Exciting surprises at Moo Shu Ice Cream in Ottawa

During the summer before my senior year of college, I interned at a non-profit in the Boston area. Since the nonprofit was  small and underfunded, they depended a lot on the help of summer interns. There were about eight of us that summer, and we broke up into smaller teams, researching and writing about specific topics. I was paired with Yael, a smart and passionate young woman from Canada, and it didn’t take long for us to develop a special friendship. When the summer came to a close, Yael headed back to McGill University in Montreal but promised to reach out next time she visited her sister — who conveniently lives in DC!

Lucky for me, Yael visits DC fairly often and we’ve been able to grow our friendship over the past 10 years. She’s also my e-mail pen pal; we write each other long and meaningful emails several times per year. I was so glad when K and Yael hit it off the first time they met; the two are very different on many levels, but their friendship has an obvious ease. But thanks to busy schedules and expensive airfare, we haven’t been able to spend nearly enough time together over the years. So K and I were both touched when Yael made the long journey out to Vashon Island for our wedding in 2014.

I’m ashamed to say that it took over two years for K and I to return the gesture, and visit Yael in her current home city of Ottawa, Canada. But we finally got our act together and booked a weekend trip last month. While the two days flew by, Yael gave us a fantastic introduction to Ottawa’s beauty, culture, and food scene. We shared breakfast tacos, took a tour of Parliament, walked through the downtown area, ate at a hip new restaurant, and even watched Yael play in her curling club!

Library of Parliament

Like the good friend she is, Yael offered to bring me to a new ice cream shop in her neighborhood called Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen. She had mentioned it to me in an email a while back, telling me about the black-sesame ice cream and an innovative flavor made by soaking Froot Loops in milk. So, on Saturday afternoon, Yael and I made the 10-minute walk down her street to Moo Shu. It’s a small shop, tucked in a row of cute shops and restaurants in a bustling part of the neighborhood. The friendly-looking cat logo is quite welcoming, and I can imagine this place is packed on warm summer evenings. But, on this cold afternoon, I wasn’t surprised to see just a handful of people inside.

Inside, Moo Shu is quite trendy – sparsely decorated, clean lines, white walls, and a couple tall wooden tables. But you’ll notice lots of charming small details, like a collection of small plastic Chinese cats along the wall behind the counter. Its young owner, Liz Mok,  spent her childhood in both Hong Kong and Vancouver and brings youthful Chinese flare to both her shop and food. While the focus is on ice cream, Moo Shu also serves wontons and rice during lunch.

Warm, sugary smells greeted me when I walked inside, thanks to the homemade cones cooking in the waffle iron behind the counter. The menu is quite short, with just a couple traditional flavors like Local Strawberry and Chocolate (which is vegan). I’d say that most of the flavors are on the unusual side, like Hong Kong Milk Tea, Froot Loops Cereal Milk, Vegan Apple Mint, and Black Sesame. There were two seasonal specials named for singers — “You Want It Darker” for Leonard Cohen (smoky sea salt + activated charcoal) and “Encore Un Soir” for Celine Dion (coffee with tarte au sucre).

Like many places in Ottawa, Moo Shu is very accommodating for those of us following gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan diets. Thus, I’m surprised that Yael had never noticed that Moo Shu’s homemade waffle cones are gluten-free and vegan! We were nearly giddy when I spotted those little GF and V markers. Despite the short menu, I had trouble selecting flavors. Black Sesame was a must, since – when done well – it’s one of my favorite favors. Celine Dion’s flavor sounded divine, but I decided to steer clear of the wheat in the pastry (which I can be sensitive to). In the end, I went with a small cone of Black Sesame and “You Want It Darker.” I wanted to know what this whole charcoal trend is about. Yael ordered a kid-sized cone of Ginger Vanilla Bean. The prices were reasonable, with my cone setting me back about Can$6.20 (including the $1.20 surcharge for a cone).

L: Black Sesame (bottom), You Want It Darker (top); R: Ginger Vanilla Bean

The verdict? Moo Shu may seem trendy, but their top-quality ice cream tastes timeless. Both scoops were my perfect consistency; frozen hard enough to be able to bite into, but creamy enough to melt quickly on your tongue. The “You Want It Darker” wasn’t my favorite; I liked the saltiness, but the activated charcoal tasted like sweet ash. Maybe it’s an acquired taste? The Black Sesame was nutty and toasty, with a bright and sweet aftertaste. It’s beautiful dark gray color made the ice cream seem oh-so-sophisticated. But the real star of my cone was the cone itself! Crunchy, light, and sweet, this cone was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before.

