Thursday, July 18, 2024

House of the Rising Sun/Le Pénitencier (The Penitentiary)

    I'm really not sure how it happened, but my daughter introduced a new obsession to me: The song House of the Rising Sun.  I mean, what even is a "house of the rising sun"? I would guess it's some sort of euphemism, but for what?

    She first noticed the phrase in the song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (lyrics): 

    It's a great song about a fiddle duel between Johnny and the Devil.  If Johnny wins, he gets to keep his soul, and the Devil's golden hell-fiddle, but if Satan wins, he gets Johnny's soul (if you ask me, Johnny has more to lose).  Anyway, it was the chorus that caught my daughter's attention:

"Fire on the Mountain." Run, boys, run!
The Devil's in the house of the rising sun;
Chicken in the bread pan picking out dough.
Granny, does your dog bite? No, child, no. 

    She knew the song "House of the Rising Sun" -- which is about a life gone wrong in New Orleans -- the most famous version of which was released in 1964 by the British band The Animals (lyrics below):

    This version of the song has been covered by just about everyone (Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, my beloved Joan Baez, Sinead O'Connor and many more modern bands as well). A group called Five Finger Death Punch released a particularly gravelly version in 2014. There are many others.

    What's funny, is that there is little consensus about what the House of the Rising Sun even is. It might be a brothel, a pub, a prison, a hotel, or even a hospital (for more possible real-life locations in New Orleans, see the Wiki article).  Since it mentions the city in Louisiana, that suggests it's a specifically American folk song (there is evidence that it was sung as early as 1905 by American coal miners in Appalachia), but it seems to have roots from long before that, based on much older ballads from England that also use similar phrasing.  

    But one folklorist has proposed a connection to France: the sunburst/rising sun motif was used as a decorative element in France, dating from the time of Louis XIV, who was also known as the "Sun King" (he styled himself after Apollo). The motif was brought to America in the early 1700s by early French colonists. That makes some amount of sense, given the historically strong French presence in New Orleans. Could the real-life building have had something like this decorating it?

   The song was translated from English into French (and many other languages as well), and the singer Johnny Hallyday released a popular version in France in 1964 called "Le Pénitencier / The Prison" (lyrics below):

    The tune is identical, but the lyrics are not a direct translation, though they are thematically very similar:

Original English lyrics
French lyrics / English Translation of French lyrics 
There is a house in New Orleans
Les portes du pénitencier / The jail's doors
They call the Rising Sun
bientôt vont se fermer / Will shut soon
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
et c’est là que je finirai ma vie / And that's where I end my life,
And God, I know I'm one
comme d’autres gars l’ont finie / Like lots of other men did 


My mother was a tailor
Pour moi ma mère a donné / For me, my mother has given away
She sewed my new blue jeans
sa robe de mariée / Her wedding dress
My father was a gamblin' man
Peux-tu jamais me pardonner? / May you ever forgive me?
Down in New Orleans
Je t’ai trop fait pleurer / I made you cry so many times already.


Now the only thing a gambler needs
Le soleil n’est pas fait pour nous / The sun isn't made for us
Is a suitcase and trunk
c’est la nuit qu’on peut tricher / (Because) we can cheat only during the night
And the only time he'll be satisfied
Toi qui ce soir a tout perdu / You, who lost everything this evening
Is when he's all drunk
demain tu peux gagner / Tomorrow you can win


Oh, mother, tell your children
Ô mères, écoutez-moi / Oh mothers, please hear me
Not to do what I have done
Ne laissez jamais vos garçons / Don't you let your boys
Spend your lives in sin and misery
seuls la nuit traîner dans les rues / Astray at night in the streets
In the House of the Rising Sun
ils iront tout droit en prison / Because they'll end up in jail


Well, I got one foot on the platform
Toi, la fille qui m’a aimé / You, my girl who loved me so
The other foot on the train
je t’ai trop fait pleurer / I've made you cry so much already 
I'm goin' back to New Orleans
Les larmes de honte que tu as versées / Those shameful tears you shed
To wear that ball and chain
il faut les oublier / Should be forgotten


Well, there is a house in New Orleans
Les portes du pénitencier / The jail's doors
They call the Rising Sun
bientôt vont se fermer / Will shut soon
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
et c’est là que je finirai ma vie / And that's where I end my life
And God, I know I'm one
comme d’autres gars l’ont finie / Like lots of other men did.

