Little House on the Cul-de-sac

There’s something about summer that makes me feel all Laura Ingalls Wilderish.  I get in a “Little House” frame of mind come July every year, and there’s nothing to be done for it but whip out my apron and start stirring up good things.

July is when the berries start ripening in droves.  June is a tease — just strawberries, mostly — although here in Oregon, that means Hood strawberries, the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else.  Intensely sweet and highly perishable, they rarely make it to stores and have to be hunted down at Farmer’s Markets or, if you’re lucky (which I am), at the neighborhood berry stand that magically appears every summer in an unpaved parking lot near our local supermarket.

June means bowls of strawberries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It means homemade strawberry shortcake (my husband’s favorite) for Father’s Day.  Some years it means strawberry jam, too, although this year I was too busy with work to put any up.

July, though, means Berries with a capital B — boysenberries, loganberries, raspberries, marionberries, tayberries, sylvan blackberries, and whatever other berries Mother Nature can dream up.  I was determined not to let this bounty, too, slip by, and when a window of opportunity opened up this past weekend, I grabbed it and my husband (aka Pa Frederick), and made a dash for our favorite berry farm …

… where we picked gooseberries and boysenberries.

Oregon boysenberries

Boysenberries  make the BEST jam — although marionberries run a close second.

Ma Frederick's Boysenberry Jam

Oddly enough, boysenberries also make good picture books.

Coming in October 2010!

I got the idea for this book a couple of years ago, at the very same berry farm.  Writers fool around with words in their heads a lot (if you ever notice a vacant expression on our faces, that’s what we’re doing), and that day I got to noodling around with the word “boysenberry” while my hands were busy picking.  Wouldn’t it be funny if there were girlsenberries? I thought.  Which of course led to, And wouldn’t it be funny if you could pick babyberries? That was it, I was off and running, and voila! Babyberry Pie was born.

No picture books were born this weekend, just a most satisfying cupboard full of jam and chutney (gooseberries make fabulous chutney).  Oh, and we picked up some rhubarb, too, which I turned into Rhubarb Custard Streusel Pie.

I used Jennifer Jacobson’s recipe (thanks, JJ!),  but since I only had one pie crust in the freezer (I make several at a time and freeze the extras), and was too lazy to make another one, I whipped up some streusel topping instead.  You can use it atop just about any fruit pie — trust me, it’s delicious.  Here’s the recipe:

Streusel Topping

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. flour

Mix together until topping is the consistency of coarse bread crumbs.  Sprinkle evenly atop pie, cover with foil, and bake as usual, according to the directions for whatever pie you’re making.  Remove foil for the last 10 minutes or so of baking, so that streusel turns golden brown.

Yum.

All in all, a most satisfying weekend.  Ma Ingalls would definitely approve.

Pie-of-the-month club – Jennifer Ward

On the menu for this fine Friday … drumroll, please … Jennifer Ward!  Please join me in welcoming Jen to the pie-of-the-month club.

Children's author Jennifer Ward

What have you been cooking up for readers, Jen?  Please tell us about your new book, and how it came about.

With pleasure!  It’s a zany and delicious picture book called THERE WAS AN OLD MONKEY WHO SWALLOWED A FROG (Marshall Cavendish).  Steve Gray illustrated it.  It’s a spoof on the traditional song, “I Know an  Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” only this modern re-take is set in the jungle with one very hungry monkey.

This is my second collaboration with Steve Gray.  We have a companion book titled, THERE WAS A COYOTE WHO  SWALLOWED A FLEA that is set in the desert.

Sounds fun!   I loved COYOTE, and can’t  wait to read this one.  How about your favorite pie-in-the-sky moment as a writer?  Have you ever had one of those “I never dreamed it would really happen to me” moments?

I feel blessed to have experienced many pie-in-the-sky moments in this line of work.  However, I would have to say the ultimate delicacy I’ve experienced would be that my very first manuscript  was accepted by the very first publisher it was offered to.  I suppose you could say I took the microwave route to getting published vs. the traditional, slow-cooking oven route…

Has there ever been a moment in your career when you had to eat humble pie?

Indeed there has been!  I recall doing my very first newspaper interview, a lovely three-page, full-color spread for a major city newspaper.  Being naive, I divulged information to the journalist following the interview, thinking it was off-the-record, including large subsidiary sales numbers for one of my books.  That content made its way into the article, and my publisher gave me a “hand-slap” of sorts, which felt like getting a pie in the face, for sure!

Now let’s REALLY talk pie.  What’s your favorite kind?  Do you have a favorite pie memory?  How about the recipe you’re sharing – can you give us a little background on it?

