Rosewater Marshmallows + Hawaij Hot Chocolate

You know what's great about late autumn/early winter? You say, "Hey, anybody want hot chocolate?" and you've immediately got, like, six new best friends. Everyone uses the vaguely scientific excuse of "cold weather burns more calories" to eat whatever the heck they want and when science fails to show up, there's always oversize sweaters. Winter's got your back, babe. Everybody looks cozily enormous in a winter coat and nobody'll know if that's you or actually six layers of clothing under there. Of course there will be backlash if you actually go through the entire holiday season eating as if there was no tomorrow. Which is why when you have a chance to healthy-up an existing recipe, you take it. We're in full-on prep mode for a DIY grilled cheese & s'mores party this Saturday when some of my favorite people come into town. There'll be a bonfire for warming up and marshmallow toasting and a bonfire for cooking our grilled cheese and a hayride or something. It'll be lit. *gales of punny laughter* And to celebrate this fact I'm making a few batches of homemade marshmallows. I started with Molly Yeh's rose-water marshmallows from Molly On The Range. Last night we were out of granulated sugar of all things, so I did a bit of tweaking and came up with an even more classically middle-eastern marshmallow made with palm sugar. I used Molly's hawaij spice recipe for added flair in the hot cocoa which I sweetened palm sugar/maple syrup, using the good old Hershey's cocoa box recipe.

I mean, look at it. They're so cute and floufy. The rosewater really tastes like roses. I mean, that should go without saying, but its almost like eating a cube of hand lotion. Only, way sweeter and less prone to require a call to Poison Control. I love the way these marshmallows melt into a silky sheen over the cocoa. The slightly bitter flavor of the hot chocolate cuts and swirls into the rose flavor and gets held together by the sneezy magic which is hawaij. Want to travel to the middle east but can't afford the plane ticket? Try a cup of this.

Rosewater Marshmallows
24 medium marshmallows

1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cups water
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
3/4 cups palm sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon pink himalayan salt
  1. In a small bowl combine powdered sugar and cornstarch. Sift together, then dust into a greased 8x8" pan. Pour excess back into bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix 1/2 cup of water, rosewater, and vanilla in a large bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over top.
  3. Over medium heat, mix palm sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/4 cup of water. Heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.
  4. Start mixer fitted with whisk attachments and mix together the gelatin mixture. Pour a thin stream of the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. When thoroughly incorporated, increase mixer speed and whip until fluffy and lukewarm.
  5. With a greased spatula, spread marshmallow fluff into greased pan. Sprinkle top with remaining powdered sugar/starch mixture and press the marshmallows into the corners of the pan.
  6. Allow to rest overnight, then cut with greased knife and toss with powdered sugar.

Hawaij Hot Chocolate
single serving

2 Tablespoons dark cocoa powder
1 Tablespoon palm sugar
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup whole or full-fat coconut milk
1/3 cup hot coffee
1/4 teaspoon hawaij spices

  1. Mix all ingredients together on the stovetop and heat until hot. Serve in a large mug with whipped cream or rosewater marshmallows.

Black Forest Fudge Tart

You know, people seem to voluntarily segregate during the holidays into Team Pie and Team Cake. The former spend their vacation days fashioning ornate crusts and lattice work, leaving the rest of us to recognize that this group is what the over-achieving Play-dough kids in preschool grew up to be. Team Cake, on the other hand, seem to have an uncanny ability to bake even cake-layers and frost something so sloppily it looks elegant. I make a naked cake, it looks...well...naked. They make a naked cake and it looks like it came straight off the cover of a wedding magazine. And then you've got the remaining pool of non-categorized desserties, of which I am a sworn groupie. We love to eat cake and pie but prefer to expand into any other category of dessert when its our turn to bake. Creme brulee, ice cream, puddings, tarts, tortes, slumps, crisps, basically anything but cake or pie. This No Man's Land is where the Black Forest Fudge Tart emerged. I'm sure a similar recipe has been made in some capacity by some cook or another, but as far as I'm concerned, the idea was original. I began with this recipe for a Black Forest Tart, then flippantly added another layer here and another there until we ran out of tart-land and became something oddly non-categorical. Let's pause for a road-map through this portion of the Black Forest:

Road Map Through The Black Forest Fudge Tart

Layer One - chocolate graham crust
Layer Two - mousse-like fudge cake
Layer Three - cheesecake swirl
Layer Four - chocolate ganache
Layer Five - whipped cream
Layer Six - morello cherries

