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)

Celebrating at DC’s Dolci Gelati

Here in the U.S., National Ice Cream Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in July. This year, the “holiday” happened to coincide with a heat wave in Washington, DC. Despite the heat, K and I ventured out to a new-to-me ice cream shop so I could celebrate my favorite food. I’d been meaning to try Dolci Gelati for months, ever since I spotted its store across the street from a Giant grocery store.

According to my research, the company has actually been around for about 10 years. Before opening Dolci Gelati, Italian owner Gianluigi Dellaccio was a pastry chef at fancy spots like the Ritz-Carlton. Initially, Gialuigi and his wife Anastasia focused on wholesale orders from DC restaurants and specialty grocery stores before selling at the zoo, Nationals Park, and farmers market. It wasn’t until April 2014 that the Dellaccios opened a retail store in Takoma Park, Maryland. The Maryland store must have been a success, as the Dellaccios opened a second store last January, this time in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. And, finally, Dolci Gelati was on my radar!

IMG_0244 The interior of Dolci Gelati is pretty adorable, complete with chandeliers and bright green walls. There are a couple small tables inside and outside, and comfortable white stools along the window. I was surprised to find the café mostly empty on a hot afternoon — maybe it’s too far off the beaten path? Shaw isn’t as bustling as nearby Logan Circle or Dupont Circle.

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Dolci Gelati’s pastry selection was minimal, but it makes up for that with a well-rounded assortment of gelatos and sorbets. Some flavors that stuck out were Salted Caramel, Toasted Almond, Honey Mascarpone Fig, and Strawberry Lavender. Uncharacteristically, I found myself gravitating towards the sorbets rather than the gelatos. I blame the heat!

I went with a small cone of Mango sorbet and Birthday Cake gelato, since I was in a celebratory mood. This place ain’t cheap, though — this cone cost me over $5.

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The verdict? This was just what I needed on a hot summer day! The gelato and sorbetto were beautiful, although a bit too soft. The Mango sorbetto was sweet and refreshing, just like the real fruit. The Birthday Cake was less sugary and more natural-tasting than most other versions I’ve tasted. The base tasted like regular vanilla ice cream studded with sprinkles, but every lick found grainy bits of yellow cake. While the combination of these two flavors was a bit odd, this was one satisfying cone. I’ll be back, Dolci Gelati!

The Stats:
Dolci Gelati
1420 8th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
http://www.dolcigelati.net/
(other locations in Takoma Park, MD & Old Town Alexandria, VA)

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.

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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

“Self-Service” Ice Cream in Rio de Janeiro

This Presidents’ Day weekend, K and I embarked on a quick trip to Rio de Janeiro. Between a pre-trip bout of food poisoning and the Zika situation in Brazil, I can’t say I was entirely thrilled to head down there this year. But K successfully ushered me onto the plane, armed with lemon-lime Gatorade and some potent bug spray.

IMG_9438Despite low expectations this year, we had a really nice weekend! We spent about 80% of our waking hours on the beach covered in 50 SPF. It was incredibly hot and sunny, so frozen treats and drinks were a must. While I ate plenty of frozen açaí (more on that in the next post) and drank, I couldn’t let a whole weekend pass without getting ice cream. So between the beach and heading back to our hotel to shower on Sunday, K called up an UberX (yes, Uber is available – and cheap – in Rio!) to bring me to Sorvetes Ally in the Copacabana neighborhood. We’d spotted the shop on Friday after dinner, when we were both too stuffed to consider eating anything more. This time, I brought my appetite!

IMG_9498Sorvetes Ally is the first self-serve ice cream shop I’ve stumbled across. Nearly every city in America has a self-serve frozen yogurt place or two, but the concept hasn’t extended to traditional ice cream or gelato shops. Perhaps hygiene has something to do with this? Hard ice cream and gelato requires scooping from tubs, and it must be fairly easy to spread germs via scoops and standing (or coughing/sneezing) over open tubs. Still, I wasn’t too horrified with the concept when I saw how relatively clean and well-staffed Sorvetes Ally was.

