Shortcake

With all the berry talk, I forgot even to mention what I did with the strawberries I did pick.

It was no contest for me — strawberry shortcake is one of my favorite desserts ever. And recently someone mentioned making it with scones, which I thought was simply a brilliant idea. I adore our scone recipe, even more than I love the Touch Of Grace biscuits that I’d been using previously.

We can’t have cream because of Dave’s migraines, which means we can’t have whipped cream. Now, scones and strawberries by themselves are pretty amazing, but I was toying with something to put on top when Dave suggested my coconut milk and chocolate sauce.

Hot scone, cool strawberries sweetened with just a touch of sugar, more hot scone, and then a rich dark chocolate sauce over the top.

Mmmm.

Berry Picking

I like berries a lot. I grew up with fresh strawberries and raspberries from the garden. The tasteless, cardboard berries at the store were pointless in my family; berries were worth growing and savoring in season, with the excess frozen or made into jam.

Which is why last year we put in two 18 ft rows of raspberries and 24 sq ft of strawberries. Neither produced much the first year, as expected, but I knew their time would come. All winter I looked forward to having second-year producing berries. The cool weather has held the strawberries back pretty hard, but we’re now getting raspberries by the bowlful, enough that we don’t have to fight over them — much.

Still, I’ve been interested in the idea of visiting a U-pick place for berries as well. After all, the ideal quantity of berries that I would consume and preserve in a season would be measured in body-weights — far more than we could produce on our lot. Perhaps, I thought as the long winter passed, I could supplement what we grew ourselves with some U-pick berries for big projects like jam. In tired moments, when the work of the household seemed to loom impossibly large, I even considered the idea of ripping out the berries and just supplying ourselves from U-pick entirely.

Last week I had a perfect opportunity to dip my toes into the U-pick water. I met two other mothers and their young kids (both about Nathan’s age) at a U-pick place about half an hour from our house. I’d been anticipating the excursion for weeks. I envisioned bringing home buckets, mountains of berries — berries for jam, for freezing, for tarts, and of course for fresh eating with every meal of the day.

But when we entered the field, and one of the other mothers started to pick, I poked around for a minute and then took my kids a bit farther in. The area we were in had clearly already been picked over.

My early memories are full of Dad’s voice saying “Don’t pick them unless they’re really red, all over.” Not orange-y red, not red just on the sunny side, but really red all over. This lesson is now deeply ingrained. I find myself saying the same thing to Nathan, and probably despairing in exactly the same way as my dad did about him ever getting the concept through his head. Can’t he tell how much better berries are when they’re really ripe? Can’t he see that it’s worth it to wait?

For a two year old, living deeply in the Now, it probably isn’t worth it.

After further exploration of the field, I was forced to conclude that I was wrong — the area I had first looked at hadn’t been picked over. Or rather, it had — the day before. By people who had not, growing up, had my dad looking over their shoulder telling them to pick only the really, really red ones; by people who had quite possibly gotten their strawberries from the grocery store for most of their lives, where they’re all under-ripe because a truly ripe strawberry must be used almost immediately, as it neither ships nor stores well.

It was then that I discovered that I’m a berry snob. I’m a snob about a lot of food — I know it, and I’ve tried not to be, but I grew up with parents who grew a big garden and cooked from scratch and valued really good food. My dad once came home from a business trip and spent days recreating a dish he’d had, eventually coming up with a superb recipe for Chicken Marsala which has totally spoiled me for any dish by that name that I’ve had in a restaurant, because they’re all terribly inferior. I point all this out in my own defense. Is it really surprising that I’ve ended up being a food snob?

But back to the strawberries. I hadn’t realized that I was a berry snob, but now that I knew it, I still wanted to make the best of the situation. I consider myself a decently efficient berry-picker, thanks to practice. I worked my way through four long rows of strawberry plants, but it was only by being very meticulous, taking berries sitting on the dirt (which previous pickers seemed to have been biased against), and ignoring the Dad-voice in my head a little that I was able to come up with about two pounds of berries. I considered shifting gears and picking the Cascade Dawn raspberries, which didn’t look nearly so badly picked, but when I tasted a few of them, I found them, in comparison to the ones growing in our back yard, rather bland. No berry should be bland, but especially not a raspberry. Raspberries should be sweet and tangy, full of zip and vigor and joy, like a really good salsa dancer.

So I took the four kids off to see the goats instead. Watching their enjoyment, teaching them to poke bits of grass through the fence for the goats to eat… that was more fun anyway. The other mothers, who left with a heaping bucket of strawberries and half a bucket of raspberries each, thankfully didn’t ask about my paltry take.

When I got home I went out to our strawberry patch and hunted up a few choice morsels that were really, truly ripe, to do a taste test against the slightly orange-y ones I’d come back with. And I’m sorry, but my dad was right. An under-ripe strawberry is better than no strawberry at all, but one that’s fully ripe, warm from the sun, is the kind of wonderful that simply can’t be eaten casually. You can smell it before you get it to your mouth, an echo of the flavors you’re about to experience. It’s so rich with juice that you can crush it with your tongue, and there’s none of the sharpness of the under-ripe berry — it’s round and dulcet, but still sprightly, almost overwhelmingly fragrant and intoxicatingly sweet.

It is so, so worth it for us to grow our own berries.

Dear Family

I’m sorry that this weekend’s plans fell through. I hope that everyone found suitable replacement plans, and that those of you for whom it’s applicable are enjoying Father’s Day festivities.

