Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

Several years ago around this holiday time, I made some pumpkin cheesecake bars. They were delicious, so I made them three times in a month. I told my sister about them. She commented on my Facebook wall asking me to send her the recipe for these delicious pumpkin cheesecake bars. Five wonderful FB stalkers chimed in, wanting the recipe as well. And so I posted the recipe to my Facebook, for all to enjoy.

pumpkin cheesecake bars

Fast forward to a few days ago, when Facebook reminded me of this precious memory. “Oh happy day, now I know what I will make for this year’s Thanksgiving dessert!” my mind-voice exclaimed. I clicked on the several-year-old link, and it brought me to nothing. Absolutely nothing. I tried a little while later on a computer rather than my phone, and it redirected me to some fruity cheesecake bars. Very odd, indeed. So I searched the internets for “pumpkin cheesecake bars,” and the first few recipes I saw involved a yellow cake mix, and I just knew those were not my pumpkin cheesecake bars.

But I couldn’t just give up! Not now, when my mind was already tantalizing me with its amazing ability to reminisce in such a vivid and tasty way, reminding my tastebuds of that perfectly smooth and creamy, pumpkin-y cheesecake layer atop a crunchy, nutty, almost caramel-y, cookie-like crust. And so I did what I had to do. After going through a few different cheesecake bar and pumpkin bar recipes, combining ingredients and methods, I came up with the recipe below. And yippee skippy, it did not disappoint. These holiday pumpkin cheesecake bars tasted even better than my memories.

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So if you’re thinking about making a boring pumpkin pie sometime during the rest of this holiday season, don’t. If you’re thinking about making a plain old cheesecake that you could have any time of the year sometime during the rest of this holiday season, don’t. And if you’re thinking about buying either one of those desserts because they’re too difficult to make sometime during the rest of this holiday season, don’t. Make these easy peasy pumpkin cheesecake bars instead, and they will exceed all of your expectations for the aforementioned desserts combined.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup salted butter, softened

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup chopped pecans

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)

12 oz cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

dash of nutmeg (or to taste)

whipped cream, for serving

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. To make crust, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the flour and chopped nuts and stir until mixture is crumbly. 
  3. Press mixture into 8-inch square pan and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly, and scatter chocolate chips around warm crust. 
  4. To make filling, beat cream cheese and granulated sugar until smooth. Stir in the eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, and nutmeg; mix well.
  5. Pour evenly over baked crust. Bake 30 minutes or until set.
  6. Let cool and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Top each serving with whipped cream.

When the World is Crappy, I Choose Ignorance

Bad people are the worst and need to disappear now. Innocent people being hurt and killed is totally wrong and unfair. People spreading hate and false rumors, who use their stories and thoughtfully strung words to get blind followers and create groups of uprising can go ahead and stop now. Evil needs to go right back to where it came from–HELL.  

And those are all the biggest understatements of the year. But words can never adequately describe such things.

Sometimes the world just seems like a crappy, crappy place. And once I get on that mindset, my thoughts spiral and continue to spiral down down down toward the dark, black hole of all-encompassing negativity, whereupon entering, there may be no return.

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Fortunately I’ve never quite reached that black hole. But man, this past week I’ve gotten pretty close.

It doesn’t help that I decided to pick up The Maze Runner from the library to read for the first time. The book was great, and I’m looking forward to finishing the series, but living within that fictional dystopian world these past several days somehow hasn’t worked to improve my outlook on our real one. It also doesn’t help that my husband’s favorite channel is CNN and favorite past time is watching all the news stories in the world. I guess it makes him feel informed, or something. And I guess some people like to be informed..?

Not me. My preference is ignorance and bliss.

I hope those who enjoy being informed on the details of world events try to understand people like me, and not make us feel unintelligent or uncaring for not knowing more. Because it’s not that I’m so stupid or naive or heartless that I don’t want to be bothered with the unimaginably terrible situations people in the world are facing right this very moment, thousands of miles away in places I’ve never visited, because it’s not happening to me, this white American middle-class girl born in a free land all thanks to my ancestors I know so little of but mostly luck. It’s not that at all. For me, ignorance is a survival mechanism that keeps me going along day-to-day without crying hysterically in the bathroom, without sleeping in my son’s bed at night and cuddling him so tightly because we’re all going to die and who knows when and what is this world I’ve brought him into, without fear living in my heart at all times controlling my every move and blocking out happiness and recognition of all good things this world still has to offer.

