It’s Sunday and I’m flat-out with piercing back pain. I can stand or lie down but if I sit? Oooeee! Good thing I already had brunch ready, topped off with a gorgeous mixed berry tart studded with praline pecans. Given it’s a school night and there’s work tomorrow, a quick but satisfying indulgence is called for, the operative word being quick. This recipe is a re-make of the ’90’s version of the “fruit pizza”. Any fruit will do as a topping but I feel there’s something lush and almost scandalous about mounds of berries. Adding the store-bought praline pecans takes this tart to a new level. The tart is good served cold or at room temperature. My son, James, loved it as a kid. You’ll love it now!
What a great holiday the Fourth of July can be! It’s always a day of sunshine, relaxation and family. The beach, the pool; cold, light grown-up drinks. Sweet watermelon, crispy fried chicken and spicy deviled eggs are summer favorites. Hamburgers and hotdogs sizzle on the grills manned by our husbands, fathers and boyfriends patiently braving the searing heat to give us the platters of perfectly prepared foods we crave. Our American celebration of independence is particularly precious this year in light of all that has happened in our world the past few weeks. Our 4th get-togethers speak of the value we give our loved ones. We choose to spend time with them. We long for those dear, dear days when afternoons with our special people unravel slowly, leisurely and we have the luxury of wiling away the hours laughing or relaxing in silence enjoying their presence. Yes, the Fourth of July allows us to slow down and appreciate a relaxed and easy commemoration of independence. That said, I’m going to make my Fourth simple, stress-free AND gloriously delicious. Dessert will be this make-ahead No-Bake Berry Cheesecake. Cold and not too sweet; it can easily be made one or two days prior to serving. Any berries may be used, however, if cut strawberries are to be used keep in mind the juices will bleed into the cream cheese mixture. And it’ll be pretty but it will be pink…-ish. This dessert may be assembled in single-serving cups of your choice or in a large trifle bowl. I’ve even called into service big, crystal flower vases for a more dramatic presentation. I’ll tell you, though, it all looks pretty darn good. So here’s to a Fourth of July gathering that honors all we hold priceless…liberty, tolerance, individualism, justice and objectivity. I’m certain we’ll all do a good job of that!
I began the day after Christmas. In anticipation for the new year I pulled out my favorite water-glass. I made a silent pledge to myself that I would drink a minimum of eight glasses of water a day. It’s a good thing for me because I try to chug an entire glass if I’m tempted to mindlessly cheat. I can meet that minimum easily as I’m tempted often. I had already started working out but I still needed to go through my work out apparel and weed out any old running bras and shoes. That done I focused on my overall nourishment for the year. That mammoth jug of Coquitos I made, rich and thick with coconut milk AND cream?? I sent James off with it to a New Years Eve party. I actually threw out some of the chocolates given to me. That REALLY hurt. Most painful was this. One and three-quarters pounds of crispy, salty paradise in the form of BBQ potato chips. Jesus, Mary and Joseph give me strength! But out they went, into the garbage.
In 2016 I will celebrate, or at least try to, a milestone birthday. I’m not particularly looking forward to it. I know people say, “Oh, it’s just a number!”. “Oh, shut up.” is what I think when I hear that. However, I am committed to this as the year of kindness, acceptance and tolerance. Not only towards others but to myself as well. I’m not going to fret over my blog or insta numbers. I will write and post when and what makes me happy. Nor will I allow myself to get all twisted up when a family member sneaks a taste of something I’m cooking or baking. Glasses left about the house? Big deal. Toast crumbs on the kitchen floor? Who cares! Dirty feet on the bed? It’s just sand.
This is the year of gentleness. And happiness. So as I approach the birthday which is on the other side of my salad days, I choose graciousness, affection and goodwill. I will take care of my body and my soul. And do my best to take care of those around me. It doesn’t mean no more “cheesy-wheezies”, as my father calls any food or drink that’s bad for you. Of course there will be cheesy-wheezies! But as my mother used to say, “Everything in moderation including moderation”. For me that breaks down to one small glass of wine but only if I want it. I don’t have to have it. So if I don’t feel like wine I’ll stick to my water and not let the vino become a habit. I’ll still post a festive cake or decadent drink but I’ll keep those at arm’s length. In other words, I’ll gift them to neighbors. So far so good. When I informed Jimmy of my aspirations he reacted without thinking, CLAPPED HIS HANDS and cried happily, “Oh boy!”. As he often says, “It’s so nice when you’re nice.” And it is. Happy New Year y’all!
