In the carpool on the way home from work on a sunny and warm Wednesday back in April, my friends Betsy and Dan and I decided to go out for burgers. Snow had crept back in the forecast for early the next week, and we needed some ground beef and some sunshine to make ourselves feel better about the impending weather.
Over dinner, Dan and I fell back into our running argument about regionally- and locally-made ice cream: I maintain that Heyn’s is better than Whitey’s, and Dan is a Whitey’s guy through and through. We’d been fighting about this for weeks (because, really, what else would a couple of foodies fight about?), and finally Betsy called us on it.
“Why don’t you do a taste test tonight?” she said. “I’ll be the impartial observer.”
“It’s on,” I said.
We agreed to the terms: mint chocolate chip and chocolate chip cookie dough from Heyn’s, Whitey’s and Blue Bunny, a more commercial brand, yes, but still an Iowa-made product. (I should note, here, that when I wrote about locally-made ice cream for Edible Iowa River Valley, we left Whitey’s off the list—it is actually made in Illinois…) Dan and I would sample each flavor and try to identify which sample belonged to which ice cream maker, and then we would also rate which one we thought was the best.
The rating was less the issue, in this contest, than the fact that we both swore we could pick our favorites out of the line-up.
Ice cream acquired, Betsy readied our samples.
“Are you guys going to have a full scoop or just a bite?” Betsy asked.
“Scoop,” I said, and I thought, what else would we eat in a freaking ice cream taste test Imeancomeon.
“Uh, scoop,” Dan said. (I remember this because I wrote it down at the time. I am all about recording intelligent conversation for future blog purposes.)
“What’s the winner going to get?” I asked, very focused on my impending victory over Dan and his assertions.
“I think it’s really what the loser should have to do,” Dan said. “Maybe the loser should have to pay for all the ice cream. Or wear a sign at work tomorrow that says, ‘I lost the ice cream taste test. Ask me how.’”
“Maybe they should have to run outside and run around the house naked,” I said. “Or go to work … NAKED.” Again, I say: I was focused on victory, people. Victory.
But it turns out that was not the case. “You’re going to be very disappointed with my picture-taking abilities,” Betsy said when she returned from the kitchen with the first round: mint chocolate chip.
“It’s OK,” I said. “I’ll just tell everyone that the pictures were taken by a” (and here, I used finger-quotes) “Masters-degreed artiste.”
And so the tasting began. Cold stares flew across the living room. There were more cackles than talking. And, to be honest, after we tried the chocolate chip cookie dough and I decided that not only was I sure which one was Blue Bunny, but that I liked it the best, as well, I had lost a lot of confidence in my ability to pick out good ice cream. I could smell a loss, so I tried to cut back—a little—on the trash-talking.
When all was said and done, we both correctly identified who made each of the chocolate chip cookie dough variations, but I misidentified the mint chocolate chips. Dan, however, got that one right as well, garnering himself a win. He also took great glee in knowing that I chose a Blue Bunny flavor over two more locally-made options.
“Sometimes the best cook doesn’t have the best palate,” said Dan.
“Being a winner doesn’t mean you get to be mean,” said Betsy.
I sat there quietly, hoping they had forgotten my suggestion that the winner go to work naked.
Then they both turned to me with expectant looks on their faces. My stomach sank. Were they going to ask me to strip down and run around the house?
No. Much worse. They were expecting me to expose this loss to the world.
“What are you going to write when you put this on the blog, Genie?” Betsy asked. “That you failed? That you chose Blue Bunny?”
So yes, World. I failed. I chose Blue Bunny. And Dan never really got a trophy out of the deal, so today, his 30th birthday, seems like the appropriate day to mark his domination as an ice cream taste tester. Dan, I hope you’re able to put that skill to good use in future endeavors. And happy birthday, dude. Wish I was there to raise a glass—and an ice cream bowl—in your honor.