Pregnancy Pies

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By this past Christmastime, I had moved fully into maternity jeans and baby Gelineau was rolling with multiple nicknames. We know she is a girl now, but at the time we weren’t sure, so we bounced back and forth between Geliniño, Geliniña (we hope she’ll learn Spanish) and Jelly Baby, once I found out that those were a thing.

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We were blessed to be able to spend time back on the East Coast this holiday season. Besides the obvious joys of Christmas with friends and relatives, we also had a beautiful wedding to attend on the 28th of December (officiate, in Levi’s case) and my younger cousin Daniel put on the saving name of Christ through baptism on Christmas Eve. Amazing!

On Sunday morning, before the baptism, my “Aunt” Chris walked into church carrying a picture perfect pie festooned with red ribbon. I assumed it was part of the morning refreshments that would be served in between Sunday School and the Memorial Service (“Coffee And” as it’s called in New Jersey), but instead she handed it to me, saying, “Congrats, Honey. I made you a pregnancy pie.”

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The “pregnancy pie” turned out to be Aunt Chris’ specialty: a fresh cranberry and walnut filled pie with a gooey, sugary layer right above the filling and below the top crust. I have no idea how to make it. I’ve never made a pie like it. It’s super magical.

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Being a known pie baker, there’s always something very special about when someone else makes you a pie. ❤

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As it turns out, even when you’re pregnant, it’s not in good taste to eat a pie by yourself. We were able to share it over the most hilarious round of Saboteur I’ve ever played. Hilarity largely thanks to cousin Nate and his wild accusations.

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Our Christmas Eve pie had been lovingly provided, and it was my turn to make a pie for Christmas Day. I decided to go with Cherry Custard Pie for this occasion, knowing that there were lots of good, fresh, backyard eggs to be found at my Uncle Alan and Aunt Ruthanne’s house.

Trader Joe’s pulled through again; while the pie instructions let the baker know that it is acceptable to use either canned sweet cherries or fresh sweet cherries, I was very pleased with their JARRED Dark Morello Cherries that I’m not sure why I’m advertising to you now because I’ll bet they’re only stocked around Christmas time. (I could be wrong. You should still try to find them if you want to.) The recipe doesn’t say this explicitly, but I would imagine frozen cherries would be a bad idea and make little pools of water amongst the custard. You’ll see what I mean shortly.

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This recipe also calls for an optional addition of kirsch, Grand Marnier, or triple sec. No one wants to buy bottles of those things unless they’re already hanging around, am I right? But since there was Kijafa on hand, I threw a splash of that in instead. (The only reason I’ve even heard the word Kijafa before? Our favorite pancake house in NJ has Cherry Kijafa Crepes on the menu, and it’s been my cousin Leanna’s go-to order since she was little. I’m thinking she has tried to replicate them at home? This is at least a feasible explanation for having this very obscure tipple on hand.)

Here’s the really fun part of this recipe. After filling the crust with custard, the cherries get dropped in evenly, gently, throughout the whole pie! The effect is awesome.

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Once the pie has been thoroughly polka-dotted with cherries, it’s baked until set (like any custard pie), cooled, and chilled.

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We woke up on Christmas morning to snow (albeit light), which is always the dream. Christmas was spent trying to eat as much delicious antipasti as humanly possible and playing Family Feud (at which Nana was not half bad).

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Oh, and naps. Holidays are for naps too.

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Thanks for keeping up, friends. See you soon.

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The Sweeny Family Gives Thanks

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Here is the original Norm and Marie Sweeny family, some years ago, bundled up for the snow and clearly in their element.

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In 2017, the Sweeny family celebrated many milestones including Grandmother’s 90th birthday, Aunt Susan’s 60th birthday, Mom and Dad’s 30th anniversary, Alex and Levi’s 30th birthdays, and Matt’s 21st birthday. We were happy to be able to gather in Illinois to share a Thanksgiving weekend of celebrations together!

The family has grown over the years, as you can see…the photo below is even missing 4.5 grandchildren/great-grandchildren who couldn’t make the trip out from California.

