When I first met Jay, he was living in a horse barn in New Boston, Texas. It was very simple, very dusty, and had tile floor throughout, no doubt to make it easy to sweep out all the manure he tracked in. And we loved it. We’ve moved 7 times since that barn apartment, and always said we’d make it back to a metal house someday. So when this house became available at the exact time we needed it to, we knew it was part of God’s plan for us.
We have lots of kids and even more critters. My floors are dirty, my laundry room overflows, my porches have chicken poop stains, when the wind is right (or wrong) the pig pen smells, my horses and chickens and probably some nightly visitors like to drag compost across the yard, some one always needs to be fed, bathed, or otherwise tended to…all in all, it’s just a constant state of perfectly harmonious chaos.
Welcome to the Smokin’ F
And this is where I sit now to share this post…because aesthetically, its gorgeous and creativity flows. And logistically, internet in a metal house in the middle of nowhere is lofty, at best. 🙂
This is our living room…where we really live. If we’re not outside, we’re here…probably because we all fit in it….and it has easy access to the kitchen. True story.
I was so happy to pack away the Carhartts from these hooks last week. Bring on the summer!
The heart of our home.
Bellied up to the bar is our favorite place to be.
Veggie scraps for the chickens, meat for the dogs and everything else to the pigs. So little waste makes me very happy.
Lists make me unbelievably happy. And I would be utterly lost without this one. I have to write my weekly menu on something I won’t lose…like a giant, red chalk board. Otherwise, it’s guaranteed I forget what I bought groceries to make. Plus, I think my hungry crew likes to know what’s coming.
My other saving grace…a calendar I made several years ago out of an old window. Kids, and the lack of sleep they provide, have pretty turned my mind to mush, so unless it’s clearly in front of me every day, I will absolutely forget. School, soccer, visitors, birthdays, holidays…how’s a girl supposed to keep all that straight?!?
Pinterest is full of sweet signs about tons of laundry being a good thing or about missing laundry when our kids are gone. But let’s get real. I needed some motivation I could really get behind.
It took me 2 coats of paint before I realized this oversized bathroom just needed some texture to warm it up.
Our bedroom. It’s really the first bedroom we’ve had that feels like a grown-up solstice from all the crazy. Don’t get me wrong, there are usually several kiddos in bed with us, and horses peeking in the windows trying to get a snack, but it’s nice to have a peaceful get-away.
The boys rooms
Y’all. I did not realize how much boys smell until they had their own bathroom. Ew.
The girls’ room
The upstairs cat walk is one of the coolest and most useful places we have. Kids can go up there, make a mess, and I don’t even see it for several days.
EXCEPT when we have visitors. Then, we boot the kiddos out and visitors lay claim to this space.
Air hockey, kitchen, dress-up, tea parties, karaoke, art wall…this is where the magic happens.
This is one of my favorite spaces. Its always a mess and they’ve lost most of the supplies we’ve bought, but I love giving the kids a place to show off their creativity.
The back yard….just makes me want to take a deep breath.
We all know I adore my laying hens. I spoil them rotten. And this is the reason I’ve put my Granny’s swing all the way from Rockdale, Texas, right here with my girls and my garden.
Our pigs. It’s not for everyone, I know. But they’ll be happy and loved…until they’re bacon. And there is an enormous satisfaction I get from knowing exactly what my kids are eating.
This part of the Smokin’ F is the hardest to capture on camera. It’s unbelievable. When you walk in this natural hideaway that spans our back hill, you literally don’t hear anything except birds chirping and trees blowing. It smells like I imagine a rainforest smells…fresh and clean. There’s a cave and a sinkhole…and that fascinates us all. I can’t wait to see the club houses that will be built back here as the kids grow.
I’ve had this recipe drafted on here for over a year. But I just couldn’t quite wrap my brain around how to start it. You see, the wonderful woman who shared this with me is a fellow BBQer. I can’t even say I know her well. But I can say, what I know, I love. I so admire the love and adoration she and her husband share. I love that they have big hearts, margaritas after a competition, and dogs they love like family. I love that they appreciate a good Bourbon as much as I do. And I hate that she posts amazing Tex-Mex and Creole dishes that I just can’t get here in Tennessee! She and her husband, Johnny, are just salt of the earth, good people.
