The past few weekends have been busy ones, filled with house guests, window-box planting, and quite a few writing projects. Sam and I both love our house so much, and having people over always heightens that — sharing the breakfast nook in the mornings and seeing the living room fill up with more than just the two of us. I love an excuse for a mid-afternoon stroll through Fremont, and a reason to fill up on chocolate samples at Theo. Of course, house guests must eat, so there’s always Vietnamese food at Green Leaf and later at Tamarind Tree, beautiful salads at Sitka and Spruce, pizzas at Delancey, drinks at Ocho. Then on Monday, after a trip to the airport, there’s a comparative quiet and a noticeable lack of Theo chocolate, tofu spring rolls, and Dark and Stormy’s. Enter this weekend: just the two of us, garden planning and patio-sitting at our neighborhood bar. The sun was out, the breeze was warm, and sometimes beer just sounds good at 3 p.m. It was on these walks that I realized, yes, spring may have arrived in Seattle.
The first week I moved here I made a few trips to the dump to get rid of cardboard boxes. I went in flip-flops. My second visit the nice man working the booth asked what the hell I was thinking. He had a point: March was damp here. It was not flip-flops at-the-dump weather (although the more I think about it, is it ever flip-flops-at-the-dump-weather?). I learned to layer quickly, ran more inside the gym, and drank a lot of tea. But now, coats aren’t draped on the dining room chairs and I’ve actually been cracking my office window to get some fresh air.
People are out on their bikes, daffodils are growing like weeds, and if you pay attention you can smell barbeque in certain neighborhoods just as the light turns in the evening. It’s always this time of year when I start day-dreaming about trips I want to take, books I want to read, warm-weather cocktails, and — of course — ice cream. The ice cream machine is one of those appliances that, when we were unpacking, got pushed to the very back of the cupboards. I’m happy to say this has been remedied, there are two glorious new ice cream cookbooks on the horizon, and I plan on churning away this spring and summer.
First thing’s first: it’s time to order Bi-Rite Creamery’s new cookbook Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones (out April 17, 2012). I’ve seen it, I’ve read it, this recipe is from the book, and I think you’re going to like it. There is also the soon-to-be-released Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book (April 25, 2012), which I haven’t had the pleasure of getting my hands on yet, but I’m sure it is chock full of owner Jake Godby’s humor and irreverence. If you haven’t eaten ice cream in San Francisco, Bi-Rite is classically wonderful (think glorious strawberry, smooth salted caramel, and honey lavender). Humphry Slocombe is a little wackier (although still wonderful) with more renegade flavors like FlufferNutter, Butter Beer, or Pom Coconut Ale. When it comes to choosing, I’m a Bi-Rite gal through and through. If you’re familiar with good East Coast ice creameries like Herrell’s: Bi-Rite is the Bay Area’s version. It’s the kind of ice cream that skirts trends or fads: it’s just really, really good — one of the reasons the line often wraps its way around the block, even on chilly evenings.
The Bi-Rite Creamery cookbook is everything you’d expect: concisely written, beautifully photographed, and yes: the salted caramel ice cream recipe is in there along with unexpected inclusions like cookies, brownies and cakes. I decided pretty quickly that the Malted Vanilla Ice Cream needed to happen, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to make homemade Magic Shell (you know that crackly chocolate that they use to dip soft-serve cones in? Yes, that). If you’re a fan of that crunchy chocolate shell, you’re in luck: it’s really no more effort than melting your favorite chocolate into hot coconut oil. Then you pour it slowly into the ice cream machine when it’s done churning and it hardens on the spot into little crags and shards of dark chocolate. Like beer at 3 p.m. on a sunny Saturday, this kind of thing makes me smile.
If you don’t have malted milk powder at home, it’s easy to find at the market; I buy Carnation brand and love having it in the pantry — it’s wonderful to add to milkshakes or baked goods (try 1/4 cup in your next batch of chocolate-chip cookies). As for this recipe, it’s an egg-based, custardy ice cream, so the mixture should be pretty darn thick when you pour it into your machine. It’ll tide you over until you get to San Francisco, for sure. Until then, I hope you have daffodils in your neighborhood, occasional warm breezes, more light in the evening, and a generous bowl of ice cream.
As written, the Bi-Rite gals add peanut brittle and milk chocolate chunks to this ice cream base. That has to be stellar — but there’s something to be said about the simple chocolate crackle strewn throughout; certainly add any mix-ins that you think sound delicious. Crushed cookies or toasted almonds would be wonderful. I tweaked the amount of malted milk powder here, too, feeling ultimately that 1/2 cup was a little heavy-handed.
Slightly adapted from: Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
In a medium heat-proof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in the malted milk powder. Set aside.
In a heavy non-reactive pan saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, sugar, and salt and put the pan over medium heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to low. Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-and-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.
Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat until it’s thickened and coats the back of a spatula. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set the container in an ice-water bath and stir occasionally to release the heat. Wait until it’s cool. Remove the container from the ice-water-bath, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours- overnight.
Once the base is chilled, remove from the refrigerator and add the vanilla. Give it a quick stir to combine. Free in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Meanwhile, make the magic shell, or chocolate crackle: In a small saucepan, heat the coconut oil on medium-low heat until it’s just melted and in liquid form. Add the chocolate pieces and stir until they’ve melted into the oil. Remove from heat. Pour in a small bowl until you’re ready to add it to your ice cream base. Once ice cream is finished churning, slowly pour in the chocolate crackle; although it’s in viscous liquid form, it will freeze up into little solid bits when it hits the cold ice cream.
* Recipe note: When I first started making chocolate crackle and when I initially posted this recipe, I used much more coconut oil. Since then, I’ve learned you really only need a few tablespoons and that the chocolate actually firms up on its own really well, too. So since the original post, I’ve decreased the amount of coconut oil called for in the chocolate crackle.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)