A Taste of Woodstock: Kiss the Cow Farm

Last weekend, K and I flew into Boston’s Logan Airport and met up with my sister Carolyn and her boyfriend Greg (i.e. my ice-cream buddy) in the rental car parking lot. We immediately piled into a car and headed off on a 3-hour trek to Vermont. Our cousin Leah recently purchased a gorgeous 50-acre farm outside of the quaint town of Woodstock, Vermont with her long-time bf Matt. Leah and Matt are two of our favorite people, so spending time with them was our only expectation. Little did we know that this rural part of Vermont would steal a piece of our hearts and stomachs!

Pulling up to Leah and Matt’s farm was like stepping into the pages of a storybook. Their property is breathtaking, with rolling pastures, a clean little pond, big ruby-red barn (originally built in 1850!), and a quaint but spacious farmhouse.

IMG_8267IMG_8265We spent the rest of Friday afternoon getting acquainted with the farm, barn, and its newest residents — a few chickens and two female goats. For dinner, we headed “downtown” and enjoyed craft beers, ciders, kombucha on tap, and yummy food at the Worthy Kitchen in Woodstock.

On Saturday morning, we all took a long hike around the property and then along the infamous Appalachian Trail. We had several encounters with hikers who are doing the entire trail. You could never talk me into doing a 3-month hike, but I love imagining what that might be like.

IMG_8238On Saturday afternoon, we ventured into downtown Woodstock (which I was surprised to learn is NOT the site of the infamous music festival… goes to show you how knowledgeable I am about music history). Leah had heard that an event called “The Taste of Woodstock” was happening that afternoon. We had to check it out!

IMG_8249Because of this annual event, downtown Woodstock was very busy. The parking headaches were worth it, because the event itself was great! The Chamber of Commerce had blocked off an entire street for local vendors and musicians. We spent an hour going from tent to tent, checking out local restaurants’ cuisines, farmers’ products, local packaged foods, and even some local distilleries. Greg bought a bottle of local vodka made from pure honey!

It wouldn’t be a food festival without ice cream, so I was happy to find the Kiss the Cow Farm’s tent. The local family-owned Vermont farm is home to about a dozen dairy cows, who are entirely grass-fed and, according to this fun online video I later found, quite cute! Locals have been enjoying milk and cheese from these cows for years, but the owners recently decided to foray into the ice-cream business!

IMG_8250 IMG_8253Kiss the Cow Farm brought six of their flavors to this event, and they all sounded delightful. If I didn’t have a gluten allergy, I would have  gone for the Mint Cookies ‘n Cream… mint can be so refreshing on a hot afternoon. While Leah was intrigued by the Balsamic Strawberry, I’m not a fan of that particular combination.  Something about vinegar and fruit turns my stomach?!? I asked about the “2 Die 4” Chocolate and was told that it was more intensely chocolatey than a regular chocolate flavor. Count me in! I couldn’t pass up the Blueberry Lavender, either, so I ended up ordering a two-scoop cup for $4.

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Bottom scoop: “2 Die 4” Chocolate. Top scoop: Blueberry Lavender.

IMG_8288 The verdict? This is good ice cream. Both flavors were rich, yet not too heavy and dense. The Blueberry Lavender wasn’t as blue as I’d expected, but that’s probably because it was all-natural and not artificially flavored or colored. I was glad that the lavender flavor was subtle and took a backseat to the blueberries. The berries must have been thoroughly pureed and strained, as I didn’t find any solid bits in my scoop. The “2 Die 4” Chocolate was my favorite of the two flavors, since it really did pack a big punch of chocolate! It was quite rich, but this scoop didn’t feel quite as intensely creamy as the Blueberry Lavender did; perhaps that’s because the chocolate-to-cream ratio was so high? In any case, it was one delicious and chocolatey scoop of ice cream. Based on what I saw at the Taste of Woodstock, I’d say that that Kiss the Cow Farm has a bright future.

The Stats:
Kiss the Cow Farm
2248 Royalton Turnpike
Barnard, VT 05068

 

Lapp Valley Farm Ice Cream in the Heart of Amish Country

For K and me, it’s been the summer of small road trips. Whether we’re on the East Coast or in the Pacific Northwest, we seem to be renting cars and driving several hours most weekends. I’m not complaining, though, as I love exploring new-to-me corners of the country. Road trips allow me to see, hear, smell, and taste things that I’d entirely miss when I’m flying between Point A and Point B.

Case in point: Last month, K and I flew from D.C. to Syracuse for a weekend of wine-tasting with my family in the Finger Lakes. But since the return flights were very pricey, we decided to rent a car and drive back to D.C. on Memorial Day. Sure, it took a long time (6+ hours), but the highlight of the trip was a pit stop in Lancaster County, known as the heart of “Amish country.”

