We stood and waited and ordered and ate. The quietest and most contented we’d been all weekend. I don’t remember what we talked about or who sat where, I just remember full mouths and full bellies.

My older sister was working her way through a large concrete filled with an entire slice of apple pie. When she’d ordered it, the man had gone to a large shelf containing rows of entire pies and cut a big piece before throwing it into the mixer with vanilla custard.

“Amanda, you can have this piece,” she said, and held out the Holy Grail of slices. It was the corner, where the two crusts meet and the thinnest amount filling gently coats the inside. I’d make fruit pies just to eat this section – digging out the fruit filling and pawning it off on someone else. Usually my sister. I liked what I liked, she liked what she liked. 

That night we shared, we compromised, we ate. We always would.

Easy Apple Slices

Apple Slices

For the crusts:

4 cups flour

2 TBSP sugar

2 tsp. Kosher salt

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1/2 cup ice water, in large glass measuring cup

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using a pastry cutter, or fork, blend the butter into the dry mixture. There should be pieces of butter no larger than a pea in size.
  2. Working slowly, add the ice water to the dry mixture, one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition. Dough should just barely stick together when pressed firmly with hands.
  3. Divide dough in half and wrap in plastic. Chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes, if not longer, preferably overnight.
  4. When ready to roll out, lightly dust work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll one batch of dough into a rectangle that is 1 inch larger on all sides than your pan (I like to use a brownie pan that is 10×5). Place the first batch of rolled dough in the pan and prick with a fork.
    Roll out the second crust to another rectangle of the same size and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Place both in fridge to stay cool while you prepare the filling.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees while you prepare the filling.

For the filling:

6 – 8 small apples (or 4 medium), mixed variety, peeled and sliced thin

1 TBSP lemon juice

3 TBSP corn starch

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Pinch of allspice

Pinch of cloves

Pinch of salt

1 tsp. Vanilla extract

1 egg yolk whisked with 1 TBSP water

Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

  1. In a large bowl pour the lemon juice over the sliced apples and toss to coat. Do the same with the corn starch.
  2. Add the brown sugar, spices, salt, and vanilla extract to the bowl. Tossing to coat.
  3. Pour the filling into the prepared pan and top with the other crust. Fold top crust over the bottom and pinch to seal, crimping with fingertips. Slice slits in center and corner to release steam.
  4. Brush crust with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Place in preheated oven and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, until crust is golden brown and apples are tender.
  5. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack for at least one hour. Serve warm, if desired. Or cover with aluminum foil and serve at room temperature the following day. Slices are best eaten within two days as the crust will begin to turn soggy.

Basil Bourbon Peach Pie (& a partnership)

Life is very good right now.

I have a ridiculously wonderful fiancé.

Edgar’s training is coming along nicely.

The weather has been a dream.

My family is happy, healthy, and a constant source of support.

I just marked a major item off of my “Professional Bucket List.”

That’s right! Your girl got herself a recipe development gig! And with a local company no less! In the last few years, buying/drinking/supporting local has become increasingly important to me. So, when the opportunity arose to work with an organic hydroponic farm in town I jumped at the chance. This is the most excited I’ve been about moving forward with writing in a long time. There’a fire lit under me. Lit within me.

This summer has been good to me, sweet and juicy like a fresh peach.

And there’s no better place for peaches than in a pie. Basil and bourbon belong there too.

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S’mores Cream Pie (& acceptance)

Acceptance is hard.

Especially when it’s a less-than-stellar quality about ourselves that we have to come face to face with. Even if it’s not that big of a deal, even if it doesn’t make us any less of a caring or compassionate person, it’s a struggle to accept that the image we have of ourselves, or the idea of who we may be, doesn’t exactly measure up to the reality of what we are living.

For instance, I suck at this part.

The planning and the punctuality and the posting consistently.

It’s hard. I struggle with it. I put myself under an enormous amount of pressure to be the kind of writer/blogger/baker I imagine myself to be and I’m consistently finding that I just don’t measure up. And maybe I never will?

But I’m trying.

And I’m going to continue to try. Because how else am I going to get any better? Gain any traction? Actualize the vision within myself? (Ok, even I thought that one was hokey and I’m sorry.) Or hell, just even learn to give myself a little grace? To realize that it’s ok if I don’t get three or four posts up in a week, because sometimes it’s more important to celebrate your mechanic’s birthday with a S’mores Cream Pie than it is to ramble to a bunch of (very loving and lovely) strangers on the internet.

Don’t believe me? Make the pie. Celebrate your mechanic. You’ll be glad you did.

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Sweet Potato Cream Pie with Marshmallow Whipped Cream (& procrastination)

I found this gif while scrolling aimlessly on Imgur.

Sweet Potato Cream Pie with Marshmallow Whipped Cream via Midwest Nice Blog

I identified with it so much – what with my terrible habit of procrastinating (which is what I was doing on Imgur in the first place, obviously). I’m working on it, little by little. But, I know I can do better.

For instance, maybe I should’ve posted this recipe yesterday? Given y’all a little more time to add it to your menu. But then I thought – hey, maybe there are other people like me out there. Perhaps there’s truth to the whole “procrastinators unite…tomorrow!” thing? Me waiting to post this and you waiting to figure out what dessert to make could be the perfect balance we as procrastinators need!

Sweet Potato Cream Pie with Marshmallow Whipped Cream via Midwest Nice Blog

Plus! This can be made today and be ready for tomorrow – saving time and valuable oven space on the big day. Look at us, procrastinators planning ahead! Baby steps, folks. Baby steps.

