Creativity reigns at Taiwan’s Snow King

This blog post is long overdue! It’s been several weeks since K and I returned from a fabulous long weekend in Asia. While Taipei, Taiwan has never been at the top of my travel destination wish list, K was looking for an opportunity to brush up on his Mandarin and also see Taiwan for the first time. And we both ended up having a blast! Plus, the trip included overnight stays in Hong Kong on the way to and from Taipei, and it was fun to revisit after our amazing honeymoon stop there.

Taipei is a great city for foodies. The night markets were just as exciting as I’d imagined after watching this clip of Anthony Bourdain exploring one! We didn’t eat in a formal restaurant during our whole time there; we would eat brunch at our hotel, snack our way through the afternoon, and then eat dinner at the street markets. Our favorite was the Raohe Night Market, mostly because it was home to the best soup dumplings ever (as proclaimed by K). While the famous Maokong Gondola was closed for renovations, we did get to appreciate the natural beauty surrounding the city from the observation deck of Taipei 101 (once the tallest building in the world!).

Despite feeling perpetually full from all the fantastic food we were eating, I made a point of finding some ice cream in Taipei. A brief internet search pointed to Snow King, which earned great reviews for their interesting flavors. The shop was quite far from our hotel, but UberX made it easy and affordable to get there.

IMG_0126Open since 1947,  Snow King is apparently legendary in Taipei. It is oddly located on the second floor of a commercial building. We actually initially thought it was closed (see the grate above?). Inside, Snow King was bright, cheer, and thankfully air-conditioned 🙂

IMG_0127 IMG_0129The staff was friendly and even though they didn’t speak English, we all spoke the language of ice cream! I enjoyed looking at the colorful tubs in the display case and reading over the menu – which thankfully did have English translations.

IMG_0128 IMG_0130If you can manage to read the small text above, you will see some strange flavors listed! Tomato, Kidney Bean, Pig Knuckles, Soybean Curd, Beer, Carrot, Curry? Yes, those are all ice creams! There were plenty of more traditional, yummy flavors like Mango, Chocolate, Sesame, Red Bean, Ginger, Coffee, and Mint. K and I decided to try three different flavors: yummy-sounding Sticky Rice, intriguing Jasmine, and out-there Chili Pepper.

The biggest drawback of Snow King is that it’s cash only. But the ice cream is cheap; from memory, our bill was around USD $4.

IMG_0131

front to back: Jasmine, Sticky Rice, Chili Pepper

The verdict? This is good ice cream. I tend to be skeptical of places with such long menus, as I oftentimes find that these places are more concerned with developing wacky flavors than they are with the quality of the ice cream. At Snow King, each ice cream we tasted was full-bodied and creamy. We both agreed that the Jasmine was the standout, floral and lightly sweetened. It was lighter in texture than the other two — somewhere between sorbetto and ice cream? Given that neither K nor I drink tea, we were quite impressed! The Sticky Rice was satisfying — thick with a chewy bite from the ice. The light, sweet soy aftertaste was oddly addictive. This ice cream stands on its own, and I don’t think it would pair well with many other flavors or desserts. Next up was the Chili Pepper, which I made K taste first. He liked it but warned me that it did pack some heat. I tentatively took a small bite, and I liked the bright flavor when it first hit my taste buds. But it only took a few milliseconds for my mouth to feel the heat from the chili pepper. I hurried to get water! While I’m a wimp, I bet any lover of spice would like this flavor.

Overall, Snow King impressed me with its dedication to both good-quality ice cream and boundary-pushing flavors.

The Stats:
Snow King
No. 65, Wuchang Road
Section 1, Jhong Jheng District, Taipei City
+886 2 2331 8415

Feeling Tipsy at Mexico City’s Helado Obscuro

The other week, K and I took a quick weekend trip to Mexico City. I’m still surprised how close Mexico City is to D.C. If you disregard having to go through customs and immigration, flying to Mexico City is easier than flying to Las Vegas! After falling in love with the city over a year ago, K and I talked often about going back. Mexico City is bursting with energy, music, good food, and culture, and I can always use more Spanish practice.

