On the Road Again…

I grew up listening to Willie Nelson: in my dad’s truck, on family road trips, in the background because my parents dug 70s and 80s country music. When I heard him on an old Prairie Home Companion rerun yesterday, it was with a heavy hit of nostalgia. For some people my age, it’s Family Ties (oh, Alex P. Keaton) or Full House (oh, Uncle Jesse)  that takes them straight back to childhood. For me, it’s The Highwaymen. Thanks, Mom & Dad.

So it’s fitting, of course, that every summer I spend a lot of my time humming “On the Road Again” under my breath as I pack, unpack, do laundry, fold, pack, unpack, do more laundry, repack again, and so on until mid-August. We have the extraordinary blessing of parents who are young and energetic enough to want lots of time with us and our kids (mostly our kids, really) AND who live in perfect places for the fogged-in San Francisco family to seasonally relocate. So far we’ve been in St Louis (family reunion), Florida (my parents), Dallas (a wedding), with our next stop at the lake in Western Minnesota —  with sun, food, and grandparents all the way through.

I hope you can understand, then, why reviews might be few and far between this summer. I have several chapter books I’m working through with the seven year old, but this takes time. In the meantime, may I share some of what we’re reading and eating? Just for fun, of course? Because I hope that many of you are on vacation, or heading that way, as well!

Reading Aloud with the 7-year-old

The Story of the World; the Middle Ages, Susan Wise Bauer
Favorite Medieval Tales, Mary Pope Osborne
Monks and Mystics: Chronicles of the Medieval Church, Mindy & Brandon Withnow
Famous Men of the Middle Ages, Rob Shearer

We just finished Voyage of the Dawn Treader and are planning to start Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone this weekend. One of those parenting moments I’ve been looking forward to for seven years: hooray!

Reading Aloud with the 4-year-old

The Jamie and Angus Stories, Anne Fine & Penny Dale (thank you, Haley!)
We Are Best Friends, Aliki
Why: The Best Ever Question and Answer Book about Nature, Science, and the World Around You, Catherine Ripley
Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever! Richard Scarry
The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook, Shirley Hughes

His best friend moved away at the beginning of the summer, hence the Aliki pick. We’ve also been doing lots of Jamie & Angus, and one Alfie story in particular (“Bonting”) because he too has a beloved stuffed friend: Saggy Baggy, the elephant who accompanies us everywhere. If we lose Saggy Baggy, please pray for us!

With his best friend and the one and only Saggy Baggy

With his best friend and the one and only Saggy Baggy

My Sumer Reading

Potsdam Station, David Downing
(plus the whole series of John Russell thrillers. A British-American journalist with a German girlfriend and German son trying to navigate the various intelligence services at work during the Second World War? Yes, please!)

Taking the Quantum Leap: The New Physics for Non-Scientists, Fred A. Wolf
Because daily reality is much more complicated than I ever imagined, and I want to (at least slightly) grasp why.

Stones from the River, Ursula Helgi
My mother-in-law gave me this book, and I’ve been waiting to start it until I could give it proper, sustained attention. And that attention has been repaid. I haven’t finished yet, but so far it’s a fascinating story about an outsider (a young woman marked by dwarfism) inhabiting a very specific space in time and seeing how history makes everyone an outsider in one way or another — to our families, our countries, our belief systems, or basic civility itself. It’s the sort of book I wish I were reading with a larger book group, because there is so much conversation to be had!

Books and Culture, because I am always behind on issues and always hungry to catch up. The best of their content is reserved for subscribers (and may I encourage you, vigorously, to subscribe?), but two essays I’ve particularly enjoyed are available on their site. Let’s just say my ever-burgeoning “to-read” list keeps growing:

Redefining Religious Fiction, D.G. Myers
The Rood and the Torc,  John Wilson

And the Food:

Between family reunions, time at my parents’ house, and a weekend in Napa with friends, we have eaten well this summer. A few of the best things so far:

Grilled Herb Shrimp
Red Curry Chicken Kebabs with Yogurt Sauce
Pie. All kinds of pie.
Especially this pie:
BBQ Pork Steaks (with LOTS of information for those who aren’t from St Louis)
Israeli Couscous Salad with Cherry Tomatoes

I hope your summer is full of delicious food and wonderful books, whether you’re traveling or happily ensconced in your own backyard. What are you eating and reading during these long and wonderful days?

