By Rebecca Lindamood, Local columnist
My kids have been struck with a very serious fever.
They liked baseball well enough before, but this year it’s all about statistics and baseball cards and their favorite teams and staying up late to watch big games. But oh, even more than that, it is all about the pickup baseball game.
They should all thank me for giving them a sufficient quantity of siblings that they can, with the addition of very few friends, play a respectable impromptu game. My flower bed (!?!) is the pitching mound, the tear-drop-shaped driveway is an odd, but acceptable diamond. Bike helmets are batting helmets. Stealing base is the bee’s knees. A boy who has successfully stolen base walks around with a glow of superiority for hours. Last night, one child slid into the kitchen when beckoned to empty the dishwasher.
This is the stuff of summer and youth. This is the real home field advantage. When you are pestering your mother for an empty berry basket to use as third base since the dog ran off with the other one, you know your life is pretty good. And since berry baskets are abundant right now, life is even better.
It doesn’t take much work to turn a berry into a spectacular dessert. In fact, the less you do to it, the better it usually is. While I’m content to simply pop berries into my mouth by the handful, some occasions call for a dessert that’s a little less casual. For those moments, you want a showcase for the berries rather than a big production. Here are two that I love that leave me plenty of time for my new summer job: Umpiring the game in my front yard.
Honey Meringue Dessert Cups are the perfect foil to sweet or tart fresh cherries. Needing nothing more than a crown of freshly pitted cherries, these lovely golden meringue cups have the added benefit of being allergy-friendly. These gluten- and sugar-free beauties are sweetened only with honey.
Because honey loves moisture, they will take a while longer to dry than sugar-sweetened meringues. That’s OK; it’s almost all hands-off time. And as soon as they’re cool, be sure to store them in an airtight container because they will want to draw in moisture from the air.
Honey Meringue Dessert Cups
2 egg whites
1 c. mild honey
½ t. vanilla extract
½ t. lemon juice, optional
Preheat oven to 225°. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Warm the honey slightly until it pours easily. Beat all ingredients together on high (either in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer) until stiff peaks form.
To form the dessert cups most easily, scoop the mixture onto a prepared cookie sheet with a serving spoon. Use the back of the spoon to form a deep well in the center of the meringue. Repeat, forming meringues with at least 2 inches of space between them, until you have used all the meringue. (Alternatively, you can load the meringue into a pastry bag with a plain tip and pipe the cups onto the prepared pans for a more decorative finish.)
Bake the meringues for at least an hour* or until the surface of the dessert cups is dry to the touch. Turn off the heat, prop the oven door open by a couple inches (sticking the handle of a wooden spoon in between the oven and the door should be just enough space) and let the cups cool completely prior to serving.
*Individual batches of meringues can take wildly different amounts of time to dry based on variables in weather, size of the meringues and composition of the honey. As long as you whipped it to stiff peaks you have no reason to worry. It will come together in the end, you just may have to be patient with your meringues.
Store cooled dessert cups in a single layer in an airtight container. This recipe makes a lot.
To serve, fill the well of the dessert cups with unsweetened fresh berries and top with whipped cream.
Strawberry Mess is a glorious, messy, bursting-with-flavor tribute to strawberries at their peak of freshness. This is a favorite for kids of all ages. Watch their faces as they dig through the layers of juicy strawberries, softened graham crackers and whipped cream. Dessert doesn’t get a whole lot easier than this. For some variety and Independence Day flair, throw in a layer of blueberries and serve this at your Fourth of July extravaganza!
1 quart strawberries, rinsed, hulled and quartered
¼ c. granulated sugar + 2 T., separated
2 t. balsamic vinegar
1 sleeve graham crackers, crushed
1 pint cold heavy whipping cream, well chilled
Toss together the strawberries, ¼ cup of sugar and balsamic vinegar in a mixing bowl. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Whip the heavy cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar on high speed until the cream thickens and loses its shine. Stop the mixer, scoop up a small spoonful and flip the spoon over to see if it stays in place. If it falls, mix again on high speed in 5- to 10-second bursts until it holds onto the spoon when flipped.
To assemble the Strawberry Mess:
Toss the strawberries in the juices they’ve formed while resting in the refrigerator. Use a slotted spoon to transfer a quarter of the strawberries into a small trifle dish (or smaller serving dishes), top with a quarter of the crushed graham crackers and a quarter of the whipped cream. Repeat the layers until all are used up, ending with whipped cream. Reserve the strawberry liquid for later. Refrigerate for no more than 1 hour before serving. Drizzle each serving with a little of the reserved strawberry juices just before eating.
For a heartier helping of Foodie With Family, go to www.foodiewithfamily.com or Rebecca’s new blog, www.icouldeatthat.com. Write to Rebecca at email@example.com to share your adventures and favorite recipes.