Sunday, July 31, 2011

Summer Adventures and Strawberry Shortcake

A very happy, blessed Ramadan to my fellow patient and persevering Muslims! (especially the ones in the US and Canada, where we have especially long fasts this year) If it seems weird that I should be blogging about food at a time when I am craving it but can't have any, you are right. I guess I'm a wee bit masochistic after all. So join me, would you?!

Between all my travelling this busy summer, I managed to squeeze in what I think is an uber-essential Michigan summer activity. Berry picking. And because I was crunched for time, I went strawberry picking, cherry picking and raspberry picking, all in one day. And what a hot, sweltering day it was. Know how you can spot the newbie pickers from the rest? They're the ones wearing their "nice" clothes and pretty sandals. Personally, I didn't think my jeans were nice or anything - they were just my regular errand jeans - but apparently wearing jeans of any kind on a day when it was 95 degrees outside is a rookie mistake. The thing with jeans is that in winter they're as useless as toilet paper against the cold, and in the heat of summer they weigh you down like you're wearing a sack of potatoes on each leg. Or maybe those are just my legs, and I'm blaming the jeans for nothing. Ugh. Horrible thought. Must. Move. On.

Strawberries! Fresh, juicy, sweet, summer strawberries! Even being hot and sweaty didn't stop me from enjoying every moment of searching for and picking those ruby-red berries. It was just Baby B and me that day, us two city kids, living the country life for a few fun hours in an endless field of strawberries. The air was ripe with their aroma - just divine! Baby B and I were equally fascinated with the process of hunting for the best berries. Of course, B was much less fussy than I was. At first he let me do all the picking, but soon enough he was diving right in, plucking any red berry he could find and devouring them as quick as you please. I've got to admit, it was pretty adorable watching him happily digging around for his precious "bejjies" then smiling every time he ate one. If some dirt and a bug or two went in along the way, I don't really want to know.

Cherries were easier to pick - being that they hang down in bunches from trees - but a whole lot messier. Picture Baby B with cherry juices running down his face, and me with cherry smears all over mine. It's impossible to look grown-up and sophisticated in such a situation. Well ok, so maybe there was more eating than picking going on. And am I giving away my lack of fitness by admitting that it's easier to reach up than bend down? Probably.

Baby B was a total trooper though. He was ready to call it a day after the cherries, but I bribed him with the promise of more bejjies, and off we went to pick some raspberries! As much as I love them, little did I know that they grow on some rather prickly bushes. So I ended up keeping B out of them with one hand, picking the berries with the other, and juggling the basket in another. Wait, what? That doesn't sound right. But that's how I remember it, so go figure. Thank goodness for sun block. By the end of the day, both mama and baby were an alarming shade of red to match all the berries we picked. I loved it! It was a day I'll never forget. I want to do it again!

My head was overflowing with ideas of what to do with all the berries, and the strawberries were the first to be experimented on. I decided on a dessert that lets you enjoy the fruit in its whole, ripe sweetness, without mucking around with it too much. Meet the runner-up to Ms. Americana Dessert Of All Time - Strawberry Shortcake!

Hungry little me went straight to my staple biscuit recipe, courtesy of Monsieur Tyler Florence, his Ultimate Buttermilk Biscuits. But I made them better (Better Buttery Buttermilk Biscuits ... mmm, boyoboy), because I added some chopped fresh rosemary and thyme. That's me, living on the culinary edge! (not)

So let's throw this all together, shall we?

Summery Sweet Strawberry Shortcakes

Freshly baked sweet biscuits, like these (with chopped fresh thyme and rosemary added to the batter if you like)
Heavy cream
Chopped fresh basil (optional)

1. Sprinkle the washed, hulled berries with a tbsp of sugar plus some chopped basil and let it sit for about 15 mins.

2. Whip the cream with some sugar till it reaches soft peaks.

3. Pull apart the fresh biscuits. Pile on some strawberries on the bottom half of a biscuit. Plop a dollop of whipped cream on top. Then put the biscuit lid on the whole concoction and dig in. If you must, assemble the remaining shortcakes for the rest of your starving, free-loading friends.

Verdict: This is a fun dessert to experiment with. You can change up the flavor of the biscuits, for instance. Add some dark cocoa powder (ooo naughty). You can marinate the berries in sweet balsamic vinegar (ooo exotic). Go crazy. Just remember that the better the fruit, the better this dessert will be. And the quicker you can get this dessert from its inception to your mouth, the happier you will be.

I still had a lot of strawberries left over. So I paired them with some slowly melting vanilla ice-cream and settled in to enjoy summer's bounty. Nothing beats that.

Well, except seeing this face peeking out at you when you're blogging. Little monkey.