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.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.