Category Archives: addictions

Munchie Monday: Byrd’s cookies

byrd's cookies all.jpgLast week my family made our annual pilgrimage to Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Ok, so it’s not actually any sort of religious trip, unless you’re like my aunt and consider a trip to the beach a way to worship the sun. Ever since my daughter was a teeny tiny baby, 8 years ago, my husband’s family has headed to my SiL’s beach house in Wild Dunes (I can actually see my SiL’s house in the picture on this link) and we’ve spent a week together.

I know for many people this probably sounds like a dream. An entire week spent in a house that is not only right next door to a pool, but can also claim the ocean as its backyard, is the stuff that relaxation videos are made out of, right? Clearly anyone who thinks this has never met my in-laws.

I do not mean this post as a condemnation of my in-laws, who on an individual basis are almost entirely great people–except for that one. It is very hard to share a house, even a decent sized one with 15 other people for an entire week. The actual house only sleeps 10 people comfortably (12 with air mattresses), so thankfully four of those people didn’t actually spend the night at the house. My MiL and FiL had a hotel room at the Boardwalk Inn, which is actually right next door. Additionally, two members of my MiL’s extended family also spent the days at our beach house, but their nights at my SiL’s condo in nearby Charleston. However, for pretty much every waking hour of the day, there were 15 people in the house. Seven were children ranging from 8-14. That is a LOT of noise, especially when most of it is contained between two floors with walls that are surprisingly thin.

And don’t even get me started on the nightly “entertainment” from bands at the hotel next door.

But again, that’s not the purpose of this post. Inevitably what happens at some point during this trip, we all get more than a little sick of each other. For my family this means a trip to a matinee one day. It also means at least one lunch and one dinner (and this year one breakfast) away from the basically required family meals to have some alone time. It also means our yearly trip into downtown Charleston, where we always visit the City Market and the surrounding shops.

Despite a serious need for an extended break from everyone around Wednesday, we had a few hiccups and didn’t actually get into town until Friday, our last full day of the trip. I was excited not only to visit some absolute favorites from years past (Charleston Crab House, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits, The Spice and Tea Exchange of Charleston, and Kilwin’s to name a few), but to discover a brand new shop I’d never seen before: Byrd’s Cookies.

Byrd’s was so new, in fact, that they didn’t even have their official signage up on the building yet. They’d been open for less than a month and had I not seen a sign on their door offering a taste test of cookies when I walked into The Spice and Tea Exchange, we might have walked right on by. I am so glad we didn’t!

Byrd’s may be new to downtown Charleston, but they have been a cookie tradition for over 90 years. They started in Savannah, Georgia with their original Scotch Oatmeal cookie and now have over a dozen varieties, all of which were available to taste test when we went in. Although I wanted to try them all, I was good and only tried about five varieties. All that I tried were really good. It was hard to make a decision about which four varieties to buy (it was buy 3 get one for $1). In the end we decided to let each person in the family pick their favorite.

My daughter picked the Key Lime cookies. These powdered sugar covered cuties are VERY sweet. They definitely have a bright, limey taste to them, with vanilla undertones as the flavor wears down. My kids and husband LOVE them. I am not quite as big of a fan, even though as a rule I love key lime. I don’t like the slightly odd feel the powdered sugar leaves on the roof of my mouth. However, I have never been a fan of powdered sugar covered treats. One of the reasons I avoid many jelly-filled donuts is because they are covered in powdered sugar. I also don’t like the little Hostess Donnettes with the powdered sugar at all. I hate being messy and I HATE when my hands have food residue on them, which I think is part of the problem. The other problem is that powdered sugar always seems to leave a bit of a residue both on my fingers and in my mouth and I am not a fan. Anyone who likes powdered sugar will probably love these cookies though.

