We are staring down the last week of school and we are all too ready for the holiday.

The other night, at the end of the longest day, I realized how much I'm looking forward to this season. Not just for the days at the pool, the road trips planned, and ice cream cones promised after dinner. There's also the need to feel the exuberance of it somehow. It's a feeling I've had before. And, it feels good to feel it again, as things seemed slightly offset lately. Like when the printing plates don't line up exactly right so whatever you're reading has a shadow aura hovering slightly to one side. You can see what things are supposed to look like, but can't quite trick your eyes into seeing them right.

And so, here's to summer, and to Strawberry Rhubarb Almond Crumble — it has a trick in the crumble that changes the game entirely. It's a recipe to keep for when stone fruits are around. Happy days, pals. Talk again soon.

 

STRAWBERRY RHUBARB ALMOND CRUMBLE

The first of many Always Good Recipes from Tara O'Brady and Nikole Herriott. 

Recipe HERE

Things you might not know about me, arranged in no particular order:

I'm not  tall. You might say I'm short. I make terrible, terrifyingly-bad coffee. I named my childhood dog after a chocolate bar. His identification tag is on my keychain. At one brief time in my life, I played tambourine in a band. I am clumsy. I scar easily. I've got me some souvenirs.

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There's a constellation of burns at the inside of my wrist collected from splattering oil. I have a pair of lines across one of my forearms, branded on separate occasions by a scorching oven rack and a searing baking sheet, respectively. I wonder at how many times I knocked my noggin or shin on the wheelhouse steps on one of my father's ships. There's the mark where my knife skipped on the board and caught my finger. I've got a skinny red line that rests on my collarbone as a necklace, and a number of freckle-ish spots by my ankles from falling over sticks and rocks. 

On the side of my left knee, raised and pale, there's a scar that is maybe three inches long. It is wider at the top and tapers to a point at the end. Last summer, when someone asked me how it happened, I tripped on my words. It's a mark I've had on me for the majority of my life, three-quarters of it at least, yet I've long discarded its circumstance. I don't remember if I cried, or who patched up the wound, or if I needed stitches. I don't think I did. 

I have a hazy recollection that I cut myself on an air conditioner as a kid? Yes, maybe on the air conditioner, the one between our house and that of our neighbours. I can tell you the siding was white on our house and pale, sunny yellow on theirs. There was gravel between them, and I can still hear how sounded under our feet. 

I remember what summer was like back then. I remember the important things.

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My mother grew the best roses on the street — big, heavy blooms the size of baseballs. My father would buy ice cream in those rectangular boxes, then break the carton open and pull back the sides, so ice cream stood as a block in the centre. He'd use a carving knife to slice off pieces thick like steaks. I remember melon balls cold from the fridge, and popcorn from the big orange popper we had, and the thermos that was always filled with hot, hot milk tea for long car rides. I remember jumping the fence because we couldn't reach the latch to the backyard, and the cluster of trees we used as a hideout.

I remember my parents had pool parties that lasted into the night, when we'd be allowed to stay up past dark. We'd even get Coke to drink. I'd swallow it fast, the bubbles tight in my throat. The adults sat at a round table close to the gate, while all us kids were in the water. The chlorine stung my eyes; when I looked at the lanterns tucked around the garden, the light shone with blue halos. I remember riding our bicycles down to the lake, trying to keep up with my big brother, going to watch the fireworks on Canada Day. Standing there breathless, sweaty, still straddling the bike seats, leaning forward on our handle bars and chewing gum. We were due home as soon as the last sparkles burned out in the black of the sky, when we were left with stars.

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I am, sometimes acutely, aware that my children are now the same age I was in some of those memories of mine.

It is the leading edge of summer; there's already been fun fairs and field trips, and cubbies to clean out, and day-before-yesterday, the last day of school. We're at the brink of a place deep with possibility. I've decided to pack for the leap, with a supply of strawberry limeade ice pops. Some for the boys, and some for us adults, made prickly with the bitter of Campari.

