Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Chicago Pie Week: Hoosier Mama Pie Company

Vanilla Cream with Strawberries
As a lover of pie and annual host of a Pi(e) Day party, my travels often include a stop to see the different bakers of round pastry. But in my own city, there is no lack of notable spots. This week, I will cover the wonder that is Chicago pie.
• • •

Hoosier Mama Pie Company, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. First off, there's your name: a clever and functional pun, celebrating both female entrepreneurship and boasting Indiana roots in the ever-competitive Chicago. Second, there is your charismatic owner/chef, who is a winner at all speaking engagements and authored the Hoosier Mama Book of Pie. Third...actually, counting off by number is already a little tiresome. Onward!

Boasting the largest pie menu, both savory and sweet, one could argue that their biggest contribution to the Chicago pie community is their savory pies. While I've never been disappointed with the meal portion of my visits to Hoosier Mama, I feel the Pork, Apple and Sage offers the biggest revelation to the taste buds. (Meanwhile, First Slice offers zero savory pies and Bang Bang Pie Shop offers two versions of the same savory pie.) The savory pies may not actually be the best part of the Hoosier Mama experience, but they are so good that one could argue it's a tie race.

Over on the sweet side of the menu, one can find fruit pies a-plenty, cream pies, chess pies, custard pies and, for the gluttonous indecisive, there is the Pie Flight, three half slices so you can catch 'em all. You'll be safe ordering based on your personal preferences at Hoosier Mama, but in my opinion is they are masters of both the cream and custard pie. My personal favorite are their sour cream Dutch fruit pies with Sour Cream Dutch Apple Pie leading the bunch. Second place goes to the Coconut Cream, tied with whichever custard pie I am currently consuming, be it the Horchata Pie (exclusive to Dove's Luncheonette) or the Ginger Custard Pie.

The only downside of Hoosier Mama Pie Company is also one of their greatest strengths: their rotating menu. Sure, you can't always find your favorite on the menu, but happily you can almost always try something new, whether their pie of the week, a new recipe or one from the recipe vault.

Stay tuned for the final installment of Chicago Pie Week!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Chicago Pie Week: First Slice Pie Cafe

As a lover of pie and annual host of a Pi(e) Day party, my travels often include a tasting of a city's best round pastry. But in my own city, there is no lack of notable stops. This week, I will cover the wonder that is Chicago pie.
• • •

Though the hype machine doesn't back First Slice Pie Cafe as much as its peers--maybe because Hoosier Mama and Bang Bang Pie are in hipper neighborhoods?--it is just as crucial an ingredient to Chicago's pie scene. With community-serving programs that feed those in need and offer food industry job training, they have a business model you can feel good about, too.

The highlight of their pie menu is the Blueberry Cheesecake. It is a misleading name because this pie--yes, pie--completely reimagines the cheesecake, just as Chicago pizza reimagines the pizza. In each of their cheesecakes starts with a graham cracker crust (or sometimes a chocolate cookie crust), followed by a layer of the chosen fruit, then a layer of cheesecake, then an equally-sized layer of whipped cream infused with the chosen fruit. Unlike a lot of cheesecake, these slices aren't too heavy, probably owing to the fact that the size is limited to a pie pan rather than being poured tall into a springform pan. All in all, it stacks up to a wholly imaginative cheesecake with a variety of flavor notes and textures.

Other notable pies at First Slice include their pecan pie, which wisely incorporates pecans throughout, meaning there is more of the pie's namesake than that jiggly jelly substance. Also worthy of mention is their Tabasco cream pie, which has a cult following in Chicago. (Add cinnamon to whipped cream and people are hooked; add a slight spicy after burn and the foodies take note.) But, honestly, you can't lose: their Michigan cherry pie is simple and tasty, as is the gluten-free Polka Dot pie that is a cross between a cheesecake brownie and a flourless chocolate cake. But, wait, there's more!

My go-to on First Slice's full menu is the coffee-braised pork burritos, but it is far more important that I direct you to one of their beverages. If I'm being completely honest, their seasonal blueberry lemonade is my favorite item on the entire menu, even more than their wonderful, wonderful pie. During the summer months, I am tempted to stop in any time I pass for that sweet elixir, which is fairly often since there's a location in my neighborhood. I wish there were a straw long enough to reach from my apartment to their spot down the street, Daniel Day-Lewis style. (I drink your lemonade!)

