A Labor of Love at Max’s Best Ice Cream

I’ve lived in Washington, DC for seven (non-consecutive) years, so I don’t know why it took me so long to visit Max’s Best Ice Cream. Located north of Georgetown in the Glover Park neighborhood, Max’s has been dishing out homemade ice cream for over twenty years. Their list of clientele is impressive; Vice-President Joe Bide, Andre Agassi, and First Lady Michelle Obama are all fans.

This past Saturday, my friend Anna drove K and me back to DC after a long afternoon of tubing on the Shenandoah River in Virginia. Anna had the brilliant idea of stopping for dessert when we hit the District, and I suggested we test out the ice cream at Max’s. After all, Anna and I have been enjoying ice cream together since high school, when Anna would often join my family on evening trips to Rota-Spring Farm. And now – a couple years and graduate degrees later – here we were in DC, seeking out a homemade ice-cream shop on a balmy night in the nation’s capitol.

We had no trouble finding Max’s Best Ice Cream; the bright neon signs and large storefront window make it hard to miss. And even though it was quite late (nearly 11pm), a number of patrons were lingering both inside and on the sidewalk. Before I even opened the glass door, I spotted a thick head of shocking-white hair behind the counter. After seeing a couple photos of Max online, I knew this was the famous owner himself!



The ice-cream shop itself is colorful and memorable, but not quite as colorful or memorable as the man behind the counter. Max is a white-haired spitfire who serves up his ice cream with a side of humor in a thick Persian accent. When I asked Max which of the twenty-plus flavors was the best, and he replied that every ice cream was his favorite. “It’s like choosing a favorite child. You never hear your parents saying ‘I like you best!'” Well said, Max. Well said.


Anna and I were both feeling indecisive; every flavor sounded delicious! Thankfully, Max waited patiently as we debated our choices. When Anna asked for samples, and Max happily handed us big ol’ bites on little sticks. I have a theory that the bigger the sample at an ice cream shop, the more the owner loves his or her ice cream. I just tried one sample, the Orange Chocolate Chocolate Chip (or “OC3”, as the sign noted). It was delicious; rich chocolate ice cream with an essence of orange and nice bites of chocolate bits. I nearly ordered a full size of it, but I went with my gut and picked the Mozambique – which supposedly had “cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.” Anna decided to stick with one of her all-time favorite flavors, Coffee Oreo.

While Anna ordered a small cup with hot fudge, I went all out and asked for a sundae – but with Heath bar chunks instead of hot fudge. After dropping a generous scoop of ice cream into my bowl, Max he headed to the freezer and pulled out a large metal bowl full of freshly-whipped cream. No cans of fake cream at Max’s. Anna put it best when she whispered “Now THAT is true love.”

We paid around $6.50 for the small sundae and $5 for the single scoop with fudge sauce. That’s not cheap, but Max’s prices are pretty much par for the course here in DC. And I’m always happy to fork over some extra cash for locally-made ice cream.

The verdict? This is homemade ice cream at its best. Max’s ice cream is firm yet velvety-smooth, rich yet refreshing, and sweet yet complex. In his Mozambique ice cream, Max manages to create an extraordinary flavor using just three of the most-common baking spices. When I ordered the flavor, I figured it would taste like a fancy cinnamon ice cream… but it really didn’t. The best way I can describe the taste of Mozambique is like my mom’s pumpkin pie… minus the pumpkin. While most pumpkin pie recipes call for more cinnamon than other spices, my mom achieves a slightly-spicy flavor by using more nutmeg and cloves in her pies. Because I grew up in a kitchen where spice ratios were taken very seriously, I appreciated Max’s mastery of flavor combinations. Each bite of ice cream kept my taste buds interested. And the lightly-sweetened homemade whipped cream and chunks of Heath bar were – to use a dessert metaphor – just the icing on the cake. Oh – and Anna raved about the strong espresso flavor in her scoop of Coffee Oreo. We’ve already made a pact to return next month for the fall debut of Max’s Spicy Pumpkin, and I’d bet money that I leave the store with a pint or two to enjoy at home.*

The Stats:
Max’s Ice Cream
2416 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 333-3111
http://maxsbesticecream.com/

*NOTE: While searching online for Max’s phone number to include in this post, I was shocked to learn that Max is currently fighting to retain his 20-year-old lease in Glover Park. Apparently, Max might have to shut his doors on October 31st, as the BBQ joint next door is aiming to take over his lease in order to expand. The details are a bit unclear, but the Glover Park community has been rallying behind Max. I found this Change.org petition asking the leasing company to allow Max to keep his lease and stay in business. If you visit or live in DC, please consider signing this petition to ensure that you, too, can experience ice cream at Max’s!

A Girls’ Night In with 16 Handles

A couple weekends ago, I took a bus from DC to New York City to spend a night with Kris, one of my college roommates and dearest friends. Kris has a glamorous (but demanding) career in the PR/fashion world. And while she may attend high-profile dinners and galas, Kris still loves a low-key girls’ night as much as I do. Given our busy schedules this summer summer, we were both looking forward to a night of girl talk, cocktails, and ice cream.

We dined al fresco at an adorable Mexican restaurant in Kris’ neighborhood, enjoying guacamole and fancy versions of margaritas and sangria. Unlike most Manhattan restaurants, the staff here didn’t make us feel rushed, and we lingered over our drinks and food for a couple hours. We eventually decided to head back to Kris’ apartment to watch a movie. Kris knew that I was looking to sample NYC ice cream, so she mentioned that we’d pass her favorite frozen yogurt spot – 16 Handles – on our walk back.

The first 16 Handles store opened in NYC back in 2008. And in just five years, it’s become the most popular self-serve frozen yogurt chain in the city – with stores beginning to pop up in other East Coast cities. Obviously, I wanted to know what all the excitement was about!

