Vanilla Bean–Blueberry Ice Cream with Lemon Shortbread Crumble
I didn’t make it up to Maine this summer. Maybe that means summer didn’t happen, because Maine is the state of summer for New Englanders. It’s the capital of summer for those who’ve grown tired of The Cape, a reward for those who can will themselves to drive past that scary and confusing state called New Hampshire. It’s a place where the clearness of the water makes up for its frigid temps. For out-of-towners like me, it seems to exist only for vacation (it’s called Vacationland, after all); it’s a place to go, not a place to stay—weekend Xanax, essentially. Maine has all the chill.
Besides “chill,” when I think about Maine, I think about my mom, not because she’s chill—I’m a product of a chill-less family—but because I spent many summer days there when I was a child, with just her. She worked weekends and nights and so I had a gift many other kids didn’t (or, they did, because we were misplaced shit-eaters in a town where no one seemed to have to work): a summer vacation adventure partner. Tuesdays were usually our big day, and we wouldn’t make it past Ogunquit—a day is only so long—but we had the best time driving with the windows open, baking and snoring on the beach, absolutely ruling at paddle ball, and eating cliché Maine blueberry confections, most frequently a slice of blueberry pie at The Goldenrod in York. That’s why cool vanilla ice cream melting into a dark purple sea of molten blueberries is my madeleine, and my favorite taste of summer.
But nostalgia depresses me right after it uplifts me. These Maine memories with mom, in particular, hurt. My mom, the best one I’ve met, lived and lives for me. I don’t talk to her as much as I should and I see her even less, but I know that every minute we’re apart, every minute I don’t hear her voice, I’m on her always-racing mind. It feels good to be loved so hard, but it’s also a burden to give and take energy from someone.
For every bad thing that happens to me, for every hurt, physical or emotional, I know that she feels that hurt to the same magnitude and so, if not on purpose, I am hurting her. I hurt her a lot this summer. For every pain in my head, I knew there was an equivalent pain in her heart. For every hour I couldn’t sleep, I knew her dark circles circles blackened. For every frustrated phone call I made, she said a prayer. For every time I anxiously rubbed and squeezed my cheeks, my arms, my legs, willing my body to stop attacking me and causing them to morph, swell, and tighten, she’d probably pull at her hair, at the bangs and away from her forehead, to take away from the pain I’d caused her. And for every tear I didn’t shed, because I won’t let myself express emotion when I’m the victim, she cried streams. And that’s the burden: I don’t wish this kind of pain on someone who has given me so much.
When I talk about my mom and me, I picture us as those twin dancing emoji ladies, but we’re really quite different. I got all of my parents’ bad qualities and none of the good. That’s OK; I know I’d never be able to compete with them as humans. Mom and I share a hearty laugh and an appreciation for music, though our tastes are different. We complain to each other about the cost of nail polish that chips in a couple days. We’re both overthinkers and a bit obsessive. We have a weird skip to our step when we whack a tennis ball, and we both love to dip salty potato chips into garlicky tzatziki. We both could use a better sense of self-worth; my mom wishes she’d lived her life differently, and I attribute anything I’ve achieved to luck, not talent. But the list isn’t all that long, really: My mom has the keenest of street smarts; I have common sense and I’m dangerously self-aware, but I’m bookish at heart. My mom has a jovial sense of humor; I’m darkly sarcastic, to a point I think it scares her sometimes. I’m wildly opinionated; mom doesn’t like to rock the boat. Mom is warm and emotional; sometimes my heart feels black. My mom is beautiful, blue-eyed and blonde-haired; I am, well, I look like my dad. . . My mom loves sugar; I like vegetables. I like to cook; my mom has to cook. Everyone loves my mom; I’m a salty acquired taste. My mom has faith, though it’s dwindling; mine died years ago. My mom is and always has been healthy as a horse; I’m fucked up. She wishes it was the reverse.
Our differences are mostly for the good. She completes the set of characteristics I don’t have and vice versa; as long as she’s in my life, I am by extension a well-rounded person.
I think back to those Maine days, all of those summer days, really, often. There were some sad times but many more sweet ones, and I wish I could give them back—I wish I could give her ice cream and blueberries all the time rather than concern and hurt.
