Friday, July 30, 2010

Ice cream news round-up, week of July 31: Lindsay Lohan, ice cream in Vegas and Canada, ice cream man molester

Here are some headlines from the world of ice cream:

Lindsay Lohan has been demanding Ben and Jerry's ice cream in jail.

If you're smart enough to get a business degree from Harvard, you're smart enough to get yourself a job as an ice cream sommelier.

A look behind-the-scenes at the Ben and Jerry's factory in Vermont.

Every parent's worst nightmare: an ice cream man inappropriately touches a 5-year-old girl in Denver.

The L.A. Times has a round-up of unusual ice cream options in Las Vegas, including a foot-tall, $1,000 sundae served in Baccarat crystal and topped, as it should be in Vegas, with edible gold.

Unilever, which owns Ben and Jerry's and is one of the world's major ice cream manufacturers, has a machine that, using facial recognition technology, gives you free ice cream if you smile.  Their truck is touring Europe, according to this Facebook page.

Andrew Breitbart, please find the racial controversy in this news: according to a mock election held in DC, 40% of Democrats prefer chocolate, 80% of Republicans prefer strawberry.  Come on, you know it's there. Chocolate?  Come on.

A DC chef has created a CSA-style membership club for his homemade, gourmet ice cream.

The Calgary Herald has a guide to some local places in case you're in Canada.

Professional Foray #4, Blue Marble, Brooklyn, NY

Wednesday night, after an excellent meal at The Grocery on Smith Street with my genius friend/professional hero Michelle Goldberg, we hopped on our bikes and headed down Atlantic Avenue to the Blue Marble Ice Cream shop.  This location has more flavors than the one on Court Street.  We almost missed our chance, since the kindly chef at The Grocery, who spends so much time in the dining room you'd think he wishes he was a waiter, informed us that he makes the best ice cream in the world, after which our check was suspiciously slow in coming.  

Anyway, we made it.  I had read about their strawberry flavor on Yelp or a similar site, where someone was raving that it was the greatest they'd ever tasted.  It does have a very pronounced, tart strawberry flavor, but to my kiddie palate, it was slightly too tangy.  I can appreciate the appeal it would hold for more sophisticated ice cream connoisseurs, or for purists.  But I like an emphasis on the cream in my ice cream, and this tasted too fruity to me.  I also tried root beer flavor, which tasted like a root beer float, except without the wonderful textural interplay of fizzy soda and creamy vanilla ice cream.  Instead, those two sensations and flavors get mushed into one single not-as-delicious and even mildly disconcerting experience.

In the end, I went for (surprise) cookies and cream, chocolate and black cherry.  From here forward, I'm going to use cookies and cream, pending availability, as my benchmark flavor, as well as chocolate, the same way one can judge a Lebanese restaurant by its hummus and kibbeh.  Why?  Both of those flavors leave very little margin for error: either do them well, or go home. 

Soft serve in Rwanda; courtesy of Blue Marble Ice Cream
In Blue Marble's case, they were both tasty, but nothing exciting.  The ice cream itself is of a very high quality; they use milk and cream from an organic dairy co-operative in Pennsylvania where the cows eat grass (as opposed to all the other wretched scum they normally eat in a feedlot, according to Michael Pollan).  But neither of those flavors knocked me off my feet.  The black cherry with chocolate chips was very good, however - an upscale, organic and altogether smoother and more successful rendition of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia.  I'll be going back for a few other flavors (ginger and mint chip, for example) soon.

This company is notable, if not for its chocolate ice cream, for its social efforts.  They are promoting ice cream as a development solution in Rwanda, use eco-friendly materials and packaging, use organic sugar and serve organic coffee, and support local Brooklyn bakeries by selling bagels and brownies and the like in their shop.  I know it's a cliche to call such a yuppie paradise a "yuppie paradise," but it really is one, without being obnoxious.  It's just a nice place where concerned parents can treat their children and themselves to ice cream without worrying about pesticides and poisons and corn syrups and other demons.

