Friday, July 03, 2009

seasonal berry disorder

So it's strawberry season, which means that the farmers markets and grocery stores are flooded with fresh ripe berries; I can smell them as soon as I walk into my local Jewel, which is not much of a bastion of fresh affordable garden-y goodness most of the time. It also means that, in a veritable orgy of berry excess, I've been through nearly seven quarts in the last week and a half. There have been drinks, pies, more drinks, and even dumplings, although I still haven't made the vegan strawberry shortcake I dreamed of earlier this summer (there have been issues with my attempts at vegan whipped cream). Every time I think I'm done, I walk past the produce section and somehow end up with another quart in my bag.

It started last week when I ended up with four quarts all at the same time. (Because I'm awesome like that.) My fridge was overflowing, and so I invited some friends over and started chopping. First up was a less sweet and less drink-like version of the red wine recipe at the end of this post, and these dumplings from Smitten Kitchen. A "baked" summertime good without the baking? Hell yes. It helps that they were delicious. The next night I tried my hand a little more earnestly (results shortly) with a red wine drink that was like strawberry sangria and strawberry gin and tonics, which I brought to a girls' night party and which we demolished. And finally, there was what was to be my crowning glory: a strawberry rhubarb pie, also from Smitten Kitchen.

I don't make pies all that often, but there's just something about them. A pile of cookies might taste just as good or better, but to me a pie just looks so much more impressive. I think, wow, that person made pie crust! Assembled things! Perhaps beat some meringue! I usually avoid them because they're harder to transport, but this week I was overloaded with strawberries and rhubarb from the farmer's market and I just had to give it a shot. I also had received a surprise package in the mail a few weeks ago from my friend Shawn: two large nested cardboard boxes that ended up holding a very nice maple rolling pin. Until now, I've dealt with pie crust by either rolling it out with a glass or simply smushing it around the pie plate until it covered everything it was supposed to cover. But this time, I whipped out my rolling pin and had that plate covered in next to no time. I added the gooey filling and then made a lattice top over it (My first lattice top! I took a cell phone picture, because I'm a dork) and baked it until it was brown and bubbly. Then it was nearly 2 AM (summer heat means using my insomnia for late-night cooking), and so I went to bed.

The results, when I tried it the next day, were much more disappointing than my clumsy-but-still-exciting lattice. My rhubarb was crunchy, not to the point of inedibility, but certainly not the warm gooey texture I'd been dreaming of. So I made myself another gin and tonic and vowed to try again next year.

Strawberry Sangria

1 bottle (at least) red wine
1 quart strawberries, sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped

Er, basically just mix everything together and chill. My boss (who gave me this recipe; I love my job sometimes) recommended 1/2 cup of sugar per quart of berries but that was waaaaaay too sweet for my taste. I'd actually recommend, if you're with a few people, mixing a few spoonfuls of the wine-and-berry mixture with a glass of non-strawberried wine; we did that at the party I was at last week and it was just enough sweetness to add a new dimension without being overwhelming. You can smash the strawberries with a potato masher or other blunt object to make the drink a little smoother.

Strawberry Gin and Tonic

1 quart strawberries, sliced
3 tbs sugar
juice of one lime
splash of gin

Once again, just mix it all together and smash the berries if desired. Let the above ingredients chill together for at least fifteen minutes to let the strawberries macerate, and then mix a few spoonfuls into your gin and tonic.

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