Category Archives: Around home

Grandma Alma’s Apple Pie

Last weekend we went apple picking at Robinette’s Orchard, and last night we went to Alan’s longest-standing and dearest friend’s home for a dinner party. Alan and Larry grew up across the street from each other, and they both loved Alan’s mother’s apple pies…which were famed throughout their little village. Early into our marriage, I asked my mother-in-law to teach me how to make apple pies. “Sure!” she responded cheerily. However, when I went to watch, I quickly realized that she did everything by look and didn’t measure anything. I practiced quite a bit, and Alan’s older brother was my best critic. “More sugar!” he’d announce.  “More butter!” Eventually, I got the hang of it, but Alma’s pies were magical. It was a sad day for us after she died and we found one last apple pie in the freezer, which we all shared in sober grief mingled with joy (because Alan and I knew she was with Jesus in heaven). From then on, I had to become the family pie lady, and I do still love to make pies, although I’m never quite sure they live up to her immortal gold standard!  To the best of my ability to measure it out, here’s her recipe, now passed on for posterity:

Grandma Alma’s Apple Pie

Preheat oven to 425°F.
Prepare the pastry for two pie crusts:

                                       2 Crusts for 1 Ten-inch Pie:
2 and 1/2 cups flour
2 sticks (1/4 pound each, or half a pound altogether) butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup very cold (refrigerated) water (more if needed)
Mix in blender until a soft ball forms (but then stop immediately, even if a few crumbs are left; it’s really important not to over-process the mixture). Set in refrigerator while making the filling so that it’s cold when you roll it out.

Apple Pie Filling:

6 large pie apples peeled, cored, and sliced (These are Macintosh, which was Alma’s favorite, although now there are a number of great pie apple varieties.)1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamonMix together until all the apple chunks are well coated.Divide the dough in half, and roll out one half between sheets of plastic wrap.
Peel off the top wrap, place dough in pie plate, and peel off second wrap. (Save plastic for top crust.) Fill the pie with the apple mixture. Don’t worry if it’s really high; be glad!  🙂 Slice up another stick of butter into thin pieces and dot the entire top of the pie.Repeat rolling out the dough with the second half and place over the top.  Seal the edges. If you’ve rolled it out thin enough, you’ll have enough to flute the edges. I didn’t this time. 😦  Sprinkle the top with a light coating of sugar and cinnamon, then bake for 20 minutes at 425°F. Reduce the temperature to 350°F and bake another 40 minutes. Cool on a rack and serve with vanilla ice cream, preferably while still warm! By the way, I am thankful for every day that I can enjoy such a wonderful feast as we shared last night, but there is a better feast coming in heaven, and as aging mortals, it becomes clearer to me every day that we need to be living with a profound appreciation for life and the gift of eternal life, which is offered to us in Christ. As a youth, I didn’t quite understand this verse: “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Now I think I understand. We will all die, so it is better to allow ourselves to mourn over the death of loved ones and turn in faith to God for salvation, then to simply enjoy a feast today with no thought of preparing for the next life.

