The Dancer Lady

Peanut Butter-Honey Ice Cream with Sriracha Candied Peanuts

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I stared at her as she stood in the locker room and moved her hands slowly up and down her perfectly flat, milky-white abdomen from under her black camisole. The top’s low back showed off strong back muscles and its spaghetti straps sat snuggly on pulled-back shoulders that extended into skinny, lean arms. Tight, flared, floor-length spandex covered endless legs. She had finished working out, but you wouldn’t know. There was no rose to her cheeks or shine to her skin, and her blonde pixie cut—soft not blunt—sat untossled on her head, framing her heart-shaped face with perfect waves. She’s a dancer. I don’t know her beyond the blonde and the pale and the black. But I know her.

I know her because I was her. Well, a brunette her. Though likely six to seven years my senior, she is my younger self before illness, fatigue, and injury diminished the place of the art and the sport in my life, aged my limbs and heart, bloated my face. I’m not sure if the trance she put me in was heartbreaking or uplifting. I’m still the bendy-twisty creature with decent balance and an ear for a beat. But I can no longer call myself a dancer—I’m just one who dances. Dancer Lady’s too old to be in a company. She may be a teacher. I don’t know. But she’s a studio rat of some kind. She scurries to the gym on her rare days off to crosstrain, to maintain her strength and stamina. She straddles the equipment with such grace, staring dead-faced ahead and never tiring.

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She has laudable discipline. She stretches with purpose—in the morning, midday, before sleep. She eats eggs for breakfast and lots of vegetables. She puts hydration on her to-do list. Her favorite indulgence: squares of extra-dark chocolate alongside cups of ginger tea. She has perfectly painted toenails to distract from bloodied feet. She has tendonitis that she bares. I think.

It’s an interesting thing when your art, your craft, your passion, your talent depends so much on your body—when they are your body. It’s also interesting when you have just one craft, passion, or talent, not because your potential is limited, but because it requires all of you. The debate is so commonplace it’s banal: Is it better to be the best at one thing, or decent at many things? Dancer Lady is the best at one thing. You can tell from her defined obliques, the way she always stands in perfect turnout, how she breathes—the deliberate movements of her diaphragm visible from under her camisole. And that is what separates us now. Dancer Lady is a work of art and patience; I struggle to dress the bed without getting frustrated and bored. I have too many interests and not a single art I don’t like. No, I am no longer Dancer Lady.

There is just one thing I Am, because it is my job: I Am an editor. Music and rhythm move me, but I’m not a performer. I was classically trained in voice, but I’m not a singer. I cook, but I’m not a chef. I develop recipes, but I’m not a recipe developer. I have a good jump shot and a powerful backhand, but I’m neither a basketball player nor tennis player. I love design—I have an aesthetic—but I’m not a designer. I have strong opinions, many political, but I’m not a pundit. I know history and I have a research background, but I’m neither a historian nor a researcher. And I dance, but I’m not a dancer. Maybe my discomfort is because I am someone, despite my desire for it not to be so, whose job defines her; the high-anxiety traits I get from my Type A father.

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I consume all of these things. I put energy into all of these things. But I am not any of these things. And by the end of the day, after playing with them all, I am spent—too spent to get better at one than the rest, too spent to be The Best at something. Still, the weight of all of them push my leaded body deep into the pad of my mattress—probably permanently depressing it from how hard I fall—when my mind rests, these switches turn off, and I finally get to sleep at some absurd hour.

I’m restless without all of these things, and so I’ll never be “a name” in any one of them. I’m OK with that. It’s better to be fulfilled than famous, and fame would never look good on me anyway. But a little part of me, lately especially, wishes I could tie up all of my eccentricities and throw my heart and my body at one thing. Maybe it’s dance I miss the most. Maybe I want the rigor and routine to be my everyday, not my every-once-in-a-while. Maybe it’s food. I have a particular knack for flaky pie doughs, creamy ice creams, boldly flavored vegetables, treating seafood with care, and crafting balanced cheese plates. Maybe I just want to make ice cream. Blast the sugar—evil it is—but I love coming up with flavors, a process that is actually quite easy. The combinations hit my mind’s tongue before they’re born, rarely with any origin I can point to. I like the whisking of dark golden yolks, the tempering, the hum of the machine as the base churns, growing from pourable crème anglaise to air-puffed confection, chilling from hot custard to icy cream, progressing from cloyingly rich to lighter-tasting and dairy-forward. The one below is a good one—smooth, a little crunchy, a hint of savory.