It wasn’t difficult to spot 16 Handles; bright neon sign, colorful storefront, and lots of people. The line to the soft-serve machines was vey long, but it moved surprisingly quickly. Plus, the wait time was very enjoyable… thanks to the employee walking down the line offering to grab samples for everyone. I asked to sample the Peanut Butter, which was top-notch. Rich and creamy, it tasted like real peanut butter – no hint of that strange artificial flavor sometimes found in pb ice creams.

Before long, Kris and I were grabbing our empty cups and contemplating the sixteen different flavors available that night. Yes, there are sixteen handles to pull at 16 Handles. You can choose to fill your cup with one flavor (boring!) or all sixteen. Consistent with the modern vibe of the store, the flavor names are posted on bright LED screens. As a gluten-free girl, I really appreciated how 16 Handles identifies its gluten-free flavors with little icons on these screens.

16 Handles seems to offer a flavor for everyone – including people looking for low-fat or no-sugar-added frozen yogurt. For the vegans and lactose intolerant, 16 Handles offers non-dairy sorbet flavors (including Watermelon and Berry Melody). I usually refrain from mixing fruity sorbets with regular dairy flavors after a particularly unpleasant combination (watermelon mocha, anyone?). In the end, I pulled three handles: the Chocolate Love Affair, Salted Caramel, and New York Cheesecake (in honor of NYC). The toppings bar was the best I’ve seen – with plenty of healthy fruit, colorful sprinkles, kid-approved cereal, and one-of-a-kind specialties (including the seasonal “bananas foster”, which was essentially banana slices covered in brown-sugar syrup). I kept it simple and topped my frozen yogurt with rainbow sprinkles, mini chocolate and yogurt chips, and a few toffee chunks.

Because we were still full from dinner, Kris and I asked to take our creations “to go.” The efficient staff quickly weighed our cups before packaging them up. Knowing how expensive everything is in New York City, I was surprised that each of our servings cost less than five dollars! We paid and continued on to Kris’ apartment, where we popped our 16 Handles bag into the freezer. We then relaxed on Kris’ couch, watching the first Sex and the City movie (i.e. the best one) until we had an appetite for dessert!

The verdict? Go ahead, you can add my name to the list of 16 Handles fans. Not only was the self-serve experience fun, but this frozen yogurt was top-notch. Despite an hour in the freezer, my frozen yogurt was smooth and creamy  – more like great soft-serve ice cream than low-fat frozen yogurt. The New York Cheesecake had that distinct cheesecake flavor, but it was mild enough to pair well with almost any other flavor. I really liked the Chocolate Love Affair, as it tasted more like dark chocolate than milk. But my absolute favorite flavor was Salted Caramel. Unlike some versions I’ve tried, 16 Handles’ flavor has that deep, buttery caramel taste without being, well, salty. After all, the theory behind salted caramel is that a pinch of salt enhances the taste of caramel – not that salt should be a separate flavor! I was impressed that such a complex flavor could be achieved in frozen yogurt. Sure, 16 Handles may be trendy – but I think this is one trend that’s here to stay.

The Stats:
16 Handles
Various locations in NYC and beyond
http://16handles.com

The Apple House Ice Cream Stand

Summers in the District of Columbia are h-o-t and humid. When the temperature rises above 90 degrees, I’m itching for ways to stay in the AC or – better yet – leave the city. Lucky for me, K and our friends Becca and Bryan are always up for an adventure. So this Saturday, we all drove an hour into Virginia to go tubing on the Shenandoah River. We’d all gone tubing before, but we were seriously impressed with the service provided by the Downriver Canoe Company. For $22, you get to park your car, rent an inner tube, catch a ride down to the river, enjoy a lazy 3-hour tubing trip, and then hop into a waiting bus that returns you to your car. I would definitely recommend them to anyone looking to go tubing with minimal hassle.

We had just left the tubing place and were on our way back to DC when we spotted this…

… a sign for the Apple House‘s ice cream stand! The Apple House is a restaurant serving up fish, burgers, and BBQ, but they open a roadside ice cream stand during the summer months. This big sign makes the place hard-to-miss, and a cold, creamy snack sounded like heaven to us.

The Apple House’s Ice Cream Stand is nothing fancy, but the crowded parking lot and picnic tables were a good sign. The Apple House only offers soft-serve ice cream, with Vanilla and Chocolate flavors available everyday. This afternoon, the rotating “flavors of the week” were Peanut Butter and Coffee. You can get your soft-serve “straight-up” in a cup or cone or made into a sundae, “candy blast” (mix-ins blended in), or a shake. While the soft-serve flavors aren’t exactly interesting, the extensive menu of toppings and mix-ins means that you can get creative with your order. The “Rice Krispies Shake” caught my eye, but K and I were sharing – and he had his eye on the marshmallow topping listed on the menu. In the end, we opted for a “small” cup of classic Vanilla soft-serve with marshmallow topping and rainbow sprinkles. The small-cup of ice cream itself was $2.39, but our two add-ons brought the bill to over $4.
K and my cup, and Bryan modeling his cone

The verdict? Vanilla soft-serve with sprinkles screams “Summer!” to me. I’m always transported back to early-evening outings with my family, licking dripping cones standing next to our car or on an old, sticky picnic table. The Apple House’s Ice Cream Stand lived up to the standard of good-ol’ vanilla soft-serve, but it didn’t surpass it. The marshmallow topping was sugary-sweet like it should be, but was a bit to runny for K’s taste (he prefers the thick, goopy kind). Still, I was really disappointed with the measly spoonful of rainbow sprinkles – especially because I paid almost a dollar extra for them! In New England, most mom-and-pop ice cream stands will drown your cup or cone in sprinkles for free. That being said, the Apple House’s soft-serve was very enjoyable and made the oppressive heat a little easier to bear.

