Kathy Biehl is the food writer for Diversion magazine and the longtime former dining critic for the Houston Business Journal. She has reviewed restaurants as well for the Houston Press, Time Out New York, My Table and the TONY guide Eating & Drinking 2000. Her food writing has received awards from the Association of Food Journalists and the Houston Press Club. She also is the author of the LLRX.com Research RoundUp and Web Critic columns, co-author of The Lawyer’s Guide to Internet Research , and an attorney admitted to practice in Texas and New Jersey.
All you attending the AALL Annual Meeting this July and anyone else heading to Boston, be advised that mighty fine ice cream awaits there. Toscanini’s is an ice cream store for adults, according to owner Gus Ramcatore (who answered the phone, “Ice cream capital of the universe,” or some such honorific, the first time I called). The twenty-something-old store, which has two locations, caters to palates that appreciate something more complex than chocolate and vanilla.
Both flavors are on the menu, of course, and bestsellers, even, but Toscanini’s is renown for the decidedly uncommon. Some are its own creations, such as stunning ginger snap molasses, which cinched a courtship in my circle. (A long-time friend of mine, and almost as long-time a bachelor, had some air-shipped across the continent as a strategic gesture after the Harvard graduate he was newly dating praised Toscanini’s ginger snap molasses as a reason for living. Her girlfriends decided he was alright, and so did she, ultimately, and soon enough ginger snap molasses was shipped for her again, for the wedding reception.) Some flavors hail from other countries — Guinness ice cream from the West Indies, corn, rice and tomato ice creams from Italy (I’m assured they’re quite lovely; if any reader ever tastes this, please let me know); Indian kulfi; Italian eggnog made with citrus zest, vanilla, anisette, Amaretto and Grand Marnier, without cinnamon or nutmeg. And an experimental bent worthy of a lab scientist pervades some of the flavors Toscanini has rotated through its menu, such as tomato sorbet, mango habanero pepper, and Szechuan peppercorn brittle.
Home base is Central Square Cambridge, near MIT (899 Main Street, Cambridge; 617-491-5877); store two is in Harvard Square (1310 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 617/576-9350). During a pilgrimage to the Harvard Square location last fall, I made a phone call from the counter to a certain recently married couple to leave the message. “Guess what I’m eating, and guess where I’m eating it.” If you drop in and have a scoop or three, please think of them. And me..
Many a baby boomer’s introduction to cooking took the form of the Easy-Bake Oven, which scaled the wonders of the kitchen down to child’s play. Some of the kids who fell under its spell grew up to be chefs — including Bobby Flay, who wanted the Easy-Bake because it cooked with a light bulb. His story is one of many in The Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet
by David Hoffman, which combines the toy’s history with modern-day recipes by renown chefs such as Flay, Rick Bayless, Caprial Pence, Mark Bittman, Tom Douglas and Mollie Katzen. Despite the recipes, the book’s main appeal is as a reader, not cookbook. The problem isn’t the attractiveness of the recipes (deep dish lobster pie certainly sounds tasty enough), but the time commitment required by the oven’s limitations. The black and white cookie recipe, for example, yields a dozen cookies, baked for 10 to 12 minutes — one cookie at a time. Still, it makes for fun reading, especially the year by year timeline of the oven’s history.
If the mention of the Easy-Bake Oven makes you curious to own one, be forewarned: One of its current designs, the oven and snack center , resembles a microwave and comes with stickers that duplicate the clock and keypad.
Time travel is already available to us. In fact, you’ve probably done it without thinking of it in those terms. We don’t need a machine; a surprisingly low-tech, simple means is already at our disposal. Favorite foods from long ago have the power to transport us to earlier points on the time/space continuum.
Some foods shoot us back with the first taste. With others, the sight alone can be enough, especially if they have faded into obscurity. This month and next, I’ll lay out maps to travel back in time with the help of some old favorites.
Quisp Was Better Than Quake
If you were a television-watching kid in the 1960s, odds are the first vote you cast was not in a political election, but in the advertising contest between Quisp and Quake. The contest was the crux of an ad campaign that Quaker Oats ran promoting the two cereals by pitting them against each other. Each had an eponymous spokes-icon that insisted his cereal was better than the other: a hulking, super-strong miner for Quake, an alien with a propeller head and bubbly personality for Quisp. For me, there was no argument: I was staunchly in the camp of Quisp, and so were most of the voters. Despite the landslide we gave it, Quisp suffered the same fate as Quake, although somewhat later, and disappeared from the grocery aisles decades ago.
So when a fellow Quisp-head divulged a source for honest-to-goodness actual boxes of Quisp, I knew what I had to do: place an order. My bounty ended up as Christmas gifts for carefully chosen Quisp constituents who had no inkling the cereal was still available. Please don’t let my example dissuade you from ordering some for yourself. A trio of 9-ounce boxes costs $12.29 (shipping is extra) from where else but Quisp.com .
Dr Pepper, Still So Misunderstood
Be a Pepper the old-fashioned way. One bottling plant, in Dublin, Texas
( www.drpep.com ) , still uses Dr Pepper’s original, cane sugar-based recipe, which was discontinued about 20 years ago. Take it from someone who grew up in the shadow of the art deco Dr Pepper clock tower at the now-gone world headquarters: the drink really does taste different with cane sugar. (Not just different, but better; not just better, but right, say those of us who grew up on it.) This last holdout bottling plant, which was founded in 1891, ships one case of 24 8 oz. cans for $10.00 (plus shipping and $5 packing).
If cans are too new-fangled for you, you won’t be able to get your old-time fix online from the plant, which sells returnable eight ounce bottles only at the Dublin store, about 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth. I have seen the originals for sale here and there in Dallas, most recently in the Lovers Lane Central Market (an eye-popping store with a produce department bigger than some ranch homes, by the way, and well worth a field trip should your travels take you to Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Plano or San Antonio). Galco’s Soda Pop Stop sells the old-fashioned bottles for $1.55 apiece. The site has a $12 minimum order, which you fill with whatever product mix you wish. A few other old-timers (remember Frostie Root Beer?) lurk within the virtual aisles.
Next month: Give me that old-time candy!
ã Kathy Biehl 2004