Friday, December 26, 2008

Ep.6: Häagen-Dazs is better than Santa Clause.

Though my dad and I could have continued driving and exploring America for much longer, we wanted to be home for Christmas. After visiting family near New Orleans, we drove long stretches with no stopping to get to southeast Virginia on time for holiday celebrations.

From what I remember, the last ground-breaking new holiday-themed ice cream to hit grocery stores was Ben & Jerry's Seinfeld-inspired Festivus ice cream, which was essentially gingerbread ice cream. Other grocery store brands jumped on the band wagon in years to come, offering their own gingerbread ice creams. But since then, there's been a dry spell of new holiday-themed flavor ideas. I mean, we've already got eggnog, pumpkin, candy cane and gingerbread. So what's left? Chestnuts roasting on an open fire ice cream? Pine-scented Christmas tree ice cream? Venison ice cream? Häagen-Dazs has outdone themselves again with their latest Limited Edition flavor: Peppermint Bark. Wait, but with mint chocolate chip and candy cane ice cream already on the market, is this a new idea for ice cream? Yes, and here's why.

In its native form, peppermint bark is a holiday treat that is part chocolate, part white chocolate (sometimes mint-infused) and part crunchy candy cane. It sticks out as something different in the mint candy genre. Equal parts creamy, minty and chocolatey. Ghirardelli's Peppermint Bark has been the favorite treat in my Christmas stocking for years.

Mint ice cream exists in many forms. My mom prefers the especially crunchy candy cane variety. I prefer the creamier mint chip variety. Some have a mint ice cream base, other vanilla. Some have cookies mixed in, others Andes mints or York peppermint patties. Some have a mint flavor only at first taste, others are extra-minty and linger like a breath-freshening mint. There are others still: an entirely separate category of chocolate-based mint flavors such as Girl Scout Thin Mint. But until now, no grocery store brand has sought to marry the flavors (and textures) of peppermint bark in an ice cream. Until now.

Häagen-Dazs Peppermint Bark is a white chocolate ice cream with bits of peppermint bark broken up throughout and some extra pieces of candy cane mixed in. This combination makes it a mint ice cream my mom and I can agree on. Maybe that's why she knew it would be a perfect gift for me this Christmas. Thanks, Mom!

UPDATE: After extensive "research," I've decided the best way to eat this concoction is to double-fist Ghirardelli's Peppermint Bark with the Häagen-Dazs. This increases the chocolate content, but also provides the added bonus of prolonging how long each product will last.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ep.5: Denton, The Home of Happiness

Continuing east, we drove across Texas, from Amarillo to Dallas and on to New Orleans.
An hour northwest of downtown Dallas is the small town of Denton, TX. Remembering that my friend Ben had spent some years in this burg, I let him know we were passing through. He knew just the place I had to stop, too.

Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream shines even brighter than the elegant holiday lights across the street, shining on the old courthouse in Denton’s Town Square. Within the shop, newspaper articles on the walls featured their ice cream expert boasting of knowing 65 recipes at present—the store had at least 40 available—but went on to say she could make up a new one every day if she wanted. Suffice to say, if I were the President elect, I would create a cabinet position for her.

And what were the flavors? So glad you asked, italicized lettering. Anytime, friend. Among them were the five my dad and I tried: Butter Brittle, Turtle Torture, Apple Pie, French Toast and their brilliantly-named gingerbread concoction Hansel & Gretel. Each of the flavors was magnificently textured. I regret not trying the Chocolate-Covered Cherry, a flavor that I later learned received a third place award from the National Ice Cream Retailers Association, as did their Hansel & Gretel.

Another unique feature is that the ice cream is priced by the ounce. Why this is a good thing: after ice cream was scooped for my dish, I could politely ask for a bigger scoop and receive a warm smile instead of an irritated look.

Thanks for the great recommendation, Ben!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ep.4: McDisappointed

After Utah, we trekked down to the Grand Canyon and finally resumed driving east.
In Albuquerque, my dad and I spotted a Circle K, which being Virginians we're not accustomed to seeing. Our first response was to wonder if "strange things were afoot." Curious, we stopped in and my dad remarked that we might find a frozen dessert there. Nothing tickled our fancy, so we left...and then we saw it: The Golden Arches.

I admit it: I love McDonald's caramel sundaes. Its simplicity isn't accomplished anywhere else. Hot caramel on the bottom, vanilla softserve in the middle, hot caramel and nuts on top. Snuggling up with one in my warm winter jacket seemed the perfect ending to our long, cold day of driving in pouring snow.

"Yeah," I moped, "but the past few times I've asked, the McDonald's I was at didn't have caramel, just hot fudge." (I've always liked caramel more than hot fudge. In fact, for a time I never didn't even like hot fudge, preferring chocolate sauce. This made me the black sheep at family birthday parties growing up.) Dad thought we'd have better luck in New Mexico thanks to the large Mexican population and given that caramel--dulce de leche, actually-- is a popular flavor in Mexico. Triunfa!

If high hopes were sundaes , my life would be a ziggy-piggy buffet, but unfortunately this time they same crashing down into little pieces, not unlike chopped nuts. No caramel sundae!

McDonald'ses around the world, I'm begging you: Bring back my simple pleasure! Bring back the caramel sundae!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ep.3: Bovine Intervention to Supine Conversation

After Yellowstone, our trip took us south into Utah for 4 days of national parks and a Utah Jazz game. But, following that old adage, I will now focus on the journey instead of the destination.

My dad and I have had many a conversation on important world issues while on roadtrips, including one infamous family drive where we all did nothing but come up with band names, including the Smiling Potatoes of Death, the State-line Walrus Jockeys and one controversial name that is not allowed to be mentioned in my family since that fated drive. Between Dillon, Montana and Idaho Falls, Idaho, we encountered a grand total of three (3) other cars on our side of the road. This accurately represents how little there was to see. But it was a full moon, casting a certain glow on the mountains as well as the cows in the fields. I quipped to my dad that one knew a scene was magnificent if the cows look picturesque.

This got us discussing the life of a cow. (Like I said, a long road of nothing.) After much discussion, I concluded that I wouldn't enjoy being a cow. "Why?" Dad asked. "Because I wouldn't be able to eat ice cream." ...Amongst castration, a painful procedure of cutting off a cow's horns and inevitable execution, that's the best I could come up with.

