Thankful for Pie (somehow pie-less, yet still awesome) 2015 Edition

I guess this recurring post is just the year in review now, instead of a declaration of love for pie, due to the fact that I can’t get my act together around Thanksgiving anymore. (Want to see previous years? 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.) Nevertheless, you can be thankful for things anytime during the year, right? Right.

Also, even though I know for a fact that Dan and I ate a whole ton of pie this year, there are absolutely zero pictures of pie! I know, right, but my crust game was just seriously lacking this year. Have no fear, no matter what, pie is always right up there on the list of things that I am most grateful for.

Here we go.

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January was a bit of a blur, as I was starting my last semester of nursing school. Pancakes and beignets were enjoyed at every available opportunity.

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Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day nearly collided in February. Let me tell you, if you want to see some really unflattering pictures, look through about 100 pictures of me screaming at a parade. I get so serious about absolutely needing some useless pieces of plastic, and I look completely deranged. Anyway, Endymion is one of my favorite parades, so it was great to take some out-of-town friends and act like a maniac just to get a frisbee.

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Ha! I lied! Of course, there has to be pie for Pi Day in March! (Seriously, I completely forgot about this amazing pie until just this moment. Bad, bad baker.) My friend Amanda came up with possibly the greatest pie name ever, Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My! Any pie that has punctuation in its title automatically has my vote.

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April brought with it a lovely scarf with beautiful silver beads, of which I still have approximately 8000 and no ideas for how to use them.

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Also, my last nursing school exam! I had a much-needed old fashioned at the St. Roch Market and resisted the urge to run around dancing in the streets.

May? Oh man, May was busy.

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Graduation Day!

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Valedictorian!

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Party planning!

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Rumchata Ribbon Ice Cream! Let’s be honest. The ice cream was the most important. That, and that lemon and blueberry bundt cake up there was pretty amazing, too.

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I designed and made a pretty cowl, Cowl Before the Storm, and it might just actually be cool enough to wear it today when I go see Star Wars.

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We went to see the Rentals! I got to chat with Matt Sharpe a little bit after the show, and I told him that I played through my cassette tape of Return of the Rentals so many times since age 13 that the ribbon snapped.

Yes, that is a Stay-Puft marshmallow man dancing up there during the show. It’s best left unexplained.

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Also, I dressed up like Fox in Socks at some point. Bright red scrub pants are the bomb.

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Dan and I tried to take June as easy as possible.

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I came home from work after midnight on my birthday to find a chocolate cake surprise from my love, plus new vinyl records!

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We did all kinds of coloring. (Yes, I am aware it is super trendy. No, I do not care. Coloring is awesome.)

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I made these awesome alcohol-drenched cupcakes.

In July, I started my new real-world job.

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I never would have predicted that I could simultaneously experience so many different emotions at one job, in even one hour at one job. My previous job life has been mostly retail and management-type stuff, and the feelings range from frustration to accomplishment, but mostly you just want to hurry up and finish things so you can go home.

Working with these kids has been so different and so eye-opening for me. I get to celebrate their victories, sing along to their favorite movies, comfort them and dry their tears, make crazy faces and make them laugh, be the bad guy with the medicine so that their parents can continue to be their heroes…in the short time that I’ve been there, I’ve experienced profound loss and unmitigated joy side-by-side with these children and their families, and even though I come home from night shift exhausted and generally don’t have any idea what time it is anymore, I can definitely say that I made the right decision to work in pediatrics.

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Plus, the hospital is close to my very favorite snoball stand, so that’s a plus. There are no shortcuts to quality.

At the end of July, my grandmother passed away. I actually found out about this the day before I took my NCLEX nursing license test while simultaneously battling terrible food poisoning brought about by Chinese food shrimp. There was a big mess in my brain for a fairly long time.

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She loved Christmas, and I felt her absence from our table this year strongly.

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Making pretty scarves helps you get through these things, even though it’s August and way too hot outside.

September?

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A trip to Los Angeles to deliver a very special scarf

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…to a very special person.

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I met the love of my life at the wax museum. It was hard to let go.

And then, the Emmys? What?

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I was just as surprised as you, Jamie Lee.

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Such a crazy trip, courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law, who seem to have created a habit of making opportunities for me to get to go do amazing things. You guys are great.

