Merrill's daughter Clara has quite the appetite -- and it's all Merrill can do to keep up. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, she steps into the fray.
Today: A juice for the little ones -- and a cocktail for you. Everyone wins.
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A few weeks ago, my husband, Jonathan, and I went to Italy for vacation. We spent a few days in Rome, followed by a few days on the coast of Maremma, in the southern part of Tuscany. Most days it was warm and sunny, with just a hint of a breeze to keep us from breaking a sweat; artichokes and chicory were in full swing, and tomatoes were just coming into season; the poppies were in full, glorious bloom. I know what you're thinking: what a drag, right?
It was the first time we'd left Clara for more than a long weekend. I was nervous, but I shouldn't have been. She spent ten days being spoiled rotten by her grandmother and babysitter, and we were able to Skype with her pretty much every other day. I think she was hardly aware we were gone.
We were keenly aware. We ate delicious food, drank great wine, met lots of nice people (including an old school friend of mine who just happened to be staying at the same small hotel in Tuscany -- small world!), and I got to brush up on my Italian, which I hadn't spoken in nearly eight years. (I was a little arruginita.)
It was Jonathan's first time in Italy, and within 24 hours he admitted the trip had already far surpassed his expectations. Besides all of the food and wine, we had some fantastic cocktails. Our favorite was the Rossini, a frothy aperitivo of strawberry puree and Champagne that we both ordered every night before dinner at the hotel in Tuscany. We sipped them overlooking the sea with the sun beginning to set, a little plate of salty hors d'oeuvre by our side.
I promised Jonathan I would make Rossinis when we were back home to remind him of Italy, and last weekend, our suitcases long unpacked and our sunburns a distant memory, I did. And so Clara wouldn't feel left out, I made her a toddler version, the strawberry puree cut with a little water instead of Champagne to make what I'm calling strawberry juice. Someday, when she's old enough, we'll take her to the Tuscan coast for the real deal.
Makes about 2 cups strawberry puree, enough for 8 to 10 drinks
1 quart ripe strawberries, rinsed and hulled 1/4 cup superfine sugar (plus more, depending on the sweetness of your berries) Squeeze of lemon juice Champagne (optional -- and not a really expensive bottle, but no swill!)