Blue Marble Ice Cream, 420 Atlantic Avenue, 718-858-1100, 186 Underhill Avenue (Prospect Heights), new location at 196 Court Street (Cobble Hill),, MiniScoops are $2.90, $4.25 and $5.15, regular scoops are $3.89, $5.75, and $6.95.

The Hamptons, Redeemed: Professional Foray #3, Sip n' Soda, Southampton

After a disappointing morning cone at the Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton, it was with some trepidation that I approached Sip n' Soda in Southampton.  Like the Candy Kitchen, it's also a luncheonette, and like the Candy Kitchen, it also claims "homemade ice cream."  Even more suspiciously, their menu also featured "Fresh Peach," which set off red flags.  Was this just another ye olde time-y ice cream shoppe hocking mediocre product out of a cutesy, retro diner?

I am happy to report that the answer is a resounding "no": this is the real thing.  I had coffee chip, chocolate chip cookie dough and chocolate in a cone, and each flavor was excellent.  The ice cream had actual ice cream consistency, and to me was very American: the scoops were hard, the butterfat percentage was high without rendering the texture occlusive (I'd say it was premium), and everything tasted natural and fresh.

My only complaint, which I later passed onto the lovely co-owner, Mark Parash, was that the amount of mix-ins, such as the chips in the coffee chip or the cookie dough in the vanilla cookie dough, was a little skimpy.  I'd like to run into a bite of something or other more often than not as I make my way down a cone.
That is a genuine, post-cone smile of happiness.

As I was rummaging around the internet, I discovered that Mark Parash's grandfather William started Candy Kitchen in the 1920s.  (An article describing the family business can be found here.)  Bewildered - the discrepancy between the two establishments' quality is vast - I called Mark to check if this was truly the case.  It turns out that his grandfather sold the Candy Kitchen sometime in the 1940s, "after World War II," he said.

I love when major events like World War II get mixed up in ice cream tales.

Mark, now 39, runs Sip n' Soda with his uncle Jim; William and his wife Nicoletta originally opened it in 1958.  Mark said he makes most of the ice cream himself, starting with homemade syrups - chocolate, coffee, vanilla, and bases made from scratch.  The fresh peach flavor, which I now deeply regret I didn't try, uses Georgia peaches.  Not local peaches?  "Only Georgia peaches," he told me.  "They're by far superior."  The strawberries, he said, are local, and in a few weeks he'll be launching a fresh cantaloupe flavor.  If this keeps up, I may find myself back on the LIRR.

And thank you to the gaggle of gorgeous brunettes - Nicole, Kelly and Michele - who hosted me over the weekend and indulged all of my ice cream excursions.  I had a wonderful, wonderful time.

Sip n' Soda, 40 Hampton Road, Southampton, NY.  631-283-9752.  Single $4, double $6.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From the NYT magazine: Humphry Slocombe

When I was in San Francisco over the New Year, I got waylaid by the Malted Vanilla with Peanut Brittle and Milk Chocolate Pieces at Bi-Rite Creamery, so I never made it to Humphry Slocombe, although I did fill a buy-ten-get-one-free card in less than 72 hours.  This NYT magazine article from last month makes me think another visit to the West Coast might be in order, though...

Still, Godby has drawn a loyal following from the start. His ice cream addresses two major grievances in the contemporary culinary scene: boredom with menus that all look the same, and irritation with the orthodoxy governing how we’re all supposed to eat (local, sustainable, organic, etc.). At $2.75 for a single scoop, $3.75 for a double, Humphry Slocombe solved both problems. As a result, its fan base swelled with the kind of jaded cooks and eaters who dream of never seeing another chicken Caesar or tuna au poivre again. Mark Sullivan, chef of the San Francisco restaurant Spruce, calls the Secret Breakfast flavor “an obsession.” Leah Rosenberg, an artist and a pastry chef, says, “The first time I tasted Jesus Juice sorbet, I felt like someone, at long last, understood me.”

Dispatches from the Frontline #1, A Yakult Classic: ultimate summertime slushies

A Yakult Classic: ultimate summertime slushies, by Mona:

Yakult! Have you heard of it? Well the first thing you should know is that it is pure delight when consumed frozen and on its way to thawing into a puddle of slushy goodness. Now, I recognize that slushies aren't ice cream per say...however, when you're resident in an small Chinese city where ice cream isn't part of the local food culture (as I am this summer) you have to get your sweet, frozen, yummy fixes where you can.

