I’m guessing the toddler/pre-K demographic isn’t the primary intended audience for supermarket shelving and displays, but they might as well be tailor-made for my three-year-old. Especially for holidays — bright colors, pretty ribbons, and of course, candy. Often there are even soft or squishy stuffed animals of some sort, on their own or attached to additional appealing paraphernalia, themed for the particular special day or season.
Again, I don’t envision consumer panel discussions being held at daycares or playgrounds, although, maybe. Catch the kids’ eyes and you might catch the parents’ wallets.
The Valentine’s Day setup definitely worked on Benson. We had already talked a little about what the holiday is since we had made valentines at our weekly kids’ program, and of course someone had already fed him SweetHearts. The fact that Valentine’s Day also brought cute little teddy bears holding cute little jars full of cute little candies, not to mention an entire aisle of chocolates, did not hurt his opinion of Valentine’s Day.
And as soon as I explain it’s a special day to tell people we love them, of course we’ll need to buy this and this and this for all the people — which is adorable as well as not financially feasible. Fortunately, Benson was up for some compromising; I told him we have things at home that are similar to the gift packs, so he put it down. I told him he could hang onto the bright red squishmallow (super squishable stuffed-animal-pillow-thing) while we were shopping, so he put it back on the shelf when we were ready to check out.
AND I told him we could have an ice cream picnic for Valentine’s Day, so he left the candy where it belonged. I know when to bring out the big guns.
We used to do ice cream picnics in the living room every week when our foster girls would come back from their visitation, spreading out my old “picnic quilt” on the carpet and watching a Bluey episode or two. It’d been a long time since, but I broke it out again for the evening of Benson’s birthday for something special, this time with a Nat Geo animal show. He was clearly a fan, bringing it up again often with an earnest “Mommy, I have a great idea!”
Our family is an ice cream loving one, so while we won’t be making any valentines for Ice Cream, it makes sense that I should make ice cream for my valentines. One of Brian’s self-proclaimed love languages is browned butter ice cream, which pairs perfectly with how Benson’s current obsession is “butter buttons” (more on that in another article), and with how Kiah doesn’t care what I eat as long as I eat calories so that she gets plenty. It seems the hearts have aligned to point straight towards that recipe.
I’ll still try to whip up a nice meal, but let’s be honest, this is not the best season in our life to strive for the classic romantic experience. Candlelit dinners don’t have the same vibe when your three-year-old usually insists on climbing on the table and will one-hundred-percent demand ketchup for his steak, when your three-month-old has an uncanny ability to be starving right when I sit down to eat and will likely have a diaper blow-out right around that same time. Brian will smell like the farm; I will smell like the children. Time to start singing, “Cannn you feel, the love, tonight...”
But really, I can. I’m in love with this sweet crazy family of mine, and I’d rather have them than an entire display of dark chocolate and pink squishmallows. Benson would too, even though he might not always know it, but this brown butter ice cream will help remind him.
Browned Butter Pecan Ice Cream
Why yes, it is ice cream flavored with butter. Talk about decadence! — although honestly, you only use a small portion of the butter here. Use the ladled off part, which is essentially clarified butter, as you would any other butter, and expect delightfully rich and nutty aftertones. You can serve this ice cream with almost any toppings you like or as part of a banana split, but really, why would you want to? One bite as is and you’ll be hooked, too. Consider this my Valentine to you.
Prep tips: this is the right amount for our ice cream maker, which is the 1 ½ quart frozen-bowl kind. If you can make a bigger batch, do.
3 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 pound salted butter
2 cups cream
⅔ cup sugar
1 ounce cream cheese, softened
4 ounces toasted pecans
Mix the cornstarch with ½ cup of the milk and set aside. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter, whisking often, until it’s just beginning to brown. Remove from heat and let set for a couple minutes, until butter solids have settled. Ladle off the clear butter (reserve for another use!), leaving only the browned bits in the saucepan. Pour the remaining milk plus the cream and sugar into the pan with the browned bits, and bring to a boil for a couple minutes. Reduce heat to low and whisk in the cornstarch slurry; bring back to a low boil, stirring constantly with a spatula until it just shows signs of thickening, about a minute or two. Remove from heat and gradually whisk some of this hot cream base into the cream cheese until smooth, and then whisk cream cheese mixture into remaining base. Chill overnight, then freeze in an ice cream maker, adding pecans in the last few churns.
Amanda Miller lives with her husband, two young children, and whoever else God brings them through foster care on the family dairy farm in Hutchinson. She enjoys doing some catering, teaching cooking classes, and freelancing, but mostly chasing after her kids. Reach her at email@example.com.