Okay, I’ve been sneaking straight spoonfuls from the jam jar all week. Can’t help it really. This blueberry jam is addictively indulgent in small doses. It’s also a deep purple color that really shouldn’t exist in nature. I’m starting to think it shouldn’t exist in my fridge, either.
It’s definitely special: rich with a hint of spice and a blueberry flavor that’s deepened by balsamic vinegar. I’ve been finding excuses to have it all week. It’s pretty easy, see:
Soap scum on your shower curtain screaming, “clean the bathroom?” Have a procrastination spoonful. Lose at bingo? Have a B48 consolation spoonful. Looking for love in all the wrong places? Have a lonely hearts club spoonful. Out of whiskey? Have a drunkard’s spoonful.
I first made this jam with a friend a few weeks ago. It's now waiting, rather patiently, to be the wedding favor for her nuptials next year in Vermont. We took the recipe and times ten-ed it. (If you have 80 plus friends you plan on giving this jam to, go ahead, give yourself a spoonful.)
Did it take long to sterilize the jars and can the multiple jam batches? Yes. Was it worth it? Oh, yes.
So much so that I decided to make another batch, just for me. This time I divided the recipe in half and stuck most of it in the freezer. New England’s finest berries and a lot of love went into both batches, but—sweet heavens—it certainly helps when you can finish up and have the dishes washed in well under an hour.
While the blueberries in Massachusetts this season seem even better than usual, sadly summer is ... slowing. So it helps to know I already have a pint of jam stowed away in the freezer. Like a squirrel, I’ve started stockpiling frozen blueberries and other related goods for the colder months. I’m relying on them to get me through.
So if I say all I need to get by is this recipe, am I a little full of it? Yes. But at least some of it is blueberry jam. I guess you could say I’m full of New England’s finest.
There comes a time in life when roles reverse and you start feeling proud of your parents. For me this happened about a month or so ago, when my mother and I took a mini retreat to New York City for her birthday. The whole trip was spot on.
We arrived for happy hour at precisely 5:29 pm at The Mermaid Inn in the East Village. (To sweeten the deal, they also serve tiny espresso cups of chocolate pudding with your check.) We ate soft shell crab sandwiches at The Dutch. We stayed at the fancy pants Mondrian hotel in Soho. And we had one of the best meals of our lives at Torrisi Italian Specialties.
Torrisi is a 20-seat restaurant that only serves a prix fix dinner with a menu that changes daily. You can choose between surf or turf for your protein. The rest is up to the kitchen.
We sat at window seats covered with lace curtains and drank red wine, while they served us a parade of little dishes, which included a warm, oozy homemade mozzarella that was better than any fresh cheese I've ever tasted. It was also at Torrisi that a sense of pride bubbled up as I sat, a bit wine-eyed, and watched my mother—notorious sushi-hater—bravely eat raw scallops. And like it.
I could have wept. Over my daughterly pride. Over the uncooked mollusks. And over the goat cheese gnocchi that appeared for the pasta course.
Lucky for me, no tears would be needed over the gnocchi. This was a course I was pretty certain could be replicated, with a few minor tweaks. For my first attempt, making goat cheese gnocchi seemed a bit ambitious without a recipe, so I opted for Barbara Lynch’s guide for homemade ricotta gnocchi.
While the recipe is fairly simple, it requires some steps, a gentle touch, and care and patience. Given the meal and service we received at Torrisi, I’m fairly certain this is how they view their food as well. This ricotta gnocchi is worth the time it takes, as Torrisi alone is worth a trip to New York.
And it was over a pastel-colored birthday cupcake from buttercream institution, Magnolia Bakery, that my mother revealed that our trip had been one of her best birthdays; noting she felt similarly on her eighth birthday, when she received a sweater dress with a dog on it (it was the first dress she owned that wasn’t homemade).
With the passing of a half-century, things have come full circle. 'Homemade' is a prized commodity these days. And I’m fairly certain my mother would be tickled to see the stacks of homemade gnocchi in my freezer. There they lay waiting for the moment to be called into duty: to be joined with a summery tomato sauce or, like today, celebrated in basil oil. They are light, wispy creatures. They also standby, ready to be cooked in minutes and are worthy of a special occasion (or of an occasion to make special).
So with a tear in my eye, I say: make the gnocchi. Or perhaps just do something to make someone you love proud. It could be eating raw shellfish for the first time. Or buying someone a sweater dress with a dog on it. Whatever the gesture—and especially if there is homemade gnocchi involved—it will likely be a special moment.
I’ve never been one for kumbaya-ing around a campfire. But if you ask me to camp out, I’ll travel far and wide bringing gifts of graham, fine chocolate, and marshmallow. Or—as it happened last weekend—I’ll come by train with dark chocolate bars shoved into my suitcase and a few pounds of finely ground graham crackers stashed in my purse.
Now, there are a lot of s’more cupcake recipes with chocolate cake bottoms, but—in my humble opinion—if you are making a s’more-styled dessert there should be a fair amount of graham action going on to be paired with good quality chocolate bars. (Hence the toting of said contents over state lines.)
And so the s’more cupcakes were born soon after my arrival home. They were for my sister’s bridal shower, which I keep telling people was “camp-chic” themed because it sounds better than “campy.” (I suppose it’s also a more accurate description if you have white linens, s’more-themed desserts piled onto cake platters, and twigs that have been spray-painted and used as table centerpieces.)
So the shower was only loosely Adirondack mountain-themed, which is where she’ll be getting married in about a month. The Adirondacks are a magical place that smells of pine once you hit the mountains; the scent wafts into your car even with the windows rolled up. The lakes are calm enough to see the reflection of forest trees on the water. And the summer nights offer up clear, constellation-lit skies.
It’s also the perfect place to park yourself in front of a campfire, in the company of at least one bag of marshmallows, a solid gang of graham crackers, and a stack of chocolate bars. Should it be unlikely that this scene will happen anytime soon—and should this depress you—I suggest making these cupcakes.
Browning the marshmallow topping is almost as entertaining as toasting marshmallows, if you have a gas stove. You simply hold the top of each frosted cupcake until it licks the flames on the range and you achieve your desired stage of browning. If you don’t have a gas stove, you could use the broiler though I caution it’s not as fun. And for the love of all things woodland, don’t hold back on the frosting: it should be piled high, it’s marshmallowy nature will hold everything in place.
Some may say the cupcake trend has run its course, but it only makes sense to have an individually portioned dessert if the s’more is your inspiration. S’mores ain't for sharing. Neither are cupcakes. And they both tend to follow where the fun is.
So if you’ve ever longed to sit at a campfire holding a long twig with a marshmallow stuck to the end of it, you’ll likely enjoy this little dessert number. They are guaranteed to bring you back to your childhood or at least off up some youthful fun. And—kumbaya or not—it’s okay to laugh when you get a little marshmallow frosting on your nose.