Mom’s Easy No-Bake Strawberry Pie

Strawberry pie with recipe and old poloroids

Today’s Musings:
I left my mother in her home town of LaPorte, IN, safely nestled at the foot of her parents’ graves.  Yes, my heart still aches with loss, but it is tempered by the feeling of “rightness” in our actions of bringing her home, participating in a ceremony of honoring, and closing out her life’s final chapter.

Perhaps this is what is meant by “closure.”

In the airport, waiting for my flight home, I began thinking about ritual and why it’s an important vehicle to help transport us through life.  How can the simple process of taking someone’s ashes to another location, placing them in the ground and saying a few words (or, in this case, singing a song) make the world appear to realign itself?  It felt like I sent forth a giant mantra of “let all be well” to my mom and the earth and all the mysteries of life.

Still, I’m left asking, “why does it work; why is it important?”  Donna Henes says, “Ritual practice is as old as humanity, developing from people’s compelling need to understand and connect with the infinite, archetypal, unexplainable mysteries of life. Rituals offered our ancestors a glimpse of the divine order as well as a sense of belonging to something bigger. It’s a ceremony of sorts which begins with thought, purpose and an identified aim. Also, it’s not passive, but participatory. There is no way to benefit from a ritual by just watching it, or by reading or hearing about it. It must be experienced to be affective, or effective, for that matter.”

Maybe that’s why it works.  It allows us to take a bit of control. We are no longer solely being buffeted by the uncontrollable events around us; we are able to take this small ceremony and manage it, focus our attention to it, set an intention and participate towards its fruition.  I cannot control life and death, but I can control this.

The other ceremony that comes to my mind is one I participated in 25 years ago.  Up to that point, I had struggled with the repercussions of an abusive childhood. I had read books about forgiveness, I had journaled my anger and bitterness in hopes of releasing them, I had made excuses for the abusive behavior and I tried repressing the memories as well.  Nothing seemed to alleviate my pain until I found myself, during a vacation in Sedona, participating in a medicine wheel ceremony.  During that ceremony, I was given the gift of allowing myself to leave one large piece of “baggage” behind within the wheel.  At that spot, in the middle of Boyton Canyon, on the hot dusty ground, I set down my bag of anger, hurt, bitterness and grief  – and I never looked back.  I left my baggage in Sedona, the best luggage I could have ever lost on vacation.  Could I have done it without the medicine wheel, without the burning sage, without the ritual, without the intention? I hadn’t been able to before.

Rituals and ceremonies with honest, sincere intention seem to somehow place our personal, spinning world back on its axis. They are a bit of control in the uncontrollable world.

Today’s Recipe:
In general,  I’m known for multi-step, slightly complicated desserts.  Today, I’m sharing an easy one with you.  For each family-member’s birthday, another ritual, mom would make us our favorite dessert. When I was young,  I always requested this pie.  I remember “Happy Birthday” spelled out in slivered strawberries across the top.  Lucky for me,  my birthday falls around the beginning of strawberry season, ensuring peak flavor.


Mom’s Easy No-Bake Strawberry Pie

  • Servings: One 9” Pie
  • Print

This is an easy, no-bake pie to make in Spring and Summer when strawberries are at their peak of flavor.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 graham crackers)
  • 7 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 oz. mini marshmallows
  • ¼ cup whole or 2% milk
  • 4 cups (about 1 ½ lbs.) cleaned, hulled, and thickly sliced strawberries
  • 2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream

Directions

  1. Combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Press along bottom and sides of a 9” pie plate. Set aside.
  2. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt mini marshmallows and milk in the microwave for approximately 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, until marshmallows are completely melted.
  3. While marshmallow mixture cools slightly, whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form.
  4. Stir sliced strawberries into marshmallow mixture. Fold in whipped cream in four additions. Spoon filling into crust until pie is generously filled. Chill for at least 4 hours before enjoying.

