You know, ice cream is delicious and all, but it sure is high maintenance for something that’s supposed to be a lighthearted summer treat. Seriously. It’s not just a dessert; it’s an event dessert, a destination dessert. We shepherd the kids through long lines and help them sort through the choices – Cone or dish? Sugar cone or waffle cone? Favorite flavor or something new? They’re out of chocolate. What’s your second choice? It’s a familiar enough ritual, but can easily escalate into a baffling ordeal.
No other dessert has such a sense of immediacy about it. You’ve got to make up your mind in that instant your turn comes, you’ve got to eat it before it gets all messy, and you’ve got to have a strategy to maintain maximum cone integrity so it’s not lost to your shoes or the parking lot. I remember watching my mom dive to the floor to catch my sister’s runaway scoop of ice cream mere seconds before it would have hit the floor. When she jammed that ice cream scoop right back on the cone, the theme from Shaft may as well have been playing in the background.
Ice cream was a huge deal when I was a kid. My mom took ice cream very seriously, which meant we weren’t allowed to buy those inferior popsicles from the ice cream truck. We’d just stand in our kiddie pool and wistfully watch the neighborhood kids line up for Bomb Pops and Fudgesicles. The fact that we had a freezer full of Breyer’s waiting for us after dinner was small consolation, indeed.
Not that there weren’t plenty of opportunities to go out for ice cream. We were frequent customers at our local Baskin Robbins and Friendly’s. (Not Carvel, though. Mom was no friend of Carvel after a particularly unpleasant chocolate incident. We called it “Messy Ice Cream Place.”) Ice cream punctuated just about every happy occasion – we’d go out for ice cream at the beach, after a movie, on long shopping trips. In a very health-conscious household it was the one dessert that was consistently free-flowing. Maybe that explains why, as an adult, it’s the one dessert that I can take or leave.
Actually, I think my detachment from ice cream began during my first summer working at the Hӓagen-Dazs at the mall. Ice cream was my medium, and there was nothing delicious about it. (Okay, okay, except for peanut butter vanilla. That was awesome.) But mostly, it was all about work. I scooped perfect 4-ounce dips. I dismantled and reassembled the frozen yogurt machine with ease at the beginning and end of each day. I made beautiful banana splits and milkshakes – except that one day when the owner paid our shop a visit. Anxious under his watchful, patronizing eye, I turned the milkshake machine to 11 and chocolate-chocolate mint exploded all over the store. And me.
At least that wasn’t as bad as the time a not-quite-empty whipped cream container exploded on my friend when she tried to unscrew the lid. Or the time a newbie accidentally locked herself in the walk-in freezer. Or the time an angry customer threw her dish of ice cream at us (because her husband’s scoop was bigger). And, of course, nothing could top the time I was bitten by a mouse.
Oh, it was tragic. It all started when one of the girls found mouse droppings in a bin of extra sprinkles under the counter. “Don’t use these,” she advised when I came in for my shift later that day. After that, there were mouse traps everywhere, and checking them became part of my opening-the-store duties. Thankfully (for me, not for the customers), the traps were always empty. But one day, we caught one. Sort of.
It was a glue trap, and the mouse’s hind leg and tail were stuck to it. The poor little guy was still skittering along, trying to free himself. Then he tried to chew his foot free. His cute little mousie nose got a little more stuck each time and started to bleed. This was too much for me. I got a plastic spoon and tried to pry the furry little creature loose. I figured I’d put him in a cup and release him in the parking lot. But those glue traps are strong. I tried and tried while the mouse kept nudging his foot with that heartbreaking bloody nose. I almost had it . . . almost had it . . .
And suddenly . . . FREE! I did it! The mouse gave my hand a ferocious bite. Shocked, I reflexively wrung my hand, sending the mouse flying across the room. He hit the walk-in freezer door with a smack, and stuck there with his gluey foot. Dead.
I was sure I was going to be in huge trouble. But the manager and the owner both poured on a terrifying amount of charm and sympathy. They paid for my doctor visit and the horse-pill antibiotics I had to take. (No rabies shots, thankfully.) My mom, who’d boycotted Carvel for years because of one messy-ice-cream incident, was beside herself. She encouraged me to quit, and I was happy to comply. That was the last food service job I ever had.
So, I guess it’s easy to see how my enthusiasm for ice cream waned over the years. But I have to admit, it’s on the rise again now that I’ve got two hungry little ice cream monkeys in the family. Sure, ice cream is messy and inconvenient, and the ordering process can be fraught with anxiety and confusion. But none of that seems to outweigh the pure fun of it all.
It helps that my kids are hardcore loyalists of plain chocolate and vanilla. It also helps that we live a few blocks from Molly Moon’s, a local homemade ice cream shop that’s devoted to using local organic ingredients and hormone-free dairy. (You just know a place like that isn’t using glue traps.)
Now, who’s got some ice cream stories to share? Favorite flavors? Favorite ice cream shops? Spectacular spill incidents? Let’s hear it!