Wild Card Wednesday: Handicapped parking spaces

About an hour ago I ran to CVS to pick up some Gatorade for my husband who is in the midst of a rather violent migraine. He was cursed at a very early age with not just head-splitting pain, but also the inability to keep anything down, including his own saliva, whenever one of these demonic fits hits him.

The store was pretty empty and as I approached the counter, the two employees behind it were finishing up a conversation. I caught the tail end of it. Apparently one of the regular customers had been in earlier in the day and had gotten rather irate with another patron for parking in a handicapped space, even though the person he’d yelled at had had the required parking tag. According to the irate patron, who uses a wheelchair, anyone who can walk and doesn’t have the official license plate doesn’t deserve to park in a designated handicapped spot.

I interjected myself into their conversation when she waved me forward to ring up my purchases.

“I hate when people get judgmental about who deserves a handicap space and who doesn’t,” I said.

She agreed and went on to tell me that the same customer yelled at her a few weeks ago when she stopped by CVS with her daughter. Her daughter, she told me, has brain cancer, and while she can walk, she can only do it in short bursts. She tires very easily and every little bit she doesn’t have to walk really helps her. The cashier was clearly still very upset about the way the customer had acted.

I sympathized with her. My step-mom had a handicap tag on her car for about a decade and we used to get nasty looks and muttered comments all the time. Sometimes the comments weren’t even muttered. I heard more than one person comment on how being fat must be a disability now. Because yes, my step-mom was overweight.

Even my ex, who is a very sensitive and compassionate human being, did not think she was sick enough to have the parking tag. My ex initially thought my step-mom was being lazy and actually using my grandmother’s parking tag (my grandmother had died of cancer earlier in the year).

But neither laziness nor fat were the reasons she had the tag. My step-mom developed pretty crippling arthritis in her late 20’s/early 30’s. In order to combat the pain she was in, she took some pretty strong medications that made the pain easier to deal with, but damaged her lungs and weakened her heart in the process. Before she hit 40, she had both a portable oxygen tank and one at home. The one at home she used like she was supposed to. She was not always great about bringing the portable one though. Even with it, the trip from the parking lot into any store was taxing on her. But as long as she could push a cart at her pace (or later ride in a scooter), she loved going shopping, so we’d park the car in a handicap space, one of us would run and get her a cart or a scooter and then we’d head into the store. She was a bit of a menace with a scooter, but she was out and she was happy.

Many years later, after my dad had one of his kidneys removed during his first bout with cancer, he also got a handicap tag. He was more reluctant to use it because he didn’t want to give in to how much the cancer was taking out of him. But, after the second surgery when he was without his adrenal glands and down to only 40% of one kidney, he too gave in and took the parking space he needed. Although, if you hadn’t known my dad before the cancer hit, you probably would have looked at him and thought he didn’t need that space either. I could see the drastic change in him. He’d once been this sort of colossus, reaching 6’3 and weighing in at about 270. He was a firefighter and a former football player. He was a HUGE guy. While he still had the height, after the cancer he was down to about 175 pounds and his clothes hung off of him. Since he’d refused chemo or radiation though, he still had all of his hair and didn’t have the frailty that so many cancer patients have. If I hadn’t known his prognosis, I’m not sure I would have realized he was really sick either. If I hadn’t seen how hard it was for him to get down on the floor and play with his grand kids, or seen how just walking out to get the mail winded him or seen him fall asleep right in the middle of a conversation because just visiting with family wiped him out, I may not have known he was sick either.

Looking in from the outside, it’s easy to see someone with a handicap tag and think they don’t really need it. Or maybe they don’t need it as much as someone else, but to quote the amazingly wise Atticus Finch, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Before my parents got sick, I have no doubt that I was every bit as judgmental, but I have learned the hard way that sometimes those with the greatest need are the least likely to show it. I’ve also believe that as a society we need to stop trying to fit everyone on some sort of suffering scale. We don’t just have to help, or empathize with or support those who are in the absolute greatest amount of pain or have the most suffering. Just because someone may suffer more does not diminish others who are suffering. I know handicap parking is sometimes limited, but everyone who needs it deserves to have access to it and should not be shamed, and especially not yelled at for using it. Just because you may not be able to immediately see their disability does not mean it is not there.

