When My Daughter and I Moved in with My Parents, Making Ice Cream Brought Us Together
Do other people ascribe “luck” to objects? I wondered. Wouldn’t it be far better to finally use this kitchen appliance and truly love it?
Daily baking also meant a largess of goods that neither I, nor my sugar-loving daughter or my parents, nor my neighbors or colleagues could consume entirely on our own. I began to mail biscuits and breads across the country to friends near and far: to celebrate the birth of a former classmate’s second child; to support a friend who was undone by her friend’s death by suicide; to reinforce fraying bonds with my ex-in-laws; to woo an out-of-control crush. Each parcel contained a fragment of my joy.
Some months ago, in my parents’ basement, I unearthed an ice cream maker in its original packaging. I’d received it as a gift for my bridal shower, but had completely forgotten about it. I don’t know how this particular object that my ex-husband and I acquired together had never moved from apartment to apartment with us and lain untouched in my parents’ house since, and I recoiled from it for some time. I get very attached to things with high sentimental value, and this discovery, at first, seemed like a bad omen: an object sent to interrupt this sometimes perfect new life I had created. I pushed it into a closet.
At the time, my mother was in the midst of planning her gardens: She sketched her plots, bought seeds and seedlings, and exchanged text messages with the community garden educator. My daughter, now seven, urged me to make ice cream; “Mama, to go with the cakes and cookies!” she advised. I was keen to use my mother’s herbs and flowers and vegetables in my baked creations. I returned to the basement and stared at the box. Do other people ascribe “luck” to objects? I wondered. Wouldn’t it be far better to finally use this kitchen appliance and truly love it? So, I unboxed it, blew off quite a lot of dust, and ceremoniously washed the lid, freezer bowl and mixing arm.
Along the perimeter of the kitchen, near large eastern-facing windows, are two containers of basil (Ocimum basilicum) that my mother has sustained indoors for nearly a year. Basil, beautiful and fragrant, grows quickly once it has germinated, and can take a little abuse, she tells me. It’s resilient even when not watered enough. Basil is one of the first herbs I remember her growing in her garden, and the first herb I choose to christen the ice cream maker. I’m drawn to its glossy, green, ruffled leaves and warm, rich, and spicy flavor; the plant is familiar and soothing. I find the perfect blueberries—also New Jersey’s official state fruit—and she plucks a handful of leaves from one of her plants. I singe cream and separate eggs and chiffonade leaves.
The machine is basic and inexpensive, and rather finicky. I make one gritty, crunchy, and icy batch and over-churn another batch, and it takes tremendous strength not to revert to old habits and label the maker as jinxed rather than acknowledge that I’m brand new at ice cream-making. But after days of troubleshooting, and making minor adjustments in my recipe, I scoop luscious, deep purple basil-blueberry-balsamic ice cream into a bowl. My mother throws a few additional sprigs of basil on top, as well as three spoons, and we taste first frozen dessert, made with our paired and shared labor, and with the help of a plant grown in the very place I have found home again.
Pooja Makhijani is the editor of Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America, an anthology of essays by women that explores the complex ways in which race shapes American lives and families, and the author of Mama’s Saris, a picture book. Her bylines have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Real Simple, The Atlantic, WSJ.com, The Cut, Teen Vogue, Epicurious, Publishers Weekly, ELLE, Bon Appétit, The Kitchn, and BuzzFeed among others.