Momo Gelato dishes out the darkest chocolate ice cream in Rio

Last month, K and I stuck to tradition and headed down to Rio de Janeiro for a long weekend of sunshine and beach time. This was a special year, however, since my little sister Carolyn and her boyfriend joined us. The two of them spent a full week in Brazil, spending several days in Búzios before driving to Rio to meet up with us. This was a special occasion – the first-time Carolyn and I have been together outside of the United States!

While our trip only lasted three days, we packed in a whole lot of fun! Since the weather was fantastic, we spent many hours lying in beach chairs on Copacabana Beach, enjoying the array of snacks carried by the many beach vendors and sipping coconut water and caipirinhas. Carolyn and I share a love of swimming, and it felt very special to splash around in the waves together like little kids. Vacation heaven.

We also discovered some new places and activities with Carolyn and her boyfriend. Thanks to Carolyn’s cravings for nutritious lunches, we discovered the deliciously hip, gluten-free fast food shop Jaeé (shout-out Fred, the owner, who was very hospitable). And on Saturday, the four of us rented bicycles from the Sheraton and rode along the beach all the way to Leme and back. Rio is known for being one of the best cities in the world for biking, so I’m not sure why K and I waited so long to try it!

On our last night in Rio, we enjoyed a special dinner at Zuka in Leblon. We agreed that while Zuka is a bit expensive, the staff was incredible (despite a language barrier) and the food was fresh and flavorful. Nothing on the dessert menu spoke to us, however. Lucky for me, one of Rio’s most popular gelaterias is located just a few doors down from Zuka…

Momo Gelato Artesanal is a well-known gelato shop in Rio de Janeiro, churning out Italian-style gelatos and sorbettos in dozens of flavors. They have two locations, but the Leblon one seems to be the original. Momo was very busy on this Saturday evening, with its storefront open to the street and people milling around with cones and cups of delicious-looking ice cream. Momo also offers sweet waffle sundaes. Not waffle cones, but actual waffles!

I thought Momo’s yellow and brown color scheme was surprisingly attractive. Like any uber-popular artisan ice cream shop, Momo sells a variety of shirts, hats, bags and other branded paraphernalia. But the focus of the store is clearly on the long cases of gelato pans. I counted at least two dozen different flavors, including nearly 10 sorbetto flavors. The flavors were posted in Portuguese, but a major advantage of gelaterias is that the gelatos are often are covered in toppings or decorations that identify the flavors. For example, you’ll see hazelnuts and chocolate over Gianduia, crushed pistachio nuts over Pistacchio Siciliano, and coffee beans over Cappuccino. While Momo serves these usual Italian staples among others (like Stracciatella, Pear, and Limoncello), the local flavors that jumped out to me were Caramelo com Flor de Sal (salted caramel), Banana com Canela (banana with cinnamon), and Pão com Nutella (bread with Nutella).

Momo’s serving sizes didn’t look very large, so I decided to order a three-scoop cup. I was immediately drawn to a black-looking chocolate, Neromomo, which the signage noted was 73% cocoa. The color was just so dark and interesting that I had to give it a shot! To cut the chocolate, I also ordered a scoop of simple Cremomo (sweet cream). And in the spirit of “When in Rome Rio,” I rounded out my cup with a Amazônia (açai + tapioca). I call this “Grace’s antioxidant special.” This cup set me back around R $15.00, or around five U.S. dollars, which is quite expensive for Rio!

Top left: Amazônia, Right: Cremomo, Bottom: Neromomo

The verdict? I may have finally met my chocolate limit! The Neromomo, Momo’s dark chocolate gelato was incredibly rich and powerful, and not very sweet. I can’t remember ever having a chocolate ice cream quite this dark. While I enjoyed it, this flavor was a bit much for me. It was a good thing that the sweet, milky Cremomo helped cut the overwhelming dark chocolate taste. Sadly, the Amazônia wasn’t as yummy as the açai bowls we had on the beach. The gelato was a bit icy and the flavor of açai wasn’t very pronounced, but I did like the little bits of granola! While I wasn’t “wowed” by these three flavors, I enjoyed the ambiance of Momo Gelato and would happily give it another try!

