When I was a kid, I was always waiting for a sign. I was the cautious type, the kind who always asks for permission. I startled at loud noises and sucked a pacifier till age five. I wasn’t exactly a fun, lighthearted kid, the one who sticks her hand in the birthday cake and smears frosting all over her smocked dress. Before I did most anything, I watched, and I thought, and I waited for a sign.
In the intervening years, I’m happy to report, I’ve gotten a little better in the boldness department. Heck, I ate blood sausage, people. And during college, I cut my hair short and dyed it calico. That’s got to count for something. For a year or two, I even wore a leather dog collar. [Hello, sweet, tolerant family members! Remember when?] I’m still funny about loud noises, mind you – just ask Brandon how twitchy I get when the volume of the stereo is cranked too high – but as for the rest, well, I’m working on it.
Still, though, I catch myself looking for signs, signals that all is well and that it’s safe to proceed. I don’t know who, exactly, I expect to be sending me these signals, but still, by god, I look for them. Sometimes a person just needs some reassuring, you know, especially when her wedding is two and a half months away and her manuscript is due seven months from tomorrow. I’ll take any sign I can get.
Like, say, the fact that my first test run of our wedding cake – yep, I’m making it! – was a grand success, scooped and gobbled and scraped up with friends before a rousing game of Ticket to Ride on a springtime Saturday night. Whew. I take that as a good sign.
Or the fact that I found just the shoes for my wedding dress, a pair of gold metallic peep-toes that have the perfect heel for a) dancing, and b) not sinking in the grass as I walk down the aisle. Very good sign.
Or the fact that spring weather has officially settled over Seattle, meaning that we can start eating the way we will all summer, with Saturday mornings at the farmers’ market and lunches that need almost no cooking. Today, for example, meant some Rancho Gordo Goat’s Eye beans stewed yesterday with onion and garlic and salt, with avocado, feta, and Willie Green’s arugula on the side. I don’t know about you, but that bowl looks to me like one big green light.
Or the fact that last Tuesday night was warm enough that I took a glass of wine outside, and while Brandon worked on some home-style chile rellenos, I potted two tomato plants, two types of hot peppers, and some arugula seeds that I snuck back from Paris in my suitcase. Sitting down to dinner with soil up to your elbows is surely a sign of good things to come. (This, you should know, is coming from the girl who once hated papier-mâché because it was “too messy.” Like I said, I’ve been working on it.)
Or the fact that last summer’s pot of spearmint survived the winter and already has produced enough leaves for two batches of fresh mint ice cream in less than two weeks. Clearly, things are on the up-and-up, because this ice cream, along with a square of chocolate, makes the best springtime dessert around.
I first made this ice cream for a dinner party a week ago Wednesday, and then I counted the days until I could make it again. (Which, for the record, was ten, and nine too long.) It’s the second recipe I’ve tried from The Perfect Scoop – the first being a lovely black pepper ice cream – and as you might expect from the esteemed Mr. Lebovitz, both were stunningly good. The black pepper was exotic and floral, with only the faintest twinge of heat hidden deep down in the cream. Perched atop a slice of gingerbread, I imagine, it would be just the thing for a cool night. But the fresh mint ice cream is just the thing for right now. Built from a humble base of whole mint leaves steeped in hot milk and cream, it’s an entirely different animal from the garish green store-bought variety. It’s subtle and fragrant and sweetly herbal, and when you swallow a spoonful, a shot of tingly, perfumed air fills your mouth. The whole sensation was summed up quite eloquently by our friend Sam, who after his first bite, stared at the spoon and said simply, “Wow.”
Which is why you should trot right outside to your overgrown mint plant, snip a half-dozen sprigs, and start churning. All signs are go.
Fresh Mint Ice Cream
Reprinted with permission from The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments, by David Lebovitz
If you haven’t yet picked up your copy of David’s new book, you’ve wasted precious time. My copy already has dog-ears and splatters. It’s full – and I mean chock-a-block – of easy, expert recipes for ice cream, sorbets, and every mix-in and sauce you can imagine. The book also has a wonderfully in-depth, step-by-step section on how to make a perfect ice cream custard, which is a helpful thing to read before attempting your first batch. David also offers a great tip on what to do if you scramble your custard, and I, um, can tell you firsthand that it works like a charm.
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves
5 large egg yolks
Warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream, and salt in a small saucepan. [I usually put the pan over medium heat and stir occasionally until I see it start to steam.] Add the mint leaves, and stir until they’re immersed in the liquid. Cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.
Strain the mint-infused mixture through a mesh strainer into a medium saucepan. Press on the mint leaves to extract as much of the flavor as possible, then discard the mint leaves. Pour the remaining 1 cup heavy cream into a large bowl, and set the strainer on top.
Rewarm the mint-infused mixture. [Again, I usually put it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, and watch for steam.] In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mint liquid into the egg yolks, whisking constantly; then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
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. [You can test it by running your finger across the spatula coated with custard. It’s done when your finger leaves a definite trail that doesn’t flow back together.] Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Stir until cool over an ice bath.
Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Yield: 1 quart