Monday, November 30, 2009

one word or two?

Throughout November, my friend Bean's Twitter feed has been sprinkled with occasional references to egg nog and pumpkin pie. I have been encouraging him by posting Twitpics of Flav-O-Rich pumpkin pie spice egg nog as well as egg nog taffy samples and pumpkin nut fudge at Dollywood. I've been an egg nog fan for years.

When Chef Walter made an egg nog cake on the noon news today, I was inspired to list as many current egg nog flavored menu items as I could find. Bean already mentioned that he was psyched about Holiday Hotcakes at IHOP. A reviewer at LAist disagrees. Bean's reference to a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks prompted me to try a combination egg nog and pumpkin spice latte after my wife's recent concert.

Baskin-Robbins has sold egg nog ice cream each year for as long as I can remember. I saw a sign for an Egg Nog MilkQuake at Krystal while on the way to Dollywood on Saturday. If there was a Jack in the Box near here, I might have seen a sign for their Egg Nog Ice Cream Shakes.

Can you add to the list? Use the comments section to tell me what you think of egg nog treats and where I can find them.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

malt o meal

St. Louis has an interesting combination of restaurant chains that I recognized from my time living on the East Coast and on the West Coast. Just this past weekend, I saw White Castle, Del Taco, Jack in the Box, Church's Chicken, First Watch and El Pollo Loco.

The flame-grilled chicken at El Pollo Loco is a favorite of mine. Bill Smith, a former co-worker from KROQ met me there for dinner on Friday. Bill is now in a band called Glitch Factor. Our food beat the heck out of the supposedly grilled chicken I had at KFC a few weeks ago.

Without taking anything away from El Pollo Loco, the best meal of the weekend was not at a chain restaurant but at a St. Louis original. A former radio guy turned successful real estate agent, Bruce Butler, invited me to meet him for lunch at the Crown Candy Kitchen, a local institution since 1913. Bruce said the BLT and the milkshakes were "strong." He was right.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009


On the northbound leg of our vacation road trip, we stopped for lunch in Pennsylvania at Hershey's Chocolate World. We got salads for lunch and a S'mores Cup to share for dessert. It was basically a pile of sawdust-like graham cracker crumbs under a layer of melted chocolate which was covered with a layer of mini-marshmallows and a drizzle of chocolate on top. It tasted fine but could have benefited from being stirred before the marshmallows were added.

I saw a family ordering ice cream cones and couldn't believe my eyes. Here they were inside Hershey's Chocolate World and they ordered plain vanilla cones. One of them was happy to comply when I asked if I could photograph the insanity.

A few other treats caught my eye. The peanut butter cookies were decorated with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The Chocolate Iced Chocolate Mini Cakes appeared to actually be slices of cake covered in icing on all sides. I think local supermarkets that sell cake by the slice could steal this idea and add more icing.

When we saw the display of Hershey's Barbies, my son said, "I thought she would be bigger."

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

opening of an envelope

The last thing I really needed after my vacation was a scoop of ice cream but I couldn't say no to the invitation. Josh and Kara Lovett, owners of Soups and Scoops Café, wrote to say that their five-year-old son would be especially thrilled if I showed up. Of all the people there, little Joshua was the only one who knew the full names of the morning show and radio station where I work.

The invitation also indicated that there would be prayer service at 1:00 p.m. last Sunday. My wife and I made sure to arrive in time for that. Josh's father David read a blessing for businesses from St. Brigid in three parts. He started outside on the sidewalk, continued just inside the front door and then concluded in the work area. David appeared to have a rosary made from knotted cord in his hands. He showed me that each "decade" had only seven knots instead of the ten that I expected. It was an Anglican Rosary, which he gets from the Sisters of the Transfiguration in Cincinnati.

The Lovetts bought the business a few months ago. They are celebrating their grand re-opening this week with different specials each day. Thursdays are Bring Your Own Banana Day for discounts on banana splits. This weekend they are offering buy-one-get-one-free deals on Hilton Head Ice Cream. Soups and Scoops is the only place around selling Hilton Head. The Lovetts make the ice cream in their shop. I asked for a half-scoop of Bananas Foster and a half-scoop of Death by Godiva. Fortunately it was a less-than-lethal dose.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

green mountains

Number 41 in my ongoing quest to visit all fifty states is... Vermont.

First stop was Sugarbush Farm, a working maple syrup farm. They also sell locally made cheese, which they age and package right there on the farm. The free tour includes samples of fourteen cheeses and four maple syrups. A few farm animals are on display for the kids to feed. I saw a suggestion box for visitors to come up with a name for a female calf. In honor of Rev. Spooner, I submitted "Booger Shush."

