Good Eats and Sweet Treats from My Small Boston Kitchen

On Gratitude, and a Caramel Apple Streusel Pie

I made this pie weeks ago, and wrote the accompanying post then, too, but I’ve been holding off on posting it. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I can be a bit of an over-sharer, and sometimes I wonder if that’s not the right thing? When you open yourself up on the internet, you’re allowing the whole world to come to know who you are, and while I am well aware that not everybody in the world is reading this blog, it’s URL does live in the signature of my personal email, and in my professional portfolio, and on my resume, and in many other public places.

Going through a particularly rigorous interview process recently, and realizing that the folks who held the hiring power in their hands might be checking out my little corner of the blog world, I decided it best to keep things light and breezy for a while. After all, I tend to be light and breezy when I talk about food anyway, but lately, there’s been a little more weight in my words around here. And that’s the part I’m unsure of, whether it’s right or wrong to be candid and open. I guess I found my answer, because you’re here reading this… and in case you were wondering, I got the job 🙂

This recipe offers a nice alternative to a more traditional two-crust apple pie. It’d be a particularly fantastic option for your Thanksgiving celebration, if pumpkin or pecan isn’t your thing. This pie came into being as a way to work through the copious amounts of apples we had kicking around the house after a weekend of apple picking, and it turned out to be the perfect use for that. It’s definitely worth sticking around for this recipe, but I do want to ramble on for a bit before we get to that. If you’re short on time, or have no interest in life ramblings, then feel free to just keep scrolling until you see the recipe — it’s a really, really good one! (I think I say that a lot, but just go with it…) I apologize in advance for the limited photos — this dwindling daylight makes being a food blogger really tough!

So anyway, as I was saying… I’ve been doing a lot of this mumbo jumbo rambling lately, and today’s just more of the same… but a different life lesson this time. This one deals with regret, and gratitude. Who knew the two went hand in hand? When I was younger, I got this notion in my head that regret is bad, and if you live life right, you should never make a decision that you’ll regret. I suppose that the idea in theory is a good one – stand behind the decisions you make, and don’t beat yourself up if they don’t turn out as planned – but in practice? That’s a pretty damn hard reality to create for yourself. I am a very careful thinker, and I don’t make a lot of decisions that aren’t well thought through, but even still there are some decisions I’ve made that I wholeheartedly regret. I really think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t regret anything in their life, whether it’s something they said, a particular way they treated somebody, or a decision they made that led to an undesirable outcome – that’s just not being human. For me, I have been grappling with a lot of regret lately, and living with that every day is hard.

Caramel Apple Streusel Pie recipe - Sweetly Serendipity

It’s been almost four months now since I entered this new season of life. Almost four months since I separated from the former love of my life, and my best friend in the entire world. During that time, we’ve had a couple of particularly painful interactions, each one leaving me feeling like I’d had the wind knocked out of me over and over. It has taken a lot of reflection and introspection to find even footing again, but now that I have, I’ve realized what a big mess I made of our lives, and how much I regret letting things unfold as they have.

In the months since that relationship ended, I have become a new person. It’s incredible really what such a life-altering experience will do to you. For weeks I was too stunned to believe I would ever recover, but without knowing it each day I was getting stronger. It took a while for the realization to spread that I was actually becoming a more resilient person, capable of taking care of my own heart, and getting through each day with sheer grit and determination. I sought support and solace from those closest to me, and did everything people told me to do, even when it didn’t resonate. One friend suggested I keep a gratitude journal, every morning writing down 5 things I was grateful for. The actual practice of writing them down felt unnecessary to me, but I did get into the practice of considering gratitude anyway. For many, many weeks when my alarm went off each morning, after I had gotten over the “screw this!” feeling that always comes with a 5am wake-up call, I practiced gratitude. I’d find myself out on my bike at 5:30am, watching the sunrise and feeling so grateful for that experience. I saw baby bunnies nibbling tall grass on those mornings, and I was grateful for them and their innocence. I was grateful for the blue sky, the crisp air, the kind older man I’d ride past each day, who smiled at me and mouthed “good morning” every time. I was grateful for my strong legs that carried me mile after mile, and for my bicycle that gave me speed, and power, and a sense of freedom I wasn’t accustomed to. I found that when I started to look for it, I was grateful for everything. Material things, nonmaterial things, relationships, feelings, emotions – everything now seems to hold so much more weight than it did before.

