Friday, December 4, 2009

Unforgettable Krispy Kreme Memory Countdown: No. 1

When I was very young, my mom went back to school for her Master's Degree. With my dad working full-time, my grandparents were asked to watch me.

Granddaddy and I had a schedule to keep on these days. He would greet me when I arrived with a hug from his recliner and a "Heeeey, Pahd-nah!"--that's "Pardner" or "Partner" for y'all city folk. For breakfast, I would have apple sauce, corned beef hash and cubes of cheddar cheese. (Apple sauce remains almost a daily staple for me, while corned beef hash is purchased less frequently but always eaten with nostalgia.) This would be followed by a trip to a playground, either at the Hardee's on Big Bethel Road or the much larger wooden jungle gyms and slides, which I suspect were across Mercury Blvd. at Francis Mallory. Lots of running around and playing and making up games with other kids. The next item on the list was most important: meeting up with the other old men that congregated at Krispy Kreme to smoke, talk and drink coffee.

I remember how the place used to look: the counter that had stools that could spin all the way around, the cigarette ash and the coffee stains. I'd marvel at the doughnuts being made, traveling up and down while the dough would rise until the final stage, when the completed doughnut went by on the conveyor belt and up toward the ceiling where they would cool. (While a lot of this image has changed with sleeker, openly throwback design of today's Krispy Kreme, having the doughnut machinery on public display has thankfully stayed the same.) Granddaddy would buy me two doughnuts: a chocolate-frosted cake doughnut and an original glazed. The chocolate-frosted always felt like the "meal" doughnut that I'd have to endure to get to the dessert doughnut, the original glazed. (In retrospect, I realize that if I had understood things better then, I probably could have asked for two glazed instead and gotten my wish, but it all made sense at the time. First the meal doughnut, then the dessert doughnut.)

Unlike other kids that would come in, I would stay in my seat and behave, which means I gained the approval of the tough old men that we saw there every day. I remember that it was always exciting when "Uncle" Jesse was there; something about the man was dangerous, but in a Butch Cassidy, fun-loving way. My mom tells me I would sometimes report back with a mopey voice that "Uncle Jesse's in jail again." I didn't understand what it meant when a person didn't pay their child support; I just knew I missed my friend. The conversation just wasn't the same without him, but when he came back I was always ready to round the counter the give him a big hug.

But a person couldn't sit at Krispy Kreme all day. There was Bob Barker and
The Price is Right to be watched, followed by professional wrestling--I think every kid's favorite at my age was Hulk Hogan--followed by soaps and/or cartoons.

There may not be
a playground at the Hardee's on Big Bethel anymore. There may not stools at the counter of Krispy Kreme. There may not be any new episodes of The Price is Right with Bob Barker and his skinny microphone. And I may not be able to spend time with my granddaddy anymore. But I do think of these days Granddaddy and I spent together, more than one would probably expect, but most often when I go to Krispy Kreme and take the time to sit and enjoy the moment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Unforgettable Krispy Kreme Memory Countdown: No. 2

It was my first date. Or at least I hoped so. I'd only met the girl a few days ago, but we'd already spent more hours together than I'd spent with some of my better friends. We couldn't stop smiling the whole time. I was crazy about her, but was it a date?

Started at Sandy Bottom Nature Park and I suggested we keep hanging out. We ended up at Krispy Kreme. I was a bit concerned because she didn't order anything. But when I sat down to eat my Boston Kreme doughnut, she revealed Item #3,045 that we had in common: Boston Kreme was her favorite doughnut. At this point the excitement was too much and I announced, "Okay, I'm going to hold your hand now." This prompted all of the wonderful things we had to say about one another to pour over the brim and eventually back to her place where I had my first (offstage) kiss.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Unforgettable Krispy Kreme Memory Countdown: No. 3

I love Krispy Kreme. And Krispy Kreme loves me. This has been proven so many times that whenever I eat their delicious glazed doughnuts, I can't help but reminisce. The countdown begins:

It was college. I had switched out of acting and was starting my first semester with my new major, where I would explore producing, directing and arts administration.
Much to the chagrin of some professors, I had chosen to direct off-campus to assure no restrictions were placed on me or my art. And I was spending a lot money for a college production, hoping to recoup my losses, but more so hoping that charging admission wouldn't detract all of my friends from attending. I had directed before, but at the time I was at the helm a pretty difficult piece. We worked long rehearsals (which gave me a "reputation"), spending as much time as we could in the space with the performers and the designers.

The sound designer and I especially clicked during this process. Perhaps it was that we were sitting in the booth together during run-throughs. Perhaps it was that I gave a stamp of approval to a sound collage of city noise that also included a tiger. Or perhaps it was that we would go out for Krispy Kreme doughnuts a lot. It was right across the street from the theatre and hot glazed are hard to resist. What better way to spend our teeny tiny profit? As we continued to collaborate on theatre pieces and eventually recording music, it became our tradition to celebrate with a dozen glazed, often downing the whole thing in an evening.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Remember, remember the pumpkin-y splendor!

This year’s Pumpkin Challenge brought many new discoveries that will work their way into the regular pumpkin rotation. I learned the wonder of Snap O' Lantern ice cream—pumpkin and gingersnap cookie dough—which I will attempt to duplicate. Drooooool. I actually ate pumpkin pie before Halloween for the first year of the Pumpkin Challenge. My best friend’s addition of pumpkin to chili made for a very colorful flavor. Pumpkin fudge brownies are, unsurprisingly, incredible. My pumpkin macaroni and cheese was revered by one friend as the best macaroni and cheese she had ever had. And for the first time I put my homemade pumpkin ice cream on top of my pumpkin bread pudding with euphoric results.

In short, this fourth year of the Pumpkin Challenge may have yielded the lowest number of pumpkin items consumed yet—a total of 18 this year as compared to last year’s 30—but was not by any means a washout. I’m wondering how other participants fared. Did anyone beat me?

Here’s my list: Snap O' Lantern ice cream*, pumpkin cream cheese muffin, pumpkin scone*, pumpkin pie*, pumpkin doughnut, pumpkin bread pudding, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin chili*, pumpkin bagel poppers*, pumpkin lasagna, pumpkin fudge brownies*, pumpkin biscuit cookies with cinnamon frosting*, pumpkin quiche, pumpkin cream cheese loaf*, pumpkin tarts with cream cheese frosting*, pumpkin and roasted walnut manicotti*, chewy pumpkin and chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin macaroni and cheese*

*Items that were not consumed in previous Pumpkin Challenges.
Italicized items were my homemade by yours truly. Need any recipes?
Each year, different people help me on my quest by forwarding recipes, buying me irresistible foods they see while shopping and sharing special meals with me. Thanks to everyone who took on this important and noble role. That being said, this years MVPP (“Most Valuable Pumpkin Provider”) Award goes to my parents who helped me get the pumpkin rolling this year by treating me to tasty treats and canned pumpkin for cooking. Thanks, fam!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Field Report: Albino Asparagus Ice Cream!

This Halloween's spooky tale is from my friend Logan about his trip to Germany. Enjoy!

When it comes to ice cream, there really isn't much to be afraid of unless, of course, we all scream for ice cream to cool the burning acid a mysterious killer dumped on us while we were trying to run away. But even in that case the ice cream is a cool, comforting, life saving substance. I have probably only been frightened by ice cream once, but is because of that that experience that Brad and Marisa have asked me to to supplement their regular blogly offerings with this frightening tale of cold, creamy horror.

It all began in Erlangen, Germany, in the early part of the decade when I was visiting a friend of the family with my German grandmother. That person was Dieter, an Engineer for Siemens corporation. So while I was waxing my mustache and buttoning my leiderhosen, Dieter suggested something that made my monocle pop out, “Would you like to go to the most popular Ice Cream Parlor in Erlangen?” Of course I would like to go to an ice cream parlor. Germany is dotted with many little Italian Ice cream places that are either run by Italians or Turks, but either way they are probably going to have some awesome lemon ice cream.

