It’s November 20th! Thanksgiving’s on Thursday! Let’s talk about Valentine’s Day.
These photos are from this past one. As you can see, we went out. That was a first for us, which makes it sound as though we’re about as much fun as the Valentine’s Day equivalent of a lump of coal (whatever that is). I assure you, that is not the case. At least I hope it’s not. The thing is, I’ve always thought of Valentine’s Day as more of a kids’ holiday. With the hearts everywhere, and chalky candies bearing messages, and that chubby little naked fellow with the wings and bow and arrows, it’s easy to understand why. It’s just not a day I've ever been able to take seriously, and that’s okay, because I don’t think you’re supposed to. I think Valentine’s Day, much like Halloween, comes with an implied warning label: for entertainment purposes only. It’s not about grown-up, romantic love any more than Halloween is about true horrors. It has nothing to do with popsicles on the sofa and the latest 30 Rock, or a custom built desk (with cubbies!), or awesome t-shirts, or a hand on my back while I chop onions, or a quick hello by phone in the middle of the day, all of which are more romantic in my book than any box of chocolates or bouquet of flowers could ever be. (Though Eli, if you’re reading this, chocolates and flowers are also nice. Especially flowers.) Valentine’s Day is about other stuff, the giant chocolate heart with my name in white icing that my grandmother mailed each year, cutting valentines from paper doilies with my mother, the sweet and silly cards my father always sends. Valentine’s Day is for fun. As for the two of us, we eat the heart-shaped cinnamon red hots (Eli) and chocolate-covered cherries (Me). Then we stay home and do what we normally do.
But this year, a restaurant across town called Tres Gatos was doing something for Valentine’s Day that it doesn't normally do, namely, taking reservations for parties of two. We love Tres Gatos. We hadn't been there since before Mia was born and, even with a babysitter, getting there anytime soon was going to be tricky, we figured, since we’d have to factor in unpredictable but generally lengthy (though totally worth it) wait times for a table. Mia was five months old at the time, and now that I think about it, at that point, I’m not even sure we’d been out to dinner anywhere. We booked our sitter. I had a Valentine’s Day date.
After the marinated anchovies and tortilla espanola with pimentón aioli, after mopping our plates with salty grilled bread, our server appeared with the small white mug and pitcher you see here. Inside the mug were two scoops of vanilla ice cream. Inside the pitcher was sherry. It was a sweet sherry, a Pedro Ximénex, and it poured down over the ice cream like a thin syrup. I went with a scrape and dunk approach at first, gliding my spoon along the ice cream then dipping it into the moat of sherry that surrounded it. I ate slowly, and by the time I neared the end, the half-melted ice cream and sherry had pooled together into a creamy, boozy soup, part cocktail, part dessert. It was the most perfect, delightful combination, and when we went back to Tres Gatos last month for our (seventh!!) anniversary, I ordered it again. After that, I asked Eli, please, to pick up a bottle of Pedro Ximénex the next time he was at the store, and last weekend, for no other reason than the fact that that bottle was now in my apartment, I made a batch of vanilla ice cream, just to have around. I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a dessert. I can’t wait for you to try it. I know the timing’s somewhat off with Thanksgiving creeping up and so many pies on your plate. But soon enough, say, Sunday evening, with the leftovers all packed away and relative quiet restored, it might be just the thing.
p.s. - Tres Gatos takes reservations for two now year round. If you're ever in town, I highly recommend it.
p.p.s. - The Mia requests keep rolling in, so here you go: a short film from Valentine's Day this year. (Hannah, this one's for you.)
Vanilla Ice Cream and Sherry
Inspired by dinner at Tres Gatos. Ice cream recipe adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin.
I’m a sucker for a good homemade vanilla ice cream, and I like making it myself, but you don’t have to. Just get the best vanilla ice cream you can get your hands on, add sherry, and there you go.
1 vanilla bean
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
4 extra-large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
A shot (or so) of a Pedro Ximénex sherry, like Hidalgo or Barbadillo.
Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a paring knife. Put the seeds and the pod into a medium saucepan, cover with the milk and cream, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat, cover, and let the flavors infuse for 30 minutes.
Return the mixture to the stove and bring it back to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When it boils, turn off the heat.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a medium bowl. Whisk a few tablespoons of the warm cream mixture into the yolks to temper them. Whisking constantly, add another ¼ cup or so of the warm cream. Still whisking, slowly add the rest of the cream mixture into the bowl, then pour everything back into the pot and return it to the stove.
Cook the custard over medium heat for 6-8 minutes while constantly stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. Soon, it will start to thicken. Do not let it boil. (That’s important.) A great tip from David Lebovitz: Coat the spatula with custard and run your finger across it. If your finger leaves a line that doesn’t run back together, the custard is done.
Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and chill at least 2 hours, or overnight. Process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Scoop the ice cream into bowls and pour the sherry over top. For a tableful of guests, I’d probably serve the ice cream and pass a pitcher of sherry at the table.