Last year, when we picked strawberries with the kids, it felt like we had placed ourselves on the banks of a Dantesque river leading to a green and red hell (4th Level with Plutus, the wolf-like demon, which maybe was just the ugly donkey the strawberry farm keeps in a pen).
We drove out to our local u-pick farm (local being defined as a 45-minute drive), bought a flat to carry our hoped-for bounty, passing by tables of bright red jewels that seemed to be screaming silently at me, “Abandon all hope. Don’t go into the fields! Also, you forgot your diaper bag, you fool.”
Any excursion into the world outside of our backyard fence last year could be complicated, especially one to the side of a hill, far from bathrooms and the forgotten diaper bag in the van. It’s not that any one thing went wrong, it was that life had handed us more than we thought we could carry. Literally.
Too far from snack time and not close enough to lunch, we walked down a dusty road toward the fields, two wobbly twin girls and their older brother, riding on flatbed wagons that Karen and I pulled.
Entries in strawberry (2)
When we lived in the Chicago area, Oak Park to be exact, I had a reverse commute for a year out to Downers Grove. Though considering Chicago traffic, a reverse commute means very little in terms of saving time. The company I worked for was housed in a nondescript building behind the Hooters (I still have never had their chicken wings. Honest). It was a lot of life spent in the car, listening to WBEZ, Chicago's NPR station, pretending I would have a story good enough for Ira Glass to put on This American Life (the closest I came was talking to him at Fox & Obel one day), taking comfort in the fact that we lived three blocks from Peter Sagal, host of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. Maybe a life of public radio wasn't in the cards, but at least we could wish Peter good night every time we drove past his house ( all together now..."Goodnight, Peter"). And honk at him while he raked leaves. NPR stalker.
The best thing about the commute out to Downers Grove? A drive past the local plant of a very well-known bakery brand. Coffee cakes. Pound cakes. Cookies. Danish. You know the one. They had a store at the plant that was open to the public. My favorite was the "reject" section, full of boxed baked goods that weren't fit to ship to supermarkets. This often meant the icing machine had gone haywire, leaving a half-inch thick coating of white sugary love on 3/4 of the danish. To me, this represented a new and improved feature, not a cause for rejection. 15 seconds in the microwave, and I was blissed out in butter and sugar and strawberries. A big cup of coffee, and I was buzzed for a good long while, listening to Weekend Edition, to Car Talk, to Wait Wait, to TAL, when the sugar and caffeine would wear off, and I'd realize that hopes are nice, dreams are better, but a warm danish could soothe a lot of the falling short.
This coffee cake from Amanda Clarke on seriouseats.com is about ten times better than anything we picked up from the reject pile. Homemade is usually better, right? But this one, this strawberry cream cheese coffee cake, moves into the territory of hopes and dreams. Four layers: a buttery soft crust, a layer of diced strawberries , smooth+sweet cream cheese, and perfect crumb topping full of brown sugar and butter. Really this is one for the books.
Hint - Frozen strawberries work perfectly here. So do raspberries. Blueberries. You get the point.
You can have this prepped in 20 minutes, bake it for 35. Full on love under an hour.
recipe | strawberry-cream cheese coffee cake (via Amanda Clarke on seriouseats.com)