We are in the thick of summer–schedules relaxed, bodies tan and the morning rush to school and work a distant memory. During these lazy–and often crazy–days, I find myself thinking about my childhood summers: so similar to, and yet so different from my kids’.
How did I spend those long, hot days in the seventies suburbs? There were lots of beach days, bike rides, and running in a pack with the kids from the block playing Ghost in the Graveyard while the fireflies came out. One o’clock, Two o’clock. . . Twelve Miiiidniiiight! We stood ankle deep in the brook, looking for frogs and newts, our ears finely tuned to the particular frequency of the ice-cream truck bell. When the streetlights came on, it was time to head home for dinner. Summer.
My mom, a nurse, worked part-time evenings so a few days per week, dad gave us dinner. If mom hadn’t left something, we enjoyed hot dogs and beans, mac and cheese from the blue box, or pizza from Lou’s down at the corner. After dinner on those hot and humid summer nights, we looked forward to one thing–Dairy Queen!
Our DQ in town is only open seasonally( in winter, a Christmas tree farmer sets up shop there). It’s a smallish stand, with one walk-up window, plunked right in front of the train tracks. You check out the posters plastered to the large plate glass windows to make your selection–in those days, Dilly Bars, Buster Bars, The CMP Sundae (for chocolate, marshmallow, peanut)or the Mr. Misty Freeze were popular along with cones dipped in chocolate, butterscotch, or cherry coating–the kind that hardens on the ice cream like a shell. Once we waited in line (which could snake around three sides of the building) and got our cones, we would sit on the hood of the Datsun slurping ice cream and counting trains while Moonshadow or Dream Weaver played behind us on the AM radio. Our cones sometimes dripped down our forearms despite dad’s famous “lick-around.” Summer.
Now, AS IF that weren’t enough to plant a lifelong love of DQ in my little mind(and trust me, it totally was!), there was another figure who looms large in my childhood summer mythology. Larger than life, in all his flat-top buzzed, soft-spoken, glory: my Uncle Moe.
Uncle Moe (my dad’s paternal uncle) had relocated from his native Connecticut to the Harrisburg PA area in the 1950’s, where he bought the franchise rights for the great state of Pennsylvania to–you guessed it–Dairy Queen! He ran a few DQ’s there and raised his family in a busy, friendly house with a swimming pool complete with diving board AND SLIDE! A favorite summer vacation for us was to pile into Clementine (mom’s VW) and make the 5+ hour drive to Pennsylvania and Uncle Moe. About an hour into the trip, my mom would break out some brand-new activity books and fresh 8-packs of Crayola crayons–a treat which kept my sister and I busy for long stretches. The rest of the time we scouted the side of the highway for cows, played the license plate game and cheered when we saw a Stuckey’s, where we’d stop for a fill’er up and some Goo Goo clusters. Back on the road, we would pull our fists up and down facing out the back window to any semi behind us, hoping for a blast from the trucker’s air horn. Do trips like this even exist anymore? Summer.
When we got to Uncle Moe’s, we spent lots of time swimming and admiring our exotic teenage cousins with their Doctor Scholls and short shorts, who had a special sprayer on each of their double sinks for hair washing and smelled like Love’s Baby Soft and Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific. We had cousins to play with and day trips to HersheyPark. We loved floating in the pool while my large uncle made “tidal waves” by bouncing up and down on an air mattress. None of this, however, was even The Best Part.
The Best Part happened shortly before ten p.m. when, happy and sleepy and up past bedtime, we would see Uncle Moe’s head peek in the door and ask, “Who wants to come close up the store?” My sister and I, along with whatever cousins were hanging around Moe’s that weekend, would pile into his enormous white Lincoln Continental with the plates reading DQ MOE and head to the nearest one of his Dairy Queens. Silently, we filed behind the counter, wearing our Holly Hobbie nightgowns, giddy with anticipation. Uncle Moe solemnly handed us a paper cup with a cartoon image of Dennis the Menace and then, while he balanced out the cash registers and finished the end-of-day checklist, we were allowed to make Whatever. We. Wanted. Oh, yes. Yes. Summer.
Thus when my nostalgic, summer-saturated brain read Abby’s recipe for double-chocolate shortcakes, I didn’t think (much as I love them) strawberries or apricots. I thought peanuts. Marshmallow. Singing along with the radio on the way home from DQ, my CMP sundae melting in front of me while I sing the lyrics to Moonshadow, filling in for Cat Stevens’ vocals every time the car clears a highway underpass and the radio fades. Summer.
CMP Shortcakes, adapted from Abby Dodge.
For the Shortcakes:
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (7 7/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (4 5/8 ounces) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1 ounce) unsweetened, natural cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
scant ½ teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup (3 ounces) chopped chocolate or chips
¼ cup peanut butter baking chips
2 tablespoons roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped, plus a few for garnish
For the Marshmallow Topping: ( adapted from Marshmallow Fluff’s Online Yummy Book)
1 cup Marshmallow Fluff
few tablespoons of warm water *or* the liqueur of your choice
Hot fudge sauce
Vanilla Ice Cream
To make the shortcakes:
1. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or a nonstick liner.
2. Cut the butter in half lengthwise, cut each half lengthwise again, and then cut each strip into 8 pieces. Pile the butter onto a plate and slide it into the freezer until ready to use. Measure the yogurt in a 1-cup Pyrex measure and add the vanilla. Using a fork, whisk until blended and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.
3. Put the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Add the cold butter pieces and, using short pulses, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal with small pieces of butter (about pea-sized) still visible, about 1 minute. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and add chopped chocolate, peanut butter chips and chopped peanuts.
4. Pour the yogurt and vanilla over the flour mixture and, using a rubber spatula, stir and fold until it forms a shaggy, moist dough with some floury bits remaining. Scrape the dough and any remaining floury bits onto the counter and knead a few times until the dough is evenly moist and holds together well.
5. Drop the biscuits on the prepared cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining chopped peanuts. Bake until puffed and spring back when the tops are gently pressed, 16 to 18 minutes. Move the sheet to a cooling rack and let the biscuits sit until they’re cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
To make the topping:
Stir Marshmallow Fluff together with enough warm water or the liqueur of your choice to desired consistency.
Warm the biscuits if made ahead (a toaster oven set on “bake 300°F” is great for this). Using a serrated knife, cut the shortcakes in half crosswise and place the bottom halves on serving plates. Scoop vanilla ice cream over the shortcake and top with marshmallow topping, hot fudge, chopped peanuts and cherry. Place the remaining biscuit lids jauntily to one side.
Serve immediately, preferably while listening to 70’s station on Pandora or similar.
If this creates a DQ craving in you, I’ll meet you by the tracks!