What Summer Memories Are Made Of

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When I think back to the summers of my youth, there are certain images that float immediately to my mind…Balmy summer nights, when the sound of chirping crickets drown out all other noise in the darkness while my sister and I camped out with our neighbors in their play house.  Walking barefoot through the damp blades of grass at dusk catching lightening bugs with my mom and dad, then storing those seemingly magical creatures for just a few precious minutes in wooden bug houses my Grandpa Dit crafted.  Taking long leisurely bike rides with my two best neighborhood friends, every once in a while pausing to chat with a boy we all had a crush on.  Running up and down our street in the warm summer sunlight, as a lively game of capture-the-flag was underway.  I have no doubt these memories will stay with me for my lifetime, for these are the moments that define summer for me in my mind.

Ever since having children, I find myself thinking about what little images will be held in their minds for the duration of their lives.  After spending time in the Northwoods of Wisconsin last week,  I can unequivocally say these Northwoods-memories will stay with my girls forever.  For what could be better than a breakfast cooked on the beach? Or jumping off the dock at least a hundred times, never tiring because it fills you with the most thrilling feeling each and every time your body pauses for that brief moment in the air before plunging into the cool waters below? Or crunching your toes in the damp sand as the refreshing water waves over them?  Or having your parents feed you bits of food in the lake because you refuse to get out of that amazingly fun water for even a second?  Or dancing on a stage with your cousins while a Tom Petty song plays, without a care in the world that dozens of grown-ups are watching you, wishing they could embrace the wild abandon running through every fiber of your being?  These are the moments I am sure my girls will carry with them, for this is what summer memories are made of.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Cream Crisp

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‘Tis the season of strawberry and rhubarb, and our kitchen is quickly becoming laden with these early summer lovelies.  This past weekend I played around a bit to come up with a variation to a traditional fruit crisp.  After some experimentation, I came up with this recipe that goes together very quickly, making it the perfect dish to bring to a summer picnic or backyard barbecue.

This crisp is not overly sweet, so it allows the flavors of the sweet strawberries and tart rhubarb to shine through.  Coupled with the rich, earthly flavors of the pecans and oats, this is a treat sure to please the masses.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cream Crisp

For the crumble:

1.  In a food processor, pulse 1/4 cup raw pecans.

2.  Add 2 cups rolled oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg to the food processor.  Pulse 2-3 times.

3.  Add 1 stick of cold butter (cut into bits) and 2 tablespoons raw honey to the food processor.  Pulse until a crumble forms.

4.  Set aside.

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For the filling:

1.  Combine 2 cups strawberries (diced), 3 cups rhubarb (diced), 1/3 cup honey, 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream, 2 eggs (beaten), and 1 teaspoon almond extract in a large bowl.

2.  Add 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon to the fruit mixture.

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Assembling the crisp:

1.  Pour the fruit mixture into a 9X9 inch pan.

2.  Spread the crumble mixture over the top of the fruit.

3.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the top of the crumble is golden brown.

Enjoy!

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*A note about all my recipes:  I use all organic ingredients, local when available.  I use non-homogenized milk, and all of the dairy we use is from animals raised on pasture. I also use oils that are non-GMO verified.  All our meat is raised locally on organic feed, and our beef is grass-fed, grass-finished.  All our spices and cane sugar are fair-trade certified and purchased through a cooperative.

Ode to the Strawberry

In our household, it is always a big day when the first red, ripe strawberry can be picked and enjoyed.  And it seems that after a long year’s wait, we have finally reached that time of year again!

Each day the girls peer into the strawberry patch looking for any signs of red beneath the green mass of leaves and vines.  Their little fingers are just the right size to weave in there and snatch up any berry goodness they can locate.

This week I sat outside, looking at our first full bowl of strawberries of the season and I knew I had to make something that would showcase these little jewels.  While I was thinking, I also remembered that I had a dozen eggs from our farm visit on Saturday, freshly collected by our girls and all.  And that sparked it…I would make a strawberry custard pie.

With pen and paper in hand, I got to work.  I worked assiduously all afternoon, checking out a variety of recipes, making my own tweaks, measuring and mixing and tasting.  After a bit of time, and a little help from my always helpful sous chef (Who has now advanced to age three…she is getting so mature 🙂 ), I ended up with what looked like, and tasted like, a yummy pie.

Here is what I did:

Crust (This crust recipe makes a lot, but I have found that it is easier to make a bit more crust, so that it is less likely to break while transferring to the pie plate.  I just use the extra crust to make a quick cream and sugar pie for the girls to snack on.  See the note at the bottom of the recipe for this super easy recipe idea.)

