November 6, 2018

7 Good Things To Tell Yourself When You're Having a Bad Day as a Mom


The best gift I’ve ever gotten from my children was a yellow sticky note left for me on my kitchen counter. The note read, “We love you.”

I can guess what you might be thinking. “Hmmm…really? This is the best gift? Not the Christmas ornament with your firstborn’s handprint preserved in clay? Not the wall hanging with the names of every family member spelled out like a Scrabble game board?”

I did love those gifts, too. But this one was the best, because my children gave it to me on a day was I was so very unlovable as a mother.

I’d had one of my typical mom meltdowns. I’m sure there was yelling and door-slamming involved. I’m sure I freaked about something that was, in fact, nothing. I’m sure my daughters snuck off to their rooms to commiserate about “mom being mom”…and to write me this note, which they surreptitiously left for me to find.

All of which is just to say that I’ve had more than my share of bad days as a mom. I’ve had to learn how to reset my defaults…to reprogram my thinking. If you’re having a day that’s headed toward bad in a hurry, I've got a little list up over on my friend Ruthie's blog that might help bring it around to good...

https://ruthiegray.mom/bad-mom-day/


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October 24, 2018

Yes, I Really Can Make An Apple Pie

 

I have approximately eleventy billion dessert recipes, and about 95 percent of those are chocolate-based. So it should tell you something that this non-chocolate dessert recipe is one of my all-time favorites. 

This is the apple pie recipe that finally allowed me to claim I could successfully make an apple pie. The filling is adapted from Nancy Baggett's fabulous recipe for "Favorite Deep-Dish Apple Pie" from her equally fabulous The All-American Dessert Book (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005). I put this wonderful filling in My Mom's Pie Crust, which is so good, you can put pretty much anything in it and be a happier person.

As an aside, I was looking for a recipe online the other day and had to wade through a lot of introductory prose to get to it, so I'm just going to jump right into the recipe here. Also, I really want to eat some more pie.

Yes, I Really Can Make An Apple Pie {print}

1 recipe Pie Filling
Pie Dough for double-crust pie (My Mom's Pie Crust or your own recipe or pre-made)

My Mom's Pie Crust
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into smallish pieces
1/2 cup shortening, cold
1 egg
1/3 cup cold water
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Throw in the pieces of butter and tablespoon-sized "portions" of shortening and cut all these into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or a fork or two knives. Whisk the remaining crust ingredients and toss with the flour mixture until it starts to form a ball. Add a couple extra drops of water if it seems too dry. Divide in thirds, form into balls, wrap in plastic, and chill until you want to roll out and use. (You need to at least rest and chill the dough for an hour or so, but longer is even better.) You can also freeze your dough portions for at least a few months. Whenever you use it, roll it out and bake it according to the directions for whatever recipe you're using it with. 
Makes 3 (9") single-crust pie shells. (You'll only need 2 for this pie, or just make 2 extra-large portions if you like to have extra to work with or scraps to bake.)

Pie Filling
11 cups peeled, cored, sliced apples (you'll want to use several different varieties of apples here for best flavor and texture...slice the softer apples like Macintosh a little more thickly and the more crisp apples like Granny Smiths more thinly)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (use the larger amount if your apples are really juicy...I used 4 tablespoons in my pie)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon milk, for brushing on top of pie dough
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling on top of pie

In a very large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan, toss the apple slices with the lemon juice. In a small bowl, stir together thoroughly the 2/3 cup granulated sugar and 1/3 cup brown sugar, the cinnamon, cornstarch, and salt. Add the sugar mixture and the butter to the apples; toss until well combined. Bring the whole mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring and scraping the pan bottom, for about 3 minutes, or until the apples cook down slightly; do not let the apples burn.


Pie Procedure
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and either coat the foil with nonstick cooking spray or line it with parchment.

