"She turned to the sunlight And shook her yellow head, And whispered to her neighbour: 'Winter is dead.'" - A.A. Milne Spring in Tennessee is not like spring of my childhood. It is 88-degree days and laying in the sun…
Last week, my friend Christina and I went strawberry picking. I like Christina. Christina is sharp and funny and unassuming enough to regularly surprise you as you get to know her over time. She’s one of the maybe three friends I’ve ever had who is a twin. I’ve always wished I were a twin. People sometimes mistook my brother and me for twins (do you see it?) but, as his knee-jerk reaction has always been sheer and absolute horror when these assumptions have been made, I think it’s safe to say I’m the only one flattered there. I met Christina’s twin, Nicole, a few months ago over tacos at a table barely as wide as a paperback book; I liked her, too.
“You take two cups of milk and two cups of cream and warm it on the stove,” Tim’s saying to me from the dining room. I place our medium Le Creuset saucepan, the cream one with the handle, on the back burner.
“OK, then what?” I call back to him.
“Add ½ cup of Sucanat and stir until it dissolves.”
While the sugar combines with the milk and cream, I set out a bowl and fill it with six tablespoons of water, then toss five teaspoons of gelatin over the top.
I return to the stove. A couple minutes and a few stirs later, the sugar’s totally dissolved, and I remove the saucepan from the heat. I add vanilla extract and almond extract, stir, and pour the saucepan’s contents into the gelatin-water bowl. Stir. Let it all dissolve.
“Then I just pour it into the cups?” I say to Tim, thinking aloud that this has been too simple, wondering if we’ve somehow skipped a step. He’s in the kitchen next to me now, right beside me while I divvy up the mixture, pour it into oiled ramekins and set them in the fridge.
“I told you it was easy,” he responds, his back to me now while he begins washing dishes and setting them to dry. This is not the first time I’ve made panna cotta, nor Tim’s, but it is the first time we’ve made it together. Also, more notably, it’s the first time the process has been so easy that as soon as we’re done, I’ve got it memorized, repeating the whole process back to Tim minutes later when we settle in on the sofa, and I take out a piece of paper and write it down.
Tim made this exact same panna cotta recipe for me, minus the almond extract, I think, a few weeks ago, when one or the other of us heard someone say “panna cotta,” developed a craving and quickly passed the obsession along to the other so that pretty soon, both of us, regularly, were saying out loud, “Doesn’t panna cotta sound so good?” “I wish we had some panna cotta right now!” and “Let’s get some cream at the store so we can make panna cotta.” But it wasn’t until late one night, when the sky had already grown dark, that we finally made good on the daydreams—and side by side with a Netflix movie, ate rich, luxurious, creamy bowl after bowl of it, alongside raspberries, licking our lips as we went. This panna cotta isn’t the kind of craving that abates when you feed it, the kind where you, one night, make yourselves panna cotta, and then for months thereafter give it nary a thought: no, sir. This panna cotta is the chocolate chip cookie of the magical custardy world: with every bite you take, you just want more.
So that’s how we’ve found ourselves in the kitchen tonight, panna cotta chilling in the fridge while we clean the kitchen and return to our laptops, long work projects calling our names. It’ll be past 10 p.m. when the desserts are finally set enough to warrant sharing one, and the next morning when we finally get to turn two out onto plates and top them with sliced figs and honey.
But even after we do, after, between the two of us, we’ve consumed dish after dish after dish after giant wine glass filled with panna cotta, the rich cream cut by the sweet and caramel-like milk layer, and it’s all gone, every last bit, less than one day after it’s made, we look at each other and still think the same thing:
Let’s make more panna cotta!
When we started registering for wedding gifts last summer, there was one thing Tim really wanted to add: an ice cream maker.
And where I (the impatient, get-it-done type) probably would have just clicked the first version I saw at Target or Williams and Sonoma and rejoiced to have checked something off my list, this man I married is different. He does research.
