Humans are always searching for universal truths, because in spite of this chaotic and divided world, most people seek the things that tie us together rather than rip us apart. The late, and sorely missed Anthony Bourdain understood this – in fact that was his mission statement. He believed, as I do, that our cultural food traditions are more similar than different, and that sharing the fellowship of a meal creates a bond that nothing can sever, and connects us to our history more effectively than any DNA report. Which brings me to the subject of peppermint stick ice cream.
It’s no secret that I love ice cream. And it isn’t a just a summer love either. Year-round fan, right here. And of all the flavors in the universe, peppermint stick is my favorite. When I find it on a menu or in a freezer, I always want it. There is something irresistible about the mix of velvety, cream-colored vanilla contrasting with crunchy, icy, MINTY bits of bright pink peppermint. The vanilla says “I’m sophisticated and smooth” and the peppermint says “WAKE UP IT’S CHRISTMAS ALL YEAR ROUND!” When done well, it is the perfect mix, and when my favorite ice cream shop, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, added it to their seasonal menu, I had to go in and give it a try. I was not disappointed, it’s delightfully creamy with just the right amount of pink peppermint. Believe me, I’m pretty much a peppermint stick ice cream connoisseur at this point.
But my love of peppermint stick is more than just ice cream-obsession. It reminds me of family – summer car rides, boisterous holidays, a burger at the local Friendly’s or the clam strip dinner at Howard Johnson’s, both ending with peppermint stick ice cream, of course. I can’t remember which now, but one of them had green-tinted ice cream with red peppermint, which didn’t seem right somehow, but still tasted great. It has become a seasonal flavor now, sadly, but in those days it was a year-round treat.
Peppermint stick was my sister Claudia’s favorite flavor really, and that’s why I seek it out whenever the Christmas season rolls around. It connects me to her in a way that no photograph can ever do. She was taken from us too young, but she is ever-present for me, especially at this time of year.
And that’s what food does best. It connects us to our past, to our future, and to each other, across time and cultures and continents, without regard to borders, geography, religion, ethnicity, or politics. Anthony Bourdain wasn’t the first to make this connection, just the most prolifically tattooed. Marcel Proust’s madeleine memories in In Search of Lost Time (or Remembrance of Things Past, as it is more commonly known) are so eternally relevant that you can use the phrase “Proustian moment” in casual conversation and make your point, even to people who have not read the seven-volume masterwork.
This holiday season, may you find your own peppermint stick ice cream. Or madeleine. Or tonkotsu ramen. Whatever it is, enjoy it with gusto, secure in the knowledge that you are connected to the past, to the future, and to the rest of humanity. Happy Holidays!
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