Recipe: Peanut Butter, Revisited

Another peanut butter recipe? Here’s why.

Recipe: Peanut Butter, Revisited

Makes 1 pound peanut butter


  • 1 pound dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts


Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the peanuts in a shallow layer on a tray in the middle of the oven. Roast for 15-16 minutes, stirring every 5 or 6 minutes. The peanuts are ready when they have turned a darker shade of brown and have a glossy appearance. Meanwhile, set up a food processor with a chopping blade.

For smooth peanut butter: Transfer the peanuts into the work bowl of the food processor (first photo from the left). Pulse the nuts until smooth and whipped, about 4 to 6 minutes, using a spatula or wooden spoon to push the peanuts down a couple of times. The peanut butter will gather itself into a rough ball and roll around on top of the food processor blades after about 3 or 4 minutes (second photo). Push the paste down and keep processing the peanut butter until it no longer holds together, another minute or two (third photo). Transfer to a glass jar and store at room temperature.

For chunky peanut butter: Measure out ¾ pound peanuts, reserving the remainder. Follow the directions for making smooth peanut butter. Once smooth and whipped, add remaining peanuts to the work bowl, and pulse until the peanuts are chopped and incorporated into the rest of the peanut butter (fourth photo). This should take about 30 or 45 seconds. Transfer to a glass jar and store at room temperature.


D.I.Y. Peanut Butter, Revisited

The Great Peanut Butter Emergency of late winter 2014 (see my original post here) got me started on making my own peanut butter. As promised, I continued experimenting with that original recipe; with the changes I’ve made, it now rivals my favorite store-bought brand in texture and spreadability (go to the revised recipe here). In terms of flavor, IMHO, it’s better! Fresh, warm peanut butter (think fresh-baked bread), with its heady aromas, delicious flavors, and exceptional mouth-feel, is so good! It’s a 3-D movie compared to its stick-figure flipbook of a store-bought cousin.

We’re eating more peanut butter than ever. Emboldened, the DD wants to branch out into almond butter and cashew butter. She tries peanut butter with almost anything. Some of her recent trials:

  • green olives (yum)
  • sliced bananas (grudging OK from the girl who only ever allows bananas to pass the security gates of her lips in the form of banana-nut-chocolate chip muffins)
  • mashed potatoes (yuck)
  • figs (OMG! That’s disgusting!)

She ought to have a blog.

The secret to great homemade peanut butter is in roasting the nuts, grinding them while they’re still piping hot, and then processing them until they’re whipped. In the spirit of complete transparency, the DD prefers the flavor of the PB without additional roasting. The image of the (empty) jar of “Better Butter” peanut butter at the top of the post is one that she made and labeled. In my rival marketing campaign, I’m calling my peanut butter “Bestest Butter.” She likes a mellower flavor so that she can really pile it on, but I like the full-bodied flavor and darker color that additional roasting brings out. Of course, the beauty of homemade is that if you like a mild-tasting PB, you can skip the additional roasting and simply grind the peanuts as described in the recipe. Which do you prefer? The lighter original or the robust revised version?

Soylent: fix or flub?

If you could replace some or all your food with a nutritionally balanced drink, would you? Maybe you’re too busy, or you just don’t feel like cooking. Maybe you’re on a tight budget. Instead of filling up at the Golden Arches, grabbing chips or an energy bar, or nuking up a frozen entrée, you could sip on something healthful, filling, and easy to make instead. And when it was a good time for you, you could go ahead and have a nice meal. Sound appealing? There’s already a product that claims to meet this need: Soylent.

But before you run out and buy Soylent (though actually, you’d just click the “Buy Now!” button on your browser and then wait for the UPS truck) or pull out your lab kit to mix some up based on the original recipe, made available by Soylent’s creators, take a few moments to consider the flip side. A steady diet of Soylent is thought by many to be downright boring, and is acknowledged even by its proponents as unapologetically functional. Many users also report serious problems with gas — though this is supposed to, if you’ll excuse the pun, pass after a week. Also, no long-term scientific studies have been conducted to test its claimed benefits, or even its basic safety.

