Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer Solstice Strawberries

If you are traveling in Minnesota in June, be aware of one of the great summertime treats of all time. About the time of the summer solstice, one of my favorite delicacies avails itself to us in Minnesota: strawberries. Many people pick and buy them for making jam, sometimes combining them with other berries or rhubarb to create savory and delicious spreads. Some use them in fresh salads or serve them fresh and whole with a dipping chocolate. But to me, the best of all possible ways to enjoy fresh strawberries is to have them chopped, sweetened with sugar, and served with cream.

The key to preparing strawberries and cream is canned mushrooms. If you buy a seven-ounce can of mushrooms, which is typically four ounces drained, you have the device that will properly chop and crush the strawberries. Prior to the strawberry season, or even during, open the can of mushrooms and use them in a favorite dish. Save the can. Then, after peeling off the paper wrapper, take the can opener and cut off the top, rolled edge of the open end. This will create a sharp, round edge. Then, turn the can over and, with a can opener that punches a triangular hole in a lid, punch two holes opposite each other in the remaining cover. This lets air into the can and keeps it from clogging as you chop. Now you have an efficient and inexpensive food chopper.

Now, using either a glass or steel bowl, fill it two-thirds full with fresh strawberries. Of course, the size of the bowl and the size of your family will determine the amount of strawberries. But take the can chopper and chop the strawberries. You will find that you can easily pick the consistency you desire. You can leave the strawberries chunky or continue to chop until they become a sauce. I prefer the latter consistency. After that, add some sugar. Real sugar, not sweetener. Taste test so that it is sweet, but not too sweet. Then set is aside for a bit, maybe thirty minutes, to let the berries absorb the sugar as it dissolves.

Then, when you're ready to serve them, spoon them into a bowl and do one of two things: serve them with half and half or with freshly whipped cream. If you use half and half, pour it carefully and lightly over the top of the sweetened strawberries, trying to keep the half and half on top of the strawberries. Because of the consistency of half and half, pouring it as described will create a white topping streaked with the redness of the sauce that peeks through. To use cream, choose heavy whipping cream. Put it in a bowl, add sugar, and with a wire whisk, whip it until it forms a thick consistency, but stop before it becomes firm. Try to achieve a consistency that will allow you to pour the sweetened cream over the top of the strawberries. In this case, you will have strawberries completely covered in white. It's really, really good.

The neat thing about strawberries and cream is that it can be enjoyed as a wonderful dessert, or simply as a really great bedtime treat--especially for the kids. You could even have it for breakfast. And you can sneak a bowl when everyone else is away and never tell. That is the best part; it's a gift to yourself.

Always use fresh strawberries, real sugar, real half and half, or real cream. This is not a diet treat. But don't be surprised if, after two or three summers of doing this, that the kids (and even your spouse) begin to look forward to it and, as time goes on, incorporate it into the family stories.

This year the strawberries are particularly good. They are large, like golf balls, juicy and sweet. This is one of those years when nature provided optimum growing conditions. If you buy some, buy them from one of the roadside growers or from the farm itself. Or even better, take the kids with you for a strawberry-picking outing. It's not necessarily easy (lots of bending and picking), but it will be a great story for the kids and it will make eating this delightful treat so much more special.

Strawberries and cream is one of the absolutely greatest delicacies I have ever had and something I will always remember and look forward to enjoying again and again.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Powell Street at Night

It is nearly 11 p.m. here, 1 a.m. in the Twin Cities. Music from the street musicians you see in this photo fills the street and they have been playing for the past couple of hours. One is a guitarist and the other, an Alpine horn player. Their music has an erie sound and reminds me of music that simultaneously sounds mddle eastern and mid-70s rock. It echos off the buildings. If I could not see them, I might think it comes from someplace other than the corner across the street. I am sitting at a small desk in our room looking out onto Powell Street about a half block from Union Square. I am across the street from the Villa Florence Hotel, the Segafredo Cafe Bar Restaurant, the Asia Express Pizza, the Gold Dust Lounge (est. 1933), and an art gallery. All kinds of people move along the sidewalk in both directions. They have done so since we returned from our day trip to the Napa Valley. I have the last of a fine bottle of merlot next to me. I hear the voices. But I don't understand the words. They are lively, laughing. In front of the Gold Dust Lounge one man and woman stand talking, and a few feet from them, two men engage a woman in conversation. Long black hair flows down her back to her belt. She puts out her cigarette and they leave. A bald man in shorts walks toward the street musicians juggling some balls. A pregnant woman with an arm in a cast and a backpack follows a man with two small children. I find this fascinating. It reminds of so many years ago in Europe. If the guitar player comes back tomorrow night, I'm going to go down of the street and listen to him.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I Think I Did It

Well--I packed my bags tonight. I am a modular guy. Got everything I need into one carry-on size suitcase. Well, I won't carry this bag on the aircraft because I carry such things as a pocket knife in my possible bag. Rather, the bag I actually carry on to the aircraft will contain my computer, camera, and other electronic devices. If I ever take my dream trip, which is to start in Trinidad and Tobago and island hop along the volcanic rim of Caribbean islands all the way to Cuba, I will have to be even more frugel in my packing. My problem is how to take a computer along. Maybe I should just leave it at home. I can get along without carrying a lot of clothing--that's fairly easy. Traveling light is kind of challenging, but is the best way to go.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Off To San Francisco

I'm headed for San Francisco this week to the wedding (Saturday) of my good friend's daughter. Interesting, because Friday (15th) is our 33rd wedding anniversary. Not sure what, if anything, we will do special. For the past 15 years we have spent our wedding anniversaries at our son's baseball games. At least this is a little different. I am toying with the idea of visiting my boss--who works in SF and whose office is actually just 10 blocks from our hotel. I could take Char along. Probably not too romantic, though. What do you think?

Anyone have a good suggestion for me? If you're a guy, what would you do? And if you're a woman, what would you like?

One of my goals for this trip is to take everything I need in one carry-one bag--suit, shoes, extra clothes--everything. Can it be done? The last time I was successful in taking everything I needed in one suitcase (or bag, actually) was in 1972 when I spent six months in Europe. I didn't have anything more than what amounted to a large purse! But since then, I've never quite been successful in getting everything I need into one carry-on.

One excursion we will be making is to the Napa Valley, albeit for a day (Thursday). It will be my first time there and I'm looking forward to it, although I realize that our efforts to see the valley will be truncated by our time restriction. Still, I'm hoping for a neat discovery of some kind.

Check in to see what we're up to Friday through Saturday. I'll let you know of anything worth putting in your "Book of Places to Visit," and watch for any ideas you may have.