a birthday, and on being thankful {coconut custard pie}

I looked in the mirror a few days ago and thought “holy shit” you’re going to turn 39 any day now. Then I glanced back, this time with a smile, and reminded myself I have survived 39 years on this planet. Sometimes the canvas of our lives seems like a Jackson Pollock painting. A spattering of events that require careful introspection so as to not miss the meaning in all those moments.

Yes, my 39 years thus far have had their share of doubt, uncertainty, and sadness. But, they have also been filled with more love than some people experience in a lifetime (and I’m counting on being here for at least 39 more, fingers crossed). The tough times etch their way into our souls like a branding iron fresh from the flames. At moments, I have felt tired and weary, quite sure I was ready to throw in the towel. The last 16 months have been particularly exhausting. It has felt like dog years in terms of my growing process, but I am still standing. I wake each morning with resolve, ready to do it all over again…ready to keep this promise to myself.

My determination to always look on the sunny side of life is fueled by many things. A deep sense of gratitude for the love I’ve had, the love I’ve lost, and the love that continues to cast a glow in my life. Waking up on your birthday to a lovingly prepared breakfast by your nine-year-old is perhaps the brightest kind of moment. Yes, my Bella learned to make coffee thanks to this lovely lady. They also squeezed oranges and tangerines the night before to fill that mason jar. The real gift, though, was seeing how she beamed with pride over having pulled the whole thing off. Seeing your children filled with a moment of complete confidence is the happiest feeling ever.

I spent the rest of the morning puttering around the house until I decided to do what I’d been trying to find the time for all week—time to make a coconut custard pie.  I used to make them all the time for my uncle. It was his favorite, and back then I used to make a healthy version using egg beaters and skim milk because he had a quadruple bypass, and the thought of not eating his favorite pie at Thanksgiving made him quite sad. So one year I made a heart-healthy version without telling him the ingredients. He would’ve surely turned his nose up to it, but after the first bite I knew I’d won him over, and confessed.

The pie I’m sharing with you today is not that healthy makeover at all. In fact, I don’t even know where the recipe is anymore. After my uncle died 12 years ago, I stopped making coconut custard pies. I was ready to finally make the leap again, and since there was no imminent need for egg substitutes or skim milk, and this is after all for a special holiday meal, I went with my usual suspects of ingredients. Well, not really usual. See, after much research, I grew dissatisfied with many of the coconut custard pie recipes out there. Most call for cooking the milk with flour or cornstarch to thicken the filling before baking it. I like easy, as few steps as possible, and didn’t remember needing to do the milk-flour thing all those years ago.

So, I decided it was time to let age and wisdom lend a hand, and took my Betty Furness Westinghouse Cook Book off the shelf. I love collecting old cookbooks, and this book was my first, found at a flea market in Cape Cod some years ago. Some of the recipes are alarming, calling for a can of this, and can of that. When it comes to desserts and baked goods, though, there’s no messing around. I knew I would find a no-fuss recipe to get my creative juices bubbling. The recipe I used as a springboard was for a custard pie, adding shredded coconut to the filling was a no-brainer.

The big change came with the kinds of milk I opted to use. When I was shopping for ingredients the other day, I tossed a few cans of sweetened condensed milk in my cart. I figured it’s ’tis the season for extra calories, right? I swapped in some sweetened condensed milk for part of the milk in the recipe, and nixed the sugar all together. The pie comes together incredibly fast—about 45 minutes from start to finish. This is a definite bonus when cooking an epic meal like Thanksgiving dinner. Apples, consider yourself warned this holiday season.

As I settle down to dinner with friends this week, I will do something I practice and preach to my daughters every day. I will reflect on everything I have to be thankful for in my life. I wish you and your families the most blessed, happy day this coming Thursday. In fact, I wish that for all of you every day of the year, not just the third Thursday of November.

p.s. In just a few hours, Homemade with Love goes off to the printer (it’s available for pre-order now)! I’m still in a bit of a fog, mainly because I can’t believe a four year-long dream is finally coming to fruition. I want to say an extra special thank you to all of you for the virtual cheerleading, and for letting me have a place at your table every time you share one of my recipes with your friends and family. 



