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.

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Mariachi en Bikini

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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!

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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.

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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)

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

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

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Worst Ice Cream:
Millions at Waltons Traditional Sweet Shop

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

Second Day in Scotland: Three Chimneys’ Toasted Oat Ice Cream

Our second day in Scotland was both my and K’s favorite day of our vacation. We woke up bright and early to start the long drive from Fort William to the Isle of Skye. As one of Scotland’s top three destinations, Isle of Skye is well-known for its stunning scenery and quaint seaside towns.

Another one of our “must sees,” the Eilean Donan Castle, is conveniently located right near the bridge to Skye. The castle has deep ties to the Clan MacRae, which my father’s side of the family descends from. It was so fun exploring the castle and spotting “MacRae” everywhere!

11938674_10103208222353534_8533718171967573635_oAfter the castle, it was a short drive to the Isle of Skye. I wish the photos we took from the car did this beautiful drive justice, because it was unbelievable, but alas the iPhones just didn’t cut it. Isle of Skye’s name comes from the old Norse sky-a, which means “cloud island.” I couldn’t describe the island any better than that! The vast sky and spectacular clouds seem closer to earth on that island.

Our first stop was the Talisker Distillery, where we took a tour of how Talisker makes their famous single malt Scotch whiskey. I don’t like whiskey, but I love tours! If you make the trip to Skye, I highly recommend a visit to Talisker.

We saved our last stop for last: The Three Chimneys and the House Over-by. I had stumbled across the inn and restaurant while reading some tour books that my girlfriend generously loaned me this summer. The restaurant has a Michelin star, and the TripAdvisor reviews were impressive. We considered our stay a first wedding anniversary present to ourselves. And nothing could have compared me for how special this little oasis is. It is located closer to the “middle of nowhere” on the Isle of Skye; we had to break many times for sheep crossing the single-lane road. There was no cell service. But, man, was it worth the trek!

IMG_8377From the moment we arrived at the House Over-By (the inn, which is located on the right-hand side in this photo), K and I felt welcome and relaxed. Our room was elegant yet cozy, offering a stunning view of the Loch across the street.

IMG_8376After a quick rest (nap for me) in our room, K and I got ready for dinner. We convened with the other guests in the House Over-By’s sitting area, where we enjoyed a glass of champagne and met our table-mates for the evening, Ian and Sheila. K and I had elected to eat dinner at the Three Chimneys’ “Kitchen Table,” which is just what it sounds like. Diners get the opportunity to enjoy a multi-course meal while observing the chaos (or lack thereof) of a fine restaurant’s kitchen. Below is a photo of our table that K took the next morning:

FullSizeRenderEating dinner at the Three Chimneys’ Kitchen Table was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. Not only was the food incredible (a personal favorite: beetroot cured Solway salmon with quail egg and pickled cauliflower), but the service was the best I’ve had. Our server, Charlotte, was meticulous yet warm and friendly. She ensured that no gluten touched my plates and that our wine glasses remained full at all times. Our conversation with Ian and Sheila also added to the experience; Ian recently bought a house a couple miles from the Three Chimneys, and he and Sheila gave us plenty of local tips. We felt lucky to share this incredible experience with two new friends.

Charlotte had encouraged us to get up and explore the different stations in the kitchen. Naturally, Sheila and I made a beeline for the pastry area. There, pastry chef Jackie showed us how to make the Three Chimneys’ signature dessert: Hot Marmalade Pudding Souffle. Essentially, she makes a paste by pureeing traditional Scottish sticky pudding and combining that paste with whipped egg whites, sugar, a tiny bit of flour (left out for gluten-free versions) and milk. She then divided the mixture into special ceramic cups, popped them into the oven, and voilá! Jackie made the finicky pastry look like a breeze to make.

Our Hot Marmalade Pudding Souflees were served with Drambuie (whiskey) Syrup and Mealie Ice Cream. Jackie even wrote “Congratulations” on K and my plates for our first anniversary.