How did Yael like the Ginger Vanilla Bean? As she put it, “I shouldn’t be afraid to try flavour pairings that I wouldn’t have thought went together, because clearly, tasty amazingness can happen when ginger and vanilla combine in silky smooth ice cream.”

Enjoying good ice cream with a good friend… does life get any better?

The Stats:
Moo Shu Ice Cream & Kitchen
477 Bank Street
Ottawa, ON, Canada K2P 1Z2
https://www.mooshuicecream.com/

Stumbling upon the famous Nevería Roxy in Mexico City

Don’t you love when, sometimes, what you desire magically comes to you without any effort? You might receive a call from a long-lost friend you’ve been meaning to reach out to, or get a big discount on something you’d expected to pay full price for. Every once in a while, the stars perfectly align and you can’t believe your luck.

I had one of these moments on a trip last month, when K and I joined our friends Becca and Bryan for a weekend in Mexico City. A mere four-hour flight from Washington, DC, Mexico City seems like a world away. The four of us squeezed a lot into 36 hours (we left early on Sunday), eating plenty of street food, taking a long walk through Chapultepec Park, exploring one of the city’s largest markets, and enjoying a fancy meal at Pujol (quite possibly my favorite restaurant in the world). The only disappointment of the weekend was when we took an Uber over to Frida Kahlo’s house on Saturday afternoon, only to find that they had temporarily stopped letting visitors inside due to a power outage in the neighborhood. The line was getting quite long, so we bailed in favor of taking a stroll through the beautiful neighborhood of Condesa.

Since we had so little time to spend with our friends in Mexico City, I wasn’t planning on going out of my way to find a new ice cream shop. But, alas, the stars were about to align for me (and the blog!): our Uber driver dropped us off in the middle of the Condesa neighborhood. Without a specific plan, we began meandering down the pretty tree-lined streets. We couldn’t have walked more than two blocks when we came upon a true Mexico City ice-cream establishment: Nevería Roxy.

Nevería Roxy is a small family-run ice cream chain, with four locations around Mexico City. The first shop opened over 70 years ago, and the shops are known for their nostalgic 1950s vibe. When we just happened to stumble upon the Condesa shop, I took it as “a sign” that we had to take an ouce-cream break! Nevería Roxy was crowded on a Saturday afternoon, with a long line to get to the counter and plenty of people sitting around the formica tables enjoying ice-cream floats, cones, and sundaes.

Like their decor, Nevería Roxy sticks with good-old fashioned ice cream flavors. With a couple dozen flavors of ice cream (“helado”) and sorbet (“nieve”), there is something for everyone. Some of the ice cream flavors that caught my eye were Arroz con Leche, Tutti Frutti, Amaretto, Macademia, Menta (mint), and Mamey (a local tropical fruit). But several of the sorbet options — Sandia (watermelon), Tamarindo, and Maracuya (passion fruit) — sounded enticing. But when I saw Cajeta, I knew there was no turning back. Cajeta is a traditional Mexican caramel made with goat’s milk, and it reminded me of one of my favorite ice creams of 2015: the Greedy Goat’s salted caramel goat ice cream. Since we had big dinner plans that evening, I stuck with a small cone (called “bola chica”).

While the serving size was small, this cone  set me back a mere 22 pesos, or  USD$1.25. It would be difficult to find a better deal than that!

The verdict? I had high expectations for this ice cream, and Nevería Roxy delivered! The ice cream itself was smooth, dense, and creamy. It was slightly too soft, thanks to the hot day and no air conditioning. But the Cajeta flavor more than compensated; it had a deep, carmelized flavor with just the tiniest tang from the goat’s milk. I found myself wishing the scoop was larger, because I finished this cone in about 2 minutes flat (despite savoring and “mmm”ing the whole time). I’m so glad that we stumbled upon this Mexico City institution!

The Stats:
Nevería Roxy (three other locations)
Av. Fernando Montes de Oca, 89
Cuauhtémoc, Condesa
06140 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
http://neveriaroxy.com.mx

Enjoying Italian Gelato in Barcelona @ Gelaaati! Di Marco

This post is long overdue! Earlier this fall, K and I had the pleasure of joining two of our dearest friends in Barcelona, Spain for a long weekend. Becca and Bryan were celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary with a 10-day trip to Spain. They traveled all over the country and ended in Barcelona, where Becca studied abroad for a semester during college. Knowing that K had never been to Barcelona, Becca and Bryan kindly invited us to meet them there. I looked forward to the trip for months, and it did not disappoint.