Jennie's Coconut Custard Pie

makes one 9-inch pie

Music Pairing: What a Wonderful World by Joey Ramone

After years of using a variety of brands, I finally came across an organic unsweetened shredded coconut that I love. Most tend to be too fine, and don’t give that texture we all grew up loving. I’m happy to never need a bag of the highly sweetened stuff anymore.

While I haven’t done any testing to make this a heart healthy recipe, I’d love to hear if any of you do give it a go. Remember, 1/4 cup of egg substitute is equal to one large egg, so you’ll need a total of one cup if you decide to try it out. The sweetness level of this pie is just right, at least to my liking. So I’d be cautious if you try swapping out any of the sweetened condensed milk [tip: one can is about 1 1/4 cups (312 ml)]. And if you really dislike whole milk (it comes from the cow that way!), then I don’t foresee any problem with swapping in skim for it in this recipe, but remember I didn’t test it that so can’t vouch for the final flavor.

One single pie crust (here’s my homemade version, with a brown butter apple pie recipe too!)

4 large eggs

1 (14 ounce/397 gram) can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup (250 ml) whole milk

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

2 cups (146 grams) unsweetened shredded coconut ( I use this one from Woodstock Farms)

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Roll your piecrust out large enough to drape over the edges of a 9-inch pie plate (regular, not deep dish). Fit the piecrust into the dish, and crimp the edges.

Add the eggs to a deep bowl, and beat them lightly. Add the milks, extract and nutmeg. Whisk vigorously until well mixed. Stir in the coconut. Pour the filling into the prepared piecrust.

Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325F. Bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling is set and no longer jiggles. Place the pie on a wire rack and let cool for at least one hour before serving (it tastes great warm, or at room temperature). You can also cover it, store in the fridge overnight, and serve it the next day.


  • Kate @ Savour Fare

    My dad (whose birthday was November 14th) loved a coconut cream pie more than any cake (and his version of a coconut cream pie looks more like your coconut custard pie than any one I’ve seen at any diner). Thanks for sharing this recipe and giving me a smile. And happy birthday!

  • Maria in NJ

    Jennnnnie!! How exciting for you, so if you need an assistant, I can do hair and makeup for that big book tour that I know you are going to need…lol, no really I am very excited for you, and also hAPpy bIrThdaY!!! and to you and yours a very Blessed Thanksgiving also…<3…m

  • Leire

    Happy birthday!! ZORIONAK (in Basque, my mother tongue :))

    And congratulations on your book!!! is there anyway we can order it internationally with lower shipping costs?
    Thank you!

  • Anneliese

    Jennie, I always enjoy your posts (and your recipes!) … I so admire your positive spirit.. Best wishes to you on your birthday! And congratulations on your new book … what an accomplishment!

  • Tracey

    Good Morning Jennie!
    AREN’T YOU PROUD OF YOURSELF? Well I am proud of you. What an accomplishment in ALL aspects of your life. It blows my mind to know that I can live after such hurt, doesn’t it do that to you too? God luv ya, girl, and know that Mikey is looking down and saying,”right on Jennie! Right on!”
    Hugs, rainbows and turkey feathers,

  • lori

    Happy Birthday, Jennie!
    I hope this Thanksgiving and the holiday season it kicks off brings you and your girls unimagined joy.

  • Michele V

    Happy Birthday!
    Happy Thanksgiving!
    i just preordered your book. I know I will forget about it and be thrilled when it arrives in April!
    I can’t wait to pour over the pages and try some of your dishes. It will be an amazing book and will remind me of you; your passion, your love and your strength!

  • Lisa Langston

    Thank you Jennie for another fabulous recipe!
    And the joy of your blog! Happy birthday, and happy Thanksgiving! Blessings to your and your sweet girls!
    Oh, and I can’t wait for your cookbook!!

  • Carolyn

    what a lovely post. discovered your blog a few months ago and was entranced by the recipes. and then i read a bit more and was entranced by your strength, real-ness, and refusal to feel sorry for yourself, despite having every right to.
    having just turned 39 myself i can tell you it is definitely a shift. a good one. have a wonderful birthday and a bountiful thanksgiving.
    keep writing.
    Carolyn in Canada

  • Stephanie Kindred

    Happy Birthday and many wonderful returns of the day! You are such a wonderful writer and mom and I know your cookbook will be an international hit!! God Bless you and your girls on this Thanksgiving and upcoming holiday season. I hope you can enjoy the holidays with your family and friends near!