Epic Changes

Over the past few months, we’ve experienced some epic changes, not only around our home, but in our family and at Alan’s office. I’ll work backwards, since the first epic change occurred at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, where Alan works. After months of intensive planning and preparation, the entire hospital system (which is now one of the largest free-standing psychiatric hospitals in the U.S.) switched over their medical records to Epic Systems Corporation, a software company that holds the records for some 64% of all the patients in America. It was truly an “Epic” change…hugely expensive, hugely difficult, but also hopefully hugely helpful in better caring for their patients.  The second (although tiny) epic change was the addition of a new baby in our family! Little Marius joined Michael and Grace’s family at their villa in Italy in July. I was blessed to be with them during this precious time, made particularly epic for me because I ended up caring for their four older children solo for a few days…a first for me in my 12-year grandma-ing career. Grace ended up back in the hospital for several days (she is fine now), and in Italy they wouldn’t allow the baby to stay unless Michael also stayed to care for him!  The last epic change I’ll report (although there are still more) is happening as I write: the addition of a new sun room onto our home. Talk about digging and grubbing in the dirt! The view out the window is thrilling and intimidating…so much so that we gave up an opportunity to have our son Jon’s family visit for fear of their three little girls getting inadvertently injured by falling into the pit or being run over by some monstrous machine. One day there was such a thunderous impact from workers removing concrete abutments that a music box fell off the mantle inside! Lots of jolts and jars…concrete and mud sprayed all over our music gear in the basement when a plastic drape fell, etc! Beyond these changes for us, we have two close friends who are in epic battles with cancer right now…one friend who was in the hospital for three weeks, and another couple who needed to move from their (his) home of 60 years into a condo. It feels a little the earth is quaking under my feet, not just in my home, but in my heart!     How are you doing? Are you also experiencing epic changes in your life?  If so, may I comfort you with this prayer by Henri J.M. Nouwen? “Dear Lord, Today I thought of the words of Vincent van Gogh: ‘It is true there is an ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.’ You are the sea. Although I experience many ups and down in my emotions and often feel great shifts and changes in my inner life, you remain the same. Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. Out of your love I came to life, by your love I am sustained, and to your love I am always called back. There are days of sadness and days of joy; there are feelings of guilt and feelings of gratitude; there are moments of failure and moments of success; but all of them are embraced by your unwavering love. . . .”  “O Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life, and let me know there is ebb and flow but the sea remains the sea. Amen.” (—from A Cry for Mercy).Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength” (Isaiah 40:28-29). (I just spent 5 weeks in Europe, partly in Michael and Grace’s “castle in a cave,” and partly on a 3-week cruise of the North Sea, Iceland, and Norway. Hopefully, next week I’ll start recounting tales from these wonderful weeks of adventure! Meanwhile, God bless you! I pray for everyone who reads my blogs, that you will find all your needs met in God, our heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord!)

Take Courage!!

In a contest between white-tailed deer and Canada geese over owning the waterfront, who do you think would win? I mean, if you think about it, deer weigh up to 100-150 pounds and are 4′ high at the shoulder. Geese weigh in at a hefty 8± pounds  and aren’t as tall as a deer’s leg. So, I was more than a little surprised the other morning at what happened when three deer encountered three families of geese in our front yard! The mother doe paused briefly before scampering across the waterfront and into the brush on the other side, but the twin yearlings—a male and a female, were quite intimidated. They froze in place until the geese rallied all their forces (which only included 6 adults and a dozen goslings). When the gang was all there, the show of force was enough to frighten the deer into turning tail and running back into the woods! The geese really couldn’t have done any serious harm to the deer, but deer are also quite defenseless. Nevertheless, the courage and protective instincts of the geese paid off, and they were able to continue grazing with their goslings.

This incident made me think about a message I heard recently on courage, which Merriam Webster defines as the “mental or moral strength to venture, perseveres, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” We are encouraged to be courageous many times in the Bible, and although it says in 1 Peter 5:8 to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,” the fact is that Satan is an imposter. Jesus is not “like” a lion, He is a lion,the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5), and He tells us to fear no one but God: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  I applaud the geese, who led their vulnerable little ones in a confrontation with foes much larger than they were. Let’s stand our ground and be courageous rather than feeling intimidated by what cannot ultimate destroy our souls!

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Savory Sides: Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

Red cabbage is low in calories and high in health benefits. When we had our German feast, Gerlinde’s sous chef (Jonathan) actually made the red cabbage, so she didn’t give me the recipe for that. However, I’ve been making red cabbage as a side for the past 40+ years, and it doesn’t really have to be part of an ethnic dinner, so I decided to tell you what I do (which is probably close to what Jonathan did anyway).

Sweet and Sour German(ish) Cabbage
(serves 6-8)

1. Chop 6 0z.bacon into small chunks and saute in a frying pan for 5 minutes, until beginning to brown. (This is purely optional, but I like it.)2. Add and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, until starting to caramelize:
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large apple (peeled, cored, and finely shredded or chopped)2. Add 1 red cabbage (with core removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces)
Fry on medium heat another 5 minutes, until cabbage is starting to look done. Make sure to use a spatula to keep scraping the bottom of the pan so nothing  burns.  3. Add:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (or wine vinegar; whichever you have on hand)
1/4 cup brown sugar (or can go 1/2 cup if you like it sweeter; taste-test it)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt (test near the end; you may want even a little more)
Pepper to taste (a few sprinkles)

