Category Archives: addictions

Chocolate Monday: Hershey’s Gold Peanuts & Pretzels

Hershey's gold barWhile dropping off my daughter’s prescription at our local Kroger, I noticed a new candy display. It looked like a Hershey wrapper, but was a strange cream color I am not used to associating with Hershey’s. Low and behold, it was a brand new type: Hershey’s Gold. It claims to be a caramelized creme, which I’ve never really heard of, so I had to try it. Plus, it has peanuts in it, which is a big plus. Peanuts have always been one of my absolute favorite snack foods.

This bar also boasts pretzels and while I am not usually a huge fan of chocolate covered pretzels, when I was in college I worked at a knock off Hallmark store and we sold these amazing white chocolate pretzel candies that were very pointy and “cluster” looking, but that tasted like creamy dreamy heaven. Even though this bar claimed to be caramel and not white chocolate, I thought it might be similar, so I gave in.

Hershey's Gold pieceIf you’re looking for a strong caramel flavor, this isn’t the bar for you. It has caramel hints at best. And really, it just sort of has a milky, creamy, buttery flavor. It’s not really distinctly anything–except salty.

The salty, which comes mostly from the pretzels is not so overwhelming as to make it inedible, but it is strongly there. It kept catching me in the back of my mouth as I finished up each bite. The peanut bits combined with the pretzels add a nice crunch the bar, but not tons of peanuty flavor.

Aside from the pretzel (and again, the salt), none of the flavors really stand out. It’s just sort of a sweet and salty hodge podge. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised at the back touts that “sweet meets salty, creamy meets crunchy.” And really, that is the best way to describe the bar. A sort of nondescript sweet and salty flavor. It’s not bad, but I find it a bit unsettling that I can’t describe it any better.

Overall:

Taste: 4/10
Appearance: 5/10 (I find the color a bit unsettling too)
Value: 4/10 (it was more expensive than its regular Hershey brethren, which I also find unsettling).

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Free Reading Friday: Caraval

CaravalIf I could pick one book I want made into a movie this very second, it would be this book. I simply LOVED it!

Stephanie Garber does a spectacular job of bringing the darkly magical world of Caraval to life. Part mystery, part magic, part love story, this book has something for everyone. Despite the fact that the book is set in a different world during what appears to be the equivalent of our 1800’s, Scarlet is a heroine any modern girl can relate to. The otherwordly setting is just real enough to be believable to anyone who like historical fiction, but just magical enough to appeal to those who love fantasy. I think this is the perfect book to introduce reluctant readers to the fantasy genre because of all the other elements from the genres of mystery, romance and historical fiction that it also incorporates.

Scarlet and her sister Donatella need to escape their abusive father who has spent the last 10 years making their lives hellish. They are both obsessed with Caraval, the magical game that takes place once a year, by magical invite only. Although Scarlet writes to the mysterious Legend, the master of Caraval for years, it is not until the eve of her engagement to a man she’s never met that she finally gets a response. And not just any response…three tickets to Caraval.

As much as Scarlet wants to go, she cannot let childish curiosity for the game outweigh her desire to save herself, and more importantly her daring, but younger sister from their father’s grasp. She believes her impending nuptials are the only escape. However, when Scarlet is kidnapped and taken to Legend’s private island where Caraval is being held, she toys with the idea of staying. It is not until her beloved sister is also kidnapped and held as the game’s prize that she consents to truly play.

From there the book is a glorious mix of mystery, magic and romance that readers are sure to fall in love with. Garber does a wonderful job of setting up the sequel in a way that has left me clamoring for more. This is my pick for Goodreads YA fantasy book of 2017.

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Throwback Thursday: Black Friday shopping

When I was 14, my aunt took me Black Friday shopping for the first time. I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited. Back then, the deals were impressive and most of the stores opened early, but early was 7 am.

I stayed the night at my aunt’s house and we got up at 6 am so that we could be in front of our first store, which was Zayres. My cousin, who was 7 really wanted a Teddy Ruxpin doll for Christmas and Zayres had the best deal on it. Our aunt was bound and determined to get one. We stood outside the store, in the pitch black with about a hundred other people just waiting for the doors to open. Since I was smaller and quicker than a lot of the adults, my aunt told me where the toy aisles were and told me to sprint for one and that she’d catch up.

As we waited for the store to officially, open, I slowly started making my way closer to the front doors.

By the time they opened, I was one of the first people in the store and as soon as I was actually in the doors, I made a mad dash to the right and headed straight for the toys. I was one of the first people to lay my hands on a Teddy Ruxpin, and after I had it, I quickly moved out of the way, using a side aisle to avoid the chaos. My aunt, who took several minutes to find me, had a cart with her, so I deposited good ol’ Teddy and we went on our merry way, her pointing out items she wanted and me swooping in to get them.

When we finished at Zayres, we headed over to the mall. Our first stop there was L.S. Ayres, where they were giving out boxes of Cracker Jack with special shopping surprises. My aunt got a 25% discount on her entire order in her box. I got a $25 gift card in mine. Seeing as how I had limited funds, that gift card allowed me to buy two different Christmas presents: a stuffed sheep dog for one of my aunt’s (it looked just like the gianormous sheepdog named Muffin she’d had when I was a child) and toy for my cousin.

We spent a few hours at the mall scooping up deals at the big department stores, then we headed over to Burger King to have breakfast. It was about 10:30 am and we were done for the day.