We cut a slice early on Thanksgiving to “take a picture.” I knew the sun would go down and then the photos would be horrible. But let's be honest, I cut it because I wanted some before I got full on Dad's smoked turkey and Grandmama's mashed potatoes and my sister in law's outlandishly addicting yeast rolls. And the photos turned out shiny and I smeared the chocolate ganache everywhere, so just forgive that, if you would. The reward of eating all the ganache I seeminly smeared from here to kingdom come is so worth the price of not so fine photos. Y'all understand. It's hard to do justice to a plate and fork when you've got a camera hanging around your neck, trying to keep the flash from going off. #foodieprobs. Instead, have a look at the layers of divinity and try to keep from drooling onto your keyboard. I've heard it's not good for the computer.

Black Forest Fudge Tart

1 ¼ cup
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup butter, melted

½ cup butter
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 large eggs
2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cups flour

Cream-cheese Swirl:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla

Chocolate Ganache:
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
½ cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon brewed coffee

whipped cream
1 jar Morello cherries, drained and patted dry with a paper towel

  1. Begin with the crust. Crush chocolate graham crumbs in a food processor with melted butter and sugar. Press into bottom and slightly up sides of a 9-10” spring-form pan. Bake for twelve minutes at 350 degrees F. Cool on wire rack.
  2. Melt butter and semisweet chocolate in a double boiler over medium heat and stir until well mixed. Allow to cool to room temperature. Beat together eggs and vanilla, then fold in the chocolate mixture. Mix in flour and pour into cooled crust.
  3. Beat together ingredients for the cream cheese layer until smooth and well-mixed, then pour on top of chocolate layer and drag a knife through to create a slight swirl pattern. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes, or until center is set. Allow to cool, then remove spring-form.
  4. For the ganache, melt chocolate and cream in double boiler over medium heat. Add brewed coffee, beat until glossy and slightly thickened. Pour over cooled cake.
  5. When ganache is set, top with whipped cream (you may make your own by beating 1 cup of heavy whipping cream with 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar until stiff peaks form) and drained Morello cherries. Sift top with powered sugar or cocoa powder
Hope you are able to make this dessert at some point this holiday season! I know a re-match will soon be in the works at my house. With thirty-four people clamoring for equal rights on Thanksgiving Day, there was nowhere near enough room in the Black Forest for us all. What I love about this kind of dessert is that it stays away from holiday tropes. No pumpkin, no apple-cinnamon, no peppermint. Because you know that while I love some peppermint bark and will sell my non-existent family jewels for a good molasses ginger cookie, I hate being mainstream. Such a hipster, guys. Such a hipster.

Creative Gifts: Holiday Gift Guide 2016

Hard to believe it’s already time again for holiday shopping, but the calendar says so! I can’t say I mind. This time of year is my favorite. Driving home from a girls’ weekend in Charleston, listening to Christmas music on the sly. Planning cozy events and gingerbread-house building parties. And of course starting in on What To Buy My Loved Ones. Sure, Christmas and the attending holidays aren’t about gift-giving, but it is certainly one of the beloved traditions I’ll never be ready to give up. And as much as I love the holiday season I freely admit: sometimes what to get someone really stumps me. In that effort, Carmel and I have put together sister-lists to help you decide what to give your friends no matter what category they exist in! We wanted to get it to you before Black Friday to give everyone a fair chance to take advantage of the deals Thanksgiving weekend. Don’t forget to check out this list for what to give the men in your life as well as last year’s gift-guide for extra ideas and as always, we wish you the best in finding the perfect gift for an especially wonderful person in your life. Here you'll find many ideas for many categories of life with even more on Carmel's blog!

- for the smoothie/health/workout fiend -

coffee & cardio workout tank

- for the baker, Italian, and/or carb-lover -

carbivore print
soft pretzel ring
bread Pigeon pin
bread print
gold baker's twine

- for the traveler -

personalized journal
destination poster
cozy blanket scarf
vintage travel stickers

- for the brother/friend/"justfriend" -

Kipling "IF" poster
personal style kit
feather bow-tie
a classic book

- for the fashionista -

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Love Style Life by Garance Dore
Eyelash Dreamer makeup bag
Brains, Beauty, Beauty tee

- for the artist -
Kuretake Gansai watercolors
"Paint Not Water" mug
palette business card holder

How To Travel Cheaply

First of all, let's get something out of the way: this post is not sponsored. I'm saying this because I'm getting ready to recommend a few services/products/things-to-make-traveling-better and I want you to know that they are things I love through my own research, not because anyone asked me to like them. Now for the fun bit: how to travel cheaply.
I'm a single girl with a part-time job who has no debt and pays her own way through life. That means I'm pretty free to travel. It also means I don't have a huge budget. When I go places I'm not throwing it all on a credit card. And though I work a lot of hours in a week, it's still not officially full-time. Some people ask me then,
“How can you afford to travel?”
Guys, it's all about priorities, cutting corners where you can, and splurging on the good stuff. I don't buy designer handbags, color my hair, get manicures, or keep up with the newest iPhones. I go places.

