Ah, the mixed feelings that arrive with Labor Day: regrets for not having gone to the beach often enough; relief that the sand-strewn car no longer needs to be vacuumed with regularity. Rueful that cooking is moving indoors; cheered that this will be the last can of mosquito repellent we use this year. Hasta la vista, homemade, hand-cranked-by-kid-power-ice cream; hello, sweet treats whipped up in the kitchen.
In theory, the summer has seasonal experiences that we can’t enjoy during the rest of the year. Oh, yes, we could go to the beach every day if we didn’t have middle-class concerns, like holding down jobs to pay the mortgage. And yes, the beach is a fine place to visit in the fall, with sweaters and scarves and a feeling of adventure. But nothing is quite so delightful as sitting in a low-slung beach chair, with your toes wriggling in the sand, as the tide creeps up the beach while the afternoon sun warms your soul, and you munch happily on a tuna sandwich, and you never remember to turn the page in your paperback.
Conversely, I am still hauling the little hand-held vacuum out to the car to suck up yet another drift of sand that has suddenly appeared from some hidden car crevasse from that trip to the beach two weeks ago. Thank goodness we emptied out the cooler. Two week-old tuna sandwiches would be toxic.
I love grilling on the back porch, as you know, because I do very little of it myself. I think Mr. Friday is an amazing grill master, and I encourage him to practice his talents often. Which isn’t to say he won’t rustle up a ceremonial steak or flip the odd burger in the winter months, but it is not a given. I like certainty. I like not having to clean the cooktop every night. During grilling season I like standing on the back porch while Mr. Friday flips and times and prods our dinners. We have a little wine, and hold our breath while the hummingbirds zoom into the twilight, changing places with the fireflies, who begin to sparkle. Which signals, alas, the arrival of the mosquito cloud. Even the swooping bats have made little impact on the damn mosquitoes this year.
Summer desserts are simple delights that you really can enjoy year ‘round. But homemade ice cream is best consumed before it is really finished, while it is still soft, and the sugar granules haven’t quite dissolved. It is always sweetest when the youngsters are cranking the ice cream maker. We have an electric ice cream maker that we have used once. It seemed like a good idea at the time – but strawberries and peaches bought in February are never as sweet as they are right now, overflowing at the farmers’ markets, luscious and ripe fruits in brilliant oranges, golds and reds.
I suggest we remember summer in other ways. A sweet coconut pie in October will cast our memory nets back to sun screen and lotions from the beach or pool. A delightful profiterole, dripping in chocolate and oozing vanilla ice cream in November will harken back to home-churned vanilla ice cream. And this lemon custard is summer sunshine in a bowl. Hello, fall!
This is a recipe from The New York Times.
No-Bake Lemon Custards
By Melissa Clark
FOR THE CUSTARDS:
2 cups heavy cream
⅔ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from 1 to 2 lemons)
Pinch of fine sea salt
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons)
FOR THE STRAWBERRY TOPPING:
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 to 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Freshly ground black pepper, for serving
In a medium saucepan, combine cream, sugar, lemon zest and salt over medium-high heat. Bring to simmer, stirring frequently to dissolve sugar. Simmer vigorously until mixture thickens slightly, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Let sit until mixture has cooled slightly and a skin forms on top, about 20 minutes.
Stir mixture, then strain through fine-mesh strainer (I used a cheesecloth) into a measuring cup with a spout; discard zest. Pour mixture evenly into six 6-ounce ramekins or small bowls.
Refrigerate, uncovered, until set, at least 3 hours.
As the custards chill, prepare the strawberry topping: Toss strawberries and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Let fruit macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until the sugar is dissolved.
To serve, top each lemon custard with some strawberry topping and grind black pepper on top.
Personal note: when I made this, I do not get 6 ramekins of custard. Instead, because the liquid reduces, I got 3 small bowls of custard. So do not attempt this recipe if you are serving a crowd. But it is a heavenly and light distillation of bright sunshine. Something to file away for a gloomy day in February, when you need a little hope.
“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.”
— Henry David Thoreau