Staying Cool in Kauai – Dessert Edition

It’s only been a couple weeks, but my trip to Hawaii happened ages ago. I’m currently visiting Grandma Edie in Peoria, Illinois, where the warmest it will get today is 24 degrees. It feels weird uploading iPhone photos that were taken on 95-degree days in a tropical paradise. Did this trip even happen?

As my friends and family will tell you, I don’t like hot weather. But for this past New Years Eve holiday, K had his heart set on warmer weather. I was happy enough to go along, but I have to admit that I wasn’t giddy with excitement over his choice of Hawaii. I’d been to Honolulu once before and just remember the heat and crowded beaches. Well, this trip was different.  We spent four days on the island of Kauai, and I left totally in love with it. The island is far less populated than Honolulu (obviously), and the pace of life is slower and calmer. All in all, the ideal environment to relax in.

Surprisingly, there weren’t many standalone ice cream places in Kauai. There are several Lappert’s outposts, but I didn’t make a special effort to get to one since it’s not based on Kauai. Instead, I embraced the Kauaiian lifestyle and took a relaxed approach to satisfying my sweet tooth. Luckily, I had plenty of opportunities to enjoy frozen treats each day. Some were alcoholic, such as frozen margaritas and piña coladas. I wanted to share some of my favorites with you all….

We chose Brennecke’s Beach Broiler for our first dinner on Kauai. K had been there before with his family and thought it was a fun spot. After a long day of travel,  we dropped our bags in our room at the Sheraton Kauai Resort on Po’ipu Beach and took showers before heading out for dinner. After a fun walk on the beach, we arrived at the busy beachfront restaurant. Brennecke’s is colorful and lively,  an institution that’s popular with locals and tourists alike. After a relaxed and yummy dinner (I had fish tacos!), K encouraged me to take a look at the dessert menu. It was a short menu, and only one thing caught my eye: Bob’s Favorite Ice Cream Pie. The description sold me: “Coffee ice cream, macadamia nuts, chocolate fudge & coconut on a chocolate cookie crust.”

IMG_9315 IMG_9316The verdict? I was so glad that we ordered this! While the ice cream itself wasn’t life-changing, the combination of coffee, chocolate, and nuts was quite satisfying. I love macadamia nuts and don’t eat them often, so this was a nice warm cool welcome to Hawaii. Both K and I enjoyed the thick layer of fudge on top of the ice cream, while we ignored the whipped cream (not necessary here). While I ate around the chocolate cookie crust to avoid the gluten, K seemed to enjoy it. The slice was a great size for sharing among 2 or 3 people. Overall, I had a great time at Brennecke’s Beach Broiler and would recommend Bob’s Favorite Ice Cream Pie to those looking for a sweet nightcap.

Our second day in Hawaii might have been my favorite. It was a great blend of relaxing beach time and fun island adventures. K rented us a red convertible, which made simply driving around the island a blast! That afternoon, we visited the Kauai Coffee Company‘s coffee estate (so fun!) before driving up to Waimea Canyon. At the base of the steep drive up to the canyon, we found one of the most famous shave ice stands on Kauai: JoJo’s Shave Ice.

IMG_9309I remember my first shave ice experience, in Honolulu a number of years ago. I’d expected it to be like the  snow cones my sisters and I adored from the neighborhood ice-cream truck. But I was shocked by how ice could be so fluffy and light! Hawaiian shave ice is very fine and absorbs flavors better than the crushed ice I’m used to in a snow cone. Needless to say, I am a fan and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a shave ice in Kauai. And JoJo’s did not disappoint. We visited the original location, but there is another shop on the northern coast of the island.

JoJo’s is a no-frills, authentic shave ice shop. They offer tons of flavors and variations. I must have spent a good 10 minutes reading through all of their signature combinations:

IMG_9311JoJo’s has nearly 60 different flavors, and they  make every syrup in-house. For the ultimate shave ice experience, you should get a scoop of vanilla or macadamia nut ice cream in the bottom of your cup. I was still pretty full from lunch, so I stuck with just ice. In the end, I customized my own shave ice using three of my and K’s favorite Hawaiian flavors: Pineapple, Coconut, and Guava. This 30-ounce cup cost me $4.75.

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From left to right: Pineapple, Coconut & Guava

The verdict? Oh goodness, this totally hit the spot. It’s been years, but this shave ice tasted like the best I’ve ever had! JoJo’s ice shavings are perfectly fine, and there were no big chunks of ice in my entire cup. The ice-to-syrup ratio was perfect, and the flavors did not taste artificial. My favorite was probably Guava, closely followed by Pineapple. The Coconut was yummy, but less pronounced than the other fruity flavors. Overall, this cup was heavenly on this warm Hawaiian afternoon.