~Mix 2 1/4 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.

~Add 2/3 cup coconut oil (in its solid state).  Mix the coconut oil into the flour using a pastry blender until it resembles crumbs.

~Then add cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency for the crust.  (I normally end up with about 10 tablespoons of water.)

~Roll out your crust and transfer it to a pie plate.  Cut off the excess crust and make your desired edge for the pie.

~Blind bake the crust in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes.

~Allow to cool completely.

(*Note:  I take any extra crust, roll it out and place it in a baking dish.  I then add a few pads of butter, a few tablespoons of sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon to the top of the crust.  I then drizzle a bit of cream or milk on top of it all and bake it at 375 degrees for about 10-15 minutes.  This will give you a yummy little snack to enjoy while you are making the rest of the pie.  I especially love it because it keeps the little ones occupied while momma works on the other parts of the pie.)

Custard

~Mix 2 cups whole milk, 2 cups heavy cream, 4 tablespoons sugar and one vanilla bean (with seeds removed…you add the seeds as well) in a saucepan.

~Bring the milk mixture close to a boil over medium heat.  Stir often to avoid scorching.  Once the mixture is close to a boil, remove it from the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes.  After the 5 minutes, remove the vanilla bean.

~In a separate bowl, mix 8 egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of sugar.

~Temper the eggs with the milk mixture.  Do this very slowly and with a whisk.  Once the eggs are tempered, slowly mix the egg mixture back into the remaining milk mixture using a whisk.

~Slowly whisk in 4 tablespoons of corn starch.

~Then place the saucepan back on low to medium heat and mix constantly with a wooden spoon.  The mixture will gradually begin to thicken.  This will take some time.  Once the custard reaches the desired consistency, remove it from the heat. (You do need to be careful while heating the mixture because if the heat is on too high, or if you cook it for too long, the eggs will begin to scramble.)

~Pour the custard into the prepared pie crust and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

~Once the pudding has set, place fresh, sliced strawberries on top of the pie and enjoy!

Reminiscing

This morning I am sitting at my computer with the windows open wide to the morning. It is still dark outside, but the sound of the birds in the trees can be heard over the soft hum of the breeze blowing through the screens. It is indeed a wonderful morning. I push the thoughts out of my mind that question why it is so warm on this day in the middle of March where I find myself sitting in a shirt that bares my arms, the window open and a glass of iced tea by my side. I replace those questioning thoughts with ones of remembrance and gratitude.

The weekend was a great one. One in which we were able to see, and spend quality time with, each and every member of our extended family. My girls were able to play outside, and eat just about every meal out of doors. The tiny asparagus shoots and rhubarb that I planted last year began emerging from beneath the soil and I felt great relief knowing they had made it through the winter. We will indeed have some of our own homegrown food very, very soon.

Over the weekend my husband and I were also extremely lucky in that we were able to attend an amazing local food conference hosted by our state university extension office. I loved attending because of the discussion local food, but also because the seminar was hosted at the forest preserve where I attended residential summer camp so many years ago.

As we neared the lodge where the meeting was to be held, I saw the flag pole where each and every morning we would gather to raise the flag and sing songs. I noticed the path to its right that led us deep into the woods for our many adventures with with nature: hiking, tracking, cooking over an open fire, swimming, canoeing, even repelling. (Yes, the girl who is deathly afraid of heights repelled down a rock cliff! That just shows you how deeply I enjoyed being at this camp.) I took a deep breath in and realized that despite all of the years that had passed, it still smelled familiar.

We entered the lodge and the fond memories continued to flood my mind. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the dormitory where we spent so many nights chatting about our amazing adventures and snuggling beneath the blankets on our bunks, anxious for the new excitement that would greet us at our rising. My husband and I then walked into the dining hall, where many were gathered for this local food discussion, and I was reminded of the meals I shared with friends in this space. The sense of community I felt as we took turns passing food around the table, and learning about stewardship. We only took that which we needed and learned not to be wasteful because the earth was what gave us this bounty, and we must show gratitude for that which many are unable to consume.

While the discussion of local food was a fabulous one, a great learning experience, and a chance to connect with other like-minded individuals; these memories made this day a special one. I am reminded of those moments in my life that brought me to where I am today. Those little experiences, that we may not view as important at the time, mold us into the people we will become later in life.

I hope each and every one of you has a wonderful Monday and an amazing week!