The full impact of it didn't hit me until the end of the day.
Late last Thursday night, talking on the phone with Josh while he closed up the restaurant, I was reflecting on the day we'd just had and remarked on what a crazy, completely bipolar day it had been. That is never a good way to remember a day.
There had been short tempers, snarkiness, tantrums, broken glass, slammed doors, a lot of tears, and very little patience to carry us through it all. It was a family affair; only the non-human occupants of our home seemed immune to it. It was interminable.
Except when it wasn't. Because, day of extremes that it was, there were also absolutely beautiful periods of calm and laughter, relaxation and rejuvenating solitude. To really understand the complete cliché-ness of those good times, you need only to know that they included snuggling adorable kittens and children running with abandon down grassy hills.
I wasn't kidding when I said the day was bipolar.
As challenging as it is to make it through a day like that in one piece, as hard as it can be in the moment to adjust to the pendulum swings of emotion, it can be useful to look back on them and notice the little things that carried you through. The extra hugs and cuddles, the forgiveness (even if it was born of exhaustion), the sunlight and vibrant strawberries.
Strawberries. The season starts a bit later here in Maine than in the rest of the country, but when it finally arrives, it feels like jagged sparkles of sunlight on the water and the morning chorus of birdsong and waves of heat rippling up from the sidewalk all rolled into one. Summer is here. And when it's accompanied by strawberries, the really good ones, the ones that are red through and through, that have never seen the inside of a refrigerated case, that have a heady perfume that reaches your nose while the berries themselves are still three feet away . . . well, it's just magic.
On that fateful Thursday I had snagged one of the last-of-the-first quarts of strawberries to show up at our farmer's market. For the rest of the morning, wandering amongst the stalls of radishes and tiny carrots and wildflower bouquets, I apologized to everyone who asked me where I got them, as I regretfully pointed towards the long-since sold out stand. That early bird adage really does have merit.
The boys and I were torn between wanting to devour them all right there on the grassy common, and bringing them home to "make something." Somehow, I couldn't bear to see those shiny, sought-after berries disappear so quickly, so all but the biggest, reddest, temptress berries on the top of the pile became homeward bound. (There is just something about eating a strawberry warmed by the sun that can't be completely denied.)
Later, during a too-brief pause in the ruckus that was threatening take over our day, I rushed into the kitchen, determined to do something with those strawberries. I pulled a disc of pastry dough out of the fridge, letting it shake off its chill while I attended to the fruit. Working with the speed and concentration of someone who knows her reverie might be broken any moment, I took stock of what I had and threw together a rustic berry-frangipane crostata. A not-too-sweet crostata. A redeeming crostata.
Because by that evening, its existence on the kitchen counter was one of the few high points of productivity and peacefulness for me as I looked back over the spiral of time that had us so shaken up all day long. And the next morning, at breakfast, it was an encouraging way to begin anew, gently, sweetly, and with appreciation.
Maine Berry & Frangipane Crostata
Yields 8-10 servings
Did you know that today, June 20th, has been designated Pie Party 2012? It might not be listed on any calendar, but it's an Internet event that's been taken hold of with enthusiasm, which is good enough for me. The Facebook page is where to go to find links to all sorts of lovely pies that people have been baking as a way of celebrating pie and sweeping away any fears that may linger over perfect crusts, soggy bottoms, and runny fillings. We did this last year, too, and it was so wonderful to see the blogosphere bombarded by pies of all stripes and sorts. Because pie is great. Pie is great even when it's not perfect. Pie can make not-so-perfect days feel much, much better when you've got a fresh slice in front of you.
You should make some pie.
1 single-crust recipe of gluten-free pastry dough, left on the counter long enough to soften slightly and become pliable
1 pint Maine strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 cup wild Maine blueberries (frozen is fine)
4 tablespoons (¼ cup) Maine honey
2 teaspoons tapioca starch
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 batch of frangipane (recipes abound online, or just do what I did and use the recipe on the bag of Bob's Red Mill Almond Flour, substituting gf flour for the all-purpose and increasing the butter and sugar each by a tablespoon)
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside.
On a gluten-free-floured board, roll out the dough to a diameter of roughly 14 inches. Dust the dough with additional flour as you roll, and rotate it a quarter-turn with every few passes of the rolling pin to keep it from sticking to your board. Transfer the circle of dough to the baking sheet.
In a mixing bowl, gently stir together the strawberries, blueberries, honey, tapioca starch, and vanilla and almond extracts. Let this sit for a moment while you spoon the frangipane onto the dough, spreading it evenly to within an inch and a half of the edge. Pour the fruit mixture on top of the this, easing it out to the edge of the frangipane. Gently begin folding the edge of the dough up over the filling, brushing the dough with the egg wash to seal the folds. When the filling is fully enclosed, give the crust one more brush of egg wash and sprinkle granulated sugar over it. Chill for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Bake the crostata for 45-60 minutes, or until the crust is a rich golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Cool on a wire rack, and serve warm or at room temperature. Crostata keeps, wrapped airtight and at room temperature, for up to three days.