We arrived late on a Friday evening and left on Sunday morning, so we wanted to make the most of every minute. After checking into our hotel (I’d highly recommend the Hyatt Regency!) and dropping off our bags, we took an UberX to a bar I’d read about online. Jules Basement is an intimate speakeasy literally in the basement of a very casual taco restaurant. The juxtaposition is quite cool. We found an open spot along the bar and ordered fancy tequila (for me) and mezcal (for him) cocktails. Afterwards, we couldn’t help but grab a couple tacos upstairs before heading back to the hotel.

ojWe woke up to a beautiful Saturday, in the low 80s and sunny. We spent an hour wandering through Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere. Taking up more than 1,600 acres, it’s far bigger than Central Park. There are museums, fountains, a zoo, live performers, and more food and craft vendors than you could ever want. We only covered a tiny section of the park before we had to start making our way to Azul Condensa for lunch with K’s uncle, Gary, who currently lives in Mexico City. It was my first time meeting him, and we shared some great food and conversation.

IMG_9839After our leisurely lunch, Gary offered to walk us over to an ice cream spot I’ve been following on Instagram for a while now: Helado Obscuro. I forget where I originally read about it, but this place is bonkers: it’s focused solely on alcoholic ice creams. The branding and flavors looked wildly inventive and fun, and I couldn’t wait to try it out.

IMG_9840After a 20 minute walk, we arrived at Helado Obscuro feeling hot and thirsty. From the looks of the long line outside, we were far from the only people in the mood for some frozen refreshment. The actual shop is quite small, and most of the seating is outside. The crowd was primarily young adults; the vibe reminded me more of a hipster café in Seattle than an ice cream shop.

IMG_9841 IMG_9842When we got close to the top of the line, we could finally read the flavor options. This was when my Spanish  really came in handy! You wouldn’t really know what to expect from Helado Obscuro’s flavor names, as they are mostly characters that inspired the essence of the flavor combination. But Helado Obscuro does include a description of the flavor, including the type of alchohol(s) in it. For example, Frankenstein is a blend of mint, chocoretas (popular Mexican chocolate-mint candies), and absinthe. The Bloody Mary incorporates Clamato, salsa, celery pieces, and vodka.

IMG_9843I was drawn to two flavors: the Mariachi en Bikini, described as having guanábana (a local fruit), coconut milk, and smoky mezcal, and the Dirty Wonka, described as having Nerds candies, banana liquor, and white chocolate liquor. I’d seen the Dirty Wonka on Helado Obscuro’s Instagram page, and it looked colorful and fun! We got a single scoop of both flavors, which cost us around $6USD.

IMG_9844

Mariachi en Bikini

IMG_9845

Dirty Wonky

The verdict? Wowza. This ice cream is potent! All three of us were giggling because of the pure shock of how boozy this stuff was (or were they drunk giggles?). I’ll bet that a scoop of this ice cream is just as boozy as a strong cocktail. The Mariachi en Bikini tasted like creamy mezcal, and it overpowered any fruit flavor that might have been there. I preferred the Dirty Wonka, because the sweet and sour Nerds helped to cut the heavy liquor flavor of the rest of the ice cream. I also liked the slight banana aftertaste. In the end, we didn’t finish these scoops because we worried about getting too tipsy so early in the afternoon. But I’d love to return to Helado Obscuro next time I’m in Mexico City, when I’m in the mood for a fun cocktail in frozen form.

The Stats:
Helado Obscuro
Calle Córdoba No. 223
Cuauhtémoc, Roma Norte
Ciudad de México, D.F. Mexico 06700
+52 55 4444 4878
http://www.heladoobscuro.com

Coconut Rice Pudding Ice Cream

I was a pretty good eater as a kid. There were few foods that I disliked. Funny enough, it was some of these foods (namely avocados, sweet potatoes, sushi, and chunky tomato sauce) that became my absolute favorites as an adult.

Rice pudding is a newfound love of mine. I wouldn’t say that I hated it as a child, but I certainly wouldn’t have chosen it over simple chocolate pudding. Same thing goes for tapioca pudding. Why pick lumpy and chewy pudding over the velvety-smooth creaminess of a Kozy Shack chocolate pudding cup?

It wasn’t until I went off to college and started frequenting Thai restaurants that I fell in love with rice pudding, specifically coconut sticky rice with mango. When I went gluten-free eight years ago, rice pudding quickly became a safe dessert for me.  And it wasn’t hard to find once I started looking. Many cultures and cuisines have their own take on rice-based desserts. My friend Anna makes a lovely Lebanese version with rose water, and I adore arroz con leche at Mexican restaurants and kheer at Indian restaurants.