Stayed tuned for more of Chicago Pie Week!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Chocolate Connoisseur's Desert Island List

Some of the winners at the awards ceremony.
Three-and-a-half years ago, inspired by the book The Chocolate ConneisseurI made a list of my Top Ten Desert Island Chocolate Bars. The concept of the Desert Island Question is one usually reserved to subjects not known to melt in the sun--a person*, top albums**, books***--but any opportunity to make a list is a good one. 

In the years, since my original list, I've eaten a wider range of fine chocolate, thanks to the continued rise of foodie culture and increasing popularity surrounding bean-to-bar production. (Hard to believe nowadays that back in 2007, Theo Chocolate in Seattle described themselves as the only 100% organic, 100% Fair Trade bean-to-bar production facility in the U.S.) 

My Desert Island Chocolate Bar List:
  • Amedei (Pontedera, Italy) - Cioccolato al Latte Bianco con Pistachio. White chocolate with pistachio. In its purest form, white chocolate is cocoa butter with sugar. This is the only one to wow me as much as standard chocolate.
  • Amedei (Pontedera, Italy) - Toscano Blond. 63% dark chocolate with peach and apricot. This is my all-time favorite chocolate bar. Amedei has a gift for creating a bold chocolate that has numerous flavor notes in each taste.
  • Fran's Chocolates (Seattle, WA) - Almond Gold Bar. Dark chocolate, almonds and the best caramel ever. To call this a "chocolate bar" rather than a "caramel" is a stretch, but I doubt anyone will deny me this on my hypothetical desert island. 
  • Kinder (Alba, Italy) - Bueno. Chocolate, hazelnut cream, wafer. Probably more of a candy bar than a chocolate bar. Dang, is it good, though.
  • Mast Brothers (Brooklyn, NY) - Goat. This isn't the only company to explore using goat's milk instead of cow's milk, but theirs is the best I've had.
  • Nathan Miller (Chambersburg, PA) - Gingerbread Bar. 55% buttermilk chocolate with spiced gingerbread. This bar is my latest obsession, thanks to the awakening that is buttermilk chocolate.
  • Patric (Columbia, MO) - Browned-Butter Bar. Brown sugar and browned butter make for an instant rush of happy chemicals to the brain.
  • Pump Street Bakery (Oxford, England) - Sourdough & Sea Salt 66%. Crunchy bread pieces and a touch of salt combine with rich chocolate for a unique and memorable flavor in experience.
  • Ritter Sport (Waldenbuch, Germany) - Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts. Whole hazelnuts in a heavy, square bar.
  • Theo / 3400 Phinney (Seattle, WA) - Milk Chocolate Coconut Curry Bar. As unusual and intriguing as the first time I tried it back in 2007.
Honorable Mention:
  • Cocanu (Portland, OR) - Holy Wood. Subtle and aromatic, this bar is infused with Palo Santo wood.
  • TCHO (San Francisco, CA) - Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. I would have huge expectations for any chocolate bar featuring rhubarb puree and this one rises to the task.
  • Amedei (Pontedera, Italy) - Chuao. 70% dark chocolate. If you choose one pure chocolate Amedei bar, start here.
  • Ferrero (Alba, Italy) - Rondnoir (aka Duplo Cuore Fondente). Dark chocolate, dark chocolate cream, wafer. Take away the hazelnut of the more popular Ferrero Rocher and swap out milk for dark chocolate. Good luck eating just one.
  • Ghirardelli (San Francisco, CA) - Peppermint Bark. A seasonal must-have.
  • Perugina (Perugia, Italy) - Baci. Dark chocolate, gianduja and hazelnut. One bite of perfection.
  • Ritter Sport (Waldenbuch, Germany) - Coconut Macaroon. Melty milk chocolate with crystally coconut filling.
  • Theo (Seattle, WA) - Jasmine Truffle. A seasonal item I ate once, it has taken on legendary status with me. I remember it tasting like fairy dust.
Breakdown: While I do enjoy pure unadulterated chocolate--only two of the items on the main list are pure chocolate (Patric and Mast Brothers)--the majority of the bars are bold chocolate featuring texturally diverse mix-ins. This may account for the high number of American brands, since some of the leading European chocolate makers stick to pure chocolate. The two pure chocolate bars on the main list are both bold twists, one using goat's milk and the other using browned butter. A few items on the three lists are mass market chocolate that isn't the highest quality but are still regular cravings for me (Kinder, Ferrero, Ghirardelli, Ritter Sport).

