6/11/14

Blackberry Ice Cream, Kind of

While I tend to stick to topics surrounding food, Teddy, and dancing, recently, I’ve found my thoughts treading in slightly different waters. In other words, is it cool if I speak my mind on some issues for a few moments? Yeah? OK, great. Here I go:

One of the problems with people like me is that it takes having a newborn to discover—and fully feel the impact of—the fact that though yes, some employers may opt to offer generous paid maternity and (not quite so generous) paternity leave, they don’t have to. In terms of parental leave, unlike most developed countries, all that is required by law here in the U.S., via the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, is 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Apparently, the intention of this bill was to assist in "balanc[ing] the demands of the workplace with the needs of families.” But let me ask you this? How the heck would this really help out a young family if one of its members just had a baby and was hoping to have the support, at least for a week or two, of the other member? To be fair, I should note that some states have expanded on the aforementioned FMLA. For example, in California, PFL (Paid Family Leave) provides up to six weeks of benefits for individuals who must take time off “to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, or registered domestic partner, or to bond with a new child.” Though pay attention to the word "benefits" there; this means that PFL will pay you only a portion (about 55%) of what you’re used to making.

Full family disclosure: Matt’s company offered him one week of paid paternity leave. And yes, he could have taken more time because of FMLA and could have received a portion of his salary for up to six weeks thanks to California’s PFL, but because of the nature of Matt’s job, the fact that we really rely on his full salary (as my writing and our videos don’t quite pay enough yet to sustain us—yet being the key word there, amiright?), as well as the fact that my mother was planning to visit and help that second week of Teddy’s life, Matt and I decided he should go back to work that week after Teddy was born.

Now, I realize that this is a complicated issue with all sorts of implications, but as a new mother who lives thousands of miles from family, not only could I have really used Matt’s help with our newborn son, but this situation also made it so that Matt was constantly playing catch up on all of the various tricks of how to soothe and care for our little boy, which I undoubtedly picked up in between the hours of 8am to 7pm while he was at work.

I know, I know. You’re like, “Amelia, when do you talk about blackberry ice cream?” Hang in there. I’ll get to it! (Maybe.)
The second problem with people like me is that I rarely take my political frustrations any further than signing the occasional petition, arguing with my mom, emailing Barbara Boxer, or studying up on California’s props right before an election (and voting).

Now, I bring all of this up because I have a new cause; and one that though I can’t do much about, I can’t seem to do nothing about either.
Perhaps you’ve read an article or two about the current battle between the book publisher, Hachette, and the online super-store, Amazon? Well, for those of you who haven’t, I will try to sum it up as briefly as possible. (I will also link to this interview with Sherman Alexie on The Colbert Report, which sums it up quite well and quite hilariously.) In short, the two companies are in a dispute over contract negotiations and caught in the crossfire are 5000 of Hachette’s books, which Amazon—a company responsible for 40-50% of all book sales as well as a company known for its speedy service—currently says they will ship in two to five weeks if customers order them. At the same time, they’re offering “similar titles” available immediately and at their standard discounted price. Most devastatingly for Hachette authors whose books are coming out this summer, you cannot pre-order their books. As stated by Sherman Alexie in the aforementioned interview, pre-publicity and pre-sales are everything, especially for a first-time author; they help determine how many copies booksellers order from the publisher, whether said books reach various bestseller lists in their first weekend, which, in turn, drive sales, etc.

Point being, as a first-time author whose book is being published by Hachette—albeit not until February of next year—I’m very invested in this dispute. And I would like to think that even if I didn’t have a book coming out, that as a book lover and someone who values an ecosystem where artists and content creators are not squeezed or bullied by the companies that sell the things they work so hard to create, I would still be invested.

And so, perhaps you’re wondering (if you’re still reading, that is) what am I going to do about it?

For starters, I hope writing this post counts as something. (C’mon, I had to do fact-checking and read articles without skimming them!) But mostly, for me, it comes down to being happy to spend a little more for books (and other things) at places I can feel good about supporting. (By the way, Amazon is giving similar advice to those people not willing to wait the two to five weeks for a book to ship. In a statement to their customers, they wrote: "We regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.")

Amazon says that it’s all about getting the best price for you, their beloved customer, but there's another price to be paid for getting things cheap; especially when Amazon wants to drive down cost while also taking a bigger cut of the profits. Publishers, authors, artists, vendors, and their employees all suffer in that scenario and that’s something I just can’t buy into.

p.s. This blackberry ice cream was delicious.

p.p.s. Here are a couple of places where you might consider spending your hard-earned dough.
My mom shows her distaste for Amazon's negotiating tactics. Just kidding! This shot was taken after I brought up the idea of making basil ice cream. She  wasn't into it.
Blackberry, on the other hand...
Blackberry Ice Cream slightly adapted from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones

For the blackberry purée:
2 half-pint baskets blackberries (2 cups)
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, as needed

For the base:
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

Cook the berries:
Combine the berries with the sugar, using 1/4 cup if they are very sweet and 1/2 cup if less so, in a small nonreactive saucepan and stir well. Put the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the berries are soft and the liquid they release has reduced somewhat, about 10 minutes.

