Holiday wish and history of ice cream with my Bourbon-walnut-vanilla ice cream


Dr. Sen’s sole purpose in going to a Chinese restaurant is most often ordering a plate of extra spicy Singapore rice noodles or may be a bowl of tongue-numbing Sichuan beef tendon noodle soup. For most of us, the thought of Chinese food doesn’t revive memories of bowls of ice cream, more likely you’re thinking of stir fries or orange chicken. But, to my surprise, Chinese people have been eating ice cream far longer than you and I can imagine. The documented history of ice cream goes back to AD 618-907 during the reign of Emperor Cheng Tang, founder of the Shang dynasty. Among the army of 2,271 staff in his kitchen and winery, 94 were ‘ice men’. It was the ice men’s job to go and collect ice from the mountains, cut them in uniform sizes and then store them in ice houses made of stones. The ice was then used to freeze a milk-based dessert made from water buffalo, goat or cow’s milk. The milk was first fermented and then flavored with camphor (although I hate it, adding camphor to desserts is still practiced in India), thickened with flour and finally frozen into something very close to modern-day frozen yogurt. So basically, Tang was eating ‘tangy’ frozen desserts long before ‘froyo’ became popular. Caucasians (not “whites”, the original inhabitants of the Caucasus region) are known for drinking a fermented milk drink called “kumiss” made from mare’s milk for thousands of years. The Russians still drink something similar to it. The Mongolian equivalent is called “airag” or “tsegee”. This culture of fermented milk must have traveled to China and then Persia and to India.


photo (4)

But this was all still using natural ice/snow to make frozen drinks or desserts. The real trick was to make ‘man made ice’ which in above-freezing climates needed an endothermic reaction to be created. Although Indians and Egyptians were making ice for a long time, the first documented evidence is found in a book written by Ibn Abu Usaybi’a (A.D 1230-1270), the famous Arab historian of medicine. Here, we find the first record of ice being made with cold water and saltpeter. Persians were known for making exotic and delicious frozen drinks made from fruits or fruit extracts. The Westerners got their taste of “sorbets’ from the Persian “sherbets” which are basically frozen fruit desserts in various forms.

Although making ice is pretty historic, it was not common to make it on an industrial scale even until the late 1600s and early 1700s. Ice was still being sourced naturally and stored in ice houses.  Harvesting and transporting ice became a great business model for the Americans. From United States, ice was travelling to Caribbean, South America and to India via large cargo ships in the 19th century. Making of artificial ice and then ice creams slowly started from the late 1600s in France and Italy. The ice cream back then was pretty much frozen creams with flavors added to them. There was no egg involved. The the French chef Vincent La Chapelle mentions for the first time in 1742 the addition of eggs, which became immensely popular as ice cream additives as it added a desirable texture and reduced the use of more expensive cream as an ingredient.

American started eating ice cream probably in the early 1700s when it traveled from Europe to New England. George Washington was so fond of this frozen treat that he bought a couple of pewter pot freezers from France and a “cream machine for making ice” to make ice cream at home (probably he lost all his teeth from eating an excess amount of his favorite flavor). His handwritten recipe for vanilla ice cream, preserved in the Library of Congress, is a burning testament to his passion.

Thank goodness making ice cream is not so tedious anymore and I do not have to climb mountains to harvest ice. While I standardize another flavor, go and make this ice cream, you’ll thank me later. And, wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year 2015. Let’s celebrate this festive season one (or maybe two or three) scoop(s) at a time!


Recipe: (adapted from Food52)


Vanilla-Bourbon Ice Cream

  • 1.5 cups whole milk
  • 1.5 cups cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon, divided
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup raw walnuts, lightly toasted and broken into smaller pieces

I have ‘almost’ copy-pasted the recipes as I haven’t changed anything in the recipe except making the walnut crumble. I just added toasted walnuts but if you have time, you can make the crumbles.

