Thursday: There May Be No Stairway, but $2 Goes a Long Way Toward a Little Bit of Heaven (aka the “Central Park Discovery” Post)

On Thursday night, I did dessert first.

photo-13I’ve begun to build in long stretches of city blocks (or river fronts, or parks) into my ways to get between places, and walking through Central Park I began wishing I had an ice cream thing. Or a popsicle thing. Or, in other words, the exact sort of treats that the park concession carts with the green-and-white umbrellas specialize in.

I’d never bought a frozen treat in the park before, and to be completely honest, I was expecting something closer to stadium prices: $4 and up. So I was shocked, I mean shocked, to discover that (with the exception of the Haagen Daaz and Ben & Jerry’s bars), hardly anything was more than $2-$3!

photo-14photo-12The best idea ever got better: My $2 Blue Bunny FrozFruit bananas & cream bar was only 160 calories, actually lists bananas as the third ingredient (after water and milk) and is not a shabby source of a couple of vitamins and minerals. And it only could have been improved by not being deep frozen — too impatient to wait for it to thaw, I had bitten through most of it by the time it got soft enough to melt in that pleasant way cold things on a stick have a tendency to do.

I have no idea what took me so long.

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The Minnesota Edition: On the Road Again (aka the “Strange Synergy of this Trip” Post)

In several not entirely expected ways, my return home mirrored my journey here.

First, there was the Dairy Queen stop, at the beginning of the nearly 10-hour trip home.

photophoto-1This time, I went for a medium-sized, butterscotch-dipped cone, which I happily devoured while staring out at a local highway. Specifically, I was staring at the sign at the start of the bridge, the far side (which the iPhone camera is too low-res to capture). It reads (“announces” might be a better word): The Mississippi River.

“This is so Minnesota,” I thought, “To sit at a Dairy Queen, just off a local highway, and stare at a turn in the Mississippi River.” A moment later. “And damn, this is good soft serve.”

Transferring through the Minneapolis airport (MSP), I had the greater part of an hour to kill, which meant dinner. I ended up at Rock Bottom Brewery (which I photo-3actually don’t like that much) solely because I saw open electrical outlets, and even one guy plugged in and using his laptop, and I wanted to do the exact same thing.

I ended up with the sampler selection (of the beers that I don’t particularly like or dislike) because 24 total oz. of sampler beers was the same price as a large, single, 20 oz. beer — so, I got 4 oz. free. (Plus, I couldn’t remember which Rock Bottom Brewery beer I liked best. Oh yes, I’ve been to one before, in California.)

photo-4And I ended up with the half-order of nachos, plus guacamole extra, because I saw what they looked like on a neighboring table, and that’s exactly what I want.

Multi-colored corn chips (apparently, they exude some sign of authenticity), pickled jalapeno rounds from the can or jar, guacamole scooped out with a melon baller scoop — these nachos are nothing at all like the fare from my beloved taco truck outside the Jackson Height’s subway stop, but when you’re still three hours and change away from even landing at La Gauardia — just do it.

The Minnesota Edition: Thin Mint Cookie Blizzard … Mmm (aka the “Dairy Queen Ritual” Post)

photo-9For as long as I can remember, the drive from the Twin Cities to Crosslake, Minn. involves a requisite DQ stop. Something about Dairy Queen treats just taste better on the road in Minnesota, whether it’s a hot, sunny day or a humid summer night, cars whizzing by on the highway, heading elsewhere.

I usually go for the Dairy Queen Blizzard Treat: creamy soft serve and your mix-in of choice roughly blended so that crumbles, bits and whole chunks of the candy, cookies, nuts or even fruit (or some combination thereof) are strewn throughout. So I was thrilled to discover that August’s “Blizzard of the Month” was a Blizzard Treat blended with Thin Mints, that classic Girl Scout cookie, which the first thing you do is stick them in the freezer anyway (they’re just better that way).

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The verdict: A must-try for any Girl Scout cookie junkie. The cookie bits stay hard and crunchy, and the soft serve has the distinct taste of Thin Mints, which is different from but related to the mint-chip family of flavors.

As the soft serve inevitably begins to melt around the edges into little milky pools, I was reminded of this classic pairing: A short stack of Thin Mints and a tall, cool glass of milk.

Sunday: Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, I Wanted To Love You So Much

Ran into the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck parked next to the High Line in the Meatpacking District on Sunday, which was a.) brilliant strategy on their part and b.) my favorite way to encounter the growing number of artisanal food trucks that are roving the streets of New York City — that is, by chance.

If this whole food truck trend is inspired, at least tangentially, by the ice cream truck that cruised through neighborhoods and past municipal sports fields of our childhood, using its sing-song anthem to alert nearby children to its approach, the colorful, pictorial menu of frozen delights coming into focus — and I think it is — then part of the enjoyment of the roving food truck is the delight and surprise you feel when you happen upon a good one. (Stalking a truck’s location via Twitter and tracking down the Cravings Truck or Koji Tacos in the flesh has its own rewards — but that’s another post.)

photo(3)I am an ice cream fiend, and I’d never had Van Leeuwen’s. So I was understandably excited: Based on the ingredient-sourcing quotient, the artisanal-process quotient and the cuteness-of-design quotient, I was sure I was going to fall in love.

Except that, I didn’t. We ordered a single scoop of the vanilla ice cream“oak barrel aged for three months organic bourbon and Tahitian vanilla” ($3.95, sourced: Papa New Guinea) — and added hot fudge sauce“Homemade Michael Cluizel hot fudge” ($1.25) and a cone with a single scoop of Gianduia ice cream (“Michael Cluizel chocolate blended with Tonda La Giffoni hazelnuts” ($3.95, sourced: Italy and France).

photo(2)The consensus was that the actual flavors of the ice cream were incredibly subtle — there’s nothing wrong with flavors being soft and nuanced, but they should still be specific and discernible — and the texture of the ice cream was off to the point that it felt somewhat watery, borderline icy, and definitely lacked the all-over sensation of creaminess as ice cream melts in your mouth.

It was just kind of “there.” The fudge was good — but the fudge just dominated, killing all flavor of vanilla whenever it made it onto a bite. I think the worst comment was that Van Leeuwen ice cream tasted like light or low-fat ice cream — except that, it’s not. All the calories of full-fat ice cream, while light on taste. I have to imagine that’s a creamery’s nightmare.

I’m going to give Van Leeuwen a second chance — they have ginger ice cream?! — but they’re on probation. One more mediocre showing, and I’m moving on.