How do you write a food blog post when the world is falling apart?
Like most of the world, or at least the world I inhabit, I sat frozen in front of the television in the early hours of Wednesday morning, feeling stupefied and stupid. Unoriginally, I felt like I was watching some kind of dystopian satire; the conclusion, so unexpected, was foregone by 6am.
I’d planned to write about nutmeg ice cream that afternoon, and spend the morning making 50 tiny mushroom pies for a party, but instead I found myself glued to the rolling news and scrolling manically through twitter. It felt wrong, frivolous, irrelevant even, to return to those planned tasks, like I would be denying the horror of what had happened.
A couple of hours later, a scheduled tweet went up for a trifle recipe I’d filed over a month ago. Cringing, I wanted twitter to swallow me and the tweet up. A flippant tweet about a pudding so silly even its name mocks it. I couldn’t have chosen a more inappropriate dish to have written about if I’d known in advance.
But, it turns out, you can’t sit on the sofa forever. The world, it becomes clear after the first hour, does not stop, although it may feel like that for the time when it is paused. Eventually, obligations got the better of me. We go on.
That ability to go on, to attempt to pick up the pieces, is what makes us human. It’s what allows us to love after heartbreak, to pick ourselves up and dance again when we fall, to believe that things will get better. We resolve. We hope. We go on. We do the things things today that yesterday we said we’d do tomorrow.
We go to college. We go to work. We peel carrots. We take the bins out. We make ice cream. But we do more than that. We try to be a little kinder than yesterday. We resolve to call out racism and sexism and to stand alongside those who lack the privilege we embody, to speak for those who can’t, and, please God, listen to those who can and do. We do not dismiss lived experience.
So I stood in the kitchen, with the news rolling in on the radio and twitter and those tiny alerts that the BBC send to my phone and make my heart race. I stood in my kitchen and made tiny mushroom pies. And now I’m writing about nutmeg ice cream.
No dish or foodstuff is serious or weighty enough to help us navigate this brave new world. But the act of making it is, I hope, a small step in the right direction. The act of making and eating and sharing of food is so inextricably bound up in love and hope and community and knowledge and history, that whilst the preparation of it may not be a deeply radical act, it still matters.
This is a simple recipe, but an immensely satisfying one. Nutmeg is a wonderful spice, and one we don’t really use enough anymore: warming and rounded, more aromatic than cinnamon, but less fiery than ginger, and mixed through this not-too-sweet custard mixture, it delivers all the best bits of eggnog.
It goes like this:
Nutmeg Ice Cream
Makes: Just over a pint of ice cream
Takes: 1 hour plus 4 hours of freezing
Bakes: 20 minutes on the hob
For the ice cream:
300ml double cream
80g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg
5 egg yolks
1. First, infuse your cream and milk. Grate your nutmeg if possibly on a tiny grater or microplane, but if you don’t have one, a normal grater will do, just mind your knuckles. Grate in advance, as a teaspoon of nutmeg requires a surprising amount of grating. Place the cream and milk in a small pan, and add the nutmeg. Bring the cream slowly to the boil. At the first sign of bubbles, turn off the heat and leave for thirty minutes.
2. Reheat the cream until it is just shy of a boil. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks until they are lighter in colour and thicker in texture, falling in ribbons from the whisk. Pour a quarter of the liquid into the sugar and eggs, whisking the whole time. Add the rest of the liquid, still whisking, and then return to the pan.
3. Cook very gently, stirring the whole time with a spatula, constantly moving the liquid on the bottom of the pan. Cook until the custard has thickened so that it covers the back of a metal spoon. First, the tiny bubbles will disappear, start testing on the back of a metal spoon when this has happened. The liquid will break apart on little spots on the spoon: this means that the eggs haven’t properly coagulated yet. When they do, there will be no spots, and you can run a finger down the back of the spoon, and a clean break will form between the sides of the liquid. You have custard!
4. Decant into a fridge-appropriate container, and cover with clingfilm, which should directly touch the surface of the custard. Chill.
5. Once the custard is thoroughly cold, you can churn your ice cream. If you have an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If not, pop the custard into the freezer and, at half hourly intervals, stir vigorously, breaking up the ice crystals. Keep doing this until the ice cream is frozen hard. Depending on the ferocity of your freezer, you may need to take the ice cream out about twenty minutes before serving, if you want big, handsome boules.
7. Ta dah!
Icing on the Cake