Soylent didn’t create the problem of lives that are so busy that eating (never mind cooking!) becomes a chore satisfied with whatever might be convenient and crammed into the spare minutes in between commitments. As you might expect from a Cozy Foodie, I prefer the ideal of cherishing these necessary pauses in the day, but at least Soylent is trying to ameliorate the problem by making sure that we get adequate nutrition. However, I worry that a product like Soylent will exacerbate the problem because it makes it that much easier to skip meals.

Superficially, test tube nutrition may look appealing. People can get adequate nutrition at a relatively low cost, at the same time sidestepping the problems of a diet of hyper-processed food products and of contemporary industrial agriculture: pollution, water waste, overuse of antibiotics, and superbugs. But it remains to be seen whether test tube nutrition is yet another technological fix with unforeseen consequences in a long line of supposed solutions for the basic problem of how to feed the hungry. For example, the industrial model of agriculture led to monocultures which led to pest infestations that destroyed entire crops. Chemical pesticides were created to counter these pests, but pesticide-resistant pests evolved, leading to the need for ever-more toxic pesticides and genetically modified plants that can withstand the pesticides. I won’t recount all of the problems of industrial agriculture here, but knowing this history, we should study the costs and imagine the consequences of advocating the widespread use of test tube nutrition.

First and foremost, we don’t really know enough about nutrition to know what is optimal, and eating a wide variety of foods may be better than taking in only a limited, pre-defined panel of nutrients. Supporters of Soylent assert the obverse: that people don’t know if they are getting optimal nutrition even by eating a wide variety of foods, and that by using the scientific method for formulating new iterations of Soylent, people can hone in on what we need to function at our best. Regardless, even in its current iteration, Soylent may still be a better alternative compared to a diet consisting primarily of McFood. And there are also limits to arguing that we should eat what humans evolved to eat, given that modern agriculture has taken homo sapiens far afield from our hunter-gatherer days. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that test tube nutrition is better than food, and at this point, I’d still take my chances with food, from a nutritional as well as a social standpoint.

I can imagine is a society where people who rely on government assistance (either SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or WIC, the special supplemental foods program for women, infants, and children) must receive all or some portion of that assistance in the form of test tube nutrition. It would be an economical solution, and people would be assured of receiving better nutrition than a diet consisting primarily of highly processed food products. With better nutrition, long-term savings in medical costs should also accrue. However, we would also create a society with a pool of second-class citizens who couldn’t afford food and a privileged minority who could. An historical parallel can be seen in the promotion of potatoes in Europe as a cheap, nutritionally complete source of nutrition for peasants and laborers. This population was thought to require nutrition and not pleasure, reinforcing class distinctions. I’m really uncomfortable with creating a class-based entitlement of this sort. And when the potato blight hit northern Europe in the 1840s, the effects were catastrophic and long lasting. What would happen if there was a shortage of a key ingredient in a test tube nutrition product?

If meals are consigned to leisure time events, akin to hobbies, fewer people than ever will cook. The makers of Soylent argue that what they term “leisure meals” can still be part of our culture, but if people don’t cook their day-to-day meals, they won’t learn the skills to cook, much less to make high-stakes special-occasion meals. Food will become another area where the overwhelming majority of people simply consume products rather than create them, like making clothes, furniture, toys, music, or art. We each answer the question of what is the right balance of consumption versus production, but at the very least, I think we should make our choices in a thoughtful way instead of simply grasping at what appears to be a convenient solution to a difficult problem.

Another troubling issue is that test tube nutrition is yet another step away from something essentially vital — in all the meanings of the word: of or pertaining to life, having remarkable energy or force of personality, being necessary for or a source of life, indispensable. I don’t know whether our bodies and our spirits can be so easily compartmentalized, so that the needs of one can be met without regard to the other. If eating is a sensual act, maybe that makes test tube nutrition a sense-less act. Over the long haul, our spirits may suffer from such a mechanical idea of nutrition. After all, our bodies aren’t cars. We’re not just refueling our bodies at meal times; we’re also engaging our senses in ways that help us to center ourselves and reconnect us to our communities. When the DD was a toddler, for example, she could never simply start playing with her friends. She had to share a snack with them before she felt comfortable enough to play with them. Sharing food with her friends is still an important way for them to bond. Nowadays, instead of preparing meals and sharing them with our families, too often I hear that it’s necessary to schedule Mommy-and-me or Daddy-and-me dates, sign up for social skills and etiquette classes for kids, or hire social managers for adults.  Perhaps people, being the endlessly inventive creatures that we are, will create other products to replace the sensual enjoyment of eating and new activities for structuring our social time. We need to have a better understanding of the relationship between overscheduled lives, frayed social relationships, and the devaluation of meals.

