Posts filed under ‘Frozen Desserts’
Where to begin the story of this chocolate-mint ice cream cake? Sure, it technically begins with a cool carton of cream and a stack of cracked egg shells. But I think it really starts two years ago, when my mother decided she wanted to remodel our backyard.
Our yard is L shaped, wrapping around our house. One of the strips is nice, just cool green grass and evergreen trees. But the other strip of yard, the one visible from the kitchen window and the dining room, was once utterly unimpressive. It was brimming with uneven grass, moss that squished under each footstep, and unappealing patches of yellow. My mother began sketching out designs, writing down ideas, until she’d come up with an ambitious blueprint.
She wanted to remove all the grass in that section and fertilize it. Then she wanted to transform it into something stunning, a rainbow of growing, breathing plants. Lime-green creeping bugleweed, black stemmed rhododendrons, pink-throated lilies, pure white bleeding hearts in the shade… And a natural stone path weaving through it all. Maybe a birdbath in the corner.
I thought it was wishful thinking, but my dad told her, “Let’s do it.”
We did it all ourselves that summer, and it was more work than any of us expected it to be. I imagined the process of removing grass to be a very simple, straightforward one. I didn’t realize that we’d have to lift up the sod, like heavy strips of carpet. We sifted through all of the rocks and roots by hand, which is every bit as laborious as it sounds, and turned the soil with fertilizer.
Forming the stone path felt like the bane of my existence. It needed to be nine inches deep, three feet wide, curving like a snake from one end of the yard to the other. After that, we had to smooth it out, fill it with gravel (wheelbarrowful by wheelbarrowful) and then with dirt (shovelful by shovelful.) By the time we began to fit in the rocks, I had complained enough for the whole summer.
We went to the nursery every week and drove home with a lush jungle spilling out of the car trunk; I’d sit in the back seat with silvery leaves and purple flowers brushing my cheek. We planted hummingbird-friendly flowers near the kitchen window and spindly ferns in the shade. We carried in an old stone bird bath. We even dug out a fire pit at the end of the path and built it with leftover slabs of stone.
We’d turned our backyard into something so much more than an offhand glance out the window.
The next spring, despite an unusually freezing winter, my mother’s garden grew back like some kind of miracle. It’s even fuller, even greener, and there’s a palpable buzz, a pulse. It’s bursting with life. I remember the thrill of our first hummingbird, hovering in the air like a jewel. The first time we saw a blue jay sipping cautiously from the birdbath. The first baby green leaf in a vine we though had been choked by the cold.
We have already gotten so much from our yard, it’s easy to forget how much work went into it. We cuddle up in lawn chairs around the fire pit, setting pumpkin spice marshmallows on fire and running out for hot dogs. We look up between sips of coffee at breakfast to see the flowers shaking off dew and waking up with us. Oh, and the herb garden…
It might be my favorite spot in the whole yard now. I squat down and just rub my fingers over everything: pebbly sage leaves, then the gold-edged leaves of lemon thyme, then the thick, soft stalks of rosemary. The fragrance of fresh herbs is so comforting. It smells like handwritten recipes and golden midafternoon sunlight and “Let’s eat on the patio tonight.”
And ever since the chocolate-mint plant has taken root, it has clung to life vivaciously. It’s spread faster than any of our other herbs, growing rounder and rounder, so that we’re forced to pick leaves and pull roots to keep it in check. It’s no surprise that ever since last summer, I’ve wanted to make mint ice cream.
I finally got the chance a couple weeks ago. One of my best friends, M-, has a thing for chocolate mint ice cream cake. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t make one for his 18th birthday, using the freshest, sun-kissed mint I could find?
I brought it to school and we devoured it in the cafeteria. I stole a slice and a plate from the teacher’s lounge and took these photos in the courtyard. When I came back, only half of the cake was left, and by the end of the day the only evidence that it had ever existed was my camera full of photos and the lingering grin on M-’s face.
[PS: My camera is finally fixed! I got it in the mail today and went a little crazy. It’s been three weeks and I’ve missed it like a picked peach misses the sunshine. And I finally hit 1,000 fans on Facebook, thank you all!
PPS: Dad, I know I didn’t get your permission to publish a photo with you in it, but mom said it was okay.]
Everyone knows the phrase “random acts of kindness” – and yet, I hardly ever see people do anything without reason or credit for someone else. It’s not that people are unkind or hypocritical, it’s just not something you see every day. And yet, two people in my life went out of their way to make my world even better.
The first is E-, a boy who I went to middle school with. We only had a few classes together and we haven’t kept in touch. However, I post food photos on facebook, so most of my friends know about 17 and Baking. The other day, I received a random email from him. When I saw his name in my inbox I wondered if he’d sent it to me by mistake.
But the email, only a few sentences long, was clearly for me: he’d seen my blog and bought me my own domain. You might notice that I’m 17andbaking.com now instead of 17andbaking.wordpress.com (no worries, the wordpress link will still work.) An hour later I’d made business card with my new address.
D-, is one of my mother’s co-workers. I had never met her before this summer, and I’d never spoken to her except maybe once or twice. Everyone at my mother’s office knows about my baking because a lot of leftovers and excess batches are sent straight to their kitchen.
Imagine my surprise when D- approached me and showed me some emails she’d printed. D- had emailed my blog to a prominent food writer, who had written back that I was a “darling” girl. She couldn’t believe I’m only 17, and that she was very impressed. What a compliment to see it written right in front of me! D- didn’t know this writer at all, but she just felt compelled to pass my blog along. D-, that email made my week, and I can’t tell you how sweet it was.
It’s hard to describe how I’m feeling this summer, but if I had to pick a word, I’d say nostalgic. I’m not sure why, but all this alone time is making me think a lot about old memories. The entire time I made this ice cream – and I’m not going to further the suspense any longer, it’s basil – I thought about the first time I made it last summer.
One of my closest friends came to my house on a whim, and we made this ice cream together. We took a long walk around the neighborhood while we waited for it to freeze, and that twilit walk is one of my favorite memories with him. When we got home, we ate it in cheap sugar cones and stayed up the rest of the night talking, drinking tea, and giggling.
Basil is my favorite herb in savory dishes too. I get funny looks when I say it’s my favorite ice cream flavor, but you’re missing out if you’ve never had it… Mellow, warm, sweet, and utterly summerly. People still look skeptical even after I rave about its beautiful pale green color, its creamy texture, and the surprising way the flavor rounds out in your mouth.
I just shrug and say, “Hey, mint is an herb too, but nobody raises an eyebrow at that.” And even if they can’t wrap their minds around an ice cream flavor you can’t buy at Baskin Robbin’s, I’m sure a foodie like you can!
(PS I shot these ice cream photos in 100 degree weather! :) I’m proud!)