Friday, November 16, 2012

Eating an Endangered Species

Before the scene of ravenous carnage.
The fried Twinkie. It is one of the seven wonders of carnival foods. It is the fulfillment of the great southern prophesy that anything would be good if it were deep fried. And now it is an endangered species.

It was announced today that Hostess is going out of business. I set my sights for Hamburger Mary's, a joint in my neighborhood whose dessert menu features fried Twinkies with whipped cream and raspberry sauce. I devoured the delicacy so fast that my waitress asked if I'd like to lick the plate. The exterior, crisp and textured like breadcrumbs, but sweet with chemically engineered ingredients.

After I'd eaten, I was still hungry for more. I wondered if there was anywhere I could buy a fried dodo drumstick to gnaw on.

After the slaying, I feared PETA would throw
whipped cream on my jacket in protest.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

Special thanks to the Columbus, Ohio Modeling Agency.
After my first stop at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, OH, I knew I had tasted something special. Sure, I already knew of a couple tolls of tastiness on the drive from VA to Chicago. In fact, I already had a go-to place in Columbus! But when my roommate Boren showed me an article in Time highlighting Jeni’s Mango Lassi frozen yogurt—a flavor I had sadly neglected to try—I knew I had a reason to return.

Even without this added inspiration, going to Jeni’s again was inevitable. I’d been craving their Lime Cardamom frozen yogurt from the moment I finished my push-pop this summer. Each time I told people about the flavor, I’d salivate a little, wanting to taste it again—mmm, that aromatic spice layered with the tang of citrus. It was good enough that I went back for seconds on that first trip. The scoopers seemed honored by my choice to return, even taken aback, or perhaps they were just extra kind and smiley because they worried I might be chemically imbalanced. The standout flavor this round was Sweet Corn & Black Raspberries ice cream, which tasted like cornbread with jelly. Ever since trying it, I’d eye the jam with a new air respect.

The adorned menu from the second trip.
When my dad and I found ourselves on yet another trip between Virginia and Chicago, he was enthusiastic about helping me pay another visit to Jeni's, I'm sure for entirely unselfish reasons. When we arrived, it was immediately clear it would take a while for us to decide. I ordered a Mango Lassi push pop for us to snack on while we came up with our game plan. Four words: worth all the hype. After that, the lovely staff stuffed us silly by insisting on extensive sampling (a surefire way to get a nice tip from me). Eventually, we settled on Brambleberry Crisp, Lemon & Blueberry frozen yogurt and Queen City Cayenne.

Brambleberry Crisp turned the cobbler concept on its head; instead of melty ice cream on cobbler, it was runny fruit mixed with a full-flavored vanilla ice cream with cobbler pieces. While I didn’t taste any blueberry in the Lemon & Blueberry froyo, the lemon was acidic perfection rarely found in a dairy-based dessert. And the Queen City Cayenne coated my mouth with chocolate before burning my tongue and throat just the right amount. These were our educated choices after being forced to sample nearly every flavor they had available--resistance was futile, like a king resisting grovelers. After two visits, my top overall picks are Lime-Cardamom, Mango Lassi and Brambleberry Crisp.

With a wide palette of flavors and changing seasonal offerings, even two stops at Jeni’s isn’t enough to satisfy. “More!” my stomach screams. “Bring me more!” Fear not, stomach. Jeni’s wholesale is carried by many places in the Chicago area!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Call me Johnny Pumpkinseed.

The annual Pumpkin Challenge is more than just competitive eating. It is also creative cooking and a scavenger hunt. This season, I have spent more time in the kitchen than the rest of the year put together. I have justified absurd detours to track down treats both real and unreal. It is a path wrought with disappointment, the greatest of which was a place that offered pumpkin-chai chocolate truffles last year (Fantastic!) but did not this year (Sucktastic!). But is also a path of celebration and victory! Yes, victory! I doubted I would ever break 2010’s record of consuming 40 distinctly different pumpkin items in the 47 day span of September 15 and October 31. But, despite a 12 day trip to less pumpkin-centric parts of Europe, my obsessive traits helped make the implausible possible. My final number is enough to bring Baskin-Robbins to shame: 52! 

