August 31, 2008

Celebration's been in the air. The crowds may still be making their way out of Invesco Field, and it took all $140 of Opus One to work our way through several rounds of toasts (new houses, new babies, cover stories, passed midterms and a full 29 years so far). And even with all that, the celebrating spilled into 11 more hours on Sunday with the best way I know of to fête the end of summer: grilled meat and frozen treats.

It all starts at another fancy-catered gala and the "mojito granita" making the rounds in perfectly shaped lime wedges. Then Harold McGee divulges the secrets of non-ice-cream-maker ice cream, and before I can help myself, I'm building a menu back from the dessert course. But things have been kind of overwhelming lately, so I do my best to limit the plan to casual, in-the-moment food—fajitas on Cyrus's grill. With flank steak, shrimp and vegetables. And at least three kinds of salsa. And several salads. (And we're off.)

But mostly it comes back to those desserts, and I start a day early to get a head start. The granita couldn't be easier—just melted sugar and lime juice, frozen, and even though I totally skip the stirring steps it turns out fine. (I can't say the same for the candied mint, but I decide I like fresh mint better anyway.) And despite running out of sugar midway through this sweet-a-thon, the ice cream is fairly simple too (this might be because I'm now well-schooled in the ways of crème anglaise; scrambled eggs could otherwise complicate proceedings).

I heed Harold's warning about frostbite and carefully begin to freeze my ice cream-in-a-bag. And freeze. And freeze. What Harold has promised will only take 30 minutes I've now been doing for upwards of an hour. Now completely disregarding the dangers of brine (later my hands do sting badly, but I can't decide if that's from salted ice or hot peppers), I try to figure out how to get the ice cream colder. Finally I give up and empty the contents into a quart container. Miraculously, when I return to it, the substance has taken on the consistency of ice cream. In fact, it is ice cream. I'm like a little kid (albeit one with grownup taste in flavor). I wonder if both the ice cream maker and the brine are unnecessary. Could I just freeze my mixture straight out? (I consult On Food and Cooking later, and it seems I can, but that my ice crystals might not be small enough for truly elegant ice cream. Oh well.)

Sunday is bright and hot and not a bit muggy. But when I start to set up my party on the patio, I realize I've underestimated the way the heat caroms off the white walls, white floor, white furniture. I put on my best kitchen-heat endurance, but one by one I lose guests to the air conditioning—that's when those frozen confections really come into their own, tiding us over until the shadows creep in and I finally sit down for a glass of wine that stays cool.

Eleven hours later, I'm just sunburnt enough, just drunk enough, just tired enough and altogether too sticky with melted sugar. But all of those seem like pretty good reasons for a celebration, too.