The Stats:
Momo Gelato Artesanal (multiple locations)
Rua Dias Ferreira, 147
Leblon, Rio de Janiero 22431-050
http://momogelato.com.br

Sister Time at Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream in Brooklyn

Two weeks ago, my two sisters and I met up in New York City for a 30-hour sisterly adventure. We did this last year and enjoyed ourselves so much that we simply had to do it again! The Big Apple is a good central meeting place for the three of us, coming from DC, Boston, and Connecticut. K was kind enough to find us a room at the Hyatt hotel near Times Square, and we used that as a home base. We packed in a lot of fun between Saturday lunchtime and Sunday evening: shopping at Rituals and Eataly, dinner at the veggie-forward Dirty Candy, petting dogs at Madison Square Park, and a yoga class at MangOh. I find that spending “special time” with my sisters, especially overnight, is very therapeutic.

On Saturday afternoon, the three of us jumped in an Uber to head to Brooklyn for a bite of lunch and to visit my dear girlfriend Elysia and some of her friends at a going-away party. While we only spent a couple hours in Brooklyn, my sisters and I agreed that it was VERY hip and eccentric. Luckily, we happened to walk by one of Brooklyn’s hottest joints: Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream‘s Williamsburg location. While I can’t remembering hearing anything about the company, Ava first learned about Van Leeuwen’s ice cream when the company catered one of her friend’s dog’s birthday party (I can’t wrap my head around that). She told us that they were known for innovative vegan flavors, and we were sold!

Source: Van Leeuwen’s website

Van Leeuwen started as an artisan ice-cream truck in 2008, serving ice cream across the city. They built up quite a fan base and now have eight (8!) locations, scattered across the NYC area and Los Angeles. But, staying true their roots, Van Leeuwen still operates several ice-cream trucks seasonally and for private events.

The store was fairly busy for a late winter afternoon, with families and groups of friends sharing cones and cups of ice cream. The shop itself was a mix of modern and old-fashioned, with plenty of seating for guests. My only disappointment was that you can’t see the ice creams… they are hidden behind the counter in big metal tubs.

Van Leeuwen’s menu looks clean and simple, but there are MANY flavors to choose from. There are about a dozen “classic” ice cream flavors that are staples on the menu, along with 8 vegan versions and a selection of “special” flavors. Some of the “classic” flavors are quite traditional like Vanilla, Chocolate, Mint Chip, and Cookies + Cream, but several are unique, like Earl Grey Tea, Passionfruit Layer Cake, and Honeycomb.  The vegan offerings include Salted Chocolate, Matcha Green Tea, and Caramelized Banana Nut. And the “specials”? They were special indeed: Pumpkin Pie, Salted Caramel Rocky Road, Sour Cream Apple Cider Doughnut, and more.

But when I saw Honeycomb on the menu, I had no choice but pick it! Honeycomb candy is very popular in Australia, where our dad grew up, and is the star of one my favorite chocolate bars of all time: Violet Crumble.  Sadly, honeycomb desserts aren’t easy to find here in the U.S.! I ordered a single-scoop in a cone. Carolyn went with a cone of Vegan Dark Chocolate, and Ava ordered a cup of Peanut Butter Marshmallow Crunch. At $5.50 a pop, these single scoops were pricey. But, boy, were they pretty…

Left to right: Honeycomb, Peanut Butter Marshmallow Crunch, Vegan Chocolate

The verdict? Overall, we were impressed with Van Leeuwen’s ice cream! The Honeycomb was the color of caramel, with thick swirls of softened, chewy honeycomb. The sweet-cream ice cream base was rich and milky, and served at the perfect temperature (cold but not rock-hard). Carolyn’s Vegan Dark Chocolate scoop was a chocolate-lover’s dream, with an intense cocoa taste that masked that ubiquitous flavor of coconut milk. You could have thought it was full-dairy ice cream! While Ava enjoyed her Peanut Butter Marshmallow Crunch, she thought it was a tad too icy and could have used some more marshmallow to counter-act the rich peanut-butter flavor. We all agreed that the serving sizes were perfect — just big enough to be satisfying but not spoil your dinner! I can’t wait to return to Van Leeuwen to sample some more of their other flavors!

The Stats:
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream (multiple locations in New York and Los Angeles)
204 Wythe Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11249
(929) 337-6907
www.vanleeuwenicecream.com

Classic New England flavors at Quietside Café

The second half of my August trip to Acadia National Park was quite special because it was just me and my parents. I can’t tell you the last time I had my parents all to myself for more than a day. As the oldest of three sisters, I told my parents that it was a thro2wback to “the good old days, when I was an only child!” Just kidding! I absolutely adore my sisters 🙂

My parents and I made the most of our last days on Mount Desert Island. One morning, we fulfilled a lifetime ambition of mine: get up early enough to watch the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain, the first place to see the sunrise in the continental US. My mom sweetened up the awful experience of getting up at 4:30am by bringing a thermos of hot cocoa to share. And, man oh man, I’ll never forget this view.

