Chocolate Monday: Disney World

Mickey treatI love Disney World. I have always loved Disney World. I will always love Disney World. The first time my parents took me, I was three or four years old and there was only one park in Orlando. I’m not really sure how many of my memories are my own and how many are just stories I remember my parents telling me. The one that sticks out the most vividly in my mind is the one about my Mickey ears.

I’m not going to try to claim that Disney wasn’t commercial during my childhood, but unlike the current theme park, when I was a kid, the souvenir pickings were definitely a bit slimmer. Every ride didn’t open up into a gift store which allowed you to buy not only Disney trinkets, but Disney trinkets centered only on that ride. No, when I was a kid, the prized Disney accessory was a pair of Mickey ears. I’m pretty sure that back then they only came in one color: black and if you got your name stitched on them (which my parents did for me), an actual person hand stitched it while you waited. Anyway, I wanted that darn hat so badly, so my parents, being the doters they were, bought me one. We were strolling through Fantasyland, somewhere near the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride (and this is why I think the story might be my own, because I very clearly remember the image of the ride as a child). As we were walking along, I felt a hand touch my head and then my hat was gone. Yes, that’s right a grown man, stole my hat, put it on his head and walked away, while I erupted in tears.

My father immediately took off after the man and with help from a Disney security guard who was dressed as a janitor (this part I’ll admit I didn’t remember), they got my hat back and the thief got rightfully booted from the park. Disney security does not truck with crime in their parks.

While my recent trip was not exactly without tears (mostly my daughter when we told her we had to get off of a ride and couldn’t immediately get back on it), at least my children arrived home with their Mickey ears unmolested.

As an adult, my Disney experience was very different. One of the biggest differences was that instead of having to pick from the rather limited kid’s menus andbe our guest being told “no” when I wanted a treat, I could splurge and eat whatever I wanted. While I generally tried to be reasonable, when the concierge at our hotel got us a reservation for Be Our Guest (which meant we got to avoid the thirty minute wait in the rain), I figured I should at take advantage of the situation by not only getting a really tasty sandwich, but also trying a chocolate treat. Since there was a chocolate option, I had to go with it. I picked the triple chocolate cupcake. I mean, who can resist not one, not two, but three types of chocolate? I’ll be honest, I didn’t even bother to read which types of chocolate it had in it. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at the menu to write this blog that I even saw it was a chocolate cake, a chocolate mousse filling and a chocolate ganache frosting. When it arrived, the cupcake was definitely pretty and I soon found myself fending off glances (and forks) from my children. I agreed to share, but only after they’d eaten their lunch. And, I made it clear that the raspberry was all mine! I gave my son the little chocolate square with the restaurant name on it. He declared it delicious, but he says the same thing about a Hershey bar, so I’m not taking that as solid proof it was good.

The cake itself was a bit drier than I like. Then again, I can only imagine these little beauties get made by the thousands each day, so that’s not really a surprise, just a bit of a disappointment. The ganache had a hint of bitterness from the dark chocolate, which also made this dessert a little less than perfect. The mousse inside was creamy, and tasty, but there just wasn’t enough of it. Tasty, sure, but not as stellar as I’d hoped.

My second chocolate indulgence came at Hollywood Studios. We found Sweet Spells. Since it was close to Halloween, the place was decked out with all sorts of Nightmare Before Christmas and Disney villain regalia. It was fun to look at, but my eyes were drawn to the refrigerated bakery case that had chocolate covered treats. After quite a bit of debate, I went with a brownie shaped like my beloved Mickey ears. It was dipped in chocolate and had bits of toffee stuck to the top of the ears. I’ll admit when the sign claimed it was a toffee brownie, I expected some toffee bits inside the brownie itself. Much to my sadness, the only toffee I got was decorating the treat. Once again, the brownie was a bit dry. This was due in part, to the fact it was a cakey brownie, not the moist, chewy ones I make at home. The chocolate it was dipped in was quality and not at all waxy like so many dipped treats end up being. The toffee on the ears reminded me of Heath and was a nice touch, but once again, not quite what I was hoping for. Good, sure, but I wanted better.