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Although many delicious desserts and savory items were made and consumed as part of the festivities, for the purposes of the blog I will naturally focus on the pie I baked for Thanksgiving: Maria’s Double Crust Walnut Pie. This pie is unique on several accounts, but, like many good things, begins with a bunch of butter.

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Maria must be a special lady, because she has a special pie crust recipe in Pie to be used with this very special and delicious recipe: Maria’s Shortbread Pie Pastry. It contains much more sugar than a typical crust, as well as an egg and lemon zest. In fact, the crust has about the same number of ingredients that the pie filling does. Due to the egg, the crust has a heartier, sturdier texture than average.

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Part of the uniqueness of this pie is that is meant to be baked in a springform pan. However, my aunt did not have a springform pan at her home (nor do I have one at mine–we’re more of a pie than a cake family clearly) so I slightly adapted the plan and used a deep dish pie pan. The recipe gives direction to add “ropes” of dough to the inside of the pan as pictured before pressing the dough flatly up against the sides of the pan. As far as I could tell, this just served to form a thicker pastry around the edges and hold the pie together more concretely. And the crust is such a delicious and important part of this dessert. I think it’s a good move.

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The pie filling is made from walnuts that get boiled with sugar and water and added to honey and cream. Nothing to object to there. The top crust is brushed with an egg glaze, and the final result is drool-inducing.

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If there was such a thing as Baklava Pie, this would be it. (Confusing picture below, that’s pumpkin pie on the plate there, also delicious, just not matching.)

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In this shot here you can see the true decadence of the filling.

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This pie is one of several to date that fall into the category of, “I don’t care if I still have roughly 150 pie recipes left in my cookbook and I probably won’t finish this project until I’m 53, this is a pie I would make again and again because it’s just that good.”

I’m sharing a few more pictures from the Sweeny family Thanksgiving weekend below. Enjoy and have a beautiful week!

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Adventure Awaits

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Dear Friends,

It has been a while, and I have so much to share. This post will be a little longer than usual, will contain more photos than usual (Iceland is just too beautiful) and even contains some exciting life updates, so please do stick around if you have a few moments to spare. As always, thanks for visiting.

I can’t say that I went on a four-day trip to Iceland planning on baking a pie there. It happened something like this.

Levi and I flew to Iceland and met up with Maggie and José. It felt like the dead of night when we landed at 4:00 am and the sun wouldn’t rise until nearly 10. We sort of functioned (and I sort of napped) until the Laundromat Cafe in Reykjavik opened up and served us pancakes.

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The rest of the day is a blur of alternating sleepy road tripping (thanks to Levi for being our non-sleepy driver) and cold, windy, breathtakingly beautiful scenery breaks. I’ll include several more photos at the end of this post. In the meantime, would you just look at these horses?! ❤

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One of our missions for this first long day was to stock groceries, mainly breakfasts for the next several days at our AirBnB. I went to peruse the fruit selection in the store, thinking perhaps that a pie might be feasible…maybe an apple pie, something really simple…and that was when I saw these beauties.

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At long last, I had found the elusive fresh red currant! I knew instantly which pie I would make.  It was one that I’d had my eye on during many summer visits to Minnesota, where it seemed like the currants at the local farm were always either almost ripe enough, or the growing season had just ended. A massive frustration in my pie-making career…and now, the red currants had found me–in Iceland, of all places! It was time to make New Hampshire Raspberry and Red Currant Pie.

The team helped me to assemble everything else I would need, including a lemon, red currant jelly, raspberries, and Icelandic butter. (As an aside, I could write an entire blog post just about how good Icelandic butter is.)

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Pie-making commenced the following morning with berry-sorting and pastry-forming. It was a Monday, and I was just over ten weeks pregnant with our first baby. Until I hit the ten-week mark on the day before we flew to Iceland, I’d been struggling pretty hard with nausea, exhaustion, and lack of motivation to do much of anything, let alone bake a pie. Given that context, this experience, and really the whole vacation, felt like a small – no, a large – miracle. I was so grateful.

