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Yes and No

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.

Black Coffee Ice Cream with Toasted Almonds and Chocolate Flecks
 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.

Makes: About 1 Quart

2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup muscovado sugar, or other natural cane sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup dark-roast coffee beans, coarsely ground
1/2 cup raw almonds
3/4 cup dark chocolate feves (or chips/chunks)
1 tablespoon coconut oil

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.

 

  1. Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Such a great sentiment, Megan. I, too, feel stretched thin oftentimes and struggle with saying Yes to everything. It’s important to remember that saying No can be just as empowering sometimes. Can’t wait to catch up!

  2. Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:38 am

    A lovely post, Megan. Balancing yes and no has always been a huge issue for me, but with a kid, your priorities change, drastically. THank you for sharing.

  3. Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:45 am

    This is a great one! It is truly great when one, as an adult, rediscovers the power and joy of no. But thanks for saying yes to hanging out the other week!

    That sounds like a great ice cream book, i’ll have to check it out!

  4. Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:54 am

    I am awful at saying no, and I have had to do it a lot lately since I am on a writing deadline. Great post and thanks for the reminder (and the ice cream recipe).

    Kendra

  5. Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Beautiful sentiment and photos, as always. It’s such a good time of year to remind ourselves to slow down a bit, and say no to a few things here and there. But I agree completely, I always say yes to Jeni’s ice creams! Haven’t tried this one yet, but will definitely have a go at your variation!

  6. Mary
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Anther gorgeous post, Megan! LOVE this: 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.”

  7. Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    It’s all about the balance, isn’t it? I will say yes to running more often if it means saying yes to this ice cream. I’ve never tried any of Jeni’s recipes, but you’ve twisted my arm! Another lovely post Megan.

  8. Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    I love your list of things to say yes and no to. I need to be more disciplined about that too. And a super yes to Luisa’s new book, i have an advance copy on my desk right now!

  9. Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    oh the sentiment is so spot on. I am cautious myself, and find myself in your same predicament. I really love that quote you included – need to post it on something. The length and width of days is nothing short of a bit of Kelsey wisdom – that girl is incredible.
    oh and the ice cream? need. soon.
    cheers to you, my dear!

  10. Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    I think we put way too much pressure on ourselves to live life to the fullest – it makes us always feel like a failure. Some of those sayings that seem so inciteful have a double edged sword and trap us into thinking we must pack heaps into our days or we are not really living. Saying yes and no is important but so is not putting pressure on ourselves to live more of a life than we are capable of.

  11. Jessica Willis
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Again, thanks for writing, you speak softly and precisely to all our personal tugs. In yoga, Sukha and Stira, ease and effort .
    Yoga teaches us this tension balance as does everyday life.
    Please, come to one of the yoga classes I teach, I’d love to meet you!
    I teach at Shakti Vinyasa yoga in Ballard. Take a class on me!
    Jessica

  12. Posted September 6, 2012 at 12:25 am

    It’s so important in this crazy world of ours to take a little step back, make some time for yourself, prioritise what you do. Like the importance of making ice cream like this, which looks absolutely incredible ! :-)

  13. Posted September 6, 2012 at 3:58 am

    Oh, my gosh, I just posted about my own foray into Jeni’s ice cream last week! I’ve tried her Sweet Corn and Black Raspberry, along with Sweet Basil and Honeyed (Pecan). So, so good. I’m a little obsessed with Jeni’s, being an Ohio gal myself.

  14. Posted September 6, 2012 at 5:52 am

    Thanks for sharing this post. It expresses daily challenges so beautifully. I realize I have many of the same difficulties with boldness and living life fully. (And ice cream…always a big bold YES to ice cream!)

  15. momgordon
    Posted September 6, 2012 at 6:35 am

    When you were little I took you to Sequoia Park after work day after day and you would approach the “big” slide, just look at it and walk away until….the day you looked, slowly climbed up and went down. There was no excited “I did it!” you quietly said, “I thought I could do it now” and walked to the swings. You were ready for “yes”.

  16. Posted September 6, 2012 at 7:37 am

    I always say yes to ice cream too, and this flavor combo looks so good! It’s so important to be mindful of our days and try to slow them down a bit with our intentions, because before we know it a lot of time can pass. My biggest hurdle lately (as a freelancer) is realizing that I don’t have to own someone else’s “emergency” and let these requests interrupt every yes moment of my life.

  17. Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Your blog is beautiful, if you like typical Italitalian cuisine visit my website: http://visitpiedmont.blogspot.com
    A culinary journey from Italy Piedmont.

  18. megang
    Posted September 6, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Jessica! This is where I practice! I didn’t put two and two together that you were Jessica the yoga teacher … I have yet to go to one of your classes. I usually go to Nicole’s classes just b/c they tend to work with my schedule, but I’ll make a point to come to one of yours next week and introduce myself. Thanks so much for your comment (and for mentioning the class!). ~m

  19. Posted September 6, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Thanks so much for this post. I had to read it through word for word twice just to make sure I absorbed it all. I’m working my first freelance job on a cookbook project and while it is the most amazing opportunity, and I know that when I finish I will feel so proud, I’m finding it very stressful and exhausting. I needed your email to remind me about balance, about it being ok to say no to certain things and to say yes to the things that are really going to allow me to make the most of the small corners of free time I can find for myself. Thank you!

