Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pumpkin Tiramisu



Today I am excited to introduce to you a good friend of mine, Pauline.  Pauline is married to one of Mr. Vittles childhood friends, Bryan, and over the years she and I have found we have a lot in common - particularly a love of cooking & baking!  She is a middle school English teacher, so she also happens to be a great writer.  She has always been a wonderful supporter of V&B and I am honored to have her guest post.  She's been kind enough to share not only a special Thanksgiving recipe with us, but also a peek into her holiday traditions.  So a big thank you to Pauline, and a Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thanksgiving is a bittersweet time for me both literally and figuratively.  The sweet part is that Thanksgiving is a holiday that symbolizes my two favorite passions…family and cooking!  I love the shades of amber and scarlet leaves, I love the flavors of nutmeg and pumpkin, I love the sounds of neighbors of all ages playing touch-football in their yards, and the scent of thyme and mirepoix sautéing in preparation for stuffing.  On the other hand, the bitter part is that my job prohibits me from ever hosting my own Norman Rockwellesque Thanksgiving. On top of enduring an hour commute each way, I am a teacher and have 80 parent conferences the days and nights leading up to the holiday.  It is exhausting.   In addition, my husband and I travel from New Jersey to Queens, New York and battle at least three hours of white-knuckle driving in order to celebrate with 45 members of  his side of the family.   It is well-worth the drive, and I love that his family’s tradition has become my tradition;  however, it presents me with a conundrum. 

What do I bring to Thanksgiving dinner that does the following:

  • is not time-consuming
  • travels well
  • does not require me to use an oven or do any preparation in someone else’s kitchen
  • reflects the elegance of the holiday and stands out in a crowd of golden homemade pies

The answer… pumpkin tiramisu.

Pumpkin Tiramisu

The basic version of this recipe appeared in Bon Appetit in November 2006.  I made major changes in the ingredients and measurements.  This recipe must be made 1 day ahead of time, which makes it perfect for Thanksgiving.  I serve it in a glass trifle dish because you can see the layers and colors.  The quantities below will fit your basic trifle dish.  However, you can use any deep serving dish.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ¼ cups chilled whipping cream
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 12 ounces of mascarpone cheese (it comes in 8 oz. containers)
  • 22.5 ounces canned pumpkin (I prefer Libby’s Pure Pumpkin, and it comes in 15 oz. cans)
  • 1 ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 packages of halved, soft ladyfingers  (24 total) *
  • ¼ cup of Frangelico (It is a hazelnut liquor)
  • 1 bag of Gingersnap cookies (I prefer Archway and crush them in a Ziploc bag with a hammer)
  • 1 bag of toffee bits or Heathbar bits (found in the baking aisle)

Preparation:
1)      Beat whipping cream and sugar until soft peaks form.  Add mascarpone cheese, pumpkin, and pumpkin pie spice; beat just until filling is smooth.
2)      Line bottom of trifle dish with one layer of ladyfingers (crowd them in and cover the bottom).
3)      Lightly brush ladyfingers with Frangelico.  Air on the side of caution.
4)      Spread about ¾ cup-1 cup of pumpkin filling over ladyfingers.
5)      Cover filling with a thin layer of crushed gingersnap cookies and toffee bits/Heathbar bits.
6)      Repeat layering (ladyfingers through toffee bits/Heathbar bits) until you reach the top of the trifle dish.  The final layer should be the gingersnap cookies and toffee/Heathbar bits).
7)      Cover tightly, and refrigerate overnight.  Serves 8.

*Note:  Lady fingers vary in quantity by brand.  I prefer the soft ladyfingers because it is easier to layer in a round trifle dish.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Apple Crumb Pie

***If you can find it in your hearts, please help the victims of Hurricane Sandy by making a donation to the Red Cross... every little bit helps!***


So if there's one thing I've learned recently, it's that your world can be turned upside down in a matter of weeks.

Just for kicks, let's look at a little timeline, shall we?
  • Monday, October 22, 2012: First day of Maternity Leave (23 days prior to my due date)
  • Thursday, October 25, 2012: Mara Melissa is born at 37 weeks at 2:44PM - 6 lb, 7 oz, 19 inches
  • Saturday, October 27, 2012: We are discharged from the hospital at 12PM
  • Monday, October 29, 2012: "Superstorm Sandy" hits the Jersey Shore - we lose power around 7PM
  • Thursday, November 1, 2012:  Mara is admitted to the hospital with jaundice
  • Friday, November 2, 2012: Mara is discharged from the hospital
  • Saturday, November 3, 2012: We drive to my hometown of Point Pleasant Beach to see the damage, and return home that evening to find our power has been restored
  • Monday, November 5, 2012: Mara has her first pediatrician visit and is now 6 lb 10 oz - the doctor is very happy with her progress
  • Wednesday, November 7, 2012: Nor'easter brings 7 inches of snow to our area, and we lose power again

So essentially, I went from being giddy about my last day of work and making freezer meals & apple crumb pie to being a stressed-out vampire.

