The author’s family as kids. Pictured are (from left) Doug Burns, Tom Burns and Jane Lawson during a family vacation in the 1970s.
The author’s family as kids. Pictured are (from left) Doug Burns, Tom Burns and Jane Lawson during a family vacation in the 1970s.
Monday, July 18, 2011

In early elementary school, students in my class were asked to bring a list of all the states we had visited. At a young age, my list was already fairly long. My teacher sent home a note to verify my handwritten list was correct and indeed it was. At the age of 36, I have visited 47 US states, still needing to check Alaska, Hawaii, and Florida off my list to make my tour of the United States complete.

Growing up, my two older brothers, Douglas Burns and Tom Burns of Carroll and I were “lucky” to be crammed into the backseat of a car for weeks at a time during the summers. Looking back, we were very fortunate to have experienced such long vacations.

To ready for a trip my parents would sit at the table and plan our trips for weeks in advance using atlases and a collection of maps. My husband, Danny, and I have joked about how our dads used to spread those maps across the steering wheel and would turn down the radio so they could concentrate on the road. With the introduction of GPS and internet-generated directions, maps are rarely used and no longer handed over to the mother in the passenger seat to fold up and put into the glove compartment.

My mom would get ready for each trip by baking cookies to keep in a fruit cake tin for snacks and packing the cooler full of food to eat along the way. Before we left, the trunk had to be packed and repacked perfectly to fit all of our belongings.

During these extended car rides, the three of us had to be creative to keep ourselves occupied. Since these days children are held hostage to their car seat or booster seat (due to seatbelt laws), the backseat is no longer a playground. I remember climbing to the front to sit between my parents or to lie across their laps or even to sit on my dad’s lap to “help” him drive. All of this occurred while we cruised down the interstate. My mom read aloud from chapter books and would play car games with us like watching road signs for all the letters of the alphabet. I also recall a lot of time to daydream while watching the scenery whiz by. These vacations took place in the simple days of the late 70s and 80s, no DVD player or hand-held video game to keep us busy.

On a vacation out West, I recall the wide open space, full of blue sky and white puffy clouds. I remember lying down the back seat with my head on a pillow with one of my many stuffed animals I brought along (I remember being given a strict “stuffed animal limit” on car trips) and using my imagination to find shapes in the clouds.

Along the way, we would stop for dinner and find a place to stay each night. The chlorine smell in a hotel lobby still transports me back in time to swimming in the hotel pool with my brothers. We all loved to swim and play in the water. It didn’t matter if the hotel pool was inside or outside, we had fun and it was a good way to end our long day. Doug and Tom always brought along their Nerf balls and once in a while, included me in a game of Marco Polo. My dad would sit and watch us play while my mom was busy behind the scenes repacking the suitcases and washing our clothes.

After resting for the night, our family of five would rise early each morning and pour milk from our cooler into our individual serving of cereal. These store bought cereal “bowls” were a real treat since normally we were not allowed to eat sugared cereal. We would stay on the road all day, only to stop at rest stops, to take in the scenery and tourist attractions, and to eat sandwiches and fruit from the cooler for lunch.

One summer, we took the historical route and traveled east. Our trip to Boston was where I first tried what instantly became my favorite food, crab legs. It’s also where I had a stuffed animal emergency. My most prized possession, “Pinky” the stuffed mouse, was left in the sheets in a huge Boston hotel and accidentally collected with the laundry by the maid. Luckily the hotel found Pinky and sent her safely on her way to our next destination. While in Boston, we toured the Freedom Trail. Unfortunately my mom had to do double duty, as I refused to walk, so my poor mom carried me the whole way and I was way past the carrying stage. On this trip out east, we also stopped to see as many Vanderbilt mansions as possible. Those grand mansions were very impressive to a little girl like me.

The trip I remember the most was one we took out west when I was in second grade. The trip lasted for weeks. We drove through the Southwest to see the Grand Canyon and a Navajo reservation. Our destination was California, where we visited the Hearst Castle, the San Diego Zoo, Alcatraz, Disneyland, and visited the Wunschel family (of Carroll) at their summer home in Carmel.

Other family vacations included trips to Canada, Washington, and Colorado. My mom still has plastic souvenir placemats with photos of the places we visited. During our many trips, my older brothers, took the opportunity to add to their unusual collection of matchbooks. Since there were no restrictions on smoking at that time, matchbooks bearing the names of restaurants and hotels were on every counter. Doug and Tom collected them and stored them in their GI Joe lockers. I collected trinkets along the way, but I was most impressed on our California trip, when we found an entire store devoted to Hello Kitty in San Francisco.

I look back at our family vacations with much fondness. I am lucky to have seen so much of the United States. I am thankful my parents took the time to take us on those long road trips. Ah, those times were much simpler. It was a time I could sit back, take in the view, and enjoy the ride.

Lemon-Rosemary Flank Steak

This flavorful meat is simple and can feed a small crowd. It’s easier to prepare than individual steaks and gives you more time with guests. It is a not a common cut of meat, so you may have to order it from the meat counter in advance. We served this for dinner after the baptism of our son, Kellan. The flavors go well with baby new potatoes and grilled vegetables (recipe below). Be sure to cut the meat against the grain or the meat will be tough.

1 T grated lemon peel
1 t cracked black pepper
1 t salt
¾ t dried rosemary leaves, crushed
1 green onion, minced
2 T margarine or butter
1 flank steak, 1 ½ in thick (about 2 lbs)
Preheat grill (or broiler). In a small bowl, mix all ingredients with 2 T butter. Spread half of lemon butter evenly over top of steak. Broil 8 minutes. Carefully turn steak over, spread with remaining lemon butter, and broil 10 to 12 minutes longer. Allow to rest before slicing against the grain.

