Her name was Karissa Casserman and I loved her. Seriously. She was the most perfect 2nd grader in our class and I wanted to be just like her. Reflecting on this now, such a feat was truly impossible. Karissa's long thick toe-head hair shot straight down her back like a white waterfall. Every single hair was in place. The girl had never had a frizz a day in her life. Her eyes were crystal blue, a type of blue only found in the coloring box. To top off her unbelievable cuteness she had a brilliant speech impediment that turned her "r's" into "w's". "Hi, I'm Kawissa Caswwerman". Everyone ate it up. Parents, teachers, the school staff. They ate that crap up like kids at a dessert buffet. And so did I. Little 8-year old Jamie knew this verbal affect was nothing but a ploy, a ginormous trick "Kawissa" used to get her way. But I didn't care. I fell for it like all the other schmucks. Every time I heard, "Hey Jamie, do you wanna come ouvuew to my house?", I was in heaven. It's important to understand that throughout my childhood until my mid 20's I attached myself to girls I idolized. Women I wanted to be. Prettier, thinner, more feminine (though NEVER funnier) friends that I simultaneously adored and hated; a constant reminder I had to always strive for a unachievable and quite narrowly defined type of beauty.
Karissa's perfection was topped off by the sandy location of her house. In the land of my birth, the strawberry capital of the world otherwise know as Oxnard California, there were two types of people. The happy, lucky, beautiful people who lived at the beach and the rest of us inland lame-os. I loved visiting Karissa for though her house was only 15 minutes from mine, if felt like a world away. A lovely, sun soaked community where bronzed blond mothers watched their equally tanned children frolic in the waves and served Lucky Charms cereal for lunch and sour apple Jolly Ranchers as a snack. Alright, fine, that's not completely accurate. Karissa's mother never actually served us Lucky Charms, but when she gave us the run of the kitchen every weekend, that's certainly what we pulled out. Karissa would grab two huge white ceramic bowls from the wooded cabinet. Out came the non-fat milk (a staple in my house as well) and the loudly colored box of Lucky Charms. You know what I'm talking about. That magnificently colored cereal box which is housed exactly at eye level in ever grocery store. I was a Trix girl myself (loved that rabbit!) but I wasn't about to complain. If Lucky Charms was the cereal of this particular beach goddess, I was all in. "Kawissa" was in charge of both cereal and milk pouring, a job she took with painstaking precision. During the pouring procedure I tapped my foot nervously, praying to the soggy cereal gods that she wouldn't add too much milk. She always did! The second she stopped pouring, I'd dive into my cereal in an attempt to inhale each marshmallow before they formed their bizarre slimy coating. Karissa picked at her bowl like a lady, choosing each nugget to create the perfect spoonful of cereal to marshmallow ratio. If a golden strand of hair strayed during consumption, she gently lowered her utensil and smoothed back the hair, then flipped the lower half of the strand to land perfectly on her upper shoulder. There was no flipping or repositioning my hair during eating. Hell, my head looked like it had been through the tumble cycle by the time I finished my bowl. Think Tasmanian devil meets Fran Dresher's The Nanny hairdo. I was certainly a sight next to that shining angel of femininity!
My summers with Karissa didn't last long. There was only one actually. By the time we hit 3rd grade my curly Jew-fro and bionator (a cousin of the head gear) were simply too much for any popular blond bombshell to handle in a friend. And so the invites ceased as did our sugar shocked luncheons. By 4th grade Karissa had moved to a different school and I was on to another girl to admire and admonish myself for not being more like. However, I never forgot "Kawissa" (obviously!). I wonder where she is, what she's doing, and more importantly, what she looks like. Maybe she is sitting some where, right now, enjoying a bowl of Lucky Charms and pushing her non-existent fly-aways back into place.
As an homage to Oxnard, CA my hometown and strawberry capital of the world (if you don't believe me, look it up) I bring you a delicious strawberry crisp. I've also been eating this for breakfast the last few days so I thought it appropriate. Feel free to throw in other fruit with the strawberries if you like. Plums and apples work particularly well.
4-5 baskets organic strawberries, washed and thinly sliced
2 heaping tablespoons kudzu root (a natural thickening agent, like cornstarch)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lavender (optional)
1 cup whole rolled oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup sunflower seeds, shelled
1/2 cup cashew pieces
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 over-flowing cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons organic butter or coconut oil
Preheat the oven to 350. Place the sliced strawberries in a 11x13 Pyrex baking dish. In a small bowl or mug combine the kudzu root and water and stir until the root is completely dissolved. Add to the strawberries and mix thoroughly.
In a large mixing bowl combine oats, coconut, sunflower seeds, nuts, spices, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Work the ingredients with your hands until everything is evenly coated. Add the butter into the bowl and combined so as there are no large lumps. Spread the topping on top of the strawberries and bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until the fruit has softened. Enjoy!