We are almost at the end of strawberry season here in upstate New York.
When I was growing up in rural New England, we always went strawberrying every spring and made lots of recipes with the fresh, flavorful berries. Back then, you only had access to fresh strawberries when they were available locally. Now you can buy them in the grocery store year-round grown somewhere far away, but we seldom buy them because they are never as good as local ones.
For many years, I picked my own from nearby farms, but now I buy them from the farmstands and embark on the annual strawberry binge.
This year, we had some of our old favorites – strawberry shortcake, fresh strawberry pie, strawberry-rhubarb pie, strawberry salad, strawberry sundaes, strawberries with yogurt, and strawberries on pancakes. We also tried some new recipes – strawberry spoon cake, strawberry-rhubarb muffins, fresh strawberry tarts, and strawberry bread pudding.
Wow! That looks like a lot when it is all written out.
I think it will tide us over until next spring, when I’m sure we’ll be ready to dive into strawberry season once again.
Our first excursion away from Ljubljana was to Bled, which is northwest of Ljubljana and close to the border with Austria. Bled is famous for its beautiful lake, which has an island with a church and belltower.
As you can see in the foreground of the photo above, one common way to visit the island is by pletna boat, powered by a single (very adept) oarsman. This is a job that tends to be passed down within families; our rower had a brother working on the lake, both following prior generations of their family.
One must climb 99 steps to reach the church.
The current form of the church dates from the the 17th century but there has been a Christian church at the site since the 12th century. In earlier times, it is believed that a temple to a Slavic goddess stood at the site. The church is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, but is sometimes called, for obvious reasons, Our Lady of the Lake. Here is the main altar in the Baroque style; on the side walls are fresco remnants of the prior Gothic-style church, which was damaged in an earthquake.
After spending some time in the church, we climbed the belltower.
B took this interesting shot as we ascended the stairs, showing the weights that make the clock work.
We were in the tower at noon. Unlike many clocktowers which would just ring the hour, these bells rang for several minutes. It was a bit loud, being that close to the bells, but it was interesting to watch the mechanism work.
After our time on the island and the return to shore by pletna, we took our buses up to Bled Castle. And I do mean up! Here is what Bled Castle looked like from our boat.
And here is what Lake Bled looked like from the castle.
The castle paths were quite steep, but we were rewarded with a fancy lunch at the restaurant. It was the first time I have had trout caviar; probably the first time I have had caviar at all.
And because it never hurts to end a post with dessert…
Because her heart failure symptoms cause her to be sleepy a lot of the time, it is difficult to predict when she might be alert, so we keep celebrations ad hoc and catch bits of time with her as circumstances allow.
This morning, I picked her a few lilies of the valley from our (rapidly spreading out of control) patch. The original pips came from the yard of my childhood home in Massachusetts and from the yard of B’s home in Vermont, only a few miles apart. Lily of the valley is the birth flower for May and I have often picked some for Nana’s birthday. Our spring this year has been chilly and damp, so they have just begun to bloom with only the very bottom bells open, but I picked some regardless and will bring a few more when they open more fully.
On my way up to the skilled nursing unit of my parents’ senior living community, I swung by Wegman’s grocery store and picked up an individual size fruit tart. Nana would often buy large ones for special occasions, so I thought she might enjoy a little one for her birthday. I was pleased that, though small, there was a nice variety of fresh fruit over the custard, a large halved strawberry, a piece each of pineapple and kiwi, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberry. Nana was quite sleepy this morning, so I put it in the refrigerator with her name on it so she can enjoy it later today, or tomorrow or the next day, depending how she is feeling.
I brought her a card, too, which had bleeding hearts, which are also in bloom now, on the front. She has lots of cards from family and friends, including a packet of cards from people at her church.
A bit later in the morning, my daughters E and T and granddaughter ABC arrived. Despite ABC’s careening about the room, giggles, and squeals, Nana slept a good share of the time that she was there, but there were times that she was awake for kisses and a bit of lunch, some of which she generously shared with Ada. Her lunch tray arrived with a bonus, a large vanilla cupcake with white frosting and decorations. Nana decided to send it home with us instead of eating it herself. After all, she does have a fruit tart waiting for her, as well as some coffee ice cream sent over by a friend. When she is ready for one or the other of them, Paco will hop on his scooter and fetch them from the leisure room refrigerator. Of course, Paco got some kisses from ABC, too.
Both of my sisters called while I was there. My older sister just returned home from a few days of visiting and my younger sister and her family will arrive for a short visit this weekend. The main reason for the trip is my niece’s commencement ceremony in Cortland. She will be a newly minted teacher, with a job as a kindergarten teacher and a master’s program in New York City all lined up. Woo hoo!
B and I made another quick trip up for a visit in the evening, bringing another card that had inadvertently been left at home in the morning and some of Nana’s favorite toiletries.
We were grateful that we were able to celebrate Nana’s 87th birthday with her, or, as Paco says, the beginning of her 88th year. Last year, we celebrated her birthday at our local hospice residence. We didn’t think that we would be granted another whole year with Nana.