To get to and from Sugarbush, we crossed the Taftsville covered bridge. On the way to Waterbury, we stopped to see the beautiful Quechee Gorge.

Everything I had read about the Ben & Jerry's factory tour said it was a disappointment but we went anyway. It was as lame as promised, if not more so. The so-called tour gives you less information than half an episode of "Unwrapped." The real reason to take the $3 tour is for the "free" scoop at the end. We went into the tasting room and found we had no choice of flavors. We were stuck with a white ice cream that had peppermint-infused chocolate chunks. It might have seemed better if they hadn't worked us up to try one of the new flavors like Mission to Marzipan. I couldn't even buy a cone of Mission to Marzipan at the Scoop Shop outside. It was only available in pints.

I always heard that Ben & Jerry had very strong political views. However I was surprised that they leaned so far to the left that the video presentation on the tour didn't even identify which president awarded them with a plaque as U.S. Small Business Persons of the Year in 1988. The video showed a close-up of somebody holding the plaque. Why not zoom out and show Ben & Jerry standing there with Ronald Reagan? At least the video did mention that Ben & Jerry sold their company to Unilever and no longer have anything to do with it. How capitalistic of them. Speaking of Ronald Reagan, I thought of him later when we drove past the Berlin Mall. Get it?

After dessert, we had some dinner in The Lounge at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. The three of us were able to each get a salad and then split an order of wiener schnitzel with spätzle. As you can see, it's a veal cutlet not a hot dog franchise.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

chicken little

KFC blew it. They had a perfect opportunity to make a good impression and really reinforce their "Unthink" advertising campaign. They even had the almighty Oprah behind them. Other businesses have been able to figure it out. Ben & Jerry's hands out free cones every year. Denny's gave away two million Grand Slam breakfasts the Tuesday after the Super Bowl.

Instead of picking a day and doing a simple giveaway, KFC asked people to go online and print a coupon. They stopped honoring the coupons after a day or two and now require patrons to apply for a rain check. The letter (and press release) from KFC President Roger Eaton makes it sound like they don't have enough grilled chicken to go around. There was no line and plenty of grilled chicken available when I got there last night. The clerk behind the counter said he thought that counterfeit coupons were the real problem.

KFC's public relations fiasco made me wish El Pollo Loco had a restaurant in Knoxville. Not only did one of my favorite fast food places do a successful chicken giveaway in April, they are honoring KFC's coupons on Mother's Day.

Frustrated by last night's inconvenience, I chose not to buy my dinner at KFC. On the way home, I realized that I was fairly close to M&M Catering. Considering how often I used to stop by their old location (now home to Two Sisters Sandwiches & Sweets), I was surprised that I had not yet been to their new place at Middlebrook and Chert Pit Road. A memo in the window points out that they were chosen as best barbecue joint in the 2008 Metro Pulse survey. They made runner-up this year.

I ordered a chicken sandwich with a mixture of hot and mild sauce. Like their previous spot, there's no place to sit and eat. All orders are to go. While I waited, the lady behind the counter told me that the reason their website didn't work when I clicked on it last week was because it was being rebuilt. The sandwich looked good but the meat was only lukewarm. Bummer. I picked the chicken off the bun and zapped it in the microwave at home.

An inscription in the concrete caught my eye as I carried my sandwich to the car. It read "In Memory of Robert; M&M Catering; Love, wife & kids."

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Friday, March 13, 2009

a sometimes food

The food court at Treasure Coast Square Mall had several businesses that were new to me. I saw dueling-but-related Chinese restaurants called Asian Chao and Chao Cajun. Fancy Flavors served a red, yellow and blue ice cream named after Superman. Interesting, but not enough to make me crave it.

Today’s Lenten Friday Forbidden Treat comes from a place in the food court called Your Kind of Cookie. They let you choose your dough and your toppings for cookies made to order. The list of 40 available toppings is comprised mostly of popular candy bars with some fruits and nuts thrown in too. A tray of delicious-looking S’mores cookies grabbed my attention as I walked past. The label said they were made with Hershey's bars, marshmallows, fudge drizzle and a graham sprinkle. I would have loved to try one, however this picture will have to suffice as I’ll be flying out today to spend the rest of Lent at home.