I had incorrectly concluded that it would be cannibalistic for a cow to drink cow's milk. While this is true when the character Heffer in the Nickolodeon cartoon "Rocko's Modern Life" eats a hamburger, it is not true of drinking milk. But would it be vegan? We couldn't decide. It's not new news that earlier this year PETA wrote Ben & Jerry's a letter suggesting they start using human milk instead of cow's milk. Apparently, this is an acceptable substitute for them. So veganism is only for the products of other animals, not one's own species. But cows do not have dextrous appendages for mixing ice cream. Is it vegan or not to eat the literal fruit of the loins of one's own species if the food product is made by another species and served back to you? Obviously, it's sick and twisted to do so if the consumer is unaware, but let's say the cows were willing: Would it be vegan?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ep.2: A Growl of Approval

My dad and I's cross country drive brought us from Seattle to North Bend to Grand Coullee Dam to Yellowstone by way of Missoula, Montana.
My friend in food Aimee has been immortalized for my family and friends because of her recommendations of a delicious nature.* On my recent trip through Yellowstone, I was able to test another of Aimee's tried-and-true.

Big Dipper's in Missoula, Montana offers unique, homemade ice cream at a walk-up stand. The young woman behind the sliding glass window smiled as
my father and I took our time deciding what flavors to try on our once-in-a-lifetime trip through Missoula, even though it was 9pm and we were standing in falling snow...The smile faded as it became clear from the passage of time the life-or-death importance of our decision. Finally, I chose the winning combination of cardamom with huckleberry and, while the girl scooped mine up, Dad settled on Mexican chocolate. Each stood out as the best possible choice.

Also featured at Big Dipper's was an 87 oz. five flavor tub known as The Growler. The image featured the same boy from their vintage-looking sign--Great cones! Oh boy!--wearing what looked to me like a Sasquatch costume. During the remainder of my stay, however, I learned that Missoula is home to University of Montana, whose mascot is the Grizzly.

Following the collegiate theme, my stomach roared with approval after finishing my scoops as well as my dad's. And I'm not ashamed to say it: The mixture of cardamom, huckleberry and Mexican chocolate made for an enjoyable burping experience.

Thanks for another great recommendation, Aimee!

*Her most famous example has been Southern Kitchen in Tacoma, WA, home of the best southern cookin' I've had outside of my native region. Everything there is incredible! Everything! You'll get there, order a mason jar of strawberry lemonade along with your entree, which comes with three sides and a corncake, and stuff yourself silly. But it is imperative that you still get their award-winning peach cobbler! Yes, you're full but you'll thank me later.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ep.1: An Open Letter to the City of Seattle

Exterior shot of the Queen Anne location.
To the Emerald City:

Once I declared, “Seattle is not an ice cream city.” Though I appreciate the many gelaterias, sprinkled across Seattle, gelato is no substitute for ice cream. For a long time, one had to catch a ferry over to nearby Bainbridge Island and, while that trip is well worth it, that trip should be one of leisure not of necessity. I am pleased to say that a new day is dawning. There is now a gourmet homemade ice cream shop in the city of Seattle: Molly Moon’s.

News spread fast this past summer of the Wallingford business: great ice cream, funky flavors and lines out the door. I’d heard rumors of the Salted Caramel and the Strawberry Balsamic, but seriously doubted my relationship with these flavors would move beyond the sample phase. But I was so pleasantly surprised by the Salted Caramel that I immediately began ordering and completely forgot to sample the Strawberry Balsamic! It only got better: When I ordered, the girl behind the counter complimented my choice of flavor combinations—a compliment that makes my heart sing. After my experience, I too would heartily recommend ordering Salted Caramel with their Spiced Cider Sorbet. it tastes like a caramel apple! Though next time I go, I’ll have try the Baracky Road.

A prosperous business, the lines were still long on a recent chilly, autumnal afternoon. I blame the wait for my decision to break my usual “no cone” rule. Fresh waffle cones always smell good, but theirs smelled like something special. Wonderful and a little bit chewy. (The zip-up hoodie I purchased still has the aroma permeating it.)

With the arrival of Molly Moon’s, Seattle has made great strides in its dessert culture. My sincerest congratulations. My only sadness in this welcome change is that it comes so close to my departure of the city. I will soon begin a cross-country drive out of Seattle, but hope to visit again soon!


P.S. I was also pleased in a recent trip to Gelatiamo
to find Toasted Almond. Thanks for answering another plea.

Note from 2012: In recent years, Molly Moon's has been found on more than one list I've seen of the "Best Ice Cream Shops in America." I grew to be particularly fond of their rich Theo Chocolate, which uses chocolate from the nearby factory of the same name. The hoodie I bought continues to be worn with frequency, though the waffle cone smell has long since departed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

So you like doughnuts, eh?

A dozen Mighty-O doughnuts. Four French Toast doughnuts on the left.
For a Southern boy, deep frying is the preferred method of food preparation at every meal. Seattle has many options for the doughnut lover.

Mighty-O – My personal favorite in the Seattle area. These vegan cake doughnuts are cooked in peanut oil making them lighter. From what I’ve seen, they also feature the largest variety of doughnuts in the area, including Grasshopper (chocolate doughnut with a minty topping), Lemon Poppy Seed, and my personal favorite French Toast. (pictured) (Top 20 to Visit)

The spread at Mighty-O.
Top Pot Doughnuts – These doughnuts come with a price tag that might seem high, but be assured: these cake doughnuts are meaty, filling the space of two normal doughnuts. It’s no wonder their slogan is “hand-forged donuts.” Their seasonal Pumpkin doughnut and Chocolate Sandcastle are my favorites.

Winchell’s – Winchell’s is a chain in the western United States. Based on my search, they are also the only place you can find authentic French Crullers in Seattle proper. Actually, finding really tasty rise doughnuts—yeast doughnuts, as opposed to cake doughnuts—is quite difficult in this city. Winchell’s is also open 24 hours. Need I say more?

Also in the Northwest is the legendary Voodoo DoughnutsWhere else can you get a maple doughnut topped with bacon? Other doughnuts toppings include Cocoa Puffs, crushed Oreos, Butterfinger, and Tang (including the Mango Tango, which is mango-filled). They also perform wedding ceremonies! For anyone visiting Portland, this is a must: Go to the downtown location of Voodoo donuts and then take your doughnuts for a walk at the waterfront park crossing as many of Portland’s nine bridges as you like.

