Love, A La Mode

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When I moved from the East Coast to San Diego in the spring of 2002, I found myself a stranger in a place that felt like home. There is no explaining that kind of feeling, it just happens. It happens more easily when you land in a community of loving, welcoming people who begin as acquaintances and become friends.

Some of those very special people came over the other night and we did what seems to be becoming an annual event: a potluck and ice cream social. We make baked ziti (okay, my husband makes that), and ice cream (that’s me), and they bring wine, beer, salad, starters and sides. They also bring lots of laughs, warmth, and the bonds that have formed over ten years as we have met weekly to explore our faith, among other things.

But the other night was all about ice cream. When it comes to food preparation, I pick my spots and increasingly, my favorite spot (or as my mate has begun to call it, my obsession) is making ice cream. Maybe it is because when I make it, it is always for people I love. Even better, my favorite recipes involve ingredients made by people I love. As I prepare the custards and try new combinations, I think of their faces and what they mean to me and I swear all that adds a little something wonderful to the finished product.

Here’s how it works. They tell me what flavor they are craving, and I go hunting for the best guides. My first stop is, without fail, David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop” as well as his website. If I am making non-dairy, coconut-milk based ice creams (which are amazingly rich and delicious) I always use Rori Trovato’s recipe for chocolate coconut ice cream as a base and improvise from there.

And when it comes to adding a little spirit to the whole production, I can’t go anywhere but Peach Street Distillers because, well, I’m the distiller’s mother. But I’m not completely biased, their stuff wins awards from people with no blood ties at all so they must be doing something right.

The other night, we enjoyed some new twists on the old vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry standbys. Adding Peach Street’s Colorado Straight Bourbon to the vanilla and chocolate turned them into something extra decadent and addictive. Slipping a little extra of their Goat Artisan Vodka into the fresh strawberry frozen yogurt kept it soft and creamy and never interfered with the fresh strawberry taste. Of course, all the recipes I share below can be made without the alcohol and will be delicious.

Enjoy!

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Vanilla Bourbon Ice Cream

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe for vanilla ice cream in “The Perfect Scoop.”

Ingredients: 1 cup of whole milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, 2 cups of heavy cream, pinch of salt, 1 vanilla bean split lengthwise, 6 large egg yolks, 3/4 teaspoons of vanilla extract, 4 tablespoons of bourbon (I use my favorite, Peach Street Distiller’s Colorado Straight Bourbon. If you don’t live near Grand Junction, here’s where you can find it or order it online.

1. Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk with a paring knife, then add the bean pod to the milk. Cover, remove from heat, and infuse for one hour.

2. To make the ice cream, set up an ice bath by placing a 2-quart (2l) bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice and water. Set a strainer over the top of the smaller bowl and pour the cream into the bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks. Rewarm the milk then gradually pour some of the milk into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan. NOTE: leave the vanilla bean in the warmed milk the entire time.

4. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

5. Strain the custard into the heavy cream. Stir over the ice until cool. The vanilla bean will remain in the strainer. Rinse it and then add it back into the strained mixture with the vanilla extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly. Preferably (I say DEFINITELY) overnight.

6. Remove the vanilla bean, add the bourbon, and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. NOTE: The high fat content of this ice cream, combined with the bourbon will make the resulting ice cream soft and luxurious – it won’t get rock hard. I always plan to let it have at least 24 hours in my refrigerator’s freezer after the ice cream freezer has done its work. But if you can’t wait, slurp some right out of the ice cream maker. It’s delicious.)

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Chocolate Bourbon Ice Cream

This tastes like a frozen version of those rich chocolate bourbon balls that often make an appearance at Christmas. In fact, this ice cream, along with a coconut milk based “frozen pudding” are going to make an appearance this winter at our holiday feast. I’ve adapted David Lebovitz’s recipe for Chocolate ice cream in page 26 of “The Perfect Scoop.” This is a rich, dark chocolate – no milky sweetness – and, with the bourbon, makes for a particularly decadent experience. Full disclosure: I’m a chocolate fanatic and often eat it unsweetened. One of the great things about David Lebovitz’s recipes is that they go easy on the sugar so the flavor of the Ice cream is pure and wonderful. This recipe is for those who like their chocolate nearly ”straight-up” but it can be sweetened up by using chocolate with lower percentages of cacao or adding a bit more sugar.

Ingredients: 2 cups heavy cream, t tablespoons unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder (I use Trader Joe’s which is not Dutch process and it works and tastes delicious), 5 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I use Trader Joe’s bittersweet bar with 73% cacao), 1 cup whole milk, 3/4 cup sugar, pinch of salt, 5 large egg yolks, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 4 Tablespoons of bourbon.

1. Warm 1 cup of the cream with the cocoa powder in a medium saucepan, whisking to thoroughly blend the cocoa. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer at a very low boil for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Then stir in the remaining one cup of cream. Pour the mixture into a large bowl, scraping the saucepan as thoroughly as possible, and set a mesh strainer on top of the bowl.

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2. Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in the same saucepan. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

3. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the chocolate mixture until smooth, then stir in the vanilla. Stir until cool over an ice bath.

4. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator (at least overnight – the longer the better), then add the bourbon and freeze in your ice cream maker according to  the manufacturer’s instructions. If the cold mixture has become too thick to pour into your machine, whisk it vigorously to thin it out.

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Fresh Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

So easy and so fresh. Using Greek style yogurt (I get it from Trader Joe’s), makes it even creamier and gives a smoother taste.

Ingredients: 1 pound +, of fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled, 2/3 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons of vodka or kirsch, 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt, 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Slice the strawberries into small pieces. Toss in a bowl with the sugar and vodka, stirring until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring every so often.

2. Puree the strawberries and their liquid with the yogurt and lemon juice in a blender, food processor or bowl using a hand processor. Blend until smooth. If you wish, press the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove seeds (I always do this).

3. Refrigerate for at least one hour and freeze in your ice cream maker. I often leave it in the fridge overnight to make sure it is really really cold before freezing.

What I Wish She Had Told Me…

I’m not a historian but I am a woman and Women’s History Month reminds me that without the help of incredible women working over many years, my personal history would read very differently.

This point was driven home for me earlier this month as my husband and I watched Makers: The Women Who Make America. It was driven home even more deeply by 26 women who shared with me their thoughts on the kinds of questions I haven’t asked or answered in a long time, if ever. I sent them eleven sentences I asked them to finish (to see them all, play the video above). The group includes mothers, teachers, lawyers, judges, students, marketing executives, accountants, and women who have had to work at any job they could find. Some are married. Some are not. Some have been and are no longer. This is a very strong and mixed group of women but we know that there are many women from all walks of life and philosophy who are not represented here. This will be something to work towards.

One thing is clear: as women we have the power to influence other women through our words, our example, our work, the art we make or love and share –and not always in ways one might expect.

Doing this made me realize that I don’t spend enough time talking with other women about things that matter. I hope that this exercise is the beginning of many conversations I will have with the women in my life and women I come to know. I’ve decided to tuck these questions away and use them like those little cards people hand out at parties called, “conversation starters.” I invite you to do the same. Even better, use the comments section here to add to the conversation with your answers and even better questions. If nothing else, we will have paused together for a moment to reflect on a piece of history both past and perhaps shape our stories-in-the-making. All the questions appear in the video so go ahead and play it if you’d like a quick look.

Finally: this kind of conversation is not just for women. There will be men reading this who are at home with children while their wives work or serve in the military, there are men who have watched their daughters come of age during times of huge change followed by significant setbacks, there are husbands who have struggled, adapted and, struggled some more to figure out their roles in marriages that are influenced by the jobs available or not available to women along with the expectations society still has of men and of women. There are sons who have never sat down over a cup of coffee with their mothers and asked them what being a woman in today’s world means to them.

If that is too much to start with, then just ask a woman who her favorite female character in a book or movie is. Then ask her why. You’ll both probably learn something.

Okay, I’ll shut up now and let these wonderful women speak. Or, rather, I’ll show you their answers.  Each section below shows the question asked and provides a link in blue to the answers right below the photo. Clicking on the link will take you to a few slides with all the wonderful answers. If you’d like to see everything all at once, scroll to the end and click onto the link “Women Talking to Women Master.”

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The wisest woman I ever knew told me..

Women who offered us insights over the years might be surprised at what “stuck.” Wisdom reflected here ranges from  practical safety “cover your drink when you go to a party” to the inspiring “you can do anything.” Perhaps most poignant is that some of the women responding here could not point to a woman who offered wisdom along the way.

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The worst advice I ever received from a woman was..

Sometimes the people who love us the most give us bad advice. Which means it’s a good thing when we ignore it or find our path in spite of it. These answers provide required reading for anyone thinking of giving any advice to any woman.

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My favorite female writer is..

A list that features everyone from Pearl S. Buck to Chelsea Handler is worth a look. Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In) made the list along with Isabel Allende, Margaret Mitchell, Ann Patchett, Alicia Keys, Lalita Tademy and others.

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My favorite female character in a book or movie is…

This list confirms that art can inspire us or show us the kind of women we would like to be (some of the time anyway). Some characters draw admirers from all ages (Nancy Drew, Scarlett O’Hara) some show us that we really should be reading more.

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The most important woman on the world scene today is..

Not surprisingly, Hillary gets lots of mentions but so does Malala Yousufzai, one of the youngest women to show courage and vision in the face of oppression.

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The most important events that have changed opportunities for women are…

The right to vote, access to birth control, access to education for all women regardless of race, the women’s movement of the Sixties and Seventies have profoundly impacted women’s opportunities.

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The most important challenges facing women are…

Education. Poverty. Health. Equal pay. Equal rights. These are running themes when women list challenges faced by women in the US and around the world. The answers reflect that nothing should be taken for granted and that we have a long way to go.

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I wish a woman I respected had told me..

This is just a sampling of the thoughtful responses inside, one representing each decade. Reading all of them will give you a very clear sense of the impact a few words can have and the vacuum that exists when no one offers them.