Next up were my husband’s pick: the original Scotch Oatmeal ones. These are quite good, although they do have the tiniest hint of a dark molasses flavor to them. Not that I mind, I just wasn’t initially expecting it and it took a few cookies to grow on me. They actually remind me a bit of one of my favorite childhood cookies: Archway Iced Oatmeal cookies. Yeah, I was that strange kids who really loved oatmeal cookies. I still don’t like Oreos at all and I never crave Chips Ahoy! but give me an oatmeal cookie, with or without icing and I’m over the moon. I’ll take a soft, fresh from the oven oatmeal raisin cookie over a chocolate chip one pretty much any day. I just love the creamy sweetness of oatmeal cookies. Although these little guys are crunchy, not soft, they are still amazingly good. They have that wonderfully oaty flavor that always reminds me just a bit of nuts. They aren’t overly sweet, which I think is perfect at times. I couldn’t eat an entire bag in one sitting, but I know I will be reaching into this bag quite a bit.

Since all of us are huge peanut butter fans, it was not a shock that my son picked chocolate peanut butter. These are so creamy and peanutty! With the crunch, they remind me a bit of eating a spoonful of chunky peanut butter (my favorite). The chocolate in them is subtle and really only in hints, which I don’t mind. The peanut butter is clearly the star here and that is great. I love that when I bite into them I can see real chunks of peanuts. These tiny treats are full of even tinier bits of peanut, but packed with tons of peanut flavor.

Byrd's salted caramelNot to brag, but my favorite, are without a doubt, the ones I picked: salted caramel. I know, I just had a post about salted caramel butter cookies. I also know that these days everything is salted caramel and that many people think it is way beyond cliche/overdone/boring now, but I don’t care. I am not a bit ashamed to say I LOVE these cookies. They are utterly amazing and I cannot stop eating them. They are sweeter than the peanut butter chocolate or Scotch oatmeal, but thanks to the salt, not as sweet as the Key Lime, so they are in that perfect sweet spot for me. They are buttery and delicate. They practically melt on my tongue. The caramel flavor is long lasting and simply amazing. No matter how much I try, I cannot stop eating these amazing cookies. Even though I haven’t finished the 8 oz bag yet (although I have come frighteningly close to it), I have already looked online about buying another bag. Now that I know these exist, they are a must have for me. I cannot imagine a world where my pantry is not stocked with them from now on.

Knowing that Byrd’s is now in downtown Charleston has already got me looking forward to next year’s beach vacation, even if it does mean squeezing into a house with 14 other people!

Overall:

Taste: 10/10 for salted caramel (8/10 for the others)
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 10/10 for the salted caramel (8/10 for the others)

 

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Free Reading Friday: The Upside of Unrequited

upside of unrequitedI really enjoyed The Upside of Unrequited. Considering how much I loved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, it’s no real surprise that I found Becky Albertalli’s “companion novel,” very enjoyable.

As much as I really liked Simon, I think this book spoke to me more. Probably because like Molly, the main character, when I was in high school, I too was a fat girl who had a darn lot of crushes and no actual boyfriends to speak of. Sure, I may not have had two moms or a twin sister who seemed to be developing a romantic life well before me, but I had a plethora of very good friends, none of whom seemed to be struggling romantically the way I was. And I attributed quite a bit of that to the fact that most of my friends didn’t have the same sort of waistline I did.

I actually saw myself quite a bit in Molly’s character. Granted, I would have never sworn around my folks the way she swears around hers, but I did have a pretty good relationship with my folks. But, like Molly, I kept a LOT of things to myself. Like Molly, I spent a lot of time throwing myself into projects to keep busy and keep my mind off all the ways I was unhappy. Like Molly, I think I was suffering from depression (only mine were not diagnosed). Like Molly, I never really felt comfy in my own skin and could not see myself the way others saw me. Like Molly, I had a big heart and was a great friend. But also like Molly, at times I was a rather “shitty” friend–because I wanted to be happy for them, but I was so jealous of them that it was hard at times.

