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.

Ice Cream Dreams

Before our vacation in South Carolina last week, I took measures to ensure I was fully prepared for the low country’s late-May heat and humidity. I packed a reliable SPF 30 sunscreen. I purchased a couple of bottles of spray-on insect repellant. I added several hats to the wardrobe. I even brought a USB-chargeable mini-fan, which hangs around the neck, operates at three speeds, and adjusts to just the right angle. But guess what? I didn’t need any of these items in South Carolina last week (for the weather gods were merciful). Instead, I should’ve left it all at home and just brought my bed.

South Carolina is nicknamed “The Palmetto State”

Is it me getting older or can we all agree on the exceptional value of a good night’s sleep?  For me, it’s a day of brain fog if I don’t get a quality 7.5 hours in la-la land the night before.  When I’m up past midnight (which is never my intention), I know I’m going to pay dearly at 7am the next morning.  Because, I wake up without fail (and without alarm clock) every morning at 7am.  Even if I don’t hit the hay until 3am.

 Stay in a hotel – any hotel – and after one night you’re reminded how the circumstances of quality sleep are frustratingly beyond your control.  My wife and I booked a charming historic inn our first night last week, and what-do-you-know, our bed was just as historic.  The seemingly elegant four-poster contained a lumpy mattress with a few squeaky springs, and a decided slope from my side of the bed to my wife’s.  Throw in the two-hour time change and we tossed and turned like a washing machine’s most violent agitation cycle.

The second day we drove over to Charleston (half asleep), where you’d think a Courtyard-by-Marriott room would deliver the Z’s just a little bit better.  No such luck.  Our fifth-floor corner space included two windows with not-so-blackout curtains.  Our first night’s sleep was interrupted by the hotel fire alarm, triggered because one of the elevators malfunctioned.  The rest of our night’s sleeps were interrupted by the several amped-up bachelorettes and wedding parties resident in the hotel.  Finally, we were adjacent to the fire exit stairs, with a bangy access door used constantly… because of the malfunctioning elevator.

Once upon a time, I was happy just to afford a bed to sleep in.  But over the years I’ve developed a respect for the crucial elements of quality sleep.  A comfortable mattress is worth the max you can afford to pay.  A mattress where you can raise/lower the head and foot is even better.  Make the room pitch black (which in our case includes a small piece of cardboard to block the fireplace pilot flame).  Adjust the temp to the high sixties °F.  Invest in a white noise machine.  And table the electronic devices and alcohol several hours before bedtime.

If there was a plus side to my Charleston sleep, it was this.  We discovered a very good ice cream place within walking distance of the hotel.  Don’t know about you but ice cream does wonders for my sleep.  Specifically, my dreams.  Maybe it’s the sugar or maybe it’s just the late-night munchies, but I’m guaranteed all kinds of REM-sleep adventures when I’ve had ice cream.  Some are haunted-house scary, others earn a movie-theater R-rating, and still others are a jumbled hodgepodge of individual memories making no sense when thrown together.  Whatever the subject, my ice cream dreams are a ton of fun.  They also disappear from memory as fast as the ice cream did the night before.  I’m not one of those who greet you at breakfast with, “You’re not gonna believe what I dreamed about last night!”  Because I’ve already forgotten.

Dreams are the topic of an entire post and alas, I’ve already used up my typical word count this time around.  But let me leave you with some dreamy trivia.  The average person enjoys three to five dreams a night.  Like me, most people quickly forget their dreams the moment they wake up.  Dreams last longer as the night progresses.  The older you get, the less you dream.  Finally, for all we know about the brain, we know next to nothing about dreaming.

I can’t fit a bed in my suitcase so I already know the next time I travel means quality sleep stays behind.  But maybe I’ll pack a little ice cream on dry ice.  If I can’t get my usual dose of Z’s, the least I can do is enjoy a forgettable sweet dream or two.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Save the Bowl

Back in the 1980’s, Hollywood produced an awful movie called “The Stuff”.  The story began with a couple of miners discovering a pasty-white goo pouring forth from the earth.  Giving it a taste, they realized it was not only edible, but the more you ate the more you seemed to want.  So, they package the goo, brand it “The Stuff”, and begin selling cartons to the masses.  Turns out – besides tasting good – “The Stuff” melts your brain, turns you into a zombie, and leaves you with nothing but an insatiable appetite for more.  That’s the entire comedy-horror plot, save for an FBI agent and a teen trying desperately to rescue the planet.  “The Stuff” was like a light/airy “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”: no taste and little substance.

Even a “distasteful” movie can be a prophecy, however.  Maybe you’re craving “The Stuff” after reading that paragraph.  Guess what?  It just may exist, disguised as the pint-sized “ice cream” products from Halo Top, Arctic Zero, Enlightened, and others.  All available this very minute at your local grocery store!  What are you waiting for?

Halo Top (HT) is – in one aspect – the dream dessert.  Halo Top is a full pint of ice cream (per the label – four servings), engineered to be consumed straight from the container in one sitting, but with none of the guilt/gluttony associated with full-fat competitors.  HT can’t hide its pride – the biggest lettering on the container is the calories (just 280 for the whole pint; 25% of Ben & Jerry’s), while elsewhere the packaging promotes immediate and total consumption with slogans like “save the bowl” and “stop when you hit the bottom”.

On the other hand, Halo Top is not dream-tasty.  Some describe HT as “shaved ice” while others say it leaves a chalky aftertaste (hello, stevia).  The chocolate-chip cookie dough has very little “dough”, and the cookies-and-cream has no cookies.  Every review I found recommends time at room temperature to achieve a more ice-cream-like consistency.  On a recent visit to the grocery store, I “hefted” one of these pints.  It was hard as a rock, yet somehow so light/airy it felt like a little helium balloon, ready to ascend from my grasp.

Here’s the real wonder to me: none of the above gotchas stop consumers from filling their baskets with Halo Top pints.  Last year’s sales were over $350 million, a 500% increase from the previous year.  In the same time, “regular” ice cream sales increased less than 10%.  As one consumer declares, it’s a brave new world of ice cream – quantity over quality.

What I find most disturbing about Halo Top and its peers is the manufacturer’s intent.  They’re effectively encouraging you to clean your plate by design.  Four servings make more sense than one because you should eat the whole pint.  Whether you’ve already quenched your appetite is irrelevant; it’s about getting to the bottom of the container.  Arctic Zero claims “…our love of ice cream runs deep, like eat-the-entire-pint-deep.”  Enlightened even offers how-often guidelines.  In their website FAQ’s, we’re told ice cream is not just for dessert: “Not at all! Low in calories, fat, and sugar, and packed with protein and fiber, Enlightened Ice Cream is truly good for you. It can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner… or anytime in between!”

Let’s translate the “more is better” concept to the movie theater.  If we drop the guilt factor from junk-food concessions, we could sell popcorn in containers the size of trash cans.  Soda could be hosed to each theater seat for hours of non-stop slurping (restroom logistics aside).  String licorice could be coiled on floor-mounted reels.  M&M’s could be the size of hamburgers.

We’ve just about come full-circle here.  If all of us binge on Halo Top, honing our full-container consumption habits for breakfast lunch, dinner, “and anytime in between”, haven’t we created a modern-day version of “The Stuff”?  All that’s missing is the magic ingredient in Starbucks and Chinese food that triggers “I want more”.  As for me, I’ve never tried any of the products I’ve talked about today, nor do I intend to.  I’d rather not become a zombie.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop…“.