A Fourth of July Post: Home is Wherever With You

On the morning of my fifth wedding anniversary last week, I sat by myself in a salon. It was a rare moment alone, without responsibility, doing something just for me. That night, I was to celebrate the occasion with my husband at dinner out – only the second time in more than two years (since our kids were born) that we’ve gone out just the two of us.

“Home is wherever with you…” played over the salon stereo. I was aware of the music around me in a way I’m not always when I am juggling children and teething rings and nursing and dirty diapers; the song’s jangly tune and sweet lyrics felt appropriate in that moment, on that day, and it made me think of the concept of home. What it means to me today, as a mother and wife and sister and daughter and woman about to turn 40.

As we move into the Fourth of July weekend, with its annual flurry of family picnics and barbecued food and watermelon and fruit desserts a la mode and sparklers and Americana celebrations, home feels at the heart of this moment, too.

Today, home for me means chaos and warmth. Laughter and tantrums. Cocktails after kids’ bedtimes. Piles of toys and clutter and a desire for streamlining. A new kid-friendly backyard. Stairs and memories and noisiness and kitchen smells. Food crumbs everywhere. And a kitchen that is being used again, gradually, after months of takeout and exhaustion from new baby life and book writing and toddler raising and day jobs. And it means pie.

My daughter and I recently collaborated for the first time on a strawberry-rhubarb pie together while the baby napped and my husband was en route home from another trip. Like that Friday morning’s pleasant aloneness, it too was unexpectedly serene. There were no crying fits, just curiosity. No tears or terrible twos resistance, just desire to “see, see” and “hold it, hold it.” Just baking, together. Me and my girl. It was delightful.

Those are the times people think of, I think, when they wax nostalgic about raising children. Togetherness, learning, quiet discovery and sharing. Transferring one’s passion to offspring. Seeing eyes light up at transformation in the kitchen. Growth and love.

The pie turned out beautifully. I did something I rarely do: used prepared crust. And for the first time, I didn’t feel guilty about it.

My daughter marveled at the pie as it baked, transforming itself before her eyes in the dimly lit oven. As I watched her, watching the pie, I caught myself in a moment. One of those moments I’ll look back on when she’s older and wants nothing to do with me. Or when our relationship is one of two mothers, she with children of her own. I’m sure each era will have its special qualities, its reasons to cherish. But I’m also sure at some point I will long for these days – at least aspects of them – and I plan to eat a slice of golden, sugar-kissed tangy pie, to time travel back and remember what home tasted like in the summer of 2015.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie (Adapted slightly from The Joy of Cooking; original recipe here)

Makes one 9-inch double-crust pie
  • Prepared pie crust (Joy’s recipe involves making your own, but my current favorite in the prepared, frozen variety is this amazing local option)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, and place a rimmed cookie sheet on the lowermost rack to catch pie juices as they bubble over. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Remove prepared pie crust from freezer and follow instructions for bringing it to room temperature (should take just the amount of time you need to combine the fruit portion and let it sit, in the next step).

Combine in a large bowl:

  • 2 1/2 cups roughly chopped rhubarb
  • 2 1/2 cups hulled, halved strawberries (quartered for larger berries)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup sugar, depending on tartness of fruit
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons grated orange zest (I didn’t have oranges on hand so I left this out)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Let stand for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Line a 9-inch pie pan with half the dough.

Pour the filling into the bottom crust and dot with:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Cover with a pricked or vented top crust or a lattice (no way was I going to spend time to do the lattice – see Joy’s recipe for instructions if you’re interested; I think a double-crust pie is gorgeous when the top crust is simply vented with a few – five to be exact – small slits in the shape of an abstract star).

If necessary, trim the top crust, leaving at least a ¼-inch overhang. Fold the edge of the bottom crust up over the top, then crimp or flute the edge rustically. Lightly brush the top of the pie with:

  • Milk or cream

Sprinkle with:

  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Bake for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 350°F and bake for 25 to 30 minutes more, until the juices are thick and bubbling. Cool completely on a rack. Enjoy with ice cream or without; with others or ravenously on your own; for dessert or breakfast; cold, warm or room temp. This pie is wonderful any way you eat it.

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