Eating tapioca ice cream in Rio de Janeiro gave me an idea: if tapioca pudding can become ice cream, why can’t rice pudding do the same?

This weekend, I pulled together the ingredients for coconut rice pudding and added a couple more essential ice cream ingredients (namely egg yolk and more milk).

IMG_9587I began by cooking the rice in coconut milk, sugar, and salt on the stove top. This step takes about a  half hour and requires regular stirring. After that, everything else was a breeze.

IMG_9588Once the rice was nice and tender, I added some more milk, egg yolk, cinnamon and vanilla extract and chilled the mixture in the fridge for a while. Once it had cooled off, I simply dumped everything into the ice-cream maker and let it churn!

IMG_9589Unlike some ice creams, this one came out of the Cuisinart mixer hard enough to eat right then. But since I was on my way out to dinner, I put the ice cream into an airtight container and popped it into the fridge for a couple hours. As soon as I got home, I scooped out a couple bowls for K and me.

IMG_9592Coconut Rice Pudding Ice Cream
{Makes 1 pint}
Loosely adapted from this recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp milk (I used almond-coconut milk)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Directions

  • In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with 2 tablespoons of milk.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, sugar, salt, and rice. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce to a simmer over low heat and stir occasionally until nearly all of the liquid has dissolved and the rice is tender. Remove from heat and mix in the rest of the milk, cinnamon, and vanilla. Then temper the egg yolk by adding a couple spoonfuls of the warm mixture, then adding the egg to the saucepan.
  • Chill the mixture in the fridge for 1 hour or until cool. Pour mixture into ice cream maker and freeze per the manufacturer’s directions. If you’re using a Cuisinart, this means 1) turn on your machine, 2) slowly pour mixture in, and 3) leave the thing alone for 15 minutes or so.
  • Serve immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer.

The verdict? K and I couldn’t get enough of this chewy, sweet, and comforting ice cream. The coconut milk adds a richness to the ice cream, while the cinnamon gives it additional depth. The rice remained quite soft and chewy; I think being cooked in coconut milk and sugar prevented it from freezing too hard. This is a fun treat for any rice-pudding lover. It’s an easy recipe, requiring no additional freezing time after the machine, so the payoff is big. I will note that this ice cream was quite chewy and full of rice. If you prefer a smoother texture, I’d recommend adding a bit more milk or coconut milk before freezing.

“Self-Service” Ice Cream in Rio de Janeiro

This Presidents’ Day weekend, K and I embarked on a quick trip to Rio de Janeiro. Between a pre-trip bout of food poisoning and the Zika situation in Brazil, I can’t say I was entirely thrilled to head down there this year. But K successfully ushered me onto the plane, armed with lemon-lime Gatorade and some potent bug spray.

IMG_9438Despite low expectations this year, we had a really nice weekend! We spent about 80% of our waking hours on the beach covered in 50 SPF. It was incredibly hot and sunny, so frozen treats and drinks were a must. While I ate plenty of frozen açaí (more on that in the next post) and drank, I couldn’t let a whole weekend pass without getting ice cream. So between the beach and heading back to our hotel to shower on Sunday, K called up an UberX (yes, Uber is available – and cheap – in Rio!) to bring me to Sorvetes Ally in the Copacabana neighborhood. We’d spotted the shop on Friday after dinner, when we were both too stuffed to consider eating anything more. This time, I brought my appetite!

IMG_9498Sorvetes Ally is the first self-serve ice cream shop I’ve stumbled across. Nearly every city in America has a self-serve frozen yogurt place or two, but the concept hasn’t extended to traditional ice cream or gelato shops. Perhaps hygiene has something to do with this? Hard ice cream and gelato requires scooping from tubs, and it must be fairly easy to spread germs via scoops and standing (or coughing/sneezing) over open tubs. Still, I wasn’t too horrified with the concept when I saw how relatively clean and well-staffed Sorvetes Ally was.

IMG_9499IMG_9500The secret must be out, because Sorvetes Ally was hopping on a Sunday afternoon. We had to stand in line for a minute or two, which gave me a chance to take in the surroundings and observe the self-serve experts ahead of me in action. But then the hard part: deciding what flavor to try! Sorvetes Ally has more than 20 options to choose from, and there is no menu. I had to scan all the little signs attached to the tubs.