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I’m fifteen weeks pregnant now, due in mid-June, and my belly isn’t quite as tiny as it is in the photo above. As our baby grows and I talk to her/him more and more I am also growing more and more excited for the adventure that awaits. I look forward to showing this new little person how beautiful the world can be, how to have faith when things are scary, and how much they are loved–by Levi and I, by our incredible friends and family, by God the Creator and Jesus the Savior.

(Insert sappy family photo here.)

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(I also can’t wait to tell baby about the great adventures they had in Iceland while still in the womb. Seriously. This baby is well-traveled already.)

Okay, back to pie.

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José had never made a pie before and was a devoted sous-chef/student throughout the making of the red currant pie. We still haven’t quite determined the best Spanish word for pie, so we went with “pastel”.

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While this recipe calls for a cream cheese pastry (and I do love Ken’s cream cheese pastry), in order to cut down on ingredient waste and grocery shopping bill I decided to use only the decadent Icelandic butter I spoke of earlier. I have struggled in the past making pie crust in other countries, as I find the flour and fat often don’t combine the way I’m used to with U.S. products, and I sometimes find myself with an overly sticky pastry. This time, the dough turned rock hard (it had been in the fridge during the day while we were out tromping around glaciers) and wouldn’t thaw enough to be rolled for about an hour. #icelandproblems

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José has been writing “Amigos 2017” or some variation of this on cakes all year and I think he was excited to be able to write it on a pie for the first time. “Amigos J, L, M, J”. Unsurprisingly he put himself last. He is that kind of a person.

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This sounds too poetic to be true, but after we chilled the finished pastel in nature’s icebox (our deck) for about half an hour, we ate this perfectly sour-sweet treat under the green glow of the Northern Lights. It was a night I will never forget for as long as I live.

I always say that pie is for sharing, and it’s definitely for sharing when you’re only baking for 4.1 people. We left a large slice for our AirBnB hosts and I was even able to wrap up a few pieces and smuggle them back to Chicago, our next stop, where we celebrated Thanksgiving with my family. Everyone was able to have one or two bites!

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A little more of Iceland–just because.

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When Worlds Collide

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It’s a happy day when your favorite pie and ice cream shops collaborate.

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I fell in love with Four & Twenty Blackbirds of Brooklyn when I finally had the chance to visit on a trip back home to the East Coast two summers ago. I even own a painting by my friend and artist Natalie Smith of five pieces of Four & Twenty pie. I discovered Jeni’s a bit more recently (I’m wondering if some of your California locations were opened in the last year or two?) and have most recently visited the Avalon location in Alpharetta, Georgia with my parents. The ice creams truly are, as advertised, SPLENDID.

Four pies were offered a la mode during the collaboration this weekend. The one not shown on the menu below, Matcha Custard, is my selection, shown in the first photo, paired with Goat Cheese with Red Cherries ice cream. I honestly felt like I’d seen fifty @birdsblack Instagram photos of this pie and was so excited to finally have a slice in hand. It did not disappoint. Creamy custard, bold flavor, flaky crust. The best.

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It worked out that each of these flavors appealed in particular to one of us. Salty Honey with Salty Caramel for my mom-in-law, Stone Fruit Granola with Brambleberry Crisp for my cousin Mitch (closest he could approximate to our Grandmother’s pies) and Shaker Citrus with Intelligentsia Black Coffee for my husband.

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Our Australian friend Shelly couldn’t quite get behind the look of a pie that was both a. a dessert (Aussies really have savory pies only) and b. green. She was also full from a delightful meal at Cafe Gratitude. We shared bites with her though. I told her it was a necessary cultural experience.

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Here’s hoping for many more serendipitous collaborations in the future! Be sure to check out/follow Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (@jenisicecreams) and Four & Twenty Blackbirds (@birdsblack) on the sosh meeds. I was honored to have several of my photos reposted by Jeni’s on Instagram yesterday–thanks much! 🙂

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And just a few more foodie adventures from Saturday August 5th:

Levi, stoked about his Activated Charcoal Latte at Cafe Gratitude, Venice.

