Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Departing on a Sweet Note: Ice Creamy Memories

I'll have two scoops of "tuna-taco-baked potato" please.
image credit

We will soon be on our way to the land of my birth - Mexico! Mexico! Mexico! - for Roman's first visit to the American continent and our first back there since before we even got married! As I probably (well, definitely) won't be blogging while away, I thought I'd write an entry about a food dear to my heart that will leave things on a very sweet note until my return: ice cream.

There are many things I could write about with regards to ice cream. I've had a love affair with the food since very early on - eating lime sorbet or cheese ice cream in Mexico as just a little kid. Matt is flat-out obsessed with it and eats it every chance he gets, and it was the very first food Roman ever tried just a couple of weeks ago. But the story that won out in the end for me has little to do with my own childhood. I'll get to that in a minute, but in the meantime here are the top 5 other ice cream memories I kinda wanted to share but will do so only in condensed form.

* * *

Top 5 Other Ice Cream Stories I Wanted to Tell
(and apparently still am)

5. Ode to Green Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Ever since I can remember, my favorite ice cream flavor has been Mint Chocolate Chip. I love mint. I love chocolate chips. And I LOVE all things green.

Sometime in my 24th year, while living in NYC, I decided it was a good idea to try out this all-natural super posh mint chocolate chip ice cream. Along with the whole "natural" shtick came the fact that there were no artificial colorings, which meant the ice cream was cream-colored.

I don't care what anybody says - it's not mint chocolate chip if it's not green.

4. It's Never a Good Time for Thyme Ice Cream
In this life I believe it is true that we have all (and by "we" I mean "me") had our moments of valiantly well-meaning-but-shockingly-bad experimentation in the name of broadening our culinary horizens.

I once had olive oil ice cream at the super-hyped-up (and kinda not worth it) Sea Grill in New York, and truly felt that at that moment, no hyper modern culinary agenda or avant-garde reputation could excuse or justify what was going on in my mouth. Despite my experience with non-ice-cream-worthy ingredients, I went ahead and made Thyme Ice Cream two years ago.

Matt looked so happy when I told him I'd made ice cream. What followed - the extreme depressed and ego-bashing look he gave me when I told him what kind it was - was enough to shame me into "keeping it simple, stupid."

3. Matt and The Croatian Pinocchio
One of the more interesting things my husband has ever done was worked as the first mate on someone's personal sail boat and sailed through the Italian Riviera and all over the Dalmatian Coast. Eating his way through every imaginable variation of the non-imaginative Croatian "mixed grill and french fries," Matt often looked forward to the dessert more than the meal. He got an ice cream cone at every port. (Yes, you could kind of call him a promiscuous ice cream eater.)

One warm night in Stari Grad, Matt and his boss ventured to the local - empty - gelato joint, where the ice cream man posed a seemingly innocent question: Do you want a pinocchio (and then he winked)?

He then proceeded to make Matt what can only be described as a web of ice cream cones. When finished, the Pinocchio looked like a giant sculptural fan of cones and balls - nearly 24 cones and 30 ice cream balls later, Matt walked out to a cheering crowd, ice cream dribbling down his hand and arm, eating as fast as he could. Sadly, nobody but the anonymous other tourists got a picture of that moment.

2. Häagen-Dazs: The Tasty Deception
While in Brussels recently, Matt and I spotted a Häagen-Dazs. Having always wondered where the delectably pure ice cream of the posh originated I said "Hey! I bet it's Belgian. Let's go get some."
I was met by a skeptical look from the husb, who retored with: "There's no way it's Belgian. That is not Dutch." Nevertheless, I was further egged on in my rationale regarding HD being Belgian because, as I gently reminded Matt, HD actually makes a sinfully delicious flavor called "Belgian Chocolate" which is only sold in Europe (As a sidenote, if you haven't had it, you should really strive for that experience).

But before I could go grab some vanilla deliciousness, Matt whipped out the Blackberry to settle the HD debate once and for all. He looked up the Wikepedia article on Häagen-Dazs, and crazy disillusionment ensued. And I quote:

"Contrary to appearances, the name does not derive from any of the North Germanic languages; it is simply two made-up words meant to look Scandinavian to American eyes (in fact, the digraphs "äa" and "zs" are not a part of any native words in any of the Scandinavian languages). This is known in the marketing industry as foreign branding. Mattus included an outline map of Scandinavia on early labels, as well as the names of Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm, to reinforce the Scandinavian theme. A name was created by reversing the name of Duncan HinesHuncan-Dines (""), an original potential marketer of the product. When that deal didn't materialize the name was, misguidedly, manipulated to sound Scandinavian (it actually sounds Austro-Hungarian)."