IMG_9502 IMG_9503I must have looked a bit lost, because the young woman in front of me kindly pointed out Ovomaltine and gave me a smile and the universal “thumbs up” sign. I recognized it as the Swiss brand of malted chocolate. While I’m not the biggest fan of malted flavors, I had to try it after the recommendation! The only flavor that caught K’s eye was Queijo com Goiabada (Cheese & Guava Paste), so I scooped some of that into my cup, too. I was very skeptical, though, given my last experience with cheese ice cream. With room to spare, I added two other interesting-sounding flavors: Tapioca and Ameixa (Plum). When its executed well, I adore tapioca ice cream!

IMG_9501Like self-serve froyo places in the U.S., Sorvetes Ally charges by weight. I forget how many ounces my cup was, but it cost me the equivalent of around $2 USD. Not bad!

IMG_9504

Clockwise from top: Tapioca, Ovomaltine, Amiexa (Hidden: Quejo com Goiabada)

The verdict? I had nearly as much fun trying all the different flavors as I did scooping them! We both enjoyed tasting multiple flavors and having control over the size of each scoop. The only downside was that we rushed to finish before the ice cream melted into mush. I don’t think the constant opening of the ice cream freezers — and the waits between scooping — did anything to maintain the ice cream’s temperature. The surprise standout was the Ameixa, which featured plenty of little soft plum pieces and a deep sophisticated flavor. I loved the dark color and subtle sweetness of this flavor. Sorvetes Ally’s Tapioca lived up to our high expectations; rich cream-flavored ice cream chock full of soft-yet-chewy tapioca pearls. I must figure out how to recreate this one at home! The Ovomaltine did indeed taste of malted chocolate, and the level of malt was pleasant. K was happy with the Queijo com Goiabada, which he thought was a nice blend of sweet and savory. I took one nibble and just couldn’t get over the actual chunks of cheese in my ice cream. I should probably just give up on cheese ice cream in Brazil. Who am I kidding? I’m sure K will talk me into it again next time 🙂

While the “self-service” ice cream concept is a bit gimmicky (and a germophobe’s nightmare), Sorvetes Ally executes it well with their wide variety of ice-cream flavors and toppings.

The Stats:
Sorvetes Ally
Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, 435
Rio de Janeiro RJ 22020-002
+55 21 2236-3540
http://sorvetesally.com.br/

Staying Cool in Kauai – Dessert Edition

It’s only been a couple weeks, but my trip to Hawaii happened ages ago. I’m currently visiting Grandma Edie in Peoria, Illinois, where the warmest it will get today is 24 degrees. It feels weird uploading iPhone photos that were taken on 95-degree days in a tropical paradise. Did this trip even happen?

As my friends and family will tell you, I don’t like hot weather. But for this past New Years Eve holiday, K had his heart set on warmer weather. I was happy enough to go along, but I have to admit that I wasn’t giddy with excitement over his choice of Hawaii. I’d been to Honolulu once before and just remember the heat and crowded beaches. Well, this trip was different.  We spent four days on the island of Kauai, and I left totally in love with it. The island is far less populated than Honolulu (obviously), and the pace of life is slower and calmer. All in all, the ideal environment to relax in.

Surprisingly, there weren’t many standalone ice cream places in Kauai. There are several Lappert’s outposts, but I didn’t make a special effort to get to one since it’s not based on Kauai. Instead, I embraced the Kauaiian lifestyle and took a relaxed approach to satisfying my sweet tooth. Luckily, I had plenty of opportunities to enjoy frozen treats each day. Some were alcoholic, such as frozen margaritas and piña coladas. I wanted to share some of my favorites with you all….

We chose Brennecke’s Beach Broiler for our first dinner on Kauai. K had been there before with his family and thought it was a fun spot. After a long day of travel,  we dropped our bags in our room at the Sheraton Kauai Resort on Po’ipu Beach and took showers before heading out for dinner. After a fun walk on the beach, we arrived at the busy beachfront restaurant. Brennecke’s is colorful and lively,  an institution that’s popular with locals and tourists alike. After a relaxed and yummy dinner (I had fish tacos!), K encouraged me to take a look at the dessert menu. It was a short menu, and only one thing caught my eye: Bob’s Favorite Ice Cream Pie. The description sold me: “Coffee ice cream, macadamia nuts, chocolate fudge & coconut on a chocolate cookie crust.”

