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.
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.