[The other night, January 2009.]
A few times a winter a week lands up in the city by the bay that is exquisitely out of season — warm (hot, even), sunny, with a balmy breeze if indeed there’s a breeze at all. It’s a week that sings a sweet song of summer — or the summer we’d all like to believe is possible here (have I mentioned July? Perhaps it’s better to not.) — and makes me want to buy a bottle of gin for g&ts served icy cold and with a wedge of lemon. It’s a week of stolen time, a week to savor and mildly exclaim over, a week to appreciate and be enchanted by.
It’s a week for indulgence: in sun, in clear blue skies, in ice cream.
This is not, of course, to say I don’t eat ice cream on winter’s chilliest days (in December, if you recall, there was peppermint ice cream eaten up slow and silky while I gazed at the lights from my wee Christmas tree). At home in Sebastopol my mom almost always keeps the freezer well-stocked with delicious options such as mint-chocolate-chip or chocolate or butter pecan, and you can be certain I slurped on a few of those when I was there over the holidays. Then, too, there was the carton of Clover french vanilla I bought to accompany the new year’s vasilopita and which went untouched save for a secret swipe by my brother (sorry, my love, you know it’s true.) Ice cream is delicious in all seasons but it’s especially, especially delicious when it’s hot out.
And apparently it’s summer here, at least for this impossible, improbable (and marvelous) stretch of days. Yesterday I stole a half-hour on the roof and read (The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food), by Judith Jones, one of the sweetest memoirs I’ve picked up in a long time) and soaked up some sun. Today I repeated this little exercise and if that means I’m boring than I’d rather not see what exciting means. I am thinking about baseball season, though it’s still months away, those sweating afternoons at the park punctuated by the satisfying thwack of a bat as it connects with the ball. I am wishing to be kayaking on Tomales Bay on a day so hot you can pull over on the opposite shore (or maybe on Hog Island) and slip under the skin of that sweet blue to search for whales (lest you think whales do not come so far inland I will assure you that they do, and I have see them). I am longing, it’s true, for a month off and all the time in the world to drowse on the beach.
In lieu of this, however, there are roof decks and ice water and the days slowly (oh, so slowly!) lengthening in the run-up to daylight savings time. I am still a bit sickish which means holding off on my favorite cocktail for a few more days (perhaps at the weekend?) but there is little else that soothes a slightly feverish brow than a good dish of plain vanilla ice cream.
Well, it’s never really plain, is it? Particularly when it comes from my very favorite dairy (I swear their ice cream is some of the best store-bought I’ve ever tasted: rich, grassy, and Sonoma County) and is doused liberally in chocolate.
I’ve been making this chocolate sauce from Gourmet for many years and it’s worth every penny spent on a carton of decent cream (I like Clover here again, and organic please) and vanilla to forgo the packaged stuff. I don’t usually like to use corn syrup but I think once in awhile it’s alright — and maybe you could substitute sugar instead; if you do this, let me know — because for this sauce most everything would be alright just to keep a jar of it in the fridge. Smooth, fudgy, and thick with the taste of pure chocolate, once you taste it nothing else will ever come close. It’s so good I could eat it straight off of the spoon (and I have) in long drips; it’s even better draped over ice cream that’s been left out a few minutes on the counter to soften a bit.
I know this week is an anomaly — coy San Francisco, with your wind-whipped Aprils, decadently warm Septembers, and occasionally rain-drenched Decembers, you’re playing hard to get. But if I ply you with ice cream and chocolate can I entreat you to let this glorious weather stay just a little bit longer? At least until the weekend? Oh, darling, do say you will.
Hot fudge sauce, from the February 2004 issue of Gourmet
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Bring cream, corn syrup, sugar, cocoa, salt, and half of chocolate to a boil in a 1 to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until chocolate is melted. Reduce heat and cook at a low boil, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Add butter, vanilla, and remaining chocolate and stir until smooth. Cool sauce to warm before serving.