Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Strawberry Season

"Donwell was famous for its strawberry-beds, which seemed a plea for the invitation: but no plea was necessary; cabbage-beds would have been enough to tempt the lady, who only wanted to be going somewhere."
--Jane Austen, "Emma"

Photo via here

Jane Austen's novel Emma has some famous scenes that capture the essence of summer in England. There are country house dinners, afternoon teas, leisurely walks, picnics, and strawberry-picking. I always think of "Emma" when I think of strawberry season.

The 1996 film "Emma" with Gwyneth Paltrow and Toni Collette

Don't let the summer go by without making strawberry shortcake, especially while you can still get good strawberries. If you know how to make a biscuit or a scone, then you can make a luscious strawberry shortcake. Biscuits, strawberries and whipped cream -- together they make the quintessential summer dessert. 

This treasured book is my go-to source for biscuits and scones. It has a great recipe for Strawberry Shortcakes made with homemade biscuits. It couldn't be easier.

Charlotte Walker's Strawberry Shortcakes

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut up
2/3 cup milk
2 quarts strawberries, hulled and sliced; sprinkle with a little sugar
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Put flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl; stir to mix well. Add butter and cut in with pastry blender or rub in with your fingers until the mixture looks like fine granules. Add milk; stir with a fork to form a soft dough, adding more milk if needed. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and give 8 to 10 kneads. Roll or pat dough to a 3/4-inch thickness. Cut out shortcakes with a 2- or 21/2-inch round cutter; re-roll and cut the scraps. Place apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Brush shortcakes with beaten egg. Bake 14-16 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve the shortcakes warm in a basket. Let everyone split a warm shortcake and fill with berries and Creme Fraiche.


Put this together while strawberries are still in season. You can freeze the unbaked biscuits (place cookie sheet with unbaked biscuits in freezer; when biscuits are frozen, put them in a freezer bag) and pull them out and bake them anytime for this homey dessert. Be sure to eat it outside on your porch or patio or, even better, on a blanket under a tree. And don't forget to take along your copy of "Emma." The strawberry-picking scene at Donwell Abbey is such a great summer scene. And these long summer days are perfect for dining outside and reading in the garden.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Loving Shakespeare

Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes in "Shakespeare in Love"

There are certain films that are guaranteed to take us out of ourselves, not only to a place of enchantment and joy, but also to another time. We are immersed in the past in a way we have never been before and we feel we understand it better. Through great writing, period sets, evocative music, and beautiful costumes, the filmmakers insure that for a couple of hours we are visiting another era. Maybe these films are not exactly historically accurate, but they capture the essence, the goodness that we have all derived from that time and place. We leave the theater enriched. These are the films that stay with us. 

Recently I watched one of these, the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love. If you haven't seen it for a while, watch it again and you will be happy you did. It is a magical film. I think I was smiling the whole time. You may notice a few things about the film you had forgotten: how joyful it is, how much running Joseph Fiennes does, the golden light, the gorgeous costumes, and the music which is impossible to get out of your head for days afterwards.

Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker in "Much Ado About Nothing"

Fortunately for all of us Shakespeare lovers, there is a new film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. This has to be one of the most beloved plays by Shakespeare. You know the story: Beatrice and Benedick, duking it out. They claim to hate each other, engage in verbal sparring and one- upmanship, and, naturally, fall in love. It is a winning formula.

This new film adaptation is different from others you may have seen; it is modern in style, setting, and costume. Directed by Josh Whedon and shot in his beautiful Spanish-style home in Los Angeles, it captures all the romance and magic of the play and gives it a fresh spin. The film is hip, stylish and very funny. I was smiling when I left the theater, thinking about the timelessness of the story and the universality of the character traits of its lead characters. If you love Shakespeare, be sure to see this film. It reminded me of how I felt when I first saw "Shakespeare in Love." Here is a filmmaker who has made Shakespeare and his work live and breathe for us. The words that were written five hundred years ago are still relevant. I feel grateful for that. Go here to see the trailer and read a review. 

I have been thinking about my favorite Shakespeare plays. It's actually very hard to choose...maybe Much Ado About NothingThe Tempest, and Romeo and Juliet? Tomorrow I will probably have a different answer. 

What are your favorite plays by Shakespeare?  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Midsummer Goodness

It is great to be back after taking a short break from my blog. I hope you've been enjoying the summer and would love to know what you have been up to. Hopefully it includes some relaxation!

You may be wondering what have I been up to?


