I didn’t even really like strawberries before that day. But, there they were on the table right in front of me, sitting ever so fetchingly in a small plastic Tupperware container practically begging to be eaten. Alright fine, I thought. I’ll try you. Before I knew it, I’d eaten the entire container and was busy checking its corners for any remaining juice and/or bits that may have escaped me. I’m not sure, as I sit here now, whose container that actually was. But they were so good, those strawberries. Too good, really. Why were they so delicious? Have I been missing out all this time? I sat there in my chair, fidgeting, with my folded arms resting under me on the table as I perched over the now empty and bone-dry container, pondering the mysteries of these especially sweet strawberries. Mixed with the ever-present smell of chlorine and SPF 30 sunscreen, these berries solidified the season for me that day – it was officially summer.
I sat back in the chair and checked my reflection in the window across from me, making sure my hair looked okay. My legs were now tucked underneath the oversized t-shirt that I used as a cover-up, stretching out the neckline and giving my Mom good cause to scold me for it. Lauren! Your shirt! You’ll ruin it! Oops. Forgot. Sorry! I stared down at the sparkling blue swimming pool that I knew so well and shaded my eyes from the nearly blinding sun that danced over its surface that day – that perfectly bright blue summer day. I remember feeling nervous excitement as I removed the giant, slightly stretched-out shirt and made my way down to the pool in my navy blue swim suit, ready for my close-up. I was going to be on the news – on TV! For my swimming! The awesomeness of that notion didn’t escape me, and I wondered how many of my friends would see it, how many people in my town … in the world even!
You’re special. They said.
You’re amazing. They told me.
One of a kind.
“Richmond, KY native Lauren Angelucci was born without her left hand and doesn’t let that slow her down! Something about making my own waves … something about winning blue medals despite this and that …”
I don’t really remember the newscast at all; don’t remember much of what they said (the interviewers) or what I said (the interviewee). I’ve mostly just held onto a few scattered soundbites. I really didn’t see what all of the fuss was about or why I was getting any attention. I didn’t feel like I was any different from anyone else. I was just me. I did really like to swim though, and I was pretty good at it … even compared to “all of the other kids.” I thought getting to do it on TV would be pretty amazing – wasn’t going to pass that up, no way. This could be my big break! I daydreamed. Maybe I’ll get to be a movie star after all! Never know who might be watching.
And I also liked strawberries – I learned this truth about myself that day and it’s the one aspect of the whole experience that I can recall very clearly. Just before the little red light on the camera came on and the man started asking me questions, I remember wiping my chin to make sure there wasn’t any juice leftover. That would be the last thing I needed on this most special of days.
No, I’d never seen a movie star with strawberry juice on their chin.
I haven’t thought about it in a while, that day at the pool. With the cameras. And the microphones. And the questions. But, the memories are there after all these years and the thing that is most amusing to me, as I sit here conjuring them all up again, is how surprised I am at what I have held in my mind and what has faded away with time. The reactions of all of the people, the attention, the fact that I was being singled out for being different – none of that is what initially came to mind when I thought about that day. It is, of all things, the strawberries that stand out the most to me, and I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because strawberries don’t have lights and cameras and questions. They are simple and sweet and easy and apparently, a nice distraction – whether I realized that at the time or not. I was just a kid. Kids are simple, and sweet, and easy …
No, I hadn’t thought about it in a while, that day at the pool. Not until last weekend as I was walking through the farmer’s market with my daughter, Elle. We held hands as we made our way down the crowded row of produce-filled booths and I stopped to ogle the beets that were proudly displayed in one of the stalls. I made small talk with the man behind the makeshift cash register as I debated which bunches to take home with me. Elle moseyed her way down the aisle a bit, straying away from my sight for just a second. I quickly paid for my produce and went to locate her.
She hadn’t gotten far, I found her in the next stall staring wide-eyed at a large display of sweet berries, the very last of the season. Her favorite.
The woman working this stall was missing her right hand. She looked at Elle and gave her a big smile, waving hello. Elle smiled back and said, It’s Saturday!, seemingly oblivious that anything might be different about this woman, or conversely, that this woman so strongly resembled her mother in a very unique way. No, Elle didn’t seem to care much for appearances that day. That didn’t really matter to her. She only had eyes for the berries and I couldn’t help but smile. It reminded me immediately of that day at the swimming pool, and how the strawberries captured my attention and made the rest of the scene sort of fade away in the background. I love that about little ones; how they can fall in love with something as silly and trivial as a strawberry, focusing the whole of their attention on that one thing as if it’s the only thing that matters. It’s weirdly refreshing to me. As adults, I think we’re pulled in so many directions with too many responsibilities and attention-grabbing decoys to really fall in love with one simple, seemingly insignificant thing this way. We shouldn’t. It’s a fleeting and luxurious privilege reserved for the youngest of us, I suppose.
Elle left the farmer’s market that day with two small containers of strawberries and they weren’t long for the world once she got her hands on them at home. She ate the first one in the kitchen, standing by the sink with her face covered in sweet red juice. The second one, we enjoyed together … standing on the front porch as we watched a quick summer storm roll through, covering our little world in rain and low-rolling thunder. I shuddered at one particularly loud crack of lightning and looked at Elle to make sure she was’t scared. She wasn’t at all. On the contrary, actually. She was holding her little container of strawberries with both hands and concentrating very hard on which one she should choose next, seemingly unfazed by the storm. She chose one and handed me another, smiling as I dramatically brought it to my mouth, about to take a big bite.
Wait! Stop! She grabbed the berry out of my hand. With all her might, she blew off a tiny, errant bit of leafy green top that was clinging to my berry and that was, apparently, not passing her inspection. Satisfied with the state of my strawberry now, she handed it back to me.
There you go, Mommy. Now it’s beautiful, just like you.
Strawberry & Rose Meringues RECIPE
This recipe is as simple as they come: a few ingredients, a couple of steps, and waiting. Time is the primary ingredient of meringue-making, really. Just put them in the oven and let them do their thing for a couple of hours. Then, they cool for another several hours until they are just right. I made these meringues on the rainiest day of the year to date and they still came out perfect – crispy and crackling on the outside and soft/marshmallowy on the inside. A textural dream if there ever was one. The dehydrated strawberries running through the batter give these meringues the most amazing flavor and a lovely pink hue. The addition of rose water is, to me, a wonderful ode to spring but optional if you like. The strawberries however, are a must. They really do steal the show here. At least for me they do … which I guess may come as no surprise.
6 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 and 2/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup crushed dehydrated strawberries (you can get these in the dried fruit section at your supermarket, online, or at Target)
1/4 tsp rose water (I use Nielsen-Massey)
Heat your oven to 200 degrees F.
Line a sheet that with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
With an electric or stand mixer, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually now, 1 tablespoon at a time. When all of the sugar has been added, beat the mixture until it reaches the stiff peaks stage. Add the strawberries and the rose water to the meringue mixture; fold gently to incorporate.
Measure the meringue batter out onto the prepared pans in portions of about 1 cup per cookie. You can smooth them out with a spoon, if desired.
Bake for two hours and then turn the oven off and allow them to dry out in the oven, until it is cooled. I like to give them 4 – 6 hours.
Serve with freshly whipped cream (unsweetened) and some extra berries, if desired. Or, enjoy them just as they are.