Greedy Goat Ice Cream at London’s Borough Market

After an amazing few days in Scotland, K and I flew to London’s Heathrow Airport. Instead of immediately jumping on a transatlantic flight home, K had arranged our flights to allow for a 24-hour layover in London. I’d been there once before to visit our friends Kat and Corey, who moved there from Seattle for a few years. K has been back several times for work, but I was eager to experience the historic city again.

We had a few hours to fill before meeting up with our close friend, Rangi, from Australia who was coincidentally visiting London at the same time. K asked me to decide what we should do. It wasn’t enough time to tour the Tower of London (still on my bucket list), but we had plenty of time to tour Borough Market. I love visiting local food markets when I travel; it seems like a good way to learn about local agriculture and culinary customs. And since Borough Market was only a mile or two away from our hotel, we took advantage of the nice, cool weather and walked there.

A bridge selfie on walk to Borough MarketWe arrived to find Borough Market quite bustling, despite being a weekday afternoon. It is an open-air market, and I was struck by how clean it was! According to the market’s website, there are over 100 stalls and stands. I did a quick iPhone search for “ice cream at Borough Market” and found two options — a gelataría and a place called “Greedy Goat Ice Cream.” Goat ice cream? My mind immediately went to that gross yak ice cream we sampled in Beijing. No, thank you! But I made the mistake of telling K about this goat milk ice cream, and he insisted we go. The man adores goat cheese, and he’s always game for trying the weirdest and most creative ice cream. The map online showed the stall in Borough’s “Green Market” area. I dragged my feet a bit while daydreaming about how lovely a cup of gelato would be.

With its cheerful and colorful signage, it was fairly easy to find the Greedy Goat stall. There wasn’t a line, so I went right up to the counter and peered into the ice-cream case.

IMG_8417The goat milk in Greedy Goat’s ice cream comes from a herd of goats on a family farm in Essex. They tout the fact that goat milk has less lactose than cow’s milk and is easier to digest, meaning it’s a great option for those ice-cream lovers who are lactose intolerant (like my mom) or are sensitive to dairy. There were nine flavors to choose from, with Vanilla being the only super-traditional one. There was Cherry & Almond, Strawberry Cheesecake, and Eton Mess. I’d later learn that Eton mess is a traditional English dessert with strawberries or raspberries, meringue bits, and cream. If I could go back in time, I’d order this because K and I love meringue.

IMG_8419But I felt pretty good about my two flavor selections: Salted Caramel and Chocolate Chip (which was actually double chocolate chip, as the base was chocolate). I figured these flavors would have the best chance of overpowering any weird goat taste. Plus, caramel and chocolate are a match made in Heaven.

Our two-scoop cup of goat ice cream cost £5, or $7.50USD. That is expensive! I’m happy to pay extra to support a family farm and small ice-cream business. But this would qualify as a “special treat” and not an everyday indulgence for me.

IMG_8418

Bottom scoop: Chocolate Chip; Top scoop: Salted Caramel

The verdict? I cannot believe how much I liked this ice cream! The first thing I noticed was the unique texture: it was almost crumbly yet not really icy. Almost like a frozen dry mousse? I’ve never tasted anything like it before, but I was a fan. The Salted Caramel had a nice light caramel flavor. It is not super salty, but I think any caramel-lover would be happy with this. I could only taste goat milk in the aftertaste, and it wasn’t too sour or tangy. The Chocolate Chip was, well, chocolately! The small bits of chocolate melted in my mouth, and this double whammy of chocolate masked any goaty flavor even better than the caramel did. Overall, this ice cream was surprisingly awesome. If you find yourself in London with a few hours to fill, do yourself a favor and head over to Greedy Goat Ice Cream!

The Stats:
Borough Market
London SE1 1TL
United Kingdom

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!

IMG_8958

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

IMG_8517

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

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.

IMG_8115

FullSizeRender

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.

IMG_7725

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?