My final bit of Diseny chocolate fun came from the food court at our hotel: Port Orleans –French Quarter. Aside from our first and last nights at the hotel, we’d avoid the food court. Not that we had anything against it, but when there are so many interesting eateries in the park, why go for a food court? Turns out, this was where we got my favorite sweet treat. The Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory Food Court has a little ice cream/bakery section. I’d tried the beignets it was supposedly famous for and found them ok. A bit too much powdered sugar for my liking. However, on our final night, when I ordered the hand dipped ice cream cookie sandwich…well, it was heaven! My choice of ice cream (I went all meta with cookie dough ice cream) sandwiched between two huge chocolate chip cookies. Although they were a bit crispier than I like my cookies at home, they were rich and buttery and the ice cream helped soften them up. Even though I was sharing one with my daughter, we could barely finish it. We honestly should have gotten one for the entire table, but it was our last night and we were feeling a bit indulgent. It was the perfect end to a perfect vacation.

Overall:

Taste: 6/10 (except that ice cream sandwich, it was a solid 8/10)
Value: 6/10 (again, except for that ice cream sandwich, which could easily feed all four and was only $5.29, so I give it a solid 8/10)
Appearance: 9/10 (making things look pretty is a Disney specialty)

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Chocolate Monday: Ghiradelli Fudge Caramel Sauce and Sea Salt Caramel Banana Quake Shake

ghiradeli hot fudge jarWhen I was a kid growing up in California, Ghiradelli was an every day name. No matter which grocery store my mom decided to visit, Alpha Beta, Vons or Ralph’s, at the check out line there would be a wonderful assortment of bright wrappers all with that familiar golden banner and eagle. As a kid my favorite was a bar with milk chocolate and raisins. I think it had a purple wrapper.

It wasn’t until I moved to the Midwest that I realized Ghiradelli wasn’t a household name. None of my friends had even heard of the confectioner, much less tasted any of their delectable goodies. For nearly 10 years those candy bars vanished from my life. Since I never saw them, I never thought of them. It wasn’t until a road trip to Vegas in my early 20’s that I stumbled upon a Ghiradelli candy shop. It was enormous (or so it seemed at the time) and was stocked from floor to ceiling with shiny wrappers, all beckoning to me. Unfortunately, I was finishing up my last semester of college, and since it was the indentured servitude known as student teaching, I was pretty broke. Instead of gobbling up just about every candy bar in sight, I had to settle for a few favorites.

After that trip, Ghiradelli once again disappeared from my life. It wasn’t until several more years that I stumbled upon bags of individually wrapped squares available at World Market. Fairly shortly after, I noticed similar, non-holiday flavored bags of chocolatey squares showing up on the shelves of Targets and finally once again at the corner grocery store. However, like all things from my childhood there’d been some changes. First off, the raisin bar had been discontinued. Second, I could no longer get candy bars anymore. Sure, I could get the squares, and they were great, but I liked finding the bars in the check out line right next to the Hershey’s bars (and not the King Sized ones either, just regular ol’ standard-sized bars). Now, it seems when I do find Ghiradelli, it’s either bite sized morsels or huge triple serving “tasting bars.” Granted, both will do in a pinch, but I do find myself waxing nostalgic every now and again.

Two weeks ago my husband and I took our kids to Disney World for the first time. It’d been just over 10 years since we’d been and I’m not sure who was more excited, our kids or myself. I think it actually might have been me (in all fairness, I knew the wonders they were about to embark on). We decided to keep this trip really casual. We had hotel reservations and tickets for four days at the parks, but other than that, we didn’t make any reservations or specific plans. Rather than get all stressed out over schedules, we let the kids wants and schedules guide us. Sure, it meant that we skipped Tower of Terror and Space Mountain, but we also avoided huge lines and everyone had a pretty darn swell time.

While looking over the guidebook during my daughter’s nap one day, I glanced at a map of Downtown Disney. To my eternal happiness, I spotted a Ghiradelli shop. I knew I had to go. I casually mentioned to my husband that since we weren’t going back to a park that night, it might be fun to take the river taxi from our hotel (Port Orleans) to Downtown Disney just to see what they had. I never once let on that I was dying to go to the chocolate shop, but luckily, he was all for the trip, so after a great romp in the pool, we took off.

While we definitely had a nice dinner and some fun shopping, the highlight for me was the Ghiradelli shop. Not only did they hand out samples of their pumpkin spice squares (very pumpkiny with a lovely hint of nutmeg and cinnamon), but they also had two new bars I really wanted to try (they will be reviewed very soon as I haven’t had the chance to try the coconut bar yet). But, more importantly, they had both ice cream and milk shakes. I was over the moon! I jumped in line and ordered the Sea Salt Caramel Banana Quake Shake, sans banana. It was heaven. Despite the fact that I could barely get it through the straw because it was so thick, everyone in my family was vying for tastes. I ended up sharing way more than I wanted to. If you are ever at an ice cream shop, I highly suggest it. Sure, it was about $7, but it was worth every delightful gulp.