After the sunrise, we took it slow for the rest of the day. After a relaxing afternoon swimming and reading at Echo Lake. After our last lobster dinner of the trip (I forget the restaurant’s name!), we headed back to our campsite. But we had to drive through downtown Southwest Harbor, and my parents agreed to make a pit stop at an ice cream shop I’d spotted earlier: Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop.

Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop epitomizes classic New England ice cream culture: family-owned business, a cluttered but quaint store covered with linoleum floors and wooden tables, strong smells of hot fudge and homemade waffle cones, and tubs of homemade hard ice cream in many different flavors. The only thing missing was an ice-cream window.

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img_0606At 8:30pm on a humid summer evening, the shop was crowded with big families, groups of teenagers, and couples of all ages. Quietside Café does not post its ice cream flavors, so you have to wait to read the labels on the freezer. This adds a lot of pressure to people like me who don’t take flavor decisions lightly! When we got to the head of the line, I quickly scanned the flavor signs taped to the ice cream freezer. All the traditional flavors were represented — Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip, Pistachio Nut, Coffee, French Vanilla — along with a few New England favorites like Moose Tracks (vanilla ice cream with fudge and peanut butter cups), Pink Peppermint Stick (which we New Englanders savor year round), and Grapenut (want some high-fiber cereal with your dessert?!).

I spotted something bright red in one of the tubs… it was a flavor I’d never heard of: Maine Lobster Tracks.  The young woman behind the counter told me it was vanilla ice cream with lobster shaped chocolate-covered caramel cups and a chocolate swirl. Since I was already in the mood for chocolate, I went ahead and ordered a scoop of the Lobster Tracks. My mom and dad shared a cup of Pink Peppermint Stick and Maine Black Bear (vanilla ice cream with a black raspberry swirl and chocolate raspberry truffles).

img_0607This ice cream ain’t cheap — $4.50 for a single scoop and $6.50 for a double scoop. Including tax, these two ice creams cost me about $12!

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From top: Maine Black Bear & Peppermint Stick, Lobster Tracks

The verdict? This ice cream fulfilled our cravings for dessert, but none of the flavors blew us away. I liked the generous amounts of lobster caramels in my scoop of Lobster Tracks, but the candies themselves tasted a bit fake and chalky, and I could barely taste the caramel in them. I did like the chocolate swirl, which was deliciously fudgy. My parents kindly allowed me take a nibble from their shared cup. I found the  Pink Peppermint Stick to be strong and refreshing, reminding me of my favorite store-bought version from Friendly’s. The Maine Black Bear was good but a bit too icy. The chocolate truffles were way better than the ones in the Lobster Tracks, and the black raspberry swirl was thick and fruity.

Overall, we thought the ice cream at Quietside Café was light and sweet, but not as creamy and rich as most high-quality homemade ice creams. And sure enough, after doing some online research, I discovered that Quietside Café doesn’t make their own ice cream… rather, they serve Gifford’s ice cream. Gifford’s is based in Maine and is available at stores and restaurants throughout New England. So while I appreciate that Quietside pays homage to New England ice-cream flavors and setting, I wouldn’t recommend that someone go out of their way to visit. Instead,  I think most ice-cream lovers would have a better luck at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream!

The Stats:
Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop
360 Main Street
Southwest Harbor, ME 04679
(207) 244-9444

Family Trip to Mount Desert Island Ice Cream

Does your family have a special “vacation spot”? A place that holds memories from different stages of your life? For my family, it’s Acadia National Park in Maine. Growing up in Massachusetts, Acadia was the ideal family getaway: far enough to feel exotic, yet close enough to reach by car. We’d set up camp (literally) at Smuggler’s Den and spend the week exploring every bit of Mount Desert Island. Sadly, our trips became more infrequent as my sisters and I got older and took on summer jobs, etc. Its been a dream of mine to bring K to Maine (he’s never been), and to share the magic of Acadia with him. So when our family discussed a possible group vacation for Summer 2016, I voted enthusiastically for camping in Acadia.