IMG_8111 IMG_8110

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

Crossed Off the Bucket List: San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Creamery

Many obsessive ice-cream hobbyists will tell you that they have a “bucket list,” or list of ice cream shops they’d like to visit during their lifetime. I don’t exactly have a bucket list (I want to try them all!), but there are some iconic ice cream shops that I dream of visiting. These include Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream’s original location in Columbus, Ohio, Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon, the Penn State Creamery (where you can take a 7 day ice-cream science course), and a handful of others. Up until last month, Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco was high on that list.

Bi-Rite Creamery started out as a local neighborhood favorite in San Francisco’s Mission District, but it has gained national notoriety in recent years. Heck, one of the owners has even appeared on the Martha Stewart Show! The Creamery opened in 2006 as part of the Bi-Rite Market, a historic family-owned business across the street, and quickly took off. Co-owners Kris Hoogerhyde and Anne Walker share a commitment to locally grown and organic ingredients, and their ice creams are made by hand in small batches. They were two of the pioneers of the “locally sourced” movement that’s so popular among the trendy ice cream shops today

I finally got my chance to visit Bi-Rite Creamy during a recent work trip to San Francisco. I arrived a day early so I could grab dinner with a college roommate who lives in the Bay Area. Because of the time difference, I arrived in San Francisco with plenty of time to kill before dinner. It was a abnormally warm, summery day in San Francisco and ice cream sounded like a great way to cool off.

The Mission District was quick BART ride from my hotel on Union Square. The neighborhood was particularly busy this Sunday afternoon, and the people watching entertained me on the short walk to Bi-Rite Creamery. I knew that I was getting close when I passed the Bi-Rite Market, which looked smaller than I’d anticipated but so packed with shoppers that I didn’t dare venture inside.

I spotted the waiting line before I saw the Bi-Rite Creamery itself. For 3:30pm on a winter afternoon, this line was seriously impressive. Okay, it was 80 degrees out, but still! line at bi-riteLuckily, the line moved fairly quickly and I soon found myself inside. IMG_7139On any given day, there are well over a dozen flavors available at Bi-Rite. Some are staples of the menu, like Vanilla and Chocolate but also their famous Salted Caramel, Honey Lavender, and Balsamic Strawberry flavors. Whereas the Orange Cardamom, Earl Grey, and Maple Walnut were late-winter specials.

IMG_7141I had a difficult time picking flavors; the Roasted Banana with fudge swirl was very tempting. And if I didn’t have to avoid gluten, I would have definitely tried the infamous Ricanelas (cinnamon ice cream with snickerdoodle cookie pieces). In the end, I decided on the seasonal Crème Brûlée and the vegan Chocolate Coconut ice cream (made with local TCHO chocolate). Because so many people in my life are lactose-intolerant or vegan, I pay attention to non-dairy options. This one looked too good to pass up.

IMG_7140My mouth dropped when I saw gluten-free cones available. And they were FREE of charge! Major points for Bi-Rite!

My “single” cone came to $4.00, which isn’t cheap. But I’ve paid more for similar-sized cones of regular mass-produced ice cream, so I didn’t think the price was unreasonable.IMG_7144

The verdict? I have to admit that Bi-Rite Creamery is worth the hype! I was already impressed with the variety of flavors and the accommodations for special diets. But it was the ice cream itself that truly had me “wowed.” The Crème Brûlée was amazing. It has everything I love about the traditional dessert: a thick custard base and plenty of shards of blow-torched caramelized sugar. Like the real thing, this ice cream is seriously rich. It’s not something I could eat every day, but it was incredibly flavorful and fun to eat. I later learned that this flavor was created by Chase Cho, who won a recipe competition hosted by Bi-Rite. And I can see why this one! The vegan Chocolate Coconut also exceeded any expectations I had. While many coconut milk-based ice creams are heavy and dense, this one was light and velvety. The chocolate flavor was definitely predominant, with slight coconut undertones. I’d definitely recommend this to anybody who loves ice cream but avoids dairy.

All in all, Bi-Rite Creamery was everything I had hoped for. An innovative company with a serious commitment to fresh local ingredients and unique (yet authentic) flavors. I’m already looking out for an opportunity to return.

