Making the most of it

I've been meaning to get to this for days now. I hate when I put my writing off. Because it makes me feel like it's a chore, it tells me that I don't enjoy it or I'm not good at it or something. But none of that is really true. And sometimes, I just have to close down my various devices and call it a day, having accomplished nothing on my "to do." My "to do" at work is so immense right now that I've decided I am exempt from at-home "to dos" until further notice. At least, until our biggest event of the year is over in September. And on my work "to do" are many writing and editing and staring at screen projects that suck something out of my brain so that when I step foot in my house, I go, "What writing project? What blog?"

I even started telling myself that I needed an iPad. If I had an iPad, then!, yes, then!, I would do diligence with my writing. Isn't there something about the iPad that makes you a better, more diligent, perseverant writer? There must be. 

Forgive me. Sometimes, you just need a serious brain-break.

Moving on...

I love buying large quantities of seasonal fruit and veg. If I had a larger freezer/fridge/pantry, I would be in real trouble. Last year I bought a bushel of apples and the farmer kept trying to talk me out of it. I was like, hey, pal, I want this many apples, and aren't you supposed to try and sell these to me anyway?! I went up to Michigan last weekend with my friend Trish to pick blueberries. We picked eight pounds of blueberries each - which really isn't that many. We both had two buckets hanging from our necks and had to stop because of the shear pain of 8lbs of blueberries dangling from your neck by a rope. I kept thinking about migrant workers and said a silent prayer of thanksgiving and mercy. By the end of our two hours out in the blueberry bushes, we both had lines of sweat making tracks in our dirty hands, feet, and faces. But it was so worth it! 

As if that wasn't enough, we cleaned up and went back out to pick peaches, which is a slightly easier task. We picked with restraint, knowing neither of us had the space or ability to eat through pounds and pounds of peaches. It's sad, but I'm already wishing I'd picked more. Some day I'll have a deep freeze and a pantry lined with Ball canning jars and pie after pie lined up on the counter top. Some day.

I spent the rest of the week washing and eating these glorious fruits, scheming and scanning for the best recipes. I had several pounds of tart cherries yet from a friend's cherry trees. One of my favorite ways to use fresh cherries is in a beautifully simple and rustic galette. So easy. I made two of these gorgeous Cherry and Peach Galettes with Almond Cream.

I'm used to almond cream made with almond paste, which is divine, but I didn't have any almond paste, so I used a Martha Steward Almond Cream recipe that worked just fine.

Almond Cream
Makes 1 1/2 cups

1/2 stick unsalted butter (softened)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup almond flour
3 Tbs dark rum
1 tsp pure almond extract
1 Tbs flour

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. 

For the galette, you could use either puff pastry or a pie crust. Spread a good bit of the almond cream all over the pastry, leaving about an inch all around to fold over. Toss your fruit (anything fresh and delicious will do!) with a bit of sugar (1/4-1/3 cup depending on the tartness of your fruit), a few tablespoons of flour, and a squeeze of lemon. Add the fruit atop the almond cream. Fold the sides over the top, pinch a bit if needed - you don't want your juices to leak out. Sprinkle all over with sugar. Bake at 375 for 40-50 minutes.

And because I still had an abundance of blueberries and peaches, I made the summer of all desserts: pie. Blueberry peach pie is one of my favorite summer pies. There's something really special about those two. Also, super easy to make. It will make your house smell blissfully like an orchard and a bakery and a sunset all wrapped into one.

Blueberry Peach Pie

Double pie crust
3 cups of fresh blueberries (washed and dried)
2 cups of fresh peaches (peeled and sliced - easies way to peel a peach? dip the peaches in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds, let cool, and the skins will slip right off!)
3/4 cup sugar
3-4 Tbs flour
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 each ginger, nutmeg
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
sugar for sprinkling

Make your favorite double pie crust recipe. Let it rest in the fridge while you toss your fruit with sugar, flour, a bit of cinnamon, ginger, and fresh nutmeg, and a good squeeze of lemon. Roll out your doughs, dump the fruit into your shell, top with the second crust, pinch and fold in the excess dough. For a beautifully golden crust, brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Cut slits into the top to release steam. Bake at 400 for 50 minutes or until the filling has thickened and the crust is golden and crisp. If you've got a pint of heavy cream laying around, whip it up while the pie is cooling. 

In between the galettes and the pie, I may have made a favorite lemon blueberry cake and a new recipe for fruit preserves made with chia seeds and honey.

Ok, so I may not have been writing, but at least I was productive. 

So, if you find yourself at the end of July with pounds of peaches, blueberries, and cherries to spare, you know what to do. If you need a bit of a brain-break, make something really fresh and delicious to celebrate the long summer days. August starts this week, friends, (yikes!) so let's make the most of it.


She already has a great beginning

This incredible thing of light and life and joy suddenly beamed into the week, breaking into my Tuesday and reminding me of the gift of beginnings.

Welcome to the world, Miss Elsie Camille.