IMG_9499IMG_9500The secret must be out, because Sorvetes Ally was hopping on a Sunday afternoon. We had to stand in line for a minute or two, which gave me a chance to take in the surroundings and observe the self-serve experts ahead of me in action. But then the hard part: deciding what flavor to try! Sorvetes Ally has more than 20 options to choose from, and there is no menu. I had to scan all the little signs attached to the tubs.

IMG_9502 IMG_9503I must have looked a bit lost, because the young woman in front of me kindly pointed out Ovomaltine and gave me a smile and the universal “thumbs up” sign. I recognized it as the Swiss brand of malted chocolate. While I’m not the biggest fan of malted flavors, I had to try it after the recommendation! The only flavor that caught K’s eye was Queijo com Goiabada (Cheese & Guava Paste), so I scooped some of that into my cup, too. I was very skeptical, though, given my last experience with cheese ice cream. With room to spare, I added two other interesting-sounding flavors: Tapioca and Ameixa (Plum). When its executed well, I adore tapioca ice cream!

IMG_9501Like self-serve froyo places in the U.S., Sorvetes Ally charges by weight. I forget how many ounces my cup was, but it cost me the equivalent of around $2 USD. Not bad!

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Clockwise from top: Tapioca, Ovomaltine, Amiexa (Hidden: Quejo com Goiabada)

The verdict? I had nearly as much fun trying all the different flavors as I did scooping them! We both enjoyed tasting multiple flavors and having control over the size of each scoop. The only downside was that we rushed to finish before the ice cream melted into mush. I don’t think the constant opening of the ice cream freezers — and the waits between scooping — did anything to maintain the ice cream’s temperature. The surprise standout was the Ameixa, which featured plenty of little soft plum pieces and a deep sophisticated flavor. I loved the dark color and subtle sweetness of this flavor. Sorvetes Ally’s Tapioca lived up to our high expectations; rich cream-flavored ice cream chock full of soft-yet-chewy tapioca pearls. I must figure out how to recreate this one at home! The Ovomaltine did indeed taste of malted chocolate, and the level of malt was pleasant. K was happy with the Queijo com Goiabada, which he thought was a nice blend of sweet and savory. I took one nibble and just couldn’t get over the actual chunks of cheese in my ice cream. I should probably just give up on cheese ice cream in Brazil. Who am I kidding? I’m sure K will talk me into it again next time 🙂

While the “self-service” ice cream concept is a bit gimmicky (and a germophobe’s nightmare), Sorvetes Ally executes it well with their wide variety of ice-cream flavors and toppings.

The Stats:
Sorvetes Ally
Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, 435
Rio de Janeiro RJ 22020-002
+55 21 2236-3540
http://sorvetesally.com.br/

Gracie’s Ice Cream – Worthy of the Name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Day in Scotland: Stewart Tower Dairy

The morning after our special night at the Three Chimneys, K and I woke up to this view:

IMG_8376I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t still dreaming! Our fast-paced itinerary had us traveling to Edinburgh that afternoon, so we reluctantly packed our bags into the rental car and drove off the magical Isle of Sky. But not before a quick walk (for me) and run (for him) along the water and breakfast in the stunning Three Chimneys sitting room.

The drive from the Three Chimneys to Edinburgh took us about 5 hours. Under normal circumstances, I’d be bored and restless sitting in a car for so long. But the vast and diverse beauty of Scotland kept me thoroughly entertained. We drove through a section of Cairngorms National Park, the largest park in the United Kingdom. I found myself nodding off at one point but quickly snapped myself out of it just to experience what was outside my passenger seat window!

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iPhone photos don’t do Scotland justice!

About two-thirds of the way to Edinburgh, K pointed out one of those highway signs that lists food and lodging options accessible via the upcoming exit. The sign read “Stewart Tower Dairy,” which he insisted had to be an ice cream shop. But I wasn’t convinced. The area off the highway still seemed quite remote, and I couldn’t imagine we’d find anything besides a dairy farm. I said we should probably just keep driving, but K overrode me (driver’s prerogative) and took the next exit.

