I Believe

Every once and a while I do a cookie drop and have an experience that leaves an imprint on my heart.  It’s like it’s almost painful to keep it in and not share its profound impact on me with the world.

I did a cookie drop at Runway Tire the other day.  You probably haven’t heard of it; it’s all the way up on 19th Ave and 42nd Street, practically as close to the water as you can get in Astoria.  I met some hardworking gentlemen there, including the owner, Anthony Germano.  I had meant to go pick up my plate the Monday before Thanksgiving, but got swept away with holiday travel preparations and didn’t make it there until the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

I always feel a little sheepish when I don’t return for a plate when I say I am going to.  That’s one of the many things I’m resolving to do better in 2016.  So, as I walked in, I carried a touch of embarrassment for not having been in sooner.  Anthony recognized me and said, “We’ve been waiting for you!” and went to grab a bag on top of a vending machine in the back of the front room.  He told me he took the cookies home to his family and his kids and wife had loved them, looked me up online and that he wife loves joyful, happy things like my project and so they wanted to do something nice for me.  And here was my plate, wrapped in cellophane with a small gift bag and a card with my name written in cheerful bold purple block letters.  I was pretty surprised and very appreciative of the gesture.  We chatted a little bit about the history of Runway Tires, I learned that he took over the business from his father and started working there when he was 17 after his dad went in for open heart surgery, I thanked him for the gift and headed back home.

I tried to take pictures of the beautiful package when I got home, but my phone is so woefully full that it wouldn’t take.  In retrospect, I’m a little glad I didn’t document the hell out of this.  I savored unwrapping the ribbon holding it the cellophane together, reading the card and its heartfelt words, gingerly taking out the tissue paper from the gift bag.  In the bottom was a small Alex & Ani box.  The irony in that is that I had just told my family what I wanted for Christmas just a few days before – an Alex & Ani bracelet.  Inside the box was a Kindred Cord; a small charm that says “Journey Blessing Grace” on a delicate black cord with a blessing of Godspeed.  I have been shown incredible kindness and generosity in my day, but something about this struck me differently.  Sure, I give every week.  I bake cookies and a share goodness with those around me.  But the Germano family went to the store with me in their minds and hearts, and picked out something for me specifically.  With intention.

I left my apartment shorty after that to head into school to teach some lessons feeling humbled and uplifted and touched beyond words.  For the rest of the evening, I kept looking at that black cord on my wrist, knowing only I knew the story behind it, and feeling touched I had been thought of, and by people I didn’t even know.  I woke up the next day, still wearing it, feeling the same way.  My secret badge of honor; that I did something good for someone.  Somehow wearing it felt life armor against anything bad life might throw at me.

I taught differently that day.  I love my job and rarely have a bad day.  I’m blessed with great students, and I feel I’m doing good work with each one of them.  As I saw student after student, I was truly glad to see everyone of them, and connected.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to be at Turtle Bay and making music, but something felt different.  Something inside me had shifted.  I could see it in the way my students responded to me and our work.

Then my 12 o’clock came in.  This woman, let’s call her M, is a delight.  She is always game for a new Italian art song or aria, loves Pavarotti, and often gives me a rundown and review on the latest performance she’s seen at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center.  She’s made great strides since we started working together, but refuses to believe me.  She told me a few weeks ago, “I know I’ll never be a professional musician, but music for me is hope.”

M came in and I greeted her warmly, asked how she was doing, as the last time I had seen her, she was battling that wicked fall cold that everyone seemed to get.  She was settling in and setting her stuff down and said as good as could be expected.  She then turned, straightened, and told me that her mother had died on Saturday.

She told me it was everything you could hope for, a good thing for her mother, and shared some intimate details of their last conversation.  I told her if she wanted to not sing today we can reschedule, and please, take care of yourself first.  With pleading eyes, she asked me if we could spend the lesson vocalizing for a bit and then she could go home.  That this had been something she wanted to do and was looking forward to.  45 minutes of singing with me.

She sang beautifully that day and I cried when she left.

The cornerstone of Single Girl Cookies is kindness, kindness with intent, and kindness because you never know what someone is going through.  You can never know your impact on someone, so be kind to all, always.  I didn’t realize what our lessons meant to my student, and the Germano family has no idea how special that simple black corded bracelet is to me.  In my mind, these two events are linked, and the two parties aren’t even aware of the others’ existence.