These flavours pull very much from those years ago. Strawberries grew on the side of that white house, right beside mint. When Sean and I moved to where we live now we planted some along the side of this house, because summer has to have strawberries. And it's the season to go for the gusto with lime. I was the kid that dug for the lemon-lime or lime popsicles from the freezer at the corner store, diving waist-deep through the sliding cooler top to search. If I thought I had the right one, I would hold the package up to the shop window to make sure it was tinged truly green, and not the deceiving, disappointing, yellow of banana. 

The mouth-watering pucker of lime also recalls nimbu pani, the salty-sweet limeade we'd have in India. 

For these ice pops, the fruit is blitzed with a pour of honey to a sharply fragrant purée, and goes first into the mould. There's a specific strategy to the design; eating the bright berries first, with the tongue-tingling acidity of the lime, is like the spark that lights a fuse. Without fat or too much sugar, the flavour is icily intense and clear, spiky and crystallized. Then comes the second layer, mellow vanilla-specked frozen yogurt, a supple balm to the intensity before. With these, first there's fizzle, then fade.

I may leave the coffee to my husband, but popsicles, those I've got covered.

 

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The last time I wrote about ice pops was for  UPPERCASE  magazine, Issue 10. UPPERCASE is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, and as you might already know, there has been recent, devastating floods to that region. If you would like more information, I suggest you follow author Julie Van Rosendaal on her site and Twitter; she has been a force through the storm and the recovery and cleanup efforts. 

For those who would like to donate to the Flood Rebuilding Fund, The Calgary Foundation is doing great work. If you would like to support UPPERCASE, they are  having a sale until July 7th, and as products ship through Toronto and Los Angeles, orders are still being filled.

To everyone in the effected areas, all the best thoughts and hopes to you. 

 

CAMPARI STRAWBERRY LIMEADE ICE POPS

The frozen yogurt comes from the book "The Perfect Scoop" by David Lebovitz  (Ten Speed Press, 2007), recipe available via Heidi Swanson, and it is the best one I can imagine. 

The measurements for the fruit layer are somewhat loosey goosey. Depending on your fruit you might want more or less honey or lime, and you can scale the ratios accordingly. My only warning, it's best to be a miser with the alcohol  — you might be able to sneak some more in, but too much will prevent the ice pops from setting properly, and nobody wants a droopy pop. That said, if you want to serve these doused with extra after the fact, go right ahead.

Turning out all the ice pops at once frees up your mould for another batch, and means kids can help themselves from the freezer, which is nice. It's helpful to colour the sticks of theirs with permanent marker, so they know which ones to grab.

As an aside, these pops were coincidentally patriotic, as this is the Canada Day weekend here. For the upcoming 4th of July or Bastille Day, a streak of blackberry or blueberry could dress them up for your celebrations. Hooray for holidays, pals!

 

INGREDIENTS

  • One batch homemade plain or vanilla frozen yogurt, or about 1 quart store bought (there will be some leftover)
  • 10 ounces strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mild, runny honey
  • Juice and zest of 1 small lime, if you can get key limes, use them and use 2
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Campari, for the grownups

 

METHOD

In a medium bowl, stir together the strawberries, honey, most of the lime juice and all the zest. Let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes, stirring every now and again. Purée the fruit in a blender. Stir in the Campari and taste. It should be punchy, as the flavour will mellow once frozen. Keeping that in mind, add more lime juice or honey as needed. Divide the purée between 10 3-ounce popsicle moulds, rapping the mould on the counter to release any air pockets. Freeze for 15-20 minutes to firm up, or a full hour for a neat delineation between flavours.

If you are making the frozen yogurt from scratch, churn while the strawberry layer sets. If you're using store bought, put it in the refrigerator to soften. 

Spoon the frozen yogurt on top of the strawberry purée. Use a chopstick or extra popsicle stick to release any air bubbles, and swirl the two mixtures, if desired. (Alternatively, the purée and frozen yogurt can be dolloped randomly, without freezing first, which will allow them to marble easily.) Cover and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

Once frozen, release the solid ice pops by running hot water over the moulds. Store the pops in a sealed, airtight container in the freezer, separating layers with parchment paper.  

