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vanilla ice cream with cinnamon

If you’d told me last year that I’d be lugging a Cuisinart ice cream maker through San Jose International Airport on a Wednesday night, I would have raised an eyebrow. The man behind me at security certainly did, flinching as he watched me hoist the thing onto the x-ray belt next to my significantly smaller bag of clothes. “Is that a Cuisinart?” he asked, and I nodded with the irritation that lingers after being asked to take off your shoes. “Well,” he sighed, “That’s not something you see every day.”

The backstory to squeezing a gigantic Cuisinart box under the plane seat in front of me goes like this: for my mother’s 50th birthday, I thought it would be a lovely idea to buy her an ice cream maker. Yes, she had requested it several months earlier while flipping through a Williams-Sonoma catalog, but it was also partly a selfish purchase—ice cream is quite possibly my favorite food. Field trip to Santa Cruz for cheap sushi? Three scoops of green tea. Burrito lunch after harvest? A hefty arroz con leche ice cream bar. I marked the end of every college finals season with a pint, asking the cashier for a plastic spoon so I could start eating on the 5-block walk back to my dorm. I may forgo the last slice of cake or the final cookie in the jar, but with ice cream I always go in for the last bite.

I’ve done homemade ice cream before, usually following the traditional custard recipe of eggs, sugar, cream and milk. It was good (what homemade ice cream isn’t?) but recently I came across a book in Bookstore Santa Cruz that made me reconsider my relationship to Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home features recipes for Goat Cheese Sour Cherry and Salty Caramel, but most interesting were her basic ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, corn starch and cream cheese. Add a mahogany vanilla bean from Madagascar (courtesy of our good friend Sandy) and an enormous stick of cinnamon, and you have perfection worthy of making 20 pounds of brushed steel airborne.

Vanilla Ice Cream with Cinnamon

Adapted from Jeni’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

2 cups milk

1 generous Tbs cornstarch

3 Tbs cream cheese, softened

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar

1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped

1 cinnamon stick

pinch salt

Combine the cornstarch with two tablespoons of milk in a small bowl. In another bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth.

In a saucepan, mix the remaining milk with the cream and add the sugar, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean with seeds. Bring the mixture to a boil over moderate heat, then turn off the heat and add the cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook for a minute or so until slightly thickened.

Whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until combined. Add the salt and let the ice cream base cool until the bowl is cold to the touch. When cool, remove the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick and freeze in your ice cream maker (a worthy investment, let me tell you!).

potato fennel soup with eggplant

“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

Looking out from our kitchen at the redwoods dressed in afternoon sun I would tend to agree with Henry James. No, October 22nd isn’t really summer in the true sense of the word, as much as the warm weather and last farm zucchinis on the table suggest it. But I’m ready to make amends with fall, starting with the fact that I spent my summer afternoon making the one meal that makes me crave autumn above all else—soup.

In my family soup was never relegated to the role of mere starter. Halloween meant costumes, trick-or-treating, and the Great Candy Trade which commenced every year when our haul was complete, but just as much as any of those things it meant soup—pots of it steaming on the stovetop to greet tired  flamenco dancers and their parents. My earliest memories of eating vegetables (and enjoying them) are all memories of soup: kale and potato soup with Polish sausage, creamy butternut squash soup, broccoli soup that had even our veggie nemesis friend Hayley asking for seconds. When I started cooking for myself in college the first recipe I came up with was for soup, a mishmash of vegetables, beans and pasta that I made repeatedly for months. I still remember the delight of standing over the pot that seemed to fill the entirety of my college kitchen—and the tragedy when I spilled an entire 2-quart Tupperware of my concoction onto my dorm room floor.

Last week, as if right on cue, a book mysteriously appeared on our kitchen table: The Soup Bible: All the soups you will ever need in one inspirational collection. (yes, bolded just like that). According to a scratched and peeling sticker on the cover it was $7.98 from Barnes & Noble—that’s right, $7.98 for all the soups you will ever need, plus tips on how to make swirled cream toppings, leek haystacks, and sippets (which are, apparently, large croutons). After an extensive perusal I had not only discovered a term for soup I’d never known before—“pottage”—but I was inspired to abandon the inspirational collection for a soup of my own. Harkening back to my early college days it’s a mishmash once again, but one entirely from the garden: in honor of summer afternoons, autumn days, and all that falls in between.

Potato Fennel Soup with Eggplant

1/2 onion sliced

2 cups chopped fennel (mostly bulb with some frond)

2 cups cubed potatoes

2 small or one medium eggplant sliced

2 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup milk

salt & pepper

In a large soup pot saute onions in olive oil until translucent. Add fennel, potatoes and eggplant, cooking until potato pieces are lightly browned and eggplant is soft. Add hot broth and 1/2 cup milk, simmering until the potato is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper and blend with a hand blender or in a food processor until creamy, leaving a few chunks for texture. Serve with chopped fennel fronds sprinkled on top.

lemony basil dressing with honey and pepper

The mustards are my babies.

