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You don't forget

I may be too late for strawberries. I worry about that. But on the off chance that you can still get them where you live, and that they’re still worth eating, I will say: you should try this. And hurry. If it helps to get you out of the chair - because I can see that you’re still sitting there; I have powers - repeat after Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer: “a conserve of soft berries in a barely set syrup.” A conserve of soft berries in a barely set syrup! A conserve of soft berries in a barely set syrup!!!!!!! GO.

Before we start, I should admit to a problem, and that problem is jam. I love to make jam, jelly, preserves, anything along those lines, but I rarely eat them. I like my toast with only butter, and my scones with nothing but themselves. I manage to get myself around a lot of peanut butter, but only occasionally in the form of peanut butter and jelly. My cabinets are an arsenal of jam, but here in the Land of Wizenberg, we rarely go into battle. That’s why I like this strawberry conserve. It appeals to the part of me, the highly irrational part of me, that wants constantly to make jam, but it isn’t really jam. It’s more useful than jam. It goes to places where jam doesn’t go. It starts from halved strawberries, and because it’s a conserve, or a whole-fruit jam, it doesn’t get a long cooking; the berries are simmered only briefly, until they’re very soft but still have integrity, like self-contained pockets of concentrated strawberry juice. It occurs to me that that could also serve as nice ad copy for Capri Sun. I always wanted Capri Sun, and I was never allowed to have it. You don’t forget these things.

In any case, I love this strawberry conserve. I like that the berries taste like jam but stay in their discrete halves, perfect for all kinds of uses. I also like that the berries are suspended in a thick strawberry syrup, so what you get here is really a two-in-one deal. You can, as Hamilton and Hirsheimer suggest, lay one of these strawberries on top of a cracker or small toast with a slice of Serrano ham or prosciutto and a drop of aged balsamic vinegar. There might not be a better cocktail snack. On the sweeter end of things, you could also fold them into whipped cream for a fool. Or you could do as we did this morning and put them on a pancake. My father-in-law, who is currently visiting from New Jersey, went out on a limb and developed a particularly daring variation involving strawberry conserve AND maple syrup. You can imagine. You could also put them on a waffle. Or ice cream. Plain yogurt. Cake.

And somehow, though I said only two paragraphs up that I am boring about my toast, I think the best place for this conserve might be a piece of buttered toast. A soft, pulpy strawberry does a lot for raspy bread, and vice versa. It can lead to the kind of sordid scene where you sit at the table with a piece of glistening toast and a jar of conserve with an iced tea spoon upright in it, and each time you take a bite, you pull up a single berry and lay it on top, and you do that until you’re out of toast, and then you make more toast, and you do that until you’re out of berries. And then you’ve got the syrup that’s left behind, which is to say, you’re just starting.

Strawberry Conserve
From Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, Bon Appétit, June 2011

Strawberries are low in pectin, so they don’t readily set into a firm jam. The presence here of some lemon rind, which is full of natural pectin, helps with that. But still, what you wind up with is more like strawberries in a beautiful, thick, blood-red syrup than it is like a jam. And in that way, it’s pretty spectacular.

4 cups fresh strawberries (about 1 lb.), halved
¾ cup superfine sugar
Peel (with white pith) of ½ lemon

Combine all ingredients in a heavy, wide pot. Cover; let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. The sugar will dissolve and the mixture will get very juicy.

Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring gently, until the strawberries are just tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the strawberries to a 1-pint jar. Continue simmering the liquid until it thickens into a syrupy consistency, 1-2 minutes. [Mine took a little longer.] Discard the lemon peel, and pour the syrup of the strawberries in the jar. Seal, and let cool to room temperature. Chill for up to 1 month.


I wish them a lifetime

I mentioned last week that I had been away at a wedding, Luisa’s wedding, and a number of you wrote that you were eager to see pictures. I felt a little unsure about posting them, to be honest, because it was her wedding day and hers to share, but she says that I can go for it. Here we are.

Luisa was one of the first friends I made through blogging. I guess it was about six years ago, give or take a bit. That was when Brandon was still living in New York, and I would go there to see him every couple of months. Luisa was still living in New York then, too. She and I had exchanged e-mails, and on one of my visits, we made plans to meet. I think I remember that it was raining hard that night, and I must have been late, because I ran down the sidewalk to get there. Or maybe she did? One of us was soaked, at least. Maybe she’ll remember. But we met, and we kept in touch, and not long after, we happened to have dinner the night before Brandon proposed to me. She asked if I thought we would get married, and I said that I did, but that I had no idea when we would decide to get engaged. And then, the next afternoon, he asked me. I loved that she was a part of our story that way, and I feel lucky to have been there to watch her and Max go through the same transformation.

The wedding was almost three weeks ago, but I still find myself replaying scenes from it in my head. Maybe, as you scroll down, you’ll understand what I mean. They gave us a beautiful night and a whopper of a party. I wish them a lifetime just like it.

I'll be back in a day or two, with a recipe.


I could talk about the weather

I woke up this morning and found the house entirely wrapped in fog. If you stood in front of the window in the kitchen, where I stand to make my coffee, you could watch it blow up the street in gusts - sometimes wisps, sometimes great puffs. I called Brandon over to see it when he woke up, and even half asleep, he managed a moderately enthusiastic WOW, which surprised me. The fog horns were blowing. And now, a couple of hours on, the sun is out, searing through it, working its way steadily across the floor.

I could talk about the weather all day. I am turning into an old man. The dog does his morning walk of the deck, securing the perimeter. Everyone has a job to do.

Last week, I was out of town, traveling with my mom. I took her as my date to a friend’s wedding, a wedding to beat all weddings, where the groom’s father played air guitar and I got to watch my mother, my near-retirement-age mother, break it down to “Empire State of Mind.” I’m still coming down from that. I shot eight rolls of film in nine days. When I have pictures, I promise to tell you about it.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some great things I’ve found lately. I really love gathering these for you, all the bits that stick in my head. Maybe they will stick in yours.

- My mom and I rented a car and drove about 1200 miles over the course of our trip. In the hopes that we would have a CD player, I burned a couple of albums before we left, and the one we listened to most often was Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone. It’s been out for about two years, but it took me a long time to fall for it. Now it’s thoroughly won me over. Especially the eighth track, “Fever.” The lyrics are sinister, but the sound feels so... sexy. Not that I make a habit of listening to sexy music with my mother. In any case, from now on, I think that album will always remind me of our trip, and I like that.

- I always love Tommy’s blog This is Naive, but she’s really been pushing the right buttons for me lately. I especially like this post. I love the way she sees.

- Brian’s midsummer mix!

- Soap from Townsend Bay Soap Company, in nearby Port Townsend, Washington. Apparently, I am really into soap. I particularly like the Townsend Bay Rum scent, and the Woods of Washington scent, too. Both smell like summer vacation. Different versions of summer vacation.

- Barry Estabrook is a national treasure. His investigative reporting on industrial tomato farming is eye-opening, horrifying, and very, very important.

- On the other hand, and not even remotely important: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Body Workout! Enjoy. Christophe and Gemma introduced me to this, so I can’t take any credit. DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN UP

- I have long admired The Art of Eating, and I’m thrilled to have a story in their current issue. I’ve learned so much about food from reading AoE. Not available online, but well worth the price of a subscription.

- Last but not least, my new (old) favorite version of the song “Summertime,” via my friend Ben. Billy Stewart! Yeow. (Correction: apparently Ben learned about this song from Brandon, who used to play sax along to it when he was in high school.)

Happy week.