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Teaching Tuesday: Lesson planning

lesson plansI know, I know, it’s summer! What could I possibly have to say about teaching during summer, right? Everyone knows teachers only work 180 days each year, so they have 8-12 weeks (depending on the school system) to just sit around, watch Netflix and eat bon bons, right?

Of course, anyone who has ever been a teacher knows this is complete bunk. In the nearly 20 years since I became a teacher I’ve never gone more than a few days without doing something school related. Even during my beach vacation last week, I was answering emails from my newspaper students, helping to facilitate the changes the new editors want to make for the upcoming year as well as coming up with a working production schedule that will actually mean the first day of school articles will be ready to be uploaded to the online newspaper, which, of course, means I’ll be spending the last few weeks of my summer “break” reading and editing student articles. And all of this work is in addition to the real work I do every summer: planning for next year.

Even though it is amazingly tedious making sure that all the ideas I have swirling around in my head to make my English classes ones that students not only want to take and will help them succeed in the real world, but also line up with all of the state standards, I actually like creating lesson plans. I am particularly proud of the Essential Questions research project I have restructured my AP Language and Composition class around, but that’s not what my mind is on today.

Today I’ve been psyching myself up to really start planning for next year. I dug out my lesson plans from last year and started glancing through them, just refreshing my mind and making note of what I want to change the next time around. I know it is a big misconception outside the educational world, but most teachers are constantly changing their lesson plans. I know few teachers who teach the same material, the same way year after year. As everyone else in my department LOVES to point out, I am a veteran teacher (they call me grandma–even though my oldest just hit double digits this year) and I haven’t taught the same class twice, in, well ever. In order to start lesson planning, I need something to plan in.

For the last several years, I’ve used paper calendars like the one in the picture above. It takes a bit of time, but it’s very simple to augment and print out Word calendars for each of my courses and use those boxes to get my general planning done. I can see an entire grading period in a very easy glance, which I really like. However, right before the end of the school year, one of my colleagues (and a good friend to boot) showed me her very lovely Erin Condren lesson planner. And I got very jealous. Yes, that’s right, lesson plan books are actually the items teachers covet (we also get obscenely happy about back to school shopping–it’s a sickness really).

If you’re a teacher and you haven’t seen these planners before, I suggest you immediately click on the link I’ve provided and take a gander. Go ahead, my blog will still be here when you get back. Although, if you’re like me, that might be a few hours from now as there are so many fun options to pick from.

I really, really want one of these cool planners. But they are $55 each AND in order to be really useful to me it would need to be a lesson planner/grade book. The website does offer checklist pages, which could be used as a grade book, but the planner only comes with 7. I can add 21 more of them for an additional $10, but even that would not be enough pages to cover all six of my classes (plus attendance tracking) during all four of our grading periods. It seems pretty clear that these planners, while spectacular, are really aimed more at elementary teachers. The events/volunteer pages, absentee log, stickers and grid pages seem to back this theory up. If they are meant for middle and high school teachers, they aren’t very functional for teachers on block scheduling.

I know this is probably the smallest teaching upset I will have in the coming school year. I know it’s a bit of a silly thing to be annoyed about, but like I said, I take my school supplies pretty seriously and this one looks super cool. I know it is far more practical to use my free Word calendar pages and one of the half dozen or so $1 grade books I bought at the Target Dollar Spot a few years back. I know that the money I’ll save by not buying this really cool planner will be spent on a myriad of other supplies I need for my classroom but my school cannot provide. I know all of this, but I can’t help it…I want the fancy planner.

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Chocolate Monday: Back in play with Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate

3 C close upIt’s been a while since I wrote anything in this blog….a very long while. For about two years I was caught up in work, writing a novel and raising kids. I’m still doing the whole parenting thing, but I finished that novel…or the first and second drafts of it at least and it’s summer break, so I have a bit of time at that moment.