We quickly found ourselves on a narrow rural road — there were hardly any other cars, nor any businesses in sight. Still, K forged on with a sense of adventure. His conviction was contagious, so I wasn’t too surprised when a large dairy farm and shop came into view. Our gamble had paid off!

IMG_8960Despite being far off the beaten path, Stewart Tower Dairy appears to do a bustling business. There were plenty of cars in the parking lot, and we spotted the animal farm with a petting area. And dairy cows were grazing in every direction.

IMG_8491K and I entered the dairy shop, where we first found ourselves in a room with specialty grocery items — including an impressive selection of cheese and milk. This dark-wood room led into a bigger and brighter circular room (aptly called the “Round House”) with plenty of seating for customers. This is where I found what I was looking for… ice cream!

IMG_8487Stewart Tower Dairy makes their ice cream in the Italian soft-style gelato style. There were well over a dozen flavors behind the glass counter. Some were traditional, like Vanilla, Chocolate, and Mint Chocolate Chip. But there were quite a few interesting combinations like Orange Chocolate Crunch, Toffee and Fudge Pieces, and Turkish Delight. I was immediately drawn to the Pink Panther, described as strawberry ice cream with white chocolate and strawberry pieces. Isn’t it gorgeous?

IMG_8489K usually gravitates to sorbets, and he immediately picked out Mango Passionfruit Ripple. The guy absolutely LOVES passionfruit. We decided to share one cup, and the double scoop of gelato was  €3.25, so less than $4. The serving size was perfect.

IMG_8488The verdict? K was a bit more impressed with this gelato than I was. But it was still very good, and we had no problem polishing off this cup. Neither flavor had that rich, silky texture or almost buttery flavor that I’d expect ice cream coming from grass-fed cows to have. I’m guessing this might be due to the lower fat content of gelato. K and I both agreed, however, that Stewart Tower Dairy’s flavor creations were well-executed. Not surprisingly, K’s favorite was Mango Passionfruit Ripple and mine was the Pink Panther. The Mango Passionfruit Ripple tasted tropical and refreshing, and K was happy to actually taste the passionfruit. Oftentimes, mango overpowers whatever it’s paired with. I really appreciated that the strawberry gelato in the Pink Panther wasn’t too sugary sweet. The white chocolate chips were delicious and just the right size: small enough for easy chewing, but hefty enough to taste the white chocolate.

I’d love to return to Stewart Tower Dairy and enjoy a lazy afternoon with family, enjoying cups of coffee and gelato before meandering around the beautiful Scottish grounds.

The Stats:
Stewart Tower Dairy
Stanley
Perth PH1 4PJ
Scotland
http://www.stewart-tower.co.uk

First Day in Scotland: Waltons Traditional Sweet Shop

I’m turning 30 years old in a few months. I’m not sure why, but this impending milestone has coincided with a new interest in my  ancestry. My father was born and raised in Australia, and I have always known that the McRae’s came to Australia via Scotland. And, no, they weren’t convicts… at least that we know about! Lucky for me, one of my dad’s cousin had a passion for genealogy and traced the family tree back over centuries.

K knew that I was itching to visit my ancestral homeland, and he graciously suggested that we visit this summer (even though the weather wouldn’t be warm). So a couple weeks ago, we packed our bags and grabbed our raincoats for a quick visit to Scotland.

We began the trip with a one-night layover in Dublin. It was both of our first times to Ireland, and I have to say that I loved what I saw! We spent the evening walking around downtown and popped into a couple little pubs before having dinner at a trendy restaurant recommended to us by the concierge.

IMG_8337The next morning,  we headed to the airport to catch a flight to Glasgow, Scotland. Based on some friends’ recommendations, we didn’t spend any time in downtown Glasgow. Instead, we prioritized our time on the Isle of Skye and Edinburgh. It was a 5-hour drive to Isle of Skye from Glasgow, though, so I made arrangements for us to spend the night in Fort William, the second-largest establishment in the Highlands of Scotland.

