Creamy Peanut Butter Pie, take two

Creamy Peanut Butter Pie | In Jennie's Kitchen

This pie has become a symbol of love for so many, and I tend to only make it twice a year—the day he was born, and the day he passed away. Why can’t I still say the word “died”? Does it speak to a bigger discussion on how we handle death in our culture? Is it something to be talked about in hushed tones? Should we be looking for the magic cure all with costly therapy bills and self-help books to muzzle the ache of our grief? Or just maybe we should give it the proverbial time, live with it, feel it, let it run its natural course until it plants roots deep inside?

I realize the latter might seem to hard to understand. Surely, I wouldn’t have agreed with this theory in the days, months, and weeks after Michael’s death (and yes, there was a lot of therapy, too). This summer will be six years since it happened, and it’s taken almost as long to realize running from it is the wrong answer, for me at least. Grief isn’t one size fits all, regardless of what anyone will have you think. There are no strategies to employ. You can write all the books you want about the experience, but the process of putting one foot in front of the other when your world seemingly falls apart is different for everyone. 

There was a thick layer of tension in the house yesterday. I’m tempted to say it was a necessary cleansing, as we near the end of our first year of homeschool. These last nine months went by faster than I could’ve ever imagined, and have been mostly amazing.

I think there was more at work, though, in our home yesterday. The subject of living with grief is ever present on my mind, but even more so heightened since Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book came out. I’ve so many feelings about it, her book that is, but I’m hesitant to call her on any of them. She’s too early in her own process to realize that it’s a book she had no business writing less than a year after her own world fell apart. It’s important to understand that’s how soon she likely wrote that book, taking into consideration the production schedule of publishing.

Yesterday I happened upon some posts I wrote five years ago, just ten months after Michael’s passing. Some days I feel like we’ve all come so far, and others are like we’ve been pulled right back into the moment, that moment. I know enough now to realize we bounce back, and usually stronger than before, but that time stuck in the murky in-between is almost harder than riding the constant waves of grief back in the early days. Just when you think you’re in the clear, you’re reminded you have to carry that weight a long time, a very long time indeed.

Creamy Peanut Butter Pie | In Jennie's Kitchen

Virginia collapsed into a pile of tears at dinner. I can’t ever say I understand what she feels. Her daddy, her super hero, her funny man, and favorite dance partner died when she was only three years old. I do know something similar, the hole she feels, and the emptiness you can’t fill, just surround with so much love that there’s something to soothe the ache it leaves within. It’s days like yesterday that make parenting alone all the more challenging. I am everything rolled into one, with no one to act as a safety net at the end of the day.

By time dinner was done, we’d managed to smooth things out. I glanced at the dishes piled in the sink, then at the swing bench in the backyard. The dishes could wait, for a bit, at least. Virginia and I curled up in the swing, watching the sky transform as the last lights of day melted into the darkness of night. I looked up at the tree in our yard, and noticed for the hundredth time, perhaps thousandth, the roots jutting out of the ground. What bursts above the surface is but a glimpse of the deep roots that lie beneath, as the tree stands tall, accepting whatever fate the weather bestows upon it.

We are all trees in a way, or at least we should be—our roots firmly planted, securing us to our past, regardless of what the elements of life challenge us with daily.

Creamy Peanut Butter Pie | In Jennie's Kitchen

The heart and soul of Mikey’s peanut butter pie is the same, though I do wish he could taste this new incarnation I began making. I can’t really say it’s a healthier version—it still has cream cheese and whipped cream, but it is nonetheless lighter, and I think surpasses the pie I created for him back in the spring of 2008. I’ve done away with the refined sugars completely, and used maple syrup as a sweetener. Genius move, seriously. I’ll never go back to the old recipe—the thought of that pains me a little, but the ability to move forward, to keep moving forward, is one I welcome. I know it won’t always be easy, and that’s okay.

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Creamy Peanut Butter Pie

Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 8
This is a lightened up version of the world famous peanut butter pie I first shared back in the summer of 2011 when my husband Mikey, passed away. I’ve nixed the sweetened condensed milk, and swapped in maple syrup for the confectioners’ sugar. If you’re looking for refined sugar-free chocolate chips, I like to use the Lily’s brand, sweetened with Stevia. Sometimes I also opt for a graham cracker crust, and use six 2-inch by 4-inch graham crackers instead of the chocolate cookies. The lemon juice might feel odd to add to the filling, but trust me on this—it brightens the flavors without imparting any taste of citrus.

