What's your favorite part of July? The county fair? Your family's vacation? The oppressive heat?
For me, there's one big reason to celebrate July - it's National Ice Cream Month.
I love ice cream the way some people love coffee, or wine or beer. I believe it's a genetic predisposition. Growing up, we always had a pail or a box of ice cream (or both) in the freezer. We didn't have a Dairy Queen in our town, but my mother knew the exact GPS coordinates of every Dairy Queen within a 100-mile radius. Her penchant for Dairy Queen treats was so strong that we stopped at Dairy Queen year-round. One blustery February night, after going through the Dairy Queen drive-thru, the window on our Buick Regal wouldn't roll back up. Let's just say, for those of us in the back seat, the half-hour drive home was one we'll never forget.
I've never submitted my children to any sub-freezing car ride for the sake of an ice cream treat, but I am doing my best to pass my love of ice cream along to them. I have to admit, though, that when it comes to ice cream, I think I might be spoiling our kids. They get toppings on their ice cream. And they've become so accustomed to toppings, that at our co-op's member appreciation picnic last week, Dan convinced one of the Stearns County Dairy Princesses to top his bowl of ice cream with not just chocolate sauce, but also strawberry sauce and butterscotch sauce. It was one of those cases where I wanted to ask, "Would you like some ice cream with your sauce?"
I don't keep an assortment of sauces like that at home - although I do make fudge sauce to top ice cream for special occasions - but we do always have ice cream in the freezer. And, as with any culinary fondness, there follows an inclination to seek quality. In other words, not just any ice cream will do. We get most of our groceries from one store whose ice cream I don't care for, so I drive across town to another grocery store to buy the best vanilla ice cream you can get in a 5-quart pail. We go through way too much ice cream to regularly buy the premium brands that come in itty-bitty containers.
One day last fall, after nearly a week had passed without ice cream in the house, I asked Glen to pick up ice cream while he was in town running errands. He came home with the two pails I had requested. That night, after dishing up ice cream for dessert and taking the first bite, I said, "Gee, this ice cream tastes funny." Glen said he was thinking the same thing. The ice cream wasn't freezer burnt, it just tasted odd. So I pulled the pail back out of the freezer to check the expiration date. That's when I noticed the label on the lid: Reduced Fat Vanilla Ice Cream. Eeewwww. I inspected the label a little closer and found that not only was it reduced fat, but the ice cream was also sweetened with artificial sweetener. Double yuck.
Honestly, what is the point of creating, or consuming, a reduced-fat, artificially sweetened dessert to save a measly 10 calories per serving? I decided it was an ingenious ploy by the ice cream's manufacturer: save money by using less cream, replace the cream with cheap fillers (i.e. tapioca starch and maltodextrin), add extra sweetener to compensate for the inferior taste, market it as reduced fat (since, somehow, health conscious people have been duped into believing reduced fat means healthier), package it in a smaller pail (4.12 quarts instead of 5.0 quarts) and then - here's the real kicker - sell it for a higher price than your regular ice cream in the 5-quart pail.
It took us a ridiculously long time to eat through those 8.24 quarts of ice cream. Glen and the kids didn't mind the taste too much, but I couldn't eat it. Now, we check the label carefully before we put the pails in our cart.
This spring, when I was feeling overly concerned about my post-partum weight loss efforts (I should have been a beef cow - at least they get praised for maintaining body condition while nursing their offspring), I told Glen I was going to stop buying ice cream for awhile. Now, he loves ice cream as much as I do - especially right out of the pail. He didn't like the idea of an ice cream-free freezer, so he proposed a simple solution, almost as ingenious as reduced fat ice cream: just buy chip n' mint ice cream. As much as I love ice cream, my disdain for anything and everything mint is equally as grand. A pail of chip n' mint ice cream would definitely keep me out of the freezer.
But then I decided that life is too short to live without ice cream. It would be much easier, and more enjoyable, to eat less of something else to make room for a small bowl of good ice cream. Besides, there was no way I could muster up the courage to actually purchase a pail of chip n' mint ice cream.
So, this year for National Ice Cream Month, I'm giving thanks for ice cream and saying thanks to all of the skim milk drinkers and low-fat dairy lovers. Your consumption of reduced fat dairy products leaves more cream for us ice cream lovers. I'm also going to try making peanut butter ice cream cake with the pail of reduced fat vanilla ice cream that accidentally came home from the store last week.