The past few weekends have been busy ones, filled with house guests, window-box planting, and quite a few writing projects. Sam and I both love our house so much, and having people over always heightens that — sharing the breakfast nook in the mornings and seeing the living room fill up with more than just the two of us. I love an excuse for a mid-afternoon stroll through Fremont, and a reason to fill up on chocolate samples at Theo. Of course, house guests must eat, so there’s always Vietnamese food at Green Leaf and later at Tamarind Tree, beautiful salads at Sitka and Spruce, pizzas at Delancey, drinks at Ocho. Then on Monday, after a trip to the airport, there’s a comparative quiet and a noticeable lack of Theo chocolate, tofu spring rolls, and Dark and Stormy’s. Enter this weekend: just the two of us, garden planning and patio-sitting at our neighborhood bar. The sun was out, the breeze was warm, and sometimes beer just sounds good at 3 p.m. It was on these walks that I realized, yes, spring may have arrived in Seattle.
The first week I moved here I made a few trips to the dump to get rid of cardboard boxes. I went in flip-flops. My second visit the nice man working the booth asked what the hell I was thinking. He had a point: March was damp here. It was not flip-flops at-the-dump weather (although the more I think about it, is it ever flip-flops-at-the-dump-weather?). I learned to layer quickly, ran more inside the gym, and drank a lot of tea. But now, coats aren’t draped on the dining room chairs and I’ve actually been cracking my office window to get some fresh air.
People are out on their bikes, daffodils are growing like weeds, and if you pay attention you can smell barbeque in certain neighborhoods just as the light turns in the evening. It’s always this time of year when I start day-dreaming about trips I want to take, books I want to read, warm-weather cocktails, and — of course — ice cream. The ice cream machine is one of those appliances that, when we were unpacking, got pushed to the very back of the cupboards. I’m happy to say this has been remedied, there are two glorious new ice cream cookbooks on the horizon, and I plan on churning away this spring and summer.
First thing’s first: it’s time to order Bi-Rite Creamery’s new cookbook Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones (out April 17, 2012). I’ve seen it, I’ve read it, this recipe is from the book, and I think you’re going to like it. There is also the soon-to-be-released Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book (April 25, 2012), which I haven’t had the pleasure of getting my hands on yet, but I’m sure it is chock full of owner Jake Godby’s humor and irreverence. If you haven’t eaten ice cream in San Francisco, Bi-Rite is classically wonderful (think glorious strawberry, smooth salted caramel, and honey lavender). Humphry Slocombe is a little wackier (although still wonderful) with more renegade flavors like FlufferNutter, Butter Beer, or Pom Coconut Ale. When it comes to choosing, I’m a Bi-Rite gal through and through. If you’re familiar with good East Coast ice creameries like Herrell’s: Bi-Rite is the Bay Area’s version. It’s the kind of ice cream that skirts trends or fads: it’s just really, really good — one of the reasons the line often wraps its way around the block, even on chilly evenings.
The Bi-Rite Creamery cookbook is everything you’d expect: concisely written, beautifully photographed, and yes: the salted caramel ice cream recipe is in there along with unexpected inclusions like cookies, brownies and cakes. I decided pretty quickly that the Malted Vanilla Ice Cream needed to happen, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to make homemade Magic Shell (you know that crackly chocolate that they use to dip soft-serve cones in? Yes, that). If you’re a fan of that crunchy chocolate shell, you’re in luck: it’s really no more effort than melting your favorite chocolate into hot coconut oil. Then you pour it slowly into the ice cream machine when it’s done churning and it hardens on the spot into little crags and shards of dark chocolate. Like beer at 3 p.m. on a sunny Saturday, this kind of thing makes me smile.
If you don’t have malted milk powder at home, it’s easy to find at the market; I buy Carnation brand and love having it in the pantry — it’s wonderful to add to milkshakes or baked goods (try 1/4 cup in your next batch of chocolate-chip cookies). As for this recipe, it’s an egg-based, custardy ice cream, so the mixture should be pretty darn thick when you pour it into your machine. It’ll tide you over until you get to San Francisco, for sure. Until then, I hope you have daffodils in your neighborhood, occasional warm breezes, more light in the evening, and a generous bowl of ice cream.
As written, the Bi-Rite gals add peanut brittle and milk chocolate chunks to this ice cream base. That has to be stellar — but there’s something to be said about the simple chocolate crackle strewn throughout; certainly add any mix-ins that you think sound delicious. Crushed cookies or toasted almonds would be wonderful. I tweaked the amount of malted milk powder here, too, feeling ultimately that 1/2 cup was a little heavy-handed.
Slightly adapted from: Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
In a medium heat-proof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in the malted milk powder. Set aside.
In a heavy non-reactive pan saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, sugar, and salt and put the pan over medium heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to low. Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-and-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.
Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat until it’s thickened and coats the back of a spatula. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set the container in an ice-water bath and stir occasionally to release the heat. Wait until it’s cool. Remove the container from the ice-water-bath, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours- overnight.
Once the base is chilled, remove from the refrigerator and add the vanilla. Give it a quick stir to combine. Free in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Meanwhile, make the magic shell, or chocolate crackle: In a small saucepan, heat the coconut oil on medium-low heat until it’s just melted and in liquid form. Add the chocolate pieces and stir until they’ve melted into the oil. Remove from heat. Pour in a small bowl until you’re ready to add it to your ice cream base. Once ice cream is finished churning, slowly pour in the chocolate crackle; although it’s in viscous liquid form, it will freeze up into little solid bits when it hits the cold ice cream.
* Recipe note: When I first started making chocolate crackle and when I initially posted this recipe, I used much more coconut oil. Since then, I’ve learned you really only need a few tablespoons and that the chocolate actually firms up on its own really well, too. So since the original post, I’ve decreased the amount of coconut oil called for in the chocolate crackle.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.