Monday, December 24, 2012

July at Christmas – Paletas in the Off-Season

It is a hazy grey lazy day meant for staying indoors. Boren and I sit on couches, each with laptops in their rightful place. The Christmas tree his girlfriend bought for our apartment stands center in the bay windows, elegantly lit with white lights. Until Jamie has a free moment to adorn the tree with her much-prized vintage ornaments, it holds only my two contributions: (1) a stocking-capped penguin whose belly is a relative’s grade school portrait and (2) an ice cream cone. Quietly contributing to the scene’s iconic glow, Boren and I click around, alternating between work and distractions. At this particular moment, we both eat Mexican popsicles.

Record scratch. Perhaps I should explain.

Back in September, I hoarded a dozen or so paletas in hopes of clutching tightly to whatever I could of the all-too-short Chicago summer. Most paletas are just popsicles—water, fruit and syrup. Nothing special, really. But the crema paletas are a different breed entirely: not quite ice cream and not quite popsicle, creamy while retaining that icy popsicle texture. I almost always buy one of these frozen delights after a swim at Foster Beach. I persuade the water out of my ears, follow the sound of the pushcart’s bells, hand the mustachioed man my buck-twenty-five, and flip flop my way back home, goggles and all.

The bad news, Ponyboy, is that Robert Frost was right: nothing gold can stay, not even the summer sun. Paleta season is short and the off-season unforgiving. Twitter-savvy food trucks may be more urban chic and easy to track down, but some delicacy deliverers (like elotes carts or the tamale guy) can only be found with luck and some know-how. So when the temperature started dropping, I knew I needed to stock up so I headed over to the place paletas carts hibernate during the winter, Paleteria La Reina in Albany Park. Since then, the other ice cream in my freezer has enjoyed the company of bilingual dessert products.

Since I bought the paletas in bulk, I gave all the other crema flavors a try. With the exception of Coconut Crema (the ultimate) and Rice (the cinnamon-y horchata-esque silver medal winner), the rest of the flavors taste more-or-less like a milkshake that solidified after being put in the freezer. Nothing bad about that, but one should be aware of how they are distinct from ice cream.

I am not alone in saying that the first Coconut Crema paleta marks the true beginning of summer in Chicago. And sharing my dwindling supply in the off-season isn’t something I do lightly. But the way I figure it, Boren and I eating paletas in December seems the best bet for keeping the weather warm, at least until that damn groundhog seals our fate again.

Paleteria La Reina
3012 W Lawrence
Chicago, IL  60625

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