“This is going to be an interesting day,” she muses, followed by, “what IS my worst impulse, anyway?” She’s acted on a few impulses lately, primarily bad ones, in retrospect. She’s uneasy imagining where her absolute worst could push her.
Created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975, Oblique Strategies is a technique for cultivating seeds of innovative creativity. Originally in the form of printed cards, each strategy, like “Give way to your worst impulse,” offers a challenging constraint intended to help artists (particularly musicians) penetrate creative blocks. The cards contain a suggestion, aphorism, or remark which can be used to break dilemmas in creativity. Some are specific to music composition; others are more general, but all can be used to break through any creative dilemma. The cards are now available on an app which she recently downloaded. Strategies include:
Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame
Go slowly all the way round the outside
What are you really thinking about just now? Incorporate
Forever struggling with her elusive impetus to write, she is on a continuous lookout for tools to ease her tortured (or non-existent) process. Downloading the strategies onto her phone, she concluded, in addition to helping her write, would make a great tool for breaking through her quotidian life blocks as well. And so begins her dilemma on surviving a day when her directive is to give way to her worst impulse.
She would have preferred, “Imagine the art as a set of disconnected events.” Disconnected – yes – like this introduction and the recipe below. That’s something she’s extremely familiar with.
Classic chewy oatmeal cookies bookend rounds of vanilla ice cream rolled in mini-chips.
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 ½ quarts ice cream in a square tub, such as Breyers
½ cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375⁰ F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or Silpat liners. Whisk together flour, salt and baking soda; set aside.
Brown butter by melting in a small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring and scraping bottom of pan until milk solids are dark golden and butter has a nutty aroma. Stir in cinnamon.
In a large bowl, combine cinnamon butter, sugars, and oil and whisk to combine. Add egg, yolk, and vanilla and whisk until mixture is smooth. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until combined. Add oats and stir until evenly distributed.
Divide dough into 18 portions (I use a small ice cream scoop). Arrange dough balls 2” apart on prepared sheets. Using damp hands, press each ball into a 2 ½-inch disk.
Bake 8-10 minutes until cookie edges are set and centers are still soft, but not wet. Let cookies set on sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Cut cardboard from ice cream and slice into 1” thick slices. Using a 3 ½-inch cookie cutter, cut 2 rounds from each slice, 9 slices total. Sandwich ice cream between two cookies, and roll in mini chocolate chips. Freeze until ready to serve.
*Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Classic Chewy Oatmeal Cookies
I’m celebrating a birthday this week. I remember this time last year, sequestering myself in a remote cabin in Sedona to figure out my life…all of it…over a brief seven days. I didn’t get very far, but I did decide that getting laid off would be a good thing (it was!) and that I needed to rekindle my dreams of inn ownership (I have!) and that “this” (whatever “this” was at the time) wasn’t enough for me (it’s not).
Another year wiser.
My co-worker, Dennis, also has a birthday this week. To celebrate, I made this bittersweet chocolate peanut butter ice-cream. We served scoops of it in crispy waffle cones, although I’ve decided it would even be better sandwiched between giant peanut butter cookies. Gilding the lily once again – some things never get old.
Dennis’s “You’ve got peanut butter in my chocolate” Ice Cream
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate chopped (at least 60% cocoa), divided (5 oz. & 3 oz.)
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
5 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small bowl, combine peanut butter, confectioner’s sugar and salt. Pinch off small bits of the peanut butter mixture and arrange on a dinner plate. Freeze plate of peanut butter bits until ready to use.
Warm one cup of the cream with the cocoa powder in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil, whisking the entire time, then remove from heat. Add the 5 oz. chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth. Stir in the remaining 1 cup cream. Set a strainer over the sauce pan and set aside.
Warm the milk, sugar and salt in another medium sauce pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the yolks whisking constantly (to avoid scrambling eggs). Pour the entire mixture back into the sauce pan.
Stir the custard mixture over a medium heat with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners as you stir, until mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon or spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and into the chocolate mixture. Add vanilla, and then cool completely by placing pan in an ice bath.
Cover and chill the mixture in the refrigerator overnight. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. A few minutes before it’s finished, add the 3 oz. reserved chopped chocolate and frozen peanut butter bits.
This recipe is the inevitable and tasty Venn diagram ensuing from 1) a recent purchase of an entire pound of Thai tea leaves with 2) my continual gelato flavor experimentation – a result of a previous 2013 trip to Italy to indulgently attend Gelato School.
Heat milk to 104 degrees. Remove from heat, add Thai tea mix, stir, cover and let steep for 1 to 1 ½ hours. Strain tea leaves, pressing to extract as much flavor as possible. Re-warm milk mixture. At 104 degrees, add sugar, corn syrup and salt. Continue heating and stirring milk mixture. At 144 degrees, add powdered milk mixed well with guar gum and carob. Heat milk to 194 degrees to pasteurize and immediately remove from heat.
