Mini Bacon Crusted Apple Pies

In another life, I was born in Nashville. I ate at the Loveless Cafe with my family on Sundays where we feasted on biscuits, chicken fried, and pie. Lots of pie. I grew up playing the banjo, listening to Loretta Lynn, and cooking with butter in cast iron skillets. 

In this life, which is a fine and love-filled one, I was born in New Jersey. I ate, and continue to eat with my family on Sundays, really most days, whether it be at home or at our favorite spots. I grew up playing the violin and clarinet, and listened to Motown and classic rock, my parents' favorites. We cooked with olive oil in huge pots, enough food to feed the family and any guests that wandered in. 

James came along and introduced me to Texas barbecue, taught me to cook in a Dutch oven over open flames, and took my family on our first family vacation in years to Tennessee. My two lives collided, and this Italian girl from Jersey has found her love of skillets and heavy cream. 

My latest experiment in Southern fare was a decadent mini apple pie with a lattice crust of crisp smoked bacon - a delightful combination of salty and sweet, inspired by this recipe from Loveless Cafe. And make sure you scroll to the very end, as there are a collection of Apple recipes from a fine group of foodie friends for #aisforalltheapples !

Ingredients

   6 cups of sliced, peeled apples   I used mixed baking apples from a bushel my friend Demi brought me from Virginia. The varied sized and colors made for a lovely picture.


6 cups of sliced, peeled apples
I used mixed baking apples from a bushel my friend Demi brought me from Virginia. The varied sized and colors made for a lovely picture.

  Dry ingredients  1 teaspoon cinnamon   |    2 tablespoons cornstarch   |   1/2 teaspoon nutmeg   |   1 teaspoon allspice  |  3/4 cup packed light brown sugar.   The recipe calls for cardamom and cloves but I did not have them on hand.


Dry ingredients
1 teaspoon cinnamon  |   2 tablespoons cornstarch  |  1/2 teaspoon nutmeg  |  1 teaspoon allspice  |  3/4 cup packed light brown sugar. The recipe calls for cardamom and cloves but I did not have them on hand.

   Two 9 inch pie shells, unbaked.   Additionally, you will need  6-8 slices of smoked bacon  per mini pie. 


Two 9 inch pie shells, unbaked. Additionally, you will need 6-8 slices of smoked bacon per mini pie. 

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel and slice your apples into 1/2 inch slices. In a large bowl mix all the dry ingredients until blended. Add the apples to the dry ingredients and toss until coated. 

Place the pie shells over your mini pans. Leave about 1 inch of crust over the edge, and trim the remaining with a pasta cutter or knife. Reserve the extra crust for other use. 

  James has taught me the beauty of cooking with cast iron. We collect Lodge pieces, all made in the United States and boasting of a rich cultural history. For these mini pies, I  used these small round servers.  


James has taught me the beauty of cooking with cast iron. We collect Lodge pieces, all made in the United States and boasting of a rich cultural history. For these mini pies, I used these small round servers. 

Divide the apples and any juices that have accumulated among the two pans.  Weave the uncooked bacon in an alternating over and under pattern atop the apple filling. Tuck the bacon edges into the apple filling. Crimp the crust over the bacon edges to seal the pies.

Cover the pies with foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove the foil from the pies, and return them to the oven. Cook for 15 minutes or until bacon is crisp. Cool before serving, and enjoy! 

I am participating in a digital activation with a group of talented food bloggers and you can check out their delectable apple confections below. Enjoy!

Cloudy Kitchen’s Salted Caramel and Apple Babka

Square Meal Round Table’s Chai Spiced Tarte Tatin

The Wood and Spoon’s Maple Apple Cake

The Cooking of Joy’s Deep Fried Apple Dumplings with Miso Caramel Dipping Sauce

My Kitchen Love’s Bird’s Nest Caramel Apple Cake  

More Icing Than Cake’s Apple Butter Pretzels with Rosemary Cheddar Dip

Casey Joy Lister’s Waldorf Salad’s Twisted Sister

The Kitchen Sink’s Apple Cheddar Loaf

What Should I Make For’s Apple Puff Pastry Tarts

Jessie Sheehan Bakes’ Apple Fritters

Smart in the Kitchen’s Gluten Free Apple Cranberry Crisp

This Healthy Table’s Cardamom Apple Tart

Figs and Flour’s Apple Purple Potato PIzza

Something New for Dinner’s Savory Bread Pudding with Apples, Sausage, and Pecan

Always Eat Dessert’s Apple Spice Scones with Maple Bourbon Glaze

Rezel Kealoha’s Rose Poached Apples with Rosewater Reduction

The Soup Solution’s Fennel Sausage and and Apple Dressing (Stuffing)