A Japanese product, Yakult is a very popular yogurt drink with high-concentrations of probiotic bacteria (really good for your tummy) and sugar (really good for your soul) that comes in tiny and distinctly-shaped bottles. The plastic bottle is conveniently easy to cut through after you've frozen your Yakult and are ready to dig in for a taste of tart, icy, milky delight.

Children from Taiwan to Brazil have grown up on the summertime treat of frozen-but-slightly-melty Yakult. Even though I've only recently discovered the childish joy of a Yakult slushy (thanks to my wonderful fiance) they are now a regular evening treat and one of my favorite "homemade" desserts of all time. Unsurprisingly, there is even a Facebook group devoted to the love of frozen Yakult, which I refuse to join only because the consequences of joining anything on Facebook increasingly creeps me out!

But wait, there's more! A new Yakult flavor has come out this summer in an ice cream parlor chain in the Philippines. I'll be heading to Manila later this summer and will be sure to try it out and report back. Meanwhile, I suggest you close your laptop right now and run like a spazzy little kid to your nearest Asian grocery store so that you can stock your freezer with Yakult for those nights when you are too lazy to get out of your apartment to buy some ice cream.

This is Mona, reporting for Lick Me Everywhere from Yixing, China.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Professional Foray #2, Candy Kitchen, Bridgehampton

This place stinks:

Stinking place
According to one of the teenagers working there, it's been there since 1925, and I remember it from being in elementary school and going to Amagansett every weekend with my friend Liz.  The bus that we took from Manhattan dropped us off right across the street, and it always seemed like a great place.  Unfortunately, their ice cream is mediocre (to be generous).  The "fresh peach" flavor that my friend Nicole had was the neon color of a t-shirt from The Body Glove that I had in the 1980s, and there were no peaches in it to speak of.  My cherry vanilla and cookies and cream scoops were foamy, not-flavorful and completely unsatisfying.  The flavors tasted like aerated, sweetened milk with fillers and thickeners mixed in.

I must be smiling because I haven't tried it yet.

The man behind the counter lost his patience while I tried to make a carefully weighed, considered decision (his exact words were "I don't have all day to sit around while you pick"), so I can't even award points for nice friendly service.  In the end, it is a small local business, so I'll cut my criticism short and end this post now with a snapshot of the interior.
Bridgehampton, Main Street, 631-537-9885.  Small cone $3.25, large $6.50

Call me a conservative

Most people who know me would not describe me as "conservative."  Something about ice cream, though, needles my Glenn Beck instincts and brings out the reactionary Tea Party member in me.  Foie gras ice cream, for example, is innovative.  But it does not sound delicious.  Rather, it sounds heinous.  Likewise the caviar flavor.  Has anyone tried these flavors?  You can get them in different restaurants and boutiques around France.  Are they any good?  Prove me wrong, please.  Normally I'm an open-minded person.

This is liver.  Remember that.

Proustian moments #2, from Mona

This memory comes from one of my top food-nerd friends (and one of my favorite people on this green earth), Mona.  She is also on assignment as my new Asia correspondent.  You can read about her food adventures in China thus far (and I highly recommend you do) here.  And without further ado, I present Mona's ice cream memory:

I'll never ever ever forget the first time I had strawberry ice cream. It was (simply put) a glorious moment in life.

Now, I'm talking here about REAL strawberry ice cream with REAL strawberries chopped up and mixed in. Not that oddly bright pink junk you see in the supermarket freezer section.

So there I was at the awkward age of fourteen, hanging out on the beach in Del Mar, spending a lazy afternoon on a big blue towel, thinking about the usual things most silly young teenage girls might obsess/ponder over in this same situation. You know: cute boys, sand stuck in between my toes, cute boys, whether I should put on more sunscreen, etc. I think the combination of salty air and summer heat must have made me especially thirsty because what I remember is eagerly running to the parking lot to buy a bottle of water from the little snack cart. (Of course at that point I didn't suspect that I was about to taste something sublime.)

