And the countdown goes on. I looked out the window yesterday morning and wondered what had happened. Just the day before Spring was tapping at the pane, beckoning me with long, slender fingers of sunshine to come out and play. A promise of warmth and gentle winds and a hint of summer to come. How I yearned to walk outside and feel the midday sun wash over me, be enveloped in the mild breeze and be carried along, mind empty of all winter woes and just bask in the cheerful expectation of the coming springtime, but those hopes were soon dashed to the ground. The following morning, just one day later, we woke to drab skies and the threat of rain and a grumpy dog roaming from room to room looking for that bright spot of sunshine on the carpet. And on top of it all, I had missed my chance to enjoy our one beautiful day: there I was, lying sick in bed, covers pulled up to my chin, groaning for no one to hear. And feeling very sorry for myself. As I cracked open one eye and looked out the window onto that dreary day, a chill in the air, I wondered if Ms. Spring was crying for me as I lay in bed sick, not able to go out and play.
The weather teases, coaxes me into believing that one more winter is done and over, slate-colored skies will turn blue, steel gray, heavy clouds will stomp off leaving fluffy, cotton clouds, airy and light, in their place. Yet here it is playing games, hide and seek, making promises like a coquette, promises she doesn’t mean to keep, flashing her brilliant smile, baring one delicate shoulder, whispering your name, then disappearing as you reach out for her, leaving nothing in your grasp except for the echo of her mocking laugh. Ah, that is April for you, in like a lion, out like a lamb yet in between the two nothing but deception, hope and waiting.
But here it is, another day come and gone and as I stretch and yawn and realize that Mr. Bug has also come and gone leaving me feeling just a little bit brighter, a little closer to normal, I see the sun is back, shining through the shutters and inviting me to downshift one more time into springtime mode.
I detest being sick. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to eat, and that, my friends, is truly tragic! And when sick I barely make it from one end of the apartment to the other much less outside to shop, so poor JP ended up eating boiled potatoes for dinner. He found them hiding somewhere in their little brown paper bag, boiled them up and ate them with a bit of old bread and a spot of cheese. Poor man. But I was saving all of my own pity for myself so I had little to spare. No, I can’t say that, can I? I felt horrid! Forcing my poor man who works so hard all day long to eat boiled potatoes for dinner? So the following morning I forced myself out of bed, drank a hot cup of coffee and some toast and jam and swore that I would get over this bug. Pronto!
And now it’s done and off I run to market! I love the coming of spring with the occasional sighting of a berry here or an asparagus there, the local fruits and vegetables waving their little arms, calling my name. As the oranges and grapefruit dwindle to the last few golden orbs, as the passion fruit elbow their way in front of the pears, as the local apples give way to their tiny red friends, it’s starting to feel a lot like summer! And that, my friends, is enough to cheer anyone up!
The first local gariguette strawberries from just outside Nantes have finally shown their lovely red faces this week. Nestled in their tiny cartons, they puff out their little strawberry chests and gloat: perfect, plump berries with their thatch of green crowning something so luscious, France’s most famous, beloved strawberries, bright and sugary sweet, juicy and tender, the perfect berry to eat one after the next, fingers staining a gorgeous ruby red, or dusted with sugar that cracks in between your teeth as you scoop up a few slices of the dusted berries and bite down. Or smothered under barely sweetened Chantilly, adding a froth of feminine luxuriousness to something already so sexy as that perfect red jewel-like fruit.
Already at the height of her sweetness, the gariguette calls me over to the market stall and mesmerizes me with her fragrance and perfect little body. I have visions of wrapping her in cream, thick and luscious, pairing her with the last of the season’s oranges, tart and tangy, a kiss of warmth, winter’s brilliant, golden depth against summer’s light sweetness. Add to that a soft bite of ladyfinger, delicate yet dense, drenched in a rich caramel with a kick of orange and a splash of red fruit syrup, snuggling deep in the snowy white cream redolent of vanilla and nutty Amaretto. Mmmmmm. Luxurious, voluptuous, what more could you ask for in a dessert? How about low fat? Ok, you’ve got it! Slide a spoonful between your lips, into your mouth, onto your tongue, taste buds titillated they glide through flavor after flavor, the richness of the cream, the sweet, juicy berries, the glow of the orange, the earthiness of the Amaretto and it is hard to believe that this dessert is low fat. Believe it! So cool and refreshing, you can indulge all summer long! Indulge and enjoy!
STRAWBERRY-ORANGE FAT-FREE QUARK “TIRAMISU”
Makes 4 individual Tiramisu *
*for more, simply increase everything! Easily done!
