Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books — there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let’s be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today–about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn’t play favorites or trick you into thinking it’s something that it’s not. It’s a good foundation. A solid beginning.
And solid beginnings? They’re important. The wonderful thing about starting a relationship over the phone and getting to know one another as people, friends, confidants –well before you’re anything more– is that there’s a great deal of trust in that. There’s a good foundation. It makes me feel as if I’ve known Sam for a very, very long time. But lately it’s been delighting me to discover the things that arise that I don’t know about Sam. They’re small things, things people ask me that catch me off guard because after exactly 1.2 million hours on the phone (no exaggeration; we’ve been keeping a log), I don’t know the answer.
There is an apple farmer who does amazing farm breakfasts and lunches at the stand next to me at the Saturday farmer’s market and she just started doing a lovely oatmeal with fresh cream and butter, berries and nuts; I thought to myself, Ah, I wish Sam were here! He’d love this. Then I realized, I have no idea if Sam likes oatmeal in the mornings. Or ever. So I call and we clear that up (he does). Or he’ll call to ask me: Do I like Golden Retrievers? Would I ever want one? (Yes, and sure). How do you feel about Ayn Rand (meh)? Favorite season (fall)? Almond milk: yay or nay (yay)? There are questions that arise. Casual questions, light questions. But questions, still.. All quietly building upon a foundation. Adding to it.
So this recipe today is all about foundations and quietly building upon them. My springtime obsession with rhubarb is in full swing, so in addition to this simple vanilla bean ice cream, I made a baked rhubarb compote (also known as spring in a spoon, if you ask me) to ladle on top. It’s as easy as slicing up a few stalks, adding in a bit of orange zest, a little orange juice and a dash of sugar and baking it into a rich, pink mess of goodness. I’ve been eating it often at all times of the day. I highly recommend a bit for breakfast on top of toasted baguette or random spoonfuls when you need a little happiness in the late afternoon. Because hey, sometimes you can get carried away with the more elegant desserts, the showier cousins. But when it comes down to it, good and simple is what sustains you. That goes for a small bowl of sweetness at the end of the day. It also goes for making future plans with a new love because you can see it all taking shape and it just makes perfect sense. Because it falls into place so, so easily and seems so good. So simple. Because there’s a certain faith in all of that.
This is the perfect go-to vanilla ice cream recipe. Do be sure to let firm up for several hours before serving.
Very slightly adapted from: Chez Panisse Fruit
In a mixing bowl, quickly whisk the egg yolks just until they’re broken apart. Set aside.
Slowly heat the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the seeds with a small knife and put the pods and seed right into the milk mixture. Stir slowly over low heat until the milk is steaming and the sugar’s dissolved (don’t let it come to a boil here). Slowly pour the milk mixture into the egg yolks, stirring constantly.Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and set aside.
Pour heavy cream into a clean mixing bowl and set aside. Now, cook the milk and egg mixture over low heat until it thickens just enough to cover the back of a spoon (right around 170). Remove from heat right away and strain though a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl with the heavy cream. Whisk together and place in refrigerator to chill fully, at least two hours. Freeze according to your ice cream machine’s directions.
Alice Waters calls for 1/2 cup sugar in her recipe and I’ve found that with good, ripe rhubarb you can get by with a heaping 1/3 cup. It will be on the tart side this way. If you’d like it just a little sweeter, go with Alice and the 1/2 cup. This compote is wonderful with your morning oatmeal, atop yogurt or cottage cheese, layered in between layers of cake or served with ice cream. As we have it here.
Adapted from: Chez Panisse Fruit
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Rinse the rhubarb and wipe dry. Trim off the leafy ends and the tough bottom at the end of each stalk. Cut lengthwise into 1/30inch-thick strips and then crosswise into 2-inch pieces. This should yield 5-6 cups.
Grate the zest of the orange into a nonreactive baking dish and squeeze in 3 tablespoons of its juice. Add the rhubarb, sugar, and pinch of cardamom and toss everything together until the rhubarb is coated with sugar and juice. Cover and bake for 25 minutes or until a knife slides easily into the rhubarb. While warm, spoon onto vanilla ice cream.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.