Tag Archives: Chocolate Cream Pie

Finding… and Sharing Joy

26 Sep

A little more than a month ago I took a  trip with my sister to begin the process of emptying our Dad’s condo in Florida. We thought the process would go faster, yet each time we picked up an item it would bring back a flood of memories. At first we were chiding ourselves for taking so long to complete the task.  Soon, however, we came to the realization that we needed to take our time to honor the memories and feel the emotions that bubbled up.  We needed to find joy in our sadness.


My Mom and Dad with me at 1 week old.

The day after I returned from that trip, I gave a pie making demo at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. In the front row sat a very accomplished doctor.  While I was preparing the pie dough and rolling out the crust, he asked lots of questions and was even taking notes. When I lifted the crust to place it in the pie dish, he was clearly amazed at how easy I’d made it look.

At that moment I stopped and asked him, “Dr. John, please tell me how many x-rays do you think you’ve read in your career?”  He seemed perplexed but answered, “About 40,000.”  I then replied, ” I am going to guess that you can read an x-ray a lot better than I can.  And because I’ve made hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pie crusts, I can probably do it a little better than you.  It just takes practice.”

The kind doctor laughed knowingly and then I encouraged the rest of the folks there to enjoy the process of learning to make pies.  The cost of ingredients is nominal and if you screw up terribly, you’ve only lost a few dollars and maybe even learned a valuable lesson. More than likely though, you’ll end up with something tasty.  I’ve given away more than 500 pies, and not one person has ever called to complain that their pie wasn’t perfect!


A Rustic Blueberry Peach Tart for our friends Russ and Sarah

In an article entitled “Seven Strange Questions to Help you Find your Life Purpose“, author, Mark Manson, asked this question: “WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT YOU TODAY THAT WOULD MAKE YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD SELF CRY?”

Manson goes on to explain that as kids we did things for the sheer joy of doing them and somewhere along the way to growing up we stopped doing them. I’ve been mulling about that question a lot and on our last camping I took along water colors and paper and painted a few pictures. I did not do this because I am hoping to become a famous artist but rather because it made me feel happy.


A Quiche Lorraine for Ed 

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, it is pretty clear that the world could use more happy people.  While I don’t have the answers on how to fix all that is wrong, I do hope to encourage a few of you to remember your 8-year-old self and ask her what she misses doing now.  Maybe she wishes you were painting, or dancing, or singing.  Or maybe she wants you to spend some time in the kitchen baking someone a pie and spreading a little joy.

“Find where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy, is to miss all.”  ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

P.S. A few weeks ago I met a woman named Sylvia at Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport (what are the odds?). Soon we were talking about pies and she told me she knew a woman who gave away a pie a day for a year.  I said… “But it was me who did that.” Afterwards, Sylvia sent me this link. In her Ted Talk, Vicki Hardin Woods says that I inspired her to give away a year of pies!  How sweet is that?

Am I just baking or ….?

12 Aug

The summer after I graduated high school, a boy that I really liked drowned. I was only seventeen, and somehow in my young heart I thought he was “the one.” For quite some time I did not know how I would continue to live. Truly, it was devastating.

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Prep for A Raspberry Peach Cobbler

I needed to find comfort from someone in authority, so I went to the Baptist church up the street (where my little sister was in Bible school) and asked to speak with the minister. When I told him what had happened, the first question he asked me was “Did he accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior?”  I just looked at him and stammered, “Well, he was Catholic” and then he said, “Unless he had accepted Jesus, he is in Hell.”  This was not helping… and so I left quickly and decided to call the minister from my own church.  When I reached him, I told him I needed to talk to someone and he told me to come right away.

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Gluten Free Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

When I arrived, he invited me into the house where I’d babysat for his kids many times. After I told him what had happened, he shared some thoughts on the Presbyterian view of the afterlife (Hell was not emphasized) and after a while I felt better and got up to leave. If only he had not added these parting words: “Karen, you had me worried.  I thought you were going to say you were pregnant.” This was not what I needed to hear from the man who’d been my pastor for ten years.


A Cobbler to Celebrate a Legal Marriage!

Two different men of faith, and with both I was left feeling completely lost and alone. No one suggested counseling – or even prayer – at that time, which is too bad because  I know I could have used it.  What did help me way back then was something that still sustains me to this day. Baking.  I began to bake every day. I brought cakes and cookies and all kinds of goodies to all of our friends, relatives, and neighbors.  Death was something out of my control, but baking—I could handle that.

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A Chocolate Cream Pie in honor of my friend’s Dad’s passing

Perhaps this is why in the last few months, I have baked many, many pies. Baking grounds me, makes me feel better, and when I am baking, I am putting all of my heart into the process.  It doesn’t hurt that it brings smiles to the folks that receive the fruits of my labor.  I think  perhaps I have found a delicious way for God to work through me… and that feels like the best comfort of all.