The Stats:
Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
http://biritecreamery.com/

 

Gelato Messina: Over-the-top ice cream Down Under

The morning after Christmas, K and I headed to Boston’s Logan International Airport to begin our long journey to Australia. Most of the Australian-side of my family could not attend our wedding last August, so we planned this trip to celebrate with them. When K’s parents heard about the plans, they offered to accompany us… After all, it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere 🙂

Our trip began in my father’s hometown of Melbourne. The four of us spent several days visiting family and exploring the city itself. One of the highlights was wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens. I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this urban oasis.

Botanical GardensOn Sunday, my Aunt Kathy put on a lovely afternoon barbeque for everyone who could make it. It was so special to introduce my in-laws to my extended family and family friends. As anticipated, everyone got along swimmingly!

IMG_6558Before we headed off to Sydney to experience their New Year’s Eve celebrations, I made sure to schedule some time with my dear friend Rangi. While she’d attended our wedding in Seattle and Kathy’s barbeque, I always try to soak up as much time with Rangi as humanly possible. We’ve been friends ever since my grandma introduced me to the “lovely gal” next door over 15 years ago. Rangi and I hit it off immediately and continued our friendship as pen pals. Remember when people used to have “pen pals” instead of “Facebook friends”? Oh, how I miss those glitter pens and stickers…

On our last night in Melbourne, Rangi picked the four of us up from our hotel and drove over to a popular new restaurant, Epocha, where we devoured an incredibly tasty (and gluten-free friendly) meal.

2014-12-29 22.57.32-1 copyAs we polished off dessert at Epocha, Rangi informed us that the night was not yet over. So we piled into her car and headed to the hipster neighborhood of Fitzroy. Our destination? Gelato Messina. The wildly-popular chain started in Sydney (where it has six stores and a devoted following) and  opened its first Melbourne location in 2013. Gelato Messina focuses on all-natural ingredients, and the gelato is made in-house daily.

I apologize in advance for the less-than-stellar photographs. It was quite dark!IMG_6819 IMG_6820Gelato Messina eludes easy classifications. Its décor reminded me both of classy European cafés and trendy Manhattan nightclubs. On this warm evening, the lights were turned low and the music cranked loud. And the long lines after 10pm on a weeknight were impressive.

IMG_6822On any given night, Gelato Messina Fitzroy has over 40 flavors of gelato and sorbetto. In addition, there are 5 weekly specials — often the most wacky or seasonal flavors. Each gelato is displayed behind a lovely, curved glass gelati case. Several of the flavors were common — Vanilla, Choc Mint, Coffee, Gianduia, Mango, etc. —  but most were not. Some examples:

  • Coconut & Lychee – coconut milk gelato with lychee fruit
  • Banana Split – caramel and banana gelato with peanuts and whipped cream
  • Pear & Rhubarb – pear gelato with poached spiced rhubarb
  • Salted Coconut and Mango Salsa (vegan sorbet!)

I regret not taking photos of the stunning gelati cakes on display at Messina. There were many to choose from, and I thought the prices (most around 45 USD) were reasonable for such works of art. Here’s an example from their website:

Understandably, we had a difficult time deciding what to order. The guys decided to opt out, claiming they were “full.” But we all know that I don’t have such willpower. I did, however, limit myself to one flavor, choosing a single-scoop of one of the weekly specials: Christmas Pudding. I’ve missed the classic Aussie treat since going gluten-free, but Messina’s version was clearly marked as not containing gluten. I couldn’t pass it up! My mother-in-law chose Caramelised White Chocolate while Rangi went with Apple Pie. (Side note: apple pie is highly unusual in Australia. Rangi first tried it at my parent’s house in MA just last last year!)

Our three single-scoops came to about $10 USD, which I thought was pretty good.