    • Looking back I would wish that I had been encouraged to think bigger.” [Anonymous 1930s]
    • “I can’t say it would have made any difference if a woman encouraged me because I came up in a male-dominated world. Women need to actively mentor other women continuously. We need to open doors for each other the way men do. Every time we move forward an inch, we need to reach back and bring a woman along with us.” [Rae 1940s]
    • “Stay in college.” [Joleen 1950s]
    • “Stay in Europe.” [MJ 1960s]
    • “Have the confidence to trust my instincts. That advice came from a male mentor. But it would have meant more coming from a woman because women, I think, have to work harder at developing confidence than men do.” [Elizabeth 1970s]
    • “Be strong but always keep an open mind, things are not always as they seem.” [Elisa 1980s]
    • “Speak loudly and without apologies.” [MEW 1990s]

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Here is the advice I would give a teenage woman today..

These answers are packed with with the lessons these women have learned and want to offer to young women preparing for their future. The beauty of these is that there is more than one voice from more than one generation. Individually and together, they can get a conversation started with a teenage woman near you.

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I am optimistic:not optimistic about the future for women and here is why…

Overall, the optimists outnumber those who view the future of women with more caution. The optimism is rooted in the strength and gifts of today’s young women and in the examples set by women who are leading the way in politics, human rights, business, education and more.

If you would like to see the entire slide deck in one go, here is the pdf version:

Women Talking to Women Master

Welcome

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The man in this picture once told me something I have never forgotten. “Don’t be afraid to say no to people when you have to, but don’t say no to yourself.”

He said this just after he hired me as a reporter for a paper called the Gloucester Daily Times, the daily that served Cape Ann, an island about 40 miles north of Boston and a world unto itself. I must have looked confused or maybe he just wanted to be sure I understood because he went on.

“There are going to be days when you’re heading home and you’re tired, or you’re on your way to cover a story and you’re running late. That’s when you’ll see something out of the ordinary, maybe a group of people gathering unexpectedly, a fire engine rushing by, a child or an animal doing something that everyone would like to see. These are opportunities. You can stop, find out more, take that picture and make your page that much better. Or, you can keep going. That’s saying no.”

He was talking about the job, of course. I was 21 and Peter Watson was doing one of the things he did best: mentor. He offered his experience and insight but then let you decide whether to use it or not. I confess there were times when I did not. Shame still flickers when I recall hearing a story idea from one of my readers and then forgetting it until I ran into her again, when it was too late. And on a glorious summer day, I shot one funny, beautiful, or telling photo after another, only to find I had forgotten to reload my Canon AE1 after my last deadline. [Digitals were still in the distance at that point.]

The lessons were painful but effective. In saying no to those opportunities, I let him down, made life more difficult for my editors and everyone else who had to put out the paper. And the residents of Rockport, who opened their pages every day to Page two found less than they would have if I had seized the moment or had been prepared for the lucky photo op that came my way.

It was the regret, though, that lingered. This is what Peter was trying to tell me. You don’t get those opportunities back. I was haunted for longer than you would expect by the missed opportunities because the ones I had the sense to grab taught me so much.

Peter and his beautiful family remained in the center of my life even after I left the Cape and, eventually, journalism. No matter what I was doing, though, opportunities came, often disguised as inconveniences or things that seemed outside my comfort zone or simply things I thought could wait: jobs, love, a cup of coffee with a person I’d just met, writing. Writing always fell aside. The urge to put off, avoid, give into fear or fatigue has continued to reside in me like a virus, ready to flare.

Peter died on November 24. The last time I saw him was in May. We’d said our farewells inside the house but he called to me and I waited while he walked toward me. It was not an easy walk. His balance was compromised by the tumor in his brain and he was very tired. But he took one step after the other. He put his arms around me and hugged me, harder and longer than he ever had before. He said, “Good bye, old friend.”

We talked often and I planned to see him again but it didn’t happen that way. I am so grateful to him. He could have stood in the doorway and waved, pretended that this moment was like any other but he didn’t. He acted on whatever instinct made him come to me and say that good bye.

A week after he died, when the grief was raw, the month of December looked completely different than the one I had planned. There was a eulogy to write, a trip east to plan. Family was coming, there were errands, gifts and for a time it seemed overwhelming. That was when another friend I have known and cherished for most of our lives, Rae Francoeur, got in touch with a proposal. She knew I’d finished my novel and was submitting it to agents. She told me that if I had my blog up and running, she could “tag” me in something called The Next Big Thing Blog Tour. The problem: I had to have my blog up and running in time for the new year.

I could say no. For over a year, my blog has been languishing on my hard drive and in drafts on WordPress. What would a few more weeks matter? Then came the echoes of Peter’s words.

This time, I know there is no one I will be letting down if I don’t do it. The world is not waiting breathlessly for another writer or another blog. But I also know that regrets sharpen with every year that passes. The opportunities to connect, to grow, to try something new, don’t always come when we want them but they come. I can say not now and tell myself there will be other moments like this one. Or I can say yes and see what happens.

Yes.

Check in next week for the “Next Big Thing Blog  Tour.”