The idea of building your own dream cookie made me think of a British website I read about the other day. features giant recreations of popular treats like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kat bars.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

frozen customers

A nearby bank thermometer said 27° but the wind chill made it feel much colder in St. Louis on Saturday evening. The temperature continued dropping into the single digits during the night. Yet that didn't stop some dedicated fans from lining up in the cold to get their concretes from Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. A lot of them were wearing St. Louis Blues gear, no doubt celebrating the team's victory over the Wild. Many were underdressed and shivering without coats. During Advent, the famous custard stand also sells Christmas trees and wreaths in the parking lot. Ted Drewes does actually close in January for the coldest weeks of winter. Given what I saw on Saturday night, they could probably stay open year round.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

full of grace

Several Baptist churches around the country present Living Christmas Trees but few, if any, do so in as spectacular a fashion as the Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville. Their presentation outgrew their sanctuary and then the Tennessee Theatre years ago. Five performances of the Knoxville Living Christmas Tree filled Thompson-Boling Arena this weekend.

My wife and I had never seen the LCT, as those in the know call it. It is actually a gigantic choir riser in the shape of a Christmas tree. A segment on the noon news one day last week got me interested in going although our previous commitments didn't make it easy. We already had plans for Saturday. Tonight, my wife and I went to Mass at our own church for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation and the national feast of the USA. It comes nine months before the celebration of Mary's birth. There was only one performance that fit our schedule, Sunday at 3:00 p.m. I went to the website to request a pair of free tickets only to find out that they were "sold out." I gave up my plans to attend and started thinking about going to the Knoxville Nativity Pageant next week instead.

After the Julianne Hough concert on Friday night, my wife and I went to Rita's Ice to share a dessert. As we paid for our Blendini, I saw tickets to the Living Christmas Tree on the counter. There were a few tickets for each of Sunday's two performances. Nancy, the store owner, told me that she had gotten the tickets through her church and that they were free for the taking. I grabbed a pair for the matinee. Call it fate, karma or good luck.

We got there about 45 minutes early. I dropped off Jere at the door and went to park the car. As I got out of my car, I realized that I had parked next to Matt Hinkin. He said that it had been a couple of years since he last saw the LCT. I found my wife in section 105 and sat down. I had brought my copy of "Thank God for Evolution" to read while waiting for the show to start. As the singers began to fill in the 16 levels of the tree, I noticed that their choir robes were just drapes that only covered their shoulders and upper bodies.

I went to the Living Christmas Tree expecting a musical performance. I didn't know it would also include a Nativity pageant, a Passion play, a sermon and a passing of the collection plate. The show was so entertaining that even I was moved to toss in a couple of bucks. In addition to all the other elements, there was a contemporary Christmas story, reminiscent of a schmaltzy TV movie. Hollywood producer Garrett returns to his hometown to expose what he thinks is the hypocrisy of their Christmas celebration. He has a change of heart after his assistant prays for him.

The best parts of the event were the singing and the sermon by guest speaker Scott Dawson. I could have done with slightly shorter talking scenes and more songs during the drama portion. However the show did have first class production values. In a way, it was like a slice of Pigeon Forge right here in Knoxville. In fact, the comic relief characters, Bobby Earl and Skeeter, were a lot like some I saw at the Dixie Stampede last year.

Before the performance, Shannon Leigh from Love 89 welcomed the crowd. She said that they were playing only Christmas music this month. On the way home, I switched back and forth between Love 89 and B97.5. The religious station beat the commercial station on each song I heard. The tunes that gave them the win were "Jingle Bells" by Denver & the Mile High Orchestra and "Sleigh Ride" by Relient K while the B was playing "Do They Know It's Christmas" yet again. You can compare the two station's playlists yourself here and here.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

o tannen-boom

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Santa Claus lit the Christmas tree at the Regal Celebration of Lights tonight, the first big event in the annual Christmas in the City celebration. I was expecting the tree lights to come on, however the fireworks from Pyro Shows were a surprise. The fake snow they blasted out over the crowd could have been easily confused for ashes from the exploding shells above us.

The tree is just across Gay Street from the Regal Riviera. There were vendor booths and other activities throughout Krutch Park and into Market Square. Talented 12-year-old Logan Murrell was singing Christmas songs on the Market Square stage when my daughter and I came out of the new Rita's Ice store. I remember being impressed by Logan's voice two years ago when she was only 10. Her performance tonight reaffirmed my feeling that she will be even more successful in the future.

My daughter bought a coffee custard with fudge topping at Rita's. Instead of ice cream, I had a free cup of eggnog from Mayfield Dairy. Members of the Mayfield Mom Squad were handing out samples from the Flavor Force trailer. Earlier in the evening they gave out free Snow Cream popsicles. The Salvation Army offered free hot chocolate and the city gave away free marshmallows for roasting over a fire pit.

