Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pumpkin Crunch Bars (Translated: pumpkin pie you can eat with your hands and no one will stare at you)

Fall has finally arrived. And with it, everything pumpkin.
   These bars are legitimately breakfast food because they have eggs in them. A lot of eggs. And when you wake up and shuffle to the fridge to pull out your USDA-approved pasteurized/homogenized feedlot milk product to pour over your USDA-approved, GMO, fake-wheat cereal product and there they are, staring you in the face... don't be self-righteous and tell me you'd resist. They're probably better for you than cereal anyways. I'm not into food right now; nothing really tastes good, but these kind of hit the spot for some reason and they were fun to make. (If you've got little kids, this would be a tasty, super-easy project.)
   I didn't like the original crust recipe, it's too much like a cookie and not enough like a pastry. And since every pie crust I've ever made is comprised of equal parts butter and shortening (sorry, but I swear by Crisco for stuff like this!), flour, salt, sugar, water, and vinegar, I threw the above mentioned ingredients in a bowl and just made my own. It's pretty darned good stuff, pie crust. The original recipe also said to "cool the crust for at least 30 minutes," but I just can't wait that long. And it turned out fine. The filling is great, but next time I'm going to add a little bit of maple syrup and see if it intensifies the pumpkin flavor. I also doubled the spices.
   So I guess it's my recipe now since I've changed it so much.
Note to other people with dairy allergies/sensitivities: Before you read any further, know that this recipe does contain butter and cream cheese. But it's baked. (Duh.)

Pumpkin Crunch Bars

Crust:
1 stick (1/2 c) unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 c vegetable shortening, chilled and cubed
about a teaspoon of salt
about 2 tablespoons of sugar
about a tablespoon ice water
splash apple cider vinegar
About 2 1/2 c all-purpose flour (just eyeball it and add more if you need to)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients together. Cut the butter and the shortening into the flour mixture until the pieces are the size of small peas. Add the water and vinegar; mix with a fork until it just comes together. Dump into a well-greased 13x9 glass baking dish, press flat with your hands. Bake 20 minutes or until just golden brown.

Filling:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
15 oz pumpkin puree (homemade is best, but if you use canned I won't judge you)
4 c powdered sugar, sifted
5 eggs
1 stick (1/2 c) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment (or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer) beat cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. Add pumpkin puree and beat 2 minutes more. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, add the butter, vanilla, and spices and beat until blended. Pour over crust and bake 50 minutes. Cool completely, refrigerate, and cut into bars. (I was tempted to skip the refrigerating part, but they taste so much better.)


Monday, October 7, 2013

Dancing

"I can only imagine."
   Those words have been with me for nine years. I don't remember a whole lot from when I was little; bits and pieces come back here and there. Emblazoned upon my brain for all eternity, though, is a memory of walking into my great grandmother's kitchen where she then offered me a handful of jelly beans. I was two at the time; she died soon after.
   Also emblazoned upon my brain for all eternity is the memory of my Aunt Lisa's funeral. I was six. Though I don't remember exact details about the service -who was there, which stories were told, etc- those words have been with me all this time. The phrase, "I can only imagine" is, of course, a line from a popular song by the same title from a group called MercyMe. And the song was, of course, played at the funeral.
   At six years old, death is still a pretty foreign concept. I've heard people respond to the question, "Will I die?" with some version of the words, "Yes, but not for a long time," especially when asked by a child. It may very well be a long time, but for all we know it could be tomorrow. I've been to my fair share of funerals -being a pastor's kid it was all but required- and most of them were for old people who had been sick for a long time. One, however, wasn't. I was maybe eight; I'd struck up a bit of a friendship with a girl who was maybe a year or two older than me. She was severely injured during recess at school and died within a few hours as a result. We never know when it's time.
   At six or even eight, death is so hard to understand, so hard to make sense of. But now it's pretty clear to me that death is just the beginning of something great. Sometimes I wonder how it's going to happen or what it will feel like and I will admit it's a little disconcerting, but I know where I'm going. And it's okay.
   To this day, nearly every time I hear Aunt Lisa's song I break down and cry because it's true and it's beautiful. "Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart fear? Will I dance for you, Jesus, or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine, I can only imagine." I think she is dancing for her Lord.
   Yes, the words remind me of the past and the grief there, but they also remind me of what I've got to look forward to, and the joy that is yet to come.