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A Four Berry Pie

“Where love is, there God is also.”  Mahatma Gandi


Home again, home again…

3 Feb

With yesterday’s snow on the ground outside, it was hard to believe that we just came home from two weeks by the ocean in Mexico. We’ve been going to the same town – Barre de Navidad – for a number of years and this year we brought a couple of friends with us and introduced them to “our” small Mexican town. At first, I wondered if they would love it as much as we do… after all, it is not a resort town in any sense of the word. Fortunately, they did. We all enjoyed sitting on the beach, playing games, eating tacos (thank you Ritchie Ruiz!), and sipping the local beer. It was really a wonderful time.


George and Joyce

Emile and me

Emile and me

Before going to Barre, I collected an assortment of gifts to bring along. Usually when you sit on the beach, vendors approach selling their wares.  Most of the time, we say, “No, gracias.” However, I would also ask, “Tienes ninos?” Most every vendor did have children, and then I would ask how many and their ages. Once this was determined, I would let them choose a gift for their kids. It didn’t cost me much, was fun for me to do, gave me a chance to practice my Spanish… and I made friends along the way!

gifts for Mexico

Beanie Babies, Crayola Crayons and Pencils, etc.

We had friends visit us in Barre as well. David and his wife, Rosalba, used to live in Ashland but now have returned to their home near Guadalajara. When they know we will be in town, they make the long drive to spend time at the seaside with us.  They are salt of the earth folks and we feel like a part of their family. Somehow we communicate quite easily because hearts will find a way to do that if you give them a chance!

Ramirez family

Leslie, Miriam, Rosalba, and David

Because I really need to make pies, I brought along ingredients to make a few. I hauled several pounds of cookie crumbs and a half dozen pie tins through TSA (I wonder if that even seemed strange to them?)  Of the five pies I made, three were coconut cream and two were chocolate cream and  I know at least two were delicious as we shared them with our friends.  One of the three pie “gifts” went to an old man recovering from a recent illness. He didn’t really know me but we had stayed at his inn about five years ago. I walked in and (all in Spanish) explained that we had once stayed there, that our friends stayed there the week before, and that we really loved Barra all while holding the pie.  I sensed his confusion and finally blurted out, “Esto es un regalo… gracias por todo. ” The smile that appeared on his face was absolutely glorious! Lesson: Next time, lead with the part about the gift and maybe those other details won’t even be necessary!

pie prep in barra

Parts of the pie-making process

coconut cream pie in Barra

Coconut Cream Pie

marketplace bowls

A trip to Mexico wouldn’t be complete without a day at a local crafters market. The bright colors of the pottery and the array of shining silver jewelry are stunning!  I’d love to take it all home with me… but alas, that is not possible. Instead, I limit myself to a few items as gifts and a few more as colorful reminders of our time there.

Market Vendor

Jose Ruis Montoya and Artesanias Huichol

Beach items

Gifts from the Sea

Each time as we walked the beach, I took a bag to pick up debris because I really feel that Barra is my beach and I want to do my part to take care of it. Occasionally we would find evidence of the recent hurricane but, all in all, the playa was pretty clean. I found this spigot and couldn’t leave it behind though I don’t know what I’ll do with it yet. The beach glass is something my Mom used to collect and I think of her each time I find a piece.

At the end of two weeks, it was very hard to leave Mexico behind because I feel so comfortable and at home there. It was shortly after returning from Barra five years ago when I began my pie project because I realized just how much I have to be grateful for. For many reasons, I think that a part of me will always remain in Mexico even when I am home again… And, really, that is as it should be.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”  Confucious



Living On Mexico Time

4 Feb

Emile and I were lucky to have had the chance to spend almost two weeks in Barra de Navidad, Mexico and have just recently returned from that trip.  It was a wonderfully relaxing time for both of  us – we enjoyed long walks, swimming in a warm ocean, catching up with old friends, and making new ones.

This is a blog about gratitude and so I thought I would share photos of a few of the reasons I have to be grateful.



Having the chance to see cool and unusual creatures!


Spending time with dear friends.


Being able to bring supplies to the local school.


Watching as our favorite beach was undergoing much needed restoration.


and then thanking the backhoe operator for his hard work with a Coconut Cream Pie!


Finding our old friend, Jose of the Malecon, at his new workplace!


Playing Scrabble or Bananas with Emile almost daily!


Delivering one last Chocolate Cream Pie for our “hostess” Cynthia on the day we left.


And lastly, having a warm safe place to come home to.  Many thanks to the good neighbors that watched over our home and our fluffy kitty while we were away.  We’re both so grateful that we were able to take some time to unwind… and very thankful to have been missed while we were gone. We’re lucky ducks to be sure.