Before heading to northeastern Kauai to spend New Year’s Eve at the St. Regis Princeville Resort (which was amazing), K and I enjoyed the most festive meal of the entire vacation at Keoki’s Paradise. This was another place K had already been to, but he knew that it was right down my alley. This place is so HAPPY. Despite being nestled in a shopping center, Keoki’s Paradise feels like another world! This massive open-air restaurant is fully decked-out in Polynesian-style garb — tiki torches everywhere, rustic wooden benches, tropical flowers and trees, and waterfalls. It’s like a grown-up Hawaiian version of the Rainforest Cafe (coming from me, this is a big compliment!).

Dinner was delicious; K and I both ordered the “Chef’s Fresh Catch Duo,” which is two of the day’s freshest fish prepared two ways. Today, it was Mahi-Mahi and Opah, both prepared in different ways, and served with steamed veggies and the most-rich coconut rice. It must have been the first or second time we’ve ever ordered the same meal at a restaurant (with the exception of burgers or steaks), so I got a kick out of it. I ate mindfully, as my mother-in-law (hi, Jan!) had tipped me off about a wonderful mint-chocolate ice cream dessert at Keoki’s.

When the dessert menu arrived, I quickly identified which one Jan had recommended: the Mint Chip Hula Pie. It was listed under Kimo’s Original Hula Pie, which sounded identical to the dessert we’d shared at Brennecke’s! But as it turns out, the “Hula Pie” ice-cream pie concept was originally developed nearly 40 years ago at TS Restaurants, which owns a bunch of restaurants including Keoki’s Paradise. If you’re interested, the Cooking Channel even did a video about it!

IMG_9313 IMG_9314The verdict? Mint chip is one of my favorite ice-cream flavors, so I couldn’t go wrong with this. The slice was massive – probably better for 3 or 4 people to share. I loved the extra fudge sauce, which was at room temperature and didn’t melt the ice cream. The mint-chip ice cream itself wasn’t anything special; it tasted like the typical stuff you get in tubs at the grocery store. But cover it in whipped cream, fudge, and a half-cup of mini chocolate chips, and you’ve got yourself a treat! Still, I have to admit that I preferred the knock-off version of Hula Pie at Brennecke’s. It tasted more “Hawaiian” with the toasted macadamia nuts and coffee flavors.

All in all, I got my fill of frozen treats in Kauai!

The Stats:

Brennecke’s Beach Broiler
2100 Hoone Road
Koloa, HI 96756
www.brenneckes.com

JoJo’s Shave Ice
9734 Kaumualii Highway
Waimea, HI 96796
www.jojosshaveice.com

Keoki’s Paradise
2360 Kiahuna Plantation Drive
Koloa, HI 96756
www.keokisparadise.com

The Best, Worst & Most Unique of 2015

The year 2015 treated me well. It was a challenging year in some regards, but I’m heading into 2016 stronger and happier. Highlights of the past year included ringing in the new year with K and my in-laws in Australia, watching my sister Ava graduate from UCONN, salmon fishing in Alaska, finally visiting the McRae homeland in Scotland, and a “family weekend” in New York City this fall. In August, K and I celebrated a successful first year of marriage. And in December, I officially entered my 30s. There’s a heck of a lot to be grateful for!

Not surprisingly, many of my favorite memories from 2015 involved ice cream. Here is a recap of the best, the worst, and the weirdest ice creams I experienced in 2015. I hope you enjoy!

All-Around Best Ice Cream:
Magic Bar at FoMu Ice Cream (Jamaica Plains, MA)

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Best New Recipe:
Toasted Oat Ice Cream (no-churn!)

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Best Atmosphere:
Lapp Valley Farm (New Holland, PA)

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Worst Ice Cream:
Millions at Waltons Traditional Sweet Shop

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Most Unique Ice Cream:
Chocolate Chip at Greedy Goat (London, U.K.)

Bottom scoop: Chocolate Chip; Top scoop: Salted Caramel

What was your favorite ice cream from 2015?

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/

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.

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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

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

Old-Fashioned Ice Cream & Fun at Seneca Farms

A few weeks ago, K and I joined my family for a long weekend in the Finger Lakes wine region. Located in Upstate New York, the Finger Lakes are a group of eleven long and narrow lakes that resemble human fingers on a map. The Finger Lakes are known for their wine, especially their crisp whites like Rieslings, and have become a popular tourist destination.