Makes 10. 

 

I originally called these boozy ice pops — by no means should there be a restriction on what to use. While Campari and soda is my thing, it might not be yours, so here are some other suggestions: 

  • Pimm's No. 1 + strawberry + mint
  • Tequila + mango + mint or lime
  • Aperol + orange + raspberry
  • Kirsch + cherry + citrus  
  • St. Germain + blueberry + mint
  • Proseco + blackberry + lemon thyme (remove thyme after steeping)
  • Gin + plum + ginger
  • Cachaça + watermelon + salt + lime
  • Bourbon + peach + mint 

 

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Authortara
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IMG_62342

I won't keep you long because there are strawberries to be eaten and the clock is already tick-tock ticking.

I'll begin with credit where credit is due. What we have here is a recipe from Jamie Oliver, and it's a winner. You take strawberries, lop of their tops so that they're hulled neatly and stand on end like a berried mountain range. You slice a few knobs of stem ginger and pop them in the dish, along with some of their syrup. Then squish out the seeds of a plump vanilla bean over the fruit and toss in the pod after. Last, there's a slosh of Pimm's (No. 1), the gin-based liqueur synonymous with British summer.

I'll stop here for a moment, because the mention of Pimm's makes me weak in the knees. I first came to know it over the summer job that took me through high school. I worked for a theatre company, plays not movies, and each season there was an event that had Pimm's Cup as its signature drink. I can't think of Pimm's without thinking of those wickedly-hot days - the heavy scent of gin, cucumbers and lemon, miles of glasses lined up in rows, full of ice and looking like the most refreshing drink that there ever was.

No. 1 is sunshine and hot shoulders, and the best of those years.

Anyway, back to today, and back to that dish of berries. Tucked under the hottest broiler you can muster, their attentive peaks get lazy in the heat, slouching down and slumping over. They'll be warmed through but not cooked, only enough that the strawberries turn juicy and plush. The preserved ginger has the assertive heat and deep-bellied hum of the June sun, while the suggestion of citrus brought by the Pimm's rings all the high notes.

It's up and down and all around like a roller coaster at the fair. Which is to say, these might be the strawberries to end all strawberries.

I used local fruit, the kind that for 11 months of the year you convince yourself you've imagined in an fit of idealized fancy. And then, blessed be, it is summer and here they are. Fruit ruby to its centre, fragrant in a way that reminds of roses and honey jumbled up together. They are beautiful, yes, but in their irregularity. Nubbled, bumpy - one in our punnet bore a distinct resemblance to a miniature turban squash.

They're strawberries out of Enid Blyton. Rustic and brave - and left whole they have more oomph than is usually attributed to cooked fruit. Good enough that I may have been stingy in my dinner portion one evening, just to leave that much more room for dessert.

But that's just between you and me.

Now, don't dally, off you go while the strawberries are around. See you soon.

melt

GRILLED STRAWBERRIES WITH PIMM'S 

The strawberries are served with softened ice cream, and make sure yours is soft as you want it to further melt into the juices at the bottom of the dish - its texture should match that of the fruit. On top of that is some mashed cookie rubble, and like the crust to a fruit pie it gives foundation to the softness of berry and cream. Finally some mint, which in coincidence always grew beside the strawberries in my childhood garden. Its flavour rubs off unto the berries and seeps into the ice cream very nicely.

Stem ginger in syrup is young, tender ginger that has been peeled then preserved in a sugar syrup.

Recipe, via jamieoliver.com

Notes:

  • I used crushed gingersnaps instead of the shortbread from the recipe - they have a true crunch, rather than the crumble of shortbread, which was what we were looking for. It hardly needs explanation that their flavour boosted and brought a layer of brightness to that of the stem ginger beneath.
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Authortara
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When there are two birthdays in your family of four within seven days, it makes for a festive week. And, well, a lot of buttercream too.

My birthday was yesterday, at the tail end of that celebratory span. And by the time my moment to blow out the candles rolled around, the last thing I wanted was cake.

