Friday, September 27, 2013

Bobtail Year: Cubby Crunch

The taste is somewhere between sweet victory and redbrick with an ivy garnish.
Image made using Wrigley Field sign generator

September is month four of my Bobtail Year, two pints of Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream a month for donating to Oracle Theatre.

So far during my Bobtail Year I have reviewed short-run flavors that have only been available for a week or so. This month, I revisit my favorite year-round Bobtail flavor, Cubby Crunch. How good is it? Well, before I give you the play-by-play, it's time for another ice-cream-themed song.

Lemme hear ya! Ah-one! Ah-two! Ah-three!

Take me out to get ice cream

Take me out to Bobtail
Buy me a big bowl of Cubby Crunch,
Spoil my dinner, I'll eat it for lunch
Cause it's chocolate chips, rainbow sprinkles
Toffee, Oreo chunks

Give me ONE, TWO, THREE tasty scoops
Of that Cubby Crunch!
...Let's get some cones!

We're broadcasting live from inside the Friendly Confines of Bobtail Ice Cream. The summer may be over but fans are hungry for more. More baseball and more ice cream! And there's no better way to wrap up the season than right here, enjoying some Cubby Crunch.

Batting at the top of the line-up is the VIC himself, Vanilla Ice Cream. It's no secret to fans everywhere that throughout his career, the VIC has been been a solid foundation for pretty much every flavor he's played for. And his tenure with Cubby Crunch may be a highlight of its storied career. A line-drive single with no outs.

Batting second, we have Chocolate Chip. Though an MVP when he's played for other flavors, Chippy has had some trouble performing with Cubby Crunch. When asked about Chip's lacking performance, manager Robert "Bob" Tail had this to say: "We're a championship flavor and that's what counts. Not every batter in the line-up can be an all-star." I guess the Chipster has been a little overshadowed by his incredible teammates, but we're glad to have him. Sacrifice bunt. One out, runner on second.

The flavor used to be dyed Cubby blue.
Bobtail nixed it to be more natural.
Batting third is a flashy, youthful player we all know. Every time Rainbow Sprinkles has made an appearance it's been like fireworks. When he debuted with Cubby Crunch, he showed
the same sweetness his brother Jimmy has been known to bring to other teams. Rainbow hits a stand-up double, advancing The VIC to third. One out.

In the clean-up spot is Oreo. Now this guy may seem like a tough cookie, but inside he's just a big softy. And I mean literally: scouting reports say he's a sandwich cookie with a sweet and creamy middle. He's easily the chunkiest player Cubby Crunch has, but he's a perfect team player, never stealing the spotlight for too long. Intentional base on balls. Bases loaded with two outs to go.

Batting fifth is Cubby Crunch's best kept secret, Toffee. With Chocolate Chip not creating the impact everyone expected for the team, Toffee has more than picked up the slack. It's still a little early to say, but I wouldn't be surprised if this player ends up being the MVP. Crack of the's going...going...gone! Toffee hits a grand slam! Cubby Crunch wins! Cubby Crunch wins!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Flavor Battle: Doughnut Ice Cream Sandwiches

Cue up the Jock Jams, ladies and gentlemen.
In this corner is Firecakes, current title holder for Best Gourmet Doughnut in Chicago. Their doughnut ice cream sandwich features a glazed yeast doughnut in the shape of a ciabatta roll. Customers have a choice of different two or three homemade gelato fillings, a selection that recently included vanilla, cinnamon and peach. I chose the glazed yeast doughnut with cinnamon gelato.

In the other corner is former title holder Glazed & Infused, offering four distinct combinations, each with a unique doughnut and gelato pairing. Two options are an apple fritter with salted peanut gelato and a Terry's Toffee doughnut with milk stout gelato. I was more intrigued by the other two: the lemon cake doughnut paired with blueberry french toast gelato and the chocolate frosted chocolate cake doughnut paired with nutella gelato with pretzels.

(FADE IN: flashback dream sequence montage)
"What what! Menu just got more gangsta with doughnut ice cream sandwiches! Put 'em in ya mouth!"
-Firecakes, July 20, 2013

"Holy swollen belly, Batman! I'm over here like, 'Cronuts? So over.'" 
-Huffington Post, August 7, 2013

"What up, my people?! We havin' a one-off doughnut ice cream sandwich partay at Black Doggy Dogg at the end of the month! Gelato in the hizzy!"
-Glazed & Infused, August 21, 2013

"Be there or be a straight-up rhomboid."
-Numerous note-worthy media outlets, Aug. 20-29, 2013

"Check it: Sold out. In 90 minutes, suckas!"
-Glazed & Infused, Aug. 29, 2013

"Yo yo yo, playa! We still got the OGs fo' ya oral cavitay!"
-Firecakes, August 30, 2013

The gauntlet had been thrown down. And my taste buds were acting as referee.