  1. In a medium pot, combine the milk, the cream, 1/4 cup of sugar, the salt, the vanilla bean (split it open first, and scrape it), and 1 tablespoon of the vanilla bourbon. Heat the liquid over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it froths. Turn off the heat.
  2. In a separate small bowl, collect the egg yolks. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and whisk for about 2 minutes, or until the yolks look a lighter yellow.
  3. Take a tiny measure of the milk mixture, and whisk it into the egg yolks. Keep adding the milk, little by little, whisking without pause as you go. When you’re finished, run the custard base through a sieve, add then add it back to the pot.
  4. Turn the heat again to medium-low. Stir the custard almost constantly as it heats. You want it to coat the back of your spoon; after that, it’s done.
  5. Move the custard to an ice bath. If you give it the occasional stir, it should be good and cold in about 45 minutes-1 hour. (You can also chill overnight in the fridge.) When the custard is cold, I like to stir in another tablespoon of the vanilla bourbon.
  6. Pour the cold custard into an ice cream maker. Let it go for about 20-25 minutes, or until the ice cream reaches the consistency of soft-serve. (Don’t let it go too long, or you will start to make butter.) At the last minute, add the walnuts.
  7. Spoon the ice cream into a plastic container, leaving as little air between the ice cream and the lid as possible, and move it to the freezer for at least 2-4 hours.
  8. As it is as natural as it can get, it melts really fast, so you have to be quick while serving.

The vanishing grain from our kids’ plates: Kaoner chaaler payesh/Millet pudding and wish you all a Happy Diwali


Every day, it was the same routine without exception. The school bell rang and there was no sign of me. My mother screamed her heart out while calling my nickname: “Tumpaaaa…….Tumpaaaaa….” with no response from me. Suddenly one of our neighbor aunts would say “Didi, Tumpa is hiding here”. I heard my Maa calling my name but always pretended that I didn’t. Sooner or later she would come and drag me home, often spanking my butt on the way back. She would wash my dirty feet, put fresh clothes on me, give me my aluminum suitcase and send me to the local school. The school was a ‘paathshala’ which literally means a place to study (mainly for underprivileged kids). There were two rooms with only 10-12 students in each room. One year was spent in the classroom next to the pond and the next year students were promoted to the other room, that’s pretty much all there was to it. There was no graduation ceremony, no chairs, no table, nothing. We took our own individual floor mats (aashon) everyday to sit on. It was more of a fun place than an actual education. All the kids there were way below the poverty level. There was only one girl whom I still clearly remember who was from a middle-class (not rich) family, she was one of the teachers’ daughters. She looked very different from the rest of us and wore nicer clothes.

Once every week it was special for me because we were given midday snacks. One week it was boiled and salted Bengal gram and the next week it would be followed by two slices of plain white bread. Every week I looked forward to that day. I still remember the taste, I can still feel the pieces of bread in my hands. I always feared that if I went home with the food, I might have to share them with Maa, so I stopped midway while going home and finished all of it (in retrospect, how selfish of me). I formed tiny balls from the inside of the white breads and then ate them one at a time, which was my own little game with myself. White bread was rare in my house. I am sure other kids were also looked forward to those days as bread other than Indian rotis were a luxury to them and the concept of free food was exciting.


India, being a developing country, many kids go to bed hungry. They simply cannot afford to go to school and are probably too malnourished anyhow. To address the problem, the Indian government started a midday meal scheme. Unfortunately, the scheme is suffering as the demon of corruption is grabbing it with all its power and trying to paralyze the system. As the focus was on nutritionally balanced food, different whole grains were incorporated into the meals. Millet being a cheap source of healthy carbohydrates and fiber was served in different forms. Apart from the corruption issue, there is another big problem coming into play. As the West is becoming more and more aware of the health benefits of ancient grains, like many other countries, India is exporting a substantial amount of millet to the west. Coupled with the export issue, millet is also considered to be inferior compared to rice and wheat in India, so farmers refuse to grow them. They don’t profit as much as they do growing and selling rice or wheat. Hence, the problem of foodgrain availability is increasing, midday meals are encountering hurdles and kids for whom these meals were the sole incentive to go to school are dropping out in thousands. For many of these kids, that midday meal is their only meal of the day, but ironically that is also being taken away. Knowingly or unknowingly we are contributing to a larger problem but there is so little we can do about it.


Kaoner chaal also known as foxtail millet is one such ancient grain that has almost dropped off the modern Indian food radar. It’s highly nutritious and a cheaper, healthier alternative to rice and wheat. The close relative found in the US is barnyard millet (or Sama ka Chawal/Vrat ka Chawal as it is known in India). You should try the pudding recipe below before this grain too becomes affordable only for the rich. It’s delicious and taste similar yet different to a regular rice pudding.



Evaporated milk: one 18 fl.oz. can/354 ml.

Whole milk: Same amount as evaporated milk/18fl oz.

