Saturday, September 28, 2013

Alternative Ice Cream and Angels

I recently happened upon FoMu Alternative Ice Cream and Cafe in Allston, Massachusetts. FoMu ice cream is a vegan ice cream which uses coconut milk as a base.  A few select flavors use an almond-cashew blend and their soft ice cream has a soy base.  The interesting thing about FoMu ice cream is that all of it is completely dairy free.  

Some people may be skeptical about dairy free ice cream.  But I'm happy to report that FoMu's Salted Caramel ice cream was as good as any traditional ice cream that I've tasted.  It had a smooth and creamy consistency, like milk-based ice cream but perhaps a touch softer, reminiscent of gelato.  The flavor was bold and very caramel, much more caramel than most salted caramel ice creams that I've tried.  Perhaps the omission of dairy and cream really lets the caramel flavor shine through.  I also enjoyed the Pumpkin Spice ice cream. The Pumpkin Spice was true to its name and had spicy notes of pumpkin pie flavors such as nutmeg and cinnamon.  More spicy than sweet, it tasted like a grown-up flavor, and was very reminiscent of the Fall season.

I was very happy to find FoMu because one of my daughters has a milk allergy.  She has been living with and managing this and other allergies for years, but especially because of the milk allergy, there are many things that she cannot eat.  Most of our ice cream outings offer her a predictably minimal choice.  She is limited to places that serve dairy-free sorbet, and it's always, inevitably, a choice of two: raspberry or lemon, raspberry or lemon.  One of the things she always wanted was to be able to go out for ice cream and order whatever she wanted. And so, I was ecstatic to present her with FoMu, a place where she could choose from twenty flavors.  I was overjoyed to watch her read the blackboard menu, announcing "Cake batter, cookie dough, salted caramel--I can actually have the salted caramel!"  We ordered four flavors and she tried them all.

I was very thankful to FoMu to be able to give her this small gift, to feel like everyone else who goes out for ice cream and to have the freedom to order whatever she wanted.  For those who are not familiar with what it's like to live with food allergies, or to live with someone you love who has them, I can tell you that it's a constant and that it is often difficult.  There's the worry about being safe, about having an accidental exposure and having a reaction.  There are the basic, practical considerations of will there be anything to eat at the school, the function, the party, the new restaurant, and the phone calls, inquiries, and micro-managing that go with that.  There are the social considerations of being the only one to eat a turkey sub when all the other kids are having pizza.  There are the medical considerations such as do you have your medications with you, and if not, no, you're not eating anything until we get home. Yes, it's a constant. 

There have been angels along the way, like the owner and creator of FoMu, who shine a little light on the task of living with food allergies.  It is to those people that I would like to pay tribute today.  To the pre-school moms who asked for my special allergy-free cake recipe and served only that cake at the party.  To the elementary school mom who served hot dogs instead of pizza at her son's birthday so that my daughter could feel included.  To the moms (and especially the kids who asked their moms to do it) who made special goodie bags for her that were safe.  To the neighbor who made a special trick or treat bag on Halloween night just for one child.  To an older sister, who at six years old, announced during Trick or Treating to unsuspecting homeowners that "Minnie Mouse has food allergies."  To the family members who have changed entire menus for holidays and celebrations so that she could be safe.  To the mom who consulted with me about her daughter's bat mitzvah menu so that my daughter would have enough to eat.  To those parents who did not shy away from dealing with their child's friend who has food allergies but who welcomed her for dinner and made her something special.  To her friends who ask what she can eat and who bring a safe snack to the celebration or bake something with her in mind. To all of you, I say thank you.  Your small kindnesses are more appreciated than you know, by a child who is now a teen who has lived with allergies all of her life.  But most especially, by her mom, who probably cares more than she does, who can't be with her everywhere or make all of her food or ensure that she is always included.  You have helped me to do that, and I am most grateful.

Go try some FoMu ice cream! You won't be disappointed. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Butterfingers and Two Singers

This summer I made a long trip to Kimball Farm Ice Cream in Westford, Massachusetts, to meet a dear friend and her children for some ice cream.  I had the Peanut Butter Butterfinger.  I have tried many, many, permutations of peanut butter-flavored ice cream and this flavor did not disappoint.  First of all, the portions at Kimball Farm are huge. There is something very enticing about digging into a giant, perfect mound of ice cream, especially when you only ordered a small. The peanut butter-flavored ice cream was very creamy, seemingly like vanilla, but with a pronounced peanut butter flavor. The Butterfinger pieces were large, larger than I expected, and added a nice crunch.  Small pieces of chocolate were mixed throughout the ice cream.  I had never seen this flavor anywhere else, which is surprising because having tried it, it's obvious that peanut butter and Butterfinger are a perfect match. Kimball's got it right.

