Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Great Strawberry Escapade

In my head, the thought evokes images of steam rising from plump crusts on a windowsill.  A woman in a pretty apron, maybe with a loose bun in her hair admires the day's work.  A crow comes near, also admiring the sweet fruits under that sugary blanket, then disappears into the hillside beyond the square little frame-house. A husband tries to sneak a bit of crust and is met by a teasing swat. There was a time when, in certain parts, a pie was part of the daily routine, and this is the vision I have for myself.
(a finished pie!)

Of course, nothing is ever so simple.  At the end of the day, though, I had my pie.  Three of them.

At ten-thirty at night I finally pulled the three pies from the oven, wiped my sweaty, flour-covered brow and went to bed. Maddie, with whom I'd been watching a romantic comedy while the pies baked, had gone to at last gone to bed.  I had only to wait for the timer to go off, and I traipsed upstairs to collapse, too.

I had felt uneasy for most of the afternoon.  We have two students from Spain arriving this week, a last-minute decision that has left me feeling pressured to stock the house with groceries and scrub each and every inch. Or, at least acquire a modicum of neatness.  The mess I was making for the sake of our fresh-picked strawberries that would rot if I didn't get them into a pie, was weighing on me like the rice that held the crusts down for pre-baking.  Yes, I was pre-baking myself.

In the middle of dough-rolling, which was fast, furious, and very, very messy, my friend Rebecca showed up with her five children.  Coincidentally, Rebecca and her husband had just arrived from a romantic week in Spain!  Rebecca rounds out the triumphant neighborhood trio in my neighborhood.  Girlfriends I'm not sure I could live without.  So, I couldn't wait to catch up with her.  

Oven: off.  Kitchen counter: a disaster.  Dough: back in the fridge.  Girl-talk: on.
(Yikes!  My messy kitchen!)

It was nearing dinner time, so we stuck the kids in their strollers, bikes and scooters and swung by Rebecca's house to pick up her husband before heading over to Christie's Country Store for a little din-din.  (Boy, do I wish my town would invest in some decent sidewalks.  As much as I try to live simply here, it really is a bustling New York suburb with crazy drivers and not much space for pedestrians to feel safe. Anyway...)

I had managed to get a start on the pies in the afternoon, around three o'clock, while Westley was taking a nap on the couch.  Gabi had gone from the berry farm with his best friend Phoenix's (of the locally famous Parker family of whom I will speak often here), and Brenner and Maddie made a gorgeous hand-colored welcome sign for our Spanish guests.  We would have preferred going for a swim at Luba's, but we were housebound and made decent use of it.  Flour!  Markers! Snoring!  Dogs tackling each other under the table! 
(Westley naps)

The berry-picking itself was wonderful for me, but quickly tired the kids.  We did meet up with Samantha and her four kids, including Phoenix, at Jones Berry Farm.  I think the kids most enjoyed the ride on the "Berry Ferry" to get to the fields.  Strawberry picking is not like apple, peach, or even blueberry picking.  Strawberries are low to the ground and require constant sunlight.  You're out there without any shade, on your hands and knees.  I desperately wanted to fill my basket to its ten-pound capacity, but the kids gave up after only twenty minutes or so.  Picking in the height of the day's sun wasn't the smartest idea, but that's just how they happened. The kids rested under the shade of the trees that so conveniently surrounded the vast open fields.  
(above: Phoenix and Gabi choosing berries; my kids waiting for the "berry ferry")

Still, it had been a success.  I wasn't really there to get a deal on fruit anyway -- I could buy them at the farmer's market for the same price.  Really, it's the experience of sharing in a harvest with my children of teaching them where their food comes from, how much work goes into producing the foods they take for granted, and just being outside together.
(above: Maddie choosing a berry; middle: Brenner find the perfect one; bottom: Westley and Foxwylde)

We would have been there sooner, maybe stayed cool a little longer, maybe left with a few more berries. But, I had overlapped the berry adventure with a morning playdate for Westley.  All four kids came along so that the youngest could see his school-chum while I chatted - a rather deep conversation, actually - with mom Tara.  Half an hour turned into two full hours.  But, even the oldest, Maddie, was having a ball launching herself down the driveway on a little scooter-car.  Tara and I fully enjoyed looking over the railing of the deck to the six kids below. 
(playtime at the Parkers')

Kids should have fun.  It's how they learn and develop as human beings.  They play.  This opportunity to invent their own games and to chase each other around without some adult making up the rules was so priceless, and in our current culture, sadly rare.  

So, the time flew, and I was late for berry picking.  I didn't get to accomplish any house-keeping, and actually made an even bigger mess to deal with.  We are still out of groceries. Oh well.  I spent the day with my children and our friends.  I picked and baked and cuddled.  It was a good day.

On days when I have so much to be thankful for, it is difficult to come up with a wish.  Well, I suppose I do need to get some work done once in a while.  So, I wish to get it done quickly and get back to playing.

I am thankful for the drunken scent of strawberries, still on the vine.  I am thankful for the long hours of sun this time of year.  I am thankful for a day spent with people I love.  I am thankful that to have friends that understand the flexibility of time and who won't fault me if a playdate runs long.  
(Phoenix, Gabi, me, Westley, Maddie, Brenner, Blu, Foxwylde, Zephyr & Samantha)

By the way, my recipe for Strawberry Pie comes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which I highly recommend.  You can look up whatever food item you just picked up in your CSA box, say kohlrabi, and Mark has three or four recipes for it.  For the pie, I added a package of frozen wild blueberries to make up for the two cups of strawberries I lacked.

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