* Most people choose what is known as a "fox" (i.e. Keira Knightley or Ryan Gosling), I usually go the practical route, choosing an Eagle Scout. As of this writing, I think I'd choose J.J. Abrams, though, because turnabout is fair play.
** An ever-changing list: The Helio Sequence's Keep Your Eyes Ahead, Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and, because I think it'd be nice in a tropical setting, The Ruby Suns' Sea Lion.
*** You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers, my favorite, and the complete Anton Chekhov short stories, because I may actually have time to read them whilst marooned.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pumpkin Progress

Let the record show that today, Thursday, August 18, 2016, I started seeing pumpkin food products in stores. I purchased some pumpkin doughnuts. Yum, yum. ¡Viva la Calabaza! 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Vacarro's Italian Pastry in Baltimore

Downtown Baltimore has many notable features: one of the nation's prettiest waterfronts, Edgar Allan Poe's grave, the Baltimore Orioles' home at Camden Yards, an iconic view of the Domino Sugar factory, close proximity to one of my favorite museums ever (the always original, often bizarre American Visionary Art Museum), and Little Italy. Ranging from authentic to kitsch, Baltimore's Little Italy may be smaller than some, but the quality of one particular business puts other city's would-be competitors to shame: Vaccaro's Italian Pastry. Offering a wide range of pastries to choose from, you really can't go wrong--Want a Coconut Cream Napoleon? Dive right in!--but the main event are Vaccaro's cannoli.

There's nothing surprising about the cannoli other than how great they are. Like any respectable purveyor of Italian pastry, the cannoli are not filled with the ricotta cream until after the customer orders, keeping the shell crisp. They offer plain and chocolate-dipped shells filled with regular or chocolate cream. Once again, you can't lose, but the regular ricotta in a plain shell is work of art. The cream is thick and heavy, emphasizing the ricotta, unlike lesser businesses whose sickly sweet product uses far too much powdered sugar. Vaccaro's pastry is sweet, but in a more subtle Italian way. Their ricotta is dotted with chocolate chips and has aromatic spices that awakens the senses and gets the sweet tooth twitching. To look at it, the cannoli from Vaccaro's look similar to just about any other cannoli you'll come across, only they get every part of it right. No frills, no surprises. Just great pastry.

It's no wonder that, when I was eating at a nearby Italian restaurant and some nearby customers asked about the dessert options, the waiter started to tell them only to stop himself midway through to say, "You know what? Vaccaro's is right around the corner. That's the place to go." And I agree. If you're in Baltimore: Vaccaro's.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Charmery in Baltimore

Though I've never heard the nickname used outside the city, Baltimore is sometimes referred to as the Charm City. It is from this nickname that the best ice cream I've eaten in Baltimore derives its name: The Charmery.

Top L: Otterbein Cookie Creamcicle
Top R: Tell Tale Chocolate
Bottom: Old Bay Caramel
Baby Scoop: Pistachio Toffee
Located on the W. 36th St strip in Hampden (along with shoe-store-cum-chocolate-shoppe Ma Petite Shoe and another location for blog-favorite Dangerously Delicious Pies), this corner shop sticks out for its bright mural, giant scoop sculpture and nighttime lights. The exterior is just one part of this destination's creative design decisions. My favorite of the shop's artwork is actually the nautical-themed washroom, where soft mood lighting illuminate a wall mural and hanging sculptures of sea creatures (made from colorful plastic ice cream spoons). Back in the store, in addition to their main product, they also sell a collection of odd, Charmery-branded knickknacks, including baby onesies, ice cream pint koozies, turntable slipmats and car air fresheners. Finally, their creativity even extends to their customer loyalty program: when a customer gets their Charmery card punched a certain number of times they get to spin a wheel to see what free thing they earn while a light show spectacle happens and song plays.

