Saturday, August 02, 2008

Simple Pleasures: Soft Ice Cream

A while back I wrote an op-ed piece (“In Praise of Cheap and Local Eats”) extolling the virtues of eating at local diners, pizza places, and other inexpensive neighborhood eateries. No matter the venue, I consider eating out a luxury, and my appreciation for simple forms of restaurant food has been expressed in earlier blog posts.

Now that summer is well underway, I am reminded of one of my most abiding simple pleasures: soft ice cream. Soft serve is an odd product. I am not sure that the mix it is made from is entirely food, and then there is the wafer cone. What is that made of? I’m not sure I want to know. As a teenager, I worked at a Dairy Queen in Urbana, Illinois, and things went on there that I would rather not describe.

But I love the stuff. Vanilla just plain or dipped in that waxy chocolate coating. Chocolate soft serve or a chocolate vanilla twist is also very satisfying, but I steadfastly resist the new methods of injecting exotic flavors into the standard vanilla cone. This is soft serve trying to be something it is not, and I prefer the simple purity of vanilla and chocolate.

Soft ice cream is a less pretentious dessert than hard or gourmet ice cream, and it is strongly associated with summertime vacations and automobile travel, in particular. Here in the East, most soft serve is found at the roadside seasonal clam shacks and take-out ice cream places that close when the warm weather and tourists disappear. Your cone is likely to be handed to you by a high school or college student working for tuition money, and in my case, each lick conjures up memories of summers past.

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