This is what was for breakfast. It’s a new day! Bring out the goat cheese, avocado and a few thin slices of toasted whole grain bread. A spritz of fresh lemon juice and a quick scattering of red pepper flakes along side your favorite fruit completes breakfast or lunch. Use your imagination and be creative. No recipe needed.
The passage of time becomes more apparent when your children’s peers and their siblings begin to wed. Ouch. Admittedly there is a slight sting to getting older, but on the other hand, we have a wedding to celebrate! Weddings and baptisms are such sunny, exhilarating events. They are celebrations filled with the promise of hope and jubilation; of all-consuming love for another living soul and the unspoken word of honor, vow, that all gathered have pledged to others in their lifetimes. Big wedding, small wedding it matters not. They are all lovely and joyous. This past weekend I took part in a wedding shower for a young lady who grew up in our neighborhood and went to the same schools as our son, James. Katie’s’ brother was in James’ class beginning in Pre-K through high school. Pre-K is where this group of students’ mothers met and forged a bond that, through the years, has withstood the tragedy of drugs, financial ruin and even death. There were four core families, all Catholic with working mothers and fathers and more kids than you’d care to count. We lived within a one mile radius of each other. The boys all played T-ball up to high school together and the teams were coached by the fathers. What a time we had! As parents we learned to prepare snacks for the kids AND hors d’oeuvre for the grownups. Hot? Sweet baby Jesus, but it was hot at that ball park. We started bringing our cocktails in insulated coffee mugs then graduated to large beverage coolers filled with OUR version of jungle juice, hooch, grain punch…bad girl punch. The poor coaches were out on the 100° field and dugout and never got any. And though it was hot as blue blazes up on those rickety bleachers we parents laughed, caught up with one another and cheered all the boys on. And yes, we got tanked. Back then that was what Saturday afternoons were for. After a few Solo cups full of “juice” no one cared about the steady stream of perspiration flowing from the top of their backbone down to their fanny! Katie’s father, Bob, one of the coaches, would take a big, old boom box and crank out baseball tunes between innings. Sometimes we sang. We had a blast! The coaches encouraged all the Little Leaguers, lifted them up and boosted their self-confidence even when mistakes were made. The boys adored their coaches. Never was there a happier group of people. We always gathered to pre-party and post-party when there were evening functions at school. Friday nights we’d potluck it, each family contributing to the meal. When school let out for summer we formed the 601 Club. Again, each family would contribute a dish or appetizer, sometimes booze, and we’d meet at the beach, across from Bahia Mar, at the grills, by the swings. We named it the 6-oh-one club when it was discovered that after 6p.m. parking was free on the beach. Our caravan pulled into the parking lot every Friday evening during summer. If it’s free sign me up! Whoever arrived first claimed two or three tables and a grill or two. The children ran and screamed in the waves. Often several of the children would build entire villages filled with sand castles. There was always an adult tossing a football, sipping beer or wine by a grill sizzling with burgers and dogs or passing out chips and salsa. All of us so appreciated and savored those enchanting evenings. There’s just something about the beach at night. The smell of salt water and the sound of the waves rolling in coupled with the moon transforming into a colossal pearl, its reflection shimmering away on the inky water is positively mesmerizing.
The stresses of the week melted away as we slowly loosened up and let our hair down. This is where I discovered the miraculous world of frozen Whiskey Sours. One of the core moms, Harriet, showed up with a cask full of them and changed our lives completely. She’s from New Orleans and is accustomed to novel and exotic libations. We were nothing short of enthralled. If she gives me the recipe I’ll post it. Well, the years went by and yes, to a certain extent, we grew apart as our kid’s interests evolved, new friends were made, the children graduated and went on to college. Every now and again we’d run into each other, usually at the grocery store or Mass, but it wasn’t often. This past weekend though, we were reunited.