The fun doesn't stop there. The Charmery's ice cream showcases originality in its risky flavors whose names often take inspiration from Baltimore landmarks and foods.
The menu changes a little each day.
  • Old Bay Caramel, the Charmery's best selling flavor, chooses an unlikely pairing of flavors using a certain spice known best for being used on seafood and potato chips. The Old Bay adds a spicy aftertaste and unexpectedly makes the caramel come alive.
  • Otterbein Cookie Creamcicle features a local brand of cookies to create a creamcicle ice cream textured with cookies and white chocolate chips. Delicious.
  • Tell Tale Chocolate, an ice cream so dark you'd think it's a sorbet, references Baltimore's grim antebellum poet Edgar Allan Poe...and makes for a much more evocative flavor than the overused "Death By Chocolate." 
  • The Baltimore Orioles' home field gets a nod from the Charmery flavor Day at the Yard, an ice cream with black and orange chocolate-covered sunflower seeds. (This is the first I've seen sunflower seeds in ice cream. Not for me, but I still tip my hat.)
Having tasted nearly all of the available flavors, the top three of the above were ones I'd heartily recommend, along with Pistachio Toffee--an ice cream that takes the subtle flavor of pistachios and complements it with a punch of sweet that makes one marvel at how this pairing hasn't caught on--and their vegan/dairy-free flavor Choco-nut Coconut, which uses coconut milk instead of dairy. (There was also a flavor with Wasabi peas, which the scooper and I agreed was fun to sample, but not to our liking.)

Mural on building exterior,
which bleeds onto the sidewalk.
A glance into their pint freezer revealed numerous other flavors I hope are being served next time I visit: Berger Cookies & Cream (which uses a traditional Baltimore cookie), Cinnamon Ramen (which presumably like a dessert kugel), Queso Frito Fresco (sign me up!) and Peanut Butter Fig.

Not sure what to order? Happily, the Charmery offers a $1 baby scoop that one can add on to any order. A double with a baby scoop on top is a perfectly respectable sampling, though a triple with a baby scoop is also a portion size I found myself more than capable of eating.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Freezer Favs: Ciao Bella's Blood Orange Sorbetto

While this blog is primarily a fan of local scoop shops, it acknowledges that sometimes a person just wants to stay in for the night. That being said, this is one of my Freezer Favorites.

• • •

Blood oranges are among my favorite foods on earth. My intimate relationship with the fruit began during two days in Cinque Terre, five neighboring cliff-side towns on the Italian Riviera. The first day was spent enjoying the views while walking from one town to the other and hiking up into the hills. On the second day, I simply found a bench to gaze at the Mediterranean Sea for hours and hours while writing postcards and enjoying a blood orange.

From the outside, blood oranges look identical to conventional orange oranges. But beneath its pulp is a fruit the color of carnage, so dark it looks like it would leave a permanent stain, much like murder leaves a stain upon one's soul (or something). Suffice to say, blood orange fans are often left red-handed. The flavor--oh! the flavor!--lands somewhere between the sweet, sunny citrus of oranges and the bitter, sometimes harsh and cleansing flavor of grapefruit.

Over the years, I've purchased many a product with the words "blood orange" on its label. With the exception Aliseo's 100% blood orange juice I can get at my local Italian market, none have captured the essence of the fruit as well as Ciao Bella's Blood Orange sorbetto. The flavor intensity is so high because 99% of the product is water, cane sugar and blood orange juice/concentrate. The smooth, smooooth sorbetto (not that chunky, icy stuff some companies serve) curls onto the spoon and slides down the throat, awakening the senses as it does.

Ciao Bella's Blood Orange Sorbetto, I salute you!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Upchurch Chocolate, Richmond's Own Bean-to-Bar Brand

The current product line from Upchurch Chocolate.
On a recent trip back to Richmond, VA to see family, I visited one of my favorite purveyors of fine chocolate, For the Love of Chocolate. Located on the Carytown strip, For the Love of Chocolate sells all sorts of brands, from the somewhat obscure Galler from Belgium to the often seen Baci from Italy, from Seattle-favorite Fran's Chocolate to Brooklyn's Mast Brothers, from brands with flashy mix-ins like Chuao and Vosges to bean-to-bar brands like Taza and Theo, from artisanal chocolate bars from Valrhona and Michel Cluizel to low-quality British-exclusive candy bars like Yorkie and Crunchie. All this in addition to the truffle case. It offers such quality and variety that, during my college years at VCU, an unrealistic expectation was set that all large American cities would have such a shop. Alas!

