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.