IMG_9315 IMG_9316The verdict? I was so glad that we ordered this! While the ice cream itself wasn’t life-changing, the combination of coffee, chocolate, and nuts was quite satisfying. I love macadamia nuts and don’t eat them often, so this was a nice warm cool welcome to Hawaii. Both K and I enjoyed the thick layer of fudge on top of the ice cream, while we ignored the whipped cream (not necessary here). While I ate around the chocolate cookie crust to avoid the gluten, K seemed to enjoy it. The slice was a great size for sharing among 2 or 3 people. Overall, I had a great time at Brennecke’s Beach Broiler and would recommend Bob’s Favorite Ice Cream Pie to those looking for a sweet nightcap.

Our second day in Hawaii might have been my favorite. It was a great blend of relaxing beach time and fun island adventures. K rented us a red convertible, which made simply driving around the island a blast! That afternoon, we visited the Kauai Coffee Company‘s coffee estate (so fun!) before driving up to Waimea Canyon. At the base of the steep drive up to the canyon, we found one of the most famous shave ice stands on Kauai: JoJo’s Shave Ice.

IMG_9309I remember my first shave ice experience, in Honolulu a number of years ago. I’d expected it to be like the  snow cones my sisters and I adored from the neighborhood ice-cream truck. But I was shocked by how ice could be so fluffy and light! Hawaiian shave ice is very fine and absorbs flavors better than the crushed ice I’m used to in a snow cone. Needless to say, I am a fan and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a shave ice in Kauai. And JoJo’s did not disappoint. We visited the original location, but there is another shop on the northern coast of the island.

JoJo’s is a no-frills, authentic shave ice shop. They offer tons of flavors and variations. I must have spent a good 10 minutes reading through all of their signature combinations:

IMG_9311JoJo’s has nearly 60 different flavors, and they  make every syrup in-house. For the ultimate shave ice experience, you should get a scoop of vanilla or macadamia nut ice cream in the bottom of your cup. I was still pretty full from lunch, so I stuck with just ice. In the end, I customized my own shave ice using three of my and K’s favorite Hawaiian flavors: Pineapple, Coconut, and Guava. This 30-ounce cup cost me $4.75.

IMG_9312

From left to right: Pineapple, Coconut & Guava

The verdict? Oh goodness, this totally hit the spot. It’s been years, but this shave ice tasted like the best I’ve ever had! JoJo’s ice shavings are perfectly fine, and there were no big chunks of ice in my entire cup. The ice-to-syrup ratio was perfect, and the flavors did not taste artificial. My favorite was probably Guava, closely followed by Pineapple. The Coconut was yummy, but less pronounced than the other fruity flavors. Overall, this cup was heavenly on this warm Hawaiian afternoon.

Before heading to northeastern Kauai to spend New Year’s Eve at the St. Regis Princeville Resort (which was amazing), K and I enjoyed the most festive meal of the entire vacation at Keoki’s Paradise. This was another place K had already been to, but he knew that it was right down my alley. This place is so HAPPY. Despite being nestled in a shopping center, Keoki’s Paradise feels like another world! This massive open-air restaurant is fully decked-out in Polynesian-style garb — tiki torches everywhere, rustic wooden benches, tropical flowers and trees, and waterfalls. It’s like a grown-up Hawaiian version of the Rainforest Cafe (coming from me, this is a big compliment!).

Dinner was delicious; K and I both ordered the “Chef’s Fresh Catch Duo,” which is two of the day’s freshest fish prepared two ways. Today, it was Mahi-Mahi and Opah, both prepared in different ways, and served with steamed veggies and the most-rich coconut rice. It must have been the first or second time we’ve ever ordered the same meal at a restaurant (with the exception of burgers or steaks), so I got a kick out of it. I ate mindfully, as my mother-in-law (hi, Jan!) had tipped me off about a wonderful mint-chocolate ice cream dessert at Keoki’s.

When the dessert menu arrived, I quickly identified which one Jan had recommended: the Mint Chip Hula Pie. It was listed under Kimo’s Original Hula Pie, which sounded identical to the dessert we’d shared at Brennecke’s! But as it turns out, the “Hula Pie” ice-cream pie concept was originally developed nearly 40 years ago at TS Restaurants, which owns a bunch of restaurants including Keoki’s Paradise. If you’re interested, the Cooking Channel even did a video about it!