As I was getting ready to leave, glass of manna in hand, I noticed jars of ice cream topping on a rack. I immediately yanked the one labeled fudge caramel sauce off the shelfghiradeli hot fudge and headed right back to the counter. Because we were at Disney and I had no way to heat it up (or ice cream to try it on if I did), I had to wait over a week to actually taste it, but the wait was worth it!

The sauce is really thick. So thick, in fact, that it has to be spooned out and placed into a bowl in order to be warmed up. After about 15 seconds in the microwave (I didn’t have the patience to follow the directions and heat it on the stove), it slowly poured over the side and directly on top of my vanilla ice cream. Warning: a little of this goes a long way. It is super rich and velvety. It only takes about a tablespoon to cover an entire bowl, but since I put too much on the ice cream, I had the job of eating straight caramel fudge, which I’m certainly not complaining about. It definitely had the thicker, slightly chewy consistency of caramel, although the flavor was far more fudgy. I only got tiny hints of caramel every now and again. Still, it was so lip-smackingly good, I’m not complaining that its real caramel claim is textural. All I know, is that I want another bowl….or 10.

Overall for the shake:

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 8/10 (like I said, it was pricey, but so very delicious)

Overall for the fudge caramel sauce:

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 4/10 (nothing special about the way it looks at all)
Value: 8/10 (at $10 per jar, it’s a bit pricey, but it’s also hard to find and TASTY!)

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Chocolate Monday: Lindt White Chocolate Sticks

lime splash wrapperOn vacation in South Carolina a few months ago, I ran across a Lindt Caramel Brownie stick at a Target. This was the first time I’d ever seen any sort of chocolate product actually calling out to me (The wrapper actually says, “Hello, My Name is…) and since I simply adore caramel and brownies, I had to have it. I enjoyed it quite a bit (and will write a review of it on here soon), but when I got home, I noticed a plethora of equally tantalizing sticks all beckoning to me at my local Target. I had to swoop one of every flavor into my cart.

For this review, I sampled three of the sticks: Lime Splash, Berry Affair and Coconut Love. Although I usually dive head first into milk chocolate, I was running a bit low on available calories last week, so I decided to start with the stick with the fewest. Although they are all within 20 calories or so of each other, Lime Splash is the lightest, so that’s where I started. And, since I started with the white chocolates, I figured I might as well nibble them all and do two reviews, one on the whites and one on the milks.

The Lime Splash stick threw me for a loop. When I tried the caramel brownie one, it was chocolate surrounding brownie pieces linked with chocolate surrounding gooey lime splashcaramel. So, I was expecting some sort of liquidy lime filling. Instead, I was met with a wall of white chocolate. Now, it was white chocolate infused with very tart hints of lime, which sort of reminded me of a solid version of a key lime pie. It was a very bright lime flavor which lingered in my mouth and almost made my teeth tingle a little because it was so sweet. Thankfully the teeniest, tiniest hint of buttermilk in this stick mellowed the lime out just a tad. However, the little flavor crystals inside the bar, which reminded me of those crystals in mints, gave it a bit of a grainy texture. Even though I liked the taste, after half a stick I had to stop. It was just too sweet for me. I put the other half in my lunch box, thinking it’d be a treat for me one afternoon, but so far, I haven’t really had a desire to eat it. I have a feeling I’ll end up giving the rest of it to one of my students. They’ll eat anything.

Lindt berry wrapperA few days later I decided I really needed to try the next stick. I wasn’t overly enthused about it, especially since I figured Berry Affair would also be a solid chunk of chocolate with some flavor crystals, but thankfully this one had a bit more texture. The white chocolate was quite creamy and it lacked the graininess of the lime bar. It also had a filling of sorts. Now, it says right on the wrapper it has a yogurt filling, and it was yogurt, but not what I expected of yogurt. Once again, instead of being a liquidy filling, this yogurt was sort of powdered. It absolutely tasted like yogurt, but the texture just messed with my brain a little. It also tasted a bit like Smartees. I’m not sure if my brain made that association because it was powdered yogurt, but that’s all I could think of as I ate it. However, this one also had real pieces of dried cherries and seeds to give it some additional texture, which I really enjoyed. Of the three, this was definitely my favorite, although I Lindt berry 1have still yet to eat the other half of it.