Screw you Häagen-Dazs for manipulating me into believing you were an aesthetically genius, exotic creation of the gentle Scandinavian wilderness and/or the quaintness of a Belgian creamery. You have broken my vanilla-loving heart! Well, not really, because I'll still continue to pay a super-premium price for your ice cream cause it's that damn good. :D

Not exactly sure why "the joke's on them" but it kinda is.

1. Roman's First Food: Pineapple Vanilla Ice Cream Popsicle
Please don't lecture me on how newborns aren't supposed to eat ice cream - I know. One day this July I was feasting on a delicious pineapple popsicle - you know, the kind with ice cream in the middle. It was at this fateful moment that Roman decided to show us he was "ready" for solids by launching himself head-first into my popsicle and maniacally trying to grab it with his open mouth.

How could I possibly say no to the desperate plea of a fellow foody? :)

Honorable Mention: Ice Cream With Balls

I laughed in her face when my friend Sandra asked me a couple of years ago if I had an Ice Cream Ball when I told her I'd just made fudgecicle ice cream for Matt.

Little did I know, there is actually such a thing as a ball you "throw around the room" to make the ice cream. In fact I now know this very well, because she sent me a nice big green one for my birthday that very year. It has come in handy while here in London, since our super-nice cuisinart is in storage back in the states. Not to mention, it's a very appealing "ice breaker" at parties. :)

* * *

Bleezer's Ice Cream
today's "official" story

Roman has taken to waking up at 5:30am and not going back to sleep. After about a half hour of his incessant noise-making and leg flailing, and in order to keep my sanity, I tend to guilt Matt into waking up and taking him downstairs to play. Sometimes he puts him in his jungle play mat. Sometimes he reads him The Gruffalo. Sometimes he taunts Roman by eating cereal in front of him.

Today, though, Matt went out on a limb. Rather than singing "I Could Walk 500 Miles" or some random and rather annoying Dave Matthews song, he decided to take a step back into his own child's mind's eye (does that make sense?!) with a crazy little poem he read in third grade.

After getting more giggles and positive eyebrow raises from Roman than he'd ever hoped, he decided it was a good idea to wake me up by reading it to me as well. Sadly, I was in a sleepy stupor and forgot all about it until suddenly at noon today while walking down the street I blurted out: Tuna Taco Baked Potato Ice Cream?! What the hell?!

In the name of all that is frozen, creamy and tasty - here is the zaniest ice cream poem you'll ever read. I've highlighted the ones that I think sound decent. :) Which would you dare to try?

* * *

Bleezer's Ice Cream

by Jack Prelutsky

I am Ebenezer Bleezer,
there are flavors in my freezer
you have never seen before,
twenty-eight divine creations
too delicious to resist,
why not do yourself a favor,
try the flavors on my list:









I am Ebenezer Bleezer,
taste a flavor from my freezer,
you will surely ask for more.

* * *

Matt is a "Peach Pimento Pizza Plum" kinda guy.

An ice-cream-eating family self-portrait.
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Friday, August 14, 2009

3 (7?) Years of Wonderful Madness and Going Strong...!

Zorbing: the impossible dream come true.
Now onto building that London-wide water slide...

Matt and I met one fateful day in Rome, seven years ago, almost to the day. Of those seven years, we have been married, as of August 12th, three. In those three years of marital bliss, we have done lots of random and wonderful things together.

As a couple we don't generally indulge in the exchanging of traditional anniversary gifts, by which I mean that I have never gotten a vacuum cleaner or a heart-shaped box of chocolates, and he's never gotten a grill or a new set of socks. I didn't get him leather this year and he didn't get me crystal last year. And I am happy to say that, despite my appreciation for both
flowers and chocolates, we are both a little more creative with the things we give each other. This year in particular I have to take a moment to discuss the awesome, insane and random gift I received.

