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Slice of Life

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Plant berries, or just shell out

I just planted three blueberry bushes, three raspberry bushes, two packages of sunflower seed and four clematis. However, anyone who knows me will take the bet that they won’t survive the summer with me as their gardener.

Every year, try as I might to grow some kind of fruit or vegetable-bearing plant, some major disaster (which is never my fault) claims them as victims of my brown thumb.

While I’m going to have to wait for the berries to actually grow and produce something, I’m going to content myself with using the blueberries, raspberries and blackberries that are in season right now and available for about a third the cost of my kids’ college tuition.

One of the biggest complaints I get from readers about using berries in a muffin or other bakery treat is that they seem to sink to the bottom of the pan. Most of the time it’s because the batter is too thin and the berries are heavier than the batter, or the batter has been over-mixed (too much air in the batter) causing it to fall and taking the berries with it.

You can mitigate the drop of the berries by coating them with flour before stirring them into the batter. Or, instead of mixing them into the batter, spread half of the batter in the pan or muffin pan, place the coated berries on top, and then cover with the remaining batter while placing a few berries on top.

Chicken and Berry Wraps

3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 to 3 stalks of celery, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups diced cooked chicken (you can use turkey or deli meat cut into cubes)

1 cup fresh blueberries or raspberries

6 large tortillas

6 large lettuce leaves

In a bowl, combine the yogurt, mayonnaise, celery and salt. Gently stir in the chicken and berries. Warm the tortillas in the microwave. Top each tortilla with a lettuce leaf, and then top with about 1/2 cup of the chicken. Roll up the tortillas and cut them in half. If you’re going to eat them immediately, you can use a toothpick to keep them in shape. If you’re going to eat them later, wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Makes 12 wraps.

Blueberry Syrup

1 1/2 pounds (5 cups) blueberries (you can use raspberries or blackberries)

4 cups water

2 cups sugar

Six 1-inch strips of lemon zest removed with a vegetable peeler

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a saucepan, combine the blueberries with 1 cup of the water. Crush the berries with a potato masher and then bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer (do not boil) over a low heat for 15 minutes. Strain the mixture into a glass bowl or heatproof measuring cup, pressing down hard so that as much of the liquid as possible gets through. Discard the remaining solids.

Rinse out the pot. Add the sugar, lemon zest and the remaining 3 cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil the syrup over moderate heat for about 15 to 20 minutes (no less but not much longer; otherwise the mixture will become too thick). Add the blueberry juice and lemon juice, and then bring the mixture to a boil for 1 minute.

Let the syrup cool to room temperature, then discard the lemon zest. Pour the syrup into cleaned glass bottles. Seal and refrigerate for up to 6 months.

Lemonberry Cheesecake Bars

1 cup flour

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

1/3 cup brown sugar

6 tablespoons soft butter

1 (8 ounces) package cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

1 cup blue raspberry or blackberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-9 inch baking pan. In a bowl, combine the flour, pecans, brown sugar and butter. Mix until crumbly. Remove about 1/2 cup of the crumbs and set them aside. Press the remaining crumbs in the prepared pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or just until the crust is lightly browned.

While the crust is baking, in the bowl of an electric mixer or food processor, beat the cream cheese just until it’s soft (do not over-mix). Add the lemon juice, zest, sugar, vanilla and egg. Mix for 2 to 3 minutes (scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary) until everything is combined. Again, do not over-mix.

Spread the cream cheese mixture on the warm crust. Sprinkle the berries over the top and then sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the berries. Press the crumbs lightly on to the berries but don’t push too much. Bake for another 25 to 30 minutes, just until the top is lightly browned.

Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving. Can be made up to two days ahead, but it does not freeze well. Serves 8 to 9.

– Modified from Slice of Life is a food column that offers recipes, cooking advice and information on new food products. It appears Sundays. If you have a question about cooking or a food item, contact Eileen Goltz at or write The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.