Monday, September 22, 2014

Lengthy AWESOME Recipe Post

Mostly the recipe is awesome. But maybe I am tired AND happy right now (a rare combination), and have had some spiked iced tea, and have eaten several servings of this dessert today and can't HELP being a little long-winded and braggarly (which isn't a word? Why isn't braggarly a word??)

Fresh Strawberry Streusel Tart
So I made this deliciousness that I think might even be better than a strawberry pie. Which is saying something, since strawberry pie is so epic. Why is it so epic? Well, because pie is my favorite dessert, I can make a pretty darn good crust with my Momma's recipe, and strawberries are the best fruit on earth. Logic.
But this tart. It has a lot going on, on the flavor, color, texture, and plain old fun-in-the making front.
Most of this is from The Joy of Cooking, but as I said, I used our family's pie crust tradition (which I think is actually super basic, yet somehow not used by everyone and definitely not used to perfection. Allow me this one bit of pride?), and I selected which of Julia Child's recipes to put together and how. If you have her/their book you can find most of this in pieces and with different berries, but if you have the INTERNET why not use MY recipe??
make your tart crust
which is actually pie crust in disguise
and if the measurements seem funny it's because this is actually for 1.5 crusts since I think a tart is better with its crust a bit thicker than pie crust tends to be. And because crust is AWESOME and so so tasty.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix together
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teas salt
-Add 1/3 PLUS 1/6 cup very cold lard or butter (I always advocate using half each for optimal flavor)
Chop, cut or break the fat into small pieces. Pastry blenders, people. My favorite kitchen tool, besides the knives. Speaking of knives, you CAN cut the fat in with two kitchen knives. I've done it when I was for a short time without my own pastry blender, but it takes patience and way too much time for most of us mortals. The butter or lard all needs to be pretty evenly broken up, but not so tiny there's no texture left there. Think pea-sized for the largest pieces, and some variations down from there. -Chop chop chop, and never think, Oh I can use my fingers to break it all up and get the fat incorporated into the flour, because while you CAN do that, you'll warm it up too much and it'll get melty and your crust will be tougher and you don't want that.
-Add cold water. Probably under 1/3 cup, but add it in splashes so you don't accidentally get too much and so that you work each bit of moisture in carefully (again, with the pastry blender) before adding more. Your dough will start pulling together, and sticking to the pastry blender in between the wires or blades or whatever those things are called that cut down through it. You want to stop (adding water AND cutting it in) when the crust dough can be pressed together gently and stay there. There might be still a bit of dryish crumbly stuff in the bottom of the bowl if you go to pick up all of it at once, but most of it will adhere to itself and you can make a lightly-formed bulgy ball of crust.
-Set the crust down for a moment, and spray an 8-inch pie pan with cooking spray. Then press the crust into the pan and up the sides. (The crust can also be rolled out with a rolling pin, but I think this method here leaves you with a slightly softer, more shortbread-like crust, which is nice.) You can flute or press with a fork the edge. Prick the crust a bunch of times with a fork.
-Brush the crust with egg yolk. Nope, not white. This adds flavor and color, and I'm not sure what else. But it's good.
-Bake about 15 minutes or until it looks slightly puffed. Don't need to bake until golden, as it'll bake with the filling in it.
While it bakes
make the filling.
3 cups fresh strawberries, thick sliced or just cut in half (or probably any other berry, and maybe any fruit? But I haven't tried any others so I cannot vouch for how they'll turn out here)
1/3-1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp lemon juice
And make the streusel.
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp all purpose flour (or rice flour)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter (whoops, I used salted, but it didn't destroy the recipe. It rarely does, that little extra bit of salt...)
Blend until crumbly.

1/2 teas cinnamon
1/4-1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional. But oh man, I'm pretty sure the nuts are why this turned out AMAZING instead of just SO GOOD. Please don't skip the nuts.)
Remove crust from oven. Lower oven temp to 350 degrees.
Spread the berry filling evenly into the hot crust.
Sprinkle the streusel on top of it.
Bake until the filling is all excited and bubbly and the nuts in the streusel on top are just browned, and the crust edges are golden.
Remove and cool.

