Cucumber Ice Cream: The Corruptor

Confession time. I have a few bad habits.

1. I am a plate licker. 2. Very few things anger me more than overcooked egg yolks. 3. I have a substance abuse problem with ice cream. Phew. That felt good.

The ice cream issue has been weighing on me a little more than usual as of late. I typically don’t keep it in the house. I can’t. You understand, right? It might as well be a controlled substance. If left to my own icy devices, it ain’t pretty. And 8% of the year things get especially tough.

In July, the evil geniuses at J.P. Licks release cucumber ice cream. It is a gateway. It is my favorite. And I am always conflicted.

Do I invite a pint in? Allow it to get comfortable next to the frozen peas? It’s like that old friend that you see once or twice a year. You know the one. Whenever you get together for dinner it’s just like old times; you laugh; you reminisce; you wake up at 5 am on cold bathroom tile in a fetal position, reeking of whiskey and regret.

Enter cucumber ice cream: corruptive to the core. I feel compelled to stockpile it while I can. This does not bode well for my addiction (nor for bathing suit season).

Recently, I attempted to bring some order to this chaos of sugar and cream, once and for all. If I can take away the scarcity of cucumber ice cream—I reasoned—perhaps the "situation" will self correct. Round one: not too shabby. It was light, refreshing and subtly cucumber-y. The perfect antidote to the recent heat.

Rest assured, this will not be the last time I play with fire. The cucumbers are too good right now not to continue. Thank god the scientific community is still conflicted on the merits of food addiction. This buys me some time before I’m hauled off to the Betty Ford Center. Between you and me, let’s just stick to calling it a bad habit.

And what is my strategy for handling bad habits, you say? It helps to have rules.

1. I don’t lick plates on dates. 2. I don’t order eggs from a restaurant if I am in a fragile emotional state. 3. I don’t bring unsanctioned ice cream* into the house; for now, it can only enter as cream and be smuggled out via a little extra padding on my behind. And I am fine with that.

*and ice cream-related paraphernalia

Cucumber Ice Cream

5 cucumbers, peeled and seeded, cut into chunks (save the peel from 1-2 cucumbers)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1 cup plus ~2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp lime juice
4 tbsp lemon juice
Kosher salt to taste

Purée cucumber and strain out liquid, pressing the pulp with rubber spatula to extract all cucumber liquid. Set liquid aside. Heat cream and half and half with sugar and cucumber peel(s), just long enough to dissolve the sugar. (The cucumber peels will make the ice cream more green.) Add cucumber liquid and lime and lemon juice to cream mixture and strain again. Add salt. Chill, preferably overnight. Freeze in an ice cream maker, according to instructions (it should take about 30 minutes to freeze).

Makes about 5-6 cups (depending on how much you sample, ahem, prior to the freezing)

- The ice cream was oddly fantastic with a splash of rose water and a sprinkling of smoked sea salt on top; I'd suggest adding them straight into cream mixture before freezing it.

- Also, I am not ashamed to say some friends and I experimented with topping the ice cream with ground pink peppercorns. This would be another tasty way to feed your addiction.


A Blueberry Charmed Life

I found my thrill … on Blueberry Hill, as the song goes. (And cue Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “Blueberry Hill.”) Though I suppose—if we are being technical—I really found my thrill on Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester.

Gloucester is America’s oldest seaport town. It screams Americana with its quaint bed and breakfasts, flag-garnished porches, and beaches filled with oversized striped umbrellas. Thrill-ing.

What was also thrilling was stumbling upon a new blueberry recipe entirely by accident. Well, by accident and by dreadful hearing. On this blue-skied beach day in Gloucester, my mother and I were surfing through food magazines. She mentioned she wanted to try Martha Stewart’s recipe for blueberry salad dressing.

Or so I thought. At least, that was what I heard. What she actually said was blue cheese dressing. My hearing is embarrassingly bad and I must have had blueberries on the subconscious.

Can you really blame me? Like the iconic beaches in Gloucester, blueberries conjure up Americana sentiment. I’d even argue they are more American than apple pie. These little blue berries are part of a highly select group of fruits actually native to North America. (I’ve got news for you apple pie: your apples originated in Asia. Hmm. “As American as apple pie” is a little misleading, don’t you think?)

Blueberries will always hold a special place in my heart. During my childhood, blueberry pie was eaten at grandma’s, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Blueberry muffins were downed two at a time, typically after the family went blueberry picking. And pancakes were studded with them, served up on a lazy summer mornings. Kid, you led a pretty charmed life. Or perhaps a blueberry charmed life, if your hearing is a little faulty like mine.