Tonight I figured I should try the last one: Coconut Love. Now, I am usually a huge coconut fan. I love coconut cake and the mere thought of the coconut pancakes I had one summer in Jamaica still makes my mouth water. However, the one way I just don’t like coconut at all is in the form of a pina colada. Now, I don’t understand why this is. I like rum, I really do. I downright love pineapple. However, when it comes together with coconut, there is just something about the flavor that I just don’t like. Not one bit. This one tasted like a pina colada. It had that citrusy hint (although a little more lime than pineapple) and all I could think Lindt coconutof was that one section was all I was going to eat. I did like the little flakes of real toasted coconut that were in it, but it was so sweet that I was done after one bite.

Overall:

Taste: 4/10

Appearance: 5/10 (wrappers are snazzy)

Value: 4/10 (they are only .99 each)

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Chocolate Monday: Hawaiian Host Maui Caramacs

caramacs closed boxIt is no secret among my students that I’m a chocoholic. In fact, I’d say my love of chocolate gets brought up in class at least once a day. Usually, either by my Advanced Placement kids (who have had me for two years in a row, feel they know me pretty well, and like to give me a hard time) or by me as an example for some vocabulary word or allusion we are learning. Every day we learn the origin and meaning of a new allusion in hopes that someday when they run into the allusion in something they are reading or watching, they’ll know what it means. For example, the other day our allusion was “Siren Song.” For those who don’t know, this is a reference to the Sirens of Greek mythology who were beastly monsters, often disguised as beautiful women, who lead sailors to their deaths with their irresistible songs. So, when someone refers to something as their siren song, it is that temptation they just can’t turn away from that leads to their destruction. Since I like to give my students practical examples, I brought up the fact that chocolate is the siren song to my diet. They all get it and are amused by how many examples I can truly create based on my chocolate addiction.

Now, I’m not bragging or anything (ok, maybe I am, just a teeny bit), but my AP kids and I have some pretty darn good relationships. So good, in fact, that they even bring me in treats now and again. Just last week I was offered donuts by two different students and despite really wanting them, since I’d already had breakfast, I did the right thing and turned them down. But then, on Friday of last week, one of my little darlings came in with a box of chocolates for me. Yes, that’s right, almost an entire box of caramacs up closeMaui Caramac chocolates. She opened them, took one out for herself, gave one to her friend, and then handed me the other ten. I was rather flabbergasted. Usually I get offered a piece or two, but not an entire box of chocolates. I thanked her profusely for the treats. Of course, that’s when she threw in the catch. She begged me to move the class discussion over Their Eyes Were Watching God one day later because she and another student were going to be on a college visit the day of the discussion and they both wanted to be a part of it. I agreed to think about it and she agreed to leave the box of chocolates in my room.

And it sat there all day. I’m not going to say I’ve never moved a deadline before, but in 15 or so years of teaching, I’ve never had a student actually bribe me to do it. I’ve had them offer hypothetical bribes of $20 or $50, but no one has actually ever shown up with the cash and waved it under my nose. But this, this was chocolate. And it was sitting right there on my podium, just staring at me. It was hard to avoid. I’ll admit it, I caved. Not just for the chocolate though. I was already contemplating moving the date since several people were going to miss both of the scheduled discussions due to college visits (that’s the problem with teaching highly motivated, academically gifted kids, they all have ambition), and by moving each one by one day, I’d avoid all the kids who’d be gone. This meant not only that everyone could participate, but that I wouldn’t have to grade the papers I make them write when they miss a discussion. Everybody wins! And, I get chocolate to boot!  caramacs in the box

The chocolates in question were sent to my student by a relative who lives in Hawaii. Her entire family actually used to live there when she was younger, and since she still has family there, they send her care packages all the time. I remembered her offering me these same chocolates last year, but then I’d declined.

Now, I love a good turtle and these looked to be a macadamia nut version.  I’ve never really been a huge fan of macadamia nuts. Growing up in Southern California they were everywhere. My folks loved them and snacked on them all the time. I found them to be kind of bland. Plus, when they are baked into cookies, they often get sort of waxy and mushy, which I’m not a huge fan of. Give me an almond or a pecan any day. Those are strong, tasty nuts! But, they were something new and I’m always up for a new chocolate adventure. The chocolate shell doesn’t have a lot of flavor. It’s sweet, but not overly so. The caramel is super sticky and very chewy. Even warmed to room temperature it took a lot of chomping to get through. It’s also sweet and slightly buttery, but doesn’t have the creaminess I love in a caramel. The macadamia nuts are pretty innocuous. They add the tiniest hint of crunch, but honestly the caramel is really what gives this candy the texture. There really isn’t a salty taste from the nuts, no crunchy texture and no real flavor from them, so I’m not sure what purpose they serve other than to set these candies apart from regular turtles, therefore making them exotic and possibly peaking people’s curiosity. I found them a bit bland. If they hadn’t been given to me, I wouldn’t have sought them out.