Have a travel budget – if you've set aside money for your madness you won't feel a bit bad about paying for it when it comes. Nothing like pesky spending-guilt to ruin your trip. Saving even ten dollars a month goes a long way toward those spontaneous road trips which seem to annually pop up.

Travel with companions – there is something to be said for traveling by oneself but when it comes down to traveling on a budget, the more companions the merrier. Gas-budget, lodgings, and other expenses will be cheaper and cheaper the more people you're splitting the tab with. Plus, who ever prefers traveling entirely alone? It's fun to go solo now and then – even to split up in the city where you're staying. But at night it's nice to have people to crash with.

Share a meal – my favorite way to get to experience more food in a short weekend is to share meals/treats/drinks with my friends. Not only is this cheaper, but it allows for a wider array of foods you can try. Order several appetizers and share around, or split a more rare and expensive entree.

Skip a meal – alternatively, you can cut your food expenditure a little by warping your time schedule. Wait to eat breakfast later and dinner earlier. This way you can cut out lunch without feeling too uncomfortably hungry. A decent breakfast replacement to hold you over till lunch is a whole milk latte from a good coffee-shop. Explore the coffee scene, skip breakfast.

Book rooms on Airbnb – Charleston was my first time using this service but I have to say that my experience was 100% pleasant. Rooms/flats/homes rented on this site are often far cheaper than booking a hotel room, plus you have more of an option to experience your destination as a local. Our 2-night stay in a beautiful room-over-garage flat cost each of my traveling companions and myself just $45. To stay in an upper middle-class golf course neighborhood with all the ease and comfort of staying in a “friend's home” felt amazing.

Walk more than you ride – save on public transportation, Uber rides, gas, and parking fees (or tickets, if you are like me and are the world's worst parallel parker) by walking your chosen city. This happens to be my go-to mode of transportation, but it also happens to be cheap. I like to find a long-term parking spot in a residential area or a fairly cost-effective parking garage and explore the city on foot. If your dinner reservation is half a mile away on cobblestone streets, just carry your heels and wear flats which you can later pack away in your purse. I love the freedom and spontaneity of traveling on foot. When walking, I can veer into any shop/home/museum I want without worrying about the availability of a place for my car.

Research how the locals do it – spend a little time beforehand researching the places you want to go. Are there more cost-effective ways to achieve the same end? For instance, in NYC if you want to see a perfectly decent view of the Statue of Liberty, you can take the free Staten Island Ferry. But no one tells you that and if you walk up to the ferry building you'll have to run a gauntlet of pleasure-boat advertisers telling you just how awful the (excellent, clean, timely, and free) ferry will be. Know where you want to go and how to get there and you won't be easily duped by tourist traps.

Ask for recommendations – I like to tell store clerks that it is my first time in a given city, or ask a stranger for dinner recommendations. Most times you'll receive a broad range of insider-information, suggestions at various price-points, and a few other pieces of intelligence which will probably come in handy. If a local suggests a thing in strong enough terms, chances are you can't go wrong trying it. If you're still unsure, cross-check their intel on a review site like Yelp. Your local is probably right in the opinion they offered. Inversely, if a local suggests you avoid a certain part of town, restaurant, intersection, or attraction, for the love of all that's reasonable just obey them.

Skip tourist attractions – when it comes to the things everyone assumes tourists like to do, either choose wisely or skip them altogether. Some of them will be worth it, like Top of the Rock in NYC. Others, like paying for a carriage ride in Central Park or standing in line to see that thing you didn't really care about anyway are disposable. Make a list of the must-sees and find a different way to accomplish the other things. I promise that most times, there is a way to explore a city without paying someone to dance attendance. You have a map? You have feet? There's your walking tour.

I hope that all of these tips will help build your love of traveling. I know they aren't revolutionary ideas but I hope they help someone out. Travel doesn't have to be as expensive as everyone says. Grab a pod of friends, pick a destination, and start planning your next awesome trip.

