Sweet summer lovin’

I’ve hated summer my whole life, dreading its arrival each year and distrusting everything about it, but over the last couple of years, be it cause I’m getting older and wiser or just having better summers, I’ve started to change my tune.

While I still hate, hate, haaaate the heat, the rest of summer isn’t so bad anymore. I like the energy and vibrancy, the feeling of something fun always being just around the corner, the spontaneity in the air, the relief of a cold drink, impromptu picnics, last minute rooftop gatherings, new friends, new loves, new opportunities.

I was walking down east Houston in the Lower East Side, mid conversation with a visiting friend, when we passed Russ & Daughters and a sign in the window that caught my eye: babka ice cream sandwiches! We were on our way to lunch somewhere else but just like that, something new had been thrown into the afternoon’s plans, and after a late lunch a few blocks away, we doubled back for dessert on the bench outside the iconic shop.

Babka and ice cream are having a summer fling and I love it.

Babka and ice cream are having a summer fling and I love it.

A friend introduced me to babka a few years ago and I’ve been a fan of the traditionally jewish loaf-like cake ever since. Sometimes cinnamon, sometimes chocolate, I love the flavored ribbons swirled throughout, making it delicious and fun to pull apart and gobble. And ice cream? Well, ours is a life long love affair.

Russ & Daughters not only used the babka, cut into circular pieces, as the top and bottom of this dessert sandwich, but also in the creamy, cinnamoney ice cream in between. Wrapped up in the same wax paper used for smoked salmon or pickled herring, the babka ice cream sandwich had all the old school charm of this famed NYC institution and a fun, new take on a classic treat.

Like so much of summer it seems, it was unexpected and sweet, a welcome break from the heat, and another fond memory stored away.

Happy food in hot times

During the last couple of days of this miserable, seemingly endless NYC heat wave, I’ve fantasized about booking a one way ticket to the polar ice caps, wondered what it’d be like to fill my tub with ice and pack myself in it, and come dangerously close to throwing in the towel and moving to San Francisco, whose siren call I hear in my dreams: “Angie, it’s 61° degrees in mid July. What are you doing? You should be here.”

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Go ahead ice cream sandwich, make it all better

But alas, I’m doing none of those things. (Not yet anyway.) Instead, I’m toughing it out. I’m hanging in there, pushing through my yearly bout of the sticky, sweaty, cranky summertime blues, and getting me through it is my Prozac of food, ice cream.

Earlier this week at Dean & Deluca while daydreaming about nestling in between gourmet pints of ice cream, I spotted something I knew would help ease the subway ride home: an ice cream sandwich from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

Not just any ol’ cookie and ice cream combo (though I do love those simple versions), Jeni’s was a decadent, borderline magical sounding creation of juniper ice cream swirled with lemon curd in between giant lemon-yellow almond macaroons. Sold.

photo(6)Descending into what never ceases to feel like the innermost rings of hell, my subterranean nightmare of steamy, stagnant air, and pungent waves of other people’s BO, I actually managed to momentarily put it all aside as I chomped into my palm-sized ice cream sandwich. The macaroon, all lightly crispy on the outside and almondy sweet and chewy in the middle, was a perfect holder for the creamy, bright, zesty ice cream inside. Each bite was a swirl of clean, cool flavors in my mouth and a delicious and refreshing way to pass the minutes as I waited on the sweltering platform.

I may spend the rest of summer crossing off the days left on the calendar till autumn arrives, but as long as I have cold treats like this crazy good ice cream sandwich in my other hand, well, I might just make it to see those long awaited cooler days.

Autumn’s ice cream sandwiches

I’ve never been one to let a little cold weather get in the way of me stuffing my face full of ice cream. (I mean, what, am I supposed to subsist off soup and tea during fall and winter? You know how long that is in New York??) So even with a crisp autumn chill in the air this weekend, I dragged Flaneur with me to find the Coolhaus NY truck, a Los Angeles food truck dishing out gourmet, artisanal ice cream sandwiches.

The ultimate fall ice cream sandwich: sweet potato ice cream and pumpkin spice cookies. Mmmm mmm mmh!

With combinations like blood orange and cranberry ice cream and snickerdoodle cookies, and brown butter ice cream with candied bacon and red velvet cookies, I had to put some serious thought into what ice cream and cookie combo I wanted. In celebration of the beautiful fall weather I went with sweet potato and marshmallow swirl ice cream between pumpkin walnut spice cookies with cream cheese frosting drizzled on top. My chocolate chip cookie-loving-beau, on the other hand, opted for the  Maker’s Mark bourbon pecan pie ice cream between chocolate chip cookies.

