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December 23, 2008

Almost There

in california,gluten-free,holidays,sweets

My bags are packed, my presents organized (if not wrapped), the holiday packages mailed and hopefully already received, my new year’s eve party plans in full swing, and if I am still sort of sick and coughing well, at least there’s peppermint ice cream.

Oh, peppermint ice cream I wait all year long for you because not only are you so very festive you’re also so absolutely delicious. This is the thing about me: I don’t really do sweets. I mean, I make them, I like to give them away, I like a nibble every so often as much as the next person. But I’ll buy a pint of (Hagen-Dazs chocolate-peanut butter) ice cream and it will languish in the freezer for up to a month or more. I’ll sneak a spoonful or two after I’ve washed the dinner dishes and put them away, but then I’ll stick it way in the back and forget about it (really). I do try to finish it up eventually but I just can’t manage to consume it over the course of a few days and the same thing goes for baked goods (which is why I very much appreciate my coworkers’ constant willingness to chomp away on the fruits of my over zealous oven).

But then December comes, bringing with it cartons of peppermint ice cream, and I find I’m powerless in the face of all those crushed candy canes. All that year-long abstention from stuffing my face with sweets goes out the window — and how great it is. I swear I could sit in my comfy blue chair by the window of an evening with my pretty little Christmas tree glowing in the corner and an enormous bowl of ice cream (or, if I’m being completely honest, just the carton and a spoon) and all would be right with the world forever.

Another thing that makes the world right pretty much forever? Spending an entire weekend with my brother, in for the holidays from Maine. It was a few days of good eating (Thai food at my neighborhood joint Friday night after he came in; a breakfast the next morning of scrambled eggs with shiitake mushrooms (sorry Kate), quesadillas, and refried beans; delicious burritos for lunch eaten on a cool but clear beach; and then the next morning he made me breakfast, even braving the rain to get English muffins at Safeway because I mentioned I might like one) and talking and wandering around and drinking wine with friends. I had such a good time, and I hope he did, too.


[The sky at Ocean Beach, December 2008.]

Here we are poised on the very tip of the end of the year — the Solstice slipped by on Sunday in a haze of rain and sickness and I hardly was aware of it at all (this, my self-proclaimed favorite day of the year!) but I did notice last night the light lingered just the tiniest bit longer and will do so for the next however many months until June. Christmas is in two days and while I’ve been a little in denial of this reality, I did manage to mail my final holiday cards today and eeked out all the packages I wanted to send this year. I have two (2) batches of cookies left to bake — dried fruit-nut and vegan browned butter brown sugar — to pack up in a pretty tin for someone special (right, dad, like you didn’t already know) but I am mostly done, baby done. And I feel very grateful for this.

When I was a kid the holidays were always sort of a magical time and not just because I swear I could hear Santa on the roof every Christmas Eve. My dad would make dolmades and crescent cookies; my mom would make her to-die-for sesame cookies and poppy seed bread (among many other things, of course). My grandmother would make the trek out from New Jersey, and for a long time my uncle and cousin were around, too, so we always spent Christmas together either at our house or theirs. Sometimes there were dogs around and one year I put a kitten under the tree with a little bow around her neck for my mom. Sometimes there were Christmas plays and hide-and-seek until we dropped from exhaustion (and overindulgence in After Eights). The house always was filled up with the good smells from the kitchen and from the tree; I swear, too, that the air just feels different this time of year.

To be honest, I haven’t been feeling overly festive this season until now — it’s been a bit of a rough six months and I am, like so many others, entirely ready to greet the new year. But there have been some holiday parties and lovely things have arrived in the mail; I’ve procured my usual holiday poinsettias and my apartment is warm and cozy and Christmas, and, you know, I do really love this time regardless of anything else. Tonight I go north for a few days of sleeping in and lounging by the fire and eating and I can’t hardly wait. I have very good feelings about 2009 (January 20, I am looking at you) and I feel like my optimism isn’t unfounded.

Also not-unfounded is my pure and true love for this ice cream — it’s snow in the mountains and warm sweaters and pine cones drooping down to touch the ground, the snap of ice as it breaks out over a pond, cold wind against your face on a sunny day along the coast, childhood and presents and today all at once. Pretty much, it’s Christmas in a bowl, and I can’t wait to dig in.

Happiest of holidays to you all.

Peppermint Ice Cream, from David Lebovitz and simplyrecipes.com

2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
8 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1/2 cup (or more) crushed candy canes or hard peppermint candy

Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Make sure the sugar and salt completely dissolve. Pour the cream into a metal bowl set in a larger bowl of ice and set a medium-mesh sieve on top.

In a separate 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. tir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a wooden or heatproof rubber spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula, about 5-7 minutes.

Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Then stir until cool over the ice bath. Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator. Add peppermint extract, a 1/4 teaspoon at a time, tasting after each addition, until you reach your limit. Once chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Once the ice cream has been formed in the ice cream maker, it will be fairly soft. Fold in the crushed peppermint candy. Put in an airtight plastic container and place in the freezer for at least an hour, preferably several hours. If it has been frozen for more than a day, you may need to let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften it before serving.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts.

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