After my divorce, I moved away to teach some very at risk kids in East Palo Alto, Ca, at a charter school that hired me over the phone. I’d been driving around Reno as an itinerant art teacher for the better part of seven years, and needed a permanent classroom, somewhere I could keep my markers and brushes out on a counter, rather than rolling around in the trunk of my car. I needed some distance too, some time to be separate from the town where I met and married my college sweetheart, and divorced him when Jacob was just two and a half. I needed some space from people who tired me out, and did not bring out the best in me.
So I did what I had to do. I looked in the paper, found an ad for an art teaching position, and dialed. They hired me a week later, and after flying to New York for training, and training three more weeks in a Palo Alto hotel conference room, I packed up my things and my son and moved to the Bay Area, to San Mateo, where I only knew three people. My step sister, her step sister and their friend Linda. They lived in a lovely, quiet town, just off the freeway, which smelled of star jasmine and was blessedly peaceful. I found a small, old house to rent, with a pressed tin ceiling. The house had a porch, friendly neighbors next door and many Meyer lemon trees growing on my palm tree lined street.
These were my last two years of teaching, in a school where my son was the only white student. I spent some of my best time and energy on those kids. I worked so many hours, and spent so much time in the car, crawling along at 6:30 in the morning with the other commuters on the 101, then crawling back in the opposite direction almost 12 hours later. At times I hardly had any energy to cook a blessed thing. Most nights my son Jacob and I simply drove to Draeger’s market (for the super duper chi chi San Mateoites) and picked up dinner, already made. Jacob, at seven, was still in the throes of only-white-and-yellow-food-please. I hardly had the strength to argue. We’d park the car in the underground garage, take the elevator up a flight (we were too tired to climb the stairs) and make our way to the deli. Jacob would get, you guessed it, macaroni and cheese. The lady who waited on us there night after night became a “friend” of ours, and would kindly top off his dinner with a little more mac than she should have. I would make a salad at their fancy salad bar, loading up on as many vitamin-rich foods as I could. Beets and beans were my friends those two years, and so were the leafy, dark greens the nice man attending this long extravaganza of prepped toppings recommended. I imagine the two of us looked pretty raggedy, dog tired and pale most of our visits.
By the time I realized I’d had enough of the classroom I began to dream about moving back to Reno, back to family and familiarity, and back to cooking. I fantasized about standing over the stove, testing out recipes like I used to, and maybe finally opening the restaurant that had, until now, seemed like foolish folly. So I told my principal I could not return the following year, that I had better stop while the kids still liked me, and that it was time to turn back and go home. Also I’d promised Jacob a dog, who appeared at the end of the summer we moved back in the form of Annie, an 11-year old Golden who needed our love, and we hers. She was our angel dog.
Right before the end of the school year one of my fourth grade students, April, asked me to step outside to talk with her privately. She asked why I was leaving, why I was not coming back in the fall. I couldn’t put it into words, since the truth was I was done teaching, I missed my family and I was beginning to be on my last nerve all too often. She said “you’re gonna go be with your people, right?” very solemnly. I nodded, and tried not to cry. “We’ll miss you, Ms. Moyle,” she said. “Don’t forget us.”
When I moved back to Reno one blistering day in July, I found a house to rent on Gordon Avenue, which was how I met a great friend (my TV came hurtling out of a U Haul and crashed face down in the driveway moments before she asked if I needed any help). After unpacking all of the boxes, I made what I thought would be something yummy, comforting and familiar. Ice cream. In a very old ice cream maker I’d scored at a garage sale. The ancient stained and sticky book that came with my newest find had a recipe for basic vanilla ice cream. Only problem was it called for “light cream”. Hmmm. I decided to use what I had on hand….manufacturing cream. With 41 percent butterfat. Let me tell you. The flavor was terrific. Very vanilley. But there was the problem of mouth feel. You see, manufacturing cream, if shaken or whipped long enough, will become some very fat-filled butter. So imagine taking a large spoonful, of say, cold vanilla flavored butter. Very hard to eat. I discovered later that “light cream” is half and half. Makes sense now of course.
So give this recipe a try. A friend recently gave it to me, from a book I actually had on my own bookshelf. Then I made some lemony changes, much more peel, zest and vanilla bean, and now I believe I can call it my own. Try making some on a warm, breezy day, and think of sprinklers, cool grass and picnic blankets. I took a spoonful last weekend and savored its lemonyness, I thought of all of those things. But most of all I thought of Annie, who lived at our house for two short years. We took her everywhere….waterskiing, on bike rides, to pizza parties and on long walks through the old neigborhood. We will miss her, and think of her often. I raise my spoon to her. And to you. And kids, I haven’t forgotten you. I thought of you too.
Meyer Lemon Ice Cream
3 or 4 Meyer lemons, about ¾ pound
1 cup sugar
1 cup half-and-half
6 egg yolks (save the whites for meringue or make some macaroons)
3 cups heavy or manufacturing cream (ha!)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped paste
Use a vegetable peeler to peel all the lemons, being very careful not to include the bitter white pith. I had to take a grapefruit spoon and carefully scrape the backs of a few peels to take the pith off. Pull out about four or five peels and set aside.
Place the remaining peels in a non-reactive saucepan with the sugar and half-and-half, the vanilla bean, and the scraped vanilla paste. Using a whisk, stir well and set the pot over medium heat, stirring constantly. Heat the mixture to just below boiling, remove from the heat, and set aside to steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the peels and the vanilla bean. Finely chop the peels you set aside earlier. Squeeze the lemons into a measuring cup. You need about a half cup plus 2 tablespoons juice, straining out the pulp and seeds. If you have less that’s okay.
Whisk the egg yolks in a glass bowl until just mixed. Pour in a little of the hot half-and-half mixture (this is called tempering the eggs so they don’t scramble), stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour the warmed yolks back into the pan with the rest of the half-and-half mixture and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the spoon, about 10 minutes.
Pour through a strainer into the bowl, then add the grated lemon zest. Let the warm mixture sit for 10 minutes, then stir in the cream and lemon juice. Add the vanilla and more lemon juice if you’d like a more lemony flavor. Chill thoroughly, then freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions for your ice cream maker.
Makes about 1 ¾ quarts.