Monday, August 30, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake

I spent the weekend getting my mojo back.  Saturday I spent the day (as in the entire day) on the porch glider.  I read, stared at the view and napped.  It was a gift I rarely give myself and it was exactly what I needed.  Yesterday morning my energy level was back.  I started my day with the talking political heads on TV - a Sunday morning ritual - and then picked up the kitchen, made the bed and did a grocery run.  Last night for dinner Paul made his famous grilled chicken, we had fresh corn on the cob, sliced tomato and avocado, and for dessert I made Strawberry Shortcake.  Life is good.

Out-of-Season Strawberry Shortcake with White Chocolate Whipped Cream
Serves 4

I call this 'out-of-season' strawberry shortcake because perfect, just-picked strawberries need nothing more than a slight (very slight) sprinkling of sugar to bring out the juice.  This recipe is for when the season is over, the strawberries were picked a week ago, and then trucked in from somewhere over the horizon.  The mashed berries provide nice juice and the jam makes the berries glisten.  The whipped cream is a decadent treat I adapted from one of Deb's recipes on Smitten Kitchen and I have to stop myself from downing the entire bowl.  Yeah, it's that good...

For the shortcake:

1 pound strawberries

1 TBS strawberry jam or jelly (I use the “all fruit”  kind).  Raspberry works in a pinch.

2 (if they’re large) or 4 (if they’re smaller) baking soda biscuits (I buy these in the bakery section of my grocery store)

Softened butter

For the whipped cream:

3 ounces of the best white chocolate you can find.   For me, that’s Ghirardelli.
5 ounces of heavy cream (a 1/2 cup plus a smidge)

At least 3 hours before serving, get the strawberries ready:

1.    Rinse, hull and slice the strawberries into a bowl – set aside ½ cup in smaller bowl
2.    Mash the ½ cup of berries, using either a fork or potato masher

3.    Melt the jam in the microwave – it should only take about 15 seconds.
4.    Add the mashed berries and the melted jam to the sliced berries.

5.   Cover with plastic wrap and set aside, stirring occasionally.  If you’re doing this in the morning, I’d put them in the fridge once they are nice and juicy.  Bring to room temp before serving.

At least 2 hours before serving, start the whipped cream:

1.    Break the chocolate into small pieces.

2.    In the microwave, heat the cream to just boiling.  Pull it out the second it starts to expand in the      cup.  If you’re not comfortable doing it this way, bring to a bare simmer in a small saucepan.
3.    Pour the cream over the chocolate, let it sit for about a minute, then whisk until smooth.

4.    Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream/chocolate mixture.  If you just cover the bowl, a skin will form as the cream cools.

5.    Place in refrigerator and, if you don’t need them for something else, put the beaters from your hand mixer in there with them.

Just before serving:

1.    Whip the cream/chocolate mixture until soft peaks form.

2.    Turn the broiler on to medium and adjust the rack to the top third.
3.    Split the shortcakes and spread each half with the softened butter and place on cookie sheet.
4.    Broil until tops are golden brown and sizzling.

5.    Top each half with strawberry mixture and the whipped cream.

6.    Serve!

Note: All of this, up to the “Just before serving” part can be done a day ahead.  Any more than that and the berries will get yucky.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Today got off to a rough start...

I had a meltdown this morning.  All by myself, in my kitchen.  I don't cry - I mean really cry - often, but this morning the tears flowed and I threw myself a good ole pity party.  Why can't we sell this house?  Why can't we catch a break?  I don't want to be here alone all winter again while Paul works in NY. That sort of thing.  It sucked.  I hate, I mean really HATE feeling like that, and have spent a better part of my adult life learning how to avoid it.

I'm not talking about denial, I'm talking about accepting what is, and finding a way to deal with it.  It isn't always easy to do, believe me I know, but the way I look at it, I have a choice.  I can spend the day in my grubby t-shirt and pj bottoms, feeling sorry for myself, or I can force myself to take one step towards feeling better.  This morning that first step was a shower.  It kinda forced me out of the t-shirt and pj bottoms (I've only gotten into the shower fully clothed once and that was when my kids were small and were fighting in the shower.  I stepped in with my clothes on and surprised the hell out of 'em.  They stopped fighting and then cracked up.  It was one of my better Mom moments).  When I got out, I was faced with standing there dripping wet, or grabbing a towel and blow drying my hair.  One slow step after another.  I even made my bed.  Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project claims that this one small task makes her feel better ( and she's right.  I knew the Breakfast Babes were meeting for coffee at the usual time and although I wasn't feeling very social, I told myself I needed to get out of the house.  I was sure my arriving naked would cause everyone in the place to run screaming for the door, so now I was forced to get dressed.

See a pattern evolving?  One small step leads to another small step.  Thirty minutes earlier I had no intention of joining the girls for coffee, but now I was showered and dressed and the idea of getting out the door was easier.  I was even starting to feel a bit better.  Still feeling low, but... lighter.  You know?

After coffee I treated myself to two new paperback books (The Lace Reader and The Year of Living Biblically) and in the car on the way home I gave myself a good, old-fashioned pep talk.  Not "everything's gonna be fine", but "go home, go through that pile of paperwork that's been mounting up, plan a nice dinner for Paul, vacuum the kitchen and keep the faith".  I did the paperwork and the vaccuuming, shopped for dinner and am working on the faith thing, and I have to admit, I'm feeling a whole lot better.