Flying over Acadia

Flying over Acadia

So, a couple weeks ago, we all packed our bags and spent a wonderful weekend together in Acadia. My sisters and I successfully coerced our significant others to join in the fun and all eight of us camped at Smuggler’s Den on Mount Desert Island. We loved visiting our old haunts, including Echo Lake, Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor, the Cool As A Moose store, and Thunder Hole. While a contingent of the family (including K) flew back to Boston on Sunday afternoon, the rest of us made plans to visit our favorite pizza parlor in Bar Harbor (before you judge, we’d already eaten a LOT of lobster).

After dinner, we had dessert on the mind. And what pairs better with pizza than ice cream? We had one specific place in mind: Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. I’d read that President Obama had visited the shop during a trip to Acadia a few years ago. And Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream got on my radar again a few weeks ago, when my friend Annette handed me a Food & Wine article about the “best ice cream spots in America” (the list is online, too). Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream was listed as the top spot in all of Maine. How could I resist?

Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream has two locations in Bar Harbor, and they are quite close to one another. We chose to visit the flagship on Main Street, which is situated just beyond the busiest part of town. Street parking was a breeze, but we found a long line of people waiting to get inside the small quaint house that serves as the ice-cream shop. The line moved fairly quickly, perhaps due to the fact that Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream posts its flavors on a chalkboard outside so folks can decide what they want before even setting foot inside.

IMG_0524 IMG_0526There were nearly 20 flavors being offered that night, with something for everyone. I was looking out for Coconut, which the President chose during his visit, but it wasn’t listed. While I was tempted to try Nectarine Prosecco after chatting with a girl in front of me who waited every year for this seasonal flavor, I went with my craving: Sea Salt Caramel. My mom chose the Bay of Figs, dad went with both the Sea Salt Caramel and Chocolate, Ava chose Lemon Poppy with Jam Swirl, and Ava’s boyfriend Chanse appropriately chose The Dude (White Russian ice cream) in a waffle cone.

IMG_0346 IMG_0347Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream ain’t cheap (almost $4 for a single scoop, $5 for a double), but I  picked up our group’s tab since they’d agreed to join me on this ice cream excursion. Sadly, I didn’t get a shot of everyone’s ice cream. By the time I finished paying, my family was well into their cones and cups! I did manage a shot of my mom’s cone of Bay of Figs.

Bay of Figs

Bay of Figs

Sea Salt Caramel

Sea Salt Caramel

The verdict? Mount Desert Island Ice Cream made us five very happy campers! The Sea Salt Caramel was perhaps the best I’ve encountered — a perfect balance of sweetness and salt. It was not nearly as sweet or overpowering as other versions out there. My dad had the right idea, pairing his scoop of Sea Salt Caramel with Chocolate. It’s difficult to describe, but I swear it almost tasted like really good hot cocoa powder, even though the ice cream was smooth. So weird, but so good. My mom’s Bay of Figs did not disappoint either. My mom noted that she didn’t get any of the chunks of fig that were promised, but she did not have any other complaints. Ava’s Lemon Poppy with Jam Swirl stole the show in my opinion. A lemon poppy muffin in ice cream form, this scoop totally ‘wowed’ me. The lemon flavor was obviously natural, and the generous swirls of homemade raspberry jam cut the sourness. Chanse’s The Dude was sweet and creamy but a bit light on the liquor; it tasted very similar to plain vanilla ice cream.

Beyond the flavors themselves, we all agreed that the texture and quality of ice ream was top notch; smooth, rich, and served at an ideal temperature (not too hard, not too soft). This really is ice cream fit for a president!

IMG_0525The Stats:
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream
325 Main Street
Bar Harbor, ME 04609
http://www.mdiic.com/
(2 other locations: another in Bar Harbor and one in Portland)

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/

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

 

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

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.

IMG_6823

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/

A Taste of Boston at Toscanini’s Ice Cream

A couple weeks ago, I finally made it to one of America’s top ice-cream destinations: Toscanini’s Ice Cream & Coffee.

I’ve been hearing about Toscanini’s Ice Cream (or “Tosci’s”) for years. I believe the first person to tell me about it was my friend Phil, an amazing volunteer for the organization I work for. And ever since Phil put Toscanini’s on my radar, I’ve noticed the name popping up all over the place… in conversations with locals, in Boston-area food blogs, and heck, even in the New York Times! So when my sister suggested that I meet her for dinner and ice cream in Cambridge after landing at Logan airport, I was MORE than game. As it turned out, her boyfriend and our youngest sister were also up for the adventure.