Travel Eats: Charleston Edition

Rule #1 when traveling: say no to chain restaurants. Say no to comfort zones, convenient food options, and menu items you can pronounce. This goes for coffee as well. And I'm certainly not the only one who thinks this, as evidenced by this sign we found in downtown Charleston.

#2: order steamed mussels so that the others at the table won't want to eat them and take away from your enjoyment of a little shoal all to yourself.

#3: explore solo. This little cafe was an oasis for my exhausted, solo run of the city the first night. Many thanks to the handsome Clemson graduate and his French mother for their recommendations as well as the kind girl I mentally call "Emily" and her Australian fellow who gave me insider-tips on the best ways to enjoy their beautiful city. Community seating. It forces you to make friends.

#4: eat the biscuits. You'll never guess how easy it is to befriend your waiter over a mutual love for carbohydrates. Or how easy it is to offend him by not eating the lauded biscuits. Tread carefully.

Especially important to these trips are having a photo/tasting crew (referred to otherwise as "amazing friends") on deck to help you rate individual restaurants, take pictures, split the food prices, and to have an extra blast.

We ate so much amazing food in Charleston. I had already determined the fact that this place boasted a hoppin' food scene before coming, but I hadn't been in the city two hours before admitting that I'd need another trip (or four) in order to grasp even a reasonable "most" of the amazing food. Nevertheless, we still managed to hit three coffee places, two restaurants for dinner, another two for lunch, a beautiful hotel bar, and a minuscule but divine breakfast cafe. My one food regret is that I didn't hit an oyster bar since we were in oyster season, and that at the charming, atmospheric Gaulart & Maliclet I chickened out of trying escargot. I have rated the restaurants and cafes based off my experience there. Five stars means "exceptional," four is "I would highly recommend," etc. Hope this list helps inspire you to take your own weekend trip to this beautiful Southern belle of a town.

Black Tap Coffee 
(three stars)
Escapes a four-star rating because I had to park illegally to find any available parking in the neighborhood. My San Isidro pour-over, however, was delicious and the staff friendly.

King St. Cookies
(four stars)
Though I didn't buy a thing but a really good latte, I could tell that this Kosher cookie bakery had their game down and on-point. Drop by for a creative cookie flavor (vegan and gluten-free options available) and a cup of locally roasted King Bean Coffee.

Relevator Coffee
(two stars)
The hipster minimalism of this new cafe on the far end of King St. promised so much but the lattes we ordered felt dispirited and not worth the money we paid. Skip Relevator and head elsewhere for your coffee fix.

Callie's Hot Little Biscuit
(four stars)
I've never stepped into a tinier shop. Despite the store's claustrophobic residence in the tiny, tiny, little building, Callie's HLB is well-worth the time spent standing in line. It was extremely busy even on a late Sunday morning so get there with plenty of time to anticipate that amazing biscuit breakfast!

(four stars)
If you're able to escape the intoxicating aromas coming from the (pricey) Lebanese restaurant down the block, Taziki's is a delicious, much cheaper alternative for very similar food. I ordered the lamb gyro and it absolutely hit the middle-eastern-food craving where I needed it.

Gaulart & Maliclet
(four stars)
Mentioned above, this darling French cafe is the perfect stop for a solo dinner or quiet date. Don't try bringing a large party in - the tables are bar-style and more suited to clusters of two or three - but most definitely go. The shrimp toasts are divine as was the chocolate mousse pie which I ordered on strength of the Clemson grad's word.

Thoroughbred Club
(five stars)
If you're looking for a place to rest from the crowds, the weather, or to simply put up your busy, traveling feet for an hour or two, you should head to the Thoroughbred Club straight away. Live piano music and high-quality desserts and drinks are just the right accompaniment to quiet conversation. Try the creme brulee - it's one of the best I've tasted while out.

(five stars)
I feel like Magnolia's needs little talking up. Everyone who googles "best restaurants in charleston" come up with this place as a recommendation for a lovely dinner out. Just trust them on this. My steamed mussels with grilled bread was excellent but my favorite part of dinner was actually the crispy brussels sprouts side which I will definitely be trying to recreate ASAP. Finished with a chaser of cinnamon ice cream and hot, black coffee.

Poogan's Porch
(four stars)
It sat next door to the James Beard Award-Winning restaurant, Husk, so it couldn't be horrible, right? Let me tell you: Poogan's might sound like a place you'd be welcome to eat at alongside your pet poodle, but the food is amazing, the service friendly, and the grits sublimely creamy. Plus, let's talk biscuits and a fireplace in every room. Add this to your list for a lazy Sunday lunch.