Although Kimball Farm is renowned for its ice cream, and I did enjoy my new flavor, I made the trip primarily for the company.  It was great to spend time with my friend and her children.  We met twenty-eight years ago this month, in a freshman dorm, and instantly became fast friends. Our friendship has survived the test of time and place, spanning different states, countries, and even continents.  I am thankful that we are still close, and that we are still able to find the time to stay connected.

As the years go by, I realize more and more that it is the connections we make with others that really matter in this world.  I have a story about this, and although it takes place in a church, the important part of the story happens after the service ends.

A few weeks ago I was playing the organ and piano for our Sunday church service.  After I arrived, the summer visiting priest came over to speak to me. Thinking that he was checking on the music, I immediately gave him a list of the service hymns.  He listened patiently, noted that he was not actually serving for this particular service, and told me that he was sorry that he had not had the chance to hear my children sing a duet.  It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about.  And then I remembered.

My son had served as a song leader in church a number of times this summer. Weeks ago, this priest had complimented his singing, and then asked my middle daughter if she liked to sing as well. I had told him that she did in fact sing, and that perhaps the kids could sing a duet in church for him when I played for one of the services.  And then I had forgotten all about it.

Unfortunately, this Sunday was to be his last with our parish, as he had to return to his mission in Africa.  I hastily apologized and felt terrible that I had forgotten.

The service began, but I still felt badly, and could not let it go.  I began to think about how the kids could perform a duet before the priest left. I went into the back room during a pause in the service and found a song that my kids knew very well.  From the organ, I mouthed to my daughter and son the idea to sing for the priest after church.  I saw the priest enter the sacristy and I scurried through a back passageway, to ask if he would like to hear the kids sing after church ended.  He seemed very pleased.

After the service ended, he headed toward the back of the church to greet some parishioners, assuring me that he would return in five minutes.  He returned, and the four of us gathered at the piano. People were still milling about the church but we did not care. I played the opening notes of "Who Would Imagine a King," and my teenage son and daughter sang the beautiful words, alternating on the verses and joining together on the refrain.  The priest listened and smiled a beautiful smile, and when it was done, offered words of thanks and encouragement, especially to my daughter who had not sung for him before.

Sharing that song was the nicest thing that happened that Sunday, and probably that week.

How many times do we say something in passing, promise something, refer to something, and then forget all about it?  It can happen all too often in our busy world.  But the person on the other end of the conversation may actually be listening.   

During the service, I had doubts about whether I was doing the right thing. Would the priest really care? Had the moment already passed? Should I be paying more attention to the service instead of scurrying around, trying to plan an impromptu concert?  I decided to do it anyway. And I'm so glad that I did.

It's in the connections, in the sharing and doing for others, that we find the joy and the reward.  Sometimes the connections are those that we have cultivated for years. Sometimes the connections are fleeting, momentary, created in the length of time it takes to sing a song.   

There was a moment of grace in the sharing of that song. I call it God's presence.  Some may just call it grace, or goodness, or connection.  Either way, it's good news.  

Have a sweet week. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cookie Bites and a Popsicle Stick

Today I am reviewing Cookie Bites from Whole Foods Market.  Cookie Bites are bite-sized dessert cups. The base is a chocolate chip cookie turned into a little mini muffin, with a hollowed out middle.  The cookie is a great consistency and there are ample chocolate chips--so much so that sometimes all you get when you bite into one is a hunk of good chocolate.  The chocolate chip cookie shells are filled with a dollop of really good frosting.  The sugar content in this frosting matches exceptionally well to the flavor of the chocolate chip cookie shell.  It sounds like it would be too sweet but it is not!  I am powerless over these little desserts.  It's impossible to have just one.  Or two or three.

I don't love the name "Cookie Bites" because I'm not sure that's a very inviting name.  I think the taste of these little desserts far surpasses the attractiveness of the name.  I think they should be called something else, like "Cookie Dessert Cups" or "Chocolate Chip Cookie Treats." No matter what they are called, however, they are positively, absolutely delicious.  

What's in a name?  I have a name story.  It takes place in a third grade classroom.

There was an eight-year-old girl who had an interesting name.  One of her classroom reading assignments involved a character who had a name similar to that of the girl, which created the perfect environment for a lot of teasing. Some kids in the class seemed to find pleasure in calling the girl by this new, unattractive name, or by mixing up the two names during read-aloud time. One boy in particular was relentless in teasing the girl.  He did not let up.