K and I took a red-eye from Washington, D.C. to Barcelona and arrived on Saturday morning. We met Becca and Bryan at our hotel, the W Barcelona, which is right on the beach. We were too excited to be tired, and so we almost immediately headed out to Park Guëll. I remembered the enchanting and eclectic park from my brief excursion to Barcelona during my semester in Madrid many, many years ago, and I was thrilled to go back. The park, designed by Antoni Gaudí, was just as lively and inspiring as I’d remembered, and we enjoyed strolling around together for an hour or two. We kept up a swift pace for the entire weekend, and I can’t believe how much we fit into just two days. Other highlights of the weekend include swimming in the Mediterranean Ocean (it was chilly but fun), wandering around the Boqueria market, walking up the towers of La Sagrada Familia (a basilica also designed by Gaudí), and enjoying delicious paella by the beach.

On our second day in Barcelona, I made sure to find time to sample the local frozen dessert of choice: gelato. We saw countless gelato shops throughout the city, so I did some quick research to help us choose a good spot. According to TripAdvisor, Gelaaati! Di Marco in the Gothic Quarter is not only one of the best gelato shops in the city, but it also has the greatest variety of flavors. Becca and Bryan are just as adventurous as I am when it comes to wacky ice cream flavors, so I knew we had to try it out.

We arrived at Gelaaati! Di Marco in the late afternoon, after sightseeing all morning and afternoon. While none of us were starving (thanks to our fun lunch of tapas), we were more than ready for a little pick-me-up. The shop is located in a beautiful old part of town, nestled among cute stores and restaurants along a cobblestone street. While there was a small crowd in the shop, the friendly folks working behind the counter ensured that the line moved quickly. It took us a few minutes to decide what to order — there are probably 30 flavors to choose from!

There’s something for everyone at Gelaaati! Di Marco, from traditional gelato flavors like Vanilla, Stracciatella, and Pistachio to more interesting ones like Chai Tea, Tiramasú, and Cioccolato Piccante (Spicy Chocolate). There are also plenty of non-dairy / vegan options, too, including Coco, Mango and Mojito. Interestingly, Gelaaati! Di Marco also offers six premium flavors for a small extra charge. These flavors, classified as “Gold Line” were incredibly decadent. Bryan had his eye on the Zolaus (cream-flavored gelato with gorganzola and fig marmalade) and Milanès (fresh ricotta gelato with saffron and pistachio cookies). Many flavors had traditional Italian or English names, but some (like Canela, or Cinnamon) were in Spanish.

In the end, I decided to go with a medium-sized cup of three flavors: Caffe (for some caffeine!), Dulce de Leche, and Extra Dark (vegan chocolate sorbet). My cup cost me about $4 Euros. Bryan’s cup was more expensive because of the two premium flavors he chose.

The verdict? This gelato was smooth, thick, and almost sticky (in a good way). The Caffe was strong and not very sweet. While it fit my preferences, folks who don’t drink coffee might find it too potent. The Extra Dark Cocoa was my favorite of the three flavors; very chocolatey, delicious, and creamy – I couldn’t believe there was no dairy in it! I’d order this time and time again. The Dulce de Leche was yummy but not life changing. It’s burnt-sugar undertones were a bit too harsh. Becca’s favorite was the Pistachio, which she thought was crisp and refreshing.  Bryan let me taste both of his flavors. I thought the Milanès was quite delicious, and liked the subtle saffron taste paired with the sweet pistachio brittle. But neither of us enjoyed the Zolaus; the gorganzola flavor was really strong. But I had no problem polishing off my cup before we continued off for more sightseeing!

The Stats:
Gelaaati Di Marco
Carrer de la Llibreteria, 7
Barcelona, Spain 08002
http://gelaaati.com/en/

I finally made it to Salt & Straw!

There are many “Best Ice Cream Shops in America” lists out there, but there’s only a couple shops that you’ll see time and time again. One of these is Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon. Run by two cousins, Kim & Tyler Malek, Salt & Straw started as a tiny food cart operation. Today, it’s a massively-popular chain (with shops in Portland and Los Angeles) and is a towering figure on the national ice-cream scene. Salt & Straw was one of the first shops in the country to churn out totally wacky and unconventional ice-cream flavors using ingredients like black pepper and blue cheese. But it’s the high quality ice cream & attention to local ingredients that continues to earn Salt & Straw accolades from publications like The New York Times, Saveur, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and even The Oprah Magazine!