Of families and pie

We’re traveling this week, and I’m almost done with a really good book that I can’t wait to share with you all, so all matters theological kid-lit will have to wait just a bit longer. (But good news for those of you who have been looking for longer chapter books for your older children! It’s an area of books we’ve long wanted to stretch out into, and now I sort of have to, since I have a voraciously reading 7 1/2-year old. And I just have a few chapters to go…)

Our travels this week took us to a family reunion in southwestern Illinois, where there was (oh glory of glories) a pie-safe AND a pie refrigerator AND we ran out of space for ALL THE PIE in both. I grew up — and still am — pretty geographically distant from most of my extended family, and since I don’t use Facebook I’m not always as closely connected as I’d like. But as soon as folks started arriving with the desserts, I knew: these are my people.

Strawberry, lemon meringue, apple, banana cream, cherry, rhubarb, pecan, Kentucky Derby, and key lime pies all made an appearance, plus blackberry cobbler, snickerdoodles, Aunt Ruby’s banana cake, M&M cookies, cheesecake and more I can’t even remember: it was a feast. Oh, right, and there were also barbecued pork steaks (cooked on a massive smoker that you need a truck to haul, by my cousin’s husband and my uncle, who have also tried their hand at competition barbecue: I told you these were my people!), coleslaw, potato salad, and beans. You know, if you wanted something other than pie.

The fourth of July is coming up later this week, and I hope it will find you with friends, family and pie. For families (and pie), I am mightily grateful. And during the summer — so often a time of reconnecting with family — may we also remember those who aren’t in families, or have lost a loved one. Summer can be lonely. Let’s try to remember to reach out: maybe invite somebody into our gatherings, or even take them a pie.

Need a recipe? Here’s my mom’s apple pie recipe, with my own modifications on the crust (just because I like the taste of butter in pretty much every situation: although yes, you are right, Mom, Crisco makes for a better texture).

She's right, you know.

She’s right, you know.

My Mom’s Apple Pie, Mostly

makes 1 double-crust pie

Fruit filling
5-6 cups (depending on how deep your pie pan is) firm, tart apples, such as Granny
Smith, Braeburn, Pink Lady, or Haralson. Mom likes Golden Delicious. We part company here.
3/4 – 1 cup sugar, depending on how tart your apples and how sweet you like your pie
2 T flour
1 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla (the vanilla is key, people)
cold butter, for dotting

Preheat oven to 375.
Mix apples with sugar, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla in a large bowl. Pour into prepared pie pan, lined with one pie crust. Dot with cubes of cold butter – about 1-2 T total.

Cover the fruit with the second crust, trim extra, fold the edges under, and crimp. Slice 4-6 vents in the top and sprinkle sugar all over. (Cinnamon, too, if you’re feeling fancy, but plain sugar is best.) Bake at 375 for 45-50 minutes, or until crust is browned and filling is bubbling.

Double crust for a 9-inch pie
2 1/2 cups flour
1 t salt
2 T sugar
8 T (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces, plus
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6-8 T ice water

In a food processor, mix flour, salt, and sugar until combined (or mix in a large bowl). Add 8 T butter and pulse until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand (or cut in by hand with a pastry cutter). Scatter the remaining 12 T butter over the flour mixture; pulse until the mixture is pale yellow and has the consistency of coarse crumbs (or cut by hand with a pastry cutter). Turn into a large bowl.

Sprinkle ice water over the dough, 1 T at a time, tossing with a fork to evenly distribute. After 6 t, press down with a rubber spatula until the dough sticks together. If dough won’t hold together, add 1-2 more T (too much water will make the dough tough, so be careful). Pat the dough together and divide into two balls.

Flatten each ball into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour or put it in the freezer for 15 minutes before rolling.

Turn one disk out on a clean, well-floured surface. Sprinkle the top with a little flour. Starting in the center, roll out in each direction to form a 9 to 10-inch circle, checking to make sure it’s not sticking on the bottom. Using a bench scraper or spatula, gently fold circle in half and lift into pie pan, unfolding to cover the bottom.

Repeat for the top crust, and cover the fruit. Fold edges over, trim excess, tuck it under, and crimp using your fingers or a fork.

One little thing can revive a guy...

