I’m back, and so is spring! The warm sun and fresh air prompted me to make a pie, one that is equally bright and cheery, to awaken all the senses. (Except for hearing. I’m pretty sure we can’t hear pie. Unless that’s the point: peace and quiet.)
There’s been a long pie drought plaguing my household. I shared with you back in January that I would be adopting simplicity as a sort of theme for the year ahead. That meant that making pie, and sharing it on this blog, would happen a little less often.
Three months is a wee bit longer than what I had in mind.
Since that time, I’ve been busy. Aside from watching all the home improvement projects my husband has been completing around the house as we’re getting ready to sell (watching him takes up a lot of my time and energy), I have been working on some of my own little projects. Mostly, they’ve been in the form of organization. While reading Simplicity Parenting (you may recall seeing this book in a past photo), I decided to cut down the collections of toys, games, puzzles, and general kid-clutter in our house…by half. This made a serious dent not only in making the space more visually appealing, but also in our children taking greater responsibility to routinely clean up their things when they are done.
Books have been another issue that needed my attention. I love to read, and I certainly have some books that will maintain their place on my bookshelf for a long time to come. I have a habit of hanging on to books that serve as a reference for me, but once they are no longer useful to me, I pass them on. So my own books have not really been the problem. It’s the children’s books that have taken over our household.
I’d like to blame this on my children, but I can’t. When my son was born and I quit teaching to stay home with him, all the children’s books I had purchased came home with me. Having been a reading teacher for nine years, there were a lot of books. And you can’t ask a reading teacher to get rid of her books.
But it didn’t stop there. We added board books for the baby years, gave our kids special keepsake books for every birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and every major and minor holiday including Hanukkah (even though we’re not Jewish), and ordered from nearly every Scholastic book order (which often came home three at a time) since preschool started three years ago. Not to mention the Scholastic book fairs during parent-teacher conferences. And don’t forget the library books, both from the school library and the public libraries (yes, we are card-carrying members to four area libraries). Once, we had so many books checked out that when it was finally time to return them, I had to haul them in an 18-gallon tote in the back of my vehicle. (I think we had checked out over 80 children’s books, over the course of several visits to the library, at that time.)
Like me, my children also love to read. My son was reading early first-grade material before he even started preschool, and my daughter, who is currently in preschool, is reading at a mid-kindergarten level. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the books they have been surrounded by since the days of their births (yes, really – Goodnight Moon was one of the first board books I read to them in the hospital when they were born), have been a major contributor to their success as readers and more importantly, their love of reading and good books. And I know that watching their parents read, surrounded by lots of good books ourselves, has influenced them as well.
So, I’m not going to apologize for all the books, but I do still have control of them. While I’m quite certain that I didn’t cut down our collection of children’s books by half, I did remove a sizeable chunk. Enough that we could more easily house the books in the space we have. And in keeping with simplicity, I found a system for organizing them that finally works for us.
I’m not sure why I waited this long (only seven years) to figure this out. It’s essentially what I did to organize books in my classroom. At school, I organized my books by reading level because that’s how I needed to use them. This time, I organized our children’s books by category (such as science-related books, favorite authors, favorite characters, etc.), assigned a different color code to each category, labeled individual books within a category with stickers of the same color, and placed all those books in the same basket on the shelf. My son and daughter each have a shelved set of baskets in their rooms, where we keep all the books, and the books are shared by all. So that made 16 baskets of book categories. I had to get a little creative to come up with that many color codes, but I made it work. (I know that doesn’t sound simple, but it is when you consider the hundreds of books that would eventually end up in stacks throughout my kids’ bedrooms as they pulled them off the shelf because they couldn’t easily find the books they wanted.)
I still have to create labels with corresponding stickers for each basket front so the kids can easily find a book category and also quickly know where to put back a book. Right now they just check inside a basket to find sticker colors, and even so, it still is working so much better than anything else we’ve tried (or haven’t tried).
And speaking of books, we’ve been using a recent book purchase to more thoroughly enjoy spring outdoors. I found this Birds of Iowa Field Guide in the bookstore of the Prairie Learning Center at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. We headed “to the prairie,” as we like to say, over Spring Break to enjoy the peaceful quietness we always find there.
While at the refuge scouting for the bison herd, we were surprised when we came upon a herd of 17 deer...
I also took the bird guide with us when we spent a few days over break visiting my sister. We had planned to hike a nearby nature trail while there, but it was unexpectedly cold and snowing that day. The bird guide wouldn’t have done the most good there anyway. My sister lives in Kansas. My bird guide is for Iowa. (I’m always prepared like that.)
We have been using the bird guide to study the birds we see in our backyard and the park behind our house. So far over the last few weeks, we’ve observed and identified: hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers (not to be confused with red-headed woodpeckers), blue jays, Northern cardinals, house finches, dark-eyed juncos, black-capped chickadees, American robins, and numerous sparrows, as well as the standard Canada geese and mallard ducks we often see in the ponds and creek we pass during walks along the trail near our house.
This is a female hairy woodpecker in a river birch tree in my backyard. Or it could be a downy woodpecker. They look very similar.
What does all this have to do with pie? The organization projects, time spent outdoors, and bird-watching are just a few of the activities that have kept me busy over the last few months. They are also what caused the pie drought in our house. But, after such a long spell without pie, this one sure tasted good!
Here’s to hoping this is the end of our drought.
Yours in pie,
The filling is a deeper layer than it looks in this photo. After I made the pie, I was impatient and forgot to chill it before slicing into it. As a result, the filling oozed out. Don't forget to chill it before enjoying!
If you’re looking for intense lemon flavor with just enough sweetness to make you crave more, and an insanely high layer of the fluffiest meringue this side of the Rocky Mountains, so fluffy you’ll think that it’s whipped cream, then this is the pie for you. I first saw this pie being made on Cook’s Country, and when I tried their recipe, the level of tartness was sky high itself. I’ll never forget the seriously-puckered look on my husband’s face after his first taste, which only became more so with each subsequent bite. The next time I made a few adjustments, and this became an instant favorite.
I entered this pie in the 2010 Iowa State Fair in the Machine Shed Pie contest. It took first place in the lemon meringue class, and then second overall for the contest, out of about 120 pies. I think you’ll agree: this pie is a winner!
Pucker-Up Lemon Meringue Pie
Adapted from Cook’s Country
1 ¼ c. sugar
¼ c. cornstarch
¼ tsp. salt
¾ c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ c. water
8 large egg yolks (reserve 4 whites for meringue)
1 T. grated lemon zest
3 T. butter, cut into pieces
In saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt; add lemon juice and water, and whisk until dissolved. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, until mixture becomes translucent and begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Whisk in egg yolks until combined. Stir in lemon zest and butter. Bring to simmer, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Cool completely and pour into baked pie shell. Cover surface directly with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator until well-chilled, several hours or overnight.
½ c. water
1 c. sugar
4 large egg whites (room temperature)
Pinch of salt
½ tsp. cream of tartar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Combine water and sugar in saucepan. Bring to vigorous boil and cook 4 minutes, until slightly thickened and syrupy. Remove from heat and set aside. Beat egg whites in electric mixer until frothy, about 1 minute. Add salt and cream of tartar. Beat, gradually increasing speed, until whites hold soft peaks, about 2 minutes. With mixer running, slowly pour hot syrup into whites. Add vanilla and beat until meringue has cooled and becomes very thick and shiny, 5 to 9 minutes. Mound meringue over chilled filling, being careful to seal the meringue to the crust around the edges. Bake in 400° oven on lower-middle rack until peaks turn golden brown, about 6 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack, then chill well in refrigerator before slicing and serving.