FullSizeRender_1We all agreed that the Mealie Ice Cream was delicious, but I had been expecting cornmeal-flavored ice cream. But Jackie told me that it was actually Scottish oatmeal ice cream, and that she made it without an ice-cream maker! The ingredients were quite simple: oats, eggs, sugar, and cream. I immediately resolved to make myself it.

Just this past weekend, I picked up my ingredients and attempted to recreate some of the Three Chimneys’ magic here in Washington, D.C. My surroundings weren’t quite as picturesque, but I had great company (K was home!) and my Scottish memories to lean on.

IMG_8873First, I toasted some oats and brown sugar in the oven. Jackie didn’t use brown sugar, but it felt wrong to toast naked oats. The granola-lover in me just couldn’t do it.

IMG_8875While my oats cooled, I channeled my memories of Jackie beating eggs for souffle and decided to beat the egg whites for an airy ice cream. Since I was attempting this recipe without an ice-cream maker, I figured I could aerate the ice cream this way.

IMG_8874I added sugar to the egg whites, beat them a bit more, and then added slightly-whipped cream, vanilla, salt and the egg yokes. After a brief stint in the freezer, I folded in my oats.

IMG_8876Despite being a no-churn ice cream, the final product was very easy to scoop and looked just as airy as traditional ice cream that I make in my Cuisinart machine. Each scoop had plenty of toasty-brown oats, and K and I couldn’t wait to dig in!

IMG_8877Toasted Oat Ice Cream (No-Churn!)
{Makes 1.5 quarts}
Inspired by the Three Chimneys Restaurant

Ingredients
• 2/3 cup oats (I used gluten-free; feel free to grind to finer consistency)
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 4 free-range eggs, yokes and whites separated
• 1.5 cups whipping cream
• 1 cup superfine sugar (or grind cane sugar in a food processor)
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• pinch of salt

Instructions:
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread oats evenly on a baking tray, then sprinkle brown sugar on top. Bake until slightly toasted and smells nutty — probably 5 to 10 minutes. Pull out tray and allow to cool.
• Whisk the egg whites in a bowl until firm peaks form when you pull out the whisk. At this point, add the superfine sugar and whisk until sugar is incorporated and egg whites look glossy.
• Whisk the cream in a separate bowl. Then, add the cream, egg yokes, vanilla, and salt to the egg whites. Gently fold these ingredients into the egg whites.

• Pour into an airtight plastic container and freeze for 15-30 minutes. Take container out of freezer, fold in the oatmeal and brown sugar mixture, and return to freezer for another two hours.

The verdict? If you like oatmeal or muesli, you will love this recipe! Both the taste and texture of this ice cream reminded me of muesli or “overnight oats.” Per my note in the ingredient list above, I realized that the Three Chimneys must have ground their oats up a bit since I couldn’t remember eating full oats. While K and I both enjoyed the unique chewy texture and sweet creamy ice cream, it would have been easy to grind the oats before adding them to the ice cream. Also, I’m glad that Jackie tipped me off as to the ease of no-churn ice cream. This recipe was simple to make, yet it tasted good enough to serve at the Three Chimneys.

The Stats:
Three Chimneys Restaurant
1 Colbost
Isle of Skye, IV55 8ZT
Scotland

First Day in Scotland: Waltons Traditional Sweet Shop

I’m turning 30 years old in a few months. I’m not sure why, but this impending milestone has coincided with a new interest in my  ancestry. My father was born and raised in Australia, and I have always known that the McRae’s came to Australia via Scotland. And, no, they weren’t convicts… at least that we know about! Lucky for me, one of my dad’s cousin had a passion for genealogy and traced the family tree back over centuries.

K knew that I was itching to visit my ancestral homeland, and he graciously suggested that we visit this summer (even though the weather wouldn’t be warm). So a couple weeks ago, we packed our bags and grabbed our raincoats for a quick visit to Scotland.

We began the trip with a one-night layover in Dublin. It was both of our first times to Ireland, and I have to say that I loved what I saw! We spent the evening walking around downtown and popped into a couple little pubs before having dinner at a trendy restaurant recommended to us by the concierge.