And like Molly, I pretty much never acted on my crushes. I was far too afraid of being rejected. I had crush after crush after crush. I admired from afar. Even when I thought a guy liked me (which I actually thought a few times), I was too scared to act on it. And, as a result, I ended up losing out on what I later found might have been actual relationships, or at least dates.

It took me a long time to find my confidence and be ok with who I am. I’m glad Molly was able to do it (to a large degree) over the course of a summer. I wish my journey had been that short!

This book is great for just about any teenager who has ever struggled with his/her self image. It’s great for anyone who has ever had unrequited crushes. It’s wonderful for anyone who is LGBTQ+. It’s just a wonderful book.

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Munchie Monday: Rococo Bee Bar

Rococo Bee BarI know I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I am willing to spend rather ridiculous amounts of money on chocolate. Some people go on shoe shopping sprees. Some have an affinity for purses or tools, or for people like my husband, Magic the Gathering cards. I always tease him about the thousands he has spent on cards over the years. He fires right back at me about chocolate. I can honestly say I spend way less on chocolate each year than he spends on his Magic addiction, but that is not to say the chocolate bills don’t rack up.

On my recent trip to the UK, my students joined in on mocking my spending habits. While many of them thought nothing of dropping 30 pounds on clothing from Oxford, 50 pounds on jewelry in London or in one case, over 100 pounds for a cashmere sweater in Edinburgh, when I spent 47 pounds at a chocolate shop in York, it was days before I heard the end of it.

Not that I cared much. I don’t like clothing with logos or names on it, I hardly ever wear jewelry and don’t even want to think about caring for a cashmere sweater! Yes, I’ll take my edible spending habit any day.

When I went into York Chocolate Story, I really, really wanted to take the chocolate tour. York is, after all, a chocolate city. Yes, that’s right. While other cities in the UK earned their wealth from wool or cotton or steel or coal, York has pretty much always been known for its sweet treats. They have a chocolate trail where visitors can follow in the footsteps of chocolate development. This was my kind of city. On our initial walking tour we passed about a dozen sweet shops and I made sure to memorize where the ones that specifically dealt in chocolate were.

Despite my complete love for chocolate, I’ve only ever been on two chocolate tours before, once in Hershey, Pennsylvania and once when my husband and I went on a bourbon themed trip in Kentucky. We found a small family owned chocolate shop that did tours and then tastings of bourbon balls and it was great. I’ve wanted to go on several other tours, but I’m always on vacation when I find them and inevitably no one else wants to go with me. Since I was chaperoning a student group on this trip and they wanted to shop for souvenirs, this tour was another pipe dream for me. Instead, I had to settle for a visit to their cafe and shop.

At least it was a really cool shop with tons of candies to choose from. It was really hard to limit myself. I wanted so many of the delicious looking treats, but I limited myself to a box of filled chocolates from York Chocolate Story, a tin with some sort of amazing looking chocolate bark, three large chocolate bars from various localish confectioneries, a box of six truffles from the chocolate case and one tiny bar from a company called Rococo Chocolates.

Until I grabbed this bar, I had no idea it was “London’s Best Luxury Online Chocolate Shop.” Turns out I managed to miss their actual shop when I was in London. Despite being in Covent Garden twice during my three day stay, I didn’t find them–in all fairness, one of the times I was tied up with a student who was having a panic attack and didn’t get to see anything there. I really wish I’d have gotten to visit the star. While York Chocolate Story did have a decent selection of Rococo’s chocolate bars, they didn’t have any of the specialty Roald Dahl ones and I would have bought at least three of those: one for myself and one for each of my kids who love Dahl’s books.

Basil and limeI grabbed the miniature Basil & Persian Lime dark chocolate bar. I wanted to try this one since it was a flavor combination I’ve never had before. Whenever I am somewhere new, I often try to find truly unique chocolates. Anyone can make a regular old milk or dark chocolate bar (granted with varying degrees of success), but I like to try the more exotic. I’ve had spiced chocolate before, but usually it’s cardamom or ginger or chili. I’ve never had, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen, chocolate infused with basil. I was also hoping the tartness of the lime might offset the bitterness of the dark chocolate. Although I have gotten much better at appreciating and even enjoying dark chocolate, I still like it best when it is paired with something tart like raspberry, lemon or lime.

