Eat This

Rediscovering Blue Bell Ice Cream, Like A Long Slow Embrace with Ben Affleck

A moment of honesty here, OK? It's the holidays so we're being forgiving and all that, right? I never really liked Blue Bell Ice Cream. I always thought of it as the old man of ice cream, sort of boring and uninventive. I like Ben & Jerry's - blinged-out, glitzy, suffocating, intoxicating, a hot mess of everything that was right (and wrong) in the world.

But, this summer, I (or Blue Bell) crossed a threshold. It started with Key Lime Pie Ice Cream, a dessert that happens to be an all-time favorite. I bought a half-gallon out of obligation (to myself, nostalgia, this blog, the world) and remember the first bite standing in my kitchen. It was amazing. I quickly restricted the kids from eating it (they have their own stuff) and for the entirety of its short life, it was like a siren call from the bottom of my freezer. Mostly I imbibed in just a few spoonfuls at a time. The dialogue in my head was something like: 'I've had such a long day, I deserve this.' When it was gone, emotions were a mix of relief and emptiness.

The next time I was at the store and in another life-is-short-we-should-all-eat-more-ice-cream moment I looked for another half-gallon, but Key Lime Pie was gone. So, I settled on another new flavor summer: Summer Strawberry Pie, not (not) to be confused with just regular strawberry (old man) ice cream. Soon there was moment number two in my kitchen. It was better than the Key Lime Pie. The small pieces of piecrust were dense and the large chunks of strawberries were like a picnic on a pretty day.

Then, it just kept happening. I was visiting my parents and asked if they had tried any of the new flavors since they usually have Homemade Vanilla on hand. Nope, they hadn't, and Mom offered, "But, they're having a sell at Brookshires." I went to the store and, sure enough, there was a sale, which meant almost the entire section of Blue Bell was cleaned out. The only flavor left was Southern Blackberry Cobbler that apparently wasn't any good because no one bought it, right? Wrong.

Again, an alley-oop slam-dunk. With a spoonful halfway to her mouth, my mom paused and told me I had to take it home with me because otherwise she'd eat the whole thing. (But, it would have melted, so I couldn't. They ate it.)

Then, at the end of summer, the good folks in Brenham rolled out possibly their best yet: Southern Peach Cobbler. On their website, they claim that they only make it a short time while peaches are in season. I actually believe them.

What is most endearing to me about this entire line of new products from Blue Bell is their approach. They never jumped on a trend. When everyone else started putting everything but the kitchen sink in ice cream, they held steady. They didn't take the bait. Those cows just chewed grass and took naps. Blue Bell added to their line-up at their own pace.

Which brings us to this past (Black) Friday when I discovered their newest concoction. We were making a quick trip to the store, just to return a movie. I had been clear with the kids; "We're not buying anything else because we have a fridge full of leftovers." They agreed. But, at the last minute I decided to buy a Runner's World to negate eating to the point of shame the day before.

On the detour, we walked past the freezer aisle and there she was: Blue Bell Gingerbread House Ice Cream. Instantly defeated, I grabbed a half-gallon. High fives all around. The kids are an easy crowd. Then, in the magazine aisle, the kids saw the latest release from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. They begged to get it, but I said "No, remember we're just here for ... um ... a couple things."

Then amazingly, they offered a barter: "We'll put the ice cream back for the book. Please, Mom."

And this was the point I officially crossed some line, though not sure which, "No, we're not putting the Blue Bell back for a book."

I started to wince in shame as the words rolled out, but then I just went with it. I'm not into pretence. It is what it is.

I gave in. We got the book. And the magazine. And, of course, the ice cream. It's all about balance.

What's cool about the Gingerbread House ice cream is that it actually tastes like a gingerbread house. Because in reality those things are almost impossible to eat, either from a cleanliness standpoint or the workability of the stale walls and hardened glue.

Here, the ice cream is awash in cinnamon with big chunks of gingerbread cookies. Small marshmallows make an appearance in almost every spoonful. All of that is accented with bits of crunchy green and red candy.

My relationship with Blue Bell is now like that hug Ben Affleck delivered on the porch in one of the last scenes of Argo. (Spoiler alert.) First, to set the stage, Affleck has a scene where he takes his shirt off even though it has nothing to do with the plot. (Tip o' the hat, Affleck, for making that call as director. Thanks all over the place.) So with that in the back of your head, later on Affleck hugs his wife, but it's more like he's falling into her. The weight of the world softly rolls off his shoulders and into her. Then, his large hands spread over her small back and he pulls her in close. It's not a hug. It's a slow fade into redemption. One spoonful at a time. Or shirtless ... no, ice cream. I'm flustered. No matter, this embrace with Blue Bell is a rediscovered commitment.

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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.