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…