In the midst of San Bernardino, and Planned Parenthood, and Paris, and too many other tragedies to mention, it’s so easy to lose sight of the good in people.  But I still believe we are all good on the inside.  Kindness and light will prevail, but it has to start somewhere.  It has to start with you.  We can’t let our humanity slip away in a river of violence or anger or disappointment.  You have to believe that there is good left in us.  That there is hope in the darkness.  That kindness does make a difference.  It’s there in the little everyday gestures that may be meaningless to you, but may mean the world to someone else.

That difference has to start with you.  That difference is you.

I believe.  Do you?

 

Apple Pie Bars

It’s the most wonderful tiiiiiiiiiiime of the yeeeeaaaaarr!!!  No, not Christmas, although I do love the holiday season (and can’t seem to escape the preemptive Christmas decorations EVERYWHERE) but I’m talking about fall!  You know it’s my absolute favorite time of the year, and this year has been no different.  Say what you want about New York weather being fickle, but I’ve enjoyed having a mix of warm days and chill, crisp air days.  Even the warmer days have allowed for my baking to go crazy because I’m no longer sweating it out in my apartment!

I posted about my bacon fat gingersnaps earlier this fall, also about my vanilla cupcakes that are so popular and delicious, and now it’s time to post about my amazing apple pie bars.  Apple pie bars, you say?  Does that mean like, an apple pie in bar form?  That I can hold in my hand and deliver directly to my mouth??  YES.  That is exactly what I mean.

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I developed this recipe as I was fiddling around with ice cream sandwich ideas for my featured dessert spot at The Queens Kickshaw.  I tried a few ice cream pairings that I didn’t love until I put together one made from my almond sugar cookies and apple pie ice cream that I made by blending apple pie filling and vanilla ice cream together.  My mother had made a similar apple pie dessert in non-pie form that day, which got me thinking about how to get an apple pie that you can hold in your hand that doesn’t come from McDonald’s or 7-11.  The ice cream sandwich was killing it at being delicious, but I wanted to be able to pick up a piece of pie.  The almond sugar cookie mixed well with the apple pie flavor, so I thought I’d go in that direction instead of a traditional pie crust.  I settled on a shortbread bottom and crumb topping with all that cinnamony goodness in the middle and have never looked back!

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I’ve now made these three times in less than 14 days and every person I have shared them with has declared them amazing.  When you get 36 little squares out of every batch, that’s a lot of people!  I guarantee these will wow your guests or hosts at the next party you attend this holiday season, and will quickly become your favorite go-to dessert.

Apple Pie Bars

Ingredients for Filling:
5 pounds of apples   *I like using honeycrisp
1 cup of sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cornstarch
2 to 3 tbsp water of apple cider
squeeze of lemon

Extras: Dashes of ginger/nutmeg/cloves/all spice.  If you’ve got’em, throw’em in, if that’s what you like.  Or if you have a recipe for filling that you like for your apple pies, use that.

Peel, core and chop apples into small chunks. Combine all ingredients in a pot and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until apples are soft and cooked.  I like super small chunks in my apple pie bars so I go through and use a dough cutter to help break them up even further.  I also like doing this step the night before.  It makes putting it all together tomorrow really easy and then I get to multitask and smell that delicious apple pie smell in my house while I’m working!

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Ingredients for Shortbread:
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups flour

Ingredients for Crumb Topping:
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour

First preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Put all the ingredients for your shortbread crust in a medium sized bowl.  Use your dough cutter to mix and blend the ingredients.

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Once you start seeing pea sized chunks of butter, I get right in there and mix with my hands to make sure everything is truly blended.

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Press your dough into the bottom of a 9×9 pan.

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No need to grease; there is plenty of butter in the shortbread already.  Take out your pre-made apple pie filling and pour that evenly over the shortbread.

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Using the same bowl you used for the dough (I like to save on dishes), mix the ingredients for the crumb topping with your dough cutter, but stop while you still have sizeable chunks of butter left.  Evenly sprinkle that on top of the filling.

Bake for 45 minutes at 350.  The filling should be bubbling around the edges when you do. Let cool completely before cutting, and better yet, let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before cutting.  It slices cleaner and sets up better.  Cut into 9 squares to remove it from the pan, then I cut each square into quarters.  You may think they look small, but these babies pack quite a punch.  Those bite sized squares are the perfect size to pick up, and go a long way at a party.  And you can then have two or three of them.  Or three or four.  Or six.  I’m not here to judge. 🙂

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Everyone has loved these so much that I’m looking to get them in a few places around the neighborhood, so if you aren’t a baker or just don’t feel like making them, you can still get a taste of the season!  And as always, I love seeing photos and hearing stories of how your baking adventures went.  Tag me on Twitter, Insta or Facebook of your pics!  Happy baking!!