Yesterday would have been my Mom's 63rd birthday, and coming as it does on the heels of Mother's day, it makes this time of the year hard to deal with. But I've got her Grandson to distract me, and watching him help me dig in the garden is as fitting a tribute as I can imagine. Our lilacs are out in full force, and the wet breeze yesterday was intensely perfumed with memory-inducing smells of earlier rainy Mays. I moved our blueberries, and planted a variety of raspberries in their place, and generally kept myself busy in the garden and woodshop.
For dinner I made ma po tofu, but using the rest of the seasoned lamb mixture instead of pork. I also don't make it spicy, but we compensate after the fact with lots of hot sauce. To go with it, quinoa and some of our Tuscan kale which is finally starting to bolt. Considering that I planted it in October, it easily wins the award for the most successful overwintering crop, and it's sweet and beautiful to eat as it takes its final bow and makes room for the next generation.
I read somewhere recently about lilacs being edible, and a lilac ice cream, so I decided I'd try making it to accompany a strawberry-rhubarb pie; the flowers and the pie are both things that I associate very strongly with my Mother. I simmered the flowers in cream, a little soymilk, sugar, and a splash of rum, figuring that some of the perfume in the flowers might be more soluble in alcohol. I also added some honey, since that seemed like a nice secondary flavor for the ice cream. The kitchen smelled incredible while I separated eggs and beat them.
The pie was very simple: my Grandmother's perfect crust (which, amusingly, my Mom could never make; we called it the "generation-skipping crust" which should amuse all you probate lawyers out there no end.) The filling cooked down a bit and I thickened it with a little flour since we had no cornstarch. And I made lattices with the extra dough, again for reasons of tradition, and also because my wife likes lattices on her pies.
Once frozen, the ice cream had a lovely smooth curl to it, and it did in fact taste very strongly of lilacs. Have you ever used some hand lotion or other product and it smelled so heavenly that you wished you could eat it? That's exactly what this was like. And since I always under-sweeten my tarts just a bit, the sweet ice cream did a wonderful job of highlighting the tangy filling and flaky crust. Milo was so excited by the ice cream that he also took a couple of bites of the flower I used to garnish it with. Happy birthday, Claire.