It's that time again. It's Popsicle Week! Or #PopsicleWeek, if you want to take a visual deep dive. Last year I made these. This year I have (in the virtual sense) coconut creamsicles with gingery roasted fruit all up in them. In factual terms I have about nineteen of them in my freezer, so if you're local you know what to do.
There's going to be some chit-chat here before we get around to pop talk, in which I (spoiler alert) confess shortcomings, make personal revelations, and get all worked up. Before we slide into that, know that you can't go wrong by heading over to see Billy at Wit & Vinegar, because he’s once again corralling every sweet, portable, frozen delight you never knew you were missing from your life just on the other side of his magical popsicle portal, and the collection will be updated all week as people add their treats.
Here we go with the prologue stuff:
In eating terms, I think you can sort people roughly into goats and cats.
At a party, or any gathering where edibles are passed on elegant trays or laid out handsomely on tables or plunked down unceremoniously in bowls, I am always fascinated to observe how people approach the food. It’s highly educational seeing the various levels of consideration and styles of approach. It’s especially mesmerizing for me to watch people who grab things without any apparent thought at all, the ones who seem to take the thing from the tray as the server passes without breaking eye contact with their chatting partner, toss it into the chompers, and soldier on with the small talk. These are your goat people, and I admire them.
I can’t remember the last time I could do that. Though I aspire to be a goat, gamely ingesting All Things That Fit, I reluctantly must identify with the people engaged in detailed inquiry: the measured sniffers, the tilted-head considerers, the cautious paw-extenders. Those who tap the canapé. The cats.
OK, I lied. I can remember something from the time before I became feline. It just isn't anything I'm proud of. Many years ago, we had an overseas friend visiting with his new-ish girlfriend, quite a lovely person, and she arrived with a bag of rice cakes and a list of no-fly foods the likes of which I had never seen. This was more than twenty years ago, before it was commonplace to have a name for your personal eating programme. I’m embarrassed to confess that after they left she became an anecdote. “OK, so we had this one house-guest who said she couldn’t eat….” and then I would run down the seemingly random list on the fingers of both hands. I did this until a few years later, when I myself grew whiskers and a twitchy tail, and in retrospect began to see that her list was not as random as my funny cocktail party story made it out to be. It was, to put it briefly, now my list. Or the foundations of it.
As if concerned that Her point had not been driven home, Karma opted to arrange for the friend in that story to marry the lovely person so they could return for another visit (well, presumably for other reasons as well, including their happiness and the lovely child they are raising together) and I could proudly prepare a meal to her exact specifications thanks to my native understanding of her requirements, only to hear her say, very kindly and appreciatively, oh—I got past all that, thank goodness. I can eat anything now!
I’m hesitant to announce the things on the list that is now my list, in this forum or in a restaurant or someone’s home, for two reasons: one, I don’t like to engage in a big public symposium on digestion and rashes at mealtime, and two, because I know many people who live with a life-threatening level of anaphylaxis hanging over their heads. It’s become sort of shorthand for intolerance, and even preference, to simply tell your server or your host that you are allergic to something that in fact you prefer to avoid. This is worse than sloppy shorthand. If you tell the server you have a dairy allergy so they really don’t put blue cheese, which you hate, in your salad, the one on the menu with all the other things in it that you like, and then you ask for half and half for your iced coffee, you are driving home the point that claims of allergy are foolishness, claims that don’t need to be attended to very carefully. You are making life more dangerous for people who cannot mess around with such things.
Everyone has a list of foods that they don’t like, even goats. Let’s call it List A. Some can fit theirs on a post-it and some require a scroll. I believe mine is more on the post-it scale: I think frisée is so much like eating a brillo pad that I prefer to live into a future that finds neither on my plate. I am very bad at eating eggs when the yellow and white parts are distinguishable. I detest marmalade. Having been many years a vegetarian, I'm not super enthusiastic about eating certain kinds or quantities of meat. That kind of thing. If I were stranded somewhere with a case of thick-cut preserved seville oranges and could only plunge my cache of stolen ptarmigan eggs into a hot springs and eat them boiled, I'd probably make it. Here on List A we are simply talking about preferences and aversions.
After that, the cats cleave off from the goats and expand to two additional categories of no-fly foods: things that legitimately create uncomfortable but not life-threatening physical symptoms (let’s call that List B: Intolerances), and things that cause a throat-closing allergic response (List C: Allergies). Few among us are excited to announce in a crowded dining room, 'No, I'm not allergic but if my pasta includes X, I can guarantee in writing that I will be farting like a coal refinery for three days/possible soil my drawers.' But I really think it is a civic duty to be clear ("I'm asking you to leave that out because it would ruin my enjoyment of the meal/cause me a lot of discomfort later") as well as polite (limit potty talk at the table), and above all to not abuse the allergy claim. I really really think that. The world is scary when stealth ingredients can kill you or your dear one; because of this I never moan about the nut-free lunches that my son's school requires of all for the benefit of the tiny subset of students whose lives legitimately depend on it. [Read this book, by the way. It's fantastic and also addresses this point. And if you have never read this one, read it too, even though it doesn't.]
