Ice Cream ‘Wich Craft

As July draws to a close, the holidays are fast approaching. Are you ready for the coming festivities?

I’m not talking about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Las Posadas, or Festivus. As if anyone could forget, there’s an even more momentous event right around the corner. August 2nd is National Ice Cream Sandwich Day!

As an avowed ice cream advocate, this is my kind of day. I don’t feel the need to justify or rationalize my indulgence, but as a source of inspiration, the thematic suggestion is always welcome. Sandwiches, one of the earliest frozen novelties, remain one of the simplest. While scoops have gone wild with flavor innovations and popsicles crystallize in every color of the rainbow, most ice cream sandwiches are still plain Jane vanilla.

In the United States, the term typically conjures up visions of a bland slab of beige ice cream, wedged between two thin chocolate wafers that blur the line between cookie and cake. I’m not looking to push the envelope here, but what if we expanded our understanding of the assembly to be a bit more accommodating? Just as there’s more than one way to churn ice cream, there’s more than one sort of wafer in the world.

The wafer I’m most fond of, for example, is the type that’s light as air, crisp like a cracker, and stacked up in slender rectangles with sweet cream filling. This biscuit is essentially synonymous with Voortman Bakery, masters of the edible art form since 1951. Only theirs will stand up to the summer’s heat, and freezer’s chill, without wilting under pressure. In fact, I tend to store them in the freezer when the temperatures climb, not to prolong freshness, but to provide an invigorating, refreshingly cool contrast to a sweltering hot day.

Connecting the dots between these treats and the holiday at hand, it wasn’t a big leap to re-imagine the average sandwich as something remarkable. That is, remarkably delicious AND remarkably easy to make.

Right up front, I must confess: Even by the most generous interpretation of the term, the center of these sandwiches is not ice cream. Set to a frosty, creamy consistency and festooned with colorful sprinkles, you could easily fool the average eater, without anyone feeling betrayed. Based on ingredients and technique alone, it’s more like frozen frosting, but that also means there’s no churning, no cooking, and almost no work required to whip up these treats. In a world where cauliflower can be called rice and zucchinis are noodles, can’t we stretch the definition a bit here?

Sparkling with zesty citrus through and through, thin ribbons of fresh orange peel undulate within a tangy cream cheese base, flecked with real vanilla bean for a rounded, floral sweetness. Flanked by tender orange creme wafers, there’s nothing to interrupt the full-bodied fruity flavor. If you’ve ever craved a good old orange creamsicle, these handheld treats are even better than a dream-come-true.

Such a highly successful experiment really got my wheels turning. Since Voortman makes wafers in just about every flavor you can imagine, the sky (or your freezer space) is the limit. Next time, I might start with strawberry wafers with vanilla ice cream and roll the edges in mini chocolate chips for a modernized neapolitan. There are also banana wafers that are crying out for caramel cream and a quick dip in chopped nuts for a bold new take on the classic banana split. What about trying chocolate hazelnut wafers with chocolate filling and toasted hazelnuts, for all the Nutella-lovers out there?

Trust me, I’m just getting started. There’s never a bad time for frozen treats, but this might just be the best time to join the party.

Continue reading “Ice Cream ‘Wich Craft”

Christmas in July

Christmas in July is a lot like a half-birthday party. Most people ignore the midway marker, saving their energy for the main event later on down the road, but those who do observe go all out. More than a thinly veiled excuse to eat cake and throw a party on an otherwise mundane day, it’s an opportunity to spread holiday cheer when spirits may be flagging. Of course, cake is a necessary component.

Sometimes I wonder if the concept was originally popularized by writers and photographers hell bent on meeting magazine deadlines. Traditional publications are notorious for their extensive lead times, which means that July is high time to get those winter columns locked in. While visions of sugar plums dance in their heads, children splash through sprinklers beneath the summer sun. Feasts are prepared for readers to devour many months later, but right now, what’s one to do with the actual food? Really, the only responsible thing to do is turn it into a full-fledged holiday, lest all that festive effort go to waste.