The Stats:
Apple House Ice Cream Stand
4675 John Marshall Highway
Linden, VA 22642
http://www.theapplehouse.net

Take I: Sweet Action in Denver

I’m back! Apologies for the lack of posting around here lately. My employer sent me to Massachusetts for three weeks to help a Congressional campaign. After working 12+ hours/seven days a week,  I’m happy to say that my candidate (narrowly) won. But immediately after the election, I was sent to San Francisco to give two different presentations. So I’m still playing catch-up with my “normal” life.

Now, where were we?

Oh yes, Colorado.

We all had a fantastic time at the Great American Beer Festival. What can be better than sampling over 1,800 different beers from over 400 of the best breweries in the nation? If you’re gluten-sensitive like me, have no fear – the festival has been featuring more and more gluten-free varieties in recent years. I’m not nearly the beer enthusiast that my boyfriend and Elysia are, but I always have a blast at the Great American Beer Festival. Despite four hours of unlimited beer samples, the crowd is a jovial one. No drunken brawls to be seen here, and no one spills their beer on me. (Both are too-common occurrences in DC).

When we awoke the next morning, food was on everyone’s mind. It seems that eggs and bacon are the choice “hangover recovery” foods for most, but I’m usually in the mood for something cold and sweet. After a brunch of omelets and oatmeal, I casually asked Elysia if she’d ever been to the famous Denver ice cream spot called Sweet Action. She hadn’t even heard of it before! I informed her that US News & World Report ranked it #7 in their list of America’s Best Ice Cream this year. And, the wonderful friend she is, Elysia took my not-so-subtle hint and agreed to drive by.

Sweet Action Ice Cream is located in Denver’s South Broadway district – an area not often frequented by tourists. I’m told that South Broadway, or “SoBo” as the locals call it, was once a shady strip of adult theatres and grimy bars. But after a couple decades of revitalization, SoBo now gave me the vibe of a small California beach town. Walking down busy Broadway street, you’ll find indie art shops, trendy boutiques, antique shops, and funky little cafes. And Sweet Action is nestled right in the heart of the… well… action! We actually heard it before we saw it, as Sweet Action’s garage-style storefront was open to welcome the warm early-fall day. Inside, the garage-like decor continues. Concrete walls and floor. Very few tables and chairs. The menu board is the only decoration. We had to wait five minutes in line before placing our orders. Something I found strange for an early Sunday afternoon in October. I can only imagine how packed Sweet Action is on Friday evenings in July!

What sets Sweet Action apart from the competition is their ever-changing eclectic flavors and focus on local ingredients. Sweet Action also offers vegan ice creams, sorbets, and ice cream cookie sandwiches. According to my online research, some of the cult-favorite flavors include Thai Iced Tea, Stranahan’s Whiskey Brickle, Blackberry Lavender and Salted Butterscotch. But planners beware: Don’t set your heart on any flavor here, as Sweet Action rotates their flavor offerings with lightning speed. It’s best to arrive with an open mind (and empty stomach).

Before I could even peruse the menu offerings, a posted sign grabbed my attention:

The Colorodo Beer Ice Cream Fest? Turns out, Sweet Action highlights its best beer-infused ice cream flavors during October in honor of the Great American Beer Festival. This year’s lineup included ESB Oreo (Breckenridge Brewery Extra Special Bitter Ale), Colorado Peach Wheat (Wynkoop) and Tiramisu Stout (Strange Brewing Stout). But sadly, unlike the GABF, the Colorado Beer Ice Cream Fest didn’t offer gluten-free options. And don’t worry – I didn’t pity myself for one minute. There was no shortage of non-beer flavors to consider.

While I was mulling over the menu, Elysia pointed out that many folks were asking for samples before placing their orders. As it turns out, you don’t feel bad about asking for samples at Sweet Action; the staff actually encourages it! And while I had a flavor in mind, I took advantage of the sample-loving culture and tasted a flavor I’d never seen before: Goat Cheese Beet Swirl. Wowza. That tiny spoonful sure packed a punch. The ice cream was creamy and intensely flavorful; no one could mistake it for anything but goat cheese. The dark red swirl of beets was sweet and helped ease the potent goat cheese aftertaste. I have to admit, I simply don’t like goat cheese enough to eat more than a teaspoon of this ice cream. Still – I’m happy to have tried it. If you really dig goat cheese, this one’s definitely for you!

In the end, I went with Caramelized Pear. Feeling a bit dehydrated from the GABF, the thought of cold, juicy pears was incredibly appealing. I was so certain of my choice that I didn’t even request a sample before forking over $2.75 for a single scoop.

The verdict? This generous scoop of Sweet Action’s Caramelized Pear hit the spot in a way that few ice creams do. It was densely creamy and served at the perfectly-freezing temperature. Cold enough to melt slowly in your mouth, giving you ample time to let the complex flavors hit your palate. The pear taste is more subtle than other pear sorbets or gelatos I’ve had. But it holds it own against its warm, buttery caramel counterpart. The rich and sweet combination of flavors is comforting and refreshing. The texture is lightly gritty – but in a pleasant way that reminds you of Sweet Action’s commitment to fresh, local ingredients. This flavor would be perfect for Thanksgiving dessert – if only it was available every day. When I checked out the website a few weeks later, Caramelized Pear was already off the menu. You gotta move quick, or Sweet Action will pass you by.

The Stats:
Sweet Action
52 Broadway Ave
Denver, Colorado
(303) 282-4645
http://sweetactionicecream.com/

Georgetown Valley Candy Co.

