Boy Howdy, That’s Good Ice Cream

It’s nice to get a good news story once in awhile, and what could be better than one involving indulging a minor vice resulting in good for the world. I once reported on Save The World Brewery, a beer company run by a former minister which puts its profits back into community charities. Well, if beer’s not your thing but a sweet tooth is, there’s Howdy Homemade Ice Cream.

Howdy is a Texas-based chain of ice cream shops staffed by people with intellectual or developmental difficulties. Seemingly a large portion of the workforce have Down Syndrome; others have Autism, and any number of similar afflictions. The company was started by Tom Landis, a Dallas-area businessman who was inspired by Gene Stallings, a celebrated football coach (he was running the 1992 Alabama Crimson Tide which went undefeated that year and were National Champions) who won acclaim as well for writing about his son John who had Down Syndrome. Stallings went on to be an advisor to President George W. Bush on Intellectual Disabilities, believing firmly that people like his son could do far more than most people would give them credit for.

Landis started the ice cream business with the idea of a “relentless pursuit to crreate jos for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through the power of our smiles and amazing ice cream.” He feels such people are “marginalized because of society’s misunderstandings.” So he opened his shop and hired people most places wouldn’t consider. It was a hit, and now he’s got shops in Katy (a Houston suburb) and Asheville, NC with plans to open ones in Las Cruces, NM, Delaware and Syracuse, NY soon.

They offer occasional seasonal specials plus 18 regular flavors… “regular” being a bit inappropriate perhaps since things like Cold Brew, Dr. Pepper and Avocado aren’t everyday choices everywhere. Of course they also have Butter Pecan, Chocolate (“As all get out!”) and, yes, vanilla. They’re available for catering weddings complete with cakes (ice cream I presume) as well.

The chain was showcased recently on ABC News and has been featured by NBC’s Today Show and the Dallas Morning News among other media sites. They’ve taken the next step in their business as well, offering Howdy Ice Cream for sale in tubs at 100 HEB supermarkets in Texas. Each container has the photo of one of the workers gaining experience and dignity working for them.

Reviews are generally good. Yelp averages 4.5-stars out of 5; Trip Advisor 5 out of 5. Complaints, while infrequent suggest the portions are too small …which I guess is the mark of a good dessert!

I must admit that I’ve never seen their product in my local supermarket and haven’t given it a go. As well, their website is a little sparse on details such as where they source their ice cream (do they make the supermarket batch themselves or merely re-label and existing product, for instance) and number of people working for them, but that doesn’t leave too much of a bitter taste when we’re dealing with quality ice cream and jobs for people who need a little boost.

So, if you’re in the Lone Star State (or soon, elsewhere) and get a hankering for a cold treat on a hot day, why not say “Howdy” to a most unusual – and most admirable – ice cream and the happy faces that serve it up.

Thankful Thursday XLI – Thanksgiving

Well, I missed Thankful Thursday last week, not because I lacked things to be thankful for but rather because as with many of you, its been a very busy time for me lately, with the holidays coming besides other things. So this week seems a good time to come back and be thankful for … Thanksgiving.

As a Canadian, it still seems a bit strange to me to be celebrating Thanksgiving so late in the season, so close to Christmas. But it’s a moot point, and the important thing is whether Thanksgiving for you falls in October or the end of November, the sentiment is the same. A time to hopefully slow down a bit, get together with family and take note of all the good things we have in life.

For me, it will be one of the rare days when everyone in the house and the family has a day off. I’ll be going with my sweetie and the kiddo to my step-son and his wife’s place for a turkey dinner; a bit of a collaborative affair with us doing some side-dishes, my mother-in-law adding some more and a variety of desserts from all of us. I’m not a huge fan of turkey, but I was still delighted to be able to buy one last month and freeze it; we’d heard reports they might be rare or hard to find this season. Of course, two weeks after that the store coolers were laden with them for about half what I’d paid, but we had the peace of mind of not having to go out and fret at the grocery store this week, so it was a price worth paying. Of the holiday foods here, green bean casserole is probably my favorite, and a fine southern specialty. Or so it seems to me. We ate green beans up north, and mushrooms and mushroom soup, and onions… but not all in a single tasty dish! But I’d be fine with a meal of sandwiches or pizza. It’s the feel of the day and the togetherness which makes it special, and above all the realization of all the things we have to be thankful for in our lives.