I remember visiting Lancaster County with my parents and sisters when I was very young (10 or 11 years old?), and it sparked a longtime fascination with the Amish . Their simple clothing, devout religiosity, and refusal to use most modern technologies has always puzzled and intrigued me. I’m in no way an expert on Amish history or culture, but I love reading novels or watching documentaries about the Amish. Somewhat surprisingly, K shares in my fascination, albeit via his love for the T.V. show “Amish Mafia” on the Discovery Channel. Reality television at it’s finest, let me tell you 😉

Driving around Lancaster County was a trip. The area blends the old with the new; we’d be driving through a neighborhood full of big modern homes and suddenly spot an Amish farm. We’d stop at an intersection and a horse and buggy would stop behind us. Driving through downtown Intercourse, PA (haha, I know), K spotted a store selling homemade pretzels. He stopped and bought a delicious-looking soft pretzel for $1 from the friendly Amish teenager behind the counter. Since I couldn’t partake in the gluten-full snack, K offered to buy me some ice cream. After a quick Yelp search, we headed over to Lapp Valley Farm.

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The drive to Lapp Valley Farm was quite scenic; the working dairy farm is nestled among rolling green hills and farmland. Pulling into the large driveway at Lapp Valley Farm, I couldn’t help but notice how well-manicured the lawns were, and how many cars and buggies were in the parking lot! Lapp Valley is clearly a local institution. Amish and tourists alike were milling around the property, licking large ice-cream cones or carrying glass jugs of fresh milk – including chocolate milk! I spotted kids visiting cows in the barn adjacent to the dairy shop.

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When K and I arrived, the line for ice cream was already snaking out the door. Luckily, it moved quite quickly thanks to the efficient Amish team working inside. We finally stepped inside the simple store, where the smell of homemade waffle cones had me salivating. It wasn’t until we were inside that I noticed that Lapp Valley has has a drive-up window for those wishing to skip the long line. But why would you want to skip these yummy smells?

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Not unlike the surroundings, the flavor offerings at Lapp Valley Farm are quite old-fashioned. None of the dozen flavors posted were strange or too unique, but most of the old-fashioned favorites were there: Vanilla, Coffee, Maple Walnut, Cookies and Cream, Black Cherry, and so on. One flavor caught my eye: Butter Brickle. I’ve tried and loved variations of this flavor before; it’s usually vanilla ice cream mixed with butter toffee pieces.  (I <3 toffee )

I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Lapp Valley is cash-only, but I was nervous that I wouldn’t have enough. There is an ATM on site, but the prices here are so reasonable that I didn’t need it. I had plenty of money to pay for my one-scoop cup ($1.85 plus tax).

IMG_8116The verdict? Life is complicated, but this Butter Brickle ice cream is not. How can you go wrong pairing a good-quality homemade vanilla ice cream with simple butter toffee? The thick and sweet ice cream coated my tongue, delicious evidence of its high fat content. The vanilla flavor was light; I’m guessing that Lapp Valley uses vanilla extract instead of vanilla beans. I usually prefer the vanilla bean varieties, but  this less-intense extract allowed the high-quality and richness of Lapp Valley’s milk products to shine. While the tiny butter toffee pieces were few and far between, they were buttery and had a nice bite. And watching the cows while eating my generous scoop outside made my Amish experience all the more satisfying.

The Stats:
Lapp Valley Farm
244 Mentzer Road
New Holland, PA 17557

Old-Fashioned Ice Cream & Fun at Seneca Farms

A few weeks ago, K and I joined my family for a long weekend in the Finger Lakes wine region. Located in Upstate New York, the Finger Lakes are a group of eleven long and narrow lakes that resemble human fingers on a map. The Finger Lakes are known for their wine, especially their crisp whites like Rieslings, and have become a popular tourist destination.

Fingerlakesmap(Source)

My dad has known about the Finger Lakes for a while, as a close friend from his study abroad time on Cape Cod (my dad is Australian) used to live in the area. Now that us sisters are of legal-drinking age, we have driven out to the Finger Lakes a couple times to take advantage of the wineries. The first time, my youngest sister Ava couldn’t make the trip so we vowed to return with her in tow one day. This was the year we made it happen. My family (including K and Ava’s boyfriend) rented a house on Keuka Lake and spent two full days driving from winery to winery, sampling the surprisingly good wines and meads. My favorite wineries included Heron Hill, the Thirsty Owl, and Belhurst Castle. Other highlights of the trip included cheese tastings at the Muranda Cheese Company, playing cornhole outside of the Ithaca Beer Co. taproom, and Saturday night’s dinner at Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca Lake.

