Thursday, February 4, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays: Ice Cream

Janet here: Ice cream has figured large in my life since I was a child, so it's no surprise it's the stuff behind a lot of memories in the family my husband, Peter, and I have created. The question is where to begin talking. With the memories I have of Sunday Sundaes in my childhood? With homemade ice cream trips with the neighborhood kids when we picked my father up at the train in New Jersey? The list goes on.

After a lot of discussion, Rachel and I decided to kick off what will likely be the first of many ice cream posts (stay tuned for tomorrow's on homemade sorbet and homemade ice cream cakes for instance) with a place that has a special spot in our family's collective hearts: Donnelly's Ice Cream in Saranac Lake, NY. They don't have a website but you can click here for a posting and photo on this Adirondack blog about this special spot.

My husband and I came together over two things: Pride and Prejudice and the Adirondacks. I'll leave Mr. Darcy for another day, but our time in the Adirondacks has been a repeated treasure year after year. We began with our honeymoon in Long Lake and continued soon after with annual summer vacations with our growing family. It was during one of our first summer visits there that Peter and I discovered we also shared a Donnelly's love. He had gone there for years as a child and I first discovered Donnelly's while making the long drive to and from New Jersey to St. Lawrence University. Donnelly's was also a wonderful way to end a long day of hiking. With the exception of a cold Michelob, licking a soft-serve cone and staring at the mountains across the road after hiking is really as good as it gets.

The allure of Donnelly's is in part its simplicity. A small shed on a dairy farm, they serve up one flavor and one flavor only each day. They also only make soft-serve. I like that no-nonsense approach. It's about eating the ice cream, not some frou-frou experience. And it's about slowing down and savoring the moment, one of many such moments that make family vacations so great. Yes, the big trips are memorable, but these small moments, a cool lick of chocolate and vanilla swirl, are really the best.

Rachel here: Oh, Donnelly's. Just the mention of the name makes me struggle not to buy a plane ticket and fly east. Nestled amongst the beautiful Adirondack mountains (the place where we spent nearly every summer of my childhood) the mere thought of Donnelly's conjures feelings of relaxation, silliness and fresh air. No matter how old we were, my brothers and I were always able to get along in the name of a trip to Donnelly's (admittedly, we generally got along better as kiddies when we were in the Adirondacks...the mountains gave us perspective even then), always willing to spend a little bit longer in the car if it meant a pitstop at the yummiest, creamiest, freshest soft-serve ice cream stand we've ever known. With only one flavor served a day (a conviction which has always impressed me), when G and S were little we could only go on certain days because they weren't up for the "nut surprise" day or whatever. This led to a few smug private trips to Donnelly's by me and a parent to which I can vividly remember returning to the cabin by the lake and gloating, "I had Donnelly's and you didn't" only to pause melodramatically before revealing that I had had pistachio and vanilla swirled together, something that for reasons that remain mind-bloggling to me, didn't appeal to my brothers.

I think what felt so fun, besides sort of being at Donnelly's whim in terms of what kind of ice cream we had, was that my parents were just as enthusiastic about Donnelly's as we were. When you're little it's the rare event that generates equal enthusiasm amongst all of your family's ranks and yet when we'd pile in the car, or take the detour, towards Donnelly's there was an effervescence that could be felt emanating from each one of us. This kid-in-a-candy-store delight continues to this day. We all laugh when it's too hot and our ice cream slides off the cone (only, of course, because it means we get to go in and get another, thereby ensuring just a little extra ice cream consumption), we stand around and lick and giggle and reminisce and look at the mountains around us. These are timeless moments, moments in which I feel connected to every summer past standing in the same spot with my family, like some sort of constellation or connect-the-dots. I am both 10 and 20 as we sit on the bench in front of the tiny store, and I couldn't be happier. Thank you, Donnelly's, for giving my family a place to pause year after year (oh, and sometimes day after day when we're in the Adirondacks) and, of course, for making such fantastic ice cream.

Do you have a favorite ice cream memory? Or maybe you've been to Donnelly's. We'd love to hear.

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