Our usual summer concert-going has been interrupted this year by my busier work schedule, a month-long visit from my parents (whom I dearly love, but my father was NOT impressed by the weather, and he was NOT going to sit around in the heat to listen to music!!) and various other commitments with the kids.

But coming up is one you won’t want to miss: Benton Park is doing a back-to-school concert on Saturday (Aug. 7) with three musical acts plus a scooter show, back-to-school food drive, live art, children’s art, carnival games, a food tent, a beer tent, free yoga, free massage … With all that, I hardly need to mention the bands, but I will do so anyway, because they rock:

  • The Saint Elizabeth (school) Percussion Group
  • Celia (a local kids’ performer who needs no introduction and no last name)
  • Big Bamou (New Orleans-style jazz and funk)

The concert runs a very family-friendly 4:15 to 9 p.m.  The only quirk to concerts at Benton Park is that, if the weather is hot (which this year is almost a guarantee!) the fans tend to stick to the shade along the edges of the basic where the stage is, leaving the bands to play to 50 yards’ worth of empty lawn. The upside is that the playground is close by, should the little ones get antsy.

Today was the best of St. Louis summer (a cool morning thundershower) and the worst of St. Louis summer (the subsequent 100 percent humidity afternoon). It probably wouldn’t have felt so bad except that I was helping a friend move furniture. And a washer. And a dryer. From her basement to the second floor.

I avoided most of the heaviest lifting, thanks to the one man among three women who was determined not to be outdone by any two of us combined, but I still worked up quite a sweat. I cannot imagine having done that or any job outdoors today.

And yet after I read this post for the blog I help edit, St. Louis Kids Magazine’s SmartParenting, I was oh-so-tempted to give blueberry and blackberry picking a try.The farm she writes about, Huckleberry Hollow, is only about an hour southwest of St. Louis off I-44.  Some friends who picked blueberries a couple of weeks ago raved about the experience too, telling us it was magical to just hold out your hand and have blueberries practically fall into it.

I think what I have to do is imagine how good those frozen berries will taste come December …

Happy 2nd of July!

July 1, 2010

What sets hard-core St. Louisans apart from the rest of us is this: True natives will brave the heat of summer for the VP Parade. The rest of us will wait for a cooler holiday — say, Mardi Gras — to make our parade appearances.

But I’m looking at the forecast and thinking I can stomach the heat this year, especially if we plan to arrive early and get the prime viewing spots right along CityGarden at Ninth and Market. The parade starts at Fourth and Washington around 10 a.m. and travels toward the end point at 20th and Market, so the plan is to arrive early with a box of donuts, let the kids play awhile, then sit down, relax and watch the parade pass by.

It looks like it will be a good one, too — marching bands (always my favorite), floats, helium balloons and “unique vehicles,” whatever that means. One hundred units total, stretching five miles in length. And, of course, it’s the kickoff to Fair St. Louis, the free event under the Arch. Even a non-native can appreciate those concerts and fireworks after the hot sun goes down.

When I heard about the street festival in the North St. Louis neighborhood of Baden, I was intrigued. It’s a part of town that most of us don’t visit very often — for example, the festival is in the heart of the neighborhood, between the 7900 and 8300 blocks of Broadway, and my personal explorations of the northern reaches of Broadway end around Smoki O’s barbecue shack at 1545.

Baden was named by an immigrant from Baden-Baden, a city in southwestern Germany not far from Stuttgart, where I lived from 1995 to 2001. Baden-Baden is a resort town famous for its baths (Baden) in a part of Germany that’s been yanked back and forth for a few hundred years by bishops and dukes and generals and all sorts of political entities. Its chaotic history has some ironic parallels with current St. Louis politics and bureaucracy — though, to its credit, the city has been funding some infrastructure improvements in Baden lately.

The festival, called Baden Taste, will be Saturday (Aug. 22) from 9 a.m. into the evening, starting with a classic car parade . There’ll be food booths, a kid zone, R&B and gospel music, comedy acts and a chicken wings contets. And beer! The organizers, though they have no ties to the Badenfests the neighborhood used to throw back when it was still full of German immigrants, are still planning to sell plenty of beer.

My only complaint about festivals like this one is the timing — why oh why have it in the middle of August?  St. Louis in the summer is NOTHING like Germany. The old Strassenfest used to drive me crazy for that very same reason.  Here’s hoping for a coolish weekend (even though I know some of my heat-loving friends will not be happy with anything less than triple digits this time of year) so we can hang out in Baden comfortably.

Today was M.’s big first day of first grade. From what he told me, it went pretty well. He couldn’t remember eating lunch, which means he didn’t hate it, and he liked the bathroom, which means he won’t try to hold it until he gets home. He talked to some kids, got into minor trouble in music class, ran until he was sweaty at recess. The only downside to the day, as far as I was concerned, is that his bus was an hour late getting him home — a VERY rainy hour. Luckily his stop is right in front of our house and S. was able to stay dry indoors most of the time.

