Category Archives: Memoirs

Flaky Crusts for a Perfectly Peachy Pie

Have you mastered the art of melt-in-your-mouth flaky pie crusts? It took me years, but I think I’ve got the recipe down for fork-tender crusts, learned from my foremothers!  My father used to tease that the reason he married my mother was for her fried chicken and cherry pie, and when I was little, I thought my mother made the world’s finest cherry pies.  However, when I married Alan, I discovered that his mother made the world’s best apples pies, so one day I asked if she could teach me how. She invited me  over to join her while she made some pies for a grange dinner. Unfortunately, she didn’t measure anything and did everything by feel and look. I watched carefully, and it was helpful to see the way things were “supposed to look,” but it took me a few years to perfect my apple pies. Alan’s older brother was the best critic, and his advice went like this, “More sugar…more butter.” Forty-five years later, I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to make a flaky pie crust and a yummy pie, so I want to pass along what I’ve learned with photos, so you, too, will have an idea of how a flaky pie crust looks in the making, and how to make a scrumptious fruit pie.

2 Crusts for 1 Ten-inch Pie:
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1 and 1/2 cups Crisco (or other vegetable shortening; you can use butter, which tastes a lot better, but the crusts aren’t as flaky)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup very cold (refrigerated) water
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.

Pie filling:
In a large bowl, stir together:
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Add:
6-8 large peaches, ripe (Hale Haven are great, but there are lots of good varieties) peeled and sliced (I only used 6, because I was making it for an older lady, but 8 would fit and is better for a family who can eat whatever you make!) Toss the peaches with the flour mixture until all the peaches are well coated (You can use the same basic recipe for almost any fruit pie, like apple or cherry [pitted, of course, but dark cherries also make yummy pies, just FYI]. For smaller fruits, like blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries, use 2 quarts.)  Roll out the bottom crust. I wet down the surface and add a sheet of saran wrap, then spread some flour on the top. At this point, turn on your oven to 450°F. so it’s piping hot when you’re ready to slide your pie into the oven.                   And add half of the pastry (about the size of a man’s fist).  Be careful to handle it as little as possible, but shape it into a ball, flour, pat it down, and roll it out. I flip the whole crust over a time or two and add flour as needed. Over the course of rolling the crusts, you will probably add as much as another 1/2 cup of flour.              (You can only flip the crust at first while the pastry is still quite thick.)                                       Smooth it out with a rolling pin                 until it looks like it’s about 2 inches bigger than the pie pan.  Place one hand under the saran wrap, and quickly flip it onto the pie plate.  (Use your left hand to hold the pie tin…unless you need it to take a picture!  🙂  ) Make sure there are no cracks visible. Repair any as needed. Truly flaky crusts are hard to roll out and will have cracks; if it’s too smooth and easy to roll, it will be tough! Prick the bottom of the pastry shell with a fork. (This keeps it from bubbling anywhere in the baking process.)  Arrange the fruit mixture in the pie plate.  Add: 1/4 cup butter in small slices all around the pie. This is one of the secrets to a great pie in my book, so don’t forget this step!  Repeat the process of wetting down the counter, spreading out the saran wrap, topping with flour, and molding the pastry into a ball. Roll out the rest of the dough (plus any that was trimmed off the edge of the lower crust if you had way too much on one side or something).  Carefully (but quickly) flip the top crust on top of the pie.  Even out the crust. You can add a little here and subtract a little there as needed. Form a little ridge around the top.  (If you’ve done it right, you won’t have many crumbs left over, but I usually have a few, and I don’t like the crust too heavy.)There are several ways to finish the top. Some people use a fork to make tiny ridges all the way around. There are pastry tools to make special designs. I use my mother’s method of alternately pinching a small piece together gently between my left thumb and left forefinger while pressing gently down with the forefinger of my right hand on the crust next to it on the right. If you do this around the entire edge, you’ll have a fluted crust like the one above. Our family tradition is to put the letter of the type of pie (“P” for “peach” on this one) and some little “stalks of wheat” on each side by cutting tiny holes with a paring knife. This gives the pie some “air vents” for releasing pressure as the pie bakes. We also sprinkle sugar on top. Some people brush the top with well-beaten egg for a glossy sheen. Bake your pie in a pre-heated oven. Start at 450°F for 15 minutes. This seals in the juices and insures that the crust will brown by the time the pie is baked. Turn the oven down to 375°F. for an additional 45 minutes or until golden brown. (Check at about 35 minutes and then keep an eye on it, since elevation and various types of ovens heat differently. I use a traditional oven, but convection ovens bake faster, of course.)Let it cool on the counter for at least 10-15 minutes (or while you’re eating dinner), and serve up for dessert! We usually add vanilla ice cream, but I was out, so this time I used “Triple Peanut Butter,” but people liked it anyway! Enjoy!

Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing:
then said they. ..The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.
” (Psalm 126:2-3)

All Quiet on the Western Front

Nine years ago on July 25, I was writing about it being
“all quiet on the western front” here at Tanglewood Cottage.   My daughter’s boyfriend was visiting, and my son Jonathan was visiting my son Michael’s family, who were stationed in Germany.  Nine years later, my daughter is married and has three lovely children. Jon is also married (to a girl he met in Germany!), and they also have three darling daughters! On this July 25 (yesterday), Jon’s family  arrived safely in Germany,
where they’re going to be spending the fall semester
while Jonathan is on sabbatical from Moody.  What a whirlwind this past month has been!  Alan and Jon drove a moving van cross-country  so they could store Jon and Linda’s household goods here in GR until they find some place in Chicago next winter. Linda and the girls flew here, and we’ve been having a grand time;  the house has been bubbling and bursting with life. Not only does Dan’s family live in town, and we have Joel living with us, our oldest son’s family (four boys) and my daughter’s family visited,  and even my “Little Sister” Lizzie came for a visit! However, last Monday I put the last of our visitors on planes heading East
and came home to an empty house.  (Thankfully, Alan and Joel still live here,
but they were at work when I came back home.)  Have you ever noticed how therapeutic work is?  I worked like a beaver washing mountains of bedding and linens, cleaning…putting away toys and books and puzzles…  legos and trains and balls.  All the lovely wildflower bouquets have wilted,
and the only remnant of my flower girls are a bunch of clovers!   The house is straightened and is slowly becoming tidy and clean,
but the silence is pretty much deafening!

I was thinking about how exhausted I would be by the end of each day, and my nightly chorus in response to Alan’s inquiry into my condition: “Oh, the old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be!” My elderly mother, while living with us when my seven children were small, used to say sometimes, “I think I’d like to spend the afternoon with some old people.” It made me laugh (to myself, not at her), but now I understand!  Time flies! I wouldn’t trade a minute of such bursting life for a minute of rest, but I do know why the Lord created us so that we cease child bearing in our forties!  Are you exhausted and in the thick of family life? I truly do feel for you, but I hope you’re able to appreciate the beauty of exploding life and love.  When the “war” is over, it will be quiet—and that’s wonderful too…and the way God intends, I believe—but tranquility is also often a segue toward death.                                                                Life is sure messy,                                                                but life is good! Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4)  “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

 

 

Coffee, the World, and Jesus, But Not Necessarily In That Order

It’s such a catchy title that I couldn’t improve on it for my post, and frankly, Ron DeMiglio’s entire book continues to live up to expectation! It’s easy to read and hard to put down, makes you laugh and makes you think. What’s not to love?

Ron spent twenty-five years traveling the world selling coffee for a living but following Jesus for a life. His book,  Coffee, the World, and Jesus, But Not Necessarily In That Order, is a collection of 28 loosely spun tales with clever titles like “The Hypocrite Oath,” “A Tale of Two Pities,” “His Grapes, My Wrath,”  and “An Affinity for Salinity.” Ron not only has a way with words, he can spin gold from coffee grounds!

Each reflection starts with a title geared to pique your curiosity and then lists a location (which pretty much includes every continent but penguin territory) and the purpose for his trip. With that fabric, he weaves tapestries from around the world (super fun for me as a travelogian), explaining what he learned with insightful charm and light-hearted transparency. Every story made me smile; every object lesson made me ponder; every chapter ended with this mantra: “Shun Common!”

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur (or church planter or missionary), I’ll share one particularly helpful bit of wisdom from the book to whet your appetite. In the context of explaining how businesses are unpredictable and don’t all succeed despite outward expectations, he mentions what makes for a prime location: “High visibility, easy access, ample exterior signage, adequate parking, great foot and drive-by traffic, a high per capita income, and good mix of residential and retail, low crime, some form of mass transit nearby, and a favorable lease rate.” Obviously, if you have ministry instead of money in mind, then your CEO is the Holy Spirit, and He might direct slightly otherwise in some areas, but even thriving ministries have to be financially sustained somehow, so I think this list is worth considering no matter what your objective.

