The Pied Piper Creamery in Nashville, TN

I sincerely apologize for my lack of posting lately. I  haven’t lost interest in the blog — or ice cream, for that matter — but between crazy work hours and wedding planning, there is not much “down time” for me these days. And every weekend this month is full of travel — to Chicago for a dear friend’s wedding, to Boston to visit family, and a new-to-me destination: Nashville, Tennessee!

My youngest sister, Ava, turned twenty-one last month and we’d all made a pact years ago to travel somewhere awesome to celebrate her reaching the legal-drinking age. Our desired destination changed many times over the years; we’d once (ambitiously) settled on Sydney, under the assumption that we’d all be rolling in cash by the time Ava hit twenty-one. Recently, our ideas had become more realistic (i.e. domestic). And when it came time to book our weekend, Nashville was the only affordable location that the entire group could agree on (K and two of our friends joined). Coming from a musical family, I was excited to visit Music City!

The weekend was a complete blast. From the Seth Meyers comedy show we saw on Friday, to the awesome live music and Ava’s impressive karaoke performance, it was a memorable trip. The only bad part of my weekend was missing out on a B.J. Novack sighting. The rest of the group saw him when they’d gone out for breakfast, but of course I was running late that day. K and I are longtime fans of “The Office”, and B.J.’s dry humor is a big reason why. Maybe I’ll catch him next time?

But celebrity-sightings aside, what trip to Nashville would be complete without sampling some local ice cream? I’d heard a lot of hype around Jeni’s, which has a local Nashville outpost. But I’m saving my first Jeni’s experience for when I can visit the original store in Ohio. There are a couple awesome-sounding Nashville originals, but the one that caught my eye was The Pied Piper Creamery in East Nashville. So we headed over there after seeing the Grand Ole Opry and the Opryland Resort (which a sight to see!).

Our Uber driver (who coincidently happened to be an Aussie!) sang East Nashville’s praises on the way over, telling us that it was the hippest place for young couples and families to live. And consistent with the artsy, almost-eccentric vibe of East Nashville, The Pied Piper Creamery ended up being one of the most adorable shops I’ve ever seen.


Cute, right?!?

The Pied Piper Creamery is a bit hard to find, located in a cute old Victorian house with the Fairytales Bookstore. But as soon as we walked up the steps and across the porch (where we ate our ice cream), I felt instantly at home and relaxed in the quirky and colorful house. It reminded me of something I’d see in Seattle or Portland — not in the South!

The first thing I noticed when entering the house was a big whiteboard on an easel, where I found the menu of ice-cream flavors that Pied Piper was offering that day. I was a bit disappointed that none of the creamery’s most-insane flavors were listed. I’d been spending the previous hour reading from the extensive flavor list posted online, and my sisters and I were hoping to try one of the savory ones (like Basil Tomatillo Overdrive, Wasabi, or Strawberry Balsamic). There were still about two-dozen options available today, but several of the cooler flavors that caught my eye contained gluten – including Shotgun Wedding Cake, Baby Got Baklava!, and Oatmeal Raisin In The Sun. I really wanted to try the flavor Ava chose – Pied Piper’s famous Trailer Trash, vanilla ice cream with Oreo, Twix, Butterfinger, Nestle Crunch, Snickers, M&Ms, and Reese’s Pieces. But again… gluten stood in the way. But Pied Piper does offer a couple options for the vegan and dairy-free crowd; today it was Watermelon and Cherry Limeade sorbet and Vegan Chocolate Coconut ice cream.

In the end, I went with a “single” scoop of The Professor (coconut-flavored ice cream with pecans, almonds and cashews) and Toffee Loaded Coffee (coffee ice cream with crushed Heath bar). I always appreciate when a place will split a “single scoop” into two different flavors for you.

After forking over $3.50, I gave my cup a quick dash of sprinkles from the little shakers full of sprinkles that Pied Piper keeps on the counter.

Can you tell which scoop was coffee-toffee and which was coconut?

The verdict? First of all, I was pleased with Pied Piper’s generous serving sizes and felt I got my money’s worth. But my ice cream was not frozen hard enough. It was so soft that even eating it extra quickly didn’t prevent ice cream soup from accumulating at the bottom of the cup. My sister’s vegan coconut ice cream was much more firm, so perhaps the firmness varies by flavor. Luckily, things were better in the flavor department. My favorite scoop was the Toffee Loaded Coffee; the coffee ice cream was right up my alley, with a rich but sweet coffee flavor that wasn’t too potent or bitter. But the bits of Heath candy were too small in my opinion. I prefer bigger chunks in my ice cream, but I recognize this is a personal – not universal – opinion. The Professor was okay but didn’t impress me or my fellow taste-testers; the ice cream tasted like imitation coconut extract and didn’t contain the meaty bits of shredded coconut that I adore in other versions. The variety of nuts was unique, though, as I’ve never had ice cream with more than one type of nut. But while the flavors I chose didn’t blow me away, I’d gladly return to the Pied Piper Creamery just for the environment alone! The cozy store is a great place to meet friends and relax while enjoying homemade ice cream on the porch.

The Stats:
The Pied Piper Creamery
114 South 11th Street
Nashville, TN 37206
(615) 227-4114
www.thepiedpipercreamery.com

Indian Pudding Ice Cream

Happy November!

It’s fitting that my mom’s birthday falls in the same month as Thanksgiving; I’m so blessed to have her in my life. My mom is one of the friendliest, happiest, and kindest people I’ve ever known. She always goes out of her way for others, and my sisters and I use her birthday as an excuse to treat her like a queen.

My mom’s passion for New England history is well-known. She grew up in the Midwest but loved visiting extending family back in Massachusetts, relishing the autumn colors, colonial history, and local flavors. In fact, she convinced my dad to move to Massachusetts soon after they married. And to this day, my mom still gets excited when she sees clam chowder (“chowdah”), Boston baked beans, or hermit cookies. But there’s one hearty New England dish that she covets above all the rest: Indian Pudding.

