Some of my favorite childhood memories involve ice cream.
In one of the early ones, I’m strapped in a seat on the back of my mom’s bike. On warm summer nights, when the air buzzed with humidity and cicadas, we would ride under streetlights to Baskin-Robbins. I didn’t even look at the 31 flavors — I was all about the chocolate clown cone, an upside-down chocolate cone with frosting hair and a cherry nose. The trick was eating the ice cream before the clown’s face melted into a sticky mess.
When I turned 15, I got a job at that same Baskin-Robbins. It paid $5.50 an hour and all the ice cream you could eat. I took full advantage of that perk, sampling my way through all 31 flavors and occasionally sneaking a clown cone, which the other teenage employees were too cool to eat.
As a rule, I try to avoid emotional eating. But there’s something about ice cream that transports me back to childhood. This month — National Ice Cream Month — I’m giving myself permission to indulge in nostalgia by the spoonful.
I ordered a vanilla malt at Lawrence’s The Burger Stand at the Casbah. The creamy whipped drink, made with local milk from Iwig Family Dairy in Tecumseh, Kan., came with a huge pink straw that made me smile.
At the grocery store, I perused the frozen section and picked out a tub of Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss. It tastes like super-creamy coconut ice cream but is free of dairy, gluten and soy.
A couple of weeks ago, I stopped by Murray’s Homemade Ice Creams, the locally famous scoop shop at 4120 Pennsylvania Ave. in Westport.
Murray’s, open since 1984, feels like it’s from the past, in a comforting way. The air smells like waffle cones and Snickerdoodles. The radio plays ’80s hits like “Hungry Eyes” — remember that song from “Dirty Dancing?” — and the servers call themselves soda jerks.
Oh, and they don’t take credit cards at Murray’s, so you have to bring cash or a check. Or, if you forget like I did, walk to Harpo’s and use their ATM.
Murray’s menu has some old-school soda fountain favorites (banana splits, egg creams and tart soda called phosphate) as well as new, more experimental flavors of ice cream. Midnight Mole, for example, heats up dark chocolate ice cream with cinnamon and chile.
Soda jerk Devin Nolte says the shop’s best-selling flavor is Chocolate Flake Fromage — snow-white cream cheese ice cream flecked with dark chocolate flakes.
Nolte’s co-worker Dakota Summers strongly recommended the Oh! Pistachio flavor, so I ordered a scoop of that with a scoop of One Drunk Monk. The limited-edition flavor, which comes out for a few days at the beginning of every month, has a base flavored with Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur. Chocolate-espresso flakes and real hazelnuts create a chunky texture.
As Summers scooped my ice cream, I glanced at the toppings. Next to the rainbow sprinkles was a bottle labeled “Blue Goo.”
“That’s Smurfs’ blood,” Summers told me, “but it tastes a whole lot like marshmallow.”
I skipped the Goo, paid about $5 for my two big scoops — ice cream is weighed and sold by the ounce at Murray’s — and settled into a chair to eat. The ice cream was utterly creamy and fresh-tasting — not dried-out. The minty green pistachio ice cream was studded with real, whole pistachios. The One Drunk Monk tasted like frozen coffee, with a nutty cocoa kick.
Right around 3 p.m., in the middle of an afternoon rush, a young mom helped her two kids pick out flavors. One little boy picked chocolate and asked Summers to add chocolate sprinkles.
“This is going to be extra chocolatey,” Summers told the boy, “like two bears playing in the mud.”
It’s fun moments like those that make going out for ice cream such a treat. And, hopefully, a sweet memory.