same song, different tune.

Our road home was fortuitous, I thought I might have missed it. Going off-the-beaten-path teaches me something new about myself. whispers into my heart. starts a new story. I remember that for me, these gals are very nearly an apparition. I was afraid they would unfurled before I returned, that I would find them with their petticoats an atrocious sight, scattered in heaps at their feet. laying sad and forlorn. I know it has to happen, but still it makes me a little sad. This may be the reason I am so enamored of peonies because they are so fleeting? so luscious. so perfect. so Belle of the Ball. At any rate, I'm glad they waited to say hello. They're nothing if not considerate. They know how I pine for them. They know that they are my secret handshake for summer, that it's officially time to stuff the freezer with popsicles and paint my toenails.

I look at them as if they were a hundred years old, even though I planted them when we moved in, before even fully unpacking. Still, I think of them as old ladies. That's okay, right? So, I extend them a bit of grace. I understand that they tire easily and are a bit frail. the heat makes them wilt and they get droopy in the rain. It's alright that they can't stay long. They are the very picture of old fashioned charm and elegance. My goodness, do you think they disapprove of my flip-flops and wonky pony tail. That they snicker at my hippie-girl faux pas. They probably fell off their rockers when they heard about my strawberry pie recipe.

Yet, we coexist happily here, two generations of ladies, born in different times, but with a shared appreciation for soil the color of a mocha latte, lemonade sun and the perfect shade trees.

For now, they are here, but soon they're off to wherever it is they go, playing bridge and wearing pearls with coral lipstick. So while they are still here, I pluck that ruffled stem and find that it fits rather nicely next to my heart.

Meanwhile, we're in that famous wind-down. I'm tripping along between believing summer is around the corner and trying not to rush it. Same song, different tune. The story of my life.

I've been planting tomatoes and thinking about peppers. I'm excited about the possibilities of my little wonky yard, and I feel like I am starting to see tangible, quantifiable progress being made. And yes, I'm a super fun, easy-going gardener. Why do you ask?? I just get weird, guys. That's all. I get all amped up about something and before I know it, I'm worried that it'll be over soon. Meanwhile, it has barely even started yet. I have a gift-card for a massage that I got for Christmas but I'm afraid to use it because then it'll be, well, gone. I save my Coastal Living magazines for weeks before reading them because I just like to know they're there. That's how I'm being about summer right now. It's annoying, even for me.

Until then? I've got my peonies.

Growing up, I had a little ol' patch of dirt, with just enough space for marigolds, snapdragons and gladiolas. I fought weeds and deadheaded flowers until the hazy air fell down around my shoulders and the dark started to close in. Eventually I'd find my way inside where Mom would fry pork chops to the tune of crickets. potato salad and lemonade. kitchen curtains hanging lank in a breezeless window. That's just one more verse of my childhood summers.

That garden, it was just fine. It grew bushels of flowers, weeds and memories. It taught me about hard work and patience. love for flowers. and how weeding can be therapeutic. But I guess what I'm trying to say is, it didn't look anything like my gardens now. It was no Secret Garden. I never skipped around in the sweet peas. Over the years I've ramped it up a few notches. I order heirloom seeds and roses. and the tiny pots made of cow crud to start seedlings. I do research. concoct my own plant food and mix fertilizer. I raise lupines and hollyhocks that are almost too big for their britches. Now I'm more of an  "Oh, that's wisteria!" than an, "I like that purple flower. It's fancy!" Ahem.

So yes, there's still time for the peppers. There's time for the deck, even.

I've been yakking around about it for months, but inspiration finally struck this past week-end and boom! it's done.

 Truth is, we all get the summertime blues. At least I do. Sometimes it's an intense layer of indigo and other times it's just a dusting of cornflower.

No matter what the shade, I promise this will help.

Grab the nearest vase/pitcher/empty soup can and head on out, clippers in hand. Remember that although flowers in the garden are lovely and good for your soul, a whole bunch of them on your windowsill might just be horticultural karma. Start snipping and don't look back!


Fresh Strawberry Pie

For the Baked Pie Shell:
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch slices
¼ cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
¼ cup ice water
For the Filling:
4 pints (about 3 pounds) fresh strawberries, gently rinsed and dried, hulled
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ teaspoons Sure-Jell for low-sugar recipes (the pink box)
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Make the Pie Crust: Process ¾ cup flour, salt and sugar together in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 10 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds with some very small pieces of butter remaining, but there should be no uncoated flour). Scrap down sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add ½ cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into a medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle the water over the mixture. With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Flatten dough into a 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
3. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured work surface to 12-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Roll dough loosely around a rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with 1 hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave overhanging dough in place; refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
4. Trim overhang to ½ inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; folded edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Flute dough or press tines of fork against dough to flatten against rim of pie plate. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.
5. Remove pie plate from refrigerator and use a fork to prick the bottom of the dough. Line the crust with foil, and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weight, rotate plate, and bake for 5 to 10 additional minutes, until crust is golden brown and crisp. Let cool to room temperature.
6. Make the Filling: Select 6 ounces misshapen, underripe, or otherwise unattractive berries, halving those that are large; you should have about 1½ cups. In a food processor, process the berries to a smooth puree, 20 to 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl as needed.
7. Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, Sure-Jell, and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir in the berry puree, making sure to scrape the corners of the pan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula, and bring to a full boil. Boil, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent scorching, for 2 minutes to ensure that the cornstarch is fully cooked (mixture will appear frothy when it first reaches a boil, then will darken and thicken with further cooking). Transfer to a large bowl and stir in lemon juice. Let cool to room temperature.
8. Meanwhile, pick over the remaining berries and measure out 2 pounds of the most attractive ones; halve only extra-large berries. Add the berries to the bowl with the glaze and fold gently with a rubber spatula until the berries are evenly coated. Scoop the berries into the pie shell, piling into a mound. If any cut sides face up on top, turn them face down. If necessary, rearrange the berries so that holes are filled and the mound looks attractive. Refrigerate pie until chilled, about 2 hours. Serve within 5 hours of chilling.




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