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Garden Cocktail tasting as part of the Summer Garden Series at Manuela, LA

More events to come each Saturday this month, calendar linked above. We attended an event in the garden with Niki, beverage director, in which she demonstrated ways to use garden herbs in cocktails. We tried the flowering oregano below after Niki muddled it and added lemon juice, reposado, and peach bitters, then shook with ice and strained. Absolutely lovely.

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Happy summer to East and West Coast readers alike. ❤

Natalie’s 21st/Four and Twenty Blackbirds

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Happy birthday to my beautiful little Natalie!

Your last birthday was one of my favorite days in recent memory. We had a delicious brunch at Le Salbuen, and then after I stopped to visit my Nana at the rehabilitation center (she had fallen the week before) and sneak her some blueberry peach pie, we were off to NYC! I remember how hot and sweaty of a day it was…quintessential July East Coast weather. We made it to one of my ultimate pie destinations in Brooklyn, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, and ordered six pieces for five of us. One of each flavor, naturally. The lavender honey pie changed my life forever. You would later paint me a beautiful painting inspired by the picture below of all the pie slices on the table. We sat outside at Sycamore Bar and Flower Shop and you were given a birthday flower as we left. These activities were all my ideas, places I had been wanting to visit, and you were just so happy to do them on your birthday. This is one of the things I love about you; your sweet excitement over just being with friends and your enthusiasm for most things, whether it’s painting a porch, teaching children about the Bible, wandering and laughing. You are so good at showing up with no other agenda but joy.

We ate dinner-Italian-I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, where some more friends joined us. At Rockwood City Music Hall we heard versions of “Valerie” by two bands, then found ourselves sitting in a pedestrian street eating ice cream sandwiches from The Meatball Shop. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Enjoy the memories and I hope this year is full of even more beauty and wonder for you. xx

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Pie for a 19-year-old

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Some things about our trips to Minnesota are pretty standard.

Uncle Joe takes us to the best fishing spots.

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Levi and I catch fish. (This was a particularly successful day.)

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Aunt Sarah cleans our fishes in anticipation of fish dinner.

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Grandmom leads fish dinner preparations, breading the filets perfectly. My mouth is literally watering just looking at these pictures.

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Levi and I sneak away to the Brookside Tavern (the only bar in Marine-on-St. Croix, next to the only gas station and across from the only general store) for glasses of Farm Girl.

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Sometimes, depending on the time of year, we get to do things that are out-of-the-ordinary. This year we happened to visit in mid-August, right around my cousin Matt’s 19th birthday.

Now, Matt has plenty of his own summertime/cabin rituals. One place he can very predictably found for at least part of every day is on the couch, reading voraciously.

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Matt also has traditions that he plans out in advance and shares with us during our visits; these include bonfires complete with Reese’s S’mores and scary stories (which he retells with much suspenseful inflection and an impressive memory for detail), movie nights, and of course, trips to the (only) ice cream store. He is a remarkably thoughtful host.

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Truth be told, Matt has been a long-time supporter of my pies, whether or not they are specifically referred to as his birthday pie. But this one really WAS a birthday pie. You can tell by the 19 on top.

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Although I have already baked my way through so many of the fruit pies in the Pie cookbook, I was luckily able to find and prepare this lovely new specimen for Matt’s birthday festivities: Deep-Dish Blackberry-Peach Double-Crust Pie.

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There were several fun new pie tricks to try in the making of this recipe. For one, the peaches are called upon for blanching. I hadn’t blanched peaches before. I’m not much of a blancher in general.

Jury’s still out on how useful that was, as I’m pretty handy with a paring knife, and I think I could have peeled the peaches in far less time than it took to boil the water, try to determine when the peaches were actually finished (although Ken does give very good, clear directions on the process) and then scrape off the remaining skin as not all of it really came off nicely. Either way, it was fun to try a different method-and I can definitely see how, when executed properly, blanching could cut back on wasting delicious bits of fruit that might be cut off with a knife.

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Another of the fun new tricks: freshly grated nutmeg. I’m rather ashamed to say that this was new to me. I apologize for dashing your visions of me happily grating whole nutmeg tendrils into every pie filling that had ever called for nutmeg. I usually just shake it out of a jar. But Grandmom had a whole nutmeg and a cute teeny nutmeg grater at her house and once I saw this, I knew it was meant to be. Fresh nutmeg, you smell so good.

