Ice Cream: A Social Institution for the Ages

The idea that drinking is more about socializing than the actual drinks perplexes me, as I’ve been comfortable pouring a drink and sitting alone on my couch for years.  I do, however, believe that ice cream exemplifies this old adage. 

When asked about ice cream, I immediately recall time spent with family and friends over the years.  Every summer when peaches were in season, we'd crank up the bright yellow ice cream maker and invite friends over for homemade peach ice cream on the terrace.  Every fall when the family piled into the Cutlass for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the changing leaves, my sisters and I knew we’d reached the turning point when we stopped for ice cream. If we had a special achievement like straight As on a report card or a piano recital, a trip to Kay’s Ice Cream for a peanut butter milkshake never disappointed, and when we visited Aunt Ruby and Uncle Jack, ice cream and cookies was a given.

Ice cream and cookies at Aunt Ruby’s house is one of my favorite childhood memories.  While my parents visited with her and Uncle Jack, my sisters and I sought out the basket of plastic teacups and saucers in the back bedroom and took turns asking if we may have a butterscotch or peppermint candy from the always-filled jar on the coffee table.  When we tired of playing tea party, we set up camp in front of the kitchen television and wondered when the adults would finish talking so we could move on to the most important part of the visit:  ice cream and cookies.  The same theatrics ensued every time.  One of our parents would announce that it was getting late and time to leave.  Aunt Ruby would say, “You can’t leave yet.  We haven’t had ice cream.”  Cue the main event.

Why was ice cream and cookies so special at her house?  For starters, the cookie jar on the table brimmed with name-brand cookies.  We grew up in a house of generic sandwich cookies and the occasional box of vanilla wafers, so this was a big deal.  Aunt Ruby bought REAL Oreos, Soft-Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies, Pecan Sandies, and Nutter Butters.  As for ice cream, I reveled in the activity of digging into the freezer drawer and pulling out carton after carton of ice cream and sherbet lined with aluminum foil to protect it from freezer-burn.  We gathered around the table with our bowls of ice cream and sherbet.  One by one we worked through the cookie jar until we tried everything it had to offer, and when the ice cream bowls were empty, we headed home.

A few years ago, I bought a countertop ice cream maker.  I wondered if it would become just another appliance collecting dust in the kitchen, but surprisingly, I use it more often than the stand mixer, the food processor, the juicer, or the blender.  Somewhere along the way, the “Aunt Ruby” in me discovered that ice cream and cookies really does bring a smile to everyone’s face.  I mean, who doesn’t like ice cream?  Whether a casual gathering of friends or one of my over-the-top dinner parties, a bowl of homemade ice cream for each guest accompanied by a platter of cookies for sharing is the perfect ending to any evening.  I found a recipe for lemon ice cream in Gourmet magazine several years ago, and since then, it’s become my go-to base.  I’ve made it with just about every citrus fruit imaginable:  lemons, Meyer lemons, oranges, tangerines, limes, key limes, tangelos, and even grapefruit.  I pair the ice cream with a platter of slightly sweet cookies.  My favorite combination is a lemon ice cream with a platter of bittersweet chocolate and butter cookies.  The formula never fails to elicit smiles all around.

If you don’t have the time or desire to make your own ice cream, here are my favorite spots for ice cream in Miami:

Azucar Ice Cream Company – I wish I could say I have a favorite ice cream here, but I try something new every time.  You can’t go wrong with Abuela Maria or mango, but if they have the lemon-basil or pinot noir, order them and savor the fact that you were lucky enough to visit them on a GREAT day.

Bianco GelatoThis lovely, new gelato shop in Coconut Grove is the new hot spot in the neighborhood.  They use the best quality ingredients available, and they even have vegan flavors.  So far, I've sampled stracciatella and fig-blueberry, but I've only been a few times.  I'll have to keep trying new ones before making any final decisions about favorites.

ChillN – Some friends who live in Pinecrest introduced me to this spot, and I’ve been a fan since day one.  Walk inside and watch in amazement as a line of whirring stand mixers whip up your chosen flavor with liquid nitrogen to create the creamiest ice cream you’ve ever tasted.  They have lots of fun toppings, too, but I’ve become a purist in my old age.  Just the ice cream is enough for me, and at ChillN, I order the Biscoff Ice Cream.  (They recently opened a second location in Aventura.)

Hua Huas Taqueria – I know, I know.  It’s not exactly an ice cream spot, but on a hot day in Miami Beach, the paletas at Hua Huas offer a perfect reprieve.  The flavors change daily.  My favorite is elote, so order it if they have it.

Wall’s Ice Cream – I love this old-time ice cream parlor.   The only thing I ever order here is the creamsicle milkshake.  It’s simple…only orange juice and vanilla ice cream.  I’ve seen them make my order hundreds of times, but no matter what I do at home, I can’t duplicate it.  If you have kids (or in my case a niece and nephews), take them here for a scoop of ice cream and sit outside so you can watch cartoons on a wall painted to look like a drive-in movie theater. 

It’s hard to beat the combination of that milkshake, those kids, and reruns of Tom and Jerry on a warm Miami night.