One day this summer my mom rented an electric blue car just to come down for a few hours. She accompanied me to a couple of appointments, she distracted me from me, she hugged me. I’ll never be able to love another human the way she loves me. In fact, I’ll never be able to love her as much as she does me. There just doesn’t exist that much love in my heart. I can’t give her anything and for as long as I experience pain, I won’t be able to take any away from her. But I could give her ice cream this time. It was a coincidence that I had it in my freezer when she came down; a coincidence that it contained this combination, vanilla ice cream and blueberries, that connects me to her; a coincidence that it held chunks of lemon-almond shortbread—my mom adores lemon, almonds, and shortbread; and a coincidence that it tasted like Goldenrod pie, perhaps with a little more complexity, in a bowl. We ate and went to Maine together, without leaving my house.
My parents did (physically) go to Maine once this summer, this past weekend. Mom ordered blueberry ice cream and said it was nothing like mine, that it was icy and bland and that I need to share my recipe. Was she being honest? I don’t know, but I appreciated the love for one of my few gifts to her. And here I’m honoring her wishes.
Vanilla Bean–Blueberry Ice Cream with Lemon Shortbread Crumble
Make this before the blueberries are gone and get yourself to Maine in a scoop. No fear if you hate icy fruit in ice cream—I do too and worked hard to prevent that here. This takes like blueberry pie in ice cream form but it isn’t overpacked with cookies and blueberry so it’s still creamy and dreamy.
Makes 11/2 quarts
460 grams (2 cups) heavy cream
230 grams (1 cup) whole milk
212 grams (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) sugar
1/2 plump vanilla bean, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large egg yolks
7 1/2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) blueberries
3 tablespoons vodka
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons sugar
112 grams (1 cup) almond flour
26 grams (1/4 cup) rice flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
35 grams (21/2) tablespoons unsalted butter
1. For the Ice Cream: Place 230 grams (1 cup) cream in medium bowl and set fine-mesh strainer on top. Combine milk, 112 grams (9 tablespoons) sugar, seeds scraped from vanilla bean pod, pod, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining cream in small saucepan and bring just to boil. Remove saucepan from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.
2. Discard vanilla bean pod from milk mixture. Whisk yolks in large saucepan to combine. Set up ice bath in large bowl. Bring milk mixture just to boil once more. Slowly pour about a quarter of hot milk mixture into egg yolks, whisking constantly, to temper, 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 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.
For the cookies: Rub lemon zest and sugar between your fingers in small bowl until sugar is moistened, zest is spread throughout, and mixture is fragrant. Pulse almond flour, rice flour, salt, and sugar mixture in food processor until combined, about 5 pulses. Scatter butter over top and pulse until dough resembles clumpy wet sand and can be pinched into pieces. Pinch off pecan-size pieces of dough and transfer to parchment paper–lined plate. Freeze dough pieces for 30 minutes.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer frozen dough pieces to prepared sheet and bake until golden brown, rotating sheet halfway through baking, 10 to 13 minutes. Let cookie crumbles cool completely.
Combine blueberries, remaining 110 grams (1/2 cup) sugar, vodka, lemon zest, and salt in large saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until a hint of blue runs through the surrounding liquid. Uncover and cook, stirring gently and constantly over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and liquid just turns blue (do not let berries burst). Strain blueberries through fine-mesh strainer over bowl and reserve liquid. Spread blueberries over plate, separating them as much as possible, and place in freezer for 1 hour.
Using knife, break cookies to desired size (I like some to remain pecan-size and others to be smaller). Churn chilled ice cream according to manufacturers’ instructions, adding 1 tablespoon reserved blueberry liquid to base. Add blueberries (saving a few tablespoons for garnish, if desired) and three-quarters of shortbread; let churn for 15 seconds. Give ice cream folds by hands to ensure even distribution of mix-ins, and transfer to container in thirds, spooning a scant drizzle (a teaspoon per layer will do) of remaining blueberry liquid. Let chill for at least 3 hours. Garnish ice cream with remaining shortbread and blueberries, if desired. Ice cream is best enjoyed in 3 days but will keep for much longer.
Sacha, this made me tear up. We should all be so lucky to have a momma like yours! (Mine’s pretty great too, and I texted her right after I read this.)
PS- you’re not too salty – you’re umami, baby! stay funky.
Girl, you’ve got a way with words. And with ice cream.
An incredibly beautiful piece of writing. Brought me to tears, and what I read through it…. you are both humble souls, loving each other mega. You have done a lot of studying and thinking about your relationship to your mom, and it makes me think about my own, which I’m actually struggling with these days. But you are so right when you say they feel everything you feel and hurt every time you hurt, 10x more.
all the love, and an extra scoop of this blueberry ice cream. xo