There are several tins of delicious cookies sitting on my kitchen counter.
Although I can bake, my spouse B long ago took over making the bulk of the Christmas cookies. Right now, we have cinnamon pizzelles, gingerbread decorated with icing, shortbreads, and cherry pistachio biscotti.
Our cookie season is extended more than usual this year because we started with St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6, celebrating with E and ABC before they left for London. We continued our celebration last weekend with my older sister and her husband and we are expecting my younger sister and her family the day after Christmas.
B has made multiple batches of some of the cookies this year, but is making fewer kinds than he has in some years. We often have pfeffernuesse, pecan puffs, and different flavors of pizzelles in our assortment. Also, we sometimes make sugar cookies, including some that look like Reddy Kilowatt in honor of Paco’s many years of service at the New England Power Company.
In my region, it is strawberry season. While strawberries from far away are available in supermarkets year-round, we almost never buy them, preferring to wait for the short but sweet local strawberry season.
When the wild strawberries in our lawn begin to ripen, it is time to head to the farmstands for quarts of flavorful, ripe berries. (It used to be time to head to the pick-your-own farms in the area but lack of time and an aging body have put an end to spending some early morning hours picking berries and avoiding slugs.)
In the early part of the season, I always make a fresh strawberry pie, using a recipe that my mom, known as Nana here at TJCM, made. It originated in a leaflet from the farm that we used to visit with her during childhood to pick strawberries. My copy was written out in Nana’s elegant cursive on a recipe card among those that she gifted to me when B and I married. We shared this year’s fresh strawberry pie topped with whipped cream with her and the family over at Mercy House, the hospice residence where Nana is now living.
As the season progresses and the berries need to be used more quickly, I move on to recipes that involve cooked berries. Last week, I made one of my favorites, strawberry rhubarb pie. I tried something different this time, using pastry cut-outs instead of a full top crust, hoping that the filling in the extra-deep pie plate would cook through without soaking the crust.
It worked! Again, the family gathered at Mercy House to enjoy pie with Nana and Paco.
Strawberry season is always a blessing, but this year even more so. Making more sweet memories is a precious gift.
I had planned to take her and Paco out to supper; B had a business dinner he had to attend, so he could not join us. Unfortunately, late last week, Nana came down with a horrible chest cold and we decided that I would get takeout from the restaurant instead.
We were lucky in that her cough improved enough that she was more rested and comfortable for her birthday. She got calls from my two sisters and her three grandchildren who are stateside and a special youtube rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” from my daughter E and her husband L, who are currently visiting his family in London. There were lots of birthday cards, too.
I was happy to see that Nana had gotten some of her appetite back when I arrived with the dinners at 5:00. She and Paco really enjoyed their main course, but did save room because I had brought a surprise dessert.
I had made a side trip to one of the local Italian restaurants to buy panna cotta for Nana. They change the flavor they offer on a regular basis and the day’s offering was cappuccino with hazelnut. I hoped Nana would like it.
She did! Usually, when we get it when we dine out, she shares it with someone else, but, for her birthday, she ate it all herself! It was great to see her enjoying it, especially as her appetite had been so low the few days prior.
Just to clarify, I also brought a carrot cake for Paco and tiramisu for me, so we all had a treat.
Nana said it was one of the best birthday dinners she had had in a long time, so mission accomplished.
Best wishes, Mom, for your 85th year! Thank you for making our family what it is and for showing us that something as simple as dinner and dessert together can be a great joy!
When I visited with daughter E in Honolulu for five weeks last year, one of our favorite treats was mochi ice cream, a Japanese-style bon bon made of pounded sticky rice wrapped around ice cream. The shops in Honolulu had many different flavors, a number of them tropical fruits.
When I returned home, I tried to find mochi ice cream. I finally found some green tea ones at Wegman’s, but my body doesn’t react well to tea, so I did’t buy them.
Yesterday, I happened to walk by the case and there were vanilla and strawberry mochi ice cream available.
I bought a box of strawberry and ate one after dinner last night.
I think we are finished baking Christmas cookies. B did the bulk of the work, with assists from me and T.
gingerbread with frosting
cranberry pistachio biscotti
We also have homemade fruitcake which is made with dried fruits rather than candied.
There is still a batch of fudge to make to be ready for Christmas dinner dessert.
Lasagna will be the main course. We started making it for Christmas Day when my daughters and I were involved in choir for children’s Mass on Christmas morning. Lasagna was an easy thing to prepare ahead and pop in the oven after church so we could still have dinner at noon. We always make the lasagna using the recipe my mom used to make. Because she grew up in an Italian immigrant household, she always had Italian food for Christmas, so we appreciate making that our tradition, too. It’s even more special that she is here to share in our Christmas dinner, along with my dad and B’s mom.
This year will be even more fun because daughter E and her husband L arrived today from Honolulu. We are so excited to have both daughters and our son-in-law here to celebrate with us!