Two Saturdays ago, we hopped in the car and drove up to Bow, WA to pick blueberries. I envisioned coming home with a huge bucket and having that wonderful seasonal quandary: what to do with all of these berries?! Instead, we came home with a pound and a half: It turns out that picking berries in the hot August sun with an active baby is a slow endeavor — and it’s possible I kept snacking on our loot. When we got home (after blueberry ice cream sandwiches and a stop at the OshKosh B’Gosh outlet for some baby suspenders) I knew exactly what we’d do with our “haul:” fresh blueberry ice cream. And hopefully, if we had a few leftover, pancakes the next morning.
We did have pancakes the next morning. And even the next morning after that. I’ll admit we’ve been using a mix that we both love (Hayden Flour Mills, a previous client of Sam’s, makes killer whole grain pancake mixes). In addition to a little help in the mornings, we’ve also been ordering dinner from one of those make-it-yourself meal services more often than I’d care to admit. For awhile there, we seemed to have the work, baby, dinner shuffle down, but for two people to get in a full workday, perhaps exercise, and come home to make a homemade dinner? These days, that’s a tall order. Even with pancake mixes and pre-made dinner, we are generally feeling chronically behind. I gather this is something that never goes away when you have kids. And really, I hate to make it specific to kids: I know many of you with bulging inboxes and demanding jobs feel this way, too. We’re all in the thick of it.
Last week I texted my mom after getting home with a trunk full of new plants and potting soil, feeling triumphant that I finally got out into the backyard and dressed up the patio a bit. There were bursts or orange and yellow and lazy, lingering swathes of blue. My mom sweetly noted that, judging from the photograph, they all looked like annuals, reminding me that they will all die. Soon. Like perhaps next month. Apparently most people plant their annuals in late spring or early summer. Not August. Like I said, we’re a few steps behind over here. At least right about now, despite a rather meek blueberry haul, we’ve got some homemade ice cream to show for it all.
The original recipe for this ice cream was actually for a raspberry flavor in the wonderful new cookbook Icy, Creamy, Healthy, Sweet by Christine Chitnis. Last month Christine came to Seattle to promote the book and I had the chance to go to a little ice cream shindig at The Pantry in the middle of the day in the middle of the week which, when you have two businesses and a baby, basically felt like the equivalent of jetting off to Hawaii. And getting to hear Christine’s philosophy on frozen desserts (natural sugars, fresh fruits, non-dairy bases) had me so inspired that when I got home I really wasn’t sure where to begin.
For the record, I’m not vegan and I happen to really, really love real dairy ice creams. But I also love anything with coconut milk, so I’m generally a sucker for dairy-free ice creams, too (you are possibly sensing that, in this department, I’m not terribly discerning). I was also really intrigued by Christine’s formula: She relies on cashew cream in addition to coconut milk to make her ice cream super creamy and scoopable.
I think one big thing that can turn people off of dairy-free ice cream is the fact that so many get hard and icy once frozen. Christine notes that most commercial ice creams are nice and soft straight out of the freezer thanks to stabilizers or large ice cream machines that can incorporate more air. For that reason, this ice cream (and many homemade recipes, for that matter) is best right after you churn it; if you freeze and serve it later, just plan to allow it to thaw for 10-15 minutes to bring it back to its original creamy state — the perfect amount of time to sit back and admire those soon-to-die annuals.
This recipe calls for arrowroot starch (or arrowroot flour) as a thickener because it has a neutral flavor and stands up really well to freezing — so it helps prevent ice crystals from forming. It should be readily available in the spice aisles of most well-stocked groceries, but if you can’t find it, I imagine that cornstarch will do in a pinch. Christine originally used raspberries here, so feel free to use any berry you’d like. She also added 3 ounces of chopped dark chocolate, but I left it out this time around to let the flavor of the fresh berries really shine. Last, do note that the cashew cream takes a day to pull together (it’s all inactive time, but the cashews do need an overnight soak, so plan for that).
Adapted from: Icy, Creamy, Healthy, Sweet
For the Cashew Cream:
For the Ice Cream Base:
To make the cashew cream: Place cashews in a bowl and add enough cold filtered water to cover them completely. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator overnight to soak.
Drain the cashews and rinse well. Place them in a blender with 1 cup cold filtered water and the salt and blend on high speed for several minutes, until smooth.
If you’re not using a high speed blender (like a Vitamix), you may need to strain through a fine-mesh sieve to strain away any remaining solid. As a note, I have a very standard blender and didn’t have to do this step. Mine blended up just fine. Store in a covered jar for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.
Make the ice cream: Rinse and dry blueberries and place in a large bowl. Toss with lemon juice and set aside.
Pour 2 tablespoons of the coconut milk into a small bowl, add the arrowroot starch, and whisk until dissolved. In a small saucepan, combine the arrowroot slurry, the remaining coconut milk, the vanilla, salt and honey. Place over low heat, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the honey is dissolved into the coconut milk, 3-5 minutes. Remove from the pan and allow the mixture to cool.
Pour the berries into the base of a blender and add the coconut milk mixture. Add the cashew cream and blend until berries are broken up and cashew cream and coconut milk are incorporated completely. I like to see little bits of blueberry in my ice cream so I didn’t completely pulverize mine, but if you like a smoother consistency, feel free to do so. Cover the mixture and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.
Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can eat the ice cream right away for a softer scoop, or freeze for about 2 hours for a firmer consistency.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.