Friday, May 13, 2011

What Charlie Sheen & I Don’t Have in Common


I submitted an application for consideration to serve on Ben & Jerry’s Millennial Advisory Panel. The first of its kind, those chosen for the panel will be flown out to Vermont for a week, write and respond to Ben & Jerry’s queries about products and product ideas, have someone from Ben & Jerry’s shadow them for a day and be given 52 free pint coupons to use throughout the year. I felt that within a two month time span—submissions were accepted between February 4 and April 8—there couldn’t possibly be twenty American 20-somethings more qualified than me. Apparently, I was wrong. But no hard feelings, Ben. I'm sure we’ll meet someday, Jerry.

The application included five written answers and a video. Here are excerpts from my responses:

Video: Showcasing your creativity, share one strength of the Ben & Jerry’s brand and three things they could improve.My video is awkward, strange and humorous. You should watch it, though, because of the end when I sing a song I wrote that strings together 24 Ben & Jerry’s flavor names while paying homage to both “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Hallelujah chorus.

#1: Summarize your life in 140 characters or less.
Superpowers include: clowning in burlesque shows, playing acoustic punk rock and teaching creative writing workshops for kids about zombies.

#2: Share your coolest discovery from the past 6 months.For this answer, I edited down the tale of learning the secret ingredient to authentic Belgian waffles.

#3: Share your life passion.
Growing up, I was given many opportunities; I feel I could pay this forward for the rest of my life. For this answer, I wrote about my volunteer efforts at 826 CHI and Barrel of Monkeys.

#4: Another brand you admire.
What impresses me more than anything about California Pizza Kitchen is that people of different economic classes are always eating there: three-piece suits have business lunches while jeans-and-polo parents wrangle their toddlers. What makes this possible is their simple model: American fusion cuisine meets pizza joint.

#5: What excites you about this opportunity?
All I really needed to know I learned from ice cream.

Growing up, eating ice cream was mostly reserved for celebrations. Then my dad started buying half-gallons of ice cream he found on sale. It was exciting, eating this frozen delicacy “just because.” Today, when I offer high-end ice cream to friends, neighbors and people I’ve just met—I’m not kidding—I can tell that between birthday parties ice cream gets forgotten. It seems strange that, as much as everyone enjoys ice cream, so many eat it only on rare occasions. I am known for my ice cream evangelism. When I call friends to meet up, they suggest going for ice cream. I can almost hear them smiling because, in their Pavlovian minds, when I am around ice cream is consumed.

And what a wonderful gift to share! Ice cream brings out the best in people. When a group of people eat ice cream together the conversation stays pretty positive. Try to imagine someone eating ice cream angrily. Absurd, isn’t it?

In my mind, ice cream gives people a reason to celebrate during a regular day. I feel serving on the Millennial Advisory Panel will make this celebration even more widespread.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Last Dance with Sfogliatelle

Growing up, I thought of Italian pastry as being confined to cannoli and the somewhat flavorless biscuit-like cookies neighbors made for Christmas parties. This is probably what most people in small-town and suburban America think, while urban dwellers have access to a much wider selection at neighborhood shops or in their city’s Little Italy. Joyously, my taste buds have learned new languages and not just because of the weeks I spent in Italy. My neighborhood, Andersonville, is home to Pasticceria Natalina. Or at least it will be until May 22.

In the time of an economic downturn, people turn from extravagant luxuries (recreational space travel) to affordable ones (edible commodities). Unfortunately, that trend did not carry to my neighborhood pasticceria (“bakery” in italiano), whose prices for authentic hand-made delights should have been seen not as steep, but cheap in comparison to an international plane ticket. Here is a list of favorite items I will miss:

• Pasticceri di Cioccolato – Imagine the richness of flourless-chocolate cake only lighter, more texturally diverse and packed into a giant sandwich cookie. Hands down, the best chocolate pastry I’ve ever had.
• Crostatina Piemontese – A tart filled with rich dark chocolate and topped with hazelnuts. This place knew how to do chocolate.
• Sfogliatelle – My favorite pastry during my trip to Italy. Flaky pastry filled with sweet ricotta. Deceptively simple, but unmatched.
• Cannoli – You may believe you can already get the real thing at your favorite Italian restaurant; this one is a good litmus test.
• Baci di Dama –My aunt dubbed these “little chocolate hamburgers.” More dark chocolate between nut and spice cookies.

Leading up to their closing, Pasticceria Natalina will be doing final batches of a select group of their pastries by order only. After that, you’ll need to fly to Sicily.