Thursday, June 23, 2016

Strawberry shortcake and new beginnings

I have been—and let’s face it, probably will be again sooner or later—the kind of hostess who sometimes can’t be bothered to dirty a bowl, and will instead stoop to phenomenal laziness to avoid doing dishes. Once, I opened a bag of salad and dropped it unceremoniously, with an ugly cellophane-sounding splat, onto the kitchen table in front of my brother and his lovely fiancé, who truly deserved more effort from me than just ripping open the bag and calling it a night. After an evening of cooking, it seemed that I just couldn’t bring myself to empty one more thing into one more bowl.

But here, in this new house, in this miraculous new kitchen, even cleaning is fun, and every snack and meal deserves a beautiful and thoughtful presentation, as though each morsel we put onto our plates and set out onto our table needs to live up to these lustrous blue-gray granite counters; this thick, golden wood butcher block slab; this gleaming six-burner, commercial-grade stove that hisses to life with gas and fire and cooks to absolute perfection. I would live in a tent if this stove were in it (and of course, the tent would promptly burst into flames, but, you know).

Last night we had my mother over for a simple dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. It was not an occasion that warranted fanciness. After all, you can let it all hang out with your mother, and I certainly do. I’m not above running through the house in my ratty underwear while she’s visiting, or sniffing my armpit and wondering out loud whether that stink is from forgetting to put on deodorant or just power-sweating through it.

But this night was different. It was the first meal she was having with us in this house, and Chloe and I had just come home from Cider Hill Farm where our farm share bounty of eggs, jam, cider, lettuce, scallions, and berries waited for us in the cool, dusty barn.

We left the farm that afternoon with fat, ripe, still-warm strawberries that heaped out of their green paper pint box like deep red jewels. The sky opened up just as we were leaving the farm, washing the yellow pollen dust from my car’s windshield. But by the time we got home, the rain clouds were blowing away to another neighborhood. Chloe and I ate grilled cheese sandwiches and cherry tomatoes for lunch before turning our attention to our evening’s dessert: Strawberry shortcake.

We spent the rest of the afternoon cutting butter into small cubes, measuring flour and sugar, and patting dough onto the floured countertop. I handed Chloe a biscuit cutter, one that had belonged to my stepmother’s Southern-born grandma, Mildred, and showed Chloe how to dip the edges of the cutter in a little mound of flour, push it straight down onto the dough, and give it a little jiggle before pulling it up and out again. I told Chloe that she was the fourth generation—or maybe more—to cut biscuits with that little circle of metal. Her hand fit around it just right.

We put the sticky biscuits onto parchment-lined baking sheets, and I slid them into the oven. As I did, Chloe snatched up the dough scraps and balled them up. Almost instantly her fingers were stuck together, glued by a dough that she quickly discovered was too sticky to play with. 

The afternoon rain shower had given way to a bright blue evening sky and radiant sunshine, so I dried the leftover puddles off of the picnic table with an old, faded dishtowel and moved our dinner things outside.

After dinner on the deck, it was time for dessert. The shortcakes and macerated strawberries were in utilitarian storage containers with plastic covers, but for once, my instincts for avoiding dish duty were silent. I piled the biscuits atop a turquoise glass cake stand with delicately fluted edges and a hobnail base, and spooned the strawberries into a deep, aubergine-hued Fiestaware bowl.

We ate those summer strawberries on the deck as the sun dipped below the tall old pine trees that ring our new backyard, and I snatched the whipped cream away from Chloe before she could plop an even more obscene mound of it into her bowl. 

I sank back into my chair and sighed with happiness.

This. This is where I was meant to be. 


  1. That box of strawberries you described made my mouth water....

    1. Thanks! I've actually been re-reading Under the Tuscan Sun for inspiration. When I started this blog four years ago, I jokingly called it Under the Plaistow Sun because I wanted to write about food as beautifully as Frances Mayes did.

  2. You know I love that bagged salad straight up, girl. All kidding aside, you always make everything look and taste so lovely!

    1. Pour in a little salad dressing, and give the bag a shake, and you're done! Thanks, SIL, you're sweet!