Have you ever thought about what a funny word “nutmeg” is?

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Add some freshly grated lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, butter, and cornstarch and you’ve got a pie fit for a 19-year-old.

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We won’t be together for Matt’s 20th birthday this summer, but I look forward to a visit next week that will hopefully include all of our favorite cousin traditions…including pie!

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Grandmother’s Chocolate Angel Pie

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Goal: Catch up on stories from last summer before embarking on this summer’s adventures. Okay. Go.

Our last visit to Minnesota was in August. We’re going again in exactly one week. I can’t wait. Last August’s trip was wonderful, but bittersweet. My Granddad passed away a year ago, and it makes me sad that I will never fish with him again, or do the Bible readings with him again, or hear his funny songs again. But, as my dad said at the funeral, Granddad believed in a hope that was reasonable: the resurrection. God created us with the ability to reason and created a world full of order and beauty for us to all marvel at. So, “why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?” as Paul asks in Acts. We will see Granddad again soon.

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On this particular trip, in the day and half we spent alone together, I asked my Grandmom to sit with me for a couple hours and let me record some of her stories…about growing up on a farm in Vermont, moving to the Midwest as a young woman, becoming a chemist during a time when women simply didn’t do that, being asked on lots of dates (as being practically the only woman at her workplace put her in a good position for!), meeting and marrying my Granddad and learning the Bible together. If you didn’t know this about my grandmother, she still volunteers at a nature center and does pond walks for children. She also spent many years volunteering at the Minnesota Science Museum; seeing the latest exhibit there was always a highlight of my childhood visits (okay, and my adult ones–who are we kidding here?) Of course, she is also a pie-maker extraordinaire. I am so thankful for the legacy that she and Granddad are leaving for our family.

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Once again, we visited Minnesota at the wrong time of year to pick the ever-elusive red currants and make a pie out of them. Nonetheless, there were plenty of pie opportunities. One that I had been meaning to pursue for some time was a legendary recipe I had heard stories about but had never tasted myself; Grandmother’s Chocolate Angel Pie. My cousins and aunts and uncles had long talked about this wondrous concoction and I knew that I wanted…no, needed…to learn how to make it in order to continue climbing the ladder to Pie Mastery. It was the next achievement to unlock.

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Grandmom didn’t have a recipe written down for this pie, per se. She uses elements of a recipe for Chocolate Dream Pie that she got from her roommate’s aunt when she was young Marie Gerdon and had just moved to Michigan from Vermont (the aunt was a high school Home Ec teacher). She also referred to a recipe for an unbaked Chocolate Cream Pie from the Joy of Cooking, as well as a pamphlet from the 60’s entitled “Betty Crocker’s Merry Makings: Fine Foods for Happy Entertaining”.

This pie comes together quickly and is fun to make. Although it requires the use of an oven, the temperature never gets set higher to 300 degrees, so it’s a good summertime choice if you’re trying to avoid heating your house up. The final result is very yummy…a slightly chewy, nut-studded layer of meringue crust filled with light whipped chocolate cream…and I think you should all try it. So much so that I took detailed notes and am writing up the recipe below. After all, pie is meant to be shared.

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Grandmother’s Chocolate Angel Pie

Preheat Oven to 300 degrees F.

For Meringue Pie Shell:

2 egg whites (beat until shiny with electric mixer)

1/4 tsp cream of tartar (add to egg whites while beating)

1/2 tsp vanilla (add to egg whites while beating)

1/2 cup sugar (slowly add and gradually beat in. Turn off beaters.)

1/2 cup pecans (gently fold into egg white mixture)

Use a spatula (we used a spoon and our fingers!) to round the meringue into a pie shell (in a pie dish). It should touch the top rim of the pie dish all the way around. Bake for 55 minutes, making sure it doesn’t get too brown (rotate the dish halfway through baking).

