In honor of a hometown Fourth and Strawberry Pizza.

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Fourth of July is a huger than huge holiday in my family.

In my tiny hometown of Long Beach, Indiana (yes, there’s a Long Beach in Indiana), going “home for the Fourth” is practically a law. There’s the parade that runs through town, complete with crepe-papered bikes and fire trucks, the beer tent afterward, where everyone drinks lukewarm Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Miller Lite from kegs and catches up with friends they’ve known since they were three, and a fireworks display that rivals most large cities’ that we watch on lawn chairs from my parents’ front yard.

It’s a time to show off your new clothes, boyfriend, husband or kids, drink during the day without shame, get your picture taken for The Beacher (Long Beach’s weekly newspaper), jet ski on Lake Michigan, grab a hamburger at Redamaks, people watch at the Tree House, have pancakes with your best friends at Memo’s and most importantly, it’s a time to appreciate the wonders of home.

Here’s a shot of us last year with my Mom and sister. The Bear was 4 months old:

This year, I’m sad to say that we’re staying in California over the Fourth. With our big move this year and the holiday falling in the middle of the week, it’s just too hard for us to get back. But, mark my words, Long Beach: the Murphys will be back next year, so get ready! 🙂

In honor of a Long Beach Fourth of July and of Fourth celebrations everywhere, I’m sharing with you my mom’s recipe for Strawberry Pizza, which she makes every year as a Fourth tradition in the design of an American Flag. I’ll be missing your Strawberry Pizza this year, Mom, but I’ll miss my family even more.

Have a wonderful Fourth, everyone!

YAYA’S PATRIOTIC STRAWBERRY PIZZA

Ingredients:

1 package sugar cookie mix

1 package strawberry Jello (you’ll only use a little)

1 package raspberry Jello (you’ll only use a little)

1 8oz package of cream cheese

1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar

1 1/2 quarts fresh strawberries, cleaned, drained and sliced

1 pint fresh blueberries, cleaned and drained

2 bananas, sliced into discs

4 TBS cornstarch

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 C water

2 TBS Karo syrup (the clear kind)

Pinch of salt

Whipped Cream

Rimmed rectangular baking sheet

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease the baking sheet and pat the cookie mix into the baking dish, creating a medium-thin “crust.” Bake for 10 minutes at 350 and let cool completely.

Soften 1 8 oz package of cream cheese and mix with ½ c sugar and ½ tsp of vanilla. After the crust has completely cooled, spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled cookie crust. Mix 1 c sugar, 4 tbs cornstarch, 1 C water, 2 TBS of white Karo syrup and a pinch of salt in a pot and boil until clear, stirring constantly. Separate this mixture into three equal parts. Add 2 tbs of the strawberry Jello to one, 2 tbs of the raspberry to another and leave the third clear. Mix well and let cool. After they’re completely cool, add the strawberries to the strawberry mixture, the blueberries to the raspberry mixture and the bananas to the clear mixture. Now, it’s time to get artistic. Arrange your berries and bananas on top of the cream cheese mixture in the design of an American flag: the strawberries and bananas form the red and white stripes, and the blueberries form the stars. Refrigerate and top with whipped cream or Cool Whip just before serving.

Voila! A Fourth of July favorite that I look forward to every year at my parents’ house. This recipe can work any time of year and with any fruit. It’s a great versatile dessert that tastes like a little slice of heaven. This picture of the finished product doesn’t include bananas, but is just as delish!

Enjoy my Mom’s recipe, friends, and wherever you’re celebrating this year, I hope you have a great holiday!

Kisses and hugs,

Erin

 

UPDATE 7/4/12:

I made my mom’s recipe today, and here are a few tips to help make the end product even better:

1) Don’t be tempted to over cook the cookie crust. It may not look like it’s cooked, but 10-12 minutes is really all it needs. The crust may “puff up” a little in the oven, but you can gently press it flat with clean fingertips as it’s cooling. Make sure you grease your dish/pan really well. Mine stuck a little.

2) The Jell-O can be cut back a little. If your fruit is fresh, you won’t need it for flavor, just for color, so I’d definitely cut it in half next time.

3) If you use bananas in yours, add them just before you serve/present the dish, otherwise they get brown, even if they’re glazed.

Here’s a picture of my finished product! I remembered just before I made this that I actually had a cookie cutter in the shape of a teeny tiny star (I use it for stenciling and felting), so I used that to cut my banana discs. Fun little patriotic touch!

What do you think?? 🙂

 

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Domestic Goddesses: I Salute You!

