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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15 Responses to “strawberry balsamic & black pepper sauce”

  1. 1
    Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon — April 6, 2014 @ 8:13 pm

    All I can offer is the encouragement for you to hang in there. And remember to be kind to yourself.

  2. 2
    Liren — April 6, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

    Each day is a process, I’ve found, when grieving. It never goes away, but the good days eventually outweigh the hard ones. The nights and those dreams, though…sigh. When we were in NY I dreamt of my father in law, it was so real, and I didn’t want to let go. Agonizing, but in many ways, I hope for those dream visits, from him and especially from my mom. I’m glad you found your way into the kitchen again, MJ. It’s such a good way to heal. Hugs.

  3. 3
    Macaroni Mama — April 6, 2014 @ 9:36 pm

    Wonderful blog. It’s hard Merry Jennifer. At least you have a focus .

  4. 4
    Kathryn — April 7, 2014 @ 4:31 am

    Such a wonderful post – after my grandfather died I had similar dreams (I still do every now and then) and it took me a while to remember him how he would have liked to be remembered, not how he was at the end. It does take time and the space to grieve. Thinking of you all xxx

  5. 5
    Katy — April 7, 2014 @ 11:59 am

    So glad sharing and cooking is part of your healing. It’s such a blessing to read your posts!

  6. 6
    Paula — April 7, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

    I’m so sorry that you must take this journey Merry-Jennifer. No one can tell you how how long it will last, nor what you should be experiencing. It’s a personal and solitary one but remember that you have many, near and far who support you throughout its duration.

  7. 7
    Cherie — April 7, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

    I’m just glad to hear something from you again – another baby step – good to know you’re paying attention to yourself at least a little in this process – so difficult.

    Wishing you dreamless nights, at least for a while . . .

  8. 8
    Justine — April 7, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

    My father has been gone for 6 years. I still have dreams of him. I like my dreams as it makes me feel connected. Hope this helps. 🙂

  9. 9
    LeeAnn — April 7, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss. I lost both my Mom and Dad 4 months apart,so I really understand your pain. I can tell you for sure, as cliche as it sounds, that time will help heal the pain you are feeling. Please take care of yourself and know that you are making a difference in so many lives.

  10. 10
    Melanie — April 7, 2014 @ 5:40 pm

    Merry – I’m so sorry for your loss. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man. It’s so wonderful that you were so close to him. Regarding your dreams…..I wonder if he keeps visiting you because you don’t want to/haven’t really let him go. I don’t know how to offer help with ‘letting go’, but if you know someone who could guide you, maybe that would make the dreams stop or at least turn them into ones where he is a live and stays alive…..not where you knows he’s going to die at the end of each dream…..that has to be incredibly painful. I wish you the best.

  11. 11
    Eileen — April 8, 2014 @ 8:04 am

    Ah, the dreams. After my mom passed away I’d dream she would visit me. In the dreams I’d know that she was gone and that I only had a limited time to visit with her before she was gone again. The dreams seemed so real and I would always wake up crying. I experienced a sense of joy and grief all at the same time. I’d like to believe that it’s not just our subconscious was of trying to deal with death, but rather a spiritual experience that many would conceive as highly improbable. I guess that’s where the word FAITH comes in. Glad to see your are slowing healing and getting back to the things you enjoy. I can’t eat strawberries anymore and that in itself makes me cry…. Thanks for sharing your great stories and recipes Jennifer 🙂

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  13. 12
    Jenni — April 11, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

    The first couple of years after my brother died, when I dreamed of him, he was sick or dead, and the dreams were horrifying. Eventually, though, my dreams found him as he was when he was healthy and happy. When I dream of him now, this is always how I see him. I awake smiling, if a bit wistful. But smiling.The cloak of his illness eventually fell away and turned to dust, leaving only him.

    It will come. Give yourself time. Be kind to yourself.

    PS I would bathe in that strawberry sauce if I could. My brother would have made it into a milk shake. He was always much more refined than I. =)

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  15. 13
    Liesl — April 21, 2014 @ 11:55 am

    Thank you for your words. My father passed away on February 3rd, a wonderful man, too. I miss him terribly. I knew that I would, but I was unprepared for how different life would feel without him, for feeling less safe and secure in the world (though of course, I am) and for the feeling of a huge hole in my life. I started cooking again about a month afterward, too. Thanks for all you do, writing and cooking and helping me feel less alone.

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