We arrived at Eishaus Erlangen in time to stand in line while Deiter explained that Eishaus is famous for it's constant rotation of interesting flavors. I learned that Eishaus is run by Germans, but they serve Italian-style ice cream. When we got inside I was terrified by but magnetically drawn to one flavor: Spargle. Spargle means asparagus, but it's not the green asparagus that we are familiar with, it's white asparagus. White, anemic, albino asparagus that has been covered in dirt to prevent any exposure to the sun. I shuddered at the thought. Apparently Germany has so many mad scientists that they are going into the ice cream business. I wanted to take refuge in one of the other, more traditional flavors, like Stracciatella or tempting flavors like Chocolate Struessel, but I knew this was my only chance, so I went for the glory.

The asparagus ice cream turned out to be not nearly as bad as I expected. Imagine cream of asparagus soup but sweet, and not quite as vegetab-ly. The flavor was actually very delicate, I even detected some floral notes. I felt a little like a judge on Iron Chef. So the moral of the story is: If you face your fears, you can gain twenty pounds while vacationing in Germany. Next time I'm going to try their Camembert flavor.

Projectile Pie

My fascination with pumpkins extends beyond gastronomy into aerodynamics. Each year, during the Pumpkin Challenge, I also read up on the popular past time punkin chunkin, or its Anglicized name pumpkin launching. The premise of this sport is to construct a device that flings pumpkins the farthest. Many competitions offer separate categories for slingshots, cannons, trebuchets and catapults.

I first heard of the fine sport of pumpkin launching, or punkin’ chunkin’, from my Uncle John, who was lucky enough to attend the 2005 contest in Marion, Illinois. He remarks, "The contraptions designed by engineers, Cub Scout Troops, drunk guys in garages, and serious pumpkin aeronautical professionals inspired the imagination of the crowd. The biggest cannon shot a pumpkin over 4000 feet! And some of the "sling shots" backfired and nearly bombarded their designers."

What is perhaps most exciting is that several physics classes in the country have embraced the sport, participating in competitions and creating their own. Yesterday, I sojourned to the Illinois Institute of Technology, my granddad's alma mater, and stood in the rain with the science geeks (and what I believe was a high school physics field trip) to witness IIT's 5th annual competition. Most of the 8 machines were trebuchets, but there were a few others including The Robotics Team's machine that utilized springs. While the weather did nothing to deter scientists from the noble pursuit of destroying stuff, sadly it did handicap the competition, particularly the loading of the pumpkin launching devices. At first, things were somewhat anticlimactic with several of the machines simply plopping the pumpkin a foot in front of their respective machines. One professor remarked loudly for the crowd to not worry; the very same students that made the failing machines would soon be graduates making our nation's bridges! Thankfully, one trebuchet did fling a pumpkin 185 feet! All in all, it was a fun time capped with free apple cider.

The sport appears to be celebrated all across the United States. Next year, search for the closest competition near you! Or go straight to the top: The World Championships have been held in Delaware since 1986!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ice Cream is not punk. (Part 2)

Once again, punks are opposed to having ice cream associated with their image. The Sex Pistols are threatening to sue a London ice cream maker for using the tagline "God Save the Cream."

While in London two weekends ago, I went to Selfridges, temporary home of the Icecreamists. I was drawn in by their contemporary design like a mall punk to hair dye and Chuck Taylor's. But it was all fashion, in the name of selling an old product at an inflated price. (Really, Johnny Rotten could just as easily open up another ridiculous lawsuit by claiming they stole his business model.) My choice: bypass the Icecreamists for the Oddono's in Selfridges food court.

(Thanks to my brother Brian for the link.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pumpkin Challenge Off-Season

You may be wondering what I’ve been up to in the off-season. Besides the nibbles Rebecca, last year’s MVPP (Most Valuable Pumpkin Provider), continued to bring me, I also ate a number of pumpkin treats that have never been featured on the annual list of foods consumed during the pumpkin challenge. For example, pumpkin fudge, pumpkin spice trail mix, my mom's delicious pumpkin waffles and even *gasp!* pumpkin pie. (How I went three years of doing this without eating pumpkin pie during the allotted time frame, I have no idea.)

This year has been slow-going, so if you're in the race you could very well beat me this year!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Fourth Annual Pumpkin Challenge!

My apologies for the lateness of this message, since the official start of the 4th Annual Pumpkin Challenge was September 15th.* If you are hearing of this blessed event for the first time, consider your life changed. Every year, from mid-September through Halloween, my beloved readers are enabled, er, invited to consume as many pumpkin foods as possible. Here are the rules:

  • The item consumed must be a food.
  • The only beverage allowed is the milkshake.
  • 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.)
This year is your best chance for winning. I may have won every year until now--last year, I set the new record at 30 items--but I have a number of distractions this year that could increase your chances. Or try to be this year's MVPP (Most Valuable Pumpkin Provider) by sending me recipes or, better yet, pumpkin products!

Why have was the Pumpkin Challenge created?
Because pumpkin foods are delicious, yet mostly only offered around Halloween and Thanksgiving. The short-term goal is simple: By starting pumpkin consumption in mid-September, we are increasing demand for pumpkin items earlier than most pumpkin seasons starts. The long-term goal is for pumpkin products year round! Hopefully, like me, you are active in the off-season of the Pumpkin Challenge, too.

*If you feel like whining, you may handicap yourself one pumpkin item if you had not already started. Shamefully, that is all I have eaten so far. Last year, I had around 5 at this point.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Gelato italiano in Inghilterra (Italian ice cream in England)

If Fortnum & Mason is a great ice cream experience (see previous post), Oddono's is simply great ice cream. Making the finest gelato in London, it is normal to hear Italian being spoken here by the staff and customers, which is sure sign you are in the right place! The finest ingredients and care are used in their gelato and, like those found in Italy, nearly every flavor is uniform without mix-ins.

Their Valrhona Chocolate is the darkest, most explosive chocolate I've had in frozen dessert outside of Italy. (It actually was better than many of the chocolate gelati I had in Italy! ) you just don't get this chocolate flavor in American ice cream where they use more fat and less of the actual ingredients that give the flavors their names. Their Nocciola Piemonte (Hazelnut from Piedmont) was also incredible--easily the best hazelnut ANYTHING I've had in my life. I was also impressed by their Mandarin Sorbet. One of my friends I brought along remarked that Oddono's was truly the best ice cream she had ever had in her life. No small statement!

Oddono's Gelati Italiani is located in South Kensington, south of the Royal Albert Hall, the Natural History Museum and the V&A. You can also find their gelato being sold in Selfridges and Whiteleys.

Friday, September 4, 2009

London Licks

To get to the Parlour Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason, you must first make it through the ever-tempting ground floor. Big enough to contain a football field this floor only sells tea (Bleh!) and chocolate (Huzzah!). To observe the displays under glass, the carpeted floors and the quiet reverence of the customers, one would think they were selling jewelry. There's nothing wrong with a little appetizer dessert before the main course--I can tell you that each of the chocolates I tried were delicate, demanding an instant reaction to chew, salivate and swallow slowly--but don't lose your focus or spend all your money on the fancy chocolate. March on!

Somehow I made it up the stairs with my appetite intact and enough money to afford the decadent desserts that awaited me in the Parlour Restaurant. (It is expensive. Actually, expensive may not be a bold enough term, but it is an experience worth treating yourself to.) Fortnum & Mason had made it onto every "Best of London Ice Cream" list I found online, so I knew I was really in for a high-quality experience. They did not disappoint, dishing up in a fancy goblet with the utmost class. And despite the expense, I went there a total of three times.

The first time, I tried three scoops (Strawberry with 12-year-old Balsamic, Chocolate Macadamia Biscuit and Toffee) with warm, melted Amedei Chocolate on the side. All were very tasty, if not accurately named: I didn't taste any Balsamic or Macadamia Biscuit. The chocolate sauce confirmed Amedei as being the best chocolate money can buy. The Toffee ice cream may have been my favorite of all of their ice cream flavors.