Writing this post reminded me that an important component of meals is the pleasure and satisfaction that I get from preparing food and eating it. There’s something essentially human about that. When I’m “too busy” to cook or eat, it usually isn’t because I’m doing something else that brings me deep joy or fulfillment. More often than not, it’s just busywork. In this day and age, we need to make conscious choices for doing things that contribute positively to our lives. If using test tube nutrition gave me an opportunity for that, then I’d be for it. Otherwise, I’ll pass. How about you? Do you see test tube nutrition becoming a part of your daily routine?


Cheers! Ganbei! Salud! Tchin chin! Prost!

Why save toasts for holidays and rare milestones? New Year and all the other traditional holidays when toasts are made only come once a year. The last wedding I went to was about 10 years ago, and the next one might not be until the DD gets married. Instead of waiting for an occasion to raise a glass to, we should raise our glasses and create occasions to celebrate.

My family has gotten into doing this in the last couple of months. As we sit down for dinner, we’ll raise our glasses — no bubbles in a fluted glass, just cold milk or maybe beer or wine — to something good or positive in our day. Here are some things we’ve toasted to:

  • celebrating a good swim or run (*gasp*pant*)
  • getting through a(nother) test at school
  • good deeds
  • finishing a blog post
  • finishing a project
  • friends
  • meeting a goal
  • surviving the week
  • the dinner in front of us
  • the rain (we live in California, a.k.a. Land O’Lakebeds)

You get the idea. We’re not curing cancer or achieving world peace, but each of these small accomplishments deserve a nod. And we’re not religious, so we don’t say grace over our meal, but pausing for a moment to acknowledge what is going well in our lives, or what we are thankful for, transcends religion and feeds our spirits. According to psychological studies, participating in rituals before eating increases our enjoyment of food. Maybe that’s one reason why the family has been saying that dinner tastes so good ;-)

What will you raise your glass to at dinner tonight?

Source: “To Savor the Flavor, Perform a Short Ritual First,” in Association for Psychological Science. Published: July 22, 2013. Accessed: May 18, 2014. <>

Book Review — Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

Roach-GulpMy relationship with food has always ended at the point when I swallow, but I never knew that. I discovered this blind spot when I read Mary Roach’s Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (NY: Norton, 2013). Even though it’s not exactly the paean to taste buds and olfaction that I had imagined when I first picked it up, I still think it’s a great book to include in the pages of Cozy Foodie. I figure we can all benefit from being a little better acquainted with our guts. As Roach points out,

Most of us pass our lives never once laying eyes on our own organs, the most precious and amazing things we own.

She’s talking about literally seeing her ileocecal valve and appendix—a pleasure that I will undoubtedly be introduced to within the next handful of years, but that’s another story—but I think we can also take Roach figuratively. Anyway, the alimentary canals in Mary Roach’s book have vastly more remarkable lives than my own; Gulp unquestionably opened my ileocecal valve to possibilities I had never before imagined.

Seriously, Roach’s writing style is so accessible, witty, and vivid that I would’ve gulped down this book (hehe) regardless of the topic. Maybe I’m easy, because reading lines like, “This leaves milk, say, or chewed peas in peril of being horked out the nostrils,” put me in line for some up-close-and-personal horking. (Yep, I’m 7 years old.) Roach has a great time doing the research for the book, and she has a great time sharing her discoveries with her readers: alongside some pretty interesting biology and cultural commentary, she presents her encounters with keenly observed, humanizing sketches that show off the personalities of the experts she meets. And she turns the magnifying lens on herself, too, such as when she tries out to be an olive oil sensory panelist: trying to taste the bitterness in olive oil, she notes,

I’m doing a mnyeh-mnyeh-mnyeh Bugs Bunny thing with my tongue, but it’s not helping.

