Monday, September 20, 2010
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream, gelato and sorbet
So with great vigor I set out on this quest of self-discovery. I've had sorbet, gelato and ice cream. I've had flavors I never knew existed. A few that I tried this summer: licorice, Speculos (like gingerbread), chocolate nougat, nougat with honey, pistachio, hazelnut, cherry, melon, lemon, mango, peach, pear, grapefruit, lychee, passion fruit, fig, lavender, banana, avocado, chocolate picante, chewing gum, Grand Marnier, yogurt with berries, Nutella, caramel and gingerbread, cactus, profiterole, Bounty, chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, cappuccino, cafe, caramel with butter and salt. So much of the ice cream experience is the pairings. Picking two flavors of ice cream is a skill much like pairing fine wines with stinky cheeses. Only there is no class for this; something this delicate comes only with many years of practice. Two of my best parings of the summer were on night bike and they were chocolate nougat and pistachio, and cherry and melon sorbets. The biggest disaster was the pairing of Bounty and cactus. Often times I leave my pairings to the real pros and I tell the gelato scooper to surprise me with the two "best" gelatos. This technique has rarely failed me and generally pushes me to the outer bounds of cold creamy deliciousness.
The chewing gum gelato was a result of a communication barrier in Nice and when actually wanting vanilla with jelly beans. I would have never picked chewing gum and it turned out to be a surprising treat. I felt an obligation to try the avocado as I had never seen it before but love it in the non-ice cream form. It really didn't really sound that appealing, nor was the taste of it. Speculos is something we don't have in the US, when really it's so fantastic it should be our largest imported product from Europe. I'm bringing home as many jars of the Belgian gingerbread spread as I can fit in my bags. (I mailed a jar to my brother earlier this summer because it's just that good and he too has placed an order for me to bring him back Speculos.) Be it in the form of a spread, cookies or ice cream, Speculos is definitely vying for the top of my list.
But one night it happened. It started out as a night bike like any other....me followed by 23 tourists on bikes dominating the streets of the Latin Quarter en route to Ile St Louis (tiny island in Paris next to Île de la Cite which is the island Notre Dame stands on). Île Saint-Louis has been home to Berthillon ice cream since it started there in 1960s. It's made fresh every morning, no preservatives, nothing artificial and it's shipped no where in the world. It's only available on these two tiny island sandwiched between the left and right banks of Paris. The flavors are always different so you must approach the ice cream counter with an open mind and a burning in your belly that can only be quelched with two frozen scoops of Bertillion. As the guide I cut to the front of the line where my girl Margot scoops me up a treat and then I head back to the bridge between the two islands to watch my group's bikes. Often times I tell Margot to pick, which she does a sublime job of doing. But on this night, I saw on the flavor board "caramel avec gingrebred." I wasn't exactly sure what to expect but since those are two of my favorite flavors I knew I was in for something good. The ice cream ended up being caramel flavored with pieces of freshly baked gingerbread mixed in it. It was as if someone baked fresh gingerbread then cut it into tiny pieces to be intermingled with the cararmel ice cream. Somehow the bread maintained its soft bounce and delicate moisture. The only thing I can think of is that it was truly an ice cream miracle. And so it came to be on that fateful nightbike tour that caramel with gingerbread ice cream came to be my answer to one of the greatest questions on earth. It became my favorite ice cream.
Realizing that I was unlikely to ever see that flavor of ice cream again anywhere in the world I contemplated again this great mystery of my favorite. I went back to the wise poser of the question and told him that with great bravery and valor I completed my journey this summer to discover my favorite flavor. Only I'm back where I started: vanilla is wonderful and so are many, many other flavors. I asked if it was okay if I didn't have a favorite? Parents aren't suppose to choose favorites among their children, right? So I cast myself as "mother ice cream" and choose not to have a favorite.