Swedish Apple Pie

Swedish Apple Pie on a blue background with pie cutter

Today’s Musings:
I first visited Mt. St. Helens in 2000, 20 years after the devastating blast in May, 1980.  The landscape didn’t appear substantially changed from the stark images I saw in Life Magazine immediately after the eruption.  Except for the blue sky,  it was as if we had driven into a black and white photo; shades of ash and smoke surrounding us.  Waves of fallen monochromatic grey tree trunks remained scattered across the somber mountainside, reminding me of images I’d seen of the civil war dead.   The area appeared decimated, lifeless.  But once we parked at the visitor’s center and started to stroll along the paths,  signs of life became apparent – dun-colored grasses,  knee-high alder saplings, purple lupine, fuchsia fireweed flowers, all punctuated by a few scurrying squirrels.   Slowly, life was reemerging from the destruction. 

My mother died, her adult children around her, in late August 2010; my former Love, and man who still possesses a chunk of my heart, ended his own life two days later.  Two people torn from my life in the span of 48 hours.  In the weeks and months following these losses,  I numbly went about my routine, elbowing waves of grief into the periphery, feeling as obliterated as St. Helens’ landscape.  I met Jake two and a half months later.  Opening myself up to a new relationship was like the first violet lupines popping their heads above my ash-covered earth.  I was tentatively taking the first steps towards reawakening, acknowledging I’d likely be hurt in the end, but possessing an optimistic soupçon of impetus to try.   

When I arrived at the wine bar for our first date,  the afternoon sun shone directly through the front windows, blinding me and obscuring Jake in shadow.  As I turned around to finally see him, my back to the window,  I felt like the bachelorette on The Dating Game when bachelor #3 rounds the corner and she can’t wipe the tinge of disappointment from her face.  He was shorter than I imagined – about 5’ 9”– and his teeth were in a terrible state, with a prominent chip in the front.  I later learned that was a result of an unfortunate run-in with a fork.  His eyes were a pale sky blue; his complexion ruddy. I noted and approved of his style – Vans, Levi’s and a rockabilly plaid shirt.  I glimpsed a tattoo on his wrist, a sneak peek of the ones I’d discover later. I’m a sucker for a tattoo.  His hair reminded me of Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20.  In fact,  he resembled Rob Thomas – after a bender.  I didn’t fall for him until our second date; I remember pulling up to the Oaxacan restaurant, finding him waiting for me outside and thinking, “Yeah, he’s cute.”  I almost didn’t agree to that second date.  By our third, I was enamored with that adorable, weathered, chipped-tooth face and found myself, sated and lying naked in his arms, tracing the tattoos on his chest with the tip of my finger.

Time heals,  we survive, and eventually poke our heads above life’s greyness, renewed.

Today’s Recipe:
How did I not know about Swedish Apple Pie?  Thank you to my friend, Joan, for turning me on to the easy-to-throw-together “pie.”  Of course,  true to form, I zhuzhed up the recipe a bit. If you over-fill the pie plate, be prepared for a butter pool in the bottom of your oven. 


Swedish Apple Pie

  • Servings: One 9” Pie
  • Print

Apple pie on the bottom, giant cookie crust on top. A winning combination.


Ingredients

  • 3 – 3 ½ large tart apples, peeled, cored, cut in half, and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup butter, melted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Freshly whipped cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter a 9” pie plate. Combine apples, zest, 2 Tablespoons sugar, and cinnamon. Arrange in pie plate.
  2. Stir together flour, sugars, and salt. Combine melted butter, egg and vanilla and stir into flour mixture just until combined. Spread batter over the apples.
  3. Bake at 350° F. for 50 minutes until top is fully cooked and crisp. Serve warm or room temperature with freshly whipped cream (optional).

Key Lime Tart

Today’s Musings:

Jump!
“I can’t.”
Jump!
“I’ll fall.”
Jump!
“I’m afraid.”
Jump!
“I don’t know how.”
Jump!
“I’m not a jumper.”
Jump!
“Others can jump further.”
Jump!
“Who am I to think I can jump?”

 Jump!
“We will steady you.”
Jump!
“You’re so close!”
Jump!
“Trust us; We will catch you.”
Jump!
“You’ll be great at it.”
Jump!
“Be Brave!”
Jump!
“We believe in you.”
Jump!
We’ll jump with you.”