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I have a deep, dark, dirty secret I need to get off my chest. But first, let me tell you a little story…

When we moved into our three-bedroom rental house in January, I was excited to embark on exotic adventures as a suburban domestic goddess. It was all so new and uncharted to me. I couldn’t wait to actually drive to the grocery store and park in a real parking lot, to sweep leaves off my very own patio, to eat at the Olive Garden. But, more so, I was excited to play house: to welcome my husband home every night with a home-cooked dinner, a sparkling clean home that I’d spent the afternoon meticulously scrubbing and polishing, and our daughter fed, bathed and blissfully asleep. If I was going to be a stay-at-home mom, I was going to kick some serious domestic butt at it.

Poor, sweet, naïve me.

Some quick back story: despite growing up in a small Indiana town until college, my primary residences over the past decade and a half have been small, urban apartments with little to no maintenance required. Pre-baby and pre-California, I worked 60+ hours a week and usually just came home from work and ordered takeout with my husband while we watched TV. On weekends, we’d give the apartment a quick once-over, then go watch the Bears game with our buddies at a bar or something. With dual incomes and no kids, we could afford a cleaning lady every other week and we each did our own laundry.

That was easy-peasy. I was excited for a new challenge.

To launch Operation Domestic Goddess, I conducted some hefty research: looked up household cleaning tips on Pinterest, made a laundry schedule, Googled recipes for DIY toxin-free cleaners, made weekly grocery and errand lists and bought a Swiffer. A Swiffer! I was ready.

And then, I was sweaty.

Not only did I need a second shower on cleaning days (when is there time for a second shower, let alone a first?), more importantly, my kid was usually forced to sit inside all day while I scrubbed the toilets, mopped the floors and changed the sheets. And the house still wasn’t really that clean most of the time.

“How do domestic goddesses do it?” I wondered, as I slathered hand lotion on my scaly palms. Or, more pressingly, when? With my mother-in-law visiting later that week, I couldn’t leave the fate of my dirty house up to me. I decided to call in reinforcements.

So, here’s my big, nasty secret: two days later and full of shame and self-loathing, I “borrowed” my girlfriend’s cleaning ladies. While The Bear and I took the dog to the park and visited friends, the dynamic duo of Maura and Maria did everything from vacuum out our fireplace to remove the cobwebs that I thought were too high to reach so I’d just accepted them as décor. I hardly recognized the place when we returned home later that day.

I thought about not telling my husband, to let him think I’d done it all on my own, ala Celia Foote in The Help. But the second he walked in the door with a puzzled look on his face as he inhaled the sweet aroma of the toxin-free citrus vinegar spray I’d lovingly made (then abruptly given to the cleaning ladies and skedaddled out the door), I caved. I’ve never been a good liar.

B wasn’t mad that I’d spent a few extra bucks on the Washing Wonder Twins – quite the contrary, actually. He was proud of me for delegating and happy that I was in a good mood. He was also grateful that our shower was no longer scummy. Now, Maura and Maria come once a month to help with the “big” stuff (and of course, before all mother-in-law visits–not that mine would mind if the house is messy; she’s pretty great), and I continue to use my Household Cleaning Chart and homemade cleaning spray for what I can manage while The Bear naps—and in between blog posts 😉

In closing, I say hats off to you, super mamas (working and stay-at-home) who have multiple children and bigger houses than mine who do it all. Keeping your house clean, your bills paid, your marriage exciting, your sanity intact and your kids entertained—and, let’s face it – alive—is a mere mirage in the desert of domesticity.

Oh, and PS: if some of you aforementioned super mamas have clandestine cleaning ladies too, I promise: your secret’s safe with me.

With that finally off my chest, I’m going to leave my messy kitchen until later and take my daughter to the park.

Have a great week, everyone!
Erin

I’ve flown the co-op!

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When we moved to California, my husband B and I decided to embrace all that is California-y. Meaning, we promised each other we’d try to take advantage of things we didn’t necessarily have access to back home in Chicago. One of these golden opportunities was joining a weekly organic fruit/vegetable co-op. I know, I know… they have these practically everywhere, but this is CALIFORNIA PRODUCE, people! It has magical powers! 😉

So anyway, for around $20 a week, we pick up a crate of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables from a parking lot down the street from our house on Saturday mornings. Luscious, off-the-vine goodness right at our fingertips! We fantasized about all the amazing organic purees we’d make for The Bear (our daughter). The soups, casseroles and homemade jams. The always-accessible bowls of fruit we’d pluck from in the morning instead of grabbing a scone at Starbucks. It was going to be wonderful, and we were going to be thin, clear-skinned, organic vegetable consumers. Our daughter would never know what jarred applesauce tastes like.

Five months later… I’m canceling our subscription.