IMG_7918Sunday ended up being an exceptionally warm day, so I successfully lobbied our group to stop at Seneca Farms for ice cream. It was located down the road from our rental house in Penn Yan, New York. We knew it must be popular, judging from the full parking lot, cars in the drive-through, and plenty of families sitting beneath a pavilion out back. The signage by the road advertised not only ice cream, but food as well (apparently, it is quite well-known for its fried chicken).

IMG_7919Seneca Farms is separated into two sections, with the ice cream parlor in front and the restaurant in back. We made a beeline into the front section of the building. And inside, Seneca Farms felt like a blast from the past, with old Coca-Cola memorabilia and retro furniture and furnishings. Which made perfect sense when I learned that Seneca Farms has been family owned and operated since 1950.

IMG_7920 Colorful ice cream menus featured a few dozen flavors of homemade ice cream, plus a rotating selection of frozen custard and soft serve. Beyond the normal ice cream flavors  like Chocolate, Strawberry, and Mint Chocolate Chip, there were other Northeast favorites like Grasshopper, Deer TracksWhite Mountain Raspberry, and Maple Walnut.

The frozen custard flavors were limited to Vanilla, Chocolate, Twist, or the rotating specialty flavor.  This particular day, the special was Peanut Butter (you can check the “Custard Calendar” here for current specialty flavors).

IMG_7921You can turn any flavor into a sundae, shake, float, or flurry. But we kept things simple with cones… Especially since Seneca Farms offers gluten-free cones free of charge!

I went with a small gluten-free cone of Peanut Butter frozen custard with rainbow sprinkles for an added crunch. The sprinkles turned out to be quite patriotic! Ava ordered a small cup of the same custard (not pictured here), plus a cone of Salted Caramel Nut for my dad and Pistachio for mom. We promptly took them outside to enjoy in the sunshine.

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Small Peanut Butter frozen custard in a gluten-free cone… with patriotic sprinkles

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Small cones of Salted Caramel and Pistachio

The verdict? Everyone happily polished off their ice creams! The Peanut Butter frozen custard tasted like the filling in my grandma-in-law’s famous peanut butter pie (which is similar to this recipe). The custard was a bit more dense and rich than regular soft serve, and the peanut butter flavor was strong but not overwhelming. Ava pointed out that there were even teeny-tiny specks of peanuts throughout our custard, and she later proclaimed her cup as “maybe the best soft serve” she’s ever had! I agreed that it was top-notch. I also stole a bite of my mom’s Pistachio and dad’s Salted Caramel. While the latter was nothing special (too sugary and not salty enough), mom’s scoop of Pistachio was flavorful and studded with bits of real pistachios. It reminded me of my grandfather (my mom’s dad), who seemed to always have a half-gallon of pistachio ice cream in his freezer. When we visited him as kids, it was either pistachio ice cream or no ice cream. So I learned to love the flavor as a youngster.

Overall, I think Seneca Farms is a lovely place to enjoy good old-fashioned ice cream (or frozen custard!) in a fun environment.

The Stats:
Seneca Farms
2485 Rt. 54A
Penn Yan, NY 14527
http://senecafarmsny.com/

FoMu Ice Cream — Not Just for Vegans

Summer has officially arrived on the East Coast. After a rough winter in Massachusetts, my parents and sisters are welcoming the warmer weather with open arms. I’m also thankful for warm weather, as it means that more people are in the mood for ice cream!

Speaking of sisters, one went vegetarian a few years back and also avoids dairy. Her (usually meat-eating) boyfriend recently introduced her to FoMu, which sells vegan ice cream (coconut-milk based) and baked goods at their stores in Allston and Jamaica Plain. Since then, they have both urged me to visit FoMu. Specifically, they raved about “Magic Bar” flavor. Remember those treats, also known as “seven-layer bars”?

A couple weeks ago, the stars aligned and I had the FoMu experience. I was at home for a long weekend and had plans to visit my friends’ new baby. According to Google, FoMu’s Jamaica Plain location was a mile or so away from their house. It’s a well-known fact that one should bring food when visiting new parents, so swinging by FoMu to pick up some pints was what any good friend should do (or so I told myself).

IMG_7769IMG_7770FoMu is located on a busy street in Jamaica Plains. I imagine that it could be difficult to find parking on the weekends, but I had no problem on a Monday afternoon. The store has the welcoming vibe of an earthy coffee shop, with its light wooden floors and counter. And true to this vibe, FoMu offers a full espresso menu.

IMG_7771The real attractions here are the baked goods and ice creams. The baked goods are proudly displayed behind a glass case; everything is vegan and many options are gluten-free, but you’d never know by the look of them! I spotted cookies, brownies, and the infamous “Magic Bar.” That golden brown crust, the gooey center filled with chocolate chips, nuts, butterscotch chips, and toasted coconut? I could hardly believe the nice guy behind the counter when he told me that they were vegan and gluten-free.

