Saturday, June 28, 2008

Twice Cream

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who like ice cream and those who don't.

OK, I've never actually met anyone who doesn't like ice cream, except this one guy who said he could take it or leave it. Maybe he was having personal problems — or perhaps he was lactose intolerant.

Tantalizing in taste, texture and temperature, there is something almost unbearably sensual about ice cream. It starts as a creamy solid and melts slowly, extravagantly around your tongue, releasing its sweetness and the secrets of its more delicate flavors into your mouth.

I'll never forget the look on my daughter's face when she first tasted ice cream as a toddler. Initially shocked and confused, she puckered her lips against the sudden cold. As the rich chocolate seeped through, her eyes widened in delight and her mouth parted into an eager smile, little hands reaching for the cone.

Frozen desserts have been tempting us for thousands of years. Nero (A.D. 37-68) was a fan of ice flavored with honey and fruit, and there is some evidence that the Chinese created the first iced dairy delicacy. America has literally grown up on ice cream; both Washington and Jefferson were known for serving it to their guests and our first public ice cream parlor opened in New York in 1776.

Ice cream represents democracy at its best. Price points range from about 50 cents for kid-friendly pushups to thousand dollar sundaes served in a crystal goblet with an 18-carat gold spoon at Manhattan's Serendipity 3. Ice cream flavors have been designed to meet the needs of every personality and mood: from traditional vanilla, fruity strawberry and nutty Rocky Road, to abstract Blue Moon and even exotic wasabi.

What makes ice cream ice cream? While many desserts are made from its key ingredients of cream, milk, sugar and flavorings, to be labeled "ice cream" according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IFDA), the confection in question must contain at least 10% milk fat and weigh at least 4.5 pounds per gallon.

Frozen custard is the same as ice cream, but also contains at least 1.4% egg yolk. Sherbet has between 1-2% milk fat and slightly more sweetener than ice cream. The Italian version, gelato, differs in that it usually has more intense flavor and is served semi-frozen. Sorbet, the oldest form of frozen dessert, contains no dairy and is made of sweetened ice flavored with fruit, chocolate, wine or liqueur. Frozen yogurt is exactly what it says — frozen yogurt.

For my taste, Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk® is the best of the best. To date, Oink's Dutch Treat in New Buffalo, Michigan is my favorite ice cream parlor. Offering 55 flavors, Oink's make it hard to choose (try the cherry with chocolate flakes). 

Perhaps it's no coincidence that I have landed in Evanston, IL, a town that lays claim to naming the ice cream sundae (duking it out with Ithaca, NY and Two Rivers, WI for the bragging rights). In a cup or a cone, in a sundae or alone, ice cream may be the perfect food — except the part where it's bad for your diet … and your cholesterol … and your thighs.

Here's where living in Evanston meets my needs in a whole new way. The other day, my girl friend called and said: "Pick me up. I need frozen yogurt." Why bother, I thought. "This stuff is the best," she said, reading my mind, "and only 90 calories for a small." I have assiduously avoided the nutrition information on Ben & Jerry cartons, but for the purposes of this essay, I thought I better do the research. Those who don't want to know should skip on down to the next paragraph. New York Super Fudge Chunk contains 300 calories per 1/2 cup serving. Yikes.

So, we went to the new frozen yogurt place in town, Red Mango™. It was two minutes to closing and the place was mobbed. I looked up at the menu to discover that they offer only two flavors — original and green tea. The cynic in me could barely justify a late night dessert run that did not include chocolate, but since my friend was buying, I tried a small original with fresh raspberries.

Look out, B&J, I may have found a new home. Curiously satisfying, this treat offers all the fun of ice cream for less than a third of the caloric price. It has a little bit of sour mixed with the sweet, and you can add fresh fruit, as well as some weird dry toppings (Fruity Pebbles, anyone?). It even claims to be good for you, containing no artificial anything and something called probiotics, credited with improving digestive health and the immune system.

So, if you're lucky enough to live in Illinois, California, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah or Washington, then get yourself to Red Mango (unless you live in Evanston; then you should stay home, because the line is already too long). I know it sounds like I've gone over to the dark side, but this is a true ice cream lover talking, so you can trust me.

If you're drooling over your keyboard now, you may be happy to learn that July is National Ice Cream Month and that, this year, National Ice Cream Day will be celebrated on Sunday, July 20. Click here to let me know how you plan to celebrate.

Photo credit: Ice Cream Cone ~ 8 scoops + 3 Diamond Rings by Tiffany by Prayitno via a Creative Commons license. 

Thursday, June 19, 2008

This Posting is a Nut Free (well, almost)

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have allergies and those who don't.