* * *

*scooby-doing flashback dance
à la
Wayne's World*

My Dream to Zorb.
or the coolest anniversary gift ever (yet)

Back in the days of fat-hobbitiness (read: pregnancy), I spent a whole lot of time sitting on our faux leather couch (hey, it came with the flat - don't hate.) watching bad British television. Besides annoying our neighbors with my incessant screaming at Noel Edmonds the Paisley-clad freak of Deal or No Deal (the most ridiculously pointless show on earth), I also got to know and love a whole lot of random British commercials (to check out my favorites, go here).

One of those commercials featured something that, like the water-slide-from-work-to-home Barclays commercial, I thought was fake and probably impossible, but genuinely and fervently longed to indulge in with all my heart:

Sadly, I will not have random, fat, Bingo addicts pushing me down the street in my zorb.

I brought this up to Matt, made him watch the commercial, and declared that if I didn't have a little person in my belly, I would jump into one of those human-hamster-balls and roam the streets of London. Matt did not share my dream to bound down the steps of the National Gallery in a giant plastic orb meant to be a bingo ball, but hey, I never said he was perfect.

Anyway, on our anniversary the other day Matt showed up with a bouquet of pink lillies (unopened blossoms, of course, because the gift is so much nicer when the flowers bloom for you at home) and an envelope. Inside the mystery envelope was a certificate for a day of Zorbing and on the certificate a picture of my beloved human-hamster-ball.

Yes, it's called Zorbing and it apparently originated as a "team-building" extreme sport in the land of extreme sports: New Zealand (it doesn't get more random than that).

Here in the UK there is "harness zorbing" in which two people are harnessed into a Zorb ball facing each other, or "hydro zorbing" in which two buckets worth of water are thrown into the Zorb and you bounce around freely (or with other people if you so desire). Matt was extra cool and got me a go at both kinds. I am particularly excited about doing the hydro-zorbing on my own, because there is a chance I could win a free t-shirt if I manage to run down the entire zorbing hill without falling. Somehow I doubt I'll make it more than two feet, and will probably end up gasping for air with water up my nose and a new-age hairdo, but right now that sounds like heaven to me.

Here's to three years of wonderful madness and many more to come. :)

* * *

More Zorbing Videos


The Zorbing Anthem

not even kidding, the guy with the midget banjo FUH-reaks me out (wait for it!).

Unadulterated madness.

Yes, my friends, that will soon be me.

*virtual raising of the roof*
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Thursday, August 6, 2009

So Chic en Belgique (Part II)

A Brusselian street:
visions of cobblestones still dance in my head.

London bridge is falling down. And it's raining cats and dogs.

Well, no, it's not - London bridge is in Arizona and all the cats and dogs are safe and sou
nd. But it might as well be with all the other absurd things happening around here.
Among them:
- London is STILL freakin' hot
- London has also become ridiculously HUMID (I thought I left Texas for a reason?).
- And yet, it's raining like hell the night before I embark on my first camping trip since Girl Scout days

Oh, the irony. But, I am not here to talk about our upcoming camping trip in the English countryside (that's for a later post!) -
I'm here to finish reporting on the beautiful madness that was our super-cool (said with a Belgian-French accent) trip to Belgium. It's good to have an extra week or so to digest one's travel experiences before fully spewing them onto the virtual word-canvas that is the blogosphere. So without further ado, part II of So Chic en Belgique. :) Brace yourselves - this is a long one.

* * *

The Chicness That is Belgiqueness
(in anecdote form):
Parts IV-VII
or, when in Bruges, leave your kids at the hotel

IV. The Much-Hyped Bruges: No Dogs, err, Kids Allowed.
We had heard so much good about Bruges. So much good and so little bad, in fact, that I have to admit I started to wonder how a place could be so absolutely wonderous. Bruges this, Bruges that, did you see the movie? oh the beauty! oh the sights! Yadda yadda. I was predictably skeptical.

Architecture in Bruges;
for some reason they make me think of mustard and horseradish.

Getting there from Brussels sounded easier than it was - probably because the people who told us about it traveled without an infant in tow. An hour long train ride with everyone and their mother-in-law-with-a-bad-leg on which there are no reserved or assigned seats: not exactly ideal. On the local trains it's first come first sit, so it was a miracle we nabbed seats at all; the aisles were entirely full of the standing and perturbed. And despite having a baby in his arms, Matt still got glares for not giving up his seat. (Gee, I wonder why the two 15 year old boys in front of us listening to their iPods didn't give up theirs? Bitter? Me? Never!) Mean glares for papa bear. Strike one.