IMG_7772I finally turned my attention to the ice cream flavors listed. Sadly, unlike the baked goods, the ice cream is kept hidden in covered tubs. So you have to go on flavor name and descriptions, although FoMu happily provides little samples to any customer that asks. And there are so many flavors to choose from!

IMG_7773My stomach was growling at this point, so I decided to order a cup of ice cream for lunch. But I could not decide between the recommended Magic Bar and the Avocado (which sounded like a nice “healthy” lunch flavor). We all know that I can be indecisive, but this decision felt even harder than others. So when I saw the small cup sizes, including a “kids” cup, I reasoned that they were small enough for me to order two ice creams without looking ridiculous. This was lunch, after all!

My small cup of Magic Bar cost me $4.15, whereas the kids cup of Avocado set me back $3.29. I also picked out two pints for my friends; one Magic Bar and one Roasted Banana Cinnamon (the new mom adores banana in her morning oatmeal). Each pint cost around $8 — definitely pricey, but no more expensive than other fancy vegan ice creams I’ve seen at Whole Foods.

IMG_7774The verdict? This ice cream is the stuff that dreams are made of… even for non-vegans. The Avocado not only looked beautiful, but it tasted wonderful as well. FoMu must have used perfectly-ripe avocados, as the flavor was almost fruity (yes, I know avocado is a fruit, but it doesn’t always taste like one!). This flavor stuck a perfect balance; sweet, but not overly sweet. Thick and rich, but not too coco-nutty (like many coconut-based ice creams are). I thought it couldn’t get any better than the Avocado, but then I tasted the Magic Bar. Holy COW, this flavor is, well,  magical! The traditional coconut milk base was the perfect canvas for the plentiful chunks of Magic Bar. Each bite of this cup entertained me with different textures and flavors: toasted coconut bits, mini chocolate chips, butterscotch, and cookie crumble. Imagine my surprise when I had no difficulty polishing off both cups :)

P.S. My friends tell me that the Roasted Banana Cinnamon was also delicious. I’ll have to confirm that myself next time I’m in town!

The Stats:
FoMu
617 Centre Street
Jamaica Plains, MA 02130
– or –
481 Cambridge Street
Allston, MA 02134
http://www.fomuicecream.com

Crossed Off the Bucket List: San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Creamery

Many obsessive ice-cream hobbyists will tell you that they have a “bucket list,” or list of ice cream shops they’d like to visit during their lifetime. I don’t exactly have a bucket list (I want to try them all!), but there are some iconic ice cream shops that I dream of visiting. These include Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream’s original location in Columbus, Ohio, Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon, the Penn State Creamery (where you can take a 7 day ice-cream science course), and a handful of others. Up until last month, Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco was high on that list.

Bi-Rite Creamery started out as a local neighborhood favorite in San Francisco’s Mission District, but it has gained national notoriety in recent years. Heck, one of the owners has even appeared on the Martha Stewart Show! The Creamery opened in 2006 as part of the Bi-Rite Market, a historic family-owned business across the street, and quickly took off. Co-owners Kris Hoogerhyde and Anne Walker share a commitment to locally grown and organic ingredients, and their ice creams are made by hand in small batches. They were two of the pioneers of the “locally sourced” movement that’s so popular among the trendy ice cream shops today

I finally got my chance to visit Bi-Rite Creamy during a recent work trip to San Francisco. I arrived a day early so I could grab dinner with a college roommate who lives in the Bay Area. Because of the time difference, I arrived in San Francisco with plenty of time to kill before dinner. It was a abnormally warm, summery day in San Francisco and ice cream sounded like a great way to cool off.

The Mission District was quick BART ride from my hotel on Union Square. The neighborhood was particularly busy this Sunday afternoon, and the people watching entertained me on the short walk to Bi-Rite Creamery. I knew that I was getting close when I passed the Bi-Rite Market, which looked smaller than I’d anticipated but so packed with shoppers that I didn’t dare venture inside.

I spotted the waiting line before I saw the Bi-Rite Creamery itself. For 3:30pm on a winter afternoon, this line was seriously impressive. Okay, it was 80 degrees out, but still! line at bi-riteLuckily, the line moved fairly quickly and I soon found myself inside. IMG_7139On any given day, there are well over a dozen flavors available at Bi-Rite. Some are staples of the menu, like Vanilla and Chocolate but also their famous Salted Caramel, Honey Lavender, and Balsamic Strawberry flavors. Whereas the Orange Cardamom, Earl Grey, and Maple Walnut were late-winter specials.

