This is really good pie, y'all


So my sister makes this great chocolate chess pie.  She's a good sharer, so the sunny girl and I know how to make it now, too.

One question that I have not really found a satisfactory answer to is, "Chocolate chess pie?  WTF?"
Here's what Linda Stradley, of the website What's Cooking America, says about the origin of the name:
Chess pies are a Southern specialty; they have a simple filling of eggs, sugar, butter, and perhaps a small amount of flour. Some recipes include cornmeal and others are made with vinegar. Flavorings, such as vanilla, lemon juice, or chocolate are also added to vary the basic recipe. [ . . . ] The origin of the name is uncertain, but there are plenty of guesses and a bit of folklore surrounding the name. One explanation suggests that the word is “chest,” pronounced with a drawl and used to describe these pies baked with so much sugar they could be stored in a pie chest rather than refrigerated. Another [probably untrue] story is about the plantation cook who was asked what she was baking that smelled so great - “Jes’ pie” was her answer. Some people theorize that since the English lemon curd pie filling is very close to lemon chess pie, and they believe the word “chess” is an Americanization of the English word “cheese,” referring to curd pie.
So, yeah.  Linda Stradley doesn't really know, either.

Anyway -- here's how you make it:

The ingredient list for the filling is pretty simple:  sugar, eggs, butter, evaporated milk, cocoa powder, and vanilla.  You see in my photo that I use a ready-to-bake pie crust.  If you make fabulous pie crust that everyone drools over, then by all means -- knock yourself out.  Anyone who might have an expectation that I am the kind of person who makes her own pie crust has not been paying attention.

The preparation of the filling is pretty darned simple, too.  Just put all the filling ingredients into a bowl and mix at high speed for about two minutes.

Pour the filling into the waiting pie crust.


Crimp the edges of the crust in a way that suits your fancy.  My friend Saskia can make a pie crust edge look like it's been braided or something.

I cannot.

You don't pre-bake the crust, or prick it with a fork, or say any magic words over it.

Well, OK.  If you want to say some magic words -- again, knock yourself out.

I use a pie ring to protect the edges of my pie crust from getting overcooked.  My pie ring makes me feel like I am a real cook, even though I'm really a total poseur.  Don't tell anyone.

If you are worried that your crust will get overdone, you can protect it by wrapping aluminum . . . aluminium?  You can just wrap some tin foil around your pie plate.

After you bake it it will look like this, and it will make your whole house smell like a chocolate factory.


The sunny girl made some whipped cream for us to have with our pie.  You'll have to get that recipe from her.

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Here's the nitty-gritty:



Unbaked pie crust (bottom only) 
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
5 Tablespoons cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 5-oz. can evaporated milk
1/2 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl for two-ish minutes, and pour them into the unbaked pie crust.  Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit, for about 50 minutes.  The pie is done when it looks "set" like a souffle.  You can serve it plain, or with whipped cream, or with Cool Whip, or with ice cream, or . . . .

Adoption Day!

Well, so last week the small boys had a big, big day!

We celebrated Adoption Day, which was great in every way you can imagine.

  The judge who signed the documents was happy to be part of such a joyous occasion.

We were a big and boisterous group, all gathered to watch this family grow -- it was fabulous!

Afterwards we celebrated!  The small boys were a little confused:  whose birthday was it?  And the question was valid.  There was a cake, decorated with Lightning McQueen and 'Mater -- quite satisfactory, but why no candles?  There were gifts, but they were "family" gifts.  What's up with that?!  Tons of family and friends filled the happy house, and everyone wanted pictures of the small boys.  But where was the singing?  And again -- why no candles??  It was a puzzle.

So -- here they are:  all nine of 'em!  The perfect family!

Introducing . . . the small boys!

 So we spent last week at the beach in wonderful Nag's Head, North Carolina.  This annual family get-together is a trip we look forward to for the entire year.  Sometimes we have a full contingent of cousins, aunts, grandfathers, uncles and grandmothers.  Other times a cousin or two has work obligations; last year the tall boy was unable to make the trip, but we were happy that the not-so-tall boy (the soldier's West Point pal) was able to take his place.  This year, although my sister's three oldest urchins all had obligations that kept them away, we were thrilled that SHE was able to be part of our shenanigans for at least part of the week.  Uncle Doctor does his best to stay out of the on-call rotation so he can join us (the nerve of some women!  Daring to go into labor while Uncle Doctor is trying to log jet ski hours!).  My fairy god-sister is always up for a week at the beach, and so are Carolyn and her husband the preacher.