    Both versions are about regrets and the hope that your loved ones don't make the same mistakes, a wish for a better life for one's children.  And as I look at the lyrics, I can't help but be reminded of the song, "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys (lyrics):

    I suppose the theme of wanting more for your children, of having regrets for a life not-so-well-lived, is universal across languages, cultures, and even musical genres.  

Monday, July 15, 2024

Four Generations of Writers

    There's an old joke about the rivalry between writers and scientists:

Writer: "Scientists don't know how to write."

Scientist: "Oh, yeah? Well, writers don't know how to think."

     My grandfather seems to have been one of those who could do both.  A petroleum engineer recently told me a funny story - he had recently taken a casing design class from Phil Patillo, who passed out a copy of my grandfather's paper to his students.  He told the class, "when given the choice of what to take with you to a deserted island, Arthur Lubinki's 1962 paper, Helical Buckling of Tubing Sealed in Packers or an attractive movie star ... always chose the paper.  The movie star will age, but the paper will always be beautiful."

    Not being an engineer myself, I'm really not in a position to judge the beauty of that paper, but he always was a good writer, mixing the clarity of his scientific mind with a hint of poetry, bringing his experiences to life.  Consider his description of the Nazi invasion of Western Europe on May 10, 1941, written in his third language prior to being fluent, when he was just practicing the language:

    “What it is?—What is the matter?„ I asked myself half awakened in my bed. A canonnade was heard outside. And suddenly a sorrowful widespread sound of sirenes came to me. The sound was increasing during a few seconds and afterward it was fading to begin presently once more. Every one can understand its dreadful meaning. Alarm! The birds of death are flying over the capital!

    “Is the war there?„ I asked myself anxiously. — “Oh no! „ — Still I was fool enough to hope it was not true “Perhaps a squadron of R.A.F. is coming back from Germany and the Belgian army is shooting in a neutral manner that is to say in trying to do no harm„.

    I got on as swiftly as I can. Five minutes later I was in the street

    In spite of the early time it was already certain that the weather will be fine. There was not a cloud in the sky. The sun rised a few minutes before and its feable beams were awaking the earth to live.

    I looked up, but could not discerne at once the airplanes. However I was hearing de roar of their motors, somewhere far up. And suddenly a whiz tore the air. It lasted not long, a few seconds perhaps. I looked eagerly and perceived four or five meters farther, in the middle of the pavement, a thing beaming like a piece of hot steel which just left a forge to be hammered by a blacksmith. Of cylindric shape, its diameter might have been of 6 centimeters and its length of 30. At one end was fasten a fixed steel helix. A hundred meters further another thing like this one fell and a neighbour was pouring a bucket of water on it. But instead of extinguish it, big flames flashed from it.

    Now it was not possible to doubt any more. Incendiary bombs were pouring down on the town. The war burst on this happy little country.

    There are some minor spelling and grammatical errors, and he uses an older European punctuation style, but his writing was clearer and contains fewer errors than many writing in their first language. I am in awe of it.

    Grandpa's oldest daughter, Lillian Lubinski McCullar was also a gifted writer.  Her writing, as a junior high student in the 1950s far outstripped the best of my students when I was teaching high school English. Hell, she wrote better than I did when I was her age. Here's how the 13-year-old Lilly described immigrating to the United States as an almost seven-year-old:

     We left London on February seventh on a huge trans-atlantic Constellation plane. After a pleasant but short two hour flight the plane was obliged to land in a small Irish town because of bad weather. We spent the night there and took off the next morning. Our next stop was to be none other than New York City.  We had a very pleasant flight until the time when the lights of New York could be seen in the distance. It was then that I began to feel sick, I had a headache, a backache, and worse still an ear ache. The stewardess tried to put drops in my ears to stop the ache but I guess I just didn’t understand because I wouldn’t even let her come near me with that horrid medicine, so I suffered, and I might add not in silence, until we landed.

And here's how her 15-year-old self described her birth:

     May tenth nineteen forty is a dramatic day, embedded forever in the perpetual history of Belgium. It was on this memorable day that the impossible happened. The Germans invaded Belgium. This day marked the beginning of a period when war, with its destruction and heartbreak was the prevailing factor which cruelly ruled every individual's existence.