IMG_7141I had a difficult time picking flavors; the Roasted Banana with fudge swirl was very tempting. And if I didn’t have to avoid gluten, I would have definitely tried the infamous Ricanelas (cinnamon ice cream with snickerdoodle cookie pieces). In the end, I decided on the seasonal Crème Brûlée and the vegan Chocolate Coconut ice cream (made with local TCHO chocolate). Because so many people in my life are lactose-intolerant or vegan, I pay attention to non-dairy options. This one looked too good to pass up.

IMG_7140My mouth dropped when I saw gluten-free cones available. And they were FREE of charge! Major points for Bi-Rite!

My “single” cone came to $4.00, which isn’t cheap. But I’ve paid more for similar-sized cones of regular mass-produced ice cream, so I didn’t think the price was unreasonable.IMG_7144

The verdict? I have to admit that Bi-Rite Creamery is worth the hype! I was already impressed with the variety of flavors and the accommodations for special diets. But it was the ice cream itself that truly had me “wowed.” The Crème Brûlée was amazing. It has everything I love about the traditional dessert: a thick custard base and plenty of shards of blow-torched caramelized sugar. Like the real thing, this ice cream is seriously rich. It’s not something I could eat every day, but it was incredibly flavorful and fun to eat. I later learned that this flavor was created by Chase Cho, who won a recipe competition hosted by Bi-Rite. And I can see why this one! The vegan Chocolate Coconut also exceeded any expectations I had. While many coconut milk-based ice creams are heavy and dense, this one was light and velvety. The chocolate flavor was definitely predominant, with slight coconut undertones. I’d definitely recommend this to anybody who loves ice cream but avoids dairy.

All in all, Bi-Rite Creamery was everything I had hoped for. An innovative company with a serious commitment to fresh local ingredients and unique (yet authentic) flavors. I’m already looking out for an opportunity to return.

The Stats:
Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
http://biritecreamery.com/

 

Strawberry-Swirl Ice Cream with Candied Jalapeños

It’s been quite a busy winter, and my ice-cream making has definitely suffered. But this week, I finally put my foot down and got creative in the kitchen. Ever since the surprising success of my Jalapeño-Chocolate Sorbet, K and I have been envisioning other ways to incorporate the pepper into desserts.

Have you ever tried candied jalapeños? I’ve had plenty of pickled jalapeños, but never candied ones. I spotted a recipe for Meyer lemon ice cream with candied jalapeños on Pinterest and decided to play around with idea. My mom makes an easy and delicious strawberry sauce for shortcakes, and that sounded like a good compliment to jalapeños.

IMG_6896The night before I wanted to serve the ice cream, I got to making the candied jalapeños. The process is pretty simple: let chopped jalapeños simmer in sugar water for a bit, and then pop the pieces of pepper onto parchment paper to cool overnight. Because I was making this for K, I tried to preserve as many seeds as possible. So much of the heat of jalapeños is trapped in those little white seeds.

IMG_6898As soon as I got home from work the next day, I quickly whipped up the strawberry sauce for a fruity swirl in the ice cream. Just sugar and slightly defrosted strawberries puréed in the blender. My mom usually mashes the strawberries by hand to preserve some pieces of strawberries, making for a rustic and comforting texture. But since I was freezing this, I figured a purée was better.

The ice-cream base is just a simple sweet cream recipe; no egg yolks or cornstarch. It does freeze a bit harder than recipes with yolk or cornstarch, but I knew I’d be letting this ice cream soften a bit before scooping to allow the strawberries and frozen bits of jalapeños to soften slightly.

Look at that snow-white color of the cream base offset with deep red strawberry swirls and festive green candied jalapeños! This is definitely one of the prettier ice creams I’ve made.

IMG_6938Strawberry-Swirl Ice Cream with Candied Jalapeños
{Makes 1 quart}
Inspired by this and this recipe

For Candied Jalapeños
• 3 jalapeños, de-seeded and chopped (for more heat, keep in some seeds)
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup water

For Strawberry Swirl
• 1.5 cups strawberries, fresh or frozen
• 1/3 – 1/4 cup sugar (I recommend using 1/4)

For Ice-Cream Base
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 1 cup milk (whole or 2%)
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• Pinch of salt (I used this, a gift from my mom)

To make candied jalapeños:
• Combine sugar and water in small saucepan and heat to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low, whisking until sugar has dissolved completely.
• Add jalapeños and simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn of heat and drain liquid.
• Spread jalapeños out on wax paper and cool completely (preferably overnight)

For strawberry swirl:
• If you’re using frozen strawberries, let them thaw a bit. Place strawberries and sugar in a blender or food processor and blend until puréed.
• Keep purée in fridge until you need it.

For ice-cream base:
• Combine the heavy cream, milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking from time to time until the sugar has dissolved completely and has barely reached a simmer.
• Turn off heat and pour mixture into a metal or glass bowl. Let it cool a bit and then place then refrigerate until cold, at least an hour. While you’re waiting, start the strawberry swirl.

