Project Pie: Passover Chocolate Mousse Pie

Project Pie: I'll be baking 24 pies before Pi Day 2016 to get over my fear of baking pies. And to eat delicious things. You can join me by posting about your pies in the comments or tagging your twitter, instagram, or facebook posts with #projectpie. Make something gooey and delicious!

This chocolate velvet pie is my wife's favorite dessert. It comes with those special feelings that holiday baked goods always have, and it gets bonus points for being adaptable. My mother-in-law served it the first time I spent Passover with Navah's family, and I've made it almost every year since then for Navah's birthday - even with all the various eating restrictions we've worked with over time.

Unfortunately, the making of it has involved a lot of cursing (from me). I can never get the chocolate to melt well and fold into the eggs without getting fudgy, and then it breaks up into little bits throughout the mousse. Navah says it's delicious and she loves it anyway, but it drives me crazy every time.

Once I started the Project Pie challenge, I realized it was time - once and for all - to get this pie right. So I asked my mother-in-law if we could make it together this Passover.

She took out this stained piece of paper with the recipe on it and told me that Navah's aunt (her sister-in-law) found the recipe in a Seventeen magazine when she was sixteen years old, and they've used it ever since, adapting it slightly to meet their Passover needs (aka non-dairy so that it can be served with the meat meal). Navah's mom learned to make it in her mother-in-law's kitchen about 40 years before she taught me to make it in hers. 

We made it with non-dairy whipping cream and kosher for passover semi-sweet baking chocolate, and it turned out perfectly. I'm going to have to try it at home again with the ingredients I generally use - coconut cream and sunspire grain-sweetened chocolate chips - to see if precisely following my mother-in-law's method will turn out a smoother pie. 

Of course, you can make this with regular whipping cream if dairy isn't an issue.

Passover Chocolate Mousse Pie (non-dairy)

7 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate
3 tablespoons hot water
7 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup non-dairy whipping cream
pinch of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in 1/3 cup of sugar and set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the other 1/3 cup sugar until lemon yellow.
4. Melt the chocolate and water over the stove or in the microwave. Watch closely and stop the heat (either on the stove or in the microwave) before the chocolate has completely melted. Stir to complete the melting process.
5. Mix the melted chocolate into the egg yolks.
6. Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites that you set aside earlier.
7. Pour half of the mix into a greased pie plate and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. This chocolate crust should rise a bit but will sink while you let it cool (for at least 1 hour).
8. Once the crust is cool, whip one cup of the cream, reserving 1/4 cup for garnish.
9. Add the remaining 3/4 cup whipped cream to the remaining chocolate mixture and pour into the pie crust.
10. Place in the refrigerator for 2 hours - overnight.
11. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

p.s. As the snow melts and Spring comes to Vermont in earnest, this is something I'll be worrying about again soon.

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This Is The Day

Growing up, I loved the summer days I spent hanging out in church auxiliary rooms at Vacation Bible School. If you're not familiar, VBS is essentially a week-long day camp where you make craft projects and play games and learn some Bible stories. 

And you sing. 

At the end of each day of Vacation Bible School at my Methodist church, we'd file into the pews in the little chapel and sing camp songs. This was my favorite part. 

This was the part where your teacher might put her hand up to her ear in the universal sign for I Can't Hear You, Please Shout At The Top Of Your Lungs. And fifteen little seven year olds would gleefully throw their heads back and yell out the words to This Little Light of Mine until they were hoarse. 

As an adult, you're expected to hit the right note and keep your voice as clear and soft and in tune as the voices around you. As an adult, you're expected to regulate. Don't get me wrong - I love singing in choirs and making beautiful music. I love harmonizing and the goose bumps that come from a perfectly executed pianissimo. 

But shout-singing, that realm of the uninhibited child, has always felt a bit like prayer to me. 

One of my favorites was a call-and-response style number with these words: 

This is the day
That the Lord has made
Let us rejoice 
And be glad in it.

I taught it to my wife early on in our relationship by shout-singing it one morning to pump myself up before classes. By then I had changed "the Lord" to "God" in my own rendition. It didn't take Navah long to learn the basic tune, and it quickly became a staple get-pumped-for-the-day song around our house. One of us takes the leader lines, the other repeats back with gusto, and when we get to the words that call for unison, we each try to sing-shout louder than the other as I yell THIS IS THE DAY THAT GOD HAS MADE and she yells THIS IS THE DAY THAT HASHEM HAS MADE (because that's how you do interfaith right). Jammer wags his tail.

