Ice Cream Confessional

The author's mugshot a.k.a. high school yearbook photo

I used to steal ice cream. I was 15 and worked at the local Baskin Robbins. Technically, I wasn’t stealing for myself. The real culprit was my mother.

Ruth, my mother

The author's mother in college playing innocent.

She’d come pick me up at night after my shift. I was old enough to work but didn’t yet have a driver’s license. As she waited in the car listening to talk radio, I’d finish the last closing routines: wiping down the glass cases, carrying trash out behind the store, and turning off the hot chocolate warmer and flowing water inside the metal trays where we kept the scoopers. Then I’d lower the lights so no one could see what I was about to do and go outside for her instructions.

“What’s the flavor of the month again?” she’d ask, avoiding my gaze by staring out the car’s windshield.
“I think it’s Nutty Coconut.”
“All right. Good. Let’s get a pint of that.”

Back inside I’d pack up a pint, making sure to wipe down the metal spatula to hide any evidence. The whole thing felt cheap and tawdry. But what I could I do? She was my mother, and I needed the ride.

Once I’d left for college though, I told myself my days of stealing ice cream were over. Sure, I still loved the stuff (and could easily eat it every day if no one cared what I looked like) but in the intervening years, I’d convinced myself that I’d reformed.

And then it snowed here in New York. A lot. And suddenly, before you could say Pralines’n Cream, I got the itch again.

I first waited until the snow was at least four inches off the ground. Then, under cover of darkness, snuck out to the yard with a glass measuring cup. Working quickly before my neighbors could see, I filled a metal bowl with snow; the old skills returning as if riding a bicycle.

Once inside, I got to work on step two. A few years earlier, I’d briefly dated the hot chocolate king of New York and had picked up a trick or two. My vision? Combine the best of winter into a single treat: hot chocolate snow cream.

I prepared the hot chocolate, then let it chill for an hour until thickened almost to pudding. Finally, mixing the hot chocolate and snow together, I stirred gently until the concoction held.

hot chocolate snow cream

Hot chocolate snow cream: Costs so little, tastes so good.

I tasted it, as nervous as if my mother had ordered a gallon instead of a pint. It was perfect. Better even than Nutty Coconut. And, best of all, it was practically free, and no one got hurt.

Hot Chocolate Snow Cream
(adapted from Pierre Hermé, Jeffrey Steingarten, and David Leibovitz by way of Wittamer)

Servings: 2
Total Time: 1 1/2 hours
Ingredients:

5 to 6 cups fresh snow
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup whole milk
1/8 cup sugar
2 ounces dark chocolate, sliced thin with serrated bread knife
1/8 ounce unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of salt

Stopping by ice cream on a snowy evening.

1. Scoop up 5 to 7 cups of clean snow. Place in metal bowl or plastic container and store in freezer until ready to use.

2. Mix half and half, milk, and sugar in a heavy saucepan (like Le Crueset) and whisk to combine.

3. Place on stove over medium heat and allow to just boil, stirring occasionally.

4. Remove from heat and add chocolate, cocoa powder, and salt. Whisk to combine.

5. Return to low heat and allow to boil again, stirring continuously.

6. When mixture begins to boil and thicken, remove from heat and pour into metal bowl. Place bowl in refrigerator and allow to chill one hour.

7. Remove hot chocolate from refrigerator and snow from freezer. Add snow by 1/2 cup increments into hot chocolate, stirring after each to combine until mixture is the thickness of ice cream. Taste after 5 cups and add more snow if desired.

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How to Overcome Existential Crises

Croissant and Tea

The Answer to Life's Persistent Questions?

I often have existential crises. Mostly they involve wondering, “What’s it all about Alfie? Does anything matter? Aren’t we human beings just filling our time doing things without meaning, like watching “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” or taking sides in the Bears-Packers game or, dare I say it, blogging about food? I mean, shouldn’t I be saving dolphins? Or working to stop human trafficking? These are important issues. But imparting to the world yet another recipe or caring if my lettuce photograph perfectly captures the subtlety of every green curl or water droplet? I’m not sure I can get behind that.”

It’s at such times I consider moving to France. At least there it’s okay to have existential crises. Hell, there philosophers are TV stars whose shows air in prime time!

But since circumstances preclude me from packing my bags and heading tout de suite to gay Paree, I make do with second best: I drink tea from a white porcelain bowl and eat a pain au chocolat, a chocolate croissant, to briefly relieve my agita.

Sitting at my kitchen table, legs curled beneath me on a wooden chair, I stare out the window at a grey January morning. I take bites from the croissant. I cup the bowl of tea in my hands and feel the warmth through the porcelain. Gingerly I dunk pieces of croissant into the tea to melt the chocolate ever so slightly, and I imagine I’m in Paris, back at Elsa’s apartment in Belleville, where I couchsurfed in September and spoke French for hours and hadn’t a care in the world.