Four great places for doughnuts! You can never enough too many doughnuts! Just ask Homer (1:50 into the video).

Note from 2012: Winchell's has closed. Good luck finding a decent French Cruller.
Note from 2017: Voodoo Doughnuts isn't especially good. Time has taught me it is all hype and no substance.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Field Report: Carol Lee Donuts in Blacksburg, VA

My brother and blogging mentor Brian reflects on fall, football and fried pastry:

I'm here to spread the good word about Carol Lee Donuts
. If you ever have a sweet tooth in Blacksburg, VA, you absolutely must go there to enjoy the best doughnuts in the world.

When I first moved to Blacksburg, Carol Lee Donuts was located near the campus of Virginia Tech. This location made for quick and convenient breakfast detours in between classes. But a few years later, the owners decided to move to their current location at 1414 North Main Street, which is a pretty long walk from downtown. There was only one thing left for me to do: when my lease ran out, I moved into the apartment complex right behind the new location.

Whenever I travel to Blacksburg these days, I always bring a cooler with me so I can take a dozen Carol Lee Donuts back home. I always get four White Delights - these doughnuts are filled with white cream (NOT custard) and topped with chocolate, and though you can't go wrong with any of your choices, I think White Delights are the best. Then I get a mix of Chocolate Icing, Glazed, Powdered Sugar and Cinnamon Sugar. I've never been a fan of fruit-filled doughnuts, but my wife always gets a few of these. After I get my dozen doughnuts, I usually get three or four more to enjoy right away. I generally get another White Delight as well as a Cinnamon Twist, a cinnamon-flavored, glazed-covered, stick-shaped doughnut that does not fit in the dozen donuts box. In recent years, the third doughnut I get is a Maroon & Orange Sprinkled Donut, which Carol Lee Donuts started making for Hokie football weekends to promote game day spirit. And I always get some milk to wash it all down.

I last visited Carol Lee Donuts the first weekend in October before Virginia Tech's Homecoming football game against Western Kentucky. Even though I had already eaten an early breakfast in Harrisonburg, VA (Mr. J's Pumpkin Muffins, which I couldn't pass up after missing out on them last October), my first stop in Blacksburg was still Carol Lee Donuts. I had originally planned on getting a White Delight and a Maroon & Orange Sprinkled Donut, but I called an audible when I walked inside. The Chocolate Iced Donuts had just come out of the oven, and I can't tell you the last time I had a HOT Carol Lee Donut. The Chocolate Iced practically melted in my mouth as I ate it, and might have even been better than the White Delight. It was my second great breakfast of the day, and the Hokie football team didn't seem to mind that my donuts lacked the football spirit - Virginia Tech won easily, 27-13.

So go to Carol Lee Donuts!!! Just one visit will make you a believer, and you'll soon be looking forward to your next trip. And if you really like their doughnuts, well...there are some nice apartments just behind those woods in the back.

Monday, November 10, 2008

In space, no one can hear you scream (for ice cream)…

I recently began tutoring at 826 Seattle, a non-profit creative writing and tutoring center. It is a chapter of 826 National, a non-profit started by my favorite author and publisher Dave Eggers.

When the first tutoring center of this type opened at 826 Valencia in San Francisco, the property owners required its residents to have a storefront operating in tandem with the tutoring center. Eggers facetiously chose to have a pirate supply store, not anticipating how much money this store would generate, assisting with the operating costs of the tutoring center. Thus, having a clever store is now part of the structure of all 826 chapters around the country. 826 NYC has the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. The exterior of 826 Chicago touts the building to be “The Boring Store” with signs clearly stating “Not a secret agent supply store.” 826 Seattle is home to Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company.

There are many things a person needs in space, not least of which is freeze-dried ice cream. (Freeze-drying both preserves and reduces the weight of food, removing the water content.) Growing up, this product was a whine-worthy product when visiting the Virginia Air and Space Museum. Over at Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company, we carry four different varieties: mint chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip, classic Neapolitan and, my personal favorite, an ice cream sandwich variety, which comes in a retro flying saucer shape.

826 Seattle has many programs, in-school, after-school and during the summer months. Programs are “structured around the belief that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to a child’s future success.” Please make a donation to this inspiring organization that makes a difference in the lives of young people daily. Their current fundraising effort in the Third Annual Mustache-A-Thon; choose a mustache that makes you feel generous and donate toward the cause. Why? Because (a) you know you have $20 and (b) facial hair is lazy and has been getting a free ride for too long! It needs to do something…for the educational advancement in young people. The elections may be over, but you can still make a difference!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Go vote! Now! Stop reading and go vote!

If you're still reading or vote absentee and want to feel like a sucker, there are many establishments giving away free products to folks proudly sporting an "I Voted" sticker. Some examples include:

  • Krispy Kreme
  • Ben & Jerry's
  • Chick-fil-a
Now go vote! And tell others to do the same. Let them know about the free stuff, too.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Gorging on the Gourd of the Gods (Blog Post #50!)

Midnight Halloween night marked the end of the Third Annual Pumpkin Challenge! And no time of the year am I more self-congratulatory than during the conclusion of the year’s Pumpkin Challenge. (One must be when so many see only silliness in that which gives one's little life purpose for a month-and-a-half each year.) Congratulations Self! You knocked last year's (virtually unopposed) record right out of the water!

Granola with pumpkin seed*, Pumpkin bread with chocolate chips and walnuts, Pumpkin pasta with mushroom and sausage*, Ginger pumpkin mousse, Savory pumpkin quiche, Pumpkin butter, Pumpkin ravioli, Curried pumpkin peanut soup, Pumpkin dumplings, Chocolate-covered fig with pumpkin ganache filling, Pumpkin-spiced marshmallow, Pumpkin cheesecake*, Pumpkin ice cream*, Pumpkin pancakes, Pumpkin praline bars, Pumpkin doughnuts, Pumpkin-turkey goulash, Pumpkin cream cheese muffin*, Pumpkin pecan cheesecake*, Pumpkin mascarpone pie, Trinidad spiced pumpkin, Pumpkin bread pudding*, Pumpkin saag, Pumpkin butterhorn, Pumpkin curry, Spiced pumpkin chocolate truffle, Curry pumpkin seeds, Sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds, Chocolate covered pumpkin seeds, Pumpkin spice cake

*Items also consumed in the 2006 or 2007 Pumpkin Challenges. Maker of product also matches.
Italicized items were my homemade by yours truly. Need any recipes?