I absolutely cannot wait to return to this beautiful city and continue to explore the amazing food-culture she has to offer alongside her lengthy history and gorgeous architecture. Till next time, Charleston! You were such a lady.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Cashew Cream

A vegan ravioli filling with a creamy, vegan pasta sauce? What the heck have you done with Rachel? Here's the deal: for not being Italian, I have serious thighs. For not being a vegetarian, I have a good instinct for making something meatless and majestic. On the spectrum of “I never eat meat” to “I never eat vegetables” I fall in the happy medium of “me wuvs evvybody.” I've seldom met a vegetable I didn't like (okay, beets do taste like blood in my opinion) and I'm an adventurous meat-eater, having willingly tasted kangaroo jerky and fillet of shark among the more normal varieties. But sometimes to exercise the fact that I definitely can go meat-free and dairy-free if I wanted to, I'll play around with a vegetarian recipe. When looking for gluten-free baking flours at the store, I came across a bag of semolina – an extremely high gluten-content flour used in making pasta – and the idea for a vegetarian ravioli with creamy, dairy-free sauce was born. That night I babysat a roasting butternut squash while watching a romantic drama and the following day, my short-lived career as a ravioli maker launched.

 When it comes to making pasta by hand, I'm a novice: I don't have some weird pasta instinct and I definitely don't own a pasta roller. Armed with a heavy marble rolling pin and a determined spirit, I mixed up a batch of homemade pasta dough using this recipe from Food & Wine and set to work. It was a blast. I rolled out the dough till I could see the pattern of my granite counter-top through it, then plopped adorable little teaspoons of the filling onto the rectangles and folded them up. Unfortunately, the pasta (when cooked) still turned out too thick for my tastes so I would recommend buying fresh lasagna sheets and using those instead (you can find this at specialty food stores like Whole Foods or Wegman's) unless you have a pasta roller and/or prefer your pasta thick and chunky! Despite the fact that I'm no Italian grandmother when it comes to pasta-making, the filling and the dairy-free cashew cream tasted divine and I'd happily suffer the thick pasta edges again just to experience those pockets of intense, creamy flavor.

I love my dairy. You know I love my dairy. I could happily give over every other kind of dessert for eternity as long as I could still have the occasional ice cream cone. A party is, in my mind, made up a couple of friends and plenty of cheese and a vehicle for eating said cheese (fruit, crackers, toast, popcorn, etc.) So when I say that the raw cashew cream (based off this recipe from Pinch of Yum) was as good as an Alfredo sauce, I'm committing big-time. You can trust the girl who firmly believes a person has to understand macaroni and cheese on a heart-level to make a good one. And though it looks a little suspect to the under-initiated, you'll just have to trust me. I swear on the honor of a really good gouda that cashew cream is delicious.

Butternut Squash Ravioli
(serves 4)

- ravioli filling -
1 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoons green onions, chopped
1 cup roasted butternut squash puree (about 1/2 of a butternut squash)
Salt (to taste)
2 large cloves roasted garlic
dash of ground allspice
1/2 cup soaked raw cashews
1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)
1 recipe ravioli dough or store-bought lasagna sheets
fresh parsley chopped for garnish

-cashew cream "alfredo" sauce -
1 cup cashews (soaked in water for 2 hours)
3/4 cups water, plus more for soaking
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  1. Melt butter over medium heat and briefly saute green onions till tender. In a food processor pulse squash, green onions, salt, pepper, roasted garlic, allspice, cashews, and parmesan (if using) till mixed.
  2. Roll out pasta dough (or lay out lasagna sheets) on a counter-top dusted with semolina flour. Every two inches drop a heaping teaspoon of filling, then fold dough overtop and seal edges with water. Slice apart with a pizza cutter and crimp edges with a fork.
  3. Cook fresh ravioli in gently simmering water until al dente. Meanwhile, blend the ingredients for the cashew sauce in a blender until smooth and creamy. When ravioli is cooked through, serve and top immediately with cashew cream. The hot ravioli will warm the cashew cream to the perfect temperature. Garnish with parsley and enjoy!

Avery's Branch Farms: The Ice Cream Age

It is now deep autumn. "Ice cream? Why's she writing about ice cream?" 
You're probably snuggled deeply in a sweater. Some of you are happy as a fat chipmunk in this state. Some of you are wishing for the tropical summer temperatures and a return of sunsets not happening till nine PM. This, then, is for you. In July, I was invited to make ice cream at Avery's Branch Farms: a family-run dairy and meat-supplier located in Amelia, VA. Because ice cream at any point in the year is a fantastic idea.