There’s a lot in this book that comfortably appeals to a Cozy Foodie, like Roach’s foray into the world of a sensory analyst (“Go left at the smell of simmering hotdogs”), and learning what flavors appeal to our cats and dogs (“Cats, unlike dogs and other omnivores, can’t taste sweetness”). Who knew that most people usually eat no more than about thirty foods, and that they run through them all in four days? It was no surprise to me that there’s a deep, learned cultural basis for what we think is delicious or not—I’ll be the first to admit that some Chinese foods can be… unusual. Fermented bean curd, anyone? But I got a better insight into what this means reading about scientific studies done on babies’ food preferences (55% of children around 2 years old will taste “artfully coiled peanut butter scented with Limburger cheese and presented as ‘dog-doo’ ”!), and about how seemingly unbalanced diets, such as traditional Inuit meat-centric foods, actually are nutritionally well balanced. Then there are head-scratchers like: can someone survive being swallowed alive, à la Jonah and the whale? Sharing the latest tidbit about cross-cultural views on saliva or the science behind Beano may earn you a raised eyebrow if you do it over your bowl of chili con carne, but Roach makes it almost irresistible to want to share.

Admittedly, the eeuw factor in Gulp kept me reading, too. Readers with a fascination for the disgusting will get a gross anatomy lesson unlike anything they ever learned in high school: explosive or noxious flatus and inflammable eructation, autointoxication, internal putrescence, nutrient enemas, autocoprophagia, and megacolons, among other zesty topics, but the hork-worthy and the high-minded are plated up together to create an educational and entertaining whole. Take, for example, Roach on the psychology of biting into crunchy food: is it a “destructive process” that we receive pleasure from, a way to “de-stress,” as an oral processing expert hypothesized (just like the de-stressing done by the main character in Assassin’s Creed, Roach helpfully adds), or does it appeal to us because it is a shorthand signal for freshness, as a food physicist told Roach?

Obviously, for Roach, flavor, texture, and bouquet are only the tip of the iceberg lettuce. I should have guessed when she wrote:

Yes, men and women eat meals. But they also ingest nutrients. They grind and sculpt them into a moistened bolus that is delivered, via a stadium wave of sequential contractions, into a self kneading sack of hydrochloric acid and then dumped into a tubular leach field, where it is converted into the most powerful taboo in human history. Lunch is an opening act.

So have a gander at the black box that is your alimentary canal. De-stress your way through some carrot sticks, then learn and laugh about what happens after their opening act. You’ll never think about bolus the same way again!


D.I.Y. Peanut butter

I stared at the gaping space on the shelf where our favorite peanut butter usually was. I should have seen it coming, but like all such calamities, I didn’t understand the signs until it was too late….

It started small, as these things usually do, just a small gap on the grocery store shelf. The crunchy peanut butter was missing. No biggy. We weren’t completely out; if we were frugal, we would last another week with what we had at home. A few days of peanut-butterless existence wouldn’t be the end of the world.

The next week, when I returned to the grocery store, still no crunchy peanut butter. I just shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Well, I’ll try the smooth.”

But the third week rolled around, and the full enormity of the disaster finally forced itself on me… like a cavernous hole on the grocery store shelf. No crunchy peanut butter. No smooth peanut butter. I stared at that vacant real estate. How could I go home without peanut butter? There would be bitter recriminations, riots, chaos.

Then the proverbial light bulb turned on. Why not make my own peanut butter? The stuff I usually get has just the one ingredient: organic roasted peanuts. How hard could it be? At $2.99 a pound for bulk organic roasted peanuts, it would be worth trying. I helped myself to a couple of scoops of peanuts, and brought them home.

