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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20 Responses to “the box on the dining room table”

  1. 1
    Renee - Kudos Kitchen — June 8, 2014 @ 8:06 pm

    Such a sweet story about your father. My heart goes out to you.
    This ice cream? Divine!

  2. 2

    MJ, this is a beautiful post. I can see how there’s comfort in having your dad “around’. I am sure he is smiling down at you all and I know that he will love Yellowstone XO

    • 2.1
      Merry-Jennifer — June 9, 2014 @ 6:46 pm

      I think this Yellowstone trip will be great for all of us. It just feels right to take Dad with us. And thank you, Mardi.

  3. 3
    Gail — June 8, 2014 @ 10:06 pm

    You outdo yourself, every single time.
    And I go through more kleenex, every single time.

  4. 4
    Kathryn — June 9, 2014 @ 4:28 am

    Such a beautiful and touching post.

  5. 5
    Colleen — June 9, 2014 @ 11:14 am

    Such a beautiful post!

  6. 6
    jacquie — June 9, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    beautiful post. after i have lost a significant being in my life, for some reason i always feel more settled when a piece of them come back home to me. I’m so glad your dad is going to Yellowstone with all of you. I’m sure he will let you know where he wants to rest. take care.

    • 6.1
      Merry-Jennifer — June 9, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

      I believe you’re right, Jacquie. I think I’ll know the place when I’m there. It will feel right.

  7. 7
    Jennifer Annan House — June 9, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

    Another wonderful post I think your posts about your dad help all of us who are grieving for someone. And, love the picture, and news of your upcoming Yellowstone trip. It will be a wonderful time for all of your family.

  8. 8
    Christine — June 12, 2014 @ 10:16 am

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I am excited for your family to have the opportunity to travel to our country’s oldest and greatest national park later this month. Be sure to visit the tourist sites such as Old Faithful and Morning Glory as well as some less-trammeled backcountry nooks. While working there with the Youth Conservation Corps for four summers, I felt continually astounded by the pristine solitude of the backcountry, despite the flooded overdevelopment of places in the front-country. Have fun!

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  10. 9
    Paula — June 17, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

    This one final road trip *with* your Dad will be fun, poignant and truly memorable…for all of you. Safe travels. Beautifully written post and I hope you write about your time, experiences at Yellowstone.

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  12. 10
    Janice @Kitchen Heals Soul — July 14, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

    I kinda stumbled on this post while browsing your blog. So my comment is coming in a little late. I can relate to the box that is there but that you can’t open, but that is such a comfort.

    I need to start by saying that my recent loss was totally not on the magnitude of losing a parent, not by any means. Still, I have the box containing what may be an urn of my cat’s ashes in it. I’ve had it on my nightstand next to my bed since March. I haven’t opened it. It’s just there. I can’t face the box, but I can’t let it go either. So, there it sits. I guess I was more dependent on that tiny little life than I realized. And because it’s been just me and her for the last 8 years (no boyfriend or anybody along the way), going through this was so very hard. It’s amazing how much a plain old cardboard box can contain.

    I am so sorry for your loss and from reading backwards through your posts to this one, I see that you took that trip with your Dad. There are no words that can make the loss of a loved one “better” but I do hope that you will find some comfort along the way.

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