Saturday, August 31, 2013

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
3-scoop cup, $5.50

On at least a hundred occasions I've filled a Baskin-Robbins' cup with one of the clashing-est combinations possible:  one scoop of peanut-butter-chocolate AND one of daquiri ice.  And never has a B-R server paused and gently suggested to me that perhaps the flavors I'd requested might not pair very well together.  I had to go to Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams for that.  

I first had Jeni's several years ago at the original location in the Columbus, Ohio covered market and quickly decided that a second serving would justify a return trip to Ohio.  Since then the business has boomed and you can now find Jeni's outlets sprinkled around the Southeast.

The lines are long and slow, but even so the servers patiently encourage careful decision making and thorough sampling.  Before coming in I'd read the profiles of all of the current flavors online and made a plan, but I still sampled almost everything--you know, just to be sure. 

My first choice was Yazoo Sue with rosemary bar nuts:  "Built from the ground up with a creamy, rich, and mellow cherry wood-smoked porter (by Nashville's Yazoo Brewing Company) and fistfuls of savory 'bar nuts'—peanuts, pecans, and almonds dusted with rosemary, brown sugar, and cayenne."  Second, Black Coffee:  "We steep Batdorf & Bronson's single-estate coffee right in the cream (rather than in water). Our process yields coffee ice cream that tastes as delicious as a cup of intensely flavorful coffee smells."

Last, I shoehorned in the flavor that my concerned server suggested might not play well with the others, Cherry Lambic Sorbet:  "If your memory says, 'Skip it because it’s gonna taste like artificial, super-sweet cherry flavoring,' don’t trust your memory. In fact, our Cherry Lambic sorbet won the Gallo Family Vineyards award in 2008. We used the money we won from this award to begin direct-sourcing vanilla beans and pure vanilla extract from Ndali Estate in Uganda."

When I wouldn't budge, we came up with a compromise:  my server used waffle cookies to craft a dam between the creamy flavors and the tart one.  

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
1892 Eastland Avenue
Nashville TN 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Crema's Coffee Soda

Coffee Soda
Crema Coffee

I've always loved the idea of coffee-flavored soda but had yet to drink one that matched up with the nectar of my imagination.  Then came Crema.  Their coffee soda blows my expectations out of the water, in large part because it's not coffee-flavored, but actual coffee that they carbonate to order.  A rotating selection of cold-brews get poured into some kind of Rube Goldberg carbonating contraption that requires a (trainee?) barista to shake it vigorously for several minutes.  To that they add ice, mellow demerara simple syrup, and a zippy little twist of orange zest.  Bring on the 100% humidity!

Crema Coffee
15 Hermitage Ave
Nashville, TN

Monday, August 26, 2013

Charlton's Coffeehouse

Drinking Chocolate
R. Charlton's Coffeehouse

Since just a whiff of Swiss Miss can send me back to snowy afternoons in the 1970s, I wasn't all that surprised to find that among the many more-or-less historical flavors available in Colonial Williamsburg's pubs, restaurants, and kiosks, there is a time machine disguised as hot chocolate.  

The building that houses R. Charlton's became a coffeehouse soon after it was constructed in 1750, and was under Richard Charlton's management by the mid-1760s.  Growing up in London, Charlton would have had ample chance to experience that city's thousands of coffee shops and to appreciate that the eponymous beverage was actually less important than the exchange of ideas and opinions it fueled.   Located conveniently close to the colonial Capitol, Charlton's Coffeehouse also provided newspapers and a particular kind of privacy to its men-only clientele.  It was a place where they could gather to freely discuss the news of the day, and, on occasion, to act; some of the events of the October 1765 Stamp Act resistance took place at Charlton's.

In 2008-9, the Victorian house that had been built on Charlton's foundation was removed to a new site and the coffeehouse was reconstructed using historic records.  Attention to period details shows in everything from the reception room's eye-popping wallpaper, to the entertaining gossip shared by the prattling "Mrs. Charlton" (below left), to the choice of complimentary beverages offered to each visitor:  tea, coffee, or chocolate.  

Every single person in my tour group chose the chocolate, served in small china cups with cream on the side.  Like the building itself, this chocolate is an 18th century revival funded by the Mars confectionery company's historic division.  The process of making it is laborious but so low-tech that it is sometimes demonstrated on site:  cacao beans are roasted, cleaned, crushed, ground, and diluted with hot water.  To cut the beverage's natural bitterness, Charlton's adds an historically accurate blend of sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, anise, cayenne, and orange zest--far-flung flavorings that taste nearly as exotic now as they would have to the building's original patrons.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013



For many American entrepreneurs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the bubbling sludge of their money-making dreams was soda syrup, not Texas crude.  Since sodas started out as a way of administering tonics and medicines, pharmacists were responsible for many of the field's early successes (including Hires root beer in 1876 and Coca-Cola in 1886), but fizzy drinks soon transitioned away from their medicinal origins.  

While the early sodas featured roots and herbs with some claim to therapeutic properties (ginger, coca, birch, etc.), their younger cousins leaned towards fun, fruity flavors.  In 1917, a North Carolina general store owner named L.D. Peeler tinkered with a commercial recipe for soda syrup until he arrived at an extra-bubbly formula for dark cherry soda that he called Cheerwine.   