For those of you that are interested... let me take it back to the beginning.  Warning: I am a proud, new mama and I happen to have a lot of stories to tell at the moment - so for those of you just here for the apple crumb pie, I hear you, see recipe at the bottom ;)


Anywho... Thursday morning of October 25, I woke up very early with some pesky abdominal cramps.  I thought maybe I was finally experiencing those Braxton-Hicks contractions I kept hearing so much about.

But as the day wore on, the pain got worse & worse.  I tried to power through it, cleaning pretty much the entire house and doing other various chores on my to-do list (like paying the mortgage & watching a 30-minute mandatory work presentation online about taxpayer confidentiality- woo hoo!).  But eventually it got to the point where I could not concentrate on anything.  The only thing that gave me even the slightest relief was a hot shower.

I had an appointment with my OB practice at 2:30PM, but by noon I feared I would not make it til then.  The pains were severe & coming in waves, but not in any recognizable pattern.  I truly thought something might be wrong with the baby.  I called the doctor's office & asked if there was any way they could take me earlier, and they told me to come right then.

Luckily their office is less than 10 minutes away, so after a painful ride there and pacing laps outside the office waiting area, I was seen by an OB.  She did an exam and looked at me dumbfounded. "Honey, you are in LABOR. You're 6-7cm dilated and you need to get to the hospital right away.  How did you get here?"

I told her I drove, and she deduced that if I made it there, I could make it another 10 minutes to the hospital on my own.  So she called the hospital and off I went, calling to explain to Mr. Vittles on the way that I was... in labor?  And he better come to the hospital as soon as he could.  And ... "Ugggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  Sorry, contraction."

Unfortunately the area where he typically works is about an hour from our house, but I figured that was plenty of time.  From everything I'd heard about labor, I'd be in the hospital for quite a while before our daughter made her appearance.

Which was a good thing & a bad thing, because that meant I had a number of HOURS more of this pain?  Get real.  I was already dreaming of an epidural.

I pulled up to the valet at the hospital, stunned him with my contraction-bearing, grimacing silence, and he figured out pretty quickly that I needed a wheelchair up to the maternity ward.  When I got there (by this time it was about 1PM), I was greeted by nurses and another OB in the practice, Dr. Keelan.

From that point on things got a little blurry.  I got situated in my bed, got hooked up to an IV & fetal monitor, and they called the anesthesiologist.  When he arrived, he was taking his time, waiting "to get some of those fluids in me"- meanwhile my contractions were barely giving me time in between to breathe.  Getting impatient, the nurse pointed out to him that I was already more than 8cm dilated - labor was progressing quickly and there was no time to wait for the slow drip to enter my system.

"What! Why did you wait so long?" he asked, and she snapped "Because she just got here!"

Holding completely still for the number of minutes it took to actually do the procedure was perhaps the hardest part of the whole birth process for me... but 15 minutes later I was feeling great.

Until about 20 minutes after that when I was feeling ... pain again?

According to Dr. Keelan, that meant it was time to push.  At that point, Mr. Vittles had arrived, and also my stepdad Chris (who actually got there first because Mr. V called & told him he had to drive home from work).  I couldn't believe she was almost here already! What happened to the hot bath and massage & breathing techniques that my 'coach' and I learned in childbirth class?  The closest I had gotten to the bathtub that day was scrubbing it.  This was not the endless hours of labor that I had been anticipating.

But Dr. Keelan told me that how long this next part took was up to me - some women push for hours.

Hours? Oh no.

Thankfully, after 15 minutes of some determined pushing (not to mention faces & noises I never knew I could make) Mara Melissa was born!  Since everything went so quickly, our little angel looked pristine... not to mention she had a full head of hair.


We hadn't even settled on any names yet, so we got to work reviewing our mental lists.  One name they both had in common was Mara, so that seemed like a no-brainer.  Her middle name is after my husband's sister, Melissa (the cat-dancing extraordinaire).