A vendor in one of the booths was selling marshmallow blowguns, which are painted pieces of PVC pipe. A miniature marshmallow goes in the mouth end of the gun and gains velocity as it travels through the barrel. A sign above the guns offers sage advice for life: "don't put mouth on blowgun until purchased."

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Sunday, November 16, 2008


Could milkshakes be the next cupcakes? I was clicking around the Internet looking at celebrity news and noticed some pictures of stars patronizing a new shop called Millions of Milkshakes in West Hollywood. The place got noticed by naming shakes after tabloid celebrities.

Cupcakes were made fashionable by "Sex and the City." However it was the success of cupcake shops in Beverly Hills and Burbank that is credited with the proliferation of stores around the country specializing in the single-serving desserts. One key to that success is the variety of flavors of cakes and icing. I tried a Graceland cupcake here in Knoxville a few weeks ago. Today I saw pictures of some Elvis cupcakes that were similar except that they had bacon on top of the peanut butter icing. Seriously, bacon.

Millions of Milkshakes says that they over one hundred ingredients that can be mixed into 75 million combinations. The base is ice cream, frozen yogurt or soy. In addition to the ingredients that get mixed in to the shake, there are several more choices of toppings to get sprinkled on top. Among other things, you could choose from candy bars and breakfast cereals, including Lucky Charms.

As a Baskin-Robbins employee during high school, I enjoyed making and drinking milkshakes. My favorite was made with Jamoca Almond Fudge and chocolate syrup. I would need a spoon to eat the almonds after the shake was gone.

My enthusiasm for Millions of Milkshakes was brought back to earth by a review on Chowhound. The milkshakes aren't really milkshakes at all. They are more like Blizzards from Dairy Queen, which aren't all that different from the mashed in scoops you get at a Cold Stone or Marble Slab. The reviewer found the "shakes" to be not blended enough and to be way overpriced.

I found it interesting that all the press coverage highlighted on their website is focused on the celebrities who have visited. I didn't see any articles talking about the quality of the product.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

see you at the dipping cabinets

There was only a short wait for the free Ben & Jerry's coupons they were handing out at Bearden Middle School today. The little slips of paper also contain a code that lets you operate a voting machine. Seriously though, the people with opposing viewpoints are out there casting their ballots, so you may as well go cast yours.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

one trick, three treats

It would have been cool to celebrate Halloween by posting a copy of "The War of the Worlds," as requested by my friend Bean. I unsuccessfully dug through several drawers full of old CDs hoping that I might have the version we did on KLOS. Unfortunately the fan sites and Rare Footage Vault didn't have it either. Instead I found a CD of the 1938 version, which I was enjoying in the car as I drove around today.

Last weekend I saw something that would be great at a Halloween party. Here are some college students using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream. It makes a mess.

Last night I judged a dessert cook-off that you'll be reading more about later. One of the contestants put Oreo Balls on a Halloween tray with some holiday sprinkles. They were similar to the Oreo Truffles my wife makes, except these had white chocolate (yuck) on the outside. I much prefer the dark chocolate coating.

Of all the Halloween costumes I saw tonight, only one made me reach for the camera. Here's a human Marshmallow Peep.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

disturbance in the force

Soft-serve fans in New York and elsewhere are mourning the loss of the original Carvel Ice Cream store. It closed on Sunday so the franchisee can build a Japanese restaurant on his property instead. The local paper interviewed several of the last-day customers and posted a series of photos.

My friend Bean sent me the news, just like he did last year when there was talk of exhuming Tom Carvel's body. Meanwhile the legal battle over Mr. Carvel's estate continues as do the suspicions that he was murdered by his secretary.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

muddy waters

As native St. Louisans, my wife's Aunt Margie and Aunt Ginny know a lot about the Gateway City. However neither of them had been to Fitz's American Grill & Bottling Works. I had a coupon for a free root beer float, so off we all went. The restaurant is on the busy Delmar Loop along with other eateries, nightclubs, theaters and at least two tattoo parlors. The weather was perfect for outdoor dining, as many were doing at sidewalk cafes. I decided that we would stay indoors, away from any smokers. Plus, our table had a decent view of the bottling line.

Our waiter recommended the Black and Blue Salad. Who doesn't want to eat something that sounds like a bruise? I asked him to make mine medium rare, the same way he would have them make one for himself. The salad was excellent but all I could think about was dessert. I had my mind set on a "Mississippi Float."