You may not know what Indian Pudding is, as I rarely see it on menus outside of New England. But this dessert is older than the country itself. In the 17th century, the English settlers brought with them their love of English “hasty pudding” – a sweetened stovetop porridge made by boiling water or milk with wheat flour until it thickens. But since wheat flour was scarce, early colonialists substituted it for native corn meal (which they had nicknamed “Indian flour”), which they flavored with maple syrup or molasses. Over time, early recipes evolved to include additional ingredients like butter, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, and sometimes raisins or walnuts. Though the brown and lumpy porridge isn’t exactly visually-appealing, it’s the ultimate cold-weather comfort food.

One of my mom’s favorite places to enjoy Indian Pudding is at Rota-Spring Farm in Sterling, MA. Their Indian Pudding ice cream (reviewed here) is my family’s favorite flavor, and it’s what brings us back to Rota-Spring Farm time and time again. Last month, my mom delivered the terrible news that Rota won’t be making this amazing flavor anymore. Apparently, their distributor has stopped carrying the base for this flavor. Instead of just creating the base in-house, Rota-Spring Farm told my mom that they’d be pulling Indian Pudding off their menu. My mom was really disappointed, so my sister Carolyn and I immediately began talks of creating our own Indian Pudding ice cream.

A couple weeks ago, we had our chance to try out a recipe. Carolyn was visiting me in DC, and we put our heads together to develop and try out a recipe. There are dozens of recipes for Indian Pudding online, but Google yielded just two for ice-cream versions. Using one for inspiration, Carolyn and I spent Saturday morning cooking the Indian-Pudding base. We first spread cornmeal on a baking sheet, toasting it to a golden brown. After, we boiled milk and cream with molasses on the stovetop before adding egg yokes, sugar and spices. After the mixture reached 185 degrees Fahrenheit (to ensure we wouldn’t get sick from raw egg yolks), we mixed in the cornmeal and left the porridge in the refrigerator overnight.

Carolyn and I are fans of mix-ins in our Indian Pudding, so we decided to add a popular one, raisins, to our ice cream. I’ve learned from experience that raisins freeze into rock-hard nuggets in ice cream, but soaking them in alcohol will keep the raisins soft. We chose dark rum and soaked the raisins for over an hour on Sunday morning. We then pulled the fully-cooled base from the fridge. After a quick whirl in the blender to get rid of any grittiness, we poured the mixture into the ice-cream machine. Right before the ice cream was done, we poured the raisins in. The result looked exactly like frozen Indian Pudding!



Indian Pudding Ice Cream with Rum Raisins
{Makes 1.5 quarts}
Adapted from this recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cup light cream
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used 2%)
  • 1/4 cup molasses 
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 1/4 cup raisins

Directions

  • The day before you’d like to eat this ice cream, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spread the cornmeal out on a baking sheet and toast in oven until golden brown (about 12 minutes). Set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, milk and molasses to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • Meanwhile, combine egg yolks, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Whisk until pale. 
  • Slowly pour the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking the entire time (my sister helped with this part). Then return mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat until it’s thickened and reached 185 degrees Fahrenheit (about 7 minutes).
  • Turn off heat, remove saucepan from heat and transfer mixture to the large bowl. Stir in the toasted cornmeal, cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours). When you do this, pour the raisins in a small bowl and cover with rum. Cover and keep on countertop or in the fridge.
  • The next day, pour chilled mixture into blender and blend on high setting for about 30 seconds. 
  • 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 churn for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, strain extra rum from the raisins. A few minutes before the ice cream is finished churning, add the rum-soaked raisins.
  • Serve immediately or, if a firmer consistency is desired, transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.
The verdict? Dare I say this ice cream is even more delicious than the one at Rota Springs? Because this is one of the best ice creams I’ve ever made… or even tasted. It’s silky, sweet and rich. The dark molasses and cornmeal are in perfect balance, married by the warm fall-inspired spices. The flavor is reminiscent of gingerbread, but more humble and comforting with the cornmeal aftertaste. The rum-soaked raisins adds an fancy twist to this classic colonial fare. While this ice cream was cold, each spoonful warmed my heart. This recipe may require some patience, but I promise you that it’s worth it.

Happy birthday, mom! Here’s to many more. 

A Taste of Italy in WA’s Bavarian Village

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with the town of Leavenworth, in Washington State.

K’s parents, who live in a small condo in downtown Seattle, treat this town as their “mountain oasis.” Nestled among the Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth is a prime location for many outdoor activities. In the winter, you’ll find K’s parents skiing or snowshoeing. In the summer, they’ll be hiking, mountain biking, or tubing down the Wenatchee River. Because they love it so much, K and I decided to spend his birthday weekend with his parents in Leavenworth. And I, too, fell head-over-heels for this mountain town.

But because I’m not the outdoor-sporty-type, I fell in love with Leavenworth for different reasons. First and foremost, this mountain town is modeled after a Bavarian village. Imagine Disney World-caliber without all the cheesiness. Leavenworth’s local businesses take the Bavarian theme very seriously. Even the Starbucks and Safeway stores were designed in the quintessentially-Bavarian style. The downtown area is small, but it boasts multiple beer gardens and knick-knack shops. Plus, majestic snow-capped mountains are visible from every angle. Every time I walk down the main street, I’m overcome with an urge to belt out songs from “The Sound of Music.”

As you’d expect in any good tourist town, Leavenworth boasts a high ice-cream shops-per-capita ratio. Most ice-cream spots are housed within larger candy or gift stores, but I walked by a gelateria the day we arrived in Leavenworth. The Viadolce Gelateria sits in the heart of downtown, its large windows and open door inviting folks inside. Through the windows, I spotted a large case containing more than a dozen colorful gelato bins. Just then, a customer exited the shop, “mmm”ing while he licked a giant delicious-looking cone. I had to practice some serious self-control to walk past the store. But K’s mom loves ice cream almost as much as I do, so I wanted to wait until I could return with her.