Bringing it all together:
• Pour chilled ice-cream mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze per your mixer’s instructions. For my Cuisinart ice-cream maker, this means 1) turn on machine, 2) slowly pour mixture in, and 3) leave the thing alone for at least 15 minutes.
• When the ice cream is done, scoop out enough to fill the bottom of an airtight container about an inch high. Then, sprinkle some candied jalapeños and drizzle some strawberry sauce onto the ice cream. Add another layer of ice cream. Repeat the process until you’re all out of ice cream. I had some leftover candied jalapeños and strawberry sauce, which I used later for serving!
• While you can serve the ice cream immediately, my preference is to pop the container into the freezer until firm. When frozen to your liking (2 hours for me), simply scoop into a dish and garnish with some of the reserved candied jalapenos.

IMG_6895The verdict? Those candied jalapeños have a kick to them! Of course, leaving the seeds in definitely cranked up the heat. Regardless, I wouldn’t serve this ice cream to those with sensitive taste buds. But spice lovers will rejoice. The contrast between the sweet, milky ice cream and the hot bits of candied jalapeño kept my taste buds. The jalapeños were nice and soft even straight from the freezer, thanks to the candying. The smooth and refreshing strawberry swirl was a bit icy and hard (thus my recommendation above to add more sugar), but it provided cool relief to the heat. K polished off his cup with ease, and commented on how this ice cream would be perfect on a warm August afternoon. And I’d just have to agree.

Gelato Messina: Over-the-top ice cream Down Under

The morning after Christmas, K and I headed to Boston’s Logan International Airport to begin our long journey to Australia. Most of the Australian-side of my family could not attend our wedding last August, so we planned this trip to celebrate with them. When K’s parents heard about the plans, they offered to accompany us… After all, it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere :)

Our trip began in my father’s hometown of Melbourne. The four of us spent several days visiting family and exploring the city itself. One of the highlights was wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens. I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this urban oasis.

Botanical GardensOn Sunday, my Aunt Kathy put on a lovely afternoon barbeque for everyone who could make it. It was so special to introduce my in-laws to my extended family and family friends. As anticipated, everyone got along swimmingly!

IMG_6558Before we headed off to Sydney to experience their New Year’s Eve celebrations, I made sure to schedule some time with my dear friend Rangi. While she’d attended our wedding in Seattle and Kathy’s barbeque, I always try to soak up as much time with Rangi as humanly possible. We’ve been friends ever since my grandma introduced me to the “lovely gal” next door over 15 years ago. Rangi and I hit it off immediately and continued our friendship as pen pals. Remember when people used to have “pen pals” instead of “Facebook friends”? Oh, how I miss those glitter pens and stickers…

On our last night in Melbourne, Rangi picked the four of us up from our hotel and drove over to a popular new restaurant, Epocha, where we devoured an incredibly tasty (and gluten-free friendly) meal.

2014-12-29 22.57.32-1 copyAs we polished off dessert at Epocha, Rangi informed us that the night was not yet over. So we piled into her car and headed to the hipster neighborhood of Fitzroy. Our destination? Gelato Messina. The wildly-popular chain started in Sydney (where it has six stores and a devoted following) and  opened its first Melbourne location in 2013. Gelato Messina focuses on all-natural ingredients, and the gelato is made in-house daily.

I apologize in advance for the less-than-stellar photographs. It was quite dark!IMG_6819 IMG_6820Gelato Messina eludes easy classifications. Its décor reminded me both of classy European cafés and trendy Manhattan nightclubs. On this warm evening, the lights were turned low and the music cranked loud. And the long lines after 10pm on a weeknight were impressive.

IMG_6822On any given night, Gelato Messina Fitzroy has over 40 flavors of gelato and sorbetto. In addition, there are 5 weekly specials — often the most wacky or seasonal flavors. Each gelato is displayed behind a lovely, curved glass gelati case. Several of the flavors were common — Vanilla, Choc Mint, Coffee, Gianduia, Mango, etc. —  but most were not. Some examples:

  • Coconut & Lychee – coconut milk gelato with lychee fruit
  • Banana Split – caramel and banana gelato with peanuts and whipped cream
  • Pear & Rhubarb – pear gelato with poached spiced rhubarb
  • Salted Coconut and Mango Salsa (vegan sorbet!)

I regret not taking photos of the stunning gelati cakes on display at Messina. There were many to choose from, and I thought the prices (most around 45 USD) were reasonable for such works of art. Here’s an example from their website:

Understandably, we had a difficult time deciding what to order. The guys decided to opt out, claiming they were “full.” But we all know that I don’t have such willpower. I did, however, limit myself to one flavor, choosing a single-scoop of one of the weekly specials: Christmas Pudding. I’ve missed the classic Aussie treat since going gluten-free, but Messina’s version was clearly marked as not containing gluten. I couldn’t pass it up! My mother-in-law chose Caramelised White Chocolate while Rangi went with Apple Pie. (Side note: apple pie is highly unusual in Australia. Rangi first tried it at my parent’s house in MA just last last year!)

