We've already established that Central Ohio is home to a dog named Zelda, recipes for hot dog soup and ham loaf, a sesame noodle fiend, and darn good neighbors. It is also home to some of the friendliest vendors in all the land, and exceedingly fine ice cream.

I was reminded of these last two winning traits on Tuesday, when my mother and great-aunt Eileen drove in from up north. Cleveland, that is. We spent the day moseying around the Short North, a funky Columbus neighborhood of galleries, eateries, and boutiques. Our visit began with a breakfast-all-day lunch at Tasi, and then we hit the streets. My weakness for all things paper and my avowed spending freeze were put to the test at On Paper, a gorgeous little paperie on North High Street. I escaped without spending a dime by embracing the boutique as I would a museum. It wasn't hard. At least at On Paper touching is permitted. I admired the whimsical stationary, antique inkwells, and silk-screened papers on display, and in my mind I folded together invitations for intimate, celebratory dinners to come. I even dreamed up a menu or two. The evening would begin, say, with an orange on orange invitation, and drift to a close with an orange polenta cake, soaked in orange-flower water and glazed with orange marmalade. From the tasteful to the tasty, On Paper inspires. Tucked in the corner of this shop, I met my greatest temptation: a stunning computer messenger bag by Jane Marvel. Wait for me, you darling thing. You may be just what I need to brighten - if not lighten - my load once dissertation writing time rolls around.

From there we meandered over to The Cookware Sorcerer. Oh baby. Hold me back. All those knives poised like magic wands along the back wall. So lovely. The gleaming copper pots, the marbles slabs, the wooden boards. Lovelier still. But above all, the tart pans. I have been on the lookout for a certain perfect combination: miniature, non-stick, fluted tart pans with removable bottoms. A set of six. Very often I find minis that are non-stick, but that lack removable bottoms. Or, piles of removable bottomed pans line the shelves, but only in grown-up, nine or ten inch sizes. But suddenly, in Central Ohio, there they were, the coveted treasures. I protested, I swear, but my very sweet mommy insisted on buying me a set. I repeat, this time with emphasis: Oh, baby. And thank you, thank you, mommy mine.

stack of tart pans
We'll have fun with these lovelies, we will.

single tart pan
Next on our list was the North Market, where we delivered regards from the cookware sorcerer himself to Mike, the cheese guy. Then, at long last, we sampled that exceedingly fine ice cream I mentioned a few moments ago: Jeni's. When it comes to local ice cream, I've always been a Graeter's girl. I'm such a diehard fan that when I first brought my college boyfriend home and he hadn't yet tasted the stuff by the morning of our departure, I made him eat a bowlful for breakfast! With Graeter's signature French pot process, not to mention their poured and paddled chocolate "chips," I never imagined that I had room to spare in my heart for another ice cream favorite. Then, in waltzed Jeni's on this well-churned visit home. I fear that from now on, I'll be taking a one-for-each-hand approach. Graeter's for my left, and Jeni's for my right, please. From the milks and creams to the coffees and honeys folded into her many flavors, Jeni features local, Ohio ingredients. I favor smooth and chunk-free over candy-studded ice creams and, lucky for me, so does Jeni. Her flavor profiles may seem outrageous at first glance, but after one bite of, say, olive oil with sea salt pepitas, you find yourself wondering why this exquisite, perfectly matched combination has never before found its way to your palate.

Our scooper, Jacob, was decidedly the most exuberant ice cream vendor I have ever encountered. I'm frequently made uncomfortable by the seriousness with which we ice cream consumers taste, and taste again, and - have we no shame?- taste again before making our final scoop selections. We hem and haw and furrow our brows, and cross one ankle over the other, and cock our heads contemplatively to one side. It's really too much. It embarrasses me, I think. For the most part, I've instituted a no tasting policy in recent years. When I break my own rule, I've been known to tack on a mumbled "sorry" to the end of my request, as in "May I please taste the hazelnut, (sorry)…?" I imagine that the mini-spoon deluge of tastes upon tastes maddens those poor, beleaguered scoopers. Jacob, however, was not only unfazed, but practically begged us to sample one flavor after another. He was just so darn excited about the flurry of taste bud-popping flavors at his fingertips that he couldn't wait to share. "Do you like spicy? Salty?" he asked, trying to tailor the tastings to our individual palates. Jacob's favorite part of the job, he confided, is witnessing the delight on the face of a wary customer who surprises himself by enjoying an unorthodox flavor. I decided on a trio of half-scoops: salty caramel, Ohio honey-vanilla bean, and goat cheese with cognac and fig-almond sauce, made with goat cheese from the local Blue Jacket Dairy. Among my mom's trio was a flavor called Queen City Cayenne, a rich chocolate ice cream that finishes with a spicy kick.

What a day, Columbus. You sure do know how to treat a girl, her mom, and her aunt right. Thanks for a splendid romp around town.


megan said...

I didn't know we both ice cream AND paper in common! I'm a fool for both...

Jess said...

Megan, love, I do believe that we have even more than ice cream and paper in common, and it is my distinct honor to be in such fine company.