Later that day, the class was working on a project with popsicle sticks.  The students had to write their names on the popsicle sticks so that the projects could be correctly returned.  When project time ended, the girl helped to collect the projects.  When she took the project from the boy who teased her the most, she happened to glance down at it.  And there, written in black crayon on a popsicle stick, was his name.  It was not the name that everyone called him, which was, apparently, a well-designed nickname.  It was his actual name.  And his name was Frank Edgar.

Frank Edgar is a perfectly respectable name.  But perhaps not when you are a third-grader, and you have gone to great lengths to adopt a cool nickname that everyone thinks is your real name.  Frank Edgar realized what had happened. He looked at the girl-- the same girl that he had been tormenting--with a desperate, pleading look.  Their eyes met and locked for a matter of seconds.

In that moment, the girl could feel angst, desperation, and panic coming from Frank Edgar.  The embarrassment from his teasing was still fresh in her mind. But the intensity of his pain, his potential pain, based upon what she chose to do in that moment, won out.  The girl did nothing.  She collected the project, and said nothing.

Two things happened that day. Right there in a third grade classroom, in the time that it took for the girl to lock eyes with Frank Edgar, she learned the meaning of empathy.  She learned how to put herself in someone else's shoes and to make a decision based upon someone else's feelings.  That's not always the easiest decision to make.  But it's probably always the right decision.

The second thing that happened that day is that Frank Edgar never teased that girl again.  My guess is that he learned something that day too.

Never underestimate the power of doing good.

Have a sweet week!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

S'mores and Some Mail

The Cheesecake Factory has a new cheesecake flavor.  It's called Toasted Marshmallow S'Mores Galore.  It tastes as decadent as it sounds, and I think it's one of their better cheesecakes.  It's comprised of Hershey's chocolate cheesecake, with chocolate frosting on top, a thick blanket of toasted marshmallow draped over the cheesecake, crumbled graham crackers sprinkled throughout, one artfully placed graham cracker square, and whipped cream.  The toasted marshmallow blanket is sweet and thick, and is deliciously rich, especially when mixed with the chocolate cheesecake. The cheesecake itself is a smooth, rich chocolate, and the frosting on top is a bold accent of chocolate flavor.  There seems to be more whipped cream than usual with this flavor of Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, and the fact that the whipped cream is sprinkled with graham cracker fools you into thinking you should eat the mound of whipped cream as if it were ice cream or mousse. This cheesecake, for lack of a better word, is quite yummy!  It is, however, extremely rich and I could only finish about half of it.  Bring a friend when you try the S'Mores Cheesecake!

S'mores are definitely a summertime treat.  To be honest, I never actually had s'mores growing up.  We had plenty of toasted marshmallows, toasted over barbecues with charcoal, sometimes just browned on the outside, sometimes toasted until they were charred and black on the outside, and gooey and almost liquid on the inside.  Those were the best kind.  It wasn't until I was much older that I found out that some people went the extra step and brought graham crackers and chocolate into the mix.  I think I prefer just the toasted marshmallows, to be honest, probably because they play such a large role in my summer memories.  I see the point of adding the graham crackers and chocolate, but it's the toasted marshmallows that really mean summertime for me.  

How many of our childhood memories end up defining who we are?  I have a memory from early childhood that I know played a significant part in defining who I am.  I was around seven or eight years old. I had written a poem about the American flag.  Someone in my household thought it would be a good idea to send it to the President.  The President!  Well, we mailed him the poem. And one day, there was a letter in my mailbox with a return address that said "The White House."  And it was addressed to me.

It was a letter from President Gerald Ford, thanking me for sending him my poem. I remember getting the mail, and seeing the crisp white envelope with the words "The White House" on it, and feeling so excited.  I actually got a letter from the White House! From the President of the United States! 

It's been quite a few years since that letter arrived.  I don't remember what the letter actually said, and I don't even remember the poem that I wrote. But I do remember how I felt when I got that letter.  Besides being excited, I felt really important, like something that I had done really mattered.  I'm not sure who's idea it was to send the letter, or what the intention had been. Quite possibly, my mother or father just thought it would be something fun to do. It actually had a much bigger impact, and left me with the feeling that great things can happen when you put yourself out there.  Whoever thought that the President would write to me, a girl living in a small suburb of New York, who hand-wrote a poem in pencil on some lined paper?  But he did.  

I'm really thankful to my parents for that moment, for showing me that anything is possible.  Why not send a letter to the President of the United States?  Why not do something, be proud of something, reach for something, no matter how unreachable it may seem? It was a good lesson, and it's a lesson worth repeating I think.  For kids and for adults.  For all of us.

Have a great week.  And invite a friend to share some of that S'mores Cheesecake!