Home to Harvard University and MIT, Cambridge is a unique part of Boston. It’s hip, eclectic and a true representation of the cultural diversity in the city. We started the evening with a lovely dinner at Cuchi Cuchi, which featured an extensive cocktail list and small plates from around the world. But we soon found ourselves ambling down Main Street to Toscanini’s. It was a gorgeous night, and there was plenty of people watching to be had. We knew we must be getting close to Toscanini’s when nearly every other person we passed on the sidewalk was clutching a cone (or cup) of ice cream. The word is clearly out!

Toscanini’s storefront is nearly all windows, and you can peer into both the store and the kitchen from the sidewalk. Nothing much was happening in the kitchen (it was nearly 8:30pm on a Friday), but there was plenty of action going on in the main shop. And since Tosci’s has been around for over thirty years, I was surprised to see minimalist, modern wood-based decor and furniture when I walked through the door. Nothing about the place seems outdated – and least of all their menu of flavors! I’d read that Gus and his employees like to experiment a lot, so the flavors are constantly changing. And these were some of the most unique and appetizing flavors I’ve seen: Turkish Mocha, Saffron Khulfee, Malted Vanilla, Ovaltine and Cambridge Lime Pie were just a few that caught my eye. As did the interesting flavors of ice-cream cakes!

The line to the ice-cream counter was long, but we needed the wait time to mull over our choices. I’d emailed owner and “Ice Cream Maker in Chief,” Gus Rancatore, earlier to inquire about his favorites. Gus told me that the insanely rich-sounding B3 (brown butter, brown sugar and brownie) is the best seller, but his own (current) favorite was the Mango sorbet. And while I couldn’t try the gluten-full B3, I sure knew I couldn’t leave without tasting the Mango. When I got to the front of the line, the person serving me obliged when I requested a sample. And, boy oh boy, the Mango was deliciously refreshing and chock-full of that sweet tang of the fruit. In the end, we ordered five flavors among the four of us (from left to right): Ginger Snap, Green Tea, Burnt Marshmallow, Cocoa Rum Raisin and Fluffernutter.
Prices are a bit higher-than-average at Tosci’s, but the scoops are generous. And I’d gladly pay nearly $6 for a double-scoop of small-batch artisan ice cream than $4 for frozen yogurt at the mall (although I do that, too!). And to those price sensitive or the light eaters out there, have no fear! Toscanin’s offers a baby size (pictured below) to satisfy your sweet tooth and budget.

The verdict? Overall, Toscanini’s ice cream is among the best I’ve ever had. What sets this ice cream apart from the rest is its FLAVOR. Ice-cream maker Gus Rancatore is a master at creating insanely-flavorful ice cream. Every scoop we ordered was a playful punch to the taste buds and perfectly lived up to its name. As a novice ice-cream maker, I kept asking myself “How did he DO this?” Flavors like green tea and maple sometimes have a hard time breaking through the sweetness of butterfat and sugar, but Gus has figured out the perfect ratio of unique ingredients to the traditional base ones. Biting into my scoop of Burnt Marshmallow was like chewing on a smoky marshmallow straight off the campfire. But Gus uses enough milk and cream to retain that creamy, velvety texture of the best premium ice creams. The same devotion to intense flavor was evident again in the Green Tea, which was so strong that only true green-tea aficionados could eat a whole pint. The Ginger Snap, however, went down very easily! Carolyn was very happy with her choice, and I can only imagine how great it would be alongside some apple pie. Classic New England flavors!

The surprise crowd-favorite was the Fluffernutter, which my sister’s boyfriend ordered. My sisters and I were are big-time fans of the iconic sandwich (made with peanut butter and marshmallow Fluff), and Gus beautifully captured the magic flavor combination. The ice cream itself was rich yet pillowy soft, and the peanut butter and marshmallow were perfectly balanced – making for an addicting concoction!

The one and only disappointment of the night was the Cocoa Rum Raisin, whose flavor was spot-on but was served in a melted state. I’ll let the photo below do most of the talking (it was taken just minutes after we sat down), but this ice cream was so soupy that the young man behind the counter should have warned me about the problem. Not a single bite was frozen.

Anywhere else, the whole “ice-cream soup” thing would have been a deal breaker. But I’ll give Toscanini’s the benefit of the doubt because everything else we ordered was superb. I can’t wait to come back!

The Stats:
Toscanini’s Ice Cream & Coffee
899 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 491-5877
www.tosci.com