As they accumulated, I’ve been sort of mystified by the strange conglomeration of intolerances and bona fide allergies that have stuck to my personal flypaper. Who the hell else is allergic to peas, I have often wondered? Who on earth but me cannot digest a frigging BANANA? These are baby foods, the banana especially the poster child of innocuous, tummy-friendly substances.
Further compounding the ANQ (Apparent Nonsense Quotient) is that, while List C only gets longer, not shorter, List B is always shifting back and forth for me and, most mystifyingly, really only applies if the food is raw. Cooked B-listers are no problem.
It sounds, even to me who knows I am telling the true truth, as if I am what an old acquaintance once described as macroneurotic.
I happened to catch a story on Instagram the other day which introduced me to the concept of Oral Allergy Syndrome. If you do not have any weird allergies, you may lose interest when the sweet canine co-anchor leaves the frame and talk of hives rolls onward. However, if anything I said about certain foods making you so itchy in your mouth that you are tempted to take a bottle brush to your gullet if you eat one of them by mistake, like me you will be riveted. I offer my thanks to its maker.
What does this have to do with #popsicleweek? Well, I am really fond of making foods that lots of people can eat with pleasure, without having any Goats in the crowd raise an eyebrow and feel they are tolerating Cat food.
In my experience the best way to do this is to roast some fruit. In the fall and winter you can roast apples and pears. In the spring and summer, you can roast stone fruits. You can serve the slumpy, jammy fruits neat, or with a drizzle or dollop or scoop of something, like cream or whipped cream or ice cream made of something or other.
Did you know, for example, that you can whip coconut cream? It isn’t so much a substitute for dairy as it is crazy tasty. If you go here, you can find out about it AND learn so much about both coconuts and people in the comments.
But I was trying to steer the conversation to popsicle territory, particularly the district that has something simple, delicious and almost universally tolerated in it.
Periodically, I click on one of those “Make These Vegan Paleo Croissants with Only TWO Ingredients!” things that flit around the grey skies of the Internet, hating myself as I do it. In a recent case, it was a recipe for ice cream with almost no foods in it, a magic trick which almost always relies on bananas to work its (dead to me) miracles. OKAY FINE I ADMIT IT WAS FOR KETO ICE CREAM AND I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT KETO IS, despite all the grim awarenesses of various programmes I've acquired in two decades since making fun of the nice lady. I clicked the bait, figuring I might learn something.
I still don’t know what it is, since the ice cream recipe lost me on the first skim by including stevia powder, but I can confidently say ‘Thank you, coconuts! You delivered AGAIN!’ because the recipe, which involved a can of coconut milk, made me start scheming towards a dessert that might work to feed the person with bona fide real actual lactose intolerance who was expected and in fact eagerly anticipated at dinner that evening.
I made it first as ice cream, with not a thought of popsicles in my head, which you can do too—especially if you have an ice cream maker, but even if you don’t. I don’t. It was still delicious. See the note after recipe if that sounds good.
If you lack rhubarb, which is just exactly tart enough to balance the sweetness here, you can substitute any old thing that rings tart-sweet; the figs I tried, though photogenic, were missing the required tartness and as punishment they had to be eaten by me, standing in front of the oven thinking about going to get some yogurt to eat them with. This is the way of roasted fruit—a useful punt maneuver for food sensitivities, and also just a stupendous way to handle anything fruity or fruit-esque (hold your calls and letters on the rhubarb taxonomy! I already know it’s not a fruit). Whenever I see a magnificent example of rhubarb geometry porn, I reflect admiringly on its beauty and on the baker’s obvious skill and patience levels, and I'm so inspired that I go right to the kitchen and eat roasted rhubarb straight off the baking sheet, standing in front of the oven. Now that we’ve covered that and the allergy matter, that’s basically all there is to know about me.
coconut creamsicles with roasted fruit
1 15 ounce can of full-fat coconut milk, room temperature
½ cup condensed coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups coarsely chopped rhubarb (3-4 medium stalks), or firm-ripe apricots, plums, or sour cherries, or a mixture
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1. Heat the oven to 375 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the coconut milks, the vanilla and the salt until quite smooth. Portion into a muffin pan or ice cube tray, and set in the freezer to freeze solid.
3. Toss the chopped fruit with the sugar and ginger and spread it on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until jammy and even a bit brown in places. Mash it lightly with a fork or the back of a wooden spoon. Set aside to cool.
4. When the milk mixture has frozen solid, transfer the chunks to a blender and, working quickly, process until utterly smooth (it will be quite thick), pausing the machine to push the chunks down towards the blade as needed. With a spoon, fold the fruit into this mixture.
5. Portion it among your popsicle molds, whapping the mold against the counter and/or using a chopstick to settle out any air bubbles. Freeze until solid before unmolding. This mixture makes a tender popsicle so use caution unmolding.
Note: If you lack popsicle molds or simply crave scoopable ice cream, you can a) freeze the milk mixture in an ice cream maker after step 2, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, churning the fruit in at the very end, or b) pour the step 4 mixture into a shallow pan and freeze as is, stirring periodically as it sets up.