Today’s been a hard day. We’re remodeling the kitchen, and today I took down the remaining old cabinets; one was reinstalled in the laundry room, the others that were in good shape will be saved to mount in the garage, and the moldy ones (we had a flood, but that’s a different story) I broke apart to discard. The hardest one was the cabinet that housed the stove and microwave; getting that out was heavy lifting.
As a reward for finishing the day’s tasks, we decided to go to the Puerto Rico Street Food Festival. This is an indie-organized food fest featuring local food trucks. The price was right—$7 admission, and reduced portions at the trucks would go for $1 to $4 each. We were looking forward to sampling the diverse fare available, having all those micro-eateries in the same place at the same time. We climbed in the car and set off for Hiram Bithorn Stadium, and even though it was rush hour, we were going against the traffic and got there in no time flat.
There was a long line of people waiting to get in, but we joined up with Tamara and Stacy, grateful to have someone to converse with while inching along. We paid our entrance fee and went inside the fenced-off area in the stadium parking lot, casting an uneasy eye at the cloudy sky. Once inside, we ambled past several food trucks, each of which had sizable lines waiting. We spied an oriental kiosk, offering coconut curry rice, Thai noodles and other dishes. We located the end of the line, and noticed that it was slightly longer than the other trucks’ lines, but we resigned ourselves to the wait and chatted.
(Now, what does this have to do with strawberry shortcake? Patience, little grasshopper.)
Half an hour went by, and we had moved about ten feet. Another half an hour, and we had moved perhaps twenty feet, and were still very far from the kiosk’s window, from which delightful-smelling smoke was wafting. Inside were three workers, their images drifting in and out of sight as the smoke and steam billowed. Perhaps they were mere mirages, because the line was not advancing.
Worse yet, it started sprinkling, and then raining. A few people lifted umbrellas, but no one moved from their respective lines. The Twitter timeline was starting to come alive with complaints about the lines and the large masses of people in attendance—and still arriving in droves. We were starting to get concerned whether we would be able to sample more than just one food truck’s offerings: spending over an hour in each line was not exactly conducive to “sampling.”
The organizers of this event were likely inexperienced, and hadn’t realized that even if it hadn’t rained, there were just too many people to permit anyone to sample food from more than one or two trucks. The invitation to vote for one’s favorite food truck became a ridiculous premise.
The rain pressed harder. We had two umbrellas, but we had left them in the car, and there was a no re-entry policy at the gate. I spied a couple of plastic chairs nearby, and we hoisted them over our heads to give us at least a little shelter from the rain; nevertheless, we were getting soaked.
After about fifteen minutes in the rain, and an hour and a half in the line, and not having sampled even a nibble of food, we were fed up. Disgusted, hungry, cold and wet, we turned and headed for the exit. As we plodded across the parking lot, the rain intensified mockingly.
I started the car, and before even putting it in gear, I phoned Pizza Hut and ordered a Big Dipper Pepperoni pizza to pick up on the way home. We drove home in humiliated silence. Once home, we dried off, changed into dry clothes, and—common sense having gone out the window—gobbled down an obscene amount of greasy, yummy pizza, and sat down darkly to watch TV.
“Honey,” said Luisa plaintively, “we haven’t had dessert, and, you know, I’ve had a craving for strawberry shortcake. Could you please make some?”
I brightened immediately. Who can stay mad eating strawberry shortcake? I headed to the kitchen.
“Oh, honey,” Luisa worried. “But we don’t have an oven any more—you took it out today!”
“Don’t worry, we’ve got the microwave, I’ll bake them with convection! For strawberry shortcake, I’d even bake them in the barbecue grill if necessary!”
I opened the freezer, pulled out a big bag of frozen strawberries, and dumped an generous amount onto a cutting board. After letting them thaw for a few minutes, they were still firm but easy to slice. Into a bowl they went, prickled with sugar, and baptized with a few splashes of Cointreau. They were still partially frozen, so I mixed them and ran them through a defrost cycle in the microwave.
Strawberries figure prominently in my childhood memories. We raised strawberries on our farm, not only for our own use, but also to sell in town. Our strawberry patch was immense: about 200 feet by 30 feet, consisting of two-foot wide rows of strawberry plants separated by a foot-wide path. We laid down long strips of black plastic on the path to discourage weed growth. In the early spring the plants would start growing and soon they would flower. Once the strawberries became engorged and red, my sisters and I would be sent forth with light woven wooden baskets to pick them. We would proceed on our hands and knees along the path, carefully parting the leaves and vines to expose all the berries that might be hiding beneath. After a few hours of picking strawberries, my eyes would start playing tricks on me, suggesting that there was a red splotch of color where in reality there weren’t any strawberries.
We would pack the strawberries into two-quart baskets, and carefully arrange them in the back of our station wagon for their trip to town, where the Hy-Vee supermarket would gladly buy them from us; they trusted us to provide first-quality strawberries without any rotten or damaged ones. The strawberry patch provided us with a small but welcome supplement to the farm income during late spring and throughout summer.
My mother also canned several dozen jars of strawberries for consumption in the fall and winter, so that we could enjoy strawberry shortcake year round.
But I digress.
Now that the sweetened strawberries were macerating, I made the dough, mixing two cups flour, four teaspoons baking powder, two tablespoons sugar, and three-fourths teaspoon salt. Then, with a pastry blender, I cut in two tablespoons shortening and two tablespoons butter. When this was the consistency of breadcrumbs, I added three-fourths cup milk, and mixed quickly. I dropped generous spoonfuls onto parchment paper and placed it in the microwave/convection oven, already pre-heated to 450 degrees F.
After fifteen minutes, the little shortcakes were puffed up and golden brown. Taking them out of the oven, I let them cool slightly, then placed one each in a cereal bowl, sliced off the upper third, spooned in a generous amount of sliced strawberries, replaced the top, and added several more spoonfuls of strawberries on top. We didn’t have any whipped cream on hand, but it wasn’t missed at all.
With my bowl of strawberry shortcake in front of me and my spoon in hand, I was transported back to my blissful childhood at the big maple table on the farm. And the frustration of the rainy food fest farce was felicitously forced out of my mind.