Walking around, I noticed a tiny display at the cash register of four different bars marked as being a Richmond brand. Always a fan of local flavor, I took a closer look and discovered that the brand, Upchurch Chocolate, was a bean-to-bar company with ingredient lists that are short, just as the chocolate gods intended. Each bar is organic cacao and organic sugar, with two of the bars featuring a single additional flavor. Nothing else. Also featured on the packaging is a handwritten batch number and the maker's own flavor notes. A little internet research reveals that the young company, started 2015, was founded by a VCU undergrad (Go Rams!) and a recent grad from nearby Mary Washington with some helpful seed capital from VCU and Lighthouse Labs totaling $25,000. With Richmond being one of the country's up-and-coming medium-sized cities for young people, culture and beards, here's hoping Upchurch Chocolate puts RVA on the chocolate map as well.

Needless to say, I bought all four bars and hosted a tasting for my family. The main distinguishing feature is the texture of chocolate, which is tempered, yet manages to feel partially--oh, let's say 20%--stone-ground (like one finds in popular brands like Taza). This means the texture was primarily smooth with a touch of rough, enough to feel alive but not enough to be gritty. Here are the other findings from our tasting, in order of bar preference:

The Bouncy Bar - Cacao from Tanzania, added ingredient of goat milk
Since my first introduction to goat's milk chocolate, I've jumped at the chance to purchase other brands' take. The Bouncy Bar features the rich and slightly sour qualities of other bars I've had, but in a way that somehow feels more simplified. It felt like the chefs were using sleight-of-hand to make themselves disappear and only the ingredients shine through. My family's unanimous vote for favorite bar in the bunch.

The Sassy Bar - 72% Cacao from Madagascar
Nothing but cacao and sugar in this bar, meaning the emphasis for the tasting is the beans' source, in this case Madagascar. The chocolate-making process has various steps that impact the flavor, but the effect of the cacao plants' soil, climate, etc. is the most interesting to explore. Like the best chocolate bars always offer, the Sassy Bar is a roller coaster of flavor, hitting numerous notes from when the bar touches the tongue all the way until the lingering aftertaste. A rich, dark, earthy bar and my dad and I's second favorite.

The Party Bar - 72% Cacao from Tanzanian
As the only other bar in the current line to only contain beans and sugar, it felt natural to compare it to the Sassy bar. We found that when we tasted the Party Bar independent from the others, it had more tart nuances to its flavor, but when we tasted it after the other bars it was delicious but somehow seemed less exciting than the other bars.

The Hype Bar - Cacao from Tanzania, added ingredient of coffee
The most polarizing of the Upchurch bars, the lone coffee-lover in my family declared this bar to be his second favorite of the bunch, saying he found the coffee flavor to be light. Meanwhile, the non-coffee drinkers (who obviously hold a negative bias) did not care for the bar and found the flavor to be like huffing coffee grounds. Coffee lovers, take note of this bar.

Like Upchurch Chocolate on Facebook. Then check out the website's "Find" tab to see if the chocolate is anywhere near you. (As of this writing it is principally in Virginia with an outpost in St. Paul, MN and another in Missouri.) Or shop online and have it shipped to you.

Friday, January 1, 2016


Ice Cream U Scream will be on hiatus until spring 2016.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ciao Bella's Holiday Flavors

As a dessert blogger, I am occasionally given free samples, as is the case with the products in this post. My words still represent my true feelings toward these products.

• • •

Having all-but-forsworn the two leading grocery store pint brands (Hรคagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's) for their drastic slump in quality, I was delighted when Ciao Bella made me aware of their new flavors whipped up for the holidays, especially ones so unlike anything else found in the grocery store freezer. Here are my reviews, in order of preference:

Mulled Apple Cider Sorbetto - Apple cider sorbet is something I order every time I see it--an occasion that is sadly rare--so I was elated to see the flavor popping up in a mass distributed form. Given that sorbets are basically water + sugar + flavor-naming ingredient, it's only natural that this pint is an undiluted punch of apple cider. The only thing lacking here is the texture one hopes to get in a sorbetto; because of the high water content, normal freezers render the sorbetto into an ice block to be chipped away at, rather than the smoothly shoveled sorbettos of gelaterias' temperature-controlled freezers. This isn't always the case with Ciao Bella sorbets, but no matter. This is so good it is earns the patience one needs to scrape until one has a full spoon's worth.