One little thing can revive a guy…

Hot Cross Buns

I know I’m jumping ahead a few days here, but I wanted to tell you about my favorite Easter morning breakfast food: hot cross buns.  Many people eat them on Good Friday; either way they’re a great tradition.  I particularly love this recipe from the deliciously talented people at King Arthur Flour.  If you don’t have anything planned for breakfast this weekend, consider giving them a try!  I do suggest making the dough beforehand so you only have to brush, bake, and ice the buns in the morning.

Hot Cross Buns (barely adapted from the King Arthur Flour Blog)

Main Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup apple juice or rum
  • 1 cup dried fruit (I use raisins, but you can try anything!)
  • 1 1/4 cups milk, room temperature
  • 3 large eggs (2 eggs+1 yolk for the dough, 1 white for brushing on later)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Glaze Ingredients

  • 1 large egg white, reserved from above
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Icing Ingredients

  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 teaspoons milk, or enough to make a thick, pipeable icing

Directions

  1. Lightly grease a 10″ square pan or 9″ x 13″ pan.
  2. Mix the rum or apple juice with the dried fruit and raisins, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave briefly, just till the fruit and liquid are very warm, and the plastic starts to “shrink wrap” itself over the top of the bowl. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Note: If you worry about using plastic wrap in your microwave, simply cover the bowl with a glass lid.
  3. When the fruit is cool, mix together all of the dough ingredients except the fruit, and knead, using an electric mixer or bread machine, till the dough is soft and elastic. Mix in the fruit and any liquid not absorbed.
  4. Let the dough rise for 1 hour, covered. It should become puffy, though may not double in bulk.
  5. Divide the dough into billiard ball-sized pieces, about 3 3/4 ounces each. A heaped muffin scoop (about 1/3 cup) makes about the right portion. You’ll make 12 to 14 buns. Use your greased hands to round them into balls. Arrange them in the prepared pan.
  6. Cover the pan, and let the buns rise for 1 hour, or until they’ve puffed up and are touching one another. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F if you’re planning to serve them immediately.  (If you’re making them ahead of time, cover the pan after rising and place in fridge.  Remove them from the fridge at least an hour before proceeding with brushing and baking.)
  7. Whisk together the reserved egg white and milk, and brush it over the buns.
  8. Bake the buns for 20 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a rack to cool.
  9. Mix together the icing ingredients, and when the buns are completely cool, pipe it in a cross shape atop each bun.

Lake Books (and a Pie)

35 books, 13 adults , 1 week at a beautiful lake.  It’s too bad that I didn’t also take a picture of the huge pile of kids lit that I brought for Sarah and I (and the 5 kiddos, of course) to peruse.  It probably had just as many titles in it!

Aside from having great conversations, great reading material, and great scenery to enjoy, we also ate extremely well on vacation.  It was honestly like eating at a gourmet restaurant three times a day!  We all took turns cooking and we all left with at least a dozen new recipes.  One of my favorites was the lemon meringue pie that Sarah made near the end of the week.  Don’t let the length of the directions deter you; the effort is well worth it!

Lemon Meringue Pie

Crust recipe from Martha Stewart; filling and meringue are from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. Brilliant combination of the two courtesy of Sarah.

Crust

  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ice water (4-5 T)

Pulse flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand, about 5 seconds.

Transfer to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle with ice water, tossing with a fork to distribute evenly, until mixture just begins to hold together. (Dough should not be wet or sticky, but shouldn’t crumble apart, either.) Press dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350. On a well-floured surface, roll out crust. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Trim to fit and flute the edges. Poke the crust all over with a fork. Cover carefully with foil, and line pie plate with pie weights (or weight it down with rice, or dried beans). Bake for 15-18 minutes, until crust is set. Remove foil and finish baking for 8-10 minutes, until crust is golden. Allow to cool slightly before adding filling.

Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 3 slightly beaten egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • generous 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

In saucepan, mix sugar, cornstarch, flour and salt. Gradually add hot water, stirring constantly. Cook and stir over high heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat.

Stir about 1 cup hot mixture into egg yolks, then return to saucepan. Bring to boil and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add butter and zest. Slowly stir in lemon juice, mixing well. Pour into pastry shell. Spread meringue over filling and seal to the edge. Bake at 350 for 12 – 15 minutes, until meringue is lightly golden. Allow to cool completely before cutting.

Meringue

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 6 tablespoons sugar

Beat egg whites with vanilla and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating till stiff and glossy peaks form, and sugar is completely dissolved. Spread over hot filling and seal to edge of pastry.