I have been planning a kitchen garden for the back yard which should be finished soon; in the meantime, I am swooning over the vegetable garden at Robinson Gardens. What an inspiration!


We celebrated our wedding anniversary in beautiful Napa, where we saw fields of glorious sunflowers.


In the summer I like to keep it simple and often make Bruschettas with chopped tomatoes and basil. I serve them with grilled fish and a big salad. Pour a glass of chilled chardonnay and you have the perfect summer meal. It's even better eaten outside! Here is my Bruschetta recipe.


I can't stay away from my favorite Barbara Pym and just finished rereading this classic. What an interesting character the heroine is, polished and confident and yet unhappy and searching for something more. As with most of Barbara Pym's novels, happiness is never far from home.

Photo via here

I have been working on a fundraiser dinner dance with a French theme, specifically Paris in the 1920's. It's been so much fun reading up on this era and searching for quotes about Paris by Hemingway and Fitzgerald. This photo shows Hemingway with his wife Hadley (on the right) sitting at a Parisian cafe with Gerald and Sara Murphy (on the left). So many stories there!

Photo via here

I am planning a trip to Florence in the fall. Naturally, I am rereading E.M. Forster's Room with a View. Any view of this magnificent city is gorgeous!

Photo via here

 And, finally, I have been having back problems and searching for ways to get some relief. This is one of the reasons I took a little time off from my blog. I have discovered yoga and love it. I feel that my back is healing and I am getting stronger.

As my yoga teacher told me,
"Every time you have pain, stop what you are doing and take fifteen deep breaths and picture that happy place. And don't forget to meditate for five minutes before going to sleep." In my opinion, there is wisdom in this prescription that could be applied to many things in life.

 Summer can be a great time for inspiration. What have you been up to?  

Monday, July 8, 2013

Summer Refresher

Dear readers,

 I am taking a few weeks off from blogging to work on some new projects and spend some time in the garden. Hope you enjoy this beautiful month of July. Looking forward to returning in August refreshed and inspired. See you then!

 xo/ Sunday

Photo via here

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Happy Fourth!

In my opinion, there is no more iconic Fourth of July dessert than a cherry pie. And, I would go out on a limb here and say that pies of any flavor (peach, blueberry, strawberry/rhubarb) are the most popular Fourth of July desserts, and the most American. Maybe this is because pies have a homespun quality, so different from a fancy cake or pastry. You make a crust with four humble ingredients: flour, butter, ice water and salt. Then you fill it with whatever is in season.

There is something about a pie cooling on a windowsill or a piece of pie with a scoop of ice cream that takes us back in time, evoking memories of our youth. Baseball games, picnics, hanging out at the local swimming pool, going to the beach, drive-in movies, barbecues, and evening treks to the ice cream shop. These were the summer activities from my childhood. And Fourth of July with a dinner of corn on the cob, potato salad, barbecued hamburgers, hot dogs and cherry pie, followed by a fireworks show was the ultimate in summer magic. Pies are nostalgic and have the power to take us back to that sweet place.

I remember my mother making the most delicious pies for the Fourth of July. Cherry pies in the summer and apple and pumpkin pies in the fall were her specialties. When she made them, it was always an occasion. She may have used canned pie filling when she couldn't get fresh fruit, but she never took the easy way out with her pie crust. It was always homemade, tender and delicious.

I used to be afraid of making pies because of the crust and for years I couldn't get it right. My mother's recipe was not from any book but in her head and even though she described it to me, giving me all the ingredients and instructions, I never could make it as good as hers. Years ago I found the answer -- the perfect pie crust that works every time and couldn't be easier. It is a recipe for Pate Brisee (pie crust) that I found in Martha Stewart's magazine about 15 years ago. Because you make it in the food processor, it takes just minutes to put together. Try this and you will never be insecure about pie crust again.


Martha Stewart's Perfect Pie Crust

2 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Place the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor, and process for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter; process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 8-10 seconds. Add the ice water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube of the food processor with the machine running, just until the dough holds together. Do not process the dough for more than 30 seconds. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic. Press the dough into a flattened circle, and wrap it in the plastic. It will keep in the refrigerator for at least two days. This amount will make two 8- to 10-inch crusts. Cut the dough in half and roll out one at a time for the bottom and top crusts.

Go here for the recipe for Twice-Baked Sour Cherry Pie (photo above)

Go here for a list of twenty pies to make this summer, any one of which would be perfect for your July 4th celebration.

Have a great holiday weekend!