IMG_9313 IMG_9314The verdict? Mint chip is one of my favorite ice-cream flavors, so I couldn’t go wrong with this. The slice was massive – probably better for 3 or 4 people to share. I loved the extra fudge sauce, which was at room temperature and didn’t melt the ice cream. The mint-chip ice cream itself wasn’t anything special; it tasted like the typical stuff you get in tubs at the grocery store. But cover it in whipped cream, fudge, and a half-cup of mini chocolate chips, and you’ve got yourself a treat! Still, I have to admit that I preferred the knock-off version of Hula Pie at Brennecke’s. It tasted more “Hawaiian” with the toasted macadamia nuts and coffee flavors.

All in all, I got my fill of frozen treats in Kauai!

The Stats:

Brennecke’s Beach Broiler
2100 Hoone Road
Koloa, HI 96756
www.brenneckes.com

JoJo’s Shave Ice
9734 Kaumualii Highway
Waimea, HI 96796
www.jojosshaveice.com

Keoki’s Paradise
2360 Kiahuna Plantation Drive
Koloa, HI 96756
www.keokisparadise.com

The Best, Worst & Most Unique of 2015

The year 2015 treated me well. It was a challenging year in some regards, but I’m heading into 2016 stronger and happier. Highlights of the past year included ringing in the new year with K and my in-laws in Australia, watching my sister Ava graduate from UCONN, salmon fishing in Alaska, finally visiting the McRae homeland in Scotland, and a “family weekend” in New York City this fall. In August, K and I celebrated a successful first year of marriage. And in December, I officially entered my 30s. There’s a heck of a lot to be grateful for!

Not surprisingly, many of my favorite memories from 2015 involved ice cream. Here is a recap of the best, the worst, and the weirdest ice creams I experienced in 2015. I hope you enjoy!

All-Around Best Ice Cream:
Magic Bar at FoMu Ice Cream (Jamaica Plains, MA)

IMG_7774

Best New Recipe:
Toasted Oat Ice Cream (no-churn!)

IMG_8877

Best Atmosphere:
Lapp Valley Farm (New Holland, PA)

IMG_7726

Worst Ice Cream:
Millions at Waltons Traditional Sweet Shop

IMG_8513

Most Unique Ice Cream:
Chocolate Chip at Greedy Goat (London, U.K.)

Bottom scoop: Chocolate Chip; Top scoop: Salted Caramel

What was your favorite ice cream from 2015?

Gracie’s Ice Cream – Worthy of the Name?

Last fall, my sister Carolyn alerted me that a new ice cream shop had opened in Somerville, Massachusetts called “Gracie’s Ice Cream.” Since I shared a name with the shop, Carolyn said that I had an obligation to try it out. There was plenty of hype about the shop before it it opened, partially because there hadn’t been a homemade ice cream place in Somerville before. Located outside of Boston, Somerville isn’t a place  we frequent, but we knew we’d eventually have to make a special trip out to Gracie’s.

Recently, Carolyn identified the perfect opportunity to make this special trip. I was home for a long weekend, but our parents had to attend a wedding on Saturday evening in Boston. Instead of hanging out at home by myself, I followed my parents to Boston to have dinner with Carolyn, her boyfriend, and her three awesome roommates. Carolyn has lived with these girls for several years, and I always look forward to spending time with them. My sister, the smart woman she is, suggested that we have dinner in Somerville! We ended up having awesome cocktails and yummy dinners at Highland Kitchen before heading over to Gracie’s for dessert.

IMG_9192 IMG_9193Gracie’s is located in Union Square, a busy intersection in Somerville with many shops and restaurants. We spotted Gracie’s right away, with its bright white sign and logo. Inside, the shop was bright and inviting, with white walls and sleek wooden counters and tables. It was getting late, so there weren’t any other people in the shop besides us. Carolyn’s boyfriend and I were the only ones to order something, as everyone else claimed to be “too full” from dinner. Wimps!

IMG_9194 IMG_9195 Surprisingly, I had an easy time picking out two flavors to try at Gracie’s. There were just 12 flavors available, with a nice mix of traditional flavors (Vanilla Bean, Chocolate, and Mint Oreo) and unique creations. I really wanted to try Swiss Cake Roll (my favorite of the Little Debbie desserts) or Grape-Nut (think of the fiber!) but, alas, gluten and my tummy just don’t get along. The Salty Whiskey jumped out to me, probably because of my recent trip to the Talisker Distillery in Scotland. I also had to try the Black Sesame + Honey, as I’ve been on a tahini kick lately and simply cannot get enough of anything sesame-flavored.

