Strawberry Picking and Crêpes for Mother's Day · 13 May 2007
As promised, this post is about food. Also as promised, I’m going to wax prosaically about the springtime bounty in San Diego, specifically the strawberries. It’s the height of strawberry season out here, and the berries are thick and juicy on the plants. Every farmer’s market is carrying fresh picked berries, every grocery store is having a sale on berries, and, best of all, the Carlsbad Strawberry Company’s U-Pick fields are open!
Yesterday, after a morning spent in the library working on final assignments, I hijacked my boyfriend and spent the early afternoon in the strawberry fields. There was something of a country-picnic air to the operation. We drove into a dirt parking lot and approached a white wooden stand with hand-lettered signs. After paying, we were handed a bucket and let loose on the fields. Most of the pickers were families with children, so the air was thick with the raucous shouts of youngsters. It was almost like I was participating in a scene that would be photographed and later included in “The Great American Dream Collection, Scenes from Rural America.”
San Diego County has rural roots. Much of the land used to be missionary land, tribal land, or rancho land. Twenty years ago, cows, horses, fields, and groves were a common site in my hometown. But San Diego has been growing into a bona fide “city,” and places where you can connect with the rural history are increasingly rare, especially in the pricey coastal suburbs like Carlsbad. So, it was a bit nostalgic to see rows and rows of strawberries fields defiantly tucked in between the I-5 freeway and the Carlsbad auto mall.
Now that I spend quite a bit of time in Los Angeles County, I appreciate San Diego and its open spaces all the more. I find myself very affected by place and physical surroundings. On a sunny day I’m exponentially more likely to be productive than on a cloudy one. After a long drive in traffic, my energy is sapped. A buzzing downtown scene inspires me to take on large challenges, to conquer the world like the skyscrapers have conquered the horizons, and wide open spaces awaken the dreamer in me.
As my boyfriend and I staked out a row of strawberry plants that looked like it hadn’t been ravaged by other pickers, I found myself relaxed by the balmy day and in a peaceful frame of mind. Though I’ve been trying to be more environmentally aware this year, the goal of my efforts has been an abstraction. Actually getting out and getting my hands in the dirt attuned me to what it is that I’m trying to save.
Even without the mini environmental epiphany, I deemed the strawberry picking experience a huge success. For only $11.00 we picked a huge bucket full of syrupy-sweet berries that make store-bought berries taste like cheap imitations. The $11.00 also included the option to eat as many berries picked straight from the vine as you could fit in your stomach. Since I hadn’t eaten anything for lunch, I downed a considerable number while we filled the bucket. I’d highly recommend a visit to The Strawberry Company's fields to all San Diego strawberry lovers.
I do have a word of caution about picked strawberries though; don’t expect that you’ll be able to leave these in your kitchen for a week (especially not during warm weather). Unlike store-bought berries, ripe-picked berries will last one to two days before becoming overripe and possibly moldy. If you think you’ll be picking more berries than you can eat in a day, make sure you pick slightly less ripe berries for the bottom of your bucket and then separate your berries when you get home so they don’t get crushed. Refrigeration can extend the life of your berries, but you’ll notice a decrease in their flavor if your refrigerate them.
Fortunately, I had a household of willing eaters to consume the picking spoils. The berries that didn't vanish during snacking yesterday made their way into the mandatory “Cook Mom Breakfast for Mother’s Day” crêpes this morning. I almost managed not to fall into the trap of the equally traditional “Burn Mom’s Breakfast on Mother’s Day,” but was foiled by someone (who shall remain nameless) turning on the front burner, but then placing the kettle on the back burner instead and leaving my cooling crêpe pan on the activated burner . Luckily, all turned out well in the end, and we were able to feast on the strawberries before noon (oh yes, and the crêpes too).
Basic Sweet Crêpes:
These crêpes have a subtly sweet flavor that pairs well with sweet fillings. If you like a very sweet crêpe, double the sugar and vanilla.
- 1 cup flour
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1½ cups milk
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tbsp butter or margarine, melted
- 2 Tbsp butter or margarine, divided
Combine flour and sugar in large mixing bowl.
Gradually add milk and combine ingredients using a whisk or hand blender.
Once flour and milk are combined, add melted butter, eggs, and vanilla, then whisk or blend until smooth.
Let batter sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Heat 1 tsp butter (or margarine) in a 7 to 8 inch skillet or crêpe pan over medium heat. (I have not been able to master the art of crêpe making using anything but a non-stick pan. Today I used a non-stick griddle with much better success than the cast iron crêpe pan that was my only alternative.)
Whisk batter again to blend it, then pour one-third cup batter onto the hot, buttered, pan.
Rotate pan so that the batter is dispersed evenly and covers the entire surface of the pan.
Cook 1 to 2 minutes, until the edges of the crêpe turn slightly brown and the top of the crêpe is completely dry.
Using a (non-stick!) spatula, carefully flip crêpe and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute on the second side.
Transfer the crêpe to a plate to cool, and cover with waxed paper.
Repeat cooking process (this time using only as much butter or margarine as needed to prevent the crêpes from sticking to the pan) with the remainder of the batter, stacking the finished crêpes on the plate and placing a layer of waxed paper between each crêpe.
Makes about 10 crêpes.
Strawberry Crêpe Filling:
- 3 cups strawberries, sliced
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 6 oz cream cheese
- ½ tsp almond extract
- Optional – Rose and Pansy Syrup
Combine strawberries and 1 Tbsp sugar in large bowl.