So we made this. By we I mean our Benjamin and I did, and by this I mean a Strawberry Icebox Cake. But it's not a cake, really, simply graham crackers stacked with sweet, whipped heavy cream and drizzled with a rosy strawberry sauce. After a rest in the chill chest from which its name derives, the crackers swell and the cream thickens and the strawberry sauce pretty much becomes best friends with everybody.

That sauce is the only cooking requirement; it's a stirring job for the most part as the lion's share of the berries simmer and bubble into a jammy fruit goo (I use the term lovingly), and then a buzz around the blender. What remains now is pretty much laughter and licking the spoons, because you're almost completely home free.

No baking required, no butter to cream, only 10 minutes or so of building block style assembly.

The good manners that my Grandmother taught me tell me I should be abashed at the categorical ordinariness of this cake. It's crackers and cream and fruit. Where's the flamboyance? Where's the show? Birthdays are supposed to be about razzmatazz.

But don't be fooled, it's a quiet cacophony, but this cake will knock you flat. That sauce of ours practically vibrates with each and every childlike notion of what berries should be. It's bold and tangy and reminds you that strawberries aren't just about being sweet; they're one of the first fruits of the season and in that redness they carry the jubilant acidity that comes from crisp mornings and sunshine-bathed afternoons.

Then there's the cream that brings me back to the summer when I was six years old and I thought strawberry ice cream was just about the best thing going. Once the crackers get involved, it all becomes a cloud of strawberry shortcake.

At one point yesterday, I found it hard to chew because I was smiling so big; partly because who made it with me and who was sharing it with me, and partly because was exactly what I wanted. And if smiles like that isn't what the best birthdays are about, then I don't know what is.

Happy days to you.

STRAWBERRY ICEBOX CAKE

This is berry-fied version of theMocha Icebox Cake we made last year, with little changes to the basic cake and method. I've republished the instructions for ease, but here is the original in case anyone is interested in the chocolate and coffee version. The instructions are for a square cake, which is easier and neater than our attempt at a round. But, if you decide to aim for circular, these amounts will be about right.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE SAUCE (makes approximately 1 cup)

  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar, or thereabouts
  • 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • A pinch of salt

INGREDIENTS FOR THE CAKE

  • 3 1/2 cups heavy (whipping cream), divided
  • 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar, divided, or thereabouts
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 45 honey graham crackers, the single kind
  • One recipe Strawberry sauce, divided

METHOD

To make the sauce, take three-quarters of the berries and put them in a medium saucepan with 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the salt and 2 teaspoons of the lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring, until the fruit becomes soft and the juices begin to thicken, around 7-10 minutes.

Carefully remove the strawberries to a blender (or use an immersion blender), and process until smooth. Push the puréed sauce through a sieve, back into the saucepan. Return to the heat and bring again to a simmer, stirring often. Cook the sauce until it becomes truly thick, with a clear, glossy look, around 10 minutes. At this point you want it on the verge of jammy-ness, close to the texture of hot fudge sauce.

Tumble in the reserved berries, give them a few turns in the pan and cook for another minute or so.

Again with care, remove the strawberries to that blender of yours and whirr them around again. Sieve again, this time to a clean container, and set the sauce aside to cool. It should be about the consistency of chocolate syrup, rather than fudge, and will coat the back of a spoon thickly, but not heavily. Once it has cooled to a non-molten level, taste for balance and stir in the rest of the sugar and lemon if need be.

To assemble the cake. Line an 8-by-8-inch metal cake pan with a cross of clingfilm, leaving an overhang on all sides. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or in a medium bowl with a hand blender or whisk, begin to whip 2 cups of well-chilled heavy cream. Once the cream begins to thicken, sift in 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar and salt. With the mixer on medium-high, whip until the cream begins to hold soft peaks. Add the vanilla, and beat until the cream just holds a stiff peak.

Spread a small amount of the cream on the bottom of the prepared cake pan. Lay 9 crackers, in a 3-by-3 grid, on top of the cream. Spoon 1/2 cup of the cream on top of the crackers. Then, using an offset spatula, gently spread the cream to cover the crackers entirely. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the strawberry sauce over the cream, spreading to form an even layer if desired. (You will use a generous 1/2 cup of the sauce for the entire cake.)

