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They’re Just Pretty

20130807_BlogFennelIceCream-127 I had a different kind of post planned for today. I’d wanted to talk to you about measuring your own success and how the markers of success can be tricky. I can imagine that post, and I think you would’ve liked it. Heck, maybe I’ll still write it. But this afternoon I worked the farmers market and witnessed a few things too good not to mention. The Marge Granola booth sits right next to a woman who sells beautiful flowers. In my weeks working next to her, I’ve learned a lot. I know that red dahlias are the most popular. I also know that they last four days. I know what wild amaranth looks like in all its fluffy stalkiness, and I can pick out the best lily in a bunch. I’m often gifted a few stems at the end of the day, and have so loved placing them all around the house. Each week a new color. 20130807_BlogFennelIceCream-105

The woman who runs the flower booth has a young nephew that comes with her to help each week: sweeping up leaves, making bouquets and taking customer’s money. He can’t be more than ten or eleven, is an incredibly hard worker, and has warm, smiling brown eyes. He recently got new shoes and I watched as he polished them up throughout the afternoon, his aunt giving him a hard time while chuckling: Relax with the shoes. She turned to me, and whispered, “His two loves? New shoes and chicken.” When it slowed down a bit later in the day, I asked him what kind of chicken he likes the best and his face lit up. A once quiet shy kid, quite suddenly, couldn’t keep quiet.

20130807_BlogFennelIceCream-114 The same afternoon, a young boy walked up to the granola table and asked what he could buy for $1. I apologized and explained that we don’t have anything to sell for $1. Head down, he moseyed on over to the flower table and asked the same question. The woman said that most of the single stems were $1 — with the exception of larger flowers. His face lit up. He scanned all of his options, and ultimately walked away with a stalk of purple wildflowers, clutching them tightly. Proudly.

Towards the end of the day as I was starting to pack up, a handsome, older African-American man walked by pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair. He stopped and said he had a question about my granola ingredients: How exactly did I get the sunflower seeds to use in the granola? I explained that we have a distributor who delivers them, that I don’t actually harvest them myself. He seemed confused by my response — pointing to the sunflower display to my right and reiterating his question:

“How do you  get the seeds from those flowers to use in your granola cereal?”
I answered, “Oh, you don’t. Or we don’t, anyway. That would be very labor intensive.”
“Well then, what are they for in that case?” he gestured towards the summery stalks.
“They’re for decoration. People put them in a vase in their house,” I assured him.
He seemed utterly stumped, continuing to look back and forth from my granola to the sunflowers.”Why?”
“Why? Because they’re pretty,” I said. “They’re just pretty. That’s all.”
A broad, slow smile swept across his face revealing a few gappy gold teeth. He looked up at me and repeated slowly, “Right. They’re just pretty. And that’s all.”

20130807_BlogFennelIceCream-135

I’ve always said that I love baking because it makes people happy — it makes people smile. But let me tell you something: bakers have nothing on flowers. That table to my right sees a lot of joy, and now that I’ve started to pay attention, it’s one of my favorite parts about working Friday evenings. There are young boys with new shoes, pre-teens clutching wild flowers, big gappy-tooth grins and realizations about the importance of beauty for beauty’s sake. A bag of granola can’t complete with that.

Now how does ice cream relate to any of this? Well I might make the case, as I have to anyone who knows me well, that ice cream needs no case, really. But early last week I decided to make ice cream for dinner for no good reason other than the fact that the house was stuffy, neither of us were too terribly hungry, and I had fresh figs that I needed to use. I’d seen a recipe for Fresh Fig and Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream in Martha Stewart magazine last month, and as I was laying out the ingredients I remembered the wonderful flavor combination of fig and fennel in one of favorite Theo chocolate bars. So out came the fennel seeds and this ice cream quickly became fennel-kissed and oh-so-delightful.

There are many fennel ice cream recipes floating around online; those recipes generally call for infusing the fennel seeds in the warm milk for at least 30 minutes. My version boasts a subtle whisper of fennel so as not to compete with the sweet, earthy figs or smooth dark chocolate. I warm the milk and cream with the fennel and then let it steep for almost ten minutes and that seems to do the trick just fine. The directions ask that you freeze the ice cream for 2-3 hours before serving, but there are some nights when you don’t want to wait that long. So you eat it soft, by the spoonful, right out of the container For no other reason than it’s summer and it tastes delicious.


Fresh Fig, Fennel and Dark Chocolate Ice Cream
You can make the base  for this recipe up to two days ahead of churning the ice cream. And next time I make it, I just might fold in some sliced almonds or chopped hazelnuts at the very end. 

Adapted from: Martha Stewart

Makes: About 1 1/2 pints

Vanilla Base:
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

For the Mix-Ins:
6 ounces ripe fresh figs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 6 large figs)
2 teaspoons natural cane sugar
3 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

Combine milk, cream and fennel seeds in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium-high  heat, stirring occasionally; remove from heat. Stir in the vanilla extract. Let mixture sit off the heat for 10 minutes. Strain.

In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Gradually whisk in half of the milk mixture. Pour egg-milk mixture back into the pan along with remaining warm strained milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, 6-8 minutes or so.

