Vanishing Point A Bookand Websiteby Ander Monson


On Vanilla


Julie’s Organic Ice Cream
Main Office
885 Grant Street
Eugene, Oregon 07402

14 April 2009

Dear Julie’s folks:

Let me discard the wrapper, the polite salutation, the ha ha and how are you doing after all, and get right to the center of the issue: holy crap your ice cream sandwiches are brilliantly good. I consider myself something of an ice cream sandwich aficionado, having spent the better part of my youth collecting returnable pop cans to garner the 10 cent deposits, and then using that cash to spend on ice cream sandwiches at Michigan Tech University (go Huskies!) hockey games in the remote and rural town in which I grew up. I’ve always been a fan of vanilla as the prime ice cream flavor. This is not to say I haven’t dallied with peanut butter and blue moon and other forms of deliciousness, but vanilla, a good, strong, complex vanilla, is what I return to. I recognize that probably makes me sound lame, suburban, with a preference for missionary-position sex, a pewter Toyota Camry, in the crosshairs of what marketers imagine to be American culture.

I’m okay with that characterization, though incorrect, because for me vanilla ice cream cab be as good, as bold, as big, and as interesting as it gets in flavor. Having said that I prefer my vanilla ice cream sandwiched between some sort of bready chocolate wafers. You understand this. It’s easier to eat. And the contrast between the breaded exterior and the ice cream at its center deepens the sensation of both. Take, for instance, any kind of peanut butter-flavored ice cream. Damn it’s good, when it’s good, but within a couple minutes of eating the flavor has overloaded whatever sensory capability I have for eating it. There is a psychological term for this, surely. I continue eating, but the pleasure is gone, like so many things. If I were a better person I would stop eating. I am not. I continue. But break that taste experience, what I gather food science types call the “flavor profile,” for another, and then I can go back immediately and experience the pleasure of immersion. This is one reason why I like peanut butter best when encased in pretzels (and, to compound the pleasure, immersed in ice cream, as in Ben and Jerry’s “Chubby Hubby” flavor, which is great, and also comes packaged with the perception that I am fat, married, and probably chortling my way to or from the freezer at any given time--this I am uncomfortable with).

My people, meaning those of Scandinavian heritage, believe in contrast. We go from the icy lake into the sauna. We repeat. We drink. We rage. We snowmobile into the lonely winter night in search of something. We find elk and moose. We taunt them. We flee. We eat heartily. We invented lutefisk, fish pickled in lye. We invented nisu, a braided cardamom bread dusted with sugar and slivered toasted almonds. Opposite sensations heighten each other. We are not necessarily into S&M though perhaps it would follow.

The inventor of the ice cream sandwich (sources do not agree on a name, but put the date in 1900 and the place as New York City, unsurprisingly) solved this problem. Like the progenitors of any of the various X on a stick ideas familiar from the plush crowds of carnivals and state fairs, said inventor made ice cream more apparently portable and pleasurable, with less disposable packaging, and I (and all of us on earth with our mouths open to what the world has to offer us) owe her (or him) my thanks. Your ice cream science people didn’t invent the thing, obviously, but I do credit you with perfecting and executing the idea better than any packaged ice cream sandwiches I have ever tasted. (Homemade or craft-made and local ice cream sandwiches are a different thing, I think, and can’t be included in the comparison. When going to an ice cream shop or trying to make a sandwich of my own, or visiting a high-end sort of joint like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio (which is pretty good), one is seeking out a more personal experience, a social experience, maybe even a romantic experience; it is like dining out, probably like going to your dipping shop, which is now on my list of dream destinations.

