When I started playing the bassoon in 8th grade I thought that maybe it would take me places. For example, perhaps it would take me to Fort Kent for All-State band, or maybe down to THE CITY for Portland Youth Symphony.
What I didn’t expect what that at 17 my bassoon and I would be spending every weekend down in Boston, playing in the New England Conservatory’s Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. That group took me to Taiwan and South Korea then s few years later I made my first trip to Japan, to the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo. For all of these Asia trips I was traveling with a jar Skippy peanut butter in my suitcase. It wasn't that the food turned me off- I wasn't getting near enough to it for that to be the case. I just wasn't eating it.
I don't think I was particularly scared of “different” foods growing up, it was just a function of geography. Our little pocket of Central Maine had an Italian restaurant, with lots of red sauce and Parmesan cheese in glass shakers. We had a normal restaurant in my town (at the time- it's long gone) called The Embers, named so because the restaurant that stood there previously burned down. I think. Every time we went there I had broiled haddock. There was a “Chinese” restaurant a few miles off, one of those gnarly faux-Polynesian places with Pu-Pu platters, tiki bowls, lots of breading and bowls of sticky corn syrups sauces. We didn’t have Mexican food, not even a Taco Bell <retch> and the nearest McDonald's was 25 miles off.
None of that explains why I was 14 before I realized pickles started as cucumbers.
During that trip to Sapporo, in 1993, I realized what god-damned fool I was. There I was, in Japan, and I’m eating peanut butter for lunch. I had the privilege of being on the other side of the planet but I was a bystander. I couldn’t speak the language and I wasn’t eating the food. That was that. I decided to start eating whatever, unless it truly and absolutely horrified me. Anything that seemed like a common food, I was going to try it twice.
So there. There are plenty of foods I'll never be fond of- foie gras is probably the one that people raise their eyebrows over. It is just too rich for me- two bites and I’m nauseous. I can’t go too “hot” (medium salsa is pushing it) or I break into a sweat and lose my appetite. Uni… not a fan. Other than that, I’m game to try anything. Raw? Fine. Crickets? Fine. Curdled? No promises that it will go down my throat but I’m willing to give it a taste.
I’m not really sure where this is all leading, so let’s just jarringly change gears. Five Spice Ice Cream.
Five Spice is a blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise, and Szechwan peppercorns. Any particular blend/brand of Five Spice will have it’s own essence/taste so cooking with Five Spice leads to individual results. For me, it’s all a matter of how much. It's a matter of “not quite enough, not quite enough, not quite NO WAIT STOP.” Too little and you don’t catch the essence, too much and it’s overwhelming.
The first batch was too powerfully flavored- part of the magic of Five Spice is how it gently touches every part of your palette and the amount I used gave me taste buds a clobbering, not a caress so I dialed it back on the subsequent batches. I thought I’d need to supplement the ratios in spice blend to accommodate the dairy. Nope. As is. Right out of the bottle I bought at Cub Foods.
FIVE SPICE ICE CREAM
5 large egg yolks
1.5 cups whole milk
1.5 cups heavy cream
¾ cups white sugar
1.5 teaspoons Five Spice (adjust at your own discretion)
Get your ice water stop-bath ready.
Whisk the egg yolks in a large non-reactive saucepan; set aside. Warm the milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat; stir to prevent scalding. Add sugar, stir to dissolve completely. Add five spice and whisk into milk. Continue stirring the steaming milk/sugar/spice mixture for 10 minutes.
Remove the pot from heat and pour the milk mixture into the eggs in a very slow, steady stream while whisking vigorously and continuously. Once combined put the pot on medium-low heat and stir continuously, until the mixture begins to thicken. Do not allow to boil.
Place the pot into the ice water stop-bath and stir until steaming ceases. Pour through a fine strainer (to remove any teeny bits of scrambled eggs) into an airtight container. Refrigerate the mix- allow it to cool and cure for at least 6 hours, preferably 24.
Freeze the mix in your ice cream machine as per the manufacturer's instructions. When the freezing cycle finishes, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and freeze for at least two hours to harden. The ice cream can be stored in the freezer for up to five days, after that it will get icy and bleh.