Sometimes in life, we can see clearly the way to go. Other times, it can be less clear.
I remember that, as a child, I used to get sick to my stomach at night. Something about the night, and its dark, somber loneliness used to terrify me. I was always worried that something– I was never quite sure exactly what– was going to get me, and I would have no one to save me. I would be terrified that I was going to be utterly, completely alone. The worry of that used to make me so nauseous that I couldn’t even sleep. I remember begging my Mom to leave the light on, leave the door open . . . even to let me stay up all night, just to avoid the terror that I knew was coming. Her response was always the same: “You don’t need any of those things to keep you safe. I will always come back to check on you. You are never, ever alone.”
And she kept her word. I remember many nights begging her through tear-filled eyes to come check on me, later, and she always did. As I lay there in the darkness, shivering with fear and watching the door, suddenly her face would be there– smiling. Calming. Protecting.
When I had my first child, the darkness came for me, again. I feared it like nothing else– my spirits became more and more terrified as the sun went down. Night after wearying, sleepless night, I stayed awake, burning eyes riveted to my sleeping infant’s softly rising and falling chest. I knew that the second I closed my eyes– when I let my guard down for even a moment– something horrible would happen. What if he died? What if he stopped breathing, on my watch? It was unthinkable. I fought the night with all I had and never slept, except to doze off for a few minutes, here and there. I started hallucinating out of exhaustion, never quite able to tell which was the nightmare of reality and which was the nightmare of my dreams.
It took literally years for me to crawl out of that deep, dark hole that I now know was crippling post-partum depression. I became a recluse– pulling into myself and my solitude to escape the public eye and the questions of well meaning friends. I avoided visits. I stopped going to church. It felt like every time I got a toe-hold enough to see out of the pit, the sides would become ten times more slippery, and the gaping blackness would swallow me, again.
Enter Jacqui– the beautiful, sunny, wonderful woman who entered my life just as I was about to give birth to my second child. Ironically enough, we met through a Craigslist purchase (and NO– I do NOT recommend finding friends this way, as a rule ;), but there was something so contagious about her laughter and her zest for life, that I was irresistibly drawn to her. Despite the many, many hardships she had endured, including a critically ill child that doctors said would not live past the age of 5 (he recently celebrated his 8th birthday, and we are rooting for him to get to his 108th birthday, despite what doctors said!), severe health problems of her own, and medical bills so gargantuan that they lost their house to foreclosure, she had the sunniest, brightest disposition of anyone I’d ever met. She was there when it counted– she watched my son when I was so nauseous I could hardly stand and picked up groceries and medicine when I was too ill to go out. She was there to feed my family and bring me a little bit of broth to swallow, when I spent that 9 months of pregnancy so desperately sick that I lost 20 pounds. And she was there, again, after my daughter was born, when the darkness came back for me.
And it came back with a vengeance. For months my daughter screamed like a wild banshee every night, round the clock. She would literally scream for 5 hours, fall asleep for 10 minutes in our weary arms, and then wake back up again, screaming like someone was pulling her fingernails off. Doctors called it “colic.” We called it the nightmare to end all nightmares. I felt myself slipping back down into the miry darkness.
But Jacqui refused to let me fall. She reached out a hand of kindness and understanding, without judgment. She brought fresh, delicious homemade food every night for weeks. She brought flowers and opened my blinds. She pretended not to notice when I wore the same sweatpants 3 days in a row, with my hair was matted from not showering in days. She came back to check on me. She told me that I was never, ever alone.
In this game that we call life, many of us are struggling– struggling with pains and fears that we are afraid to disclose to anyone. Sadly, the world has largely become a place where people lash the weak and tread on the weary– rather than lifting others up in encouragement, instead of judgment.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Today, reach out to someone in need. Pay for the person behind you at the coffee shop. Call that old friend you have been meaning to catch back up with, but just haven’t gotten around to calling. Buy groceries or offer to babysit for an exhausted single mom. Smile at a cashier and thank her for helping you. Take a meal to a new mother and offer to feed and watch her kids so she can get a quick shower and a nap. Be the hand that reaches out to lift someone out of the pit of despair– not to push them deeper in. Through your attitude, actions, and concern, tell them: “I will always come back to check on you. You are never, ever alone.”
To Jacqui: the best friend anyone could ever have– thank you. This pie is for you.
What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!
15 whole graham crackers, crushed
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
Pie Filling Ingredients:
6-8 cups sliced strawberries
2/3 cup white sugar
1 cup water
4 tbsp. strawberry or cherry gelatin
4 tbsp. cornstarch
Whipped Cream, optional
To make graham cracker crust, combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter until well combined. Gently press moist crumbs along sides and bottom of a 9.5” deep pie plate and chill until ready to use. To make strawberry filling, start by mixing your water and cornstarch together in a separate bowl to make a milky substance, then add this to your sugar, water, and gelatin in a large saucepan over medium heat, whisking occasionally. When the mixture has thickened to the point where it leaves a “line” in the pan when you whisk it, remove from heat and let it sit until cooled slightly. When the mixture is no longer hot (slightly warm is OK), mix in your strawberries and fold gently to coat. Place strawberry mixture into your prepared graham cracker crust and chill, covered, until ready to serve. Top with whipped cream when serving, if desired.