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In October, my baby Bowie had his 8th birthday. Here are some more adorable cat pictures, just because.

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Dang, those cats are cute.

November started with more alcoholic cupcakes.

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There’s still a lot of winter left to make your own RumChata cupcakes, so you should get on that.

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In December, so much blanket knitting (which you all just read about yesterday, right?), plus carouselfies…

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…more beignets and coffee…

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…and a large pack of angry cranes that followed Dan for about 10 minutes, thinking he would share his beignets.

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Plus, super secret work on a super secret project that I am terrible at keeping secrets about. Let’s just say, it involves a certain Avenger with a propensity for wearing patriotic colors, plus his troubled half-robotic-armed friend. That’s pretty vague, right?

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It’s been a year of ups and downs, that’s for sure, and as I looked through all of my pictures, I was struck by how much I didn’t really document things much this year. It just felt like a whirlwind to finally finish school and start a new life in nursing, or perhaps I am also lazy and attracted more to sleep than to putting my life back together again after school.

Now that life is starting to reassemble around my new job, I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of making things. Hopefully, 2016 will be full of pies (and I’ll actually remember to take pictures of them), knitting, hugs, and love, not just for me but for all of you out there. I’m just itching to get out there and make things already, and I can’t wait to show you when I do.

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RumChata Cupcakes!

It’s my friend Brittany’s birthday today, known mostly to you readers as the genius who came up with the RumChata Ice Cream challenge to which I valiantly arose during my graduation party.

That giant bottle of RumChata that I bought to make the ice cream has been hanging out in my refrigerator ever since, just waiting for the opportunity to become some other sort of alcoholic dessert. I’d say that a 30th birthday is a good enough occasion to break it out again, yes? Yes.

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Now, Brittany has a deep appreciation for all things cinnamon, including Fireball and RumChata. Don’t believe me?

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I wasn’t the only one who thought that it would make a good gift.

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Shots of RumChata are a something of a tradition with us.

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She’s also a bit of a cupcake connoisseur, so it seemed like the perfect idea to conjure up some RumChata Cupcakes to bring to the party.

There’s plenty of alcohol in the actual cakes themselves, plus extra brushed on top, and then mixed up into the buttercream frosting, too, as well as a great deal of cinnamon.

RumChata Cupcakes
adapted from Betty Crocker’s Starlight Yellow Cake and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:
Cupcakes:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups RumChata liqueur (plus about 1/4 cup extra for brushing)
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
1 heaping tsp. cinnamon (plus extra for sprinkling)

RumChata Buttercream Frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2-3 tbsp. RumChata liqueur

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners.

In large bowl, beat all cupcake ingredients together on low speed for 30 seconds, and then at high speed for about 3 minutes, until smooth and custardy. I like to start with the sugar and butter first, then the eggs, then everything else, but whatever works best for you.

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Whatever you do, don’t trust the lid on the baking powder, no matter how well it seems to be attached.

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Divide the batter evenly into the 24 cupcake liners, being sure to only fill each between 1/2 and 3/4 full.

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Put your face really, really close to the pan and get in a really good sniff of that cinnamon-y goodness before you have to put it in the oven.

Bake the cupcakes for approximately 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the tops spring back when touched lightly in their centers. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

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While the cakes are cooling, it’s frosting time!

In a medium bowl, beat the powdered sugar and softened butter together on low-medium speed until well-incorporated, then add the vanilla and 1 tbsp. of the RumChata.

Then, gradually add in enough RumChata, by drops, until the frosting is smooth and spreadable. I lost track of exactly how much I put in there, but I don’t think that I went more than 4 tbsp. You’ll know when you get there.

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Now, take your cooled cupcakes and poke some holes in the tops with a toothpick.

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Be sure to notice that your cats are up to something over in the corner, and have a balanced, logical discussion with them about how they shouldn’t try to eat cobwebs.

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Then, brush on a generous layer of RumChata and allow it to soak in a little bit.

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If you don’t let them dry a little bit, the tops of the cake will rip right off when you try to put the frosting on, so be patient if possible.

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I did end up having a tiny bit of RumChata left over after brushing all the cakes. You can guess what I did with that.

