This is a story about friendship, and the things that gravitate around it – specifically, how the strongest bonds I am currently blessed with have been tied over ice cream.
My friendships have always been few, and often I have endured loneliness. I grew up in a small town, and have spent a good part of my adolescence feeling like a misfit, wondering what could possibly be wrong with my tastes and habits that made me feel like trying to stir oil into a glass of milk.
New York, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, can make loneliness press against your senses like water against your ears after a deep dive. Yet, moving there felt like a slow, life-bringing rise to the surface after months of gasping for air. In one of those afternoons of 2012, when loneliness in the city seemed a delight to enjoy rather than a weight on the heart, I decided to go to an ice cream contest in Brooklyn.
The many kinds of ice creams I got to taste were incredible, but even more incredible was my train trip back: Two friends who also attended the contest were sitting in front of me, and one of them decided to strike up conversation. His name was Jon and, even though I was about to head back to Italy, we somehow kept a red thread going that, though feeble, took advantage of Facebook to never untie.
Little did I know how that meeting would have played a role in my current life, 4 years later.
Fast forward to 2015, in a moment when everything seemed to crumble below my feet, Zaira first, and Betty later, came into my life. Horrible as I have always been to approach people – be it because of shyness or even a little fear, they approached me first and their presence rained into my life like holy manna from the sky. Before I knew it, we were talking about hosting a workshop together, which went wonderfully and you will hear more about in a future post.
As I was making plans for my June US trip, I decided to visit Betty for 3 days after visiting Portland, where I also (finally!) met the incredible Christiann and Eva.
Knowing that I would be in New York afterwards, I did something I never thought I would do: I contacted Jon – that guy who struck up conversation with me on the train 4 years before, and asked him if it was okay for me to crash at their place for a few days. As soon as I hit the ‘send’ button, I could not believe I had actually wrote that. Did it not make me sound pushy? How could I impose myself on someone like that? At a place with two guys, on top of that.
But he immediately got back to me with a ‘I’m up for it!’. He and Sam, his friend who was on the train with him, live together in the city, and not only they hosted me, but they were way nicer that you would expect anyone to be to someone who just dropped by and asked to crash on their couch.
High-five to the Brooklyn ice cream contest, I thought.
When I got back to Italy, I couldn’t wait for Zaira and Betty to arrive for our workshop. We bonded perfectly and, after the workshop, we headed to Venice together.
“I want to get as much gelato as I can while I am here,” said Betty. “It’s too good to miss out on.”
So we found ourselves scouring Venice in search of the best gelatos out there, sharing scoop after scoop, on a quest to find our favorite. To me, ice cream is never something to be enjoyed alone: Though it is my favorite treat, I will hardly eat any if I cannot share it with someone.
As we rode the bus outside of Venice, we could see Marghera, a port wasteland of factories, oil and electric power plants, and cruise ship docks. Much like Paris, or much like every dream feels when you surpass the edges of sleep and eventually wake, the outskirts of Venice are littered by smog and hookers. How many times I thought of my soul like those harsh-looking outskirts, and imagined its edges dirty and frayed like long skirts after a day of rain; like the outskirts of an eternally ancient city where factories and hookers hugged its dreamy atmosphere in a tight constriction. I thought of how healing these relationships felt, and how proper it was for them to come at a time when I had learned to be perfectly happy on my own.
But now, saying that I feel blessed by the people I met is an utter understatement.
As we walked through NY, me and Jon found ourselves sharing an amazing goat milk ice cream with date halva and tonka chocolate sauce at Victory Garden – by far my favorite ice cream place in NYC, one evening that we accidentally walked by it (don’t you just LOVE when you look another person in the eye and find confirmation that they are thinking exactly your same thoughts?) just as to confirm the crossing of our lives over ice cream. How funny is that?
To let the story come full circle, it just so happens that Jon & Sam will have a free room coming September, that I will be renting when I get back to NY (God forbid something goes wrong with my visa).
If that is not serendipity, I don’t know what is.
There are many things that still feel like a wasteland at the edges of my soul: I don’t know if I’ll find a job that will let me extend my visa yet, I doubt the value of my work more often than I should, and I still feel like I’m often out of place, out of time, and often like I could have gotten ‘there’ first – or at the very least, earlier, wherever ‘there’ is.
But I am sure that, in hindsight, even all the shattered pieces of life that we try to scrape together will come full circle.
Everything does if you make it.
So this recipe is inspired by both that incredible ice cream we had at Victory Garden, and a luscious ricotta gelato with date sauce I had in Venice with Betty and Zaira at Gelatoteca Suso. This recipe aims to be a blend between the two, and because ricotta is SO good in all sorts of sweet stuff, this may very well be my latest favorite ice cream flavor.
Italian gelato usually has a part of milk (in fact, the percentage of fat in gelato is much lower than in ice cream), but if you want a richer ice cream substitute part of the milk with more cream.
Also, the date caramel might end up looking quite, well…ugly. But it’s honestly so good. If you want to make it more caramel-like, double the amount of honey.
As for the tea, I used some really good Smith Tea Christiann kindly gifted me when I visited her in Portland. Thank you, sistah <3
And thank you, beautiful people who have crossed my path – with ice cream in your hands.
- 1 cup full fat milk (use goat for goat ice cream flavor)
- 1 vanilla bean, split
- 2 bags, or one tablespoon, jasmine green tea
- ¼ to ½ cup honey, depending on how much sweetness you want
- 250 g (8.8 oz) full fat creamy ricotta cheese (use goat for goat ice cream flavor)
- ½ cup creme fraiche
- ½ cup whipping cream
- (optional) 1 tablespoon rum or bourbon, to avoid total freezing
- 1 cup dates, pitted
- 2 cups liquid (use water, or tea, or a mix)
- ½ cup coconut milk
- ¼ cup (generous) honey
- ½ a tonka bean
- Add all the ingredients but the tonka bean in a pot, and bring to a simmer. Simemr on low, stirring often, until the dates are very soft, about 5 minutes. Blend the sauce to a smooth consistency, and return to the pot to thicken further is you think it is too loose, but do not let it get too thick - you want ti to be pourable rather than pourable. If it is too stiff, add a little extra coconut milk. Set aside and let cool, then store in the fridge.
- Add the milk to a pot, along with the vanilla bean (scrape in the seeds) and the tea and heat it up - do not boil it. Stir in the honey until dissolved.
- As soon as it is smoking, take it off the fire and leave the tea steeping until completely cool.
- Once cool, squeeze the teabags out, and fish out the vanilla bean. You can briefly rinse it, let it dry, and save for later use.
- Add the ricotta, creme fraiche and whipping cream to the milk, and blend until smooth with an immersion or regular blender. Addthe alcohol if using, and stir well.
- Use in the ice cream maker according to instructions. When it is about to look done, stir in half the date caramel sauce.
- Once ready, serve immediately with more date caramel and plenty of shaved dark chocolate. Store the rest in an airtight container in the fridge.
PS: Bowls you see here by The Freaky Raku! Pay the shop a visit! <3
PPS: there are still a couple spots left (or maybe not, if the two people who contacted me today confirm) for our online food photography / styling / editing / blogging course! See this page for all details!
PPPS: I have my Embassy appointment for my US visa on August 17th, in Florence. Cross fingers for me! If anything, it will be a chance to snap tons of photos of one of the most beautiful cities in Italy and eat some proper focaccia at ‘L’Antico Vinaio’.