This is a tale of love and loss, fulfillment and heartbreak, happiness and anguish. This is a tale about my first love…at work.
You meet a lot of people in the workplace. If you’re lucky, you’ll figure out who the batshit crazy people are right away and keep your distance. If you’re luckier, you’ll make a friend or two. And if you’re REALLY lucky, you will find a work spouse. Coworkers come and go in our lives but you will never forget your first work spouse.
Oh the fond memories. One of my all-time favorite Kelley stories was when a Chinese filmmaker flew in to the US for a meeting with some of our other coworkers. He sat in our common area and saw Kelley working while he waited for his colleagues. During dinner, he leaned over to one of our coworkers and said, “So I must ask you – WHO is that gorgeous strawberry blonde that works in your office? She looks like a model or an actress!”
Kelley started about a year after I did, and I honestly think it took a while for us to warm up to each other. She’s a girly girl, and I… well… I own Star Wars bedsheets. But the friendship evolved throughout the last nearly four years and blossomed into professional matrimony. I parallel parked her car for her regularly, and she reminded me that I really ought to brush my hair in the morning. We talked about everything from workout strategies, to boys, to wine, to dieting, and frequently discussed life’s greatest unanswered questions.
It all started over morning coffee. Kelley and I casually complained to each other about how terrible the office coffee was at the time. Neither of us were coffee snobs, but the communal office coffee literally tasted like aluminum sludge. No amount of sugar or creamer could save it. A couple of years ago, Kelley and I started buying and brewing our own coffee. Most of my mornings as of late would start with the instant message “can you go now?”, meaning it was time to rendezvous in the office pantry. Morning coffee quickly became coffee and breakfast, which then occasionally turned into drinks after work and weekend outings. I was in a committed relationship that was martial work bliss.
Kelley: “It’ll be okay. It wasn’t going to last forever. You’ll be fine.”
Me: “Will we still see each other?”
Kelley: “Yeah, of course we’ll still see each other!”
Me: “Okay. I would like that.”
Naturally, as a little goodbye sendoff, I had to make a batch of “Gorgeous Strawberry Blonde” bars. Kelley had actually sent me a similar recipe from Smitten Kitchen a couple of years ago for Pink Lemonade Bars, but they used raspberries instead of strawberries. I had to go down to San Diego for a work trip the day before her last day, so I picked up a few cartons of fresh strawberries from the Carlsbad Strawberry Company farm on the drive back up. They had BEAUTIFUL and extremely sweet strawberries to choose from.
I tweaked Smitten Kitchen’s recipe a bit to make up for the additional liquid that strawberries tend to produce (versus the not-as-juicy raspberries), and didn’t use the lemon zest in the crust that Smitten Kitchen’s recipe called for. Here’s my take:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup fresh lemon juice (pulp is fine)*
zest of 1 medium lemon
1/2 cup pureed strawberries (about 3/4 cup hulled berries)**
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
*If you want it to be less tart, use slightly less lemon juice and more strawberry puree, but make sure you end up with the same total amount of liquid or the bars won’t set after you bake them.
**Hulling the berries is really important – you only want the sweet, red part of the strawberry and none of that white bitter center.
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan, or line with nonstick foil or parchment paper.
2. Make the crust. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until smooth and fluffy. Working at a low speed with a stand mixer (I used a pastry blender in this case), gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly. Pour into prepared pan and press firmly into an even layer. Bake for about 18 minutes, until set at the edges.
3. While the crust bakes, make the filling. In a blender or the bowl of a food processor, combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, strawberry puree, sugar and eggs and process until smooth. Add in flour, baking powder and salt, then pulse until smooth.
4. Gently pour the filling over the hot crust when it has finished baking. Return pan to oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until the filling is set. A light colored “crust” will form on top from the sugar in the custard – nothing a little sprinkling of powdered sugar can’t hide!
5. Sprinkle the bars with some powdered sugar. Cool completely before slicing and use a sharp damp knife to ensure clean slices. Store bars in the refrigerator. Makes about 28 2-inch square bars.
Kelley turned about as red as her bars when she opened the box on her last day and read the sign that had her infamous Kelley-isms (as seen below).
I think all approved the out come of the bars. Miss you, Kelley!