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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Cooling basics: ice and sugar

Posted on Thu, May 27, 2004 at 4:00 AM

No matter how much one dreads the scorching heat of summer, there's no choice but to sweat it out. You can try a mind-over-matter approach – such as imagining yourself packed in ice and turning blue – but it's much more effective to actually pack yourself with ice. Make that finely shaved, fluffy ice doused with a sweetly flavored syrup. That's what's called a "snowball" to anyone with a taste of New Orleans in their blood, the city that's the king of the confection.

Rainbow Sno-Cones on Corrine Drive is as New Orleans as it gets – never mind the "cone" instead of the "ball" in the name. Bob Homer bought the place about 10 years ago from two sisters from N.O. who ran the business for five years using an ice-shaving machine and syrup recipes from home. The secret to a snowball is always in the quality of the homemade syrups – sugar and flavoring cooked with a touch of magic.

A native of Orlando, Homer's a fixture in his neighborhood near Baldwin Park. Each snowball is carefully hand-crafted, so be patient if there's a line at the order window – it's worth the wait.

Any self-respecting snowball stand carries around 50 flavors, as Homer does, including the time-honored Big Easy favorites: strawberry, chocolate, spearmint, nectar (a vanilla flavor) and wedding cake (almond). And Homer's concocted a few of his own sought-after specialties: "polar punch" (light blue raspberry) and "sour apple."

There are sugar-free options, but basic snowballs have no fat or cholesterol, anyway. Prices range from kiddie cups ($1) to extra-large ($2), plus 25 cents for toppings of cream, condensed milk or marshmallow. A cherry costs 10 cents.

Traditionally, Memorial Day kicks off snowball season, but lucky for us, Homer stays open year-round, seven days a week.

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