I can’t believe it’s already July 4th weekend. Where is the time going? That’s one thing I hate about getting older, the clock ticks so much more quickly. The other night I was having dinner with a friend who was basking in this time of year; the weeks when her kids are out of school and their summer programs have yet to start. The days are long and warm and more carefree than any other time of year. My own childhood memories of the beginning of summer vacation are less sepia tinged. I remember a feeling of waiting, waiting for whatever plan was set to begin, waiting for the “fun” to start.
There is one summer that was particularly filled with yearning and foot-tapping. 1976 buzzed with the anticipation of celebrating the bicentennial. It was so much a part of the national vibe that when given the chance to decorate our bedroom in the apartment we had just moved into my sister and I chose a red, white and blue bandana motif. And by motif I mean an explosion. The comforters, dust ruffles, shams, curtains, valences and bathroom wallpaper were all in either red or blue bandana. And our towels were red, white and blue! I am still shocked my mother let us have that much control over our surroundings and I really wish she hadn’t. (It was hideous and we lived with it for three years until we were finally allowed to trade bandana for a whimsical floral pattern from the Suzanne Pleshette bedding collection—I begged for it in the store. Seriously.)
The summer plan was to cobble together activities before we all went to LA where my father had to be on business for about a month. Those weeks between school and trip were endless. I had hit that age where playing with my younger siblings felt pathetic and none of my friends were around. I was starting a new school in the fall and that feeling of the unknown was looming in the distance. So I self-medicated with soap operas and People magazine while my brother and sister spent time doing New York-y activities with a babysitter.
Another memory of that summer involves my hair. I had the brilliant idea to cut it all off, you know, so I could start fresh at my new school with a new look. Inspired by Princess Caroline’s short do and of course, Dorothy Hamill’s, I sat in the chair at the BG salon at Bergdorf’s with a friend of my mother’s and asked for a similar style. In fact, I believe I brought the copy of People whose cover had been graced (oops) by the princess just to illustrate my point. Oh my God, why didn’t anyone stop me? Let’s first discuss Princess Caroline’s beauty lineage and acknowledge that she’d look gorgeous bald. My mother is stunning but she’s not Grace Kelly, and more importantly, doesn’t have Grace Kelly’s hair. And neither do I. I also don’t have Dorothy Hamill’s hair. What I did have was thick, bushy, unruly locks that I tried fruitlessly to tame with one of those rectangular hair dryers with the brush attachment. (By the time it grew out we’d changed bandana for Suzanne Pleshette. Yes, it took that long.)
Meanwhile, the big July 4th celebration was Op-Sail, a huge parade of tall ships in the Hudson, and we were invited to watch from the windows of family friends whose place had an incredible view. And this I will never forget. We walk into this Riverside Drive apartment and there on the arm of one of the male guests was the most glamorous woman my eleven year old eyes had ever seen. It was Morgan Fairchild. I had seen her on Search for Tomorrow falling through a glass sliding door (which literally looked like cardboard), sitting in a hospital bed, her whole head wrapped in gauze, with the big question hanging over the storyline: what would she look like when they took the bandages off? Would her great beauty be destroyed?! (No, it would not.) Would she go mad? (Yes, she would.) And here she was in the flesh, quite a lot of flesh actually. She was wearing a white, mini romper (like short-shorts paired with a blouson, strapless top), high white platform sandals and all that blond hair. Let’s just say she got a lot more attention than the Ye Olde Tall Ships sailing on by. What a perfect 70’s moment, right?
After this major highpoint the drudgery of the waiting was even more painful. Weekends were spent descending on some incredibly kind family friends who’d graciously invited a family of five and our terrier to their houses in the country. Even as a pre-teen I hated being a house guest. The children of all my parents’ friends were freaky and none of them matched up with me age-wise. If they were older they thought of me as a child, if they were younger I thought of me as grown-up. I wouldn’t be eleven again if you paid me.
But then we got to LA and things, of course, brightened. Since we were going to be there for awhile, we stayed at an apartment hotel. In the afternoons the pool was full, toys strewn around, lots of splashing. And among the kids was a little toddler named Aisha whose mother would help her walk around the patio. They were staying in the apartment below ours and every day we heard her father playing the piano. One day her mother waved us in and we watched him play in the living room. It was Stevie Wonder. Have you ever? I still can’t believe it and I’m sure I didn’t appreciate the magnificence of the moment at the time. Like most things that happen to you when you’re young, you don’t appreciate them until you’re old.
I’m not sure how in the world 35 years have passed. And in fact if you saw Morgan Fairchild today you might not think that it had. She looks exactly the same! But I am glad that I appreciate my summers since I know they’ll be over in a flash. And I am even happier that I’m not a house guest having to endure other people’s freaky off-spring. But with a holiday weekend coming up I do feel obliged to share a recipe that is really nice to have on hand in the morning for those of you unfortunate enough to be saddled with overnight guests. This strawberry bread makes great use of all the local berries in the stores right now and it smells heavenly as it bakes. It doesn’t have as much butter as a lot of quick breads do but is still super moist from the juicy berries. It’s great with cream cheese and if you want to throw in some blueberries feel free. I plan on lining my serving basket with a bandana or two. And there is your red, white and blue.
Bicentennial Memories Strawberry Bread
From Debbie Cascio-van Hees via Everyday Food, July/August 2004
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
1 pint strawberries, rinsed, hulled, quartered, and mashed with a fork
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan. In a small saucepan, bring strawberries to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, cream butter, sugar, and eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture alternately with 1/3 cup water, beginning and ending with flour.
Fold in reserved strawberries.
Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, definitely 1 hour, maybe a few minutes more (tent with foil after 45 minutes if top is getting too dark).
Cool in pan 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges; invert onto a rack. Reinvert; cool completely.