Sunday, May 31
We All Scream: My Life in Ice Cream
If I'm not mistaken, tomorrow is the first of June (see how sharp I am?) Pretty soon here, we're gonna have to stop denying that it's summer (or nearly so, for those of you who are sticklers for that whole equinox, "official date" thing). And summer means one thing, my friends. Ice cream.
But before I slide down that long slippery decadent slide into cold creamy reverie, I have to stop for a moment, and give credit where credit is due.
As you know, I've been known to be occasionally critical of various facets of my current state of residence, which is really a lot more about my affection for other places than my disaffection with here. But there is one thing about Boston that just doesn't exist anywhere else. Ice cream.
No, that's not what I mean. I know there's ice cream in other places. Lots of it. Some that's really really good.
But here's the thing, especially for those of you who have never visited the deep dark blue state of Massachusetts, where for five years now same sex couples have been able to dreamily gaze at one another over ice cream with the full endorsement of the state, even though we're not really a state, we're a commonwealth, which is pretty much lost on me. People in Boston eat ice cream--lots of it--all the time. Year round. When it's snowing out, when it's blustering, when it's pouring, when it's hot, when the leaves turn, pretty much anytime...there is a line at the ice cream store. It's not really a summer thing at all, with the exception of some small regional ice cream shops that close up for the winter, which kinda blows my premise here, but I don't really care.
Yeah. Really. Anytime. And it's GOOD ice cream. It's effin' amazing, and I just want to say up front (yeah, I know, too late) that I love that.
So back to June. And ice cream. And reverie.
Gladly. Thanks for reminding me.
Last night, I went to see the new Pixar movie, Up. I liked Dug (I thought it was Doug, but I love that it's not) the best, for what that's worth. Cute movie. My only regret is that I saw it in Boston, rather than in the San Francisco Bay Area. Why? Well, for the riotous applause moment. Because one of the finest moments of the film was, well, lost on the audience here. Aside from Dug, my favorite moment--the one that made me smile for days (well, it's only been about 12 hours so far, but I think it's gonna last, you can check in with me later)--was the ice cream reference (don't worry, I'm not spoiling anything). I think I smiled so big that I laughed out loud, which probably made the people around me (we were surrounded by recent masters degree graduates from MIT, one of whom worked on the film--we cheered for his 37 frames) think I was nuts (or wonder what they missed). There they were, the main characters, sitting on the sidewalk, counting red and blue cars (cars of color?), enjoying their Fentons ice cream cones (there were actually two, count 'em two, references to Fentons). And the sign was even the real Fentons sign.
If you haven't seen the movie yet, check it out.
My favorite memory of Fentons which is most famous for its sundaes, like this banana split,
was when a whole group of us stopped at Fenton's on our way home from a three day whitewater rafting trip in the Sierras. We sat at those old fashioned tables, and ate ourselves silly. Good times.
And then there's the stuff of memory. For me, it's a place called Peggy Lee's. Was a place called Peggy Lee's. (by the way, I would pay good cash for a photograph of Peggy Lee's--I am so far convinced that one does not exist anywhere in the world). It was on Laurel Street in San Carlos, California, next to Morrissey Liquors and near the intersection of White Oak Way. This is the building, now, after multiple facelifts--Peggy Lee's closed more than 30 years ago. Peggy Lee's was where the yellow building is.
It was a nearly religious hangout for all the kids in my neighborhood when I was in elementary school--everyone was there, sitting on the old aluminum lidded ice cream chests, and buying penny candy, which was (gasp) actually a penny. The scoopers were a mother and son--his name was Vince, but I can't remember her name. I wish I could. I used to get root beer slushes, mint chip ice cream dipped in chocolate (that was my dad's favorite too) and sometimes blue bubble gum ice cream with pieces of colored gum balls in it. Not too long ago, when I reconnected with a childhood friend (hiya, Marc) via the wonders of the internet, this was one of our first topics of conversation--"I remember blue bubble gum ice cream..." Yeah. You sure do. Me too.
You know, when I started writing this, I don't think I really knew the central place that ice cream seems to play in my history. I'm finding out that I can actually write my bio via ice cream (kinda scary). Let's see.
I met my one and only high school boyfriend at the Baskin-Robbins in San Carlos, which was the only place to go for ice cream after Peggy Lee's closed. No comparison. He worked there. Whoa, what a memory that is. Ew.
There also used to be that Edy's ice cream store in Town and Country shopping center in Palo Alto--real old fashioned place. They called the mint chip "Emerald Isle".