My trip to 2012's Highwood Pumpkin Fest where they carved
over 30,000 pumpkins. They may be more obsessed than me.

Pumpkin items consumed:
pumpkin cake doughnut,  pumpkin bagel, pumpkin cream cheese spread, Snap-O-Lantern ice cream by Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, chocolate whoopie pie with pumpkin filling, pumpkin seed granola from Milk & Honey, candied pepitas on a chocolate cinnamon-cayenne doughnut from Dixie Donuts, pumpkin crumble bar, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin seed pesto, pumpkin butter, pumpkin-cherry ice cream from Cherry Republic, pumpkin seed brötchen (roll), pumpkin seed bretzl twist, pumpkin macaroon, pumpkin pancake, pumpkin syrup, pumpkin-swirl brownies, pumpkin macaroni-and-cheese, pumpkin Greek yogurt, pumpkin & flax seed granola bar, pumpkin hummus, pumpkin chocolate mousse cake, pumpkin pasta w/ sausage and mushroom, rabbit sausage with pumpkin raita, pumpkin-parmesan biscuits, green chile-pumpkin seed mole, pumpkin spice waffles, gingerbread and pumpkin baby bundt cake, pumpkin chocolate chip cookie, pumpkin bread pudding, pumpkin gelato from Black Dog Gelato, pumpkin black bean chili, pumpkin harvest muffin, Trick or Treat Milkshake (pumpkin ice cream, M&M's, peanut butter cups & marshmallow), pumpkin pie ice cream, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin spice bark, Smashing Pumpkin Pie pizza from Dimo’s Pizza, pumpkin French toast, pumpkin shepherd's pie, pumpkin butterscotch white chocolate cookie, pumpkin chipotle salsa by Frontera (Rick Bayliss), pumpkin cupcake from Molly’s Cupcakes, chocolate pumpkin seed bark at Julius Meinl, pumpkin spice cake with craisins and caramel cream cheese frosting at Magnolia Bakery Chicago , pumpkin cream puff from Beard Papa's, harvest pumpkin soup, pumpkin seed brittle in a pink lady apple salad, seared scallops with pumpkin risotto and vanilla brown butter, pumpkin flan with orange caramel from Epic, pumpkin chocolate chip bread

Bolded items signify the best of the bunch

The Pumpkin Challenge was started seven years ago, back when finding anything pumpkin before October 1 was nearly impossible. That is no longer the case, which means the Pumpkin Challenge has achieved its short-term goal. Next year, we may need to bump it back, the long-term goal being year-round pumpkin consumption.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Five-Year Anniversary Blog (Post #200)

Welcome to the clip show.

Back in September, this blog hit a landmark. For five years now, I have documented my favorite desserts and sweets discovered in my travels and on the grocery store shelves. In celebration, I have revisited each blog post, cleaned up typos, added some photos (and will add even more!) and added follow-up notes of reflection.

My hope is that you will check this blog when you travel to see what I recommend in your destination city. And if I haven't written about that particular place, I hope you sample the best and report back, maybe even write a guest blog. Below are some of my favorites, but you can check out more by clicking the newly created “Top 20 to Visit” tag.  Please return soon because some of my “Top 20 to Visit” will be featured in blogs that will appear the next few weeks.

Favorite Ice Cream 
Brown Butter
Toscanini’s (Cambridge, MA)

Favorite Doughnut 
French Toast
Mighty-O (Seattle, WA)

Favorite Chocolate 
Toscano Blond, 63% Dark Chocolate with Peach and Apricot
Amadei (Tuscany, Italy; available in fine chocolate stores)

Favorite Fancy Dessert 
Mile-High Blackberry Ice Cream Pie
Skyland and Big Meadows Resort (Skyline Drive, VA)

Honorable Mention
Red Velvet Cake Ice Cream
Creole Creamery* (New Orleans, LA)

But this blog hasn’t simply been about food. Part of the goal has been making you laugh along the way. Here is a short list of my favorite posts that were purely humorous in content, followed by some of my favorite lines.

Favorite Humorous Blog Posts
Favorite Lines

* The title of this post, "Fleur-de-lis-cious," is easily my favorite from the past five years.