The bar itself is very cute to look at. I love the detail of the bee on each section of chocolate. I was wondering why it was called a “bee bar” and while I’m still not sure if there is a connection other than the design, I liked the connection I could verify.

My first taste of the bar was a bit off putting. The basil was VERY strong and the lime marginal. However, as it slowly melted on my tongue, the basil died away and the lime became the lingering note. The dark chocolate was definitely bitter and not that offset by the basil or the lime. It was not an extremely bitter dark chocolate though, so I found it tolerable. On one of my bites I did sort of feel like I was actually crunching on dried herbs–not so much in taste as in texture. I found it slightly unnerving, but not so much that I stopped eating it.

The bar did leave a slightly odd aftertaste in my mouth. It was slightly herby and slightly sour. I definitely wanted a big drink of water after I’d finished with two squares of the chocolate. After that, I still had a lingering taste of chocolate in the back of my throat, but it was just barely there and sort of nice.

I split the other two squares between my kids and they both really liked it. Of course, they are far less picky about sweets than I am. Probably because they are not allowed to blow their allowances on chocolate bars.

Overall:

Taste: 7/10
Appearance: 9/10
Value: 6/10 (at $2.45 this bar is a bit small for the price)

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Free Reading Friday: We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

We are never meeting in real lifeI’m torn about We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. On the one hand, Irby is pretty darn funny. I really enjoyed her very first essay “My Bachelorette Application.” It set what I felt was a very realistic and funny tone for the book. I also enjoyed all of her essays about her cat Helen, except maybe the last one. I know Irby worked in a vet’s office for 14 years (in fact, I LOVED her essay looking for a new job due to moving in with her wife) and she understood that what the vet was telling her about Helen was pretty hopeless, but having just put my beloved cat of 20 years to sleep, it just seemed a bit harsh at the end.

Then again, that’s the reason I am torn about this book. Irby is, without a doubt, honest in her essays. She is often brutally, in your face honest and sometimes it’s a bit hard to take. There were a couple of essays that I had trouble reading in one sitting just because they were so blunt that I felt I needed a break part way through. “Mavis” is a good example. Actually, a few of the essays talking about her relationship with Mavis were hard to read because it was hard to see why they were actually a couple and why they were getting married. I also am still not sure Irby is happy with it all and I like her, so I want her to be, especially considering her really rotten childhood.

Overall, this book is filled with more gems than it is hard to read portions (at least for me). One of my favorite parts was when she and her friend witnessed a Civil War reenactment while killing time between a wedding and the reception. It cracked me up when the re-enactor told her that her necklace was intense. I love her reply, “Honey, you are wearing a hoop skirt in 2013.” Even though Irby acknowledges her necklace was a bit intense and there’s a good chance the girl didn’t even mean it as an insult, Irby’s quick wit and defense mechanisms kicked in.

It took me a bit longer to read this book than I expected, but I’m glad it did.

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Teaching Tuesday: Audiobook Sync

Two years ago, our school librarian, who happens to be one of the best people I know (and my school BFF), introduced me to Audiobook Sync. It is a free summer audiobook program for teens. Although I only found out about it in 2016, it has actually been around since 2010.

The purpose of the program is to offer a variety of books to teens to expose them to a world of both fiction and nonfiction as well as give them the opportunity to enjoy books in audio form, something many of them are probably not familiar with. The program has offered classics like Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Macbeth as well as modern books by popular YA authors such as David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, Ruta Septys Between Shades of Grey and I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, three of my personal favorites. Audiobook Sync also offers some pretty amazing non-fiction like this year’s The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea, and last year’s The Witches, Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff and The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker.