What Mona was thinking about before she learned about strawberry ice cream

The black pavement was burning the soles of my sandy feet and I realized water wasn't gonna do it for me. There was a lady selling homemade ice cream at the snack shop and so I scoped out her offerings. I don't even remember why, but I picked the strawberry, knowing well that my favorites were cookies n' cream and peanutbutter-chocolate. I remember my first taste, and my regret that I was already fourteen and had never discovered this yummy combination of sweet, icy, milky strawberry goodness before. Perhaps needless to say, since then my all time favorite flavor is (real) strawberry ice cream, no matter the season. This is coming from a serious chocoholic.
Now look at her!

Ice cream in the news: the business of ice cream

Time magazine reports that despite the recession, "the ice cream market appears to be hot."  Apparently more people are asking for double scoops, too, instead of single.  Is that because there are a lot of obese people not watching their figures, or because ice cream is simply too delicious to only take one flavor at a time?  Probably the latter.

The New York Times also had an ice cream business article, but theirs claimed that it's the weather, rather than the ice cream market, that's too hot.  Instead of venturing out for cones, people are staying indoors where there's air conditioning.  
or this?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Proustian moments #1, from Olivia Snaije

The first installment in a series of ice cream recollections.  This one comes from my friend Olivia, a writer in Paris.  When I first sent her this blog, she immediately shared this:

Cioccolato con panna is one of my favorites
I grew up in Rome, not the chic new pedestrian Rome, but the old Rome with cars and motorcycles zipping all over. Besides a few dreary months during the winter, it seemed to me as if every day after school, I would link arms with my best friend Sandra and go for a stroll. It was a given that we would stop and buy a gelato. We both, unfailingly, chose the same flavors every day: fragola, limone e panna, panna being the home-made whipped cream they put on ice cream. I lived near the Campo de' Fiori and she lived in Piazza Farnese so our perimeter was very small. We would usually go to a gelateria on Via dei Baulari; once in a while we might cross over the border that was Corso Vittorio Emanuele and buy an ice-cream near Piazza Navona. As Sandra recently confirmed to me in an email: "we adored fragola-limone."

Thank you, Olivia!  I'll be sharing mine soon, and would love to hear more from everyone else.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nothing to do with ice cream but...

The news has been filled with this report of an Israeli court finding a Palestinian man guilty of rape for lying about his religion (he claimed he was Jewish) and having consensual sex with a Jewish woman.  Can you imagine how the world's prisons would overflow if obtaining sex under false pretences was really a prosecutable crime?  What a strange precedent to set.

Professional Foray #1: The Odeon's ice cream cart

Last night my friend Helen and I went on my first professional tasting trip last night, to the Odeon's ice cream cart.  Thank you to my friend Maisie for sending the tip, by the way.  Helen, who had graciously arrived for dinner carrying a six-pack of Baked by Melissa nano-cupcakes, cheerfully accepted that our dessert was going to have more courses than our dinner.
What a delicious little gimmick.

The Odeon's ice cream cart is right in front of the restaurant, underneath the striped awning.  The management has sweetly put several benches out on the sidewalk on West Broadway, so ice cream customers can enjoy the sight of strolling Eurotrash and Tribeca families, attractive down to the toddler, while they savor their cones.  The waffle cones are house made, as is the ice cream, which is made fresh every day, three flavors per day, including butter pecan, strawberry, rocky road (I will be going back expressly to sample this flavor when the time is right), pistachio and banana vanilla wafer.

Last night there was good news and bad news.  The bad news was the mint chip, which had an overtly herbal peppermint flavor that tastes more like a stick of gum or a swig of mouthwash than ice cream.  The good news was the cookies and cream, one of my favorite flavors, which had huge, generous chunks of homemade chocolate cookies.  The cookies were large and dry and crumbly enough to stay crispy and provide real textural contrast to the ice cream, although they didn't have the lardy Oreo-style cream filling that makes commercial cookies and cream sometimes strangely satisfying (I'm talking about when that cream filling starts coating your mouth because the cold of the ice cream means the fat molecules aren't melting as swiftly as they should be.)  The coffee was also excellent news - the flavor, in its sweetness and delicacy, reminded me of Haagen Dazs, but the texture was softer and lighter, and nicely melty.  $4 for one scoop, $6 for two.

