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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.