Oh, and of course, Farrells (ohmigod, it still exists) where they had a player piano and much revelry and a Victorian style menu and they made you stand on a chair and sang to you on your birthday and put on a heck of a kids party. I always used to eat a tin roof sundae there, which was vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and spanish peanuts. This is me (dig the blue pointy glasses!) on my ninth or tenth birthday, you can see the tin roof sundae in my hand--the only thing I remember from that party is that this waiter guy scooped some whipped cream off my sundae onto his finger and he was holding it up to my mouth and telling me to lick it off, which is so disgusting and offensive that I can barely even write about it and which I am thinking may be responsible for my becoming a lesbian. :)
Oh, and the really good softies at Fosters Freeze in Menlo Park. Still there too, looks exactly the same, still really good softies, WAY better than DQ, which I think is nasty. Iconic.
Then there's college. This is my college boyfriend (why is he looking at her so adoringly?) and one of my roommates at Mountain High Ice Cream (upstairs, in the loft) in the Russell Shopping Center in Davis, CA, circa 1978 (great restaurant next door that we frequented all the time but I can't remember the name...Bev?). They had wicked good honey vanilla ice cream, which we put carob chips on. Hey, it was the 70's.
I never did quite get the fuss over Buds, which I note is still called "Buds Ice Cream of San Francisco" but which is made in Bangkok. I thought Double Rainbow was a pretty good addition to the market. And there's always gelato, though I think it's overpriced (except for that seasonal pumpkin gelato at Gelato Classico in Palo Alto--nowhere else).
Speaking of Boston (which I wasn't, but I'm trying to bring this whole thing full circle, you understand...stay with me....), when I was in high school, I had the great privilege of visiting Boston (my sister lived here), and frequenting the phenomenon that was Steve's Ice Cream in Somerville. When it was the real Steve's Ice Cream. The stuff (and the place) of legend. Yeah, it was the best thing I had ever had. Lucky for me, it morphed, relatively quietly, into Herrell's some time back now, and although Herrell's never developed the fanatical reputation for mix-ins that Steve's had, it's still my favorite ice cream around. Now there's mostly just toppings (yeah, I know Herrells will mix 'em in, but no one does that anymore--it was required at Steves) Toppings are good, they're fine. It's not the same.
The unfortunate thing is that when you describe the phenomenon of Steve's to people, they say "Oh, like Cold Stone Creamery!" No. Gawd, no. They have terrible ice cream. Gooey-ness is the name of the game, kids. What Steve Herrell calls "low air". Now you're talkin'.
I'm a purist about ice cream. I am about most foods, for that matter. I'm not one of those people who don't like things mixed together, that's not it. I'm just one who doesn't think that weirder is better. Mexican food is mexican food. Vegetables are vegetables. Ice cream is ice cream. That's why, even though people here LOVE Christina's, it's not really my thing. Emack and Bolio's? They pass muster, but only on a couple flavors. Good name though. Of the seasonal places, I like Ericksons, but mostly because of the feeling of a summer ice cream place and the fact that they sell doggie ice cream. Oh, and I didn't talk about Ben and Jerry's. Yeah, they're good. They got the idea from Steve, y'know. Cool factory tour in Vermont.
And of course, a couple of summers ago, I discovered the middle of the country (well, okay, I didn't discover it, it was there all the time. I just went there). And there I discovered frozen custard. Uh-oh. Sheridans. You can even read about it on our trip blog from way back then, which is still up. The post is here. So now I'm also a big fan of frozen custard (especially black raspberry). These days, I get it at The Chilly Cow, whose website, I just discovered, plays music like Ferrell's, which is leaving me a little bit traumatized, but I'll get over it, thanks for your concern.
I told you there was a lot of ice cream in Boston.
And then there's the whole Toscanini's vs Herrell's thing. Geez, it's like the Montagues and the Capulets. I'm not getting into that one here. If you want to discuss it, you know where to find me. But some things are best left alone. Yeah, I know the New York Times calls Toscanini's the "best ice cream in the world". Please to remember: New York is a pizza and bagel town.
Ice cream is important. I've decided this.
It's the stuff of childhood. It's one of those things that's really bad for you that people who never eat bad stuff still seem to eat. It's so good that they even make versions--lots of 'em--for people who don't eat dairy, proving the point that this just may be a food product that people can't live without. My sentiments exactly.
Ice cream has apparently even been the stuff of scandal (scroll down to the marvelous pic of Einstein & Gödel) at some upper echelon universities (Jane, Joan, you'll always get a second chance with me) which makes it all the more impressive that two of the best scoops you can get anywhere are within spitting distance of Harvard Yard.
So, what's YOUR life in ice cream? I can't be the only one. Any and all stories encouraged, especially those with accompanying embarrassing photographs from, shall we say, a more youthful time.
Oh. It's almost summer. Any day now I start making my homemade peach ice cream. Nothin' like it. Drop in anytime.