145 West Broadway, (212) 233-0507, (call for flavors of the day)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Obama's racist ice cream


Boy, is this stupid: Right-wing bloggers are attempting to spin Obama's ice cream outing with his family in Maine as an attempt to energize his  Black Panther base via subliminal messaging coded in an ice cream logo from a store run by, as the CBS news article above points out, a white lady in a state with an almost non-existent African-American population.  This is presumably the same constituency he was trying to reach with the New Yorker's Politics of Fear cover, only his tactics by now have become considerably more subtle.

National Ice Cream Day 2011

By the way, last Sunday July 18th was National Ice Cream Day.  I confess I forgot to observe this holiday with the gravity it deserves, but I did have Ciao Bella cookies and cream gelato the day before and, perhaps because I could secretly sense that Sunday was the big day, I requested a scoop of vanilla gelato to go on top of my iced mocha at Via Quadronno.

How did you celebrate?

To make up for my offense, I am going to begin planning next year's National Ice Cream Day festivities right now. What should I do?  Who wants to join?  Any ideas?

Ice cream kills

Walter Poland, a man with more than a half-dozen DUI's to his name, was driving an ice cream truck when he ran over another man last October in New Jersey.   He was indicted a few days ago.  My condolences to the deceased's family, and shame on Mr. Poland.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ice cream for dogs. Hmm.

There is a new ice cream truck in London serving dog ice cream.  I'm going to need a few hours to process this before I have something coherent to say about it.  I imagine it keeps them cool...?

Israel v. P-stine, the three-scoop showdown

I was raised on Haagen Dazs ice cream.  My mom served it at dinner parties, and for years it was Haagen Dazs that set the benchmark for what coffee, strawberry, chocolate and vanilla ice cream flavors should taste like.  Throughout elementary school, I started every morning with a diabetes bomb breakfast of champions: a cup of Twinings Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar, topped with a big scoop of Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream, after which I was sent off to the poor teachers at St. Luke's School who had to deal with a little sugar and caffeine-fueled Tasmanian devil.  No wonder I used to get in trouble for attacking other, more passive students. 

This is all to say that I was very sad to hear, when living in Beirut, that the ice cream company of my childhood funds settlements in the West Bank that are an obstacle to peace.  I wonder, and would be grateful to anyone who knows the answer to this, why Haagen Dazs is then able to operate several profitable franchises around Beirut, including one right in front of the Parliamentary building in Place d'Etoile?

However, there is another option, available in the West Bank city of Ramallah: Baladna ("Our Country") ice creams.  Since I was not legally allowed to travel to Israel or Palestine during my time living in Lebanon and Syria, I didn't actually get to go there, even though the woman in the picture looks a lot like me.  I cannot personally vouch for the fact that the texture was slightly gummy, some of the flavors a little too sweet, but the portions generous and the service charming.  They have my favorite policy - the "as many flavors as you want in a cone" policy.  Snickers flavor was delicious, as most peanut butter-flavored ice creams are.  And they were open at 9 am, so it was the perfect cap to a falafel and hummus breakfast.

The local operation

The Baladna selection.  Bubble Gum is not recommended.

Not me.

Starbucks, incidentally, has a similarly bad reputation for supporting Israeli causes, but luckily right across the street from Baladna is local alternative "Stars and Bucks." 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Goodbye Axis of Evil, hello Great Satan: a MidEast ice cream roundup

I recently moved back to New York City, where I was born and raised, from Beirut, Lebanon and Damascus, Syria, where I've been living and working as a freelance writer for the past two years.  I was surprised at how much excellent gelato was waiting for me in New York, but more on that later.  I'll say my goodbyes to Beirut and Damascus with a roundup of a few excellent ice cream places and memories in Lebanon and Syria, with Egypt, Turkey and Morocco to follow.  By the way, "ice cream" in Arabic is بوظة pronounced "booza."  In Turkey it's "dondurma."  Learn how to say "Where is the bathroom?" and "Please" and "Thank you" and "Dude, what are you staring at?" and you will be more or less fine in any of these countries.


