Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Caramel Apple Pie Bars

Since it's autumn and we have a jar full of this homemade caramel sauce, we're going to make caramel apple pie bars today. You didn't make some caramel sauce like I suggested? Okay, I'll wait 10 minutes for you to do it. Go ahead.

Okay, back to caramel apple pie bars. These beauties just scream fall. Picture apple pie on a buttery shortbread crust, topped with a crisp oat streusel, drizzled with rich caramel.

Also, no messing with pie crust! I personally have an 85% fail rate with every pie crust I attempt, so I welcome this way easier version.

Have them with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for a delicious dessert. Ours disappeared way too quickly, so I may bake a double batch next time.

Caramel Apple Pie Bars

print this recipe

Shortbread Crust:
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour

Apple Filling:
2 apples, peeled and sliced (1/4 inch thick)
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup butter, chilled and cubed
homemade caramel sauce

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line an 8x8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on the sides. Set aside.

Make the crust by stirring melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add flour, and stir until combined. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes while you prepare the filling and streusel. 

Make the apple filling by combining all filling ingredients in a large bowl until apples are evenly coated. Set aside. 

Make the streusel by whisking the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter with a two knives (or your hands) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside. 

Remove the crust from the oven, and turn the oven temperature up to 350 degrees. Layer the apples evenly and tightly on top of the warm crust. Sprinkle the streusel on top of the apples, and bake for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden brown. 

Remove from oven, and allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Lift the foil out of the pan, and cut into squares. Drizzle caramel sauce over the bars, and serve either warm or chilled. 

Makes 16 bars. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My Life in Verbs

Trying... to decide on a baby name. Oh, speaking of our baby...it's a GIRL (not a boy like I originally said here). At our first ultrasound at 12 weeks, our doctor said she was 80% sure it was a boy. Fast forward to our 18-week ultrasound, when the doctor announced with more certainty that the baby is a girl. Haha. We were pretty surprised (and just as thrilled). Anyway, now we have to figure out a girl name.

Feeling... frumpy. With my 19-week pregnant body, all of my clothes feel ill-fitting or uncomfortable. Ugh.

Loving... our surprise party we had for my dad's 60th birthday this past weekend. My brothers, sister-in-law, and nieces flew in from California, and we had a big party. It was a blast. 

Reading... East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Good, classic American literature. Has anyone read Grapes of Wrath? Do you recommend it?

Anticipating... a trip to Colorado Springs for a School of Spiritual Direction intensive. For a WEEK. By MYSELF. I haven't taken a weeklong trip by myself in ages, and certainly not since having kids. To say I'm excited for this is a massive understatement.

Watching... the new ABC series How to Get Away With Murder. So good! I love Viola Davis, and this mystery-legal-thriller snagged me with the pilot. 

Hoping... for friends here on Oahu. We have lots of acquaintances, but no friendships with peers where we know each other deeply. I forgot how true friendships are gifts that take a long time to cultivate. I know we'll have this eventually, but the interim feels hard. 

What have you been up to recently? Share a verb or two of your own in the comments.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Caramel Sauce

Have you ever tasted something, and had the response, "Oh, so THIS is what it's supposed to be!" 

That was my experience when I tried 10-year aged Wisconsin cheddar cheese, after a lifetime of eating mediocre cheddar cheese. 

Or when I tasted homemade caramel sauce for the first time. I realized that all other caramels that I'd previously had were sad, hollow efforts at the real thing. Starbucks caramel sauce, Smuckers caramel sauce...they don't come close to homemade caramel sauce. 

Making homemade caramel sauce from scratch is simple and quick, as I've learned from several times of making it. And the result is mind-blowing. The sauce is beautifully rich and sweet, just made for drizzling over ice cream, as a topping on a brownie, or mixed into an iced latte. Or if you're like me, you sneak spoonfuls of it straight from the jar. 

Before you begin, make sure you have everything ready to go, since cooking the caramel is a fast process. It takes no more than 10 focused minutes, but be sure you're not mutitasking - you do not want to burn your sugar!

Caramel Sauce
Adapted from Simply Recipes

print this recipe

1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Have all ingredients ready to go, as they need to be added quickly. 