So it was in those final few months before our wedding that we had at least three different conversations about ice cream maker options: the kind where you have to freeze the bowl ahead of time, the kind with the freezing mechanism already inside; small ones, large ones; ice cream makers from Cuisinart, ice cream makers from Italy. Because this was around the time when I was off for a weekend to Oregon, I even remember talking to Kim and Tyler Malek from Salt and Straw about the ice cream maker(s) they use and recommend and why, jotting notes in my notebook to share with Tim.
My Tim loves ice cream. I mean, he loves it. He’s been dreaming of making his own (with raw milk because that’s what we drink) since long before he knew me (there are handwritten notes that prove this fact).
So having told you all that, I probably don’t have to tell you what happened when, after our honeymoon, opening the handful of gifts at my parents’ house in Chicago that our friends hadn’t already transported down to Tennessee for us, we found one very heavy, very large box sitting amongst them, holding that dream ice cream maker (a Delonghi GM6000, if you’re curious):
those first few weeks back in Nashville, he must have made ice cream eight or nine times.
And while I’ve been telling Tim all along, amongst our ice cream night with friends and homemade ice cream at the pie party and quiet nights at home filled with scoops of chocolate chocolate chip or bourbon vanilla or cinnamon or hazelnut coconut chocolate chip, that one of these days, I’ll really have to blog these ice creams, it wasn’t until recently, amidst our raw experiment week, when Tim made a raw ice cream sweetened only with dried fruit (!!), that I got too excited to contain myself.
So, without further ado, I bring you the most interesting ice cream I’ve ever had: Tim calls it raw chocolate. With an ingredients list including raw milk, dried fruit, raw organic egg yolks (does that scare you? read this), cocoa powder, vanilla, gelatin and cream (if we’d had raw cream, this could have been a totally raw version), it’s free of refined sugar and, I can almost promise, unlike anything you’ve ever had: icy and sweet, flecked with hints of raisin (although next time, we might just do dates), refreshing and unique and delicious.
The other day, while I was depositing a check in the drive-through lane, I saw a man come out of my bank and walk to a car that had an Illinois license plate. It was the simplest thing—a license plate—something that I wouldn’t think twice about while I’m at home. But sitting there in Nashville, waiting for my $20 and a receipt, I wondered where in Illinois he was from: maybe the suburbs? I wondered how long he’d lived in Nashville—or did he even live in Nashville? Maybe he was visiting like I’d done so many times over the last year?
Shared experiences, even hints at them, are funny. We all enjoy meeting people who have gone through situations like we have, especially when the situations are less common—say, moving to a new state, for example. We like running into people who know our friends or interacting with strangers who seem to understand us. It’s just nice to feel that commonality. Often, it’s the very way that friendships begin.
Shared experiences can be big things like losing a loved one or, small things like, I don’t know, going wedding dress shopping for the first time (hollah!).
It’s kind of like jello.
I mean, how many of us didn’t grow up eating jello, right? There were the fun jigglers of our childhoods, cut into crazy shapes and able to be picked up with your fingers; the fancy molds of holiday dinner parties, filled with fruit or marshmallows or nuts; the simple mixes where all you had to do was combine a packet with hot water and stir.
It’s something so common, we don’t even think about it. But yet, if we went somewhere and they didn’t have it (in the same way another state doesn’t have our license plates), seeing it would be kind of comforting and exciting and community-making. I love jello.
And it’s not just the familiarity of jello I love. When I learned how powerful gelatin is in healing the gut (this broth article is excellent in explaining that more), jello took on a whole new value.
For me, the next step was finding a really high-quality gelatin, one made from grass-fed cows rather than pigs, which led me to Great Lakes, an easy-to-order option found online.
A couple experiments and entire-bowls-eaten-in-one-sitting later, and I bring you the strawberry jello pictured in this post. While it is a little different than the boxed variety, it is filled with whole, natural ingredients that you can feel really good about putting in your body—not to mention that help your digestion and overall health.
It’s a jello I’m eating a lot lately, so I hope you’ll try it, too—and then tell me about it! Because, the way I see it, we can all use a little more community and kinship, even the kind centered around a food we eat.