Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams: Justin & Nana Eat Weird Stuff for Your Entertainment

East Asia may be the weirdness capital of the world, but they don't have a monopoly when it comes to strange eats--you can find plenty of odd flavors right here in the USA!

For instance: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a local Ohio chain of adventurous gourmet ice cream shops.

I found out about Jeni's just this morning, from a Yahoo! Travel article on the country's best ice cream. Columbus, with its dairy-producing hinterland, has long been known as a good ice cream town, with several notable local chains. Neither of us had ever been to Jeni's, though--seemed like the perfect way to spend out last night in Ohio.

Now, thanks to the magic of the taster spoon, we were able to sample several flavors before committing to our scoops.

The salty caramel was first. Exactly as advertised: caramel, with sea salt. Definitely appeals to the guy who's been known to eat an entire bag of chocolate-covered pretzels in one sitting . . .

We also tasted black coffee (coffee ice cream that tasted like actual coffee ice cream, according to Nana's mom), brown sugar almond brittle (a bit sweet for Nana's tastes), and coriander raspberry (a nice combo, but with the yogurt flavor perhaps a little too strong). In addition, Nana's mom was kind enough to share some of her mint, which tasted like actual mint (you'll notice a theme here), a flavor achieved, I'm told, by steeping actual mint leaves in the cream.

For our own scoops, I started with Queen City Cayenne--dark chocolate with a hefty dash of hot pepper. For me? Just awesome. I've had a long and tumultuous love affair with spicy chocolate, and this was like eating a cup full of red pepper truffles.

It was a bit spicy for Nana, though.

We followed up with wildberry lavender. A very delicate flavor, kind of like floral tea with a hint of blueberry and blackberry. Really freakin' good.

And we ended with sweet corn raspberry. Nana hated this one, but it grew on me with every bite. It really did taste like sweet corn--buttery, a bit salty.

Finally, Nana's sister kindly offered us a few spoonfuls of her take-out scoops, dark chocolate and milk chocolate. Classic flavors, done exceptionally well. Tons of chocolate flavor, without the blast of sugar you usually find in chocolate ice cream.

All around, Jeni's was a huge success. Go check it out if you're an ice cream lover with some time to spare in Columbus!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Just Ducky: Playing the Tourist in Pittsburgh

Travelling is more of a mindset than it is a journey or a destination. One of the reasons Nana and I like living overseas is that it constantly sheds new light on old, familiar things. You quickly learn not to take, say, grocery shopping, or commuting, or ordering dinner for granted when you have to face each of these little challenges in a new and unfamiliar way. It's constant discovery, constant trial and error (with an emphasis on error). Really, it's almost like being a tourist all the time, right where you live and work.

Unfortunately, Nana and I have a tendency to turn off the tourist mindset when we're in the US for the summer. We're home, right? What more is there to see or do or learn? I mean, why not just sit around, go to the gym a few times a week, hang out in the coffee shops, and haunt all the old restaurants we liked back when we lived here? All told, it's not a bad way to spend the summer. Just a little less exciting than we're used to. But this isn't through any fault of the local geography: there's a ton of cool stuff to do in western PA and central OH, we just weren't really doing it.

So Nana and I made a resolution earlier this summer to try at least a couple new things in Pittsburgh and Columbus. The resolution didn't last long--we quickly reverted to our standard summer occupations of reading, loafing, and hanging out with family and friends--but while it did last, we spent a great afternoon with some family on a Just Ducky tour of Pittsburgh.
Photo: Patti Brahim
Just Ducky operates a fleet of amphibious truck-buses (World War II surplus, the lot of 'em) out of the Station Square area of Pittsburgh. On the spur of the moment, we met some family members down there for a midday tour a couple weeks ago. Just the sort of thing we were looking for: literally, a new perspective on a familiar old place.

(A note of warning to anyone related to me walking around Pittsburgh: as time "t" increases, the probability of running into one of my relatives approaches 1. While waiting for the tour to start with my dad's side of the family, we ran into some cousins from my mom's side outside the Hard Rock Cafe.)
Photo: Patti Brahim
Just Ducky Tours uses the DUKWs as a platform for perky land-and-sea showcases of downtown Pittsburgh. The tours focus heavily on architecture, which is understandable given Pittsburgh's rich architectural heritage, with some history and pop culture thrown in.

For the young at heart, however, the highlight definitely comes after the boat is afloat: the tour guides choose a couple children to pilot the boat (at a roaring speed of five miles per hour) past the Carnegie Science Center. It's really a treat for the young ones--so serious, as they strain to get their wide eyes over the wheel. The kind of thing these little munchkins will remember for the rest of their lives.

This one kid, though, had trouble keeping her eyes on the road.
Photo: Patti Brahim
Dear readers, I give you Nana, driving a World War II-era amphibious troop transport down the middle of the Ohio River.
Give her a hand, folks! Isn't she great!

Apparently, the skipper shared my assessment of Ensign Nana's debut performance, awarding her with not one, but two "I Drove the Duck Boat" stickers, the latter of which is now blazoned on the right palmrest of her laptop, an eternal testament to the glory of her short but distinguished naval career.