Fort William sits near the head of Loch Linnhe, one of the longest sea lochs in the country. In retrospect, it was an extra-brilliant idea to stay overnight here because A) it’s conveniently located halfway between Glasgow and Isle of Skye and thus broke up K’s first experience driving on the left-hand side of the road, and B) we both enjoyed spending time in Fort William. Neither of us had anticipated how tiring (and trying) driving in a different country can be. K ended up doing really well, but my adrenaline sure was pumping! The roads can be quite narrow in Scotland, and we had to dodge plenty of big campers and tourist buses since it was still vacation season. The views of green hills, waterfalls, and plentiful lochs (i.e. lakes) kept our spirits high, though.

When we finally made it safely to Fort William, we immediately checked in at The Grange, a beautiful bed and breakfast run by a sweet and accommodating proprietor named Joan. We briefly rested in our room before venturing on a short walk to the “downtown” area… which ended up being far from cosmopolitan! I couldn’t get over how quaint and welcoming the main pedestrian street, High Street, was. It felt like we had been transported into one of the BBC shows my mom adores (i.e. Doc Martin).

High_Street_Fort_William_-_geograph.org.uk_-_943438Source: Wikipedia

We had a 8pm dinner reservation at the iconic seafood restaurant on Loch Linnhe, The Crannog.  Exploring downtown took much less time than we’d planned (it’s so small!), and we had a couple hours to fill. We enjoyed some cider and beer at a lively pub. Afterwards, I convinced K to indulge in a small “ice cream appetizer” at a sweets shop I’d spotted earlier.

IMG_8515Waltons Traditional Sweet Shop is located right on High Street and sells both candy and ice cream. The inside of the store reminded me of an old-fashioned general store, with big glass jars lining the entire walls, filled with candies, mints, and chocolates. I couldn’t help but grab a bag of homemade ginger candies. Before I could be further tempted by the beautiful candy selection, I headed over to the ice cream counter.

IMG_8523IMG_8520The neat tubs and corporate-looking signage made me think that Waltons was a chain, but a subsequent internet search proved my theory wrong. Either way, there were plenty of options to consider. There were a couple fruit sorbets (normal types of flavors), a traditional vanilla and berry flavor,  but most of the flavors that stood out to me involved chocolate — Toffee Fudge, Ferrero Rocher,  and Bounty. But I wasn’t craving chocolate, and I embraced that opportunity to try something different. It’s rare that I don’t make a beeline to the chocolate!

K liked the look of the colorful Millions ice cream. Millions are chewy little U.K. candies that come in many fruity flavors. I was drawn to the Honeycomb, which didn’t exactly sound complementary but delicious nonetheless. We forked over about three euros for a two-scoop cup.

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IMG_8514The verdict? Sadly, this ice cream was nothing to write home about. It wasn’t bad, but it was not great. I can barely conjure up the taste sitting here writing this post. .. a surefire sign that it wasn’t memorable. Of the two flavors, Honeycomb was the winner by a landslide. K and I agreed that it reminded us of caramel ice cream, but with a honey twist. Most of the honeycomb flavor was concentrated in the thick swirl, while the base was mild and sweet. I couldn’t help wishing for some crunch, perhaps due to my love of the crunchiness of my beloved Violet Crumble candy bar. The Millions, however, was sugary sweet and reminded me of cotton candy. Neither of us wanted more than a couple bites before tossing it away and heading to dinner… which was fantastic by the way 🙂

The Stats:
Waltons Traditional Sweet Shop
55C High Street
Fort William, Inverness-Shrire PH33-6DH
Scotland

A Taste of Woodstock: Kiss the Cow Farm

Last weekend, K and I flew into Boston’s Logan Airport and met up with my sister Carolyn and her boyfriend Greg (i.e. my ice-cream buddy) in the rental car parking lot. We immediately piled into a car and headed off on a 3-hour trek to Vermont. Our cousin Leah recently purchased a gorgeous 50-acre farm outside of the quaint town of Woodstock, Vermont with her long-time bf Matt. Leah and Matt are two of our favorite people, so spending time with them was our only expectation. Little did we know that this rural part of Vermont would steal a piece of our hearts and stomachs!