As we sat in the airport in Los Angelos awaiting our flight, I was texting with my son, Coco, and in trying to explain the affinity I feel for Mexico  (the people, the weather, the food, and the bright colors everywhere), I said, “I think I was Mexican in a past life” and he wrote back, “Mom, I think you’re still Mexican!”   You know, he just might be right.

A wise man travels to discover himself.  James Russell Lowell

Take vacations… go as many places as you can.  You can always make money; you can’t always make memories.  Unknown



A Wonderful Life for Someone else may be lacking one ingredient: You

26 Jan

It's a Wonderful Life

The movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” centers around the life of George Bailey, a man with big dreams who ends up living his life humbly and honorably in the small town where he grew up.  At one point in the film, George contemplates suicide because he is in a desperate financial situation and he has been led to believe that he is worth more dead than alive (via his insurance policy). Fortunately, George is helped to see the true value of his life (the good he’s done, the friends he’s made, the family he is a part of) byway of Clarence, an angel who wants to earn his wings.  In the final scene we witness George Bailey surrounded by his family, friends, and neighbors. They have all come because they heard that he was in trouble and they wanted to help. As George is letting this all sink in, his brother, Harry, raises a glass to toast him saying, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town.”

The first time I saw that film, I was barely out of my teens.  My Mom had suggested I watch it as it was the late night movie that day and I must have looked a bit sad coming home from a date.  The movie grabbed my from the start and I watched transfixed til the end and hoped that my sobs were not loud enough to wake the rest of the family.  Clearly, the film had made an impact.

Why do I tell this story?  I suppose it is because I am often reminded that it is the little things that we do that really matter the most… the friendships we make, the kindness we offer, the joy that comes from shared experiences… even when things don’t go as planned.  In fact, often those times are the most memorable.

For the past week, Emile and I have been in Mexico and a few days ago we were able to meet up with old friends.  They drove five hours to spend time with us (okay, they were also going to the beach).  Neither of us is fluent in the other’s language… my Spanish is fair at best) but we find ways to communicate.  We spent two days together discovering new beaches: Boca de Iguanas (the sign near the bay there says “No Swimming: Crocodiles”), Tenicatita (no amenities and a military presence made this beach unappealing), before settling at Melaque for swimming, working a jigsaw puzzle, and sipping Modelos.

P1030724ramirez family in barra

Karen and Rosalba;  David, Miriam, Leslie, Rosalba with me and Emile

The day our friends arrived, I made a coconut cream pie to share with them and one of our favorite restaurateurs. Unfortunately, that taco stand was closed that day and so we found another taqueria and made new friends there.  I gave the pie to our waiter and asked him to please keep it cold until we’d eaten.  After our dinner, I went to retrieve it and when he opened th fridge we saw the pie tilted on its side oozing out of the pie tin.  The worried look on his face was instantly removed when I laughed and told him that it was okay… it was after all, just a pie!  As it was a few days before David’s birthday, we sang to him and each enjoyed a bit of mushy pie.  Life is good!


After David and his family left, we returned to our usual routine… walking the beach… and for me, that also means searching for shells.  As we were standing by a fisherman, I found a particularly strange one and showed it to him explaining that I loved the surprises that come with each wave.  He looked at the shell and said what I had was a “regala de la mar” using the same words as the title of Anne Morrow Lindbergh‘s book, Gift from the Sea.  My thoughts exactly!

Later in the day, we sat under an umbrella and the waves kept bringing up bits of plants.  The tiny older woman who had rented us a table looked so small compared to the task she faced at cleaning the beach (read: impossible), and so for a little while I raked for her. You can imagine the looks I received from locals and tourists alike… but I just needed to do something!  Afterwards, the old woman and I laughed at the never-ending process and shared a moment of understanding. Pretty amazing how easy it is to do that if you give it a shot.

That evening we found our way to our first taqueria bearing a Chocolate Cream Pie.  I’d been told the day before by Mario, our young waiter, that the reason they were closed was so that the whole family could celebrate his 13th birthday. That must have made him feel pretty special!  And I wanted to honor him as well… and what else would I give him but a pie?


As I close, I want to leave you with this thought: we really never know what another person is going through… and our words and actions may be the one thing that makes or breaks their day. I’m sure it wouldn’t take long to think of a situation in your world needing help.  Maybe you can’t fix it… but it is likely can make a small difference. We simply can’t rely on angels like Clarence to do it for us… sometimes, it is up to us.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. Dalai Lama

It’s Springtime!

25 Mar

P1000824I’ve always loved springtime… daffodils popping up in the yard, asparagus and strawberries appearing at the market, the chill of winter fading, and a sense of new beginnings circling.  Last year at this time I was traveling to Florida because my Dad had a stroke.  During that time I barely noticed the world around me because I was busy learning medical jargon and trying to make sense of things.

