Roasted strawberry ice cream.

Roasted berries.

I dated someone once who didn’t care about restaurants or going out to dinner, who just didn’t get it. “Food is just fuel,” he’d say, and he wasn’t attractive or funny enough for me to overlook his dim worldview so it didn’t last long. I suppose that food really is fuel, but in my case it also doubles as therapy; my mood depends on a few good meals, and my optimism wavers if I haven’t eaten well. And anyway, sleep is just recharging but aren’t we nonetheless very particular about the softness of our pillows and the colour of our sheets? How can there be people for whom these constant, vital acts aren’t anything but to-dos to be checked off a list? Or maybe I’m just a hedonist?

I’m also a chaos muppet:

“Chaos Muppets are out-of-control, emotional, volatile. They tend toward the blue and fuzzy. They make their way through life in a swirling maelstrom of food crumbs, small flaming objects, and the letter C. Cookie Monster, Ernie, Grover, Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and—paradigmatically—Animal, are all Chaos Muppets. Zelda Fitzgerald was a Chaos Muppet. So, I must tell you, is Justice Stephen Breyer.” – Dahlia Lithwick, Slate (2012)

Roasted.

Swirling maelstroms are the status quo around here; adding a toddler to the mix has not brought any order to our daily proceedings. As a grounding exercise, just before everything becomes completely unhinged (and someone innocent gets hit in the eye with the  nuts and bolts), I sometimes must do something stabilizing – usually that’s some fancy food thing that requires patience and presence of mind. On Sunday, that stabilizing thing was the slow work of transforming eggs and the strawberries that had gone ruddy and cream into ice cream, a process that began with custard-making.

Ruddy strawberries.

Custard requires focus; failing to pay attention can turn your emulsion into sweet scrambled eggs and this recipe calls for eight egg yolks, so spoiling your custard means quite a lot of waste and probably another trip to the store and I was not wearing outside-pants because it was the weekend. You have to monitor the heat, and you have to keep stirring until the mixture thickens to the point where it coats the back of a spoon and hangs on. It is not complicated, but it does require you to fixate on the task at hand.

The custard formed the base for a bit of strawberry ice cream. When I started making ice cream I played with a few different recipes, but the one I ended up sticking with is David Lebovitz’s perfect vanilla ice cream. It is endlessly adaptable, and even if you don’t really know what you’re doing at first, you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

To make this ice cream, I tweaked his recipe; I used eight egg yolks instead of five, and I used a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste instead of a vanilla bean pod plus extract. If you just have a vanilla bean, or just extract, that’s fine; my vanilla bean paste is a splurge that my aunt got me hooked on when she brought a jar of it back for me from London; I found it at Gourmet Warehouse in Vancouver ($12), but you can also find it online. I will never not have it in my cupboard.

Vanilla bean paste.

To make this strawberry ice cream and not just plain old vanilla, I roasted strawberries drizzled with honey, and poured the whole mess into the ice cream machine as it churned. This is not the simplest of recipes, though it is not hard. But you have to pay attention.

Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream

(Makes just a bit more than a quart.)

  • 1 lb. strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

Put a large glass or stainless steel bowl into the freezer. Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Line an 8″x8″ baking pan with parchment. Put the strawberries into the pan, drizzle with honey, toss with a spoon to coat, then stick the pan into the oven and roast the berries for 25 to 30 minutes, until they have melted down and their juices are sticky and bubbling. Cool the berries at room temperature until you can handle the pan comfortably with bare hands, then stick them in the fridge to chill.

In a saucepan over low heat, dissolve the sugar and salt in the milk.

Take the bowl out of the freezer, pour the cream into it, and set a fine mesh strainer over top. Unfortunately, Nick threw my fine mesh strainer out in a fit over how annoying it was to clean before we had a dishwasher, so I only have a very small one; its diameter is just slightly shorter than that of the mug I drink my tea out of. It’s slow going, but worthwhile.

In a separate bowl, whisk your egg yolks together with the vanilla. Slowly and gently pour the warm milk mixture – in a thin stream – into your bowl of egg yolks. Whisk constantly. Once you’ve poured your whole pot of milk into the egg bowl, pour the mixture back into the pot, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula so you get all the good stuff, and return the pot to the heat (should still be low). Whisk constantly until the mixture has thickened to the point where it coats the back of a spoon and stays put, which should take somewhere between ten and twelve minutes (if you’re meticulous, that’s 170°F).

Remove the custard from the heat and strain it into the bowl of cream, stirring to combine. Cover with plastic wrap, and then stick it in the fridge, minimum four hours but ideally overnight.

Pour the custard into your ice cream maker, add the strawberries, and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Freeze until set.

Serve with fresh strawberries.

Bad lighting, good ice cream.

Strawberry Salsa.

Berry salsa

 

My kitchen is sticky with berry mess, and it is wonderful. I have blended them into smoothies for breakfast, pureed and diced them for muffins for the toddler, and fantasized about weather reliable enough for a pavlova that drips with lemon curd and macerated berries. Strawberries are back! I am not cranky about anything today.

But we have a lot of them, because I never know how much is enough until I have too many. No math skills, this one. I still have frozen strawberries in the freezer from last year’s picking/buying binge. Who could say no to summer fruit after too many months of last autumn’s apples?! Impossible.

So, we do what we can with them, and we do everything with them, and tonight because we were having fried white fish, I decided to make a salsa of them; I am very happy to report that my total inability to calculate even the simplest thing has left me with an abundance of salsa – I will get to eat it later, while watching TV, with a big bowl of tortilla chips. Success, no matter how you do the math. Especially if you can wrangle someone else to scrub the sticky off the kitchen floor and counters.