*I have only eaten slices of this tart at room temperature with a glass of milk on the side, so I can't say definitely the best way to eat it, but I feel pretty certain a dollop of whipped cream or generous scoop of vanilla ice cream would be a happy addition to your bowl. Oh, and you'll want to use a bowl and spoon, especially the first day. It's a bit juicy. By the second day it's mostly gone, but what is left keeps its shape pretty well and can even (I have experimented here, this afternoon, for SCIENCE) be picked up in a narrow slice with the fingers. Dishes will be saved. Time will be saved. Deliciousness will be tasted. You will be happy in so many ways.

**In its favor, this is a rich dessert, which means it is heavenly and also that you can get by with a slightly smaller piece than you might expect, yet it's not terribly sweet (yay fresh berries! And yay not pouring in the sugar indescriminately!) so you don't feel gross after eating a little more than you had planned.



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

This book. I can't say enough about it right now. I just finished it last night in bed, and may turn around and read it again this week.

I've read only a few things by Deitrich Bonhoeffer (mostly Life Together and his Prison Poems) and a little about him, but his faith impresses me deeper every time I come across him.

Life Together would make a fabulous Bible study book, personal devotional (about as close as I get to that is reading a couple pages or chapters in something late at night just before sleeping, when the words can sink into me as I drift off to sleep moments later), or I don't know, just something to give as a gift or read on a plane. So many encouraging words for how to deal as a Christian with other people. Encouraging and challenging and convicting and then encouraging again. The best kinds of teaching words. His style sometimes is a bit stifling, ancient, or preachy; but he IS preaching, and it I DID only say sometimes, and you can definitely get past that to find much good.

Often I think of books on this topic (the Christian life) only in the vein of Christian-to-Christian interaction, but while reading this I was struck by how much of it can be used in every area of life, even Christian-to-nonbeliever.

* * * * * 

"The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged... He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother's is sure." (from the chapter Community)

 "For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day's work. At the threshold of the new day stands The Lord who made it." (from The Day With Others)

"Word plunges men into the world of things. The Christian steps out of the world of brotherly encounter into the world of impersonal things... an instrument in the hand of God for the purification of Christians from all self-centeredness and self-seeking. The work of the world can be done only where a person forgets himself, where he loses  himself in a cause, in reality, the task, the 'it.'" (The Day With Others)

"Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair. Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone." (The Day Alone)

"To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right that we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in His mercy." (The Day Alone)

"I can never know beforehand how God's image should appear in others. That image always manifests a completely new and unique form that comes solely from God's free and sovereign creation. To me the sight may seem strange, even ungodly. But God creates every man in the likeness of His Son, the Crucified. After all, even that image certainly looked strange and ungodly to me before I grasped it." (Ministry)

Saturday, September 13, 2014


I've been thinking about homemaking, and making a home. About making things homey, feeling at home, turning a house into a home. About whose job it is and who it is for and why we need homes and not just hotels a month at a time. About how I can study and improve here.

I can't stop thinking about that mysterious mixture of things that goes into a good home, or at least into the home I want us to have:

the mixture of relaxed and put together,
     welcoming and private,
     tidy and lived-in,
     classy and modern,
     projects that are like work and that like play,
     masculine and feminine,
     practical and decorative,
     old and new,
     strength and beauty,
     established and evolving,
     quiet and conversational,
     clean and yet not sterile-feeling,
and so many more things.

Tonight I'm thinking about whose job it is to manage these things. And I believe that the balance of these (sometimes seemingly opposite qualities) is achieved by both man and woman being involved in some way in the house.

The 'homemaker' probably makes us all think of the wife, and it's true that often, historically and in our circles, the woman of the house is responsible for much of this because she is there more hours of the day than her husband. And because most women have an eye for beauty; they enjoy the planning and buying and arranging and decorating and cooking and cleaning that make this place run in a lovely and functional way. If that is where your strengths lie and what your husband would like and what you are able to accomplish with joy, then splendid. And I might envy you your ability to do it all.