A couple of days later, we got to the bottom of the jar of the store-bought P.B. I screwed up my courage, pulled out the food processor, tossed in the nuts, and started pulsing. The nuts were quickly pulverized. Once they were mealy crumbs, they stayed that way, but undeterred, I pushed everything down, and kept pushing the ‘Pulse’ button on the food processor. Finally, the peanuts transformed into familiar gooey peanut-buttery goodness. I reached in, took a tentative taste. Still grainy, but not bad, so I ran the processor some more, until the P.B. gathered itself up in a rough ball and rode around on the blades. I tasted again. My D.I.Y. P.B. had a delicate flavor, and a satisfying, slightly grainy, mouthfeel. The store-bought P.B. had a more robust peanut flavor, a darker color, and was smoother, but I thought my P.B. was pretty good for an improvised effort. The DD and DS both liked my D.I.Y. P.B. better that the store-bought, and told me not to bother getting the store-bought anymore. Armageddon averted!

The next day, we had an unexpected (mostly vegetarian) guest who stayed for lunch. I scoured the pantry and fridge to pull together a meal, and put together a salad, a loaf of brown soda bread, and cheese, hummus, and that D.I.Y. P.B., thinking the kids and I could stick to the P.B. and cheese, and our guest would enjoy the hummus, but he dug into that P.B. and kept on digging! He loved it!

O.K. Now I felt encouraged. This week, still no P.B. on the grocery store shelf. I bought another bag of peanuts, and this time, I tried adding peanuts into the work bowl of the food processor in two stages to see if I could make crunchy P.B.

It’s good peanut butter. It’s cheaper than store-bought. And it takes about 5 minutes to make. Sounds like a win-win-win to me!

I’m sharing the recipe, even though I plan to keep playing with it (stay tuned for updates). Many peanut butters have added salt and honey or sugar, not to mention oil, but since my favorite store-brand doesn’t have any added ingredients, there ought to be a way to get the same results at home. Will roasting the peanuts a little more boost the peanut flavor and deepen the color? Even longer processing? My grocery store only stocks one species of peanut, but do different peanut species make better or worse peanut butters? What do you think? Do you prefer P.B. with just peanuts, or with added salt, sweetener, and/or oil?


Recipe: Peanut Butter

See the story of how I was nudged into making my own peanut butter by circumstances beyond my control. UPDATE: I improved this recipe, here.

Recipe: Peanut Butter


  • 1 pound dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • salt (optional)
  • honey or sugar  (optional)
  • oil (optional)


For smooth peanut butter: Place the peanuts in the work bowl of a food processor. If desired, add salt, honey or sugar, and/or oil to taste. Pulse the nuts until smooth and viscous, about 5 minutes. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to push down the peanuts two or three times. When the peanut butter is ready, it gathers itself into a rough rough ball and rolls around on top of the food processor blades. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if using. Transfer to a glass jar and store at room temperature.

For chunky peanut butter:  Place ¾ pound peanuts in the work bowl of a food processor. If desired, add salt, honey or sugar, and/or oil to taste. Pulse the nuts until smooth and viscous, about 5 minutes. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to push down the peanuts two or three times. Continue pulsing until the peanut butter gathers itself into a rough rough ball and rolls around on top of the food processor blades. Push down and spread out the peanut butter ball at the bottom of the work bowl, sprinkle in the remaining ¼ pound peanuts, and pulse until the peanuts are chopped and incorporated into the rest of the peanut butter, another minute or two. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if using. Transfer to a glass jar and store at room temperature.


“If all else fails, try chocolate!” or, “Happy birthday, DS!”

Everyone in my family has a favorite sweet treat for his birthday. For me, it’s chocolate cake, for the DH and the DD, apple pie à la mode, and for the DS, ice cream cake. Until this year, we got the ice cream cakes made-to-order from the premium ice cream store. He loved making the cake unique, choosing the flavors, the base layer, the toppings, and the frosting color. Since he also hated drawing attention to himself, he would balk at letting us declare “Happy Birthday!” on top, so there would always be a tug-of-war over whether to have any writing on top, and what it should say — “No, I am not getting you a birthday cake that says: If all else fails, try chocolate!”

We skipped that particular negotiation this year because of Thanksgiving. (I don’t know about you, but for this Cozy Foodie, it always comes back to Thanksgiving!) Anyway, I found an over-the-top recipe for pumpkin ice cream pie (Bon Appétit, November 2008, on a graham cracker crust, a layer of pure vanilla ice cream topped with another layer of pumpkin-laced vanilla ice cream, all studded with chocolate-almond bark. Oh my goodness!