If you don’t like cilantro, I’ve made this with basil and it’s equally good. Also I take the seeds out of the jalapeno peppers but leave the membrane, because I like this salsa just a little bit spicy.

Strawberry Salsa

  • 2 cups diced strawberries, in cubes of about 1/4″
  • 1 large avocado, diced the same
  • 1 large or 2 medium jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • Zest and juice of one lime
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to combine, and let sit for 30 minutes in the fridge before serving. Serve over chicken, fish, grilled halloumi, or in a bowl on its own with all the chips you can eat.

More salsa

Today was also the best day ever, and I know that you’re going to stop believing me when I say that. Here, have some strawberry shortcake.

I know that yesterday I said today I was going to tell you all about clams, but the thing is I was a little drunk by the time dinner struck and all my pictures turned out blurry, and Grace brought her camera and tripod and took photos but I don’t have them yet so I’ll tell you all about clams tomorrow, or possibly the day after. Today we went out to Westham Island to pick strawberries.

Westham Island is way the hell out there off the highway beyond Ladner, and while it’s not actually that far away in kilometers, to get there you have to travel several long and winding roads and cross a couple of bridges and once you get there you have to try and decide which farm you will go to, and Grace and I wanted to go to the one with the winery. Of course, that’s at the end of another long road, but when we got there, we beheld many wonders. To our delight, it was Strawberry Fest this weekend. In addition to the startling variety of fruit wines available for sale, I was pleased to discover a company that custom-tailors tuxedos for wiener dogs. I don’t have a wiener dog yet, but when I do, he will ALWAYS be snappily dressed.

Strawberry fields forever.
Strawberry fields forever.

But that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that it’s now officially strawberry season, which means that it’s summer.

The place we went to was a u-pick kind of place, and you bring your own bucket – pretty standard stuff.

Pick, pick, pick.
Pick, pick, pick.
Pretty, pretty, pretty.
Pretty, pretty, pretty.

It took me forever to get started, and I grabbed several sharp weeds with my bare hands before getting into things. Agriculture isn’t for me, I decided, and also I don’t much care for squatting. In no time I was using my galoshes as a seat, ambling along the rows with prickly sleeping feet. I’ve revised my dream career to include “not outdoors” in its descriptors. It smelled very nice, like leaves and the odd whiff of berry musk.

And soon I was well into the whole process, shouting across the field to James and Grace whenever I felt so compelled – “OMG, look at these retard-berries!” I’d shout. “Developmentally challenged berries,” Grace would correct. And then when the troupe of annoying British children turned up, I decided I’d best stop shouting “retard!” into the fields, and James agreed.

No, really - see?
No, really - see?
This plant has too many chromosomes or something.
This plant has too many chromosomes or something.

It didn’t take very long to fill a whole bucket. For me, that is. James ate three times as many berries as he picked, and Grace anal-retentively only picked perfect berries – her berries were all of uniform colour and size. Grace is a better editor than I am, and has a keener eye for detail. My bucket showed an open-minded preference for diversity (read: a tendency toward rushing and impatience).

By the end of it all, I had picked four pounds of berries, paying less than I paid yesterday for half as many.

I am less awesome in real life than I am in my head.
I am less awesome in real life than I am in my head.

But what to do with all those berries?! I immediately counted out the prettiest, reddest ones from among the berries at the top of the bucket and dropped them into a bowl and drizzled them with a touch of sugar and just enough cream. They were so soft that they didn’t need to be chewed – I could smash them just by pushing them with my tongue against the roof of my mouth. They tasted precisely how strawberries are supposed to taste, with not a streak of white anywhere inside of them.

Nothing belongs in my stomach more than these.
Nothing belongs in my stomach more than these.

As too many strawberries will leave you with a terrible case of the scoots, I’m beginning to wonder what I’ll do with the rest – I think I’d like to make strawberry shortcake, and maybe a batch of muffins, and then freeze some for margaritas. The rest I will eat as they are, or dipped in pepper or sugar or maybe both – I don’t remember at which point the laxative quality of strawberries begins to take effect. Only one way to find out!

In the meantime, here’s my favourite base for strawberry shortcake. It’s a James Beard recipe, and it produces a biscuit, not a cake. But it’s sweet, with a crusty top that contrasts nicely with soft berries and whipped cream. I add cardamom because I like it, but you can omit it if you’d like.

Cream Biscuits

(makes four to six, depending on how big you like them)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. sugar, plus additional for sprinkling on top
  • 1 tsp. cardamom
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup melted butter

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a bowl, combine your flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and cardamom. Mix it up, and once it’s mixed, slowly add one cup of the cream. Stir constantly, adding more cream if the dough doesn’t seem like it’s holding together. Once it’s formed a dough, turn it out onto a floured surface, and knead for about a minute. Divide the dough into four to six pieces, and pat down until each is about half an inch thick.

Paint with melted butter, all sides. Place on an ungreased baking sheat, and sprinkle the tops with sugar. The coarser the sugar, the better – I like a nice crunch.

Bake these for about fifteen minutes, or until golden brown.

I have to half recipes around here - they're always too much for two people.
I have to halve recipes around here - they're always too much for two people.

Serve warm, with fresh berries and a generous dollop of whipped cream.

And now, it’s time for another handful of berries, a glass of wine, and a nap, because agriculture is hard work and squatting makes you tired.