White Chocolate Peppermint Gelato - I generally prefer chocolate mint, but while chocolate mint is delicious, it doesn't scream the holiday season. Ciao Bella went the peppermint route, but not quite full-on peppermint bark. This experiment ran a risk, though, since the margin for error is much smaller with peppermint ice cream; far too easily it can fall into Altoid territory, making it into an unappetizing, higher calorie way to get fresh breath. What Ciao Bella's flavor does, wisely, is toss a snowy white chocolate into the mix. That sweetness added to the base makes the eating more enjoyable, while the burps that follow are still minty and fresh.

Almond Nougat Gelato - The most unique of the flavors, the effect of this gelato reminded me of pistachio ice cream. It is a light flavor with diced nut pieces sprinkled sparingly throughout. It is more creamy than nutty. For fans of subtle ice cream or folks who often find American desserts to be too sweet, this is the grocery-store gelato for you. It is delicious, so much so that fans of sweeter desserts may accidentally down the whole pint in one sitting. Whoops.

Ciao Bella makes numerous other flavors year-round, including one of my Freezer Favorites, their Blood Orange sorbetto.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Plump King of Pumpkins

Each year of the Pumpkin Challenge presents new challenges to overcome, from moving house to time-sucking rehearsals to nationwide canned pumpkin shortages. This year, the season was ripe with travel obligations for my job, in addition to my regular late-September travels abroad. But, with this being the Tenth(!) Annual Pumpkin Challenge (lasting Sept. 15 - Oct. 31), I've learned how to rise to a challenge. And did I ever! Suffice to say, the record number of unique pumpkin items consumed in the 57 days of the Pumpkin Challenge was 52 and this year...well, check out the list:

(1) homemade African pumpkin soup
(2) homemade carrot, jicama, apple and pumpkin seed salad (Blue Ribbon for Notable New Recipe)
(3) pumpkin pie
(4) homemade stuffed poblano with pumpkin seeds
(5) homemade chocolate chip pumpkin bread (Annual Favorite Recipe)
(6) Milk and Honey's pumpkin spice granola with pumpkin seeds (Annual Favorite Purchase)
(7) pumpkin cream cheese coffee cake
(8) Annette's pumpkin pie supreme ice cream
(9) homemade white bean and pumpkin ragout with chicken sausage
(10) Corner Bakery pumpkin pound cake
(11) Gelupo's pumpkin and cinnamon gelato
(12) Rude Health pumpkin health bar
(13) Hilary's pumpkin spice chewy granola bites
(14) Frontera guacamole with toasted pepitas
(15) Hilary's vegan pumpkin pie cookies
(16) pumpkin butter
(17) Amy's pumpkin ice cream
(18) Maine Root's pumpkin pie soda
(19) pumpkin cream cheese stuffed waffles
(20) pumpkin sorbetto
(22) homemade pumpkin swirl brownies (Annual Favorite Recipe)
(23) homemade pumpkin pasta with sausage and mushrooms (Annual Favorite Recipe)
(21) Eli's pumpkin pecan praline cheesecake
(24) Trader Joe's Pumpkin Chai Latte
(25) Do-Rite's pumpkin doughnut with cream cheese dollop and pumpkin seeds
(26) Forever Yogurt pumpkin pie froyo
(27) Mariano's pumpkin chocolate chip muffin
(28) Chobani Flips pumpkin yogurt
(29) Pumpkin Oreos
(30) homemade pumpkin seed pesto
(31) Thomas' pumpkin spice English muffins
(32) R.W. Knudsen's Pumpkin Spice sparkling apple cider (Blue Ribbon for Notable New Product)
(33) Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Snap-O-Lantern ice cream (Annual Favorite Purchase)
(34) Trader Joe's pumpkin soup
(35) 365's pumpkin ice cream sandwiches
(36) pumpkin ravioli
(37) Philadelphia pumpkin cream cheese
(38) pumpkin pie cream puffs
(39) BelVita pumpkin spice breakfast biscuits
(40) homemade pumpkin cheesecake ice cream
(41) & (42) Big Jones' pumpkin pancakes with pumpkin cream
(43) J.B. Deli's pumpkin bar
(44) Toni Patisserie's pumpkin macaron
(45) Toni Patisserie's pumpkin roulade
(46) Wow Bao's pumpkin bao
(47) Garrett's pumpkin spice caramel corn
(48) Dairy Queen's pumpkin pie blizzard (Annual Favorite Purchase)
(49) McDonald's pumpkin and creme pie
(50) homemade Pumpkin black bean quesadilla with pumpkin crema
(51) Molly's pumpkin cupcake (Annual Favorite Purchase)
(52) Stan's pumpkin hot chocolate 
(53) homemade Chickpea pumpkin burger
(54) Jell-O pumpkin pudding
(55) Pumpkin spice Frosted Mini-Wheats
(56) Pumpkin spice Milanos (Blue Ribbon for Notable New Dessert)
(57) Manolo's Pizza & Empanadas' pumpkin empanada