Brown sugar: (can be substituted by gur/jaggery) ¾ cup (start with ½ cup and gradually increase according to your taste)

Kaoner chaal/Foxtail millet/barnyard millet: ½ cup

Cardamom: 2 nos.

Bay leaves: 2 nos.

Salt: One tiny pinch

Cashews: a small handful, somewhat broken.



  • Wash the millet several times and then soak it in water.
  • Mix the evaporated milk and the whole milk and start boiling it. (you can use all whole milk or substitute with half n half too). Once the milk comes to a boil, reduce the flame to medium. Add the bay leaves and the cardamom (break them slightly). Keep stirring frequently otherwise the milk will stick to the bottom. Keep an eye on the milk to avoid boiling over.
  • Once the milk is reduced to almost half, drain the millets and then add them to the milk. Mix well and let it cook on medium flame.
  • After the millets are properly cooked, add the sugar and the salt. Let the sugar melt and taste. If you need more sugar, add more. Add the broken cashews and turn off the heat.


PS: The millets soak a substantial amount of liquid, so keep it a bit more liquidy than you want. If it thickens too much after cooling, boil a little bit of milk and add it to the pudding. The pudding will taste a little bit more sweet when at room temp., so add sugar accordingly.


Childhood, nostalgia and very berry sherbet



In general, children in my little corner of the world didn’t grow up with abundance; in particular, the kind of childhood treats that my husband often took for granted growing up were few and far between for us. To put it another way, treats were indeed treats, rather than something which we could buy whenever we wanted. To us, chocolate was something to crave for several weeks (if not months) before we could get a bite of it. I never ever had a chance to eat the whole bar of chocolate as a kid. It was saved for several days, so I could enjoy it one precious cube at a time. After eating one cube, I would wrap the rest of the candy bar up neatly with the golden foil and save it for later. The same general procedure applied for ice creams – you could not just gobble up a whole cup of ice cream – you ate a few spoons and back it went into the freezer.

During summer (which was pretty much two thirds of a year), we had ice cream-walahs in our para (neighborhood) who would come pulling their wooden carts, shouting “ice cream” “ice cream”. On the infrequent occasion that we had enough money to buy one, we ran with our life to catch him. They were cheap, super cheap but they did not feel cheap back then. I memorized all the flavors, colors and tastes. My favorite ones were orange and coconut. I can still feel the coconutty taste in my mouth, and I used to lick the orange ice cream as hard as possible so that my tongue took on the color completely. I would then go to Maa and to my friends and stick my tongue out at them.

Anyhow, such were the simple joys of my childhood life. Happiness was an easy thing to achieve. The demands were simple (although they seemed huge back then) and when they were met, it felt like heaven. Life has moved on, moved far away from the simple joys that only children can know. Now, if I think about those ice creams, I think about carcinogens in the food coloring, diarrhea, calorie, hygiene and what not. Except the nostalgia, there is nothing happy. I became cynical. Whenever I buy food in the US, I actually don’t buy food anymore; it’s more like a chemistry field trip for me. Going through the list of chemicals, looking at the serving size and the calories, calories from fats, dietary fibers 3% vs 30%, artificial flavors vs. natural ones, hormone injection, homogenized or pasteurized, local or California-grown, artificial color, preservatives and organic or inorganic and the list is frustrating. I feel like I am losing the fun of eating. It’s so complicated. I wish I was uneducated and couldn’t read those labels. I wish I didn’t know what recombinant bovine growth hormones do to you, or that the red color in my “all-natural” strawberry ice cream is not from the strawberries but from beetroot extract.

Finally, my cynical brain has also started refusing to appreciate store-bought frozen yogurts. They taste chemical-y. They definitely do not taste fresh. I still eat them once in a while but the craving is gone. I still crave for frozen yogurt and ice cream in summer but not the ones from chains with neon lights and toppings from cans or bottles. After hesitating for a year, I finally gave up and bought an ice-cream maker to pamper my cynical brain. To put in it, I picked berries from the local orchard, deep red raspberries, purple blueberries, blackberries, juicy, sweet and slight tangy. I never knew that delicious, additive-free ice creams, sherbets and frozen yogurts are so absurdly easy to make! If I close my eyes and let my mind wander a bit, I can almost see myself waiting for the long-lost ice-cream man, and even my cynical brain is happy once again.
PS: sherbet is a compromise between a sorbet and an ice cream. It’s creamier than a sorbet but less so than an ice cream.