Top with another layer of graham crackers, continuing the layering until you have 5 layers of crackers and 4 of the cream and strawberry. Make sure to reserve a small amount of cream to cover the last layer of crackers (no sauce on this one).

Cover loosely with a piece of clingfilm, then draw the overhanging clingfilm from the sides up to cover the edges. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 2 days.

About 1 hour before serving, remove the cake from the fridge and peel back the clingfilm. Invert the cake onto a serving plate, removing the remaining clingfilm from the top and sides. Smooth out the sides with an offset spatula if needed. Place the cake in the freezer, uncovered, to chill for 30 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or in a medium bowl with a hand blender or whisk, begin to whip the remaining 1 cup of well-chilled heavy cream. When the cream begins to thicken, sift in the reserved 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar. With the machine set to medium-high, whip the cream until holds a firm peak, but being careful not to over beat.

Take the cake out of the refrigerator and gently spread a thin layer of the whipped cream to cover. Chill the finished cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, then serve with the remaining strawberry sauce passed alongside.

Makes one 8-inch square cake.

Notes:

  • The thing about fruit sauces is that so much will depend on the fruit itself. You might need more or less sugar than I've suggested. This recipe will make around 1 cup, but it might be more or less depending on the juiciness of the fruit and how thick your final sauce ends up. Any leftover sauce can be used over ice cream or stirred into yogurt, or as the base of a strawberried champagne cocktail (which gets my vote).
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Covetousness is probably not the most noble of things to admit, but I am guilty nonetheless.

I have, at some point or another, yearned for the following:

• Eyeglasses. I do not wear them, but I have often thought that a well-chosen pair can make the wearer look instantly infinitely more interesting. I have a love of sunglasses for this same reason.

• A pair of slouchy, winter-white suede boots with layers upon layers of fringe and little silver beads adorning said fringe that would click as you walked. I thought them fabulous, and my heart tightened a bit every time I heard the distinctive sound they made as my classmate skipped about the playground. How I would have skipped had those boots been mine.

• Curly hair. Or straight. I had curls when I was an infant, fairly-straight hair in my teens, and now it falls somewhere (infuriatingly) in between.

• A jaunty accent. Or a mysterious one. Or a charming one, even. Now I know I have an accent, a Canadian one, and could easily move to a foreign country and attain this aspiration. Problem is, I like living in Canada. And, if we are being honest, I do not often hear comments on the lilting tone of the Canadian manner of speaking. Give me a good, rich Irish brogue or something equally melodic.

• The set of wicker Barbie doll furniture (loveseat, two chairs and a table) owned by my friend who lived up the street when I was six years old. How I wished it was mine. Looking back, I assume that this set was not an officially-branded Barbie product, as all of her furniture was molded plastic and this, this was the real thing. Delicate rattan interwoven into pattern upon pattern, with twists and arabesques and florets as decoration. My friend would bring her set over to play, which was fun, but deep down I wished it was mine. I imagined that my Peaches n' Cream Barbie, renamed Scarlett or something fittingly-dramatic, would flit gracefully about the verandah of her Dream Home as best as one without fully-operational joints could flit, only to finally alight upon the edge of the wicker settee as she entertained her gentlemen callers.

• Gorgeously-ripe, local strawberries in March. Crimson to their cores, such jewels that if you strung them on some silk you could wear them as a necklace. Juicy, luscious fruit, tasting of sun.

As you might surmise, dear reader, that last object of desire is my most recent fixation. My preoccupation developed when I looked at Helen's site a few weeks ago. Ooof. That first photo brought all my want for springtime into one perfect image, and it hit me with the weight of all the snow we have had this season. The mint is so green, the soup so vivid, the berries so vibrant, they belong in a jewelery box.

My longing was only exacerbated by two gloriously-sunshiney days that came that same week; the wind had turned mild, carrying the kiss of spring to our cheeks. Sadly, it was not long lived, and we were back to a windchill of -17°C by the weekend. But although the warmth was gone, my desire for strawberries remained.