Ingredients

  • 14 chocolate sandwich cookies, pulses into fine crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ½ cup (79 grams) bittersweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 6 tablespoons (96 grams) creamy peanut butter
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ cup (70 grams) dark chocolate covered peanuts, chopped

Instructions

  1. Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Add them to a small bowl, along with the melted butter. Stir with a fork to mix well. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of an 8-inch pie pan.
  2. Set up a double boiler to melt the chocolate: fill a medium pot one-third of the way up with water. Set it over high heat, cover with metal or glass bowl that fits securely on top of the pot. Bring the water to a boil. Once the water comes to a boil, add the chocolate, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Give the chocolate a stir with a spatula once it begins to melt. Continue until the chocolate is completely melted. Pour over the bottom of cookie crust, and spread to the edges using an off-set spatula. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
  3. Pour the heavy cream into a bowl, and beat using a hand mixer or whisk until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a small bowl, and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
  4. Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the syrup, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.
  5. Add ⅓ of the whipped cream to the bowl with the peanut butter mixture. Gently stir to combine. Fold in the remaining whipped cream.
  6. Spread the filling into the prepared pie crust. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts over the top. Chill in the fridge until set, at least 4 hours, or overnight.

11 Comments

  • Margie

    Hi Jennifer.
    I have been reading you for a long time and finally mustered up the strength to reply. Thanks be to grief. My brother passed away 3 years ago, I still can’t say the D word. He passed away and that is that. But you are right about those tress. From my back window at my house, I have been obsessed with the tall trees since I moved there, well after I lost my brother. I see them sway back and forth sometimes from a nice windy day and other times when the Texas weather is giving us severe thunderstorms. They take it and they stand strong and I guess that is me. I am taking it but I can stand tall and just deal with the rain, the wind, the sun and the times the leaves fall out. Hugs, Friend. I hope to make your pie one day alongside the lasagna my brother adored.

  • Kyla

    I’m reading the Sandberg book right now and while I appreciate her take that we should support people in times of sorrow and stress – I kept thinking it was too soon! She should have waited, maybe. It’s hard to hear her acting like an expert when the journey is so long.

  • Mianna

    Jennifer,
    I agree, grief never goes away. It will sneak up on you at any moment. That is also love. I lost 2 brothers, a marriage died (another kind of grief) and friends, family. But, we go on, fight back. For our family, our kids, ourselves!
    I sobbed through your original Mikey’s Peanut Butter Pie. Made it for my cousin’s wedding (it was a pie wedding!) Huge hit, thank you. I look forward to making your new version. Lighter, cleaner ingredients.

  • Josie

    I lost my mom 11 years ago. I don’t think we ever move on from the loss of someone so important to us. I like to think of it like a precariously placed object on a narrow shelf. When we first fall into grief, we’re constantly knocking the object off it’s perch. As we live with the grief longer we learn to move more nimbly. Sometimes the object still falls off, but sometimes we just jostle it. And we keep growing more used to moving around the precarious placement. And eventually we’re able to look at it on the shelf and appreciate what time and experiences we did get, and only rarely jostle or knock it off the shelf.

  • Rene

    Jenny, I hear you. “Died” feels final and “passed” feels like they’re somewhere else, here but not HERE. Still nearby since they are in our thoughts, our houses full of their things, and our hearts. Can’t wait to try the pie…it’s time.

  • Lindy

    I don’t say “pass” I say died. Maybe it’s me? My husband has been dead for 1 year 2 months. Our son has been dead for 32 years, he died on our wedding anniversary. (How f’ed up is that!) My husband was the one that always told me how many years we were married, I had blocked it from my mind. Now, I have the date written down on my bureau, cause my husband is dead, gone, never coming back. I totally agree with you regarding Sandberg’s book.

  • Anne Marie

    After all these thoughtful comments this seems very trivial but I have to ask. In the recipe you call for chocolate sandwich cookies to make the crust. Like Oreos? In the picture it looks like you used graham crackers. Just curious. Thanks.

  • Radhika

    I have a different kind of grief – but grief nonetheless – one I am unable to share openly as you do. I commend you for that. Where Sheryl’s book helped me was to see that I need to stop yearning for Option A and make the most of Option B. But you are right on grief – it is a burden we carry that hits at unexpected moments. I haven’t lost a spouse or child – but illness brings great sadness and burdens – and her book helped me to know it is normal to feel what I do and I am not alone in it. I felt her book was more about her coping mechanism. Helping her find a greater good from her sorrow. Finding meaning to the unexplainable. Anyway, just my two cents. It helped me tremendously just like your honesty does.

  • Armecia Lee

    Ah Jennie, everyone does grieve in their own way. I cannot imagine losing my spouse with young children at home. I’m a crier. I cannot control it, and that’s frustrating to say the least. My father had been gone 8 years when I went to my training for my counseling degree. The student asked me a question about my family (we were practicing our counseling skills) and I answered her but started crying. My teacher, a marvelous wonderful woman, came over and said “are you okay? do you need to step out with me and talk?” I told her no, I was fine, and continued to cry through the questioning. It always seems to smack me upside the head when I least expect it. And I don’t say the “d” word, I say “gone.” It’s all about coping mechanisms, and what you need to work through it.

  • Jennie

    Anne Marie—not trivial at all, quite important! Yes, oreo-like cookies are what I use. We usually buy a version from the healthfood store. xo-Jennie

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