IMG_8701 This “small” cup of Salty Whiskey and Black Sesame + Honey set me back $4 ($3.74 plus tax), but the scoops were pretty generous.

IMG_9196

Top scoop: Salted Whiskey; Bottom scoop: Black Sesame + Honey

The verdict? I really wanted to be “wowed” by this ice cream, but neither flavor knocked my socks off. The Black Sesame + Honey was light on both sesame and honey flavors. If someone were to give me a bite without telling me it was black sesame, I’d probably have trouble identifying it as such. Luckily, the Salty Whiskey was much more flavorful — the saltiness was spot-on for my tastes, and the strong whiskey aftertaste was easy to pick up on. I bet this flavor would complement a slice of pie or vanilla cake really well. While the ice cream was a bit too soft for my liking, it had a great texture: light, yet still creamy and rich. And while neither flavor was memorable, this Grace would be willing to give Gracie’s another try.

Please let me know if you’ve had better luck at Gracie’s!

The Stats:
Gracie’s Ice Cream
22 Union Square
Somerville, MA 02143
http://www.graciesicecre.am/

Greedy Goat Ice Cream at London’s Borough Market

After an amazing few days in Scotland, K and I flew to London’s Heathrow Airport. Instead of immediately jumping on a transatlantic flight home, K had arranged our flights to allow for a 24-hour layover in London. I’d been there once before to visit our friends Kat and Corey, who moved there from Seattle for a few years. K has been back several times for work, but I was eager to experience the historic city again.

We had a few hours to fill before meeting up with our close friend, Rangi, from Australia who was coincidentally visiting London at the same time. K asked me to decide what we should do. It wasn’t enough time to tour the Tower of London (still on my bucket list), but we had plenty of time to tour Borough Market. I love visiting local food markets when I travel; it seems like a good way to learn about local agriculture and culinary customs. And since Borough Market was only a mile or two away from our hotel, we took advantage of the nice, cool weather and walked there.

A bridge selfie on walk to Borough MarketWe arrived to find Borough Market quite bustling, despite being a weekday afternoon. It is an open-air market, and I was struck by how clean it was! According to the market’s website, there are over 100 stalls and stands. I did a quick iPhone search for “ice cream at Borough Market” and found two options — a gelataría and a place called “Greedy Goat Ice Cream.” Goat ice cream? My mind immediately went to that gross yak ice cream we sampled in Beijing. No, thank you! But I made the mistake of telling K about this goat milk ice cream, and he insisted we go. The man adores goat cheese, and he’s always game for trying the weirdest and most creative ice cream. The map online showed the stall in Borough’s “Green Market” area. I dragged my feet a bit while daydreaming about how lovely a cup of gelato would be.

With its cheerful and colorful signage, it was fairly easy to find the Greedy Goat stall. There wasn’t a line, so I went right up to the counter and peered into the ice-cream case.

IMG_8417The goat milk in Greedy Goat’s ice cream comes from a herd of goats on a family farm in Essex. They tout the fact that goat milk has less lactose than cow’s milk and is easier to digest, meaning it’s a great option for those ice-cream lovers who are lactose intolerant (like my mom) or are sensitive to dairy. There were nine flavors to choose from, with Vanilla being the only super-traditional one. There was Cherry & Almond, Strawberry Cheesecake, and Eton Mess. I’d later learn that Eton mess is a traditional English dessert with strawberries or raspberries, meringue bits, and cream. If I could go back in time, I’d order this because K and I love meringue.

IMG_8419But I felt pretty good about my two flavor selections: Salted Caramel and Chocolate Chip (which was actually double chocolate chip, as the base was chocolate). I figured these flavors would have the best chance of overpowering any weird goat taste. Plus, caramel and chocolate are a match made in Heaven.

Our two-scoop cup of goat ice cream cost £5, or $7.50USD. That is expensive! I’m happy to pay extra to support a family farm and small ice-cream business. But this would qualify as a “special treat” and not an everyday indulgence for me.

IMG_8418

Bottom scoop: Chocolate Chip; Top scoop: Salted Caramel

The verdict? I cannot believe how much I liked this ice cream! The first thing I noticed was the unique texture: it was almost crumbly yet not really icy. Almost like a frozen dry mousse? I’ve never tasted anything like it before, but I was a fan. The Salted Caramel had a nice light caramel flavor. It is not super salty, but I think any caramel-lover would be happy with this. I could only taste goat milk in the aftertaste, and it wasn’t too sour or tangy. The Chocolate Chip was, well, chocolately! The small bits of chocolate melted in my mouth, and this double whammy of chocolate masked any goaty flavor even better than the caramel did. Overall, this ice cream was surprisingly awesome. If you find yourself in London with a few hours to fill, do yourself a favor and head over to Greedy Goat Ice Cream!

