Exactly 1 year ago, I was still an undergraduate who was in her final term. As I was about to graduate, I kept myself overly busy with a 24-page senior thesis paper, exams and quizzes, homework, news assignments and interviews. And when I wasn’t working on these tasks, you could almost always find me nosing around in the kitchen, with the camera and reading my favorite food blogs. So, I was (and am still) busy.
I know I wasn’t supposed to, but I always managed to give my friends alibis to turn down their invitations. Whenever I think back, it seemed ridiculous and unwise. Though performing academically well is important, I should have given myself a break. *Sigh*
Exactly 1 year ago, I was on a 1-week spring break. I kept reminding myself: “Stop fooling around! Finish your goddamn thesis paper! You’re not gonna graduate!” I got terrified initially and put myself on a frantic “research-and-write mode.” Then, my friend put me on a totally different track with this, “Yo, wanna join us for trip down to the sunny Florida – to Disney World?”
Buzz Lightyear and his green multi-eyed friends at one of the parades at Disney World
Yes. No. Yes. No … After hesitation and procrastination, I gave them a last-minute decision with a “yes!” The offer was too good to miss. The notion of a sunny Florida lured me out of the freezing Minnesota. The thought of driving cross-country stirred up my thirst for adventure. The picture of sky-high roller coasters gave me a virtual rush of adrenaline through my head. I was only halfway through my paper. But I told myself, “Heck, screw it up!”
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Five excited Malaysian students took off at about noon on March 07, 2009. We drove (duh!), snacked, chatted, sang and slept our way through. The trip kicked off in Bemidji, Minn. The southbound journey took us through the state of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia before reaching Florida. (We took another route when we headed back north.) The patience, will and determination demonstrated by the three of my friends still amaze me: They drove for hours without a word of complaint. Thanks, guys! I really appreciate what you did! (Missing you and hope to see you all again! And credit goes to my parents, too, who sponsored me for the trip!)
Hitting the road again after a few hours of sleep and breakfast in Indianapolis, Ind.
The two-day road trip was inspiring! The four seasons displayed and transformed right before us as we drove from the freezing North to the warm and sunny South! We started off wearing huge, thick winter coats and furry gloves. By the time we reached Florida, we were clad in just T-shirts and jeans! Felt lighter (literally) and so good!
March in north central Midwest (Bemidji, Minn.)
Somewhere near Chattanooga, Tenn. I think we were pretty close to the Appalachians -- it looks green and feels like spring!
I miss the Southern hospitality. I dream of Southern food. I heart Southern drawl. (Yee-ess, maa-am! Ya hurr-erd mee, rah-ee-it!) Our 1-week sojourn there wasn’t enough! I can still recall the moment when I first heard this expression at a gas station in Tennessee, “It’s fixin’ to rain.” Gagged and puzzled, I turned to my friend, who worked in the South last summer, and asked, “The sky needs to be fixed in order to pour!?” She said “fixing” is a Southern slang for “going to.” So, it really means, “It’s going to rain.” Hahaha …!
University of Louisville in Louisville, Ken.
On a highway between Tennessee and Georgia. An interesting truck with a questionable head: Is it driving toward us? Hahaha ...!
Oh, how about the food!? I’m declaring hereafter that Southerners have one of the best fried chicken and biscuits in the world! At almost every corner down South, you’re likely to bump into restaurants that sell just fried chicken and biscuits! (Hey, I ain’t talking about the Colonel’s! Speaking of competition, he’s got stiff one there!) Fried chicken of the South has that ultra succulent and tender meat with that utterly spicy crispy skin that’s seasoned with just the right amount of salt. Mmm … (But sorry, no photo here!)
Biscuits in the American sense are not the same as British biscuits, which are almost always sweet and are closest to the American term “cookies.” Instead, American biscuits are a close cousin of British scones. But, Americans serve theirs warm with savory gravy – not clotted cream and jam. A true American experience indeed. Southern biscuits have this signature fluffiness and springiness that can’t be found elsewhere, not even in the North! They’re so addictive! Man, thinking about it makes me drool! Pairing the good food with the direct, “in-your-face” hospitality of the South gives you an unbeatably good deal! What more could I ask for? (I should probably churn out some home-made biscuits! It’s time!)
