I have a little story to tell you.
It starts 16 months ago when I get a call from a literary agent I queried about my novel. We talk on the phone for over an hour. She’ll read my novel, but she’s most interested in this blog of mine. By the end of the call, we’ve decided I’m going to start working on a book proposal for a food memoir. I’m excited. I get right to work that very afternoon.
Almost a year later, my mom is visiting us. Though it's technically fall, it’s hot in Los Angeles. We go to Macy’s because Mom has “Macy’s money,” which is what Mom calls her end-of-year rewards cash she gets from using her Macy’s credit card. She wants to buy me something. I’m up for it. We decide on the ice cream attachment for my stand mixer.
The next morning, we pick up heavy cream, milk, and some fresh berries. We’re going to make blackberry ice cream. It’s going to be great—perfect for late September. Only we don’t quite get to it. The next morning, Mom tells me that she’s pretty sure I’ll need to put the freeze bowl in the freezer for a few hours before we make our ice cream. So, I open the box and read the directions, which tells me that yes, the freeze bowl needs a bare minimum of 15 hours in the freezer before one can even think of making ice cream. Mom’s leaving the following afternoon. We shrug our shoulders, eat the berries, and decide that I’ll have to make my ice cream without her.
I make space in the freezer for the bowl so that next time I’ll be ready.
I’m reading Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies. I was lured in by the cover, and then when I flipped it around, I found a blurb on the back written by one of my past professors (now a literary superstar), John Jeremiah Sullivan. This sentence of his is what sold me: “It’s about being very, very good at something, when you want to be great.”
In it, Shapton writes about her career as a swimmer, which can be crassly summed up by saying she was a two-time Canadian Olympic trials attendee though never an actual Olympian.
In one section, she writes about an early morning pre-swim-practice ritual (and by early morning, I mean that during this time period of her training, her alarm goes off at 4:25am). She’s a teenager and sometimes, as she waited for her mom to come downstairs, she made something called a ‘muffin in a mug,’ which she describes as “Quaker instant bran muffin mix, half a cup of milk, stirred, nuked for two minutes, and then eaten with a spoon.”
But she didn’t set the microwave for two minutes. Instead, she set it for 1:11:00, the time she wants to swim “the SC 100m breaststroke in 1987.” She closes her eyes and imagines the starting block so that when she presses the start button, she is also diving into the water. Eyes shut, she envisions the entire race, each stroke. She writes: “Halfway down the pool on my final length I hear sharp beeping and open my eyes—the microwave is flashing 00:00:00. Too slow by about five seconds.”
At the 1992 trials, she finishes at 1:17:52, in thirty-sixth place.
If you are familiar with the KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment, you know that the freeze bowl takes up a lot of space in the freezer. There are times, like say over the holidays, when it would have been much easier to just take the freeze bowl out. After all, who wants to make ice cream in the winter? Even a Los Angeles winter. (Note: there have been two mornings when I was taking Mavis out where I slipped on an icy patch at the end of our deck.) (Double note: I hope that the good citizens of the world whose winter includes lots of snow can see the previous note as an example to the simple fact that it does get relatively cold here and not that we Angelenos have it rough in any way shape or form (though there is all that traffic).)
But I can’t take the freeze bowl out because damnit I’m going to make ice cream at some point and I need the freeze bowl to be ready.
When my book proposal is finally sent out into the world of editors and publishers—and once it’s out, it’s out, no turning back—I pick up my old standby, Anne Lamotte’s Bird by Bird and reread the chapter called “Publication.”
This is the part I latch onto: “Hours later, I remembered that if I wasn’t enough before being asked to participate in this prestigious event, then participating wasn’t going to make me enough. Being enough was going to have to be an inside job.”
I guess I’m telling you all this because in this world the main focus seems to be on results when the vast majority of our time is spent in process, in the freezer for five months, or in the pool before 6am, or at one’s computer next to a sleeping dog struggling to type up your probably non-noteworthy and poorly-written thoughts and ideas. I’m also telling you all of this because now I am faced with the task of actually writing this thing. So while there’s occasion for celebration, there’s also occasion for more work.
But for the moment, let’s celebrate! Thanks to you people who have been reading this blog for all these years and who have encouraged me to keep going, I managed to sell my book proposal to the Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing, and I couldn’t be happier about it. So before I get to work writing it, let’s eat sundaes! (I mean, c’mon, when’s the last time you made yourself a sundae?)Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
2 tablespoons green cardamom pods
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup 1% or 2% milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 large egg yolks
1 large orange
1. Put the cardamom in a small skillet and put the pan over medium heat. Toast the pods, stirring frequently, until aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool for a minute, then use a sharp knife to coarsely chop the pods.
2. In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, stir together the cardamom, cream, milk, half of the sugar (1/4 cup), and the salt.
3. Put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture just begins to bubble around the edges, remove from the heat and cover the pan. Let steep for 30 minutes, or until the cream mixture has a distinct cardamom flavor. (Taste it to monitor the progress; the mixture will become bitter if oversteeped.)
4. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in the remaining sugar (1/4 cup). Set aside.
5. Uncover the cream mixture and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.
6. 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.
7. Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thickened, coats the back of a spatula, and holds a clear path when you run your finger across the spatula, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
8. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Zest the orange over the warm base and stir to combine. Set the container into an ice-water bath, wash your spatula, and use it to stir the base occasionally until it is cool. Remove the container from the ice-water bath, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerat the base for at least two hours or overnight.
9. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. While the ice cream is churning, put the container you'll use to store the ice cream into the freezer. Enjoy right away, or for a firmer ice cream, transfer to the chilled container and freeze for at least 4 hours.
Hot Fudge Sauce slightly adapted from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
makes about 1 1/4 cups
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 cup tapioca syrup or corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (about 60%) finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. In a medium nonreactive saucepan, stir together the cream, sugar, cocoa, syrup, and salt. Put the pan over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and cook just until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat.
2. Stir in the chocolate and the vanilla until the chocolate is melted and the sauce is completely smooth.
Serve right away or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator (it lasts for weeks.) To rewarm, heat in the microwave at half power for a minute or two.