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I don’t know myself to have any true anxiety disorder that needs to be medically treated, but I know many people deal with such things and shouldn’t feel ashamed for a second. I do, however, think of myself as an overly-sensitive, emotional person who feels too much when I allow those feelings that demand to be overly-felt and can’t get thoughts of bad, sad, scary things out of my head once they’ve seeped or bombarded their way in there (and this is why I don’t watch scary or remotely scary movies, because I am consistent in the things I can and can’t handle, and wish not to be an insomniac for the rest of my life).

When I say I vote ignorance, I don’t mean completely and utterly. I like to know the gist of important events happening in the world (and unless I lived under a rock, I will always know at least that much), enough so that I can keep the hurting, mistreated, abused people in my thoughts and prayers (that’s about all I’ve ever managed to do for such people I don’t know, as well as an occasional donation; I do hope to be able to help on a more personal level one day). But I don’t need to know every detail of what happened to them, explained and analyzed by reporter after reporter, or see news videos showing actual footage taken while poor innocent people were being shot and murdered in cold blood. I’d bet the poor innocent survivors of such events can’t get that tragic, uninvited memory out of their heads and pray to God that they could just forget, have that scene of what they lived through erased from their minds, so they don’t have to view and repeat, repeat, repeat, living through it over and over again for the rest of their lives.

I understand that people’s emotions and reactions are different. Some people watch and read detailed accounts of disaster and despair and it makes them feel more for the victims, and feeling for people is always good. There will always be hope for humanity as long as there is empathy. For some I think, watching and reading detailed accounts of disaster and despair is just like seeing more of the same from yesterday, last week, a year ago, and doesn’t extract any real feelings at all. Perhaps they should take a step back to find something that does make them feel again lest they lose their own humanity. For me, detailed accounts of disaster and despair just make me feel sick and honestly, quite hopeless, indeed–the very opposite reaction of what victims need their fellow humans to feel if anything is to ever change for the better.

The purpose of being informed to any degree of world events can’t be for entertainment when we’re bored or pure knowledge of things so that we can bring it up in conversations later and sound so knowledgable, perhaps even throwing in our own strong opinions on the subject for purpose of controversy and a good debate and more entertainment in getting some to fully support us and others all riled up in disagreement. The purpose of being informed of the goings-on in the world, the real blessing of media and technology and having the world at our finger tips is so that we can be aware of those who need help and do something to aid, however small it may be. At least I hope this is the reason we want to be informed (and the reason the media wants to inform us).

That, and for the purpose of being able to see the flames of light in even the darkest, black holes. The helpers among the destroyers. The heroes among the killers. This is what pulls me out of my funk every time the world gets me down. The stories of survival and pressing on when almost everything has been lost. The people who spread hope and peace, goodwill and charity, defiance and refusal to spread hatred and negativity even when it would be so easy, understandable even, to do so. And so I thank you, World, for always pulling me back up after you’ve gotten me down.

When giving your child a sibling isn’t as easy as deciding to start trying.

Things people say to a mother of one who is struggling to get pregnant with a second, and the thoughts that go through her head:

“Well at least you have one.” I happen to know that you are saying this while struggling to have your first, so yes, you are justified in your pain and perhaps resentment toward mothers of any number of children. But you should know as well as anyone about unfulfilled dreams and fear of the biological unknowns. While you, hopeful mother, are in a very tough situation, so am I, the mother of one, because I feel as sad for my child as I do for myself, that I’m not giving him a sibling and can’t say when I will. Don’t make me feel like my emotions aren’t justified.

“It might be a good thing you haven’t had another yet. Your child is crazy/quite a handful/destructive–it would be a miracle if a baby lasted a day in the same house as him.” Well thanks. I’m glad you think my child is so much more of an anomalous monster than all the other small children in this world who already have a baby sibling.

“Don’t worry so much about it. The more you think and stress about it, the longer it will take to happen.” Okay, that’s fine, it may be true. But much easier said than done. And you with your four kids all spaced two years apart, I don’t think you’ve ever had to worry or not worry about getting pregnant….

“Maybe you’re not actually ready for another child. You might think you are, but everything works out the way it’s supposed to in the end. You are probably right, and that is a huge fear. After trying to conceive for months, the thought of having another baby is always in the back of my mind, all day every day. So every time I yell at my kid, totally lose my cool, feel completely burnt out, like I can hardly make it to his bedtime, the mini devil version of my mom-self climbs up on my shoulder to loudly laugh and mock in my ear: “And you think you can handle another! Ha, you can hardly handle one! All these other moms of three and four are excelling in their roles (or so your BFF social media tells you), but you could never–you’re not cut out for it. Just stop trying, give up now, lest you want to lose all semblance of your sanity and self-respect.” So if I’m not ready now, when will I be? Is a day coming that I will wake up with 100 times more patience, clarity, and self-control? If it really truly is, then okay. I will wait.