I’m not one for baby talk, I assure you. (My sister might shake her head and remind me of an ill-fated high school relationship, but “babe” will never pass my lips again). I don’t refer to pets as babies—cuteness notwithstanding—and even babies themselves get little more than an indulgent smile, usually for the parent’s benefit. My nano-pet died as many times as it achieved virtual heaven, and the only thing I find irresistibly cute is the Squishable I have asked for the past three Christmases (with no results—I’m looking at you Rae).

The mustards aren’t cute in any sense of the word. By mustards I mean the mustard greens we grow for the restaurant—Mizuna, Purple Mizuna, Golden Frill, and Red Frizzle—and like babies, they require an enormous amount of attention: several flats of each variety must be sowed weekly, harvested bi-weekly, and watered daily. Since it takes roughly a month from sow-date to harvest-ready they span half the greenhouse, a quilt of green and red in various states of maturity.

There’s always so much to do in garden that with our ever-increasing task list and rotating schedules it’s rare for one person to see a process through in its entirety. I may pull zucchini from a bed that Christine amends and Ross shapes and Phillip plants out and Adam harvests from, a cycle that can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. With the mustards, though, it makes more sense for one person to oversee their care and cultivation, so as to gauge how much is needed of each variety and what quantities of sowing and harvesting are necessary to meet the restaurant’s needs. When Ellen left that job fell to me, and within a few weeks I was smitten. How could I not be, watching their little shoots pushing determinedly up from the growers mix or clipping mature, frilly bunches I imagine are my own personal contribution to the restaurant?

In sowing what I think the restaurant will need in four weeks’ time I do happen to miscalculate (just two bunches of Purple Mizuna this week? Impossible!) and a few weeks ago we had ourselves a mustard glut. While the restaurant uses them to make the Garden Beignets I wrote about a little while back, they are amazingly good as a simple salad with a great vinaigrette or a light and lemony dressing. I’d never been much good at making dressings (my family has come to expect a last-minute oil-and-balsamic splash on my salads) but I recently learned a trick that makes any dressing deliciously creamy. The key is to make your flavor profile first—the vinegar, mustard, honey, lemon, etc.—then slowly add your oil while whisking constantly. It works every time, and when we gathered for a low-key farm dinner in the gardening classroom one rainy night and I had to make do with what was there, I found that even the simplest ingredients—lemon, honey, pepper, basil and oil—can become something rich and wonderful.

Lemony Basil Dressing with Honey and Pepper

1 lemon, juiced

handful fresh basil, finely chopped

honey

black pepper

salt

canola oil

In a small bowl whisk lemon juice, basil, honey, pepper, and salt, tasting as you go and adding a bit more of whichever ingredient is needed to reach your desired balance of tart and sweet (dressing making is very much about personal taste and intuition, so it’s actually easier to taste rather than going with exact amounts). When you have the perfect balance, add the oil by pouring into the bowl very slowly with one hand while whisking constantly with the other. Keep up the slow pouring/whisking action until your dressing thickens and looks creamy in texture, then dress your salad and enjoy!

tomato modernista dinner at manresa

It was late January whenI first met Cynthia and Manresa Chef David Kinch in New York, and looking back now as I sit pajama-ed in the kitchen watching the wild turkeys outside it seems the setting couldn’t have been more different. That day I rode the elevator down 36 floors to meet them in the lobby of the Hearst Building. The three of us sat with the farm’s publicist, and as the face of O Magazine I nodded and smiled politely as she told me about the renovations both the farm and the restaurant were undergoing. Then Cynthia began to talk, and in describing the relationship between Love Apple and Manresa she said something that struck me: closed-loop. It’s taken almost a year to understand what that means in the new wave of food modernism that Manresa and Love Apple pioneer, but when I ate at the restaurant for the first time this past Sunday night I felt I’d journeyed that full loop—and in doing so, I’ve glimpsed what I was looking for when I took that elevator all those months ago.

Coming from Love Apple to eat at Manresa you can’t help but notice the food—after all, those were my mustard greens there on the plate, the Purple Mizuna and Golden Frill I sowed four weeks ago and touched fondly as I watered them every day in the greenhouse. And the tomatoes: the Black Prince suspended in a cocktail with cucumber and anise hyssop, the barely-cooked Sungolds still clinging to their truss, the Oxhearts and Beefsteaks transformed into slivers of sun-dried tomato or a rich honey to accompany crisped porcelet. Cooking with produce from the farm most of us tend to stay fairly straightforward, with slices of sautéed zucchini or whole leaves of braised Toscano kale. At Manresa, ingredients are transported, their true nature not so much transformed as revealed in new and unexpected ways.

With each new course, though, what ultimately made an impression was something larger than the food. Eating at Manresa is about just that—eating, and the intimate, sensual, and delightful experience it can be. Once you give yourself over to that experience it’s less about identifying ingredients and more about the true pleasures of ritual and taste and company. Four hours pass without your noticing the time because that is what eating can do when it is savored—take you somewhere else entirely, be that place the revelation of new ways of tasting or the comfort of childhood memory. Leaving Manresa that night I felt proud of everything I’ve done here, because the experience of eating is something I care about deeply. It can be as comfortably ordinary as the ritual of making my pancakes each morning–or as entirely memorable as surrendering to the experience that is eating at Manresa.

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