Prepare an ice bath in a bowl large enough to hold another bowl comfortably. Strain custard through a fine sieve into a bowl set into the ice bath. Place in refrigerator and let cool for at least 1 hour, or until quite cold. Meanwhile, chill a loaf pan in the freezer.

When ready to churn the ice cream: sprinkle figs with sugar and toss to coat. Let stand until juicy, about 5 minutes. Fold figs and chocolate bits into custard base with a rubber spatula. Freeze and churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to the cold pan. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until hardened, 2-3 hours.

  1. Posted August 11, 2013 at 4:22 am

    I’m so happy you ended up with this post! This ice cream looks delicious!!

  2. Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:58 am

    I love the farmer’s market for so many reasons, especially the serendipitous interactions that happen there. It reminds me of the good in the world.

  3. Posted August 11, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    Love this, and love your images of the farmers’ market experience … Must try this ice cream just as soon as I have access to my ice cream machine again!

  4. Posted August 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Gorgeous photos. And I think that just maybe an ice cream shop could compete with a flower stall? Just maybe.

  5. Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    oh megan, how i love these stories. i will wait patiently (and hopefully) for the post that was to be. but thank you for these three little gems. so good.

    xo,
    molly

  6. Posted August 12, 2013 at 12:03 am

    Thank you for painting this picture and sharing your recipe…delicious!

  7. Posted August 12, 2013 at 12:30 am

    There are so many things I love about this post – the little boy, the old man, the sunflower seeds, the gorgeous flavour combination in this ice cream. Sometimes we need to appreciate things simply because they are pretty, or delicious. Loved losing myself here for a few minutes :-)

  8. Elizabeth
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Love this post! Made me tear up on a Monday!
    Love the idea of the fig and chocolate but I’m just not a fan of fennel. Any suggestions for another spice or flavor that could be substituted?

  9. Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:06 am

    How I would love to visit you on Fridays and Wednesdays. I’m so happy for you, and all of us who adore your blog, that we get to hear your stories from the markets. I miss you Megan – your site always makes me think and smile.

  10. momgordon
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I am sitting in “your”bedroom in Lake George reading and smiling at your post. Today drove an hour for organic chicken and….flowers!
    xoxo

  11. Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    This post made me SMILE. Thank you!

  12. megang
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Oh, thank you Dana. I miss you, too! Denise and I just chatted on the phone last night and I asked all about you and how you’re doing. Things here are really good + I wish you could visit, too. We’ll be in the Bay Area quite a bit this fall/winter, so I’ll get to see more of your face. Thank you for the sweet comment, m

  13. megang
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Thank YOU for the sweet comment, Lori!

  14. megang
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    Hmmm, Elizabeth: How about cardamom? I think that would be really, really delicious. IF you can, buy the whole pods and crush them with a mortar/pestle. I’d start with, say, 8 pods or so and I think the flavor would work beautifully with this recipe. If you’re not a cardamom fan, you can certainly make this recipe without the added spice and it’ll still be celebration-worthy. Enjoy (and let me know how it goes if you branch out) ~Megan

  15. megang
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    Thank you so much! I love that you loved losing yourself here. Makes my day ~Megan

  16. megang
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    THANK YOU so much, Molly. Do you know you’ve formally made it to my to’do lists lately… it looks something like this: 1) File new LLC, 2) Quickbooks, 3) Dentist appt., 4) New farmers market sign, 5) Catch up on Molly and Jess’s blog. Really. Truly. Hope all is well with you and you’re enjoying August. Looking forward to a good little catch up on your site very soon. xox, Megan

  17. megang
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    YES, Sarah! That’s what Sam said, too. He said that if I tire of granola someday he can’t imagine someone who would be happier running an ice cream shop (wheels turning). Enjoy!

  18. megang
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Thanks, N! Yes, I feel like pregnancy and ice cream just go hand in hand. no?!

  19. megang
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Thank you, Katrina! It really is delicious. I think you’re going to like it very much. ~Megan

  20. Posted August 13, 2013 at 5:15 am

    Love your stories about the farmers market interactions! I think sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and not realize how the lives of others are playing out right before our eyes. This ice cream combo sounds intriguing so I’ll have to make up a batch soon :)

  21. Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    You’re right, flowers really are quite special, but I’d have to argue the same for your granola. You and I share a similar rhythm of working sometimes on our own and then other days intensely with people. Yours a farmers market and mine, a grocery store. I get annoyed here and there, but watching and interacting with strangers and people of all sorts is a beautiful thing. It’s worth stopping and watching sometimes. Love your story and I am always on team ice cream, all day everyday.

  22. Posted August 24, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    It wasn’t the 10 year marriage or the three kids that informed me of my “adultness”. It was the sudden desire to fill my house with flowers. My mom has always loved fresh flowers. I boasted, “I’d rather take a bouquet of radishes than flowers.” But now, there’s something about the intricate weaving of petals and the soft scent that fills the house. I love flowers in the house now, so it’s official. I’m an adult.
    As an adult I fully support the decision to have ice cream for dinner.

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