Fingerlakesmap(Source)

My dad has known about the Finger Lakes for a while, as a close friend from his study abroad time on Cape Cod (my dad is Australian) used to live in the area. Now that us sisters are of legal-drinking age, we have driven out to the Finger Lakes a couple times to take advantage of the wineries. The first time, my youngest sister Ava couldn’t make the trip so we vowed to return with her in tow one day. This was the year we made it happen. My family (including K and Ava’s boyfriend) rented a house on Keuka Lake and spent two full days driving from winery to winery, sampling the surprisingly good wines and meads. My favorite wineries included Heron Hill, the Thirsty Owl, and Belhurst Castle. Other highlights of the trip included cheese tastings at the Muranda Cheese Company, playing cornhole outside of the Ithaca Beer Co. taproom, and Saturday night’s dinner at Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca Lake.

IMG_7918Sunday ended up being an exceptionally warm day, so I successfully lobbied our group to stop at Seneca Farms for ice cream. It was located down the road from our rental house in Penn Yan, New York. We knew it must be popular, judging from the full parking lot, cars in the drive-through, and plenty of families sitting beneath a pavilion out back. The signage by the road advertised not only ice cream, but food as well (apparently, it is quite well-known for its fried chicken).

IMG_7919Seneca Farms is separated into two sections, with the ice cream parlor in front and the restaurant in back. We made a beeline into the front section of the building. And inside, Seneca Farms felt like a blast from the past, with old Coca-Cola memorabilia and retro furniture and furnishings. Which made perfect sense when I learned that Seneca Farms has been family owned and operated since 1950.

IMG_7920 Colorful ice cream menus featured a few dozen flavors of homemade ice cream, plus a rotating selection of frozen custard and soft serve. Beyond the normal ice cream flavors  like Chocolate, Strawberry, and Mint Chocolate Chip, there were other Northeast favorites like Grasshopper, Deer TracksWhite Mountain Raspberry, and Maple Walnut.

The frozen custard flavors were limited to Vanilla, Chocolate, Twist, or the rotating specialty flavor.  This particular day, the special was Peanut Butter (you can check the “Custard Calendar” here for current specialty flavors).

IMG_7921You can turn any flavor into a sundae, shake, float, or flurry. But we kept things simple with cones… Especially since Seneca Farms offers gluten-free cones free of charge!

I went with a small gluten-free cone of Peanut Butter frozen custard with rainbow sprinkles for an added crunch. The sprinkles turned out to be quite patriotic! Ava ordered a small cup of the same custard (not pictured here), plus a cone of Salted Caramel Nut for my dad and Pistachio for mom. We promptly took them outside to enjoy in the sunshine.

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Small Peanut Butter frozen custard in a gluten-free cone… with patriotic sprinkles

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Small cones of Salted Caramel and Pistachio

The verdict? Everyone happily polished off their ice creams! The Peanut Butter frozen custard tasted like the filling in my grandma-in-law’s famous peanut butter pie (which is similar to this recipe). The custard was a bit more dense and rich than regular soft serve, and the peanut butter flavor was strong but not overwhelming. Ava pointed out that there were even teeny-tiny specks of peanuts throughout our custard, and she later proclaimed her cup as “maybe the best soft serve” she’s ever had! I agreed that it was top-notch. I also stole a bite of my mom’s Pistachio and dad’s Salted Caramel. While the latter was nothing special (too sugary and not salty enough), mom’s scoop of Pistachio was flavorful and studded with bits of real pistachios. It reminded me of my grandfather (my mom’s dad), who seemed to always have a half-gallon of pistachio ice cream in his freezer. When we visited him as kids, it was either pistachio ice cream or no ice cream. So I learned to love the flavor as a youngster.

Overall, I think Seneca Farms is a lovely place to enjoy good old-fashioned ice cream (or frozen custard!) in a fun environment.

The Stats:
Seneca Farms
2485 Rt. 54A
Penn Yan, NY 14527
http://senecafarmsny.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.

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Coconut Peanut Brittle (L) and Cinnamon (R)

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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/

The Best, Worst & Weirdest of 2013

Happy 2014!

As the first week of the new year comes to an end, I thought I’d take the time to post a recap of the standout ice creams of 2013. I explored a lot of new places and took on new challenges with my ice-cream maker, so it was certainly a successful year in blogging 🙂

While I enjoyed countless ice creams in 2013, below is a recap of the best, the worst, and the weirdest ones. Hope you enjoy this little trip down memory lane…

All-Around Best Ice Cream:

Best New Recipe:
Best Atmosphere:
Worst Ice Cream:
Weirdest Ice Cream:
What were YOUR favorites of 2013?