Spicy honey ice cream and almond coconut ice cream

Spicy honey ice ceam

Spicy honey ice ceam

We watched Akira Kurisawa’s Ikuru the other night. It’s so beautiful – mournful and hopeful, discouraging and life-affirming all at the same time, and it seems to me to portray certain tenets of Ordinaryism. In English the title means “To Live,” and the film tells the story of Kanji Watanabe, a middle-aged, middle management bureaucrat. He works at city hall, a kafkaesque maze of offices, hallways and stairways. Every surface is covered with teetering piles of paperwork, which threaten to cave in and bury the (mostly) men who work there. They keep their heads down as they do their monotonous work, and seem to do just enough to get by. A group of women complain about a disease and mosquito-infested cesspool, and they’re driven from department to department in a sort of hopeless joke that everybody is in on but them. Everybody knows that nobody is going to help them. Watanabe, a quiet man with huge, expressive frightened-rabbit eyes, learns that he has stomach cancer, and realizes he has less than a year to live. He’s not ready to die, because he’s never really lived. The next few days unfold in great detail – he meets a novelist, and they hit all the nightspots. He meets a young woman from his office who needs his help to quit her job. And then in an odd but oddly effective twist, the film shifts to six months later, and is told in a series of flashbacks by Watanabe’s co-workers. So that’s the story. And you should know that it’s visually beautiful – full of graceful, thoughtful space and movement. As Watanabe is consumed with self-reflection, as he examines his life, we see him through windows, through waving panes of glass, in mirrors, through gleaming rows of glasses. The film itself has a pale, cloudy light that washes over you in waves as you watch. And now to the Ordinaryism. From the first, Watanabe is established as an ordinary man. Nothing about his life is glamorous or even all that interesting, until we learn that he’s going to die. And here’s the beautiful extraordinary ordinary part…in his search for some understanding of what it means to live, he doesn’t become a less ordinary person, he doesn’t have a fling with a celebrity or go on an extravagant shopping spree or hang glide over a volcano. (As he might do in a Hollywood film.) He goes back to work! Back to his same job. He finds his way after spending some time with the young woman who recently quit her job. She represents life to him. She’s brimming over with it, she laughs, she chatters, she eats. (Everywhere they go, she eats her food and Watanbe’s as well, because he has no appetite. I love the fact that her hunger and her obvious enjoyment of food is one of the things that marks her as bright and vital.)

    “…somehow I was drawn to you.” He explains to her. “Once when I was a child, I almost drowned. It’s just like that feeling. Darkness everywhere, and nothing for me to hold onto, no matter how hard I try. There’s just you.”
    “What help am I?”
    “You – just to look at you makes me feel better. It warms this – this mummy’s heart of mine. And you’re so kind to me. No; that’s not it. You’re so young, so healthy. No; that’s not it either… You’re so full of life. And me… I’m jealous of that. If I could be like you for just one day before I died. I won’t be able to die unless I can do that. I want to do something.”

And do you know what she does that makes her so happy and glad to be alive? She works in a factory! Making toy rabbits. But she loves the toy rabbits, and she says that while she makes them she feels as though she’s playing with every baby in Japan. She tells him he should make something. And that’s when it all becomes clear to him, and he goes back to his job and pursues it with a passion, and uses his office to make something good. Because, like everybody else in the world, he’s been extraordinary all along. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

almond coconut ice cream

almond coconut ice cream

Holy smoke! I’ve gone on so much longer and more tediously than I intended! I apologize. I would like to tell you about these ice creams though. I was seized with a desire to make ice cream, as one usually is the coldest week of the year! I wanted to try something a little different. The first ice cream is sugar free. It’s made with honey!! I’ve made honey ice cream in the past, but it had sugar, too, and this one doesn’t. It does have cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cayenne. I thought it was so good! It had such a lovely hot and spicy zing to go with it’s cool creamy sweetness. The second ice cream had no eggs. Instead of a custard, I thickened the milk by cooking it down, the way one would make dulce de leche or ribadi. I also cooked it with ground almonds and coconut, and then I added a bit of cardamom. I thought it was lovely as well. It had a nice texture, with the coconut. I might try the same method again without the coconut and almonds, though, just to see how it turns out!!

Here’s Takashi Shimura (as Kanji Wantanabe) singing Gondola No Uta in his haunting voice.
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Blueberry pie & honey ice cream with smoked sea salt

Honey ice cream

Honey is lovely! Sweet, amber-colored, the product of all the busyness of the buzzing golden bees – it’s like the distillation of summer light. The promised land will be flowing with milk and honey; it’s a symbol of the new year and of hope; it’s one of the Hindu elixirs of immortality. It soothes a sore throat better than any medicine I know. It’s so strange to think about where it comes from, and to imagine people discovering that it was edible, and tasty, and salubrious. I find it humbling to think about the mysterious process of honey-making and pollination, the complicated, social, important life of bees, so vulnerable to our clumsily destructive way of life. There’s been a decline in honeybee populations lately. To quote wikipedia, “In early 2007, abnormally high die-offs (30-70% of hives) of European honey bee colonies occurred in North America; such a decline seems unprecedented in recent history. This has been dubbed “Colony collapse disorder” (CCD); it is unclear whether this is simply an accelerated phase of the general decline due to stochastically more adverse conditions in 2006, or a novel phenomenon. Research has so far failed to determine what causes it…” I remember reading about it at the time! I had recently finished War and Peace. Leo Tolstoy was a beekeeper (that’s totally going to be the name of my next album!), and there’s a succinct, remarkable chapter towards the end of the book in which Tolstoy compares war-torn Moscow to a decaying bee colony without a queen.

“…he sees the skillful complex structures of the combs, but no longer in their former state of purity. All is neglected and foul. Black robber bees are swiftly and stealthily prowling about the combs, and the short home bees, shriveled and listless as if they were old, creep slowly about without trying to hinder the robbers, having lost all motive and all sense of life…In place of the former close dark circles formed by thousands of bees sitting back to back and guarding the high mystery of generation, he sees hundreds of dull, listless, and sleepy shells of bees.”

It all seemed mysteriously connected, at the time, to our own country at war. We’d been in this hideously complicated conflict for years. It seemed as if it would go on forever – for as long as people would profit from it. It felt as though we were numb – we’d grown capable of tuning out the news until the news stopped being reported. A strange connection that only the honeybees might understand!

Blueberry pie

Well, I’m rambling on about Leo Tolstoy’s bees. I blame the heat, it’s really hot here! Let’s return to honey as a hopeful symbol and an endearment! And as the main ingredient in a recipe for honey refrigerator ice cream I found in my mennonite cook book. I knew I had to try it! I used one cup of vanilla-maple pastry cream and one cup of heavy cream, instead of 2 cups of cream, as the recipe suggested. And I decided to add some smoked sea salt that I’d bought at the lovely Savory Spice Shop on my birthday. I like the saltiness with the sweetness of the honey. If you can’t find smoked salt, you can use regular salt. The smoky flavor is very odd and distinctive. I love it, but it might not be for everybody!! On the way to Cape May, we drove through the blueberry capitol of the world! Rows and rows of lovely short shrubby bushes laden with beautiful blue berries. David said he had a craving for blueberry pie, so I made one. I made it as simple and traditional as I could muster. I used a sweetish shortbread-type of crust, because I like that with fruit pies, but you could use a more traditional and easier to work with butter crust. I made a lattice top! Fun!

Here’s Muddy Waters with Honey Bee.
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