suffering for strawberries

When I think about Summer I think about adventure. New sights. New sounds. New experiences. Since I’m now a working girl my time with the kids is really limited, they’re busy with camp and grandparents all summer and they’re both getting to the age were friends are beginning to trump Mom. So when it comes to entertaining my little loves on our days together, I go out of my way to keep things interesting. We do things like tromp around Storm King Art Center and spend the day digging for sand crabs at Sandy Hook. Explore lower Manhattan and visit the new baby gorilla at the Bronx Zoo. Just last week we spent the morning strawberry picking in Western N.J.

Apple and often blueberry picking has become a part of our annual trip to Vermont each August. Every one looks forward to hiking through the orchard, snacking on perfectly crisp apples and enjoying the rolling Green Mountain views. A trip North just wouldn’t seem complete without it. But that’s the extent of their PYO repertoire; they’ve never gone asparagus, peach or even strawberry picking. I have vivid memories of picking mountains of incredibly sweet red strawberries and eating them for days, weeks (or because my mother often froze a bunch) months on end thereafter. It seemed to me to be time that my own children enjoyed (or perhaps suffered through) the same experience. If you’ve gone strawberry picking before then you know exactly what I’m talking about, if you haven’t then let me quickly set the scene.

Strawberries, the sweetest of Mother Natures fruits, are typically grown in long, dusty, very low to the ground and completely unshaded rows. They also happen to be ready for picking when (and only when) the temperatures reach hellfire hot. So you may be wondering, did my cherubs charge headlong into this sweaty adventure yelling “Thanks for the wonderful memories Mom!” or “Don’t worry about Lilly, I’ll resuscitate her. You just keep picking those sweet, sweet berries!” Um no, not exactly. They did make an effort to see how quickly we could fill up our basket, they made a game of finding the mostly perfectly or oddly shaped berry and they were already discussing what to make with our bounty as we left the field. Sounds like the perfect image, right? Yeah, perhaps it would have been had my yelling “I’m sorry this isn’t your idea of fun. Go wait for me at the farm stand if you’re that miserable!” hadn’t proceeded it. Sigh…

As Harry Truman is quoted as saying: “The reward of suffering is experience.” And apparently strawberries.

Homemade Ricotta Waffles with Fresh Strawberry Sauce
Even if you’re usually not a sweet for breakfast type, you’ll love these waffles.

strawberry waffles2

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 eggs
3 tbsp. canola oil
Strawberry Sauce, for serving (recipe below)
  1. In a large bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, ricotta, eggs and oil. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture just until smooth.
  2. Coat a waffle maker lightly with oil, wiping off any excess with a paper towel. Preheat according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Spoon in the batter, close lid and cook until the waffle is golden brown, 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter, keeping prepared waffles warm in a low temp. oven.
  4. Serve the waffles with fresh strawberry sauce and enjoy. Makes 6-8 waffles.

*adapted from williams-sonoma 

Fresh Strawberry Sauce
This simple sauce is perfect on waffles or pancakes, yogurt of even ice cream. 

2 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

  1. Place all the ingredients in a medium sauce pan and gently stir together. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the fruit breaks down and the sauce reduces.
  2. Cool slightly and serve with abandon.
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donut you wanna bite me?

A few years ago I bought a set of donut pans. I imagined myself churning out dozens of freshly baked donuts, much to my family’s delight. Fresh donuts would become our Sunday morning ritual and on cool Fall afternoons we would sit on the deck among the gently falling leaves and eat warm cinnamon-sugar donuts while drinking coffee and apple cider. It was quite the bucolic vision I had created for myself, all resting on these two little pans. Perhaps it was an attempt to recreate my own New England childhood for my kids, or simply the desire to make something a little more special than yet another batch of cookies. Whatever the initial reason, lovely daydreams were all that ever materialized from these pans.

I made fantastic looking vanilla donuts with chocolate glaze and bakery look-alike chocolate donuts with loads of sprinkles— but they all tasted awful. Too dry, too tasteless, too salty, too oddly textured and almost too frustrating to continue attempting. I had one mild success with an apple donut, but apparently they weren’t delicious enough for seconds because the leftovers sat around long enough to grow fur.

I was truly ready to shelve my donut pans forever, “Perhaps I’ll sell them at my next yard sale” I thought to myself. Then I stumbled upon a recipe for some simple spice donuts that looked easy to make, fairly low-fat (what a crazy idea!) and who’s list of ingredients somehow just sounded right to me. At this point I think my family was tired of being teased with fantastic looking/disgusting tasting donuts, so I didn’t tell I was making another batch. They were out running errands one Saturday morning when I decide to whip some up and surprise them. They would walk in without expectations of warm sugary goodness and would therefore be less disappointed if this recipe was yet another flop.

Ha a flop! A flop my transplanted New England butt! These donuts were fantastic, seriously fantastic! They were light and moist with just the right amount of spices and sugar. They were really and truly delicious baked donuts.

So I’m sure you’re now wondering if these baked beauties have fulfilled all the dreams I had riding on them. If I’m cranking out batches every Sunday morning and praying for cool weather. Well here’s the thing… Sunday is usually my weekend morning to sleep in. And it’s barely Spring, Fall is still a long way off. So I’d have to answer with a resounding no. But now anytime someone in my family says they feel like donuts, at least I can offer to make them a batch of homemade…

Cinnamon-Sugar Baked Donuts
These are not fried donuts, so don’t compare them to what you think you
know a donut to be. These are much lighter than fried which means you can eat at least two before you begin to feel guilty!

3/4 cup cake flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 tbsp. dried buttermilk powder
2 large eggs
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. apple juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. plain yogurt

For the sugar-coating:
half a stick of butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Whisk together all of the dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, juice, vanilla and yogurt.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just until combined.
  4. Grease or spray the doughnut pan and fill each doughnut form half way. (I find it’s easiest to pour the batter into a ziplock bag, snip off one corner and pipe it into the pan.)
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when they spring back when touched and are just beginning to brown on top.
  6. While the donuts are baking mix together the cinnamon-sugar coating and melt the butter. Set aside.
  7. When the donuts are finished baking, immediately remove them from the oven and brush them with melted butter. Give them a quick roll in the cinnamon-sugar coating and enjoy.

*adapted from king arthur flour