And then I think, maybe this is the answer to existential crises: Taking joy in small pleasures. Relishing time alone to reflect. Creating relationships and with them lasting memories. Appreciating the handiwork of something well made — a croissant or a cup of tea or even a phrase that moves another human being to contemplate their own existence.

Maybe some days that’s the best we can do. And maybe that’s good enough. But just to be sure, I promise myself I will also save a dolphin and do something to stop human trafficking.

And maybe, if I calm my mind, I can allow the desire for pleasure and the need to stop the world’s pain to peacefully co-exist…at least until tomorrow’s breakfast.

With special thanks to Marquet Patisserie located at 221 Court Street in Brooklyn for the pain au chocolat!

Marquet Patisserie

Marquet Patisserie: A lovely place to sit and reflect

A Very German-Jewish Christmas

My best friend, the annoyingly multi-talented, Kurt

My best friend, the annoyingly multi-talented, Kurt

Location: Catskills + Germany
Person: Kurt, my best friend
Recipe: Rothkohl, German Red Cabbage

We had another snowstorm in New York the other night. Bad news for a lot of people, but great news for the Couchsurfing Cook because it’s a perfect lead in for me to share my recent snowy Christmas adventure couchsurfing in the Catskills with my best friend Kurt.

Technically I wasn’t couchsurfing, just visiting, but when you’re staying with a guy who owns three goats, three dogs, two cats, and a mess o’ chickens, it’s more than likely all the beds will be taken and you’re just as likely to find yourself curled up on the divan as nestled under a blanket in a bedroom.

Goats eating dinner

Goats eating dinner

Kurt’s been my best friend since the first hour I moved to New York City 11 years ago when our dogs met in the park in Williamsburg and we realized we knew each other from a dog run in Chicago where we’d both formerly lived. Kurt’s also one of the most talented people I know. He’s an architectural designer, furniture maker, farmer, gardener, marathon runner and, most importantly for us, a great cook, the kind who never opens a cookbook yet can still prepare an Oktoberfest for 50 without blinking an eye. In short, I hate him…and he’s my best friend.

The funny thing about our friendship though is that while he’s off-the-boat German and I’m Jewish, it’s never been an issue between us (though sometimes I do get upset when he orders me to wash the dishes after one of his fetes).

But when his Christmas party this year consisted of him and three Jews, I thought it was an occasion worth documenting for posterity.

Luckily, in addition to being a fabulous cook, Kurt’s also a great sport who was kind enough to share with me his recipe for Rothkohl, German red cabbage. The New York Times health writer Tara Parker Pope lists cabbage as one of the 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating. So start those New Year’s Resolutions now! Eat your cabbage! Or Kurt and I will get VERY, VERY ANGRY!!

Just kidding… : )

And check out the video to see what happened when a German and three Jews celebrated Christmas together:

RothKohl

Servings: 8 as side dish
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 1 1/2 hours

Ingredients:

1 medium to large head red cabbage
2 Granny Smith apples
1 medium-sized yellow onion
1 Idaho potato
1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1 cup dry red table wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
approximately 1/8 cup whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon each salt and pepper or to taste

Rothkohl ingredients

Rothkohl ingredients

Directions:

1. Peel outer skin from onion. Push whole cloves into onion, spacing evenly apart to cover onion entirely. Set aside.

2. Peel apples. Cut in quarters. Remove seeds and center core. Cut each piece in half again. Set aside.

3. Skin and coarsely grate potato. Set aside.

4. Rinse cabbage under cool water. Pat dry. Remove outer leaves.

5. With large kitchen knife, cut cabbage in half. Remove tough end and inner white core. Cut each half into long 1″ wide strips. Cut strips in half again and separate into chunks.

6. On stovetop over low heat, melt butter in large, deep saucepan. Add cabbage and stir. Cover and allow to cook until cabbage is slightly softened. Approximately 5-7 minutes.

7. To cabbage add red wine vinegar and stir to combine.

8. Place spiked onion in pot.

9. Add bay leaves and green apples.

10. Add potato, first squeezing out excess liquid potato starch.

11. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix ingredients with wooden spoon to combine letting onion remain whole.

12. Raise heat to medium. Cook cabbage covered approximately 10 minutes until apples begin to break apart.

13. Remove cover. Stir to loosen cabbage from pan. Lower heat and add red wine. Stir to combine.

14. Allow to cook covered one hour over low heat until very soft, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent cabbage sticking to pan.

15. After an hour, remove bay leaves and onion.

16. Serve hot. Tastes better eaten days later and can be frozen to keep for up to a month.