For those of you keeping count, I consumed 30 different varieties of pumpkin foods this year, a remarkably high number given the fact that so comparatively few were repeat items from previous years!

This year, my quest inspired more people to branch out and try adventurous pumpkin concoctions than in previous years. I also had more people rooting me on. And again this year, several people shared their recipes to me. That being said, the MVP award--or should I say MVPP, "Most Valuable Pumpkin Provider"--goes to Rebecca my co-worker, co-volunteer at 826 Seattle
, and Marisa’s Ice Cream field reporter. In addition to providing many fascinating links, she also brought me pumpkin saag for lunch one day, proving that autumnal squash is not only tasty, but also brings people together.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Milk of a Cow, The Grease of a Pig…

Bacon ice cream. Yes, you read that correctly. But for more gut-wrenching horror***, read on.

To most citizens of Planet Earth, this flavor sounds like something of nightmares, something a witch would come up with, terrifying children before throwing them in her boiling cauldron. But there are other members of our species that think this is a great idea. I work with some folks who are of this breed. (This is their Bible, or Necronomicon, or whatever, which hangs on one of the refrigerators at my workplace.)

It seems bacon culture is large enough that David Lebowitx, inventor of candied bacon ice cream, is not the only one experimenting with the sweet possibilities of pork bellies. There is a company, Vosges, who manufacture chocolate with bacon in it. For those gourmets out there, I found a recipe.

Happy Halloween!

***You know what’s even more horrible? Not voting in the upcoming election! Please encourage those around you to vote. Can we do that? Yes, we can!

Note from 2012:This entry is a bit dated. Today, mixing bacon with pretty much anything is being considered haute cuisine. I've eaten and enjoyed Mo's Dark Bacon Bar by Vosges, but, even after trying several varieties, I am yet to actually enjoy bacon in any frozen product.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Voting with Dollars!***

On this blog I have discussed many hot button issues: discontinued ice cream flavors, new ice cream flavors, limited edition ice cream flavors, and "ice cream ethics". And with campaign season in full gear, I can’t help but think that there is a lesson to be learned.

To oversimplify (as I do with any subject inferior to that of ice cream): What powers a country is its economy. What powers the economy is the exchange of money. It is our duty as Americans to purchase products we value, spending our money (compensation for our own hard work) on what we most value. If you support small business politics, support small businesses. It can be more expensive than big box stores, but choosing the best bargain speaks much louder than what your vote might say. If you are pro-human rights, make an effort to not buy sweatshop products. once again, more expensive, but where you spend your money is the true story of your political stance.

That being said, the past twelve months have seen the passing of some ice cream greats once available in the grocery store:

Some of you have not been doing your part to move the economy in the most meaningful way: the purchase of ice cream. And if you're not buying it in the grocery stores, I worry you're not going out to your local scoop shops either! After you vote next week, reward yourself by spending your hard-earned money on a fine ice cream product. And for those of you who might be concerned, buying Häagen-Dazs is buying American.

***In all seriousness, wouldn't it be sweet if we had a President we could be proud of? A President that would redeem America's reputation in much of the world? Put your money where your mouth is: Give to Obama's Campaign. Your gift will be matched, doubling its impact!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ice cream is not punk.

Mike B. from roundabout our nation’s capitol* brought to my attention the band Fugazi’s DVD Instrument in which the vocalist Ian MacKaye (formerly of Minor Threat) becomes irritated during a show when some fans start a fight. To drive the point that fighting is unwelcome at their shows, he and another band member challenge how tough the fighters are with the following rant:

“I saw you two guys earlier at the Good Humor truck and you were eating your ice cream like little boys and I thought those guys aren’t so tough. They’re eating ice cream. What a buncha swell guys…Oh, you’re bad now, you’re bad now, but you were eating ice cream cone…Ice cream eating motherf*****. That’s what you are.”

Clearly, in the mind of Fugazi, ice cream is neither tough nor punk. Since then, I have been hyper-aware of songs mentioning ice cream and it really gets a bad rap from musicians:

Rivers Cuomo of Weezer concurs that eating ice cream is not the path of rebellious youth in “Troublemaker.” He says, “Movies are bad as eating chocolate ice cream.”

Sarah McLaughlin has the audacity to claim that she holds someone she loves in higher regard than ice cream. I find very hard to believe any person could be superior to ice cream. (Think about it: Ice cream will never hurt you, cheat on you, leave you. Ice cream is always there when you want it. Ice cream doesn’t mind if you’ve had a bad day and don’t feel like talking. Heck, ice cream doesn’t mind if you stab it with a spoon.)

Tori Amos shares this lack of respect. Her song “Spark” references an “ice cream assassin,” which to me suggests that death by ice cream is undesirable. Why not “ice cream euthanizer,” Tori?

Both the Wu Tang Clan and 50 Cent have songs called “Ice Cream,” Master P has one called “Mr. Ice Cream Man,” and much like the crooning and croaking of David Lee Roth and Tom Waits, respectively, I get the feeling they are not talking about ice cream.

Nirvana’s “Sliver” recounts childhood memories of going to grandma’s house and eating ice cream for dinner. Not a bad entrée, grandma! Still, in this dream world, the narrator pleads to be taken home (to his parents’ house). Absolutely nuts if you ask me.

As for Mike B., I do not know his stance on ice cream, but his band
Swagger & Skank has much amity for Stewart’s Soda, who happens to make one of favorite sodas, Key Lime.

*Speaking of our nation’s capitol, a very important election is coming up. If you've decided you’re voting for Obama and want to work for the campaign, Travel for Change (an organization separate from Obama’s campaign) is offering to fly interested parties to swing states to help win the vote. If you can’t go, you can donate your frequent flyer miles.

Note from 2012: Later in Chicago, Mike B. became the bass player for my band

Monday, October 13, 2008

Field Report: Tasmania, Australia

My new friend Emma has not only shared chocolate with me but has also written a Field Report. She told me she would happily review Tasmanian ice cream, but that the best homemade ice cream in Tasmania actually comes from her kitchen! Without further ado, the blog’s second international* Field Report, this time from the island of Tasmania:

The best place for ice cream in Hobart (capital of Tasmania) is Mures, though I think this is more because of the location—by the water at the docks—than the ice cream itself! The more adventurous flavours are liquorish and bubblegum but the BEST are bacio gelati (creamy chocolatey hazelnut goodness) and classic Blue Ribbon Vanilla. Blue Ribbon vanilla is made with buttermilk so it has a unique flavour. Vanilla is not always a boring choice!