On my second visit, I tried the Beekeeper Sundae (pictured, center): Stem Ginger & Honey, Vanilla Bean and Praline ice creams topped with Fortnum's honey and honeycomb chunks. Ginger is not in my top 10 ice cream flavors, but this was the finest one I've had: not too much spice, but not a diluted flavor.

The third visit--I won't say last, because I will return again--I tried the Rosa Plaustri sundae: R&P (chocolate ice cream with strawberry, marshmallow and biscuit), Frosted Strawberry & Shortbread and Amedei Chocolate ice cream topped with marshmallows and biscuits. Served with warm Amedei chocolate.

Do they sound like the best sundaes imaginable? Try 'em for yourself: Fortnum & Mason is located in Central London's Picadilly Circus, across from the Royal Academy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The first openly cream?

"A wedding-themed Ben & Jerry’s truck will hand out free Hubby Hubby across Vermont today."

Monday, August 31, 2009

Limited Edition Ben & Jerry's

Two flavors. Both alike in dignity. These Limited Edition Ben & Jerry's flavors are actually better than any of the other class of 2009 flavors (except Pumpkin Cheesecake*, obviously). Both of these flavors are in the running for best store-bought fruit ice cream, so much so they've made me forget other contenders. So much so I'm finding it difficult to articulate how good they are. My reviews basically just say over and over again, "Me likey. It good." With that ringing endorsement, read on. Make sure to stock your freezer while you still have time:

Raspberry Peach Cobbler: Is it good enough to justify its existence when Ben & Jerry's also has Peach Cobbler ice cream, a fairly new flavor from the class of 2007? Yes, because it is supremely more flavorful. The bites of raspberry ice cream highlighting the bites of peach. They one-up each other until you realize you've finished the pint! Oh, no! It was so good, but now it's gone!

Key Lime Pie: It took a lot of searching to find this one. While my pint seemed to be missing the "fluffy meringue swirls" promised by the package, I was not disappointed. The lime ice cream and "tangy lime twist" were enough to satisfy me. Best to let it sit out a bit before eating to unlock the flavor.

(On another note, I just spent much longer than I should have playing a computer game called Chunk Challenge on the Ben & Jerry's website. UPDATE: I just scored 75,555, almost doubling my previous high score...but I'm not addicted.)

*Speaking of Pumpkin Cheesecake, start readying yourself for Pumpkin Challenge 2009, which starts September 15. Not familiar with the Pumpkin Challenge? Read the rules from 2008.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Greatest Desserts: Blackberry Ice Cream Pie

I've long said that one dessert ranks in my top 3 desserts of all time, even though I'm yet to have tasted the other two. It seems an extreme statement, but I can easily say that the Mountain High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie at Skyline Drive's Skyland Resort Skyline Drive's Skyland Resort is, and will forever be, one of the greatest desserts.

Skyline Drive is a section of the Shenandoah National Park in the northwest part of Virginia. My family used to vacation there in the fall to see the colorful leaves and go hiking to Dark Hollow Falls and and Stony Man. The smell of the mountain air in the brisk autumnal months is something I can pull up in my memory at anytime. I have been back several times since childhood and continue to have memorable experiences whenever I visit.

Another feature of the park that continues to satisfy over the years is the food. There are a couple musts to any overnight trip to Skyline Drive. Breakfast at the lodge is a must: buckwheat pancakes (my favorite) with their special blackberry syrup (also my favorite). All of the lunch and dinner food is also quite tasty, but, as I said, the dessert is what's most memorable. The Mountain High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie is simple to describe--half a foot of blackberry ice cream and toasted meringue with a graham cracker crust and drizzled with (my favorite) blackberry syrup--but must be tasted to be understood. There are not many times one has astronomically high expectations for something, based on experience and memory, and finds their expectations exceeded! Consistently over the years I have expected to be disappointed just because of the mythical legendary status I have given this dessert, but no! It is always ludicrously wonderful! Substantial detours have been made in road trips over the past 4 years to accommodate my demands to go to Skyline Drive and always I stop and have my dessert.

I also make sure to stop in the gift shop to buy some of their blackberry syrup. Did I mention it's my favorite?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Step 3 to Becoming a Chocolate Connoisseur

In Step 1, I learned how chocolate was made by witnessing it first hand at a factory. In Step 2, I learned a chocolate shop owner taught me about the different qualities of chocolate from the world's regions of origin. Here, in Step 3, I will host a tasting of what many chocolatiers consider to be the finest chocolate in the world.

The biggest shopping spree of my Italy trip earlier this year was at the airport. Stocking up on foreign chocolate at Duty-Free prices made for a much larger carry-on than what originally passed through security. I bought some of my favorites, but the most prized purchase was a box of Amedei Chocolate, 36 napolitaines from 6 different regions of origin. This would provide the perfect opportunity to experience first hand what different regions truly have to offer in their beans. Even better was the fact that each chocolate was 70% cacao, meaning there were less variables for my taste buds to consider. And, since I'm a family man, I decided I could host a tasting with 4 of my kin.

Soon after my return stateside, my parents, my brother, my sister-in-law and I gathered together on comfy chairs to taste our way around the world...or at least the agrarian part that was within 20 degrees of the Equator. First, we snickered as we read aloud the verbosely-written instructions from the Amedei website on conducting a tasting. Then I explained my instructions: (1) smell the chocolate first, (2) do not eat the whole napolitain in one bite so it can later be compared with others and (3) pause together between chocolate to verbalize our reactions. I also presented strawberries for cleansing the palate between chocolates. They may have laughed at the idea, but they agreed.

At a later date, I had a private ceremony where I ate the 6th and final napolitain from each region, nibbling in a different order and recording my own reactions to compare with those documented at the family tasting. Enjoy our attempts to articulate, our poeticisms and our often contradictory opinions! (The italicized sections are what was printed on the labels.)

Venezuela - Flowery aroma with a strong, sweet flavour. Excellent aromatic harmony and a highly elegant long-lasting aftertaste. A great chocolate.
**My sister-in-law's favorite** **My favorite in Round 2**
Bitter aftertaste. Maybe some fruit/citrus. No change in flavor. A dancer on point shoes. Pops of bold flavor between the sweet, like ice cream with hunks of different stuff.

Trinidad - Refined aroma with a pleasant impact on the taste buds. A classic chocolate with a strong character.Creamier than Venezuela, but gets bitter. More arch to the flavor. Earthier. Delicate. Harsh taste in middle. Creamy, harsh, bitter. Almost smoky.

Madagascar - Delicate, inviting aroma with a scent of roasted hazelnut. Truly creamy with a refreshing aftertaste.Nut taste. Soft. NOT a refreshing aftertaste. Starts bitter but gets subtly sweeter. Seemed regular. [Editor's note: Gasp!] Not much sugar. Almost typically semisweet. Wood.

Jamaica - Marked fragrance of wood with herbal scents. A powerful chocolate with a strong personality.
**My brother's favorite**
Wood. The sweetest. The strongest/loudest. Like eating a flower. Jump of sweetness at the end. Wood. Earthy. Sweet follow-up.

Grenada - Delicate aroma of cocoa with a flowery, slightly spicy tone. Creamy and very elegant.**My mom's favorite** **My favorite in Round 1**
Flavor full of spice. Not as bitter. Bitter hints in the middle, but not the aftertaste. Creamy, but not much taste. Spices. Not as aggressive, not as much punch as the others. Fuses bitter and sweet.

Ecuador - Extremely intense fragrance with a strong scent of cocoa. Pleasantly long-lasting aroma.
**My dad's favorite**
Pleasant, even flavor. Consistent. Creamiest. Plumpest. Acidic. Fruity. Like a chocolate Easter bunny (or Pasqua pigeon).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Contraband and Mysterious Berries

On a different road trip with my dad, we passed through Montoursville, PA and passed by a food cart boasting that it served Eder's Ice Cream. Going to summer camp in central Pennsylvania, Eder's was a legend. All of the counselors had a green Eder's shirt and as a fledgling ice cream aficionado, there was more covetousness in my heart than this church camp would have liked.