I’ve been on the look-out for another chance to make ice cream cake ever since then, and when the DS said he’d like an ice cream cake for his birthday, I said: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we made it? Remember Thanksgiving?” Well, that settled it.

He chose vanilla-brownie chunk for one layer, and cherry-chocolate chip vanilla ice cream for the other. Since there wasn’t anywhere near enough chocolate in this sugar-and-cream hunk ‘o’ happiness, I suggested a base made from chocolate cookies, with more chocolate cookie crumbs sprinkled in the middle, and chocolate-almond ganache on top. There were no cherries at the supermarket, but no problem, strawberry was his second choice, and I made the switch on the fly.

If you have an ice cream maker, ice cream cakes with homemade ice cream are dead easy to make. They just take a little advance planning to allow the freezer insert for the ice cream maker to refreeze in between the two batches of ice cream, and for the second layer to firm up. Of course, they’re just as delish if you simply pick up a couple of quarts of your favorite ice cream.

This cake had a lot of love packed into it: everyone in the family wanted to share in the glory of claiming, “I made that!” The DD and the birthday boy himself made the vanilla-brownie layer — they’re actually usually the ones in charge of making ice cream in our house. The DH and I made the strawberry layer, and I made the base, the middle, and the topping. This cake really made the DS feel special as he officially crossed into his teen years. And it didn’t say “Happy Birthday!” on top, either.

The cake was so good that the DH was busily planning what flavors ice cream he was going to get for his birthday ice cream cake, when I asked: “So does that mean that you don’t want apple pie for your birthday?” I could hear the gears grinding in his head as he mulled over this painful choice. Finally, I let him off the hook. “Father’s Day is just a month after your birthday….” I’m already plotting the perfect ice cream cake just for him: maybe favorite flavors like mint chocolate with chocolate chunks, cherry vanilla with white chocolate chunks, and chopped chocolate covered almonds in between the layers? Or ice cream layers of vanilla with chopped macadamia nuts and chocolate chunks, and guava sherbet, topped with a “sand” beach of finely-ground graham cracker crumbs, a cocktail umbrella, and an “ocean” of blue icing to remind him of our vacation in Hawaii?….I feel another tradition being born!

Here’s the recipe for the DS’s (Birthday) Ice Cream Cake. What would make an ice cream cake truly special for you?


Recipe: (Birthday) Ice Cream Cake

Read the story behind the creation of the DS’s ice cream cake (for his birthday).

Recipe: (Birthday) Ice Cream Cake

Makes 12-16 servings


  • ½ cup slivered almonds
  • 10 ounces chocolate cookies (see Notes)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For vanilla-brownie chunk ice cream (see Notes):

  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup brownie, cut into ½ inch dice

For strawberry ice cream (see Notes):

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons sugar, depending on the sweetness of the strawberries
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup milk

For the ganache topping:

  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 ½ tablespoons dark corn syrup
  • ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread the almonds in one layer on a metal tray. Roast the almonds until fragrant and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, but leave oven on. In a food processor, pulse the cookies until they are ground to a coarse crumb. Alternatively, place the cookies in a resealable bag. Use a large can (of tomatoes or soup, for example) to crush the cookies until they are ground to a coarse crumb. Transfer all the crumbs to a bowl, then return 1½ cups of crumbs back to the food processor or resealable bag. Continue processing or crushing the crumbs until they are finely ground. Set aside the coarse crumbs for sprinkling between the two ice cream layers.

Make the base: In a medium bowl, mix together the finely ground cookie crumbs and sugar. Add the melted butter. Stir until the mixture is evenly moistened. Line the bottom of a 9-inch diameter springform pan with 2¾ inch sides with a round of parchment paper. Press the crumb mixture onto the bottom of the springform pan. Bake until set, about 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Make the vanilla-brownie chunk ice cream: In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until they are light and pale-colored, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar, whisking until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the cream, milk, and vanilla; whisk until blended. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker, and freeze following the manufacturer’s instructions. A couple of minutes before the ice cream is done, add the diced brownie. Mix in and continue freezing until the ice cream is done. Scoop the ice cream into the springform pan. Using an offset spatula, smooth the top. Sprinkle the coarse cookie crumbs on top. Store the cake in the freezer while preparing the second ice cream layer.

