Think Pink Lemonade Bars

What’s the first fruit that comes to mind when you think of “summer”?

I think of lazy days on my grandma’s patio, and the taste of sour-sweet pink lemonade.  To me, strawberries and lemons blend to create a magical summer hybrid. This memory of lazy, fruity days contrasts drastically from my feelings right now of being very stuck indoors in New York, a sentiment that we’re all coping with in the United States.  It can be difficult to get into that summer spirit when we aren’t seeing friends or doing the fun things we think of when we want to connect during a balmy summer in the city. That being said, we need to stick to the rules so that we can pull ourselves out of this pandemic mess.

These Pink Lemonade Bars are full of tart lemon mingling with luscious strawberry. The bars are an alluring light pink, dusted with a pinch of powdered sugar, and garnished with strawberry slices and fresh flowers. They are the pure, polar opposite of the tumult we are experiencing this summer. Each bite transports you to a magical outdoor party, complete with your favorite tangy summer memories.

What else is inspiring me this month, besides anecdotes from summers past? 

This Dior Autumn-Winter 2020-2021 video captured my attention recently. Whether you are fashion-forward or comfy and content, Dior’s miniature clothes being prepared for mermaids and other mythical creatures and characters will fascinate and enchant you. Can you guess which stylish creature is my favorite? It will be interesting to see how other fashion brands showcase their designs as the pandemic wears on.

I’ve been enjoying the recipe and restaurant posts by Dom of Dom N’ The City. Her food photography makes me want to lick the computer screen. Check out her recent blog post for a list of some Black-owned businesses to support in Brooklyn.

The Qi floral tea is a beautiful whole flower tea that blossoms in your cup. It’s soothing just to watch the flowers unfurl in a glass mug. A cup of calm is exactly what you need sometimes, especially during months like these.   

The television show Devs captured our attention on Hulu, initially because we are fascinated with Nick Offerman in any role beyond Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation. This ominous show about a tech company in Silicon Valley had us contemplating the future of Big Tech, determinism, and the nature of life itself.

Enough chit-chat. Scroll down for this summery Think Pink Lemonade Bars recipe!

Ingredients:

(Makes about 12 bars)

For the Crust:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

For The Filling:
1 cup fresh lemon juice
3-4 tsp lemon zest
3/4 cup chopped strawberries
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
powdered sugar, to sprinkle on top (to taste)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Line a baking pan with parchment and spray with a nonstick cooking spray (I used a 9×13 inch pan). I like to leave some extra parchment along the edges, so that the bars are easier to pull out when they are done baking.
  3. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar for the crust together until light and fluffy. Then, incorporate the flour and salt. Your dough will be slightly crumbly.
  4. Line your prepared pan with your dough. Pack it into each corner so that the entire bottom of the pan is covered.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust begins to brown along the edges.
  6. Blend the strawberries, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, and eggs in a food processor. Add in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pulse until smooth.
  7. Once smooth, pour the filling over your prepared crust.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the top of the bars begins to look slightly brown. Take out off the oven and let cool.
  9. Sift on a layer of powdered sugar. Cut and serve.

Recipe adapted from The Baker Upstairs.

Mother’s Day Garden Matcha Cake

As an art educator and a free spirit, my mom has undoubtedly opened creative doors for me. I grew up on a hobby farm in rural Illinois, which means that my childhood was marked by seasonal waves of baby chicks and ducklings, prairie burns that we tell ourselves we had control of, and the occasional biblical-style dust storm (truly). Living in the middle of nowhere meant that we really didn’t have neighbors to look over the fence and wonder what the heck we were doing with the place, or why.