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If you said drink it straight from the measuring cup, you are correct.

Get a nice heaping scoop of frosting on a flat spatula and smear it on top of your cupcakes in a rustic fashion.

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Or, if you want to get fancy and pipe it on, go right ahead. However, this frosting recipe gives you just barely enough to get the tops done this way, so if you want something more elaborate, you should probably double the recipe.

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Then, with all your pretty little cakes in a row, sprinkle a touch of cinnamon on top of each one.

Pretty!

Now, what do these taste like? Here we have a stop-motion reaction shot, courtesy of the birthday girl.

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When they’re baking, they smell like butter and cinnamon and rum and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, all of the good things in the world. They taste that way, too, let me assure you.

Later on in the night, Brittany told me that they were the best thing that she had ever put in her mouth, and then she reminded me again later on Facebook. I’m not sure if I would go that far, but yes, they are definitely something special. They might be worth buying another giant bottle of RumChata for.

RumChata Ribbon Ice Cream. Oh, and I graduated from nursing school.

So.

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Damn it, RumChata, I’ll get back to you in a second. Stop looking so delicious. (Or, as the lady at the liquor store told me, stop looking like a giant bottle of lotion.)

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On Thursday, I finally, after an insane three years of paper-writing, textbook-reading, note-taking, care plan-making, and IV-flushing, graduated from nursing school. Hooray for me!

Now, when I write about things on here, the attitude is usually “hooray for me” all the time, mostly because it’s a blog, and what other kind of attitude are you supposed to have when you are mostly writing about your own accomplishments in knitting and baking? (And cats. I do write about cats a lot.) It’s also written from that perspective because I often have a very hard time accepting compliments in the real world. Or thinking that my work is good enough in general. I often ride a very fine line of knowing that I am extremely capable when I work hard at something and also thinking that the world and everything I love will suddenly plummet to a firey descent of death if I don’t get an A on this damn paper.

It makes life weird.

Anyway, attitudes like that which generally make my day-to-day life anxiety-fraught (and the word ‘anxiety’ consistently makes it onto the most-frequently-used tags cloud at the bottom of the page, so are we really surprised?) made this moment that much sweeter.

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Yep, valedictorian. I just. I. I don’t even know. I was pretty sure that it was coming (except during one particularly harrowing afternoon when it looked like some sort of weird snafu of transfer credits, prerequisites, and weird university by-laws was going to make it not happen), especially because of my general desire to set unattainable goals, but I still don’t even know what to say. All I know is that I smiled from ear-to-ear for nearly 48 hours straight. Might be a record.

Now. Back to the ice cream.

A graduation party had been in the works for some time prior to all of this, mostly because I wanted to make sure that I could properly thank the people in my life who made the experience bearable with their kindness, warmth, and humor, with an entirely ridiculous amount of food and alcohol. When I was brainstorming desserts, my friend Brittany issued me a challenge. An ice cream challenge, which is probably the best kind. She suggested making alcoholic ice cream. RumChata ice cream, specifically.

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Hey there, you beautiful bottle. Glad you’re back.

If you’ve never partaken in the glory of a shot of RumChata, let me let their website describe it to you: “Rum and horchata had a lovechild, and it’s delicious.” Good copy.

It tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But with alcohol. And it is a fantastic addition to any graduation party, all on its own. But in ice cream? I found lots of fakey-type ice cream recipes online for it (like the coconut cream or bananas methods), but to make it a real custard-based ice cream, I had to get creative.

You see, RumChata is 27.5 proof alcohol, low on the general drinkability scale, but high when it comes to attempting to freeze something. Some research was definitely required to get everything to work out properly. Enter Ice Cream Happy Hour, a fabulous book by Valerie Lum and Jenise Addison and definitely required reading if you’re attempting to freeze anything that’s loaded with alcohol. Their method employs prepared gelatin and chilled alcohol incorporated at the end of the custard base chilling process, which is totally genius stuff right there. I also pulled together inspiration from the Pioneer Woman and Food.com in creating this cinnamony delight.

Here we go.