Hanna's: Hanna's is the closest thing to a Willy Wonka experience that Beirut has to offer.  This small corner ice cream shop, where everything is handmade by two married geriatrics (see my friend Anissa's brilliant blog post on their operation), bakes their own almond brittle that they swirl into milk-flavored ice cream.  On days when they're baking it, the whole block smells like caramelizing sugar.  They also make a fabulous apricot flavor with pine nuts mixed in; it's called "qamr ed-dine" which I think translates to something like "the moon of God" and is made from an apricot fruit leather that is particularly popular during Ramadan and is available by the sheet - sheets as big as a page of the New York Times.  It's fun to sit on the corner in the broken plastic chairs that are sometimes on the sidewalk and stare at all the people who come to get their ice cream.  It's in Achrafieh down the street from Spinney's supermarket.

Gruen/Oslo: I lived in Beirut for two years and spent untold sums on Oslo ice cream (sold mainly at a restaurant called Gruen, easily the best European-style ice cream in the region, before I met the owner, Nayla Audi.  I wish I had had some wasta (Arabic for "connections") to her before, since this ice cream seems to get more expensive every time I go, to the point where I spent $10 on my last cone, after tip.  That said, the Valhrona sorbet is phenomenal, and her mint flavor (After Eight) and cookies and cream are superb.  Her more eclectic flavors are not only elegant but look gorgeous when you order them all together - rose loukoum (loukoum is another word for Turkish delight, but this one is fairly delicate), Earl Grey and pistachio halvah make such a pretty cone.  The ginger cookies (not the ginger snaps, you want the thin, buttery cookies) are also game-changing, and Nayla is an impressive businesswoman.  Look out for an interview with her in August when she comes to New York.  In the Gefinor building in Clemenceau.
Nayla, in black, and Anissa.  These are two generous, charming, hilarious and wonderful women - as well as serious businesswomen and foodies.


al-Malak: This small shop sells delicious, smooth French custard-y style ice cream, not typical thick, gummy Arabic ice cream.  The owner trained somewhere in Europe (I believe it was France, not Italy) and makes a wonderful coffee flavor ("Nescafe" is the actual name) that tastes like Haagen-Dazs only less rich, and another very special flavor called Mann wa Salwa, which is a type of Iranian nougat flavored with cardamom and studded with pistachios.  This ice cream is the frozen manifestation of that combination - cardamom-scented base with delicious Syrian pistachios.  It is best taken with a scoop of their praline flavor.  The waffle cones are also fresh, crispy and sweet.  If it weren't for the grouchy chain-smoking man who works the register (the chain-smoking may be a thing of the past thanks to Syria's smoking ban) this place would be perfect.  It's on Sharia Nazem Basha, the main street of the Muhajireen neighborhood.  Watch out for the three to five really mediocre ice cream places on this street.  Only accept al-Malak.

Dimashq: Most guidebooks suggest Bakdash in the covered market of Souq al-Hamediyya (it's the place that's mobbed with Syrian teenagers, families, and Swedish backpackers) but just down the street, a bit closer to the entrance of the souq, is Dimashq.  Bakdash is one of those places that someone once thought was good and no one else thought to question. It is assuredly not that good.  Dimashq, on the other hand, is extremely good, notably for its ishta flavor (my friend and world-class food writer Anissa Helou first took me there.)

This picture was taken by my dear friend James Alexander, who sadly didn't have this valuable blog as a resource when he traveled to Damascus and wound up in the wrong hands.

At Dimashq, they make ice cream either from ishta (the cream that floats on top of really fresh milk) or of regular milk, ("hlib" flavor, hlib being Arabic for milk.)  The ishta flavor is like an unflavored, incredibly smooth kulfi, with a pure dairy flavor, while the milk is lighter, and seems to have more gum arabic or thickener in it. You know it's authentic when you see a middle-aged Khaliji (a person from the Khalij, or Gulf region) there with his miserable-looking child bride, as though an ice cream will make up for the inequality in their relationship.  Some realities are too unhappy even for ice cream to fix.

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