Lately I’ve often found myself dwelling on seasons and the expected versus unexpected timing of events in life. It’s important to allow moments to fully bloom, large or small, long or brief, giving them the individual consideration and respect they deserve. My oldest daughter recently moved into a great new apartment in a neighboring state. My youngest daughter is poised to move to we-don’t-know-where-yet-but-still-outside-of-mama’s-easy-reach-too in order to more easily realize her career aspirations. My husband of a bit over 5 years is retiring after a long and successful military career and will be moving home next week where we will begin another chapter in our lives together. In preparation we bought a beautiful old girl of a house which we promptly all but gutted - it’s being lovingly put back together bit by bit. So much change in a brief period sends mama to the kitchen where big issues can literally be chopped into digestible bits so I can pretend for at least a little while that I’m not forced to swallow them all at once. As serendipity would have it, my dad showed up at my back door with a flat of just-picked, still-warm-from-the-field strawberries on his birthday last week. Talk about timing...
I’ll not give the recipe here for what I did with that flat of strawberries (a strawberry cobbler per Birthday Man’s request). Instead I’ll offer you two recipes instead of one. The first can be enjoyed immediately and will have probably disappeared from your kitchen before you’ve washed the prep dishes (admit it, we all love immediate gratification). The second recipe best shows its beauty given a little time to reflect on the wealth of a season passed.
½ c. shortening 1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ¼ c. white sugar 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 eggs, separated ¼ c. cold water
1 ¼ c. sifted all-purpose flour 2 c. whipping cream
2 tsp. baking powder ½ c. sifted confectioner’s sugar
¼ tsp. salt 3 c. fresh strawberries, sliced
⅓ c. cocoa 3 whole strawberries (optional)
⅔ c. whole milk
1 ½ (4-ounce) bars sweet chocolate ½ c. chopped. toasted almonds
¾ c. butter, softened
Cream shortening; gradually add 1 ¼ c. sugar, beating well at medium speed. Add egg yolks, beating well.
Combine flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix after each addition. Stir in vanilla extract.
Beat egg whites - at room temperature - until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into batter. Pour into 3 greased and floured 9” cake pans. Bake at 350 F for 18 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out cleanly. Let cakes cool in pan 10 minutes; remove from pans and cool on wire racks.
For filling: Melt chocolate in top of a double boiler; let cool. Add butter, beating at low speed until smooth. Stir in almonds.
Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in a small saucepan; let stand for 1 minute. Cook over low heat, stirring until gelatin dissolves.
Beat whipping cream in a chilled bowl at low speed, gradually adding dissolved gelatin. Increase to medium speed and beat until mixture begins to thicken. Add powdered sugar and beat at high speed until soft peaks form.
Place 1 cake layer on serving plate. Spread ⅓ of chocolate filling over layer. Spread ⅓ of whipped cream over filling and arrange ½ of sliced strawberries on top allowing berry tips to peek over cake layer’s edge. Repeat procedure, ending with whipped cream. Garnish with whole strawberries.
Balsamic Strawberry Preserves with Black Pepper
2 cups fresh strawberries, trimmed and quartered
1 ½ cups white sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Stir and skim and surface as the strawberries produce foam. Simmer the mixture for approximately 15 minutes, skimming foam occasionally. Cook until strawberries are translucent and thickened. Remove pan from heat and wait for strawberries to cool completely. Preserves will keep for approximately one month in refrigerator if they last that long! Unlike many preserve recipes, this one does multiply easily if you want to double it, triple it, etc and preserve it in sterile jars.
late winter empty nest and i don’t know how many more times i can bear noticing when the heating system kicks on or how long it takes to accumulate a washer full of dirty laundry or how difficult it is to cook in proportions that won’t result in a week of leftovers. but mostly i wonder if they enjoy their lives as much as i prayed they would and laugh with their lovers at odd hours and still make it to work on time and dream big enough and work hard enough to smile for really good reasons and take time to be thankful for them. and i want to know how many more days it will be before i can open my house’s windows to spring breezes and warm winds and birdsong and take a really long, deep breath
swell’s cusp —
i stand on top