So, I first asked Patty for this recipe to make Jay a superb birthday dinner in May of 2017. Not only was it a success, it became a family favorite. It’s simple and amazing all at the same time. You can make it spicy or kid friendly, or somewhere in the middle, with just the shake of a hot sauce bottle. And just as Patty taught me way back when, all good Cajuns eat their gumbo with a big ol glob of potato salad. And now, we never cook it without it. 🙂
1 lb sausage, sliced
1 lb chicken
1 lb shrimp (optional)
1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
32 oz. of chicken stock (or 32 oz water and 4 Tbs. chicken paste)
32 oz. of water
Cajun seasoning (Tony’s is our favorite)
2 green onions, chopped
6 servings cooked rice
Crusty garlic bread and your favorite potato salad for serving
1. Cut your sausage and chicken into bite size pieces.
2. In a large skillet, brown your meats in 2 Tbs. oil or bacon grease.
3. Set aside.
4. In a large pot, make your roux. Over medium low heat, whisk 1/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup flour until it’s light brown and smells nutty. Do not walk away!
5. Add in your chopped onion and celery and cook until slightly wilted.
6. Mix in your meat, 32 oz chicken stock (Or 32 oz. water and 4 Tbs. chicken paste), and 1 Tbs. of Cajun seasoning.
7. Add in another 32 oz. of water or enough so that it’s about 2 inches over your meat. At the end, you can add more stock to make it thinner or a can of cream of chicken soup to make it thicker.
8. Bring to a boil.
9. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until your meats are tender.
10. While simmering, cook your rice.
11. To serve, fill the bottom of the bowl with rice. Ladle a couple scoops of gumbo, and top with a spoonful of your favorite potato salad and a slice of crusty garlic bread.
Last year, I picked a song that fit the year for our family, and filled it with pictures and videos from our farm. All of you and your big ol’ hearts made it easy to pick the song for this year. Love, love, love y’all!
I always questioned if my faith would waiver in a time of tragedy. I wondered if I would cry out, “Why God?” I wondered if I’d feel abandoned or angry. I wondered if my relationship with God would falter. I wondered if I’d question what I’d poured my heart and soul into since my teenage years.
February 7, 2018 at 5:30 am, I got my answer. I woke up to the familiar ding of a text message from my Mom. I talk to my Mom, who is an hour behind us in Texas, every single day at 8am EST after I drop my kids off at school, so a message this early surely meant something was wrong. As I rolled over to read the message, I smelled the very faint smell of smoke. I looked around my bed, checked all the power strips close to me and then wrote it off as a lingering pit outside or a pair of my husband’s smoky overalls in the bathroom. We own a barbecue business, so I wasn’t immediately alarmed.
Since I was awake, I went ahead and started my morning like I do any other. I got up before the rest of my house. I love being a mom and a wife, but those few minutes without anyone needing anything from me are invaluable to my day. It was cold and raining outside, so I flipped on the heat to get the chill out of the air before the kids’ feet hit those cold wooden floors. I poured myself a cup of coffee that I’d set to brew the night before. I sat down at our island that was the absolute heart of our home to finish up my grocery list and respond to emails. Around 6:45, I poured myself a second cup of coffee and set off down the hallway to start waking kids up.
My boys got up, took showers and were dressed surprisingly early. As they ate breakfast, they perused the book fair pamphlet. Most mornings, I carry my girls to their carseats sleeping, but this morning they both came walking sleepy-headed down the hallway. It was 7:11 when I put my cup of coffee in the microwave to reheat (probably for the 3rd time) and started rummaging through my wallet to scrounge up enough money to send with my boys for the book fair.