The last few weeks have been hectic for me at work. While I don’t work in politics, it seems like everyone in Washington, DC logs more hours during election seasons. Work has been the first thing I think of when I wake up, and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. Needless to say, I’ve been in need of some serious R&R – and I was thankful to get a taste of it last weekend in Colorado.

One of my best friends, Elysia, is a Colorado native. We met and became friends while living in Seattle. While we both moved away a couple years ago (me to grad school in DC; she back to Denver), we remain very close. I periodically crash with Elysia and her Great Dane, Rupert, when work sends me to Denver. And this past weekend, the boyfriend and I spent a weekend in Colorado to attend the Great American Beer Festival. It was the fourth GABF for me, and it was the seventh one for the boyfriend. To be honest, it’s not just the GABF that keeps me coming back every year – it’s the chance to hang out at Elysia’s parents house right outside the town of Idaho Springs, Colorado. Elysia’s parents are the type of people that instantly make you feel relaxed and invited. I feel as comfortable in their house as I do in my own; rummaging through the fridge, wearing my sweats, and helping myself to whatever I find. Their house is actually a two-level cabin, complete with a wood-burning stove and brick oven. The cabin sits next to a mountain stream, and you can actually fish off the back porch! It’s a little piece of heaven.

When I can tear myself away from the wood-burning stove and porch fishing, I love exploring downtown Idaho Springs. This little town of less than 2,000 people is nestled in the mountains about an hour outside of Denver. In 1859, the first gold in Colorado was discovered here. And it’s impossible to ignore the state’s mining history in Idaho Springs today, with the Argo Gold Mine & Mill perched on a hill overlooking the town and the number of old railroad tracks you drive over. The town is also a halfway point between Denver and Breckenridge (a super-popular skiing destination), so it boasts more restaurants and shops than most towns of its size. On Saturday morning, Elysia, the boyfriend, and I drove downtown to grab some ice cream before we needed to leave for the Great American Beer Festival.

The Georgetown Valley Candy Company is located right in the heart of downtown Idaho Springs. This is actually the second location; the company is based in nearby Georgetown, where its owners have been producing high-quality candies and chocolates in small batches for over twenty years. What makes the Georgetown Valley Candy Company unique is the focus on old-fashioned classics like caramel corn, salt water taffy, classic fudge, and different types of nut brittles. The Idaho Springs store is a bit smaller than the Georgetown flagship, but the selection is just as extensive.

We were already big fans of Georgetown Valley’s candy from prior visits to the Idaho Springs shop, but I had yet to try their homemade ice cream. According to the extremely friendly store clerk (seriously, this guy was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable), the two dozen ice cream flavors are all made in Georgetown and trucked to Idaho Springs on a regular basis. And – like their candies – Georgetown Valley Candy Co.’s ice cream flavors pay tribute to some old-fashioned favorites, such as Butter Pecan, Black Cherry, and Rocky Road. But other flavors were quite contemporary, like Cotton Candy, Green Tea, and PB&J. Elysia picked one of the more new-age flavors: Cookie Dough. I was feeling indecisive, but I finally ordered a kid-sized scoop of Butter Brickle after it came highly recommended by the store clerk. With the enthusiasm this kid had, he could sell ice to an Eskimo. When he told me the ice cream featured Georgetown Valley’s own butter brickle candy, I was sold. Butter brickle is very similar to English toffee (the center of a Heath bar), and it reminds me of my mother’s dad. My grandfather (aka “Pops”) was a gruff man, but he demonstrated his love for me and my sisters by sneaking us pieces of gold-wrapped toffee whenever my parents weren’t looking. Now I realize that they wouldn’t have cared about the candy, but the sneaky way in which Pops shared his toffee made it feel like we were sharing a special little secret. What can I say? The nostalgic feel of Georgetown Valley Candy Company’s Idaho Springs store was making me sentimental.

Before leaving the store, I also purchased my mom a bag of Georgetown Valley’s black licorice hard candies. My mom adores black licorice, but I don’t think she’s had it in hard candy-form. The store clerk rang my purchase up, asking for $4.25. Thinking it was a mistake, I reminded him that I’d also ordered an ice cream. Surely the candies and ice cream would not cost less than five dollars. But, indeed, they did! Nostalgic treats at nostalgic prices. Talk about a win-win.

The verdict? Talk about comfort food. Instead of throwing in chunks of hard brickle, Georgetown Valley blends thick, gooey swirls of liquid butter brickle into the ice cream. But have no fear, there are little bites of the hardened toffee. The buttery warmth of the brickle was a nice contrast to the coldness of the dessert. But I have to say, I’m glad I chose the smallest size. This ice cream is a tad too sweet – even for someone like me, with a mouth full of sweet teeth! If I could chat with the owners, I’d suggest they use a less-sweet ice cream base to highlight the sweet butter brickle. After all, the candy is the star of this ice cream. Elysia was also happy with her choice. While Georgetown Valley’s version of Cookie Dough wasn’t the best she’d ever had, Elysia was happy with the generous size of the cookie dough bites. And both Elysia and I agreed that you just can’t beat the value or customer service at the Georgetown Valley Candy Company. This might be a new Colorado tradition for me.

The Stats:
Georgetown Valley Candy Company
1501 Minor Street
Idaho Springs, CO
(720) 242-9524
http://www.shopgvcc.com/

Pumpkin Spice Gelato

Eating pumpkin makes me feel grown up.