Heat sugar on moderately high heat in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart or 3-quart saucepan. As the sugar begins to melt, stir vigorously with a whisk or wooden spoon. As soon as the sugar comes to a boil, stop stirring. You can swirl the pan a bit if you want, from this point on. 

As soon as all the sugar crystals have melted and the liquid sugar should be dark amber in color, immediately add the butter. Whisk until the butter has melted.

Once the butter has melted, take the pan off the heat. Count to three, then slowly add the cream to the pan and continue to whisk to incorporate. Note than when you add the butter and the cream, the mixture will foam up considerably. This is why you must use a pan that is at least 2-quarts (preferably 3-quarts) big.

Whisk until caramel sauce is smooth. Let cool in the pan for a couple minutes, then pour into a glass mason jar and let sit to cool to room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Warm before serving.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

10 Things I Learned In September

At the end of each month, I write about things I learned. This practice has helped me pay attention to life, myself, and God's presence. In no particular order, here are 10 things I learned in September:

1. Opening a cupboard and having a gecko land on your face is THE WORST THING EVER. I'm forever traumatized. 

2. American Ninja Warrior is one of the few shows that is equally entertaining to our entire family. I'm sad that the season ended already.

3. Reaching adulthood with your siblings and cousins is so much fun.

4. Communicating care and appreciation to people is good for the soul. I've been the recipient and giver of some thoughtful thank you notes recently, and it fosters so much joy and gratitude. One heartfelt letter from a friend brought me to tears. Pass on some thankfulness to someone in your life today!

5. Our family can survive up to one week of Steve being away on a trip. Any longer than that, and we all start to go into meltdown mode. 

6. At 17 weeks pregnant, I'm at that awkward in-between stage of looking like I either have a baby in my stomach, or I just ate way too many doughnuts. 

7. Milk + instant coffee + ice = a great, refreshing blended drink. It's been my midday ritual this week. 

8. I need friends who will give me permission to be weak and limited and imperfect. Those friendships are precious to me. 

9. My husband and I are in strong disagreement about the gender of the tooth fairy. I say girl, Steve says boy. I'm obviously correct, right?

10. You can make amazing homemade deep dish pizza with a cast iron skillet. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What to Expect When You're Expecting Again

After being pregnant once, each subsequent pregnancy is a completely different experience than the first.

The first pregnancy is the Honeymoon. You are a human-creating Goddess. Everything is new and beautiful. Even the uncomfortable moments like morning sickness are nature's pleasant reminder of the miracle growing inside you. Strangers look at your belly adoringly, and comment how lovely you look. Second (or third or fourth) pregnancy has lost the romantic novelty factor. You don't glow anymore...you're just crazy tired because you're waddling around, taking care of your firstborn. Strangers give you pitying glances at your stomach in the grocery store as you try to console a crying toddler. 

I'm currently in the second trimester of a third pregnancy. Which means that I have done extensive research on the differences between first and additional pregnancies. Here are a few things to expect when you're expecting again:


First pregnancy - You take notes when your O.B. runs through the list of pregnancy dietary rules, and obey them with vigor. No sushi, no alcohol, no soft cheese. You up your intake of folic acid and omega-3, and dutifully take your daily prenatal vitamin. Only the best nutrients for your little fetus. 

Second pregnancy - You realize that 9 months is way too long to abide by all those nit-picky eating rules. You eat some raw fish and have a few sips of wine, and feel free to not go crazy about the outside possibility of contracting a food-borne disease. If you're lucky, you remember to take a prenatal vitamin once a week. Mostly, you just hope that your baby can glean enough nutrients from ramen noodles and ice cream, because that's all you can stomach.

Shopping for Baby Stuff:

First pregnancy - There's a whole world of new things to get for your new baby. And people are excited to give them to you. So you spend hours upon hours researching the best strollers, carseats, and baby carriers out there. You create a baby registry, and get to open loads of cute baby stuff at your shower. 

Second pregnancy - No big baby showers. You have most of the stuff you need, albeit used versions with pasta sauce stains. All you really need at this point is to wipe down the high chair, and buy some new pacifiers because the old ones are in some sandy crevice in the car. Second baby has to be content with hand-me-downs. It'll build character, right?