  • sara

    Congrats on the cookbook! And that pie looks amazing…my mom makes a killer coconut custard pie, and so that dessert always makes me think of her. 🙂

  • Shauna MacKenzie

    This pie looks lovely. Coconut is one of my favourite ingredients in baked goods. I also love custard and will definitely give this pie a try! I’m thrilled to see that I can pre-order your book on Chapters/Indigo’s Canadian website, I look forward to reading it from front to back.

  • Cheryl Arkison

    This is a monumental moment! Revel in it. One, your girls made you breakfast in bed that is not a pile of butter accompanied by a piece of bread schmeered with jam. And two, the book! Oh the book! Out of your hands and into the great world, coming home on a slow boat from China. Congratulations.

  • Jane

    Happy Birthday Jennie! My dear daughter shared your website with me. Love your wondrous writing which keeps me forever hopeful @ the age of almost 62. Again a Happy Birthday to You!

  • Mandy

    I teared up reading about Bella making your birthday breakfast. My mom died when I was 12, two days before Christmas. On Christmas morning all of us–my 18-year-old brother, my 16- and 15-year-old sisters and me–made our traditional Christmas breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage and sweet rolls. For those few minutes in that horrible time, we remembered Mom and were close. Food and cooking has that ability. Never let your daughters lose it.

  • Tricia

    This is such a great recipe! I just threw it all together in minutes flat — hardly a blip in the to-do list of today – now in the oven and I can carry on with the rest of it. Thank you and have a very Happy Thanksgiving to you.

  • Anne Paraskevas

    Happy Birthday dear girl.God Bless you and your girls. I hope your cookbook is a huge success.

  • rachel alexander

    I was thinking about you today and your post last thanksgiving, so came to check on you. thats how I have come to think of reading you blog. I hope you and your girls had a wonderful day. My sister and I started a new tradition this year of cranberry meringue pie :0) Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Susan Kay

    I have been quietly reading your blog for the last number of months, watching you begin to heal and find your footing. You are one strong woman and your daughters will reap the reward of it, even though you may not feel very strong from time to time. Life isn’t over – it has merely moved to the next Chapter, as you are finding. I am looking forward to receiving your cookbook. I know it will be wonderful. Blessings.

  • JulieD

    When you first shared this post last week, I opened it up and then got distracted…finally came back to it to read today. I hope you had a happy birthday and a nice Thanksgiving. Mine was nice with family and was once again reminded not to sweat the small stuff with the passing of a close family friend. It’s been really hard but I am always reminded of your grace. Lots of love to you and your girls, Jennie.

  • Beatriz

    Happy Birthday!!! The coconut custard pie looks yummy! We are scorpions. I also had a birthday on 11/18.

  • chris

    Happy belated birthday to you! Seeing your child ooze confidence is the most precious gift – what a sweet moment that must have been.

    happy holidays to you and your girls 🙂

  • Stephanie

    I’ve been following you since the Peanut Butter Pie post- I made it for my cousin because he loved Peanut Butter Pie so much. On October 20the he died unexpectedly of a heart attack leaving behind 11 year old twins. I continue to follow you because even though I live in California, I feel a kindred spirit with you-especially now that I have gone through the heartache of losing someone so close to me. I just preordered my book and cannot wait for it to arrive on my doorstep. Happy Holidays and thank you for giving me hope.

  • Sandy

    I have been feeling quilty for all the sweets I ate over the holidays…but…I don’t want to give up sweets altogther. This recipe seems to fit the bill. Thanks

  • Coconut Custard Pie | The Hoot Eats

    […] Jennie’s custard pie kind of took me back to that magical place as a child, but in a much more real food kind of way. I would have been quite content to eat the filling, but raw eggs and all that. I took the lazy way out with the pie crust, opting to buy one in the holiday rush instead of making my own. Why do they always sell them in packs of two? That’s what I want to know. Now one sits in the freezer, laughing at me every time I get in there to get some herbs [I freeze fresh herbs because I never use them fast enough]. If you are a coconut fiend like I am, you’ll love this. Mixing custard and coconut makes me happy in a totally child-like way. I ate a slice as Christmas. I ate three slices over the course of a day or two standing at my kitchen sink, staring out the window at whatever craziness was going on at the gas station. […]