I played this completely by ear, basing it on a traditional Tiramisu (here and here). Ladyfingers soaked in orange caramel syrup with a couple of tablespoons of a red fruit syrup to taste which can be replaced with a simple blend of freshly squeezed orange juice, a tablespoon or two of Amaretto and any red fruit drink or juice, preferably sugar-free, to taste. Layer it with whatever summery fruit you like, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or even the last of the season’s ripe, sweet pears or oranges.
About 12 ladyfingers (recipe follows) **
1 pint ripe, sweet, juicy strawberries
1 cup of syrup made with freshly-squeezed orange juice and sugar *** + a red fruit syrup or juice or strawberry purée
2 cups (500 ml) 0% fat fromage frais, quark or even Greek yogurt
About 3 Tbs powdered/confectioner’s sugar to taste
½ vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out (you will use the seeds not the pod)
2 – 3 Tbs Amaretto or to taste
Make the ladyfingers if not using store bought. Make the orange syrup and allow to cool to room temperature. This can be done well ahead of time. Before using, take about ½ cup or so of the orange syrup and add any red fruit syrup, nectar or juice to taste. If you like, get some extra ripe strawberries and purée them and stir them into the orange syrup to taste. (I used Le Nantillais Fruits Rouges, a non-alcoholic, sweetened fruit preparation used as a base for cocktails). And don't forget that you can always replace the fat-free fromage frais with mascarpone and make a traditional cream Tiramisu.
Blend the fromage frais with powdered sugar, the seeds from the vanilla bean and Amaretto to taste. Whisk until well blended and creamy.
Put about a tablespoon of the fromage frais mixture in the bottom of 4 desserts bowls.
Take a ladyfinger and plunge into the orange syrup allowing it to soak up liquid so it is soaked through but not mushy or falling apart, just a few seconds. Place one in each bowl and press gently into the layer of cream. Slice 4 more ladyfingers and plunge into the syrup a piece at a time and snuggle them either side of the whole ladyfingers already in the bowls to fill in the dish to make a complete layer of soaked fingers.
Divide the rest of the fromage frais, reserving about 4 heaping tablespoons, between the 4 glasses, covering the ladyfingers with the cream. Trim the strawberries and slice placing a layer of sliced strawberries in each bowl on top of the layer of cream.
Add a tablespoon (divide the rest of the fromage frais) on top of the sliced berries then decorate the top with more sliced strawberries.
Cover the “Tiramisu” with plastic wrap and allow to chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight so the flavors blend and the ladyfingers soften with the juice and cream.
Just before serving, drizzle a bit of the orange syrup over the berries on top then whiz up a final few ladyfingers in a food processor to make large crumbs and sprinkle over the top of each “Tiramisu”. Serve chilled.
** for the Ladyfingers (if you want to see how this looks step by step click here):
3 large eggs, separated
6 Tbs (75 g) sugar
¾ cup (95 g) cake flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
6 Tbs (50 g) confectioner’s/powdered sugar
Separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a large mixing bowl. Place the whites in a medium-sized metal or plastic bowl and add a pinch of salt. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line 2 large baking or cookie sheets with parchment paper. I “glued” down the corners of the parchment with a dab of softened butter just so the parchment lay flat.
Beat the egg whites on low for 30 seconds then increase the beater speed to high and beat until the whites hold soft peaks. Continue beating while sprinkling on about a tablespoon or 2 of the sugar until the whites are stiff.
Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and the vanilla until thick, pale and the batter forms a ribbon when the beaters are lifted up. Using a spatula, fold the whites into the yolk mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the flour also added in 3 times, until smooth and well blended. Do not overfold.
Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip (or just snip the end off; you could also use a Ziploc bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5" long and 3/4" wide strips (or larger or smaller as needed) leaving about 1" space in between the strips.
Sprinkle half the confectioner's sugar over the ladyfingers and wait for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten.
Now sprinkle the remaining sugar evenly over the ladyfingers. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crispness.
Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes then turn the baking sheets around back to front and continue baking until the fingers are lightly golden, about 5 minutes more depending on your oven.
Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing them with a metal spatula onto cooling racks to cool completely.
** for the Orange Syrup:
½ cup (100 g) sugar
Scant 1 cup (200 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
Red fruit juice
Place the sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat and begin warming it. Once the sugar starts to foam and bubble around the edges, slowly add the orange juice. If the sugar starts to re-solidify, don’t worry, as the juice heats it will re-melt. Stir as needed. As soon as the mixture begins to boil and all of the sugar is melted, lower the heat and allow to simmer until it begins to thicken slightly and turns a deeper golden color. You want a syrup not a caramel.
Allow to cool completely before using. Just before using, add a splash of red fruit juice to taste. Or purée extra strawberries and mix into the syrup.