We all want for things. Whether you care to admit it or not, it could be an actual possession like a new pair of jeans or an espresso machine or it could be for someone to swoop in and pay off your credit card bills or your student loan payment. Perhaps it’s a much-deserved vacation with your sweetheart or having Labor Day off from work. More time to work-out and write letters or organize the garage. Maybe we wish for warmer summer evenings … or cooler summer evenings. But this week I met a pretty wonderful woman who assured me she has it all. She wants for nothing.
I still work at Heath Ceramics one day a week and have been balancing it nicely with Marge and a few writing projects. The people are amazing, an occasional drive down to foggy Sausalito is always welcome, and I actually enjoy chatting with customers and meeting new people. Last week, I approached an older woman in a wheelchair and started talking to her about the weather and her day — basic small talk. She told me her name was Beatrice but wanted me to call her Bee. She asked if I had children and told me she liked my earrings. Eventually we got to talking about dinnerware and she mentioned that she’d had her Heath collection since the 1960’s (we hear this a lot). I asked her what other pieces she might need to fill in or round out what she already had at home. Now Bee was probably in her late 80’s or early 90’s. She looked at me for the longest time and then slowly smiled, telling me she had it all.
While I initially thought she was referring to the entire store (we get our fair share of customers who come in and literally do own the majority of the store), what she meant was that she had everything she needed. At this point, she was giving things away to her kids and grand-kids. She told me that you get to a certain point in life where things don’t matter anymore and you don’t necessarily care to surround yourself with more of them, but with people instead. She’d loved to cook years ago; her husband Alfred approached and assured me she was an amazing cook. He missed her cooking. But now, the two explained, it’s all about time. Time that they realize they don’t have a lot of. They’d rather have someone cook for them and leave more room in the day to be out in the garden, read, talk with each other, and be around people they love.
Much like Bee and Alfred, my grandparents began the process of making more room in their days a few years ago. They started clearing out their barn in Upstate New York and even some rooms in the main house, too. I remember about a year ago, we were told to think of things that we wanted from the house, and I just couldn’t do it or make that kind of request. It seemed odd and slightly morbid. I did ask for one of the Russian dolls my grandma always kept at the end of the hallway leading to the blue bedroom. As kids, we’d spend what must’ve been hours taking them apart and admiring the little village of wooden women you could create — all from one original doll. It was magical. But now after seeing my mom and aunts spend time organizing files and papers, box things up to donate, and tackle the yard and the garden, I get it more and more. It’s not so much morbid, it’s just clearing the way for new kinds of days. More spacious days.
Over the July 4th holiday, my grandpa brought up a big box of old cookbooks that he’s been encouraging my grandma to get rid of. He let us choose some that we’d like to take back with the understanding that he wasn’t taking any back home. While they probably haven’t looked through the cookbooks in over a decade, I’ve been unable to put them down. They’re a portrait of a certain time period, a certain type of cook, and a way in which women used to organize the kitchen and the pantry. And there are actually some pretty great recipes that I’m going to make for you / with you here. So that’s something we can look forward to in the coming weeks. That and ice cream.
So this ice cream recipe? We’ve talked ice cream a few times before: we’ve chatted Strawberry Ice Cream and whipped up a classic Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. This week I wanted to make a really rich, special ice cream that used just a few ingredients. While I love summer fruit, I’ve had my fair share of peaches and sweet berries lately. And I’ll admit to testing some new cookie recipes in the kitchen for Marge and helping the lovely new Danish bakers test their new lemon tarts. So when you’ve had just a little too much or when you have just enough, rest assured that you can mix together a few egg yolks, a little milk and some crème fraiche and it’ll always result in a dense, slightly tart ice cream that satisfies in just the right way. To share. Or not to share. You decide.
As we admit to ourselves the things we want for (justified or not), we can also acknowledge that there’s a thread that weaves through the fabric of each day, I think. For my grandparents, Alred and Bee, and me and you– I’m willing to bet it’s time well spent with people you love. Sure, new jeans are nice. Time off is nice. Having a fairy godmother come in and pay off your American Express bill each month would be really nice. But when it comes down to it, I just want to have days on end with people I get a kick out of.
This recipe is slightly adapted from ice cream genius, David Lebovitz. I add a little vanilla to his recipe, and I think a bit of orange zest would be really nice, too. If you don’t want to buy crème fraiche, combine 2 cups heavy cream with 1/4 cup buttermilk and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours, until thick. I had some leftover figs from the farmers market and decided to roast them with a little honey. The sweetness of the honeyed figs balances beautifully with the subtle tartness of the crème friache ice cream.
For the Ice Cream:
Set a mesh strainer over the top of a medium-sized bowl and set it in an ice bath. Set aside.
Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. In a separate small bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the original saucepan.
Over medium heat, stir the mixture constantly with a heatproof plastic spatula or wooden spoon, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and into the bowl sitting in the ice bath. Stir until the mixture begins to cool. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, at least two hours.
Once cool, whisk in the crème fraîche, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Wash and stem figs, and heat the oven to 375 F. Slice them in half and arrange cut side up on a baking tray. Drizzle the honey over top, and roast for about 15 minutes, or until the honey is just being to get dark and caramelized. The figs should not be too soft that they’ll fall apart. They should still hold their shape. Let cool until you’re able to handle, 5-8 minutes, then spoon over bowl of ice cream.
Early Fall Baking
Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I've never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe -- something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn't too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that's exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares.
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 am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.
I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I'm out and about as I find they're often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there's only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I'm tentative on muffins. But not these. We've been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping -- quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare. I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine's post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don't remember the last time a Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one: