Category Archives: europe

Caribbean Ice Cream

Brenda here:

Yes, I know, it’s been a while since we’ve posted. Holidays, traveling, catching up from traveling, what can I say? But I do want to report in on two places we discovered during our escape from the frozen north. On St. Maarten we found not one, but two gelaterias, one within walking distance of our condo! The big GELATERIA sign predictably caught our eye as we drove past, so we made a point of visiting. A sign on the side read “Where’s Ivan?” so we’re assuming that’s the actual name of the place, though we won’t swear to it. We sampled our standard chocolate as well as the raspberry ice. (Hey, it was in the eighties in St Maarten!) The raspberry was fruity and refreshing, but we can’t say the chocolate was up to European standards. Still, it beat the heck out of most store-bought ice cream, so we’re not complaining!

The other place we found was on the boardwalk (well, I guess it’s not really a BOARDwalk, but a nice, wide walkway along the beach) in Phillipsburg, also on the Dutch side of the island, but with much stronger French influence. In case you don’t know, St Martin/Maarten is only 37 square miles, but is two separate countries, French and Dutch. It’s hard to tell when you go from one to the other–no border crossings or anything like that–but they use European power outlets and take euro on the French side, while they use our American 110 outlets on the Dutch side and theoretically take the Florin, though we never saw any currency but dollars.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, ice cream! Vanille & Chocolat Ice Cream Parlor was very French and both the chocolate (dark chocolate!) and the chocolate orange were definitely up to European standards. Excellent, and a wonderful way to take a little break from the sun. Highly recommended.

Brenda & Beth in St Maarten


Posted by on January 14, 2008 in caribbean, europe, france, gelato, ice cream, travel


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Cold Stone Creamery

Beth here.

Continuing my explorations for quality ice cream within the narrow confines of Indiana (you gotta work with what you got…), I went with a trusty friend to the Cold Stone Creamery last week. Generally, I think their ice cream is overpriced, but it *is* pretty darn tasty–and they’re open late, which is why I ended up there in the first place (sometimes you need ice cream at 10pm–in those instances, it’s good to know you have someplace you can go). I had the Dark Chocolate Mint flavor with Oreos mixed in. No complaints here! Their ice cream does tend to be a little too… elastic, is perhaps the right word, but is very rich, creamy, and the mix-in format allows for creativity, which is fun. They’ve also got a bunch of “Signature Creations” in case your muse is taking a nap–and every single one of those that I’ve tried has been pretty fantastic. I think “Chocolate Devotion” and “Cheesecake Fantasy” may be among my favorites, but there are so many still to try…

Speaking of cheesecake, I just made my first attempt last week–a chocolate cheesecake with a layer of caramel and pecans on the bottom and drizzled with caramel and dark chocolate on top. I think there’s kind of too much going on for it to really taste like cheesecake–it sort of tastes more like the best candy bar EVER. Melting caramel aside (pain in the butt!), it’s a pretty easy recipe if you’re looking for something decadent… More on my further adventures in cheesecake when I have them.


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The obvious topic for today, and I have much to be grateful for beyond ice cream (though that’s always a biggie!)  Thanksgiving is probably the closest thing we have in the US to “National Decadence Day,” so I feel obliged to pay homage to that here, where we’re all about decadence.

Bethany is home and helping with the cooking, and we have plenty of decadent delights planned, starting with the cinnamon-walnut scones she made for breakfast. Did you know that if you add only a tiny pinch of sugar to whipping cream, then over-whip it until it’s the consistency of soft butter, you have a darned good approximation of clotted cream? I fell completely in love with clotted cream while touring England a few years ago, but hadn’t been particularly successful finding it in the States, so this was a magnificent discovery.

Later, we’ll have our traditional turkey (just a breast this year with only three of us to eat it), stuffing the way my own mother used to make it, yams (with cinnamon) and a spinach and cream cheese casserole (which has replaced the traditional green bean thing no one really ate). Oh, and pumpkin bread (already made), possibly pumpkin pie (we’re still debating). And Bethany is making a lemon meringue pie (my favorite!) from scratch. Bestill my heart! The only ice cream of the day is vanilla bean (store bought) to go with the blueberry pie someone brought to a recent party and left to our tender mercies.

Sometime after dinner we’ll be iChatting with Dawn in Japan. (For anyone who has never iChatted, it’s the most amazing, futuristic experience! Real-time video conferencing with the other side of the globe, using only our laptops!)  The timing is tricky, since she’s twelve hours ahead of us, meaning narrow windows when we’re both awake and she’s not working. We’ll try to manage an iToast…well, on our side. It will be about noon her time, so she’ll probably be drinking tea.

Back to thankfulness, I’m beyond grateful for my daughters and especially for the wonderful relationship we have. I think the key is listening—really listening—to each other. Not just them listening to me. Nor just me listening to them. Honest, two-way conversations short-circuit so many things that could have become disagreements. Also, finding a few things that we both/all enjoy doing together continues to bond us more tightly.  For all of you reading, I wish you as much to be thankful for as I have today!

Happy Thanksgiving!

–Brenda 🙂

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Posted by on November 22, 2007 in europe, food, ice cream, tea, travel


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Singing on street corners

Actually, it was our second night in Florence that you sang on the street corner, Beth–after our lovely dinner (is there any other kind in Florence?) at Buca Poldo and dessert at Gelateria Dei Neri (which I believe you rated as your #1 pick). So you were probably more drunk on dark chocolate and fior de latte gelato than on wine by the time we talked you into singing.


For the record, everyone, she raked in 40 euros in half an hour of singing! I’d say that cap we bought earlier in the day (for about 5 euro) was a good investment.  The best part was the look on your face when you counted up your earnings after we got back to our room that night. First stunned, then speculative, as you realized you could actually live on this kind of money!  Always good to have a backup plan.

–Brenda/Mom 🙂


Ah, Florence…

Beth here.

Thanks, Mom. Now I’m all nostalgic and sad because I’m stuck in Indiana and I want to be wining and dining on the Arno… Was that the same night that I ended up drunkenly bursting into operatic song at the market on the Porta Rossa? I know that there was a lot of fabulous wine (and grappa… and limoncello…) consumed at dinner, so it might have been…

If I could hear myself now, I’m sure that I’d be embarrassed, but at the time, I thought I was sounding GREAT (isn’t alcohol wonderful?)! But at least a few (possibly drunken) tourists seemed to agree with me. I think it was you who had the idea to put out a hat when a crowd started to gather and we ended up making enough to cover gelato expenses for at least a few days.

Which is funny, since I’ve tried singing on the street in downtown Chicago only to be met with confusion, glares, people staunchly trying to pretend I’m not there, and the occasional furtive “pity change” thrown my way without making eye contact, which is SO not the point. In Florence, I think most of the people who gathered were American tourists, people who might have been annoyed if I were singing in *their* hometown. But because it was Florence…it was charming; they gathered, they actually listened, they enjoyed.

::shrugs:: If I have to go to Italy to find Americans responsive to opera, that’s fine by me. I still have fantasies where I just run away and live as a high-class bum singing opera on the streets of Florence… Any takers? I could use a guitar player…


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Filling in some blanks

Reading back over some of my earlier entries here, I see that I more than once promised to post extra details later—then never did.  So now I’m going back over some of the notes I took during our ice cream tour of Europe this summer—well, as much of a tour as we could fit into two weeks—so I can fill in some of those details and keep my promises.

Given how much we’ve raved about the ice cream in Florence, I’ll start there. When we arrived on the train from Rome, we walked to our hotel only to find that they were overbooked. The manager apologized profusely and compensated by giving us a room around the corner—a beautiful one-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen (which went to waste, as the food there is so good) and living room. For the same price we’d have paid for a hotel room! Lovely. We dropped off our backpacks and went out to explore, stopping along the way at Deanna, a café by the train station, for sandwiches and gelato (of course). Both were inexpensive and better than we expected, given the location.  We split a small cup of coffee and tiramisu gelato. The coffee flavor was excellent. The tiramisu (never my favorite anyway, but I was overruled) was a bit chewy but not bad.

Caffe Deanna

We were too late for the Duomo, which was already closed, but we wandered along the Piazza della Republica with its interesting mix of Roman columns and a merry-go-round, and the Piazza della Signoria with its replica of Michaelangelo’s David and more than a dozen original famous sculptures. Beware, though—at the Caffe Fiorenza nearby we found the only substandard (and overpriced) gelato in Florence.

We wandered over to the Uffizi Gallery to check the line, but without much hope, as Rick Steves describes as containing the “greatest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in captivity” and also highly recommends reservations. Here we discovered a phenomenal stroke of luck: not only was there no line because the museum was closing in an hour, but admission was FREE because we had fortuitously arrived in Italy for Culture Week! We made wonderful use of our hour, absorbing more breathtaking art in one place than should be allowed: paintings by Raphael, Rubens, Michaelangelo, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Boticelli—famous paintings we’d seen in photos our whole lives, up close and personal. I won’t even try to describe this experience.

We were nearly the last to leave the Uffizi. From there, we went across the Ponte Vecchio to the Golden View Open Bar restaurant, which Bethany and I had loved on our first visit two years earlier. We were early enough to score a table with a view of the Arno, and the waiter was so taken with my girls that we received superb service. When he discovered both girls were mine, he thanked me! The food was equally superb—focaccia and cheeses, chicken with truffle sauce, salad with tuna and avocado, and Chianti, of course. This was Tuscany! Here’s the view from our table.

River Arno and Ponte Vecchio

Grappa and limoncello afterward. We spent nearly three hours there, then waddled back across the Ponte Vecchio to the Caffe Delle Carrozze at the foot of the bridge for our final gelato of the day. The chocolate mousse, in particular, was divine.

Back to our lovely room, walking arm in arm in lockstep, just to confuse people, talking and laughing all the way. A perfect afternoon and evening, with the prospect of another full day in Florence tomorrow.

–Brenda 🙂

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Posted by on November 2, 2007 in art, europe, florence, food, ice cream, italy, travel


Ice Cream on the Cape

Beth here.

As promised, here’s an accounting of the ice cream I discovered while spending the summer on Cape Cod with the College Light Opera Company. First a note on *that* insanity. It’s a fantastically crazy little company–we put on nine shows over the course of the summer–one show a week–nothing was pre-cast, and we had a week to put each show together, rehearsing during the day for the next week’s show while performing the current week’s show at night.

Free time was at a premium, but thankfully, there was ice cream to help me keep my sanity.

Eulinda’s, less than a fifteen minute walk from where we lived and rehearsed in West Falmouth was really quite good–the ice cream was homemade (though not made fresh daily) and included some interesting flavors like blueberry (made with fresh local berries) and ginger–which became my favorite summer combination. The chocolate was good (is there such a thing as bad chocolate?), but certainly not up to European standards.

Even more fortunate for we players was Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium on the main drag in downtown Falmouth, five minutes from the Highfield theater where we performed every night. We loved B&B’s because they were open later than anything else in Falmouth, which meant we could hit it up after a show when we were too jazzed up to go to bed and had serious ice cream cravings. And, being a chocolate emporium, their chocolate flavors were all superb. My personal favorites came to be “KGB”–Kahlua, Grand Marnier and Baileys and the Kahlua Brownie Sundae flavors. They also had a great blueberry flavor (though I preferred Eulinda’s), chocolate raspberry, and a triple chocolate concoction that worked quite well. For the more adventurous (or as a rite of passage), they also have lobster flavored ice cream with chunks of real lobster in it. ‘Fraid I can’t quite recommend that flavor, however…

Cape Cod is a great place for ice cream because they’re so very into *quaint* there. As a result, there are lots of cute little mom and pop places that make their ice cream fresh and use a lot of local ingredients. One more reason to summer on the Cape…

If anyone has other New England ice cream stories to relate, please share!