strawberry balsamic & black pepper sauce

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.

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.

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.

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.