It strikes me as very odd that I’ve never written about ice cream here. This is because it’s my very favorite food of all time. I won’t admit how frequently I eat ice cream each week–hopefully family members will practice restraint with their comments on this particular post. But really, ice cream makes me very happy. Growing up, Bon Boniere was our little local ice cream shop downtown. Sometimes when I’d get home from school, my mom would promise that if I was lucky, maybe my dad would feel like going out for a cone later. Then the obsessing would begin: M & M or Bubblegum? It was like my mantra as the Brady Bunch wrapped up and dinner time grew near. I’d hear my dad pull up the driveway and know that I should give him a few minutes to put down his briefcase before I bombarded him with the all-important question of the evening: can we go?
Then there were my teenage years when I ate Kristin Hook’s family out of house and home. I’d like to take this moment to apologize to Kristin’s mom: you kept buying that Rocky Road and I kept eating it all. You never said a word although I’m sure you had many to say. And then off to college where Black Jack Pizza decided it’d be a great idea to deliver pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to hungry college kids. For free. The kicker? There was a $5 minimum so you had to order at least two pints. Thank you Black Jack Pizza for my freshman 15. You’re solely to blame.
So I’ll cut through a few years (or, er, a decade) and tell you about the last week at my place. The beautiful thing about my building is there is this little corner store right below me that is open virtually 24 hours a day. Feel like grapefruit juice first thing in the morning? No problem. Out of toilet paper? Done. Hunkering for some late night ice cream? Hassan’s got you taken care of. Now the thing about Hassan is he doesn’t let you remain anonymous as just another customer and he has a miraculous memory. He always comments on what I’m buying and asks how I liked whatever I bought the day (or week) before. Hassan has noticed that I love ice cream, he remembers what kind I buy, and he’s started ordering more of those flavors. I started to realize this very recently when I walk in and he greets me with “Oh hi, Miss. No more Mission to Marzipan tonight,” he chuckles. “I’m so sorry. But I have your Mint Oreo Cookie. I ordered extra this week!” He chuckles again and I start to think maybe, just maybe, Hassan is mocking my eating habits. Even if he’s not, it becomes clear I’m spending a bit too much time at the corner store. So I vow to give up ice cream. And that lasts about 18 hours. Then I vow to start making my own. And here we are. Hassan and I need some space. And you need this recipe.
I’ve experimented with making ice cream before, but it’s turned out more like ice milk: just a mixed up frozen combination of milk and sugar. But this is my first foray into custard-based ice cream and it was incredibly easy and turned out beautifully. I did adapt the recipe after reading some of David Lebovitz’s advice on ensuring your homemade ice cream remains soft like the store-bought kind. He encourages adding alcohol. It doesn’t take much to sell me on that one. So here we are: homemade ice cream with a little splash of vodka. You won’t taste it–but it makes for a softer consistency. You can read the rest of David’s tips here if you’d like. So I’m starting to look ahead to my next flavor already–any favorites you like to make at home?
Use any berries you’d like for this ice cream. Just make sure to cut up the pieces quite small–nothing good about big frozen, icy chunks of berries in your ice cream. Also, while I call for vodka here, you could also use kirsh or a liquor that would bring out the taste of the berries. I chose vodka because it has a neutral flavor and I always have some around the house, but play around with whatever inspires you–it’s not enough to make a big difference flavor-wise.
Adapted slightly from: Rustic Fruit Desserts
Combine the milk, 1/2 cup of the cream, and 1/3 cup of the sugar in a 3-quart sauce pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally until just warm.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks, 1/3 cup of the remaining sugar, and the salt and whisk until slightly lighter in color. Very slowly pour half of the warmed liquid into the yolk mixture, whisking continuously. Next, pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Do not allow for it to get hot enough to boil. Heat slowly and watch for thickening.
Once thickened, take saucepan off of heat source. Set a bowl over an ice bath, then strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over the bowl. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup cream and the vanilla and continue stirring until cool. Cover and chill in refrigerator 1.5 – 2 hours. Add remaining 1/3 cup sugar to chopped berries and put in the refrigerator in separate little bowl.
Once the custard has chilled, stir in the berries and vodka and freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Place the churned ice cream in a dry plastic container and cover with plastic wrap directly on top of the ice cream. Chill for at least 2 hours or until set up.
Storage: Stored in an airtight container in the freezer, the ice cream will be good for two weeks.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.