Both were ridiculously good, perfect for either a sweltering day in July or a January blizzard. The pumpkin walnut spice cookies were pillowy soft and sweet, without being too much (I promise!) and the ice cream was rich, creamy, and with a more subtle sweetness than its flavor inspiration might make you think. It had just enough of the spicy sweetness of sweet potato and just the right hint of sugary marshmallow to make it the ultimate fall ice cream sandwich. If I could buy these packaged and by the dozen, I would bring them to every holiday party from here to New Year’s.

Chocolate chip cookies and Maker's Mark bourbon pecan pie. BAM!

Flaneur’s was good too, with the same autumn themed flavor but different individual tastes. His ice cream for example, had more of a smoky smoothness from the Maker’s Mark but still had the spicy, syrupy holiday sweetness of pecan pie that makes you want to sit in front of a Christmas tree and eat until you fall into a happy food coma. His cookies, unlike mine, were a little firmer and had a more traditional cookie crunch.

Lucky for my waistline, the Coolhaus NY truck changes location every day, because if I always knew where to find them every day, especially if it was as easy as it was this weekend when it was parked in Union Square…oh boy, that might be trouble. I might look like Santa Claus come next fall.

I came, I saw, I stuffed my face

Back in Italy, the people of Napoli (i.e. the original guidos and forefathers of the American breed) revere San Gennaro as the patron saint of their southern city. Here in New York, you might say Saint G is the patron saint of zeppole, sausage sandwiches and the absurdly un-Italian fried Oreo.

Every year for a week in September, the Feast of San Gennaro fills the streets of Little Italy (what few haven’t been completely consumed by Chinatown) with dozens of vendors selling these carnival foods and more, along with all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs. (T-shirt reading “Not only am I perfect, I’m Italian too?” Yea, file that under treasure.) Everyone and their mother seems to go and it’s kind of a crowded mess, but starting last year, the fine folks at Torrisi Italian Specialties took it upon themselves to bring a little bit more of a gourmet edge to the Feast, by offering eats from actual restaurants.

Below, my highlight reel, with food so good San Gennaro himself would be getting in line. (A small miracle in and of itself, since Italians struggle with the concept of forming lines.)

Pork tonata from The Breslin

First stop was at the trifecta of awesomeness, the temple to April Bloomfield: the stand from The Spotted Pig, The Breslin and The John Dory Oyster Bar. The pork tonnato, a sandwich made of thinly sliced roast pork and creamy mayo with tomatoes, wispy slices of onion and arugula, on a fat, round, flour-dusted bun.

Cucumber cooler
 To wash down the hunky sandwich, and to provide some refreshment on what turned out to be an unexpectedly warm afternoon (damn you summer, will you just go already?), was the bright green cucumber cooler. Made with what looked like straight cucumber puree and seltzer water poured over ice, it was an interesting drink with a bubbly, soothing coolness.  The only thing that might have made this drink better was alcohol, maybe an ounce or two of gin. (Even my conservative drinking beau agreed.)
April Bloomfield’s jelly doughnut
Also from the Bloomfield crew, what could be the textbook definition of a superb doughnut: one of the most perfectly spherical, wonderfully delicious, plump full of rich, ruby red strawberry jelly and sparkling in the afternoon sun in its coat of sugar. I could eat these till I keeled over dead of a sugar overdose.

Brrrwich from BYGGYZ

Finally, there was the one thing my friend and I loved, but my Italian boyfriend and her Italian husband hated (further proof that Italian men are in fact, crazy), the Brrrywich ice cream sandwich from BYGGYZ, a coming-soon sandwich shop from Dewey Dufresne. Made with shockingly minty ice cream, the same sparkling white as freshly fallen snow, and dark, crumbly chocolate cookies, this was the ice cream sandwich version of a York Peppermint Patty on steroids. I love the combination of mint and chocolate, so this thing blew my mind.
I’ve never followed saints much before, but I think San Gennaro might’ve made me a believer this year.

Trying to beat the heat

People, I kid you not, the past two days in New York have been miserable, disgusting and infernally hot. Hair-matted-to-the-back-of-my-neck, sweat-trickling-down-uncomfortable-parts-of-my-body, clothes-clinging-in-unflattering-ways, face-shining-like-I-dipped-it-in-olive-oil kind of weather. Not kidding. I wanted to die.