Our three single-scoops came to about $10 USD, which I thought was pretty good.

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L to R: Apple Pie, Caramelised White Chocolate, Christmas Pudding

The verdict? This is my type of gelato! All three scoops were thick and creamy, frozen to just the right temperature. My Christmas Pudding tasted exactly as it was advertised: “brandy, candied fruit, and brown sugar gelato.” First to hit my taste buds was the deep, molasses-like flavor of brown sugar, but the aftertaste was strong brandy. Not for the faint of heart! Unlike the classic dessert, the candied fruit in this gelato was shaved into tiny bits. This made for a smooth, yet slightly interesting, texture.  My mother-in-law  thoroughly enjoyed her Caramelised White Chocolate. I stole a bite, and it definitely had a more complex  flavor than traditional white chocolate ice cream. Rangi’s Apple Pie was the real show-stopper. It was all the goodness of homemade spiced apple pie à la mode in a single scoop of gelato. Gelato Messina’s apple gelato is mixed with real apple pie! I took a tiny bite, carefully avoiding the chunks of pie crust (which Rangi confirmed were buttery and crunchy, but not gluten-free!). The apple gelato was sweet and heavily spiked with cinnamon, and the bits of apple from the pie were soft and delicious.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by Gelato Messina. In my opinion, this gelato is worth the hype!

The Stats:
Gelato Messina
Multiple locations – 6 in Sydney, and 1 in Melbourne
(I visited the Melbourne store in Fitzroy)
http://www.gelatomessina.com/

The Best, Worst & Most Unique of 2014

Welcome to 2015!

On this first day of this new year, I want to take a moment to reminisce about the many adventures and ice creams of 2014. It was quite a year, from getting married(!!) to exploring new places and spending quality time with friends and family.

While I enjoyed countless ice creams in 2014, below is a recap of the best, the worst, and the weirdest ones. I hope you enjoy!

All-Around Best Ice Cream:
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Best New Recipe:
Best Atmosphere:
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Worst Ice Cream:
Most Unique Ice Cream:
What was your favorite ice cream of 2014?

Liks Ice Cream – Denver’s Neighborhood Gem

I cannot believe it’s the middle of December already. Wasn’t Halloween last week?

Several weeks ago (but feels like two days ago), I made my annual pilgrimage to Denver, Colorado for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). It was my sixth year in a row attending the festival, and I swear it gets better every year. The GABF brings beer lovers from around the world to sample over 2,000 different American brews. And for those who are gluten-sensitive like me, there’s plenty of gluten-free brews to try.

K and I stayed with our close friend Elysia, who lives with her Great Dane pup in a charming apartment in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. On Sunday morning, K jumped in a cab  to catch an early flight back to Seattle. My DC-bound plane didn’t take off until the evening, giving me Elysia and me a full afternoon of “girl time.” We decided to take the pup on a long walk around the neighborhood. Plenty of people had the same idea, as it was an unseasonably-warm fall afternoon. IMG_6454After walking around the neighborhood, a girl gets hungry. Luckily, Elysia knew just the place for a quick sugar fix: Liks Ice Cream.

A neighborhood institution since 1976, Liks Ice Cream appears to have quite the fan base. I was shocked to see so many people enjoying ice cream on the outside patio in the middle of fall. And I was likely one of the few tourists around, as Liks is a bit off the beaten tourist tracks of Denver. Plenty of families and dog-owners were relaxing in the sunshine and enjoying delicious-looking homemade ice creams.

IMG_6455IMG_6456Inside, Liks Ice Cream continues its neighborhood-y vibe, with colorful decor, laminate tabletops and a no-frills counter.  Featured prominently on the wall was a chalkboard listing the available ice cream flavors.

IMG_6493 IMG_6457Like any great neighborhood ice-cream joint, Liks’ flavors run the gamut from the “safe” (i.e. Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry) to the kid-approved (i.e. Cotton Candy and Yellow Cake), to the trendy (i.e. Salty Butter Caramel or Maple Bacon Fudge). There are even a couple options for the vegan or lactose-intolerant crowd, like the Pomegranate Sorbet. And once you’ve decided on your flavors, you can order a cup, regular cone, homemade waffle cone, homemade dipped waffle cone, sundae, milkshake, malt or a float. Phew, that’s a LOT of options!

After quite a bit of deliberation, I ordered a double scoop of Cinnamon and Coconut Peanut Brittle. Elysia went with a cup of S’Mores and Salty Butter Caramel. I thought the prices (little over $4 for a double) were fairly reasonable for a city.

