the august guilt-week, and a recipe: strawberry cookies

strawberry cookies | the merry gourmet

I have been referring to this week as my guilt-week. I know I should call it what it is – a vacation week – but the whole reason it exists is because of mommy guilt.

Early in the summer, after spending their first week or two at their school-sponsored day camp, my ten-year old started in on me.

“Why can’t you just stay home with us?” Madeline asked. “Why can’t you not work in the summer?”

She tried to convince me that if I had a different job, I could have the summers off. Some of her friends were able to stay home all summer, and they didn’t get sent to day camps. She suggested possible career changes for me – artist, jeweler, architect – that would be more conducive to having free summers. I told her that I was pretty sure most artists, jewelers, and architects also had to work in the summer months, but nice try.

I knew what she was getting at, though.

My mother was a teacher and my father worked from home, so my own childhood summers were filled with complete freedom. The summer days were long, and the season seemed endless. June melded seamlessly into July, and August took forever to arrive. Other than one family road trip vacation each June, the days were my own, to do with as I wished.

cedar key | the merry gourmet

cedar key | the merry gourmet

I had an internal debate with myself, mommy guilt clashing with career guilt. Could I really take an extra week off work? Would my patients be covered if I took off? Did I have enough vacation days? Which should take priority – work or family?

That last question was the easiest to answer, and really, the only one that mattered. So, shortly after that conversation with Madeline, I blocked out a week in August in my work calendar. I would take the week off, just to stay home with my kids.

This is that week.

crescent beach | the merry gourmet

crescent beach | the merry gourmet

crescent beach | the merry gourmet

Our days have been filled with baking treats – like these strawberry cookies – and with experimenting with making smoothies (my new toy arrived!). We’ve explored Cedar Key, a nearby fishing village on the Gulf coast, and spent two nights in a friend’s condo on Crescent Beach, on the Atlantic coast. We’ve visited with old friends, taken frozen yogurt breaks at TCBY, and had pie for breakfast. And the kids have gotten their Minecraft fix each day.

This week has been wonderful. Madeline and Oliver are bright and funny and charming. We’ve had some fantastic conversations, and they’ve made me laugh so hard I thought I would pee. Spending this week with my children has been a highlight of my summer, and I hope it will be a highlight of theirs.

I’m thinking this August guilt-week might become an annual event.

strawberry cookies | the merry gourmet

Yield: 4 dozen cookies.

Strawberry Cookies

I’ve experimented with these cookies over the past couple of weeks, and this recipe is the result. You can skip rolling the dough in confectioners sugar, but this step makes for lovely cookies and adds a little extra sweetness that makes them irresistable.


3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cup (300 grams) granulated sugar
4 ounces (1 stick; 113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
3/4 cup strawberry puree (from 2 cups strawberries)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Red food coloring (optional) (I use AmeriColor Soft Gel food coloring.)
1/2 cup confectioners sugar


Heat oven to 350 degrees, with racks placed in upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Line a two sheet pans with parchment and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, and using a handheld mixer, beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Pour in the strawberry puree and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated, pausing to scrape sides of bowl as needed. Add 4 to 6 drops of gel food coloring (more or less depending on the color you’re going for) and mix well. Add flour mixture, and on low speed, mix until just incorporated. Give a couple of stirs by hand to ensure that the batter is fully mixed.

Place confectioners sugar in a small bowl. Scoop out rounded teaspoonfuls of cookie dough and roll each one in confectioners sugar, coating all sides. Place onto prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart. Bake for 16 to 17 minutes, or until cookies are slightly firm to the touch, rotating pans (move the top pan to the bottom rack; move the bottom pan to the top rack) midway through baking time. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

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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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