Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bobtail Year: Lemongrass Mint Ginger

The subtle poetry and enlightenment one might find in the produce section.
June begins my Bobtail Year, two pints of Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream a month for donating to Oracle Theatre.

When I heard the flavor name "Lemongrass Mint Ginger" teased out on Facebook, I could not wait. Such a deliberately bold blend of flavors screams of genius at work. Lemongrass is known for adding a subtle dose of citrus flavor to foods. When paired with mint, one can assume that the mint was used sparingly enough as to not overpower. When paired with ginger, one thinks of East-Indian cuisine. As a whole, this flavor sounds refreshing, like meeting someone new and getting hopelessly twitterpated. In fact, it is exactly like that.

This ice cream is a soft and elegant lady that dares to be different, like the black sheep of a southern family turning everyone's heads at a debutante ball. After being charmed by the lemongrass (a flirt of sourness, not a tart sensation), the mint shyly asked me to dance (without being sickly sweet or "curiously strong") before the crystallized ginger cut in, adding a sugary, almost carbonated burn, one so delicate my sinuses didn't even flinch. As each of her ever-intriguing flavors gracefully waltzed in and out, we were swept into a smoothly executed accelerando. It wasn't until the flavors were Lindy Hopping in my mouth that I realized, though it felt as if I'd been switching partners throughout this ethereal evening, I'd been cheek-to-cheek with the same sweetheart. Totally smitten, I considered myself lucky to have kissed the hand of such a multifaceted belle and vowed to never let her go.

Despite the naïve promises of my delightfully dizzied taste buds, the whirlwind affair came to an end like a lover slipping into the night. I awoke as from a dream, standing on my kitchen's wood floor instead of in a lavish ballroom, holding my empty pint with the same care a prince would a glass slipper.

• • •
My Bobtail Year will continue in July!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bobtail Year: Introduction

I think there's still some room on my back if you'd like to pat me on it.
Chicago's Oracle Theatre believes no one should feel limited from experiencing art. Since 2010, they've offered Public Access Theatre (read: free) for their mainstage season, "B-Side" productions that partner with other artists, original film screenings and their outreach program, The Radio Movement. A quote from the initial press release says it perfectly: "100% open access makes people feel invited and welcomed, not sold...[plus] Oracle fits all budgets, not just a few."

When I was unemployed, I knew I could always see a show at Oracle regardless of my financial situation. And recently I decided it was time to give back by donating $15/month to keep both their programming and admirable business model going. For this, I received the donor benefit of two pints of ice cream a month from Bobtail for a whole year. Let's do the math:

Oracle Theatre + Altruism = Ice Cream for a Year

Now before you start questioning the selflessness of my donation, let me just say this year is gonna be great! Eating ice cream and highlighting the standouts! Booyah! And Bobtail, one of the few homemade ice cream/gelato places in Chicago, is still experimenting with new flavors on a rolling basis! So you can expect to read about some customer-created flavors you've never even imagined during my....Bobtail Year!

• • •

Bobtail Year Rundown
July - Lust
August - Wrath
(Bonus: Reinventing Envy)
September - Cubby Crunch
October - Wrecking Ball
November - Sweet Potato Pie
January - Fudge Walnut
March - Thin Mint
May - Goat?

- - -
Update from 2014: Be sure to check out the end-of-year recap.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Stanley Cupcakes & The Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks cupcake by Magnolia Bakery.
Red sprinkles by Microsoft Paint.
My Michigan Avenue office building is across the street from Tribune Tower, the home of WGN Radio. Because of their close coverage of the Chicago Blackhawks, the neighboring courtyard has been celebration central several times throughout the hockey season and postseason. Having followed the Hawks more closely this season than I have any professional sport ever, I can understand why. (Where were all these fans when I was watching the early games in an empty bar?) Long before the Hawks began playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, there was no shortage of things to celebrate about this year:
  • A record breaking streak to start the season. Going 24 consecutive games without a regulation loss, exactly half of the abbreviated season--they recorded a point during the entire month of February--the Hawks totally annihilated the previous record held by the 2006-2007 Anaheim Ducks which lasted 16 games. (That Ducks team went on to win the Stanley Cup.)
  • Winning the President's Cup, which is awarded to the NHL team with the best record. Theirs was 36-7-5, totaling 77 game points out of a possible 96. Their game point percentage (.802) was the 6th best in NHL history. (With the exception of the 1929-1930 Boston Bruins, each of the top five went on to win the Stanley Cup.)
  • Winning Round 2 of the Playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings. After being down 3-1 in the series, the team fought off elimination by winning three straight games. Sitting in the crowd with my brother, we watched as the Hawks won Game 7 twice, once in the third period--when referee Stephen Walkom denied Hjalmarsson's goal, I thought fans were going to break down the glass and charge the ice--and again in overtime off a goal by Brent Seabrook! Also, this round was historic because the NHL realignment means this meeting marked the last time these two rival teams could ever meet in the playoffs, other than the finals.
  • Winning the Western Conference, thanks to Hatrick, excuse me, Patrick Kane's amazing Game 5 performance.
Plus numerous individual achievements:
  • Corey Crawford and Ray Emery collectively won the William M. Jennings Award (goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against).
  • Jonathan Toews won the Frank J. Selke Trophy (top defensive forward) and was a top three finalist for the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award.
  • Joel Quenneville was a top three finalist for the Jack Adams Award (top head coach).
  • Brandon Saad was a top three finalist for the Calder Trophy (top rookie).
  • Patrick Kane was a top three finalist for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (best sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and ability).
  • Marian Hossa was awarded a silver hockey stick to commemorate his 1,000th game this season.
  • Bryan Bickell exists.
So, yes, we've been and cheering (and singing) a lot.