Licensed Cheerwine syrups were a hit at regional soda fountains, but Peeler expanded his market even further by taking advantage of the 1899 invention that allowed for the bottling of pre-mixed servings of carbonated beverages.  Today the Cheerwine Bottling Co., headed by Peeler's great-grandson, relies on yet another generation of technology to spread the word.  Thanks to social media, sponsorship deals, a appealingly retro logo, slick radio spots, zeigeist-y slogans ("Born in the South.  Raised in a Glass," "Keep Calm, Drink Cheerwine"), and a tour van that visits college campuses across the country, Cheerwine seems set to bubble on for another hundred years.  

Monday, August 19, 2013



Rent, gas, parking, clothing, takeout meals...When a clear-eyed look at their finances showed high-flying New Yorkers Wendy Jehanara Tremayne and Mikey Sklar their daily expenses meant they were literally working to work, they opted out.  They quit their jobs, moved to New Mexico, and transformed their lives into an ongoing experiment in modern self-reliance.  Tremayne's The Good Life Lab documents their discoveries, offering their fellow 21st century pioneers pointers on everything from brewing biofuel to making a dented shipping container habitable.  

Their joyful, sensible approach to life off the grid is exemplified by the delicious treats Sklar whipped up during a recent reading.  The antigriddle is a faddish kitchen gadget that flash-freezes foods placed on its surface and can cost more than $1000.  Tremayne and Sklar's version is a garage-sale cookie sheet set atop a block of dry ice.  For a frosty treat, just tag a toothpick with a mixture of heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, and balsamic vinegar and give it a minute or two to set up.   

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Kue Wajik

Kue Wajik

A favorite street snack in both Indonesia (kue wajik) and Malaysia (kuih wajik), this simple rice cake showcases the quality of its three main ingredients:  sticky rice, coconut milk, and palm sugar.  Made from the sweet sap of various types of palm tree, the color, flavor, and texture of palm sugars can vary enormously according to the trace minerals that remain after processing.  Search for images of kue wajik and you'll see cakes that look golden, tan, rusty, or as if they've been doused in barbecue sauce, thanks to minimally refined palm sugars like gula melaka or gula jawa.  Made with the paler, more processed palm sugar from a Seattle grocery, my kue a little anemic-looking--but still delicious.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Coconut Kokis

Coconut Kokis
Tropicland, $2.95/box

In conversation I described these little Malaysian cookies at "crumb-y" and then had to clarify that the b was silent, not missing.

The term kokis appears to apply to a fairly broad range of cookies, cakes, and breads; these particular ones are mildly sweet compressed nuggets of toasted coconut and bread crumbs.  I imagine you could get something similar by dumping the detritus at the bottom of a cereal box into a panini press.  That their pleasantly abrasive crunch survived the trip from SKS Food Industries in Jahor, Malaysia to a scratch-and-dent grocery store in downtown Seattle might just justify SKS's extravagant plastic packaging.

These happened to be mildly "coffee flavor" ("perisa kopi"), but the manufacturer also offers original and pandan flavors.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Burro Bananas

Burro Bananas

Although half of the global banana crop and most of the bananas consumed in the US are of the iconic Cavendish variety, there are hundreds of other bananas out there--not all of them mild-flavored, yellow, or shaped like a telephone receiver.  Compared to it's more ubiquitous cousin, the Central American "burro" banana is adorably stubby, like a well-used pencil, with a flavor that leans towards tartness and a firmer, almost crunchy texture.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


For those of us who grew up in the US on desserts made by mixing boxes of powder with hot water, the categories were simple:  jello was jello and pudding was pudding.  Many favorite Danish desserts, however, blur that line, combining bright fruit flavors and a silky pudding texture.  

Rød grød med fløde or "red porridge with cream" is a classic summer dessert that calls for the ripe bounty of the season: strawberries, currants, raspberries, and rhubarb. It's essentially a summer compote, a thick stew of lightly cooked fruit served cold, usually med fløde, "with cream." ("Rød grød med fløde" is also one of the most notoriously difficult expressions for non-Danes to say, making it a classic test for language learners--and, during wartime, for spies attempting to infiltrate the country.)

Rabarbergrød is a single-note variant of rød grød made from rhubarb alone.  One version calls for simply cooking the chopped stalks with sugar until soft, but for a more elegant and colorful result, the fuchsia juice is separated from the yellow-grey pulp, then reheated with starch (potato, corn, tapioca, arrowroot...) until it thickens.  It can be served room temperature or cold, but of course 
med fløde.  

Rabarbergrød  /  Rhubarb Porridge or Pudding

1 lb chopped rhubarb
5 c water
3/4 c sugar (or to taste)
1/2 c corn starch dissolved in a little water (if using a different starch you may have to adjust the amount or the cooking method)
sugar and cream to serve
Cover the rhubarb with water and boil until soft.  Transfer to a mesh colander to strain off all the pink juice and return the juice to a saucepan.  Stir in the sugar and bring to a boil again.  Remove from the heat and add the starch, stirring quickly and continuously.  Pour into a glass bowl to cool.  Serve room temperature or chilled with cream and a sprinkle of sugar.  

Friday, August 2, 2013


Boehm's Chocolates 

Isn't science wonderful?  The same volcanic combination of vinegar and baking soda that I rely on to de-gunk my drains gives seafoam candy its distinctive honeycomb texture.  Molasses adds a rich depth to the flavor and a dark chocolate coating seals in the foamy freshness so each bite is crisp and crunchy.  

Boehm's Chocolates
255 NE Gilman Blvd, Issaquah, WA 98027
425 / 392-6652