Anyhow, I shall continue recounting my Disney World moments with you in the next post. (I know I’m getting long-winded here.) It’s been long overdue, but I’m dying to spread the word out to all you out there. Here’s one of the best ice cream recipes I’ve tried so far. Well, how can it not be good when it’s a recipe from Helen of Tartelette!
I actually made this strawberry-vanilla ice cream during my last month in the States. Remember I told you about my strawberry picking experience from last summer? After enjoying them right out of my hand – fresh and plain – I froze 2/3 of the hand-picked strawberries. They were unexpectedly sweet! The initial intention was to clear as much stock before my departure back to Malaysia. But once I’d set my eyes on this recipe, I wiped off the strawberries for the sake of making and eating this ice cream! Yikes!
It’s an easy ice cream recipe. I didn’t use ice cream maker to churn the ice cream; it was all manpower. I suppose when it’s churned with a machine, the texture should taste superior, just like what Helen did. Nonetheless, my family friends and I loved how the ice cream turned out with its absolutely creamy, smooth and luscious mouthfeel. The mellow vanilla base spelled out the dreamy experience perfectly. As I my tongue twirled around the ice cream that was melting in my mouth, the refreshing strawberry bits gave my taste buds that tingling sweet-and-tangy sensation. A creamy and fruity combo. What more could you ask for in a humble home-made ice cream that came with lots of love and attention -- and no additive! *Wink*
Strawberry-Vanilla Ice Cream (Adapted From Helen's)
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
100 g (1 cup) caster sugar
*I found the sweetness of the ice cream was just right.*
473 ml (2 cups) half-and-half
**I used 1:1 of fresh whole milk : heavy cream to get 2 cups half-and-half. In other words, 1 cup whole milk and 1 cup heavy cream.**
1 vanilla bean, split open
***I used 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract.***
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
****I used frozen ones, which were then thawed in the refrigerator overnight before cooking. Don't fret because frozen ones will lose plenty of juice. Nothing goes to waste because you still can drink the juice plain or slightly sweetened with a bit of sugar, right? That said, I drained the thawed strawberries real well before use. And, I still took the effort to remove their hulls and slice them up. Worked for me.****
*****I seriously believe that we can make variants of this fruity vanilla ice cream with other fresh or frozen berries e.g. blueberries and raspberries. Yumm!*****
25 g (2 Tbsp) caster sugar
- In a large bowl, whisk (A) together till pale and thick; set aside
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat (B) together over medium heat to bring it to a simmer without letting it come to a full boil. Next, gradually pour the hot cream to the beaten yolks in a thin stream while you keep whisking to temper the yolks -- and to avoid scrambling them!
******I skipped the vanilla bean in this step since I didn't use it.******
- Return the entire mixture into the saucepan and cook it over low heat -- stirring constantly -- till it coats the back of your wooden spoon. Remove from/Turn off the heat immediately to stop cooking it. Now, you've gotten yourself crème anglaise.
*******I stirred in the vanilla extract at the end of step #3.*******
Let the custard cool thoroughly. Then, strain well before refrigerating it till completely cold
- While chilling the custard in the fridge, prepare the strawberries. Place the berries and 25 g caster sugar in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook them together over low heat long enough for the berries to soften and give out a little bit of juice. Next, remove them from the heat and let cool completely aside before use
- Transfer the chilled custard into another container that comes with a lid. Freeze it for 45 minutes.
- After about 45 minutes or as soon as you see ice crystals start to form around the edges of the mixture, remove the semi-frozen mixture from the freezer. Whip it up real well in e.g. a mixing bowl with your hand mixer till its almost doubled in volume. Then, return the whipped mixture into the container and freeze for another 45 minutes
*You may whip the cold mixture with hand whisk or a sturdy spatula. But, electric hand mixer will make your life easier.*
- Repeat step #6: keep "disturbing" the mixture as it freezes, for 2 -- 4 times
- Now, check the partially frozen mixture every 1 - 1.5 hours. Stirring it a little bit as it freezes to prevent ice crystals from forming. Towards the end of churning, stir in the par-cooked strawberries to the half- to almost frozen ice cream mixture -- make sure they are evenly scattered throughout the ice cream. Continue "disturbing" the ice cream mixture -- stop doing this once it's frozen and set
**This is what Helen shared with us: If you stir in the strawberries too early in the process of churning, you may end up with pink ice cream!**
- If necessary, transfer the ice cream into another airtight container. Then, store it in the freezer till it's time to serve