The good news is that if you like macadamia nuts and you either live on the West Coast or visit airports in Chicago, New York, Texas or Boston, they are pretty cheap. A box of 12 runs $4.25. However, considering their relative scarcity for most of the country, the shipping charges make them really not worth it in my book.

Overall:

Taste: 4/10

Appearance: 3/10

Value: 5/10 (if you can get them without shipping, they are only like .35 cents each)

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Chocolate Monday: Russell Stover S’More

smores wrapper zoomWhen I was a kid, my mom signed me up for Girl Scouts. Now, I was not against this endeavor at all. In fact, since most of my friends were also in the same troop, I desperately wanted to join. Back then, I thought camping was fun. I didn’t mind the bugs or sleeping on the ground or throwing everything that had not yet been consumed into some tinfoil, tossing it on the fire and calling it “hobo stew.” In fact, I thought it was spectacular. I longed for camping trips and when one was on the horizon, I got nearly giddy putting all my gear together.

As I’ve grown older, this misguided enthusiasm for the great outdoors has waned considerably. Don’t get me wrong, I see the beauty of nature and all that good jazz, I just prefer to view it from inside the comfort of my air-conditioned home. Or, if I do venture out of doors, I like it to be safe within the confines of my screened in porch where those nasty little blood sucking insects can’t attempt to drain the life from me. I know it sounds so incredibly wimpy of me, but it’s not like I was ever a good camper, just an energetic one. I mean, I never could figure out how to lash anything together the way I was supposed to. Forget making a campfire. I knew the science behind it, but there was no way I was doing it without a lighter or some serious matches. Even as an adult, when we’d go on group camping trips, I was always the one who snuck out of our “primitive” camping space and hoofed it over to the showers, preferring to fight it out with the spiders rather than go without a good cleaning. I think that is what put the proverbial nail in the coffin for me…I got tired of showering in flip flops beneath icy water, only to have to flee after three minutes because an arachnid the size of my fist decided he too needed a good rinse.

The only aspect of camping which has never lost its char for me is the s’more. As far as I am concerned, there is almost no dessert treat that can rival a freshly made s’more. I’m not even really a marshmallow fan (don’t even get me started on what an abomination Peeps are), but there is just something about taking a lightly toasted, slightly gooey marshmallow and slipping it on top of a few Hershey squares between two graham crackers that makes my heart flutter.

I still remember when we got our first microwave, one of our first experiments was making homemade s’mores. We all gathered ’round to see that giant mallow expand to about 10 times its normal size, patiently awaiting the moment my mom would take it out, build the treat and hand us the plate. For awhile one of the cookie companies even made a microwave s’more. I wish I could remember the company, but I was like 8 at the time.

Now, I know it’s not hard to make s’mores in the microwave, but when I saw that Russell Stover had a candy version they were marketing, I knew I had to try it. I did notsmores top really have high hopes. Marshmallow candy is almost always abysmal (glaring at you Peeps). I can’t think of a single marshmallow-like candy I have ever enjoyed. Circus Peanuts, Peeps, those odd little pink, brown and white candies that used to be in the Brach’s bins, chocolate covered marshmallow eggs…all had to be invented by very sadistic people who wanted to make kids think they were getting a yummy treat just so they could later laugh when they saw the look of horror that crossed the faces of those poor, unsuspecting youngsters.

I have to admit, I was very pleasantly surprised. The marshmallow was not overly soggy or chewy like I’d feared. It was a pleasant, fresh marshmallow that had none of the cloyingly sweet, overly sugary flavor of other marshmallow travesties. While it was not really melty the way a truly toasty fire blazed mallow is, it was slightly gooey and aside from not being warm, pretty near perfect…for a marshmallow. I was also nervous about the graham crackers, but there was no reason to be. They were fresh and crisp, as if they were out of a freshly opened packet. They had a great crisp to them, but were not so brittle that they broke into a million pieces when I bit in. The chocolate, despite looking a bit like Magic Shell, did not taste at all fake or plasticy like I thought it might. It definitely had a manufactured plastic-like sheen to it, but it was actually creamy and tasted every bit as good as a Hershey bar on a good ol’ fashioned version. It was amazingly balanced with no one taste overpowering the others. What I thought could have been the biggest chocolate horror show since those damn Easter smores sidemarshmallow eggs, turned out to be not only palatable, but actually quite pleasant. When I was done, I found myself wishing I’d stocked up on them.

