Over the weekend I went to my local farmers market and picked up a flat of quintessential early summer strawberries. I wait all year for these naturally sweet little jammers to be in season and I practically overdose on them every year. When baked into a recipe with fresh picked rhubarb, things get real.
I have to admit something. I am having a hard time adjusting to Santa Barbara. (I know, I know, poor baby) The thing is, it just doesn’t feel like real life here. The landscape is striking. Between the soft sandy beaches and dramatic mountain peaks this lush and diverse terrain rivals the Italian Riviera. The Spanish Colonial Revival style buildings are so quaint and charming that I often wonder if I have accidentally stepped onto the set of a Spaghetti Western. Every sunset looks like a postcard, and Pixel comes in the house smelling of Jasmine. It’s a wonderland.
Now I will stop being polite and start getting real.
Most of the people here look like they’ve just stepped out of a salon, $14 fresh pressed juice in hand, on their way to a Lululemon catalog shoot in some mythic desert landscape reachable only by Range Rover. Just going to the grocery store amongst these bronzed beauties is enough to make you feel inadequate. Don’t you even dare comparing your cart to their basket because it’s like comparing apples and donuts.
My yoga classes are like social hours where the perfectly pedicured discuss their latest exotic vacations and afternoon plans of massages and facials, while I’m over here like, “Hmm, maybe I should have shaved my legs this week?” The music festival wanderlust types crowd coffee shops with their “fill-in-the-blank-vibes” as they Instagram their recent haul of hand foraged sage they picked while hiking in Chuck Taylors and mom jeans. The streets are lined with perfectly placed palm trees and the sidewalks are spotless because the hobos actually pick up the trash and dispose of it in the proper receptacles. Seriously. It’s unreal, or unlike any reality I’ve ever known.
Coming from Portland, I am used to men who commute to “work” on a unicycle in a kilt while juggling bowling pins down the inner lane of Sandy Boulevard. Or, the barefoot fairy-folk singers who bring their guitars into tea shops and do handstands on the outdoor tables as they wait 25 minutes for their small batch matcha to arrive.
My yoga classes smelled of patchouli and curry, and occasionally I’d have to down dog over my neighbors dreads that had taken up real estate on my mat. I guess I just grew accustomed to the bespectacled and bearded types who ride their tall bikes to vegan strip clubs for $1 PBRs on a Tuesday night. With their constant need to be weird and different, they are the real-life inspiration for the characters of Portlandia. These people are fully committed to their weirdness, and as quirky as it may be, their dedication (at the very least) is real.
San Francisco, too, is most definitely real. Sometimes way too real. Like when the sun sets after a beautiful 70° day in the city and the cold winds begin to tunnel through the buildings and hit me like an arctic blast as I struggle to put on that extra jacket I schlepped around all day in anticipation of this very moment.
As I shiver my way to the Civic Center BART station, cutting through the Tenderloin to save time, I realize that things look a whole lot like a post-apocalyptic movie at dusk. I have to keep one eye out for human feces and the other scanning for cracked-out zombies who will harass me for no other reason than because they are on crack. I power through with the best don’t-F-with-me-bitch-face I can muster, avoiding eye contact at all costs until I reach the escalator and descend down into the bowels of the BART tunnels.
I squeeze my way into a jam packed train, under the armpit of a hockey player who obviously just finished the sweatiest game of his life and next to a woman who is emptying out her Nat Sherman tobacco onto the floor to fill the cigarette caracas with pot. The whole trains smells of body odor of 100 varietals and burritos, because two people have decided it’s a fine idea to dine on the train and kindly share the onion and spicy ground beef aromatics with everyone aboard.
When I finally walk through the exit doors of the Ashby station and breathe in the weed-laden Berkeley air an hour and a half later due to debris on the tracks at the McArthur Station, I feel like a true warrior. Not just because I survived the ride home, but because I didn’t sit in someone else’s pee on the ride into the city this time. That only happened to me once and I’ve never sat down on the train again. No matter what, ever.
There is no greater feeling than finally getting home, changing out of my BART pants, scrubbing up like a surgeon, and calling in a late night takeout order to Burma Superstar. Real.
My whole point to this story is that the little-bitty market fresh strawberries that pop up this time of year are the realest – they’re packed with that incomparable jammy, sweet flavor. They are the real deal, and there is no sense wasting your time with those plumped up, flavorless, inauthentic types. The realness is worth the wait.
To take full advantage of small window of the real strawberry season, I baked up a new recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb & Ginger Crumble Bars. The strawberries are as sweet as a Santa Barbara sunset, the rhubarb brings a slight bitterness not unlike many San Franciscans, and the ginger brings a snappy surprise like stumbling upon a naked bike ride in North Portland.
These Strawberry Rhubarb & Ginger Crumble Bars are a trifecta of wonderfully sweet tarty spice and taste better than you can even imagine, for real.
***Full disclaimer: All of the events above are true incidents that I witnessed in real life. I have merely written down what I saw or felt through my pants on a BART train.
- all purpose flour - 2 cups
- salt - 3/4 teaspoon
- unsalted butter at room temperature - 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks)
- granulated sugar - 3/4 cup
- pure vanilla extract - 3/4 teaspoon
- Bob's Red Mill extra thick rolled oats - 3/4 cup
- fresh strawberries - 1 1/2 cups (chopped)
- fresh rhubarb - 1 1/2 cups (chopped)
- sugar - 4 tablespoons
- fresh ginger - 1-2 tablespoons (finely chopped)
- powdered sugar (optional) - 1 teaspoon
- You will need an 11" x 8" tart pan with a removable bottom or a quarter sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Whisk together the salt and flour in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
- In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium/high speed for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy, stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl a few times. Add the vanilla and mix until fully incorporated.
- Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the drying ingredients, scraping the bowl a couple of times. Only mix until the ingredients have just come together and the dough is still crumbly so it is easier to distribute in the pan.
- Set aside 3/4 cups of the dough and spread the rest out in the bottom of the pan.
- Once the dough is evenly distributed in the pan, lightly press the dough into place so it covers the bottom and slightly up the sides of the pan.
- Bake for about 25 minutes until the shortbread dough puffs up and is a warm golden color all over.
- While the tart shell bakes, add the oats to the 3/4 cup of remaining dough and use your fingers to smash the dough and oats together into a crumble topping. Place in the crumble top in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- While the shell bakes, chop the strawberries into 1/2" chunks and the rhubarb into 1/2" half moon slices and place together in a bowl. Once chopped, you should have 1 1/2 cups of each.
- Finely chop the ginger, 1-2 tablespoons depending on your ginger tolerance level, and place in the bowl with the strawberries and rhubarb.
- Toss the strawberries, rhubarb and ginger with the sugar just before transferring the mixture into the baked shell. Top with crumble topping and bake for 35-40 minute, rotating the pan halfway through. The topping should be slightly browned and the filling should start to soften and turn a deep burgundy color.
- Allow the shortbread to cool for about 20-30 minutes before popping it out of the pan.
- Optionally dust with powdered sugar.