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.
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.