Summer Blues

Blueberries with Mascarpone

Oh my! We are fancy, aren't we?

The other day I was walking down my street when I spied a woman sitting on her stoop, a dog parked patiently and loyally by her side. This was a scene clipped out of a Ralph Lauren magazine ad: the woman, whippet-thin, prototypically WASP-y in bearing, and her dog, a spotted Springer Spaniel-style elegant creature whose own bone structure gave his mistresses’ a run for its money.

Aside from the fact that this slice of Connecticut Hepburn-style Americana seemed so out of place in my heavily Dominican-influenced neighborhood, what drew my eye was that the woman was sitting eating a peach. Yes, a wise choice of refreshment on a stinky-hot New York City Summer afternoon, but my internal dialogue tut-tutted, “Hmph. She would be eating a peach!”

Why so judgmental? Jealousy. I have never been able to eat a peach out of hand. I find them too mealy — and that’s after I remove the fuzzy skin. I love the flavor, hate the journey. Every summer rolls around finding me determined to “find the Zen” of eating a peach out of hand, and every summer rolls away having found me unable to do so. Could it be that I have never actually had a good peach? That hardly seems likely.

I have tried grilling peaches with a bit of brown sugar, albeit with mixed results: they taste good, but they’re still mealy. (Throw enough caramelized sugar on a baseball glove and it’ll taste good too.)

I do love peach ice cream, but the peaches have been chopped into small pieces, and the mealiness is frozen, so that’s cheating. Ditto Peach Crisp: “Yum-o” to borrow a Rachael Ray-ism.

So, like two other summer activities — sun tanning and riding roller coasters — where lack of success has forced me to redirect my ambitions (a/k/a “Quit”), I think I’ll just have to shelve my peachy ambition too. (The last time I rode a roller coaster I wasn’t “right” for days. Pale, queasy — and now peach-less, that’s me.)

So what does one do when life presents you with mealy peaches? One eats blueberries. (At least that’s what I do.)

What I like about blueberries is that they are so easy going; they will happily follow you down any path. When I was a kid we used to eat them straight off the bush — talk about a fresh and easy snack — but truly, there’s not much that is easier, faster, and more satisfying than cold blueberries in a bowl with a bit of milk and a few grains of sugar.

If, however, you are looking for something with a bit more ceremony, blueberries are just the ticket, no matter what the ticket happens to be. Think of them as the culinary equivalent of the fine worsted wool fabric a bespoke tailor uses to build a suit. (Wha??)

When I was a kid, my Mom always used to find tiny Wild Maine Blueberries. Unfortunately, here in New York I can only find those bagged and frozen. She always cooked them a bit, which only magnified their natural sweetness, making them pair beautifully with the aforementioned milk.

Even better, — for me — would be to drizzle the cooked berries and their juices over a small biscuit with a touch of very softly whipped cream for an instant shortbread.

Big fat New Jersey Blueberries are currently the easiest to find in New York, so I played with those over the weekend. You can see my comic “riff” on fine dining in the picture above. Laugh with me not at me: I painted the plate with a swoop of Blueberry Coulis, carefully placed a couple of quenelles of honey-sweetened Mascarpone cheese over a ladyfinger, arranged the berries so they’d look as if they didn’t care, and then finished the whole thing with a sprinkle of pearl sugar. A ridiculous exercise. The only reason to present food like this at home is to get a laugh, even if it is your own. But it does illustrate blueberries’ innate elegance and that they are versatile enough to stand up to anything. Evidently, they’re up for a laugh every now and then too.

You wouldn’t have laughed if you had tasted my silly, deconstructed, decaffeinated Tiramisu. The gently sweetened Mascarpone didn’t mask the blueberries; rather it added a creamy underscoring that plain whipped cream doesn’t have the chops to play. The coulis added sweetness and a bit of liquid to relax the cheese. Even the pearl sugar played a subtle role by adding a light crunch. I’ll be trying this again, although in a slightly more casual form.

I haven’t forgotten Blueberry Pie, but for me that’s just a happy excuse for ice cream.

I know that Blueberries have become the “vitamin-pill food of the moment” due to their high levels of anti-oxidants, but it seems a shame to obliterate them (as many do) by throwing them into a blender to make a breakfast smoothie. Okay, if that’s what works for you, go for it.

Mentioning blueberries and breakfast together makes me think lovingly of the gigantic, sugar-crusted Blueberry Muffins that used to be sold at the in-store bakeries of the old Jordan Marsh department store chain in Massachusetts. More cake than muffin, you could frost those behemoths, stick a plastic bride and groom on top, and be ready for a wedding.

Hmmmm…Blueberry cake with white frosting…that sounds mighty tasty. I think I owe you a recipe.

Why wait for a wedding?

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