And thank goodness: that night an impromptu blueberry vinaigrette was born. There was no turning back. The blueberries had been bought and the blue cheese hadn’t, due entirely to an auditory error. I had to deliver. Maybe it was the sight of the fishing boats in Gloucester. Maybe it was the spell of the blueberries. Maybe it was Louis Armstrong. In the interest of all things American, my can-do spirit went straight to the pantry: and came back with a dressing to serve with goat cheese, instead of the blue variety.

And boy was this salad swell. The blueberries, goat cheese and walnuts sang brilliantly together. Maybe I really do lead a blueberry charmed life. Cue the music, Louis.

Blueberry Vinaigrette Over Goat Cheese and Greens

Blueberry Vinaigrette
1.5 cups blueberries
1 lime, juice and zest
1.5 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp hazelnut oil
About 1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of red chili flakes
2 lavender flower buds (about 1/4 tsp)

Makes 1/2 cup (about enough for 2-4 salads, depending on if they are starter or entree salads)

Blend blueberries, lime juice and zest, and sherry vinegar in a food processor. Strain out blueberry skins using a strainer, pressing down on the blueberries with a rubber spatula to release all of their juice. Whisk blueberry juice, maple syrup and oil together and season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and lavender.

For the salad:
Simply pour the blueberry vinaigrette over greens, sliced goat cheese and fresh blueberries; top with walnuts.

I strongly dislike coming up with recipes for meals that are approximations. Use your judgement regarding how much of each of the salad components you use. You can't go wrong.

I added lavender because I had it around; you don’t need it, but its floral quality worked well with the goat cheese.

The nuttiness of the hazelnut oil really makes this dressing. If you don’t have it around you could try adding a little toasted sesame oil with some canola oil instead.

An added bonus: no ovens were turned on in the making of this recipe.


Gazpacho: Brioche Resurrected

I am mourning a loss. Scratch that: two losses. I lost my goldfish, Claude, of a year and a half, this past week. All that knew him loved him; he was a fish among humans. There is still some debate over his death; some hypothesize heat exhaustion, while others claim involuntary fish slaughter and others, yet, fear he died from loneliness over the long July 4 thweekend. I am not kidding.

During all this doom and gloom, the unthinkable happened. A cooking cataclysm. The nail in the proverbial culinary coffin: bone-dry brioche. I don’t know what I was thinking attempting such a mountain in this frail state. For me, making starches from scratch is unthinkably tricky. It took me months to get fresh pasta under my belt, my gnocchi still needs work, and my pate brisse continues to taunt me with its tough, gluey exterior. A bread dough involving butter? I was asking for it.

While I’ve accepted the murkiness of Claude’s death, the mystery of my brioche haunts me still, a dense buttery ghost. It's truly perplexing how I managed to make DRY bread despite the use of over a half pound of butter.

I killed this brioche. (Involuntary brioche slaughter?) And yet, I am still grieving the loss. Behold the stages of grief:

Denial: After letting the dough sit for 3 hours something didn’t seem right. It wasn’t pliable. It seemed … tough. It must be all that butter, I reasoned. Not used to working with all that butter.

Anger: I took the dough out of the fridge the next day. Something was clearly rotten in the state of Denmark. It seemed even harder than the day before (stiff as a board comes to mind). I checked the pastry flour package again. “A good source of whole grains.” Damn you, Anson Mills. I blame the fiber, all 4 “holy” grams per serving. Blast.

Bargaining: Maybe if I just let it rise a little longer everything will be okay. It’s 85 degrees outside; that should help. Everything will be okay if I just let it rise a little longer. Please, just rise.

Depression: Dry, dense, barely edible brioche. The reality set in, storm clouds darkening further. It—literally—rained in my apartment (again, I am not kidding). I went off in search of my secret stash of saltwater taffy. I downloaded trashy realty TV shows featuring thin, over-privileged twenty-somethings. I watched them argue over boyfriends and bad jobs. I felt fat.

Acceptance: I’m still struggling with this one, occasionally regressing back to anger and depression. On an intellectual level, I know pistachio taffy and Whitney Port won’t bring my brioche back. Continuing on this destructive path will only make things worse.