My small family unit, with its customary efficiency, has swung into action to accomplish various important tasks. The adults are doing work relating to house cleaning and yard work, with particular attention to our compost pile. It’s difficult to improve on that for a weekend activity. Not to be left out, the kids are hard at work on their own projects — Ryan we believe is producing another tooth, and Nathan is working on some kind of mild intestinal difficulty. It isn’t glamorous work, but it must be done, and one must admire their willingness to meet their obligations head-on.

I do regret to inform you that the Sunday morning scones I’d promised were a limited time offer. Having prepared the wet and dry ingredients in thoughtful anticipation of Father’s Day morning, I could hardly leave the components languishing in the fridge for an as-yet uncertain reschedule. It took mere moments to shape the scones, and thirteen minutes later they were hot and tender indeed. Should another date be selected, we can of course negotiate the scone issue again.

Hope everyone is well…

Peacocks

Lately we’ve been taking a lot of walks to see the peacocks that live nearby. Initially it happened almost randomly; Nathan gets to choose our direction out on our walks, and he would fairly often steer us through the tunnel under the train tracks (an attraction in and of itself), which takes us out right next to the peacocks. There are also chickens there, and I’ve been told there are llamas, although I’ve never seen them myself.

The first time we happened to end up there this spring, Ryan was desperately needing a nap and did not want to stop walking. At first I tried to coax Nathan to continue the walk, despite the fact that we could clearly see one of the male peacocks down the driveway. Ryan screeched through the whole conversation, while Nathan repeated over and over “Watch peacock.” Finally I did the smart thing and sat down to nurse Ryan. No sooner had I done so than the peacock began walking toward us — he walked all the way down the driveway and strolled carefully around us, not fifteen feet away, studying us all the while. I honestly think that Ryan’s screeches were unusual enough to him that he had to come see what we were. I tried to enjoy the moment without kicking myself too hard that I hadn’t brought the camera.

It couldn’t get any cooler than that, right? Well, maybe… about a week later we were back, this time in the afternoon, and found one of the males perched up on the fence halfway down the lane. Again, we sat down (this time Ryan was rested enough to explore the ground for a while). After a few minutes of mutual staring, the peacock jumped down off the fence, unfurled his tail, and spent perhaps twenty minutes turning in circles, shaking his feathers, and generally making a spectacle of himself. Again, no camera!

And then the other evening, we stepped out into our back yard and almost immediately heard one of them calling — and from much closer than usual. Nathan has been able to recognize their cry for a while, so he lit up immediately. And it really sounded like the peacock was no more than a block away… so off we went, half-dressed (barefoot in Nathan’s case) to scour the neighboring streets. We went nearly to the tunnel, homing in on peacock cries, before we found it — thirty feet up in a pine tree. In the dimness of evening, he was just a silhouette against the sky, but still we had to sit on the wet sidewalk, watching his movements, listening to his occasional calls (and the answers from the other peacocks across the tracks), while the world got darker. Only the chilly toes of a pants-less baby brought us back home.

I love that Nathan is so interested in the peacocks! Not only is it cool to watch him so absorbed, but it gives me an excuse to slow down and indulge in watching beautiful birds. As a side note, I also love the library! A quick search of their children’s section found me The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock. It’s longer than most of the books I’d been reading Nathan, but hey, it’s about peacocks! He’s requested it probably a dozen times in the last week.

Neighbors

Our next-door neighbors are awesome for several reasons, not least of which is the amazing gourmet applesauce they make from their own apples. (They predict a bumper crop this year, by the way, which is fantastic because they’re very generous with their excess!) They are huge gardeners, but where we are focused almost exclusively on edibles, most of their focus other than the apples is on ornamental plants.

What this means to us is that all year we can enjoy the sight and scent of a gorgeous yard, thoughtfully planted and lush with all kinds of flowers, without having to lift a finger to maintain it. In addition, all of the plants that straddle the fence between our properties are available to us for bouquets. They told us right from the beginning that anything on our side of the fence was ours to pick or trim as we pleased, and since Dave, when the bushes encroach too much, tends to get in a hacking mood, I try to bring the flowers inside to enjoy.

Vases of cut flowers can be a little worrisome with small hands around, especially on our shaky card table. But I find that having just a sprig on my desk, and something more substantial and not too top-heavy on the table, really brightens up our house. And now Nathan is old enough to enjoy “helping” me with the picking. (Which he sometimes does at random times, of his own volition.)

Linked to Friday’s Flowers.

Baby Cage

We don’t actually own a playpen. It’s never really seemed necessary. This does mean that certain tasks are slightly more challenging now that Ryan is mobile — for example, sweeping, apparently an unbelievably fascinating activity, is easier when the other parent is around to body-block the baby. Single-parent sweeping requires occasional pauses to escort the baby to the other end of the house, and then a quick bit of work to make as much progress as possible before he manages to make his way back. That kid can really move.

However, the other night (purely for entertainment purposes, not actually for baby containment) Dave came up with this solution:

Hmmm…. promising. Nathan certainly thought so at least. He had to go fetch another laundry basket and make sure he wasn’t missing out on any fun.

Life

Way back when our fruit trees arrived, they came with a whole bunch of other plants, from strawberries and raspberries to more esoteric items like gooseberries. The order also included our first table grape vine, a Himrod, supposed to be good for making everything from juice to raisins.

The grapevine was the last thing into the ground from that shipment, in part because when I dug the hole to put it where I’d planned, I ran into part of the foundation. And by the time I got it planted, after it had sat on our back patio, been poked at by kids, packed back up, unpacked, and generally abused, I was certain that it was dead. I’d realized only the day before that most of the roots had somehow gotten exposed for who knows how long.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I saw this: