I breathe a deep sigh of relief.
Every year, when school ends, I commit to processing the reams of papers, ephemera, nostalgia, gum wrappers and crucial what-nots, before summer break officially enters its second week. The deadline passed this afternoon. I am this close.
I re-dedicate myself (and my peeps) to the no toys on the table rule. At every meal. A mother is nothing if not optimistic.
Every year, I am sure I will get through the goodbyes, the last days, the graduations, without tissues.
I am wrong.
Every early June, I spend these first days answering yes yes yes to requests to paint this and sculpt that and can we build a... ? I'm a sucker for make-and-do, for messy anything.
(And then I wonder why I cannot. for. the. life. of. me. keep the house clean. See above, silly. One step forward, six steps back. On one measure, anyway.)
I wonder why, before Ohio, I'd never heard of serviceberries. Do they not grow in Washington? Did I forget to look up? (I'm remiss that way. It's entirely likely.)
Either way, I am glad they were finally pointed out to me, as we've come to anticipate them mightily, about now. Plummy sweet drops, free for the taking, polka-dotting trees up and down the road. Landscaping never tasted so fine.
Every year, come mid-June, I swear the plants are channeling the Incredible Hulk, right behind my back. Zoë ate the first four steamed haricots from that tiny plant of ten days back. We've spied the first green, gumball-sized tomatoes. The runner beans grew three inches in as many days. (This year, finally, I marked the teepee poles. Nice to be able to prove the impossible.) The sunflowers are reaching for their namesake in the sky. The weeds are aiming to get there first.
I remember my Nana, and her exquisite knack for weaving ornamentals and edibles together. I survey my own awkward tomato-larkspur situation, and I know I'm not there yet, and I know to keep trying.
Except on days when the thermometer looks like this.
(Unlike the past two weeks, these past several days have seen some sweet relief. The weather's been brilliant, seventies, raining, overcast, whoot!
This does not happen every year, here, now. But I am all for a few new June traditions.)
So long as they still include strawberries.
Because every year, right about now, we drown in strawberries. Mostly, we keep it simple, straight-up. Strawberries don't ask for much. A quick rinse. A warm day. A happy resignation to spot-cleaning t-shirts.
We eat quarts as-is, gnawed off their stems. I'll slice them and sugar them lightly for crèpes. I'll dollop on vanilla yogurt, and happily (greedily) call them breakfast. Sometimes, I set out brown sugar and sour cream. Always, there's a big bowl of warm chocolate. (I think the kids might veto summer, if there weren't).
But every year, I keep my eyes up, my antennae out, for a straightforward something to complement a bowl of berries. If we're feeling fancy, and we have an afternoon, we might do up a pie, or a quart of ice cream. (Yes, the ice cream happened. I'm sure I needn't name the flavor.) We made our first foray into jam this year. It was pretty, and pretty tasty, and an A for effort. But five minutes' work is more my speed, and often as not, more my taste.
This year, my antennae twitched not just once, but twice. Back in early Spring, I bookmarked Heidi's ingenious roasted strawberries, then waited (im)patiently for the time to come. Come it did, and roast I did, and so should you, because they are a-mazing. I would be going on (and on and on) about them here, if only I hadn't next tried these.
These look pretty much like a bowl of sliced strawberries. These taste pretty much like Fourth of July fireworks.
What these are is a heap of berries, sliced large, then tossed with lime juice (!), zest (!!), and cardamom (!!!). There's a bit of sugar, the raw, tawny kind (Turbinado or Demerara, call it what you will), which adds sweetness and depth and a faint caramel edge. Also, there's the tiniest sprinkling of Grand Marnier, two teaspoons to a quart of fruit. It's entirely optional—I left it out of the batch Henry and I called breakfast. But if you're serving the 21-and-up set, it brings a lovely, haunting glow.
But back to the trunk of the tree here, folks: Strawberries. Lime. Cardamom. Seriously.
I'm no stranger to the way citrus brightens up a bowl of berries; I've long squeezed over lemon and pinched sugar, for sparkle. But—and you know I'm a fiend for lemon—the lime, here, is like lemon with personality. Lime has a bit of a backbone, edge, sass. Yes, that's it. The lime is just sassy enough to make the berries shake their hips a little. Without being so bossy as to overwhelm the tender fruit (yes, I'm looking at you, chocolate).
The lime and sugar would be good, grand even, particularly with that tipsy splash. But then, there's that cardamom. Pardon me while I sit on my hands. My fingers go all exclamation-pointy over cardamom. I think I've established that I love the stuff, packing it into shortbread, livening up rhubarberry crisp. I've been known to grind it into my coffee beans, for goodness sake. But in an obvious, egregious mental lapse, I've never thought to add it to fresh fruit. Let me be your bad example. Make better choices. Make these berries.
Actually, 'make' is too strong a word. Stem, slice and stir is all there is to it. There's no cooking here, no fussing about, save staying busy ten minutes while the berries release their juices. Don't skip this bit. It's at least half the joy. Because what you wind up with is a ruby-hued syrup, heady with cardamom and zippy with lime. It's intense. I imagine the both of them spooned over poundcake, or waffles, or angel food, or or or or... I intend to tuck them into biscuits tomorrow, cushioned with whipped cream, and call it shortcake. I also intend to return to these strawberries, every year, early and often.
Boozy Strawberries with Cardamom + Lime
adapted from Saveur
The original recipe called for just the juice of the lime, and a (in my opinion) modest 1/4 teaspoon of cardamom. I prefer the added oomph from the lime zest and additional cardamom, but feel free to start small and season to taste. Also, the original called for gin, of which I had none. The Grand Marnier works beautifully; you have options.
Cardamom is significantly cheaper (and fresher) when bought in the bulk aisle, or from a spice retailer (see Penzey's).
3 heaping cups (1 shy quart) whole strawberries, washed, stemmed and quartered
3 Tbs. Demerara sugar (a.k.a. turbinado or raw)
1 lime, zested and juiced
1/4 - 1 tsp. cardamom
2 tsp. grand marnier (optional)
Place quartered berries in a wide bowl, and add all remaining ingredients. Stir gently to combine, and let sit 10-20 minutes, or up to six hours. Serve at room temperature. Repeat.