That’s when the first smoke detector went off. My parents had visited at Thanksgiving and my Dad had changed every single battery in every single smoke detector, so I knew it wasn’t a low battery. But nothing was cooking and I saw no smoke, so I assumed it was a bug or dust clogging the sensor. I calmy walked through the house….still no smoke. I walked across the living room to the glass French doors that connected to our garage, peered around the corner and saw a wall of flames. Not a flame. Not a smiggen of smoke….a 20 foot tall, 30 foot wide, wall of flames reaching towards the front of the garage where I stood at the doors.
I ran to the back of the house and hollered at my husband, who was in the shower, that the garage was on fire. I grabbed my phone and the kids and gathered them at the front door. I dialed 911. At this point, there was still no smoke in the house. Jay came running out, naked, mind you, to those same glass doors. I got all the kids out of the house and told them to get in my suburban. Thank God, that in that moment, those little boogers actually listened. My boys grabbed my girls and 2 of the dogs and climbed in. I ran around the outside of the garage where our barn was attached to the house. My chicken coop was gone. But somehow all 11 of my chickens were out and huddled as far from the fire as their run would allow. I opened the gate, but they wouldn’t move. The flames were so big and outreaching, I didn’t think I could get to them without getting burned, so I had to leave them.
Around the corner, those same flames were reaching over the heads of my stalled horses. I ran around and opened their gates and shooed them out to the pasture. They ran, hell bent for election, away from the house.
I ran back around to the front of the house, still on the phone with 911. Jay was outside trying to put on a pair of overalls. The kids were in the car. My 5 year old daughter was screaming for her house pig. When I ran out of the house less than 2 minutes before, there was no visible smoke in the house. I ran back in to get her pig. I ran straight to her bed in the laundry room, but couldn’t see my hand in front of me for all the smoke. I patted her bed, felt she wasn’t there and started to run back out. My corgi dog, Ranger, was trying to come in but wouldn’t come to me, so I slammed the back door and ran out the front, closing the door behind me to keep him out.
Jay backed up the suburban as far back in the pasture as he could. Because of all the pits, we knew we had at least 4 propane tanks in danger of exploding. Ranger and our last dog, Cue both came running around the front and we piled them in my car too. Our house pig, the chickens and my son’s barn cat were unaccounted for.
There Jay and I stood, our whole lives in my Suburban, shoeless in the cold rain watching our house burn. Even in that moment, when I had no idea what was to come, I knew it my heart it was going to be ok.
Our neighbors and friends showed up before the fire trucks. My phone started ringing and dinging with texts and messages and calls before I even knew what to say. The look on our friends’ faces seemed to mirror the expression we must have been wearing. They hugged us. They put spare boots on our feet. They stood with us when none of us knew quite what to do.
My horses were running circles around us, and too close to the front gate for my comfort. Without a rope, or a halter, I tried to hold on to one of them. They’re a duo, and I knew if one was calm, the other would be too. Our kids and dogs were still in the suburban. My boys, who are normally rambunctious and antsy, were surprisingly calm and working hard to calm down their sisters. My 5 year old was still crying for her pig, Fiona.
The fire trucks arrived. They lined my driveway. They sank in my front yard. They backed my husband’s truck out of the driveway and our side by side out of the barn; both partially melted already. Every time I turned around, someone else was walking past us, many of whom I didn’t even know. As the firefighters began to put out the fire, our neighbors showed up to take my kids. It had been raining for days, so my suburban sank and was stuck in the mud. Thankfully, those same great neighbors are farmers, and were quick to drive a tractor over to pull us out. Even in that chaos, my kids were tickled pink to be hooked up to a machine that big.
About that time, friends came from the back of my house to announce they’d found Fiona! In true pig fashion, she’d taken advantage of the moments we were all preoccupied with the house burning to gorge herself on the dogs’ food on the back porch. Watching my daughter’s face change from fear and terror to relief and joy to see her pig again was indescribable.