Avery's Branch Farms is the kind of place I imagine Norman Rockwell felt most at home: a left-hand turn into a drive half-hidden by sweeping cornfields, a white farmhouse sheltered in an expansive canopy of magnolia. I turn in. My tires growl up the gravel drive, announcing my arrival to the shaggy farm dogs who hardly budge when I crunch by. As soon as I pull into the drive, my favorite ice cream man is striding out the back screen door:
“Hey, Rach.”
“Where do I park?”
He indicates a grassy plot between two posts and assures me I won't get stuck. Somehow, I don't mind. I know if I get stuck on this farm, there are probably a dozen methods of American ingenuity to get me out. The dairyman who has agreed to teach me the ways of ice cream is an old friend of mine. Standing barefoot in his blue jeans, he looks much as he has since we met over ten years ago. In a world so apt to change, any consistency is comforting. This tall, blue-eyed boy squinting in the unreasonable sunlight is my guide into the depths of the ice cream world. His foot is on his native heath and his name is Oliver Alexander.

Oliver's preoccupation with ice cream began where most love affairs do: at the moment his passion for the thing collided with a chance to conduct further exploration. Summer evenings were never complete without a bowl of ice cream and Alexander, ever the scientist, played around with batches of a homemade version with milk and cream from his family's dairy. When he abandoned tentative plans for attending veterinary school, what had once been a casual fondness for dessert began to shift in Alexander's mind into something more official. After attending an intensive ice cream making course at Pennsylvania State University, he lavishly perfected his recipes and sourced the necessary equipment from locales as distant as Toledo and Kansas City. Alexander was at last poised to officially launch an ice cream line from their farm business. Then a lengthy and intense heat wave struck the state of Virginia and milk production at his family's dairy dropped drastically, leaving no margin for an ice cream business. A frustrating roadblock considering, but when asked about it, Oliver Alexander's mouth slides into the familiar smile of a farmer who is accustomed to working with his land, his animals, and the fickle weather patterns.
“I'm ready to go when they are,” he says.
For now, ice cream production is just for fun. If you're in luck, you might get a chance to sit in on the process.

egg-free cookie dough is the perfect addition to a mocha custard. oliver recommends hand-rolling, rather than chopping the cookie dough to preserve the integrity of each chunk.

Alexander, 23, dumps me off in an out-building with instructions to help his interns crack sixteen eggs into a sterilized bucket. We're making a positively industrial amount of ice cream from the sound of it. The interns, having been dragged out of their afternoon nap for the express purpose of an ice cream lesson, are mostly silent. Someone offers me a red ice-pop as a waiver for the terrible heat pressing on our lungs, making it hard to breathe. Funny how welcome an artificially-cherry popsicle makes one feel. Together we crack eggs and dumb jokes, feeling our way toward familiarity. After his hot morning's work, Alexander has disappeared to shower and change, leaving me to make shift as I can with the stoic interns.
In a clumsy panic I forget exactly how many eggs we've haplessly dropped into the bucket.
“That's...fourteen,” I decide aloud and fervently hope the egg-count being off won't affect the end product. It won't, right? Yeah, it won't.
When Oliver returns, I step back and let the professionals play. Oliver starts up an immersion blender and at a sideways angle whips the eggs “until they hold pretty well,” as he describes it to me. Next we add the contents of a bowl in which is mixed sugar and guar gum, instant coffee granules, cocoa, vanilla, and a pinch of salt.
“I use good-quality instant coffee powder. The enemy in ice cream is liquid. You don't want to add too much more liquid. Useless liquids are not good and coffee is mostly liquid so instant dry coffee is a good alternative. If you put pure coffee granules in it, it'll be grainy. It'll taste weird.” He looks over his shoulder, still blending, with a grin. “Try it. It's interesting. You can put some in as an accent but not to flavor it. Once this is homogeneously blended, you've got your finished custard.” Adding eggs and making a custard (also called a batter) helps to enrich the final ice cream product. With Alexander's ice cream, it's all about enrichment.
Above the sound of the blender, Oliver churns out the science behind the composition of ice cream. Less for my benefit, more for that of his interns, some of whom are headed toward college degrees in agriculture and dairying. I stand near the far wall madly taking notes while sweat pools in the small of my back. There is no breeze and definitely no air-conditioning in this little side-kitchen.
The interns laugh over a quiet joke. Someone debates whether eggs are accurately labeled as “dairy” and a lively skirmish occurs with opinions being cited on each side. In the background, Alexander's blonde little sister dances around, darting in and out of the group which encircles the immersion blender.
Quickly, Oliver pours cream off cold-clouded jars of fresh milk and drops back into science talk: “Pasteurized milk has its lactose removed. All of it. When you pasteurize milk, what happens to milk, Lydia. Miss dairy major? What happens to the milk?
The intern he singles out finds her answer: “The...the lactose is denatured.”
Ollie continues skimming off cream. “Right. You denature the lactose protein. It no longer exists. The people who get our milk because they're lactose intolerant are actually lactase intolerant; you split the lactose molecule and it turns into lactase. Most people are lactase intolerant. The enzyme changes when you pasteurize the milk.”
His wry grin returns at the collective disbelief of his audience. “For reals. Look it up.”
It's this ease in pouring out the science behind ice cream and raw milk and pasteurized milk that impresses me and takes me back to the first time I saw Oliver's ridiculously entertaining ice cream trick. Like some gourmand magician, he can taste a spoonful of ice cream and tell you exactly what ingredients went into it – the obscure ones like guar gum or lecithin and the precise butterfat content of the milk. It's impressive. I would spend all day proffering spoonfuls of different brands and making strangers listen to his ingredients-analysis if he wouldn't hate me for it later.