So, in my final year as a camper, when an off-camp excursion ended with a stop at Eder's, I had more than ice cream on my mind (even though their "small" fills a 24 oz cup). I slipped a counselor $20 to buy me one of the green shirts--money was considered contraband at camp. You cannot imagine the jealousy of the other campers, nor the disbelief and amazement of the other counselors.This being said, there was no question that my dad and I were obligated to stop at this food cart. I already knew from past experience that Meltaway (peanut butter cup) was their signature flavor, but there was one flavor I had never heard of before: Teaberry. Neither had my dad. So we asked, "What's teaberry?"
"Oh. It tastes like teaberries," the enthused high schooler responded. Another mystery solved.
We sampled the flavor and concluded that it tasted like root beer toothpaste.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My college years were wasted.

The first time I ever heard of the ice cream at Penn State it was my 21st birthday, an alcohol-free all-you-can-eat-dessert bash. My friends Boren and Dianne handed me a wrapped present, clearly a video tape. Suspecting age-related funny business, I asked: "Porn?" They looked at each other and laughed a little. "Maybe for you." This fuzzy answer was brought into focus when I unwrapped to gift to find a video detailing some of the best frozen dessert destinations in the U.S.A. I watched the video with much longing. One of the places mentioned was Penn State's Berkey Creamery.

Why I didn't immediately switch schools escapes me now.

The second time I heard of this ice cream, I was in my senior year of college. Three friends and I were planning out a performance (for which we created a fictional playwright and script) where sections of the "play" were acted out before things start to go wrong and implode, culminating in the performers storming off the stage with the "play" unfinished and the audience unaware that this was the planned ending. (I had very interesting college years.) One of the collaborators was my friend Dave Watkins, an incredible musician currently pioneering the genre of Appalachian Indie Rock. Dave suggested that our fictional playwright (a playground equipment manufacturer) should be from Central Pennsylvania, where Dave's family owned some property. That's when he told me told me his first-hand experience with Penn State's ice cream, which once again had me pondering a transfer to pursue a degree in Food Science.

So when I suggested my dad and I take a 100-mile detour to Penn State's Berkey Creamery on a recent volunteering trip to Pennsylvania, it was no ho-hum suggestion; it was a life goal that had been long set. Before I tell you about the ice cream--If I'm blogging about it, you can guess it was incredible. I keep my blog positive!--I must tell you some of the facts about this mecca of things dairy:

  • Average time from cow to cup is three days. It doesn't get much fresher than that!
  • They produce 1 million pounds of ice cream annually!
  • Their Ice Cream Short Course offered through Penn State's Department of Food Science has been around for over a century and is taken by big corporate ice cream manufacturers and owners of mom-and-pop operations. (I called and asked. It costs about $2,000, but you were wondering what to get me for the holidays.)

As for the product, there is only one flaw: when purchasing their über-creamy ice cream, they only allow one flavor per bowl. Sheepishly, my dad and I kept asking for more samples so we could make our choices count. I can honestly say, there has never been another time when tasting the samples resulted in complete and total indecision in my family. We settled on Keeny Beany (chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips and flecks of vanilla bean) and Alumni Swirl (vanilla ice cream with Swiss mocha chips and a blueberry swirl). But there were so many flavors that needed to be tried: Happy Happy Joy Joy (coconut ice cream with butter roasted almonds and chocolate chips), Peachy Paterno (peach ice cream with peach slices), Death by Chocolate... We did not have the foresight Dave had on his recent visit to bring dry ice to pack a couple half gallons for the ride home.

What's that? What do I know about ice cream since me I only post positive reviews? Well, jerk-asaurus, I'll have you know that Penn State's ice cream is the third scoop shop I've reviewed so far that is featured in Forbes Traveler list of America's Best Ice Cream. (Also featured are Toscanini's in Boston/Cambridge and Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory , not to mention two of the most recommended places by my friends, Graeter's
in Cincinnati and Ted Drewes in St. Louis.)

Note from 2012: I have now been to Berkey Creamery a few times. It continues to be worth the detours necessary to get there.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Massachusetts Institute of Toscanini's

Boston is great for many of the same reasons that make Chicago my favorite American city: lots of history, water, a city park along the waterfront, exemplary public transportation, great church, food that brings other cities to shame, obnoxiously loyal baseball fans, a strong Irish and Italian presence. But until Chicago proves me wrong, the Boston-area has got it beat in the all-important ice cream category.

When I was in Boston in June, I did a lot of walking: South Station to Bunker Hill to MIT to the Christian Science Center and through the Boston Common back to South Station. Being that it's passé for a complete unknown to impress MIT professors with his genius--That is so 1998!--I had other reasons for being across the Charles River in Cambridge.
Toscanini's is not your average ice cream shop. MIT students slaving away over equations (even though it was graduation weekend) while late-20-somethings with dreads and septum piercings dished up life-changing experiences to paying customers. The New York Times declared Toscanini's "The best ice cream in the world." While a statement like this is too bold for me to make on first tasting, I can say on gut impulse that one of their flavors has made the top 4, if not higher. Brown Butter had a truffle-like texture, with richness of mascarpone and, as for the flavor, I was glad I was sitting down.

Even though I've tasted what must be the best ice cream in the Boston-area, I will not forget to patronage my tried-and-true, J.P. Lick's. Make sure you try their Oreo Cake Batter and their Strawberry-Rhubarb when it's available. Also make sure to sample (with little to no intention of purchasing) their ever-rotating wacky flavors like Cucumber and Disco Inferno AKA Tabasco.

Note from 2015: Toscanini's remains the best ice cream I have ever had, so much so it deserved a refined post, reflecting on my years of visiting Toscanini's.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sandwich Ice Cream

In addition to doing the roasting over at Blanchard's Coffee, Tom Thorogood also makes their ice cream. The coffee ice cream they previously sold was purchased from someone outside, but Tom suggested that he start making the ice cream using the very same coffee he roasts! Talk about ingenuity! Then, when everyone loved the ice cream he made, Tom was propositioned by one of his fans. The fan wondered, could he pay Tom to make ice cream for him once a week? As a result, Tom now makes ice cream 3 or 4 times a week, experimenting with new flavor ideas and fine tuning his methods. So when I heard that he had a blog where he would sometimes post his ice cream recipes, I knew I was in for a treat.

The flavor that most sparked my interest on Tom's blog was Fluffernutter, since Fluffernutters--peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches--were first introduced to me by our mutual friend Meggin.
I had only eaten Fluffernutter ice cream once at Rita Marie's after swimming in Lake Pontoosuc in Pittsfield, MA.

I made it Thursday for a dinner party I hosted, delighted by little notes in the recipe. (Keep mixing; "your arm should be tired." After mixing the peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, "Eat some, because why the hell WOULDN'T you?") While at Rita Marie's the peanut buitter and marshmallow were blended into the mixture, Tom chose to instead have balled up peanut butter/marshmallow balls sprinkled throughout. The resulting chewiness created in Tom's version reminded me of a Butterfinger candy bar. Since I will be saving this recipe, I'll be sure to try with chocolate ice cream at a future date.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Duck + Doughnuts = Waddling Pun

Made-to-order doughnuts! Incredible, ain't it?! Now that I've got you hooked, read on.

On a recent family vacation down to Nags Head (or the Outer Banks, as it has been called since the OBX marketing campaign), my brother initiated me in the latest tradition. Since 2006, when the Virginians in my family make the annual trip south to the beaches of North Carolina, they must go to Duck Donuts. You'll never guess the incredible product they offer! ...I guess you could guess...since I mentioned it as the hook earlier. Oh, bother...

