Archives for posts with tag: strawberries

Maybe it was walking up hills for three days, which rendered me tired and lowered my resistance. Maybe it was reading the second installment of Jackie’s “What I Ate Last Week” at Marin Mama Cooks (It is fun to know the details of another person’s life and table). Maybe it was this hilarious account of food aversions called “Ten Gastric Ways of Making Me Talk.

It was lunch time. I was hungry. And on the way downstairs I decided to make my first green smoothie.

Some of you are saying “Oh no!” and thinking about cancelling your subscriptions. “She isn’t…” She’s gone too far.” “This is not going to make me love local, seasonal food.” “Run for the barf bag.” “Shh. You can’t say that on a food blog.”

painting of blender, fruit, spinach and the resulting green smoothie in a glass.

Green Smoothie. Sharyn Dimmick. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil.

I had read about green smoothies. I had promised myself I would try one once when I had some strong-flavored ingredients on hand to offset the spinach.

In the refrigerator was a small bowl of fruit salad, that bowl that sits for days while you each wait for the other person to eat it: “Maybe she’ll eat it tomorrow….” And that fruit salad was made of fresh pineapple, organic strawberries rescued from the bargain bin and a few tangerines. Plus, I had a mango on the counter from our last visit to Grocery Outlet and I had a quarter of a bag of the fresh spinach that came last week. Green smoothie time.

I chucked the bowl of fruit salad into the blender with all of its juices. I cut open the mango, sliced and scored it, turning it inside out to release the mango cubes from the skin.

How much spinach? You didn’t think I was going to use a recipe, did you, or consult one? My guideline was not so much that it would be disgusting or overpower all of the other ingredients. Stripping off any thick stems I put in a small handful of leaves, maybe half a cup.

The blender whirred. When it was no longer chopping anything I got out a glass and poured a test taste.

First of all, it wasn’t green. It was orange- yellow with a green undertone and it was too thick to drink easily. But it didn’t taste bad at all.

Okay. Thinning. What was I going to use? I don’t like super cold drinks so ice was out. I have some indifferent raspberry sorbet in the freezer. Don’t need the sugar. Ah, yogurt — plain yogurt and more spinach.

I added two dollops of plain yogurt and another small handful of spinach, concentrating on the smallest leaves. The blender whirred it around again.

This time it was the color of an avocado face mask, the color of split pea soup. It was green. I poured it into the glass and tasted cautiously.

It did not taste like spinach. It still tasted faintly of mango and strawberries, more sweet than vegetal, with a tang from the yogurt. If I had had them, I would have added more strawberries, frozen raspberries or blueberries, or more pineapple. It was fine without them.

Since I don’t usually drink my lunch I wanted something to chew on (Where are the bar snacks?). I toasted a piece of sourdough bread to satisfy my teeth and jaws.

Should you make a green smoothie? I don’t know. Do you like wheat grass and other green things? Do you have a juicer, which will widen the ingredients you can put in it? Is it hot where you live and too late to cook lunch? Do you need to use a mango, some fresh spinach and some berries today? Do you have an appetite for all things new? Are you willing to try to drink your veggies because you refuse to eat them? Answering yes to any of those questions may predispose you to make a green smoothie at least once. I did it and lived to tell the tale.

Advertisements

I have been distracted this week, planning my life in advance, spending untold hours on the internet booking flights to and from Paris, reserving train seats, surveying my distinctly non-chic wardrobe with dismay and bemusement. It is odd spending the first few days of May madly thinking about mid-to-late June, when I will be at a writing retreat in Limousin with Natalie Goldberg and then in Paris itself.

Meanwhile, here in Kensington, our lone apple tree is in full bloom and spring crops slowly make their way into the farm box. Today I got snow peas and strawberries, asparagus and baby romaine lettuce, carrots and spring onions and braising greens. The breeze has blown all day. The sky is pale blue with wide filmy streaks of clouds.

