Yellow squash in brown butter with jalapeños and chives

Yellow Squash with jalapeños

Yellow Squash with jalapeños

Yesterday was a near-perfect summer day. Bright round  blue sky, wispy clouds; not too hot, not too humid, with just an edge of autumn in the breeze that stirred the leaves. The kind of day on which it feels like a crime against time passing to spend even a moment indoors. On this perfect day, Malcolm and I found ourselves in the chilled fluorescent tin can that is the grocery store. Not ideal, but it has to be done. And I was with Malcolm, which is always a good thing, and we were pondering ice cream flavors, and there are worse places you could be. Malcolm said, “a little while ago I decided to start a career as an optimist.” !!!!! Of course I had a million questions! What made him decide to be an optimist? Where was he when this career path occurred to him? I hadn’t gotten as far as “how do you define ‘optimist?'” when I saw that look on his face that says, “Why do I bother telling her anything? So many questions!” So I stopped asking. He said it got hard to be an optimist because he felt sad about something, but he’s going to take it up again, because he is an optimist. Aside from the obvious joy I felt to hear that my occasionally broody 13-year-old son considers himself an optimist, I just love the idea of optimism as a career. I can imagine his guidance counsellor saying, “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” And Malcolm replying, with that bright, clever look he gets, “An optimist!” And at career day he’ll pick up pamphlets from the optimists’ table, maybe set up between the army recruiters and the guys offering careers in pharmaceutical companies, and the pamphlets will tell him about which colleges have the best optimism courses and what kind of jobs that will be available when he graduates with his optimism degree. I like to imagine a world in which optimism is a career option. It’s not that far-fetched. Did you know that Epictetus began life as a slave, but through studying and teaching stoicism he obtained his freedom and started his own school? Surely optimism is an easier sell than stoicism! And Malcolm is no idealistic fool. He’s shrewd, he’s savvy. He hears everything and understands everything–the bad as well as the good. So his brand of optimism will have depth and value. It won’t be some shallow meme-worthy advice telling you that if you smile a lot money will drop in your lap and all your problems will be solved. It won’t be that. What will it be? I don’t know, don’t ask me! I haven’t had a career as an optimist! We’ll just have to wait and see.

This dish was extremely easy to prepare, extremely simple, and full of flavor. If you decide to use lemon thyme and a dash of fresh lemon juice, it will have a bright spicy flavor. If you decide to use balsamic and regular thyme it will be more round and earthy. Delicious either way! We had this mixed in with some fresh tomato sauce. It would be good on a  bed of baby spinach. Or just as it is, simple, as a side dish.

Here’s Nina Simone with Ooh Child. It’s the best!

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Brown butter caramel ice cream with chocolate chips

Brown butter – chocolate chip ice cream

This is a story of redemption! This is a story of ice cream that lost its way, somewhere on the journey, but found it again to become glorious. (And was then eaten.) It started out with so much promise. A lovely brown butter caramel was made, and it was worked into a custard that thickened and didn’t curdle. Good custard!
Obedient custard! And then it sat in the fridge all day in a spacious bowl, getting nice and chilled, just like you hoped it would. But when you tried to put it in your little antiquated ice cream maker, it was all, “Whatever, I’m not going to freeze! That’s so totally uncool!” You tried a few times. You coaxed it, you tried to talk its language. To no avail. So, in despair, you set it aside. And it spent some time in the cold dark underworld we’ll call your freezer. Hobnobbing with the ne’er-do-well frozen peas, the reprobate frozen waffles. Chilling story! The next morning, faced with the harsh light of day, the ice cream was a mess. Weirdly icy in the middle, with a strange sugary coating on top. Well, we’ve all been there. We all know what it’s like the next morning. But you gave it what for! You worked it up good! And what you had before you, after a rigorous workout, was a creamy, slightly icy confection that you really needed to eat three bowls at a time.

So! If you have a regular functioning way to make ice cream, you don’t need to go through all this drama. You can just make the ice cream. I started by browning some butter; added the brown butter to some brown sugar; cooked till it was bubbly (but not petrified); made that into a custard, with the slight addition of a tablespoonful of tapioca flour. To thicken and preserve against curdling. You could easily leave this out or add the same amount of cornflour. I added chocolate chips, but I processed them first in my tiny food processor. This meant that you had some solidly chunky chocolate pieces, and some pieces of flaky chocolate “dust.” I think this was one of the absolute best things about this ice cream!! You could also just chop the chocolate chips with a big knife, and be sure to include all the little gravelly bits, if you don’t have a processor.

Here’s Blackalicious with The Fall and Rise of Elliot Brown

THE CUSTARD

3 T butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups milk
1 T tapioca or corn flour
pinch salt
1/2 t cinnamon
2 eggs
1 T vanilla

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 t seasalt

Warm the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat till it’s toasty and brown. (Ten minutes?) You’ll have brown solids on the bottom of the pan. Strain through a paper towel, collecting the brown liquidy part in a clean bowl.

Put the brown butter back into a saucepan with the sugar, and heat again at medium heat till the sugar is melted and boiling away. After about 1 minute of boiling, take it off the heat.

In a small bowl, combine the tapioca flour with a bit of the milk. Whisk to mix well. Pour this mixture into the rest of the milk, and pour it all into the sugar/butter combination. Whisk it all together until it’s well combined, and add the vanilla and the salt and cinnamon.

In the same bowl, whisk the eggs till they’re light and fluffy. In a slow stream, add the warm milk, whisking the whole time. Then pour the whole mix back into the saucepan, and cook over low heat, whisking the whole time, for about 10 minutes. You don’t want to let anything boil, or the eggs will curdle everything. After 10 minutes, it will just leave a light coating on the back of your spoon.

Pour it into a cool bowl, cover, put in the fridge, and leave for 5 hours or over night.

When you’re ready to freeze it…process 1 cup of good bittersweet chocolate chips for about a minute, till they’re mostly in tact, but they have some flaky dusty bits of chocolate all around them. Stir this into your custard, stir in the heavy cream, and then freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. I shook a bit of sea salt in before freezing as well!

Roasted cauliflower and potato soup

Potatoes roasted with rosemary and garlic – such a perfect combination. So completely comforting. This soup combines these flavors, as well as the equally perfect combination of cauliflower roasted with brown butter and caraway seeds. It’s not an elegant soup, but it is a delicious and substantial soup. We ate it on the coldest day of the winter, so far, with warm goat cheese rolls fresh out of the oven. Exactly right! I had actually roasted the cauliflower the night before, and cooked the potatoes in a clay pot at the same time. But I’m going to give you this recipe as though you were starting from scratch. It will work equally well either way.

Here’s Papas by Mr Loco. That means potatoes, doesn’t it?
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Cauliflower steaks roasted with brown butter, caraway seeds and rosemary

Usually when I roast cauliflower I cut the florets into small pieces, so that everything gets crispy and brown. Sometimes, however, it’s nice to leave them thick and steak-y. The outside gets caramelized and the inside stays tender and juicy. They can take the center of attention on your plate, like a real steak, but they’re equally comfortable sitting off to the side as well. I drizzled them with brown butter, which I’d mixed with fresh rosemary and chopped caraway seeds. Fast and delicious!

Here’s Mr Brown, by Bob Marley, one of my favorite songs ever!
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