Summer was a series of random thoughts, urges unencumbered by parental restrictions. We were left to our own devices, basketball in the driveway, hopscotch on the sidewalk, dodge ball in the grass and kickball in the street were the order of the day, every day. Innocent pleasures, our games were simple, back then in the olden days, energy bursting forth with the daylight, children exploding from houses up and down the block to gather in the street and decide what the day would bring. Maybe a bike ride to the public swimming pool or over to the library, Barbies in someone’s living room or board games at the kitchen table. There was order to our summer days, an order only we as children understood, from breakfast until a series of moms stuck their heads out of a row of backdoors to call us all in for dinner, a universal order understood and responded to immediately by each one of us.
Summers of childhood echo throughout the years; the searing white heat of the afternoons, the scorching pavement biting at bare feet, so different from the gentle, temperate summers of Nantes. Those long-ago days of sunshine so bright, white light bouncing off of sidewalks, broken only by the gathering darkness, thunder rumbling in the distance rolling quickly closer, the blackness wrapping her arms around us in a chilly cloak. Children scattering, dashing into various houses to wait out the thunderstorm until, as it does every afternoon at 3:00 like clockwork, the black clouds disperse and the sun breaks through the heavens in a glorious choir of chattering children.
Summers are no longer rambunctious, carefree affairs, days divided between games, punctuated by chilled glasses of Goofy Grape or Yahoos, highlighted by peanut butter sandwiches eaten sitting in the crooked branches of a favourite tree. We are adults now and as adults we have our most serious of responsibilities, families to care for, healthy meals to be served punctually three times a day. Our children run free, building forts in the backyard when there was one, or building forts fit for imaginary kings and queens on the bare floor of their bedroom, while waiting for Papa to return home in the evening from work. Or later, much later, sons organize their own vacations, getaways with friends while we, he and I, work, planning a short weekend here or there with friends when time permits.
Working from home changes the dynamics of summer vacation. No distinct separation between office, suits and meetings and beaches, mountains and swimsuits. No great summer divide, no anticipated break when we slip into shorts and tees and organize that grand getaway. No, when the whole family works from home, winter slides into spring into summer easily, thoughtlessly, noiselessly. And we wake up one day and June is nearing its end and we are surprised to find ourselves deep into summer. No plans have been made, no exciting voyage awaits, no suitcase stands next to the front door in anticipation. We work all morning, break for a quiet lunch together, gathering the boys if at home and out of bed, and then back to work we go only to meet up once again for a relaxing evening in. Long walks in the late afternoon or longer walks in the forest on weekends, a few hours spent at the cinema and the summer passes, the time flowing imperceptibly by. Our days and weeks at home are calm and relaxing, surrounded by books and daily trips to the market, a vacation in and of itself.
No, nothing signals that most important change of season, not least the weather. The hot weather has yet to set in, and summer has been mostly cool and gray with only intermittent eruptions of brilliance and heat. I pad barefoot around the house, a habit I have not lost since my Florida childhood, much to the bewilderment of my husband, bundled up against the chill now, then stripped down to tank top and fanning myself against the occasional spray of heat. When a ray bursts forth, we shove our feet into sneakers and dash outside for a long walk up the river and back again, maybe stopping for an ice cream before heading back to the cool calm of the apartment. And then the rain sets in once more and we curl up on the sofa, turn on the tv, allowing ourselves to grumble and complain and wonder why we don’t just get in the car and head south for a while. We bide our time and put off making plans in the hopes we will soon get the signal that we can begin planning our move. And then we each head back to our own work.
Cherries are flooding the market and we so needed something bright, fruity and cool to remind us of what summer could and should be. I recently saw a dessert in Marie-Claire Idées summer recipe issue that called my name. A cheesecake in a glass, or at least something like it. I decided to take the basic premise: a cookie “crust” topped with cooked cherries and all topped with a cheesecake-style cream. I am not a cream cheese cheesecake lover and so opted for a ricotta and whipped cream combination, but the ricotta could just as easily be replaced with either cream cheese or mascarpone. The cookie base, which is just crushed cookies, can be equally intriguing using speculoos, as suggested in the original recipe, chocolate wafers or crumbly palets Bretons, as I used. No cherries? Replace with slightly crushed strawberries or other fresh, ripe berries, maybe even with a splash of rum, Grand Marnier o Limoncello added with the sugar. The quantities can be changed easily depending upon how many individual portions you require and how much of each layer you like.
Here are the Ricotta Cherry Cheesecake Verrines my way with the basic proportions for about 8 servings. This is, like my wonderful Strawberry Mascarpone Whipped Cream Tart, one of those desserts so easily adaptable, changeable, an ad-lib dessert; you can easily change ingredients, quantities and proportions to fit your own taste as well as the number of servings you desire. All the rage these days is for desserts in jars, but I prefer to have mine in glasses.
A scant pound (400 – 500 g) fresh cherries
2 Tbs granulated brown sugar
3.5 oz (100 g) chocolate wafers or chocolate or vanilla Palets Bretons or speculoos
1 cup (250 g) ricotta, chilled *
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipped cream, chilled
2 Tbs or more powdered/confectioner’s sugar, to taste
½ tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated zest and the juice of one lemon, optional**
* The ricotta can be replaced with mascarpone; the ratio of cheese to whipping cream 1 to 1. If replacing the ricotta with cream cheese, begin with half the amount cream cheese to whipping cream, adding more to taste. You can also use less ricotta for a purer whipped cream flavour.
** I did not add lemon.
Place a medium-sized bowl, glass or metal, in the refrigerator along with the beaters of a hand mixer to chill for at least 10 minutes.
Rinse the cherries; remove and discard the stems and pit. Slice each cherry in half and place in a saucepan with the 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Place the cookies in a large plastic sandwich or freezer bag and, using a rolling pin, crush.
Place the heavy whipping cream in the chilled bowl and attach the chilled beaters to the hand mixer. Whip the cream until soft peaks form; sift the sugar onto the cream and continue beating until stiff peaks hold. Beat in the ricotta cheese about a third at a time until thick and creamy. Beat in the vanilla and then taste, adding more powdered sugar to taste. Keep in mind that the whipped cream will be eaten with the cooked cherries and cookies so you may not want the cream too sweet.
Place about ¾ inch of crushed cookies in the bottom of each serving glass. Top with about ¾ inch or so of cooked cherries allowing for a little of the juice to soak down into the cookie crumbs. Spoon or pipe, as I did, the Whipped Ricotta Cream on top of the cherries to fill the glass, or as much or as little as desired, depending upon the height and size of your glasses. Again, you can decide how much of each to add to the glass. You can see from my photos how I chose to do it and I felt that the proportions were excellent. Serve immediately or after allowing the juices to soak a little into the cookie crumbs. If there are cooked cherries left over or if you make more, place a teaspoonful on top of the cream before serving.