Let cool slightly, then transfer the berries and their juice to a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth. Strain half of the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much purée as possible. Discard the solids. Add the unstrained purée to the same bowl and stir once to combine. Cover the bowl and refrigerate.

Make the base:
In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in half of the sugar (1/4 cup). Set aside.

In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, remaining sugar (1/4 cup), and the salt. Put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.

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, 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. Turn off the heat.

Set the pan into an ice-water bath, wash your spatula, and use it to stir the base occasionally until it is cool. Remove the pan from the ice-water bath, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the base for at least two hours or overnight.

Whisk the blackberry purée into the chilled base.

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.
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42 comments:

  1. Lately, I've also been thinking a lot about where we spend our (extremely small) monthly disposable income and the importance of competition in the marketplace. As you said, it's a complicated issue, but at the end of the day, it felt good to cancel our Amazon prime account :-) Hey, we'll also end up taking more family trips to skylight books on the weekend!

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  2. Amelia, yes, share your opinions! I already don't support Amazon because of how they treat their workers -- see this Salon article: http://bit.ly/1e726X6. Here's to independent book stores -- and blackberry ice cream cones!

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    1. Thank you, Stephanie! And thanks for that link! Going to read asap.

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  3. First of all, that blackberry ice cream looks amazing. Second of all, amen to this post. The whole Amazon dispute is just enraging to me as a reader and an aspiring author. We can't live in a world where single corporations control who makes what amount of money. Especially artists. Because artists are really important in an abstract kind of way. So thank you for this post.

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  4. No, this is good. A. your opinions are good opinions (ie. I agree with them, which makes them good) and b. You broke them up with pictures of ice cream which is second only to cute kittens on the readability scale.

    ps. can't wait for your book to come out :)

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    1. hahahaha thanks, Rebecca!! p.s. Speaking of good: LOVE the bath minerals thing you gave me! Smells amazing.

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  5. This was such a good post, Amelia. I don't often write about politics, either, but since becoming a mother, I've taken quite a passionate stance on all things related to maternity/paternity leave and our country's general feeling that having a baby AIN'T NO THANG. You gotta talk about the stuff that's in your mind, and what else is there to do while you eat blackberry ice cream :)

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  6. Love it! You should do a book signing at Stories. And order all your books at stories. I find one on Amazon and then call Stories to order it for me. It is there quicker than Amazon. And tell people to buy your book off IndieBound!! xo

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  8. Thank you for writing about this so eloquently. It is so painful to realize that Amazon uses these tactics, since I am so addicted to the convenience factor. I am really looking forward to reading your book when it arrives (you are one of my favorite writers on the internet), and I pledge to buy it from another source! Also that ice cream looks amazing, and you should totally make one with basil.

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    1. Hi Emily, I know! We were pretty addicted to the convenience factor too. :( And thank you so much for your support. It really means so much.

      p.s. Totally gonna make basil one day when Mom's not visiting.

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  9. Thank you for this post. I learned a lot.

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  10. Great post. I agree with Stephanie: the way Amazon treats its workers is yet another reason not to support them. I'll definitely be buying your book from Magers & Quinn, a wonderful bookstore in Minneapolis. As for the parental leave issue, let's just say it's hard being a Canadian living in the U.S. without constantly asking why all things health and benefit related are so complicated here.

    On another note, that ice cream looks amazing. I love how it sort of matches your nail polish, and how you, your mom, and Teddy are all sort of wearing a matching blue. Did you plan that?!

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    1. Thanks, Sara! And surprisingly, no, we didn't plan any of that! But when Matt was taking the photos, I was definitely reminding him of how cute my nail polish was. :)

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  11. This was a fantastic read. I totally agree - I think people often skim over the fact that two publishing industry giants battling it out actually directly affects people's lives. Namely the Authors and content creators. Which sucks.

    Also, bookstores are such nice places, I'd hate to see them all disappear. Boo to Amazon, and YAAAY to blackberry ice cream.

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    1. I know, Sarah! Taking Teddy to the bookstore is one of my absolute favorite activities. It would be unfathomably sad to see them disappear altogether.

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  12. I never purchase from Amazon, or any other corporation that tries to destroy the competition by playing dirty tricks, taking advantage of their employees and pouring money into changing laws to benefit themselves while hurting small businesses.
    I'm willing to pay a little extra and wait a little longer. Unfortunately, looking at the success of Amazon, Walmart and others, I seem to be in the minority on this.
    And yes, that ice cream looks delicious!

