Summer. Barbecues, road trips, flip-flops, rope swings, a new swimsuit, homemade popsicles or rides with the windows down and feet out the window. Reading outside. Doing just about everything outside. Gardening. Sprinklers. The list could go on.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the time when summer actually felt like an eternity. Remember that? The days right before you or your friends had a car and you came up with impossibly creative ways to pass the time–perhaps feeling bored and tortured, not realizing how you’d look back on those listless, empty afternoons with nostalgia and longing.
During those summer days, the above list would look quite different: making chocolate chip cookie dough and eating it straight out of the bowl. On the roof. In our underwear. Or walking downtown barefoot with my best friend Kristin to buy fried rice from the one and only decent Chinese restaurant in our small town. We’d wear cut-offs and put on lots of fruity lip gloss and hope to be noticed. We’d spend hours making mix tapes and sneak bottles of Zima and clove cigarettes into the garage for a smashing afternoon of pure daydreaming. The Cure. The Flaming Lips. Sublime. Tori Amos. Kristin and I would sneak out at night and traipse around the park with boys much too old for us. Those were the days. How little we knew and how much we thought we knew. But such is adolescence. I don’t really miss that. The one thing I do miss is the cadence of the days, the way they literally folded into one another into a beautiful, long swath of months we called summer.
These were the days before stress, before worrying about health insurance or Amex bills or how to raise money for a bakery if you decided you wanted to open one. Yep, those days. I know you remember them, too. I can’t seem to stop thinking about that simpler time, especially as my own summer days seem to be collapsing into one another like stuccato moments of work, rest, and more work. So I thought I’d bring back a little of the summer of ’95. Why not? Now I just baked chocolate chip cookies so that was out. A few other things we loved were pretty classy: gummy peaches, Toaster Strudels, Snackwell’s cookies, and peanut butter. Right out of the jar. Coincidentally, I haven’t grown out of peanut butter. So, it is. Something with peanut butter. Lucky for me, my friend Hallie just emailed me a recipe for Buckeyes. I didn’t know what they were, but Hallie instructed that they were all about peanut butter and as easy as “dip and dive.” Sold.
Hallie’s spending the summer in Brooklyn and I trust that she’s eating her fair share of peanut butter out of the jar this summer. We used to work together until she made the awesome, spontaneous decision to move across the country and follow her passion for design and see what happens. So far, she’s running across the Brooklyn Bridge each morning, has two awesome internships and is settling in just fine. And if this recipe is any indication of her good taste, I’m sure she’ll keep on truckin’. This one’s a keeper.
So here’s to remembering teenage summers chock full of imagination, seeming eternity, a swish of naivety, and a little dash of magic—and hoping that just a teeny, tiny bit of that gets infused into a bit of this summer.
If you do a quick online search for Buckeyes, you’ll learn two things: first, that they’re an Ohio favorite made to look like the fruit of the state tree, the Buckeye. Second, the traditional way to make them is to add a bit of paraffin wax to the melted chocolate, but that seemed a little odd to me. Apparently Hallie thinks so, too. To pull these off, you’ll need wax paper and toothpicks.
Mix the peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt together with a wooden spoon. Add the powdered sugar in two batches, stirring until completely combined (I used my hands here to quickly incorporate the powdered sugar at the bottom).
Shape into 1″ balls and stick a toothpick in the center of each. Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Microwave chocolate chips on high for 1 1/2 – 2 minutes, or until completely melted. Gripping the toothpick, dip each ball into the melted chocolate until partially coated, and place on wax paper to harden. Store in an airtight container.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.