I could not ignore the cold, and so I looked to make something that would appease my craving, but still took its inspiration from my meteorological circumstance. I settled on oatcakes, ones that incorporate cooked steel-cut oats, griddled little cakes that are substantial without heaviness. The oats contribute not only a slight chewiness and nuttiness, also a cobblestoned texture.

Of course I needed to have my strawberries. This was one of those occasions when the habit freezing local berries when in season comes in handy. A scarely-sweetened sauce, simply crushed fruit, a sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of lemon, brought zest and brightness and smacking sharpness to the pleasantly-stodgy oatcakes. The most modest drizzle of maple syrup rounded out that edge, with a mellow sweetness that worked with both the berries and the oats.

Breakfast done, I could not help but smile in the knowledge that both our appetites and my want were satisfied.

STEEL-CUT OATCAKES WITH QUICK STRAWBERRY SAUCE

FOR THE OATCAKES

  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour

  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup of prepared steel-cut oats
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup yogurt (I use nonfat)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I use 1%)
  • 3 tablespoons melted clarified butter or neutral oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

FOR THE SAUCE

  • strawberries, frozen in my case, fresh if you are lucky
  • freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • granulated sugar
  • salt

TO COOK AND SESRVE

  • melted butter, optional for cooking
  • maple syrup, optional for serving

METHOD

In a large bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the oats, egg, yogurt, milk, oil and vanilla. Stir these wet ingredients into the dry, mixing until incorporated but not completely smooth. Allow to rest while you make the strawberry sauce.

For the sauce, take a few handfuls of strawberries, and put them in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of sugar. Cook, until the berries begin to soften and release their juices, about 5 minutes. Crush the berries using a potato masher or the back of a fork, until you have a coarse, chunky sauce. Taste, adding sugar accordingly and a pinch of salt if desired. Bring to a simmer and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the juices have reduced to your liking. Take the sauce off the heat and allow it to cool slightly while you prepare the oatcakes.

To cook the oatcakes, preheat a non-stick or cast iron griddle over medium high heat. Lightly brush with melted clarified butter if desired. Ladle about 1/4 cup of the batter onto the pan. Cook until the edges become dry and bubbles begin to form in the centre, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side until golden and puffed, about another 2 minutes. Remove to a platter and keep warm in a low oven if needed. Continue until all batter is used. Serve the oatcakes with the strawberry sauce and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Makes 20 small pancakes, serving about 4-6.

Notes:

This blueberry sauce (scroll down) would also be a fine accompaniment. And congratulations to Carrie and Andrew on their 50th post.

• For those with fresh berries, you might want to forgo cooking the sauce entirely, instead crushing the fresh berries and allowing them to soak in their juices, along with the sugar and lemon.

It is beautiful out.

No wait, let me say it again for those who feel differently about heat than I do. It is hot. It is humid, with clear sunshine interspersed with rather-impressive thunderstorms and torrential rain.

Now I'll admit, I am a lucky one; I am one of those sorts that lives for heat and revels in temperatures others may consider rather sweltering. Dry heat or sticky with humidity, I will always choose a day that is blistering over a day that is remotely cold.

I even take particular joy the dramatic tendencies of our climate. There is something wholly romantic about a midday thunderstorm. The day suddenly turns to dusk, the air heavy and thick with moisture; and afterwards, who cannot enjoy the green, green, green smell of wet grass and soaking leaves, and the reward of a cool breeze. Even as I write this, rain is pouring through trees alight with sunshine and I can hear not-so-distant peals of thunder.

But, even though I consider the weather to be lovely and sultry, I can see my loved ones virtually wilting as the days go on. And so I feel compelled to aid as only I know how - with food.

While I will admit my days have been busier as of late, what with the arrival of our newborn son and the constant entertainment that is his big brother, I have still managed to get back in the kitchen. Like the lovely familiarity of a tune you've hummed for a lifetime, getting back to cooking and baking has brought me the satisfaction of beloved habits. In this mood I have been looking over my cookbook collection, rediscovering old favourites that somehow seem new again.