During one of the celebrations in Pioneer Plaza outside WGN Radio, the Ice Crew handed out prizes to anyone who could shoot one-to-three tee balls past an inflatable Corey Crawford and into the net. Defying all odds I shot one in, though I'd never used a hockey stick in my life. (My prize was a red plastic cup with the team logo on it, valued at approximately ten cents. But I was so thrilled, they could have given me red, white and black pocket lint and I wouldn't have complained.)

Another, much more relevant time--Dessert blog! Focus! Focus!--Crumbs Bakery gave out free Stanley Cupcakes with the team colors to celebrate the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Realizing that "Stanley Cupcake" is too cute a phrase to let pass, the NHL sent out cupcakes with each competing team's logo in frosting to members of the media. One recipient used the bedazzled treats as inspiration in making his Playoff picks, predicting that the Blackhawks would be defeated by the Penguins in the Finals. As if a team wearing black and yellow could ever beat the Hawks. Ha!

With the real Finals having started--last night's triple overtime win against the Boston Bruins, the fifth longest game in Stanley Cup Finals history--the hype has picked up even more. Local Dunkin' Donuts chains have rebranded Boston Kreme as "Chicago Kreme." Another less detail-oriented bakery is offering their own Blackhawks cupcakes. (pictured above) Maybe, just maybe, it's time for me to revisit my recipe for Chicago Blackhawks ice cream--strawberry cookies and cream with marshmallows.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Field Report: Vegan Ice Cream: Say It Ain't Soy ('Cuz it Ain't)

I feel healthier just looking at their color palette.
My friend Rob Putnam submits his review (and photos) of KindKreme in Los Angeles. With a diet that has been free of refined sugar for 20+ years (KindKreme uses agave) and vegetarian for 18+ years, Rob is the man to listen to when it comes to the healthy side of dessert. 

Chris Rock once quipped "You could drive a car with your feet if you want to. That don't make it a good f@!#ing idea." Fortunately, the same general notion doesn't apply to vegan ice cream. It can be done and, no, it isn't a good idea. It's a great idea. 

Last week I strode into KindKreme in Pasadena, which is all vegan, all awesome. It's like real (i.e. dairy) ice cream only healthier, with most of the flavor and none of the insulin shock. I sampled four flavors: honey blueberry, Mexican chocolate and the soft serve chocolate and coconut. The blueberry flavors were subtle, the sweetness understated. It simply tasted and felt healthier. I didn't feel the heaviness or bipolar blood sugar fluctuations that often follows fraternization with the real deal.

Coconut-chocolate swirl.
While everything I tried was fantastic, the soft serve flavors were the standouts, coconut in particular. It was so good that I was surprised it was available without a prescription.*

Note that KindKreme variously uses coconut or almond milk and/or cashews for its base. As a longtime vegetarian with vegan sympathies, I'm accustomed to such shadings. Non-believers be advised: objects in cooler are more vegan than they appear. That is, the flavors aren't exceptionally social and may make a poor first impression, especially if you typically hang with a dairy crowd. But given time, neophytes will find them friendly enough. Amiable, even.

A word of warning: unlike its prices, KindKreme's servings fall on the small side. A single scoop comes in at $3.99, $4.99 for soft serve. No surprise, then, that so many vegans are thin. But consider the advantages of the higher price. Then buy it anyway. Because you deserve it.

*Check local laws in your area.