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Watermelon milkshakes help beat the heat this summer

August 31, 2011

It has been a hot summer. If that is an understatement, allow me to make another one. I like ice cream. There are lots of reasons I don’t eat it every day, but “I don’t feel like it” is a reason that is infinitesimally rare. One of the more reasonable factors I do consider in not eating it every day is that sometimes I prefer to drink it. I do dig a milkshake. 
I so enjoy milkshakes that my family once gifted me with a genuine milkshake mixing machine - complete with metal cup - that we found in an antique store. It works well, just not often. Why? I suppose it is because milkshakes, though perhaps a perfect blend of food and drink, are just too easy to consume. 
With a bowl of ice cream, there is more effort involved – it is normally served at a texture that requires one to eat it bite by bite, and may thus be more savored. With milkshakes, they just disappear so doggone fast (brain-freeze notwithstanding), I end up wanting another one. Then I want to finish off my daughter’s, then I’m trying my wife’s, then instead of starring in my own Food Network show featuring ice cream and shakes, I am starring in The Biggest Loser. Milkshakes rock and they make rolls. Love handles. Saddlebags. But I still love ‘em. 
And I’ve loved them for a long time. In the olden days of high school band trips and church youth excursions, McDonald’s always seemed to be a favorite stop for the bus drivers. McDonald’s milkshakes are just what they are – it’s hard to go far in a discussion of flavor profile, thickness and creaminess – but at least they are consistent. I made many a meal of French fries and a chocolate shake in that season of life, a time (you may have guessed) when I had very little parental supervision as my order was being taken.
Though I’d like to think my tastes have matured beyond this concept, even now the thought of that creamy, chocolaty coldness dancing around in my mouth in the same bite as the ubiquitous hot and crispy McDonald’s French fry transports me back over 25 years – and it’s not a bad trip.
These days I like to branch out a bit with my flavors, and I appreciate Chick-fil-A’s efforts to please my palate with their seasonal offerings. In summer there is usually a peach shake, for a while they had a nice caramel coffee flavor, and I recall a peppermint-chocolate chip version around the holidays. Sonic, of course, is very helpful, too, with the myriad of combinations that they can make. Another consistently unique flavor, and long-time favorite of mine, is the Jamocha shake at Arby’s. 
The only downside to a shake like Chick-fil-A’s peppermint-chocolate chip, or the Valentine’s Day shake Sonic once offered, are the chunks. In hand-dipped ice cream, I say bring on the chunks and swirls, Ben and Jerry. 
But in a shake they can be hard to manage. There’s little more frustrating in shake-dom than trying to pull the next mouthful of icy deliciousness through a straw only to be thwarted by a chocolate chunk or piece of peach that blocks the path. 
If you’re sitting around chillin’ (pun intended) with your pals, those blockades can be managed with a long spoon. But if you are driving or otherwise on the move, it’s just plain aggravating.  
This summer, I think I found the chunkiest shake ever. On the way back from a barbecue road trip to Lexington, N.C., we passed by a Cookout Burger advertising watermelon milkshakes. I made a U-turn (which is allowed in emergencies like this) and swerved in. 
When I saw the menu inside, I was overcome – there were literally dozens of possible flavor combinations. But I resisted temptation and went with the watermelon, my original intent and the one that happened to be on special. The ice cream base was vanilla, with real watermelon blended in, as I discovered when I sucked the first watermelon seed through the straw. Bite-sized chunks of melon anchored the bottom of the cup. 
This was not your ordinary pairing of dairy and fruit, and it took me a few long draughts to reach a place where could get my head around the flavors. But after a few slurps and nibbles I reached a taste equilibrium of sorts and began to imagine ways I could re-create the sensation. (Welcome to my head.) 
After a hot day full of spicy North Carolina-style barbecue, I concluded that these two icons of summertime refreshment should spend more time together. With me. 

Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at eatsoneate@gmail.com.

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