Body Changes:

First pregnancy - Every change is an exciting milestone. You take photos of your growing belly each week. When you finally have enough of a bump to buy maternity clothes around week 20, you go on a special shopping trip with your girlfriends. People encourage you to rest and nap as much as possible; you happily comply. Your husband offers to give you massages and get you your favorite ice cream at your whim. 

Second pregnancy - Your stomach is so huge by the end of your first trimester, people think you're about to go into labor. You forget to take belly photos until maybe halfway through the pregnancy. But by then you don't feel beautiful; you feel huge and bloated, and you don't want to document your chubby face and butt. No naps for you, because you have a young kid to tend to. You pass out around 8pm every night from sheer exhaustion.

Birth Preparation:

First pregnancy - You research the birthing process extensively, reading every book and website possible. You watch videos on the Bradley method, write up a very detailed birthing plan, and discuss said plan with your O.B. Hospital bags are packed and doula services are procured months in advance.

Second pregnancy - Your water breaks before you even have a chance to think about the baby's birth. You and your husband scurry around at the last minute, getting someone to babysit your older child, and installing the carseat at the hospital.

General Emotions:

First Pregnancy - Every single milestone is exciting and momentous. You're anxious about being a first-time parent. Joy and anticipation are shared between you and your spouse. You feel overwhelmed with love for your baby.

Second pregnancy - Each milestone is barely noticed. You're so uncomfortable, you wonder if you can even make it to the end. You're anxious about being a parent of multiple children. Joy and anticipation are shared between you, your spouse, and your kid. You feel overwhelmed with love for your baby (again). 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Happy Things: Fashion Edition

For today's Happy Things, I thought I'd share some of my fashion favorites:

Abalone Necklace (Modcloth)
Great statement piece for both casual and dressy looks.

Comfortable and stretchy enough to wear before and during pregnancy.

Reversible tote (Nordstrom)
So many options with this reversible tote bag. Who wouldn't want this?
It comes in various colors. 

Your eye make up stays on all day long with this stuff. 
And it's super cheap! $1.00 in most drugstores or $3.88 on Amazon.

Someone buy this for me, please.

Silver ballerina flats (Jessica Simpson)
I wear these all the livelong day.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pesto Pull-Apart Bread

It's September, so how about we bake some bread? If I haven't already convinced you that homemade bread is the best thing ever, I haven't done my job and I'm sorry.

One of life's purest pleasures is baking bread. When you see bubbling yeast awaking in warm water, lovingly mix and knead dough, and smell a beautifully risen loaf baking in the oven, everything is right in the world.

Pull-apart bread takes some extra work, but is totally worth it. The dough is a simple French bread recipe that has become my go-to (also used in this sausage stuffed bread). Layers of bread are brushed with pesto. I used my own pesto, but feel free to use store-bought sauce to simplify the work.

The process of pulling off pieces of the warm bread begs to be a communal experience, which makes the bread extra enjoyable. This particular pesto pull-apart bread was shared over dinner with friends alongside a pasta dish.

Happy bread baking!

Pesto Pull-Apart Bread

print this recipe

2 cups water
2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cups canola oil
1 tablespoons Kosher salt
4 cups flour
1/2 to 1 cup pesto sauce 

Put 110-degree water, yeast, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for about 5 minutes until it gets frothy.

Add canola oil, salt, and flour. Mix ingredients. Slowly add flour. Knead for about 8-10 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball. Place dough in a large greased bowl, and turn once. Cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Place dough in fridge for at least one hour to make it easier to work with.

Roll dough out onto a floured surface into a rectangle about 20x12 inches. Spread pesto sauce all over the surface of the dough. Dough should look very covered. Cut the dough into 5 12x4-inch strips, then put the strips into one stack. Cut the stack of strips into 6 4x2-inch slices. Place the stacks sideways into a greased loaf pan. Cover with a dishtowel, and allow to rise for about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pan in the oven, and bake for 30 minutes, checking at 20 minutes to make sure the top isn't getting too brown. If the top looks like it's getting to brown, cover it tightly with aluminum foil for the rest of the baking time. Internal temperature of bread should reach 190 degrees.

Remove the pan from the oven. Run a knife along the edges and take the bread out of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.