When you have an eight month old baby, making social plans can be hard. Especially in the evenings. When I was pregnant, I read Bringing up Bebe and one of the big premises of the book is how the French feel strongly that babies and children can fit into your lives and that you shouldn’t have to change and alter everything to accommodate them. I remember reading the book and thinking: YES! Life will be just as it was, except we’ll have a small baby in tow. Obviously a few things would likely be different, but I didn’t want to change our routines, change the way we cooked or approached time off together, or see our friends any less.
Well of course I’m the fool. Or at the very least, I’m not as French as I thought I was. Today, we very much schedule things around Oliver’s nap schedule and bedtime, but thankfully we have a lot of other friends with kids who get it. Friends who make homemade cookies, own ice cream businesses, and have really great taste in music. Friends who host the kind of occasion that warrants homemade hot fudge sauce and eating dessert first. Last weekend Kasey and Matt had us over to their house for a little neighborhood ice cream social. They have twins and a toddler, and our friends Ashley and Gabe came with their three kids. Sam showed up fashionably late with Oliver (ahhh, the nap schedule). I figured the kids would all be eager to make sundaes right away, but there was cornhole and wrestling, crawling and scooting — and all manner of more important things to tend to first. Oliver took his sweet time eating some carrots and practiced crawling (so close! Yet so far!), and I tried not to stress out too much about the fact that we forgot his sunscreen. He’s acquired some little sandal tan lines on his feet and I have to think that a base tan on a baby is probably not a great thing. Kasey invited Lauren from Seattle-based Sweet Lo’s Ice Cream, and we were all over-the-moon that she was able to make it. If you’ve been around this space for long or know me personally, you know I have some impassioned opinions about cool treats. And if you’re in Seattle and you haven’t yet tried Lauren’s crazy good, small batch ice cream, you’re really missing out. I’m addicted to the Oatmeal Cookie and am a recent fan of the Mint Oreo. Her vanilla is so classic and clean and delicious, and her strawberry is summer, summer, summer. Also, she delivers to your house. Best (most dangerous) news of the season.
With ice cream squared away, we needed toppings. Ashley brought some of her addictive Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies and her new savory salty sprinkles (coming soon!). Kasey picked up cones and rainbow sprinkles. I threw some Marge Hazelnut Cacao Nib Granola in my bag and whipped up a batch of this no-fuss hot fudge sauce. I set out to make the hot fudge sauce for selfish reasons, really. I found myself a little disappointed with so many of the homemade recipes I’ve been stumbling upon. Either they have corn syrup or loads of sugar or they call for a candy thermometer. I wanted a simpler hot fudge recipe without all those things; it’s summer and things should feel easy.
So instead of corn syrup I used brown rice syrup which has a much more subtle sweetness; I used a little brown sugar, too, and a generous handful of dark chocolate. I cooked it down on the stovetop but give pretty clear directions here for how to tackle it without a candy thermometer. And extra bonus: it can be pulled together during one of Oliver’s naps — because let’s be honest: I’m not sure how the French do it (what am I missing?!), but nap time is the only time we get any real cooking or baking done.
This past week, we’ve all been texting and lamenting the fact that afternoon ice cream parties aren’t a reality of everyday life — and I suppose if they were, they wouldn’t feel nearly as special. Next week, we’re hoping to bring some of that spirit over to our place and have more friends over to hang out in the backyard, sprinkler dodging and wondering how it is that August is now firmly at our front stoop.
Because it doesn’t have any stablizers (what helps give the storebought stuff its perfect texture), this hot fudge becomes quite firm in the refrigerator and a bit on the thin side when heated too vigorously. So I think leaving it out at room temperature for a few hours or lightly warming it is really the way to go for a smooth, spoonable hot fudge with a deep, dark chocolate flavor.
In a medium heavy duty saucepan, combine the cream, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, and cocoa powder. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid clumping or burning.
Stir in the dark chocolate until fully melted. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping sides until bubbling vigorously, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla and salt.
Strain sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl. Continue whisking until smooth. You want the consistency to be thick but pourable (but keep in mind it will thicken as it cools). Let cool to room temperature.
You can make this sauce up to 2 weeks in advance: simply store in the refrigerator, covered. Warm before serving. To reheat, microwave for 30-40 seconds until it’s pourable but still thick. Alternatively, warm in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring often and adding 1-2 teaspoons of water if needed to thin.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
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.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.