IMG_8337The next morning,  we headed to the airport to catch a flight to Glasgow, Scotland. Based on some friends’ recommendations, we didn’t spend any time in downtown Glasgow. Instead, we prioritized our time on the Isle of Skye and Edinburgh. It was a 5-hour drive to Isle of Skye from Glasgow, though, so I made arrangements for us to spend the night in Fort William, the second-largest establishment in the Highlands of Scotland.

Fort William sits near the head of Loch Linnhe, one of the longest sea lochs in the country. In retrospect, it was an extra-brilliant idea to stay overnight here because A) it’s conveniently located halfway between Glasgow and Isle of Skye and thus broke up K’s first experience driving on the left-hand side of the road, and B) we both enjoyed spending time in Fort William. Neither of us had anticipated how tiring (and trying) driving in a different country can be. K ended up doing really well, but my adrenaline sure was pumping! The roads can be quite narrow in Scotland, and we had to dodge plenty of big campers and tourist buses since it was still vacation season. The views of green hills, waterfalls, and plentiful lochs (i.e. lakes) kept our spirits high, though.

When we finally made it safely to Fort William, we immediately checked in at The Grange, a beautiful bed and breakfast run by a sweet and accommodating proprietor named Joan. We briefly rested in our room before venturing on a short walk to the “downtown” area… which ended up being far from cosmopolitan! I couldn’t get over how quaint and welcoming the main pedestrian street, High Street, was. It felt like we had been transported into one of the BBC shows my mom adores (i.e. Doc Martin).

High_Street_Fort_William_-_geograph.org.uk_-_943438Source: Wikipedia

We had a 8pm dinner reservation at the iconic seafood restaurant on Loch Linnhe, The Crannog.  Exploring downtown took much less time than we’d planned (it’s so small!), and we had a couple hours to fill. We enjoyed some cider and beer at a lively pub. Afterwards, I convinced K to indulge in a small “ice cream appetizer” at a sweets shop I’d spotted earlier.

IMG_8515Waltons Traditional Sweet Shop is located right on High Street and sells both candy and ice cream. The inside of the store reminded me of an old-fashioned general store, with big glass jars lining the entire walls, filled with candies, mints, and chocolates. I couldn’t help but grab a bag of homemade ginger candies. Before I could be further tempted by the beautiful candy selection, I headed over to the ice cream counter.

IMG_8523IMG_8520The neat tubs and corporate-looking signage made me think that Waltons was a chain, but a subsequent internet search proved my theory wrong. Either way, there were plenty of options to consider. There were a couple fruit sorbets (normal types of flavors), a traditional vanilla and berry flavor,  but most of the flavors that stood out to me involved chocolate — Toffee Fudge, Ferrero Rocher,  and Bounty. But I wasn’t craving chocolate, and I embraced that opportunity to try something different. It’s rare that I don’t make a beeline to the chocolate!

K liked the look of the colorful Millions ice cream. Millions are chewy little U.K. candies that come in many fruity flavors. I was drawn to the Honeycomb, which didn’t exactly sound complementary but delicious nonetheless. We forked over about three euros for a two-scoop cup.

IMG_8517

IMG_8514The verdict? Sadly, this ice cream was nothing to write home about. It wasn’t bad, but it was not great. I can barely conjure up the taste sitting here writing this post. .. a surefire sign that it wasn’t memorable. Of the two flavors, Honeycomb was the winner by a landslide. K and I agreed that it reminded us of caramel ice cream, but with a honey twist. Most of the honeycomb flavor was concentrated in the thick swirl, while the base was mild and sweet. I couldn’t help wishing for some crunch, perhaps due to my love of the crunchiness of my beloved Violet Crumble candy bar. The Millions, however, was sugary sweet and reminded me of cotton candy. Neither of us wanted more than a couple bites before tossing it away and heading to dinner… which was fantastic by the way 🙂

The Stats:
Waltons Traditional Sweet Shop
55C High Street
Fort William, Inverness-Shrire PH33-6DH
Scotland