Strawberries are just little red mountains

I have been to the mountaintop.

No, really.  I just got back this weekend from a cruise to Alaska and I really did stand on top of a mountain.  Not a very tall mountain, mind you, and it’s not like I was climbing up it, huffing and puffing with my faithful sherpa, Hodgkiss, a few patient yards ahead of me, doing all the real work.  No, I was very comfortably ferried up there by bus, 3300 feet up into one of the most beautiful landscapes anywhere.

So yes, Alaska was fantastic.  I was looking forward to it (I wanted to see whales—and did!) and it did not disappoint.  I mean, who knew that me, Little Miss Sunshine who is always either in front of a computer or iPhone screen, could enjoy being completely wifi-free in the frozen northwest?  Although I will be honest…it wasn’t exactly “frozen.”  Well, parts of it were.  We did see the Sawyer Glacier and that was pretty frozen, as you can imagine.

But the rest of the time, we were blessed with 70 degree, sunny weather.  And the highlight?  Part of me (the cheeky part) wants to say that it was seeing a street performer dressed as Darth Vader playing the violin.

But in reality, it was probably the couple of occasions where I was laying in bed in our room and out of the window I could see a whale frolicking in the water, with a beautiful blue sky and white-capped mountains in the background.  Now that is at least fifty-three kinds of awesome.

Yet like with every trip, there’s always at least a couple little lowlights.  What was it on this trip?

The food.

Here’s the thing about cruise food.  There is an ungodly amount of it, for one thing.  And for most people, it’s fantastic, decadent, delicious stuff.  And a lot of it really is.  There’s also always a good variety—for instance, every kind of breakfast food imaginable every day and for lunch and dinner, a variety of American, Mexican, Italian and even Jain Indian food (what Josh and I mostly ate over the week).  And that’s just at the buffet—quality restaurant fare can be found in the dining hall too.  It is indeed a positive smorgasbord.  But if you’re like me and you make your own meals all the time, even that great amount of excess can be lacking.  You just can’t get the same kind of quality making meals for over 2,000 people as you can just making something for yourself, in your own kitchen, with good quality ingredients.  That and I have a feeling that most of the food on display looks and tastes so good because of the use of copious amounts of butter.  Not that I’m disparaging butter in any sense—I mean, butter is a food group—but I don’t want to bathe in it.  (Or do I?)  So you can imagine that by the end of the cruise, I was really, really looking forward to making my own food.

I was especially looking forward to simple, healthy food.  The first meal I made when we got back was pasta, on Saturday night, with just some sautéed mushrooms, onion, tomatoes, a bit of spice and garlic bread (made with garlic scapes from the first box from our farm share this season!).

But then I felt like I needed to go a bit further.  I wanted food that was light and fresh, healthy, but still embodied the nice relaxed air that surrounded me on the trip.  I wanted something that reminded me of Alaska without being fish (which I don’t eat), something that was healthy but still indulgent.  Something like….strawberries.

Because strawberries are like mini mountains.  No, seriously.  Pick up a giant strawberry and hold it upside down.  It’s got a mountain-y shape.  Heck, you could put a few in a row, sprinkle them with powdered sugar and you’ve got the Andes.  Well not exactly, but basically and more deliciously.

The first dish I made was a dinner salad inspired by one that I often get at Grizzly Peak in Ann Arbor.  It was piled high with lettuce (from the farm share!) and spinach, cucumbers, sliced strawberries, couscous (yes, couscous), broiled and sliced chicken, chives, walnuts and a strawberry vinaigrette (recipe below) made of fresh strawberries, olive oil, lime juice and balsamic vinegar.  I know it seems a bit odd to put couscous on top of a lettuce salad, but it was delicious, light yet filling and pretty much an entire meal with all the important components.

But last night–last night was the best.  No, I didn’t make dinner.  We got treated to Beezy’s by a friend and had dinner there with her and her awesome kids.  When we got home, I was itching for dessert but as I had not yet gone to By the Pound, a local bulk place, to stock up on things, I was lacking in the “bake a dessert” area.  Besides, baked goods felt too heavy and I’m still on my “nice and light” kick.  I did, however, still have about two pounds of strawberries and a bunch of chocolate in the fridge, left over from making a fairly recent batch of pecan turtles.  And that, my friends, is all I needed to make a dessert that would bring even the gods themselves down from Mount Olympus: chocolate covered strawberries.

You may think these are difficult; they’re not.  You may think they’re messy; nope.  You may think that these are delicious and you should make a batch of your own tonight and you’d be right in that one, at least.  All I did was put the bowl of chocolate on top of a small saucepan that was filled with an inch or so of water, placed on the stove over medium heat, and let the water steam and slowly melt the chocolate into a shiny, delicious pool of goodness.  Then I washed and dried 8 large strawberries, held them by their green tops (don’t cut those off, they’re useful handles), dipped and rolled them in the chocolate and then placed them on a plan that had been covered with a sheet of wax paper.  Into the fridge for an hour to harden the chocolate and voilà!  Delicieux.

Have a good week, from the top of Mount Strawberry, all covered in chocolate.

Strawberry Vinaigrette

1 c. olive oil
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsps sugar
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

1 lb semisweet or dark chocolate
1 tbsp butter
1 pound whole strawberries, washed and patted dry
wax or freezer paper

Melt chocolate and butter together in a heat-proof bowl by setting it atop a small saucepan filled with an inch or so of water over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

Dip strawberries one at a time into chocolate, letting the excess drip off.  Place gently on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Refrigerate for at least an hour, so that chocolate hardens.

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