Our arrival into Bruges;
getting a seat on a crowded train makes me want to click my heels.

Anyway, we made it to Bruges eventually and managed to somehow still be in high spirits.

First stop (at my request) was a little tea room I'd looked up rumored to have the best hot (Belgian) chocolate in town: Tea-Room De Proeverie. It took a little walking, but we finally came to it and found it to be a beautifully quaint little place nestled just outside the medieval center of Bruges. It was empty but for two or three people sitting inside, and at the entrance were two seemingly cheerful people making delicious looking chocolate creations of some sort.

I all but cart-wheeled inside, almost maniacally chomping at the proverbial bit. It was warm outside and as a rule I don't drink
hot chocolate anyway, but this hot chocolate was too good to pass up because it was the kind where they give you an actual piece of chocolate which you then dip and swirl in the hot milk to create your own drink. (Kind of childish to still love doing that, but hey, life is too short to be a snoot.) Weather and general dislike of hot chocolate be damned*, we waltzed inside. I'd just requested a table when the chocolate-making-waitress spotted Matt and Roman, and therefore, the stroller. Her smile disappeared and she warned me that if we couldn't fold the stroller and put it behind their door, we wouldn't be served. There was nobody in the place, and plenty of room for the stroller (which is not very big to begin with). When I told her the baby was sleeping and we couldn't fold it up, she shrugged and said they couldn't serve us. We were literally turned out. Wth? No hot chocolate for mama bear. Strike two.

Next stop: De Vlaamsche Pot. Because of all the hype surrounding Bruges and its picturesqueness, I made it a point to try to find the absolute perfect restaurant at which to have a late lunch / early dinner before we headed back to Brussels. I wanted something quaint, traditional but with a real Flemish flair, something with that certain ne sais quoi. :) After much internet research and pouring over what seemed like every restaurant review out there, I fell in love with De Vlaamsche Pot.

Spotless, tastefully decorated, and boasting what was hailed by many a visitor as the best, most authentic Flemish Beef Stew in Bruges, I decided it was the place for us. Armed with their address
and phone number, we made our way over at around 5pm for a very early dinner (perfect timing for catching an 8pm train back to Brussels). To get there we had to fight our way through a swarm of European tourists so thick the sidewalks were almost completely invisible. Silly people stopping every two feet to buy another chocolate or postcard masked any antique charm the architecture might have had. Oh, that and the fact that every chain store and restaurant on earth seems to have hit Bruges. (There was a Pizza Hut prominently set up in one of the bigger squares we stopped at. Shame, really.) We eventually came to Helmstraat and our restaurant.

De Vlaamsche Pot is as quaint in person as on the web (if not more). The restaurant looks like a tiny Flemish home, decorated with beautifully rustic and yet somehow modern wooden tables and chairs. The atmosphere is relatively casual, yet adult. Too adult, apparently because prominently displayed on their front entrance was a large sticker with a picture of a stroller and a giant strike through it: no strollers, no children allowed. What is this place? I can understand not allowing children into a Michelin-starred restaurant, or a formal place in the middle of a busy dinnertime, but Bruges seemed to have a complete ban on children and strollers altogether! How did we end up turning into Snoopy in Snoopy Come Home!

I asked the waiter if he was serving dinner and he said yes, happily, excitedly - until he saw the stroller. We were asked to sit outside and given terrible service. He was friendly enough, but we felt so uncomfortable Matt had to get up and walk around the block every time Roman made a noise - and the place was empty except for two other couples, one of which was seated inside! No love for baby bear. Strike three! Bruges officially strikes out in my book.

But enough complaining - the food was awesome. We ordered the Flemish beef stew, which comes out in a not-so-mini mini cauldron with an even mini-er cauldron full of homemade apple sauce. You are given a giant bowl, which the waiter fills with freshly made Belgian Fries, which he brings out in an aluminum frying dish and servers directly onto your plate. You then presumably serve the stew over them. The stew is very sweet, even without the apple sauce. And it goes perfectly with a trappiste. :)

Meaty, morsely deliciousness of the Flemish persuasion. And fries, with which everything in life is better.

Our starter was a homemade pate, which was decent - probably chicken liver. It was served with a confit of onions and some salad and berries. The berries did not necessarily enhance the experience, and neither did the ranch-like dressing. Very odd combo, IMHO.