Lemon Thyme and Ginger’s Smoky Maple Apple Dutch Baby

Gobble the Cook’s One Pan Pork Chops and Sausages with Apple

Hola Jalapeno’s Fluffy Apple Chili Biscuits

Salt and Wind’s Pomegranate Ginger Apple Cider Punch

What Annie’s Eating’s Butternut Squash/Apple Soup with Asiago and Sage Croutons

Flours in Your Hair’s Brown Butter Bourbon Apple Pie

Confetti Kitchen’s Kale Salad with Chicken and Apple

Salted Plains’ Gluten-Free Apple Crumb Cake

Easy and Delish’s Fun Candy Corn Apple Pops

This Mess is Ours’ Easy Baked Apple Custard

Butter Loves Company’s Gingerbread with Brandied Apples

Zestful Kitchen’s Puffed Apple Pancake

Sweet Pillar Food’s Apple Honey Brie

A Farm Girl’s Dabbles’ Peanut Butter Apple Cookies

A Savory Dish’s Peanut Butter Protein Dip

Especially Southern Dishes’ Apple Pie Egg Rolls

Pie Girl Bakes’ Salted Caramel Apple Pie

Cocoa and Salt’s Vegan Apple Stuffin’ Muffins

Ebb and Flow

I like organizing my thoughts into little folders, a sort of mental filing cabinet. Rational versus irrational. Thoughts that are constructive versus ok to toss away. I value order and strive to make sense out of feelings and happenings. Sometimes these habits drive me to feel vulnerable about finding answers. A clear cut mandate to dictate what choices to make, what path to choose and what makes me tick. I am, as of this point in time, unable to find any concrete response to this line of questioning. I don't align my entire being with any one thing. I live for moments instead.

Rain. Preferable warm rain, and some sunshine. The gallop of an excited pet. The dog pummeling down the steps and through the kitchen, slipping and sliding into the door or cabinet. Reagan greeting me at the door. Sleeping near me when I don't feel well.

The smell of coffee brewing in the morning. Better yet, bacon frying. And biscuits. Or if you are from Northern New Jersey, some doughy bagels and Taylor ham.

Joyful accomplishment over a completed task, no matter how trivial. Freshly folded laundry. Long talks on the phone. Pajamas. Chocolate chip pancakes for dinner (while wearing those pajamas).

Fatigue after a long workout. Aching muscles that scream progress. Grocery shopping on Sunday mornings. Preparing a meal and sharing it with someone whose company you crave. Or eating alone with a good book as your companion.

Weekend naps. That pang of indulgence when you shut your eyes as the sun continues to shine through your window. Being understood. Listened to. Appreciated.

 "We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity.  Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony."  ~Thomas Merton, 1955

"We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity.  Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony."  ~Thomas Merton, 1955

The only thing I can imagine doing all day every day, is navigating the ebbs and flows. A step forward, and a step backward. Learning. Communicating. Overcoming. I don't know what I am doing or where I am going. But I will embrace it and endeavor every step of the way to make sense of this life. To make it meaningful. Love others and cherish their love in return.

And eat cake. I will eat lots of cake.

A Christmas Kind of Mood

Mom and Dad prepare the stuffing like Nonna would have.

Thanksgiving was a whirl wind. It went as quickly as it came.  Our family prepares such an abundant feast that we convened on the Saturday following Thanksgiving to share a meal again. I love that. Such a wonderful holiday, and we get to have it twice. Having been so late in the year though, soon after the turkey and stuffing was digested, Christmas preparation was upon us.

It is the first year in the last seven, that I am home for the entire month of December and it has already been something special. Simple things make it so. Nothing extravagant, but the tangible anticipation of Christmas heightens the enjoyment I suppose. The scarcity of the season, only available one month in twelve, empowers us to live and love more freely? Or maybe Christmas music has subliminal messaging that teaches us to be kind to one another. The egg nog is spiked with happiness. The sugar cookie scented Yankee Candle puts you in the mood to bake. Or maybe it is the Holiday Bloom and Cheer Febreeze. That must be it.

In December, people sing along: in stores, at their desks, in the car. I pretty much sing along all year, and mess up lyrics through and through, but during this time of year it is more common and socially acceptable. The inhibited even sing. Some whistle. There is skipping. All do it to the tune of Carol of the Bells or Sleigh Ride. On Spotify, A Charlie Brown Christmas is alive and well.