  20. megang
    Posted September 7, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Wonderful! Best of luck to you with the freelance job … I find it all gets easier the more you do it, as most things. Hopefully it’s a cookbook project you’re excited about and food that makes you happy! Have a lovely weekend and thank you for taking the time out of YOUR busy day to comment here. ~m

  21. Posted September 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Right now I’m looking under the sofa cushions for a hidden microphone, because this is the exact sentiment I’ve been feeling lately. I look at every week and make yes and no decisions based on priority, necessity,sanity, career path and so on and so forth. So many factors figuring in to maintain the balance of our little household.
    Sometimes I feel good about it, other times I don’t, but it’s good to know I’m not alone.
    Great post, thanks!

  22. Ann
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 6:53 am

    Hi Megan! Stumbled onto your blog this morning… you write so beautifully! Thank you for sharing your wonderful life and food!

    Please make a page on Facebook!!

  23. Lori
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Yes, I agree with you. Life balance is incredably difficult for me as well. It’s lays hard to say no to he constant yes that nag at you. Thank for your lovely blog, nice to know there r people like me out there!
    Warm regards, Lori

  24. Posted September 9, 2012 at 5:48 am

    I’m also learning to say no this year. It’s not easy, but it feels like an important step in growing up. I said no to a freelance project I wasn’t really interested in and wondered if I’d done the right thing until a much better assignment for me came along. I could say yes to that one and feel good about it.

    As for the ice cream, that Brown Butter Almond Brittle is such a worthy splurge. Brambleberry Crisp is a close second.

  25. Annie
    Posted September 9, 2012 at 8:36 am

    This one really spoke to me, dear Megan. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. And for a recipe i’m very excited to try now that we are cooking again :)

  26. Posted September 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Yes, keep those priorities straight. Easiest thing in the world to forget about the things that fill your soul.

  27. Posted September 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Great post! And I love the cover of the cookbook you mentioned! I’ll have to check that out! Thanks!

  28. Posted September 9, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    This looks delicious! My sister would definitely love this. Perhaps I’ll make this for her birthday next week…

  29. megang
    Posted September 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Thank you, Sophie! Although it looks a touch more complex than other ice cream recipes, it’s actually quite simple and simply requires a few more bowls. Enjoy! xx, mg

  30. megang
    Posted September 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks for your sweet comment, Lori!

  31. megang
    Posted September 9, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Thanks so much, Ann! I’ve been debating the Facebook page and think I will eventually. Right now it feels like one more thing … but likely it’s on the horizon. THanks for stopping in and saying hello! ~m

  32. Posted September 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I’ve had this post open and closed in my browser at least five times in the past week. I love your yes/no list, and find your “friendships are a two way street” to be unbelievably relevant right now. There have been several times over the past month where friends said in an email or text message “we need to catch up!” and somehow, I’m the one who ends up feeling guilty for not calling. Wait a sec. You can call me too? Anywho. I’m glad you’re living the length and width of your days too, friend. Yay Jeni’s!

  33. Posted September 11, 2012 at 8:51 am

    That’s me over here, chained to my desk, nodding and smiling at my computer with this post. You’ve given me some sweet comfort today in all this busyness… (and, it seems, an ice cream flavor I might not be able to live without)

  34. Posted September 11, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Ah, Jeni’s ice cream: we know and love it well! I think her ice cream method is absolutely brilliant, given the custard klutz that I am. Her lemon yogurt is the bomb, BTW, as is the lime cardamom. And goat cheese cherry. And darkest chocolate. And… um, probably revealing too much here :)

    If you ever find yourself in Columbus, Megan, ring me up, ASAP, and we’ll go sample her full menu :)

    Back to those Yeses, a fine list, indeed.

    Molly

  35. Posted September 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    such a thought provoking post…I am working on getting better at the no… xv

  36. Posted September 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I loved this post. (I love all your posts). You are I are very similar in our cautious natures. Having to say yes more in this new environment is stressful for me and I know you certainly understand that!

  37. Posted October 4, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    Hi Megan,
    Excellent post! Yes! What a great idea to look at the whole yes/no thing! BTW thanks for pointing me to that great blog, Five Cool Things. That thing is awesome! Sort of like the New Yorker or something. Your blog is looking as beautiful and tempting as ever. Keep up the great work. And good luck on your book. I heard that the Five Cool Things guy said he got a SLEW of visitors and new subscribers from your kind mention. He said to say thank you very, very much.
    cheers!

  38. megang
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Hah! Thanks, Richard. Cheers to you, too. Thank you for the blog compliments. Always such a pleasure to read Five Cool Things … one of my favorite things on the internet right now. Happiest of weekends to you, m

  39. Posted December 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    This is awesome.I mean.Awesomeness overload!!!!

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] yes and no (with a great ice cream recipe at the end) [...]

  2. By Chocolate Coffee Bundt Cake » The Tart Tart on September 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    [...] the ice cream anyway—it was a Jeni’s Splendid recipe, and looked absolutely amazing on Megan’s blog. It doesn’t taste quite right, more toffee-flavored than coffee-flavored, but maybe people [...]

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