Hot, fresh, made-to-order doughnuts! Eight ways to have your doughnut (Bare, Powdered Sugar, Cinnamon Sugar, Glaze, Maple Glaze, Chocolate Glaze, Vanilla Glaze and Strawberry Glaze) and four toppings to choose from (Peanuts, Shredded Coconut, Chocolate Sprinkles or Rainbow Sprinkles, in addition to the option of ordering with no topping). Only one doughnut outfit and accessory allowed, which means, assuming toppings will only stick to the glaze options, there are 28 varieties of doughnuts one could. (My dad and I checked one another's math, which was no big task since I tutored this past fall.)

I'd never had a hot, fresh cake doughnut before. The first two are surprisingly easily inhaled, like hot, fresh rise doughnuts. But just try and eat a third without skipping a meal. I dare ya. My personal favorite was their subtle Strawberry Glaze with Shredded Coconut and, my old stand-by, Chocolate with Chopped Peanuts. Have fun choosing your own combination. And for anyone wondering, all of the glazes and toppings taste good when scraped off the box with your finger.

There are many other fine food establishments in Nags Head. My family's absolute favorite seafood of all time is the dolphin boat at John's Drive-In on the Beach Road near mile 4.5. Superb milkshakes that come in more flavors than you and the missus got fingers and toes. Made with real fruit!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New Flavors: Häagen-Dazs Class of 2009

Häagen-Dazs has a variety of new products this summer. Their Reserve Series has a new addition, Carmelized Hazelnut Gianduja, which was less sweet than I hoped for. (By definition, gianduja is more chocolate than hazelnut, but the chocolate was barely present, much less deserving of helping name the flavor.) Limited Edition Peanut Butter Brittle is another new (and less than accurately named) flavor. It is dominated by a peanut butter swirl and has surprisingly few brittle pieces.

But never fear, dedicated ice cream fans! Häagen-Dazs, my favorite among mass-produced ice cream brands, has come out with a new line of products that is both delicious and inspiring:
Häagen-Dazs Five, ice cream made with only five ingredients! As an ice cream chef, this seems quite a feat because there are no stabilizers. What preserves the ice cream's fresh texture? Of those I've tried, each has the texture that is unique to mass-produced ice cream. It isn't quite the homemade feel, but it's close. The ice cream I make rarely has substantial leftovers--if you can imagine--but what leftovers there are tend to crystallize, freeze densely or have a slightly lumpy quality the next day. (Don't ask what the texture is like after two days; you'll have to ask an inferior ice cream chef!) But waxing philosophical on the chemical properties of dessert was never the mission of this blog...

Thus far, there are seven varieties of this new product line. The more original flavors in this line are also the most interesting: Brown Sugar and Passion Fruit. (It ain't exactly rocket science making vanilla or chocolate using only five ingredients, plus Häagen-Dazs already had those flavors down.) Brown Sugar, while simpler, eclipses Häagen-Dazs' other brown sugar themed ice cream, Sticky Toffee Pudding, winner of 2006's flavor search competition flavor search competition. Due to the product's minimalist nature, this new flavor has a uniform texture (mealy brown sugar) where I normally prefer something more dynamic, but it is so easy to eat! It is light, but not airy! Seriously, shovel it into my mouth! I love it! What starts as a casual taste quickly turns into a new item on the grocery list. As for Passion Fruit, the fruit is not overpowered, nor diluted by the creaminess of the ice cream. This fruit ice cream packs a punch!

There is one more new flavor worthy of mention: Limited Edition Dark Chocolate. I haven't tried this flavor because no grocery store I've been in for well over a month seems to carry it. If you see it, let me know (a) how it was and (b) where you found it. Or just mail it to:

Marisa's Ice Cream
c/o Brad's mouth
1 Ever-changing St
Transient Town, USA

Note from 2012: I did eventually find the Dark Chocolate, which I didn't find noteworthy enough to post about. It wasn't nearly as dark as the Häagen-Dazs flavor Belgian Chocolate.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


There is life after beignets in New Orleans. So if you want to get off the beaten tourist path and taste the best homemade ice cream the city has to offer, strike up the brass band and parade on over to the Garden District's Creole Creamery.

Their buttery, baseball size scoops of ice cream come in many tasty, creative flavors. Can't decide? No fear. You can order the ingenious sampler dish, 4 to 6 smaller scoops for the consumer who would like to  taste more of their delicious options:

  • Red Velvet Cake - Buttery cream cheese ice cream with almost equal parts cake. My favorite!

  • Cayenne Lime Butter - A subtle mixture of these unlikely flavors that must at least be sampled, if not purchased.

  • Chocolate Pecan Pie - Fudgy, buttery (Did I mention all of their flavors are buttery?) chocolate ice cream and pecans, which always taste better when consumed in the south.

  • A Clockwork Orange - The flavor that inspired both a famous book and film. Chocolate and orange are frequently mixed, but this flavor takes it up a notch by adding the textural addition of chocolate orange pieces.

  • Saffron Pistachio: Another popular flavor, which my friend Alexis described as tasting like soap. I'm sorry to say I agreed, but happy to have tried such an original creation.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Button Blog

Candice, over at A Button Blog, has immortalized this blog in a clothing accessory.

Thanks, Candice! Great work, as always!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The End of an Era

The Hilton Village Parlor and Restaurant is no more. This was the go-to spot for ice cream growing up. Sure, it was clear over in Newport News and not my native Hampton. Sure, it wasn't homemade--they served Hershey's ice cream. Sure, they were always out of at least a handful of their advertised 50 flavors. But it was a wonderful place with a unique character that will be missed.

We'd go there after plays at Peninsula Community Theatre, both as cast and audience members. We'd go there after church sometimes, a group of us. We'd go there when, well, I just got a group together for the very purpose of getting ice cream.

My best friend James and I played an acoustic set there in summer of 2002. Besides all the toys and games littering the inside--chess boards, a pool table, Foosball and more--they sometimes had musicians inside. Since the owner recognized me from my frequent patronage, I asked if my band could do an acoustic set there (even though the music usually featured inside was more of "listener-friendly" than the punk stylings of Persona Non Grata). Of course we could! She let us set up outside amongst all the old toys and giant stuffed animals that decorated their part of the sidewalk. This type of activity along with the chaotic state of the Parlor's decor caused some friction between the business and some of the other, more reserved businesses in the otherwise high-end district. But that's what the Parlor was all about: fun.

That's not to say it was all giggles. Connie, the owner was generally friendly, but occasionally testy with customers. But in a down home way, not a "I don't know, I just work here" way. The owners were just a different crop of folks. (Her husband once ran for public office, though the signs advertising this indicated he was running as a write-in vote!) But, as with many small businesses, the owners were a constant presence and had pride in running their own business. I think it was only family that ever worked there, with maybe a few close friends thrown in, which means everyone was working there because there was some sort of investment. It wasn't just a summer job at DQ.

But now DQ is the only option, but there's no such thing as Blueberry Cheesecake soft-serve. Oh, and there's Lame Stone, which will happily overcharge you for low-quality, melty ice cream. Welcome to the death of small town America. We're not talking a one-horse town here, there are 1.8 million people in the metropolitan area. Is it too much to ask for more than a handful of local eateries on our side of the water? Do we really need another chain restaurant destroying the identity of our cities into one big suburban strip mall?

The loss of the Hilton Village Parlor and Restaurant is a sad one indeed. The business represents many things to me, not just a place to get one's ice cream fix. I don't think many of my readers are from Hampton Roads, but if you are, I invite you to share any memories of the Hilton Village Parlor & Restaurant in the comments.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Flavors: Ben & Jerry’s Class of 2009

It’s that time again: new flavors for the summer months! After last year, which didn’t have a dud in the bunch, I was excited for the next batch. In summary, it seems this years’ offerings are tasty, but somehow don’t seem new.

Pumpkin Cheesecake. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Ben & Jerry’s understands that cheesecake ice creams must be subtle or they will overwhelm the consumer, preventing future purchase. While this flavor isn’t new, it is new to the grocery store. Hopefully it will spread pumpkin-love into a year-round craze, like it already is in Trinidad.

