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.
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.