Ok, so they still aren’t as good as their fire-roasted brethren, but it was over 90 degrees here yesterday, so considering that the thought of lighting a fire makes me want to melt, this was a great substitute.

Overall:

Taste: 8.5/10

Appearance: 4/10

Value: 9/10

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Chocolate Monday: South Bend Chocolate Company Turtles

South bend chocolate full turtlesLast week I was teaching my students allusions. I introduce a new one every day so that when my students come across with literary, biblical, historical, and cultural references in the material read, they will understand how allusions can actually enhance writing by giving the audience a comparison they understand. The particular allusion I was teaching was “sacred cow.” In addition to giving them the origin of the allusion and defining it, I also give my kids several examples to help them see how it can be used in context. The particular example I was giving at the time was something like this: Chocolate is my sacred cow. After years of living with me, my husband has finally learned that my super fancy chocolates (and really any chocolate) is off limits unless he buys it himself.

Finding out that I have what some might call an unhealthy obsession with chocolate, one of my little darlings piped up and asked if I’d ever had any treats from his favorite chocolate shop: The South Bend Chocolate Company. Years ago I’d found a little chocolate café in a strip mall with that name and stopped in for some sort of cakey dessert and some pretty decent white chocolate hot chocolate, but I hadn’t had any of their other offerings. As luck would have it, our mall recently opened a little kiosk type outlet full of tasty tidbits to try, so I promised my kids a few chocolate covered pretzels so that I could indulge in something a bit more sinful.

Although they offer quite a few different varieties of turtles–correction, most of them are referred to as caramel patties (which doesn’t sound nearly as appealing)– I decided to keep it simple and went for the four with what I hoped would be the biggest yum factor. Because I am obsessed with any combination of chocolate and sea salt, I had to have one of those in my bag. Although it is not yet fall, since that is my absolute favorite time of year, I had to get in the mood for it with a pumpkin turtle as well. I knew I had to try the classic pecan variety and just because I’ve been snacking on delicious salted cashews this past week, I figured I’d get a cashew one to round out my collection. I probably should have snagged a white or dark chocolate variety, but I was going for pure pleasure on this trip and nothing makes my taste buds happier than good milk chocolate.

My first tempting treat was the sea salt turtle. Yeah, I know, I’m usually a “save the best for last” kinda girl, but I fortified myself by getting two of these. I figured if I south bend chocolate sea salt turtleabsolutely loved them, I’d save myself another trip to the mall. And, if I didn’t, I could always surprise my husband with a chocolatey treat in his lunch the next day (yes, he often gets the rejects from my chocolate exploits–he doesn’t care, he has no real palate for it–it all tastes the same to him!). The salt grains were a bit larger than I’m used to and the first bite was really overwhelming salty, but not exactly in a bad way. It was a fairly typical turtle. The caramel was sweet and slightly stringy, which I love. The salt was the primary taste, but I liked the way it sort of got stuck in my teeth with the caramel. It was a really nice little after taste even after the treat was gone. In case you are wondering, my husband did NOT get the second one. While I won’t say it was the best turtle I’d ever tasted, it was definitely worth a second tasting. And, I actually liked it better the second time around.

Since I was off to a pretty good start, I went for the cashew turtle next. It was a rather big let down. Now, don’t misunderstand, it was perfectly tasty. However, I was looking for something to scream cashewy goodness at me and this just didn’t. I expected the salty sweetness of cashews, but the only sweet was in the chocolate and the caramel and there was no hint of salt at all. Considering how salty the sea salt one was, I was a bit surprised. I was also rather non-plussed by the traditional pecan turtle. Again, it was tasty and I’d certainly eat more of them if they were put in front of me, but nothing to celebrate. It was a bit gooier than its cashew counterpart, which I enjoyed more. The pecans also had the tiniest (and I do mean super tiny) hint of cinnamon, which I thought was cool. Although after trying the pumpkin turtle, I’m not sure if it was supposed to be there.

south bend chocolate pumpkin turtleSpeaking of the pumpkin turtle, can I just say: WOW! This one is hands down the winner of the bunch. I actually bought two of these as well, not because I was convinced I would fall in love with it, but because my husband is a HUGE fan of  Godiva’s pumpkin truffles and I thought he’d really like it (see, I’m not 100% heartless when it comes to chocolate. I almost always buy him a treat when I stumble upon a new chocolate creation). He actually had his first and his only comment was, “I like that.” That, dear readers, is why I don’t let him have the good stuff. He doesn’t get the pure chocolate joy that I do. He likes it, sure, but he’d be just as happy with a Reese’s cup. Actually, he’d prefer a bag of Skittles over just about any other candy in the world. I swear, I just don’t get him at times.

