CVIndependent

Tue09172019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: The Italian ice

Where: Vinny’s Italian Ice and Frozen Custard, 190 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $7 as shown

Contact: 760-904-4625; vinnysitalianice.com

Why: It’s a tasty, cooling treat.

By this time of year, even the heartiest desert-dwellers are simply done with the oppressive heat.

We all have our tricks for dealing with the 110-degree-plus temps, ranging from 24-hour pool access to constant near-nudity to diets consisting of nothing but cold alcoholic beverages. Well, my friends, I recently discovered another helpful tool in the battle with the summer sizzle: the Italian ice at Vinny’s, in downtown Palm Springs.

Italian ice is apparently more of an East Coast thing—I haven’t lived farther east than Tucson, Ariz., so I wouldn’t know—that’s akin to sorbet, in that it doesn’t contain any milk, dairy or egg. As a result, it’s less creamy, but healthier—and it’s really, really cold.

On a recent trip to Vinny’s—which also serves house-made custard and gelato, for those of you who like your cold treats with a little more heft—I got a medium-sized cup, which included three scoops. I decided to mix it up with three decidedly different flavors: vanilla, mango and pecan pie. All three scoops were delicious and oh-so-refreshing; the tastiest was the mango, although the pecan pie was the most interesting.

If I have one complaint … it’s that Vinny’s offerings are rather pricey. I get it; it takes time and money to take quality ingredients and turn them into great, house-made products; it also costs money to pay for rent, employees, air conditioning, etc. However, I also understand that when cash is tight, it might make more sense to go to the store and spend $3 to $5 on a quart and a half of ice cream.

When money’s not an issue, and the heat is an issue, I can promise you: I’ll be at Vinny’s enjoying some cold, delicious Italian ice.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: Ice cream (specifically, the cookies and kreem)

Where: Kreem, 170 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $6 for two scoops, as shown

Contact: 760-699-8129; www.ilovekreem.com

Why: It’s revelatory … but your favorite flavor may not always be available.

There’s something to be said for mass-produced products.

Take, for example, a Snickers bar. If I want a Snickers bar—pretty much any time day or night, and pretty much anywhere in the world—I can get a Snickers bar. It’s that simple.

Alas, the same cannot be said for the cookies and kreem ice cream at Kreem.

When I made my inaugural visit to the newish “artisanal ice cream and coffee shop”—located in the part of Palm Springs where Palm Canyon Drive changes from a north-south thoroughfare into an east-west road—I ordered the cookies and kreem ice cream. It beat out flavors including strawberry rose, lavender coffee, vegan turmeric ginger and vegan ube … and it was revelatory. It got better with each passing bite, and when I was finished, I had to talk myself out of ordering more.

Flash forward to several days later, when I decided to take an ice cream break from work. I hopped in the car and made the short trek to Kreem, with my mouth watering the entire way.

I walked in, opened my mouth to put in my order … and then realized cookies and kreem was not on the menu anymore. You see, all of Kreem’s ice creams are made fresh in-house, and the cookies and kreem had sold out.

The kicker: I was told more had just been made … but it had not yet set, and was therefore not ready to be served.

Sigh.

So I ordered the chocolate chip ice cream. It’s what’s shown in the picture above. It was very good. But it was not the cookies and kreem I so deeply desired.

Damn you, artisanal yumminess! Damn you!

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Have you ever tried starting your day with ice cream instead of coffee? I have … many times. The cold treat wakes me up, and its sugar gets me going. Hallelujah!

But how about starting your day with ice cream made without sugar—ice cream which tastes good while being good for you? Yeah, sure. We’ve heard that empty promise before.

However, local culinary guru Les Starks insists the promise is not empty.

Starks—who calls Snow Creek (located off Highway 111, 13 miles west of downtown Palm Springs) home—recently published a new book, Sweet Without Sugar: Ice Cream That’s Good for You. The secret, according to the Starks’ book, is to make ice cream with stevia instead of sugar.

“Stevia is a plant native to Paraguay,” Starks said. “The Guarani Indians of Paraguay have consumed stevia for over 1,500 years. Stevia has zero calories and is super-sweet.”

However, the use of stevia itself is not enough to make tasty, healthy ice cream. It took Starks years of experimenting until he found desirable recipes, he said.

“I started in 1992, and finished the book in 2017,” he said. “It was all about trial and error—what works and what doesn’t—and it took a long time to really get it right, without using one bit of sugar, honey, agave or molasses, and none of the insidious stuff like erythritol or artificial sweeteners.”

I first tasted Starks’ delicious food at an event held at Cary Grant’s Palm Springs estate hosted by Dr. Jane Smith, a noted author of medical books. At that time, Starks was still working and cooking for Eric Burdon, singer/songwriter for the Animals.

“I worked for Eric from 1991 to 2003,” Starks said. “When I stopped working for Eric, I got back to the book. He did have a favorite ice cream. It’s called chocolate banana cream in the book.”

Starks tells me that he also briefly worked for Ringo Starr in the 1970s when they both lived at Los Angeles’ historic Savoy Plaza. At the time, Starks was brushing shoulders with celebrities in the L.A. social scene; a close friend was Nancy Andrews, who was then engaged to Starr. He also met someone who influenced his culinary career.