Despite spending a lot of time in Washington State, I don’t seem to get down to Portland often enough. According to this blog, the last time I was here was 2012! While I knew of Salt & Straw back then, I failed to get myself to the shop during that short work trip. I did manage to sample the ice cream at Cool Moon, however, which I liked but didn’t love.

I finally had a chance to redeem myself last month, when I was in Portland to celebrate my college roommate’s wedding. It was a very busy weekend, full of wedding festivities and catching up with friends from college, so I had to make a point of getting to Salt & Straw…. it wouldn’t happen organically! Luckily, I was even able to round up a few friends to join me (thanks, Becca, Juan & Bryan!) on my Friday afternoon visit to the SE Division shop in Southeast Portland.

img_0688Having heard of hour-long waits, I was shocked to see no line outside of the shop! It was my lucky day. After a quick photo by the famous sign, our party of four headed inside. Salt & Straw’s SE Division shop is beautiful; it looks like a hipster’s take on a classic 1950s ice cream parlor. The interior is predominantly wood, but with bright accents of cherry red and chrome. Wafts of freshly-made waffle cones only adds to the atmosphere.

img_0689 Salt & Straw has developed hundreds of flavors, but their shops carry fewer than 20 flavors at any given time. About a dozen are “Classic Flavors” and are always available, and the remaining slots are dedicated to seasonal creations. Popular mainstays include Honey Lavender, Chocolate Gooey Brownie, Cinnamon Snickerdoodle, Arbequina Olive Oil, and Freckled Woodblock Chocolate. Today, the limited-edition “Late Summer Harvest Series” flavors sounded amazing: Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J, White Toast & Apple Butter, Sour Cream Fig Pie, Oregon Honeyed Rocky Road, and Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries.

img_0690But the big question: What to order? The lovely and knowledgeable Ally patiently answered my questions and gave me a sample of the Freckled Woodblock Chocolate (her personal fave). I eventually settled on a double-scoop cup of two seasonal favors: the Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries and Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J. One crazy flavor, one safe bet. When hearing about the blog, Ally shared some inside info: the bone marrow is from cows and is slow roasted, clarified, and then blended with sugar and cream for the base (i.e. no weird clumps of bone marrow). And the PB&J involves two forms of peanut butter (liquid and cereal) and the jam is homemade using local grapes.

picturesaltstrawPrices were what I expected: high, but not offensively so. My double-scoop was $5.95.

Bottom: Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries; Top: Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J

Bottom: Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries; Top: Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J

The verdict? Salt & Straw lives up to the hype. My friends and I were floored by the deliciousness of Salt & Straw’s ice cream, our eyes bulging in happy surprise as we took our first bites. This is ice cream made by people who deeply understand the science of ice cream. The ice cream was the ideal eating temperate, was rich but not too dense, and every mix-in retained its original state (not soggy but also not frozen solid). My flavors were sweet but not so sweet as to overwhelm the more subtle notes. I promise: the Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries is good! Bone marrow may be a culinary trend, but I don’t go out of my way to eat it. The bone marrow just adds a bit of salt and umami flavor to the smooth ice cream, and the soft chunks of smoked Oregon Dark Sweet cherries add texture and familiarity. My other scoop – the Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J – was a dream; intense peanut-buttery flavor in light ice cream form. The homemade grape jam swirl brought me right back to childhood. The crunchy PB cereal bits were few and far between. These two scoops paired well with one another!

As I mentioned, my friends were equally as pleased with their order. Bryan’s Salted Stumptown Cold Brew Shake looked so creamy and inviting that I had to steal a couple sips. Oh-my-goodness was it yummy. I’m not one for shakes, but I would make an exception for this one. Smooth Stumptown cold brew blended with Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbon ice cream.

All in all, Salt & Straw totally lived up to my sky-high expectations. My only regret was not coming sooner!

The Stats:
Salt & Straw – SE Division
3345 SE Division Street
Portland, ME 92702
(multiple locations in Portland & Los Angeles)
www.saltandstraw.com

Gracie’s Ice Cream – Worthy of the Name?

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_9196

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Scoops at Little Man Ice Cream

One of my favorite questions to ask people is: “If you couldn’t live in the state you currently call home, where would you most like to move?”

Now, this is a difficult question for me to answer. If I weren’t working in Washington, DC, the obvious places to move would be Seattle or Boston. I’ve lived in both places and have loads of family and friends there. But there is a third city on my list: Denver, Colorado.