Except for a few poignant moments, the rest of the day is a blur. I remember a fireman bringing out Jay’s bible and Smokin’ F hat that were sitting on his dresser. I remember him saying, “The bibles never burn.” I remember calling my mom. I remember my friend Chris saving all my chickens and my wedding and Aggie rings. I remember finally looking behind me and seeing trucks and tractors and trailers lining my road as far as I could see. I remember the smell. I remember everyone trying to take me away from the house but refusing to leave. I remember crying all day….Not because of my house, but because I couldn’t believe how good people were to us. And I remember someone saying, “You are all ok. You all made it out. This is going to be one huge inconvenience, but you’re going to come out better on the other end.” Even in that moment of chaos, I knew in my heart that was true.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The next few days were a whirlwind of insurance, red cross, donations, emotions, shopping and phone calls and the reason I’m writing this. Your head may be spinning like mine was. You may not have the support and guidance like we did. And you may be wondering what to do first or next. So here’s a practical list of the days and months following the day we lost our home.
The Next 1 0 Minutes: The list of things to do when you’re all of a sudden homeless grows exponentially. Paired with the emotions and the exhaustion, it can seem insurmountable. My husband, who handled so much more of the business side of a fire, kept saying, “I just have to focus on what I’m doing in the next 10 minutes.” And when he finished that, he’d focus on the 10 minutes after that. And as the days went forward, it turned to the next hour. And then the next day, until we got to a place where we could stand back and see the bigger picture. Make a list. Tackle it one thing at a time and eventually you’ll be able to cross off more than you add.
The first list: Practically, think first about replacing prescriptions, toiletries, clean pajamas, comfortable clothes and cell phones. You’ll likely be sifting through the remains of your home in the coming days. The foam from the firetrucks and the burnt belongings becomes toxic and can cause skin irritation. Know ahead of time, everything that goes back into the home will come out black and smell terrible. Work gloves, tough hand soap, and rubber boots are invaluable.
Insurance: Read everything. And then re-read it. And then get an opinion from someone not in the same emotional state. The day after our fire, a very nice, older woman from our insurance agency showed up at the house we were staying at. She was comforting and spoke gently which was appreciated. She came with a stack of legal documents to sign and a big, fat blank check. I’m so thankful my husband had the foresight to question every bit of it, while I was gullible and trusting. He refused to sign one of the forms, even upon her threat of not being able to move forward without it. Long story short: That form would have taken some of the liability off of the insurance company. We would have forfeited some of our benefits. And despite what she threatened, they proceeded with our claim and never asked for it again. If nothing else, it set the precedent right up front that we weren’t going to be pushed around. Unfortunately, even in a homeless state, big business is big business. And no matter how sweet their smile, they have a job to do. Pay close attention, listen more than you speak and be aware that they’re not necessarily on your team.
Pictures: Take pictures of EVERYTHING! The longest, most grueling part of losing everything is trying to make a list of contents. For months (and I hear, years) you’ll think of things you used to have. Most of it won’t come to mind until you need it. Those post hole diggers, those nail clippers, that pair of winter boots, those fancy earrings you only wore for special occasions. Take pictures of absolutely every cabinet, every shelf, everything that is left to help you start your list. And then tell all of your friends to do the same as a precaution in the event they ever lose their home to a fire, a flood or a storm.
Be Patient: No one is going to move as quickly as you’d like them to. The insurance, the contractors, the investigators, the contents crew….it takes lots of time.
Just Say Thank You: Donations poured in from every direction for us. We were so blessed to be surrounded by people who gave and gave and gave. People were so selfless that my husband and I had a hard time accepting such generosity. We felt like we needed to give back and repay the favors. The evening of our fire, our neighbor, Mrs. Becky, looked us right in the eyes and said, “Just say Thank You. Let them bless you.” I don’t think I said Thank You one time without tears in my eyes, but we learned to accept. We remain, to this day, overwhelmed with gratitude for all everyone has done for us. And we now actively look for ways to bless others in similar situations. Don’t rob someone of their blessing of blessing you. Just say thank you.