One particularly memorable creative project from my childhood was my little garden in front of the house, inspired by the sweet children’s book “Mandy” by Julie Edwards. My mom gave me free reign over a little plot of soil.  Granted, it was a small sliver in the larger scheme of our two acres, but a prominent sliver. In the late winter, I would diligently look through Burpee seed catalogs, cut out my favorite colors and plant varieties, and collage a garden plan. Then, we would order the seeds and plant seedlings indoors, to be transplanted in the warmer months. I transformed the scrap of land into a chaotic celebration of floral color, pollinators, and the occasional cherry tomato plant, and the garden transformed me into someone that cares about adding beauty to the world, even if only a few people will ever see it.   

I’m in the big city now, barely keeping some fussy house plants alive, and longing for the wilder, large scale creative projects that come the most naturally to me. While my creative life as a child propelled me to seek bigger and more formidable challenges as an adult and to confront these challenges with an urban backdrop, I’ve found that my searching for these things often feels like a step towards boxing myself in; creating walls where there once were tilled fields and a horizon line. During this quarantine, I’ve found myself especially missing my mom, rural Illinois, and the creativity they afforded. 

I know that when I visit home again, every surface will still be covered in my mom’s handmade ceramic pots, cats, or both. There will be chaos everywhere, but it is my privilege to find order in the chaos and draw upon it for my own artistic pursuits, whether that’s the cakes that I create or the delirious scribbles in my many journals that hover around my apartment like friendly ghosts. 

The Spring Matcha Cake is dedicated to my mom and all moms. It is a perfect project to embrace the new season, especially if you’re cooped up inside. Three layers of luscious matcha cake are covered in silky matcha cream cheese frosting. In between each layer, there’s a satisfying store of semisweet chocolate ganache.  The top of the cake is decorated in Pocky white chocolate flowers, sprinkled with dried rose petals and edible glitter.  Even if you can’t enjoy eating this cake with your mom right now, I encourage you to make it anyway. Give her a call while you’re waiting to pull it from the oven.  

Scroll down for the recipe!

For the Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 2 tbsp matcha powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup canola oil

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 5-inch or 6-inch baking pans with non-stick cooking spray and line them with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Whisk together.
  3. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the wet ingredients. On low speed, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
  4. When combined and smooth, pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted at the center of the cake comes out clean (about 45 minutes).
  5. Let cool. Remove from pan.
  6. When the cakes are completely cool, cut them to achieve 4 even layers. Set aside three of these layers for your cake. Snack on the fourth!

For the Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 227-gram bar cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon matcha powder

Instructions:

  1. Cream together the room temperature cream cheese and butter in a stand mixer.
  2. Gradually incorporate the powdered sugar.
  3. Add 1 tbsp matcha, or to taste.

For the Ganache

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer over medium heat.
  2. Once simmering, at chocolate chips. Do not touch for 1 minute.
  3. Stir until smooth. Leave at room temperature for about 1 hour to achieve spreadable ganache.

For the Pocky Flowers

Ingredients:

  • 1 package matcha Pocky sticks
  • 1 bag white chocolate chips
  • Dried flowers, such as rose petals or lavender
  • Sprinkles or edible glitter
  • Food coloring of choice

Instructions:

  1. Prepare a baking sheet with wax paper. Arrange a few Pocky sticks on the paper, spaced apart. Make sure your baking sheet fits inside of your fridge, or use a flat plate instead!
  2. In a small bowl, heat the white chocolate chips in a microwave in 30-second intervals. Stir until the entire bowl of chocolate is melted.
  3. Stir in your desired food coloring.
  4. Fill a small piping bag with a small piping tip with the chocolate.
  5. Pipe chocolate on top of each Pocky stick in a flower pattern.
  6. While the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle on your desired dried flower petals, edible glitter, or other decoration.
  7. Let chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

To Assemble

Put a dollop of frosting on a cake board and securely place your first cake layer. Pipe frosting along the perimeter of the layer to create a dam. Fill with ganache. If your frosting or ganache are very wet, you will need to chill your cake before repeating this step and building on top of each layer. Cover the outside of your cake with matcha frosting as well as sprinkled dried flower petals, if desired. Once chilled, decorate your cake with Pocky flowers.

Happy Mother’s Day!