strawberry balsamic & black pepper sauce

strawberry balsamic & black pepper sauce | the merry gourmet

I baked a pie on March 7th, the day of my father’s funeral. It was four weeks before I cooked or baked again.

I went back to work four days after Dad’s funeral, and I know now that that was probably too soon. I should have taken another week off, to allow myself to come to terms with my grief. Instead, I went back to work on a Tuesday, one of my busiest clinic days. I entered each patient room with a painful new understanding of what a Hospice referral really meant, and what the impending death — and the agonizing reality of death — of a loved one felt like.

The weeks since have gotten easier, at least on the surface. At night, though, I dream of my father. The content of the dreams varies, but in each one, he is alive again. And in each one, I know that he is going to die within days, and that I will have to go through his death another time. I know that some people find comfort in dreaming of deceased relatives, but at this point in the process, I would just be grateful to not dream at all.

strawberry balsamic & black pepper sauce | the merry gourmet

Until this weekend, I have been unable to cook or bake anything. I have been overwhelmed by the possibilities and by the level of energy needed to prepare a meal or bake something sweet. I have felt uninspired and apathetic.

This began to change a little over a week ago.  We took the kids to New York for the tail end of spring break, and on one of the nights we were there, a wonderful friend prepared a slow-cooked Korean pork dish complete with all the fixings – kimchi, pickles, rice, and sauces. The meal was excellent, and what made it even better was the friends gathered around the table sharing it.

I’ve looked up that pork recipe several times since then; I’m determined to recreate it one day soon. And a few days ago, I began reading some of my food magazines that have been stacking up on the coffee table, neglected for weeks.

strawberry balsamic & black pepper sauce | the merry gourmet

After four weeks away from the stove, I cooked dinner two nights ago. It was a simple meal – pan-roasted sausages and apples with spinach – but it was home cooked, and it wasn’t takeout Chinese or a Domino’s pizza. Making a meal in my kitchen finally felt right again.

Saturday, we went strawberry picking. The day was gorgeous and sunny, and I wore sunscreen for the first time this year. I knew that we’d come home with more strawberries than we could possibly eat, and we did. Seventeen pounds, in fact. Over the past two days, I made this strawberry balsamic and black pepper sauce, and this was soon followed by strawberry shortcakes and strawberry jam. I even broke out the ice cream maker to make strawberry ice cream.

I still feel like something is missing inside, like some core part of me is lost or broken. But with each completed dish I turned out this weekend, it finally feels as if I’m slowly patching myself back up, one recipe at a time.

strawberry balsamic & black pepper sauce | the merry gourmet

Yield: 1-1/2 cups

Strawberry Balsamic and Black Pepper Sauce

This dessert sauce can be used as a topping for ice cream, mixed into a milkshake, drizzled on top of pancakes, or spooned onto a biscuit. Or, do what I did and eat it right off the spoon.


1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
12 ounces strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped
4 or 5 grinds of freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch kosher salt


In a large saucepan or skillet, heat the vinegar and sugar over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens, approximately 1 minute. Add the strawberries and black pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook for 7-9 minutes, until the strawberries have broken down but not fully turned to mush. Stir in salt, remove from heat, and allow to cool.

When the sauce is room temperature (or at least not hot), transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. If desired, you may strain the mixture to remove seeds.

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19 Responses to “a sick day, and a recipe: banana chocolate chip cupcakes with honey cream cheese frosting”

  1. Leigh — May 29, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

    They look amazing. Tell Oliver that the sprinkles are my favorite part. 🙂

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 30th, 2013 @ 9:06 am

      Thanks, Leigh. I did — and he grinned.

  2. I hope he’s feeling better! I know those nebulizers all too well. What darling cupcakes! It was great seeing you again at FBF. 😉

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 30th, 2013 @ 9:06 am

      It was so good to see you, too, Denise!

  3. Laura — May 29, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

    Hope Oliver is feeling better soon! Chocolate Chip Banana cupcakes sound like the best medicine 🙂

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 30th, 2013 @ 9:06 am

      Thank you, Laura. Yep, I’m a firm believer in cupcake therapy. 🙂

  4. Sending hugs to Oliver. Plus, you = best mum ever!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 30th, 2013 @ 9:07 am

      Aw, thanks, Mardi. You = sweetest friend ever!

  5. Macaroni Mama — May 30, 2013 @ 6:56 am

    I love your writing.

  6. Amy @ The Nifty Foodie — May 30, 2013 @ 9:27 am

    Aww…I hope Oliver feels better soon!

    Those cupcakes sound so comforting. Can’t go wrong with banana and chocolate!

  7. Rachel Winter — June 1, 2013 @ 8:42 am

    MJ Those look delish. I have made your banana bread several times so think I will need to try this for the kids this summer.
    Hope Oliver feels better.

  8. Ann — June 2, 2013 @ 8:44 am

    Pretty cupcakes and no doubt very tasty too. My daughter used to go to sleep in her bed at your son’s age but every morning, we would find her asleep in the hallway outside our bedroom. It passes – she’s 18 now and the youngest and only one still at home. I hope to have her home for a couple more years yet, but seeing as she now sooo independent, I doubt it! Enjoy it, I say!

  9. Paula — June 2, 2013 @ 10:28 am

    I hope Oliver is on the mend. It’s terrible when our little ones are sick but worse when we have to worry about finding care for them or juggling schedules to try and be home with them. Making lovely cupcakes together is a great *sick day* activity.

    As for Oliver sleeping in your room…I wouldn’t stress about it at all. He’s only 6. If he still wants to in a few years, then I’d worry about it 🙂

  10. Lori @ RecipeGirl — June 4, 2013 @ 10:28 am

    Oh gosh, well I sure hope he’s starting to feel better. Hopefully he’ll want to transition on his own to his own room? That’s a tough spot to be in.

    Your sweet cupcakes are perfect for cheering up on a sick day. See you in Austin? Can’t wait.

  11. Nutmeg Nanny — June 4, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

    These cupcakes are the perfect sick day remedy! Your poor little guy.

  12. Aww, poor thing! Fortunately, cupcakes have a power of making everything better though. Hope he feels on the up soon!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 8th, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

      Thanks, Georgia. He’s much better finally!

  13. George — January 19, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

    A new addition for my cupcake recipe collection 🙂

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