While we were in the hospital, we kept hearing about this hurricane Sandy that was supposed to come up the eastern coast & make landfall in New Jersey within a few days.  After the problems Irene caused for us last summer, we started getting nervous.  If we lost power for days again, this time it would be cold - and more importantly, this time we would have a newborn.  We called around to area stores looking for a generator, but there were none to be had and no promise of any coming in.

By some miracle, my father-in-law found a lead on a new shipment coming to a Home Depot in Philly.  He got up early in the morning, drove all the way out there & waited on line.  From what I understand he was one of the last to actually get one off of the truck.  He truly saved the day as we would soon find out.

When we got home with Mara on Saturday, Mr. Vittles got right to work preparing for the storm.  Other  than spending a little time with Mara's many visitors, he barely rested that day or Sunday.  By Monday, we were nervous watching the forecast - unlike most hurricanes that come this far up the coast, this one was not projected to make a right turn out to sea - in fact, Sandy was making a beeline for our area.

By Monday night, it got extremely windy and our power went out that evening.  Mr. V got the generator going and we were able to power a decent bit of the house (most importantly at that point, the television so we could see what was going on).  Outside, a piece of siding blew off the house and a large tree branch crushed part of our fence.  We eventually moved down into the basement because we were afraid something might come through a living room window.

Not impressed with Superstorm Sandy

Neither one of us slept that night.  I was up with the baby most of the night anyway, but we were both pretty stressed.  The following morning, we turned the TV back on and saw what damage Sandy left in her wake.  My hometown of Point Pleasant Beach, NJ (just 10 minutes from where we live now) was devastated.  I read on Facebook that my stepdad and his wife had a foot and a half of water through their whole first floor.  They just spent so much time this past winter renovating the house, only to have their hard work ruined.

As the day wore on, the terrible stories and images kept coming.  People died from trees falling on their house, people's homes burned to the ground in massive fires that were unable to be put out (or sometimes, even accessed) by firefighters, and floods carried some people's homes right off the foundation.  To date, so many people still are without power, and many more are unable to even access their homes.

After day one, we also realized that we may not be able to get gas for a while, so we started rationing the cans of gas that we had.  We would turn up the heat, let the house get super warm, and then turn the generator off for a few hours.

On Thursday, Mara's one-week birthday, I promised my grandmother that Mr. V would check out her house in Point Pleasant Beach and report back any damage.  Before the storm, my aunt took her up to Harrison NY (where as I understand, they are still without power).  However, late that morning I noticed a yellowing in the corner of Mara's eyes.

We were supposed to see the pediatrician on the Monday following our discharge, however the doctor's office was closed due to the storm and had yet to reopen.  I called spoke to the doctor on call, and based on what I described she thought it was best that we went to the emergency room.

So back we went to the hospital.  They took her blood (after pricking my poor sweet girl FOUR times and her mommy having a sobbing fit) and her bilirubin levels were slightly elevated.  The pediatrician on duty explained that at those levels, they would normally just have us come back the next day for another blood test.  But she consulted with Mara's pediatrician, and given the situation with the storm they decided she should be admitted overnight to spend some time under the blue "bili-light" and be monitored.

Mr. V went home to turn the generator back on (we were trying to avoid losing all the food in our 2 refrigerators) and I got Mara settled in to her new digs.  Then he came back to the hospital, and I drove home to shower and pack a little bag.  There was only enough space for one of us to stay in the room, so I slept there overnight.  Mara had to be fed 2 oz every 2 hours- I was insistent on keeping up breast feeding if possible, but the doctor wanted her to spend as much time under the light as she could.  So I requested use of a pump and was able to feed her bottles under the light.

(Which, by the way, lit up the room like a UFO or something.  Good thing I was dead tired and slept in spite of it.  Mara didn't seem to mind though - she was nice & cozy and looked like she was tanning in her little eye mask!  I think we're gonna have a beach girl on our hands.)

'tanning' like a true Jersey Shore Girl

The next day, Mara was taken out of the light mid-morning and finally got to meet her pediatrician.  (Our doctor was away when Mara was born, so her partner saw her before we were discharged.)  The first thing the doctor did when she walked in was hug me.  That's when I knew I made the right choice in picking a pediatrician!