     Two days previous to this attack a daughter had been born to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Lubinski. She put in her first appearance in a quiet and dignified private clinic in a suburban district of Brussels. Under these unusual circumstances the story of my life began. I was named Lillian and I may never boast of a middle name. My parents obtained my name from no particular source nor does it have an interesting story behind it. My name seems to be the only uncomplicated item in my early life.

    I also love this description of herself, written with self-deprecating humor and honesty:

    Have you ever wondered how far back you can actually remember? I have. After much thought I believe that I have reached a factual circumstance which I can recall today. I remember two of my many revolting hobbies. The first was finding, imprisoning and later torturing huge snails. The second and more worthwhile hobby was raising rabbits. On a warm afternoon while I was walking through the sunlit fields behind our house, gathering various plants to feed my nine rabbits, I heard a terrible explosion nearby. Upon arriving home in hysterics I was told that a bomb had been dropped a few miles away. We quickly sought shelter underground and before long the attack was over with no harm done in our immediate vicinity.

    I myself became a writer, getting a BA in English Writing and an MA in English Education and taught English to high school students, but it was later that I found my true talent was in technical writing.  I once had a boss describe the SOPs I wrote describing how to perform temperature checks in trucks transporting frozen foods (I was working as a contractor for Schwan Foods at the time) as the best in the industry, which made me feel really good.  That said, technical writing is the bastard stepchild to the kind of writing I value most, so I continue to hone my creative writing skills.  

    And finally, Arthur's oldest great-granddaughter (my daughter Kivi) is also a talented writer.  In high school, she was selected to be an alternate for the Teen Artist in Residence at Isle Royal National Park, and won a county-wide essay contest, and she just graduated cum laude with a BFA in Creative Writing.  

    As much as I wish I'd also inherited my grandfather's scientific skill, I'm grateful that I seem to have inherited his ability to write, and that I passed it on to the next generation.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

1935-1941: Grandpa Arthur Turns Coal into Liquid Fuel

 After he immigrated to the US, Grandpa Arthur became an accomplished petroleum engineer. But before that, he had several different jobs:

  • Engineer working on Coal Liquefaction Technology (CTL), a process where coal is converted to synthetic liquid fuels that can be used in motorcars.
  • Foreman at a manufacturing plant that made defensive war materiel, galvanized tanks, and davits (specialized cranes that get lifeboats into the water when a ship is listing).
  • Farmhand - after he and his family escaped to France during the war, he deliberately settled in an agricultural region close to food sources. He worked as a farmworker and accepted food as payment for his work.  
  • Structural engineer working for the French government, helping to rebuild the war-torn country.

Click to enlarge.
Coal Liquefaction Technology

    It makes sense that he worked on CTL. Europe is coal-rich and petroleum-poor, and fuel was essential to all nations, and Belgium was no exception. He probably began working on the technology when he graduated with his engineering degree in 1935.  Germany was also very interested in CTL and it was an important part of Germany's wartime planning and economy in the 1930s and 1940s, and it continued to be important to the Nazi regime after the occupation of Western Europe began.  In the fall of 1941 my grandparents and Aunt Lilly escaped from Belgium to Southern France (when he started working as farmhand), so he must have stopped working on CTL by that point.
    I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect he stopped working to improve CTL technology before that, perhaps as early as the Nazi invasion of Belgium in the spring of 1940.  He wouldn't have wanted to help improve Hitler's access to fuel sources (Germany was producing 124K barrels of the stuff per day at the height of production, and it accounted for over 90% of fuel used by the Luftwaffe, and 50% of the automobile fuel in Germany).  Arguably, it was the Allied bombing of synthetic fuel plants that ended the war.  

    The fact that it was used primarily as aviation fuel by the Germans is another link to my grandfather - someone in his division at the factory where he was a foreman was sabotaging the galvanized aviation fuel tanks, by putting abrasive powders into the tanks after inspection, but before shipping, in the hopes that the abrasives could damage Luftwaffe engines.  Grandpa Arthur was certain the Gestapo suspected he was the culprit, or at least that he was involved. He wasn't, but he knew about it (I suppose turning a blind eye does indicate some level of involvement), and escaping when he did likely meant he was blamed in absentia, buying the real saboteurs some time.

