The summer after seventh grade, I toured the country with 20 other teens. Only a few of us were my age, 13 at the time, with the rest a year older and set to start high school.
That's a big difference, developmentally. I was newly teenaged, just a few weeks in; the others feigned they'd been teens forever and wore this status like belts with spikes. Many of them smoked, listened to hard music, wore teeny, tiny tops. My shirts were three sizes too big.
The meaner girls set the tone for the trip at large. They cliqued and gossiped, huddled and whispered, lobbed vinegared looks that could pickle whole days. You know what I'm talking about.
I kept to myself that summer, mostly. I had one friend, a girl I sat next to on the bus. Her thighs pricked mine on the hot vinyl seats, but she was kind and I liked her just fine. We were young and awkward together, two girls with bad hair and wilted self-esteem.
The trip was billed as a chance to tour America's greatest sites: national parks, monuments, places of historical and cultural import. The Arch and Old Faithful, Mount Rushmore, Las Vegas.
What I remember more: An endless parade of theme parks and fast food. Roller coasters, burgers, tilt-a-whirls, and fries.
Looking back, I was lucky to be on that trip. I know this now. It cost a bundle.
But when the summer air's still and the birds are quiet, when I get lost in my thoughts and reflect on my past, I can sometimes hear those girls cackling, their laughter a sour chord on an out-of-tune piano.
I'm no angel, but I do know this: a little sweetness — towards friends, towards strangers, towards those whose presence in our lives lingers or else blips in a single, barely-there moment — goes a long way.
Let sweetness reign.
Recipe for Apricot Cherry Shortcakes
This is the summer of apricots and cherries. My passion for this marriage shows no sign of ebbing, so please bear with me a moment or two longer as I continue to celebrate their sweet union in my kitchen. Here, they sink into a bed of poufy cream and loll between two shortcake layers. July bliss, stone fruit edition.
Makes 8 small shortcakes
For the biscuits:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup medium-grind cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons very cold butter, cut in large dice
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons cold heavy cream, divided
Coarse sugar, for sprinkling
For the filling:
1 pound cherries, pitted and chopped
1-1/2 pounds apricots, pitted and chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup cold heavy cream
Make the filling:
Make the biscuits: Preheat the oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Work the butter in with a pastry blender or two knives. Dribble on 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold cream, stirring until the mixture comes together into a rough dough. (Add 1 more tablespoon cream if necessary.) Dump onto a floured board and pat into a 4-1/2" square (1" high). Cut into 8 wedges or squares. Brush with 1 more tablespoon cream and sprinkle lightly with coarse sugar. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until firm. Cool completely.
While the biscuits bake, make the filling: Wipe out the biscuit bowl with a wet towel; dry. Combine the cherries, apricots, sugar, and lemon juice; stir. Let hang out at room temperature until needed. Whip the cream and refrigerate.
To assemble: Cut each biscuit in half. Mash half the fruit with a potato masher; leave the other half chunky. Spoon a generous pouf of whipped cream on the bottom of each biscuit, top with chunky fruit, replace the biscuit cap, and bathe with a drippy mound of mashed fruit. Repeat.