I was the only one at our table to order chocolate ice cream in my in my root beer. Everyone else got vanilla. They were less than enthused with their floats. Fortunately, mine was fantastic. Trading tastes with my wife confirmed that I had made the right choice.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

rocky road

It's bad enough when one of the restaurants you've patronized turns up on the "Food for Thought" segment on WATE. It feels even worse when you've been to both restaurants on the report. That's what happened tonight when Don Dare announced the failing score for Baskin-Robbins on Middlebrook Pike and the barely passing score for Mimi's Cafe at Turkey Creek.

Not only had we been to the two places, I wrote about both of them on the blog. Mimi's Cafe scored a 70. We had a good meal there back in March and brought home a S'mores dessert to eat the next day. It looks like Baskin-Robbins, which had a 57, got a 75 upon re-inspection. When we were there in April, we got grossed out by the server who let her hair hang into the ice cream tubs.

My wife talked with another swim team parent who works at a Cracker Barrel. He says that the local health inspectors have been more picky since getting shuffled around to different territories. If what the BBC said eight years ago is still true, Knoxville has the most restaurants per capita in the U.S. I wish that our restaurants had to post big letter grades like the places in Los Angeles and in St. Louis.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

when Hamptons wasn't cool

The Penny Candy Shop has gone out of business, reports my sister. She was visiting one of my favorite places on Earth, the east end of Long Island and saw the sign in the window. According to the real estate listings, the former Penny Candy Shop is for sale. The price? 200 million pennies.

The P.C.S. now joins Kathleen's Bakeshop on my list of former favorites in the Hamptons. Kathleen's sold the famous Crutchley's Cruller hearts (doughnut holes), which you would drop into a bag of powdered sugar and shake. Like the original Crutchley's Bakery, Kathleen's is closed now, as we discovered when we were in the area last summer. I saw online that Kathleen lost the rights to her own name. She has a new business called Tate's Bake Shop but there's no mention of whether she still sells the hearts.

One of my parents' favorite restaurants in the Hamptons was Herb McCarthy's. It closed in the '80s. The microbrewery now in that location named a beer after Old Herb. It was the least they could do.

As far as I can tell, the Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton and Sip 'n Soda in Southampton are still open and doing fine, even after the recent death of one of Sip 'n Soda's owners. And so is our local choice for pizza, La Parmigiana in Southampton.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

two great tastes

With the closing of the Fuddruckers in Salem, my wife and I had to find a different place to stop for dinner on our last trip. We picked a random Cracker Barrel along I-81 in Virginia and were immediately disappointed by the question: "smoking or non-smoking?" Our non-smoking table was in a direct line of sight and smell from the smokers. Even though the non-smoking section was much larger, we had to wait for a table. There was no waiting for a smoking table.

Cracker Barrel has a country store where we could bide our time. One corner of the store had a display that showed they know about the current popularity of cupcakes. In addition to the cookbooks and standard muffin pans, they had a pretty neat Ice Cream Cone Cupcake Pan. The cake looks like a cone. The frosting takes the place of ice cream.

Rather than cupcakes that just look like ice cream cones, some people will be celebrating summer with cupcakes that are mini ice cream cakes. You can make your own or buy some at a place called MaggieMoo's that I will have to try sometime when I'm out at Turkey Creek. The ladies at Cupcakes Take the Cake taste tested a brand called PhillySwirl that is available at Sam's Club. I agree with their assessment that these seem to stretch the limits of what we call cupcakes. Not that it's a bad thing.

Ice cream cupcakes would be great but what we really need for this weekend are some graduation cupcakes. Or the time to make them.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

corpuscle crunch

Ben & Jerry's had their Free Cone Day and Baskin-Robbins had their 31 Cent Scoop Night last week. Today our local Bruster's offered free pints! Well, almost free. You had to donate a pint of blood to get the pint of ice cream.

My wife's blood is always in demand. She gets postcards and phone calls from Medic Regional Blood Center about all the blood drives in our area. She's a universal donor. I'm a universal recipient. How appropriate for our relationship.

We both gave blood and got ice cream and a t-shirt. Unfortunately all they had were XL shirts. I only need a large. My wife had to go to choir practice so I took home her pint of Turtle and some Chocolate Oreo for myself. The girl at the window asked if I wanted a bag or a spoon. A spoon? C'mon! Doesn't she realize that I don't wear XL shirts anymore?

My day started with some sad ice cream news. One of the first things I read this morning was the obituary of Irv Robbins, as in half of Baskin-Robbins. The Los Angeles Times had a link to test your flavor knowledge. For me, it was more like a reading comprehension quiz. I scored 100% because all the answers were in the articles I had just read.

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