Donations: On the other hand, it’s ok to say “No, thank you” sometimes too. So many people have the absolute best of intentions when they rummage through their closets to bring you clothes, but what they fail to realize is you might not have a place to put any of it. We no longer had a garage or a closet or an attic or even a bedroom, so the boxes and bags got overwhelming very quickly. I’m so thankful my parents and friends sorted bag after bag after bag of clothing for us. My husband and I were so busy trying to find a house and a place for my animals and deal with insurance and investigators that we never would have gotten to many of the bags. If someone has offered help however you need it, this is great to delegate out. They can easily weed out sizes and seasons you don’t need and help you get those to a donation center where they will go to someone else in need.
Deciding What To Save: It’s tempting to scoop up every charred belonging you have with the intention of washing. I had 6 weeks to go through my home before we were able to start demolition. Almost every day, I walked through and pulled something out. My Granny’s china, 2 of my favorite tables, my Mom’s cedar chest. Some of it I was able to bring back to some extent and some of it I wasn’t. And some of it, I haven’t even gone through yet. The further we get from the fire, the less I can tolerate the smell of those few boxes. I feel guilty saying it outloud, but I wish I hadn’t saved some of it. Now I feel responsible for trying to clean it or refinish it, but I also feel so ready to put it all behind me. As hard as it is to let go of familiarity, both sentimentally and structurally, the stuff is not what it once was. It’s ok and even freeing to let it go.
Perspective is Everything: A week or so after our fire, I found a picture of my girls from February 6, tucked in their beds, with matching pajamas and dolls. At first, it made me sad because it was the last picture we’d taken in our house. And then, I was overtaken with gratitude because it wasn’t the last picture of my girls. It’s so easy to see what was lost. It’s so tempting to focus on how hard life has been since that day. But it’s so much more rewarding to focus on the good. I look back and see how thankful I am my Dad changed all of our smoke detectors just weeks before our fire. I choose to see that my Mom’s uncharacteristic text message got me up and moving earlier than usual that day. I focus of the reminder that people are still good and still have such big hearts. I look back and see that God’s hand was on us long before that smoke detector went off.
So did my faith waiver like I feared it might? Not one bit. We live in an imperfect world where bad things happen. But now, more than ever, I know God turns some of our biggest tragedies into some of our biggest blessings. Somehow I feel closer and more in alignment with God’s provision than I ever have. I am sure that we are in the right place doing the right thing. We still have ruts outside our gate from the trucks that skid in to help. And I don’t mind seeing them. Because every day that I pass them, I’m reminded how many people came to help us. I’m reminded how good people really are. And I’m reminded that God wasn’t surprised when our smoke alarms went off. He’d prepared us and the people around us long before we had any idea what was fixing to happen. I literally wake up every morning now thinking, “I can’t wait to see what God’s going to do today.”
Hands down, one of the comfiest comfort foods around. Creamy, cheesy, packed with veggies, and warm pasta. It’s perfect for a cold winter night or a quick prep before a summer baseball game. It’s also excellent (Jay argues better) frozen and reheated. So make lots and freeze some for later!
From our table to yours, Chicken Spaghetti!!
16 oz thin spaghetti
8 cups water
2 Tbs. chicken paste
1/2 onion, chopped finely
1 stalk celery, chopped finely
8 oz sliced mushrooms, rough chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped finely
3 T. butter
1 jar pimentos
2 cans cream of mushroon soup
1 can rotel
2 c. + 1 c. sharp cheddar
2 c. monterrey Jack
1 rotisserie chicken, meat pulled off the bone and rough chopped
1. In a large pot, bring 8 cups of water and 2 Tbs. of chicken paste to a boil. Cook your spaghetti al dente according to package directions. Drain pasta and return to pot.
2. In a large skillet, melt your 3 T. of butter. Saute onion, celery, mushrooms and green pepper until tender.
3. Add sauteed veggies, and the remaining ingredients to your cooked pasta and mix until creamy.
4. You can serve it straight from here or spoon into a casserole dish. Top with additional 1 c. of cheddar and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes until cheese is bubby.
5. Can be frozen up to 6 months. To reheat, thaw in fridge for 24 hours, then bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes until reheated and cheese is bubbly.