There ya have it! An average of one unique pumpkin edible per day for the entire length of the Pumpkin Challenge!

To what do I owe this success? One answer is that I checked out a library book entirely devoted to pumpkin recipes. The more obvious answer is that more businesses are jumping on the pumpkin and/or pumpkin spice bandwagon. Any chef worth his salt is trying to scheme up a new twist on the seasonal gourd, while every national chain and grocery-store brand is trying to produce the next "pumpkin spice latte." Obvious pro: pumpkin, as the Pumpkin Challenge originally sought to achieve, is in higher demand, one that has stretched pumpkin mania from late summer into winter. Hidden con: many band wagon products are pumpkin only in name, offering very little (not even the typical spices) to evoke that signature autumnal flavor.

If I were to retire the Pumpkin Challenge this year, I could do so at the top of my game, having set a new record and been witness over the past decade of exponential growth in pumpkin products. And if I am to continue the Pumpkin Challenge next year, the rules would need to be changed. While cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg are a winning combination, they are pumpkin only in spirit; if the Pumpkin Challenge continues next year, I may have to limit myself to items that actually have pumpkin as an ingredient. As a lover of food, I must take a stance for quality over quantity.

But let's ditch the soapbox. This year was 57 days and 57 unique pumpkin foods. The Pumpkin Challenge has gone ten whole years, adding up to over 300 unique pumpkin foods. It is a glorious time to be a lover of the gourd of the gods! Live it up!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Tenth Annual Pumpkin Challenge

Welcome to the Tenth Annual Pumpkin Challenge, my autumnal toast to the gourd of the gods. This year, we follow the same rules as last year. Onto the FAQ:

What is the pumpkin challenge?
The Pumpkin Challenge is an annual quest to consume as many varieties of pumpkin edibles as humanly possible. Most years, the Pumpkin Challenge has taken place between September 15 to October 31. This year, I'm getting a late start. Feel free to count anything you ate on Sept 15 or 16.

What are the rules?
Food items may not be doubled. Two slices of pumpkin cheesecake count as one item. The only way it could count for two different items is if the second item has a distinct enough difference of flavor that it warrants a different name AND the item comes from a different source than the first item (i.e. Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory and homemade pumpkin cheesecake). Pumpkin candles or pumpkin soap do not count unless you eat them.

What about beverages?
Yup, they're food. But see the above rule. TL;DR: Twenty pumpkin spice lattes only count as one item.

Does pumpkin spice count? Or does it have to actually contain pumpkin?
Ideally, the ingredients include actual pumpkin or pumpkin seeds. But it all tastes good, so pumpkin spice counts!

What is the record?
During 2012’s Pumpkin Challenge, I consumed 52 different varieties of pumpkin.

What are my chances of defeating you, Brad?
This year, they are pretty good. I'll be on the road for roughly three weeks of the pumpkin challenge and I'm going to guess the pumpkin spice craze is more of an American thing than it is a British or Dutch thing. Your chances of beating my record, however, are slim unless you do a LOT of cooking.

Why does it stop in October? Isn’t pumpkin often a Thanksgiving staple?
Ideally, the meeting of mouths to pumpkin products would go on forever. But we must focus our efforts. The Pumpkin Challenge was created to encourage the same sort of crass commercialism extended to that Santa holiday. We want to encourage—through pestering and purchase—stores offering pumpkin foods at progressively earlier dates each year. Ten years ago, it was uncertain one could find the stuff in September; this year, I blessedly bought stuff in August. Rather than change the period the challenge takes place, we celebrate the bounty we have received.