Mara's levels went down overnight and the jaundice had receded to just her face.  The doctor was happy with her progress, and said she could be discharged that afternoon.  Mr. Vittles came back to the hospital mid-morning, almost killed the woman at the front security desk for telling him to wait until 'visiting hours' due to the emergency storm situation (since when are parents considered visitors?).  Then he stayed with the munchkin while I made a run out to Target (one of the few places in the area that had power) to get myself a pump and some other much-needed supplies.

Mara was such a peanut when she was born that almost all the clothes we received as gifts were too big for her!  Luckily I had bought one set of onesies and shirts that were newborn-sized, but a little more variety would be nice.  It was so weird to be out and about by myself- after a week I was already so used to having a little person attached to me constantly!

We were discharged in the afternoon and hoped to return home to power, but no such luck.  However Mr. Vittles had found an open & stocked gas station about a half hour inland the night before, so we had refilled our tanks for the generator.

On Saturday we made it to my grandmother's house, and I was truly shocked by the level of devastation that many parts of my hometown had seen.  (And sadly, there are towns in far worse shape than Point Pleasant Beach in this area).

Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

The street that runs parallel to the beach was completely covered in sand by the storm.  Some of it had already been "plowed" and you could drive down the street, but other parts were still inaccessible by car.

Ocean Avenue, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ (cleared)

Most of the homes/businesses near either the beach, inlet, or any of the 3 lakes in town got water in them and peoples' ruined belongings were stacked along the sides of the road.

Luckily for my grandmother, her house is raised up over a crawl space - water did ruin both her car and her garage, but you can see the water line came within 2 inches of the first floor of her house.

you can see the water line between the top of her steps & bottom of door

She did not get water inside the house, it's completely dry.  In comparison, her next door neighbor's house is right at ground level and everything in their first floor was out at the curb.

When Mr. Vittles and I got home from our little excursion, we found that our power was restored.  It was such a relief that some aspect of life was about to return to normalcy!  We spent the next few days trying to get our house back in order, get into a routine, and most importantly enjoy some time together as a family.

Daddy & Mara

(Somewhere in the midst of all this I caught a terrible cold, almost lost my voice but I think I'm finally on the upswing!)  This past Monday, Miss Mara had her first official pediatrician appointment and we were happy to hear that all was well... she had even exceeded her birth weight by 3 oz!

(We were also happy to welcome our first trick-or-treaters that night in our new neighborhood, since Gov. Christie officially changed the date of Halloween in New Jersey this year to November 5!)

Today, our little munchkin has snoozed most of the day away. (Oh yeah, to our friends & family that keep begging to see Mara's eyeballs -- come to my house at 2AM!  She'll be happy to show you her peepers then).  Mr. Vittles took the day off, and we were back to watching The Weather Channel as inches of snow fall outside our window from the Nor'easter they've dubbed "Winter Storm Athena."

Except the snow is so wet and heavy that the power went out... again.  This time so did the satellite TV.  So it looks like we're back to partial power and the generator off & on schedule until further notice!

The past couple weeks have been crazy, stressful, heart-breaking, amazing, and awe-inspiring all at the same time.  But every day I am humbled by this new little life we've created.  And I know it will just keep getting better and better!


As for Mother Nature... lay off us, already!  I think this area has been through enough now.

Apple Crumb Pie
  • 1 9" unbaked pie shell (either refrigerated, or your favorite recipe)
  • 6 C. apples, peeled, cored, & thinly sliced
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2/3 C. sugar
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. cloves
  • 1/8 t. allspice
  • pinch salt
Crumb Topping:
  • 1/2 C. (1 stick) butter, cut in tablespoons
  • 1 C. flour
  • 1/2 C. brown sugar
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. cloves
  • 1/8 t. nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.

Peel, core, and slice apples thinly.  Place in large bowl.  Sprinkle with lemon juice, and stir with rubber spatula to coat apples.

In separate small bowl, whisk cornstarch, flour, sugar, spices, and salt until combined.  Sprinkle mixture over apples, and stir to coat evenly.

Arrange apples in pie shell, mounding slightly in the middle.  Place entire pie dish onto a baking sheet to catch any drips or rogue crumbs.

In a medium bowl, combine all crumb topping ingredients.  Cut butter into dry ingredients using a pastry blender or two knives.  (I actually start with a pastry blender, then I just use my hands to rub the ingredients between my fingers - I feel like everything gets mixed more evenly this way).

Sprinkle crumb mixture over top of pie evenly.  Bake 50-60 minutes until crumbs are browned.  Cool on rack at least 2 hours before cutting.

Adapted from Family Recipe
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