My first three stops when I cross the Texas state line are Whataburger for a number 1- add jalapenos, Bucees for all things Texas, and HEB for veggie chips and jalapeno artichoke dip. (And that’s just the beginning of my quest to eat my way through the state.) Now, I won’t claim that this recipe is quite as good as HEB’s but it’ll definitely do until I get back home!
So from our table to yours,
1 can of artichokes, drained and chopped
1/2 cup of sour cream
1/2 cup of mayonnaise
1/3 cup of pickled jalapenos (mild, medium or hot, depending on your preference); drained and chopped
1/2 cup of shredded fresh parmesan
2 green onions, chopped
Mix all ingredients.
It’s amazing cold or hot! Cover and refrigerate or pour into a glass baking dish and bake at 400 for about 10 minutes until bubbly. I love it with veggie or pita chips but tortilla chips are never wrong. Serve with your favorites and dream of all things Texas.
Every good Texan knows two things about Kolaches: One, you never drive through West or Caldwell without stopping to get some, and two, you always get enough to share. At the holidays, coordinating who will bring kolaches is just as important as coordinating who’s making turkey and dressing. (At our house, we count on Aunt Cindy and Uncle Paul.) There are lots of chain restaurants and donuts shops that sell them, but nothing beats the little hole in the wall kolache shops with stained tile floors, a leaky faucet in the bathroom and the same three laminate booths that customers have sat in for 50 years.
This Czech/Tex pastry is sweet, but savory; fluffy; but filling, delicate, but hearty. So I knew when I decided to tackle the art of making them, the chances of getting it right the first time were slim. My first batch was too dense and the filling ran out. The second batch would have been perfect….if I had been making danishes. The third batch was a charm. It took me the better part of a day, but they were so worth the wait. They were glorious. So for those of you, like me, too far away from home to get our fix….
2 packages of yeast
2 Tbs. sugar
1/2 c. warm water
1 c. sour cream
1 cup whole milk
7-8 cups flour
1/2 c. melted butter
2 beaten eggs
1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. melted butter
your favorite fruit preserves or filling
Cream Cheese filling (recipe below)
Crumble Topping (recipe below)
Cream Cheese Filling
6 oz. cream cheese
1/4 tsp. lemon juice
3 Tbs. sugar
1 egg yolk
1 Tbs. butter, melted
1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1. Stir your 2 Tbs. sugar into 1/2 c. warm water. Sprinkle in 2 packages of yeast. With the back of a spoon, I gently dunk the yeast into the warm water. Let it sit until the yeast is foamy.
2. Meanwhile, mix milk and sour cream. Add in yeast mixture.
3. Add 2 c. of flour. It should be pretty runny at this point, like pankcake batter.
4. Mix in 1/2 c. melted butter, eggs, sugar and a pinch of salt.
5. Slowly add in 5 to 6 more cups of flour. Too much flour makes it dense and tough, so it’s better to have too little than too much. Add 1/2 c. at a time until your dough is smooth and tacky. I used my dough hook on my kitchen aid to get it started, but kneading it in by hand really proved to be the best route for me.
6. Set your oven to 350 degrees, and let preheat for 3 minutes. Then turn it off and your light on.
7. Coat a large bowl with nonstick spray or butter. Place your smooth ball of dough in the bowl, and cover with plastic wrap.
8. In your oven that is OFF but warm, place your bowl. Let it rise until doubled in size, an hour to an hour and a half.
9. Punch your dough down, and pinch off dough to make 1.5 ounce balls. I fight extra steps when I cook, but weighing the dough out gave me uniform kolaches with just the right consistency….no small, burnt ones or big, raw ones. You can get a scale for less than $10 at Wal-Mart. Worth. It.
10. Using a silicone brush, butter your cookie sheet or glass baking dish. You can certainly make more at one time on a baking sheet, but I’ll be so honest and say, I prefer my glass baking dishes for cookies, pastries and breads. There’s no science behind it and hard core bakers may shudder at my confession, but I stand by it. Everything just comes out softer. With this batch, I made 1/2 on my cookie sheet and 1/2 in a baking dish. We unimously voted for the baking dish version.