To the allergy free, salute. To the more than 20 percent of you who are allergy sufferers, I can only say that I feel your pain.

My big allergy bugaboo is insect bites. Mosquitoes are my nemesis. A single bite from this malevolent creature weighing less than three milligrams brings on a huge, hot-to-the-touch welt that lasts more than a week, often accompanied by water blisters, nausea, dizziness and a general sense of malaise. It's not fun.

But as much as I hate these little buggers, it seems they love me. I have been hunted down in my own bed, through layers of blankets and clothing and repellents. In February. In Chicago. My blood is the Chateau Lafite Rothschild of the mosquito world — ripe, spicy, with a particular softness, firm yet delicate and supple, developing a great elegance with age (or so claim the tasting notes reported by the Family Culicidae).

I know members of the Mosquito Protection Society will start violent protests over this, but it is my fervent wish that every mosquito will drop dead tomorrow (along with their unwanted, unhatched offspring). I promise the frogs will not all croak and the rain forests will not fall without them. Mosquitoes have been around for more than 30 million years and have killed more human beings than any other creature in history (think yellow fever, malaria). Now we've got to worry about the West Nile Virus and, given how attractive I am to these disease-carrying vermin, it is a scientific fact that I am now a gazillion times more likely to die an untimely death. To add insult to injury, this is girl-on-girl violence, as only the female mosquito stings (bitch!).

As annoying as they are, insect bites are not the only allergy that plagues our family. We run the gamut from dust mite to food allergies, with symptoms that include asthma, eczema, chronic sinusitis and anaphylaxis. Last fall, we discovered that our youngest boy, the family gourmand, is allergic to shellfish. (Could this be a sign that our nice Jewish family should start keeping kosher? Nah.) He was incensed over the diagnosis: "What do you mean, no more calamari? A squid does not have a shell." True, but calamari, squid and octopus all fall under the category of shellfish when it comes to allergies.

Shellfish is an easier allergy to manage than, say, peanuts because it is easier to predict where it might show up, but it's still a pain. We have joined the ranks of label readers and EpiPen® owners, forced to carry it with us wherever we go. We have to watch for cross-contamination and "hidden" ingredients at restaurants. For example, my husband and I recently took this child out for a special meal, just the three of us, at Froggy's. He initially ordered salmon with bell pepper sauce (the boy likes to eat), only to be told that the sauce was made with clam juice. You just never know.

The other day, this same child came to me with his eyes puffed up like a vanquished boxer. He hadn't had any shellfish, so now it's back to the allergist to start the whole scratch-testing process over again.

I recognize that having an allergy is not the end of the world. Modern medicine has given us many ways to protect ourselves and manage these allergies. All except one — my severe allergy to exercise. I wonder when they'll develop an effective immunotherapy for that one. Sign me up for the clinical trial. 

So, as long as you're not allergic to a nut like me, why don't you leave a comment by clicking here.

Photo credit: Wooooooooo … by CharlesLam via

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Friday, June 13, 2008

The Best Words

 There are two kinds of people in the world: those who write poetry and those who don't.

Forgive my boast, but I am a great business writer. I can whip up a newsletter that will make you weep. I'm working hard on my creative writing, as well, learning everything I can and then revising, revising, revising … But, I'm no poet.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined prose as words in their best order, and poetry as the best words in the best order. I like this definition. 

I admit to being a little intimidated by poetry. I used to feel that I was missing the point. Recently, I have learned to take poetry as it comes — ponder it, enjoy it (or not) and accept it for what it means to me.

My favorite poet is Van Morrison (OK, songwriter, but now you're just picking nits):

We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

I'm also a big Ogden Nash fan — you know, the poet who penned these seven immortal words:

Candy is dandy
But liquor is quicker.

Granted, it does sound a bit like a jingle for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (, but you can't deny that this little ditty conveys a beautiful truth with a stunning economy of language.

My friend Alice George is a real, live poet. And it turns out that real, live poets are even better than the famous dead kind because, in addition to enriching us with their own best words in their best order, they can teach and inspire the poetry in others. Such was the case for the first-through-fifth graders (including two of my own) who were lucky enough to have Alice as artist in residence at our elementary school this spring.

At one of the culminating events of the residency, Alice led an open mic poetry night at an awesome new(ish) performance/learning venue in Evanston called Boocoo. I was bitter with envy both exhilarated and humbled by the poetry created and performed by these children, who seem able to reach deep into their souls to describe the world with an exactitude and lyricism that eludes my poetry. (Be excited, OCWW members — Alice is on the docket for next semester.)