Dessert was a forgettable berry parfait of some sort. I don't go for that kind of thing. I'm in Belgium. Give me chocolate dammit.

Roman really wants my fries.

So, no, we probably wouldn't go back to Bruges. Yes, it was pretty and quaint - just like they said.
But no place is worth going to that doesn't like the Master of the Forum. Period.

*It is a little known fact about me that one of my greatest fears and worst nightmares is to be caught in a sauna wearing a thick unrefined wool turtle neck sweater while being force-fed really hot hot-chocolate. Because I always think of this ridiculos scenario when offered hot chocolate, I generally don't drink it. Somehow I got past this image as I stood before De Proeverie.

* * *

V. French Baguettes, Fries & Waffles on Steroids (if steroids were a good thing).

Back safe and sound in good old Brussels, Matt and I indulged in the other noteworthy foods ubiquitous in Belgium: baguettes, fries and waffles.

We ate at the same little sandwich shop near the Galerie de la Reine every single day for lunch: De Pistolei. We spotted it because there was always a line out the door and because it had the most gigantic and delicious looking baguettes we'd ever seen. They were easily 4 feet high and prominently displayed in the window. At 3 Euros a pop, it was a cheap and delicious lunch. I don't know what it is about French and Belgian bread, but it has powerfully addictive qualities. The soft, chewy crunchiness (contradictory, I know) it one of the textures I can never get enough of.

The fries in Belgium are unique because they are served with ketchup and mayonnaise. They are also much thicker - more akin to steak fries in the States, yet somehow lighter. They come wrapped in a paper cone and are eaten using a diminutive little pitchfork.
Being that annoying person who loves to eat her ice cream with an espresso spoon or the little flat mini-shovel pre-packaged ice cream often comes with, I am a huge advocate of the midgi-fry-fork. :)

And lastly, the Belgian waffles, or "Gaufres de Liege" as they call them. According to our cab driver (infinitely informative, I warned you), the original Belgian waffles are made with sugar in the batter and therefore not eaten with all of what we perceive to be the "traditional" accoutrement. No chocolate sauce or whipped cream or dribbly strawberry topping.

If you want to be authentic, you eat them plain.

We didn't want to be authentic. :)

* * *

VI. Manneken Pis: The Biggest Waste of Time Ever.

I will waste as little time on this as possible: if you go to Brussels you will be virtually bombarded with random awful souvenirs of a little cherub-like boy, naked, peeing. It's a fountain - much hyped. You'd think it was a masterpiece of art, or a gigantically triumphant celebration of the cherub-form. it is neither. What it is is a ridiculously small fountain on a random corner with a bunch of tourists stupidly taking pictures of it (without knowing why) and then going to buy the even more ridiculous Manneken Pis cork screws (yes, with a cleverly placed screw). Sad, sad, and sad.

Sadder still is tha
t we wasted the time and energy to walk there at all. Well, at least we got was this semi-artsy picture.

* * *

VII. Magritte & Marat: Art in Belgium

I was an art history major and somehow I did not remember that Magritte, Brueghel and Rubens were Flemish and/or Belgian. I also had no idea the much acclaimed "Death of Marat" by David was housed in Brussels. Armed with these facts alone (the last one would have been enough), I chose to devote an entire afternoon on our visit to Brussels to trawling the Musee des Beaux Arts and the Magritte Museum.
It was well worth the 13Euros per person, which gave us access to three museums: The Musee des Beaux Arts, the Ancient Art Museum and the Musee Magritte.

For the record, Death of Marat was worth the trip. That painting is amazing.

Death of Marat
a picture of a picture

a picture of a picture of a picture

I thought the museum excursion might be risky with an infant, but amazingly enough Roman was enthralled by all the colors (notably in the Magritte paintings). He was quiet and cooperative the entire time and he was especially taken by a giant globe made entirely of beetles (I won't start a rant on post-modern art here). There were lots of highlights in the museums, but I have to admit, I probably had more fun taking ridiculous pictures of Matt and Roman. Here are some choice shots:

Roman is clueless that Prometheus is being ripped to shreds behind him. Apparently so is Matt.
Ah, to be a child again. >:)

Deep thought #27.39: does life mimic art or art mimic life?

Good thing, cause I've always wondered what a giant
made entirely of dead beetles would look like.

* * *

Go to Belgium. The end. :)

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