Friday, June 21, 2013

if you make it, you can eat it

I come from a family of ice cream partakers.

Honestly?  We are ice cream snobs.

I used to think that soft serve ice cream was evil frozen crud.  Made with vegetable oil and chemicals.  And likely a bit of dirt.  When my college installed a soft serve ice cream dispenser in the dining hall my sophomore year I considered moving home.  And judged all my friends who stood in the long line to get smooth peach swirls in a styrofoam cup.  I think my glares may have been somewhat responsible for how often that machine stood alone, with an out of order sign taped to it.

My father, a quiet man, loves his ice cream.  He churned out gallons of homemade ice cream for our baby shower for Nicholas.  He personally cranked away at the handle of his own ice cream maker at our shower, busy with a task.  Showing us his love.

My grandfather used to make homemade ice cream too, at his house in northern Maine, using a family heirloom ice cream maker.  He gave us, his grandchildren, a marble for every 20 churns.  It was a family tradition that I loved.  The salt.  The ice.  The wooden bucket.  So beautiful.  Preserved so thoughtfully, proudly, in their basement, the original sticker still on, despite its years of use.

We love our ice cream.  Jonathan has come around.  I pride myself in his conversion to homemade ice cream, almost as much as I do his conversion to real maple syrup from Aunt Jemima (really, I did not know such a disgusting substitute existed until I met him).

Our favorite ice cream stand?  Brown's Old Fashioned Ice Cream, on Nubble Point in York, Maine.  Hands down.  The best.  Nicholas had his first lick of real food there, courtesy of his Grammie, who was holding him and could not resist his reaching arms as she licked at her grapenut ice cream cone.

Well, except for the ice cream shack of family lore, that my family came upon somewhere in the the middle of nowhere on the way home from their camp here in Maine.   They had the most delicious chocolate chocolate chip ice cream that I have ever tasted.  We went a few times that summer, when I was 10 years old, and then, like many places in Maine, it was gone the next year.  Disappeared.  Every time we drive by the old location, I jokingly tell Jonathan about the stand as though he has never heard the story before of that creamy smooth and decadent ice cream.  Now it's just a car parts store that we pass on the way to camp.

We have passed this love on to our kids.  I would happily take them for ice cream in the summer every night of the week.  I would drive across the state, across several states, to visit a homemade ice cream stand that a similarly obsessed ice cream aficionado recommended.

This year, during a parent/teacher conference with Julia's teacher, I knew we had really connected with her teacher, that her teacher really knew and understood our child, when she recommended, after reading a poem about ice cream by Julia, her favorite homemade ice cream store, minutes from our house: Catbird Creamery.  Man.  Potato Bacon ice cream (Really. Weird.  But sooo good).  Salted Chocolate.  Ice cream sandwiches the size of your face.  Served by the nicest man I have met in a long time.

When it came to the end of the school year, after Julia had been well cared for, protected, and guided by this teacher for two lovely years, we decided to gift her with something as worthy as she was:  a gift certificate to Catbird Creamery.

The picture on Julia's note is of her teacher sitting in the ice cream shop, enjoying a cone.

So, we here love our ice cream.  But several trips to Catbird Creamery and I started to think about the financial implications of this family activity.  It was not sustainable.  We were going to lick ourselves out of house and home.

I have tried budget friendly ice cream.  My father scoffs at it...and so do I.  It is subpar.  Foul rot.  Not worth it.  This is coming from the woman who now refuses to buy bread.  Because I can make a better version of what I can afford.

This stubborn refusal to buy bread often leads us to eating sandwiches without bread.  Ahem.  My kids go along with this.  Their friends, when at our house?  They are confused.

And so, this summer, with an 11 year old who is handy in the kitchen and two trusty side kicks to help him, and an often an overflowing egg tray in our fridge courtesy of our chickens, I have told them:

You can have ice cream whenever you would like to.  But I am not going to buy it for you.