“Your kid is probably loving all this one-on-one time with you.” Yes, I do believe he is, and I am loving it as well. Whenever I think of that changing, I feel incredibly sad. But things have got to change sometime, and sooner is probably better than later, because I bet the next thing you say to me as we watch our kids interacting together is….

“I guess that’s what happens with an only-child, huh? They don’t learn how to share/be nice/get along well with other children, hahaha [because this is being said with such hysterical good-humor]?” Actually my child does know how to share and behave properly in social situations–we’ve worked together a lot on those things. But alas, he is three, and so I do believe he is entitled to an off-day every now and again. Of course, as you know, his living situation hasn’t exactly forced him to practice these attributes on a daily basis. Still, I would appreciate you not judging him for things that are beyond his and his parents’ control.

“Just be grateful for the child you already have.” If gratitude could be measured, I’d bet you fifty times the amount of money in my bank account that mine is at max quota when it comes to my child. But that doesn’t change a woman’s ideal, a lifelong dream, even,  of the number of kids she wants to raise in love and happiness or the number of kids she still believes are waiting in the heavens to be hers.

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In case you hadn’t guessed, I am a mother trying to have my second child. I have never been truly offended by anything people have said to me regarding my situation, because I recognize the foolishness in being offended by well-meaning, perhaps oblivious, people. But still, one can’t help but wish they would more often say, “I’m sorry, that must be difficult,” as a response to the topic they brought up after noticing that my child is an entire three years of age, still without a younger sibling or impregnated mommy, and wanted to know if I am “ever planning to have more kids?”

Well FYI, my husband and I started trying to get pregnant a year ago. Every month since has brought excitement, anticipation, drudgery, disappointment, and, perhaps most of all, guilt. Logically, I know my son is very young and really hasn’t missed out on much in his life yet, but truth be told, I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m letting him down by not giving him one of the most cherished parts of my childhood: siblings.

That might sound a little overdramatic, but when it’s your life and you’re in the midst of the struggle, it’s a big deal. I’m positive that there are many women who have suffered through much more than I have, who have experienced my emotions multiplied, exponentiated even, by the number of years they’ve been trying to conceive. I don’t pretend to know their pain, but I think the basic emotions are the same for pretty much anyone who’s been trying to conceive for more than a few months. Fear of the unknown is the hardest to rationalize, because perhaps conception will occur next month and the worry will be nothing more than a short-lived memory, but perhaps it will take years, or never happen at all–who can say for sure?

I don’t believe the average healthy, childbearing-age woman has to truly worry that she may never get pregnant. But some of us have health conditions that make that fear seem like an absolute possibility. For me, it’s endometriosis.

The main symptoms of endometriosis are pain and infertility. When my husband and I began trying to get pregnant for the first time four years ago, I had already been dealing with pain for several years and could only pray that the infertility wouldn’t manifest itself as well. Desmond was conceived after just four months of trying, and I was happily relieved to know that I was not, in fact, infertile. A couple months after Desmond turned two, we began trying for another, hoping for a three-ish year age difference.

Several months later, I made the mistake of turning to Internet for reassurance, hoping to find stories of women with endometriosis as well as multiple children.  While browsing an online forum, about half of the commenters said they had never conceived and had pretty much lost hope of having a biological child. The other half said something along the lines of, “I always dreamed of getting pregnant but knew my chances weren’t good. But then, blessed be the heavens and thanks to my lucky stars, I did conceive and had my beautiful, healthy angel baby, and he/she is more than I could have ever hoped for. I am so beyond fortunate to have gotten my one little miracle.”

Reading that was disheartening, to say the least. Suddenly I had this feeling that maybe I am infertile and had just gotten really really lucky that first time, and what a fool I was to think that after that one chance conception I was good to go for any others I might want at any time I simply decided was right. My son’s birth, like all births, was a miracle. But I had never thought of myself as being particularly lucky or blessed–no more than any other mom, anyway. As much as my Desmond fills my heart with love and joy and pleasure, he’s not enough. My child is my everything, but he’s just not enough. Sorry if that sounds harsh or ungrateful, but how can he be, when ever since childhood when I first dreamed of being a mother, I always planned on having multiple children?

Many parents have one child and they are happy with that and that is wonderful. But when I grew up with four siblings and loved my house full of noise and laughter, bodies and shared bedrooms, when every time an older sibling moved out for college was one of the saddest days of my life… well, it should be understandable why I would want nothing more than to give my own child those same lifelong friends from birth.