If you are up for a road trip, Kate's Berry Farm
is a must. They pick their own berries and make their own ice cream and there are fields of strawberries to prove it. A sampler of every single flavour shared between two will leave even those with the most insatiable appetites satisfied.

If you are traveling even further, Andy's Gelato in Westbury (population 1,300) is superior to both Mures and Kate's Berry Farm. Their hazelnut and pistachio gelato—I'm a sucker for nuts!—rival even those I've tasted in Venice! I have no idea how the shop keeps running in such a small town. I can only assume every single member of the township is a regular!

*Back in America, a very important election is coming up. If you've decided you’re voting for Obama and want to work for the campaign, Travel for Change (an organization separate from Obama’s campaign) is offering to fly interested parties to swing states to help win the vote. If you can’t go, you can donate your frequent flyer miles.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Role of Animals in Dessert Culture

It's easy to make an impression on me. Most recently, an Australian woman I met honored me with some chocolate from her country. This is exciting enough—since I knew chocolate, even with the brand names known in America, process their chocolate differently—but would you believe it was shaped like a koala! A Caramel Koala to be exact!

What is the appeal of animals that they are frequently used to sell us desserts? Moose Tracks ice cream (which is peanut butter cup ice cream that is sadly vanilla-based instead of chocolate-based). Ice cream bars shaped like the face of a famous mouse, with gumballs for eyes. Chocolate reindeer and bunnies during holidays. Animal crackers, Teddy Grahams. Gummy bears, which aren’t quite as tasty as gummy sharks, which do not hold the classic appeal of the texturally accurate childhood favorite of mine: gummy worms.

Mascots are one thing, but actually devising a mascot that is meant to be devoured is quite the oddity. I suppose Christians have done it for years with communion rites. (Before you lambast me, know that I just making a little joke from the inside, not a mockery from the outside.) Being from the South the practice is not too uncommon for me, having grown up going to barbecue joints whose décor is entirely composed of happy, smiling, sometimes dancing(!) pigs. There are likenesses of pigs dining on roast ham or bacon, ignorant of the many names that exist for their cooked flesh.

What say ye? Is it weird to eat the mascot? And what animal would most easily persuade you to buy a food product?

Speaking of themed desserts, sometimes designer chocolates have fancy designs on them. I recently saw one with a likeness of Obama on it. It was next to some truffles shaped like donkeys and elephants. No foolin’.

***If you've decided you’re voting for Obama and want to work for the campaign, Travel for Change
(an organization separate from Obama’s campaign) is offering to fly interested parties to swing states to help win the vote. If you can’t go, you can donate your frequent flyer miles.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Rita’s, one of my favorite chains, serves water ice, frozen custard and, the less popular, pretzels. Today, they began offering a new product. Just in time for International Brad Brubaker Day!

They already had the know-how to combine their two most popular products, ice and custard. In fact they do so in a variety of scientific ways. Their Gelati, a layer of custard with ice and topped off with more custard, is a scientific mixture, which means the individual parts are not chemically bonded and can therefore be separated. Their Blendini ™, however, mixes their custard and ice into a solution, meaning the parts cannot be separated without a chemical change. The Blendini also features a mix-in of Oreos or Necco Wafers.

But new scientific developments at Rita’s have created something even more fulfilling than my rehash of what I remember from middle school science class. Rita’s has added their pretzels to the mix. One can now order a Rita’s Blendini ™ with pretzels as a mix-in.

Note from 2012: I remember how excited I was to have a chewy pretzel in my dessert. The warm pretzels always won the "which one is not like the others?" game at Rita's. But, alas, the pretzels offered as a mix-in were the crunchy bagged variety. Still good, but not what I dreamed in this post.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

America Deserves the TRUTH!***

With Halloween fast approaching, themed candy packages are appearing around the office. It made me realize a growing problem in America. Just as many voters are concerned with candidates spinning things with creative wording, I am concerned with candy spoiling things with creative wording.

“Fun Size?” Who do they think they’re kidding? Give the kids a smaller package of candy—LESS candy—and have the audacity to lie to children by telling them this bag and serving size is somehow more fun? If you believe that, I’ll write a check from the government for every tax-paying citizen and call it “Economic Stimulus.” One candy dish in the office has “Fun Size” Mini-Oreo packages, which unlike the typical Mini-Oreo package size contains exactly 6 mini Oreos. I estimate this is roughly the equivalent of one-and-a-half Oreo cookies. As a voter and Halloween enthusiast, I am appalled.

This Halloween, don’t let candy companies lie to children. Invest in the next generation. Invest in honesty. Buy full size candy bars for the children in your neighborhood.

I’m Brad and I approve this message.

***If you've decided you’re voting for Obama and want to work for the campaign, Travel for Change (an organization separate from Obama’s campaign) is offering to fly interested parties to swing states to help win the vote. If you can’t go, you can donate your frequent flyer miles.
Is every American you know registered to vote? Tell your friends, family, and neighbors to register.

Friday, September 19, 2008

America Can Do Better!***

I recently had dinner with some friends at the home of one of my Sunday School students. Thanks to a conversation about how big or small full-size dogs can be, the student retrieved his copy of the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records. As you might imagine, after laughing at some bizarre statistics, I flipped to the index to see what might await me under the topic of “ice cream.” And, America, I learned that Michael Phelps is not enough to make me proud of American competitive achievements. We are not performing in a way befitting of our country in some of the world’s most important competitions.

Highest average ice cream consumption per person in a year:
Australia - 35 pints/person (or 4.4 gallons)
To be honest, this does not sound like very much to me when one considers that most ice cream that isn’t superpremium comes in a half-gallon size. This means the record for ice cream consumption per person in a year is only nine half-gallon cartons over the course of the year. This statistic should bring every country to shame, not just ours. (I’m looking at you, Luxembourg!)

Highest average chocolate consumption per person in a year:
Switzerland – 25 lb. 6 oz. (equal to 230 bars weighing 1.75 oz per year)
This statistic is quite high. Impressive, yes, but unachievable? No. We should see this as a goal, not a threat.

Most ice cream flavors displayed at once:
UPA Gelatieri Padova (Italy) – displayed 521 flavors of ice cream together

***I like to joke on my blog, but in all seriousness,
a very important election is coming up. Take a moment to ask yourself: "Is everyone I know in America registered to vote?" If you are at all unsure, please tell your friends, family, and neighbors to register. The registration deadlines are fast approaching!