(rabbit painting by Terri Rice)

But what if you both work and you aren't home until pretty much supper time just like him? What if he works from home and has fewer demands on his time? What if he came into the relationship with a more complete set of furnishings, dishes, art, and linens? What if you are often so busy with the care of small children that you have no energy to finish the evening meal and do more than swish out the toilet with some bleach, let alone scrub the entire house every day, and who even cares about whether there is a nice looking arrangement on the side table or there is anything hung on that one empty wall in the living room? What if he has an eye for aesthetics that you don't, or what if it just exhausts you and stresses you out, but makes him happy to set things into place and make things attractive and give to you through cooking or doing the dishes every night or cleaning the bathroom or picking up pieces of art he comes across somewhere? Strong believers in gender roles tell us it is 'femmy' or gay for a man to care about the house. We hear (sometimes aloud, sometimes implied) that the woman who lets or asks her husband to do the interior decorating is failing in her job as keeper of the house. A woman who doesn't do 90% of everything in the home (and have it mostly done before her husband gets home from work) feels guilty for not doing her job completely enough. Even the woman who has an 8 to 5 job is often expected to carry a large portion, if not all, of the runnings of the household on her shoulders.

I love beautiful homes. Sometimes I even have ideas on how to go about making an empty wall look better, but usually I have to see something in a magazine or showroom or friend's house to spark my creativity. I love cooking and baking and presenting a meal. At least a couple of times a week I am inspired to do these things and most of the time I receive compliments on my work in the kitchen. I love to clean, and to inhabit a clean, clear space. But I am not perfect in these areas (in fact, I am trying to spur myself on to do a lot better in all of them!), and I am definitely not alone in these things. My husband is very attune to the aesthetics of a room, an outfit, a meal, a wall, a piece of music, a movie or book; and he is not only aware of when they are good or bad and willing to comment (which sometimes makes a detail-oriented person terribly annoying to a spouse trying hard and not being perfect). Fraser can *do* things about his tastes. Often better than I can, or with less hesitation than I do. He is the one who has had (progressively better) ideas for laying out the living room; he is the one who brought home the Renoir print that sits on our dresser; he measured and arranged and hung most of the pictures and mirrors on the walls; he cooks at least as much as I do, and reminds me often that he WANTS to do these things for or with me. And it's wonderful.

I realize that every couple is different, and that my husband is probably (if not almost certainly) more helpful and interested in arranging the living room, or making quiche or braised chicken, or dusting the house on Saturday while the game is on, than most husbands are. Not every man wants to be that involved. Some perhaps seem to not care at all. But I think that they should care, and should be involved with how their home serves its members and those who receive hospitality there, whatever level it may be for him.

Of course, a man who takes over completely the running of the home (whether he tells his wife her work is shoddy, re-does whatever she has thought of whenever she leaves the room, or just overturns her every spoken idea for what could be done in it) is doing his wife an unkindness and a disservice. And a woman who decorates and buys and plans and cooks without any regard for the wishes of her husband is likewise doing it wrong. Theirs will not be a happy home, because it is not a balanced home, and I think it will be obvious that there is an imbalance to those who visit. I've been in a few houses where I wonder HOW on earth a man would ever feel relaxed here because there are SO MANY ruffles and everything is floral and shades of pink and teacups sit on doilies everywhere you look and is there even a place he can set his shoes that won't look silly?

I think marking out our differences and our spheres of work or specialty is sometimes done too strongly, and our partnership and likenesses and friendship and co-ownership in all our things could be lived a little stronger. It is not the woman's domain to the exclusion of the man's comfort, expression, or participation.

God made us humans first, and a man and a woman are more alike (when you think of the whole creation) than they are different. Our roles are going to differ, and our jobs are often going to be very different - especially if there are children or she is home most of the day and he isn't. But we are first and foremost partners, not opposites, and our homes should show that about our persons and our relationship; that we have done this together (even if the collaboration is as simple as running ideas past one another and asking for input) and live here together.