Ah bread, you are supposed to be a symbol for life. I acknowledge I am just not ready to fully accept this as a loss. And so I buried my failure, whirling what was left of my crummy brioche (and perhaps a little bit of my dignity) in with some summer vegetables and reincarnating it as a light, refreshing gazpacho. So there.

Be forewarned brioche, you have not seen the last of me.

Andalusian Gazpacho

1 peeled cucumber, chopped
1-2 seeded habanero peppers, chopped
4-5 tomatoes, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
Salt to taste
1 peach
2 cups brioche, 1" cubes
1 lemon, juice plus zest
2-3 tbsp sherry vinegar
1/4 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt, pepper and red chili pepper to taste
Ice cubes

Mix first 5 ingredients; salt liberally. Let sit 30-60 minutes. Drain excess water. Squeeze peach to release its juice over brioche; let sit. Blend tomato mixture with brioche in a blender or food processor. Add peach pulp, lemon zest and juice, sherry vinegar, basil, olive oil and additional salt, pepper and red chili flakes to taste. Add ice cubes (I used about 8; this will chill the gazpacho and help emulsify it). Chill.

Yield about 5 cups

I tried to strain the mixture after I was done blending, but my sieve was too small; it still was good.

I know this isn't a traditional Andalusian gazpacho, but it is what I was working with this day. This is a recipe to definitely taste as you go to get the seasoning right.


When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Lavender Marmalade

Life has officially mellowed into a blithe, carefree July; the summer sun has a way of bleaching your worries away. It’s probably good practice to carry a breezy July attitude with you, through all of the seasons of your life. Reactions to any problem seem less severe; maybe it’s the heat.

I’ve started to think that pretty much anything life throws at you can be confronted with one of two statements: A) Oh well. B) We’ll see. Have you burnt the roast? Oh well. Afraid you’ll spend the rest of your life alone, spoon-feeding marmalade to the clowder of cats you swore you’d never acquire? We’ll see. Turns out, you can’t plan your life ‘perfect’: it will go exactly the opposite.

This reminds me of a great quote from a Chicago Tribune column, by Mary Schmich: “Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday." How true.

In sixth grade, I unintentionally made a wreath out of poison ivy; I had to take steroids for a week until my rashy, swollen face deflated and I had something that resembled a nose again. (It was terrifying to go from sixth grader to sumo wrestler look-alike.) Then there was the time I was brought flowers from a man I loved and was dumped after dinner. Life has a wicked sense of humor. You have to make some room for the unexpected: the pleasant and the icky.

And just last week two unexpected things made my day. To start, I—completely by random occurrence—picked the right ‘day of the week’ underwear from my lingerie drawer. (Tuesday!) The very same day, a man riding a unicycle (unicycle!) literally crossed my path on the way to the gym. You never can tell when life will send you a unicyclist or wreath made of poison ivy, you just have to roll with it.

Case in point: a few weeks ago I was on the Cape with my mom; we were not having very good beach weather. We had sucked it up on yet another overcast, drizzly day and headed out to the Cape Cod Lavender Farm. I had never seen so many intensely purple plants in one space. Walking around the farm felt like an impromptu aromatherapy treatment.

We would have never known such a place existed if it wasn't for the dreary weather. Inside an old wooden shed at the farm lavender soaps, lavender chocolates and lemon lavender marmalade were for sale. I flashed to a vision of me sitting out on my porch, spreading homemade lemon lavender marmalade on toast on a lazy Saturday morning, surrounded by bushy lavender plants.

Unfortunately, buying a lavender plant to transplant back home would have been cruel to the plant and, ultimately, an exercise in futility. My back patio just does not get enough sun. Oh well. Hopefully, some day I will have a sun-drenched back porch to plant my own mini lavender farm. We’ll see. In the meantime, all I can do is buy lemons, have the good fortune to score some flowering lavender from my mother, and get down to marmalade making; all the while, doing my best to turn life’s lemons into edible aromatherapy to have with toast.

So if you find the grind a little too intense, you really have quite a number of options. A) Say oh well and get on with it. B) Take a deep-bellied breath and repeat after me: we’ll see. C) Take matters into your own hands and make lemon marmalade ASAP or D) Strap on a helmet, make sure your underwear doesn’t say Monday if it’s actually Tuesday, and head out to face the world on your unicycle.

For best results: do all of the above.