4. Simmer in a covered pan for 10-15 minutes, until cabbage is tender. Turn the heat off and keep covered, but turn the heat back on for just a minute or two right before serving so that it’s hot. Red cabbage actually improves with age and can last a week in the refrigerator if you have leftovers. It also freezes well. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Unstoppable Enthusiasm

This summer we’ve had the privilege of seeing all our kids and grand children at some point. This is our third-born, Jonathan, who was kayaking out on our lake with his oldest daughter in the rain one morning. I just sat and smiled as I watched them from the window. There was no thunder or lightning, so it probably wasn’t very dangerous, but it was cold and windy. It reminded me of watching Jonathan and his brother Michael sitting in the pouring rain once at a Disney “Movie Under the Stars” night. We’d gone as a family to the Fort Wilderness campfire and to watch a Disney film on an outdoor screen—along with a big crowd of happy campers—but when it started to rain, almost everybody left to find cover back at their campsites, and the few stragglers who remained were huddling under the roof of the concession stand. As I watched Mike and Jon, sitting totally exposed, rain streaming off their hats, one of the other huddlers commented, “Look at those crazy kids!” Yep. I was lookin’!

I’m thankful for my crazy kids who do things that most people wouldn’t dream of doing. Jon (Dr. Armstrong) just started a new program at Moody Bible Institute last January called the Center for Global Theological Education, “CGTE” (referred to as “C-GATE”), with the mission of developing quality, college-level, Christian theological education in virtual reality classroom settings for anybody who wants it—worldwide—free of charge. Sound impossible? If I didn’t know Jonathan, I’d say “yes,” but knowing Jon, I just smile. And pray. If God be for it, who can stand against it?

And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

By the way, CGTE is already offering freeing virtual reality classes in a variety of biblical and theological topics. If your church would be interested in hosting one of these seminars, you may write Jonathan at jonathan.armstrong@moody.edu.

(P.S.—If you have extra time and would like to be a part of Jon’s ministry, please contact Jonathan. He’s hoping that CGTE will be one of the world’s most satisfying places for Christians to volunteer, and—of course—much of the work can be done remotely! If you want to check out what’s going on already, here’s the link to his website: https://aqueductproject.org/.)

 

A Few of My Favorite German Dishes: Tantalizing Rouladen

We have been so blessed to have our son Jonathan and his family living a couple thousand miles closer to us than they have for the past seven years.           They now live in the Chicago area, which makes visiting so much easier!  This means we get to see them a lot more often, and not long ago Gerlinde sponsored an amazing German dinner! As a special gift, she let me choose exactly whatever I wanted, and I asked for four of my favorite German dishes that she makes so much better than what I’ve tasted anywhere else:                          Rouladen, German potato salad, and red cabbage                                             with apple strudel for desert.  I asked her if she’d share her recipes with us. She said some are family favorites, but she also (humbly) pointed out that most recipes are available on the internet. HOWEVER, I really the way she makes them, so she said she’d be willing to share.  During the Saturdays in August, I’m going to pass along to you four wonderful German recipes as demonstrated by Chef Gerlinde, her sous chef (Jon), her protégé, and her apprentice (Amélie).  I served as photographer so didn’t do anything but capture the magic and enjoy the fruit of all their labors! I hope you’ll enjoy this foray into authentic German cuisine as much as we did.   🙂

Golden Brown Rouladen
(serves 6+)