“I met New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne when I was working on Laurie Burroughs Grad’s cooking show,” Starks said. “He told me I should pursue my interest in food professionally. I admired him and had made many of the recipes in his books.”

After moving to the desert in 1985, Starks would find inspiration to begin experimenting and eventually write his own book in the serene setting of Snow Creek.

“I started working on the book after I got my first Vitamix blender,” he said. “I have had some variation of the recipes in the book for breakfast every day since. That is how I wrote the book: I made the ice cream, and I ate my mistakes and triumphs every single day until I got it right.”

Starks’ Eureka moment happened when he started experimenting with stevia.

“In the early 1990s, I experimented with vanilla and chocolate almond milk, sweetened with stevia,” he said. “I tried many stevia brands before coming up with my final recommendation, which I didn’t really discover until 2010, while putting together varying combinations of fruit, almonds and flavoring, just to see what I could come up with that worked with stevia.”

Starks claims the reason his ice cream tastes so good is that it is made of the sweet and tart flavors stevia best complements, as well as high-quality ingredients and fresh or frozen organic fruit. No sugar, though.

“Stevia gives it a light, clear sweetness that accentuates the tartness of the fruit, making it more fresh-tasting than conventional ice cream,” he said.

There were excruciating trials regarding the proper measures of ice, but Starks persevered.

“I really love ice cream, but my family’s sad history of early death, diabetes and blindness from the disease weighed heavily on my mind,” he said. “I knew if I wanted to have ice cream on a regular basis that I was going to have to somehow get around that.”

Starks’ culinary odyssey eventually led to the book’s publication this year.

“My intention in writing the book was to give everyone the rare ability to have absolutely guilt-free ice cream by combining stevia and some soaked, frozen almonds with various common fruit flavorings and virgin, unrefined coconut oil and ice, to make ice cream that’s good for you.”

Published in Features

What: The Strawberry and Cream Popsicle

Where: La Michoacana Ice Cream Parlor, 27765 Landau Blvd., No. 106, Cathedral City

How much: $2.39

Contact: 760-507-8477

Why: It’s tart and sweet.

Not too long ago, I was at a party. It was a poolside potluck sort of affair, and a couple of gents arrived with a plastic shopping bag full of popsicles. Various party-goers started grabbing the frozen treats—and the raves began soon thereafter.

“Where did you get these?!” someone gleefully asked.

“La Michoacana, up near Landau and Vista Chino,” one of the gents responded.

For some reason (Lack of hunger? Brain lapse?) I didn’t try a paleta (popsicle) that night, but the raves were fresh in my mind when I recently found myself running errands in the Landau-Vista Chino area. I decided to stop by.

La Michoacana has a lot of frozen treats on offer, but I was there for the popsicles. The paletas de crema caught my attention—especially the fresa con crema, known by gringos as strawberry and cream.

I ordered one … and I was very, very glad I did so.

There was a big chunk of strawberry right at the very top of the paleta; I bit it off, and got a mouthful of tart fruit. Then I licked a cream portion, and my taste buds got a nice dose of sweet. Then I managed to get a bite that was, more or less, 50-50.

Wow.

The combination of strawberries and cream is common for a reason: Tart strawberry and soft cream, both sweet in their own ways, complement each other splendidly—and the paleta is an excellent illustration of this. It really was a perfect dessert: delicious, fun and the perfect size. Plus, it’s delightfully cool on a warm day.

I missed out by not having one of these popsicles at that party. Learn from my mistake, and check out La Michoacana.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Grape Nut Ice Cream

Where: Ice Cream and Shop(pe), 1551 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite A

How much: $3.50 single scoop (pictured); $5.50 double

Contact: 760-507-4005; www.icecreamandshop.com

Why: Both the flavor and the texture are delightfully unique.

On the Palm Canyon Drive side of Arrive, THE new hip place to see and be seen in Palm Springs, is an ice cream shop, appropriately named (if oddly punctuated) Ice Cream and Shop(pe).

However, this is no ordinary ice cream shop(pe). Here, you’ll pay a little more for your ice cream—but in exchange, you’ll get scooped-up goodness in a rotation of flavors both expected (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry) and delightfully WTF? (avocado, pomegranate chip, lavender). Sorbet is also on offer for those eschewing dairy for whatever reason.

On a recent stop at Ice Cream and Shop(pe), I decided to get a scoop of the grape nut ice cream. As she dished it into the cute li’l cup, the woman working behind the counter said I’d enjoy the unique texture.

She was right. I didn’t know it was possible for a treat to be frozen yet gooey (in a good way) at the same time, but that’s exactly how this grape nut ice cream is. The cereal mixed in with the ice cream adds both flavor and texture, creating a frozen dessert that’s flavorful—it’s sweet, but in a mellow way—and fun.

The ice cream isn’t the only fun thing about Ice Cream and Shop(pe); the “shop(pe)” part of the name hints at the fact that this is also a cute little gift shop selling cards, souvenirs and the like. One other element of the place is also fun: It’s open late—until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 p.m. the other days of the week.

The portion of Palm Canyon Drive south of Vista Chino and north of downtown Palm Springs proper continues to get more popular and hip—and Arrive and its Ice Cream and Shop(pe) are a big reason why.

Published in The Indy Endorsement