If you decided you’re voting for Obama and want to work for the campaign, Travel for Change (an organization separate from Obama’s campaign) is offering to fly interested parties to swing states to help win the vote. If you can’t go, you can donate your frequent flyer miles.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Take the Third Annual Pumpkin Challenge!

For the third year in a row, I will attempt to consume as many varieties of pumpkin edibles I can in the month and half preceding Halloween. Last year I ate 25 varieties of pumpkin-named food, beating 2006’s total by five!

The rules are the same as last year:

  • The item consumed must be a food. (Inhaling a pumpkin candle scent does not count.)
  • The only beverage allowed is the milkshake.
  • Food items cannot 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.)
The Pumpkin Challenge was invented to promote pumpkin in hopes of it being recognized in all seasons as a superior food.

Friday, September 12, 2008

To Cone or Not To Cone?

It’s functional. It’s economical. It’s American. But as much as I appreciate the smell of fresh waffle cones, I prefer to eat my ice cream from a dish. How odd, since I grew up near Doumar’s

Waffle, cake, cookie, sugar—cones come in many forms. Okay, maybe just four forms. To me the taste takes away from the main event, the ice cream the cone contains. Yet, it is a tradition so revered the cone taste is considered by some to be a vital part of the ice cream experience, not just a nostalgic scoop shop delight. Some companies now make flavors with cone pieces mixed in to the ice cream, such as Stephen Colbert’s Ameri-cone Dream (Ben & Jerry’s) and Caramel Cone Crunch (Häagen-Dazs).

The one occasion I have consistently sought out a cone was the summer after my freshman year college when I interned at a theatre in Chicago. One of my favorite stops was Windy City Sweets on Broadway. They had a flavor, Rainforest Crunch, which had chocolate-covered cashews! But what made this experience all the better was a dark-chocolate dipped waffle cone. Mmm…

The only other time I consider coning is when I order soft serve ice cream, in which case the only acceptable cone for this cheap excuse for ice cream is the cake cone, the cheapest quality of cone (AKA the one you get at McDonald’s).

What’s your opinion: To cone or not to cone?

P.S. Cone politics aside, I still heartily recommend Doumar’s
in Norfolk, VA, one of the contenders claiming to have first developed the ice cream cone. (There is no hard and fast evidence to confirm anyone as the first.) Stop in for limeade, minced North Carolina-style barbecue and one of their ice cream concoctions if you’re in the ‘hood! You can also see the “original” waffle cone machine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Candy Dilemma

One of the biggest disappointments in my long, looong history of buying ice cream came the day I saw someone had finally created a chocolate covered pretzel ice cream! Be still my beating heart!

…And my heart did indeed go still when I cracked the lid to discover they actually meant vanilla ice cream-covered chocolate-covered pretzels.

Chocolate is a bold flavor, often dominant, but a thin layer around a sparse and scattered mix-in does not give me the fix I need. If God meant for candy to taste like vanilla instead of chocolate, the Mayans, who are historical for the for no reason other than their reverence of chocolate, would have been wiped off the face of the earth. Hmm…bad example.

It seems simple to me. Butterfingers are covered in chocolate. Baby Ruth is covered in chocolate. Reece’s Cups are covered in chocolate. So why are candy-centric ice creams vanilla-based? It leaves us chocophiles unsatisfied and frustrated. However, those of us who frequent distributors of soft serve ice cream creations, like Dairy Queen, can rise up! Order your next Butterfinger Blizzard with chocolate ice cream and taste the new thought model, my friends. Take it to the streets!

UPDATE: Canada got it right, so why not the US?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Field Report: Christina’s Ice Cream

My co-worker Rebecca recently sojourned to the Boston area and happened upon newsworthy ice cream! I, too have been ice creaming in this part of the country. While in Boston I ate at J.P. Lick’s which features a wide variety of flavors. I sampled the accurately named cucumber and Disco Inferno (sweet cream with a hint of Tabasco). I purchased chocolate chip cheesecake and strawberry-rhubarb. Mmm, rhubarb. But enough about my silly life! Here’s the scoop on Rebecca’s findings:

Christina’s Ice Cream in Cambridge, MA has the single largest selection of flavors I’ve ever seen in an ice cream shop, and I’ve been to a lot of ice cream shops. After much deliberation, I narrowed it down to adzuki bean and carrot cake. I tasted both, and while the adzuki was good, it didn’t have the enough of the red bean flavor that I love in those steamed sweet rice Chinese nibbles wrapped in banana leaves that I don’t know the name of. So I opted for the carrot cake with a side of walnuts, and went with the economically sensible pint size. It is more than twice the size of an individual serving but only costs a little bit more, so the ice cream lasted me my whole weekend in Boston. The flecks of carrot in the ice cream went very well with the walnuts, but my one issue with it was the raisins. Because they were mixed into the ice cream, and not provided as an optional topping, the raisins were like hard little pebbles that you had to let sit in your mouth to soften before you could chew them. I would have preferred a side of plump golden raisins to sprinkle on top…but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

Sarah, the resident Cambridgian, got a pint of her favorite flavor, burnt sugar. It was yummy but a bit sweet for me—it really did taste like someone just took a kitchen torch to a pile of table sugar. Patty split her pint between mint chocolate chip and blackberry, which was notable for just how fresh and sorbet-y it was, despite the fact it was a full-fat ice cream. Carly’s pistachio, with chunks of pistachios and a light sage-green color, was the perfect summer flavor (even though our summer weather was thunderstorms).

If you’re ever in Cambridge, I recommend a trip to Christina’s in Inman Square! Their website has a full list of flavors, including the puzzlingly named Nietzsche’s Chocolate Ascension and why-would-you-come-up-with-such-a-combination Wild Turkey & Walnut.

Note from 2012: I had opportunity to visit Christina's and, yes, it is good! In my humble opinion, Toscanini's is better, but try both and decide for yourself.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Nyce Ice in NYC

When I travel, I research ahead on the best local ice cream. I then print out a short list to consider more closely when I know where I will be staying and exploring. In New York City, if you crosscheck a few different lists to find the “Best Ice Cream,” you will find these names on all or most of those lists:

Who wouldn't be curious about Chinatown Ice Cream Factory's wide selection of flavors? Amongst all the exotic fruit flavors—including lychee!!!—I was surprisingly most impressed by their almond cookie ice cream. They also have wasabi ice cream some days, though sadly not the day I visited. Admit it: You want to go to Chinatown, but have no idea why. This will give you a destination to spend your money so you don’t blow all your cash on bootleg DVDs.

Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
may only have a couple flavors, but they remind you why plain vanilla and chocolate are still the best selling ice creams. When made right, you don’t need anything else…but I still chose double chocolate chip because who doesn’t like more chocolate? This is the one thing I would recommend this little two hour excursion to anyone going to New York City: ride the subway over to Brooklyn, walk to Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and relax taking in the beautiful panoramic view of the lower Manhattan skyline while eating delicious ice cream, and then get your exercise by walking across the neighboring Brooklyn Bridge. (Top 20 to Visit)

My brother’s review, “New York, New York”:
“I had read that the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory can also have hour-long waits, but I was only in line for about 15 minutes. You could see the Statue of Liberty in the distance from their steps. I think they only had seven flavors of ice cream. I decided to get Vanilla Chocolate Chunk and Chocolate Chocolate Chunk in a bowl. My brother was right - as soon as I took my first bite of the Chocolate Chocolate Chunk, I knew it was some of the best ice cream I've ever tasted. This wasn't your average grocery store chocolate ice cream - this was high quality stuff! …The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory gets a big seal of approval from me!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ice Cream Etiquette

Some people liked to josh with me, making threats to break into my freezer and steal my ice cream. But I do not react or become defensive. My mantra, to reinterpret what many sages have said, is “If a man tries to steal your ice cream, give him your spoon.”

Not only do I open my freezer to all, I have my guests serve themselves so they may give themselves the amount they truly crave. I have too often been offered dessert and been rationed the equivalent of four bites. I am not ungrateful; I just feel it is rude to be an “Indian giver” of joy (or “Native American giver”). My approach also practices waste-prevention: a big portion will never be served to a guest who only wants a little.

Some more items of etiquette:

  • Do not scoop from a carton haphazardly. To reduce ice crystal build-up, scoop in the way that exposes the least amount of new surface area.
  • You may share my spoon, but do not lick my cone. Don’t ask me why, but I think it’s gross.
  • Put that thing back where it belongs. If you host an ice cream-oriented gathering, please serve everyone and return any unfinished cartons to the freezer BEFORE consuming, not after. If you leave the ice cream out too long, the ice cream touching the edges of the carton—which defrosts the fastest—will melt and then have icy refreeze syndrome which causes trauma to future users.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I am a savage.

I have noted on more than one occasion that a particular flavor was enhanced by letting the carton sit out for a little bit. It seems this is actually true of all ice cream. According to Wikipedia, allowing a little post-freezer defrost time results in more of the flavor being unlocked for the 3,000 taste buds of the tongue. Why does this make me a savage? Read on.

For years I have failed to comprehend people’s obsession with Cold Stone. Without getting too heated on the subject, I will say that my complaint has always been that they give you melty ice cream. Who knew this character trait is actually a ringing endorsement? But I am a humble man. I will admit now, despite my otherwise elite taste in frozen desserts, that I have been incorrect about rejecting melty ice cream. I still maintain my preference for other parlors, though, and will not be going to Cold Stone anytime soon. …If I ever want soup, however, I know where to go. (Zing!)

I am a savage in one other way, too:

  • Unlike some connoisseurs, I do not eat my ice cream with an overturned spoon. Eating that way has always proved awkward for me—perhaps a bit too intimate. 
  • Though it is less desirable amongst most of the elite, I actually enjoy the chill of a metal spoon. 
So, dear, forgiving reader, I hope you do not feel lead astray by your unrefined host. I am just a man. A humble man. An extremely humble man with a superior knowledge of ice cream to you. So back off.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Strike 2 tastes much better than Strike 1.

Hopefully everyone celebrated Cheesecake Day yesterday.
It has been a busy month! Ice Cream Day was a mere week and a half ago. I celebrated with my second attempt at making Chocolate Cheesecake ice cream. The first time, the churner of my electric ice cream maker couldn’t handle the density of the mixture; it failed to churn the mixture a mere minute after the liquid mixture was poured in. A good 10 to 20 minutes of churning are needed to get enough air in any mixture for it to be classified as ice cream (and more than the less recognizable food product known as “goop”).

I had to apologize to my guests, informing them that there would be no homemade ice cream that evening, but that they were welcome to any or all of the six to eight varieties readily available in my freezer. And then I had an idea, a delicious idea...

While the recipe I invented did not yield ice cream, it did yield what we dubbed chocolate cheesecake mousse. We decided it could also make a pretty good non-bake cheesecake.

Note from 2012: Chocolate Cheesecake ice cream was something I'd eaten as an incredible Limited Edition Häagen-Dazs flavor.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I love my mom.

My mom called me yesterday afternoon for no other reason than to tell me this important information: On July 30, Cheesecake Factory will be selling slices of their cheesecake (in any flavor) for a mere $1.50! It says limit one slice per customer and that it is for dine in guests only. Lucky for me, I work but one block away. I will also bring a fake mustache and an assortment of hats.

I rarely eat at chain restaurants, but Cheesecake Factory is an exception. Their food is wonderful and comes in huge portions (enough for a certain tall and lanky fella), their menu options are endless and, of course, their dessert is superb. Other than Eli's Cheesecake World in Chicago, I have run into no other institution that serves up more than a few styles of cheesecake at a time.

Cheesecake Factory offers at least thirty varieties, with usually two to three new flavors they are testing. As you can probably imagine, I have tried nearly all of them (excluding those with coffee, banana or alcohol flavors). My favorites are, in order:

  • Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake (tragically seasonal)
  • Chocolate Pistachio Cheesecake (New!)
  • Dutch Apple Caramel Steusel Cheesecake
  • Craig's Crazy Carrot Cake Cheesecake
  • Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake (which truly is better than your average chocolate cheesecake)
I have tried some of their non-cheesecake desserts as well. They are also worth the trip. See you on July 30!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My gift is my spoon...

(singing obnoxiously from cubicle)
“Is there life on Maaaa-aaa-aaars? Maaa-ah-ah-ah-arrrrrs!"


Brad, that isn’t how “Life on Mars” goes.


 It isn’t?