Chocolate Macadamia. I haven’t met an ice cream flavor with macadamia nuts I didn’t like. Sadly, I’ve also never met one that lasted long. (R.I.P. Aloha Macadamia and Haagen-Dazs’ Macadamia Brittle.) Vanilla and chocolate ice creams aren’t mixed together often, like they were in Ben & Jerry’s forgotten flavor Bovinity Divinity; mixing the two classics almost tastes like a new flavor, like a lighter chocolate. Following Ben & Jerry's long history of ice cream ethics, this “Flavor with a Mission” uses Fair Trade cocoa and vanilla.

Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road. Your humble (yet all-knowing) narrator reported this flavor premiere a year ago. It was only available in Vermont then; Ben & Jerry’s is now sharing the love. This unlikely combination of ingredients (chocolate ice cream, peanut butter cookie dough, white chocolate chunks and toffee/brittle-esque bits) is tasty, but isn’t revolutionary if you’ve had Everything But The… and Half-Baked.

Mission to Marzipan. The drippy marzipan swirl overpowers a few bites, but most are heavier with soft chunks of almond cookie. (The almond cookie pretty much tastes like the graham cracker chunks in last years Imagine Whirled Peace.) Since the flavor is in sweet cream ice cream and does not contain actual almonds, it doesn’t have much almond flavor. I am happy to say, though, that the follow-up burps are very almond-y.

What else is new? Triple Caramel Chunk is back in the grocery store freezer after being gone for a few years. This flavor is like a super premium version of Denali’s Caramel Caribou, the often-licensed younger sibling of Moose Tracks. Caramel ice cream with a caramel swirl and chocolate-covered caramel cups to boot! Welcome back!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Step 2 to Becoming a Chocolate Connoisseur

After learning Step 1, all about how chocolate is made, I wanted to understand even more about fine chocolate and the wide variety of products available. I knew just the place to go.

Chocolopolis is a wonderful little store located at the top of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. They have a distinction among chocolate stores because of the products are organized by the region the cacao is sourced from. Having purchased a long list of chocolate items from the store, I can easily say that the products are of high quality. With so many exotic options from a variety of countries, the challenge is choosing. Lauren Adler, the owner of Chocolopolis, was so kind as to educate me about the different options. Here's what I learned:

There are seven sections in the store, three of which are devoted to specific countries. One of these sections focuses on products made with beans from Venezuela, which is often regarded as producing the finest cacao, being more subtle and balanced. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get beans there because political turmoil in the country has resulted in some fields being taken over for military bases. Cacao beans from Ecuador have varying boldness, but are bolder than those of Venezuela. There is an endangered bean there, arriba nacional, which is one of the most sought after, known for its floral and fruity flavors. Over in Madagascar, beans are characterized by the their acidic nature--due to the soil in which they they are grown--which produces a remarkably bold flavor. The result of combining the roasted acidic beans with sugar create what many describe as red fruit flavor, often cherry or raspberry, and sometimes having a hints of citrus and cinnamon. Naturally, Lauren reminds me, this all depends on the bean and chocolate maker.

Chocolopolis' also features a section dedicated to broader regions, which perhaps have less predictable in the beans they produce. In Southeast Asia, for example, some countries roast their beans in ovens, which produces a smoky flavor, which is sometimes subtle, sometimes earthy, and, with bad beans Lauren tells me, "It can taste like a bonfire! It's all a matter of bean quality, produced during fermentation and drying." (For more info on these steps of chocolate making, read about how chocolate is made.) The Ivory Coast produces 40% of the world's cacao! This is part of the bigger statistic that Africa, which of course includes Madagascar mentioned above, produces 68% of the world's cacao, over-two-thirds! "But often these are not the highest quality beans," Lauren points out. "Certain areas like this benefit from Fair Trade regulations." (Some companies like Theo Chocolate use only Fair-Trade certified beans.)

Of course, there are also chocolate products with cacao sourced from South and Central America, where all cacao plants originated before they were moved abroad during the slave trade. (Chocolate's central role in Mayan society  is fairly well-known. Used as currency (!) cacao beans were also crushed up and used by their ruler for drinking chocolate.) Theobroma cacao is the species of origin. Having the longest history with the plant, more than any other region in the world, naturally beans from South America vary widely. One example which may not come as a surprise is that Colombian cacao can often have a coffee flavor.

Being someone who values a deeper knowledge of the sweeter things in life, I needed to ask Lauren how I could become more knowledgeable about all things chocolate. "Tasting, of course, is the best way. You have to build up your palate." (Just the answer I wanted to hear!) She also recommended a few well-respected books:

Wanna win an Amazon gift card so you can start reading now? My friend's read-tastic blog, Melissa's Bookshelf, is hosting a contest anyone can enter. Just make sure you mention you heard about it here at Marisa's Ice Cream!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pistachio in My Moustachio

In Italy, I ate many pistachio desserts: an incredible pistachio cannoli in Milan, pistachio gelato in multiple cities and a tourist trap cookie in Venice. But the best (somehow surpassing the cannoli) was Cioccolato al Latte Bianco con Pistacchio, a white chocolate bar by the Tuscan chocolate maker Amedei.

I first heard about Amedei from Lauren, the owner of Seattle’s Chocolopolis, who told me that many chocolate aficionados consider Amedei to be the finest chocolate maker in the world. This reputation equates to expensive chocolate. (How expensive? Let’s just say two bars cost more than my train ticket from Florence to Cinque Terre.) While Amedei is a small company in Tuscany, their products can be found in fine chocolate stores in other parts of the world. Yes, the price will cause you to do the math and determine the cost of each individual square. But don’t be deterred! Buy it, then have a seat, eliminate distractions, unwrap the chocolate, inhale its scent, take a bite, let it sit on your tongue and experience the glory of fine chocolate. You will quickly learn that one of these chocolate bars can be (and should) amount to several servings due to its high impact flavor. Amedei is a must try for dark chocolate lovers.

Lucky for me, I had experienced the euphoria that is Amedei once before my trip to Italy. Because of this, I allowed myself to purchase one of their products that wasn’t their famed solid chocolate. Having never seen pistachio offered in any candy before, it was a quick and easy decision. So excited about the prospects of pistachios in chocolate, I completely overlooked the word “bianco” (“white”) on the package. In fact, you may have already dismissed this bar upon hearing the words “white chocolate,” a candy racism I, too, once subscribed to. (Some are not even convinced because white chocolate is only chocolate by name. By definition, it is cocoa butter extracted from the cocoa bean.) But listen, brothers and sisters! From first bite, I knew it was one of the best pieces of candy I had ever been witness to. The white chocolate used here provides the perfect creaminess to compliment the subtle pistachio flavor. The amount of sugar added to the white chocolate is just enough to equal the saltiness of the featured nut. And crafted with pistachio in mind, white chocolate is never the dominant flavor.

It’s not often a person can call a dessert life-changing or say that they have learned a valuable lesson by eating it. But Amedei’s Cioccolato al Latte Bianco con Pistacchio has done just that: This bar has helped me see the error in rejecting a chocolate based on its color. And to any naysayers pooh poohing my words, maybe it can do the same for you.

Next time: An expert explains chocolate!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Al supermercado italiano!

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a gelateria on every corner in Italy. And fine chocolates, unfortunately, do not rain from the sky. If you’ve had enough Nutella, or if you’re out late and browsing at il supermercado, or if you’re simply waiting for a train you’ll find Italy still has some exciting options in the standard candy offerings. From Italian chocolate makers Perugina to German import Ritter Sport, chocolate in Europe is different. For example, hazelnuts (“nocciole”) are very common, wafers are almost ever-present and dark chocolate (usually called “fondente,” but sometimes “neri”) is more bitter due to its higher cacao content. Another good reason to try the candy is that several are offered as gelato flavors: Nestle Baci, Perugina Nero, Kinder Bueno, Nestle Lion and Mars Bounty. Enjoy!