Make the strawberry ice cream: Defrost frozen strawberries, or wash, dry, and hull fresh strawberries. Slice the strawberries, and transfer to a bowl. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until they are light and pale-colored, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar, whisking until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the cream and milk; whisk until blended. Mash the strawberries, drain the juices into the cream mixture, and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker, and freeze following the manufacturer’s instructions. A couple of minutes before the ice cream is done, add the mashed strawberries; mix in and continue freezing until the ice cream is done. Add the ice cream to the springform pan. You may have some left over; save for another use, or eat it immediately! Using an offset spatula, smooth the top. Store the cake in the freezer while preparing the ganache.

Make the ganache topping: Place a metal bowl over a saucepan with simmering water. The metal bowl should not touch the water. Place the chocolate, cream, and corn syrup in the metal bowl. Whisk until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the vanilla and pinch of salt, and whisk until combined. Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Carefully dry the outside of the bowl with a towel, and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Pour the ganache evenly over the ice cream, and sprinkle with the toasted almonds. Return the cake to the freezer for at least 45 minutes, or until the ganache is set.

Before releasing the cake from the springform pan, wipe a warm, damp kitchen towel around the outsides and underneath the pan a couple of times. The cake should now easily release from the sides and bottom. Similarly, before cutting the cake, warm the knife in a tall glass of hot water.

Notes: Substitute 2 quarts of your favorite flavors of homemade or store-bought premium ice cream. Soften the ice cream gently in the microwave on a very low setting to make it easier to spread. For the base and in between the ice cream layers, I used a 10-ounce bag of Mi-del brand Chocolate Snaps. Chocolate graham crackers would work well too, or your favorite plain, crisp chocolate cookie.


The Papaya (a story)

Yi Jing Mei leans against the cabinets and rests before she pushes the shopping bag onto the countertop. I’m old, she thinks. The bag rustles as she digs out the day’s shopping. Fish. A clammy, squashy lump, just like me. A bag of zucchini. Too many for just me, I suppose. But she can’t pass up a good deal from the “Specials” shelf. So what if they have some spots, if they are a little nicked or a little soft? I’m going to climb up there with a 99¢ sticker on my forehead one day.

“What a bargain, right?” She laughs grimly. “Piggy, I’m home.” A shuffle and a whine and a thump come from the bedroom.

“Lazy dog.” When she turns to put the fish in the fridge, she sees the wet spot on the floor, across from the newspapers in the corner.

“Piggy, you’re going in diapers if you do that again. Do you hear me?” Another scuffle. “Can you clean that up? I’m putting the groceries away.” She digs a papaya out of the bag, another find on the ‘Specials’ shelf. Under the fluorescents of her kitchen, it looks older than in the market, a little grey fuzz in the black circles on the skin and by the stem, and soft on one side like it has lain without turning for too long.

“Don’t know why I bother. Nothing tastes right anyway.” She pushes at the soft spot with an offended finger. But if she stops eating again, Lena and Leo will start nagging her about the Home, especially if she ends up in the hospital a second time. “I guess I should cut this up before it goes bad.”

“Piggy, clean up your mess! I can’t do everything for you.” A slow scrabble of claws and a long groan.

She finds a knife and pares the peel in a thick length into the sink, then cuts the papaya in half in her hand. She plops one half into a plastic tub, then scoops the seeds out of the other half with the tip of the knife. She turns at the sound of nails on the linoleum.

“Piggy, there you are, you bad dog.” Piggy looks up at her through clouded eyes. Her hind legs take three steps in place, then her back end lowers unsteadily onto the floor. Her front paw comes up in a question mark.

“This isn’t for you. This is fruit, Greedy. You don’t want this.”

The paw question marks in the air a couple of times. Piggy says, “Hm, hm.”

“Hm, yourself. You think you know everything. Can’t even find the newspapers to pee on. Hm.” But she turns and cuts off the nub of the papaya and offers it to Piggy. “Like eating styrofoam, right? Or Leo’s dirty socks, right?” She glares at Piggy, who is about to leave another mess on the floor. But Piggy’s pink tongue laps and her jaws work, and she gulps. Her paw comes up in a question mark again.