Pulling up to Leah and Matt’s farm was like stepping into the pages of a storybook. Their property is breathtaking, with rolling pastures, a clean little pond, big ruby-red barn (originally built in 1850!), and a quaint but spacious farmhouse.

IMG_8267IMG_8265We spent the rest of Friday afternoon getting acquainted with the farm, barn, and its newest residents — a few chickens and two female goats. For dinner, we headed “downtown” and enjoyed craft beers, ciders, kombucha on tap, and yummy food at the Worthy Kitchen in Woodstock.

On Saturday morning, we all took a long hike around the property and then along the infamous Appalachian Trail. We had several encounters with hikers who are doing the entire trail. You could never talk me into doing a 3-month hike, but I love imagining what that might be like.

IMG_8238On Saturday afternoon, we ventured into downtown Woodstock (which I was surprised to learn is NOT the site of the infamous music festival… goes to show you how knowledgeable I am about music history). Leah had heard that an event called “The Taste of Woodstock” was happening that afternoon. We had to check it out!

IMG_8249Because of this annual event, downtown Woodstock was very busy. The parking headaches were worth it, because the event itself was great! The Chamber of Commerce had blocked off an entire street for local vendors and musicians. We spent an hour going from tent to tent, checking out local restaurants’ cuisines, farmers’ products, local packaged foods, and even some local distilleries. Greg bought a bottle of local vodka made from pure honey!

It wouldn’t be a food festival without ice cream, so I was happy to find the Kiss the Cow Farm’s tent. The local family-owned Vermont farm is home to about a dozen dairy cows, who are entirely grass-fed and, according to this fun online video I later found, quite cute! Locals have been enjoying milk and cheese from these cows for years, but the owners recently decided to foray into the ice-cream business!

IMG_8250 IMG_8253Kiss the Cow Farm brought six of their flavors to this event, and they all sounded delightful. If I didn’t have a gluten allergy, I would have  gone for the Mint Cookies ‘n Cream… mint can be so refreshing on a hot afternoon. While Leah was intrigued by the Balsamic Strawberry, I’m not a fan of that particular combination.  Something about vinegar and fruit turns my stomach?!? I asked about the “2 Die 4” Chocolate and was told that it was more intensely chocolatey than a regular chocolate flavor. Count me in! I couldn’t pass up the Blueberry Lavender, either, so I ended up ordering a two-scoop cup for $4.

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Bottom scoop: “2 Die 4” Chocolate. Top scoop: Blueberry Lavender.

IMG_8288 The verdict? This is good ice cream. Both flavors were rich, yet not too heavy and dense. The Blueberry Lavender wasn’t as blue as I’d expected, but that’s probably because it was all-natural and not artificially flavored or colored. I was glad that the lavender flavor was subtle and took a backseat to the blueberries. The berries must have been thoroughly pureed and strained, as I didn’t find any solid bits in my scoop. The “2 Die 4” Chocolate was my favorite of the two flavors, since it really did pack a big punch of chocolate! It was quite rich, but this scoop didn’t feel quite as intensely creamy as the Blueberry Lavender did; perhaps that’s because the chocolate-to-cream ratio was so high? In any case, it was one delicious and chocolatey scoop of ice cream. Based on what I saw at the Taste of Woodstock, I’d say that that Kiss the Cow Farm has a bright future.

The Stats:
Kiss the Cow Farm
2248 Royalton Turnpike
Barnard, VT 05068

 

Lapp Valley Farm Ice Cream in the Heart of Amish Country

For K and me, it’s been the summer of small road trips. Whether we’re on the East Coast or in the Pacific Northwest, we seem to be renting cars and driving several hours most weekends. I’m not complaining, though, as I love exploring new-to-me corners of the country. Road trips allow me to see, hear, smell, and taste things that I’d entirely miss when I’m flying between Point A and Point B.

