When I was a kid, I thought that ice cream sandwiches were born. I never thought about how things were made. “Chicken nugget” referred to a crunchy, dippable entity that had no relation to the hens I had seen pecking around at my friend’s ranch. American cheese arrived in slices. It wasn’t cut from blocks, and it never started with cows. In my books, Gushers and Pop Rocks were as natural as pineapples and green apples. I was as concerned about the origins of hot dogs and bologna as I was about Pope John Paul II or the grunge movement (not very).
I even remember a time while eating McDonald’s fries when I wondered about the crispy coating. I only ate the square ends–a texture fiend, even then–and my red box always ended up with little poky fry ends falling out the slits at the bottom. Gazing at a golden shoestring, I wondered if they were coated with something to make them crisp to that succulent texture and color–the middle still so white–or if the crispy fry shells were produced and filled with the velvety insides. I imagined giant machines pumping individual fries full of fry material. What I’m telling you is that the golden arches so little resembled potatoes that it wasn’t obvious to me that the two were related. And I suppose I never asked.
Nowadays, knowing the details of my food has become a passion. As much as I would like to say that the impetus behind my obsession with finding out what pepper looks like before it is a peppercorn in the spice aisle, for example, is environmentalism, sustainability, or social activism, those aren’t my biggest motivators.
In part, it’s an impulse to art, a reverence for material and craft. Know your onion! (and love it).
But really, half of my joy of cooking comes from the tactile experiences of touching food, washing it, transforming it from raw material into art. It’s almost just a bonus for me that the food tastes delicious…I said, “almost.”
Of course I’m aware that many many people in the world are more concerned with consuming enough calories to survive than respecting vegetables, and it’s hard to talk about food without falling into the host of issues surrounding poverty and privilege. There was a time in my life when I didn’t have enough food. In another way, though, I want people to eat well the way I want to share a view of some gorgeous landscape–because it’s beautiful and it seems like part of being human.
I don’t want to forget what it’s like to make something with my hands. People used to be connected to food production in ways we can’t even imagine now. In my Visual Culture class, they filled me up with lots of ammunition regarding commercialism, advertising culture, and the way that the production of commodities and goods has become separate from our everyday lives. We don’t make our food–we buy it.
Cooking things, passing the raw material through your own hands, can get you a little bit closer to the edge of the grid, where your concerns are with your local scene and the communities around you. It could be a sign of neuroticism, but in these crazy economic times, I cling to the ability to create a meal from vegetables grown down the road instead of buying mechanically separated horrors. Or to putting together ice cream sandwiches instead of buying a soggy pack of corn syrup.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to teach you how to grind your own flour. All I did was make ice cream sandwiches, and with store bought yogurt and sprinkles for that matter. And in that vein, I don’t know where my cocoa powder or vanilla came from. Even when the bottle tells you, can you be sure? Baby steps. Soon enough, I’ll be like my friend who, when making homemade peanut butter cups, makes cookies to crumble up inside the mixture instead of using the called-for graham crackers, citing “mysterious origins.”
This cookie recipe is straight from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. You may have noticed my affinity for Deb Perelman’s recipes, but really, it seems like she can’t write a bad one. The chocolatey cookies are so perfect, even without the ice cream filling. Almost like a sugar cookie, but so deceptively fudgy.
I made these for the Roomz’s birthday, and they were highly acclaimed. I rolled the cookies out thinly — about ¼ inch — and baked for 8 minutes. I jabbed some of them with the prongs of a fork to make them more ice cream sandwich-y. Use the toppings and ice cream flavors of your choice! I will respect you a ton if you churn the ice cream yourself. 🙂 I can’t explain the sprinkles. It’s a love inseparable from my being. I know they are the definition of “mysterious,” but, alas.
Disclaimer: Please don’t quote me. Remember, all of this is coming from a grad student with no kids.
Ice Cream Sandwiches from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.
Yields 60+ cookies when rolled super thinly
3 cups flour (I used all-purpose, but would experiment with wheat)
⅔ cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (16 Tablespoons) softened butter
1½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Set out butter to soften, and don’t skip this step.
2. Mix dry ingredients and whisk together.
3. Whip softened butter with sugar until light in color and super fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add vanilla.
4. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet. The dough gets dry–eventually I had to abandon the mixer and do a bit of light kneading. Roll dough in ball and refrigerate for ~30 minutes. Deb says to wait an hour, but when I did that it was unrollable.
6. Preheat oven to 350 F. Flour hands, surface, and rolling pin. Using about ⅓ of dough at a time, roll out to desired thickness (⅛ to ¼ inch). Bake on greased baking sheet for 8-11 minutes. I suggest closer to the 8 end of things.
7. When cooled, scoop ice cream into sandwiches, using a butter knife to smooth edges. Roll in desired toppings, then transfer to a tray and keep in freezer while preparing the rest. When ready, scarf! And post pictures online for all your jealous friends who have to pay $4.75 for a “Chipwich” made from creepy shortening and “chocolatey” chips.