11. If you want the traditional rectangle shaped kolaches, your balls have to placed very closely together on your baking sheet. You want them to rise up, not expand out.
12. Brush the tops with butter, and gently cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel.
13. Return to oven until doubled in size. Oven off, but light on.
14. While they rise, prepare your fruit filling or cream cheese filling. Mix all of your crumble topping ingredients in a separate bowl until crumbly.
14. Using your fingers, make an indentation in the middle of each dough ball just big enough hold a couple of tablespoons of filling. Gently drop in your filling, and sprinkle with topping.
15. Cover one last time with a tea towel or plastic wrap and return to warm oven and let rise again.
16. Once they have returned to big and fluffy, remove from the oven. Preheat your oven to 375.
17. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until they’re fluffy and lightly browned. Watch them closely, though….I’ve had some batches finish quickly and some took a few more minutes.
18. My kids circled me like vultures as they finally came out of the oven for good. And we sampled all of ours immediately. Vanilla Pear, Jalapeno Apple and Cream Cheese. Our next batch will definitely include my personal favorite…Poppy Seed!
My great-great grandmother was known for her sweet caramel pie and her even sweeter spirit. She was alive until she was 99 years young. Unfortunately for me, she suffered from Alzheimer’s most of the 15 years I got to know her, so I never got to try that legendary caramel pie. But I do hear about it year after year, so this holiday season, I thought I better attempt my own. The simplicity and nostalgia of a caramel pie has always intrigued me.
My first ever caramel pie was gorgeous with a mile-high meringue. But it didn’t set well. My second pie set perfectly, but we decided it lacked pizazz, umph, the X factor. So for the 3rd attempt, I took a public vote. Add apple, pear, or both? We ended up somewhere right around a tie….so I went with both!
It turned out amazing! We loved it. The fruit just added some texture and depth to the already glorious caramel flavor. You could easily do just apple or just pear, but the tart apple and the sweet pear complimented eachother so well. So enjoy!! As with any recipe, make it your own, so that it graces your table often.
For the Crust:
5 c. flour
1 1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. butter flavored Crisco
1 1/4 c. milk
pinch of salt
For the Fruit:
3 Granny Smith Apples
2 T sugar
For the Caramel:
3/4 c. sugar
2 c. milk
3 egg yolks
4 Tbs. flour
3/4 . sugar
1 T. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
For the Meringue:
4 egg whites
1/4 c. sugar
1. For the crust, sprinkle a pinch of salt into your flour. Cut in your butter, and mix until crumbly.
2. Add in the milk and mix until smooth.
3. On a well-floured surface divide dough into 2 manageable balls. Knead in more flour until the dough is really smooth and not sticky.
4. Roll out one of your balls until its roughly 14 in. in diameter or big enough to cover your deep dish pie pan in the bottom and up the sides.
5. Carefully fold it in half and using a large spatula pick it up and place in your pie pan. Unfold and gently press into your pan and crimp your edges. *The remaining dough can be vacuum sealed or put in a freezer bag and frozen for your next pie*
6. Pie experts have pie beads to pre-bake crusts…..but I don’t, so I use mason jar lids to keep the crust from bubbling. Whatever you use, place on your crust, and bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes, or until your crust starts to brown.
7. While your crust cooks, slice your apples and pears into bite size pieces. I like to leave the skins on, but most people don’t. So peel your fruit or don’t. Make it yours!
8. Place in a heavy bottomed pot with the sugar, and cook over medium heat until softened. Remove from heat, and let cool in a separate bowl. You’ll need the pot.
9. Don’t forget about your crust! Remove from the oven and let cool.
10. In the same heavy pot you used for your fruit, caramelize 3/4 cup of sugar. Whisk it often over medium heat until it begins to turn brown and liquify. Don’t rush this step…too much heat will burn your sugar instead of caramelize it. You’ll definitely smell the difference!