The fruit and vegetables remind me of a meal I had last May in New York. Natalie had invited me and my friend and host Dorotea to lunch at her friend’s Manhattan apartment. Natalie and her friend had gone to a farmers’ market and come back with the first asparagus and strawberries of the season. Natalie fried up some gluten-free pancakes and set the berries and stalks on the table for our spring feast high over the Hudson River. Everybody but me tucked into the asparagus while I ate strawberries and pancakes for lunch.

May has come again and I am in my own kitchen. This morning I opened a bag of whole-grain blue corn that I stashed in the refrigerator when I last came back from New Mexico. The corn is fine-milled, pale blue with flecks of darker blue. I cooked up a quarter cup of it as a simple mush, boiling it in a cup of milk with a few grains of kosher salt and a small handful of dried sour cherries. The corn turned a lovely pale lavender color when cooked. I added a few drops of vanilla and stirred, then spooned up my breakfast, satisfied.

Blue Cornmeal Pancakes with Strawberries. 4″ x 6″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn DImmick.

For tomorrow, I plan a simple elaboration. Tomorrow I will cook another pot of blue cornmeal mush, eliminating the cherries. I will beat in an egg or two, some flour, some milk, a few tablespoons of sugar and some baking powder. I will stir in 1 tsp of vanilla last. I will heat a skillet on medium heat, drop in some butter, swirl it in the pan and drop quarter-cupfuls of pancake batter onto the hot metal.

Before I prepare the pancakes, I will wash and hull the strawberries. I will taste one and decide whether or not they need sugar. Since I will probably be eating them with maple syrup I may not sugar the berries unless Mom insists.

I first learned to make these pancakes from a Mark Bittman recipe reprinted in a local newspaper. You can read it here. Then I realized a couple of years later that I could wing it by using leftover polenta or cornmeal mush from dinner and adding basic pancake ingredients. I felt like a genius, but I never would have thought of it had I not made Bittman’s wonderful recipe many times. The pancakes are filling, but not heavy, and have become one of my favorite breakfasts for the warmer months when fresh fruit becomes abundant. I like them best with berries or peaches –any berries, but strawberries are the berries of the moment in my neighborhood.

Food Notes: Blue corn, if you can get it, is wonderful. It contains more protein than yellow or white corn. Also, Monsanto, developer of much genetically-modified corn, reputedly does not bother with blue corn, concentrating its research on yellow hybrids. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer not to ingest Monsanto’s experiments or products if I can avoid doing so. Vanilla adds a lovely flavor to corn, dare I say je ne sais quoi? I urge you to try it next time you make a sweet corn recipe.

Travel Notes: I am currently looking for hotels in Paris. Nothing expensive. Cheap is good. The room can be simple and I don’t care if the building is old. The hotel needs to be safe and near a Metro stop. If anyone has suggestions, or suggestions about how to find what I need please comment below or contact me. Merci beaucoup. — Sharyn

In Northern California spring can start in February and continue through May. First we see daffodils, then flowering pear, plum, crab apple and quince trees. Spring crops come in slowly: green garlic, lettuce, then asparagus, followed by peas. On my last Farmers’ Market visit two weeks ago the strawberries had white shoulders and the grower I like to buy them from (Lucero Farms of Lodi) had not yet taken up a stall, but I had a feeling I would find strawberries today, and there they were, small red Seascape berries with long stems destined for the year’s first strawberry shortcake.

Painting shows a heart-shaped strawberry shortcake and baskets of berries.

Strawberry Shortcake. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

There are many variations of strawberry shortcake: you can make it with angel food cake or lemon pound cake or sponge cake or olive oil citrus cake. I have tried them all, but my favorite recipe for strawberry shortcake is a biscuit base, split and covered with fresh strawberries, served with lightly sweetened whipped cream. To honor the ritual of spring I will use organically grown Farmers’ Market strawberries, and whipping cream from Straus Dairy in Marin County.