    Funny story - General Patton, in his rush toward Germany toward the end of WW2, overextended his supply lines and ran out of fuel. Rather than wait until fuel was brought to him, he decided to siphon fuel from German cars and Panzer tanks and used that in his armored division, and it worked just fine.

    CTL isn't just a thing of the past - it is still being studied in the US, because we are rich in both oil and coal, and someday the oil may run out (the coal might as well, but that's another topic).


Saturday, July 13, 2024

1947-1996: The Oilman

    I haven't written much about my grandfather's life after they immigrated to the US. (TLDR: he became a well-known petroleum engineer).  

Arthur Lubinski (2nd from right), somewhere in the
American Southwest on a drilling platform.
Late 1940s or early 1950s (based on the car in the background).

    After graduating with his engineering degree in Belgium, Arthur worked for a number of years as the foreman at a manufacturing plant, overseeing 150 workers. Among other things, they manufactured defensive munitions such as tank traps, galvanized items, fuel tanks, and davits (a specialized crane used to get lifeboats into the water when a ship is listing).  He also worked on a fuel technology called "coal liquefaction," which essentially created a synthetic fuel from coal. Eastern Europe is rich in coal and not oil, so it was an essential fuel source for running everything from motorcars to panzer tanks.  When the Nazis occupied Belgium, I think he mostly stopped working on CLT, having no wish to benefit the occupiers.  

    Once Belgium became unsafe for him, he and my grandmother escaped to France, where he worked as a farmhand during the war. After the war, he worked for the French government, putting his engineering skills to work helping to rebuild the war-torn country, and he was offered French citizenship (a rare honor) both for fighting in the Maquis and then his efforts toward reconstruction. Still, he wasn't working in a field that interested him or that took full advantage of his education and training, so in 1947, he immigrated to the United States, where he settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his brother-in-law was already working in the petroleum industry.

    The Lubinskis' first few years were difficult. They came here with two suitcases, two daughters, and the equivalent of three months' salary, so while they weren't broke, they had little money. Initially, they lived with my grandmother's brother, but the little house was quite cramped with four additional people, so they found their own place to live as soon as they could.  

    Grandpa's first job was driving from oil well to oil well, doing inspections, and reporting back what was needed. It also put him face-to-face with the actual workers who had hands-on experience, something he found valuable. However, that took him away from his family for weeks at a time, something he wasn't happy with. He also participated in a weekly lunch/think tank with his brother-in-law, where they bounced around ideas for technological advancement. Eventually, he wrote a paper, which led to better jobs closer to home, something he was grateful for, as his youngest daughter was born in Tulsa in 1949. 

    He, my grandmother, and their two older daughters (including my mom) became citizens in 1952, and by 1955 or so, they had attained enough success that they could afford to stop renting, and build a house in Tulsa.  I suppose they lived the American Dream. While it's true that they came here with very little, and did manage to succeed, Grandpa didn't come here with nothing.  He had that rare combination of valuable skills, education, genius, and drive. He had also started over from nothing once before (when they escaped Belgium with just what he could carry) and he knew he could do it again.

    By the time I woke up, he had retired but worked out of his home as an independent contractor (he was ahead of his time, working remotely decades before it was even called that). He flew to Houston every month to turn over his work. By his late 70s, he decided he was too old to continue the monthly trips, so he told his employers that he was happy to keep working for them, but they needed to send his colleagues to Tulsa to meet with him, and they did.  By the time he died in 1996, he had several patents, and many would say he revolutionized the industry. 

Here are a few links for further reading:

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Six Decades of Bickering

Calvary Cemetery, Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States.
Photo by S.M.

    As I've researched my grandparents' experiences in WW2, I can't help but think about their marriage, which spanned almost 62 years. Much of it includes things that you might expect even today—they were childhood sweethearts, they eloped to city hall, they raised three daughters together, and they are buried next to each other in a cemetery in Tulsa.  

    But there are other aspects that I have difficulty imagining; they escaped genocide and were forced to hide for years until it was safe for them to exist again, and then they had to (somehow) move on from the murder of most of their family. They also survived the loss of their oldest daughter, who died at age 34 from a particularly nasty form of multiple sclerosis. I can't (and don't want to) imagine the pain they must have felt.

    Despite my years of research, all the family stories, and even my own memories of them, I really don't get their marriage. They bickered and yelled constantly, didn't share a bed so far as I can remember, and usually didn’t even seem like friends. Yet, as far as I can tell, they hated being apart.  