Last, but not least, a few quotable quotes. I hope you read the book (if you’re local, you can borrow mine), but if you don’t, I know Ron has a heart to share the abundance God has given him, so here are a few samples from his espresso bean:

“Spotting the Savior’s hand in the obscure and trivial makes me feel uncommonly loved.” (And, I hope it does that for you too!)

“Correction without a Holy Spirit-led concern for the individual is as useful as barbed-wire dental floss.”

“The history of a person has absolutely no bearing on the authenticity of their salvation. If they have truly repented and taken and passed the Jesus-acceptance exam, they are clean and right before God.”

“Life and joy are in the obedience, not the outcome.”

“I don’t feel intellectually inferior for recognizing the divine. I refuse to cower to fiction dolled up as logic.”

“Only the ethically blind can’t recognize and acknowledge their own duplicity.”

“But grace isn’t an excuse for me to bleed my casual sin all over those around me. Based on my acknowledgment of the monumental sacrifice that was made on my behalf, grace should be the tourniquet that stems the flow of my unholy activity.”

One last pearl of wisdom, not from Ron’s coffee table but from our Father: Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established
(Proverbs 4:26).

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting on Top

I think sweet teeth are genetically transmitted…or at least our grand daughters seem to have inherited the Armstrong family’s love of all things chocolate.  I used to make chocolate cake from scratch, but I can’t compete with the moist, tender, lightness of commercial cake mixes, and so I have given up trying.  However, my family still likes homemade chocolate frosting better than what you can buy at the store, and it’s simple. Here’s how:

Creamy Chocolate Frosting

6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder (can melt 12 oz chocolate chips, but that costs more and isn’t necessary)
1 stick softened butter (room temperature)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2-4 tablespoons of milk (depending on how soft you like it; experiment)

Start on the slowest setting, but whip all the ingredients together in a blender until they form a creamy, smooth frosting with a sheen. Frost immediately, and if you have any little helpers, let them lick the spatula when they’re done!For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (1 Timothy 5:18).

A Lion of a Little Boy

Have you seen Lion? It’s a heart-rending biographical drama adapted from the non-fiction book, A Long Way Home.  Lion premiered last fall at the Toronto Film Festival, is PG-13, and has an 8.1 IMDb rating.  If you’ve been adopted or have adopted…if you’re a foster parent or have grown up in an orphanage, Lion will break your heart, but it might also help heal some of the pain that haunts most people who’ve grown up without knowing their biological parents.  The story begins back in 1986, where little five-year-old “Saroo,” lives in Khandwa, India with his mother, older brother, and younger sister.  Saroo and his brother steal coal from trains to trade for food, but one night Saroo is so tired that he falls asleep at the train station rather than helping his brother.  Through a series of misadventures, Saroo ends up lost on the streets of Calcutta, many hundreds of miles from home.  In fact, he doesn’t know the name of his hometown…or even his full name!  He survives many frightening episodes before a kindly man helps him get to an orphanage, where he learns some English and is later adopted by a couple in Hobart, Tasmania.  The story picks up again nearly 25 years later, when Saroo, as a young adult, sets out in search of his lost family.  Although I wouldn’t recommend the movie for children (at least until you’ve viewed it first), it is a very moving account that brought out a visceral response in me…I felt the horror of lostness, the fear of strange adults, the hunger, the loneliness, the pain…the relief…the deep, lasting grief. I came away feeling like I’d experienced a tiny taste of what it might be like for the millions of children abroad—and at home—who’ve grown up without the loving support of their parents.  I’ll never meet someone who has been orphaned now without feeling more compassionate toward them. It’s one of those movies that has a lasting impact.

Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy
(Psalm 82:3).Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,
and to keep himself unspotted from the world
” (James 1:27).

(The photos are a combination of two real pictures of Saroo as shown at the end of the film, plus images from the movie, Lion.)