The next night, we all enjoyed a nice bratwurst dinner together in the München Haus beer garden. The restaurant is just a block away from Viadolce, so I offered to treat K’s parents to gelato on our walk back to their place. It was a sweltering-hot night (over 100 degrees), and ice cream sounded really good. We ducked into Viadolce Gelateria and surveyed the options.
They carried about 18 different flavors, many of which were fruity “sorbettos”. The Pear looked delicious, but I’ve been disappointed by all pear-flavored gelatos outside of Italy itself. Plus, I had already spotted a bin of Cherry gelato.  Everyone who’s spent time in the Pacific Northwest during the summer knows what a BIG deal cherries are here. K’s and my favorite variety is the Rainier, which is only in-season during the early months of summer. Our local Whole Foods store in Washington, DC does carry Rainier cherries for a couple months, but they cost us ~$15 per pound. At Viadolce, I could get my fix of fresh Washington cherries for a fraction of the cost. I ordered a small size, and the nice man behind the counter asked if I wanted one or two flavors. You know what my answer was. I asked him what flavor would pair well with cherry, and he suggested Panna (Italian cream).

Cherry and Panna

The verdict? There is nothing as refreshing as ice cream on a hot and humid evening. Viadolce’s gelato felt cool and soft on my tongue, and I savored the flavors melting over my taste buds. Unlike most ice cream I find in touristy towns, the gelato at Viadolce wasn’t sugary-sweet. Both the Cherry and the Panna had a subtle sweetness, allowing the flavors of cherries and cream to stand out. A little sign in the Cherry gelato bin had warned that “gelato may contain pieces of cherry pits”, and they weren’t exaggerating! I literally found a couple small pit pieces in my cup. But it was a small price to pay for the authentic flavor of real cherries. While the creamy and mild Panna wasn’t exactly memorable, I would imagine it would pair well with any fruity flavor.

The others enjoyed their gelato, too – especially K’s dad, who proclaimed that the Toasted Almond was one of the best ice creams he’d ever tasted! I’ll have to give that flavor a try next time… when I return to Leavenworth for its annual Oktoberfest Festival! Stay tuned…

The Stats:
Viadolce Gelato
636 Front Street
Leavenworth, WA 98826
(509) 548-6712
http://www.viadolcegelato.com

Ice-Cream “Tasting” at Cayuga Lake Creamery

This Memorial Day weekend, my family and I tasted our way through the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. K and I had flown into Boston on Friday evening, where we met my sister and headed to my parent’s house. The next morning, we all piled into the minivan for the six-hour drive to get to our hotel in Seneca Falls, New York. The drive was long, but it was worth it! The Finger Lakes area is incredibly scenic, with its rolling green hills, family-run dairy farms, and many vineyards surrounding the deep blue lakes. And just when you think the view couldn’t be more quaint, you’ll drive by an Amish horse-drawn buggy.

Our weekend getaway was a two-day “tasting” extravaganza. Our focus, of course, was on the wine. We must have visited almost a dozen wineries and sampled thirty different wines. Most of the wineries had intimate and laid-back atmospheres. The Finger Lakes region is known for their white wine – and I definitely agreed. Most of the Rieslings were superb!  But if wine isn’t your thing, you can also find local breweries, cider mills, and dairy creameries scattered among the Finger Lakes. The dairy products here are top-notch. I’m not even a cheese-lover, but one of the highlights of the trip was our cheese tasting at the Muranda Cheese Company. Great cheese made from local ingredients – served by friendly locals. But to be honest, dairy cows make me think one thing: “ice cream.”

Before heading off on our Finger Lakes adventure, I did some research to identify the best-of-the-best ice cream in the area. It soon became apparent that the Cayuga Lake Creamery was the cream of the crop. Heck, it was listed as one of the top 50 ice-cream parlors in the country in one USA Today article. I easily convinced the family to make a special trip to the Cayuga Lake Creamery by reading through some of the interesting flavors advertised online. How can one not be excited to try Maple Bacon or Jalapeño Popper ice cream? 

Late Sunday afternoon, we finally made a detour to Cayuga Lake Creamery. With its walk-up counters, picnic tables, and small kid’s playground, Cayuga Lake Creamery is a quintessential roadside ice-cream joint. They have a full menu of typical drive-in fare (burgers, hot dogs, fish and chips, etc.), but the focus is clearly on the ice cream. The daily ice cream and sorbet flavors are posted on chalkboard menus above the counters. While the Cayuga Lake Creamery website did clearly warn that many of the 100+ flavors “are seasonal and not available at all times,” I’d anticipated more than the 20 or so that were listed today. And sadly, none of the crazy flavors we’d hoped to try (i.e. Jalapeño Popper) were posted. Just when I was beginning to feel defeated, however, I saw that Cayuga Lake Creamery offers gluten-free cones! Also, they note all gluten-free flavors with little blue stars on their menu. As someone with a gluten-sensitivity, I seriously appreciated these little gestures. Few ice-cream establishments cater to the gluten-free crowd.

While we debated which flavors (and sizes) to order, K pointed out a sign for the “Taster’s Choice.” For just $7.25, you can get five small scoops of ice cream. This sounded perfect for our group, as we didn’t want to ruin our appetites for dinner. My sister, mom and I were put in charge of selecting the flavors. Because there were just 20 to choose from, narrowing it down to five (gluten-free) flavors wasn’t too hard. We opted for an eclectic mix of Coconut, Rum Raisin, Mocha Chocolate Chunk, Gianduia, and Snickers.