It's silly, and it's also my most joyful prayer. It's a thank you to God (who or whatever I believe that to be on my ever-evolving faith journey) for this exact day, a reminder to myself that there is hope and possibility in the act of waking up to a new sunrise, that there is something inherently magical about being alive to experience this life, that happy shouting is a heart opener. 

When I started thinking about a project for over the doorway in our main living space, I knew immediately what I wanted - a symbol not just of the potential in every day, but of the joyful exuberance of the little seven-year-old I still have inside me. 

I painted and stained this wood board with the line THIS IS THE DAY over the weekend, and when I stepped back from hanging it up, I squealed and giggled involuntarily. 


This is the day. 

p.s. Another of my favorite childhood songs

Making My Tribe

"Where there was good food there were usually good people. I learned that early on. I also learned that making food for other people was something I was good at. It gave me a sense of peace and belonging. When I made food, I made a tribe."  Kim Severson, Spoon Fed

This weekend at my wife's firm's holiday party, I stationed myself next to the chilled shrimp, slathered cocktail sauce on a plate and got down to business. Between shrimp and what I would describe as gourmet pepperoni, I ate almost a full meal before we sat down for dinner. Shrimp is one of my favorite foods, and I don't eat it at home because we keep a somewhat kosher kitchen, meaning no shellfish, no pork, and no meals that include both dairy and meat (though I sometimes have both if it's just me).

The negotiations that surrounded our moving in together almost six years ago were tense, not because we weren't both sure that we wanted to take that step but because we struggled to figure out how to make the "food stuff" work. We come from completely different worlds on that front.

I grew up in Georgia with parents from South Louisiana, which meant that my fried chicken and biscuits were mingled with sausage-filled red beans and rice, jambalaya, seafood gumbo, shrimp stew, and - my absolute favorite - crawfish etouffee.

Not only that - I came from a clean-your-plate, eat-what-your-mama-cooked house. No one had allergies, or ethical food considerations, and I was allowed only a small number of food dislikes. I was expected to eat the food put in front of me.

My wife, on the other hand, grew up just outside Philadelphia in a strictly kosher house. She didn't eat out at restaurants. She checked every food box for the kosher symbol. Add to that the fact that she was diagnosed lactose intolerant when she was 11 and a myriad of food intolerances shortly after we started dating, and we were looking at a pretty challenging landscape for compromise.

If we hadn't each made a little movement since our childhoods, I'm not sure we would have had a chance. But by the time we met, I had dabbled in vegetarianism and was focused on eating sustainably-raised meat. My wife now ate out at restaurants and ate non-kosher foods, though not non-kosher animals (aka, no pork, etc).

Naturally, she wanted a kitchen without pork or shellfish and with separate dishes for meat and dairy - the type of kitchen she grew up with. And I wanted a kitchen with cheeseburgers on the grill and pots of shellfish-laden etouffee simmering on the stove - the type of kitchen I grew up with. It wasn't just that I felt that I was, in the food arena, perhaps becoming Jewish by default (something I was not prepared to do). It was that so many of the warm and cozy memories of my childhood involved a food item that would not be permissible in a kosher kitchen. And even the "kosher lite" kitchen we were discussing wouldn't welcome a shrimp cocktail. But of course, the alternate was true for my wife.

We ultimately took the plunge with a set of parameters we both felt we could accept. They've morphed over time along with all our other interfaith issues, but we thankfully always come back to the same place - we want to be together enough to expand, to grow the box of our lives big enough to include elements of both of our traditions. We'd rather be doing that messy work with each other than not.  At this point, I'd say we've both given up a fair amount.

But we've gained so, so much.

Those occasions where I find a way to share my family's food traditions with her are such a gift, whether it's making something kosher-friendly or dairy-free or without refined grains and sugars (which wreak havoc on her system). When we subbed out buttermilk for soymilk in the fried chicken, when we found the perfect chicken andouille sausage for my mom's sausage and chicken gumbo, and last week when I realized I could make one of my favorite holiday treats - chocolate haystacks - with her special dairy-free, sugar-free chocolate chips, salted almonds, and gluten-free pretzels. In those moments, I am creating our own new traditions - ones that are a mix of her and a mix of me.

It may sound silly, but as we stand in the kitchen crunching away on these modified chocolate nibbles or sit across from each other chowing down on bowls of chicken and sausage gumbo, I remember the words we said when we slipped our rings on each other's fingers.

I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine. 

This is where I belong.
This is my tribe.