The program is pretty simple. Each Thursday, two books are offered for download. Students have one week to download the books to their devices before they disappear forever and two new books show up. Once downloaded, the books themselves never vanish. No matter if it takes students two days, two weeks, two months or two years to finish the books, as long as students don’t delete the books, they are theirs to keep and listen to as many times as they’d like.

When I first heard about the program, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I LOVE books. I love actual paper books that I can hold in my hands. I love the smell of them. I love the fell of them. I love their decorative covers. I love the satisfaction of seeing my progress every time I turn a page. I was a reluctant to convert any of my books to digital format and held out against a Kindle for way too long. However, once I got used to digital books, I realized how amazing they are when traveling. Instead of filling my beach suitcase with four or five books, which take up valuable packing real estate, I can load up my tiny Kindle and read those same books on a device that fist in my coat pocket. It took me awhile to convince myself that if I could convert to digital books, I should give audiobooks a chance.

I won’t lie, one of my biggest reasons for holding out was that I was worried I wouldn’t really be “reading” the books. I had many conversations with my fellow bibliophiles about whether or not listing to books was cheating. They all assured me that it wasn’t and that being a lover of theater, I might actually appreciate the theatrics that go into many audiobooks. I sighed and downloaded my first audiobook, 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith.

I WAS HOOKED!

After listening to some pretty amazing books, including I’ll Give You the Sun, which became one of my all-time favorite YA books, I rushed back into school in July and raved about the program to my students. Since we are on the balanced calendar, there were still four more weeks of the program, which meant 8 more books that my students could download.

While not every book is amazing (some due to content and some due to mediocre performances), I have found some truly amazing books using this program. I have even gotten our school librarian to buy paper copies of many of the books so that I can book talk them and get them in the hands of my students.

 

If you are a teacher with reluctant readers, a parent looking for a way to get your kids interested in books or a teen who wants something fun to do this summer, check it out. There are still five more weeks in the program for this year (it is ending a bit earlier than usual this year) and still some amazing sounding books to download.

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Chocolate Monday: All Butter Caramel & Sea Salt Biscuits

caramel sea salt biscuits.jpgI don’t know why I find it so adorable that people from the UK call cookies biscuits, but I seriously do. During my most recent trip across the Pond, our tour guide was discussing some of the linguistic differences between American English and British English. One that she was quick to point out is the difference in the idea of biscuits. She told us about how appalled she was when she first heard someone from the States talk about biscuits and gravy because the thought of putting gravy on cookies is revolting.

While I would have loved a good breakfast of our biscuits and gravy while I was in the UK, I was just as happy to get to try some truly fantastic version of their biscuits. For the record, they do have cookies in the UK. And they do have something that is sort of biscuit like–at least by American standards. Their “biscuits” are usually called scones (although not really like our buttermilk variety at all and usually filled with fruit). Their cookies are similar to many of our cookies–the soft, freshly baked kind you get out of the oven in America are also called cookies in the UK. In the UK, a biscuit is a hard sort of prepackaged cookie like Chips Ahoy! or any variety of Keebler cookie.

all butter caramel and sea salt biscuitsWhile I was visiting Warwick Castle, which is actual history meets Medieval Times, I found a delicious sounding package of biscuits in the gift shop. Although they were not chocolate, they caught my eyes because they had one of my favorite flavor combinations: sea salt and caramel. I make a pretty mean caramel sea salt brownie and I’ve had truffles and caramels with sea salt, but I’d yet to have any sort of cookie, no matter what it is called with the combination. I had to buy them.

Oh my gosh am I glad I did! They were not just delicious sounding, but actually delicious! The cookies are very rich and buttery. The first bite, which has the perfect crunch, actually left my lips feeling a bit greasy. I know this sounds gross, but it was amazing! It was clearly the real butter used in making these cookies. The butter feel on my lips reminded me of times when I’ve eaten a flakey, buttery pastry. YUM!