Must Try

  • Perugina Baci (or Bacetti) – Dark chocolate exterior with a hazelnut pieces in the center. And it translates to “Kiss!” (Italian)
  • Ferrero Duplo Cuore Fondente – Ferraro has some products commonly seen in the U.S. Their products all have the same formula: a truffle shape and a layer of wafer between the chocolate shell and core. This one is dark chocolate through and through. Molto bene! (Italian)
  • Ritter Sport Fondente con Nocciole – The hazelnuts were dry, whole and crunchy like almonds usually are in American chocolate. The chocolate was dark, melty and glorious. (German)
  • Kinder Bueno – Chocolate-covered wafer bubbles filled with hazelnut cream. The cream has a consistency like a less thick peanut butter. Eat it slow. (Italian)
  • Perugina Nero – The chocolate is similar to Dove dark chocolate, soft and dark, only darker and softer. It’s like eating a sheet of brownies in one small square.
  • Mars Delight – A familiar brand with an unfamiliar product. A little wafer, a lot of sweetened peanut butter, and a milk chocolate exterior. This is the only chocolate I saw with peanuts because it is a big no-no to mix salty and sweet in Italy.
  • Majari Gianduja – This is a classic. I hope you have had it before your trip to Italy. Chocolate with a hazelnut flavor. (Italian)
The Rest
  • Ferrero Tronky – Like other Ferraro products, except no chocolate covers the wafer shell that surrounds the tasty filling.
  • Ferraro Fiesta Orange – A chocolate covered cake that tastes like zabaione. No clue why they chose the misleading word “orange,” but the Italians must love seeing the English language used on product packaging.
  • Kinder Cereali – If you like Honey Smack cereal enough that you wish it was covered in milk chocolate, this is the bar for you. You’ll even get that cereal aftertaste!
  • Loaker Napolitano – All of Loacker’s products are wafer-centric. I had a chocolate-covered variety, which was like a milkier, creamier Kit Kat with hazelnut cream. (Italian)
  • Lindt Fondente Peperoncino – This Lindt product is not one you see in the U.S. Italians won’t mix salty and sweet, but putting paprika and peperoncino in chocolate they’ll do. It added spice, but did not enhance the flavor. (Swiss)
  • Majari Fiat – Yes, Fiat. They make cars. They make chocolate…or at least allow their brand name to be used. Smooth layers of soft chocolate and hazelnut cream.
  • Nestlé Galak – Why someone would spend good money on plain white chocolate baffles me…but this is coming from the guy who handed over 6 Euro for a fancy chocolate bar.
  • Nestlé Lion – Wafers layered with marshmallow, covered in caramel, and then milk chocolate with rice puffs.
  • Novi con Nocciole – Lower quality than Ritter Sport. The hazelnuts are not whole and have less of an effect on the taste and texture. (Italian)
  • Ringo Gusto Cioccolato – Small sandwich cookies that look like they’ll taste like Oreos, but taste more like Keebler E.L Fudge.
  • Mars Bounty and Malteasers – See my coverage of Canadian chocolate.
You may have noticed the brand name Mars on one of the Must Try candies. Yes, some brands that are regulars in America can be found in Italy. A typical Mars Bar tastes exactly the same—that waxy, sour American-manufactured-chocolate taste—but the Kit Kat I tasted had a milkier, creamier flavor.

Next time: Fancy Italian chocolate!

Monday, April 6, 2009

…don’t embarrass yourself.

Here’s a play-by-play of helpful things to know when ordering gelato in Italy:
  • Some gelaterias require you to pay first. Observe the other customers: if they hand the man behind the counter a receipt, you need to find the cash register and pay first.
  • It’s helpful to know that “gusti,” which is often on gelato menus, translates to “tastes.” Ordering “tre gusti” results in you having three scoops, and a choice of three flavors.
  • Cono means cone. Copetta means cup.
  • Often the first scoop you order is the largest, with each scoop that follows being a small top off. Order the flavor you want to most first.
  • Gelato making is an art; treat flavor combinations as one, too. You should be able to taste the flavors individually, but with a logical progression, accounting for melting. For example, chocolate will overpower every flavor, so either put it on top and devour it before it melts over the others or put it on the bottom.
  • In case there aren’t pictures here’s some vocab: fragole = strawberry, lampone = raspberry, frutti di bosco = mixed berry, mandorla = almond, nocciole = hazelnut.
  • Some common flavors you’ll see that you might not recognize are zuppa inglese (based on a custard dessert flavored with a Florentine liqueur, it tastes similar to butterscotch), zabaione (based on a custard dessert flavored with Marsala wine) and stracciatella (chocolate chip). Some other flavors you’ll see, like Bacio, are named after popular candies that can be found in Italian grocery stores, newsstands and vending machines.
  • When your cup or cone is full—Mine runneth over—you are likely to be asked, “Panna?” If so, you are being asked if you want whipped cream on top.
Next time: Italian chocolate!

Friday, April 3, 2009

When in Rome...

In Italy, I tried to eat gelato on average every day. (For nearly every day I missed, I had another day where I had a double helping!) That being said, here were my favorites from four weeks in nine cities:

  • Along with blood oranges and mozzarella di bufala, what I will miss most about Italy is their chocolate gelato. In America, chocolate ice cream tastes like chocolate ice cream, not like chocolate. It is tasty, but very different from what the Italians do, nay, accomplish: An explosion of flavor, like a concentrated form of a fine artisan’s chocolate. And the sensation grows with each bite! It burrows itself in your very being!!! You feel like you are walking on chocolate, people!!!!! My favorite place for chocolate gelato was Rome's Il Gelato di Claudio Torcé(pictured), located at the south end of Metro line B. This gelateria has 100 flavors to choose from and at least 20 are different varities of chocolate gelato. I went with the darkest ones they had, which were practically black: Pura Madagascar, Pura Araguani and Pura Trinitario. On a non-chocolate note, I would also recommend Pera e Cannella (Pear and Cinnamon).
  • My favorite combination of flavors was amarena (cherries in sweet cream) with mirtillo (blueberry) sorbet on top. I was witness to this holy union thanks to what might have been the least flashy place in Venice, a small place called Edy Bar near Campo San Zulian. This was the only instance in my trip when I finished my cup and immediately re-ordered the same thing.
  • Arancia rossa (“Red orange”) or, as we call it in the states, blood orange, a name that may not be appetizing but is at least grammatically satisfying. For the ever-presence of this fruit in Italy, surprisingly few gelaterias offered the flavor. If you see it, like I did at Rome’s Giolitti, buy it. For those not in Italy, Ciao Bella makes pints of blood orange sorbet that will quickly remove your socks with the power of its flavor. 
Honorable mention: Primavera in Sorrento.
Next time: Tips for ordering gelato!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ice Cream Talk with Oscar-winners

I was house managing a play when she walked in. She was not the only celebrity I'd met at Williamstown Theatre Festival, summer stock home of so many of Broadway's favorites and hopefuls. As she walked towards the theatre's entrance, I was faced with a moral dilemma I hoped I'd never face. But nonetheless I was forced to action—it cut me to say it, but I must do my job, and I must do it well:

"You know you can't bring that into the theatre, right?" speaking of the dish of ice cream in her hands. No food or drink was allowed in the theatre.

Remembering herself, she looked down at her Styrofoam bowl, complete with plastic spoon and overturned sugar cone—and gleefully sputtered, "I got here earlier, but I needed some ice cream so I left."

The following is what that made this moment in time such a pinnacle of my existence. Rather than asking where there might be a receptacle to dispose of her unfinished delight, she promptly inquired if there might be a freezer to store her sweet temptation. Dutifully, I escorted her.

There was much to discuss with my new compatriot in lactose. She had gone to the local place, Lickety Split, and was still reeling from how good it was. Enthusiastically, I told her she had to try their signature flavor, Purple Cow. "Ooh, what's that?" "Raspberry ice cream with chocolate and white chocolate pieces and a raspberry swirl."