    When I was a child, fighting at my Tulsa family’s dinner table was a given. Once, when I was about eight or nine, my mother got so sick of the shouting that she walked out of a family dinner, much to everyone’s surprise. I gleefully followed her (marching away from the dinner table felt wonderfully transgressive), though I didn't understand at the time that Mom had gotten used to the more peaceful atmosphere of the WASP family she'd married into and no longer wanted to participate in the spirited debate she'd grown up with.

    Fighting with a lover isn't something I really understand. I married my best friend 27 years ago, and like me, he has a temper. But we figured out early on that when someone lashes out, they inflict wounds that may never heal, and we learned to head off fights before they gathered steam. We do work through our problems — just not when our blood is up. 

    I know that my own parents also dealt with their share of marital troubles, even some serious ones, but they had worked through the worst of them when I was a very small child, and my memories of the rough patches are little more than fuzzy, incomplete vignettes.  Mom and Dad had 46 years together before Dad died, and I think their marriage was better than most.

    My grandparents though... they bickered all the time.  And it wasn't always just snips and snaps - sometimes their conflicts escalated to shouting matches. My uncle once told me about a particularly bad fight – Grandpa and Grandma were returning from a trip to Europe in the early 1970s, and they'd been fighting more than usual during their travels. When they landed back in NYC, they dropped in to see their oldest daughter and son-in-law who lived in Manhattan. I think my younger aunt was also there as she was attending college in the northeast. Anyway, something set Grandpa and Grandma off, and their yelling got so bad my grandfather fled to a separate hotel to sleep and cool down.  The next morning, when he arrived back at the apartment to retrieve his wife, their children staged an intervention of sorts to gently suggest that if their elders were fighting so much, perhaps they should consider separating or even ... divorcing.  

    After a moment of shock, Grandpa and Grandma instantly stopped fighting and became a united front against their children, enraged that they would suggest such a thing.  They told their daughters to butt out, and Uncle Jim said they acted like best buddies — as if the fight had never happened.

    Bickering isn’t the only thing I disliked about my grandparents’ marriage. Grandma gave as good as she got in fights, but their marriage wasn’t really an equal partnership. I know I’m wearing 21st-century-colored glasses here, but Grandpa was definitely the head of the family and sometimes acted in a paternalistic manner towards his wife.  

    For example, Grandpa once censored my grandmother's news intake. I doubt he made a habit of it or anything, but it still shocks me a little.  But when they immigrated in 1947, they flew from London to NYC. Grandma had never been on a plane before and was just terrified. So, for the two months between purchasing their tickets and actually boarding the plane at the newly-built Heathrow, Grandpa poured through the newspapers before Grandma could get to them, and removed any article that mentioned any sort of air travel accident.  I think he feared that if she found out about a crash, she'd refuse to get on the plane. I also suspect he also wanted to alleviate her terror as best he could. It was absolutely a kindness and also relatively benign, but I'd be nonplussed if I found out my husband was censoring my news intake.  

    Grandpa also made at least one serious health decision for Grandma back in the mid-1960s. She found a lump in her breast, went in for a biopsy, and woke up with no breast.  The doctors discovered the lump was malignant, and Grandpa authorized a radical mastectomy before she even came out of anesthesia.  She was mentally competent; doctors in those days just assumed it was his right to decide for her, and so he did.  Grandma didn’t seem to hold it against him and almost certainly would have made the same decision.  She mostly talked about how much pain she was in when she woke up and ended her story with, "he was scared to lose me."  

    I was a teen when she told me about her mastectomy, and even then, I knew I would never allow someone to make that decision for me. It's my damn breast; if I ever develop cancer, I will decide to have it removed or not. 

    Not everything about their marriage was bad—Grandpa also doted on Grandma, and Mom says he was devoted to her until the day he died. He was the first person in their neighborhood to install central air conditioning because Grandma hated the Tulsa summer heat. Because of that, their neighbors assumed they must be rich.  My grandparents had indeed clawed their way out of the serious poverty they'd endured when they first immigrated to the US, but they were far from wealthy at that point. Grandpa simply valued his wife's comfort over the many smaller luxuries others enjoyed. They got AC instead of TV, new clothes, movie tickets, or a fancier car. Even as their wealth increased, they continued to live frugally for a long time -- the deprivations of World War 2 made them very cautious.

