Six years ago this August I was sitting on the Great Wall of China. It’s a significant memory to me: climbing and climbing, leaving the sweltering humidity behind and slowly making my way toward blue sky and high towers. Adam was with me, along with two of his Chinese students, Fran and Jack*. We spent the day there, walking and climbing, sitting and staring. I remember taking a break on crumbled steps, my mind’s eye sharp and clear. Breathing hard and enchanted by my first journey in the mountains, I was reminded of all the lives I was sitting on: lives given to the endless project of the boundless Wall. Yet here we were, crawling all over the stone, taking pretty pictures for our scrapbooks. My unconscious was shaken with how easily beauty and sorrow dance together. What odd partners they are, and how terrible or joyous when they switch off leading.
Our drive home was silent; we were crazy-tired and soaked with sweat. The subject of dinner came up; we were hungry, too, and while we debated where to stop Fran mentioned in passing the three things she hated most to eat: coffee, dairy, and chocolate. I was shocked, and all my musings and soon-to-be journal entries flitted away as I thought of life without the better part of my diet. We laughed at our varied food cultures, and I told her when she came to visit I would change her mind.
She never came to us, but I think of her often, climbing the tremendous Wall near me, a faithful friend and guide from our first hello. I am certain this ice cream would have convinced her to think differently about her three least favorite foods – a deep coffee flavor that is tamed slightly by the cream, and chocolate at it’s purest form: crunchy, bitter cacao nibs subtly mellowed by the sweet milk.
Dear Fran, this is for you. If there is ever a time to eat together, I hope this would persuade you otherwise about my beloved treats. But even if not, I would thank you for your sincere friendship and unassuming kindness that brought beauty and insight to our climb.
*Fran and Jack refused to let us call them by their Chinese names, so I only knew them by their chosen American names.
no-churn coffee ice cream with cacao nibs
adapted from everyday food
My favorite way to eat this no-churn ice cream is about 3-4 hours into freezing – it’s still a little soft, and just melts in your mouth. I sneak bits out of my fridge at this point. However, if you want it more firm, freeze it the full 6 hours or overnight. I used cold press in my ice cream, but if you don’t have that on hand, strong coffee will work just fine. Use any roast that you enjoy.
1 can [14 ounces] sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup strong cold coffee or cold press
2 cups cold heavy cream
1/3 cup cacao nibs
In a medium bowl, stir together condensed milk, vanilla, coffee and cacao nibs.
With a standing mixer, whip cream on medium high until soft peaks form. Whisk one third of whipped cream into coffee mixture. Fold remaining whipped cream into coffee mixture until incorporated. Pour into a regular sized loaf pan, and freeze until firm, 6 hours [or, covered, up to 1 week].