For some reason, I did not ask her what flavor she had tried. I was feeling a bit shy, nervous to ask such a personal question, but felt confident enough to make a few sidelong glances. My leering soon left me deflated: she seemed to have a frou-frou coffee flavor.

Arriving at our rendezvous destination, I opened the freezer door for her with all the chivalry I could muster. Already inside the freezer sat a half gallon I had placed for storage earlier. "I am an ice cream fiend," I told her, feeling a little exposed. I felt safe, though, not at all ashamed or scared.

As her treat entered my secret place, I sneaked another peek at her dish's contents. At second glance it appeared to be deep, pure, and uniform as only chocolate can be. This put all my fears to rest. We walked the 15 second trek back to the theatre with smiles on our faces.

She entered the theatre and my friend who works in the box office called me over to ask where "Marisa Tomei and I" had walked off to together all "buddy-buddy." I told him I had taken her to a freezer to store her ice cream, and in saying this I realized I was probably the only person in the world who thought this to be more intimate than anything else we could have accomplished in such a short span of time. Mmm, ice cream talk. Foreplay for the loser.

• • •

As the play came to a close I took my post near the door as people exited. She came to me and asked me where the stage door was to meet the actors exit from. I directed her in the proper direction and told her with a knowing smile, "I can show you to your ice cream when you're ready." I looked forward to another rendezvous, once more sharing our passion, and again showing her the opulence of my frozen safehold. 

...But sadly, this is where our story ends. It seems our heroin, in all of her cravings, did not feel the need to come and claim her beloved.

Oh, how we all dream in this life! Dreams of theatres where ice cream can gain admittance, dreams of conversations with movie stars, dreams of Marisa Tomei inviting us over for sex and pie. How rare it is that we appreciate the dreams that we live daily more than the dreams we wish would come true. How rare it is to be so virtuous! To hold such virtue would be, well, the kingdom of heaven. Yes, and ice cream is the kingdom come to earth. Ice cream, one could conclude, IS life!

Indeed. And I hold the spoon.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Today's-as-good-as-any-to-treat-me-to-dessert Day!

Chocolate-covered strawberries. They might be my absolute favorite food. And I'm not at all opinionated about them, whether they are fancy, messy, fresh, chilled, dark, milk, big, or small, I will enjoy them. I'm not sure I could elaborate. But please take note, friends, since there are many occasions throughout the year to surprise me.

That being said, we'll move on to ice cream, a much more diverse ground for discussion:

Forrest Gump once said, "Stupid is as stupid does," and you'd would be doing quite a bit of stupid if you missed Turkey Hill's Box of Chocolates, a Limited Edition flavor whose half gallon package is covered in red and pink hearts for--I'm guessing--Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. Each spoonful of the chocolate-based flavor has chocolate flakes and, if that weren't enough, most bites also contain one of the many items you might find in a box of chocolates: chocolate raspberry cups, chocolate almonds and white chocolate chunks, each from Gertrude Hawk Chocolates. (If you go to their website, you'll find that they ship chocolate-covered strawberries. I thought you might find that interesting.)

Turkey Hill is a regional ice cream company specializing making and distributing premium ice cream to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic United States. Their tasty product is among the higher-end options available in half gallon varieties. You may have noticed that they, like one Canadian chocolate company, have chosen a bizarre set of words for marketing a dessert product. No need to fear: their ice cream is 100% turkey-free.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Story of How the Brubakers Came to America

It is one of my family's classic stories. When the Brubakers first came over to America, they were on the same vessel as the Hershey family. Since a charismatic nature runs in the family, it's no surprise that the Hersheys were quite taken by my forefathers. In fact, the friendship blossomed so much that the Hershey family asked the Brubakers if we would be interested in joining them in the chocolate business they intended to start in the new world.

"No," we said. "We intend to open our own grocery store."

Both families would later settle in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. There is still a large population of Brubakers there and, well, you know about the Hersheys. The Brubakers actually would go on to experience prosperity as grocers, but, suffice to say, there isn't an amusement park erected in our image.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don't be swindled by low prices!

It would make sense for chocolate to contain cocoa butter, right? Well, some companies have been exploring other options.

In America, there has been a pattern of using less and less cocoa butter because, rather than using it in the chocolate, many chocolate companies are selling their cocoa butter to cosmetics companies. Instead cheaper, lower quality fats (such as sunflower oil, palm oil, and coconut oil, among others) are added to the “chocolate” we tend to see in the supermarket. But wait…can you call a product “chocolate” if it doesn’t contain cocoa butter, or at least some percentage of the fats come from cocoa butter? Some companies are trying to see to it that the definition of chocolate is changed!

How is this even possible? During the process of making chocolate, they press the cocoa beans to extract the cocoa butter, leaving behind cocoa powder or cocoa mass. (For those that are curious after my detailed report on how chocolate is made, this scandalous extraction is done by the companies in question after the beans are roasted but before they are put through the stone mill.)

American chocolate is known for its waxy, sour taste. Now you know why. By certain definitions it isn’t chocolate. So when you see an expensive chocolate bar, it probably is expensive for a reason: namely, that it contains more chocolate. Makes sense why it tastes better, huh? When you see a percentage written on a chocolate bar it accounts for the percentage of actual cocoa solids, cacao or cocoa mass.

In short: If it’s chocolate you want, don’t accept anything that doesn’t have some form of cocoa, cacao or chocolate as the first ingredient. Stay safe. Stay informed.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Obama ice cream? Yes, Pecan!

We interrupt chocolate month to announce some breaking news:

Thanks to Ben & Jerry's, eating ice cream is now patriotic, my friends.

Step 1 to Becoming a Chocolate Connoisseur

Theo Chocolate bars (and their 3400 Phinney bars) are available nationwide at all Whole Foods locations. They are the only chocolate company in the U.S. whose ingredients are certified Fair Trade; they also are the only chocolate company in the U.S. whose ingredients are certified organic. And did I mention that they are one of only 12 US chocolate companies that, bean-to-bar, does the entire chocolate-making process themselves. Where better place to learn how chocolate is made? They give daily tours, 7 days a week in their factory, located in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood.

Cacao (or the Americanized term cocoa) is the seed of a fruit—not technically a bean, though it is referred to as one—that grows from the trunk and lowest branches of the tree known as Theobroma Cacao. This tree can be seen in countries within 20º of the Equator. To get to the seeds, the fruit innards—seeds and all—are pulled out to ferment for 7 days. (This is the stage that most affects the flavor of the bean.) The seeds are then dried on slats. The dried seeds are then bagged up and sent to a plant. At the plant, the beans are cleaned, roasted, and split with a “bean guillotine,” removing the shell and leaving only the brittle innards (pictured), or what is called the “nib.” (It takes about 70-80 beans to make one 3 oz. dark chocolate bar.) Then the magic happens.

The nibs are roasted, developing their flavor, before they are crushed into a paste with a consistency not unlike freshly ground peanut butter. It is then reduced into a more liquefied form, technically called “chocolate liquor.” Next the sugar is added, as well as the milk for milk chocolate. Next, more complicated things: the sugar particle size is reduced, the acid is reduced, until finally the cocoa solids that have been created are reunited with the cocoa butter (which was previously extracted from the bean). Next all that needs to happen is molding the chocolate, getting the temperature down and packaging it…or if you happen to own a chocolate factory for strictly personal use, forgo the packaging and eat right off the assembly line.

Another option is to add cream to the chocolate. The chocolate is completely processed and formed into a block. Next, remelt the block and mix in hot cream (possibly already fused with other flavors, such as mint. Then, use a marble countertop to temper the ganache—the name for chocolate with cream in it—so the cocoa butter doesn’t separate. Then you can use it for making truffles or other confections.

As I've said before, Theo’s products are incredible. Visit the factory and sample nearly all of it in their factory store, or take the tour and try a little more!