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Mindful : June 2013
Better Berries By Angela Mears We’re taking a drive in early November in Sonoma Valley and decide to make a stop. I haven’t been feeling well all day, and my body is in need of something clean and real. We pull up to a roadside produce stand and, from a table laden with persimmons, peppers, and tomatoes, I select a basket brimming with small autumn-har vest strawberries. They are plump, red, bruised, and utterly beautiful—the salve I’m seeking. Tart but sugary, firm but yielding, fleshy but pure, they renew me. Though I’d eaten thousands of strawber- ries in my life, this was the first time I’d truly tasted one. What I wouldn’t give for a basket of those strawberries now. These days I a m fa r more likely to confront strawberries in a plastic shell—a big unbruised vari- ant that’s every bit as beautiful as those Sonoma berries but merely a shadow of the real thing when it comes to essence, vitality, and flavor. So it goes with all our keenest plea- sures. Were they always available, we wouldn’t cherish them as we do. At least that’s what I tell myself when I think about strawberries on, say, a chill Janu- ary morning near the shores of a frozen Midwestern lake. But with spring the strawberries ripen, the farmers’ markets gear up after their winter lull, and it’s time for the real thing. To ma ximize your pleasure during this glorious ephemeral spring, there are a couple things I recommend. Hundreds of va rieties of strawberries are cultivated across the continent, with vast differ- ences in size, appeara nce, taste, and tex- ture. But genera lly you will find that the smaller the berry, the bigger the flavor. Gia nt gorgeous strawberries tend to be bloated with water a nd little else. Once picked, you may expect to keep sun-ripened strawberries in good condi- tion for only a day or two. So don’t delay in either preser ving or savoring them. I find that peak-season berries are best eaten plain—perhaps with a touch of lightly sugared, freshly whipped vanilla cream. Then again, if you’re lucky enough to live in a region where the growing season is long, or have found yourself with a glut of berries, there is exquisite work to be done with them. Aside from being among the most widely cultivated berries, the strawberry is also among the most ver- satile—sweet or savory, rustic or refined, breakfast or dinner. So this spring, make ice cream. Make jam. Make cake. Make clafoutis. Hull them and halve them and ser ve them in a salad with bracing vinegar, salty cheese, and velvety spinach. Even though you’ve encountered them count- less times before, taste strawberries for perhaps the first time. I’ve found that, if you’re lucky, you may do this more tha n once—for there is almost too much to take in at first bite. ● Serves 4 people Sea salt and pepper 2 tsp balsamic vinegar (dark or white) 4 tbsp olive oil 4 cups spinach leaves, washed 2 cups small strawberries, hulled and halved 2 cups small cherry tomatoes, halved 41⁄2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled 10 basil leaves, finely sliced 1 tsp marjoram, finely chopped (optional) Strawberry and Cherry Tomato Salad with Spinach and Feta Cheese Angela Mears writes about food at thespinningplate.com In a small bowl, add the sea salt and pep- per to the balsamic vinegar. Whisk in the oil and emulsify. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the spinach with the strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese. Toss gen- tly with the dressing. Finish with the basil leaves and marjo- ram, if using. Divide the salad between four plates and serve immediately. June 2013 mindful 25 one taste