The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 12, 2007

Whatever happened to Plain Vanilla?

Filed under: Culture, Food — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 2:44 am

Up here in the Pacific Northwest, it almost seems like we’ve been getting a bit shortchanged on our Summer weather this year.  Although the conventional wisdom suggests that all of us up here should have just built an ark and rode it down the coast to California long ago, the summers here don’t generally produce a whole lot of rain.  In fact, most of the time I’ve lived here, I’ve found that there tends to be a period between late July and the middle of September in which there’s mostly clear skies, hardly any rain at all, and frequently temperatures during that time can easily reach the high eighties and low nineties.

 This year’s weather has been a bit unusual in that regard.  Although there’s still some summer left for it to change, there has been more rain than we usually get in the Summer (including a couple of significant storms more typical of November weather than July,)  and for most of the past few weeks it seems like there have been just enough clouds in the sky to make it look like we’re going to get rained on, but not quite enough to make it actually happen.  This weather pattern does have the effect of keeping the temperatures down somewhat, but it just doesn’t feel like Summer.  Sure, the 90-degree heat doesn’t seem like too much fun when you’re blazing hot and sweating like crazy, but at least you know that it’s Summer.

 One side effect of this watered down summer weather is that it doesn’t seem quite right to participate in typical Summer activities.  Sure, you’ll still go swimming or grill up some burgers in tbe backyard like you normally would, but it almost feels like you’re doing it out of force of habit.  The weather is nice enough, and you know you’ll feel like you wasted the Summer when the rainy season starts if you don’t use it, but it still doesn’t quite feel right.  With the more temperate weather, there is also less need to cool off, which means that I actually still have some of last year’s Otter Pops in my freezer, and it looks at this rate like some of them may last another winter.  It also means that it’s been a while since I bought ice cream.  Apparently there was a memo I didn’t get somewhere along the line, because even something as simple as ice cream has become needlessly complicated these days.

The sheer quantity and variety of frozen treats available at your typical supermarket now is astonishing.  I’m sure that if I looked hard enough, I could probably find someone to explain to me how back in the old days they had three flavors of ice cream and some popsicles and called it good, but these days, frozen treats take up half an aisle by themselves at the grocery store I shop in.  Between ice cream and frozen novelties, there are now so many different brands and flavors that it would be a full-time job to keep track of it all (and I’m pretty sure that there are people out there somewhere who do just that.)  Sure, the old standbys are there if you look hard enough, but even those have become far more complicated now.

In the course of some light grocery shopping this evening, I decided to get some ice cream.  Nothing fancy, just some Dreyers vanilla would do the trick.  It seems that someone decided that just plain vanilla wasn’t cutting it anymore, because a quick scan of the freezer revealed that Dreyer’s now produces no fewer than six different varieties of vanilla ice cream.  Of course, the regular vanilla is still out there, but in addition to it you can now find a French Vanilla flavor, a Vanilla Bean flavor and a Double Vanilla flavor.  Should you scan further down the case, you will also find slow-churned varieties of Vanilla and French Vanilla.  This begs the question:  If slow churning is supposed to make better ice cream (in fact, the product’s website claims that “one day, all ice cream will be made this way”) then why are they still making the regular stuff? 

I know that there are chefs out there that will explain that vanilla is a complex flavor with subtle nuances and variations, but that still doesn’t explain why we need six different flavors of vanilla from one company.  I suspect that there are in fact subtle nuances and variations between the different flavors, but how exactly are you supposed to be able to determine this?  Short of buying all four flavors and performing a taste test, there really isn’t a good way to figure this out.   Dreyer’s does seem to realize that this might confuse people, so they provide a personality test on their website to assist their customers in their vanilla ice cream purchasing decisions.  That’s all fine and good, but when was the last time you researched a purchasing decision for a grocery item?

 In the end, I went with the Vanilla Bean flavor, and it seems like reasonably good ice cream, but there’s still that nagging bit of doubt.  Did I choose the ice cream which is appropriate for my needs?  Would the French Vanilla have solved all my personal problems and gotten me a raise at work?  By passing up the Double Vanilla, am I experiencing only half the flavor I could be?  Am I putting myself at risk somehow by venturing beyond the tried-and-true standard Vanilla variety into unknown flavor territory?  Am I depriving myself of the richness and creaminess that only slow-churning can impart to my desserts?  Only Vanillaology can answer that question apparently. 

The test results put me somewhere between the standard Vanilla and the French Vanilla, which would suggest that I have made an unwise purchasing decision with my Vanilla Bean.  I guess this leaves me two options:  I can accept the fact that I am now stuck with most of a carton of an ice cream which is not compatible with my personality type and accept the inevitable consquences, or I can attempt to take it back and confess to some bewildered manager that I failed to adequately research my ice cream purchasing habits beforehand. 

Given those two choices, maybe I’ll just drown the stuff in Hershey’s syrup and pretend the whole thing never happened. 

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