For Chocolate Cream Filling:

1 4 oz. bar of baker’s chocolate (Grandmom uses German’s Chocolate Baking Bar, 48% cacao)

Melt chocolate. If using a microwave, melt on high for 30 seconds, stir, microwave for 30 seconds more, stir, and continue heating and stirring in 10 second increments until the chocolate is completely melted.

Whip 1 cup of whipping/heavy cream and fold in the melted chocolate. Spread chocolate cream in cooled pie shell. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Pinnacle Pie

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In the past, I’ve demonstrated to you time and time again the merits of pie-in-a-jar. It can pass airport security checks, it travels securely to faraway bake sales, it can be mailed to Australia with no incidents whatever. Just in case you were looking for another reason to add to your mental list of “Why Pie-in-a-Jar is Truly Awesome,” I’ve got you covered.

Pie-in-a-Jar can climb mountains.

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We had the privilege of visiting Pinnacles National Park this weekend, with the added privilege of Allyn and Ali’s company and conversation along the way. I highly recommend catching up with a friend you haven’t seen for nine years/making a new friend while walking for five hours. A lot of territory can be covered, literally and figuratively.

Along with other feats of Creation, we encountered talus caves, a nocturnal red frog, an exalted reservoir, Mariposa lilies, monkey flowers, and FOUR CALIFORNIA CONDORS. I’m still a little bit giddy just thinking about how incredible the views were from the tops of the pinnacles the park is named after. No wonder the condors love it up there.

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All this beauty aside, let us turn now to a matter of practicality. To paraphrase what Ali said so wisely, one of the best parts of hiking is snack breaks. Which brings us back to our strawberry rhubarb pies-in-jars. I mean, who doesn’t like the idea of eating pie on a pinnacle?

Also, do you readers wonder if I bring pie everywhere I go just so I have a reason to tell a story about it on my blog? I wonder that too sometimes. I like to think that the answer is no, that it just happens organically this way, but I’ll ponder the question some more and get back to you. For now, lay all doubts aside and enjoy these last few pictures of happy people and pie in the middle of nowhere.

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Macadamia Magnificence

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Pi Day comes but once a year, but if you’re lucky enough to teach at my school, Pi Day lasts an entire week each March. Good stuff.

Following in the footsteps of many worthy predecessors (such as 2015’s Avocado Cream Cheese and 2014’s Coconut Cream) was a pie I had been excited to make for a long time, due to my great love of the main ingredient: Niel’s Chocolate-Macadamia Nut Cream Pie.

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One time, I was working late and a coworker had recently returned from Hawaii and generously brought eight tins of flavored macadamia nuts back with her. She left them in the kitchen, and I knew others had at least gotten the opportunity to try them that day. So uh after everyone else went home I took it upon myself to polish off the remainder.

Embarrassing.

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Oh, there are almonds in the crust. I love you too, almonds. But you’re not as much of a novelty so I didn’t stuff as many of you in my face while I was baking this pie.

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Nutty pastry crusts (recipe in Ken’s book) are very very delicious things and can be made with a variety of nuts…other pies in my past have called for walnuts, or peanuts. The almond crust here really adds to the level of Specialness of this pie. Only thing to really note about nutty crusts is that they do tend to be much trickier to work with. Don’t be surprised if the crust doesn’t hold together as well as a typical pastry does when you roll it out, and if small cracks form in the bottom as it pre-bakes.

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Case in point. Don’t worry, you’ll never notice-the filling is never runny enough to sneak down into that crack. Plus, the next step is to cover the bottom of the crust with chopped macadamia nuggets anyway.

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The chocolate cream pie filling goes on top of the macs. A layer of plastic wrap smoothed over the top prevents a skin from forming when it’s refrigerated.

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Once the pie is refrigerated for hours, it’s completed with a layer of whipped cream and topped with more marvelous macadamias. Et voilà!

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Like most of Ken’s pies, this one had all the flavor you could ever hope for and a subtle, not sickly, sweetness. This is helpful when you’re trying to eat multiple slices of pie at 10:45 am while also avoiding sugar crashes and stomachaches as much as humanly possible.

There are always so many delicious options.

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This post has been brought to you by circles, the Hawaiian islands, Trader Joe’s, and coral fingernail polish.