Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Strawberries in July for M.F.K. Fisher
July 3rd was M.F.K. Fisher's birthday. This year she would have been 102.
I celebrate the day every year, or at least I have for the past five years, ever since my interest in her and her life turned from passing fancy to full-blown obsession.
The first year I made vanilla ice cream. It was a hot summer day in Portland, and we topped the melty vanilla mounds with fresh blueberries, oohed and ahhed with every bite, and then went to a baseball game.
The next year I made a caprese salad mixed with fresh pasta. It was a simplistic ode, because I'd spent all day getting lost in M.F.K. Fisher land. We drove through the yellowed hills of Sonoma, scooting along old highways until I spotted the outline of her house, her "last house" in the distance. The sign outside read: Trespassers Will Be Violated. I stood on the side of the road with goosebumps that had somehow cropped up in the hot July sun.
In subsequent years I wrapped white fish in thin strips of zucchini and made a rhubarb lavender crisp. There were bowls of freshly shelled peas, gently steamed, and dressed in lots of butter and salt. There was plenty of wine, all French.
Each celebration has been good, and each passing year has seemed to mark the evolution of what was, once, a small interest in M.F.K. Fisher, and is now a book. An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher will be published by Counterpoint Press in February 2011.
This year I made dinner for friends. Compared to previous years it was a haphazard party, with last minute guests, and an entire menu developed mid-afternoon while watching a World Cup game.
But the evening was perfect. It was a magically warm San Francisco day. The chicken roasted in the oven, there were green and bean salads, bread, cheese, and tiny French olives. There was champagne, then pinot noir, and then finally another bottle -- what was it?
It was good. But the part everyone raved over was dessert: strawberries with vanilla syrup.
Make this soon, before strawberry season is over. It was so easy, and so divine. It was pretty amazing for breakfast, too, which is when this photo was taken.
Strawberries with Vanilla Syrup, adapted from the June 2010 Martha Stewart Living Magazine
1 pound strawberries (halved if large), stems left intact (optional)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 strips (each 2 inches long) lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, lightly crushed
Combine strawberries, water, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and peppercorns in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 1 minute. Let stand until cool, about 15 minutes; refrigerate till ready to spoon over whole milk plain yogurt.