Date with myself at Frankie & Jo’s in Seattle

I used to think that going out for ice cream had to be a social experience. After all, those childhood memories of sharing dripping cones on family vacations are a major reason why I love ice cream to begin with. So, for most of my life, I wouldn’t have dreamed going out for an ice cream alone. While I’ll almost always prefer to share ice cream with friends or family, I’ve recently begun to experiment with going out by myself. There was a time (not too long ago) when I wasn’t comfortable being alone, so I’ve been on a quest to learn to be my own best companion. After all, the only person I am with 24/7 is me!

Last time I flew to Seattle for the weekend, I beat K to the city by several hours (he was working down in San Francisco). My body clock thought it was 11pm, but it was still early local time and very light. I love the long days of early summer in Seattle! Rather than curl up on our hotel bed, I decided to attend to my grumbling tummy and venture out to visit a new ice cream spot in Capitol Hill that my father-in-law had tipped me off to.

Frankie & Jo’s is only six months old but is already making a big splash online and in social media. It is the first entirely-vegan and gluten free “plant-based” ice cream spot in town. Like my beloved FoMu in Boston, most of the ice creams at Frankie & Jo’s are made with coconut milk instead of dairy. I’m not vegan by any means, but I really enjoy coconut-milk ice cream.

After a long walk in the warm evening sun, I was happy to spot the cheerful bright orange sign outside of Frankie & Jo’s. The shop is on the small side, and the interior is uber-hip, with bold green palm trees on the wall, real potted plants, and slate walls. Flavors, toppings, and prices are posted on a giant mirror hanging on the wall. It looked fantastic in person but did not make for good pictures!

There were a dozen flavors on the board, including one sorbet and three rotating seasonal flavors. None of the flavors are what I’d call “traditional.” I recognized the Salty Caramel Ash and Gingered Golden Milk from social media. The sorbet, Beet Strawberry Rose, also sounded fun. I was in the mood for something hearty, so the richer-sounding flavors caught my eye: Chocolate Mint Brownie, California Cabin (smoked vanilla and fir needle ice cream with black pepper cardamom shortbread), Mexico Morning (coffee ice cream with almond shortbread and dulce de leche), and Tahini Chocolate.

I ended up ordering a standard-size scoop of the Tahini Chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone. I’d read about Frankie & Jo’s maple-vanilla waffle cones, which are gluten-free and vegan. Since I was a bit hungry, I decided to indulge. The standard size runs $6, and a waffle cone is a $2 upcharge. So, this was a pricey ice-cream cone, but I felt okay about it because of the high-quality and unusual ingredients.

Tahini Chocolate

The verdict? It took just one bite for me to fall in love with Frankie & Jo’s. The Tahini Chocolate ice cream was sweet, salty, and nutty. Unlike with most coconut-milk ice creams, I couldn’t pick up on the coconut at all. The texture was thick and creamy, with a good bite and a few chewy bits of tahini. I’m guessing that the light brown swirl was chocolate sauce, but I couldn’t detect a chocolate flavor. But all was forgiven because this ice cream was divine. My pleasure was doubled when I got down to the cone; the maple-vanilla waffle cone tasted more like a crispy cookie than a waffle cone. The flavors of maple and brown sugar complemented – and maybe even enhanced – the rich tahini ice cream. Between Frankie & Jo’s, Glass Bottle Creamery, and Moo Shu Ice Cream, it’s been a good year for gluten-free waffle cones!