I will buy my cream at a local supermarket, but because it is Earth Day I want to think a bit about what it took to produce this traditional spring dessert. Someone had to plant the strawberries, tend them, water them, pick them, bring them to market. Someone had to raise sugarcane and refine it. Someone mined the salt, picked vanilla pods, raised wheat, ground it into flour. Someone had to raise the dairy cow, feed her on grass, milk her. Someone had to separate the cream, sterilize the bottles, fill and cap them. Someone had to drive the cream to the supermarket. Someone had to put it on the shelves. Someone had to drive the bus that takes me from market to market and home again. In a day gone by, members of my family, relatives from a few generations back, might have kept the cow and skimmed the cream and planted the strawberries in Illinois where they farmed, but my parents both moved to California as teenagers and never went back to the Midwest. Celia’s small farm at The Kitchens Garden might be something like the farms my mother knew in her youth, farms with hedgerows, vegetable gardens, small orchards, cows and chickens, diversified crops.

In California I now buy the bulk of my produce from an organic farm eighty-seven and a half miles from where I live. Someone drives to Berkeley each Wednesday and places boxes of vegetables and fruit on a front porch. I take a bus and walk several blocks, load the heavier vegetables into my backpack and the delicate items into a canvas bag. I have no choice in what goes into my produce box: someone at Riverdog Farm decides what is best each week and loads it up. I unpack the box and fold it: the farm driver will collect it the next week. I like the idea that I am getting produce picked that morning or the previous day and I like it that in a small way my food dollars are supporting small, diversified agriculture on a farm that uses organic growing methods: although I cannot farm myself I have farming roots. Small farmers are real to me,  people that raise food and think about how they are raising it. The Capay valley where my produce comes from has many small farms started by former students at U.C. Davis on land that agribusiness did not want.

I shop at the Farmers Market to supplement my produce box. There I can buy a flat of peaches in June, more corn in July, bunches of fresh basil in August, these first spring strawberries in April. Every week I can walk down the center aisle and look to see what has come in, compare prices, sniff the air perfumed by seasonal fruit. I am grateful to live in a state where the growing season is long and next to a city that supports three different farmers’ markets year-round.

Enough. Now it is time to go into the kitchen to make that special shortcake with the first strawberries.

First, shake the cream bottle to redistribute the fat evenly. Then pour the grassy-smelling cream into a small mixing bowl and set it into the refrigerator to chill, along with the beaters. The cream will triple in volume as you whip it, so make sure your bowl is not too small. If you wish, you may season it at this point: I like to add  2 and 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla and, sometimes, the barest grating of fresh nutmeg.

While the cream chills, prepare the shortcake:

Preheat the oven to 425.

Sift together 2 cups of flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp kosher salt

2 Tbsp sugar.

Cut in 1/3 cup unsalted butter (if you use salted butter, omit the kosher salt)

Add 1 cup milk

Stir just until combined.

Put into a buttered cake pan.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned in spots.

While the shortcake bakes, prepare the strawberries: remove the hulls and stems and then wash berries in a minimum of water. Let them drain in a colander or pat them dry. Taste one. If your berries are ripe and sweet, you need not add anything, but if you are my mother you will insist on adding a few tablespoons of sugar so that the berries give off more juice — it’s your choice since Mom is not in the kitchen with you. You will also whip the cream now. We like ours moderately stiff so that we don’t have to whip it again the next day.

Once the shortcake is out of the oven, split it in half and pile berries between the layers and on top. Serve with whipped cream.

I will return the plastic strawberry baskets to the market next week for re-use (and perhaps buy more strawberries). I will return the cream bottle to the grocery store eventually, collect my deposit and try not to buy more cream for awhile.

Food Notes: Strawberry shortcake features two elemental foods, cream and strawberries. To make a delicious shortcake, start with the best cream and berries you can find: local dairy cream and organically grown berries will give you the best flavor. Some things are worth waiting for and it is better to make this with ripe, red strawberries that have developed their sugars than to use white-capped or green berries. If you cannot get local cream, choose cream from your market that has not been marked “ultrapasteurized.” Ultrapasteurized cream has been heated to a high temperature to give it a longer shelf life and has a cooked taste that you will want to avoid once you have tasted the alternative. We sweeten our cream with white cane sugar to keep the flavor pure, but you are free to use any sweetener you prefer as long as you do not introduce chemical sweeteners. Finally, you may use any sort of cake or biscuit base that you like, but I implore you to bake it yourself and eat it while it is warm from the oven.