No. The words are right, but that’s the tune of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

- - -

I think it’s an easy mistake to make. The songs are not so dissimilar. But it seems now Elton John has the upper hand among gay, British musicians who have sung songs with Muppets. Ben and Jerry’s has honored Reginald “Elton John” Dwight with an ice cream flavor, “Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road,” in honor of his upcoming first concert in Vermont. Available only in Vermont, the limited edition flavor is "an outrageous symphony of decadent chocolate ice cream, peanut butter cookie dough, butter brickle and white chocolate chunks."

I mentioned earlier the return of The Dave Matthews Band’s flavor: Magic Brownie’s Remix Edition. If Elton John’s flavor is successful and returns after its limited edition release, they’ll have to call it “The Bitch is Back Edition.”

Note from 2012: This flavor was later offered in grocery store pints for a limited time.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Chocolate iz Güd

Theo Chocolate
This three-year-old company is one of few Fair Trade certified chocolate companies in America, as well as one of few places that does the whole process of making chocolate on-site, from roasting to packaging. You can even take tours of their factory in Fremont, which is my personal favorite thing to recommend to tourists visiting Seattle. Call at least a few days in advance because the daily tours sell out fast. At their factory store you can sample every chocolate bar they have for sale! Their chocolate bars are starting to be available around the country. Favorite creations: Coconut Curry bar and any of their signature creations that feature Jasmine, which tastes like fairy dust in your mouth.

Fran’s Chocolates

The most high-end of these three. As a caramel fan, I do not say this lightly: their caramel is the best tasting caramel I have ever had. Their products are available nation-wide, so if you have a fancy chocolate shop near you, treat yourself to my favorite of their creations, the Almond Gold Bar (chocolate, almonds, and sweet, sweet caramel). They may be small, they may be three dollars, but you will be a different person afterwards.

Seattle Chocolates

These truffles are small, not particularly decadent, and come in many straightforward flavors. All of these factors add up to a product that is easy to consume in large quantities, which, having worked at a non-profit arts organization sponsored by Seattle Chocolates, I can tell you I have done many, many times. I have actually sampled every product they make, including their truffle bars, which are more creative in flavor combinations and texture. Favorite creation: blackberry truffle.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mark Your Calendars!

I’ve already missed two major holidays: Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day, held annually in late April or early May, and Pi Day, held on April 14 (3.14, the first three digits of pi), which is celebrated with pies aplenty. I am determined to not miss any more!
  • National Ice Cream Month: July
  • National Ice Cream Day: Third Sunday in July
  • Free Slurpee Day: July 11 (7/11). 7.11 oz Slurpees will be free from 7am to 11pm.
Please let me know of any more dessert-themed days you know of, especially if they result in free desserts or are frequently celebrated with parties.

For over achievers, more days exist, though quite possibly only in imagination.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ben & Jerry’s Turns 30!

Ben and Jerry’s continues to push the importance of ice cream ethics in their latest batch of new flavors, which, honestly, are all worth trying and most worth keeping around:

ONE Cheesecake Brownie – The ONE Foundation does more than fight poverty: they inspire people to do more…and eat more. (I love eating for a cause.) This is not just a cheesecake ice cream with Ben & Jerry’s familiar brownie chunks: they actually use cheesecake brownies! Ben & Jerry’s proves once again they know how to do cheesecake ice cream.

Dave Matthew’s Band Magic Brownies Remix “Encore Edition” – The earlier version of this flavor was chocolate-based with a gooey brownie and raspberry swirl. This was good, but did not inspire multiple purchases. The “remix” is much more exciting: the brownies are now in black raspberry ice cream. Euphoric. (And a portion of proceeds go towards the band’s Bama Works Fund.)

John Lennon’s Imagine Whirled Peace – With its caramel and toffee cookie pieces, this one takes on a graham-cracker-y taste, reminding me of one of my favorite regional flavors, Stewart’s Crumbs Along the Mohawk
. (It is at least a step in the right direction for folks that aren’t in New England.) I do not think the caramel cups used in the flavor match the quality of the ice cream, but when they left a bad taste in my mouth I just took another bite.

Cake Batter – The secret to Ben & Jerry’s exemplary cheesecake ice creams is that they are uncharacteristically subtle while other brands overload theirs with cheesecake flavor. Similarly, cake-inspired ice creams are usually overly sweet with too much “frosting.” With Cake Batter, Ben and Jerry’s schools everyone else. Still, they could learn from Perry’s Piece of Cake by mixing in texture-enhancing cake pieces…and by using yellow cake…or they could just purchase Perry’s recipe.

Another update to the Ethics of Ice Cream debate: Häagen-Dazs is on a new kick. It is donating money toward research to save the dwindling honey bee population. It seems an odd cause to raise money for, but the blurb on the side of my most recent carton pulled at my heartstrings a little, like when that polar bear couldn’t find solid land
in An Inconvenient Truth.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I am not an addict.

I took a Meditation class last summer, learning that, at its most basic, meditation is a practice of being present in the moment: not escaping it, nor over-analyzing it. Facing each moment for all it is and asking “What’s happening now?” The idea isn’t to become lost in thoughts, profound or otherwise, or even observations, but instead letting moments pass through you, instead of focusing on the past or future of a moment. Keeping yourself conscious, instead of on autopilot.

One concept explored was addiction. The instructor asked us to consider the act of eating. He explained that we may have plans to eat at our favorite restaurant and, throughout the day, look forward to eating our favorite meal. When the dish arrives, we relish in the smell, look, and taste…but after a few bites we’ve fallen back into conversation and are absent-mindedly taking bite after bite. The instructor said he used to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every night before bed. As this became a daily activity, it was no longer about making each bite its own experience, but more a quest to finish the pint. It became an addiction for him. The more addicted you are to something, he said, the less pleasurable it is. Something that once was savored in each moment is lost with the quest to have more. We get confused when we think having more is the way to achieve satisfaction. The instructor told us that only when we find the actual source of satisfaction can we lose the addictive desire. (This practice can be applied to any situation where you might not feel like yourself.)

I agree fully with the instructor’s message, but we have distinctly different experiences with ice cream. I have, even since I started this blog, gone weeks without consuming ice cream. This wasn’t to prove the “power of self-will;” I just didn’t think to indulge.

More importantly, when the instructor spoke about taking a bite of ice cream and not fully experiencing each bite, I had no idea what he was talking about. I do not ever take ice cream for granted. Actually, it makes me more than a little giddy.