Our days are a shuffle between yes and no, between obligations that must be tended to and doing something for ourselves to maintain our curiosity and excitement. To being a good partner, friend, daughter, sister. A negotiation, a tug and release, a push and pull. Oftentimes the pendulum swings drastically to one end, where work overtakes the day-to-day shuffle and dinner dates and lake walks and calls with old friends take the backseat. Then there are the moments when there are house guests, obligation emails, car headlights to replace, mouse traps to set and dentist appointments to keep. Work gets pushed aside, you start feeling guilty and become acutely aware of this funny thing called balance. When referring to the fullness of her summer days recently, Kelsey from the lovely blog Happy Yolks wrote: “We are living the length and width of our days.” I love this sentiment for its deliberateness (hey, Wednesday, I’m going to live the heck out of you!). For me lately, it’s not as much about camping and hiking and taking advantage of the lingering summer sunshine, but about taking each day and trying to squeeze an increasingly stressful work life, a little play, time with Sam, an actual home cooked meal or a trip to the grocery store into each little nook and cranny of a day. Without going crazy. Or making Sam crazy. Or both.
Sam actually said something last week that gave me pause. We were talking about our approach to challenges and the Big things that life can bring. He said that I’m an interesting mix of tentative and bold, that I approach challenges cautiously, even fearfully, and so I often have a hard time looking forward towards future accomplishments. It’s only when I look back that I can appreciate the marathons and published articles and graduate degree and really good pie crust. So I don’t always walk up to things in life with a big, fat YES because I am (and always have been) cautious and guarded of how they will affect me and my daily life. I’m protective of that. That’s really all we’ve got, yes? Cups of coffee together, being fulfilled by work, getting excited about new books and upcoming travels, and supporting one another through it all. I’m sure you’ve seen all of those very quotable cards that encourage us to just say Yes to new challenges and opportunities, to take life by the horns and dive into things with abandon. That’s nice and good and important. But saying no or taking the day to think about the ramifications can be pretty great (and necessary), too.
On the always engaging blog Five Cool Things, writer Richard Pelletier recently wrote a whole post on the idea of yes and no, highlighting this quote from poet Ted Hughes: “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.” So living the length and width of my days with heart and the knowledge that while I may be having trouble looking ahead and seeing that this book will.get.finished and we will.all.survive, I know that in a years time, I’ll look back and smile at it all. And feel proud. That’s how it eventually works when you approach things and give them your full heart, tentatively and fearfully at first, or with abandon. The end result, I think, is the same.
So these days I’m guarding my Yes’s by saying No every once in a while. You don’t have to take every phone call throughout the day. Especially the ones that may interrupt a cherished lunch break with your partner. You don’t have to pay the bills the day they arrive or weed the garden every few days. Weeds will always be there. But having a day full of heart in your work, your afternoon chai, your evening run or dinner with family? Yes. So I’m trying to think this way in these coming few months where I feel a bit chained to my desk and kitchen, where I feel I don’t have as much freedom to travel as I may like or take weekends off. Remember that push and pull and tug and release? Those weekends off and freedom to travel will return. Right now, the pendulum has just swung the other way for a bit. And as I get acquainted with how it looks on this side of things, I’m all about Yes. And No.
Saying Yes: long runs + yoga, homemade tomato sauce, reading Luisa’s new book, finally seeing this film, listening to a lot of the Rebirth Brass Band (we just saw them in concert and they’re really incredible), taking the bus more just to people watch, riding my bike more to get a different sense of the city, working on a holiday granola flavor for Marge, buying a new striped bag, backing up my computer files much more often, making a towering cake from this charming book, eating lots of ripe figs (with cheese!).
Saying No: Not responding to every email or phone call that comes my way within the hour, turning down occasional social invitations that get in the way of the cookbook, worrying about not having dental insurance, realizing keeping in touch is a two-way street and not feeling guilty about being slightly out of touch with old friends, writing opportunities that may not best serve the big picture of my career, midnight ice cream (o.k., that one was a lie; I always say yes to ice cream).
This particular ice cream is one I’ve wanted to make for months. Sam bought me the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream cookbook a while back and occasionally I flip through it and become overwhelmed with all of the flavors. If you’re not familiar with Jeni’s ice cream, she’s an Ohio gal who has created this technique using cornstarch and cream cheese (no eggs!) to make ultra-smooth, wonderful ice creams with flavors like Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Banana Ice Cream with Caramelized White Chocolate Freckles, and Sweet Basil and Honeyed Pine Nut Ice Cream. There’s a lot of goodness here. A lot to say yes to.
I adapted this recipe slightly by adding toasted almonds and drizzling in a little melted chocolate and coconut oil to create a chocolate crackle I’m quite fond of. Instead of white sugar, I also used light brown muscovado sugar, a natural cane sugar that has a wonderful molasses flavor that compliments the dark flavors of this ice cream beautifully. You can find muscovado at a well-stocked grocery store or your local natural grocery. I use it frequently in baked goods, too (makes your chocolate chips cookies wonderfully chewy) or sprinkled on top of oatmeal and porridge.
Please note, I didn’t add prep/cook times here as it will depend so much on the model of ice cream maker you have; regardless, you will need to freeze until firm, at least four hours.
Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar, and corn syrup in a 4-quart saucepan, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the coffee, and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain the milk mixture through a sieve lined with a layer of cheesecloth (or very fine-weave, clean dishtowel) to extract as much liquid as possible and discard the grounds.
Return the cream mixture to the pan and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toast the almonds for 5-7 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool completely then chop roughly.
Place chocolate feves in a small saucepan with the coconut oil. Heat over very low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and set aside. You’ll want it to be slightly cool but still pourable when you add it to the ice cream machine. If it has cooled too much to pour, simple slowly reheat once again.
Pour the ice cream base into the frozen ice cream machine canister and process/spin until thick and creamy. At the very end, slowly drizzle the chocolate drizzle into the machine and add the toasted almonds, a small handful at a time.
Pack the ice cream into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment against the surface and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.
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.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
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.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.