While it’s still a temporary tease to patient VegNews subscribers, rest assured that this year’s yule log will be epic whenever you can roll it up. Fluffy peanut butter mousse wrapped up in a spiral of salted pretzel sponge cake sets this one apart from the predictable pumpkin spice or gingerbread affairs. A thin coating of whipped coconut cream provides the edible adhesion for thin planks of chocolate bark, making for an impressive finish that anyone can achieve. Flurries of soft confectioner’s sugar stand in for snow, melting away on the tongue, not in the mid-July heat.

Merry Christmas, one and all, now or later! If you’re a good, Santa might just swing by with this sweet treat in six month’s time.

Greetings from Plumland

Named for the dense woodlands of tall and mighty oak trees in the 19th century, come summertime, I sometimes wonder if Oakland should be called Plumland instead. Most of those original oaks are long gone, cut down to make space for the growing city, as pavement invaded the landscape like a thicket of unrelenting weeds. Now it seems like the dominant flora comes in the form of plum trees.

Sprouting along sidewalks and leaning over backyard fences, as if peeking out to say hello to passersby, they go largely unnoticed through much of the year. Just another leafy plant, unremarkable from the next, you might never notice their silent invasion… Until summer hits.

Like the flip of a switch, buds blossom and transform into fruit overnight. Suddenly, fruit begins pelting the streets below with splatters of tiny plum grenades, painting them with a sticky patchwork of yellows, reds, and purples. Even for those with a voracious appetite for the juicy stone fruits, it can feel like a plum-pocolypse, or plum-demic this year, I suppose.

Friends from all corners of the city have been foisting their excess upon me at every turn. Make no mistake, I’m not complaining about such kindness; it’s a truly wonderful problem to have too many locally grown, organic, impeccably fresh plums. I just sometimes kick myself for accepting another five pounds or so, while I still have at least as much threatening to over-ripen in the fridge.

After making a few rounds of plum jam, peppered plum sorbet, a luscious brown sugar plum crisp, Plum Good Crumb Cake, and indulged in untold plain plum snacks, I turned to my reliable Facebook family for help. Suggestions poured in as fast as the fruit, but what really stood out was a suggestion from Craig Vanis, Chef and founder of Austin’s one and only Bistro Vonish. Drawing inspiration from his Czech heritage, he offered plum dumplings (Svestkove Knedliky) without missing a beat. Never having experienced sweet dumplings before, the mere concept was a revelation to me. I had to try it.

Butchering his recipe right off the bat, I wasted no time mangling every last ingredient until it would be completely unrecognizable to any of the chef’s predecessors. My sincerest apologies, Craig. It’s the inspiration that counts, right?

Traditionally made with a potato-based dough, purple sweet potato takes the place of a plain starchy spud for a bit more flavor and of course, a vibrant new hue. Wrapped tenderly around whole plums, it’s soft like pillowy sheets of gnocchi, melting into the juicy, sweet flesh. The pitted plums seemed so empty, so hollow and sad, I couldn’t leave them bare. Refilling the centers with whole, toasted almonds, that crunchy surprise inside added textural contrast to create a more satisfying treat.

For serving, some prefer the dumplings simply tossed with melted butter, while others might add toasted breadcrumbs, poppy seeds, cottage cheese, or my suggestion, cinnamon sugar. Since there’s no sugar in the dough, that sweet finish is just the right touch, especially if your plums have a gently tart twang.

Welcome to Plumland, where everyday is fruitful and the residents are very sweet.

Continue reading “Greetings from Plumland”

Get the Full Scoop

It’s easy to poke fun at the absurd “national holidays” that litter the calendar, if you’re really desperate to celebrate something on an otherwise unremarkable day, but this one is legit. Decreed by President Reagan back in 1984, the third Sunday in July has since been known as National Ice Cream Day.

In case you’ve lost all sense of time, [you’re not alone] that day is today! Vanilla is still the most popular flavor worldwide, but if your tastes are a bit more adventurous, I’ve got a real treat for you.

Super Vegan Scoops! is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com! My second ice cream cookbook following on the success of Vegan a la Mode, this vibrant ode to plant-based frozen desserts offers one-of-a-kind flavors and frosty grand finales like the world has never seen before.