Glazed & Infused chose wisely to tag team with Black Dog Gelato, who make my favorite Chicago dessert. With both halves offering unique flavors, it seemed a powerful combo. But G&I chose poorly to use cake doughnuts, whose heaviness laid a choke hold on Black Dog's gelato, as did the overly sugary choco-frosting. The clear winner among G&I's sandwiches was the lemon cake doughnut with blueberry french toast gelato. Its subtle glaze gave a nice burst of citrus, though the density of the doughnut completely swallowed the underrepresented tangy-sweet gelato.

Firecakes, rather than exploring ambitious flavor combinations, leaned on simple classics. The glaze at Firecakes is among the best I've had and pairing it with a simple cinnamon gelato accomplished what neither of the Glazed & Infused sandwiches did: it enhanced both flavors. Only one arm can be raised at the end of a match and from the first bite I knew Firecakes had won, leaving G&I down for the count, no tap out. Added bonus that Firecakes' product is less expensive. Served in a coffee sleeve for easy portability, Firecakes' sandwich is a mere $4, compared to the $6 and $8 offerings from G&I.

Given the success of the party Glazed & Infused threw, there will undoubtedly be future events, likely with new doughnut/gelato combinations...and possibilities of a future grudge match. Here's hoping the champion also considers offering other options eventually, like a chocolate-glaze on the doughnut.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cherry Republic

Welcome, Comrade. We've been expecting you.
The end of summer. The beginning of autumn. This is the line one walks when taking a September trip to the fingertips of the oven mitt that is Michigan's lower peninsula. It is a time when the the last of the holdouts (and the locals) don fleece pullovers while shuffling along in their sandals (or Crocs) with bound determination to find a way to make the summer last. And I know exactly where all those flips are flopping before autumn gets its way with their summer getaway.

Off the main road in Glen Arbor, tucked amongst lush greenery, are stone paths leading to a small grove of buildings, all three of which appear to be equal parts beach home and ski lodge. Amazingly, they house North America's fourth largest country, Cherry Republic. It is a benevolent nation whose people are so decidedly pro-cherry that they built a government around it. And they don’t mess around either; there is a sign at the front that says “Declare all bananas.” Though some could be intimidated by so strict a policy, I, for one, felt safer knowing I was in a banana-free environment.

There are plenty of stellar products, all ripe for the sampling. My favorites were the following: dark chocolate covered dried cherries, dark chocolate pecan with cherry truffles, and hiker’s mix with pumpkin seeds, nuts, dark chocolate and—you guessed it—cherries. (Sadly, I cannot recommend the Boomchunka cookies, which are thick and dry like a dense scone.) There are also drinks to be sampled and, having tried all of sodas, the clear winner is the True Cherry Cola, which has real cherry juice in it.

Creating American expats,
one customer at a time.
Equally impressive are the 12 rotating ice cream flavors, most of which incorporate cherries in a different way. Here are some of the flavors from my visit: Bob's Mom's Favorite (their apostrophized name for cherry ice cream), Snow in the Orchard (vanilla ice cream with tart cherries), Chocolate Cherry, Tractor Trax (chocolate cherry ice cream with peanut butter cups, honey almonds, chocolate & cherry ribbons), Hibernation Jump Start (cherry coffee ice cream with chunks of espresso), Sour Cherry Sorbet, Duneslide Wipeout (butter pecan with tart cherries and pecans), cherry caramel apple (apple-flavored ice cream with tart cherries and a caramel ribbon) and Cherry Waffle Chip (cherry ice cream with chocolate-covered waffle chips).

One ice cream option in particular epitomized my trip up north to the greater Traverse City area. It featured two favorite flavors we all recognize from the pie canon, two tastes delicately combined for perhaps their first union in frozen dessert lore: Cherry Pumpkin. It commanded my hand to be slower with my spoon, to really relish the moment, because, while the flavor was new to me, it was somehow familiar. Whilst savoring and ruminating, I pinned it down. The ice cream tasted exactly like the end of summer. Or was it the beginning of autumn?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Eighth Annual Pumpkin Challenge

The Squashasaurus Rex eats any and all varieties of pumpkin.
The Pumpkin Challenge is my annual quest to consume as many pumpkin edibles as humanly possible. Previous to this year, the Pumpkin Challenge took place between September 15 to October 31. But my single-handed success in increasing pumpkin enthusiasm has resulted in pumpkin season starting earlier in the year. Some friends reported pumpkin sightings as early as August! Because the goal is ultimately to make pumpkin season last year-round, it only makes sense to move the Pumpkin Challenge earlier in the year: September 1 through October 15.

What are the rules?
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. Pumpkin candles or pumpkin soap do not count unless you eat them.

What is the record?
During 2012’s Pumpkin Challenge, I consumed 52 different varieties of pumpkin. The previous record (2010) had been 40.

Why does it stop in October? Isn’t pumpkin often a Thanksgiving staple?
Ideally, the meeting of mouths to pumpkin products would go on forever. But we most focus our efforts. The Pumpkin Challenge was created to encourage the same sort of crass commercialism extended to that Santa holiday. We want to encourage—through pestering and purchase—stores offering pumpkin foods at progressively earlier dates each year. To focus the Challenge to a time period that is the height of pumpkin consumption is both missing the mark and far too easy.