On past poetry nights, Alice has invited grownups to participate, but this night was just for the children. Since I have never been accused of being a grownup, I decided to share my poem anyway:

The Tantrum

Just a few missed warning signs
Before the blast
The fierce flash of light
The sonic boom.

The toxic fallout of the mushroom cloud
Envelops everything in sight.
No one is safe.

Soft tissue mottles over
Writhing muscles
Twisting and contorting the familiar
Into something unrecognizable.

Ugliness oozes from each pore
As rage pours from every visible orifice.
The genie is out of the bottle now.
Pandora is out of the box.
It’s too late for a cork or a levee or a bunker.

It’s in motion now
Careening violently
Sucking in every object and subject
In its vengeful path.

Just be still
Ride out the storm
Wait for the rain
Hope for the best.

A brief respite
Full of false hope.
All hearts pound as
The storm feeds on itself.

The banging of the shutters slows
To a more predictable beat
But the damage is done.
The family landscape is scarred again.

Finally, there is quiet
Not peace, just exhaustion.

Pulses steady
As survivors venture forth
Tiptoeing carefully on those eggshells
Lest the wrathful beast reawaken.

A final gust of tainted wind
Jarring but not dangerous
Shudders with uncomfortable regret:
"Sorry, guys, Mama is just having a bad day.

If, like my brother, you think my poem is cute but trite, slam me with a scathing couplet by clicking here; or give me an ode for effort. Better yet, try your hand at a poem of your own.

Photo credit: night poetry by kechambers via

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Place for Everything

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who keep things and those who throw things out.

Me, I'm a pack rat. I look at a notecard, catalog or newspaper article, and if there is a remote possibility I might someday want to look at some part of it again, I keep it.

My good friend, on the other hand, is a thrower outer. She looks at a piece of paper and if it is not of immediate import, she throws it away. This has included even the directions for things she doesn't know how to use or put together. "Oh, Jim will figure it out when he gets home," she explained when I asked her how on earth she planned to assemble a multi-piece something without the instructions.

I once had a roommate who wouldn't allow a newspaper to remain in the apartment for more than an hour — extreme by even the most fastidious standards. Clearly, there needs to be a happy medium.

My parents are the ultimate accumulators. They have a passion for garage sales, auctions and flea markets. Over the years they have accumulated an astounding collection of … well, everything. Recently, my father has become addicted to ultra clearance sales: you know, the bright orange signs advertising "(up to) 90% off EVERYTHING." He's gotten some great bargains, like bathing suits for my boys for six bits apiece. He's also gotten some great bargains on things no one could ever possibly use, like matching suede vests for my brother and husband (yikes!). 

This is not to say that my folks are disorganized. My mother, a retired school librarian, alphabetized our spice rack and medicine cabinet. Most kids moan when they ask how to spell a word and are told to "look it up in the dictionary." My mother always followed that admonishment with: "You'll find it in the 400s." Not every household can boast such a comprehensive understanding of the Dewey Decimal System. Even the talented Mr. Dewey, however, could not have devised a system capable of cataloging the sheer volume of artifacts housed by my parents.

I'm placing no value judgment on either keepers or eliminators, here. The trouble seems to come when a saver hooks up with a tosser, as in my marriage. My husband comes from a long line of neat freaks and complains that he is being edged out of every room in our house. He simply doesn't understand that paper can take on a life of its own.

He can't stand the apparent disorganization of my various piles. He thinks if it's not in a labeled file in a labeled hanging folder in a labeled file drawer, it's lost. And I loathe when he makes any attempt to organize my stuff. As every keeper understands, we can trace back in our minds exactly where everything is and, if anything is moved, the whole system falls apart.

Ironically, I love all the accouterments of organization — the sharpies and labelers and fancy filing systems. But, no matter how hard I try to organize it, there's always more stuff.

I've spent days whipping my office into shape, vowing never to let it get messy again. But then, a stack of mail comes or a flood of forms from school, and I can't get to it right that minute, so I start a pile. Just one, that I will get to tomorrow — maybe even tonight, once the kids are in bed. Then, a few more papers come in and I divide everything into two piles: the "hot" pile (which I will get to tomorrow) and the "soon, but not an emergency" pile, with things like that great new catalog from The Container Store.

Sure, I've watched the professional organizers on Oprah who teach you "how to organize things the way you use them." They advise you not to "containerize" until you have organized your belongings and lived with them for a while. What fun is that? I mean, there is nothing better than buying a cool new container or beautiful basket. So what if it doesn't work for your stuff. You'll eventually find a use for it. As every saver knows, it's the minute you throw something away that you need it.

So, do you want to keep it or throw it out? File your opinion here or email me at

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