Wild Mint Sorbet Sandwiches and the Lessons of Nostalgia
Nostalgia is an emotion that grips us in a particularly compelling manner. There it comes, out of nowhere, and reminds us what it means to be a kid again. It draws our attention to simpler times, when life seemed carefree and perfect. Marketing agencies know of its power - just think of re-runs of classic sitcoms or retro office supplies appealing to our fond old memories. And while it’s important not to get completely stuck in the past, there is nothing wrong with dipping your toes in once in a while.
If you ask anyone what “nostalgia” means, chances are their eyes will glaze over and their mouth with turn into a slight little smile as they recount memories of simple pleasures - coconut sunscreen on trips to the beach, the smell of freshly-cut grass (cut by someone else, of course), or carefully collecting pebbles or seashells. (How do I know this? I conducted an informal survey last year while I was prepping for my Nostalgia event and these three memories were the ones that popped up the most frequently.) I think it’s good to sink into that mindframe, that care-free simplicity and openness to wonder.
Nostalgia is a filter we see the past through - of course, in reality, life was never perfect. There were always dropped ice cream cones and sand in our eyes and bee stings and knee scrapes and being left out. But funnily enough, we usually seem to leave those unpleasant details out of our romanticized childhood memories. As the character Andy Bernard in The Office says: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” And you know what? Right now there still might be weeds to pull and bumper dents and hectic days at work… but there’s also still the beauty of twilight walks and the taste of grilled hamburgers and the smell of wild mint-lined cool watering holes to cool off in. These still are the good old days.
I have a friend who’s life’s motto is something like “I never pass up an opportunity to jump into a body of water.” And it’s true, he lives by that rule! We’ve jumped into rivers, lakes, ponds, and hot springs together and I can honestly say there hasn’t been one single time I’ve regretted it. (Well, except maybe that one time I managed to get 13 leeches… still worth it.) Sometimes the thought of submerging myself in an icy mountain like filled with recent snowmelt sounds uncomfortable, and yes the first word out of my mouth once I’ve resurfaced might be a loud expletive, but the feeling I get after I walk out of that chilly water is unbeatable; every atom in my skin seems to tingle with an alive-ness while my heart pounds with an undeniable euphoria. Those brisk dips into cold water are the most effective way for me to access nostalgia because they are such a shock to the senses; for others, it might be the taste of a specific food or the smell of sunscreen. Whatever it is, I encourage you to re-visit that blissful freedom of childhood whenever you’re feeling the responsibilities of life get a little too heavy. And make the most of it now, because summer will be gone before you know it.
I picture this time of year as sitting on top of a big bell curve. The height of summer is a time of surprising stillness- the busy-ness of spring’s planting season is over, but the equally-busy harvest season has not yet begun. Fruit trees are heavy with green plums, clusters of green blackberries weigh down thorny branches, and the first apples are just starting to form. We balance precariously on top in anticipation of the downward whoosh of another busy season. Right now, in that teetering balance, we are given the freedom to adventure or relax (or perhaps both in equal measure). At this time, summer seems to stretch on forever ahead of us. The responsibilities and shortening days of autumn are but a glimmer on the horizon. There is no tomorrow, no yesterday, only the now stretching on in lightness in front of us. It’s the perfect time of year to sink into that delicious nostalgia and lose ourselves —just for a bit — in the wonder of being a kid.
In that spirit, allow me to share with you wild mint sorbet sandwiches. They’re super easy to whip up and taste incredibly refreshing! Minty cookies hold fresh strawberry or watermelon sorbet to deliver a treat that’s cooling both in flavor and temperature. The sorbets themselves couldn’t be any easier; you don’t need an ice cream maker to make them and they are naturally sweet without any sugar! (Though if you’d prefer them to be sweeter, you could always add some syrup or honey.) Best of all, they are the perfect symbol of nostalgia: the sweet carefree attitude of childhood summers pulled fresh from the freezer, best enjoyed after a few runs through the sprinkler.
Wild Mint Cookies:
1 c. butter or shortening, slightly softened
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. fresh mint leaves
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. matcha tea powder
2 c. unbleached flour
- In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and beat until the mixture looks smooth and pale.
- Add the baking powder, mint powder, salt, and matcha and blend until smooth and incorporated.
- Add the flour and mix until the mixture is even. It’ll be slightly crumbly.
- Cover the dough with a lid or plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
- Roll half of the dough out to 1/4” thickness between two sheets of parchment paper. Transfer the dough on the parchment paper to a baking sheet and repeat the process with the other half of the dough. Chill in the fridge for an hour.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and cut out 3” circles with a round circle cutter. Transfer the circles gently to the cookie sheet and chill for 5 minutes more. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F.
- Place the sheet in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies are barely starting to brown. Remove from oven and let the cookies cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Aguas Frescas is Spanish for “fresh waters.” These refreshing summery drinks are light non-alcoholic beverages made from fresh fruits, seeds, or grains blended with sweetener and water. They’re served to compliment the rich and spicy cuisines of central America, spiced with chiles and herbs. They are light, fresh, and deeply refreshing. They are summer. They’re also the inspiration for the following sorbets, highlighting the natural sweetness of the fruit and accenting it with some fresh herbs and lime juice.
Agua de Sandia (Watermelon Water) Sorbet:
1 mini seedless watermelon, cut into chunks
small handful wild mint leaves
1 Tbs. lime juice
- Dice the watermelon into chunks and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze until the chunks are hard but not completely solid. (If you freeze them for too long, just toss them in a microwave-safe bowl and blast for 30 seconds or so until slightly thawed.)
- Place the mostly-frozen watermelon chunks in a high-power blender or food processor and add the lime and mint. Blend until smooth, about the texture of soft serve ice cream.
- Scoop onto the cookies and make sandwiches, then place them back into the freezer to harden up.
Strawberry Basil Sorbet:
2 lbs. fresh strawberries (8 cups)
1 Tbs. lemon juice
small handful basil leaves
Directions: Follow the same directions as above. Enjoy!
Note: since the sorbets are low in sugar, they tend to get a little more firm in the freezer than store-bought varieties. To thaw to the perfect eating texture, just let them sit out at room temperature for about 10 minutes first. (Or, better yet, take them out into the warmth of summer with you.) If you'd like to dress your sandwiches up a little, dip them into freeze-dried raspberries* for a little extra kick!
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