The Cayuga Lake Creamery has an efficient system; you put your order in at one of the two “ordering” windows, and then you step aside and wait for your order at a separate “pick up” window. We enjoyed the sunshine and people-watching for a few minutes before this lovely thing appeared:


From top left around clockwise – Gianduia, Snickers, Rum Raisin & Coconut 
Center – Mocha Almond Fudge

The verdict? Cayuga Lake Creamery gets major bonus points from me for their “Taster’s Choice.” It’s normal to order flights or samplers of wine, beer, and cheese – so why not ice cream? This sampler was the perfect size for sharing among multiple people. And while none of Cayuga Lake Creamery’s most bizarre flavors were on rotation this afternoon, my family and I were impressed with all of the ones we ordered. My mom’s favorite flavor was Coconut. The coconut-flavored base was flavorful and refreshing, and included just the right amount of dried coconut flakes. My sister Carolyn’s favorite was Gianduia, which was a twist on the classic Italian flavor. Cayuga Lake Creamery’s version was a rich milk-chocolate ice cream, loaded with chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chunks. I was surprised to enjoy the Mocha Chocolate Chunk the most. The mocha ice cream was strong, but not too-strong, and the fudge swirl was thick and tasted like fresh homemade fudge sauce. The “chunks” were actually almond pieces, which added a nice crunch and nutty depth to the ice cream. The Snickers was certainly a crowd-pleaser; the sweet vanilla ice cream contrasted well with the chunks of Snickers candy and extra peanuts and caramel swirls. Finally, Rum Raisin was the most unique-tasting of the bunch. At first bite, I didn’t taste any rum… just vanilla ice cream. But as soon as you bite a massive brown or golden raisin, you’re hit with an intense burst of rum-soaked deliciousness. I probably wouldn’t order a giant cone of Rum Raisin, but it was a fun one to try as a group. Overall, everyone was impressed with the Cayuga Lake Creamery. Heck… the fact that all five of us enjoyed all five different flavors makes for a pretty good review!

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The Stats:
Cayuga Lake Creamery
8421 State Route 89
Interlaken, NY 14847
(607) 532-9492
http://www.cayugalakecreamery.com

Banana Flambé Ice Cream

Does your family have any funny shared memories? The types that cause everyone to burst out laughing, even years later?

My family has a lot of funny memories. I’m not sure if that’s because we’re funny, or we can embarrass ourselves quite often… One of my favorite ones took place in Washington, DC before I started graduate school. My family helped me move, and we went out to dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant. We were stuffed after a delicious meal, but my Dad’s prix fixe dinner included dessert. He almost passed on it, but we all offered to take “a bite” of the famous banana flambé. This dessert entails quite a show; our server rolled a cart and proceeded to cook the flambé right next to our table. She heated butter and brown sugar until it caramelized, then added two bananas and doused everything in flaming cognac. We all clapped as she tipped the bananas into a dish and added two massive scoops of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Something about the show made us forget how full we were, because the five of us attacked that flambé. That warm, sticky banana and rich ice cream didn’t stand a chance. As we were scraping the last bits of brown sugar goop from the bowl, my sister Ava got up to use the restroom. And as the rest of us were finally putting down our spoons, a different server came to the table carrying another banana flambé! He explained that our server felt she had “messed the first one up” and redid the flambé. Say what? The first flambé was a masterpiece! But before we could argue, the man plopped down the second flambé and walked away. Well, letting this dessert go to waste would have been a travesty. So we picked up our spoons and dug in. When Ava returned from the bathroom, the shocked look on her face was priceless. She was obviously judging us, yet it did not stop her from picking up a spoon and joining! I’ll admit, even I was surprised when we polished off that second enormous dessert. To this day, whenever someone brings up banana flambé, the five of us burst out laughing – both embarrassed and proud at the same time.

I’ve been wanting to incorporate banana flambé into ice cream for some time now. The opportunity arose last week, while I was working remotely from my parent’s house. It was nearly 90 degrees out, the AC units haven’t been installed yet, and I spied a bunch of ripe bananas in the kitchen. A quick internet search for “banana flambé ice cream” resulted in recipes for banana flambé with ice cream but none for banana flambé-flavored ice cream. Undeterred, I set about developing my own concoction.

My recipe ended up being pretty simple. First, I made a banana flambé puree by baking banana slices in a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, a smidge of butter, and a dash of dark rum. I could have used the stove top, but I personally prefer baking over sauteing (I burn myself way too often for someone in her late 20s). 

After pulling the bananas out of the oven, I added a squeeze of lemon (to prevent any gross-looking browning) and mashed everything lightly with a fork before covering the dish and popping it into the fridge. The next day, I scraped the cold banana flambé into the blender and added some milk, lemon juice, salt, and vanilla. After blending everything for less than a minute, I poured the base into my mother’s Cuisinart ice-cream maker (identical to mine) and pressed “on.” When I came back 20 minutes later, the ice cream was done!

Banana Flambé Ice Cream
{Makes 1 quart}

Ingredients

  • 3 large bananas (the riper the better) 
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. dark rum
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into little pieces
  • 1/4 tsp. lemon juice (just a squeeze)
  • 1.5 cups whole milk
  • 2 tbsp. white sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Peel bananas and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Arrange in shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, and rum. Distribute butter pieces evenly. Bake for 30 minutes, basting once or twice during cooking.
  • Transfer baked banana mixture to a large bowl, add squeeze of lemon juice (to prevent browning), and mash everything lightly with a fork. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (I chilled overnight).
  • Scrape chilled banana mixture into blender and add milk, white sugar, vanilla, and salt. Blend until smooth.
  • 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.
  • For best results, transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.
Ice cream for three.

The verdict? I figured banana flambé ice cream would be good, but I didn’t anticipate just how amazing this recipe would be. Roasting the bananas helped to break them down, and the brown sugar and rum glaze resulted in a deep, caramelized flavor that I adored. The rum flavor wasn’t strong, so if you love rum – you could add more. Opting to use whole milk instead of cream was risky, but the recipe turned out to be creamy and not at all icy. Perhaps that is due to the high banana-to-milk ratio? I enjoyed my serving in a gluten-free cone, while my parents opted for bowls. My mom raved about the intense flavor, but my banana-loving dad thought it was almost too intense (what a wimp!). He ended up “cutting” my ice cream with a scoop of plain ol’ store-bought vanilla. But my ouce cream motto is “go big or go home!” I savored every bite of my cone, and I ended up polishing off the rest of the banana flambé ice cream within 24 hours. What can I say? It’s a family thing 😉

Manly Wharf’s Gelatissimo

Apologies on the lack of posting lately. Between the engagement, work, and travel, my ice-cream writing has taken a back seat. But don’t you worry… I’ve still been eating my fair share of it!