Lemon Lavender Marmalade

2 pounds of lemons (about 6, preferably organic because you will be eating the peel)
5 cups sugar
5 cups water
Pinch of salt
1.5 tbsp lavender flowers (fresh)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Thinly slice your lemons and then cut them in half. Place them into a pot and add the sugar, water and salt; bring to a boil. Let the lemon mixture sit overnight. The next day, add half your lavender and let simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Then, bring the marmalade up to a boil and stir frequently for about another 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms. If you have a candy thermometer (you lucky person, you) you know the marmalade is done when it is around 220 degrees. You can also place a little marmalade on a plate and stick it in the refrigerator for a few minutes to see what the finished consistency will be: you want it to be firm, not too runny or too hard. Add the rest of the lavender and vanilla extract.

Makes about 5 cups.

As luck would have it, I gave myself a deadline to make this recipe that happened to fall during the heat wave, when temperatures reached 100 degrees; this was a true labor of love. Maybe it was the 2 plus hours I spent boiling lemons in a non-air conditioned studio apartment, but making this marmalade was oddly cathartic.

Recipes will say you can let the marmalade sit at room temperature overnight. I am fairly certain these proper marmalade-making souls are sane enough to have the modern luxury of air conditioning. All bets are off when it's over 90 degrees; I refrigerated the marmalade overnight.

Since I despise the process of canning (maybe it's the lack of air conditioning), I just froze the extras. I can neither confirm, nor deny, that the amount of sugar used is appropriate for canning.

If you don't want to go through the trouble, you can order this marmalade straight from the Cape Cod Lavender Farm. I was not going to shell out 8 dollars for a jar.


Here's Looking at You, Pistachio Butter

There is something truly special about riding in trains. As I write this, I am currently en route via train, homeward bound for upstate New York, for a wedding. As a romantic, I find travel by train both exotic and old fashioned. And I suppose this is true for most of the luxuries I hold dear to my heart.

Take my love for the movie, Casablanca; it doesn’t get any better than watching Bogart in black and white, bitter in Morocco and trying his damnedest to erase the memory of lost love. I also enjoy wedding cake as a luxury; its very nature makes it so. It’s nearly as rare as love and is often just as fleeting. I’ve been burned by missing the cake at a wedding reception on more than one occasion. It’s a terrible feeling: like my insides have been kicked out, as one notable movie character once said about getting stood up at a train station, in the rain.

And so on my 10 hour train ride home, I have time to think about things like lost love and wedding cake. Not that I mind, I get this time completely to myself. Bogart and cake aside, time may be the ultimate luxury. It certainly seems both exotic and old fashioned these days.

What is decidedly NOT a luxury—nor do I hold it dear to my heart—is the food on trains. Gone are the dining cars filled with bone china and dessert spoons. Train meals today involve sad, shrink-rapped turkey sandwiches and bags of Doritos and so I always pack my lunch. My train lunches usually involve some sort of take on the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This winter, it was cashew butter and orange marmalade. Going home in the spring involved an amalgam of almond butter and raspberry rhubarb jam. (I am as much of a sucker for sandwiches as I am for cynical movie characters.)

This morning, however, my sandwich supplies were dangerously low. I admit I have not had time on my side lately, especially not for seasonal fruit spread making. I had to think fast. Watching senor Rick battle his inner demons while eating a humdrum peanut butter sandwich on the train simply would not do. I spied some lonely pistachios and a few apricots from the farmers’ market in the fridge and got to work.

With the help of a kitchen aid, I soon had the pistachios blended to a paste and flavored with exotic spices. I spread the spiced pistachios on homemade bread flecked with anise seeds and topped them with sliced apricots.

So there you have it. Wedding cake, spiced pistachio sandwiches on trains, and Bogart: these are a few of my favorite things. One part classic, one part extraordinary. Wedding cake may be fleeting, but pistachio butter and Bogart are forever.

Cardamom Pistachio Butter

1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/4 cup (or just shy of 1/4 cup) sugar
1 1/2 tbsp almond oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon (I used Vietnamese cinnamon)
4 cardamom pods, pods smashed and seeds ground with a mortar and pestle and pods discarded
Pinch allspice
Pinch salt

Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Thin out with additional water to get desired consistency. (I used about 2 tbsp.)

Makes 3/4 cup.


I froze the rest of the pistachio spread. I imagine it will be lovely on toast or a warm croissant. I may even try filling dates with it, though it might need a hint of something acidic to balance out the sweetness of the dates. If you wrapped the stuffed dates with prosciutto it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world either.

You could also just use ground cardamom if you don’t want to fuss with the pods, though I personally find the pod smashing therapeutic.