From the first time I set foot in Colorado, I’ve been totally enamored with this state. The immense sky, the majestic snow-capped mountains, the local cowboy attire… I simply can’t get enough. And the fact that Denver is home to one of my best friends, Elysia, and to the annual Great American Beer Festival (GABF) doesn’t hurt 😉

A few weeks ago, K and I headed out west for our fifth GABF together. Per tradition, we spent most of the weekend up in the mountains at Elysia’s parents’ house in Idaho Springs. And – as always – I enjoyed the time with Elysia, her family, and Rupert (Elysia’s lovable Great Dane) even more than the beer festival itself. Still, it was an epic GABF; the crowds were bigger and the beer competition was even more fierce. And as someone whose gluten intolerance prevents me from enjoying most beers, I was excited about the expanding gluten-free offerings.

No matter how many days I spend in Colorado, I’m never quite ready to leave. But this year, the bittersweet drive to the airport was sweetened by a pit stop at Little Man Ice Cream in Denver. Elysia had heard it was the best ice-cream spot in town, and she’d patiently waited to try it until we could go together. So about two hours before my scheduled departure, Elysia pulled up to a 28-foot tall cream can.

Little Man Ice Cream is a well-known ice cream shop in the Highlands neighborhood of Denver, and its massive cream-can structure has become a local icon. Named after the founder’s father’s nickname,  Little Man first opened its doors (or should I say windows?) in 2008. But despite being just five-years old, it’s already earned a legendary reputation as one of the best ice-cream spots in Colorado. The ice cream is hand-made a couple blocks away, and Elysia says there is usually a long line at the ice-cream counter. Oh – and customers have something to feel extra-good about; Little Man guarantees that for every scoop of ice cream you buy, they’ll donate a scoop of rice to developing countries. An ice-cream shop with heart? It doesn’t get any better than that!

We parked, put the leash on Rupert, and approached the cream can. I loved how Little Man decorates its extensive outdoor seating areas with autumn “flair”: pumpkins, bales of hay, and even a scarecrow. These little touches put me in a good mood and eased the disappointment when I read the day’s flavor offerings and saw that Fluffernutter wasn’t on the list. Elysia and I had made the rookie mistake of checking the flavors online while en route to Little Man. We both got our hearts set on the ice cream named after my all-time favorite sandwich. But, luckily, Little Man had about a dozen other flavors to choose from. Most of them were unique, although not as crazy as the flavors I saw last year at Sweet Action in Denver. Some of the Little Man creations that stood out to me included Crème FraîcheBalsamic Strawberry, Dulce de Leche and Salted Oreo. In the end, Elyshia went with a small cup of Peaches-N-Cream, while I asked for a small cup with half Mexican Chocolate and half Banana Chip. We forked over $2.50 each and soon enough, we were walking towards the pumpkin patch with these beauties.

Left: Lysia’s Peaches-N-Cream
Right: My Mexican Chocolate & Banana Chip

The verdict? First of all, kudos to Little Man for their generous scoops of ice cream. Too many trendy parlors charge big prices for teeny-tiny scoops, but that isn’t the case at Little Man. While the patio was crowded, we found an open bench big enough for me, K, Elysia and Rupert (yes, he’s tell enough to sit his butt on benches). From the first bite, the firm, dense creaminess of Little Man’s ice cream won me over. This is not “light” ice cream, and the high fat content gave the ice cream a satisfying richness that left me full for hours. I expected Banana Chip to be my favorite, but it was Mexican Chocolate that stole the spotlight. You can taste the higher-quality chocolate Little Man uses, and the subtle cinnamon flavor added a nice earthy depth that tasted great on an autumn afternoon. The real bananas in the Banana Chip had a nice caramel-y flavor, and the big chocolate chunks added a nice crunch in every-other spoonful. Elysia loved that her Peaches-N-Cream was chock-full of tiny bits of real fruit. Still, Elysia and I had the same thought: Little Man’s creations have all the makings of “out-of-this-word-AHmazing” ice cream, but we just wanted the flavors to be more intense. The cinnamon in Mexican Chocolate, the banana in Banana Chip, and the peach in Peaches-N-Cream were yummy but too subtle. But while Little Man could kick up the flavor a bit, but it’s tough to beat the experience (or the company!) here. I can’t wait to come back!

The Stats:
Little Man Ice Cream
2620 16th Street
Denver, CO 80211
(303) 455-3811
http://www.littlemanicecream.com