Now, where were we? Oh yes… Australia.

As you know from the last post, the fiancé (K) and I traveled to Australia a few weeks ago. We spent most of our time in Melbourne, where my sister is studying abroad and my dad’s side of the family lives. Melbourne is a gorgeous city – lots of greenery, beautiful architecture, and a peaceful river running through downtown. But if I were to ever move to Australia, I’d probably choose to live in Sydney. Not only is it the biggest city in the country, but Sydney is one of the nicest metropolises I’ve ever seen. It has the intense energy of New York City, the cleanliness of Singapore, and the urban beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Best of all, K shares my fascination with Sydney and is more than happy to visit whenever we’re in Australia. So before we headed back to the States, K and I spent an action-packed 24 hours in Sydney.

While most of my family members live in Melbourne, a few have migrated to Sydney over the years. My dad’s dearest cousin married a Sydney businessman and raised four awesome boys in the area. She and three of her sons now live in the town of Manly, a quaint beach town in Sydney’s North Beaches. K and I made plans to meet her and one of her sons for dinner in Manly. Traveling to Manly Beach involves a 30-minute ferry ride from Sydney’s main ferry terminal – and this has to be one of the coolest ferry rides ever! Sydney’s ferry terminal is located right near the Sydney Opera House, and you get awesome views of the stunning building from the water!

After a fun (and choppy!) ride across the Harbor, the ferry arrives at Manly Wharf. We had an hour to kill before dinner, so K and I stopped at a great German beer garden before walking along Manly Beach. When dinnertime rolled around, we walked for ten minutes or so before spotting the Thai restaurant my cousin had chosen.

We had a great time catching up with family and sharing delicious Thai curries. But it was getting late, so K and I walked back to Manly Wharf to catch a ferry back to Sydney. The ferry terminal was pretty quiet on a Thursday evening after rush hour, but many of the food and magazine vendors were still open. I had spotted a gelato kiosk on our way in earlier, and I was happy to see it was still open at 9pm!

Gelatissimo in situated right in the center of the ferry terminal building. While surveying their extensive gelato offerings, I suddenly realized that I had an appetite for dessert ;). Italian-based Gelatissimo is an international chain, with locations in Italy, Malaysia, Kuwait, Singapore, the Philippines, and Australia. Gelatissimo serves all the quintessential flavors you’d find in an Italian gelateria, such as Pistachio, Amarena (dark cherry), Panna Cotta, Tiramisu, and Bacio (chocolate-hazelnut). But tonight, I was drawn to several unusual flavors. The Ricotta, Pear & Walnut sounded great… if you like ricotta cheese (which I don’t). The colorful Passion-Fruit sorbet looked quite tempting. But in the end, I decided on two flavors I’d never seen before: Saffron Risotto and Carmelised Fig. While living abroad in Spain, I developed an appreciation for saffron’s deep and slightly-bitter flavor. And figs are one of my favorite “grown-up” foods. I loathed Fig Newtons as a kid (too healthy-tasting for dessert), but now you’ll catch find me eating Trader Joe’s Fig Butter by the spoonful.

 I wasn’t sure whether the two flavors would clash, but I took a chance and ordered a two-scoop cup.

The verdict? So disappointing. I had such high expectations for these flavors, but I was sadly unimpressed by both. Had you not told me what I was eating, I wouldn’t have known there was any saffron or figs in this gelato. The Saffron Risotto was sweet but bland, and the texture was disappointing. Ever since that amazing tapioca gelato in Rio de Janeiro, I’ve been on the hunt for texture-intense flavors. Risotto gelato is a great idea, but it was poorly executed at Gelatissimo. There were a mere few grains of rice in my entire scoop. Likewise, the Carmelised Fig flavor was underwhelming and lacked the crunch of fig seeds. To top everything off, Gelatissimo is quite pricey (almost $7 for a pretty small cup). But don’t worry; this ice-cream disappointment didn’t ruin my night. The ferry ride back to Sydney with its stunning views was enough to put a smile back on my face 🙂

The Stats:
Gelatissimo
Manly Wharf Shopping Centre, Kiosk 2
Manly, New South Wales 2095
Australia
http://www.gelatissimo.com.au

A Sweet Excursion to the Yarra Valley

Last week was like a dream. I took the week off from work to travel to Australia, got engaged on the way, saw dozens of family members, partied in Melbourne with my little sister on her 20th birthday, and ate plenty of ice cream.

One of my favorite days was spent exploring the Yarra Valley, a famous wine growing region located about an hour outside of Melbourne. My sister, fiance (SO weird to say that!), and I took the train out to the Yarra Valley early on Tuesday morning. One of my aunts lives in the Valley with her family, and she took the day off to play tour guide. The Yarra Valley is a beautiful place, with rolling hills and dozens of small family-owned vineyards dotting the landscape – similar to what I imagine Napa Valley was like back in the day. We tried dozens of wines at Yering Station, sampled cheeses at the Yarra Valley Dairy, and enjoyed beer and cider at Coldstream Brewery.

But the best stop of the day was the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery! The business just opened in December, but my aunt knew it was the perfect place to take us for lunch and dessert. You can imagine my excitement as we drove up the immaculately-manicured driveway and walked towards the architect-designed warehouse.

Walking through the doors at the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery is like stepping into a sophisticated version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The smell of chocolate permeates the colorful open store. We were immediately invited to samples of milk, dark and white chocolate, which I enjoyed while taking everything in.

The store is mostly dedicated to chocolate, with ice cream taking up just a small section towards the back. Most of the walls and counters are stocked with homemade truffles and beautifully-packaged chocolates. The left-hand wall is actually a glass window that looks into the chocolate-making kitchen, where three chocolateries were hard at work on this Tuesday morning.