But I digress. Back to this pumpkiny bad boy! There were lovely spicy hints of cinnamon in each and every bite. The nuttiness actually added an almost crust-like taste to the treat, making this a sort of reimagined pumpkin pie bite. The caramel flavor is very subtle and really just adds to the texture of the candy. Come to think of it, it wasn’t just cinnamon that made it so lovely. I could taste hints of nutmeg as well. It reminded me of the wonderful scent that fills the house on Thanksgiving right as the pies come out of the oven. It was a small slice of autumnal heaven and I was sorry I didn’t foist the extra sea salt one off on my husband so I could have had two of these babies.

Overall:

Taste: 7/10 (except for pumpkin, that one gets a 10/10)

Appearance: 6/10

Price: 5/10 (except for that pumpkin one, I would pay WAY more for that one).

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Fandom Fest

I make no apologies for the fact that I am a geek. Always have been, always will be. I like comic books and superheroes and comic books about superheroes. I like Star Trek and Star Wars. I love Buffy, Angel and Firefly. I go simply ga ga over Dr. Who. Back in the day I was even known to play some D&D (that’s Dungeons and Dragons for all you non-residents of Geek Town U.S.A.). So, it’s really no surprise that I like Cons.

Until this year my conning has been fairly limited in scope. Ok, it’s been extremely limited…to one Con. However, I’ve gone to Wizard’s World Comic Con in Chicago for five or six years now and I’ve loved it. This year my friends and I were all set for another great round of conning when my best friend had to go and get herself a professorship in Georgia. Although we still really wanted to go, the university expected her to show up for pre-teaching meetings the Friday we’d normally be heading to Chicago listening to Florence and the Machines and having a grand ol’ time chit chatting. Since she wasn’t willing to skip her first day on the job (her priorities are so messed up), a dark cloud fell over our plans. That was until another friend of ours (who we meet up with every year at Wizard’s) told us about Fandom/Fright Fest in Louisville. In the blink of an eye, we were making reservations at the Galt House Hotel.

We should have known there was gonna be trouble the moment we tried to find parking. The Galt House is pretty darn huge. So huge it actually takes up both sides of the street (with a fun little bridge on the third floor). We weren’t sure which side to park on and when we tried to ask the attendants, they didn’t know what to tell us either. My BFF finally went in and asked and we were directed to the right parking garage. Our room was nice and the place was swamped with fellow conners. In Chicago we never stayed at the official hotel of the con, but at the lovely Aloft hotel, which was really modern and fun. We’d grown really comfy hanging out at “our bar”–the only one in the joint. The drinks were good and the seating was plentiful, at least for the clientele. That was not the case at The Galt House. The place was packed! The main bar which spans the bridge on the third floor was the place to be. I think at one time every single person staying in the hotel was there.

Friday night when we rolled in there was a movie playing on a huge screen on end of the room and a side bar set up selling beer and popcorn. We’d already had a few drinks at a really tasty bistro we found while walking around downtown (that is one HUGE plus Fandom Fest had over Wizard’s–location–there were so many awesome places to eat all within about 10 minutes walk of our hotel, whereas the only places to get food at Wizard’s are in other hotels or by ordering carry out which takes forever), so we didn’t quite mind all the people and the waiting. It was fun to watch. That’s one great thing about cons, there is so much people watching to do. There was some sort of drunken pirate show going on and a very nice gentleman in full steam punk regalia tried to get us in, but unfortunately since we didn’t have tickets for Friday night, the event was closed to us. We did, however, have a truly fantastic time talking to him before the show and then again after the show when we saw him in the lounge area.

That’s another great thing about cons, you meet so many fun and interesting people. Suddenly all 10,000 or so people attending the con become your new friends. Everyone  you meet in line talks to you and since they have similar interests (in a lot of cases), it’s easy to talk back. Now, don’t get me wrong, some of them are total douches, but you can usually weed them out pretty quickly and start up a conversation with someone else more interesting. And, I have to say, if you are a girl at a con, even one who maybe has never felt really been very popular or has been self-conscious about your looks in anyway, cons are the place to be! We always manage to find cute and quirky boys to talk to. While I’m married, one of my friends isn’t and we are always trying to find her a nice geek boy, so we end up talking to a lot of them and their equally geeky friends. This year was no exception.

