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.
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.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.