Summer is my favorite season and I’m not completely sure why because, like birthdays, the expectations run high and the disappointments can take you down low. But I can’t help myself. Every year I look forward to the weather warming up and the sun delivering its shiny dose of happiness. S.A.D., be gone!
As a child, summer is all about a break from homework and the release from the restlessness of being indoors. Even as an adult you can’t help but succumb to that school’s out for summer vacation-y, anything is possible feeling. Although I remember a certain summer where the pressure was worse than any I’d experienced during a school semester; the year I graduated from college and was forced to face up to what I’d done a pretty good job at avoiding, real life. While my friends jumped on their bikes or hopped on planes bound for European trains, I stayed put—too nervous about finding a job to take those few weeks to explore. As if a month Eurailing would de-rail my entire future.
So, living back at my parents’ apartment and feeling that sea of time with no buoys feeling, I started my job search. It seemed like every day I put on my lapel-less, shoulder padded, red, linen, Working Girl, power suit, waded though the humidity to the subway station at 96th & Lexington and headed to an employment agency or informational meeting with the friend of a family friend, handed over my internship-stuffed resume and hoped for the best. Only to climb up those same subway stairs a few hours later, blow dried hair fully surrendering to the Israeli folk dancer lurking within, silk shirt stuck to my back, pantyhose digging into my waist. And who thought a linen suit was a smart fabric choice for presenting my best, buttoned up self? By the time I arrived anywhere I looked like a used dish rag. Maybe that’s why I didn’t find a job until October when I traded linen for wool.
It’s been over twenty years since that hideous, nerve wracking, waste of a summer. I don’t think women even wear sheer pantyhose anymore, unless they’re flight attendants. Unfortunately, this year’s crew of college graduates is facing an employment environment not unlike the one we faced in the late 80’s. Yet somehow they seem to have a whole lot more swagger (or is that entitlement?) than I remember being able to summon up back in the day. Still, I can’t say I envy them.
Okay, this is getting way too nostalgic and I’d like to focus on this summer. As always, we’re being pushy by ringing it in with Memorial Day, about a month before the official start of the season. Oh, and let’s take a minute to acknowledge what the day is all about. Don’t you find that holidays just turn into days off from the regular grind without any attention paid to why you have the day off in the first place? On Monday why not pause for a minute and think about all those who’ve served and lost their lives for our country. When you really stop and take it all in it’s such an overwhelming concept. I can’t imagine making it through basic training much less fighting in any kind of combat. Now I’m thinking about Private Benjamin but really, it’s much more serious than that and between Iraq and Afghanistan there are a lot of men, women (and their families) who have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. They deserve some thought. As a wise man once wrote, "attention must be paid."
Oh dear. Now I’ve been nostalgic and depressing when I was supposed to be explaining why summer is my favorite season. Unemployment? War? What’s there to love? Well, there’s sand, surf, ice cream cones, long, warm days, barbequing, the smell of suntan lotion, bad top 40 hits, blockbuster popcorn movies, picnics, lobster, sweet corn, tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, and all of my favorite fruits! First up are strawberries.
When you bite into a locally grown strawberry, as opposed to the steroidal berries that come to you in a plastic box straight from Plant City, FL (I love that there is a place called Plant City), it is hard to believe they are both members of the same species, fragaria ananassa. I usually think of June as prime strawberry time but they hit the markets within the last week and I am not waiting one minute longer to celebrate them. Of course eating them like candy straight from the box (after a quick rinse) is fantastic. I also love them with vanilla ice cream topped with balsamic vinegar and even some cracked pepper. Anything that keeps them in their raw, juicy state is great. But summer wouldn’t be summer without strawberry shortcake. There are lots of ways to pull this off but I’m a fan of the individual shortcake, whipped cream, berry composition (no surprise there since I can control each cream to berry to cake forkful) as opposed to the slices of cake or one mega biscuit to be split among the group.
This recipe is great because you can make the components a few hours ahead of time and put them together right before serving. Letting the juices soak into the bottom of the cakes for just a bit before piling on the cream, more berries and the top of the cakes is key for me. Yay, I’m excited about summer again. Oh wait, next month is my birthday. Ugh. Strawberry shortcake, please! And make mine a double.
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties, 2001, by Ina Garten
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2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), diced
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered (depending on berry size) to medium size slices
5 tablespoons sugar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium bowl toss strawberries with the 5 Tablespoons of sugar and set aside to allow juices to develop for at least 30 minutes. If you are doing this for use later in the day, refrigerate until ready to use.
Meanwhile, sift the flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, the baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
On lowest speed blend in the butter until the butter is the size of peas.
Combine the eggs and heavy cream and quickly add to the flour and butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough will be very sticky.
Turn out dough onto a very well-floured surface. Flour your hands (a lot) and pat the dough out 3/4-inch thick. You want to see pieces of butter in the dough.
Cut 6 biscuits with a 2 3/4-inch cutter (fluted looks nicest), pushing cutter straight into dough and lifting straight up (do not twist or shortcake won't rise) and place on a prepared baking sheet.
Brush the tops with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, the outside will be crisp and firm to touch. Cool on a wire rack.
While shortcakes cool, whip the cream and 2 Tablespoons of sugar together until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla and continue to beat until the peaks are stiff.
Split each shortcake in half crosswise and place the bottom half on its own plate. Distribute 1/2 the strawberries and their juices over the bottom half of shortcakes, add generous dollops of whipped cream, more berries and top with reserved shortcake tops. OR make your shortcakes open faced and just use one half, top with berries and then whipped cream. Either way, yum.
Yield: 6 Strawberry Shortcakes with tops or 12 opened face.
NOTE: While Ina Garten has you pat out and cut the dough I should say that it is a bit challenging. (Hence why I didn't take any photos, my hands were covered in shortcake.) If your dough is super sticky I don't see why you can't use a big spoon to pull 6 large pieces away from the mound OR use your hands and pat lightly. You want to handle the dough as little as possible because there is so much liquid in it and too much playing with it will really activate the gluten in the flour and give you a tough shortcake.