With that in mind, I have brought together a few of my best-loved recipes I hope will keep you cool for the summer nights ahead.

When Jennifer proposed the theme of this month's Sugar High my thoughts, as one who knows me at all would surely assume, turned to yearnings for chocolate.

But, though happy in those thoughts, I began to consider that which I most longed for as of late. Not a food or flavour specifically, but more of a mood or moment - I'd been pining for the arrival of summertime.

Sure, the mercury has been on the rise and the trees are well dressed in their abundant leaves, but somehow it still has not felt summer enough. It was not those broad shouldered, blue-eyed lazy days of August, where the sun smiles so brightly that the world seems lit from within.

So how could I evoke this feeling through food?

In southern Ontario, the warming months bring bustle back to farmers markets. Roadside fruit stands seem to multiply exponentially overnight. Punnets, pints and bushels make their way back into our weekend lexicon as the harvests roll in.

And the harvest inextricably tied to the season? Berries. Luscious and bursting with a sweetness born of sunshine, the ripening of Ontario strawberries coincides perfectly with the official start of summer.

Classic in every way, this strawberry swirl ice cream embodies nostalgic thoughts of childhood holidays. This is the taste of evenings on the swingset at my favourite ice cream stand; white stripes of cream coating our arms to our elbows as we sat, sucking the icy bits of strawberry until they turned supple and soft again.

Here, I wanted a taste that was purely luxurious berries and cream, and so chose to go with a dense, velvety rich vanilla custard base punctuated with tart strawberries. The psychedelic tie dye effect of broad ribbons of reddest red against the creamy whiteness was the look I had wanted, but feel free to blend the strawberries further for a more feminine hue.

Strawberry swirl ice cream
My interpretation of a variety of sources, with thanks.

Ingredients
2 cups half and half (10%) cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
A pinch of salt
5 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream (35%, whipping)
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
2 cups fresh strawberries
1/8 -1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Prepare an ice bath using a large bowl full of ice and water. Have another bowl, one that will fit inside the first without becoming fully submerged, set aside.

In a heavy-based saucepan pour in the half and half. Using the back of a knife, scrape the seeds out of the bean and into the saucepan, add the pod as well. Season with salt. Over medium heat, bring this mixture to a simmer. Turn off the heat and allow the vanilla to infuse into the liquid for 30 minutes.

Turn the burner back on and bring the mixture back to a gentle simmer over medium-low.

In a bowl that can withstand heat, whisk together the egg yolks and 2/3 cup of sugar until it becomes pale yellow and fluffy. Whisking constantly, pour a thin, steady stream of the half and half into the yolk mixture. Once combined, pour the mixture back into the same saucepan and return to the heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir the custard constantly until thickened and coats the back of the spoon, anywhere from 6 to 10 minutes.

Using a medium-fine mesh sieve, strain the custard into the clean bowl set aside earlier. Immediately place this bowl into the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the custard comes to room temperature. The vanilla bean can be taken at this point, rinsed and set aside to dry on a kitchen towel. Once dry, it can be used to make vanilla sugar.

Once the custard has cooled, stir in the the heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled (I like a good couple of hours).

Meanwhile, mash the strawberries with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and lemon juice. Set aside at room temperature to macerate.

When the custard is chilled, follow the manufacturer's instructions to churn the ice cream. Once the ice cream is ready, remove the machine's dasher and gently fold in the strawberries and their juices. Do not overmix. Transfer to a food storage container then tightly seal and freeze for at least 2 hours.

Makes 1 quart.

Notes:

• Decadent as this version is, richer versions feature as many as 6 egg yolks for the same amount of liquid and a higher ratio of heavy cream to half and half (or milk). Choose the one that best suits your taste.
• If there seems to be too much accumulated strawberry juice, hold some back to maintain the texture of the ice cream - you do not want it to become waterlogged (well, juicelogged).
• For a pink version, rather than the marbled result here, strain the accumulated juices from the strawberries into the cooled custard before pouring into the machine. Add the strawberries through the feed tube during the last 5 minutes of churning.