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.
And solid beginnings? They’re important. The wonderful thing about starting a relationship over the phone and getting to know one another as people, friends, confidants –well before you’re anything more– is that there’s a great deal of trust in that. There’s a good foundation. It makes me feel as if I’ve known Sam for a very, very long time. But lately it’s been delighting me to discover the things that arise that I don’t know about Sam. They’re small things, things people ask me that catch me off guard because after exactly 1.2 million hours on the phone (no exaggeration; we’ve been keeping a log), I don’t know the answer.
There is an apple farmer who does amazing farm breakfasts and lunches at the stand next to me at the Saturday farmer’s market and she just started doing a lovely oatmeal with fresh cream and butter, berries and nuts; I thought to myself, Ah, I wish Sam were here! He’d love this. Then I realized, I have no idea if Sam likes oatmeal in the mornings. Or ever. So I call and we clear that up (he does). Or he’ll call to ask me: Do I like Golden Retrievers? Would I ever want one? (Yes, and sure). How do you feel about Ayn Rand (meh)? Favorite season (fall)? Almond milk: yay or nay (yay)? There are questions that arise. Casual questions, light questions. But questions, still.. All quietly building upon a foundation. Adding to it.
So this recipe today is all about foundations and quietly building upon them. My springtime obsession with rhubarb is in full swing, so in addition to this simple vanilla bean ice cream, I made a baked rhubarb compote (also known as spring in a spoon, if you ask me) to ladle on top. It’s as easy as slicing up a few stalks, adding in a bit of orange zest, a little orange juice and a dash of sugar and baking it into a rich, pink mess of goodness. I’ve been eating it often at all times of the day. I highly recommend a bit for breakfast on top of toasted baguette or random spoonfuls when you need a little happiness in the late afternoon. Because hey, sometimes you can get carried away with the more elegant desserts, the showier cousins. But when it comes down to it, good and simple is what sustains you. That goes for a small bowl of sweetness at the end of the day. It also goes for making future plans with a new love because you can see it all taking shape and it just makes perfect sense. Because it falls into place so, so easily and seems so good. So simple. Because there’s a certain faith in all of that.
This is the perfect go-to vanilla ice cream recipe. Do be sure to let firm up for several hours before serving.
Very slightly adapted from: Chez Panisse Fruit
In a mixing bowl, quickly whisk the egg yolks just until they’re broken apart. Set aside.
Slowly heat the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the seeds with a small knife and put the pods and seed right into the milk mixture. Stir slowly over low heat until the milk is steaming and the sugar’s dissolved (don’t let it come to a boil here). Slowly pour the milk mixture into the egg yolks, stirring constantly.Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and set aside.
Pour heavy cream into a clean mixing bowl and set aside. Now, cook the milk and egg mixture over low heat until it thickens just enough to cover the back of a spoon (right around 170). Remove from heat right away and strain though a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl with the heavy cream. Whisk together and place in refrigerator to chill fully, at least two hours. Freeze according to your ice cream machine’s directions.
Alice Waters calls for 1/2 cup sugar in her recipe and I’ve found that with good, ripe rhubarb you can get by with a heaping 1/3 cup. It will be on the tart side this way. If you’d like it just a little sweeter, go with Alice and the 1/2 cup. This compote is wonderful with your morning oatmeal, atop yogurt or cottage cheese, layered in between layers of cake or served with ice cream. As we have it here.
Adapted from: Chez Panisse Fruit
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Rinse the rhubarb and wipe dry. Trim off the leafy ends and the tough bottom at the end of each stalk. Cut lengthwise into 1/30inch-thick strips and then crosswise into 2-inch pieces. This should yield 5-6 cups.
Grate the zest of the orange into a nonreactive baking dish and squeeze in 3 tablespoons of its juice. Add the rhubarb, sugar, and pinch of cardamom and toss everything together until the rhubarb is coated with sugar and juice. Cover and bake for 25 minutes or until a knife slides easily into the rhubarb. While warm, spoon onto vanilla ice cream.
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.