Hope for All Seasons; Friends for All Time

Is it fair to have a three-point “message” this morning? I probably shouldn’t,
but there are three ideas burning a hole in my brain: 1. Please extend yourself in love to widows and widowers
(who are often more lonely than widows, since men sometimes aren’t quite as connected to their kids and grandchildren). 2. There’s a new book that just came out, Hope for All Seasons,
and I’d like to recommend it. 3. I never cease to marvel at how connected we all really are,
although most of the time we probably have no clue!

              Okay, for any of you who have time to hear the longer version… #1. Since coming to our new church, we’ve made a lot of new friends. One teaches our Sunday school class sometimes, and not only do we appreciate his excellent teaching, he lost his wife to breast cancer a couple of years ago (just after we started going to our Sunday school class), so we’ve had a special heart to pray for him and invite him over a bit. (We have several close friends who live far away and have lost their mate, and we know how deeply lonely they are!) #2. At any rate, over the course of getting to know Jay, we realized that his wife was Julie Ackerman Link, who wrote for Our Daily Bread, a daily devotional ministry that has been a part of my life for 50 years (and where several of our kids worked during summers). Posthumously, Discovery House has just released a book of 150 of her devotionals called, Hope for All Seasons, which is now available online and through Christian bookstores. I’ve ordered a copy and am really looking forward to reading it, because I love her writing and heart. She was also the person who started the writers’ group I attend, although (sadly) I joined after she was gone. #3. Last time Jay was over for dinner, we realized we also had a college connection. Bob Jones University was our alma mater! Jay is enough younger than I am so that we weren’t students at the same time, but he mentioned having an older sister my age, and once he told me her name, I realized we’d actually been very good friends! In fact, we were “society sisters!” (At B.J.U. “societies” were comparable to sororities and fraternities.) Sadly, his sister recently passed away with cancer, so I won’t be able to renew that friendship here on earth, but she was a real “kindred spirit” 45 years ago, and it was such a revelation to realize our interconnectedness. I’m guessing that for all of us—if we only knew—we’d discover multiple connections with friends and family members within a 30-mile radius of our home. We probably pass people on the street or in stores who are actually friends with whom we’ve lost contact, or distant relatives, or related to people we know and love. I suppose in this life, we’ll never fully know “who’s who,”  but won’t it be a delight in heaven to explore all the relationships we have with one another? And, don’t forget: All believers are brothers and sisters in Christ and children of God. What fun…and what a family reunion there will be someday!

“Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus”

“Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
sing His mercy and His grace;
in the mansions bright and blessed,
He’ll prepare for us a place.

“When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
we’ll sing and shout the victory.”  (—E.E. Hewitt, 1898, public domain)

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

*If you’d like to learn more about Our Daily Bread, you can access it here:
http://bible-guide.org/free.php?seed=our%20daily%20bread

Waiting for Baby

I’m waiting for a baby again,
But it’s not nearly as hard as it was when
I was waiting for my own, because even though I don’t know how long it will take,
I know it’s not exactly my body that’s at stake.
Nevertheless, it is the body of my son’s wife,
And for them…I would give my own life,
So it’s still very stressful, particularly since last time was more nightmarish than dreamy,
And they ended up with a 1.5-pound micro-preemie.
Still, their first baby is now a happy, chappy two-year-old,
Who might sass his mom but so far for me has been good as gold.
However, I get P.T.S.D. at the mere thought of babysitting
And every time I even think about it I break out in a sweat and imagine quitting
Before I even arrive at their door
Which will doubtless happen more and more
Because the more babies you have, the more help you need,
And even though it might be easier to lay down my life than do a good deed,
I’m pretty sure what they’re going to need are more good deeds
Rather than a grandmother  in absentia without any leads.
BTW, am I the only grandmother out there who’s paranoid of crying toddlers?
Are the rest of you seasoned babysitters and able toddler jogglers?
Maybe it comes from being the baby in my family and my dad hiring me to grade college exams for more than people paid babysitters,
Or maybe it comes from never having any time off for thirty years when my own seven kids were wild and woolly little kidders.
Whatever the source of my anxiety, you couldn’t pay me to watch kids for a mountain of cash,
But I’ll do it for love’s sake…though I’d feel more at ease spending an afternoon with Ogden Nash.

(You guessed it, I wrote this while my daughter-in-law was in labor on April 18, 2017. On the bright side, I won the family guessing game concerning what day the baby would be born!  🙂  )

Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:4-5).

(P.S.—Actually, Sammy’s being a doll for me, and we’re doing just fine!)