My cousin was waiting for us in the store’s little cafe, which has a patio with stunning views of the Yarra Valley. The plan was to have lunch here; the cafe serves light but gourmet fare – including pizza, paninis and salads. I appreciated that the menu called out all vegan and gluten-free options. We all ordered something different, and I went with the Vegetable Fritatta with a garden salad. It was a bit more expensive than your average lunch ($18), but it was a lovely and memorable meal. Moreover, restaurant meals in Australia are generally more pricey than in the US – partially because tip/service fee is built into the food and drink prices.

Despite our satisfying lunch, we all ordered dessert. It’s simply unacceptable to visit Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery without having something sweet. Besides the chocolates and truffles in the store, the cafe also serves fancy dessert waffles, sundaes, tarts, and gorgeous hot chocolates. While I was tempted by the gluten-free brownie sundae, I couldn’t not try the homemade ice cream.

Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery’s ice cream is made fresh on-site every day, and they prides themselves on using only high-quality ingredients. This Tuesday, there were 12 different flavor options – which is actually fewer than I’m used to! Luckily, everything sounded good. Most flavors were traditional, such as Cookies & Cream and Mint Chocolate Chip. But there were a couple more interesting ones, like Peach Mango and Honeycomb. Also, the two sorbets looked great in the display case. The Dark Chocolate looked rich and, well, dark! And the Wild Berry was a beautiful purple color and was studded with berry seeds (always a good sign!).

After a bit of hemming and hawing, I decided on a two-scoop cup with both Honeycomb and the Dark Chocolate sorbet. The flavor combination was an ode to my all-time favorite Australian candy, Violet Crumble. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of eating one, it’s a candy bar with a crunchy, honeycomb toffee center covered in a thin layer of chocolate. My sisters and I would eagerly look for Violet Crumble bars in any package coming from an Australian relative. While I’ve encountered Violet Crumbles in a few specialty stores in the US over the years, they still retain a big novelty factor for me. Since honeycomb isn’t a common ice cream flavor in the States, I had to pounce on this opportunity. Luckily, Ava thought the combo was a great idea – and she agreed to split the massive portion and hefty price (almost $6) with me.

The verdict? As you can see, the folks at Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery certainly don’t skimp on portions. And given that the ice cream and sorbet had an almost gelato-like consistency, it was served at the perfect temperature and didn’t melt before we could finish it. True to their promise, both flavors were rich and flavorful – proof of the high-quality ingredients used. While I expected Honeycomb to be my favorite, the Dark Chocolate sorbet was the star of this combo. It was one of the best chocolate sorbets I’ve had; incredibly rich (but not too sweet) chocolate flavor and a velvety-smooth texture unlike many other ice-y sorbets. The Honeycomb ice cream had that caramel-honey flavor I love. However, there were just two big chunks of honeycomb candy in the scoop, whereas I’d hoped for many small bites throughout. Still, the ice cream was a winner – especially when paired with the Dark Chocolate sorbet. These flavors complemented each other well; the sorbet was so rich that a milder flavor was needed to balance it out. Even still, my sister and I barely finished this cup. Overall, however, Yarra Valley’s ice cream flavors are not nearly as exotic as their chocolate candy and truffle flavors. I’d love to challenge Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery to focus a little more attention on their ice cream business. If they start to put as much TLC into their frozen concoctions as their chocolate candy, this stuff would be hard to beat.

All in the family.

The Stats:
Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery
35 Old Healesville Road
Yarra Glenn, Victoria 3775
Australia
http://www.yvci.com.au

Park City’s Java Cow Creamery

A couple weeks ago, I stepped foot in Utah for the first time! I heard stories about its incredible topography during college geography classes, and I’ve wanted to visit Utah ever since. My opportunity arose when the boyfriend and his parents chose Park City for their skiing weekend this year. The boyfriend comes from a family of big skiers. Me, on the other hand? I’ve strapped on skis once in my entire life. And let’s just say that it wasn’t pretty. But I wasn’t about to sit this vacation out and miss the chance to see Utah.

I understood what all the hype was about before our plane even landed in Salt Lake City. The views from the air were breathtaking: the arid Great Basin, the rugged Rocky Mountains, and the Great Salt Lake. The drive We stayed at a beautiful hotel right on the slopes of Deer Valley, which allowed me to enjoy the slopes without actually skiing on them. The weather was beautiful all weekend, so I spent most of my days working and reading outside. My lunch view looked something like this:

After the slopes closed, we’d take the hotel shuttle to downtown Park City. I didn’t know much about Park City – other than that it hosts the Sundance Film Festival every year. But I found it to be a quaint yet lively mountain town. We tried a couple different bars and restaurants, but my favorite spot was Purple Sage – a cozy restaurant with an eclectic menu and impeccable service. Even after stuffing myself with homemade potato chips and roasted pork tenderloin, I decided that I still had a little room for ice cream. So I kept my eye out while we strolled down Main Street.

For a tourist mecca, there are very few ice cream parlors in Park City. And when we spotted Java Cow Creamery, Cafe & Bakery right on Main Street, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical at first. How could a family-owned business juggle making good coffee, baked goods and ice cream? But when you step into well-lit store (over the cow door mat, of course), you’ll soon see that Java Cow really does focus on all three – while also doing a hefty business selling hundreds of different cow-themed goods. The store is loosely divided in two; the right-hand side is dedicated to coffee, tea, and a wide variety of sweet baked goods (from biscotti to cupcakes). But I made a quick beeline to the left, where Java Cow has a full-fledged ice cream parlor. The overarching theme throughout the store is, of course, cows. If you know anyone who’s into cow-themed anything, send them to Java Cow. There you’ll find the cow apron, cow eraser, cow water bottle, and the cow piggy bank you never knew you had to have. 
I love cows. But I’m more interested in their milk than a cow-patterned baseball cap. So I headed straight to Java Cow’s ice cream counter to investigate their selection.

