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    Maple Ice Cream with Wet Walnuts and Maple Caramel Sauce

    While we all believe that finding friends, keeping friends, nurturing those friendships is hard – well, it is, actually. Trust can be hard. Still liking those people once you get beyond the ‘isn’t it great we both like Chinese food’ phase doesn’t always happen. It can happen, though.

    There are THOSE friends – knowing you can be out of touch for months, years, and one look, one smile, one hug, one phone call, and time melts away as though the last time you saw or spoke to each other was yesterday. Those long time friendships – like The Dear One and I, knowing each other since the 6th grade – those are the people who know you the best. They knew you before you built those walls, before life tainted you, before you became jaded. Was life perfect, no? Were we perfect, no? But we truly were more innocent and perhaps that’s why those friendships are so easy and lasting.

    I am lucky enough as an adult (well, really not, much like Peter Pan I won’t grow up) to have a few friends I would throw myself on the gauntlet for … you know who you are so I’m not naming names. You know, those people you would move heaven and earth for if they asked … and move it twice as much when they don’t ask, that is usually the time they need you the most.

    The Dear One, who admittedly is reclusive, has a few of these friends. Long time – 30 year friendships. Friends who I am very grateful for, as they have taken me into their hearts as though we have known each other for that long as well. I am grateful for each and every one of them (there could be a few more gals in the mix, but hey, they’re all great!) Sadly, this week, we lost one of those dear, special men. Charlie and The Dear One bonded instantly – much time on islands, playing with birds, counting stars, drinking, talking about life, women, family, heartache, future. The Dear One would and has many times, dropped whatever he was doing for Charlie – and Charlie the same in return. It didn’t matter when the last time they saw each other was – when they were in each other’s presence, no time had gone by. Charlie’s new bride, Mona, and I became friends instantly. Charlie and Mona were married a month before The Dear One and I – little did we know, he was ill even then – we celebrated at each other’s weddings.

    Charlie’s passing has made us realize how tender life is, how precarious, how precious. How petty bullshit and slights that no one can even remember need to be put aside, and why friendship and love needs to stand in the foreground, shining like a beacon. A beacon that guides you to those who will always love you, always welcome you, always be there to catch you when you fall, always look past your perceived inadequacies. A beacon that rings out, ‘I am your safe harbor, always’. We all really need that, don’t we?

    We have celebrated Charlie’s life with friends – more than once and will continue to do so … A LOT (a lot of whiskey is usually involved).

    One of these celebrations involved dinner with two dear friends that we have spent far too little time with of late. Why? Who knows. Should it be? No. Sometimes being the first person to blink is really hard. Then no one blinks and you sit around missing that person(s) and cannot figure out how to get it back. Sometimes time just goes by and that just becomes a norm – not one anyone likes or wants but just is.

    Charlie’s passing put us in and on the same path again. It was wonderful. Giggling. Stories. Great food. Great friends. Hopefully we will not wait so long to do it again. I have missed them BIGLY. Thank you, Charlie.

    You are reading this wondering what does this have to do with Maple Ice Cream with Wet Walnuts and Caramel swirl? Well, I’ll tell ya … I needed to bring something to this wonderful dinner and I’ve been jonesing to make this ice cream. So I did and I did – and it was FAB-ulous!

    The Dear One had suggested maple ice cream, remembering trips for ice cream on Block Island, going so late in the day or evening that the only thing left was maple ice cream. I would always walk away instead of having maple ice cream. It always looked so … TAN!

    But this would be made with OUR own maple syrup, and what if I make some wet walnuts with maple syrup, and – WAIT! – What if I add a caramel swirl – OOOOHHH! A maple caramel swirl!

    The ice cream is delicious. The wet walnuts are gooey (but not too gooey) and salty. The maple caramel swirl? Well, it’s good, but I need to come up with a different way. I substituted the maple syrup for the water and it is not soft and ribbon-y, but tough and tooth breaking. Still ‘can’t eat enough’ delicious!

     

    • 1 1/2 C whole milk
    • 2 T sugar
    • 1 1/2 C heavy cream
    • 5 large egg yolks
    • 3/4 C dark maple syrup
    • 1/4 t coarse salt
    • 1/4 t vanilla extract
    • Wet Walnuts (recipe follows)
    • Maple Caramel Swirl (recipe follows)

    Warm milk and sugar in medium saucepan.

    Pour cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.

    In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then pour the warmed egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan.

    Stir the mixture constantly over medium-low heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir. Stir until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.

    Pour the custard through the strainer and into the cream to cool.

    Add the maple syrup, salt, and vanilla, and stir over ice bath until cool. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator – at least 3 hours.

    Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the Wet Walnuts.

    Wet Walnuts

    • 1/2 C, plus 1 tablespoon dark maple syrup
    • 1 1/2 C walnuts, toasted and very coarsely chopped
    • 1/4 t coarse salt

    Heat the maple syrup in a small skillet or saucepan until it just begins to come to a full boil.

    Stir in the walnuts and salt, and cook until the liquid comes to a full boil once more. Stir the nuts for 10 seconds, then remove them from the heat and let cool completely before using. The nuts will still be wet and sticky when cooled.

    NOTE: This will look like WAAAAY too many to put in the ice cream, but after you have nibbled a few here and there – wait, no, actually it’s the perfect amount!

    Maple Caramel Swirl

    • 6 T Sugar
    • 1/2 C heavy cream
    • 2 T Maple Syrup

    In a clean, dry, nonstick skillet, sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over medium heat. When the sugar begins to melt and lightly color, sprinkle in 2 more tablespoons and start swirling pan to help evenly distribute sugar. Add the final 2 tablespoons and cook, swirling pan until all the sugar has melted. Let cook, swirling occasionally, until the sugar syrup caramelizes and turns dark brown. Pour in the heavy cream and 2 tablespoons maple syrup (stand back; it may splatter).

    Simmer, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula until smooth. Cool completely.

    NOTE: When I made this caramel swirl in my Rhubarb Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl, the 2 tablespoons of maple syrup was 2 tablespoons of water. The water kept this swirl from becoming too hard – you know, too much sugar (as if!). The maple doesn’t lend much here flavor-wise, so next time it’s back to the 2 tablespoons of water and keeping my fillings.

    Now, to put it together –

    Spoon about 1/3 of the caramel mixture into whatever container you are using to freeze the ice cream in in the freezer. Then 1/3 of the ice cream mixture and repeat, ending with the ice cream. Cover and put in freezer until solid. Mine took overnight.

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