Case in point: Last month, K and I flew from D.C. to Syracuse for a weekend of wine-tasting with my family in the Finger Lakes. But since the return flights were very pricey, we decided to rent a car and drive back to D.C. on Memorial Day. Sure, it took a long time (6+ hours), but the highlight of the trip was a pit stop in Lancaster County, known as the heart of “Amish country.”

I remember visiting Lancaster County with my parents and sisters when I was very young (10 or 11 years old?), and it sparked a longtime fascination with the Amish . Their simple clothing, devout religiosity, and refusal to use most modern technologies has always puzzled and intrigued me. I’m in no way an expert on Amish history or culture, but I love reading novels or watching documentaries about the Amish. Somewhat surprisingly, K shares in my fascination, albeit via his love for the T.V. show “Amish Mafia” on the Discovery Channel. Reality television at it’s finest, let me tell you 😉

Driving around Lancaster County was a trip. The area blends the old with the new; we’d be driving through a neighborhood full of big modern homes and suddenly spot an Amish farm. We’d stop at an intersection and a horse and buggy would stop behind us. Driving through downtown Intercourse, PA (haha, I know), K spotted a store selling homemade pretzels. He stopped and bought a delicious-looking soft pretzel for $1 from the friendly Amish teenager behind the counter. Since I couldn’t partake in the gluten-full snack, K offered to buy me some ice cream. After a quick Yelp search, we headed over to Lapp Valley Farm.

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The drive to Lapp Valley Farm was quite scenic; the working dairy farm is nestled among rolling green hills and farmland. Pulling into the large driveway at Lapp Valley Farm, I couldn’t help but notice how well-manicured the lawns were, and how many cars and buggies were in the parking lot! Lapp Valley is clearly a local institution. Amish and tourists alike were milling around the property, licking large ice-cream cones or carrying glass jugs of fresh milk – including chocolate milk! I spotted kids visiting cows in the barn adjacent to the dairy shop.

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When K and I arrived, the line for ice cream was already snaking out the door. Luckily, it moved quite quickly thanks to the efficient Amish team working inside. We finally stepped inside the simple store, where the smell of homemade waffle cones had me salivating. It wasn’t until we were inside that I noticed that Lapp Valley has has a drive-up window for those wishing to skip the long line. But why would you want to skip these yummy smells?

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Not unlike the surroundings, the flavor offerings at Lapp Valley Farm are quite old-fashioned. None of the dozen flavors posted were strange or too unique, but most of the old-fashioned favorites were there: Vanilla, Coffee, Maple Walnut, Cookies and Cream, Black Cherry, and so on. One flavor caught my eye: Butter Brickle. I’ve tried and loved variations of this flavor before; it’s usually vanilla ice cream mixed with butter toffee pieces.  (I <3 toffee )

I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Lapp Valley is cash-only, but I was nervous that I wouldn’t have enough. There is an ATM on site, but the prices here are so reasonable that I didn’t need it. I had plenty of money to pay for my one-scoop cup ($1.85 plus tax).

IMG_8116The verdict? Life is complicated, but this Butter Brickle ice cream is not. How can you go wrong pairing a good-quality homemade vanilla ice cream with simple butter toffee? The thick and sweet ice cream coated my tongue, delicious evidence of its high fat content. The vanilla flavor was light; I’m guessing that Lapp Valley uses vanilla extract instead of vanilla beans. I usually prefer the vanilla bean varieties, but  this less-intense extract allowed the high-quality and richness of Lapp Valley’s milk products to shine. While the tiny butter toffee pieces were few and far between, they were buttery and had a nice bite. And watching the cows while eating my generous scoop outside made my Amish experience all the more satisfying.