Now, in pictures! 🙂
The best part about cooking with strawberries . . . is that you get a delicious strawberry dessert at the end of it. 😉 And who doesn’t love happy, sunny red berries? This pie is so easy, and it’s no bake, so you can make it even in, say . . . a college dorm room! This along with White Chocolate Mousse is bound to impress the college roommates. 😉 To make the strawberry filling, start by mixing your water and cornstarch together, in a separate little bowl, to make a milky substance. This step just helps to make sure that the cornstarch completely dissolves and doesn’t clump up in the pan. Add this milky liquid to your sugar, water, and gelatin in a large saucepan over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Just let that mixture get nice and warm, and let’s work on our crust.
Once you make your own graham cracker crust and see how easy and delicious it is, you’ll be free from the “Oh no! I forgot to buy a graham cracker crust! Now I can’t make my recipe!” bondage. You’re welcome. Basically, just whirl the graham crackers in a food processor to grind them down into crumbs. If you don’t have a food processor, put your crackers into a plastic bag and whack away with a rolling pin. Delicious pie and anger therapy, all in one, convenient package. Again, you’re welcome. 😉
When you have the melted butter and your graham cracker crumbs, mix them together until they combine to become moist crumbs. Then, press the crumbs along the side and bottom of a deep dish 9.5″ pie plate. The back of a spoon will help press the edges smooth, if you want to be all “Becky home ecky” about it. If you don’t care, your fingers make fine tools, too 😉
By this time, your cornstarch mixture should be starting to warm up. Keep whisking it, and when the mixture gets thick and gel-like (your whisk should leave a line in the bottom of the pan when you stir), it’s ready. Turn off the heat and move it to a cool burner to start cooling down.
Now it’s time for the best part– the strawberries! This pie is pretty forgiving as to the amount of strawberries you need. If you have less, just use what you have and then gob on the whipped cream when you’re done, to make it look like “mile high strawberry pie.” If you have extra strawberries, mound them up and you’ll find a way to squeeze them in there, somehow. Just like life, somehow you find room for everyone in the tiny house you bought before you had kids. 😉 The pie will be delicious, no matter how you do it. Basically, wash, de-stem, and chop up your strawberries (I ended up using 4 of those plastic rectangle containers from the store since the monsun/rainforest thing we have going on this May has stopped me from getting fresh strawberries *Grouchy face*) and mix them into the cornstarch mixture when it is cool (or only slightly warm. We want pie. Who are we kidding, here. We don’t have all day to wait on our sauce to cool down).
Pour your strawberries into the prepared graham cracker crust that we made earlier. Use the spatula to push the strawberries gently into the corners and flatten the top of the pie.
Now, your pie is absolutely fine, just like that. But since I had some extra strawberries, I went ahead and did a little something extra. I made a second recipe of the “gel” stuff and then threw another little plastic box of cleaned and de-stemmed strawberries into that sauce, once it had cooled. For these strawberries, I left them whole, and then I kind of arranged them “pointy side up” on top of the cut strawberry layer. I’m not gonna’ lie . . . I used an extra big 10″ deep pie plate (the largest pie plate I have), and I had trouble getting all those strawberries in there. But where there’s a will, there’s a way 😉 Isn’t that gorgeous? However, it was also gorgeous and delicious before I went “over the top,” literally, so don’t sweat it if you just want to follow the recipe exactly as it is. You’ll have a gorgeous pie, at the end. But if you want to go the extra mile and truly have that “mile high strawberry pie” experience, this is a little recipe tweak that turned out great. You could also save a few of your strawberries “whole” and just use one recipe of gel and put a few whole berries on top, for beauty, when you’re doing the regular strawberry layer. This is your kitchen. You’re the boss. Do it however you want it.
After I had finished precariously balancing all those strawberries in there, I piped some pretty cool whip (whipped cream works fine, too, but I wanted something quick and easy) stars around the edge, and then a nice swirl in the center. I placed one sweet little strawberry in the middle, just to be pretty. If you want to know how you can fill a piping bag mess free, check out my basic icing tutorial here. The same icing technique works for both royal icing and “big” tips, like the cupcake decorating ones I used for the stars on this pie. You can get those cupcake decorating tips here. And your cupcakes will go from “How sweet! Your toddler must have decorated these! (awkward pause) Oh . . . you did it. Sorry about that . . . ” to “These look like they came from a professional bakery!” Yessssss. Now we’re cookin’ with gas!
Tuck that little (or incredible tall, ridiculously luscious) beauty away, in the fridge, to chill. I used a covered cake carrier so that plastic wrap didn’t smoosh my pretty details, but you can also use plastic wrap over the plain strawberries and just add your whipped cream details right before serving. I do understand that your poor little fridge is expected to hold everyone’s lunches, a mountainous array of baby teethers, and those leftover snips and snaps that no one wants to eat. Sometimes the pie has to take one for the team and get its decorative flair on later, to conserve space.
And when the time is just right . . . when your guests are stuffed with the delicious meal you just created . . . bring out this little showstopper.
Cut big, generous slices, and pass them out to the “ooohs!” and “ahhhhs!” of your loved ones. And as they dig in, you can smile, quietly, to yourself. The best dishes are made with love, for those we love. You can almost taste the love in a carefully made dish.
“I will always come to check on you. You are never, ever alone.”
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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