One of the things I miss about Florida is strawberry season. Not since childhood berry-picking on early, breezy summer mornings in Virginia had I eaten such delicious strawberries. Still had the breath of evening on them and the warmth of the rising sun.
That is...Until that first balmy winter in Florida. 1991. The same indescribable flavor. A little earthy. Sweet, Juicy. Bright red through and through. Deep green leaves and stems on top. In February, sometimes late January. Well into the spring. I started making strawberry jam and never stopped. I always have a jar in the freezer. For that same taste. Much sweeter of course. Anytime. Any reason.
California, you maybe raise sweeter, juicier Naval oranges, but your strawberries just don't come close to Florida's. I'm happy that I can search around, now that I'm back in Virginia, and find them here. But I look forward a lot to taste the local ones that I hope will bring back those childhood memories of rising before dawn to pick berries, lots of them.
Until then...Here are a couple of memories much, much closer to my heart. In Florida. In those carefree days. When my girls were young.
So funny. So sweet. So them.
Here's my favorite French Toast, with... you guessed it...strawberries.
It's adapted loosely from a recipe of one of my newfound favorite food lovers, Molly Wizenberg, from her book The Homemade Life and blog Orangette. Food is full of memory and found moments to her. As it is for me.
4 large eggs
1/3-1/2 c whole milk, 2% milk, soy milk, or almond milk (You can also use half-and-half, cream or soy creamer, but use less; it's a bit of an eyeball thing; you don't want it too thin.)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp kosher salt
(Can also add a little splash of rosewater, if you have any.)
Grapeseed oil or other mild vegetable oil
6-8 thick slices of bread, depending on circumference of loaf (country French loaf or other rustic bread with a good, firm crust), about 1/2- ¾ inch thick, and sliced in half, if necessary. (Sandwich bread is too soft.)
Pure maple syrup, for serving
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the first five ingredients and pour into a smallish, shallow baking pan (like a small brownie pan).
Place the bread slices in the pan, allowing them to rest for a a few minutes on each side, until they're pretty well saturated with the egg mixture. (If your pan is a small square, you may have to do it in two batches.)
While they're soaking up the liquid...Place a large, heavy skillet over low to medium heat, and add enough oil to just cover the bottom.
When the oil is hot, place the bread slices in the skillet. The egg mixture should "sizzle." Keep an eye on them, peaking under, to make sure they're not cooking too fast. You may need to turn down the heat a notch, but not too much. When they're a nice golden brown, flip them over and cook the other sides until they're the same golden brown. Remove them from the skillet and place on a serving plate. Dab each side with a paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Serve immediately with maple syrup, and strawberries, of course. You can always use bananas, other berries, or even sauteed apples. It depends on what you have on hand and what's fresh.
Yield: 6-8 slices, serving 3 or 4, depending on their appetites!
And then there's this. Yum. Ricotta Cheesecake with Strawberry Coulis...
I needed to make a light dessert for a dinner with friends last week, and remembered making this awhile back. But couldn't remember what recipe I used. I found a blog that referred to this Martha Stewart recipe. Just barely sweet. Sort of light and dense at the same time. Hard not to eat two slices. Uncharacteristically, I didn't change a thing. Will make sure to hold on to it this time.
I found the coulis recipe on Smitten Kitchen, one of my other favorite food blogs. Such a great name. It...is...delicious. All strawberry. A tiny bit of sugar and a little bit of lemon. Altogether...good.
Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pan
3/4 cup sugar, plus more for pan
1 1/2 pounds fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese, pureed in a food processor until smooth
6 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Finely grated zest of 1 orange or 2 small lemons (or one large lemon; I used lemon; adds a little tartness)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups quartered hulled strawberries (about 12 ounces)
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Combine strawberries, water, sugar and lemon juice in blender. Purée until very smooth, then press through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Coulis can be prepared one day ahead.