RumChata Ribbon Ice Cream
with a great deal of adapting and combining from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, Ice Cream Happy Hour, the Pioneer Woman’s Cinnamon Ice Cream and Virginia’s Cinnamon Sauce

Ingredients:
Cinnamon Sauce Ribbon:
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 pinch salt
3 tsp cinnamon
3 cups water
1 tsp vanilla

RumChata Ice Cream Base:
2 cups whole milk
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp cornstarch
3 tbsp softened cream cheese
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 packet plain gelatin
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup chilled Rumchata liqueur

Directions:
Cinnamon Sauce Ribbon:

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Whisk all ingredients together, except for the vanilla, in a medium saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.

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Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and set aside to cool. (I let it sit out on the counter while I prepared the ice cream base and then refrigerated it until it was time to assemble the finished ice cream.) The sauce will thicken as it cools.

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RumChata Ice Cream Base:
This is all done using the Jeni’s method of ice cream making, which comes highly recommended by me and countless others. Please do go check out their website and support them in their awesome grand re-opening.

Mix two tbsp of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl (a giant bowl) with ice and water in order to chill your ice cream base when ready.

Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar, corn syrup, and cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, being sure to stir constantly to prevent scorching or boiling over, and boil for 4 minutes. (And be precise, people! Your ice cream is counting on you!)

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Remove from heat and gradually whisk in your cornstarch slurry mixture. Return to the heat and bring it back to a boil, still stirring, allowing it to cook and thicken up for about 1 minute. Fish out those cinnamon sticks and throw them away, unless you know something I don’t about what to do with them now.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese and beat until smooth. Add the ground cinnamon and mix until well-distributed.

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Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziplock bag, seal it, and submerge it in your giant bowl of water and ice until it’s totally chilled, about 30 minutes.

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When the ice cream base is chilled, it’s time for alcohol! Put the 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over it. Allow it about 2 minutes to properly absorb, and then cook the mixture over low heat for approximately 3 minutes, until it is clear and all the gelatin has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the chilled RumChata, resisting the urge to take a big swig from the bottle as you do so.

Pour this new alcohol mixture into the Ziplock bag with the chilled ice cream base, and then give the bag a good massage to make sure that everything’s mixed up nice. Pour the whole thing (most easily accomplished by snipping off a corner of the bag and squeezing it out) into the frozen canister of your ice cream maker and process it until it’s thick and creamy, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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This can be very different for different machines, and with the alcohol content involved in this one, may be very different from your normal time. Usually, my KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment takes only about 30-35 minutes before the base is ready to freeze, but in this case, I let it go for 45 minutes before I realized it was just never going to be as lofty as it usually gets. Instead, I then poured it into a freezer container and stuck it in the coldest part of my freezer, taking it out to whisk it up every 30 minutes or so for the next 2 hours, at which point it had finally evolved into something I was more familiar with. Just keep an eye on it and have a little cinnamon-based faith. Even if it doesn’t get as beautiful as normal, it’ll turn out.

Pack your new ice cream into a storage container, layering the cinnamon sauce as you go.

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The recipe makes a boatload of sauce, so there’s plenty left over to warm up and put on top if you want when you’re serving it. Press a sheet of parchment paper firmly against the surface of the ice cream and seal with an airtight lid. Normally, ice cream only takes about 5-6 hours to cure in my freezer, but this one was best left in there for the course of 24 hours. Plan ahead for this ice cream deprivation.

When you’re ready, make sure you’ve got people crowded around and waiting, because even after all that effort, if you so much as look wrong at that ice cream when you take it out of the freezer, it will melt just to spite you. (But no, seriously, you don’t have to let it thaw or anything like you might normally. Just get to scooping and work fast.)

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Marvel in the fact that it actually worked! And then hurry up and scoop some more because you’ve got more people waiting.

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This is Brittany, the gauntlet-thrower for this entire experiment, and I think she was pleased.

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I think everyone was, as this was the scene five minutes after I started scooping.

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Luckily, I saved a tiny bit for myself at the end to enjoy. The ice cream itself was smooth and packed with warm cinnamon flavor, with a hint of that rum that reminds you that you are eating some ice cream only for grown-ups. The cinnamon sauce ribbon was slightly icy and grainy, but in the best way possible, giving the whole thing an interesting texture and more complex palate. It tasted like…Cinnamon Toast Crunch. With alcohol.

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Mission accomplished.