You have to make it.

So far this summer we have had mint chocolate chip, chocolate, and mocha chip.  We are about to work through a recipe for salted chocolate.

But this week, with Nicholas and Julia off at camp, I was watching the garden, and thinking about the kids' hunger upon their return.  On several days they have come home with friends, hanging out at our house until their parents come pick them up a few hours later.

I am struck at times by the way our family eats and how different this is from other families.  When a kayak trip up the river, or a decision to read instead of bake, or my stubbornness about not buying subpar food when I can make foodie quality food myself, on our budget.  Results in no bread.  No baked goods.  No yoghurt.  And no fall back store made snacks that I think these friends are used to.

My kids are used to being served bowls of ingredients that were supposed to be made into granola.  Or just cheese.  Or being sent to the garden to see what they can find.  But other people's children?  I think they are hungry.

I cannot get dinner on the table on these days before 7:00, sometimes 8:00.  Homemade pasta?  Delicious.  Fascinating, because I truly had never really considered what is in this staple food.  It is fun to make with children.  And really time consuming.  My children go wide eyed and judgey if they spy dried pasta in the grocery bag.  I recognize that look.

But local?  Local I can do.

In the rain today, Elliott and I collected strawberries and rhubarb from our garden.

A stop at the coop gave us the eggs, still warm, thanks to our broody hen, Monique.

Elliott helped me wash and cut our strawberries and rhubarb.  

I would love to be able to have access to local raw milk, or even better, to have my own, but we are not there...yet. So I have chosen to buy milk, not organic, but all natural, from the dairy farm within 2 miles from our house.  Yes, I turn left out of our driveway toward our Whole Foods market to buy it, rather than right toward the farm itself, but these are the compromises and weighing of time and expense that make sense for us right now.

And, thanks to a gift a few years ago from my sister in law Wendy, who knows and has married into this family of ice cream devotion, we own an electric Cuisinart ice cream maker.  It lacks the charm of the wooden bucket, the hand crank, and the glass marbles of my childhood.  But really.  I have three kids, chickens, bees, laundry on the line, an enormous weedy garden, and lacrosse practice to get to.  I need a little help.

This was our first flavor of the season, post my no store boughten ice cream for us declaration.  Mint chocolate chip.  The kids really could not wrap their minds around the idea of it being au natural in color.  Mint flavor is not green kiddos, just the leaves are.  Green food coloring was added.  Much to my chagrin.

But this day, after harvesting the eggs, the rhubarb, and the strawberries.  After measuring and pouring in the cream and milk from the nearby farm where we have pet the cows.  We sweetened it with the raw honey I had purchased from a beekeeper I met at my bee club.

It was as local as we could get right now.  It was homemade.  It was made together in the kitchen while the rain fell outside.  By Elliott and I, thinking of the rest of our family, away, and coming back.  Wanting to give them food made with thoughtfulness and love.  A way for us to connect and sit together for a few moments upon their return, to talk about what they did out there, and to show them how we had spent a few hours here.

And it was delicious.  

We served it up when the bigger kids got home from camp.  I find, the more of our food I make, that as I scoop it onto plates or into bowls, the more I know about what has gone into it, the work for me, the expense, the nutritional value, I serve a little bit less.  In some ways, our food just tastes better.  And a scoop of strawberry rhubarb ice cream from our own kitchen goes a little further than the nondescript chocolate in the colorful box from the grocery store.  We get more flavor.  And need less.

I watch as our children change their way of thinking about food.  Change their palates.  Their expectations.  They layer these thoughts in with their modern lives of sports and technology and friends.  It is this layering, this respect for traditional earth minded choices as modern beings that is where change is going to happen.

Julia, sweaty and tired from a day running about a field with a stick and a mouthguard, asked how we sweetened it.  I said it was sweetened with honey from a man I had met a few weeks ago.  

She smiled at me.   Next year?  We use our own honey.

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