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Easy Apple Pie (& new memories)

My memory is better than most. I have regulars’ orders remembered from four years ago. The amount of brain space used to store old cheerleading routines is astonishing (and a complete waste of real estate considering my lack of rhythm). My childhood phone number, which has been disconnected for the better part of a decade, is still one of the first my thumbs dial of their own accord when I hold a phone.

Easy Apple Pie | via Midwest Nice

So, it was nothing short of a miracle when I bought tickets to see Jason Isbell in Chicago last month and the date didn’t register. At least, not right away. There were no bells, no whistles, nothing to indicate what the day was…what the day had been.

It was my ex’s birthday. For the last two years that day had been reserved for celebrating him – exclusively. Emphatically. One way I did that was baking an apple pie – his favorite – with the numbers of his age emblazoned on the top.

This year, that wouldn’t be happening. Obviously.

Easy Apple Pie | via Midwest Nice

This year, instead, I would be reclaiming one of my favorite singers in one of my favorite cities. It was actually kind of perfect, really. For so long Isbell’s songs were tied to someone else, a different time, a different place. Blaring “Codeine” throughout the house while cleaning on a rare day off together. Learning the words to “Alabama Pines” as we wound along mountain roads coming back from a day in Asheville. Swaying to the rhythm of “Cover Me Up” at a sold out show the same day I closed on my house.

Those memories are all that filled my mind whenever I heard his slow, southern lilt flow through my speakers. Painful, unavoidable.

But not anymore.

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Mississippi Mud Pie (& heartbreak)

Heartbreak is…heartbreak is… heartbreak is what, exactly?

Mississippi Mud Pie | via Midwest Nice Blog

Heartbreak is different for everyone. Different for the same person. Changing and shifting and morphing. At least, that’s how it’s been for me.

It has been painful, of course. Annoying, aggravating, cursed, unrelenting and seemingly unending. Those too. It has ebbed and flowed, ceasing altogether some days only to rear its ugly head the very next, with a force that quite literally took my breath away. It has been fleeting, flickering into my consciousness unexpectedly only to be whisked away in a moment. It has tugged gently at the edges of my memories, in those early morning minutes between sleeping and waking, when the dreams still feel real, before reality has set in and my mind and heart are still weightless, grief not weighing them down.

It has been necessary. Necessary to avoid “his side” of town. Necessary to avert my eyes when I think I spy his truck on the road. Necessary to sit in a hot, dark shower, water hitting my skin until it’s red and raw, the sounds of this song reverberating on the bathroom walls. Necessary to feel the ache in my chest, the hurt in my lungs, the catch in the back of my throat from another bout of sobs racking my entire body.

Mississippi Mud Pie | via Midwest Nice Blog

It has been strong.

I know I am stronger.

There was a time I didn’t know that, though. A time when all I could be was left. Alone. Again. I know I am not the first person to be broken up with, to be broken hearted, and I know I won’t be the last. I know there are worse things that can happen to a person, that other people have a harder time, but I’ll be damned if that means my experience and emotions hurt any less. Are worth any less.

Mississippi Mud Pie | via Midwest Nice Blog

My friend Kristen, in all her unending wisdom, equated it to a death. And as melodramatic as that sounds, as all of this has sounded thus far, something did die. A relationship is a living and breathing thing, and when it ends it leaves a void, a chasm. It dies. There were hopes and dreams and plans that ceased to exist. And for a while, I thought a part of me had gone along with them.

Mississippi Mud Pie | via Midwest Nice Blog

In truth, that’s the main reason for my silence these long, winding weeks (going on months). Sure, it was partially the new job, the juggling of a new schedule and new responsibilities, a desire to perform well and make connections with my new coworkers, impress the new boss. But, mostly, it has been heartache. Restarting my life without the person I was planning it around. Leaning into sadness and loneliness, leaning onto the pillars my family and friends have provided.

But I’ve gotten used to it. Or, at least, I’m getting used to it. That’s what we as humans do. We adjust, we carry on. Even as much as we fight and fear change, homeostasis is a biological inevitability. I have made new routines, started new traditions. I have grown comfortable falling asleep alone and waking up that way, too. I have begun filling my life, and my heart, back up. I have chosen to make changes after one was forced upon me.

That includes changes around here, too. To be more honest, more intentional, for better or for worse. I still firmly intend to share food and drink, but with less fluff, more substance. I don’t want to put up a post just for the sake of it. I want meaning. I want emotion. I want to be myself. Because, according to Kristen, who once again surprised me with a nugget of necessary wisdom, “that’s all I should ever be.”

And I am emotional. I know no other way. I have been called an open book many times – sometimes in admiration, sometimes in antipathy. My friend Danielle has expressed equal amounts of both after seeing the big, beating heart on my sleeve. She’ll probably think this post is too much info, would never do such a thing herself, but won’t ever hold it against me. Because she knows me. She loves me. So does Kristen. So does my dad. My mom. My grandma, sisters, aunts. Robin and Bunny, too. Shawn and Dawn, without a doubt. They prove there is still so much love in my life, even if I haven’t found the love of my life. Everyone who has rallied around me has shown me that, gifted me that. And I am eternally grateful.

Mississippi Mud Pie | via Midwest Nice Blog

In some small attempt to repay them for their love and kindness, their shoulders and strength, I have made treats. Efforts at returning the love so freely given to me. Cakes, cookies, pies. I know it is a small gesture, not necessarily life altering or affirming for them, that they don’t get the same buoying from a batch of biscuits that I get from a phone call back home. That their hearts aren’t as heavy, don’t need as much lifting.

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