I’m more than a little finicky about things in life, some would even say neurotic. I like what I like, and what I don’t like I try to avoid at all costs. It’s actually a strange quality for a Peace Corps Volunteer. Here, flexibility is king. We pride ourselves on being able to deal with anything. I can deal with anything, that doesn’t mean I’m going to throw myself into anything’s path (like some people who will go unnamed). Instead I prefer to avoid unpleasantness at all costs.
This makes me a distinct personality among my friends. So distinct in fact that when I announced my intention to adopt a child (in the distant future), they all assumed it was because I didn’t want to gain weight! They never considered that kindness or altruism had anything to do with it. The logic went something like this: ‘Luz hates the idea of getting fat, she wants a kid, so she’ll adopt’. I was a little perturbed, and set them straight immediately.
Still, I do try to avoid what I dislike: winter, weight gain, a lack of pre-planning, not getting enough sleep, and the color green. I plan on living ½ of my life in a subtropical climate in order to avoid one or two of those. Likewise I am deeply passionate about what I do like: cooking, yoga, fresh fruits and vegetables, the color yellow, and the month of May.
May is my favorite month of the year and always has been. In childhood it not only heralded my ½ birthday (super-important to one of the youngest students in the class), but the return of the warm weather and the end of the school year. It was usually the month that I received student of the month (my teachers didn’t always appreciate my precociousness). Flowers were in bloom. I got not one, but two new dresses (May crowning and piano recital), and finally got to doff my winter coat in exchange for a chic navy trench. Even at the age of 7, I had a strong sense of style.
As as PVC I am currently feeling the same jubilation I had at the age of 7. May is here and it is probably my favorite month thus far. It is warm enough to wear my lightest clothes, but not yet oppressively hot. I have been able to exercise more, thanks to the warm weather and the strangely long hours of daylight. What’s more, fabulous fresh fruits and vegetables appear in the bazaar daily. Strawberries, something I have pined for, are now abundant. I find myself buying them by the kilo and eating them two times a day. There are not just one, but two national holidays to celebrate!
Overall it is a great month, and I find myself savoring it, possibly even more than when I was a kid. Now the knowledge that I’ll probably find myself shivering with cold and pining for fresh fruit and central heating this winter, give this time of year a special sweetness. You can’t always avoid everything you don’t enjoy, but then you shouldn’t. It’s those times that teach you to appreciate a month like May.
I made this pie for some visiting friends the week after strawberries first arrived in the bazaar. The recipe is adapted from Cooks, but I never had the desire to make it in the States, because strawberries are so expensive there, and you need 3 pounds of them to make one pie. Here when they sell strawberries by the kilo, and they are about ½ the price of the ones I bought in the States, it made a lot more sense. I’ve renamed it 28 of Mai, after Azerbaijani Independence Day, which we celebrate at the end of the month.
28 Mai Strawberry Pie
1 ½ kilos fresh strawberries (halved, unless they are very small)
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 ½ teaspoons low-sugar pectin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pre-baked pie shell of your choosing.
Select 6 oz. of your ugliest, softest strawberries (about 1 1/2 c. worth if you don’t have a scale to weigh them, and mash them until pulverized. This should yield around 3/4 c. purée.
Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and pectin, in a medium saucepan, and stir in berry purée. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula, and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan to prevent scorching. The mixture will look frothy at first, and will then darken and thicken. Transfer to a large bowl to allow it to cool more quickly and stir in lemon juice, allowing mixture to come to room temperature.
Mix strawberries with purée mixture when it has reached room temperature. Stir until berries are evenly coated. Scoop into pie shell, piling into mound. Turn all berries on top face down for a prettier finished appearance. Refrigerate until pie is chilled, about 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.