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Coconut Peanut Brittle (L) and Cinnamon (R)

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Salty Butter Caramel (L) and S’Mores (R)

The verdict? Liks’ ice cream is just what good old-fashioned ice cream should be: thick, creamy, and flavorful. The Cinnamon was fantastic; the perfect blend of vanilla and cinnamon made for a refreshing and addicting treat. I’d be happy eating the Cinnamon again and again… and it would pair perfectly with a slice of pumpkin or apple pie.  The Coconut Peanut Brittle wasn’t what I was expecting but it was nonetheless a delight to eat! I was expecting coconut ice cream with peanut brittle bits, but this tasted more like creamy vanilla with bits of toffee and peanuts inside. The bits weren’t very crunchy, but they had great flavor. I had no problem polishing off my cup. I also took a bite (or two!) of Elysia’s Salty Butter Caramel, which was creamy and buttery. Liks’ version is less salty than many versions I’ve tried — in a good way! The salt accentuated (not overpowered) the caramel flavor. While I didn’t try the S’Mores (due to my gluten intolerance), Elysia reported that while the graham flavor was too subtle, the marshmallows were “perfection.”

While Liks Ice Cream might not be the fanciest or trendiest, its friendly vibe and good old-fashioned ice cream makes it a real neighborhood gem.

The Stats:
Liks Ice Cream
2039 East 13th Avenue
Denver, CO 80206
http://www.liksicecream.com/

Mexican Flavors at Santa Clara

This fall, I had an opportunity to spend a weekend with K in Mexico City. K had to spend a week there for work, so I accompanied him for the first couple days. I’d never been to Mexico before and wasn’t sure what to expect. While I’d heard that Mexico City has a reputation for being hot, crowded and polluted, I found the city to be vibrant, beautiful, and – yes- crowded!

K and I stayed at the W Hotel, which is located in a quieter residential neighborhood called Polanco. We didn’t mind being further away from the downtown action, as UberX rides were incredibly cheap and easy. We fit a lot into my day-and-a-half in Mexico City; we visited the Frida Kahlo Museum, drank horchatas and wandered the stalls of the Mercado de Coyoacán, and wandered around the Zócalo. We also had one of the best meals of my life at Pujol. In fact, nearly everything we ate in Mexico City blew me away. It was not only cheap, but everything was fresh and flavorful. Gosh, what I wouldn’t give for a street taco right now…

El Madero

El Madero

On Saturday afternoon, K and I were walking along the pedestrian-only Francisco I. Madero Avenue when I spotted yet another Santa Clara ice cream and dairy shop. I’d begun to notice the chain earlier in the day, when I saw someone exiting a shop in a different part of town with a cone of colorful ice cream. I later learned that Santa Clara has around 160 ice cream stores around Mexico, making it one of the country’s most popular and historic (opened in 1924!) dairy companies. With our dinner reservation still hours away, I figured a bit of local ice cream was in order.

Entrance of Santa Clara

Entrance of Santa Clara

Santa Clara shops are bright and playful-looking (that cute cow logo!), and the Mexico City locations seemed to be popular at all times of day. This location’s storefront was entirely open to the pedestrians street, and it was the long, colorful ice-cream case that ultimately drew me in. Made with domestic Mexican dairy products, Santa Clara churns out dozens of flavors — from the favorites you can find around the globe, like Napolítano, Tiramisú and Fresa (strawberry), to some  local ones like Piñón (pine nut) and Chamoy (based on the popular Chamoy condiment made from pickled fruit).

IMG_6383In the end, I decided to get a double-scoop cup filled with Tequila and Queso con Cereza (cheese and cherry). Both sounded refreshing and interesting. My cup ended up costing the equivalent of $5 USD.

IMG_6384 IMG_6385 IMG_6390The verdict? While I had high expectations for this ice cream (particularly the boozy one), I was a bit underwhelmed. While the Tequila  had an alcohol-tasting aftertaste, the cream and sugar overpowered it. But its flavor was better than the Queso con Cervesa, which sadly tasted entirely artificial and sugary — like those little cups of strawberry ice cream you can get in 12 packs at the grocery store.  And the ice cream base tasted like plain vanilla ice cream — not like the cheesecake advertised on the flavor’s label. What was most interesting about this ice cream was the fluffy and light texture, which reminded me of frozen mousse… So I bet the chocolate flavors would be good! I think Santa Clara is worth another shot, if not for the fun atmosphere and the ice cream’s interesting texture. I just have to find an excuse to get back to Mexico City!

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Tequila on top, Queso con Cereza

The Stats:
Santa Clara
Paseo Francisco I. Madero #56
Cuauhtémoc
06000 Mexico, D.F.
https://www.santaclara.com.mx/principal.asp