Sometimes I find it odd how certain things, even things I have never encountered before, have a way of bringing back certain memories. I randomly see an image or hear a familiar sound and it immediately attaches itself to an old moment you’ve filed away inside my mind. There are times when this happens to me with food– when the sensation or the taste of it begins to tug at some distant memory of mine and all the details attached to it.
Picture this: Taiwan, 2007.
It was a chilly December dawn as I roused from my sleep and put on three layers of jackets. My favourite pink pull-over sweater was the one in the bottom layer, as it was the most comfortable. Tugging at it, I covered my hands with the sleeves as I set out towards the mountain. It was still dark and difficult to see, but there were no obstacles on the dirt road that I could make out.
On both sides, the sleeping outlines of stalls and stores greeted me whenever I looked around. I rode the train halfway up the mountain and disembarked, my camera hanging on my shoulder. I blew into my hands to warm them, berating myself over forgetting to wear gloves.
I jogged up the mountain, thankful for the movement that warmed me somewhat. There were a lot of other people with me; tourists, locals, all walking up to see the sun embrace the world on a fine Christmas morning. I wiggled my toes as I went. They were at least warmed by my socks, the thickest I could find. I began to feel the temperature drop the higher I went. I overheard someone passing by say that we were now entering a below zero-degree zone. My fingers had begun to feel numb, but I held on to my camera as I neared the railing that protected everyone from falling off the edge.
The sun rose, slowly at first, casting a gentle light over the horizon. People around me begun to snap photos, and there I was among the crowd, frozen in excited anticipation. My stiff hands cradled my camera against me as I stared into the distance, into the blue and then orange curves that were the mountains. The world stilled around me and silence filled my ears. The noisy chatter of excited tourists disappeared until there was only me and the heavens, and occasionally the cloud-forming warmth of my breath.
I remembered what I came here to do once the rays of the sun began to brush against my cheeks. I raised the camera to my face but I couldn’t feel my fingers pushing the shutter button. The only evidence were the photos that appeared on my fogged-up camera screen.
There is no way to capture the real beauty of the sunrise, I think. But the feeling of witnessing such a sight stays with you, and every time you look back on that moment, or get a glimpse of the photograph that attempted to capture that moment, the feeling comes back. It’s the feeling of being blessed with a new day– a feeling of hope.
When the sun had reached its height and looking at it was becoming too painful, I prepared to descend the mountain. My body was already numb, but the sun began to warm me somewhat. I contemplated breaking into a run to warm my blood but decided not to. I stayed at the side of the road, where the dewdrops on some of the vines and brambles have turned into tiny diamond-like icicles. I hadn’t realised it was that cold.
I rubbed my hands together for some warmth, and as if reading my thoughts, the sun showered me with warmer rays that peeked through the tall pine trees lining the side of the dirt road. By the time I reached the halfway point of the descent, I had regained the feel of my fingers.
Seeing the line at the station, I ducked into the nearest convenience store. I don’t know what possessed me to purchase a chocolate-covered popsicle after almost freezing to death up there, but after this first time, I’ve developed a habit of buying a popsicle whenever I visit somewhere cold. And I’ve never felt sorry, maybe just a bit colder.
This is the memory that surfaced as I made and ate this ice cream. Each spoonful is wonderfully cold and pepperminty, the chopped candy cane sometimes coming as a surprise as it suddenly crunches between your teeth. It reminds me of that biting cold day that hid a warm and beautiful sunrise in its heart.
And though I still can’t explain why I always find the need to buy myself a popsicle during wintertime (a habit I have not broken yet), but back in the Philippines where the weather is hot, ice cream is always a welcome treat. The thing about this ice cream is that it has a lot of peppermint in it, and the thing I like about peppermint is the way it cools and warms you at the same time. For those of you in the throes of winter who somehow decide to make this ice cream despite the cold, you’re very welcome to eat this by the fire.
Peppermint-Candy Cane Ice Cream
Makes 1 quart ice cream
- 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 8 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract
- 3/4 cup candy canes, crushed, plus extra for sprinkling
- Before beginning the recipe, remember to chill your ice cream maker's bowl as per manufacturer's instructions.
- 1. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, and salt. Stir until the sugar and salt is completely dissolved. Set aside.
- 2. Pour the cream into a metal bowl. Set the metal bowl into a larger bowl, filled with ice, and set a medium-mesh sieve on top.
- 3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Pour the warmed milk slowly into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Place the egg/milk mixture back into the saucepan.
- 4. Turn the stove up to medium heat and stir the mixture constantly, making sure to scrape the bottom. Cook until the mixture thickens into a custard and coats the spatula, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- 5. Pour the custard through the sieve and stir it into the cream. Allow the cream to set in the cold metal bowl until it is no longer warm to the touch. Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, about four hours or overnight.
- 6. Once chilled, stir in the peppermint extract. Feel free to use more or less depending on how strong you would like the peppermint flavouring.
- 7. Freeze in your ice cream maker following the manufacturer's instructions.
- 8. When the ice cream has finished churning, it will be relatively soft. Carefully fold in the crushed candy canes and store the ice cream in an airtight plastic container in the freezer. Allow to freeze for at least three hours.
- 9. Serve with a sprinkling of more candy cane bits if desired.
What’s your favourite Christmas memory?