The large, decades-old van lumbered to a stop in front of our driveway, its engine idling loudly … making it impossible not to hear it even from inside the house. I peered out at the time-worn vehicle from the small slit I’d created in the blinds on our front porch and watched as the man in the driver’s seat slowly turned the key backwards, bringing the noisy van to a lifeless state for a moment. The lettering on the side of the van was faded and peeling slightly; it was all matte gray and pink now but I’d imagined that it had probably been a shining blue and bright red during its hey day. “Good Humor,“ it read. I stood there trying to decide if the faded, worn-out look of the van was more charming – in a vintage, peddler’s mall kind of way – or creepy, in the “always make sure to steer clear of big commercial vans, Lauren,” kind of way. I settled on the former.
“Who’s that, Mommy?” Elle asked.
“It’s the ice cream truck,” I replied, and then repeated myself to better emphasize that this was supposed to be a happy, positive thing. “It’s the ice cream truck!!!”
“Wowwww. Amazing! What does it do?” She stared in wide-eyed wonder at the ice cream truck that time had all but forgotten and at that moment, the music started playing and we made our way outside. A wonky, slightly distorted version of “Yankee Doodle” was playing and then it stopped suddenly, flatlining for a few quiet moments. We heard one loud, swift thump come from the inside of the van and then the music started up again. Louder this time; more sure of itself. Elle looked puzzled and delighted and happily anxious and rightfully so. A child’s first encounter with the neighborhood ice cream truck is a magical, memorable thing, even if the truck and its musical offerings aren’t in the most pristine of conditions. Bless its heart.
The small window on the side of the van opened then, and the friendly, gray-haired man inside waved to us, complimenting Elle on her pretty dress. He hung a large poster filled with colorful images of frozen treats below the window and Elle was reviewing its contents with ravenous enthusiasm, running her finger along the laminated surface as she weighed the options. I noticed a small hand-written sign just inside the window that said, “eye scream? use cream!” and I wondered what the story was behind it. The man saw me staring and laughed. “Oh that’s just some silly ice cream humor for you! Good humor, I should say.” Chuckling, he flipped it over then so I could see what it said on the back. “Oui! All’s Cream.” Hmmm. Curiouser and curiouser …
As Elle enjoyed surveying the menu, I made typical small talk with the man.
Lovely day … great neighborhood … been doing this for thirty years … the ole’ Panther’s held up like a champ … she’s probably got another season or two left in her yet.
He called his truck the “Pink Panther” after the iconic ice cream truck treat. I remembered the one: an ice cream bar in the shape of the Pink Panther’s face with two giant gum balls for eyes. As a kid, this felt like an incredible deal. Ice cream AND gum? What more could one possibly want? It seemed like as good a name choice as any other I figured, nodding my appreciation as he told me the simple yet charming history of the truck that had been the source of so much joy for children for so many years and even, if I could believe it, his own home for a brief period of time. “But that’s a story for another day,” he’d said with a far-off look in his eye that has left me wondering ever since.
He was proud of his role as ice cream man: bringer of sweets and treats and smiles to children young and old for three decades and counting. It really was something to be proud of, though. He had power in that truck, what with its wobbly songs and faded decor. He’d told me how parents were always crediting him with getting their little ones to break free from the screens and shows and zombie-making devices that tend to overtake kid’s lives these days. “Nothing trumps the truck!” he’d said with pride. “No, some things never change.”
Elle finally decided on a Blue Turbo Rocket Pop, because she loved the red, white and blue color scheme and I opted to pass on a frozen treat that day, saying that I was trying to “be good” or some such excuse. “Nonsense!” The ice cream man said. “You deserve an ice cream! You work hard!” He gestured at Elle, gave me a wink, and handed me a classic drumstick – free of charge. “Heck, I’ll join you. It’s a slow day.” He stuck his head further out the window and surveyed the street up one side and down the other. “Nope, no kids in sight … drumsticks all around!” I wondered how many he’d eaten in his lifetime.
We clinked our frozen, plastic-wrapped drumsticks together in mock “cheers!” fashion and Elle and I said goodbye to the ice cream man whose real name I never actually learned. He turned the van on again and slowly pulled away from the curb, heading off to his next destination. The music changed then and a slightly shaky yet undeniable rendition of the Pink Panther theme song floated down our block for the next several minutes. Elle and I sat outside on the porch until it was gone.
Fresh Apricot & Coconut No-Churn Ice Cream RECIPE
When it comes to ice cream making, I exclusively stick to the no-churn variety, as the ice cream maker I received as a wedding gift nine years ago has never actually worked. No-churn ice cream is wonderfully creamy, luscious and so simple to do – it is little more than flavored, frozen whipped cream. I used the remainder of the can of coconut cream from my previous grilled corn recipe (see last post) to flavor the ice cream this week and it is so delicious – such a great product to keep on hand, that coconut cream. You can use any fruit you like here, of course, whatever is good and in season should be great. For me, the flavor of fresh fruit and coconut in an ice cream is a wonderful farewell-to-summer treat, but if I’m being honest, I’d make it any time of year. Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone!
2 cups heavy whipping cream
7 ounces cream of coconut (such as Coco Lopez; not coconut milk)
12 oz. sweetened condensed milk
2 – 3 apricots, sliced and cut into large pieces
In a large bowl using an electric mixer, whip the cream to the stiff peaks stage, about 3 – 5 minutes on med-high speed. Add the sweetened condensed milk, whisking to incorporate evenly. Next, whisk in the cream of coconut, maybe starting with less than I have indicated and tasting for your preference. I like a lot of coconut flavor, but you can adjust to your liking of course. Lastly, fold in the sliced fruit. Pour the ice cream mixture into a large baking dish or freezer-safe container, cover and freeze for at least 6 hours before serving (best if you do it overnight).