Thank you for requesting baking demos until I said, “yes.”  Thank you for telling me when my words on the page move you. Thank you for giving feedback on my recipes. Thank you for believing I can write a book worth reading.  Thank you for reminding me I’m worthy of love. Thank you, to all my friends, who support, encourage, and push me just a little further.  I’m better for knowing you.   

Today’s Recipe:


Key Lime Tart

  • Servings: One 9-inch tart or six tartlets
  • Print

Mouth-puckering Key lime custard in a shortbread cookie crust garnished with raspberry coulis sauce.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 Tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 9 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
  • 28 oz. sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup key lime juice
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons grated lime zest
  • Raspberry Coulis (optional)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 12 oz. frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 1 Tablespoon raspberry or orange liqueur (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and melted butter. Pat dough on the bottom and up the sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake about 20 minutes until beginning to brown. Remove from oven and cool 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine condensed milk, Greek yogurt, lime juice, and lime zest. Stir until combined and pour into crust. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until tiny pinhole bubbles burst on the surface of pie. Do not brown. Chill tart thoroughly before serving. Garnish with raspberry coulis, whipped cream, shaved white chocolate or grated lime zest.
  3. To make coulis, combine sugar and water in a heat-proof liquid measuring cup. Microwave on high power for two minutes and stir to ensure all sugar crystals are dissolved. Combine simple syrup with thawed raspberries in a blender. Blend until smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir and push puree through a fine-mesh strainer to catch the seeds. Add liqueur, if using. Store in the refrigerator up to a week.

Simple Butter Cookies

Today’s Musings:
He leads me to his favorite dive, 2J’s Lounge in Fullerton – packed with barflies, blue collars, and tattooed chicks in tank tops. Two stools, lit by the glare of blue Budweiser neon, are open at the bar. He orders us Cuba Libres.  As we sit, our jeaned thighs lightly graze against each other and then rest, knees touching. Lust stirs between my legs at the sensation of our bodies testing this chemistry.  He brushes his arm against the back of my hand, gently places his hand for just a moment on my thigh as he speaks, as if not deliberately. I stroke the soft inside of his tattooed arm and rest my hand in his, fingers entwined. Alcohol has made me bold – enough of this game.

He kisses me. He doesn’t ask permission; he doesn’t hesitate. He leans towards me, his lips on mine, his tongue inside my mouth. Mmm…Yes. I like the way he tastes.

He’s not afraid to kiss me in this public place. His hand caresses my lower back, my waist. He kisses me with passion; his day’s worth of stubble leaving my chin raw. A wrinkled regular at the end of the bar shouts, “give her back her tongue!” We laugh, but I’m unsettled by his intensity, this lack of modesty among these strangers.

We kiss and drink and share secrets, finishing another round.  It’s late and we decide to leave the bar’s seediness, weaving our way across the parking lot towards my red convertible. I lean back against the rough cinder-block wall;  pulling him with me, kissing him, being kissed. We move to the side of my car. I feel him, hard and hot, pressed against my own desire. His chest is firm beneath my hands. I’m drunk off rum and yearning. Too fast, this is going too fast. My logic and this ache for him doing battle in my head,  I plead, “Let’s make this last; let me know your brain before I learn your body.” He doesn’t want to comply.

He asks to see me tomorrow. I’m making him wait until next weekend. A daytime date – an attempt to slow us down. He wants my body. I want something more.

Oh, but I do like the way he tastes.

Today’s Recipe:
In general,  I’m known for complicated, multi-step desserts that take most of the day to complete.  There is another side to my baking, however – the late night, small batch, craving something sweet, down and dirty, immediate gratification bake. This is a handful of recipes that ensure a confectionary pacifier can be in my mouth in less than 30 minutes, like these simple sugar cookies.  I can add whatever’s on hand to change the flavor – lemon zest, spices, shaved chocolate, nuts, jam or Nutella filling.  For the photograph above,  I made an ersatz “Biscochito” version, adding crushed anise, rolling them in cinnamon sugar and flattening them with the bottom of a glass.  From concept to cooling rack in 25 minutes.  