If only for three or four hours the four core moms…Julie (who hails from the Keys and is mother of the bride), Suzanne (matriarch of FOUR darling boys and one spectacular girl), Harriet (Southern girl extraordinaire who single-handedly raised three incredibly gifted children after unexpectedly losing her husband years ago), and me (you know all about me, I think), were together again. What joy! What bliss! Yes, there were a few misty eyes every now and again, but way more high-pitched shrieks and good-natured laughter, whispered gossip from scandals past and, more than anything, hugs. Lots of hugs. We just couldn’t get enough of each other. Thankfully all our children are happy well-adjusted young adults, each up and coming in their chosen field and blazing their own trails. The bride-to-be glowed all afternoon and I believe her shower guests took delight in the festivities and got a kick out of us “older ladies”. I am so pleased and grateful I was included. One of my contributions to the party was this little pick-up. Ruby colored fresh strawberries, hulled and filled with sweetened cream cheese. They’re lovely, easy and luscious. In fact, this is one of the dishes I served at Suzanne’s baby shower when she was pregnant with Madeline. It’s a classic. One tablespoon of orange flavored Gran Marnier is wonderful in place of vanilla. Feel free to experiment with flavors. The filled berries I took to Katie’s shower were topped with toasted almond slices but fresh mint leaves also marry well with the fruit. Keep in mind this dish is absurdly easy but it’s best not assembled more than two to three hours prior to serving or your berries will become soggy.
When I saw table after table stacked high with gorgeous strawberries at our farmer’s market I figured out it must be the season here in New England. Berries so deep red they were almost purple sparkled from every table and the perfume…well! The sun was shining, there was a soft breeze and everyone was outside on the square. For someone who likes to bang around the kitchen it was quite a heady combination. We don’t get this at home in Florida. Nope. Organic or conventional our berries are without flavor and dry. Pretty much suffice it to say when I saw these I was happier than a dead pig in sunshine.
And there aren’t all that many farmer’s markets or stands because it’s so darned hot. So I bought as much as Jimmy could carry back to the apartment and set about to baking a shortcake with the ingredients we had on hand.
I didn’t have any eggs, buttermilk, butter or baking soda. But I DID have baking powder, whipping cream, vanilla extract, a little sugar and all-purpose flour. I found a recipe by Mary Nolan and based this one on her’s. I’m fully aware my recipe lacks butter but whipping cream has a good amount of fat so if prepared correctly this shortcake will not let you down. I also made it again when I did have the baking soda and I have to admit, it WAS better. I found the cake and fruit together to be so sweet and perfect that additional cream garnishing the top just wasn’t needed. The key, and I cannot stress this enough, is NOT TO OVERWORK THE DOUGH. I mean it. After assembling the cake you should have some crumbles and dry spots. It’s okay. If you attempt to bake a smooth, perfect shortcake you’re guaranteed to end up with a tough, hockey-puck fail. Just sayin’. Also, if you’re looking for a sweet cake-like product this ain’t it. This is a heavy, dense shortcake but it is rich, has a tender crumb and is the perfect foil for the sweetest of summer’s strawberries. Ditch that grocery store, nasty, yellow, cake cup thing and make your own shortcake.
While your shortcake bakes and cools hull and slice your strawberries. Or if you’re using fresh peaches slice them as well. Scatter a generous tablespoon of sugar over the fruit, stir it a bit so all the fruit is covered with the sugar and let it sit to release the fruit juices. Drizzle the sliced shortbread halves with that exquisite syrup. You’ll be sitting as pretty as those summer berries!
This is a super easy and super quick recipe given to me by my sister-in-law, Tina. It’s one of those recipes so satisfying but simple from the genre of “Why didn’t I think of that?”. And another point in this recipes favor is that it can be made full fat or low-fat. Cool and refreshing it can also be made in advance. Obviously a great shortcake can be made from scratch even so sometimes we find ourselves short on time or worse…short on energy. With strawberry season upon us it seemed like the perfect time. And it made two college boys and one dog very, very happy!
The recipe I used for these shortcakes is the low-fat version. I used Bisquick brand for the shortcakes but any pancake/baking mix will do. Additionally, to bring down the fat content, I topped the cakes with non-fat whipped topping from the can. I know it’s all chemicals. I know it’s bad for you. But if you’re watching your girlish figure and you only do this once a year…well, it certainly won’t kill you!