In the past few weeks, I have spent more time than usual in Michael's craft store, buying Christmas stickers, treat bags, glitter pens, and blank cards. I've done serious time in the baking aisle as well. What to buy, what to buy? Brown sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla extract. Shall I splurge on new muffin pans? No Francesca, yours are fine. A can of pumpkin here and Anise extract for Mimi's Anisette cookies. Chocolate chips of every variation.

Sitting in my pajamas one evening I was working on Christmas cards, cutting out shapes with my Cricut and deciding on a color scheme. From experience, I know if cards aren't started well in advance, I won't finish them. I made some hot cocoa and added a splash of Eggnog as it needed a little dimension. It felt slightly gluttonous and perfectly "holiday".

 Christmas card making.

Christmas card making.

Dad and I went to Corrado's to pick up the tree, a seven foot Frasier fir. It was loaded into the pickup truck and we drove home sharing a little heart to heart. He works quite a lot so any time he has my ear, I come away feeling grateful and loved. At home, James was preparing the pierogi Mom bought from the Polish Church. They are divine-the potato and sauerkraut kinds. He also made cabbage and kielbasa to round out the perfect, comforting meal. We huddled around the table, elbows knocking one another which happens in an average sized kitchen.  Smaller the better I say, as there is more affection packed into each square foot of the space. Take that, monumental kitchens with islands and elaborate cabinetry. (P.S. Don't get me wrong, if I ever came to have a kitchen like such, I would just have to pack it with more mouths to feed and merriment to share - to maintain the good stuff ratio of course.)

In December, calendars fill up with Cookie exchanges, Christmas concerts, and holiday parties. There is ice skating and tree lighting. Menus are planned and dishes prepared. Flannel sheets with snowflakes make their way on the bed. Gingerbread are decorated with candies and icing. Stockings are hung and gifts are wrapped. Regardless of how little they may have, people find a little extra to give to someone else. My friend Joey suggested we start a message chain in which we share daily with each other what we are thankful for. It has become my favorite part of the day.

I often wonder what would happen if we prolonged the season. Why must it only last from Thanksgiving to New Year's? The holidays can be tiring with the planning and gatherings, I know. We need not have cookie exchanges all year, although it would be pretty gnarly. I am thinking more about the spirit of it all. It would be just lovely to feel that warmth and gratitude all year. Maybe reconcile with someone you have been avoiding or donate your time to a charity drive. Make time for a dinner with old friends.

If I am not mistaken, research shows that Jesus was born in the summertime so I think it's only fair we share the love with the rest of the year.

Everyone smiles

In metropolitan regions, people walking quickly, with either their head down or their eyes fixed on a mobile device is a prevalent behavior. Nose in a Kindle, ear buds plugged in, and a suspended awareness of the world around us is all too common. As much as I like to think otherwise, I do most of these things, quote often and sometimes simultaneously.

There seems to be a stigma around smiling at strangers. People walking towards one another in a hallway or on a narrow sidewalk rather risk face planting while appearing occupied than just well, looking at a person, acknowledging their presence, and perhaps even smiling at them. The fear of being rejected is probably an underlying cause of this. No one wants to be the smiler who gets ignored, or worse receive that look where it appears the other person has something foul smelling right below their nostrils. You know that look. Think back to junior high school if you have trouble visualizing it. Every so often though, people do smile... sometimes at each other even. But you have to put your iPad aside to notice it. 

When I am not scrolling through Instagram or texting while I walk, I notice subtle things around me, sweet things. (For the purpose of keeping this an optimistic dialogue, we will disregard the encounters that leave us utterly pissed off and wanting so deeply to scream some choice four letter words.) Of these rewarding subtleties, not all even pertain to me. Observing people and their behavior is one of my indulgences. Think of it as the more refined older sister to people watching. People watching with meaning.  

  A perk of my job is on some Fridays I get to take this little lady for a walk. She rushes for no one, bless her.

A perk of my job is on some Fridays I get to take this little lady for a walk. She rushes for no one, bless her.

When the phone is away with eyes and ears open, the wall that technology sometimes erects comes down; people see other people. And they smile. They smile with their mouths, just their eyes or both. Everyone smiles when you are walking a waddling chocolate lab, who has a mind of her own and stops in the middle of the road to take a breather. Everyone smiles when an elderly couple is holding hands, strolling ever so slowly as if there was nowhere in the world they rather be. 