On a VERY long drive back from vacation at Isle of Palms, SC, I realized that since I finished my novel nearly a year ago, I have been lax about writing. Not lax exactly, more like just avoiding it. I don’t really have a good reason. In fact, I know that I really need to do another editing pass on my novel and then send it out to some more test readers so that maybe, just maybe, this dream of being a writer that started back when I was about 10 can come true.

But I’ll admit it, I’m scared. I’m scared that no matter how many editing passes the book goes through or how much positive feedback I get from very kind friends (so far 3 out of 3 readers have liked it and had a few very helpful suggestions), that it won’t be good enough. I’m not even sure what good enough means, but I fear it. Really fear it.

So, before I take the really gigantic plunge, I thought I’d get my feet wet by restarting this blog. Seems rather fitting as I just finished dipping my actual toes in the Atlantic Ocean every day for the last week. Well, every day except Wednesday when the sky kept opening up and making the outside world pretty unenjoyable. Of course, the inside world wasn’t much better as I was trapped in a house with just about every member of my husband’s family. And while most of them are very nice people, it’s pretty close quarters when there’s no way to leave.

Since my husband and I, like most Americans, are glued to our technology, we knew the day we arrived at the beach that we were in for some nasty weather later in the week. That meant that instead of saving our annual trip into Charleston for midweek when everyone would be getting more than a little sick of sharing the same few hundred square feet with each other, we had to move our trip to our very first full day in town.

Thankfully, it was a truly glorious day. It was warm, but even in town there was a nice breeze that mean walking from the Charleston Crab House, our favorite lunch place, through the open air City Market and then back to our car was actually pleasant. Some years temperatures in the 90’s along with dehydrating levels of humidity and a complete lack of breeze makes downtown Charleston a beautiful, but intolerable place to be. This year our ice cream from the always amazing Kilwin’s didn’t even melt before we’d made it back to our car.

One of my favorite stops in City Market is Sweet Charleston, which is wonderful not just because it is located in the small portion of the market that is actually full enclosed and air-conditioned, but also because it sells my favorite treat on the planet: chocolate. I always find fun new cocoa bites to try out.

3 Cs containerThis year I was drawn to Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate, a company I’d never heard of. I’m always excited for new chocolate finds and the picture on the package really made my mouth water. Gooey caramel pouring over a chocolate dipped waffle cone? This sounds pretty much like Nirvana to me. The company is at least 20% Fair Trade Certified by Fair Trade USA and proudly proclaims all of their Fair Trade ingredients on the back of the package, including their milk chocolate which is made from FT cane sugar, FT Cocoa butter, and FT chocolate liquor. They also list using grade AA butter and fresh whipping cream. I had to give this a try.

At first glance it’s pretty fun to look at. Pieces of waffle cone are pressed into the back side of the chocolate. They are scattered randomly, but there are definitely a lot of them. Inside the chocolate is a thin layer of caramel which actually stays inside the chocolate, unlike runnier caramels that pour right out after the first bite is taken. The caramel definitely has hints of vanilla. It’s not over powering though, just a light play on the tip of the tongue. The caramel is rather rich and definitely buttery as well.

It’s a bit hard to get the full flavor of the chocolate itself because it gets drowned out, not so much by the caramel, but by the waffle cone. The chocolate is creamy, but doesn’t stand out. I love the smell of waffle cones, but rarely get them because I always feel just a little let down by them. The taste rarely lives up to that wonderful smell, at least not for me. This waffle cone is no exception. I like the taste, but without the crisp of a fresh made waffle cone, the slightly soggy texture of the pieces on this bar make it fall even shorter than its larger, ice cream holding big brother.

Despite some texture flaws, the three flavors work well together and I will definitely be finishing the rest of the bar…it just may take me a few days.

Overall:

Taste: 7/10
Value: 6/10 ($4.95 per bar online although I paid an additional mark up of about .50 for it)
Appearance: 8/10

3 Cs bar and container

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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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