Chilling with that snowball

August 07, 2002|By Michael Gray | Michael Gray,SUN STAFF

It is a child's confection, of course. Crushed ice and sweet syrup in a cup. What could be more simple? Less adult?

So maybe I am a child at heart, or in some advanced stage of arrested development. But here is the truth: I am hot for snowballs.

Not just any snowball, though. No, the snowball I seek - texture of ice just so, flavoring generously and artfully applied, perfect - is elusive. It seems never to be where I last found it. So, in the molten height of summer, I make my rounds, eye out for some stand or storefront I haven't visited before. Perhaps this one holds the holy grail of frosty pleasure.

I don't mean to say that I am addicted. More episodically obsessed. I can go days, even weeks, without thinking about a snowball. And then, I will be out somewhere, often after some physical exertion - a bike ride, a Sunday softball game, shopping at Home Depot - and the urge overcomes me. I could join the gang for a beer, or head home and sip a gin and tonic in the shade of the porch. Instead I am thinking: Wasn't there a little stand just up the road? I wonder if it has sour-cherry syrup?

I don't mean for it to be a solitary endeavor. I just find that most adults don't share my predilection. For them, a snowball is a trifle, a mere moment's refreshment, each one just like the other. Sadly, I suppose they feel the same way about soft-serve ice cream cones. But that is another story.

For me, the enjoyment of a well-constructed snowball is a subtle affair, as intricate in its way as test-driving single-malt scotches or deconstructing the latest pinot grigio.

Yet here is an irony: Flavor, essentially, does not matter. (Nor, I'd argue, does size; a great small snowball beats a botched extra-large any day.) Take your pick from the dozens of syrups on the board (though asking for Power Puff Punch can be a little embarrassing in some circumstances). I am a two-flavor man myself, usually old standbys like lime and cherry. Sometimes, I'll try more adventurous stuff, like blood orange. I have yet to try the exotic egg custard.

No, it is the ice that makes the snowball, that gives it structure and complexity. It should be finely ground, crystals just big enough to stay on the tongue a moment or two before dissolving, never requiring serious crunching. It should be packed tightly, and artfully rounded on top. When the syrup is applied, it should stand its ground, yet easily yield to the plastic spoon.

And here is where we separate the snowball men from the boys: technique. No matter how hot, how miserable the day, a snowball is to be savored, not rushed. If you are looking for a brain freeze, get a Slurpee. As with other adult pleasures, patience and skill are rewarded. Enjoyed methodically, a snowball will never disappoint you with premature loss of syrup, or devolve into a melted, watery mess, but satisfy to the final swallow.

What could be less simple, more adult?

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