The highlight of my whole trip actually happened Friday night as we were talking to boys trying to make a love connection for our friend. Although we hadn’t even picked up the tickets for the con yet, as we were sitting sipping on cherry vodkas and diet Cokes, John Barrowman walked through the lobby. I won’t lie, I totally fan-girled out. If you don’t know how John Barrowman is, you obviously are not quite my kind of geek. He played Captain Jack Harkness on Dr. Who and then later on the spin-off Torchwood. While I’m not sure if he is my favorite Captain (it’s a toss up between him and Captain Reynolds), he is simply fantastic! As I was slightly hyperventilating over his presence, one of the guys we were talking to asked him if he would take a picture with me. He said he couldn’t stop because he’d already told someone else no and that if he stopped for me he’d have to stop for everyone. I totally understood and told him so. I think I babbled a bit about being a huge fan and thanking him even for talking to me. After he left, I just kept gushing about how I’d seen him. Seriously, I was a mess, which is not me at all.

Of course, I was an even bigger mess when two minutes later he snuck up on me from behind, put his arm around me, leaned close and said, “ok, pretend we are talking about something and tell your friend to get her camera out.” As I sat there with a Cheshire cat sized grin, babbling on about how much I love his work, my friend struggled to get her camera out. He laughed and said, “My God woman, take the picture!” and when she did, he was sweet as can be. I couldn’t stop smiling all night. I even did a little happy dance in our hotel room. And I’ll admit it, I told anyone who was interested my story. What was really cool was so many of them had stories too. Since the actors and artists were all staying at the Galt House, they had tons of similar run-ins with fans and were all super nice, willing to stop and talk and take photos. It was kind of awesome. allan tudyk

That, however, is where the awesome ended. The con itself was a bit of a nightmare. I’ve never been in a more unorganized situation in my life. No one knew which line people were supposed to go in, including the workers who were supposed to be directing people to lines. Despite arriving well before the con floor opened, we waited in line 30 minutes for tickets we’d already purchased. Then, we waited in line 30 more minutes to buy a photo opportunity with Adam Baldwin (Jayne from Firefly). I waited about 30 minutes for John Barrowman to sign my copy of his book Anything Goes, which wasn’t too bad since the people in line were super friendly and included a little boy who was about four and the spitting image of Matt Smith’s Dr. Who. It was also cool because I got to snap this cute (and illegal) picture of Alan Tudyk on my phone.

The rest of the con was a let down though. There weren’t that many vendors. Not that I usually buy a lot, but I like to look at the wares. There were hardly any artists at all, which is actually a really cool feature of Wizard’s–all the independent artists who have booths there. In fact, our first year at Wizard’s, we met an artist named Josh Johnson and not only did we buy some of his art, he became our friend. The layout of the place was nuts. There were no real maps to figure out where events were going to be held. The staff, aside from being clueless, actually forgot several actors at different places around the city. They left John Barrowman at the airport. They forgot to pick Alan Tudyk up from the hotel to bring him to his signings (and when he managed to get there, security didn’t seem to understand he was an actor, despite his celebrity badge–fans had to badger them to let him in), Colin Baker was never picked up for his panel, so he tweeted to his fans from his hotel room, John Barrowman’s panel had to be moved because they scheduled it the same time as his photo ops, Stan Lee’s panel ran over, so they cut the Firefly cast’s panel short, the director of Monster Squad wasn’t told he had a panel until a few hours before he had to host it and other panels were advertised but didn’t take place and had no cancellation notices.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the lines were atrocious. We didn’t actually get to see any of the panels we wanted to because there were two lines to get in to each panel, the VIP line (for people who paid $175) and the regular line. Before they let any regular ticket holders in, the VIP’s got first dibs, so panels were filling up 1/2 and 3/4 full of VIP’s only. The photos from Saturday weren’t ready by the time they shut it down at 8pm, so they told everyone to come back the next day to get their photos–the only problem was we didn’t have tickets for the next day. Luckily I managed to find the only helpful employee (who was 6 months pregnant) who let me in and then made our picture a priority. The lines to see some of the celebrities were outrageous. There were a slew of actors from The Walking Dead there and the line for Norman Redus was over two hours for VIP’s and over 5 hours for non-VIP’s.

They seemed completely taken off guard by the number of fans who showed up for the con, which I find odd considering most of their sales were pre-orders.

Although I loved many aspects of this con, I’m not sure I’d ever go back. The shear lack of order and the hours wasted in lines was just a bit too much for me.

 

 

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