Novelties, cakes, sandwiches, sundaes, and even baked goods made with melted ice cream- Yes! The secrets are laid out in brilliant full-color detail at your fingertips, and soon, in your own kitchen.

Coming May 2021, I promise it will be worth the wait. Pre-order now to get in on the first shipment!

Bite Me

In times of extreme stress or trauma, regression is a real concern. Young children run for cover under previously discarded blankies, while dogs can forget their training when nature calls indoors. Training wheels snap back onto bikes, lessons once mastered must be retaught. After so many steps forward, it’s time to take a few back. That very same impulse drives otherwise reasonable adults to abandon all pretense of balance and seek solace in the comforting foods embedded into happy childhood memories. Attracted to the nostalgia as much as the taste, there’s no way of knowing just what will bubble up from bygone days.

Here’s an unexpected flashback from elementary school. Miniature chocolate chip muffins, you know the ones, beckoned in neat little plastic packages at the end of the hot lunch line. Truly unfrosted cupcakes, each sweet, squishy morsel seemed to melt away effortlessly, dissolving into a sticky morass of artificial buttery crumbs and waxy chocolate. My parents would have never condoned such nutritionally void treats, but when I could trade for such treasures, there was no stopping me.

Comforting in their simplicity, reassuringly easy to both make and eat, it’s the kind of junk food I might normally rail against. Just eat a slice of cake, or have yourself a proper bran muffin! This wishy-washy excuse for some rational middle ground is just a way to feel better about eating dessert for breakfast. Relative to the austere bowl of oatmeal in the morning, they’re loaded with sugar and white flour, and you know what? That’s exactly what we all need sometimes.

Regression is not permanent. Like so many other things in life, the urge to crawl inward, revert to the safety of nostalgia, is outside of our control. We’re all doing the best we can to survive; be kind to your inner child, plan to grow up another day. A little bite of indulgence certainly wouldn’t hurt right about now.

Continue reading “Bite Me”

Bar None

As the antiquated adage goes, when it rains, it pours. When in drought-stricken California however, what falls from the sky is not a deluge of precipitation, but of citrus. Yes, you heard me right: Fruit is showering the city streets at this very moment, heavy with juice and blown asunder by the most gentle gusts of wind. Every variety you can imagine, from the average lemon and lime to more exotic mandarins, yuzu, pomelo, even Buddha’s hand litter the pavement. Dash out for a quick walk around the neighborhood, eyes to the ground, and you can take care of your vitamin C needs without spending a dime.

Urban foraging has kept my fruit bin full of these tart, tangy, sour, and sometimes sweet gems. Oranges are real treasures, eaten straight out of hand, sometimes before even returning home, but the most plunder is the venerated Meyer lemon. Popularized by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame, it’s no surprise that this particular specimen that’s come to represent so much of California cuisine now thrives up and down the coast, and is especially concentrated so close to home.

Thus, lemons have been on the menu at every turn lately, when alternative acids and groceries in general are scarce. Large pitchers of lemonade sit chilled, at the ready as the days grow warmer, threatening to skip right over spring and straight into the summer season. Fine flecks of zest sparkle in simple vinaigrettes, lavished over everything from greens to grains. Jars of marmalade use up every scrap of peel, preserving the harvest for countless slabs of toast to come.

For dessert, of course, you can do no better than homemade lemon bars.

Luscious, silken curd dazzles like a semi-sold bite of sunshine atop a buttery, pleasantly sandy shortbread crust. Tender and yielding, each square trembles gently in the hand, melting the instant it hits the tongue. Avowed lemon-lovers and fair weather friends alike can agree that a properly baked lemon bar can even surpass the appeal of a beguiling chocolate cake.

Finished with a flurry of powdered sugar, this classic, unassailable treat suits every occasion, every season, every craving, as far as I’m concerned. Even if lemons aren’t literally falling into your lap, do yourself the kindness of splurging on a generous surplus. Trust me, you’ll find a way to use them up without any difficulty, especially with this sweet serving suggestion on deck.

Continue reading “Bar None”