the box on the dining room table

strawberry balsamic & black pepper ice cream | the merry gourmet

There is a box on the dining room table. The box is a run-of-the-mill cardboard box, about 7 inches square. There are no shipping labels on the box, just a name, written in black Sharpie. The top flaps of the box are folded in an overlapping fashion, as I might have done with that box of stuffed animals I moved from my childhood bedroom to my college dorm. Because we are lazy people, the box is surrounded by stacks of my daughter’s clean laundry, a set of folded sheets, an unopened wine bottle that hasn’t yet found it’s home in the wine fridge, and some of my son’s school artwork.

The handwritten name on the box reads, “George, Truett.”

My father’s ashes are inside. I presume they are in a plastic bag, but I am not certain, because I’ve not mustered the courage to open the box.

Last week, when I spoke to my mother about babysitting the kids on Friday, I said to her, “Bring Dad, please.”

She hesitated, the words slowly making sense to her. “Oh,” she said. “Oh. Okay. I’ll bring your dad’s ashes.”

We’re taking our kids to Yellowstone National Park later this month. The last time I was there was the only time I was there, and it was part of a six-week road trip across the United States. I was ten or eleven, about my daughter’s age. My brother was a little younger than my son is now.

yellowstone national park, early 1980s

Two days before my father went into the hospital for his final stay, I told him that Sam and I were taking the kids to Yellowstone. He was the most lucid and alert he’d been in at least a month or two. He smiled, and his eyes held that twinkle that was so much a part of my father that it had become hard to see him without it.

“You know,” he said, “I’d really like to come with you to Yellowstone.”

“I know, Dad,” I had said. “I know you would.”

My father died nine days later. As he wished, we had his body cremated. His ashes now sit in a cardboard box on my dining room table. And for some silly and illogical reason – and I can almost hear him saying to me, “Merry Jennifer, be logical.” – I feel comforted whenever I think, Dad is in my dining room.

Dad, or at least a part of him, is coming with our family to Yellowstone after all. He didn’t know he’d be traveling to one of his favorite places on this earth, one last time, but I think he’d be pleased. When the time is right, and in just the right spot, we’ll leave a bit of him there, to revel in the beauty of this country just a while longer.

*   *   *   *   *

This ice cream recipe has nothing to do with my father. Mostly, I wanted to give you a sweet treat in exchange for reading one more post about my father. Dad loved ice cream, just like my husband loves ice cream, and this recipe would have been no exception. The flavors of the strawberry balsamic and black pepper are subtle, but they’re there, like that twinkle in my father’s eye. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice.

strawberry balsamic and black pepper ice cream | the merry gourmet

Strawberry Balsamic & Black Pepper Ice Cream

Ice cream can be intimidating, but it gets easier with practice. For me, an instant read thermometer makes the process so much easier and more reliable. I am a huge fan of the Thermapen.


1-3/4 cups heavy cream
1-1/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup strawberry balsamic and black pepper sauce


Place a 9-inch-square metal baking pan in freezer. Combine heavy cream, milk, 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, corn syrup, and salt in medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is steaming steadily and registers 175 degrees, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat.

While cream mixture heats, whisk yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in bowl until smooth. Slowly whisk 1 cup heated cream mixture into egg yolk mixture. Return entire mixture to saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and registers 180 degrees, 7 to 14 minutes. Stir in vanilla and remove from heat. Using a fine mesh strainer, carefully strain custard into a large bowl and let cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or up to 24 hours).

Stir strawberry balsamic and black pepper sauce into chilled custard. Transfer custard to ice-cream machine and churn according to your machine's instructions. Ice cream will be soft serve consistency. Scoop ice cream into the frozen baking pan and press plastic wrap on surface. Return to freezer until firm around edges, at least 1 hour. Transfer ice cream to airtight container, pressing firmly to remove any air pockets, and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.

Adapted from this recipe from  Cook's Illustrated, from July 1, 2011.

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19 Responses to “a sick day, and a recipe: banana chocolate chip cupcakes with honey cream cheese frosting”

  1. Leigh — May 29, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

    They look amazing. Tell Oliver that the sprinkles are my favorite part. 🙂

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 30th, 2013 @ 9:06 am

      Thanks, Leigh. I did — and he grinned.

  2. I hope he’s feeling better! I know those nebulizers all too well. What darling cupcakes! It was great seeing you again at FBF. 😉

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 30th, 2013 @ 9:06 am

      It was so good to see you, too, Denise!

  3. Laura — May 29, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

    Hope Oliver is feeling better soon! Chocolate Chip Banana cupcakes sound like the best medicine 🙂

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 30th, 2013 @ 9:06 am

      Thank you, Laura. Yep, I’m a firm believer in cupcake therapy. 🙂

  4. Sending hugs to Oliver. Plus, you = best mum ever!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 30th, 2013 @ 9:07 am

      Aw, thanks, Mardi. You = sweetest friend ever!

  5. Macaroni Mama — May 30, 2013 @ 6:56 am

    I love your writing.

  6. Amy @ The Nifty Foodie — May 30, 2013 @ 9:27 am

    Aww…I hope Oliver feels better soon!

    Those cupcakes sound so comforting. Can’t go wrong with banana and chocolate!

  7. Rachel Winter — June 1, 2013 @ 8:42 am

    MJ Those look delish. I have made your banana bread several times so think I will need to try this for the kids this summer.
    Hope Oliver feels better.

  8. Ann — June 2, 2013 @ 8:44 am

    Pretty cupcakes and no doubt very tasty too. My daughter used to go to sleep in her bed at your son’s age but every morning, we would find her asleep in the hallway outside our bedroom. It passes – she’s 18 now and the youngest and only one still at home. I hope to have her home for a couple more years yet, but seeing as she now sooo independent, I doubt it! Enjoy it, I say!

  9. Paula — June 2, 2013 @ 10:28 am

    I hope Oliver is on the mend. It’s terrible when our little ones are sick but worse when we have to worry about finding care for them or juggling schedules to try and be home with them. Making lovely cupcakes together is a great *sick day* activity.

    As for Oliver sleeping in your room…I wouldn’t stress about it at all. He’s only 6. If he still wants to in a few years, then I’d worry about it 🙂

  10. Lori @ RecipeGirl — June 4, 2013 @ 10:28 am

    Oh gosh, well I sure hope he’s starting to feel better. Hopefully he’ll want to transition on his own to his own room? That’s a tough spot to be in.

    Your sweet cupcakes are perfect for cheering up on a sick day. See you in Austin? Can’t wait.

  11. Nutmeg Nanny — June 4, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

    These cupcakes are the perfect sick day remedy! Your poor little guy.

  12. Aww, poor thing! Fortunately, cupcakes have a power of making everything better though. Hope he feels on the up soon!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — June 8th, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

      Thanks, Georgia. He’s much better finally!

  13. George — January 19, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

    A new addition for my cupcake recipe collection 🙂

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