And this year, the newest cousins joined us!  You've met the tall boys -- so now:  meet the small boys!  These pumpkin pies are my sister's new sons!  She and the preacher are in the process of adopting them, and how swell is that?!



Lucky small boys!  Lucky mom and dad!  Lucky family!

God is good!

Small pleasures: Look what I found!

Oh my gosh! I found these shoes in the clearance rack at DSW! People, I literally skipped to the cash register. It's true.

So let's see . . . how many identical pairs of these rockin' red loafers have I now purchased? One pair for Coleen. One pair for Carolyn. And one two three pairs for me.

They don't call me frugal for nothing!

My mother's dishes: NOT a love story

So this Thanksgiving, as we do every year, my sister and I each pulled out our vintage and oh-so-collectible "Jewel Tea" dishes. Her meal was served in Roanoke, while I filled the gravy boat up here in the southern part of northern Virginia -- but we both used these Depression era dishes, because, I mean really. Look at them. They're perfect for Thanksgiving. That and because our mother would haunt us if we didn't.

See, Carolyn and I have what you might call a love-hate relationship with these dishes (their official name is "Hall China Autumn Leaf," but they were always called "Jewel Tea" in our family, because in the 1930s they were given to housewives -- like my grandmother -- as premiums when the ladies bought tea and spices from the door-to-door reps from the Jewel Tea Company). We do love them, because they were our mother's. And while their beauty and aesthetic loveliness frankly kind of escape us, we both realize that Mom cherished them. How do we know this? We know this because by the time she died she had:
  • redecorated her kitchen to feature them, to include commissioning a friend to create a matching stencil pattern;
  • purchased a shockingly expensive, custom-made-to-match-her-dishes, Tiffany-style lamp to hang over the breakfast table;
  • hung the dessert plates interspersed with orange and yellow baskets around the kitchen on the wall space above the cabinets (cunningly connected by the stencil pattern);
  • joined the "Hall China 'Autumn Leaf' Collectors' Club" (that's where she found the guy who made the lamp);
  • owned a linen tablecloth and twelve napkins that had been stenciled by the same friend (see above), so that when she entertained her table was all Jewel Tea, all the time;
  • spent way more money than my dad ever knew, tracking down and purchasing the rarer pieces of the pattern: a "one-armed bean pot;" the coveted "2 lb. butter dish" (I mean, it's a butter dish that will hold eight sticks of butter, people); not only the formal and everyday salt and pepper shakers, but the "cook's salt and pepper shakers" as well;
  • amassed enough place settings of these fricking dishes that my sister and I each have a complete set. And by complete, I mean we each own twelve place settings. Twelve, y'all. Plus serving bowls, platters, pie plates, iced tea glasses, coffee mugs, tea pots . . . . Plus some other shit I can't even remember.
But see, we really don't think they're as lovely as she did. We both have white dishes for every day, and we both chose fancy china patterns when we got married because our mother made us. She made us choose a silver pattern, too -- and we both very cleverly chose her silver pattern. So one thing I love, love, love is that I have my silver and my mother's, mingling all together. The other pattern in this picture is my grandmother's, which I adore but which is no longer made. I always, always use the two patterns together.

Last year about this time, my sister and I were reminiscing about our mom and we got to laughing our asses off, yet again, about all that "damned Jewel Tea" (that's how we have always talked about it). I regret to inform you that we were not kind about these dishes. Well, fifteen minutes later, my sister texted me; here is our "conversation:

HER: Right after I hung up a damned Jewel Tea bowl fell and broke. I'm freaking out.
ME: Mom must be pissed.
HER: Now I'm crying.
ME: And I'm laughing. Don't cry! They're ugly. The world is a better place.
HER: OK, now I'm laughing.

We have considered selling the damned things on eBay, or Craigslist; I really do think that the entire collection could pay for at least a year of someone's college expenses. But we never get around to it. So most of it lives in multiple, multiple boxes in my attic. And a few pieces live in our kitchens, so we can use them at Thanksgiving.

Because they're perfect.


And hey! Today begins our second annual Book Lovers' Advent Calendar! This year I am sampling books that have been recommended to me by friends who said last year, "How could you possibly leave out our family's favorite??" I am discovering a whole new collection of storybooks to love!

As we open the first door of the Advent calendar, we find The Snowman, which is a lovely little book with no words (I love those!). My family is actually familiar with this story as an animated film, but -- as is always the case -- the book is better. Thanks, Kathy!