I’ve been feeling happily domestic lately -- the weather has been fine, the laundry is on the line, garden is growing, flowers planted. The chickens cluck and scratch about fairly contentedly in their pen while the cats lounge in the sun and the dog stretches out in the shade on the deck. There are always kids in the backyard playing and the brook burbles happily along, lending its chatter to the sound of late spring at our house.
I think that one of the things I like about happy domesticity is the way things flow and feel efficient. You get up, the sun is shining, you put a load of wash in, feed the chickens, start the bread, eat your breakfast on the deck while plotting the rest of the garden. One thing seems to lead right to the next and before you know it, you’ve accomplished more than you ever thought possible. Satisfaction abounds.
With the four "new" chickens in the coop, we’re back to having lots of eggs. I give some away and do my best to think of ways to use them up. Much to my husband’s dismay there are almost always hard-boiled eggs in the fridge (he really doesn’t like anything about them) and 9-year-old Margot has gotten very good at making herself egg salad sandwiches for lunch, having developed her own opinions about the right amount of mayonnaise to add and how best to cut up the egg.
This may seem unrelated, but oddly enough, it is all part of the thought process -- this morning I went down into the basement to get a new jar of strawberry jam. This year we seem to have planned right -- there are still two jars left and we’ll be making more within the month. This got me to thinking about berry season and strawberries in particular. I tend to be so focused on getting the jam made that I forget about enjoying the berries in their fresh glory. Sure, we eat a few warm from the sun when we go picking and certainly while we’re hulling quart after quart on a jamming day as well as strawberry shortcake a couple of times, but the last couple of years I haven’t been very creative. I decided that I would spend some time looking for ways to eat fresh berries -- maybe one of those big meringues or some kind of fool or parfait.
As mentioned a bit above, because I am currently reveling in efficiency and thinking very much along the lines of a waste-not, want not farmer (OK, as much as a six-chicken-owning, 40-hour-working-off-the-farm "farmer" can) using eggs while enjoying fresh strawberries began the natural channel of thought. Add the fact that there is a birthday coming up this weekend (mine) and that I’ve been looking for an excuse to use a new recipe out of the book that my friend Valerie sent me out of the blue last year and I’ve come up with a childhood favorite: angel food with strawberries. My grandma Mundell used to make this but I was never aware of a recipe -- in fact, she may even have used a boxed mix. Angel food has always seemed daunting to me -- so much puff -- but it seemed the right challenge for right now. True, it is a little early for our own local strawberries, but I figure by the time they are in season, I will be an expert at this cake which I was surprised to discover wasn’t nearly as difficult to make as I had convinced myself it would be.
Angel Food Cake
(from "The Fresh Egg Cookbook" by Jennifer Trainer Thompson)
1 1Ž4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
12 egg whites at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1Ž2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1Ž4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together confectioners’ sugar and flour. Put egg whites in a mixing bowl with vanilla, cream of tartar and salt. Beat on high speed, gradually adding granulated sugar until all sugar is incorporated and stiff peaks form (peaks that do not sag over when the beater is lifted from the whites). Gradually add flour mixture to egg whites 1Ž2 cup at a time, folding in with a spatula by hand. Spoon batter into an ungreased tube pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Invert cake over the neck of a wine bottle and let cool completely. Serve with fresh sliced strawberries and a dab of sweetened whipped cream.
When my mom would make this cake she would often add a tiny amount of almond extract in lieu of the vanilla -- but just a tiny amount, not a 1 for 1 replacement. I am still working on what I think the best amount is -- almond is a pretty strong flavor and should be added carefully according to your personal taste. Along with this recipe Thompson also offers freezing advice for all those yolks that will be left over after: For every cup of yolks that you freeze (label them according to how many yolks you are freezing for your next recipe’s sake) add 1 tablespoon sugar for sweet recipes or 1Ž2 teaspoon of salt for savory. This will prevent the yolks from becoming lumpy but you will only want to use them in a baked dish. This relieved me of any guilt that I feel for not having something to do with the yolks.
And so my satisfying and gently efficient buzzing around the house continues. Using up eggs while taking care of birthday cake needs, all while dreaming of the strawberries soon to come. At some point something will feel like drudgery, or some idyllic piece will go awry (coons in the henhouse, perhaps?) but for now, I will enjoy taking care of my hearth, home and family.
Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at email@example.com.