Now that the warm weather is here, I find myself choosing recipes that are light and refreshing, which usually means more fresh fruit and vegetables and less baking involved. Slowly but surely, we are part of gatherings around the grill or on the deck.
I remember one Fourth of July when our family was invited to an evening potluck at our friends’ house. They live in an old farmhouse just outside of town that my brother discovered and resurrected and rented for awhile. I stayed there one summer when I was in high school, and later on my husband-to-be and my brother-in-law-to-be rented “the farm” (as it was known when they were working and in college). The place has some history and now our friends live there and have made it come to life, both on the inside and the outside where the potluck was to be hosted.
On a beautiful summer evening, we were all to bring dishes to share that would best suit the backyard environment. I chose to make a trifle, knowing how good and refreshing it is at the end of a hot day. Because of the weather, we decided it would be fun to bike out and so we needed to rig a carrier onto my bike for the trifle.
Jim found an old crate and we tied it onto the back of the bike with bungee cords, placed the trifle carefully into it and propped it in place with crumpled newspaper. We slowly made our way through Shanklin Park and up Plymouth Avenue with no damage, then biked the rest of way on flat roads to the gathering.
Sure enough, everyone brought delicious fare: fresh salads in solid clay bowls, homemade breads and chips in baskets, meats from the market laid out to grill, colorful fruit on glass plates, drinks set in tubs of ice and an array of fabulous desserts. The food was displayed artistically; it was a picture straight out of a book.
We had a relaxing and enjoyable time at our friends’ serene and lush backyard. Time slowed down. Kids played, clumps of people talked, others gathered around the food or the flower gardens. Lightning bugs came out as dusk fell and evening arrived. A dampness started to fill the air. We spoke softly as we watched the fireworks and oohed and ahhed as the lights streamed in the sky.
Slowly but surely, folks began to leave in small groups. The trifle was gone, enjoyed by many, and now it was time for us to go, too. The trifle dish went back into the crate and we went back onto our bikes, but the road home was more dangerous than the road there; it was dark and we had no lights.
We carefully made our way back into town and decided to take the millrace bike path back to our house, and it is then that we realized how dark it had become. We slowly biked along the race, hardly seeing the path or one another and not knowing where the edge was, until we safely made it to our street and the welcome streetlights of town. That ride in the dark will always be tied to the great food and atmosphere at our friends’ house and the night of the trifle. It was a night of summer magic.
Special instructions: Make the cake and pastry cream the morning or day before you want to serve the trifle.
ONE RECIPE OF BUSY DAY CAKE
- 1 2/3 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/3 cup butter, softened
- 1 egg
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.
- Add butter, milk, egg and vanilla all at once and beat well for 2 1/2 minutes.
- In a greased rectangular pan 8 x 12 inches, pour the mixture.
- Bake at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let cool.
- 3 cups half and half
- 3/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 8 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- In saucepan, heat up half-and-half until it begins to simmer.
- In a bowl, mix cornstarch and sugar in the meantime.
- With a whisk, whip in water until smooth. Add egg yolks and beat to incorporate.
- When half-and-half has reached a simmer, slowly whisk one half of it into the cornstarch mixture.
- Whisk the cornstarch and half-and-half mix into the simmering half-and-half in the pan. Continue to whisk over medium heat until the pastry cream thickens.
- Immediately remove from heat and keep whisking as you pour it into a bowl to cool. Add vanilla. Stir frequently as it cools.
- 1 small package raspberry Jell-O, mixed following directions on box
- 1 box of strawberries, halved
- 3 or 4 bananas, sliced
- 1 pint whipped cream
- Chocolate chips for decoration
- In the bottom of the trifle dish, crumble the cake.
- Pour a layer of Jell-O mix on top of the cake. Chill for one hour.
- Onto the cake mixture, make a layer of halved strawberries, then a layer of pastry cream, then a layer of slices of bananas, topped with a layer of whipped cream.
- Sprinkle with chocolate chips, as desired.