It was such a lovely evening in Seattle that I walked with my cone over to Cal Anderson Park. Sitting on the bleachers and watching a recreational baseball game in progress, I felt quite happy as I savored every last bite of ice cream. Satisfying, delicious and plant-based. What a wholesome date night with myself 🙂

The Stats:
Frankie & Jo’s
1010 E Union Street
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 257-1676
https://frankieandjos.com

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

Glass Bottle Creamery: New Kid on the Island

Vashon Island is my home away from home. Since my first visit in 2008, Vashon has occupied a special place in my heart. My in-laws own a small house overlooking Puget Sound, and K grew up spending weekends, holidays, and big chunks of summer vacation on the island. It usually takes about an hour to travel from downtown Seattle to the island, but you’re ultimately at the mercy of the ferry schedule. It can be a hassle getting here, but I promise you that your blood pressure will drop the moment you arrive on the island. Vashon feels like another world; a bit rural, with its plentiful livestock and very few chain stores (not even a Starbucks!). Vashon has a reputation for being quite hippie and alternative, but with an old-fashioned sense of community and hospitality.

vashon-map
K’s friend recently got married in Seattle, and we decided to spend the night before the wedding on Vashon. We headed there straight from the airport and made pretty good time. Hungry after our cross-country travels, we stopped for a late brunch of chilaquiles and salad at The Hardware Store Restaurant. The restaurant is located “downtown”, which is where the grocery store, pharmacy, and other restaurants are located. We ran a few errands before heading to the house, although the last errand wasn’t an errand at all: swinging by the Glass Bottle Creamery.

There are a couple spots to grab ice cream on Vashon, but no shops specifically dedicated to ice cream. There’s an ice cream counter at the front of the grocery store and at the back of the Vashon Island Coffee Roastery. While the ice cream is good, it just doesn’t feel super special. But a couple years ago, the talented Samantha Weigand moved from Washington, DC to Vashon Island to open a bakery. That next summer, K and I asked Samantha to bake our wedding cakes. She outdid herself, producing two amazing cakes. One vanilla cake with passion-fruit curd and buttercream and one gluten-free chocolate cake with coconut frosting. Both were surprisingly delicious, and the cakes were completely demolished by the end of our wedding night.

View More: http://sarahbradshaw.pass.us/kevan-grace-weddingAfter slowly building quite a following through her bakery, Samantha decided to expand and bought a small storefront downtown. She opened Glass Bottle Creamery, selling high-quality, local dairy products and homemade ice cream! While it’s been open for about a year, I had yet to try the ice cream. The lines were always long, or I was too full after lunch or dinner downtown, so the stars never aligned for me. But on this rainy Saturday afternoon, the shop looked warm and inviting and I had room in my tummy for dessert.

img_0732 picture2Like the bakery, Glass Bottle Creamery is decorated in soft baby blues, whites, and pops of pink. There’s two big glass refrigerators — one stocked with ice cream sandwiches, cakes, and pints, and the other with milk, yogurts and cheeses.

picture3 Keeping with its minimalist vibe, there are just a few flavors posted on the wall — but they all sounded lovely. There were even a couple dairy-free options for the vegan and lactose-intolerant crowd. While the Toasted Coconut and Peanut Butter Cup definitely piqued my interest, I decided to keep things interesting with Peach Cardamom.

bluebottle1As someone who avoids gluten, I’ve always appreciated the diverse and delicious gluten-free options at Samantha’s bakery. She continues this tradition at Glass Bottle Creamery, noting gluten-free flavors and also offering gluten-free cones for a small $0.50 surcharge. I asked for one scoop of Peach Cardamom in a gluten-free cone, and the friendly young woman behind the counter asked me if I wanted a cake cone or a waffle cone. I can’t remember the last time I had a GF cone that wasn’t a cake one, so I was incredibly excited for this waffle cone. It set me back around five dollars.

img_0739The verdict? This ice cream fulfilled a craving I didn’t even know I had — a craving for sweet, creamy ice cream in a crisp homemade waffle cone. The ice cream was served at the perfect temperature for me, frozen solid and just soft enough to get a good lick. I was glad that the Peach Cardamom was light on the cardamom spice (which I often find overpowering). The peach flavor was delicate yet distinct, and there was no weird fake aftertaste. What really took this ice cream over the top was the CONE. Oh my goodness, it was delicious enough to eat on its own. It was crisp, textured, and a bit sugary… almost like those Italian “pizzelle” cookies.  I have high expectations for anything Samantha makes, and she appears to really have outdone herself with Glass Bottle Creamery.