When a small child reaches for their mother or father. When a doting parent scoops up their little one, and holds them tightly. Everyone smiles when babies chuckle and toddlers say frighteningly honest things. When you trip up the steps, steady yourself, and then look around frantically to see if anyone else has noticed.

Everyone smiles when holding an ice cream cone or a cupcake.  When little boy scouts stand in a line wearing their equally little uniforms outside of a grocery store. When tired grandparents chase after their grand children, but beam no less despite their noticeable fatigue. Everyone smiles when a frazzled father comes out of the bathroom, with a disheveled child toting toilet paper under his shoes. When a couple has that look of love in their eyes.

Smiles can be the sad kind too. When the things we observe evoke memories of a more pleasant time in the past or a yearning for love and understanding. Nonetheless, we keep smiling,  because if something at one time made you happy, it is never really gone. That, and we can always hope for a better tomorrow.

Note to self: I quite like the things noticed when I pay attention, so I will have to pay attention more. 

Garage of Plenty

"People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.  But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.  Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize:  a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child - our own two eyes.  All is a miracle."  -Thich Nhat Hanh

This is one of those quotes that really resonates with me. If you hadn't figured it out already, I love quotes. I make it my business to look for a good one every so often to bring my thoughts into focus; make them more easy to digest. If you pay any attention to the media, you will see the extremes of materialism. People with little to nothing, living in poverty. And others living with such excess, that it borders ludicrous. I am thankful to fall somewhere in the middle. Comfortable enough to check off the vitals on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and living humbly enough to keep me hungry...determined. 

I moved back to my home state, after a two year stint in the Nation's capital. Although DC was a remarkable city, I never had space to myself beyond the walls of my studio, and eventual one bedroom pad. No grass, or deck to call my own. Since coming home, I have stumbled on a unique gem- an old garage, in dire need of some TLC.

Living in the home that my dad grew up in, it is a fixer upper to say the least. Some new paint on the walls, updated fixtures, and a nice new plush carpet have done the trick thus far. Every day, I see more potential in this old house, thankfully. It was filled with a lot of love over the years; it still is. We work to make sure of that. To complement the tangible warmth my grandparents left behind, we are bringing the physical space into modern times.  I get to flex my DIY chops in the main house, but the garage fell into someone else's able hands. Enter James. 

I met James, while working at Filomena's in Georgetown. I was just looking for some part time money, and ended up finding a whole lot more; I found a partner. Fast forward a little over two years, some bad jobs, and a few different apartments and James is still along for the ride. It was always apparent to me that James was a special person, able to find joy in the small things- a nice meal, a good hike, some fresh air, or a last minute day trip. Of late though, I have noticed his potential to create joy for others too, in the unlikeliest of locations.

Nonny and Homer, my late grandparents on dad's side, were very simple. They used the garage to house their two cars, and little else. As they aged, and stopped driving, the garage atrophied because it really served no purpose any longer. Well, it is back and I hope they are smiling down on the shenanigans we have unleashed. 

James is a whiz at finding fixer-upper projects. I thought I was crafty until I saw just how resourceful he is. He assumed the kitchen throne and now the crafting throne too; alas I will have to find my worth elsewhere. I am ok with this, as long as he shares the fruits of his labor. Thankfully, he always does. 

James began by gutting the garage and simply cleaning. Then slowly but surely, he began to populate what we now refer to as the cave with new pieces. First came a vintage bar he refurbished. Next came the dart board, table and chairs, and the popcorn machine. Thanks to my dearest cousin and confidant, Patty, and her darling husband, we now have a margarita machine and some lovely signage.   Some vintage sports memorabilia, serious snacks, sound system, and a few bar stools legitimize its man cave status.

More importantly though, more than the "things" inside the garage, are the memories that have since taken root. Family and friends gathering to share a meal, play some darts, listen to music (country music typically to appease James), and just laugh. My papa is 85 years old, and has found a new hobby in darts. Never too old to discover new sources of merriment, I say. We definitely eat our fill. James makes some mean dishes on his charcoal grill, the smell of smoke never quite leaving our clothes. It's a fine smell, though.  I don't mind. 

Some nights we will simply play a game or two of Cricket. Other nights we watch the rain fall. The common denominator, though, is that delicate comfort that settles in when you are with people you love. Little else is needed to make my picture any more whole. Would extravagant amenities be nice? Fine dining. The whole shebang. Sure. Few people would argue that. But I don't think more "things" would make us any happier. Just some folks sitting back, eating, drinking... laughing. In the garage of all places. My garage of plenty.