Written in September 2012
On the early morning after my late-night arrival to Bangkok, my eyes opened to a hazy rising sun. It was 6 am—an ungodly hour. My body was stuck in the California timezone and sleep was not an option.
“Are you awake?” I asked my friend in a nearby bed. “Because I am.”
“Yeah,” he grumbled in obvious jet lag.
Feeling too awake, we decided to take a walk while the rest of our crew continued to sleep.
Outside our hotel on the major street of Sukhumvit, I suggested that we turn left toward the unknown rather than turn right to the standard expat hangouts. The city was warming up—a reminder of the humid summers that I had escaped to California (and specifically to San Francisco). I was unprepared. As we came upon the colorful stalls full of foods unknown to unknown to us (despite being Asian American), I could feel the heat seeping into me, slowing me down step by step.
The misery of the jet lag and the rising heat tugged at my bones. My morning crankiness and heat wariness would likely start exploding in complaints and exhaustion. Normally, I love the vibrancy and life of the locals. Yet at that moment, despite stopping at a 7-11, something was getting to me. My boyfriend cancelled on the trip about a month prior to the trip. I wasn’t quite sure of my group’s itinerary in Thailand. There were 2 more weeks of Cambodia and Thailand. All these thoughts were swirling through my mind in the morning humid heat when suddenly…
A man with an ice cream cart appeared. Magic.
I hurried up to him from across the street. One please, I motioned.
In that instant, the lecture from a travel nurse a week ago started fade. I pulled out 3 baht and handed it to the ice cream man. He gave me a small cone freshly scooped from his cart. Ignoring all warnings of onlyeatwhatspreparedinfrontofyou and nevereatanythingthatisnothot, I engulfed the ice cream.
The ice cream was magical, and my anxieties drifted away for a moment. At the very least, I suddenly appreciated the fact that I was in Bangkok. Eating an Asian-portion-sized sweet corn ice cream on a small cone. This is what travel is.
Despite already seeking ice cream when traveling, this ice cream cone served as the cornerstone my never-ending quest. (And yes, I did have corn ice cream at a KFC in Thailand, but I forgot to take a photo.)
It was the ice cream cone that changed everything. This was the moment.
So to acknowledge that moment, I had to make a sweet corn ice cream. Walking along Mission street, I came upon a Mexican grocery and Chris exclaimed, “Four for a dollar!” So I picked up four ears of corn, happily satisfied that this was the week that would remind me of my Thai dreams.
Adapted from Lottie and Doof
4 ears of raw sweet corn, shucked (Optional: reserve a handful for the churning or topping).
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of coarse salt
7 large egg yolks
Remove the kernels from the cobs (I sliced off one end and held it in a bowl with the cut end facing down, then carefully through a see-saw motion cut the kernels from the cob). Reserve some kernels for churning later. Add the kernels to a medium pot. We want the corn to be raw (to infuse the base!) so sadly the best techniques to shuck corn are when the corn is cooked!
Add milk, cream, sugar, and salt to the medium pot. Break the shucked cobs in half and add them to the medium pot.
Stir and heat up until steaming (bubbles appearing at the edges of the pot). Remove from heat and let sit for at least 30 minutes to let the corn steep into the mixture. Remove the cobs.
Working in batches, puree corn mixture in a blender until smooth. Return mixture to saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat.
In a separate large bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Temper the egg yolks by pouring one cup at a time of the corn mixture. Whisk after every cup. Return the contents into the pot. Then at medium heat while constantly stirring, place the pot at medium heat. The custard will thicken. Remove from heat when the mixture coats the back of a spoon or a 170 degrees. Due to the presence of corn, it was hard for me to tell when the mixture was ready. I recommend a thermometer for this process!
Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl, squeezing as much base as possible out of the corn solids. Discard the corn solids.
Chill completely overnight in the refrigerator. Churn in an ice cream maker based on the manufacturer’s instructions. Add reserved corn kernels when 5 minutes remain of churning. You can add the reserved corn kernels when serving to avoid a “frozen vegetable” taste. Personally, I found it great either way!