For nearly a year, I’ve been writing a bit about some of the things that make me thankful, from the big – like being in pretty good health, something we all have come to see the value of in this past year or two – to the trivial, like watching a flock of songbirds or a well-written novel to read. I could go on similarly for years, but with other projects always present and popping up, both here and in “real” life, I’m going to take this point to wrap up the project. However, I will still be posting columns here, book, movie reviews and who knows what else, plus things on my mind, whether it’s something I’m thankful for or not … and I fully encourage you to start your own list of “thankfuls”. After awhile, it becomes a lot easier to let the problems and annoyances of life wash over you when you know how much good is overshadowing them. Or at least so I find.

So, wishing all of you a very happy Thanksgiving, a good dinner, good company and a day where you become aware of at least one more thing to give thanks for.

Thankful Thursday XXXVIII – ‘Owl’ Drink To Napa Valley Going Green

This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for Napa Valley wines. And I’m a beer guy, not an oenophile, which is apparently a wine lover. A word I’d probably have already known if I actually loved wine. I might seldom partake in their beverages, but I’m thankful for them after seeing a story recently about how they are beginning to “go green.” More and more of the vineyards in that California valley are turning away from chemical pesticides and towards organic solutions…including owls!

Wine might be healthy for us in moderation, but creating it isn’t always healthy for the land. Growing the grapes invites a lot of nuisance animals to the area… rats and mice especially. For much of the past century, the growers relied on heavy doses of pesticides to keep the rodents in check. Needless to say, this isn’t beneficial. Besides the rodents they’re looking to control, other animals can ingest it and die, or eat the poisoned rats and in turn sicken or die themselves as the poison builds up inside them. And while one would imagine that the amounts of pesticide retained by the grapes during the production would be minimal, the risk to farm workers is real. For instance, zinc phosphides, a common type of rat poison will “increase calcium levels in the blood, leading to organ failure” according to scientists. One would think even a trace amount lingering in the wine wouldn’t be doing its enthusiasts any good and working in the fields with it day in, day out even less so.

So, I’m happy more and more grape-growers are shunning the chemicals and instead encouraging owls. Barn Owls in particular, an especially effective rodent weapon. Apparently a typical one will eat close to ten critters a night, so just a couple of pairs of nesting ones is going to significantly lessen the enjoyment of the area for rats! The vineyards are cleaner, and the growers save money. It costs far less to put up a few nestboxes for owls than to buy pounds of chemicals, needless to say. They may even reap a small financial reward as birdwatchers begin to take the vineyard tours in hopes of seeing a striking-looking owl more than tasting a fine Chardonnay. And the Barn Owls, declining in numbers across the country are finding new homes with ready supplies of food. A win-win.

Organic wine, helped along by owls. I’ll drink to that. Or should I say, “owl” drink to that!

Thankful Thursday XXXVI – Meatloaf

This Thankful Thursday I’m thankful for meatloaf. Not the rotund Texas singer, although I sometimes don’t mind his operatic rock epics. Instead I mean the food, a food many call a “comfort food.”

My sweetie made a meatloaf earlier this week. It’s not a meal we eat much in our household; if we have a pound or two of hamburger meat, we’re more likely to make tacos or hamburgers. Hamburger Helper perhaps. But this week she baked a meatloaf, ketchup, bread crumbs and all.

So, you’re probably thinking “he must really like meatloaf!” In fact… I don’t. I have my share of comfort foods – pasta dinners, sandwiches, spicy tomato soup, pizza when my stomach’s up for it – but meatloaf, not so much! In fact, I really don’t like it much at all.