As a kid, I didn’t care for pumpkin at all. On Thanksgiving, I’d skip over the pumpkin pie and pile my plate with cake and cookies instead. Something about vegetable-esque desserts just didn’t jive with me, and pumpkin pie never held any appeal. That is – until I caught my mom eating leftover pumpkin pie… for breakfast. I had to be seven or eight years old when I discovered her little secret. On the morning after Thanksgiving, I trudged into the kitchen to pour myself a bowl of Cheerios. My parents upheld a strict “no junk food”  breakfast policy. And there my mom was – in her pajamas – eating a slice of pie. “That’s not fair!” I sputtered, “Why can you eat dessert for breakfast but we can’t?” Always the quick thinker, my mom calmly countered that I was welcome to join her. She explained that pumpkin is healthy and full of fiber, and that pumpkin pie was an appropriate breakfast “once in a while.” You better believe that I sat right down and served myself a slice of pie – the very one I had turned my nose up at the day before. And low and behold, I liked it. Sure, it didn’t compare to chocolate cake or sugar cookies,  but it was a heck-of-a-lot better than my normal cereal. I felt quite grown-up that morning, enjoying a special breakfast with my mom.

Over the years, I’ve become a full-fledged pumpkin fan. When October rolls around, I suddenly become obsessed with anything pumpkin: pumpkin beer, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin risotto, and – of course – pumpkin ice cream.

Last week, when my sister Carolyn was here, we hosted a small dinner party for the premiere of Homeland (our favorite TV show). Carolyn was making her famous chili, so I was put in charge of dessert. And – surprise! – pumpkin was on my mind. I had yet to experiment with it in my Cuisinart, so I scoured the internet for pumpkin ice cream recipes. There is certainly not a shortage of recipes out there, but most called for 4-6 egg yokes. I’m a novice when it comes to making ice cream, and I don’t feel ready to tackle so many raw egg yokes. Luckily, I stumbled across an egg-less recipe to use as inspiration for my own concoction: Pumpkin Spice Gelato.

Pumpkin Spice Gelato 
{Inspired from recipe in New York Times}

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk (at least 1% milkfat)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin (100%; not the pie filling kind)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Directions

  • Combine the milk, heavy cream, 1/4 cup of the brown sugar, cinnamon and pumpkin spice in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking from time to time, until it almost reaches a simmer. Reduce to very low heat.
  • Place the maple syrup, salt, and remaining brown sugar in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Add about 1/2 cup of the warm milk/cream mixture, whisking as you pour.
  • Return the maple mixture to the saucepan and increase the heat slightly (just below medium). Continue cooking until the mixture just begins to thicken. Do not allow it to boil.
  • Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in the pumpkin and vanilla extract. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
  • Pour chilled mixture into a blender and pulse to liquefy any solids. Freeze mixture in your ice cream maker, 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 be for 15 minutes or so. The consistency should be like firm but not icy.
  • Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm (about 2 hours in my case). Looks best when topped with a candy corn pumpkin 🙂


The verdict? Not too bad for my first try! This gelato was a little less sweet than most pumpkin ice creams, but I think that’s why this tasted more like real pumpkin pie. The consistency was a bit grainy, which I didn’t mind. If grittiness isn’t your thing, I suggest using a strainer – rather than a blender – to get rid of solids before adding the mixture to the ice cream maker. My guests reported that the spice level was good, but I thought the cinnamon overpowered the nutmeg. Next time I’ll just use more pumpkin spice and reduce the extra cinnamon amount. All in all, this recipe was a keeper. I can’t help but wonder… Will mom approve this for breakfast on November 23rd?

New Memories (and Cones) in Historic Gettysburg

This past weekend, I was in the mood to get outside of the city. And luckily for me, so was my good college girlfriend Becca. I proposed different activities (wine tasting in Virginia, perusing the Baltimore Harbor), but Becca had a better idea: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  “Huh?” I thought, “Isn’t that super far away?” A quick glance at Google Maps confirmed that – yes, geography is still not my strong suit – and Gettysburg is a mere 1 hour 45 minute drive from Washington, DC. I guess you do learn something new every day.


Bright and early on Saturday, we dragged our boyfriends out of bed and piled into the car. It was a perfect late-summer day, and the drive to Gettysburg was picturesque. Just 30 minutes outside of DC, I was reminded just how beautiful the Mid-Atlantic landscape can be – full of beautiful, rolling hills and lush, green foliage. The clean, crisp air is refreshing after a week in the office.


Welcome to PA!

Just before noon, we found ourselves in the historic town of Gettysburg. The boys were hungry (shocker!), so we strolled down one of the major streets, Steinwehr Avenue, in search of some lunch brunch. Before settling on Lincoln’s Diner (greasy-but-tasty food at low prices), we passed by several cute, touristy ice cream spots. While ice cream sounded like a fine meal to me, the rest of the group wanted omelets and pancakes. In the spirit of American history, we compromised: lunch now, ice cream later in the afternoon.

With full bellies, we drove over to Gettysburg National Military Park. Per the website instructions, we began our visit at the Park Museum and Visitor Center. For over two hours, we soaked up information about Gettysburg and the Civil War (I re-remembered a lot from high school U.S. History class). Personally, I could have spent another two hours in the gift shop – it’s massive and filled with interesting trinkets. My companions were not so enthused (out-voted again), so we grabbed a free battlefield map and headed to the car. There are several ways to experience the battlefields. You could take a guided bus tour, hire a professional guide to ride in your car (weird?), or take a self-guided tour. The driving map (found here) hits 16 official tour spots and numerous other sites. My favorite stops included Oak Ridge, the High Water Mark, Little Round Top, and Devil’s Den. It was hard to believe that over fifty thousand men died here in just three days – making it the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Remembering these men made me so grateful that the Union Army was able to change the tide of the Civil War here – successfully ending General Lee’s invasion of the North. Had the outcome been different at Gettysburg, who knows where we’d all be today?
Soaking up so much U.S. history certainly worked up my appetite. Before heading back to DC, we returned to one of the cute ice cream shops in downtown Gettysburg: Sunset Ice Cream Parlor. Honestly, I chose this spot over the others simply because it was so colorful and inviting-looking…
Inside, Sunset was bustling with a late-afternoon crowd. Despite the unique decor, Sunset’s numerous flavor options were extremely traditional. Rum Raisin and Cherry Vanilla were about as “weird” as they got. What is original about Sunset Ice Cream Parlor is their focus on the classic soda-fountain drink known as the “malted” – a mixture of ice cream, milk, and malted-milk powder. One of my best friend’s grandma was crazy about malteds, and I have early childhood memories of her ordering them at Friendly’s restaurants in MA. I’ve never been a fan of malteds, but I was in luck – I heard the man ahead of me order something interesting: a pretzel cone. Sure enough, his ice cream was served up in a cone-shaped hard pretzel. These are the times that I curse my gluten intolerance. But being the nice girlfriend I sometimes am, I decided to order the cone so my boyfriend (a pretzel connoseuir) could try it out. A chocolate-based ice cream sounded like the best compliment to a pretzel cone, so I picked the most interesting one at Sunset: Chocolate Marshmallow. After forking over more than $5 for a small cone (the special cone was a $1.50 upgrade), I was presented with a pretty-looking cone.
Now that’s something you don’t see every day!