IMG_6823

L to R: Apple Pie, Caramelised White Chocolate, Christmas Pudding

The verdict? This is my type of gelato! All three scoops were thick and creamy, frozen to just the right temperature. My Christmas Pudding tasted exactly as it was advertised: “brandy, candied fruit, and brown sugar gelato.” First to hit my taste buds was the deep, molasses-like flavor of brown sugar, but the aftertaste was strong brandy. Not for the faint of heart! Unlike the classic dessert, the candied fruit in this gelato was shaved into tiny bits. This made for a smooth, yet slightly interesting, texture.  My mother-in-law  thoroughly enjoyed her Caramelised White Chocolate. I stole a bite, and it definitely had a more complex  flavor than traditional white chocolate ice cream. Rangi’s Apple Pie was the real show-stopper. It was all the goodness of homemade spiced apple pie à la mode in a single scoop of gelato. Gelato Messina’s apple gelato is mixed with real apple pie! I took a tiny bite, carefully avoiding the chunks of pie crust (which Rangi confirmed were buttery and crunchy, but not gluten-free!). The apple gelato was sweet and heavily spiked with cinnamon, and the bits of apple from the pie were soft and delicious.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by Gelato Messina. In my opinion, this gelato is worth the hype!

The Stats:
Gelato Messina
Multiple locations – 6 in Sydney, and 1 in Melbourne
(I visited the Melbourne store in Fitzroy)
http://www.gelatomessina.com/

Liks Ice Cream – Denver’s Neighborhood Gem

I cannot believe it’s the middle of December already. Wasn’t Halloween last week?

Several weeks ago (but feels like two days ago), I made my annual pilgrimage to Denver, Colorado for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). It was my sixth year in a row attending the festival, and I swear it gets better every year. The GABF brings beer lovers from around the world to sample over 2,000 different American brews. And for those who are gluten-sensitive like me, there’s plenty of gluten-free brews to try.

K and I stayed with our close friend Elysia, who lives with her Great Dane pup in a charming apartment in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. On Sunday morning, K jumped in a cab  to catch an early flight back to Seattle. My DC-bound plane didn’t take off until the evening, giving me Elysia and me a full afternoon of “girl time.” We decided to take the pup on a long walk around the neighborhood. Plenty of people had the same idea, as it was an unseasonably-warm fall afternoon. IMG_6454After walking around the neighborhood, a girl gets hungry. Luckily, Elysia knew just the place for a quick sugar fix: Liks Ice Cream.

A neighborhood institution since 1976, Liks Ice Cream appears to have quite the fan base. I was shocked to see so many people enjoying ice cream on the outside patio in the middle of fall. And I was likely one of the few tourists around, as Liks is a bit off the beaten tourist tracks of Denver. Plenty of families and dog-owners were relaxing in the sunshine and enjoying delicious-looking homemade ice creams.

IMG_6455IMG_6456Inside, Liks Ice Cream continues its neighborhood-y vibe, with colorful decor, laminate tabletops and a no-frills counter.  Featured prominently on the wall was a chalkboard listing the available ice cream flavors.

IMG_6493 IMG_6457Like any great neighborhood ice-cream joint, Liks’ flavors run the gamut from the “safe” (i.e. Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry) to the kid-approved (i.e. Cotton Candy and Yellow Cake), to the trendy (i.e. Salty Butter Caramel or Maple Bacon Fudge). There are even a couple options for the vegan or lactose-intolerant crowd, like the Pomegranate Sorbet. And once you’ve decided on your flavors, you can order a cup, regular cone, homemade waffle cone, homemade dipped waffle cone, sundae, milkshake, malt or a float. Phew, that’s a LOT of options!

After quite a bit of deliberation, I ordered a double scoop of Cinnamon and Coconut Peanut Brittle. Elysia went with a cup of S’Mores and Salty Butter Caramel. I thought the prices (little over $4 for a double) were fairly reasonable for a city.