    Toward the end of his life, when he was very frail from diabetes and heart disease, Grandpa told my mom that he hoped more than anything that my grandmother would die first.  It arose from an odd oxymoron of unselfish love for his wife – he didn't want Grandma to feel the pain of his loss – and the desire to rest without having to worry that she was properly cared for.  My aunt later told me that his doctors were shocked at how hard he held on before his body finally gave out.  Dying forced him to entrust the care of his wife to his daughters.  

    Grandma lived another three years without him. We once mentioned to her that they'd been married for 60 years. "Almost sixty-two years," she corrected us sadly.  Her memory had been damaged by lack of oxygen from a mitral valve failure years earlier, and she forgot calling us 10 minutes ago, but she remembered the pain of his loss.

    In the end, I suppose I don't need to understand their relationship. I didn’t like their bickering, nor the paternalism that crept into their partnership, but it somehow worked for them. Their marriage was woven from conflict and love and hand-in-hand survival of all the shit that life threw at them.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Ice Cream Recipe Review: David Lebovitz's Fresh Mint Ice Cream

"Fresh Mint Ice Cream from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

  • The online recipe can be found here
  • My other ice cream reviews can be found here.

Mint bed in mid-May (top), and early July (bottom).

I started a mint bed in the spring, in order to make one of life's great joy's: fresh mint ice cream. The mint bed was finally established enough for me to feel comfortable harvesting some of it for ice cream.  I had intended to make Jeni's Backyard Mint recipe today (my family's all-time favorite ice creams), but I was out of cream cheese, so trying a new recipe instead. Most mint recipes don't include eggs, but this one does, so I'm curious to see how it turns out - do the yolks overshadow the mint? (no, it was quite tasty).

Note: The online recipe, the ebook recipe and the older edition of the paper book don't match on the mint.

  • Online: 2 cups (80g) packed fresh mint leaves
  • eBook: 2 cups (80g) lightly packed fresh mint leaves
  • Paper (older edition): 2 cups (40g) lightly packed fresh mint leaves.
Eighty grams of mint leaves without stems is a LOT.  You certainly can fit that much into two cups, but it's definitely packed, and not lightly packed.  Though it doesn't include eggs, Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe most closely matches David's:
  • Technique - she also steeps the mint for an hour and not, say overnight as Jeni does
  • Amount of mint: Rose also calls for 2 cups lightly packed.  But her "lightly packed" mint weighs only 53 grams.  
Because 53 is way closer to 40 than 80, I used the amount called for in the hard copy of his book (40 grams).

I wrote to David, and he got back to me after I'd made the ice cream - it's supposed to be 80 grams (something he'd corrected for the newer edition), which tells me he intended it to be a more strongly minty ice cream, rather than the more gently minty ice cream that I made (though it's still quite wonderful).  He told me that the difference arose from a conversion error - he's an American living in France, and mostly uses metric units.  I must say that I sympathize.  I've spent the last 10 years making myself use metric as much as possible, and it's just better in every way.  

I think I'd also like to blend some of the mint with the mixture, so that it's a bit more green (and overshadows the yellow from the yolks).

Substitutions and Techniques:

  • Turbinado sugar instead of white sugar (always) as I prefer the flavor. Next time I'll use white sugar. The flavor is fine, but between the green from the mint, the brown from the sugar, and the orange from the yolks, the color was kind of an unattractive pale mustard color.
  • After the steeping, the dairy mixture was only slightly warm, so I just added the yolks, and whisking constantly, raised the temp to about 175F/80C.


  • Same day: Quite good - silky smooth, but the mint flavor was more gentle and less overly herbaceous than Jeni's recipe, which is both a pro and a con. The adult members of my family love the herbaceousness, but my 7-year-old granddaughter does not.   Because I didn't like the slightly mustardy color of the custard, I churned it on a fast speed to lighten it, and the finished ice cream is much prettier.
  • Next day: silky smooth, a bit harder than I prefer, but overall quite delicious.      