Simple Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 24 cookies
  • Print

When I’m craving something sweet late at night, these cookies fit the bill. I can add various flavorings or ingredients to doll them up – using whatever I have on hand.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ⅛ teaspoon vanilla (or other flavoring)
  • 1 ⅓ cups sifted all-purpose flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking sheet. Cream together butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy with a hand mixer or whisk. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Stir in flour. Form cookies into desired shape (drop, pressed, rolled, etc.) and bake 12 to 14 minutes, until just beginning to brown around the edges. Cool slightly and enjoy. Instant freshly-baked cookies, perfect for dunking.

Chocolate Chip Almond Cannoli

Today’s Musings: 
Behind my home,  in the backyard,  sits a small 14×10 foot back house. It’s been under my care for years and, during that time, has retained various names and uses: lean-to, shed, taco stand, guest house, photography studio, and, very recently, writer’s retreat. During the pandemic, I’ve fallen smitten with this tiny space, my private, sunlit sanctuary that offers a break from the suffocating four walls of this past year, providing an entirely different perspective without disobeying CDC orders.

Each weekend (and sometimes weekday evenings), I bound out the back door, skip along the winding flagstone path and turn the handle to this tranquil refuge overlooking the garden and well-frequented birdbath, providing me both the physical and mental space to write. I’ve become so enamored by my little hut of heaven that I’ve taken to sharing photos on social media. One of my friends, Oscie, recently commented that I “have and amazing life” to which I responded, “We ALL have an amazing life,  it’s just a matter of being grateful for the good bits and leaving the rest behind.”  Pollyanna I am not, yet I stand behind this statement. I’ve built a good life for myself and I’m grateful for many parts of it – a house I own, an amazing tribe of friends,  a secure job with leaders I respect, a knack for baking, a passion for writing, a blog that combines the two, a healthy body, a family so far unscathed by the pandemic – all  things I’m aware could change in an instant.

Yet, my life is far from perfect.  I could just as easily focus on the bad bits.  My extra time I’ve carved out for writing resulted from reduced work hours due to COVID, meaning a less stable career and less income. My snug little cottage of calm – and my house – are inhabited by pesky destructive termites,  something I’ll need to address sooner rather than later.  The verdant, wildlife-filled garden outside my window grows unruly with weeds from the recent rains, a day long project in itself.

I have a choice – we all have a choice – to focus on this life-altering pandemic, the people and things not in our lives, and our never-ending to-do lists…or we can delight in the good bits. For me, I’m choosing the latter.

The Retreat

Today’s Recipe:
Speaking of good bits,  I wanted to share this additional cannoli recipe that came out of my recent Holy Cannoli Dessert Duo.  This is the more traditional of the two.  The tart springtime lemon raspberry version can be found here


Chocolate Chip Almond Cannoli

Shaved chocolate, candied almonds, and just a hint of cinnamon recall traditional cannoli recipes, but this version is a step up – cannoli for those who don’t like cannoli.


Ingredients

    Cannoli Shells
  • 12 cannoli shells
  • 6 oz. milk chocolate
  • 3 oz. candied almonds, finely chopped (I used sliced honey roasted almonds from Trader Joe’s)
  • Filling
  • 10 oz. whole-milk ricotta, drained in a mesh sieve overnight
  • 8 oz. mascarpone
  • ⅓ cup superfine sugar
  • 1 ¼ cups milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions

  1. Prepare the shells: Melt the 6 oz. chocolate in the microwave by heating it at 30 second intervals and stirring until melted (about 90 seconds total). Dip both ends of cannoli shells in chocolate then in the candied almonds. Cool to set.
  2. Fill the shells: Stir together ricotta, mascarpone, and sugar. Add the milk chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and combine. Let rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator to allow sugar time to melt. Fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle with filling. Pipe the filling into both ends of the cannoli, filling completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Today’s Tip:
I used a food processor to make quick work of finely chopping the chocolate.