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But it’s a bit too late for me: It’s too late to be a dancer again rather than one who dances. It’s too late for me to be an ice cream maker rather than one who makes ice cream. My life consists of many flavors, whether that’s a good thing or not, I’m not sure, but I think it keeps me from going crazier. For now, I try to balance enjoying them all; none of us know when that depression in the mattress will become a depression in the ground. And I continue to watch the Dancer Lady, watching the old me and imagining a life that could have been, this voyeurism gifting me the best of both worlds.

As she enjoyed her hard-earned body, I finally had to interrupt her. My belongings were in the locker behind her. She jolted, startled by her routine interrupted, briefly, by the life around her.

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Honey-Peanut Butter Ice Cream with Sriracha Candied Peanuts
Makes about 1 quart

Adjust the amount of salt in the custard according to how salty your peanut butter is. This is not my peanuttiest of peanut butter ice creams, I wanted a light peanut butter base (in both flavor and texture) so the floral honey could shine and so the ice cream wouldn’t feel cloying along with the candied peanuts. Sriracha brands vary in heat. You can start with 6 teaspoons of sriracha, turn of the heat, and taste a peanut (careful—it will be super hot), before proceeding and adding more sriracha. I especially enjoyed serving this ice cream with a quick chocolate sauce and lightly sweetened coconut whipped cream (whipped cream made from coconut milk/cream).

Ice Cream
345 grams (1 1/2 cups) heavy cream
345 grams (1 1/2 cups) whole milk
170 grams (1/2 cup) honey
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
102 grams (⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon) peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Candied Peanuts
30 grams (about ¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons) sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons honey
120 grams (1 cup) peanuts
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sriracha

1. For the Ice Cream: Place 230 grams (1 cup) cream in medium bowl and set fine-mesh strainer on top. Combine milk, honey, salt, and remaining cream in small saucepan and bring just to boil. Meanwhile, whisk yolks in large saucepan to combine.

2. Whisk egg yolks together in large saucepan. Set up ice bath in large bowl. Slowly pour about a quarter of hot milk mixture into egg yolks, whisking constantly, to temper; whisk peanut butter into egg mixture until completely emulsified, then slowly whisk in remaining milk mixture in steady stream. Cook mixture whisking constantly, over medium heat until line drawn down custard-coated spoon holds and custard registers 170-175 degrees. Pour custard through fine-mesh strainer into cream, add vanilla, and whisk to combine. Transfer bowl to ice bath and whisk occasionally until mixture reaches room temperature. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, transfer to refrigerator, and let chill for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

3. For the Candied Peanuts: Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat sugar, water, and honey in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, swirling pan occasionally. When caramel becomes light golden in color, reduce heat to medium, add peanuts and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Stir in sriracha until peanuts are evenly coated and cook, stirring constantly, until nuts are toasted and fragrant, caramel is deep in color, and mixture becomes clear, sticky and thick. (Reduce heat as needed to prevent scorching on peanuts or sriracha.) Working quickly, transfer peanut mixture to prepared sheet, spread out as best as you can, and separate what you can into using 2 forks. When mixture is too hard and sticky to manipulate, break what you couldn’t spread into desired-size pieces. Let cool completely before using. (Peanuts can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

4. Whisk ice cream base and churn ice cream in ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions, 15 to 25 minutes. Add about three-quarters of peanuts to machine and churn for 1 minute until they’re distributed throughout (reserve the rest for serving). Working quickly, transfer ice cream to container. Cover and freeze for at least 4 hours before serving.

3 responses

  1. I love this post and can really relate to it. Being a dancer still seems to be part of my identity years after I’ve given it up. Also, I wish I had an ice cream maker as this looks divine!

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