The Stats:
Borough Market
London SE1 1TL
United Kingdom

Third Day in Scotland: Stewart Tower Dairy

The morning after our special night at the Three Chimneys, K and I woke up to this view:

IMG_8376I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t still dreaming! Our fast-paced itinerary had us traveling to Edinburgh that afternoon, so we reluctantly packed our bags into the rental car and drove off the magical Isle of Sky. But not before a quick walk (for me) and run (for him) along the water and breakfast in the stunning Three Chimneys sitting room.

The drive from the Three Chimneys to Edinburgh took us about 5 hours. Under normal circumstances, I’d be bored and restless sitting in a car for so long. But the vast and diverse beauty of Scotland kept me thoroughly entertained. We drove through a section of Cairngorms National Park, the largest park in the United Kingdom. I found myself nodding off at one point but quickly snapped myself out of it just to experience what was outside my passenger seat window!

IMG_8958

iPhone photos don’t do Scotland justice!

About two-thirds of the way to Edinburgh, K pointed out one of those highway signs that lists food and lodging options accessible via the upcoming exit. The sign read “Stewart Tower Dairy,” which he insisted had to be an ice cream shop. But I wasn’t convinced. The area off the highway still seemed quite remote, and I couldn’t imagine we’d find anything besides a dairy farm. I said we should probably just keep driving, but K overrode me (driver’s prerogative) and took the next exit.

We quickly found ourselves on a narrow rural road — there were hardly any other cars, nor any businesses in sight. Still, K forged on with a sense of adventure. His conviction was contagious, so I wasn’t too surprised when a large dairy farm and shop came into view. Our gamble had paid off!

IMG_8960Despite being far off the beaten path, Stewart Tower Dairy appears to do a bustling business. There were plenty of cars in the parking lot, and we spotted the animal farm with a petting area. And dairy cows were grazing in every direction.

IMG_8491K and I entered the dairy shop, where we first found ourselves in a room with specialty grocery items — including an impressive selection of cheese and milk. This dark-wood room led into a bigger and brighter circular room (aptly called the “Round House”) with plenty of seating for customers. This is where I found what I was looking for… ice cream!

IMG_8487Stewart Tower Dairy makes their ice cream in the Italian soft-style gelato style. There were well over a dozen flavors behind the glass counter. Some were traditional, like Vanilla, Chocolate, and Mint Chocolate Chip. But there were quite a few interesting combinations like Orange Chocolate Crunch, Toffee and Fudge Pieces, and Turkish Delight. I was immediately drawn to the Pink Panther, described as strawberry ice cream with white chocolate and strawberry pieces. Isn’t it gorgeous?

IMG_8489K usually gravitates to sorbets, and he immediately picked out Mango Passionfruit Ripple. The guy absolutely LOVES passionfruit. We decided to share one cup, and the double scoop of gelato was  €3.25, so less than $4. The serving size was perfect.

IMG_8488The verdict? K was a bit more impressed with this gelato than I was. But it was still very good, and we had no problem polishing off this cup. Neither flavor had that rich, silky texture or almost buttery flavor that I’d expect ice cream coming from grass-fed cows to have. I’m guessing this might be due to the lower fat content of gelato. K and I both agreed, however, that Stewart Tower Dairy’s flavor creations were well-executed. Not surprisingly, K’s favorite was Mango Passionfruit Ripple and mine was the Pink Panther. The Mango Passionfruit Ripple tasted tropical and refreshing, and K was happy to actually taste the passionfruit. Oftentimes, mango overpowers whatever it’s paired with. I really appreciated that the strawberry gelato in the Pink Panther wasn’t too sugary sweet. The white chocolate chips were delicious and just the right size: small enough for easy chewing, but hefty enough to taste the white chocolate.

I’d love to return to Stewart Tower Dairy and enjoy a lazy afternoon with family, enjoying cups of coffee and gelato before meandering around the beautiful Scottish grounds.

The Stats:
Stewart Tower Dairy
Stanley
Perth PH1 4PJ
Scotland
http://www.stewart-tower.co.uk