Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Lemon Bars and Fellowship Halls

Do you know what I miss about the churches in which I grew up?
The fellowship hall after our service.

I grew up in two churches- first Methodist, then Baptist, then back to Methodist.
Both churches were super down with cookies and coffee after service and fairly regular post-church Sunday potlucks.
I really, really miss that.

It's something I struggle with as an introvert who constantly forces herself to fight against social anxieties.
Having a close-knit church family was something I took for granted.  I was surrounded by the most wonderful group of people, a surrogate family who loved me and stood beside me as I grew up.

An earthquake deemed it unusable in 2003.  It was torn down, the property sold- all of that history replaced by new development.
But the people?
My church family?
When I got divorced they emailed me.
When I was a single parent struggling I was supported.
I still get birthday and Christmas cards after all of these years away- and so do my children, despite never have even lived near those wonderful people.

That fellowship hall, the ritual of everyone spending a short time together after the service every Sunday- that was important.
Every church I've attended- and don't get me wrong, I've found amazing people in amazing churches everywhere I've lived since leaving California- has forgone that post-service fellowship.

Maybe it was a California thing?
That seems unlikely.
Either way, it facilitated relationships and connections.
Both things which I struggle with.  It's not that I don't want to plug in.
It's not that I don't eventually plug in.
It's just...hard.  Panic inducing. Scary.  That "Hey, come join us next door for cookies/donuts/coffee/egg salad sandwiches/soup" at the end of the service was a no-pressure way for new people to plug in and long-time attenders to stay connected.

I miss it.
But off of my nostalgic little soap box- do you know what else I miss about those times of fellowship?

The lemon bars.
To be honest, I've already talked about these potlucks before and the wonderful, anonymous contributor of egg salad sandwiches (which I ate far more than my fair share of) and my enthusiasm for and fervent consumption of lemon bars that went along with them.

What can I say...while I can look back on those post-church gatherings as an adult and covet the ease of relationship-building, as a child all I really cared about were those trays of egg salad sandwiches and lemon bars.

You know- priorities.

I've always had a love of all things lemon- my Lemon Cupcake Popcorn was always one of my absolute favorites, I still dream of Hot Dog On A Stick's lemonade (never really a fan of the actual hotdogs, go figure...), and even as a pie-hating child I would devour as much lemon meringue pie as you would let me consume.

Lets just say lemon bars have always held a special place in my heart.  That shortbread crust.  That sweet and tangy filling.  That light dusting of powdered sugar.

Overall I may not have much of a sweet tooth these days, but lemon bars are 100% an exception.
They're amazing, end of story.

So I've had about a month off from school over the winter break between semesters and I've cooked.
A lot.

I decided to make lemon bars the other day after not having made them in a number of years and let me just tell you...these babies are insane.
Via Amazon

Thank goodness my daughter won't try them because if she'd actually give them a chance they'd be gone by now and to be honest I'm enjoying every last little nibble I get to myself!  I bought myself an OXO Good Grips® Baker's Dusting Wand with a gift card to Sur La Table I received last Christmas, knowing full well it was one of those kitchen gadgets I would almost never use but find invaluable on the rare occasion I needed it.  Can I just say I was crazy excited to have a reason to use it with these lemon bars?  It made dusting the powdered sugar a breeze!

Anyway, I've been incrementally working my way through this pan of lemon bars and I'm going to be *really* sad when I realize that they're both gone and that they're gone because I ate the whole pan by myself.
Totally worth it, though.  ;-)

For the shortbread crust:
1 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 C confectioners' sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

For the lemon layer:
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 C white sugar
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
1 tsp confectioners' sugar, or to taste

1. Place an oven rack into middle position in oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly oil an 8x8-inch baking dish.

2. Place 1 cup flour and butter in a mixing bowl and mash with the back of a spatula or wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. Mix in 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract, and salt; mash mixture together until mixture looks like a slightly crumbly cookie dough.

3. Moisten your fingers with a little water and press dough into bottom of prepared baking dish. Use a fork to prick holes all over the crust.

4. Bake crust on center rack in the preheated oven until crust edges are barely golden brown, 22 minutes.

5. Beat eggs and egg yolks together in a bowl; whisk in white sugar and 2 tablespoons flour until smooth. Add lemon juice and lemon zest; whisk for 2 minutes. Pour lemon custard over crust.

6. Bake on center rack until custard is set and top has a thin white sugary crust, 25 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into bars. Dip knife into very hot water, run around the edge, and cut into 16 squares. Dust cookies with 1 teaspoon confectioners' sugar.

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