The store-bought ice cream sandwich is a different story. It’s not a microbrew (though I like microbrews). It must hold up in the freezer (yours does). It must look and taste delicious, and absolutely the same every time (yours does and yours does*). It must seem somehow processed, mass-made and -marketed, the result of what we like to call our culture. The kind we buy in stores like Sunflower Market in Tucson (where I found your sandwiches) we expect to kind of suck, put frankly, or to be mediocre at the least, which is why we stick to the ones we know. This is human nature, to go with what is known, not to eat those maybe-poisonous berries and delete our genome from the future. It’s why we go to Starbucks when we might find better local coffee, or McDonalds with their thoroughly predictable burgers:  because we know these places, because we like reminders that we are always within a short drive of the idea of home.

Your sandwiches were on sale. I gave them a shot. I am glad. I normally don’t care enough about organic to pay the premium. I have some questions about organic, as in should we really be rejecting the pinnacle of processing and manufactured culture? Sometimes inorganic is better, keeps better, tastes better (think, say, Doritos, which are pretty much the pinnacle of snack chips: their artificial flavoring is genius, unstoppable like the original Coke before they switched to high-fructose corn syrup). But okay, I’m at the kind of hippie organic store. I walk by the hippie organic products every day. And this day in particular, for the sale price, I thought, heck, I’m willing, I can be easy like that. I thought: I’m an American, and I want choice. I thought: I’m a human being and I want to remind myself that I can be surprised, that I am not simply a product of my many and deeply-entrenched habits. And when I opened my first one up, boom, explosion in my mouth. The texture and mouthfeel: great! The cookie exterior does not even stick to my ginger fingers. The ice cream: lovely and smooth, complex, anything but “just” vanilla! And the contrast between exterior and interior: stellar. Not only do I not have to wait for the sandwich to soften enough to be eaten (unlike some lesser brands), even the packaging is easy to open, and disposes easily.

Your sandwiches blow my previous favorite, the Skinny Cow sandwiches, out of the proverbial water. In fact your sandwiches burn so hot they evaporate the water entirely like in certain Western lakes in summer, and the Skinny Cows are beached in the center of what they thought water and is now in fact a sea of mineral residue and stupefied fish. They look foolish. We mock them from the shore, drinks in hand. Ha ha!, we say. We call them pretenders, stupid tourists. They earn our ire. We reject them forevermore (unless our spouses bring some home and we are out of Julie’s Organic Ice Cream Sandwiches, and we are famished and lazy, in which case we would consider eating a Skinny Cow, though only the vanilla kind; the chocolate on chocolate kind are useless and not worth the calories).

Will I buy your excellent product at full price? Maybe. Maybe. Given the strength of my response here, I think it’s likely. But then again, these are tough economic times. Can I suggest more sales? But I want you to make money. You deserve it.

As a last note, the ice cream keeps great in my freezer. I bought four boxes after that first experience and am trying not to go through them too quickly, and they remain in the icebox. The longing, the waiting--that’s the pleasure. But then, the more I think about them, the more I want them, the more I want them inside me. And then I eat them, which reduces my stock further. I am almost out. If I blogged, I’d blog about it.

These sandwiches are like sudden incidence of winter in a Tucson June. They are, as my summer camp instructor suggested (referring to a dreamsicle, another favorite of mine) when I was fourteen, orgasmic. I will remember them when I am old. Kudos. Really. Obviously.

Most Sincerely Indeed,

Ander Monson






* A slight dissonance, a week later, as I debated how best to communicate my excitement about your product to you: the very last sandwich from the fourth box I bought was disfigured, the cookie half-missing. It looked armless, kind of wack, an abomination. I ate it. It was a tasty abomination. But the experience disappointed. I don't buy your sandwiches because I want anomaly. I want vanilla, after all. That little disappointment means something. I’m not sure what yet. Of the twenty-four cookies, one was flawed (this works out to a .0417 incidence of error, based admittedly on a too-small sample to be statistically meaningful, I think, or would think if I could remember much from my college classes in statistics). I suppose the flaws heighten the appreciation, a beauty mark on a model, a chip on a surface, an asterisk on a block of prose. They remind us that perfection is possible. The broken cookie--the anomaly--proves the general excellence of the sandwich. You are not unassailable. You are human. You are real.