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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
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.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.