“What? Crazy. You can’t have any more. Just throw it up.” When she turns away, Piggy sighs and lays down.

She looks at the papaya still in her hand, then at the dog. With a small shrug, she cuts off another piece, brings it to her mouth. Her lips pucker up, but then she pries them open. She shoves the papaya in before she can think better of it.

The tender flesh and earthy-sweet tang — with a touch of over-ripeness — burst on her tongue. It is the exact taste of that papaya that she had shared with Jing Li back in Siantar that year when it seemed like the rain would never stop…. Fat raindrops drummed thickly on the roof and windows that day, too, and the wind raked at the shuttered houses up and down the street. They sat with their skinny legs splayed on the cold tabletop, their bags of provisions on their outspread skirts. They could hardly hear themselves laughing as they pretended to be stranded on a desert island after a monsoon.

“Li Li, look, I have toasted melon seeds to shoot at the marauding hordes of desperadoes! And here are dry crackers for when we are starving to death, right?”

“We won’t starve,” Jing Li scoffed. “Look, Little Sister, I have a fishing pole. We won’t go hungry as long as we can fish,” she said, untying her bundle from the end of a broomstick. “And look, here’s a papaya, the only one that wasn’t blown away by the monsoon!”

“But how’re we going to open it? Oh! I know! We’re savages, and we’ll tear into it with our bare teeth, right?” Jing Mei picked it up and breathed in the grassy sweetness of it.

“No, Mei. Look!” Jing Li looked around. She flipped back a corner of the cloth to show a small paring knife.

Jing Mei put a hand over her mouth. Cook’s knife! She would never have let Li Li borrow it.

She looked around again. “Don’t worry. We’ll put it back. She won’t find out.” The browns of her eyes were ringed with white. “Oh! Pretend that she’s one of the desperadoes, and she’s coming to cut us up and put us in the soup pot!”

Jing Mei couldn’t help shrieking a little, and she huddled close to Jing Li. “Let’s eat it quick!”

Hunching over her lap, Jing Li peeled the papaya, then cut off knobs of juicy, orange flesh that they popped into our mouths. “Oh! Papaya is just the best fruit in the whole world!”

Jing Mei laughed and sputtered and nodded, cramming another piece into her full mouth.

“Keep an eye out for desperadoes!” Jing Li said as she continued cutting chunks and scraping seeds onto the table.

“You’re making a mess!” Jing Mei laughed.

“It doesn’t matter! The desperadoes will get us before Mama does,” she said, but she started scraping the seeds into her hand.

Suddenly, the wind gusted through the room, pushing Cook inside, soaked and scowling at a broken umbrella in her hand, and in the midst of a rant, “…known better than to try to go to the market on a day like this, but Mistress really had her heart set on…” There was a long silence. She looked at us on the table. With her precious knife. Papaya everywhere. Jing Li and Jing Mei looked back at her, and then Jing Mei was snorting papaya out of her mouth, but Cook’s mouth closed and set up in a thin line.

Then Jing Mei looked at Jing Li and saw that she wasn’t laughing. Her eyes were round, and she looked at Jing Mei and gulped, “Desperadoes!” Jing Li threw the papaya seeds that she had gathered in her hands. Jing Mei shrieked and threw the melon seeds. Black dots appeared on Cook’s face and hair and her soaking wet dress. “Run! Run!”

They squealed and scrabbled off the table, Cook’s knife clattered to the floor as they ran out the back way and into the rain, and Cook suddenly came back to life, screaming, “Come back, you ruffians! How dare you…”

They hid at the school yard, laughing as they took turns looking like Cook with her face pocked with melon and papaya seeds. Their bravery in the face of certain death at the hands of the desperadoes made them strong against the wind and the rain all afternoon. They kept their faces turned away from the beating that they knew was waiting for them at home….

“Oh, Piggy, we were terrible.”

Her paw comes up again.

“No, Piggy, it’s mine. Does it smell like it’s going to rain?”” She realizes that she is leaning against the cabinet again. “Let’s clean up that mess, Piggy. Lena’s coming.”