Java Cow makes about two dozen of its own flavors, making it difficult to choose just one. There are a few normal (read “boring”) flavors, like Strawberry or Vanilla Bean, but most are funky versions of kid’s favorites, like Brownie Explosion, Chocolate Monster, or Peanut Toffee Twist. None of the flavors were incredibly exotic, but they were all fun. I knew I wanted to try Java Cow’s signature flavor: Wowie Cowie. According to the helpful descriptions posted on the ice cream counter, this crowd-favorite was vanilla ice cream, toffee bits, dark chocolate pieces and “our special caramel sauce.” In an effort to get some fruit into my day, I also wanted some Moonana Cup – banana ice cream from “lots of real ripe bananas” with broken peanut-butter cups. I ordered a two-scoop cup, which cost me about $5. Java Cow’s prices were what you’d expect for a touristy area, but was the ice cream? Was Java Cow just another example of a touristy shop focusing on customer “experience” instead of their product? Were the over-the-top flavors and eclectic atmosphere compensating for lackluster ice cream? I was about to find out…

The verdict? Wow. This ice cream thoroughly exceeded my expectations. The servings are generous, and cups come with a cute waffle-cone garnish. And unlike some of my recent experiences, Java Cow serves its ice cream at the perfect temperature – frozen firm, but without any sign of freezer burn. My favorite had to be the Moonana Cup… in spite of the peanut-butter cups. The banana ice cream was one of the best I’ve ever had. Real banana ice cream often has a soft, subtle flavor – but Java Cow’s was strong and vibrant. I found that the peanut-butter cups were totally unnecessary; they seemed like an afterthought or an attempt to attract kids’ attention. The candy was a distraction from this amazing ice cream. This wasn’t the case, however in the Wowie Cowie, where the mix-ins turned a simple vanilla ice cream into a mini-sundae in each bite. Java Cow’s rich, cream vanilla ice cream was perfectly contrasted by crunchy bits of toffee and dark chocolate. I’m not sure what made Java Cow’s caramel sauce “special,” but it had a robust, buttery flavor that held its own against the toffee and dark chocolate. The ratio of mix-ins to ice cream was spot-on in both ice creams, and each spoonful had texture and little bursts of fun flavors. And on second though – I need that cow-patterned baseball cap, after all. Because I’d like to tip it to Java Cow for executing serious ice cream in a fun and heartwarming atmosphere.

Star-struck in Park City

The Stats:
Java Cow Creamery, Cafe & Bakery
402 Main Street
Park City, UT 84060
(435) 647-7711

Taste of the Southwest in Newport, RI

I rarely go anywhere when I go “home.” That’s to say, I usually travel to Massachusetts for the sole purpose of spending time with my family. This usually means sticking close to our childhood home, where my parents still live and which serves as a central meeting place for me and my sisters. I’ll head into Boston or Worcester to visit friends, but I make these excursions brief. I’m always trying to maximize my “family time” before I inevitably have to leave. In fact, this constant traveler transforms into quite the homebody when she sets foot in Massachusetts. So there remains many places in New England that I’ve never seen: Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket Island, and Block Island (just to mention a few). But when I was home for Christmas, I crossed Newport, Rhode Island off my bucket list. My father wanted to take the whole family on an outing as an early Christmas present, and I was thrilled by his choice to visit to the Newport mansions.

The drive from our house to Newport, Rhode Island takes just 90 minutes (excluding the mandatory Starbucks pit stop, of course). Upon entering the picturesque coastal town, my dad headed straight towards the most famous Newport mansion of all: The Breakers. This Vanderbilt family summer home sits right alongside the shore, where powerful Atlantic waves “break” into jagged cliffs (hence its name). In 1948, the Vanderbilt family donated The Breakers to be converted into a museum. Today, The Breakers is the most-visited attraction in Rhode Island – with over 300,000 visitors touring the premises each year. And come December, The Breakers is decorated elaborately for Christmas – with dozens of trees, garlands and wreaths adding even more splendor to the mansion. Given my family’s obsession with all things Christmas, my dad rightly assumed we’d appreciate The Breakers even more during the holidays. I wish I could’ve taken some photos to share, but photography is a “no-no” at The Breakers.

When we’d finished our individual audio headset tours, my dad announced that it was time for lunch. As part of his Christmas present, my dad made lunch reservations at an undisclosed restaurant. The minivan GPS had us heading towards Thames Street, Newport’s main tourist strip. Driving down Thames Street, with its colorful t-shirt displays, fudge shoppes, and picnic table-lined sidewalks, brought me back to summers in Maine and Cape Cod. I awoke from my daydreaming when my dad pulled up to Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant, which is arguably the most popular dining spot in all of Newport.

For over 30 years, Brick Alley Pub has been inviting tourists and locals in with its cheerful white-and-yellow awnings and comforting pub food. Although we had a 12:30pm reservation, we couldn’t be seated immediately since the restaurant was packed (even on a cold Saturday afternoon in December!). The bar area was filled to capacity, so we stood next to the salad bar. Little did we know – but we’d end up standing there for over 30 minutes! In my opinion, there are no excuses for such a wait when you have a reservation. The only silver lining was that we had plenty of time to peruse the extensive menu and read the many reviews and awards Brick Alley has mounted on the wall. I saw numerous plaques congratulating Brick Alley Pub for having the “Best Nachos” in Rhode Island. Mmm… Nachos are my favorite greasy pub food. And since we were all famished by the time we were seated, it didn’t take too much convincing to get my family on board with ordering a platter. Our waitress was very attentive, but she somehow forgot to put our nacho order into the computer system. We realized her mistake when the entrees arrived at our tables before any nachos did! The waitress apologized and promised that dessert would be “on the house.” I was disappointed about missing out on these award-winning nachos, but really – could any nachos be better than dessert?

After the wait and nacho fiasco, I was relieved when our meals didn’t disappoint. My dad and Ava ordered bowls of the Lobster Bisque, which was rich and hot enough for my Dad, who detests nothing more than lukewarm soup. Carolyn and I each ordered a Lobstacado Sandwich – cold lobster salad, avocado, and cheese served on on a toasted English muffin (or on Boston Bibb lettuce for this gluten-free girl). My mom seemed happy enough with her Harvest Salad, but I think she was secretly envious of our lobster lunches. While our lunches were satisfying, we all saved room for our free desserts. Compared to their food and drink menus, Brick Alley Pub’s dessert choices were quite limited. But one dessert stood out among the six options: the Southwestern Sundae. My dad read the description out loud, and I was sold as soon as I heard “soft serve.” My dad and I are BIG fans of soft-serve ice cream, so we decided to split the sundae. It’s rare for a normal full-service restaurant to have a soft-serve machine, so we weren’t about to miss this opportunity.