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  13. I'm not going to lie....I came for the ice cream and to ask whether you like the stand mixer attachment. I'm thinking of purchasing one. Otherwise, good for you for standing up for your beliefs.

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    1. hahahahaa the ice cream is how I lured y'all in! As for the stand mixer attachment, I like it! I typically dislike most "gadgets" but if you want to make ice cream at home, it's a pretty simple option. The only trick is making sure to put the freeze bowl in the freezer 16 hours before you want to make ice cream.

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  14. Hear, hear! Can't wait for the independent NYC bookstores in my future!

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  15. I love meandering through an independent book store and while I, too, love the convenience of Amazon, I prefer to buy my books locally. The whole experience is what draws me in and I promise to buy yours locally, too (can't wait!) The maternity/paternity thing is just crazy and I'm addicted to reading up on it. It first came to my attention when I noticed David and Luise from Green Kitchen Stories traveling the world as a family with his 6 months of paid paternity leave and I believe hers was even longer. My jaw dropped. I don't have kids at this point, but it's sad that in one of the richest countries in the world, we can't make this part of life a little easier. You're so right that it's important for Dads to learn how to feel comfortable with the baby not only for the important bonding time, but also to give Mom a break, too. If you haven't read it, Joanna's Motherhood Around the World Series is really eye-opening, too. http://joannagoddard.blogspot.com/search/label/motherhood%20around%20the%20world P.S. I love your Mom :)

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    1. Thanks so much, Nicole! I've seen Joanna's series in the past but thanks for reminding me about it. Also, I will tell my mom to read your comment! :) :)

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  16. yum yum yum, this looks amazing. Also, thanks for posting about this whole Amazon/independent publisher conundrum, I had no idea.

    One other question: Do you love your ice cream maker attachment? I adore my standing mixer, and a goal is to trick it out. Is the ice cream attachment easy to use? Is it a good value? How frequently do you use it?

    Thanks!!!

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    1. Hi Sandy! Thanks for reading. As for the stand mixer attachment, I like it! I typically dislike most "gadgets" but if you want to make ice cream at home, it's a pretty simple option. The only trick is making sure to put the freeze bowl in the freezer 16 hours before you want to make ice cream.

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  17. love this post...and the recipe looks good too!

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  18. I'm a first time reader of your column, and I loved it. Right on, I say. You certainly have a right to express your beliefs. As far as the book sales are concerned, I much prefer to buy from my small local book store and be a part of their frequent buyer program. That way I support a small business and I have the wonderful owner there who seems to intuit what I want to read next. That's the Snow Goose book store in Stanwood WA. Thanks for a great column and a recipe that I'm anticipating as I look out at the blackberry blossoms in my yard.

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    1. You're super welcome. Thanks for writing. I love hearing about all of these people like you supporting their local bookstore. It warms my heart, really!

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  19. I recently attended an event with the authors Ann Patchett and Richard Russo. She gave a lecture about our duty to buy books from independent book stores (yes, she does own one). She said it's not Amazon and Wal-Mart putting local stores out of business - it's people who are trying to save a dollar or two. It's always better to put those dollars into the local community, supporting people who might be your neighbors or friends. I was thrilled to hear this, as I work in a tiny, independent bookstore here in Maine. Our customers are the best, and they love keeping us in business.
    Great to hear your 2 cents as well. And Teddy is ridiculously adorable. Plus, I like ice cream.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Karen! I totally agree (about supporting your local community and Teddy's adorableness). ;)

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  20. It's so funny that you addressed Amazon and publishing in this post. I live in Seattle and was just ranting about this very issue to my boyfriend: Amazon taking over and homogenizing the world, and more specifically publishing! I love your blog and your baby is to die for :)

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  21. As a long time Bon Appetempt (aka Morris Family) Fan,
    I appreciate you sharing this very relevant topic affecting you with us. I am going to buy your book however I can ge my hands on it, and it will not be through Amazon.
    All my best,
    Gina

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    1. Thank you, Gina!! I really appreciate it!

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  22. Excellent point. It seems that people are becoming more and more passive: everyone who agrees with you on the issue of maternal/paternal leave should send some quick e-mails today to their political representatives.

    And notice which party has your back on issues like this, and vote accordingly.

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  23. I hear you on both topics. I used to not give much thought to the process of things just the bottom line and so I often would look to amazon because of price and speed. Nowadays my heart and mind are more inline and my desires/needs go through more of a process of thoughtful review. It is hard and complicated though and I often find myself wondering a lot about quality of life for people, materials etc. which has become more and more in my mind with our baby now.

    I look forward to buying your book from your publisher!

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Thanks for your thoughts!