My favorite is coconut cream pie.  Mmmmm…just LOVE it!  I think the monkey in my new book would go ape over it, too!  I connect pies with special holidays and celebrations, so they’re a very “happy” food memory for me .
One of my sisters is a pastry chef/baker, so she’s the primary baker in the family. However, here’s an easy-as-pie recipe some of your readers may enjoy trying:

JENNIFER WARD’S COCONUT CREAM PIE

1 C sugar
1/3 C flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 C whole milk
3 egg yolks
2 T. butter
1.5 tsp. vanilla
1 cup coconut flakes
1 baked and cooled 9 inch pie shell
Fresh whipped cream to top pie

Combine sugar, flour, salt, and milk in a saucepan over medium heat;.  Stir until thick and bubbly. Reduce heat to low and cook an additional two minutes.  Remove from heat.
Separate the egg yolks from whites and beat the egg yolks slightly.   Stir one cup of the hot mixture into yolks, then add it all to the saucepan and bring the entire mixture to a gentle boil. Cook and stir for two minutes  and then remove from heat.

Finally, add the butter, vanilla, and coconut to the hot mixture and stir.  Pour the hot filling into the baked pie crust. Cool.  When pie is completely cool, top with whip cream and sprinkle with toasted coconut flakes.

Coconut cream is my favorite, too, and this recipe looks yummy.  Thanks, Jen!

This post is part of an ongoing celebration for a pair of pie-related books that I have coming out later this year (Babyberry Pie and Pies & Prejudice learn more here).  You can also read about fellow “pie-of-the-month club” selections Jane Kurtz, Toni Buzzeo, and Lisa Schroeder.  Be sure and drop back by again soon, because throughout 2010 I’ll be serving up more stellar books by some of my favorite authors and illustrators.  Oh, and pie is on the menu, too, of course.   Pie is ALWAYS on the menu here on my blog.  Enjoy!

Sneak Peek – “Hide and Squeak”

The great thing about writing a picture book is that I can brag about the illustrations, since I had absolutely nothing to do with them!

Is this beautiful or WHAT?

I am so incredibly fortunate to have my story illustrated by C. F. Payne.  Wait until you see the artwork inside.  He’s amazing.  And so is Chloe Foglia, the talented designer in Simon & Schuster’s art department who masterminded this adorable cover. Talk about a powerhouse team!

I can’t wait to hold the new baby when it’s published next February.  (Yeah, I know, 2011 is a long time from now … but I couldn’t resist offering you this squeak sneak peek.)

National Pie Day

You’ve got to love a country that sets aside a whole day on the calendar to celebrate dessert.  Yes, my fellow Americans, it’s that time of year again — get out your rolling pins and let the flour fly!

Pie just happens to be my favorite dessert of all time.  I love ’em all — apple, pumpkin, cherry, lemon meringue, blueberry, marionberry (a Northwest specialty).  My favorites, though, are strawberry-rhubarb and coconut cream.  Mmmm.

And since it’s National Pie Day, I figured this would be the perfect time to announce two forthcoming books for 2010 which, coincidentally, are both pie-related.  What can I say?  I must have been piestruck when I picked up my pen…

Drumroll, please:

My first picture book!  And no, as you can see, I did not illustrate it (I can’t even draw stick figures).  The sublime Ms. Amy Schwartz did.  Wait until you see what she has in store — I’m absolutely head-over-heels in love with her artwork.  As a writer, handing over one’s manuscript to an illustrator is akin to handing over your newborn to a babysitter the first time you venture back out into the world.  Let’s just say there’s some trepidation involved.  With Amy, though, I hit the jackpot, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with her vision for my story.

Babyberry Pie will be published next fall by Harcourt.

The second book in my pie-a-palooza of a fall lineup is the fourth installment of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series.  The cover is almost-but-not-quite-ready-for-prime-time (check back here in a few days).  The title tells it all, though.  Pies & Prejudice hits the shelves in September, and I’ll bet you can guess what the book club will be reading this time around!

All this talk of pies is making me hungry.  Fortunately, there’s one waiting for me in the kitchen.

Coconut Cream Pie

Years ago, I coaxed one of the waitresses at Heather’s Cafe in Cannon Beach, Oregon, into sharing the restaurant’s recipe for coconut cream pie.  The cafe, alas, is no longer in business, but its memory lingers on in this sweet treat.  Here’s the recipe:

Coconut Cream Pie
Heather’s Cafe — Cannon Beach, Oregon

1 c. heavy cream
3 c. milk (don’t use less than 2%)
1-1/4 c. sugar
6 egg yolks
4 T. cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 T. vanilla
1 T. butter
3-4 cups coconut
Baked pie crust
Whipped cream

In a bowl, mix 1/2 c. milk, salt, egg yolks, and cornstarch.

Bring remaining cream, milk, and sugar to a gentle boil.  Pour a bit slowly into the egg mixture, stir, then slowly pour egg mixture back into the heated milk (the point here is to avoid scrambled eggs).  Return to medium low heat and stir until thickened and boiling (small bubbles, not full rolling boil).  Boil for about four minutes.

Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla.  Add 3 cups coconut (more or less, depending on your preference).  Cool.  Pour into baked and cooled pie crust.  Top with whipped cream and toasted coconut flakes.

Happy National Pie Day!