The verdict? For the first time, I was more impressed with the cone than what was in it. And I couldn’t even eat the cone! My boyfriend’s review was generally positive, but he thought the cone was a tad too thick. We both loved the little plastic sleeve that the cone comes in – it keeps the pretzel salt intact until you’re ready to eat it. Now the Chocolate Marshmallow ice cream? That was a different story. The ice cream had a freezer burn aftertaste, and the chocolate flavoring was weak. I’d hoped for thick swirls of marshmallow, but I didn’t see (or taste) any. Perhaps a marshmallow extract is to blame for the weak chocolate flavor? All in all, I have to say this place is a “skip” – unless you are craving a malt. After all, there are other ice cream spots to choose from in Gettysburg.

The Stats:
Sunset Ice Cream Parlor
33 Steinwehr Avenue
Gettysburg, PA 17325
(717) 337-3125

Free-for-all at the 2012 DC Scoop Competition

Who says “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”?  

Not me.

This Sunday afternoon, I feasted on some of the best ice cream in the greater Washington, DC area at the Second Annual “DC Scoop” Competition. And everything was free. The DC Scoop is an outdoor ice cream sampling event and competition where the area’s artisan ice cream vendors serve their prized ice cream, frozen yogurt, and other frozen treats in hopes of being crowned that year’s “DC Scoop Winner.”

This year’s competition was held at Union Market – a highly-anticipated food market that opened this week in Northeast DC. I constantly find myself missing and fantasizing about Pike Place Market in Seattle – so I was excited to hear that an artisanal, curated, year-round food market was coming to the District. But I broke into the “Hallelujah” chorus (literally) when I read online that that Union Market would host the DC Scoop event during its opening weekend.

Like a kid on Christmas morning, I woke up early on Sunday eager to get the party started. While the boyfriend had to work, my B.F.F. (best foodie friend) Andrew agreed to accompany me to Northeast DC. After a 10-minute cab ride, we found ourselves surrounded by old warehouses and rundown wholesale markets. But straight ahead – the bright “UNION MARKET” sign stood out like friendly beacon.


The DC Scoop event was held in a fenced-in space next to the market, but Andrew and I purposely arrived early to explore the indoor market. We were pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of food vendors we found inside Union Market. Fresh cheeses, organic meats, local produce, artisan chocolates, homemade pasta, spices – Union Market has it all.

After perusing the aisles of Union Market, it was finally time to head over to DC Scoop! Entry was free to the public, and each attendee received three pink ‘sample’ tickets for tasting and one golden ‘judging’ ticket to vote for their favorite vendor. While a panel of judges (defined as “stirrers and shakers of the DC food scene”) determines the DC Scoop Winner, the crowd’s votes do carry some weight with the judges. Andrew and I were among the first twenty or so people in line when the doors opened. After receiving our tickets, Andrew suggested we take a “survey” lap around the grounds before deciding how to allocate our sample tickets. Brilliant guy, I tell you.


Andrew and I took our time surveying the types of ice cream, frozen yogurt, custard, and sorbet offered by the 13 different vendors at DC Scoop: Boss Ice Cream, Captain Cookie & the Milk Man, Carmen’s Italian Ice, Dolcezza Gelato, Gifford’s, Goodies Frozen Custard, Savvy Pops, Sinplicity, Sweet Cream, Sugar Magnolia, Sweet Freeze, Taharka Brothers, and Trickling Springs Creamery. I’d say more than half of the vendors were serving samples from food trucks. Some vendors were sampling all of their flavors, while others had limited menus. Andrew and I both gravitated towards the more unique-sounding offerings. After all, we didn’t make the trek to Northeast DC just to try chocolate chip or cookie dough!

You only get three ‘sample’ tickets at the DC Scoops Competition – so it’s important to choose wisely. The first concoction I deemed worthy of a ticket was found at Carmen’s Italian Ice. This Rockville, MD institution is famous for its 70+ flavors of homemade Italian ice. As a general rule, I’d choose ice cream over Italian ice. I prefer smooth and creamy frozen treats and find Italian ice too… well… icey! But the concept of “gelati” has long intrigued me. Frozen custard layered with Italian ice? Maybe I could choke that down. While I didn’t take a formal tally, it seemed that Carmen’s Italian Ice had one of the longer menus at DC Scoop. For a gelati sample, you get to choose two flavors – one for the Italian ice and one for the frozen custard. For my Italian ice, I already had my eye on the Chocolate Everything – chocolate ice with marshmallows, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and Reese’s Cups. The staff at Carmen’s insisted that the best complement to my Italian ice would be the Mokaccino (chocolate & coffee) frozen custard. I’m not one to turn down unsolicited ice cream advice.
Don’t let the size of this cup fool you. This small “gelati” was packed with flavors and textures. The Chocolate Everything Italian ice lived up to its name – and the creamy (yes, creamy!) chocolate ice was jam-packed with chocolate chips and bits of Reese’s Cups. Sadly, the marshmallows escaped my sample cup. The Mokaccino frozen custard flavor was so strong, I thought I felt a caffeine buzz. Ten years ago, I’d have hated it. But my adult coffee addict-self rejoiced.     


