It’s so close to summer. I know this because, for several days now, I have been dreaming of it—vivid, cinematic dreams with supporting casts and happy endings. My dreams feature long, easy days of cooking, loose and floppy bread starters blooming in my fridge, jellies and jams and pickles and platters of things being carried out to the grill, pitchers and bottles of very cold drinks. Reading books in a chair all day. Dancing on a hotel rooftop with a view of the Mississippi the night my friend Kristen gets married. Reading books with my sweet godsons, who have somehow managed to become five years old. Eating ribs in my hometown. Writing, planning, scheming, letter-writing, ice-creaming.
Oh yes, the ICE CREAM. There is going to be ice cream all summer, and other frozen, fruity-or-creamy things—ice cold watermelon all down my arms and legs, cold almond puddings with warm, boozy cherries, every kind of popsicle I can think to make, mango sorbet and pistachio kulfi and cups of falooda, the strange, rose-water drenched treat of my childhood.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now I am just sitting here dreaming about these things because I have bronchitis, and I’m not good for much at the moment. Yeahhhh, bronchitis. Have you had bronchitis before? I hadn’t. It kind of sucks. There are a LOT of things that suck worse, though. I know that. I promise you, I keep that in mind.
If my bronchitis is the bad news, then the good news that comes with it is…Jill is cancer free! That is what the doctors told us last week, when we went to the hospital for her surgery-follow-up appointments. They said—“We think we got it.” They said—“No further treatment necessary.” They said—“No appointments for six months.”
We were, at first, in shock. We went to our favorite near-the-hospital lunch spot and ordered our favorite big bowls of shoyu ramen, only to realize we wouldn’t be back the next week, doing the same thing. Over the days that followed, there were celebratory emails and tweets, the clinking of beer bottles over a table of homemade hamburgers, an actual date involving dinner reservations and concert tickets (and the Avett Brothers making me cry, in a good way), and lots of wonder and the melting-away-shock that we might could start imagining a future without hospitals and external IV lines and chemotherapy in it.
Jill has written, rather eloquently if I may say so, about how cancer has changed her. Of course, it has changed both of us, and it has changed us, deepening our trust and intimacy, making pretty much everything even more precious than it used to be. Also? Given Jill’s newfound emotional sensitivity and the fact that I’ve always been a serious crier, it’s almost funny how much tearing up is happening in our household these days (Google Chrome commercials? You’re killing us.) Ans now we’re trying to figure out how to re-enter “normal life” without abandoning the crystallizing, tenderizing effects of this unexpected adventure.
When things were their worst—when Jill was her sickest, and I was my most exhausted and both of us were asking ourselves “How do people do this?”—there were things I knew for certain. What was important, and what wasn’t. What was worth spending time, and energy, and money on, and what wasn’t.
I guess what I’d like to say is that I want to have the balls to care about the right stuff, even when cancer isn’t lurking in the background. I want to be a brave woman whose priorities are clear, and clearly reflected in her life. So I will be adding that to my summer project list, along with “make lots of ice cream.”
FIVE-INGREDIENT STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM
You don’t need me to tell you this is good, do you? And that you should use the prettiest strawberries you can find, and thick, glorious, local heavy cream? No, I didn’t think so.
I prefer this particular ice cream soft-serve, meaning eaten right when it’s churned or shortly thereafter. If you keep some in your freezer for a few days (as you can), I highly recommend using it to make milkshakes.
1 lb. strawberries, washed, hulled, & halved
2 cups heavy cream
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Mash the strawberries with the sugar, lemon juice, & salt in the bottom of a plastic container with a lid. Let the mixture stand, shaking it occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
Here’s where you get to make choices—if you want smooth, perfectly pink strawberry ice cream, pour all of the strawberry mixture into the blender and puree with the heavy cream. If, like me, you want some chunks of strawberry for texture, reserve up to half of the strawberry mixture and pour the rest into the blender and puree with the cream.
Pour everything back into the plastic container, seal with the lid, and chill in the refrigerator for 4-5 hours. Take the container out every once in a while and shake it up.
Once you’re ready, freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Yields about a quart-and-a-half.
I’ll take the brutal South Texas heat if it means that I get to buy a flat of these every weekend at the Farmers Market:
The smell of ripe peaches, the fuzz of their skin, the feel of peach juice running down my arm—all scream “summer” to my senses. Peaches arrived a few weeks ago down here, just a few weeks shy of strawberries, bringing with them black & blue berries, soon to be followed by garden-ripe tomatoes and sweet, sweet corn.