Chicken Simon and Garfunkel

As my dad’s chocolate brown, Fleetwood Cadillac glided across the open road through deserts and over mountains we were always listening to music. My dad preferred classical music, so we listened to our fair share of it. I have to admit, it gave me an appreciation for classical music early on. My favorite was the soundtrack from Annie and I recall Doug’s was Paul McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace.” The music we all enjoyed was Simon & Garfunkel. I still have so many favorites by Simon & Garfunkel especially Homeward Bound, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, and Mrs. Robinson. The key herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) used in this recipe are mentioned in another favorite song, Scarborough Fair/Canticle.

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 c butter, softened and divided
salt and pepper to taste
6 slices mozzarella cheese
1 egg, beaten
fresh bread crumbs
2 T fresh parsley, chopped
¼ t sage
¼ t rosemary
¼ thyme
½ c dry white wine
Flatten chicken breasts between sheets of waxed paper with rolling pin. Spread each breast with a little butter (use ½ c total) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place one slice of cheese on each piece of chicken, then roll and tuck ends, fastening with toothpicks, if necessary. Coat chicken lightly with flour. Dip in egg. Roll in bread crumbs and arrange in a baking dish. Melt remaining ½ c butter and add parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Pour butter mixture over chicken. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Pour wine over chicken and baste with butter drippings; bake 20-30 minutes longer. Remove toothpicks and serve.

Grilled Portabella Sandwich

Here is a “meaty” alternative to a hamburger. It can be grilled outside or inside on a grill pan or under the broiler. This perfect summertime sandwich has a bold flavor combination of pesto and roasted red peppers.

6 oz portabella mushrooms
2 T olive oil
1 small loaf (8 oz) Italian or other crusty bread
3 T prepared pesto
1 c spinach or arugula leaves
4 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into thin slices
1 jar (7 oz) roasted red peppers (drained)
Preheat outdoor grill, grill pan, or broiler until hot. Trim portabella stems if attached; cut mushrooms in ¼ in slices and brush both sides with oil. Place on grill rack or broiler pan 4 inches from heat (or directly on grill pan); grill or broil until mushrooms are tender, only about 4 minutes, turning once. Cut bread horizontally in half. Spread bottom half with pesto. Layer sandwich in this order - spinach, mozzarella, peppers and mushrooms. Cover with top of bread. Cut crosswise in half to serve. Makes 2-3 sandwiches.

Oven-Fried Parmesan Chicken

This is a healthier, easier, and yummy alternative to traditional fried chicken. The Parmesan cheese adds a lot of taste and texture. It can be served warm or made ahead of time and served cold. I remember eating this chicken for Sunday dinner on our three-season porch at our old home on Terrace Drive with my mom, brothers, and my uncle, Jim Wilson, in the summertime.

1 c herb seasoned stuffing (crushed)
2/3 c Kraft parmesan cheese (grated, in the green can)
¼ c parsley (snipped not dried)
1 (2 1/2 -3 lb.) chicken cut up
½ c. butter or margarine, melted
Combine crushed stuffing, cheese, and parsley. Dip chicken pieces in melted butter or margarine, then roll in stuffing mixture. Arrange chicken, skin side up on a large shallow baking dish (a jelly roll pan works well). Don’t crowd chicken. Sprinkle with remaining butter and crumbs. Bake in moderate oven (375 degrees) 45 minutes or until tender. Turning is unnecessary.

Grilled Vegetables

The following recipe was a hit with family and later with guests at my mom’s home. It can be marinated in advance and then grilled alongside the meat.

1 small eggplant (or half of medium), cut into chunks 1 medium onion cut into wedges (we use a red onion)
5 oz portabella mushrooms, cut into 1-inch slices
2 small bell peppers (one red, one green), cut into chunks
2 c cherry tomatoes
6 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 T soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup chopped fresh rosemary or basil
Prepare vegetables. Whisk together marinate ingredients. In a large bowl, toss vegetables and marinade. Marinate 1 hour. Put vegetables (except tomatoes) in grilling basket or on skewers. Grill - brushing with marinade and stirring or turning several times for 15 minutes. Add tomatoes and grill 5 minutes longer or until all vegetables are as tender as desired (since we like crisp vegetables the grilling time is less than suggested). Serves 8.

Lemonade Pie

This is a super easy way to turn a summer time staple, lemonade, into a refreshing dessert. I love cold lemonade in the summer. A freshly shaken lemonade is the first thing I get each year at the Iowa State Fair.

1 small can frozen lemonade
1 can sweetened and condensed milk
1 9 oz container of Cool Whip
Mix well and pour into graham cracker crust. Freeze.

Passionate White Sangria

I first tried sangria in 2003 while visiting my friend, Ericka (Evans) Bollinger in Chicago. We went out for tapas and sangria to celebrate my engagement to Danny. This recipe from Cooking Light magazine is similar to what we had on that warm summer night.

2 c pineapple juice
1 c white grape juice
1 c passion fruit juice
¼ c fresh lime juice
1 (750 ml) bottle Riesling or other slightly sweet white wine
1 (12 oz) can ginger ale (add ginger ale just before serving)

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large pitcher. Add fruit of choice to bottom of pitcher such as grapes, slice apples, peaches, lemons, etc. and chill. Add ginger ale, stirring gently. Makes 10 servings.