Seven years ago today I wasn’t in my cozy house or sleeping in my comfy bed. I was in Ukraine, eating borscht (every day) and lamenting about how sore every muscle in my body was.
You see, there was an an old Communist kids’ camp there that was being renovated into a home for Kiev’s street children, little ones who are abandoned while as young as four years because the parents just can’t care for them.
We were one of the many teams that volunteered a week of time in order to do whatever needed to be done to turn a worn out, broken down camp into homes, playgrounds, and so much more. I spent a good part of the week digging the footings for the foundation of one of the homes. It was hard and yes, painful, but one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
Little did I know that the last-minute decision to join the team in Ukraine would mean that I’d be on the European continent on June 1. A date that held no significance. For the last time.
Eight hundred miles away, as close as Winston Salem is from Chicago, an Armenian woman was giving birth to a little girl.
I was on the same island of earth as this woman when she made decision that the little girl would have a better chance of having a good life apart from her and signed paperwork that made the child an official orphan. I had no clue.
Twelve days later, we received an e-mail, a photo and a referral. June 1 would never be the same.
Even though Dudette will get the presents, cake and special treatment, this day is the the day that her father and I received the most awesome gift; her.
Happy birthday, Sophie!
When a recipe uses just a few ingredients, it’s really important that they are the highest quality ingredients possible. In this case, I used strawberries that we had picked from a local field. And I a bit of my precious stash of Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Pure Vanilla Bean Paste.
Remember that stuff? I received a box of goodies from Nielsen-Massey back in January and made a crazy-good Yellow Vanilla Pound Cake with it. I’ve been using the vanillas sparingly ever since, trying to make them last as long as possible.
For this dish, I used a teaspoon of the vanilla bean paste, which is basically thick vanilla extract with vanilla bean seeds in it. I whisked my vanilla with honey, lemon juice and salt and then gently folded in the sliced strawberries.
Since I really don’t like ricotta (it’s a texture thing), I put ice cream in a bowl, sprinkled lemon zest over it and spooned the vanilla strawberries over that. Then I waited for Dudette to get home from school so she could eat it.
My birthday girl’s first word was, ‘Awesome.’ Then she dove right back into the dish. She got it right too. These strawberries are way awesome. It’s hard to believe that such a simple combination of ingredients can have such a high-impact flavor profile, but they do.
I have all sorts of plans for this recipe this summer. That Vanilla Pound Cake? Next time we have company, it’s getting baked, whipped cream plopped on top and a healthy spoonful of vanilla strawberries over everything. Waffles for breakfast? Who needs maple syrup as long as the strawberries are in season and I can make a batch of vanilla strawberries.
Yeah, we like this.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
- 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons honey, or more to taste
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Pinch of salt
- 3 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
- 2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
- If using vanilla bean, halve lengthwise. Using the tip of a small sharp knife, scrape the seeds from the pod into a medium bowl. Add honey, lemon juice and salt (and vanilla extract if not using a vanilla bean); whisk until well combined. Add strawberries and stir to combine. Let stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Just before serving, combine ricotta and lemon zest in another bowl.
- Taste the strawberry mixture; if it’s too tart, add a little more honey. To serve, spoon ½ cup of the ricotta into each of 4 dessert bowls and top each with about ⅓ cup of the strawberries. Serve immediately.
I’m off to spend my day doing whatever (to a point) my 7 year-old wants to do. I hope your weekend is fantastic!