Cool milk mixture in ice bath, adding cream and vanilla extract when mixture’s temperature is reduced to 144 degrees. Emulsify with a stick blender. When mixture has cooled to room temperature, pour through a sieve and refrigerate overnight.
Make gelato in ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Savor the flavor of Thai iced tea in creamy gelato form.
Ninety-four degrees and not even 11:00 a.m. yet. My walk this morning, more than any other morning this summer, brought to mind summertime memories of my childhood. My family didn’t spend the season at our grandparent’s lakefront cottage. There was no lake. There was no cottage. Our summers were the long days of middle-class suburban kids in Anaheim. Our summers were dusty, scorched, pavement summers. I’d wake up late morning, suffocating from the stifling air of my bedroom – air conditioning was an unnecessary luxury. I’d throw on shorts and a tank top and amble, on summer-calloused bare feet, to a friend’s house. At her home, as sweltering as my own and stocked with grape Otter Pops, we’d make plans to stay cool for the day. None of us had a pool, except one older girl, who doled out invites sparingly, and only to those she deemed worthy (I was rarely worthy). My favorite days were those when we combined funds to buy a bag of water balloons from Hanshaw’s liquor store and compete in boys-against-girls neighborhood balloon fights that always seemed to end with turning the hose on each other. On special summer occasions, like July 4th, my family would hand-churn ice cream in the late afternoon.
Don’t be surprised by the color – the bright green of most pistachio products is from additional coloring. The final color will be brighter green if you take the time to remove the pistachio skins (I did not). Measurements are in grams.
955 grams 2% milk
215 grams sugar
54 grams corn syrup
1 gram salt
33 grams powdered milk
1 gram guar gum
1 gram carob
215 grams shelled pistachios, plus more for garnish (optional)
2 grams vanilla
Heat milk to 104 degrees. Add sugar, corn syrup and salt. Continue heating and stirring milk mixture until sugar is dissolved. At 144 degrees, add powdered milk mixed well with guar gum and carob. Stir well to incorporate. Heat milk to 194 degrees to pasteurize and immediately remove from heat.
Pulse pistachios in a food processor until chopped (don’t chop them fine). Add a cup of the hot milk mixture and process well.
Add nut mixture from food processor to remaining milk mixture. Cool milk mixture in an ice bath, adding vanilla when mixture’s temperature is reduced to 144 degrees. When mixture has cooled to room temperature, refrigerate overnight.
The next day, strain gelato mixture pressing on the nuts to extract maximum flavor. Make gelato in ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Garnish with additional chopped pistachios if desired.
I’m an autumn girl. This favored season of mine showers me with crisp sweater weather, falling crimson leaves and cozy fires that align with my introvert’s sensibilities. And I cannot forget autumn’s bounty of rib-sticking roasted meats, soups and stews that beckon my German sensibilities as well. And yet, I bask in the first few weeks of summer – perhaps even more than autumn. Summer’s constant sun soaks through my tired flesh and warms my very soul. Birds sing the song of summer throughout the trees during the day while crickets serenade the night away, calming me. The longer days encourage my evening walks and dining alfresco – the TV is left silent. And my kitchen is inspired by summer’s bounty of sweet corn, ripe tomatoes, juicy nectarines and, of course, freshly made gelato.
This is my post-gelato school updated version of a 2012 recipe. Measurements are in grams.
500 grams 2% milk
1 bunch fresh mint leaves, washed, patted dry and lightly packed – about 2 cups
145 grams sugar
16 grams corn syrup
1 gram salt
38 grams powdered milk
1 gram guar gum
1 gram carob
250 grams heavy whipping cream
2 grams vanilla
1 package chocolate dinner mints, chopped (such as Andes) – about 1 cup
Heat milk to 104 degrees. Remove from heat, add ¾ of mint leaves, stir, cover and let steep for 1 to 1 ½ hours. Strain mint, pressing to extract as much mint oil as possible. Re-warm milk mixture. At 104 degrees, add sugar, corn syrup and salt. Continue heating and stirring milk mixture. At 144 degrees, add powdered milk mixed well with guar gum and carob. Heat milk to 194 degrees to pasteurize and immediately remove from heat.
Cool milk mixture in ice bath, adding cream and vanilla when mixture’s temperature is reduced to 144 degrees. Add remaining 1/4 of mint leaves and emulsify with a stick blender. When mixture has cooled to room temperature, pour through a sieve and refrigerate overnight.
Make gelato in ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Add chopped mints about one minute before gelato is finished.