Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

Friday, July 4, 2014

If I ever revisit these posts a year from now, I hope I won’t be taken aback by how simple I made everything sound, or how I qualified every not-so-shiny experience. But can we be totally candid for a second? Lately, keeping things simple helps to keep me moving forward. If I allowed myself unlimited space to think, I’d have a tough time getting out of bed everyday. As long as we’re being candid, I might as well bare it all and tell you that earlier today while checking out automatic garage door openers at Home Depot, I caught myself having fun and humming along to whatever country song was playing overhead. I didn’t know whether to be horrified or secretly relieved, so I set the table for both.


There are a few things that are making this transition easier. Books are a good reminder of the big picture, small victories, a larger world. Read The Immortal Life first, then Some Assembly Required, now Mother Daughter Me and Quiet. Music, like this song by Jim James. Movement. Yoga, biking, walking, mowing the lawn, whatever. Movement’s good. So are rhubars! Rhubars are the delectable beauties in the photo up there. They are the invention of my friend Niki’s grandma, Lou. I bet they could both tell you the recipe by heart.

I’ve mentioned Niki here before over the years. Her name is sprinkled throughout several posts, and I guess because she’s been such a large presence in my life for so long, I haven’t thought to give her a formal introduction. I always assumed anyone who’d be reading would also know her. Besides being a great person to know, she’s also a terrific co-cook and eating buddy with a blossoming talent for getting her people to relocate to Minneapolis. So far, she’s two for two.

Niki was born in the middle of July. If you believe in zodiac signs and all of that, you’ll know that Cancers are the keepers of the home. This is true of Niki. Her presence feels like home. She is sturdy, consistent, and loyal to the people she loves. She doesn’t ask for much, but she’ll give you the shirt off her back, and probably her pants, too. Not to say that she’s an exhibitionist, although she certainly knows how to have a good time. In fact, she can go into any situation and find a way to enjoy herself. It’s one of her best qualities.


We’ve been friends officially since the seventh grade. We’ve been to the Rockies, Lake Superior, the Gulf of Mexico, Calgary, The Brooklyn Bridge, and the southern part of Korea together. We’ve trick-or-treated and skipped school and marched in parades together. She could tell you much more than that. Her memory is wickedly sharp, and the facets she can recall bring all kinds of color to the past. It’s unbelievable, really, and also potentially mortifying, since she’s got the dirt of our youth filed away, but still very much within reach. So, you know, if you haven’t figured out why I keep her around by now…

Last week, Niki invited me to pick strawberries in her garden. We got about two pints and 53 mosquito bites between us, and even though she got the majority of the bites, she still sent me home with all the berries. A few days later, she came over to hang out, mix us whiskey gingers, and listen. Then we walked to her house and made this ice cream. We ate it standing in the kitchen, with her husband Tony, her mom, and her dad. Even the cat came.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

When I was in Seoul and Niki was here, we started a private cooking blog together. We’d post recipes or nerdy food moments, anytime we felt like it. We thought it’d be a good way for us to keep record and stay connected until we were in the same city and could cook in the same kitchen again. Even if we were still thousands of miles apart, this is exactly the type of recipe I’d imagine her choosing.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream (adapted from the Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book)
If you’ve got an ice cream spinner, ice cream is beautifully simple. If you make this and eat it immediately, it’ll be like soft serve: barely firm, almost drippy, luxurious. Or set it aside to fully freeze. It’s just as nice.

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
4 tablespoons strawberry balsamic vinegar*

*The book’s original recipe for strawberry ice cream calls for 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and a LOT more sugar. Niki and Tony received a luxe bottle of strawberry balsamic vinegar as a wedding present a few years back, and it’s been kicking around in one of their cupboards ever since. Niki says they use it in salads, mostly, and since there was enough left to try it in this recipe, we did. But we would’ve happily used regular balsamic, too. We’d probably have added more sugar in that case, and perhaps even decreased the amount of vinegar to 3 tablespoons. Go conservative at first, taste, and adjust.

Blend strawberries to a smooth purée. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the seeds, or don’t. It’s up to you. We don’t mind the seeds, so we didn’t. Transfer the purée to a large bowl and add the cream, condensed milk, sugar, salt, and vinegar. Whisk together until the sugar is incorporated. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and spin according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Eat immediately, or transfer to an airtight container, cover, and freeze for up to one week.