Soften cream cheese by allowing to sit at room temperature while cooking the crêpes.
Mix softened cream cheese, 2 Tbsp sugar, and almond extract in small bowl.
Place 1 Tbsp cream cheese mixture in the center of a cooled crêpe. Spread cream cheese down the center, making a vertical line in the middle of the crêpe.
Spoon approximately 2 Tbsp of strawberries on top of the cream cheese.
Fold the crêpe inward from both ends, leaving the top and bottom open.
Top with strawberries. If desired, top with syrup. (I had lots of Rose and Pansy Syrup left over from the custard I made last month, and it was a nice complement to the sweetness of the strawberries.)
Introduction to Venusian Inspired Custard · 19 April 2007
I’m breaking with tradition and introducing the next book by posting about food associated with it instead of posting the review. In Venusia by Mark vonSchlegell the colonists on Venus eat flowers. Every Venusian citizen is provided flowers by the government, at two intervals every T-day (24 hour cycle) in the ritual called “Feed.” Flowers are their sustenance, their religion, and the fleshy veil that enables the Venusians to forget the past and sets the events of the story in motion.
It just so happens that Is My Blog Burning? is hosting a flower oriented event. Not one to let the opportunity to capitalize on this coincidence pass, I decided it was a perfect time to feature Venusia.
The problem is, I’m still not quite sure what my final take on Venusia is. I read the book about a month ago, and at the time I meant to re-read it before blogging about it. It’s the type of book that really needs to be read slowly in order to follow the author’s multi-layered tour through time, space, and the psyche, but in my usual gluttonous consumption of the story, I didn’t give it the time it deserved.
My first impression of Venusia is that it’s a book I really want to like. It has great world building and characterization and propounds a fascinating premise. It’s also incredibly pretentious, and I love a good pretentious science fiction writer, as long as they’re able to transform their pretentiousness into a coherent plot. If anything, the lucidity of the plot is the flaw in the book. I’ll keep you posted as to whether it coalesces under further scrutiny after I've had the chance to go back and revisit some of the trickier parts. In the meantime, enjoy this filling and flower-filled dessert, inspired by David Feys at the Sookie Harbor House in British Columbia.
Red Hibiscus Custard with Rose and Pansy Syrup:
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 6 tablespoons fresh red hibiscus flowers, chopped
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 3 large egg yolks
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup mixed rose petals and dark purple pansy petals, loosely packed
- Extra rose and pansy petals to garnish
Method - Red Hibiscus Custard:
If you don't have a custard molds, have no fear, I was able to make this recipe without them by substituting small, oven-safe ramekins.
Start this recipe the day before you want to serve it.
Combine milk and cream in a medium bowl and stir to mix. Measure out ½ of this mixture into a small sauce pan, reserving the other half in the bowl. Add the sugar and the hibiscus flowers to the saucepan.
Heat over low heat until almost boiling, stirring constantly to avoid the milk either sticking to the bottom, or forming a film. Remove the mixture from heat and pour into the bowl with the reserved milk and cream. Stir well and set aside to cool.
Once cool, cover and refrigerate over night, if possible. (According to chef Feys, the longer the mixture steeps, the stronger the flower flavor in the custard. I let it sit about six hours and my custard had a very mild hibiscus flavor. If I were to make this again, I’d take his recommendation and let it sit longer).
After refrigerating, preheat oven to 350° F. Make sure that you have your oven rack adjusted so that it’s in the approximate middle of the oven for easy maneuvering later.
Add sufficient hot water to a 9-by-13-inch oven-safe pan with to reach halfway up the sides of custard molds when immersed. This will create a double-boiler effect for cooking the custard. Remember Archimedes and his bathtub, your molds will displace water. What I did to counteract this was to put the empty “molds” in the pan, and then fill it with water up to their halfway point.
Put the water filled pan into the oven.
In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolk well. Add the chilled milk mixture and stir until combined.
Pour the mixture into six small, dry, custard molds and carefully place the molds in the water filled pan. Cook 25-30 minutes. The custard is done when a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove the pan from the oven and then carefully remove the custard mold from the pan. Apparently, jar tongs work great for this (I really need a set of these things, it’s the second time in two weeks they would have saved me from slightly singed fingers).
Allow the custard to cool and when cool place in refrigerator for at least an hour.
Immediately before serving, remove custard from refrigerator and from the mold. To remove from the mold, run a thin knife around the circumference of the custard mold and then invert the mold onto a serving plate. Top with syrup (recipe below) and flowers to garnish.
One thing that I didn’t think of trying until after I had cooked these is cooking the custard in the traditional flan style, by coating the mold with warm syrup prior to pouring the custard mix in and using the syrup as a way to keep the custard from sticking to the mold. This probably would have worked out really well, but I sort of like the cratered texture I ended up with on my custard. It reminds me of Venus ;)
Method - Rose and Pansy Syrup:
This can be prepared the night before, or while the custard is cooking and/or cooling.
Place petals and &frac13 cup sugar in a food processor and process until well mixed.
Add petal mixture and the remaining ingredient to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then stir once and reduce heat to low.
Simmer until mixture reaches a syrup stage (I simmered for about 45 minutes, I’m not sure if this is what the intent of the original recipe was, but it took about that long to simmer down to the recommended end volume, and it didn’t seem thick enough until then.