With just two tickets to go, the pressure was mounting. Spying a line forming at Sinplicity‘s truck, Andrew and I made a beeline towards last year’s DC Scoop Winner. I’m glad we jumped in line when we did – because it only grew. The Falls Church, VA-based ice cream truck (officially named the “Sinmobile”) certainly has a strong fan base in DC…

Just when Andrew and I were wondering whether any ice cream sample was worth this wait, I spotted a man walking along the line and passing out spoonfuls of ice cream from a pint he was carrying. Extra samples? I’d wait. And check out the shirt he was wearing – “Skinny people can’t be trusted.” That got a giggle from me when the Sinplicity man handed us each spoonfuls of Cappuccino Crunch, cappuccino ice cream with chocolate-covered almonds and amaretto. Delicious. The coffee flavor was weaker than in Carmen’s frozen custard, but this was much more family-friendly. The amaretto swirl provided richness, and chocolate-covered almonds gave a sweet crunch. If you can believe it, Sinplicity didn’t stop there! The next preview sample to make the rounds was the Lemon-Ginger sorbet with spiced Jamaican rum. This sorbet was made for my mother, who adores anything ginger-flavored. The sorbet was perfectly refreshing and sweet, with just enough ginger to compete with the lemon without overpowering it. As Andrew and I finally neared the Sinplicity truck, we met a celebrity!

The famous Emily!

Turns out, the owner’s daughter Emily is the creator of one of Sinplicity’s best-sellers, which bears her name. Emily’s Peanut Butter Truffle is peanut butter ice cream mixed with chocolate truffles and swirled with dark chocolate. Emily was kind enough to let me try her concoction – and, boy, was it yummy. The peanut butter ice cream was one of the better versions I’ve tried – and her idea to use dark chocolate swirls – instead of the standard milk chocolate – was pure genius. Thanks, Emily!

For our full Sinplicity sample, Andrew and I just had to try the Blackberry & Cabernet sorbet with a “hint of lime.” I forked over a sample tickets and was rewarded with one heck of a sample. The presentation alone scored points with me. The rich, deep purple sorbet. The generous serving size. The crisp biscotti garnish. And Oh. My. Goodness… this sorbet made me swoon. While many sorbets can be icy and overly-sweet, Sinplicity’s sorbet was velvety in texture and complex in flavor. The deep blackberry and Cabernet flavors melded perfectly, and the lime gave the sorbet a refreshing aftertaste. This was so delicious that Andrew and I had to “take a moment” to enjoy our samples under the shade of the judging tent.

One ticket left…

I parted with my last ticket at Sugar Magnolia – a new ice cream shoppe in Cleveland Park. Sugar Magnolia was offering just two unique flavors at DC Scoop – and both Andrew and I had eyed their Peach Marscarpone earlier in the day. I wanted to pay tribute to the abundance of fresh peaches in DC this time of year, and I felt adventurous enough to try a cheese-flavored dessert. But I was sorely disappointed with the teeny-sized sample that was handed over. Not only was the cup about a third of the size of Sinplicity’s – it wasn’t close to being filled! In fact, the ice cream amounted to less than a spoonful – making it was difficult to really assess the flavor. Based on the bit of ice cream on my tongue, the marscarpone ice cream was full of flavor without being too rich or heavy. There was a hint of peach flavor, but it was pretty weak and overpowered by the cheese. All in all, an underwhelming finale to an otherwise fabulous tasting experience.
The verdict? I knew exactly who deserved my golden voting ticket: Sinplicity. Did I simply fall for their clever marketing schemes? Nah. The Blackberry & Cabernet sorbet was worthy of a King, and. If there had been silver tickets, I would’ve awarded mine to Carmen’s Italian Ice for proving once-and-for-all that Italian ice can be just as decadent as ice cream. I was a bit sad about the missing marshmallows in my Chocolate Everything gelati, but I’m sure it was just a fluke. Sugar Magnolia’s Peach Mascarpone ice cream was tasty, but their skimpy samples made it hard to really assess the flavor. I learned that at the DC Scoop, the best things don’t come in small packages. They come in big cups topped with biscotti 😉

The Stats:

Union Market
1309 5th St NE
Washington, DC 20002

The Other Depot… Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot

For me, the word “depot” conjures memories of Home Depot trips with my dad. While tools and home improvement supplies bored me, I always loved exploring the cavernous aisles with Dad. When it was just Dad and me, I was allowed to stand on the carts he pushed around the store. When he brought all three of us girls, Dad forbade such activities to avoid the inevitable sister squabbling over who got to ride. Wise man.