This year, life still is presenting challenges, my Dad’s health being one of them.   As always, for me the hardest part about this journey is that I am not able to “make him well” and that is hard to take.  I want to know that my efforts have some effect, but the truth is that sometimes they don’t.

When things are out of my control (and aren’t they always?) I gravitate towards areas where I feel like I am making a difference.  One of those places where I have found myself doing that has been at my neighbor’s house.  Anny and her new baby boy, Sebastian, are living there.  Sometimes I can help Anny by holding Sebastian while singing and rocking.  If I am lucky and he falls asleep in my arms I almost feel as if I have been awarded the Nobel Prize. In other words, my skills have been validated.

Yesterday I baked an Asparagus, Red Pepper, and Chicken Apple Sausage Quiche for Anny.  I know that taking care of a new baby (and nursing him) is very demanding… and I wanted to give her a special treat for doing such a great job as a new Mom!


I also baked several batches of Pecan Shortbread cookies this week.  I LOVE those things.. and really, what’s not to love? These cookies are a simple combination of sugar, butter, flour and pecans… and they’re delicious!


Some of those cookies made it into the hands of the men who delivered my new Kitchenaid oven yesterday (oh my goodness… it is so lovely!) and some of them were given to a homeless man who held a sign saying “Anything helps.”  I’ll admit, I ate two of them and could easily have polished them all off!

Finally, yesterday I made a Chocolate Cream Pie for some friends at a local radio station, Kool 103.  Once again, I was the lucky winner of a prize… and to thank them I dropped off the pie.  Making goodies for them has long been my tradition… and I think that there’s a slight chance that they might even look forward to me winning!


Tonight I send good wishes to you all for a Happy Spring… and if you are in the mood, try out this recipe.  You’ll be glad you did!

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup chopped pecans

Mix butter and sugar together until creamy.  Add vanilla.  Stir in flour until just combined and then add the chopped nuts.  Take tablespoonfuls of the cookie dough and roll into balls.  Roll the balls of dough in sugar and place on cookie sheet; gently flatten each dough ball.  Place pan with cookies into oven preheated to 350 degrees and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are beginning to brown around the edge.  Remove cookie sheet from oven and let cookies cool.  Enjoy!

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”  Julia Child

Sharing our Gifts

18 Feb

When I am alone at home I often sing along with songs on the radio.  When I was younger, I sang with the school chorus and also in the church choir.  I guess you could say that I am a singer… but it’s not a gift that I share with the world.   Oh, I’ve been known to sing babies to sleep and after a glass of wine, I sing along with my friend Mark as he plays guitar (he calls this Karenokie).   Somewhere along the line I decided to hide that part of me… or maybe I just protect it from scrutiny.


Another thing I like to do is play with paint.  I’ve painted cards for friends and painted rooms in my home, but it’s not what others would call art.  It’s just fun for me, and again, it’s not a gift that I openly share.

And of course you all know that I love to bake.  Long ago I learned this skill and found something in it that spoke to me and also discovered that it was a way for me to connect with others.   When I was a kid, and a new neighbor moved in, I would tell my Mom that we needed to bring them a cake for I’d learned that from TV shows like Donna Reed’s.

Fortunately, my Mom didn’t try to stop me and baking became a way for me to get to know many neighbors and friends over the years. Baking is something I do almost every day whether I need to or not.  I love everything about baking and have found that for me it is a way to share that love with those around me.

In the last week I made three pies.  The first one was a quiche and was gifted to a friend who is facing a transition.   I hope that this asparagus, roasted peppers, and cheddar cheese pie makes evident our love and support to her and her family.


Then on Valentine’s Day, our exchange student, Lucka, moved to her next host family.   Since we’ve been so blessed to have had a great time with her, I wanted to send her off to her new family with a gift and a Chocolate Cream Pie just seemed perfect for the occasion.


It’s been great having Lucka live with us for these past two months and I hope that her new family has as much fun getting to know her as we have.  One of our favorite things about this time together has been  listening to Lucka laugh at silly videos such as this one.  Her boisterous laugh is priceless!

Finally, yesterday I made a quiche for a woman that I’ve never met.  Another friend found out about my pie story and asked if I would gift her friend a pie. Seems the woman is battling cancer but right now has an appetite and needs to gain weight.   Well, a bacon, pepper, and jack cheese quiche should help with that, and I hope that the love that went into it’s making will strengthen her as well.


We all have gifts and many times, for one reason or another, we choose not to share them.  My hope is that at least one person reading this will share his/her gift with someone they care about.   It would be a shame to die with your gifts still inside.

“Your talent is God’s gift to you.  What you do with it is your gift back to God.”  Leo Buscaglia