I've tried to teach my kids that life is all about the choices they make and then accepting the consequences - good or bad.  I want them to know that when life knocks them for a loop - as it will - they can choose to fall into the "Why me?" Black Hole or they can choose to fight back.  Fight for the good thought, fight for that tiny sliver of silver lining, fight to formulate a plan, fight to take that first step towards the shower.  I guess it's my job to show them how it's done.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Breakfast Babes

The heavy rain moved on during the night and left in its wake a perfect, late summer morning.  Against the baby-blue sky, puffy white clouds float by - somehow not blocking the sun as they pass.  The air is crisp and cleanStanding on the porch, I look across the dark blue lake at hills that stand in sharp relief against the sky.  Below them, the surface of the lake dances with sun diamonds. This could easily be a sit-on-the-porch-for-hours morning, but Zoe and I have places to go and people to meet. I take a long last look, and then head out the door.  

Zoe is our three year old black lab mix and one of her favorite things in the whole world is our early morning walks with "the girls".   At 8 a.m. sharp every morning a group of women leave for a four to six mile walk from the old train station in downtown Wolfeboro .  The group quickly morphs into several smaller groups as the speed walkers leave the slower pokes behind, but a little after 9, everyone is back together at a small restaurant on Main Street for breakfast and talk.  These are the "Breakfast Babes".  We hike, bike, snowshoe, eat, drink and laugh together. We celebrate birthdays, weddings and grandchildren.  We share good reads, outgrown clothes and moral support.  When someone is sick, meals appear like magic - for as long as needed.

My women friends amaze me.  Not just these, but the others - of all ages - that have come into my life over the years.  They are strong, smart, honest, compassionate, fair, determined, loving and loyal.

Remind me again, why women aren't ruling the world?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mindful Gratitude (plus Baked Caprese Crostini)

About a year ago I decided I needed to be more mindfully grateful.  I have a whole lot to be grateful for, but it's easy to lose sight of that fact when shlogging through the daily grind.  So I started taking the time, just before I fell asleep, to review the things I was grateful for on that particular day.  Some nights it was easy, others a lot more difficult.  But no matter how tough a day it had seemed at the time, there was always - and I mean always - something I would discover I was grateful for: making it to an appointment on time, finding that perfectly ripe avocado, the delicious moment when the bra comes off and the sweats go on, the first sip of wine at the end of a long day.  After reminding myself of the little things I was grateful for, I'd list the Big Stuff: a husband who has faced a terminal illness and is healthy, two happy, gainfully employed and self-supporting sons, my own good health, friends.

This little ritual has become a habit and I often drift off in the middle of my Big Stuff list.  I sleep better, dream happier and wake with a much more positive attitude.  And in times of crisis, this can be a life-saver.

One thing on my grateful list tonight will be the table of gorgeous, red, locally grown tomatoes  outside our little, country grocery store.  Protected from the chilly downpour that was making it feel more like late October than late August, these beauties screamed "Summer!" and I knew I had to grab a few.  Inside the store, I added a still-warm, whole wheat baguette to my basket, and then a bunch of fresh, green basil and a round of fresh mozzarella.  I checked out, dashed back to the car through the cold rain and headed home to make Baked Caprese Crostini for lunch - an ode to summer dish inspired by Giada DeLaurentis' Baked Caprese Salad.

Baked Caprese Crostini
Serves 4 to 6

1 baguette (I prefer whole wheat), sliced on an angle into 1/2-inch slices
Extra virgin olive oil
2 medium, fresh tomatoes, seeded and roughly diced
Good balsamic vinegar
1 8-ounce round of fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
1 bunch fresh basil, minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Place the baguette slices on an ungreased cookie sheet and lightly brush the sliced bread with olive oil.  Place in the oven and bake until lightly browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. With a spoon, cover the top of each crostini with the chopped tomatoes.  Season each with salt and freshly ground pepper, then drizzle with the balsamic vinegar.
  4. Top with a slice of mozzarella, then bake until cheese is melted, about 2 minutes.  The idea is to melt the cheese, not cook the tomatoes. 
  5. Place on a serving dish, sprinkle with the minced basil, salt and good grinding of pepper.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Late afternoon light
We had an offer on the house last week.  It was a low offer, but we immediately started scanning the online listings for apartments in Brooklyn (Brooklyn??  More about that later) and mentally packing the dishes.  Today they withdrew their offer citing "financial concerns".   Aw C'MON!  What, those "financial concerns" weren't there four days ago?

It's hard not to get discouraged, but at the same time, clearly these weren't the right people for this house.  It's a special house; often filled with friends, family, dueling iPods and wonderful food smells.  There is a view so mesmerizing that one cup of early morning coffee becomes two or three, and one glass of wine becomes...  Well, you get the idea.   So hey, you fickle buyers - it's your loss!!

Frooch is off to the Red Sox game tonight - in the pouring rain, poor baby.  I'm meeting a friend for margarita's at the little Mexican restaurant in town.  Perfect ending to a not quite perfect day.