  • I added 1/2 cup Oreo chunks and also layered in ribbons of Dorcas's hot fudge which I think gets a little lost. I need to learn how to make a more forward fudge ripple, I think.  
  • I've seen recipes that call for chunks of chocolate ganache, and I suspect that would be wonderful as well.  
  • Girl Scout Thin Mints would also be a great textural element. I'll have to pick up a box the next time they are selling.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Book Review: Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cookbook by Tyler Malek and JJ Goode

This has got to be the strangest ice cream book I own. I like daring and unusual flavors, but this one takes the cake (pun absolutely intended). I've read through it pretty carefully and tried a caramel sauce from the book, though not any of the ice creams yet, and well ... it's weird. It's not bad by any means, just unexpected.

Not because of its unusual flavors (of which it has many), but in its combination of flavors. Most ice cream cookbooks include recipes for three things: 1) classic flavors, 2) house specialties, and 3) mix-ins and toppings. 

Every ice cream shop is going to have the classics: vanilla, chocolate, mint, caramel, strawberry, coffee, etc., and most ice cream cookbooks are going to include the author's take on those. S&S on the other hand has only one, a recipe for double-fold vanilla.   All the other house specialties utilize classic flavors (strawberry-honey balsamic with black pepper ice cream, or salted sweet cream ice cream with caramel ribbons). 

In other words, this book leans extremely heavily on the house specialties (which I kind of like), and I love trying new combinations and unusual flavors. But ... ice cream happens to be something that is reliably vegetarian (if not vegan), and this book isn't an exception, not exactly. As a long-time mostly-vegetarian, that is also something I appreciate, but as a pragmatist, I'm fine with the fact that most ice cream books are going to have at least one recipe that includes candied bacon, and there is one such offering here (bacon caramel). 

But it doesn't stop with bacon; the irony makes me giggle a little. It has recipes for/including turkey (turkey skin/stock/boullion/fat), chicken (stock/boullion/fat/skin), gelatin, and …. pork blood. Take a gander:

  • Xocolatl De David’s Bacon Raleigh Bar Ice Cream (gelatin and bacon)
  • Chocolate "Sardines" Ice Cream (gelatin)
  • Creepy Crawly Critters Ice Cream (candied bugs)
  • Grandma Dracula’s Blood Pudding Ice Cream (pig blood)
  • Buttered Mashed Potatoes & Gravy Ice Cream (chicken stock and bouillon)
  • Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey Ice Cream (turkey stock, bouillon, and skin)

Some of the omnivorous recipes actually sound pretty good, and if I still ate meat, I'd happily give them a try (the Xocolatl one is salted sweet cream ice cream with chocolate-covered pecans, caramel infused with bacon, and chocolate marshmallow nougat, and the "Sardines" recipe is chocolate with chunks of Swedish Fish-infused jello). There is one I might learn to like if I could get past the crunchy chitin from bugs (the creepy crawly flavor is tequila, orange, and matcha ice cream with chocolate-covered crickets and coconut-toffee candied insects). But the last three kinda turn my stomach (brandied chocolate pig's blood, mashed potato ice cream with white chocolate/chicken bouillon ripple, and turkey ice cream with turkey skin brittle).  I don't think I'd like those even if I were still omnivorous. 

But those recipes aside, 51 of the 57 recipes are vegetarian, and there are many that sound great, in particular Stumptown Coffee & Burnside Bourbon Ice Cream, Almond Brittle With Salted Ganache Ice Cream, and the Honey-Lavender.  There are many others that sound delicious as well. 

As for the mix-ins, they are pretty standard, including the usual chocolate sauces and brittles, cookies, and brownies.  The caramel sauce is really quite excellent - it remains pliable when frozen (kitchen chemistry to the rescue!), instead of turning hard like stiff taffy the way most caramels do when cold.

It uses a philosophy that I really like, providing three different bases to which you add flavorings: an ice cream base, a sorbet base, and even a vegan ice cream base. 

The vegan base is another area where they get weird.  First of all, the presence of a base suggests that it's neutral-flavored and easily adaptable, but in this case they only use it in a single recipe, and they give zero instructions for using it with other flavors.  In fact, their vegan base probably cannot be widely used as it is STRONGLY coconutty, and the coconut would overshadow most other flavors.  So, this feels (particularly in the context of a meatier-than-usual offering) almost phoned-in, included so they can claim it's vegan-friendly when it really isn't. 

So: if you are looking for dairy-free desserts, look elsewhere (it doesn't even include sorbets which are typically vegan). But if you are interested in interesting flavors, this might be a fine choice.