Although the cookies was initially crunchy, it basically melted in my mouth. This is no doubt partially due to the butter content and partially due to the perfect texture of the cookie.

The caramel flavor is deep and creamy and just as the taste was beginning to fade, there was a great kick of salt to add a lovely savory component. It is nearly impossible to just eat one of these circle of heaven. Outside of Girl Scout cookies, I am not usually one to eat any sort of crunchy cookie. I’ll do it if I really need something sweet and there isn’t really anything else available, but crunchy, prepacked cookies are always a last resort. Even Girl Scout cookies tend to stay in my cabinet longer than they should (I still have three packages) because I just get tired of these types of cookies. But I don’t think I could ever get tired of these. It’s probably for the best that they are an entire continent away from me. It’s also probably good that despite seeing similar tubes of cookies in other souvenir shops, I never saw another package of these biscuits. I am afraid of how many I might have purchased.

The tin of a dozen cookies was about $5.60, which would be outrageously priced, even by Girl Scout cookie standards, if they weren’t so dog gone good.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 9/10

 

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Free Reading Friday: The Pornographer’s Daughter

the pornographer's daughterI picked up The Pornographer’s Daughter by Kristin Battista-Frazee as part of my on going search to find interesting non-fiction that might engage my students. Granted, I was pretty sure that a memoir with a title like: The Pornographer’s Daughter, was probably not one I was going to be able to take into my classroom, but it definitely had a catching title that I know my students would think twice about reading.

Although I was not alive when Deep Throat was released, I have seen Lovelace and have done a bit of reading about the original movie. It peaked my interest when I learned about the Watergate connection while studying journalism in college. I have never actually seen the movie itself, not because I have objections to pornography, but more because it was so before my time and no one I know has ever had a copy of it. I’m not opposed to pornography on any moral level, but I’m also not much of a consumer of it either. I know a bit about the adult entertainment business, and I thought this book might give me a bit more insight into it.

What I didn’t realize when I picked up this book was that Battista-Frazee’s father was not directly involved with the making of the movie. When she called herself the pornographer’s daughter, I thought her father might have been one of the director’s or producers of the movie. I thought her dad was going to be a big name in the industry. I had no idea he was simply a stockbroker who wanted to make a bit of extra money by distributing the movie to theaters around the country. I also had no idea the scandal that distribution caused.

Battista-Frazee’s book is an interesting look at the obscenity case that surrounded the movie. While I know a variety of pornography has come under fire over the years for being obscene (as have a variety of art forms that are not categorized as porn), I did not realize that for merely getting a copy of a movie to a theater that wanted to show it, anyone would be followed by the FBI, arrested and indicted. I guess I understand how taking illegal materials over state lines is an issue for the FBI, it just seems so strange to me that taking a pornographic movie to a theater where consenting adults viewed it quite publicly would be viewed as illegal.

Battista-Frazee does a good job of recreating her family’s struggle as her father got entwined not only in the Deep Throat court cases, but through the loss of his stockbroker’s license and his acquisition of further porn businesses. She gives a pretty straightforward account of the pain it caused her mother when her father opened strip clubs and then later pornography shops. She also details some of the additional legal battles he had as a result of becoming a full-time club, video store and sex toy warehouse owner.

Although she had very limited exposure to any of his legal battles or his actual business dealings until after completing her masters’ degree, it is interesting to see how she pieced together information from family interviews and old newspaper and magazine articles about the case. She makes it very clear that she was never in one of his clubs and never even visited one of his adult stores until she was well into her 20’s. Never once does she stray from painting the relationship she had with her dad as perfectly loving and healthy. Her parental relationship issues came from her mother, who was struggling with depression.

This was an interesting read. It’s not a book I will end up taking into my classroom, more to avoid any potential parental complaints than because of any actual lewd or obscene content. I would have no problem telling my students I read the book, but don’t think I need to actually promote it to them. They can discover books like this one when they go to college.

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