The Stats:
Glass Bottle Creamery
17637 Vashon Highway SW
Vashon, WA 98070
www.glassbottlecreamery.com

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

Classic New England flavors at Quietside Café

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

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

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

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

fullsizerender

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

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

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

img_0609

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

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

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

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

Family Trip to Mount Desert Island Ice Cream

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

Flying over Acadia

Flying over Acadia

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

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

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

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

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

Bay of Figs

Bay of Figs

Sea Salt Caramel

Sea Salt Caramel

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

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

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

Creativity reigns at Taiwan’s Snow King

This blog post is long overdue! It’s been several weeks since K and I returned from a fabulous long weekend in Asia. While Taipei, Taiwan has never been at the top of my travel destination wish list, K was looking for an opportunity to brush up on his Mandarin and also see Taiwan for the first time. And we both ended up having a blast! Plus, the trip included overnight stays in Hong Kong on the way to and from Taipei, and it was fun to revisit after our amazing honeymoon stop there.

Taipei is a great city for foodies. The night markets were just as exciting as I’d imagined after watching this clip of Anthony Bourdain exploring one! We didn’t eat in a formal restaurant during our whole time there; we would eat brunch at our hotel, snack our way through the afternoon, and then eat dinner at the street markets. Our favorite was the Raohe Night Market, mostly because it was home to the best soup dumplings ever (as proclaimed by K). While the famous Maokong Gondola was closed for renovations, we did get to appreciate the natural beauty surrounding the city from the observation deck of Taipei 101 (once the tallest building in the world!).

Despite feeling perpetually full from all the fantastic food we were eating, I made a point of finding some ice cream in Taipei. A brief internet search pointed to Snow King, which earned great reviews for their interesting flavors. The shop was quite far from our hotel, but UberX made it easy and affordable to get there.

IMG_0126Open since 1947,  Snow King is apparently legendary in Taipei. It is oddly located on the second floor of a commercial building. We actually initially thought it was closed (see the grate above?). Inside, Snow King was bright, cheer, and thankfully air-conditioned 🙂

IMG_0127 IMG_0129The staff was friendly and even though they didn’t speak English, we all spoke the language of ice cream! I enjoyed looking at the colorful tubs in the display case and reading over the menu – which thankfully did have English translations.

IMG_0128 IMG_0130If you can manage to read the small text above, you will see some strange flavors listed! Tomato, Kidney Bean, Pig Knuckles, Soybean Curd, Beer, Carrot, Curry? Yes, those are all ice creams! There were plenty of more traditional, yummy flavors like Mango, Chocolate, Sesame, Red Bean, Ginger, Coffee, and Mint. K and I decided to try three different flavors: yummy-sounding Sticky Rice, intriguing Jasmine, and out-there Chili Pepper.

The biggest drawback of Snow King is that it’s cash only. But the ice cream is cheap; from memory, our bill was around USD $4.

IMG_0131

front to back: Jasmine, Sticky Rice, Chili Pepper

The verdict? This is good ice cream. I tend to be skeptical of places with such long menus, as I oftentimes find that these places are more concerned with developing wacky flavors than they are with the quality of the ice cream. At Snow King, each ice cream we tasted was full-bodied and creamy. We both agreed that the Jasmine was the standout, floral and lightly sweetened. It was lighter in texture than the other two — somewhere between sorbetto and ice cream? Given that neither K nor I drink tea, we were quite impressed! The Sticky Rice was satisfying — thick with a chewy bite from the ice. The light, sweet soy aftertaste was oddly addictive. This ice cream stands on its own, and I don’t think it would pair well with many other flavors or desserts. Next up was the Chili Pepper, which I made K taste first. He liked it but warned me that it did pack some heat. I tentatively took a small bite, and I liked the bright flavor when it first hit my taste buds. But it only took a few milliseconds for my mouth to feel the heat from the chili pepper. I hurried to get water! While I’m a wimp, I bet any lover of spice would like this flavor.

