I was fortunate enough to grow up with a dear friend who taught me a lot about enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Cindy comes from a long line of simple-pleasure-seekers, people of the land who had an apple orchard downstate and who have property that they call “the woods,” just to hike and camp there and commune with nature. Cindy’s mom grew up a city girl but is made of the same ilk; I distinctly recall as a child observing her take a bite of a Twix bar in such a way that I discovered that one bite could, in fact, satisfy. All of those simple pleasures take keen sensitivities, the kind that make great poets, which is precisely what Cindy grew up to be.
Cindy’s world enchanted me, a world of old things, vintage things that had been saved for generations. She opened the door and invited me in to the world of dollhouse miniatures, and together we collected tiny things for many years. When we were up north, where her family also had a house for a time, one that was itself like a dollhouse, we would make an afternoon of lunch at Jesperson’s—grilled Swiss Dill with a milkshake (someone recently asked me what would prompt a kid to order the unusual Swiss Dill sandwich the first time, before knowing how good it is. My response was: Cindy).
After lunch we made a bee-line for Games Imported in Petoskey, which had the finest display of miniatures around. One of their doll houses had lights that actually worked, a marvel at the time. Back home in Lansing, some great Saturday afternoons were spent scanning the miniatures aisle at Frank’s Nursery and the magazines next door at Community News.
It’s not surprising to me that one of my most memorable Valentine’s Days was at Cindy’s house when we were in middle school—Valentine’s Days like the one when I waited for three hours to be seated for dinner with a guy at a restaurant in Ann Arbor, only to be unable to eat a thing because I’d now had more than my share of wine, are better off forgotten. Cindy’s mom turned an ordinary winter day into a special time by making us a surprise. Next thing we knew we were seated at the dining room table with pretty linens and tall glasses filled with pink strawberry milkshakes and a little plate of chocolates. We dubbed the shake a “Strawberry Dream” and have been referring to it for years in the Valentine’s cards we send each other.
February has never been the dull winter month for me that it seems to be for others. Valentine’s Day, and just preceeding that, my birthday, and just after that, my sister’s birthday, have always kept things lively. My mother made my February months memorable by giving me sumptuous Valentine birthdays, with pink hearts all around. One year I came home from school to find a tiny mahogany dining room table, complete with chairs and brass candlesticks, perched on a cake platter in front of my chair at the head of our own dining room table. In the center of the miniature table was a pink and white birthday cake, a replica of the pink cakes she’d been baking me for my birthday always.
This year I’ll be at the dining room table here on Main Street on my birthday and Valentine’s Day, where I have the miniatures out for the first time in a lot of years. A leg is broken off the table and an arm off the chair, but they’re clean breaks. It’s the kind of brokenness, like the kind I’ve known, that doesn’t in the end detract but rather signifies a good long run of it, and still standing.
I’ll be serving up for myself a little plate of chocolates from Howse’s and a frosty strawberry milkshake, but with a twist, adding a drop or two of rosewater. This aromatic flavor pairs perfectly with the strawberry, as we tasted with strawberry-rose lemonade last summer. I’m indulging in the off-season berry because…well, just because. Hopefully it will snow on Valentine’s Day too, falling softly outside my window and letting me know once again that the simple pleasures in life are the best of all.
Strawberry Rose Valentine Dream
Fresh strawberries, of course, are not local this time of year. Perhaps you have a big bag of berries from your summer garden in your freezer, as Cindy does. Those would be ideal, but in their absence, I went for a handful of fresh berries from California. They have real berry flavor, which was a surprise and a pleasure. I like to use Haagen Dazs ice cream (scooped with my Zeroll scoop) because it’s so smooth and creamy.
6 strawberries, hulled and chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
5 scoops vanilla or strawberry ice cream
2 tablespoons cold milk
1/8 teaspoon rosewater
Sprinkle sugar over the strawberries, mix together and macerate (let sit) for 15 minutes to bring out the strawberry juices.
In a blender, add all ingredients and pulse for 30 seconds. If it’s too thick, add a bit more milk. If it’s too thin, add a bit more ice cream. Beware not to add too much rosewater—a little goes a long way.
Pour into two frosty chilled glasses and enjoy with a good friend.
Find a PDF of this recipe here.