So summer is ending. You can tell by the free concert listing too — the fall session of Twilight Tuesdays starts next week (Aug. 25) at the Missouri History Museum, featuring Gumbohead at 6:30 p.m. This Thursday (Aug. 20) is the second-to-last Sounds at the Station at Union Station, with Alvin Jett and Phat Noiz from 5 to 8 p.m.  And Sunday (Aug. 23) is the final Ivory Perry Park Concert Series, performed by Coco Soul from 6 to 8 p.m.

S. keeps asking when he can jump in leaves. Pretty soon, I tell him.  Pretty soon.

Last month our family happened to be in my North Dakota hometown during the county fair weekend, and the boys got to see a parade unlike the ones in St. Louis. For one thing, tractors, combines and other farm equipment outnumbered floats. For another, they still threw the candy, and lots of it. It left quite an impression on M. The only thing he couldn’t wrap his head around was the reason. I grew up without questioning the raison d’etre of a county fair … so it’s hard for me to explain it. I tried by having him imagine that we took our biggest tomatoes and best cookies to be judged by people who lived in our neighborhood, and other people took their prize possessions like cows and quilts, and we all had a friendly competition. And then there’d be some music and some other fun stuff to do. But I don’t think he grasped the essence of what sets a county fair apart from the types of festivals we go to all the time.

So I’m bummed that we’re out of town for the St. Clair County Fair this weekend (through Aug. 15).  I’d do a better job of showing him the livestock barns and the 4-H exhibits and the ribbons everyone wins.  We’d spend time on the midway, too — though I’m afraid my powers of flirting free rides from the carnies aren’t what they were 20 years ago!

My favorite thing about the St. Clair County Fair is that admission to the Belle Clair Fairgrounds in Belleville is free, unlike the St. Charles County Fair, one of the few remaining ones on the Missouri side of the metro area, which charges fees to adults and kids alike.  The carnival opens at 6 p.m. tonight (there’s a special deal:pay one price and ride as long as you want — so I wouldn’t even need to flirt to get free rides!!) and tomorrow night and at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Take the kids and let me know how you do explaining what it is that’s so special about a county fair.

We’re going through at least a pound of peaches a day, most recently from Eckert’s in Belleville. Every year I’m surprised all over again how wonderful this region’s peaches are.  We haven’t yet picked our own (if you’re looking to do that, see a list of orchards here) but maybe we can sneak out one day this week to do that.

Once we tire of eating them fresh, I usually start to bake with them. We do the usual pies and cobblers, but I always, always have to make this Peach Coffee Cake recipe at least once a summer.  It’s one of the recipes I copied out from my mom’s files when I left for college, so I have no idea where it came from originally. Sooooo good!

Peach Coffee Cake

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. plus 1 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 medium peaches, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. orange liqueur or juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch pan (circular springform works best). In a large mixer bowl, cream butter and 1/2 c. sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. In a small bowl, combine 1 c. flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Spread batter in prepared pan. Arrange peach slices in a spoke fashion over the batter.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining sugar, flour and the cinnamon. Sprinkle over the peaches.  Bake 50 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

In a small glass bowl, microwave the preserves and liqueur until they boil. Brush over the hot cake. Allow cake to cool, then remove from pan and finish cooling on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature; refrigerate any leftovers.

This weather is so perfect for outdoor events. Last weekend we couldn’t get over the exceptionally mild night we enjoyed on a downtown plaza watching an all-female Macbeth. I didn’t blog about it in advance, but it turns out there were a few kids there, mostly teens, and they seemed to be appreciative. If you get a chance this weekend (Jul. 31-Aug. 1), head on down to see it at Old Post Office Plaza at 7 p.m.

We’re heading into the last few weeks of most outdoor concert series too, so my calendar is packed with notes about favorites like Live on the Levee tomorrow and Saturday, Lafayette Square on Saturday (Aug. 1) and new, eclectic additions like More Than Coffee tomorrow (July 31).

It’s also great camping weather — and I wish we could get around to doing more of it this year!  If you’d like to too, check out the Boy Scouts’ guide to camping spots throughout the region, downloadable in Word or PDF form here.

It hasn’t been much of a summer for water parks, but today’s looking pretty much perfect for Family Fun Day at Aquaport in Maryland Heights. There’ll be prizes, an ice cream eating contest and a frozen t-shirt contest, plus costumed characters from North Star Frozen Treats and Aquaport.  Festivities run from 1 to 3 p.m., and admission is free for all ages.  Happy splashing!

One of my favorite free concert series is on this Sunday (July 26) at 6 p.m. in North St. Louis’ Ivory Perry Park (800 Belt Ave.). Although the series’ organizers tend not to mention its founding anymore, I can’t help but remember what prompted it. We’d only recently moved to St. Louis then, and I was shocked to read that a pack of wild dogs could attach a child in a city park in broad daylight. The park’s neighbors were shocked into action too, and let by three churches known as the Union Council, they pulled the concert series together to raise money for and awareness of the park.

It’s a small series, with only three concerts and attendance that doesn’t come close to filling the park’s large, open lawns, but the performers are always top-notch and the atmosphere is great for kids. This Sunday there’s a worship service at 4:30 p.m. with a potluck meal and then the concert featuring the Ralph Butler Band. If the kids get antsy during the music, there’s usually entertainment or art projects — or you can take them over to the playground, a very tangible result of the concert series’ success, and marvel at tragedy turned into song.