And it’s not even summer yet! The official change of seasons is still more than a week away, and I’m already itching for it to be over (literally, this heat makes me itchy…and bitchy). To cope with the nasty weather I turned to a reliable cooling treat: ice cream sandwiches.

Coconut macaron with coconut and mango sorbet sandwich

Because I was in SoHo, where I now work, I hopped on over to nearby Francois Payard. I’d never been to the cute little patisserie before but when I read in a recent NYmag.com feature that they had some tasty little ice cream sandwiches, I was sold sold SOLD.

Brownie and vanilla bean ice cream sandwich

Instead of regular cookies, Payard, known for their fancy french pastries, uses rectangular cut macarons. Flaneur, who I asked to meet me (since an ice cream sandwich would never have survived the walk home), went the classic route and got the vanilla bean ice cream and chewy brownie combo, while I went with the slightly more tropical themed coconut and mango sorbet between coconut macarons. Flaneur’s was good, the creamy cold vanilla ice cream perfectly complementing the chewy chocolate brownie, but mine was exactly what I needed to pause my heat-related bitching. The macarons were subtle in flavor and had the classic, crispy airiness they’re known for while the fruity, frosty sorbet was refreshing and sweet.

Summer might not technically be here yet, but when it shows up, I’ll be ready— with ice cream sandwich in hand.

François Payard Bakery on Urbanspoon

Goodness gracious…

I’ve never been a big meatball fan. I never had a grandma with a secret recipe for them, never been one to order a meatball sub, and after a couple of years spent in Italy, the thought of spaghetti and meatballs together is almost sacrilegious. Yet last fall when I read about the opening of The Meatball Shop, a small Lower East Side restaurant centered solely around meatballs, I was intrigued. It’s been on my “list” ever since but it wasn’t until this weekend that I got around to finally going.

And let me tell you, I should have made going (again and again and again) a top priority.

There are a few ways you can have your meatballs, but the best and easiest, what Flaneur and I went with for our Saturday night dinner there, was the a la carte option. You pick what kind of meatball you want, what sauce you want on chosen meatballs, and finally what side you want either with or under them.

Spicy pork meatballs with spicy meat sauce on polenta

Meatball choices were classic beef, spicy pork, veggie, chicken and the week’s special: buffalo chicken wing. As curious as I was about a ball of chicken wing, I went with spicy pork instead. Then from my choices of classic tomato, mushroom gravy, spicy meat sauce and parmesan cream, I went again with the spicy one. Sides were divided into two categories: “stick to your bones” and “greenmarket.” Stick to your bones sides were risotto, spaghetti, rigatoni, polenta, mashed potatoes and white beans, while greenmarket, as the name might suggest, were different salad options and steamed, sauteed and roasted veggies. The logical choice for me, the one that jumped out at me when I first picked up the menu, was polenta, which I asked for underneath my meatballs.

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Space snacks

No gelato for this guy.

Back when I was 11 years old, what feels like 5 lifetimes ago, I went to Washington D.C. for a Safety Patrol end-of-the-year fieldtrip. (Yes, I was a Safety Patrol, complete with a fluorescent orange across-the-chest belt with a big, shiny badge. I was a raging dork and it was awesome.)

Of all the things I saw that blew my young, impressionable mind, it was something at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum‘s gift shop that excited me the most: astronaut food.

The package said it was exactly like what the real astronauts ate in space, and I was sold. $3 later I ate dehydrated strawberries thinking they were the coolest thing ever.

Fastforward to almost 14 years later… strolling through the American Museum of Natural History’s space gift shop after seeing a show at the Hayden Planeterium, I saw a familiar, over-priced, edible souvenir: astronaut food!

There's no substitute for real ice cream.

$4.34 later, I left the museum and gift shop with a dehydrated ice cream sandwich alla astronaut, just as excited as I was the first time I tried this gimmicky space food.

Later that night, I tore it open and Flaneur and I bit into respective chunks of crunchy, dry, almost dusty ice cream sandwich. Yes, it looked like an ice cream sandwich, and sure it kind of tasted like one, but in no way was it as good as a real, cold, creamy-on-the-inside, soft-cookie-on-the-outside ice cream sandwich. We ate it none the less, and I for one was glad I never became an astronaut. Sure, space is cool and all, but chalky, dry ice cream sandwiches? No thanks. I’ll stay here on Earth with the creamy, delicious cold stuff.