The Stats:
Lapp Valley Farm
244 Mentzer Road
New Holland, PA 17557

FoMu Ice Cream — Not Just for Vegans

Summer has officially arrived on the East Coast. After a rough winter in Massachusetts, my parents and sisters are welcoming the warmer weather with open arms. I’m also thankful for warm weather, as it means that more people are in the mood for ice cream!

Speaking of sisters, one went vegetarian a few years back and also avoids dairy. Her (usually meat-eating) boyfriend recently introduced her to FoMu, which sells vegan ice cream (coconut-milk based) and baked goods at their stores in Allston and Jamaica Plain. Since then, they have both urged me to visit FoMu. Specifically, they raved about “Magic Bar” flavor. Remember those treats, also known as “seven-layer bars”?

A couple weeks ago, the stars aligned and I had the FoMu experience. I was at home for a long weekend and had plans to visit my friends’ new baby. According to Google, FoMu’s Jamaica Plain location was a mile or so away from their house. It’s a well-known fact that one should bring food when visiting new parents, so swinging by FoMu to pick up some pints was what any good friend should do (or so I told myself).

IMG_7769IMG_7770FoMu is located on a busy street in Jamaica Plains. I imagine that it could be difficult to find parking on the weekends, but I had no problem on a Monday afternoon. The store has the welcoming vibe of an earthy coffee shop, with its light wooden floors and counter. And true to this vibe, FoMu offers a full espresso menu.

IMG_7771The real attractions here are the baked goods and ice creams. The baked goods are proudly displayed behind a glass case; everything is vegan and many options are gluten-free, but you’d never know by the look of them! I spotted cookies, brownies, and the infamous “Magic Bar.” That golden brown crust, the gooey center filled with chocolate chips, nuts, butterscotch chips, and toasted coconut? I could hardly believe the nice guy behind the counter when he told me that they were vegan and gluten-free.

IMG_7772I finally turned my attention to the ice cream flavors listed. Sadly, unlike the baked goods, the ice cream is kept hidden in covered tubs. So you have to go on flavor name and descriptions, although FoMu happily provides little samples to any customer that asks. And there are so many flavors to choose from!

IMG_7773My stomach was growling at this point, so I decided to order a cup of ice cream for lunch. But I could not decide between the recommended Magic Bar and the Avocado (which sounded like a nice “healthy” lunch flavor). We all know that I can be indecisive, but this decision felt even harder than others. So when I saw the small cup sizes, including a “kids” cup, I reasoned that they were small enough for me to order two ice creams without looking ridiculous. This was lunch, after all!

My small cup of Magic Bar cost me $4.15, whereas the kids cup of Avocado set me back $3.29. I also picked out two pints for my friends; one Magic Bar and one Roasted Banana Cinnamon (the new mom adores banana in her morning oatmeal). Each pint cost around $8 — definitely pricey, but no more expensive than other fancy vegan ice creams I’ve seen at Whole Foods.

IMG_7774The verdict? This ice cream is the stuff that dreams are made of… even for non-vegans. The Avocado not only looked beautiful, but it tasted wonderful as well. FoMu must have used perfectly-ripe avocados, as the flavor was almost fruity (yes, I know avocado is a fruit, but it doesn’t always taste like one!). This flavor stuck a perfect balance; sweet, but not overly sweet. Thick and rich, but not too coco-nutty (like many coconut-based ice creams are). I thought it couldn’t get any better than the Avocado, but then I tasted the Magic Bar. Holy COW, this flavor is, well,  magical! The traditional coconut milk base was the perfect canvas for the plentiful chunks of Magic Bar. Each bite of this cup entertained me with different textures and flavors: toasted coconut bits, mini chocolate chips, butterscotch, and cookie crumble. Imagine my surprise when I had no difficulty polishing off both cups 🙂

P.S. My friends tell me that the Roasted Banana Cinnamon was also delicious. I’ll have to confirm that myself next time I’m in town!

The Stats:
FoMu
617 Centre Street
Jamaica Plains, MA 02130
– or –
481 Cambridge Street
Allston, MA 02134
http://www.fomuicecream.com