Mixed berry: 4 cups (I used: Strawberry and Blackberry one cup each and two cups of raspberry). You can choose any combination. You can make it with one type of berry as well.
Sugar: 1-2 cups depending on how sweet/sour your berries are.
Salt: one pinch
Flavored vodka: 2 tablespoon (optional). I used lemon mint flavored. You can use flavored liqueur too.
Mint leaves: 6-8 depending on the size. If they are big leaves, use 4-5-ish.
Milk: 2 cups (I used whole milk). If you choose to use 2% milk, your sherbet will have more crystals. DO NOT use fat free milk, there is no point wasting the effort.
Lemon juice: 1 table spoon.

• Blend the berries along with the milk and one cup of sugar to a smooth paste.
• Strain the puree through a sieve and discard the seeds and any solid chunk of the fruit.
• Taste for sweetness. If needed, add more sugar.
• Chop the mint leaves finely.
• Add the salt, the lemon juice, mint leaves and the vodka/liqueur and give it a good stir.
• Chill the mixture in the fridge for at least half n hour.
• Churn it in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instruction (usually 20-25 minutes).
• Freeze it in a shallow freezer box for several hours-overnight. Mine was frozen overnight.


Peach galette: one of summer’s blessings


Summer, that lovely time around here when I feel alive and awake. The long days keep me energetic and active. The bright daylight awakens my soul. I plan my days outdoors as much as possible. I try to eat the freshest possible  local fruits and vegetables whenever I can, before I’m  again forced to eat something grown in California which traveled across the country half ripe based on an approximation that it would reach stores in some poor apology of ripeness. I go to farmers markets, sit outside at restaurants and ride my bike with my bike-crazy husband. There is nothing more invigorating than being in the sun.


Almost every week, I make a trip to the local orchard and pick my own fruit. Its great fun, and the fruits and berries are delicious. I buy my peaches either from there or from the local farm stands. The golden peaches ooze with juiciness and show off their bright orange flesh when in season and perfectly ripe. Both Dr. Sen and I are big fans of cooked peaches (even more than the uncooked ones). Even more so than other fruits, peaches taste doubly delicious when cooked. If you are not in a mood to prepare an elaborate dessert, just smear the pan with butter and roast the peaches with a little bit of brown sugar (or without) until caramelized. Eat them with vanilla ice cream. If you are in a mood to make something little elaborate, make a galette. The rustic galette is pretty idiot-proof. Being an idiot when it comes to baking, it was pretty easy for me. It needs very few ingredients and taste delicious. The best part is, you can tweak it according to your taste. Don’t like peaches? Add blueberries, raspberries, apples, plums or pears. Don’t like saffron? Use vanilla essence instead. Don’t like cream? Just skip it. It’s very versatile and the margin for error is very forgiving.




Recipe: (Inspired from Kulsum’s post)


Puff pastry dough: one sheet (store bought, frozen), thawed according to package instruction

Ripe peaches: three medium to large

Brown sugar: two table spoon or more if the peaches aren’t sweet enough

Ricotta cheese: 1/3 cup

Pistachio-almond: soaked and then chopped finely, 1/3 cup (you can use any other nuts)

Saffron: if using good quality saffron, then one tiny pinch (may be three-four strands)

One egg/butter melted 2 tbsp.

Parchment paper

Flour to dust the parchment paper

Milk: 2 tbsp.
Cardamom: 2 pods, shell removed and seeds ground.



  • Soak the saffron in one-two tablespoon warm milk for 15-20 minutes.
  • Slice the peaches evenly into thin slices and then mix with the sugar. Keep them refrigerated for ½ hour-1 hour.
  • Sprinkle all-purpose flour on the parchment paper and roll out the pastry sheet. Mine fell apart while unfolding and I had to knead it again a bit and then I rolled it out to ¼” thickness.
  • Put the sheet with the parchment paper on a baking sheet.
  • Mix the saffron and the cardamom powder
    with the cream very well.
  • Spread the cheese on the pastry sheet leaving one inch border space.
  • Layer the peaches on the cream in alternate fashion (shown in the picture)
  • Fold the sides leaving most of the peaches uncovered.
  • Keep the entire thing in the fridge for an hour or two (overnight works well too) until chilled.
  • Preheat the oven to 375-400C.
  • Beat the egg or use the butter.
  • Take the galette out of the fridge, sprinkle the nuts on it, brush either a little bit of beaten egg or melted butter on the sheet (the border only) and then bake it for 45-an hour and 15 minutes. The time will vary from oven to oven. You will know it’s done when the pastry sheet will be golden brown in color.
  • I usually take it out after 40 minutes and brush it with egg once more.
  • Let it cool on a wire rack for 10-20 minutes.
  • Serve it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