1. Fry until fully cooked:
12 oz. sliced bacon (chopped into small, bit-sized pieces), with
2 chopped onions; set aside to cool; drain off excess fat.
2. Buy (or pound and roll out) 1.5 pounds of thin-sliced flank steak (Or, order from your butcher; we apparently didn’t have any available, so Gerlinde and Amélie pounded and rolled them out by hand.)
3.  Add your favorite mustard (spread as thick as you like), a thick slice of your favorite pickle (we used German pickles) placed at one end,and a heaping tablespoon of fried bacon and onions. Add salt and pepper to taste,  then make the flank steak into a roll, starting with the pickle end. 4. Carefully tie up each roll with heavy thread, string, or toothpicks so they’re completely sealed (to keep the filling from coming out). This is an intensive, labor-of-love and process, but the result is superb!6. Fry the rouladen in oil until they’re crispy brown  and the steak is fully cooked. Take out of the pan for a few minutes.7. Add to the pan:
2.5 cups water
1 beef bouillon cube, stirring and scraping gently to help dissolve the bouillon cube and ensure nothing is sticking in the bottom of the pan.
8. Add the rolls back into the broth and simmer for an hour with the top on, or use a pressure cooker or instant pot if you prefer (which takes less time; Gerlinde used our pressure cooker). When they’ve simmered long enough, remove them onto a platter. Gerlinde wrapped her arm in a dish towel to keep the steam from burning her…a very clever trick, I thought! 9. Remove the strings by cutting with scissors and unwrapping. 10. Serve up your tantalizing rouladen and accept the compliments… they will have been well earned!!  🙂
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens” (Proverbs 31:15. I know this verse is speaking of the “virtuous woman,” but that makes it all the more applicable to my dear daughter-in-law, because she is such a virtuous woman!)

Swiss Steak with Mushroom Gravy

Some foods are definitely “comfort food,” and Swiss steak with gravy is one such perennial favorite. In fact, whenever I know my fifth son is coming home for a visit, I start watching for a good sale on swissed steaks, because I know he’ll be hoping I make some for him. “Swiss steak” isn’t really from Switzerland. In England and the Deep South it’s sometimes called “smothered steak.” The term refers to the the way it’s tenderized by pounding and piercing, which is known as “swissing.” I suppose you could take any cut of beef steak and “swiss” it, but I always buy it pre-swissed at the grocery store. Once your meat is swissed, it’s simple to turn into a savory dish that’s sure to please rain or shine, although I think it’s at its finest on a cool evening accompanied with some traditional sides, such as mashed potatoes, peas, and tossed salad (±bread). I probably serve it 5-10 times a year, and it’s always welcome at our table. So, if you’ve not discovered this easy meal, here’s how:

Savory Swiss Steak with Mushroom Gravy
(serves 4-6±)

1. In a large frying pan, add:
2 tablespoons butter
1 finely chopped onion
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Montreal Steak seasoning (or your favorite)

Heat until the butter is melted, then fry until all the veggies are starting to brown and become tender.

Add 1-2 pounds swiss-style steak (how much ever you want, I would say about 6 oz per person± depending on your appetites). To prepare the steak, coat it with flour on both sides. (If you place 1/2 or 1 cup of flour on a dinner plate, that will be more than enough, unless you really have a lot of steak. Just lay the steak on the floury plate and rub in the flour, then turn it over and rub flour on the other side. If you want, you can add the rest of the flour to the frying pan at that time or later, depending on how thick you like your gravy. If you add it, be sure to whisk it so there aren’t any lumps.) Salt and pepper both sides, then place it in the bottom of your frying pan under the veggies. Fry at a medium-high heat until it starts to brown, and then flip it over (making sure most of the veggies end up back up on top) and fry it until the other side is browned. At that point, add two cups of water. I turn the heat entirely off for about 2 minutes just to loosen anything that’s sticking to the bottom of the pan. Using a metal spatula, carefully scrape all the flour or other food that’s sticking to the bottom of the pan free, and gently stir everything until you’re satisfied that nothing will burn. Cover the pan and simmer everything for a half an hour or until completely tender. During that process, I check about every five minutes to flip the meat over and make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. If the gravy seems to get too thick, add another 1-2 cups of water a little at a time as needed. Before you serve it, taste it, as you might want to add more salt and pepper. If it seems flat, you can also add 1 teaspoon of Lawry’s Seasoning salt (or your favorite). Obviously, the more steak, the more seasoning you’ll need, so you may not need to add anything, but it’s always worth checking!

And he went, and fetched, and brought them to his mother: and his mother made savory meat, such as his father loved” (Genesis 27:14). In Genesis 27, Rebekah used her culinary skills to trick her husband, which was a very bad idea! Not only did she end up having to part with her favorite son, Jacob (who left home to escape the wrath of his older brother), Rebekah never had the joy of seeing her son again on this earth, and she missed the blessing of watching her grandchildren growing up. Sad thoughts! Hopefully, we’ll use our cooking abilities to bless and nourish those we love!