Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Done Right

Thanksgiving is...cozy and welcoming with the spicy scent of brewing cider.

Thanksgiving is...stuffing your face with another mouthful, even though your stomach might burst.

Thanksgiving is...the culmination of all of the tastes of the season with the final bite transitioning a person into winter.

Bobtail's Sweet Potato Pie ice cream is...the taste of Thanksgiving, transporting me home. But rather than talk about this delicious flavor, I'm going to talk about family.


This year I spent fall break in Spain, staying with my friend Louise in Barcelona. Her friends organized a Thanksgiving dinner in honor of some folks who’d recently moved from America. Half-expecting a paella-stuffed turkey, the meal was a delicious and hilarious hodge-podge with a few vague parallels to American Thanksgiving, like turkey being substituted with fried chicken. But, in a way, it was not unlike most Thanksgiving dinners I’ve had since moving away from home, feeling both joyous and incomplete. It feels as though the best any celebration could hope to be is second place because, for me, Thanksgiving is everyone packed in around the table during a crisp fall afternoon in Hampton, VA.

Growing up, I was lucky enough to live in the same city as one set of grandparents and my aunt’s family. We all liked one another so much that we spent birthdays and holidays together. Thanksgiving morning would start by giving gratitude at the morning church service and end at my grandma’s house. Once there, my brother Brian and I would ditch our ties and, while finishing touches were made on the food, my cousin TR and I would help out by raking the yard. We would inevitably finish leaf duty early and join my dad in the ritualistic sneaking of food from kitchen.

Eventually after being shooed away from our dutiful taste testing, the table would be set. There was always a surplus of food: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, yams, green bean casserole, Jell-O salad, rolls and, one of my favorites, a cylinder of canned cranberry sauce. Brian’s birthday is in late November, so every few years, it would fall on Thanksgiving. It’s a good thing Brian likes turkey.

With so many people—Grandmama, Grandaddy, Aunt Shelia, Uncle Terry, my cousins Breea and TR, Mom, Dad, Brian and me—there wasn’t enough room at the table, even with the leaf put in. Each side of the family had a delegated member that had to sit on a small folding chair of questionable stability. This honor fell to the youngest member of each family—TR and me—because picking on the youngest is an age-old tradition. Both TR and I later grew up to be the tallest members of families, which I believe we willed into happening so we’d never have to sit in the smallest chairs again.

Each time the family sat down together you could expect a few hilarious things to happen: Uncle Terry would cause trouble by bringing up politics, Granddaddy would make a comment that the rest of us would regard as racially insensitive, we would hear about the crazy trouble some of Breea and TR’s friends had gotten themselves into and someone, usually me, would spill on the carpet.

One year, Grandmama had new carpet put in and we were all warned to be extra careful not to spill. Of course, no one ever tries to spill; it just happens. When I was the first to spill on the new carpet, there was a mild uproar that gradually turned into laughter. I was actually given a prize for being the first.

These traditions of the family all getting together—something we did for every birthday and holiday—continued as each of the kids started growing up, going to college and moving away. We all enjoyed spending time together. One year TR had finally had enough. “What’s wrong with us?” he asked. “We’re all so normal! None of us fight or get into much trouble! We all like each other!” And we all had to laugh because TR was right, but we liked it that way.

Friday, November 22, 2013

They're not the best, but...

Repost from Reddit.
The local Redditors in Kearney, Nebraska report that the donuts are pretty good, which to me sounds better than a'ight.

(Thanks to Jamie for the Reddit thread that sourced the title and picture.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Helado Puertorriqueño en Heladeria Lares

The couple up front is selling lottery tickets. Resist(!) so you can buy ice cream.
"Can I try the Bacalao ice cream, please?" I asked.

"Bacalao?" Based on her tone, she was wondering if she had translated the word incorrectly for me. Why else would a person want to try it? It's not like there weren't other options and each customer was allowed a mere two samples.

But I needed to make mine count. When in Puerto Rico, right?


The girl behind the counter gave me both a taster spoon with Bacalao on it and a horrified expression. Soon a nauseating bite of ocean water clouded my sense of bewildered amusement. This was Heladeria Lares and I was eating Salted Cod ice cream.


Located about ninety minutes west of our hotel in San Juan, not far from Camuy River Cave Park and one hour from Rincón Lighthouse on Puerto Rico's west coast, the town of Lares is comprised of a steep hill. At the top is the town square, tucked amongst colorful are-they-closed-or-vacant businesses. Among them is Heladeria Lares, the most universally revered ice cream shop in Puerto Rico based on my research. Through its open entryway are eight ice cream freezers. And inside are 40-50 different flavors.
While I would've eaten it just by
treating the freezer like a trough, sadly
the front did not open for customers.

