A Month of Sundaes

I seem to have an affection for the hyphen. The humble horizontal line appears regularly in my posts. The “dash” is more formal than the “dot-dot-dot” yet more relaxed than the semi-colon – perfect for blog pauses, don’t you agree? My hyphen habit may be the result of formative moments in my life, like Hanna-Barbera cartoons (hello, Yogi Bear) and Hewlett-Packard, where I worked most of my professional career. But if I had to pick just one – or should I say, thirty-one, I’d go with my favorite hyphen of them all.  Baskin-Robbins.

The next time I write a post, remind me to have something to eat before I sit down to the keyboard.  My last four entries cover graham crackers, doughnuts, waffles, and now ice cream.  Might be my anticipation of Easter Sunday (when my Lenten sweets sacrifice comes to an end).  Bring on the jellybeans, Peter Rabbit!  But today is about ice cream – and not just any.  It’s about the one you grew up with; the one you still identify with.  For me, it’ll always be Baskin-Robbins.

“B-R”, as they’re now called, has a quaint beginning worth a few sentences here.  Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins got into the ice cream business independent of each other.  Then Burt married Irv’s sister.  The now brothers-in-law decided to combine “Burton’s Ice Cream Shop” (10 flavors) with Irv’s “Snowbird Ice Cream” (21 flavors), and there you have it – the birth of “31 Flavors”.  B-R was a single shop back in 1948; today, how about 8,000 parlors in 50 countries?  Their new slogan – Seize the yay – has more to do with “celebrating small, joyous moments” than ice cream.  Even the rebranded logo removes the nostalgia of the B-R I grew up with (though the embedded “31” is clever).  But I get it – B-R needs to appeal to younger generations as well.

Dad’s favorite

Baskin-Robbins is inextricably tied to my childhood memories.  Our local B-R was one door over from my mother’s hair salon.  It was also right down the street from our church.  So ice cream for me was often the reward of patience with Mom or simply going to church with Dad, who often couldn’t resist a stop at B-R on the way home.  You could always find a container of B-R Rocky Road in Dad’s freezer, all the way up to the last day of his life.  He was fond of saying while he enjoyed a bowlful, “Nothing beats Baskin-Robbins’ Rocky Road.” (I beg to differ with B-R’s Peanut Butter ‘n’ Chocolate, but hey, we all have our favorites).

A lot of my posts mention ice cream yet I’ve only mentioned Baskin-Robbins once in all my blogging (in The Sweets Life three years ago).  Kind of a crime there because B-R deserves a post of its own, as does your favorite ice cream parlor.  Wikipedia has an article called List of Ice Cream Parlor Chains (of course they do).  Your favorite is on that list.  I may be partial to B-R but I’m familiar with several others, including Braum’s in Oklahoma and Texas, Carvel to the Northeast, Farrell’s to the West, and Lappert’s in Hawaii.

Of course, with Baskin-Robbins I’m talking “ice-cream-parlor ice cream”.  Back at home, you won’t find any B-R in our freezer because Häagen-Dazs (ice cream) and Talenti (gelato) earn the shelf space instead.  H-D goes a whole lot higher on the butterfat scale so naturally it tastes better.  H-D even has a hyphen!  And Talenti, well, it’s gelato.  Need I say more?

If you live in a bigger city than me, you have better ice cream options than Baskin-Robbins.  Big cities have wonderful local places (follow Lyssy in the City for some of the best in New York).  But do they have hyphens?  Mine does (as does this post – 48 if I counted correctly).  Yes, B-R may be updating its brand, but I’ll always insert the rainbow-sprinkle “dash” between the initials, returning me to those ice-cream parlor memories of old.

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “This 77-year-old ice cream chain is getting a makeover”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #13

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

We passed the ten-hour mark with the build today, which amounts to a very long piano concerto. (Good thing you’re not being asked to sit and watch, eh?) Bag #13 – of 21 bags of pieces – added another five keys to the board for a total of fifteen.  Eight more next week will complete the entire set.  Maybe we’ll be installing them into the piano as well!

Here’s a stop-sign warning if you take on a project like this.  Pieces can easily be installed backwards.  For all my “practice” building keys these past few weeks, I got a few tiny pieces reversed today and had to disassemble to make things right.  Mr. Instruction Manual includes warning-like diagrams to make sure you don’t do this. In other words, the piano student must pay attention at all times!