11. While your sugar is caramelizing, mix your other ingredients in a separate pot. 2 cups of milk, 3 egg yolks, 4 T. flour and 3/4 cup of sugar. Whisk continuously over med-low heat until thickened.
12. The custard and the caramel should finish at about the same time. When they do, pour one into the other and whisk continuously.
13. Continue to whisk until it’s thick….even thicker than it already is; about 5 minutes. This is the step I cut short in my first attempt…and the reason my pie didn’t set.
14. Spread your cooled fruit into your pie crust.
15. Pour your thickened caramel custard over your fruit. It will set as it cools.
16. In yet a separate bowl or with a stand mixer, beat your egg whites. Add in the sugar and continue to beat, until stiff peaks form. Stiff peaks just mean when you pull the beater out, the whipped egg whites point straight up. They don’t curl over like a wave.
17. Gently, with a rubber spatula, scoop your meringue out onto your pie. It’s important that your meringue touches the crust on all sides or it will flop.
18. Bake in a 425 degree oven until it’s starting to brown on the spoon lines. Don’t walk away…it happens quickly.
19. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before cutting.
20. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge, but the meringue will start to disappear and flatten after about 8 hours.
This mornings’ church sermon was all about embracing interruptions in our lives….you know, when things don’t quite go according to our plans. In true God fashion, that was exactly what I needed to hear today. Because, you see, this whole past week has been one big, fat interruption.
It was fall break. I had big plans of wooing my kids with movies, chic-fil-a lunch dates, horses, maybe even some go-karts. Everyone else was headed to the beach or Disney World…. the least I could do was make this break at home a memorable one.
And then some creepy crawly venimous insect decided to bite the top of my head Saturday. I was miserable and bedbound until the next Friday….the whole. darn. week. So the second I felt better, we made a delivery, ran some errands, made it to the Main Event for a few hours for some bowling and video games….and then my face swelled up like a pumpkin and I headed back to the house to hide!
Even though it wasn’t anyone’s fault I got bit, I was beating myself up that I hadn’t done more with them. I was sad that when they went back to school, their stories from fall break would pale in comparison to their friends’ grand adventures.
And then I heard that sermon. And I looked back at the week and realized how much good had happened. I loved that my kids were happy with simple pleasures like new legos Daddy brought home. And how sweet my Paisley was when she squeezed my neck and told me she was sorry I felt bad. And I realized how much we all loved staying in our jammies all week and how much I appreciated that my husband made me laugh even when I looked like Quasimodo. And suddenly, I realized maybe this was really the break we all needed.
And as if all that wasn’t enough….I took this seclusion time yesterday to play with some new recipes. I hadn’t made time to do that in too long. So to say I enjoyed it would be an understatement.
And this was the result.
So embrace the interruptions. Hug your kids. Love your husband. And make pie 🙂
For the crust:
5 cups flour
2 cups butter
1 cup milk
Dash of salt
For the filling:
5 Tbs. softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup light Karo syrup
1 Tbs. vanilla
1 1/2 cups pecan halves or pieces
3 granny smith apples, sliced thinly
1 tsp. cinnamon
1. Mix your crust ingredients together until a smooth dough forms.
2. Divide in half. Om a floured surface, roll one half into a circle big enough to fill your deep dish pie plate. Freeze the other half for next time…because there WILL be a next time 😉
3. Lay your apple slices to fill the bottom and sprinkle 1 Tbs. of sugar and 1 tsp. of cinnamon over the top.
4. In a separate bowl, beat your eggs for several minutes until they’re light and fluffy.
5. Add in the softened butter, Karo syrup, and vanilla.
6. Pour over the apples.
7. Top with pecan halves or pieces.
8. Bake at 350 for 1 hour until the filling is set. Be sure and check the crust around 40 minutes in. If its getting too dark, just lay a piece of foil over top for the rest of the time.
9. Remove from oven and let cool. If you’re feeling adventrous, add a scoop of Bluebell Homemade Vanilla. That little bite of home makes everything better 🙂