Yesterday I watched my eighth graders graduate from middle school; I called their names as they walked across the stage to accept their certificates of achievement, and I got all teary as they and their parents came up in the reception to say goodbye.
While the advent of summer vacation is thrilling (and almost feels like cheating as I sheepishly silence my celebrations in the presence of friends who work, you know, all year round), I know I’m going to miss my kids. In fact, I already do.
I had the pleasure of teaching these students twice—in their sixth grade AND their eighth grade year–and they have become part of my daily life, their mood swings, our inside jokes, and a whole bunch of good conversation. I have witnessed them coming into themselves, becoming these funny, brave, uncertain, kind, perceptive, and hard-working people before my very eyes.
Teenagers don’t get very good publicity, and I know that parenting one is different from teaching sixty-five, but I’m here to tell you; the kids are alright. They are better than alright, in fact, they are awesome.
That being said, I’m still pretty psyched about summer. I’ll miss those punks, but at least I have peaches.
1 ½ cups fresh peach puree*
juice of 1 orange
juice of 2 lemons
½ cup tequila
shot of Cointreau or other orange liquor
Fill your blender with ice, pour in the remaining ingredients. Blend until frothy, serve.
* Peel 3-4 ripe peaches. Remove the pits & slice, then process in the blender until smooth, adding a wee bit of water if necessary. Strain if you’re feeling fussy.
Gingersnap crust, marscapone filling–need I say more? A favorite make-ahead dessert from last summer.
4-5 ripe peaches
½ cup water
¾ cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sour cream
½ tsp. vanilla
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Cook peaches, water, & sugar in a saucepan on medium heat, stirring occasionally until soft–about 10 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool before processing it in the blender with the rest of the ingredients–I like to leave a few chunks of peaches for texture’s sake.
Chill the mixture in the refrigerator before churning in your ice cream maker. Like most homemade ice cream, this one is best served fresh. If you store it in your freezer for more than an hour or two, it will need significant time at room temperature to thaw to a scoop-able state.
Of course, if Dolly is any indication, it won’t be hard for you to finish the batch straightaway.
This is totally one of those blog posts I would read & think “Come on! Does she really think this counts as a recipe? Who are we kidding here?”
I know. It isn’t a recipe, more like a great idea. Everyone loves ice cream, but scooping sundaes for a crowd can be kind-of a pain. Instead, take good-quality ice cream (perhaps some you just made yourself?), soften it a bit, mix in nuts or chocolate or fruit or candy, spread that into the cookie shell you just made, and freeze the whole thing up.
An hour later, you’ve got a simple, satisfying, & adaptable dessert, perfect for this hot, hot August.
Since this is sort of a slacker blog post, I’m going to throw in a little something extra here: our first Blue Jean Gourmet Mix. Hope you enjoy these summer kitchen tunes as much as we do.
ICE CREAM PIE
The possibilities are really quite endless here; you can tailor to a sophisticated, adult palate, a gooier, kid-friendly palate, or somewhere in-between:
a) chocolate cookie crust, chocolate ice cream, peppermint candies
b) gingersnap crust, vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit
c) vanilla wafer crust, banana ice cream, peanut butter cups
d) graham cracker crust, Neapolitan ice cream, mini marshmallows
For this pie, I made an Oreo crust, coffee ice cream, & mixed in toasted almonds & chunks of semi-sweet chocolate. To top it all off, homemade whipped cream & a few chocolate-covered espresso beans. There were several “Whoah, I don’t know if I can finish this” remarks followed by clean plates.
To make the crust, I used a food processor to make crumbs of the Oreos & a few tablespoons of butter, then pressed the crumbs into a pie pan. The whole thing went into the freezer for a while before I added in the ice cream filling.
Once you’ve filled the pie, be sure to cover it well to prevent freezer burn. Take out at least 5 minutes before you’re planning to serve, so it can thaw a little, making your life easier when it comes time to cut wedges.
LATE SUMMER KITCHEN MIX (turntable links to iTunes)
We Used to Be Friends – The Dandy Warhols
Spiralling – Keane
We’re an American Band – Grand Funk Railroad
Rosanna – Toto
Believe in Me – Emily White
Woodstock – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
Girls in Their Summer Clothes – Bruce Springsteen
Manhattan – Kings of Leon
Mr. Brownstone – Guns N’ Roses
Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
No You Girls – Franz Ferdinand
Freeway of Love – Aretha Franklin
Wouldn’t It Be Nice – The Beach Boys
Miss Ferguson – Cory Branan
Abigail – Courtney Robbins
Cheated Hearts – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Overweight – Blue October
14th Street – Rufus Wainwright