Juniper-Lemon Balsamic Ripple Ice Cream

It's funny, how life happens.When I wrote my last blog post and touched on the subject of grief and goodbyes, I did not think that the next time I wrote it would be to tell you that my grandmother had actually died.
On Monday, a little after noon, she died surrounded by her husband, three children, and many of her grandchildren. The days leading up to her death were odd. Half of me wanted to pause everything and watch her low, shattered breathing, soaking up every last moment of hers on earth. The other half of me was very conscious of how much she would hate to know that I had suspended activity to watch her struggle along toward the death she had asked for during life: sick in body but hale in mind. And so we did a little of both watching and living - not quite comfortable of our choice while doing either thing - and if that isn't the essence of what it means to watch this backward birth of life into death, I am not sure what is.

So she's gone now. It is both hard, and a relief. Hard to know she is gone, a relief to know that she is more Alive now that ever before. I am not good at grief - I don't know how to do it properly. Is there a precedent? Surely every person goes about it in a different way. Oddly, I cried more harshly in the nights leading up to her death than I have since. It's not that I don't want to cry, or that I can't cry. It is like her stubborn, practical spirit has welled up within me, and paired with my native sentimentality to create this sweet, endless parade of memories. And so instead of the hours of wracking sobs I anticipated, my grief is taking - so far - a quieter route: I have walked in the raw March weather and cried as a song plays that reminds me of her. But somehow once I have cried about that one thing, when I think about it next it does not bring up the same sadness as it did before. It is smooth now, and bittersweet, but not sharp. Another memory or story or song will take its place and for a moment the grief is keen as ever. But that, too, peacefully approaches and then just as peacefully leaves.
Is grief, then, a thousand little goodbyes that must be worked through when and if they will, one by one?
If so, I think I will be able to live alongside it better than the overwhelming pain-monster that I have dreaded since the moment I was able to come up with the concept of my Grandmama dying. We're talking years and years of dreading this exact thing. I don't fear the memories, or want to avoid them. I like to talk about her, though when I speak of her in the past tense, it pricks my heart like pins. There's a video my sister-in-law sent of her meeting my oldest niece and I watch it whenever I want to hear the Norfolk-bred voice I love so well. It hurt the first time I watched it, but now it's like a portal to visiting with her and I willingly inflict it on myself. I hear other people refer to their grandmothers and I wince internally as if some pair of fingers was pinching my heart, but it is good to hear about the love in their lives. I don't know.

For me, it hurts worse not talking about her, thinking about her, doing the things she loved. I've been listening to the classical music radio station, and this morning I went to the museum she took me to years ago before I liked art, and looked for the portrait she'd encouraged me to copy. I'm going to make the things she made for us - meatloaf, mashed potatoes, chocolate dream cookies, yellow cake with chocolate frosting - and read the books she liked to read. It will be my third try on Gone With The Wind which she adored and I've always unequivocally hated. For me, these things conjure so much warmth from the years we spent together that I can accept the pain.
For now this is where I am.
A week from now, a month, a year from now I'm sure the missing-her will have mounded up into something a lot more intimidating and harder to handle. I'm aware that I saw her alive and lucid just a few days ago, able to feel the pussy-willow bough I brought into her room and ask what I did today. So of course I don't miss her yet as much as I will. But she feels so close even now as I do the things she loves that a part of me wonders if I can keep her near. Maybe so. Maybe not. Maybe I'll just wait and see and live as fiercely as this woman did.

Today's recipe is in honor of her. I had it finished a good while before all of this began happening in my life. It's a juniper-flavored lemon frozen yogurt finished with a balsamic ripple put through, based off the recipe for lemon-juniper ice cream in Ottolenghi and Helen Yoh's cookbook, Sweet. I've post-poned posting it because let's be real - the bittersweet balsamic rippling through the gentle creaminess of the lemon-juniper cream was hitting a little too close to home. It's like this ice cream suddenly embodied everything going on in my life and I wasn't too keen on editing the photos and posting the recipe all in one go. But then we come to this week, and the fact that my ever-independent grandmother's last three meals (per her request) were ice cream - hard ice cream - and it just seemed like a good time to share this simple but elevated recipe. Inspired by a gin & tonic, this frozen yogurt is just the right thing to serve as companion to a dinner that might lean on the heavy side. It is light, not overly sweet, but full to bursting with the flavors of the Greek yogurt, dried juniper berries, and balsamic vinegar. Get the best quality balsamic vinegar you can find. It will make or break the caramel-like balsamic ripple going on down the center of this ice cream. I chose the eighteen-year traditional balsamic from Savor the Olive for my recipe and its plummy, almost raisin-like notes were the idea boy for the job.

Juniper-Lemon Balsamic Ripple Ice Cream
serves 6

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
shaved peel of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small bay leaf (fresh if possible)
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon dried juniper berries, finely crushed
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup high quality balsamic vinegar

  1. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan, place over medium heat, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the lemon peel and bay leaf and simmer for 12 minutes, until you have about 1 1/4 cups of liquid left in the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool, then store in the fridge until ready to use (up to two weeks). Strain the syrup and discard the lemon peel and bay leaf before moving on to the following step.
  2. Place the Greek yogurt in a large bowl and gently whisk in the strained sugar syrup and lemon juice, followed by the crushed juniper berries. Store in the fridge, covered, until ready to churn (up to 2 days).
  3. Just before you are ready to churn, pour the cream into a bowl and whisk until soft peaks form (this can be done with an electric mixer. While continuing to whisk, pour in the yogurt mixture, then whisk to combine. Place in an ice cream maker and churn (according to your machine's instructions) for about 30 minutes, until soft waves form.
  4. While the ice cream is churning, prepare your balsamic caramel. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, simmer your balsamic vinegar (stirring occasionally) until reduced slightly and at 235 degrees F., or "soft ball stage." Set aside to cool.
  5. Transfer one half of the churned ice cream to the container in which you wish to store the ice cream. Drizzle with one half of the balsamic caramel. Repeat with remaining halves of ice cream and syrup, then freeze, covered, until solid; this should take about 6 hours. Remove it from the freezer 15 minutes before serving.

1 comment

  1. I'm sorry for your loss, Rachel! I'll be praying for you and your family.