“All right. Let's start up the machine.” He cuts off the immersion blender and leads the way out of that hot-box into a shock of sunlight.
The troop of interns weaves past the milking barn and the walk-in freezer to yet another outbuilding, dodging a yellow dog and arch-backed cats who would probably love to partake in the joys of ice cream with us. Here sleeps the behemoth pasteurizing equipment as well as Alexander's two Carpigiani ice cream churns. I revel in the frozen cookie dough chunks an intern brings up from the freezers while Oliver explains the three-phase power it takes to run one of the machines, how the dasher works, and the particularly-sized ice crystals he aims for when making ice cream. That's five microns, if you want to know. The way he describes it, you feel as if you've just peered at a hand-blended milkshake through a microscope, discovering a new world lying amid the chunks of Oreo. Some part in the back of my mind insists I'll be able to tell next time I taste a grainy ice cream with an inferior flavor profile; a discrepancy caused by too-large ice crystals.

In a remarkably short time our ice cream is finished churning. I watch as Oliver opens the dam and fills recycled ice cream bins - tub after tub - with the creamy, perfect, beautiful frozen custard. He adds cookie dough chunks, dashing them up and down, cradling a quart container in one immense, work-worn palm, clips a lid on, reaches for another container. It's the sort of thing you dream of as a kid while watching Charlie And The Chocolate Factory: a seemingly endless supply of ice cream swirling out the mouth of a giant, humming churn. These quarts will go to the enormous walk-in freezer to chill down and deep-freeze. I'll have to go home before the ice cream – ours is admittedly a form of gelato, lacking the ten percent non-milkfat solids which would qualify it as ice cream – is fully frozen and ready to scoop. I'll have to content myself with enjoying our project as high-class soft-serve.
“Hey, would you get the spoons?” Oliver calls over his shoulder.
An intern trots off to find plastic spoons then passes them around. There is so much ice cream pouring from the churn that Oliver's choreography falters – no more empty containers close by. He catches a cascade of mocha-flavored frozen custard in a clean bucket just in time to keep it from slipping onto the concrete barn floor.
“Oliver!” come laughing shouts from several of the onlookers.
“That's okay.” He's coordinated again, scraping ice cream into yet another quart container. “That's why I always have a sanitary bucket underneath.”
The sloughed-off ice cream in the bucket and what final scrapings we steal from the churn's interior, are the spoils of our victory. Together, we taste heaping spoonfuls of the soft ice cream in a gesture which is almost made ceremonious, it's such an oasis from the inferno of the summer afternoon. The interns compare notes with Alexander on flavor, texture, and composition while popping tiny squares of egg-free cookie dough. Dip another spoonful. Critique the balance of coffee to chocolate.
Standing there, grouped around the bucket of ice cream we brought into existence, we share a small sense of triumph. The ten quart-containers stacked in the freezer nearby are proof of our skill, or at least of the fact that my miscount of eggs in the custard had no ill effect on the final product. I hold another spoonful of ice cream up to my mouth and breathe in the ennobling scent of coffee and chocolate.
The sleepy-eyed interns chat and mix cleaning solution with warm water. Lazy, like the summer heat rubbing against the doorposts of the barn. Slow, like the way our voices carry through the suspended humidity. I can't tell if the steam wafting around us comes from the bucket of warm water or our collective body heat. Thank God for ice cream.
My host pours cleaning solution into the empty churn's hopper and patiently runs back through the ice cream process verbally, so I can take notes. He laughs at my eagerness and leans against the machine that has made this magic. And though I have nothing scientific to add to the scrawled lines filling my notebook, I know a good ice cream when I taste one. And the ice cream made at Avery's Branch Farm is nothing short of wonderful.