IMG_6458

Coconut Peanut Brittle (L) and Cinnamon (R)

IMG_6459

Salty Butter Caramel (L) and S’Mores (R)

The verdict? Liks’ ice cream is just what good old-fashioned ice cream should be: thick, creamy, and flavorful. The Cinnamon was fantastic; the perfect blend of vanilla and cinnamon made for a refreshing and addicting treat. I’d be happy eating the Cinnamon again and again… and it would pair perfectly with a slice of pumpkin or apple pie.  The Coconut Peanut Brittle wasn’t what I was expecting but it was nonetheless a delight to eat! I was expecting coconut ice cream with peanut brittle bits, but this tasted more like creamy vanilla with bits of toffee and peanuts inside. The bits weren’t very crunchy, but they had great flavor. I had no problem polishing off my cup. I also took a bite (or two!) of Elysia’s Salty Butter Caramel, which was creamy and buttery. Liks’ version is less salty than many versions I’ve tried — in a good way! The salt accentuated (not overpowered) the caramel flavor. While I didn’t try the S’Mores (due to my gluten intolerance), Elysia reported that while the graham flavor was too subtle, the marshmallows were “perfection.”

While Liks Ice Cream might not be the fanciest or trendiest, its friendly vibe and good old-fashioned ice cream makes it a real neighborhood gem.

The Stats:
Liks Ice Cream
2039 East 13th Avenue
Denver, CO 80206
http://www.liksicecream.com/

Mexican Flavors at Santa Clara

This fall, I had an opportunity to spend a weekend with K in Mexico City. K had to spend a week there for work, so I accompanied him for the first couple days. I’d never been to Mexico before and wasn’t sure what to expect. While I’d heard that Mexico City has a reputation for being hot, crowded and polluted, I found the city to be vibrant, beautiful, and – yes- crowded!

K and I stayed at the W Hotel, which is located in a quieter residential neighborhood called Polanco. We didn’t mind being further away from the downtown action, as UberX rides were incredibly cheap and easy. We fit a lot into my day-and-a-half in Mexico City; we visited the Frida Kahlo Museum, drank horchatas and wandered the stalls of the Mercado de Coyoacán, and wandered around the Zócalo. We also had one of the best meals of my life at Pujol. In fact, nearly everything we ate in Mexico City blew me away. It was not only cheap, but everything was fresh and flavorful. Gosh, what I wouldn’t give for a street taco right now…

El Madero

El Madero

On Saturday afternoon, K and I were walking along the pedestrian-only Francisco I. Madero Avenue when I spotted yet another Santa Clara ice cream and dairy shop. I’d begun to notice the chain earlier in the day, when I saw someone exiting a shop in a different part of town with a cone of colorful ice cream. I later learned that Santa Clara has around 160 ice cream stores around Mexico, making it one of the country’s most popular and historic (opened in 1924!) dairy companies. With our dinner reservation still hours away, I figured a bit of local ice cream was in order.

Entrance of Santa Clara

Entrance of Santa Clara

Santa Clara shops are bright and playful-looking (that cute cow logo!), and the Mexico City locations seemed to be popular at all times of day. This location’s storefront was entirely open to the pedestrians street, and it was the long, colorful ice-cream case that ultimately drew me in. Made with domestic Mexican dairy products, Santa Clara churns out dozens of flavors — from the favorites you can find around the globe, like Napolítano, Tiramisú and Fresa (strawberry), to some  local ones like Piñón (pine nut) and Chamoy (based on the popular Chamoy condiment made from pickled fruit).

IMG_6383In the end, I decided to get a double-scoop cup filled with Tequila and Queso con Cereza (cheese and cherry). Both sounded refreshing and interesting. My cup ended up costing the equivalent of $5 USD.

IMG_6384 IMG_6385 IMG_6390The verdict? While I had high expectations for this ice cream (particularly the boozy one), I was a bit underwhelmed. While the Tequila  had an alcohol-tasting aftertaste, the cream and sugar overpowered it. But its flavor was better than the Queso con Cervesa, which sadly tasted entirely artificial and sugary — like those little cups of strawberry ice cream you can get in 12 packs at the grocery store.  And the ice cream base tasted like plain vanilla ice cream — not like the cheesecake advertised on the flavor’s label. What was most interesting about this ice cream was the fluffy and light texture, which reminded me of frozen mousse… So I bet the chocolate flavors would be good! I think Santa Clara is worth another shot, if not for the fun atmosphere and the ice cream’s interesting texture. I just have to find an excuse to get back to Mexico City!