But that’s ok. It reminded me how lucky I was to have someone who cares for me and cooks up nice meals for me and the kiddo frequently. Moreover, I’m very thankful for us having enough food. Even in our community, there are some who are hungry most days, and we’re better off than half the world. There’s a whole lot of people who would love to have the problem of having lots of healthy-enough food to eat and simply not thoroughly enjoying a little of it. Earlier this week on my music blog, I’d featured a record by Harry Chapin, a singer who put his career on the back burner at one time to help the government combat hunger in our country. You know he’d have appreciated some meatloaf!

The next evening we had some fish, and I was even more thankful. But I had some leftover meatloaf for lunch, said a few thanks, and made a note to myself to buy some stuff to donate next time the supermarket runs a food drive.

Boffo Beer Blog, Week 1. Bell’s Best Brown Ale

Earlier I was mentioning that reading more was one of my resolutions (again) for this year. Another resolution is to try a new beer every week. I’ll keep you filled in and reg”Ale”d here as we sip through the year.

Now, I’m not what most would consider much of a drinker – I’ve never even had a margarita and probably last had a bottle of rum or vodka around the time Nirvana were the new kids on the musical block – but I do like beer. Rare is a good dinner I have without having a cold one accompanying it; likewise sitting watching a baseball game isn’t quite a hit without a nice chilly lager or ale. I’ve always enjoyed trying different varieties, but like many others, I find myself in rather a routine of drinking one of the national brands that are readily available, cheap and pleasing enough but rather a boring quaff compared to the hundreds of different types of more flavorful and exotic labels on the supermarket shelf here (or the stylish LCBO ones back in Canada.)

So in 2020, I’m going to give a go to at least one new, less common beer each week and I’ll give you my thoughts on it, and maybe a little background. I’m no cicerone – I had to look up what the term is for a beer enthusiast in fact – but I know a good one when I taste one and can at least tell the difference between say a Coors Lite and a Guinness. So I hope my comments will be of interest to you and maybe get you to experiment a little more with your sudsy savorings.

So, this week I started with Bell’s Best Brown Ale. I mean, if you start something different why not start with the “best”?

I was drawn to it because I like dark ales. And I like owls, and the beer features a nice wintry picture of a Great Horned Owl on the can. I picked up a 12 ounce can, but I’ve seen it on shelves in bottles as well.

Well “hooo” is Bell’s Brewery? I found it is a Michigan microbrew founded in Kalamazoo in 1985, two years after founder Larry Bell had begun a home brew store. His first beer sold was a Great Lakes Ale he made up in a 15 gallon soup pot! By the early-’90s he had expanded and become the first Michigan brewery with an on-site pub and restaurant, all the better to enjoy his expanding range of beers. The company has expanded its brewery several times and offered a range of different beers through the years. One consistent thread for them seems to be that they prefer to offer darker, heavier beers, rather an anomaly in a state known for light, watery even, lagers. They’ve put out a bock, a stout, a white ale, and their “Two Hearted Ale”, a brew picked by the American Home Brewers Association as the Best Beer in the U.S.A. in 2017, not long after they’d expanded to Texas and other south-central states and topped 300 000 barrels a year in sales, or about 70 million bottles per year.

Best Brown Ale began in 1988 and is described by the brewery as a “smooth toasty brown ale with hints of caramel and cocoa.” they add it’s brewed with American hops and “best enjoyed with the changing of the seasons.”

So, I popped open the can and had it with a winter’s day lunch. The color is a nice, dark rich coppery color. It made a little bit of a head when I poured it, but not much. Certainly not a “fizzy” beer.

It tasted very good. At 5.8% alcohol, it’s a bit stronger than typical beers, but not a real strong one, and it tastes accordingly full-bodied. This packs a lot more of a kick than a multinational lager, but it’s not overpowering in taste nor does it seem overly heavy or likely to weigh you down. While it didn’t seem overly bubbly, it also didn’t go flat in the time it took me to eat lunch and enjoy it. The flavor was unmistakable as an ale – if you like your beers watery and light, this isn’t for you – but while it had a bit of a pleasant hoppy bitterness I could also detect a little, subtle sweet aftertaste. Maybe that’s the caramel they mention although to me it seemed more like a fruit flavor, although I’m not sure precisely what one.