For shy eaters, they feature the standard fare one would expect to find at any purveyor of frozen dairy delicacies: vanilla with chocolate chips, chocolate, chocolate with chocolate chips, cookies and cream, strawberry cheesecake, amaretto and vanilla with caramel and chocolate. These are mostly tucked in the back though, signaling that they are not the main event.

Most abundant are the fruit flavors. Some are flavors we all know well, such as banana, strawberry and orange. Others are recognizable tropical fruits, such as pineapple, passion fruit, papaya, guava and mango. Still more are less recognizable tropical fruits, such as acerola, soursop, tamarind, sea grape, breadfruit and guama (aka ice cream fruit).

But fruit isn't the only produce represented in the flavors at Heladeria Lares. Garlic, ginger, pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot and corn ice creams are also available. For those seeking nuts and legumes, there's pistachio, peanut, almond and peanut with almonds.

Then there are other, more culturally specific flavors to excite more adventurous eaters. Some of these are inspired by traditional desserts found around the island, such as sweet plantain, coconut with cinnamon, sweet rice, dulce de leche, almond cake and sesame seed candy. Others are inspired by traditional entrées and side dishes, including rice and beans, pumpkin soup, arroz con gandules and fried and salted cod. (With crazy flavors like this, it's no wonder that the guy from Bizarre Foods has also been there.)

Sweet plantain (tan), rice and beans (yellow),
acerola (pink), chocolate with almonds and orange.
There were even more flavors, but taking pictures of eight display cases in a crowded ice cream shop is mad hard, yo.

Wanting to embrace the widest possible spectrum of flavors, I settled on four flavors, ranging from familiar to unusual. I was quick to choose acerola, a pink cherry whose tart juice I drank at dinner the night before (San Juan's Jose Enrique, whose red snapper ranks as a Top 3 meal of my life), falling in love instantaneously. Also in my bowl was rice and beans, which was a pleasant surprise during my sampling phase. It was subtly sweet and earthy with a mildly gritty texture. I immediately regretted getting the sweet plantain, which had more of a banana flavor than I'd expected. (Curséd fruit.) And while the chocolate with almonds was forgettable and far-from-rich, my date's orange was so refreshing and citrus-y sweet that I had no trouble helping her finish it.

Undoubtedly, some American customers will be surprised by the texture of the ice cream. Given its crystally and thin texture, plus how light it is--think melty pushpop--I wouldn't be surprised if the non-fruit flavors are actually ice milk, or something similar. The fruit flavors are assuredly a water-based sorbet. But while the texture can be jarring and the (probable) use of milk instead of cream drastically altered the experience of my chocolate with almonds, I think that ultimately most customers would enjoy Heladeria Lares for its off-the-beaten-path charm and its brightly-flavored fruit sorbets, not to mention its stranger flavors available for sampling.


Vocabulario de Heladeria Lares 
(Lares Ice Cream Shop Vocabulary)

acerola: a pink cherry, which according to Wikipedia is also known as Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry and wild crepemyrtle
ajo: garlic
Stack the scoops high.
almendra: almond
arroz con dulce: sweet rice (rice pudding)
arroz con gandules: Wikipedia says: "Arroz con gandules is a combination of rice, pigeon peas and pork, cooked in the same pot with Puerto Rican-style sofrito."
arroz con habichuela: rice and beans
bacalao: cod
batata: sweet potato
bizcocho almendrado: almond cake
calabaza: pumpkin
cazuela: pumpkin soup
china: a Puerto Rican slang for orange
chocolate con almendra: chocolate with almond
chocolate con pedazos de chocolate: chocolate with chocolate chips
coquito acanelado: coconut with cinnamon
dulce de ajonjoli: sesame seed candy
dulce de leche: Similar to caramel in texture, taste and color, dulce de leche uses sweetened milk, sometimes goat's milk or coconut milk. 
fresa: strawberry
guama: ice cream fruit (or Wikipedia)
guanábana: soursop
guayaba: guava
guineo: banana (Side note: For anyone crazy enough to like the fruit that is best forgotten, Lares is home to an annual banana festival, so this might be especially good...for what it is, at least.)
jengibre: ginger
lechoza: papaya
maíz: corn
maní: peanut
maní con almendra: peanuts with almonds
pana: breadfruit (Thanks to curiouskitty for the help on this one.)
parcha: passion fruit
piña: pineapple
plátano dulce: sweet plantain
queso con fresa: strawberry cheesecake
Two sample limit: cruelty to afficionados
tamarindo: tamarind, which is used in making sweet and sour sauce
uva playera: sea grape (Is it a grape? Is it something so much more? I didn't get to try it, sadly.)
vainilla caramelo y chocolate: vanilla, caramel and chocolate
vainilla con galletas: cookies and cream (vanilla)
vailnilla con pedazos de chocolate: vanilla with chocolate chips
zanahoria: carrot

Note: I have elected to use the "International" tag because this food is representative of the culture that already existed before Puerto Rico was a U.S. territory.