In the beginning, I found it thrilling to look up recipes for cabbage, kale, chive flowers, apriums, chocolate mint… There was the homemade chamomile-lavender tea, the lamb’s quarter soup, the apricot tart. Your mouth’s watering, right? So was mine! But sometimes, a lady just wants to steam some broccoli, cut up a banana, and give them to her toddler to eat while she checks her text messages! More than once in the past few months I’ve Googled things like “what to do with two pounds of red onions.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my veggies. I love to cook and so does B. I believe strongly in the importance of buying organic produce and dairy even though it’s more expensive and we’re not rich (for a list of the so-called “dirty dozen,” click here – add dairy to that list, too). But, we had to break up with our co-op.

Week after week, we’d be struggling to keep up with the pounds of produce sitting in our fridge. My husband works long hours, my daughter eats at 5, and I was having trouble keeping my eyes open long enough to make ricotta-stuffed collard greens with homemade heirloom tomato sauce. So, we’d end up having a surplus, which made us feel terrible, considering all of the hungry folks out there who don’t have the luxury of complaining about their organic produce co-op. We started skipping weeks, donating our box to local shelters. And, last week, we decided to cut the cord for good.

This is not to say I wouldn’t recommend a co-op to others (here is a list of some popular ones across the country), especially if you have a big family, but I did feel like we ended up wasting a lot of the beautiful, exotic local produce we were getting in our box every week because we either didn’t have time to cook it, or didn’t know how to cook it, and ended up spending even more money going to the grocery store or market to buy additional produce we felt we were missing.

So, briefly stated, this mommy is going to make a point of buying only what she needs and using the money we’re now saving to treat ourselves every once in a while to something a little more exotic.

In honor of my six-month relationship with our co-op, I’ll leave you two very simple but tasty recipes I developed that were necessitated by ignorance, but now a favorite in my cooking repertoire.

SUPER-SIMPLE CREAMLESS LAMB’S QUARTER SOUP

Ingredients:

1 bunch of Lamb’s Quarter (it’s a mild, wild spinach that you can find at farmer’s markets or specialty supermarkets), cleaned and dried. The stems are edible. You can definitely substitute fresh spinach for the Lamb’s Quarter… they’re very similar in taste.

5 small red, fingerling or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 clove garlic

1 small onion

1 quart of sodium-free organic vegetable broth

Kosher Salt and black pepper, to taste

Grated organic Parmesan cheese, to taste

Optional: Sherry, to taste

Boil the potatoes, onion and garlic in the vegetable broth until soft but not mushy. Add the lamb’s quarter and cook until just tender. Do NOT drain. Add the entire mixture to a food processor or Vitamix and blend until creamy and lump-free. Add salt, pepper and sherry to taste. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and a sprig of Lamb’s quarter. Admire green color. Serve with crusty bread and butter.

CHAMOMILE-LAVENDER TEA

This one is also super-easy. Discovered when I got a bunch of both in my basket and hadn’t a clue what to do with them, other than make potpourri or put them in a vase on my kitchen table. The tea is delicious and I swear it helps me sleep better!

1 small bunch chamomile, washed (you can do this by swishing the chamomile in a bowl of salt water, then rinsing with fresh water)

1 small bunch lavender, washed (you can wash the lavender the same way you washed the chamomile, just be careful that you’re gentle with the swishing so that the flowers don’t fall off)

1 lemon

Optional: peppermint oil

Lots of sunlight or time

Zest one large fresh lemon and set aside. Line baking sheets with aluminum foil (if you’re anti-aluminum, you can also use dish towels or paper towel). Arrange the lemon zest and flowers (keeping each separate from one another) in a single layer across the trays, allowing proper air flow to each stem.

Find a clean, sunny, bug-free place outside and let the flowers dry on the trays for 6-8 hours in full sunlight. If you don’t have access to an outdoor area or total sunlight, you can hang the flowers upside down in a dark, dry cool place, ala your prom corsage. This method takes a few days but with the same effect.

I sun-dried my chamomile on my back patio:

Image

And air-dried the lavender in my very-messy pantry using string and wire ties (very high-tech):

When the stems are completely dry and brittle, de-flower them (haha). Save only the leaves and flowers from the chamomile, and the flowers from the lavender. For the tea, I mix a 3-2-1 ratio of chamomile to lavender to lemon. Steep in boiled water for 10 minutes, strain and enjoy! The tea is also delicious with a tiny drop of peppermint oil added to the pot.

FYI, you can also blend the dried flowers and zest in a food processor to max out their mileage, but you’ll have to purchase and fill empty tea bags because the powdered mixture slips right through a tea strainer. The other, processor-free method is much prettier because who doesn’t like to look at flowers in their tea cup? 🙂

Enjoy!

Erin