All in all, Best Brown Ale may not be the best ale out there but is a good one. While I had it with a turkey sandwich and some veggies for lunch on a mild winter day, it seems like a perfect drink to go with a hearty stew or tasty roast dinner on a winter’s night, or maybe to be enjoyed with someone special in front of a roaring fire.

A good start to the project. I give it a 7/10 for flavor, 7/10 for strength and overall ,

hootiehootiehootiehootie

4 hoot owls out of 5!

Christmas With Pizza-zz

I heard this one come up on a radio morning show again last week. It’s no surprise since it is almost as routine a December topic as the “cost” of giving the gifts listed in the Twelve Days of Christmas. When the morning show hosts were debating turkey vs. ham, inevitably someone phoned in and said essentially, “turkey’s not that great, give me a pizza instead.” So the question becomes not so much “turkey vs. ham” as “big kitchen-made dinner vs. pizza delivered.”

Now, I quite like turkey and like ham a lot more. My sweetie makes a great green bean casserole (a side dish I only encountered when first having Christmas dinner in the southern states) which is great. She has some Mexican in her background, so it’s a family tradition for her to have tamales at Christmas-time, another food new to me that I find quite palatable although, lacking the history, not such a cherished part of the season. My Mom used to make some very good stuffing to go with the turkey when I was younger,so big, nap-inducing dinners at Christmas are a part of my background. Cranberry sauce is one of the few examples of a sweet that seems to “go” with meat or the main course particularly well.

But for all that, I say “make it pizza.” Maybe with a nice store-bought salad on the side. I mean, who doesn’t like pizza? If you have a large family or gathering of friends, you can always order up a veggie one or two, perhaps a Hawaiian, for those who don’t like pepperoni or “supreme” that much.

It’s not that pizza is inherently better than a turkey or a ham feast. Rather, it’s a lot easier. And when you add it up, even with a good tip thrown in – and I do advocate tipping the driver heavily and handsomely, for having to work on that special day – it’s likely going to come out cheaper than turkeysor spiral hams, all those side dishes, rolls and so on. Not to mention, does anybody really like eating dry turkey sandwiches on the 28th, microwaved turkey chunks and four-day old stuffing on the 29th or flakes of turkey for breakfast on the 30th? There’s the real point to me – those big meals leave far too many leftovers (of course, if you have a big family pooch, they may help out on that!) . More importantly, they take a lot of time and effort.

If you have a maid or personal chef, if you’re retired and independently wealthy, maybe the hours upon hours spent prepping, cooking, checking the temperatures, then washing up later are no big deal. But for the rest of us, where people are busy and perhaps have two or three days off to enjoy all the Christmas they can cram in, it’s a different story.

How many Christmases have you seen where half the family doesn’t see the others until the all-too-short meal because they’re cleaning turkeys, snoozing because they were up at 5 AM starting the dinner for that evening or running to the supermarket to get that can of cranberries they forgot? If you’re like me, the answer is “quite a few”.

This year I’m happy and fortunate to be spending the season again with my sweetie and much of her family. we had the big family “get-together” last night. The food was good, and plenty too. But the good stuff – the things we’ll remember – were watching one of her nephew’s girlfriend’s little ones playing with toys and a “walk on” piano and laughing it up, full of the wonder of Santa; us adults having a few drinks and laughing over bingo games, sharing stories of the year gone down and so on. Finally tonight we’re watching a handful of Christmas movies together, which is always one of the highlights of Christmas to me.

So again, I say “big kitchen-made dinner vs. pizza delivered?” Whichever your choice, I send you wishes for the best of dinners and moreover, the best of company for you through the day and the entire season. And as a PS, cheers to all of you who remember those who wouldn’t have much food or company at this time of year and take it upon themselves to help them out a little one way or another.

Merry Christmas All!

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