She is an absolute gem. I couldn't imagine a sweeter girl to call my niece. We'd been anticipating her arrival for many months, secretly hoping she'd join us on July 4th so we could call her Americus. And secretly relieved that she didn't so we wouldn't have to.

I had a pretty good feeling all along that this baby was a girl. I knew there was something really special and beautiful growing in my sister's belly. But I couldn't have imagined how beautiful and perfect she'd be.

Sometimes I forget how all things point to a Creator. I don't realize how magnificent it is that my tomato plant grows and flowers and produces fruit. How the sun rises and sets with each day. How a sun-ripened cherry can taste like summer. Or how a sister can carry a baby for nine months, and suddenly, a girl, a testimony to all things good and all things right, can come into this world and remind us of the Maker of the Universe. The one who made the world and called it good, the one who set the stars in the sky, and the one who gave Elsie Camille a perfect set of lips and a head of strawberry hair just like her mama.

She knows nothing of the world's poverty, of humanity's brokenness and the continual struggle to set things right, to bring ourselves back to how we were created to be. Sadly, she will probably learn these things far sooner than any of us would hope. We will protect her and guide her and teach her the way of grace and redemption.

But more than anything, I hope she will learn to live a great story. She already has a great beginning.

I hope she will learn to laugh when something is funny, cry when her heart must mourn, fight for wholeness when things are broken, and celebrate with joy every single day, because it is a gift and a joy to have life. And I know the world is a better place because she is in it.

May we rejoice and sing, ever mindful of his mercy.


Of the midwest beauty

Greetings from...SUMMER!
Yes, that's right, folks, it is indeed (and officially) summer here in Chicago.

This is how I know:
We have herbs in an abundance! Dill, anyone? It's already half my height. And the bag of cherries we plowed right through were absolutely perfect.
The hair is blonder with every afternoon in the sun and the freckles are a-multiplying.
And lastly, we celebrated the summer solstice, June 21, and the sunlight is waning until nearly 9pm.

I've been spending as much time outside as possible, to make up for the 9hrs a day I am cooped up in an air-conditioned office, which I swear is some form of torture for the Chicago-dweller in summer. We have only a few short months of this, folks! We must live it to the fullest!

Brilliantly enough, I spent summer solstice outside in it's entirety, camping with one of my dearest friends. We went up to Kettle Moraine for a long weekend, in an attempt to fulfill our longing for adventure, for summer lovin', and for being, eating and sleeping outside. Camping is one of my sweetest and most common memories from my childhood. We grew up camping as a family - traveled all over the US with our gear and our verve for life in tow.

I love cooking and eating outside. Even the simplest of things taste so much better over or around a fire. There's nothing like the exhaustion of worn out legs from hiking and the sweet reward of falling into a sleeping bag, with the moon streaming in and a quiet breeze through the tent screen. And, I love having the smell of the smokey fire stuck in my clothes.

Needless to say, our brief, if somewhat rainy, stay in the Kettle Moraine was just what this soul needed.

We made a little home.

We hiked through meadows and forests. Always looking for wonder and wild elsewhere, I was reminded yet again, of the midwest beauty.

And, we most certainly, celebrated the summer solstice. With fresh asparagus and s'mores and a super-moon, we welcomed summer and the day's incredible stretch of light.

Always on the heels of the solstice, I celebrate 27 years of wonder. It's strange, because I can remember so vividly writing about my 25th birthday. And here we are already. My birthday happened to land on my grandparent's celebration of 60 years of marriage.

60 years of marriage > 27 years of living

We had a big family extravaganza to mark the occasion. I'm not much into "extravaganzas." But this one was kind of great. When you try to cram 38 people into a family photo, several of them being under the age of 4, it's bound to create memories.

I even got to hang out with the cutest of boys.

Even though this big shebang may not have been my preferred way of celebrating my 27 years, it did make me thankful. It was kind of like a display of blessings. As if God said, "Oh, so you're wondering what your 27 years have been all about? You're wishing for something bigger, better, more wondrous, more of a story? Well, here is what it's all about. This is what it's all for. This is how the story all began."

My grandpa turned 80 this year. And the youngest great-grand baby was born 12 days ago.

I walked away from the whole thing feeling rather shamed for my ungratefulness, for wishing for a different kind of day, even a different kind of life. This is the life I have been given. To have been given life at all, is itself a gift. And I walked away feeling blessed. Knowing that there are at least 37 other people in the world who know and love me.

I met someone on the train the other day who was asking for money. This is not unusual. He started to share his story, which I believe to be true, and which, sadly, I imagine is also not unusual. He had screwed up when he was a kid, and ended up in jail for a few years. Now, he is homeless, sleeps on the trains at night. Eats and cleans up at the shelters when he can. He can't get a job, because of his record. No one will even interview him. And he has no family or friends. He has no one.

If I needed a home, a meal, a job, there are 37 people (and more) who would be there.

Friends, I am blessed. We are blessed.
May we go out into the streets and be a blessing to those who are struggling through their story.