Roll out one portion (1/3 of the total recipe) of My Mom's Pie crust and fit into a deep-dish 9" pie plate. Chill while you make the filling. When filling is ready, mound it into your pie shell, heaping it up in the center. Roll out another portion of pie dough and fit it over the top, crimping the edges. Brush the top crust (but not the edges) with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Cut a few slits to vent, and set the pie on your prepared baking sheet.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Coat a large piece of foil with nonstick cooking spray and use the foil to tent the entire top crust so it doesn't brown too much before your apples are tender. Bake (still at 400 degrees) for another 30-40 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling up at the edges and through the vent holes. You might also want to finagle a slice of apple out through a vent to check for tenderness. You want your apples tender but not mushy. 

Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least an hour. Serve with ice cream (à la mode) or without (au naturel).




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October 8, 2018

Autumn In a Sheet Pan Caramel-Apple Cake


I've confessed here before that Pinterest intimidates me, because it makes me feel like an underachiever. 

"How is it possible you've never done a pallet project?" or, "What do you mean you store your desk supplies in a plastic caddy you bought at the office supply place instead of in a repurposed tissue box you decoupaged with pictures of your children? What's wrong with you?"

Happily, Pinterest inspires my daughters, and they often send me links to things they've found there that they think we should make together. Even more happily, these things are usually baked goods...which is a language I speak.

The other day, in fact, my high schooler sent me a link to a caramel apple cake and asked if we could bake it together. I thought about it for possibly 1.1 seconds, because when your teenager wants to do pretty much ANYTHING with you, you jump on it. Also, I love caramel and apples. (And also, I love my teenager.)

I was completely on-board with the idea behind the recipe she sent me but not with the four sticks of butter it called for, so I set about coming up with my own version. My daughter and I baked it up the other day, and as soon as we tried a piece, we were very inspired—to eat more. So, Pinterest, I believe I owe you an apology...and a thank-you.

Autumn In a Sheet Pan Caramel-Apple Cake {print}

Cake:
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into pieces
1/2 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream (NOT fat-free)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 medium apples, peeled and grated

Icing:
1 cup brown sugar, light or dark or a combination
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) milk or half-and-half, plus additional as needed
2 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

What to Do:
1. Round up a sheet pan approximately 9" by 13" in size. You can fudge a little on these measurements...7x11 or 10x15, for example. But don't try to cram this quantity of batter into a 9-inch square or stretch it across a half-sheet pan. Butter the pan or spray it with nonstick cooking spay.

2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (yes) and make sure your rack is in the middle position.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg with a fork or whisk. Set aside.

4. In a large saucepan, bring the 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter and the water just to a full boil, stirring once or twice while waiting for this to happen.

5. As soon as the butter/water mixture boils, pull the pan off the heat. Dump the flour mixture into the pan, followed by all the remaining cake ingredients in the order listed. Stir everything together with a wooden spoon, scraping the sides a few times, just until everyone is in the party and you don't see any rebellious pockets of dry flour mixture.

6. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake emerges with moist crumbs clinging to it. Be careful not to overbake this cake. You want the aforementioned moist crumbs—not wet batter, but not a totally clean pick, either. A minute can make a difference here, so start checking early and keep checking often. As my mom always says, you can add cooking time, but you can't take it away. Remove pan from oven and set on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

7. When your cake has cooled for 10 minutes, make your icing by melting the 1 cup brown sugar, the 2 tablespoons of butter, and the milk or half-and-half in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook (keep stirring!) until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for 3 minutes, then add the confectioner's sugar and the vanilla extract and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and/or you have worked out all your frustrations, whichever comes first. If the icing looks too thick to pour easily (it will set up quickly once you pour it on the cake, so you don't want it too thick at this stage), add a little more milk or (even better) half-and-half, a few drops at a time, until you have a pourable but not runny consistency.

8. Immediately pour the warm icing over your warm cake and spread it evenly and without delay from edge to edge. (This will be much easier if you don't pour all the icing in one spot in the middle of your cake but rather bake and forth from end to end, nearly covering the entire surface just in the pouring.)

9. Allow the icing to set up for at least 20 minutes, then enjoy your cake warm or at room temperature. If you have any to store, be sure to cover your pan tightly with plastic wrap or foil so it doesn't dry out. Eating the entire cake the day it's made also solves this problem nicely. But I will say that this cake keeps well. I'll leave it to you to work out that paradox.



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