Running Build Time: 10.2 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Strauss’s The Blue Danube waltz. Leftover pieces: 3

Conductor’s Note: The Blue Danube is familiar from the very first bars (especially if you saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and remember the scene with the rotating space station).  Strauss was fond of waltzes and this one is his most famous.  With its repeating theme, I thought The Blue Danube would be appropriate this time around since I’ve been building key after key after key.

The Sweets Life

“Pagina Non Trovata” has the look of an elegant Italian phrase (or an opera title), until translation and context reveal its harsh reality. The phrase means “page not found”, which in my instance referred to a (former) on-line job posting for Italian candy company Ferrero. My punishment for seeking the advertisement two months after the fact? Ferrero, the second largest chocolate/confectionery company in the world, is (was) looking for sixty taste-testers – “sensory judges” if you will – to offer opinions on its products. O.M.Gee I wish I’d seen this sooner.  Instead, I won’t be one of the chosen few because, well, “page not found”.

Let’s ponder this (past) job opportunity for a paragraph, shall we?  Ferrero is (was) searching the world for several “average consumers”, who would (will now) get paid to eat chocolate.  “No experience necessary”, they claimed (otherwise by definition you aren’t an average consumer).  The only real requirement, absent food allergies, is (was) a willingness to move to northwest Italy, which darn-it-all means France and Switzerland are just as easy to visit.  Ferrero gives (gave) three months of paid training, followed by an offer to join the company as a part-time taster. “Part-time” in Italy translates to maybe a) second job, or probably b) la dolce vita (“the sweet life”, which definitely does not include a job).  Ferrero’s job is akin to unwrapping a bar of chocolate and finding a Wonka golden ticket.

If Ferrero created run-of-the-mill chocolates, searching late on their job opp wouldn’t be such a tragedy.  But Ferrero makes Ferrero Rocher (of course they do), those gold-foiled balls of decadent chocolate and hazelnuts.  They also make Mon Cheri, those pink-foiled chocolate cubes filled with cherries and sweet liqueur.  They even make Tic-Tac’s for gosh sakes, the boxed pill-like mints all-the-rage when I was a kid.  And finally, their pièce de résistance (or in Italy, “piu degno de nota”), on which the entire company was founded over sixty years ago, Ferrero makes Nutella.

Maybe it was half-hearted reading up to now, but mention Nutella and most people really sit up and listen.  I’m convinced Ferrero puts a secret something into Nutella to make consumers crave hazelnut chocolate spread all the more (bolstering the theory Starbucks does the same with its coffee drinks).  Why else would shoppers storm a small store – and engage in a brawl – when the Nutella stock was discounted 50% (see video here)?  Which leads to an even nuttier question: why have I never tried Nutella myself?

Nuts+chocolate equals killer-combination – I get that.  Give me a basket of Halloween candy and I’ll fish out all the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  Offer me thirty-one flavors at Baskin-Robbins and I’ll easily short-list peanut-butter-and-chocolate.  Sell me M&M’s at the movie theater and I’ll always choose peanut over plain.  But in all my examples, I’m talking peanuts, not hazelnuts.  Nutella spread is new territory for me, which means I’m the perfect candidate for Ferrero’s job. I have no experience with hazelnuts.

The more I read about my future employer, the more I’m impressed with their credentials.  Ferrero buys 25% of the world’s hazelnut production (and fittingly, acquired the world’s largest hazelnut producer four years ago).  They employ 40,000 candy-men and women in a network of 38 trading companies and 18 factories.  Ferrero keeps its recipes under lock-and-key, never letting the press into its facilities nor hosting a press conference, and always engineering its own production equipment.  A recent survey labeled Ferrero “the most reputable company in the world“.

As if I need a clincher to make this decision, last January Ferrero acquired the Nestle’s company’s candy division.  Holy cowbells.  On top of Nutella, I get to taste-test Sweetarts and Butterfingers and Laffy Taffy and the decadent Nestle’s Crunch (silver-foiled chocolate with a generous helping of crisped rice)?  Why even pay me?

I could do this job.  The more I think about it the more I’m convinced Ferrero needs 61 sensory judges.  I’m just (fashionably) late to the party.  All I need to do is brush up on my college Italian (no joke; I spent a year in Rome back then), convince my wife that our dogs, cats, and horses would be next to heaven in northwest Italy, and promptly board the next Alitalia flight.  Sweet life – er, dolce vita – here I come!

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and the USA Today article, “Dream Job: Italy’s Nutella maker seeks 60 taste-testers…”