If you want to eat it by itself, add two tablespoon of sugar in the cheese












Strawberries romanoff, a light rereshing summer dessert

Nowadays there is a theme going on in my family, neighbors, relatives and friends back home in India. The usual complaint is that it’s getting harder and harder to find domestic helps, as the demographic that was the traditional recruitment pool refuses to work as domestic helps anymore. Quite understandably, they would rather work in an air-conditioned mall or a departmental store, earn more money and have a structured career. Seems like the growing high-disposable income middle class with and the elite upper middle class is in a panic because the moment might be at their doorstep, when they have to drive themselves home from work, cook their own dinners and clean the dishes afterwards.
Why wouldn’t the so-called “lower classes” stop working as domestic help? They should have stopped a long time ago. They couldn’t as they did not have any choice. They are still not exactly spoilt for choice but it’s better than before. In “India Shining”, there are many new odd jobs which need more manual labor than education, allowing them to overcome their biggest disadvantage – lack of formal education.


Somehow, I always empathized with the people who worked as domestic helps in our house, feeling that with the slightest vagary of fate, my mother or my father could have been in their place. Both my parents grew up in a very lower middle-class family where the chances were more that they would end up doing menial jobs. Fortunately they didn’t. But when I see my mom complaining about her domestic help, my mother-in-law shouting at her maids, see other people mistreating them, my heart sinks. Many of you will say, “Why don’t you do something for them? Why don’t you stand up for them and do something that will help them rather than writing a fancy article for my blog?” That is so true. I believe social work starts from home. I told my Maa a zillion times over the phone and in person that they are human beings, they deserve compassion, love and should be treated like any other human being. They are not disposable and cheap laborers. My Maa doesn’t abuse her maid or mistreat her but the expectation is unbalanced. A girl who is almost exactly my age, has a son who is in ninth standard, got married (probably long before she was ready for it) to a husband who deserted her after four months of their marriage and now works as maid for five houses, works as a night-care nurse during the night, lives in a falling apart rented apartment, what do you expect her to do? When I asked my Maa how old she was and learnt that she is around my age, I felt even worse. I faced my own share of struggles to rise above my destiny, to do my best, but my life is no way comparable to hers. Actually, I should not even compare my life with hers. When I was hungry, I had food on my plate, my parents worked hard to send me to a convent school, I married the man of my dreams, I haven chosen not to have children until I feel ready for it – the list of advantages is endless.

I have tried talking to my mother in law too and tried to explain that the way she treats her domestic helps is wrong. But exactly like my mother, she has her set of excuses for her way of dealing with them. I’ll keep on trying even if my own family members refuse to understand what I say. I’ll not quit. There are many good things I’ve learnt after I moved here in the US. Possibly the biggest is that no job is menial. And for those of you about to say “We treat our domestic help Ramu kaka or Susma mashi as our own family” – let me be frank – most of you have no idea what you are talking about.
So, when I complain that the local gourmet store ran out of the Vermont Dairy crème fraîche I need for my strawberries Romanoff and get upset that I have to compromise with the mass-produced version from Trader Joe’s, I think I need someone to bang me on my head and remind me to be grateful for whatever I have in the first place. Gradually, I am trying to stop running after the utopian life we all dream about.




Crème Fraiche (full fat): one 8 oz tub or heavy whipping cream around one cup (I have used creme fraiche)

Any brandy of your choice: one and a half tablespoon (I used Kirschwasser/cherry brandy), you can use Cointreau or Grand Marnier too.

Sugar (brown or white, I prefer brown): to taste

A pinch of salt

Strawberries: around one cup (approximate)

Juice of one lemon


One vanilla pod or one tablespoon vanilla flavor (try to use a good quality one).

  • Hull and slice the strawberries into medium slices. Add the lemon juice a little bit of sugar and half tablespoon of brandy and let them marinate for an hour in the fridge (optional).
  • Scrape the seeds out from the vanilla pod if using the pod.
  • Whip the crème fraiche or the whipped cream with the sugar, one tablespoon brandy, vanilla seeds or flavor and salt until nice and fluffy (or until soft peak forms).
  • Chill the crème in the fridge for at least an hour.
  • Divide the crème into serving glasses and top it up with the marinated strawberries.