Vanilla Frozen Custard

6 eggs
1 ½ cup sugar
3 cups heavy cream
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon guar gum
1 teaspoon vanilla

  1. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix together sugar and guar gum.
  2. In a large bowl, whip eggs at an angle with an immersion blender until they are a consistent froth and “hold.” Gradually add in sugar and mix well, then add cream, milk, and vanilla.
  3. Churn according to your ice cream maker's instructions, then add in any additions you would like, such as cookie dough chunks, nuts, chocolate chips, or fruit.

Cheers: Three Non-Alcoholic Party Drinks For The Holidays

For a lot of people the holidays are a time to break out the fancy drinks and party! But maybe you're pregnant, don't drink alcohol, want something snazzy to share with the kids at dinner, or just aren't into having a headache later on. If any of these descriptions sound like you, here are three non-alcoholic holiday drink options to brighten your holiday meal tables.

Grapefruit Saffron Mocktail - this drink which I published on the blog in the summer is still relevant. In fact, with winter citrus firmly coming into the picture the bright, almost astringent, mocktail will taste just as good if not better than ever!

Pomegranate Vanilla Fizz - this creamy, easy drink relies on 1 part raspberry juice, 1 part pomegranate juice, 1 splash egg white, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract and soda water. If you're unsure how to use egg whites in a cocktail (or mocktail), complete instructions can be found at Food-Hacks.

Cranberry Turmeric Spritzers - Fresh turmeric and fresh cranberries flirt in this peppery, fruit-punch-red drink that has every glass on the table looking more festive than every ugly holiday sweater ever. Word of warning: if you don't want your hands dyed a pleasant shade of bright yellow, you might wear kitchen gloves while peeling and chopping the turmeric (recipe follows).

Cranberry Turmeric Spritzers

2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup peeled and chopped turmeric root
2 liters soda water

  1. In a medium pot on the stove bring all ingredients to a boil and simmer until cranberries burst, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to "steep" for at least a half hour before straining and bottling. If using right away, cool slightly and follow to step two.
  2. Assemble drinks by pouring 2-3 Tablespoons of syrup over ice in glasses. Top off with soda water and give it a quick mix. Be sure to enjoy the gorgeous fruit-punch effect!

I'm visiting for the first time in Charleston, SC this weekend and have already had a solo adventure in a French cafe. I've hardly been here one evening and I already know I'll definitely need to come back. There is no way I'll be able to try even a tenth of all staggeringly good food this town has to offer. 

Baked Brie With Walnuts And Honey

Please tell me I'm not the only gal who gets to a point in her busy day where she finds, not that she''d forgotten to eat anything at all because let's be real – who does that? - but where she realizes  she's not taken a shred of care to fix anything for herself. At this point you're starving and grumpy and it's about nine PM and it happens to me all the time. Then I'm liable to give in and eat something junky because the crankiness has kicked in and I really just want to eat something right now and a stale graham cracker is about my speed. If this scenario sounds familiar, I have a swanky solution for you that is old as the hills, classy as a cortado, and takes just about as long as toasting the bread to eat it with.

Hey there, hero.

I mean, honestly. Honey and brie and walnuts are a trio made in heaven. For this recipe which comfortably sustains a snacking foursome, you will want half a wheel of brie, seven minutes in the oven, a drizzle of honey, and a scattering of walnuts. Oh, that and a several good friends or family members to help you demolish this before you decide that you're more than capable of doing so yourself. Because that happens, you know. PS - the bread in these photos is straight up smuggled out of the Norfolk docks district from a little place called The Bakehouse at Chelsea.  I just thought you might want to know I ran great risk obtaining bread to eat with my cheese.

Baked Brie With Walnuts & Honey

½ wheels brie cheese
2 Tablespoons of honey
1/3 chopped walnuts
1 hearty baguette, sliced and toasted

1.) Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set brie on top. Spoon honey over-top of the brie and sprinkle the walnuts. Bake for 5-7 minutes or until cheese begins to look melted. Serve with toasted baguette or a hearty, sliced loaf.

Next post we'll be discussing holiday drinks to inspire you in the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities so stay tuned! I might have dyed my palms yellow in that effort...