IMG_6393

Tequila on top, Queso con Cereza

The Stats:
Santa Clara
Paseo Francisco I. Madero #56
Cuauhtémoc
06000 Mexico, D.F.
https://www.santaclara.com.mx/principal.asp

Pozzetto: Italian Gelato in the Heart of Paris

The last stop of our honeymoon brought us to the City of Lights. K and I had been to Paris before, but not with each other. When I visited during my semester abroad (which I spent in Madrid), I was struck by the old-world beauty and charm of Paris.  Of course, my girlfriends and I were staying in a cheap hostel room of questionable cleanliness and eating cheap meals at McDonalds (I still shudder to think of that). So it was such a treat to return to Paris with a bit more money in my pocket and my new husband at my side.

We had a lovely couple days in Paris. We took a great boat tour down the Seine River, relaxed by the Eiffel Towel, strolled along the Champs Élysées, and explored just a corner of the Louvre (I forgot how massive that museum is!). And we spent a LOT of time eating and drinking. Macaroons, foie gras, and fries, oh my!

In the spirit of exploring the tastes of Paris, I went in search of some local ice cream. Like in many European cities, ice cream in Paris is actually Italian-style gelato. And while an internet search will yield a dozen different gelaterías, it was a slightly lesser-known shop that caught my attention: Pozzetto. Why? For the simple fact that one of my favorite food bloggers of all time, David Lebovitz called it “the best gelato in Paris.”

Located on an idyllic street in the Marais historic district, Pozzetto is an adorable shop with a service window where pedestrians can grab an ice cream or cappuccino to go. I read that you can expect a long line during the summer, but it was pretty quiet on this weekday afternoon.

IMG_6332 IMG_6335 IMG_6331After walking around the Eiffel Tower and the Marais neighborhood, K and I were more than ready to rest our feet at one of the tables inside. Pozzetta has very limited seating indoors, but the vibe is so romantic and Parisian that it would be worth a wait on a busier day. (And for you coffee-lovers out there, Pozzetto is well-known for their espressos. Several Parisians were lingering over cups when K and I were there.)

Pozzetta offers about a dozen flavors of gelato and sorbetto. The inside menu features a couple sundae (“coppa”) options. Everything is made in small batches daily, so there’s no need to worry about freezer burns here.

IMG_6336My French abilities are laughable, so I couldn’t understand half of the flavor names. I saw several chocolate options, including Gianduia di Pottezzo (hazelnut-chocolate) and Stracciatella. But Cioccolato Fondente (dark chocolate) sounded too good to pass up.

I wanted to try a second flavor; Pistacchio del re di Sicilia is what Pozzetto is known for, but I was drawn towards a more refreshing sorbetto (which is made with real fruit). Of the three options, Fragola (strawberry) seemed like it would go best with dark chocolate.

We paid about 7 euros for a double scoop with table service. A bit pricey, since the same serving size cost about 5 euros at the take-out window. But I was in need of a respite from the hot afternoon sun, and the table was definitely worth a 2 euro premium.

IMG_6334

How cute is this bowl?

The verdict? Wow. Pozzetto is the real deal. Their gelato was thick, sticky and very flavorful. The Cioccolato Fondente was the real star of the show; rich but not too filling or sweet. It was almost like frozen dark-chocolate mousse.  I could eat this every day. The Fragola was also delicious. Strawberry ice cream or sorbet can often be artificial-tasting and icey, but Pozzetto’s creamy version is made with fresh ingredients and it shows. These two flavors complemented each other beautifully — it was even better than a dark-chocolate covered strawberry. If you’re in Paris, I’d highly recommend swinging by Pozzetto for an afternoon pick-me-up. Their gelato is as good as any of the famous gelatarías in Italy, but the experience is uniquely Parisian.

The Stats:
Pozzetto
39 rue du roi de Sicile
Paris, France 75004
(2nd location: 16 Rue Vieille du Temple)
www.pozzetto.biz/