I’m not what I was expecting the sundae to look like, but I was floored when this arrived at our table:

Check out my dad raring to go with that spoon…

The verdict? The first thing we noticed about the Southwest Sundae was its size. This is a MASSIVE sundae; perhaps the biggest I’ve seen without a menu disclaimer that it’s “made for two” or more. The sundae bowl is actually a fried flour tortilla shell dusted with cinnamon sugar. I tried to stay away from the shell, but the rest of my family loved its churro-like flavor. Then comes the best part: copious amounts of vanilla soft serve drizzled with honey. Brick Alley Pub’s soft serve reminded me of the classic McDonald’s version – sweet, creamy and very thick. I was worried that the fried tortilla shell would be warm and melt the ice cream before we could finish, but Brick Alley smartly waits for the shell to cool before filling it. The honey drizzle was a new topping for me – but it worked. Its warm, earthy flavor complemented the cinnamon well. The sundae is garnished with heavy dollops of whipped cream, almond slivers, and a sprig of mint. The whipped cream wasn’t anything to write home about, but the sundae would’ve seemed naked without it. The almond slivers added a nice crunch and the mint sprig made the dessert look a little healthier. While the experience was marred by the long wait, Brick Alley Pub redeemed itself with this sundae. And kudos for developing the first sundae ever that my dad and I couldn’t conquer together. Here we were, thinking we were “taking it easy” on dessert by splitting a sundae. Yeah right. Even half of the Southwest Sundae is bigger than the average-sized dessert. Luckily, this family helps each other out. So my sisters and mom stepped up to the plate (literally and figuratively) and helped to polish off the sundae. After all, how often is so much ice cream “on the house”?!?

The Stats:
Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant
140 Thames Street
Newport, RI 02840
(401) 849-6334
www.brickalley.com

Just what the Doctor ordered…

I hope y’all had a relaxing and delicious Thanksgiving! I spent the holiday with my family in Massachusetts. Per tradition, Thanksgiving dinner was held at my cousins’ home near Springfield. Now, I’m big on traditions. My family takes caution when proposing new activitities or recipes around the holidays – for fear that I’ll enjoy it so much that it becomes yet another “tradition.” The family actually calls the special holiday mashed potatoes (i.e. full of cream cheese and butter) “Grace’s potatoes.” And this isn’t because I make them (my mom’s cousin does). But when someone brought the dish years ago, my twelve-year-old self loved them and decreed a new “tradition.” Many years later, I still relish the familiarity and comfort of our family’s holiday activities and dishes. But the most important tradition of all is having everyone at the dinner table. And this year, someone was missing…

My cousin Leah is completing her residency at the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. She had to work on Thanksgiving morning this year, and it was the first time one of us “kids” didn’t make it home for the holiday. But modern technology made Leah’s absence a little easier to bear… Once our dinner plates were cleared, I pulled out my iPad so the family could “FaceTime” with Leah. It wasn’t as good as having her there in-person, but it was especially nice for those who hadn’t seen Leah since she left for Baltimore. I’m the lucky one who lives just an hour away from Leah. And just a couple Saturdays ago, the boyfriend and I drove down to Baltimore for the afternoon. Leah’s boyfriend, Matt, was also in town – so the four of us explored the city and enjoyed a lovely brunch at Little Havana (which has the best Bloody Marys ever!).

At some point after brunch, the topic of local desserts came up. Leah and Matt raved (no, gushed) about the Baltimore Bomb at Dangerously Delicious Pies. As soon as my boyfriend heard that the pie is made from Berger Cookies (a local specialty), he was determined to try a slice. We followed the GPS to the popular Baltimore neighborhood of Canton, where Dangerously Delicious Pies is nestled in a cute strip of restaurants and shops. Sadly, the store clerk informed us that all of the Baltimore Bombs had been “already sold for the day.” This surprised me, as it was only two o’clock in the afternoon! We all felt deflated, so Leah suggested we find dessert elsewhere. She remembered that Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop was just down the road. Italian bakeries mean one thing to me: Gelato!

Walking into Vaccaro’s Canton shop reminded me of ducking into one of the more modern cafes in Rome. The warm light and golden accents make for an inviting atmosphere. I’d love to come here on a cold, snowy morning to warm up with a latte or mocha. But on this fall day, I made a beeline for the gelato case. Vaccaro’s boasts almost 20 flavors of gelato and sorbet – including many of the Italian favorites like Baci (i.e. Nutella), Tiramasu, Amaretto, and Pistacchio. But it was a different flavor, Almond Joy, that caught my eye. I’m a sucker for ice cream with different textures, and you can’t beat the coconut and chocolate combination. Leah also ended up ordering a cup of Almond Joy (we really are related!), while our gentlemen friends took a different route and enjoyed Vaccaro’s famous cannolis.

The verdict? This gelato definitely lives up to its name; it’s like biting into a cold and creamy Almond Joy candy bar. I’ve tried many coconutty desserts in my time – but none have been as chock-full of coconut flakes as Vaccaro’s gelato is. I wouldn’t be surprised if the gelato-to-coconut ratio is near one-to-one. The chocolate flakes were perfectly thin and flavorful – similar to the ones found in Stracciatella gelato. My only real complaint was that they almond chunks were big and few and far between; I would use almond slivers and be more generous. But compared to your average gelateria, the prices are lower and portions are bigger at Vaccaro’s. Leah was too full from brunch to finish her’s, but you better believe that I found room and polished this baby off 🙂 Yum!

The Stats:
Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop
2919 O’Donnell Street
Baltimore, MD 21224
(410) 276-4744
http://www.vaccarospastry.com
(other locations in Little Italy, Hunt Valley and Belair)