I’m not a big material gift-giver. Probably because I’m a pretty awkward gift-receiver. Sure, it’s always great to rip open some packaging and discover something extremely thoughtful, something you’ve always wanted, or something you never knew you would want but would end up using on a regular basis. It might also stem from the fact that my parents always insist that we not buy them anything for birthdays, Hanukkah, Mother’s or Father’s Day. Maybe we just need to be more savvy (note: parents do NOT want massage gift certificates), but what that has meant is that my gift to my family, my friends, my loved ones, is very often the gift of food. Putting love into a cake, brownies, penne or gnocchi; and the sacred ritual of gathering and filling our souls with that love. It becomes more than a meal, more than a gift: it is an experience, shared, together.
Spring? What was spring? I’m fairly convinced we skipped pretty much right over it, from the depths of winter to the stifling heat of summer. It is not fun out there. And anyone who thinks otherwise is crazy. Especially because this means that the oven is off-limits when it is 90 degrees outside. Yesterday was the first of many, I’m sure. Perhaps, though, there’s something beautiful to it: the late emergence of rhubarb and spring produce is touching fingers with early summer berries. The perfect pairing of sweet strawberries and that strange sour stalk herald something brighter — we’re no longer waiting for it all to be here, using it as a beacon for warmer weather. It’s here. All the flavors, together.
Or I might be delirious. Still, I’m glad I found rhubarb and turned my oven on for this strawberry rhubarb crostata earlier in the week, when it was dress-wearing weather during the day but cool enough again once the sun dipped behind the Manhattan skyline at night. I think there might be more days like that in our future, too. I hope.
My parents live in a house on a big hill on the edge of the woods. Even the landscaped sections are wooded — meaning not only is it difficult to grow anything that won’t do well in shade or, in some instances, among shallow tree roots, or that every inch is fodder for roving herds of deer, no matter how “deer-resistant” a plant may be, but that weeds grow — everywhere. Tiny beginnings of new forest, trying to take back the ground and the air. Growing up, I spent countless afternoons with my mom, batting off mosquitoes and pulling buckets and buckets (and buckets) of weeds to carry up the hill and dump into the woods. Especially irritating, and smelly, were the wild onions that grew in the mulch alongside the driveway. They were plentiful and pesky — their roots didn’t lift easily, and I ended up tearing more than I pulled. I hated them. Until a few weeks ago. Continue reading →
And so, there comes a point in every person’s life when she must decide, once and for all, whether cooked cherries can have a part in her baking repertoire. For me, that point came last week. Except for the earliest parts of my youth, I’ve never loved the flavor. I eschew the cherry Starbursts and Tootsie Roll pops for orange and grape. And I know what you’ll say — those candies aren’t really made with cherries. But the cloying disaster of them tainted their value for me for too long. Even maraschino cherries topping drinks and chocolate-covered ones falsely promising balance are a no-go. Everything just tastes like syrup.
It wasn’t until several years ago that I even started enjoying cherries raw. I remember that first day well: I was hanging out with my old friend Lorraine on a sunny summer day in one of the parks in our hometown. We sat on the bleachers next to one of the baseball fields, catching up, eating black cherries and seeing how far we could spit the pits. And yes, we were in our 20s. The cherries were sweet, but had a hint of acidity to give them brightness. And the pits, instead of being a burden, as I had always thought they were, became the carefree definition of summer.
So cherries have become a regular character in my warm weather novella, playing a supporting role to peaches, strawberries, and blueberries, but a critical role nonetheless. In one of our hottest Mays on record, I’ve been craving those summer bounties, which, for now, still seem like delicacies until our local orchards can catch up after our long, cold winter. So on one of those hot days, along with a pint of blueberries for my Sunday blueberry pancakes, I picked up a giant bag of sweet, ripe cherries.