This past Sunday, I found a new Depot to love. The boyfriend and I were in Northern Virginia to visit a close family friend who is starting her freshman year at George Mason University. After walking around the massive GMU campus, we were famished and looking for a snack to tide us over until dinnertime. A quick Bing search yielded a few recognizable frozen yogurt chains nearby – and a place called ‘Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot.’ Hmm… I’d never seen “depot” alongside “ice cream” and was curious. Upon further reading, I learned that Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot holds the title of Northern Virginia Magazine’s 2011 ‘Best In Frozen Treats’ Winner. How did this place miss my radar? The Depot is nine miles west of the GMU campus (i.e. not on our way), but my obliging driver agreed to make a special detour to Clifton, Virginia. “It’s for the blog, after all.” 😉

The town of Clifton is definitely off the beaten path – but I’m glad that Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot provided a reason to visit. Old Town Clifton is teeny-tiny but packed with history and charm. According to Wikipedia, Clifton has a population of 282 (not a typo) and is the only town in Fairfax County that still has a railroad crossing. Notable residents include congressmen, computer scientists, professional football players, and writer Jeff Arch – who supposedly was living on Main Street when he wrote the screenplay for Sleepless in Seattle. Small world, eh?

When we pulled onto Clifton’s Main Street, we didn’t spot Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot right away. Unlike the Home Depot, the Ice Cream Depot is a small establishment hidden down a narrow, tree-lined alley. Just a small yard sign marks the entrance. From the numerous informative (and colorful) chalkboards that line the stony path, I learned that the Peterson Family chose “Depot” to pay homage to Clifton’s rich railroad history – not their love of Home Depot.

 

When we emerged from this shrub-lined alley, we found ourselves at the front register of Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot. We were the only customers (a rain shower had just passed), so the friendly staff was more than willing to explain the menus and share their favorite creations. I was surprised to see that Peterson’s serves a variety of “real food” as well. The specialty hot dogs, nachos, and french fries all sounded delicious. But I was here for ice cream. In true Depot style, Peterson’s boasts over 30 different milkshakes and malts, dozens of toppings, and 10 signature sundaes. The gal behind the counter clarified that Peterson’s uses its secret-recipe soft serve as the base for all dessert creations – and customers have the choice between vanilla, chocolate, swirl, and the “flavor of the day.”

My boyfriend was interested in sharing a sundae – so I scanned the board for something we’d both like. We are both big fans of coconut (thank goodness. I don’t understand how people can hate it), so Clifton Creation #7 caught my eye: 

#7  Jasien’s Almond Joy – “Ever eaten an Almond Joy candy bar? This is better (we think). Vanilla ice cream covered with almond slices and coconut flakes, then topped off with hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry.”

We hadn’t eaten much for lunch, so the almonds sounded like a great idea (protein, right?). After placing our order, we moseyed on back to the seating area: a patio under a canopy of well-manicured greenery. A dozen high wooden tables with umbrellas provide shade from the heat. Moments later, our sundae was ready…

You won’t find this at Home Depot

The verdict? Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot knows good ice cream. The vanilla soft serve base was thick and delicious, but the best part of this sundae are the toppings. Generous layers of toasted coconut and slivers of almonds add texture and crunch. Thick, only-slightly-warm fudge lines the cup, ensuring that chocolate makes it into every bite. Frothy, light whipped cream and a cherry top everything off. The Almond Joy sundae is obviously handcrafted with care: a hidden layer of toasted coconut and almonds is found at the bottom of the sundae. Best of all? Portions are huge… so no fighting necessary while sharing 😉

The Stats:
Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot
7150 Main Street
Clifton, Virginia 20124
http://www.petersonsdepot.com
Open from mid-March thru mid-November

Choco-Coconut Ice Cream (Vegan, GF)

I can’t cook. Correction: I won’t cook. Most recipes test my patience. The chopping, dicing, sauteing, roasting – it’s not my cup of tea. Since I live alone during the week, it’s easy to skirt around meal-making responsibilities. I keep my dinners healthy but quick: salads, tacos, omelets, organic frozen meals, sandwiches, or (when I’m feeling ambitious) homemade pizza. Using pre-made dough, of course.

There is one exception to my general recipe aversion… Since I bought my first ice cream maker last fall, I’ve been whipping up a variety of interesting frozen concoctions. For the first time in my life, I’m loving the challenge of involved, multi-step recipes. Having to cook the ice cream base and chill it overnight(!) before churning anything? Not a problem. I’ve got endless patience when it comes to ice cream making. What’s behind this drastic surge of confidence in the kitchen? I’m not entirely sure, but it may have to do with how excited I get just thinking about a recipe’s final result. A good bowl of ice cream is worth some legwork.

This week, I invited my good friend Anna over for dinner. You better believe that dessert was planned before the dinner was. Since my mom recently developed a lactose intolerance, I’ve had my eye out for lactose-free ice cream. After reading a recipe using coconut milk in the latest O Magazine, I decided to give coconut milk ice cream a shot.

Like I often do, I modified the original recipe a bit. The result was what I call “Choco-Coconut Ice Cream” – a rich chocolaty, coconutty ice cream with vegan chocolate chips mixed in. I was happy with the fruits of my labor – and so was Anna!

Choco-Coconut Ice Cream (Vegan)
{Adapted from recipe in O, the Oprah Magazine}

Ingredients

  • 1 (13.5oz) can coconut milk
  • 1 (13.5oz) can light coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips (optional)

Directions

  • Combine all ingredients (besides the optional chocolate chips) in a blender (or, if you’re blessed with adult kitchen tools, a large food processor). Blend until smooth.
  • Pour mixture into a container and cover. Refrigerate mixture until chilled through (minimum 1 hour, maximum overnight).
  • Freeze mixture in your ice cream maker, per the manufacturer’s directions. For Cuisnart folks like me, this means 1) turn on your machine, 2) slowly pour mixture in, and 3) leave the thing be for 15 minutes or so. The consistency should be like gelato or softserve – firm but not icy.
  • (Optional) Pull out ice cream mixer attachment, add chocolate chips, and gently fold chips into ice cream using a wooden or plastic spoon or spatula.
  • Serve immediately (if you’re cool with soft ice cream) or transfer to airtight container (i.e. Tupperware) and freeze until firm, about 3 hours.

    ENJOY!