Caramel Apple Streusel Pie recipe - Sweetly Serendipity

But it also made me realize all of the things I took for granted. The things that I should have been grateful for, but wasn’t. I was too busy being angry or stressed out or preoccupied with something petty and unimportant, always looking ahead to making the future better, instead of just being in and enjoying that moment. Always fixating on the bad, and as a result missing out on all the good. And that’s where my regret lives. They say you never realize what you had until it’s gone, and I have never known those words so truly as I do now. I wasn’t grateful for what I had, and then it vanished. Some days, I hate myself for contributing to a reality that led me here. I hate that I’ve ruined a happiness I wanted to relish forever. I hate myself for losing an incredible partner that I’m worried I can never replace. I just feel so much regret, and the weight of it can be crushing. But recently I started realizing this other interesting thing: regret is a teacher. It reminds you of your mistakes, and never to make those again, never to take things for granted, never to fall into the same destructive patterns. Regret can teach so much, but only if you are ready to hear it. You can’t change the past, or re-do the things that you wish you had done differently, but you can direct the future, and make better, more educated decisions that you’ll be able to stand proudly behind.

These days, there is a different quality to life. I miss him more than I’ve ever missed anything or anyone in my life, and I think I could easily miss him forever. But I’m also absurdly grateful for this whole ordeal. It has taught me so much, but mostly it has forced me to take a long, hard look at life, and to live it better. The few precious moments we are given each day won’t ever come back, and there is no sense in wasting them. Instead of looking at life and seeing it’s flaws, now I try to look at it and find the things that make every day worth living. And you know what I’ve discovered? Rainy days aren’t always a bad thing.

Caramel Apple Streusel Pie recipe - Sweetly Serendipity

In fact, today I am grateful for the rain. As I write this post, it’s pouring rain outside, but I’m safely curled up indoors in pajamas and cozy socks, watching my Momma put the finishing touches on an Alice Waters ratatouille recipe for our family dinner. This apple pie is in the oven baking, making our kitchen the most fragrant place on earth. My heart is still pretty broken, and my life still feels in shambles sometimes as I rapidly hurdle forwards into the unknown, but I am grateful just to be. To write this post and to eat this pie and to be surrounded by some of the best people in my life, and to be home. The little things in life are the big things, and my world of little things is plentiful.

What are you grateful for today?

** A quick note about this pie — it’s awesome. Do I need to tell you more? I served it with lightly sweetened, sour cream-spiked whipped cream, for a bit of tangy contrast, and I’ve been eating the leftovers with a rather generous dollop of creme fraiche. Amazing. It’s sweet but not overly so, the apple filling is tender but keeps good structure, the crust is exquisitely flaky, and the crumb topping offers a great crunch. I’m not a big pie maker, but I can see myself making this one time and time again.

Caramel Apple Streusel Pie

Ingredients

    For the crust:
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cold sour cream
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water
  • For the filling:
  • 6 large (or 9 small) baking apples (I used in-season Macintosh, but Granny Smith or Jonathan apples work great), cored, peeled, and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Streusel topping:
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed

Directions

    For the crust:
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, and sugar until combined. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with larger chunks of butter remaining. Add the sour cream then drizzle 2 tablespoons of ice water over the mixture and pulse until it just comes together without being wet, sticky, or crumbly. If the dough doesn’t hold together when pinched between your fingers, add another tablespoon of water and pulse.
  2. Place the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Shape the dough into a disk and chill in the fridge until firm, at least 1 hour or up to 3 days or make ahead and freeze, well wrapped in plastic, for up to 2 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight.
  3. Let the dough sit at room temperature for up to 10 minutes before rolling out on a lightly floured work surface. Keep turning the dough after every roll to ensure it doesn’t stick to the counter and is of even thickness. Roll out into a 1/8-inch thick 13-inch circle. Gently roll the dough up and around the rolling pin then unroll over a 9-inch pie tin and press into the tin. Trim the dough, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Crimp or decorate edges and pierce the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Freeze for 30 minutes, or until very firm. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375°F. Make ahead: At this point you can place the pie tin (preferably a disposable one) in a zip-top bag and store in the freezer until ready to use. Defrost in the fridge overnight.
  4. Remove the pie shell from the freezer and place a double sheet of foil over the shell, pressing the foil gently across the bottom and up the sides of the pie. Place 2 cups pie weights or dry beans over the parchment. Bake until the pie crust is dry and light in color, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment and weights and continue baking for another 12 minutes, or until just turning golden. Remove pie and maintain oven temperature.
  5. For the filling:
  6. Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients except the butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apple mixture and cook until the apples begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Pour the apple mixture into the pie crust.
  7. For the streusel:
  8. Mix all of the streusel ingredients except the butter in a medium bowl until incorporated. With your a pastry cutter or your fingers, blend the cold butter in until incorporated.
  9. Sprinkle streusel evenly over the prepared pie, and bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely before slicing and serving.
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