Motherhood has always been one of my main goals in life, one that will leave a lasting legacy even after I leave this earth, and I firmly believe will be a defining part of me in the life after this one, on through eternity. I can’t accept the allowance of that dream being altered or unfulfilled in completeness due to a random, seemingly insignificant condition of my mortal body. Not all things are within my control of course, but I do my best to remain positive and look at things within a perspective far greater than my own.

The purpose of this post is not to make you feel sorry for me (like really, it’s not). Perhaps you can relate to me, and knowing someone else has felt your feelings makes them feel more validated (even though they were already validated all on their own), and sometimes that’s all we really need. But perhaps you can’t relate, however, I bet you know someone who can. And now you know a bit more of what she’s going through and how you might appropriately support her.

In the end, though, it mostly just comes down to my child, for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched my son playing at the park while he’s tried to join in with a group of siblings and they were far from accepting. Yes, they’re kids, and as I said of my own child before, they are entitled on occasion to not behave properly in social situations. But how I wished they would just include him for that hour.

I once even overheard a mom say to her friend, “Well that’s what happens when you decide to just have one kid–he’s going to be lonely” (I’m sorry, but does my child appear to be like, ten to you?). Perhaps she had several kids so close in age so that they could form their own little army, always sticking together, never trusting or playing with an outsider. To each their own, I guess. But how I wished she had simply reminded her children, “Hey, that little boy isn’t your brother, but it’s okay to play with him too.” Because no kid deserves to be left out or excluded based on something he can’t–and sometimes neither can his parents–control.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (And How I Make Them Without a Mixer)

Chocolate Chip Cookies. Choc. O. Late. Chip. Cookies. Chooooocolate Chiiiiip Cooookies.

Are you thinking about chocolate chip cookies? (And the real question: are you salivating yet?)

One of the best desserts ever, in my humble opinion. Deliciously classic, perfect for any occasion, snack, treat, or meal (yes, they can sometimes replace an entire meal. Add a side salad, if you must). I don’t know about your idea of “the perfect chocolate chip cookie,” but mine is able to satisfy whatever my sweet tooth is craving on that particular day, whether it be demanding something chewy, buttery, chocolatey, melty, crispy, gooey, or just downright delectable. My cookie is thick, with layers of rich goodness in each bite. Dense, yet soft and tender. Also, it is fast and easy to make, requiring nothing but a mixing bowl, wooden spoon, measuring cup, and measuring spoon. And it consistently turns out perfect, every. single. time.

Here’s how I make my chocolate chip cookies without a mixer, because I’ve never had one, although it was at the top of my wish list during my first year of wifehood, but then I learned how to get along so well without one. However, have you seen Ree Drummond’s orange KitchenAid painted with that beautiful flowery design? Kinda puts “KitchenAid” right back at the top of my wish list ever time I see it (love Pioneer Woman)!

Place butter in a microwaveable mixing bowl and microwave for 30 seconds until super soft, even melting.

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Stir in sugars. Add in egg and vanilla, stir until combined.

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Dump in one cup of flour, mix slightly. Add in the second cup of flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt–mix powders slightly with your spoon to distribute evenly before stirring into the mixture beneath. Once there is just a little flour left unmixed, pour in chocolate chips and stir until no flour is visible in the dough.

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Form into balls, place on greased cookie sheet. As dough will be soft, place cookie sheet in freezer for 5-10 minutes, until dough balls are hard and cool.

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Getting them fairly cold prevents them from spreading quickly in the oven and staying perfectly thick and round. Bake for 8-10 minutes (usually right at 9 minutes for me).

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chocolate chip cookies

And to emphasize once more: these chocolate chip cookies are crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle, and just a little gooey in the very center (when eaten straight out of the oven)–so in a word, magical. And they stay soft and chewy for days, although I prefer to make my cookies ten to twelve at a time, leaving the rest of the dough in the fridge so that I can 1) eat a spoonful of cookie dough anytime I feel like it, and 2) have warm cookies anytime I feel like it.

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Recipe found on Kelsey’s blog, Apple a Day

Ingredients:
3/4 c. butter (I use salted)
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (I use 3/4 tsp. as I like a little salty-sweet combo, and I think the extra salt really enhances the buttery flavor)
1 c. bittersweet chocolate chips

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars until fluffy and light in color. Add egg and vanilla and blend in.

3. Mix in flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Stir in chocolate chunks.

4. Using a standard-sized cookie scoop or tablespoon, drop dough onto a prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until barely golden brown around the edges. (The tops will not brown, but do NOT cook longer than ten minutes.)

5. Let cool as long as you like, but I usually start popping them into my mouth after about 5 minutes…if I can make it even that long. Makes around 3 dozen.