I got an ice cream maker. I was watching the episode of Good Eats all about premium ice cream and how simple it was to make, and the next day I ran out to buy an ice cream maker. For $50 I’ll never have to go to the corner bodega to grab a pint of Haagen-Dazs again — sweet.
The first batch, a basic vanilla ice cream made from the recipe in the Cuisinart machine’s instruction booklet, was refreshing, sweet, and tasted so much like Breyer’s vanilla it scared me. Who knew it was just cream, milk, sugar and vanilla? Immediately, fresh pineapple ice cream sounded tempting, green tea tickled my fancy (as did other teas, like what about Earl Grey?), but there was one question that had been lingering in my brain since middle school, and that was: White pepper ice cream. Sweet or spicy?
You see, at that age I was a massive fan of the band Cibo Matto. I think I still would be, if they had stayed together. But back then I had the group’s first album, Viva La Woman, and I used to listen to this on a big set of headphones from the only CD player in my parents’ living room, squawking and jerking around to “Know Your Chicken” and other things that would scare parents if they’d gotten to hear it themselves. Maybe it was the playfully cryptic lyrics that captured my adolescent obsession, or that the lead singer Miho Hatori’s accented English sounded strikingly reminiscent of my Aunt Amy’s. Maybe I just liked food.
Some friends of mine once had a conversation in which they agreed that the musical choices one makes around the ages of late middle school were most likely the ones that would stay with that person in a way unlike any other, making a lasting mark or shaping one’s tastes, consciously or not. And while all the members of Cibo Matto have moved on to really impressive, diverse projects and solo work, I can’t help but hold most dear songs like “White Pepper Ice Cream,” from Viva La Woman. In which the lyrics pose, over and over in a whispering existential puzzle, “sweet or spicy?” So eleven years later, I was going to find out.
I didn’t end up making a whole batch of white pepper ice cream, though. Instead I took a scoop of the aforementioned vanilla, a good teaspoon of white pepper, and put it back in the machine for a quick, thorough churn. I had suspected, as you may have gathered from the category of this post being “Regrets,” that I wouldn’t want to waste a whole lot of ice cream on this one. The result? Cold. And cough-inducing. White pepper has that dry bite that easily lends to coughing when used in excess, or if just swallowed the wrong way. I never thought of it as a very spicy flavor, just a ticklish peppery flavor of its own. But it took such a hold of the taste of the ice cream that I couldn’t even tell if what I was eating was sweet. I knew it must be, since it was regular ice cream in there, somehow, underneath it all. I still wouldn’t say it was really spicy, either. Isn’t cream supposed to cancel out spiciness? Maybe that’s the paradox. I have no idea which taste it was — sweet, spicy — and after coughing my lungs out, I’m rather content to leave it at that. As the song goes, “It’s all the same to me.”
Now where was I with the pineapple ice cream?