Overall, Snow King impressed me with its dedication to both good-quality ice cream and boundary-pushing flavors.

The Stats:
Snow King
No. 65, Wuchang Road
Section 1, Jhong Jheng District, Taipei City
+886 2 2331 8415

Coconut Rice Pudding Ice Cream

I was a pretty good eater as a kid. There were few foods that I disliked. Funny enough, it was some of these foods (namely avocados, sweet potatoes, sushi, and chunky tomato sauce) that became my absolute favorites as an adult.

Rice pudding is a newfound love of mine. I wouldn’t say that I hated it as a child, but I certainly wouldn’t have chosen it over simple chocolate pudding. Same thing goes for tapioca pudding. Why pick lumpy and chewy pudding over the velvety-smooth creaminess of a Kozy Shack chocolate pudding cup?

It wasn’t until I went off to college and started frequenting Thai restaurants that I fell in love with rice pudding, specifically coconut sticky rice with mango. When I went gluten-free eight years ago, rice pudding quickly became a safe dessert for me.  And it wasn’t hard to find once I started looking. Many cultures and cuisines have their own take on rice-based desserts. My friend Anna makes a lovely Lebanese version with rose water, and I adore arroz con leche at Mexican restaurants and kheer at Indian restaurants.

Eating tapioca ice cream in Rio de Janeiro gave me an idea: if tapioca pudding can become ice cream, why can’t rice pudding do the same?

This weekend, I pulled together the ingredients for coconut rice pudding and added a couple more essential ice cream ingredients (namely egg yolk and more milk).

IMG_9587I began by cooking the rice in coconut milk, sugar, and salt on the stove top. This step takes about a  half hour and requires regular stirring. After that, everything else was a breeze.

IMG_9588Once the rice was nice and tender, I added some more milk, egg yolk, cinnamon and vanilla extract and chilled the mixture in the fridge for a while. Once it had cooled off, I simply dumped everything into the ice-cream maker and let it churn!

IMG_9589Unlike some ice creams, this one came out of the Cuisinart mixer hard enough to eat right then. But since I was on my way out to dinner, I put the ice cream into an airtight container and popped it into the fridge for a couple hours. As soon as I got home, I scooped out a couple bowls for K and me.

IMG_9592Coconut Rice Pudding Ice Cream
{Makes 1 pint}
Loosely adapted from this recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp milk (I used almond-coconut milk)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Directions

  • In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with 2 tablespoons of milk.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, sugar, salt, and rice. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce to a simmer over low heat and stir occasionally until nearly all of the liquid has dissolved and the rice is tender. Remove from heat and mix in the rest of the milk, cinnamon, and vanilla. Then temper the egg yolk by adding a couple spoonfuls of the warm mixture, then adding the egg to the saucepan.
  • Chill the mixture in the fridge for 1 hour or until cool. Pour mixture into ice cream maker and freeze per the manufacturer’s directions. If you’re using a Cuisinart, this means 1) turn on your machine, 2) slowly pour mixture in, and 3) leave the thing alone for 15 minutes or so.
  • Serve immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer.

The verdict? K and I couldn’t get enough of this chewy, sweet, and comforting ice cream. The coconut milk adds a richness to the ice cream, while the cinnamon gives it additional depth. The rice remained quite soft and chewy; I think being cooked in coconut milk and sugar prevented it from freezing too hard. This is a fun treat for any rice-pudding lover. It’s an easy recipe, requiring no additional freezing time after the machine, so the payoff is big. I will note that this ice cream was quite chewy and full of rice. If you prefer a smoother texture, I’d recommend adding a bit more milk or coconut milk before freezing.

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/