Over the next decade and a half, my aunt and I made Black Friday shopping a tradition. We braved earlier start times, larger crowds, crazier deals and bitter, bitter cold, all for a few hours of togetherness and some pretty sweet deals. I never really bought that much as for the majority of our shopping trips I was either in high school, college, or just starting out as a teacher with a very, very small salary. But it wasn’t really about the shopping. It was about spending time with my aunt and sometimes my cousin or my step-mom. But mostly just me and my aunt.

The year I moved to Florida was the first time in 15 years I did not go Black Friday shopping with my aunt. Since the move only lasted for 6 months, I was right back at it the next year, but it felt like something had changed. The stores were opening on Thanksgiving day. The crowds were more hostile and the stuff on sale was either way too grandiose for me, or absolutely nothing I needed.

The following year I was pregnant with my son and there was no way I was getting up that early, getting jostled by crowds or standing in the cold while 6 months pregnant. I haven’t set foot in a store on Black Friday in 11 years.

I haven’t stopped Black Friday shopping though. I’ve just joined the thousands of people all across this country who have decided that o’dark thirty in 30 degree weather amidst angry hordes is not worth it. Instead, I jumped on my computer at 7 am and started ordering away. I still had a good portion of my shopping done by 10 am, but I got to do it in the comfort of my den while sipping my tea in my jammies.

Since it was never really about the shopping for me, I don’t really miss it. But I do get nostalgic for the talks my aunt and I used to have while standing in check out lines that stretched to the back of the store, during quick car rides between stores and over sausage croissants at Burger King.

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Chocolate Monday: Dream Dinners Scones

Dream dinners sconesDream Dinners has become an obsession of mine. For those who have not heard of this amazing place, it’s one of those meal prep places. You place an order for at least 12 meals and then schedule a time to come in and prepare all of the meals at once. They have everything chopped and all the measuring tools conveniently placed at each recipe station. Over the course of an hour or two, you follow the very simple step by step instructions, measuring everything into baggies, placing all those baggies into a bigger baggie, pop some cooking directions in and voila…easy to cook weekday meals that taste like you spent hours on them.

Although I was a bit skeptical about how much time going to Dream Dinners would actually save me and about the quality of the recipes, I am a complete convert. My least favorite part of cooking is all the slicing and dicing needed for meal prep, so the fact that this is all done for me is brilliant. I have no food waste and can spend extra time with my family each evening. It’s a complete win and worth the $5 or so a portion.

In addition to being a great time saver, a food waste reducer and a social outlet for me (I go each month with one of my best friends), Dream Dinners also has levels I can unlock, which makes it into a bit of a game for me. The more meals I prepare and review, the more points I earn. The more points I earn, the more freebies and fun stuff I get. As part of their November promo, not only did the meals I ordered earn me double prep points, but I also got a free package of their scones. Of course, in order to get the scones I had to purchase one extra meal,  but I as soon as I saw there were white chocolate raspberry scones, I was sold.

When I went to do my November meal prep, the scones were already in the package waiting for me. There were a dozen triangular pastries just waiting to be baked. I didn’t even have to thaw these bad boys, just preheat the oven, break them apart, put them on a cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes.

The smelled heavenly.

I am a HUGE fan of scones. I have not only made my own super tasty strawberry scones from scratch, but also tried several different mixes for drop scones that I have really liked. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the Dream Dinner scones were better than the mix scones and almost as good as my homemade ones. According to my husband, they were even better.

GRRRRR.

Seriously though, these little pastries are fantastic. The raspberry is the perfect blend of sweet and tart and quite clearly a mix of both raspberry jam and real raspberries. There are white chocolate chips throughout to help balance out the tart and add the perfect amount of creaminess. I love how mixing white chocolate with raspberries gives the perfect berries and cream taste. The scones are light and perfectly blended so they do not taste too doughy or too floury, which can be a real problem with scones. Texture wise they remind me of scones I’ve had at tea time in several small English tea shops on visits to London.

Everyone in my family adored them. I know that I will have to buy more of these and I may even branch out and try some of the other flavors. Although this one is so tasty it’ll be hard to convince myself to get a different one.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 10/10–but only b/c they were free. I actually don’t know how much they are (and can’t find a price on the website), so the jury is still out on this one.

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Free Reading Friday: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon and the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by  Becky Albertalli is yet another book on the this year’s Rosie list, so I had to read it. Before I picked it up, I had no idea what the book was about. The title was intriguing though and even though I’ve read comments that the cover is keep no of boring, I like the faceless body and the title as a quote bubble.

It only took me about 20 pages to get into Simon’s story. My favorite chapters were definitely the emails between Simon and Blue. I love how cute and genuine their emails feel. I love how vulnerable they are with each other. And even though there was a part of me who wanted Blue to cave and reveal who he was to Simon much sooner, I understand why Albertalli had him wait. Blue’s reluctance to truly reveal himself to Simon (and the world) reflects just how scary first relationships can be. They are terrifying when you are straight and conform to all the expectations of society, so I can only imagine how immensely more terrifying they are for LGBT+ teens. Especially in Georgia…or any area that is intensely conservative.

Since my best friend lives in Athens, Georgia, it was doubly fun for me to read this book which is set outside of Atlanta. It was especially great to see Albertalli mention the Junkman’s Daughter since I’ve been to the original store in Athens. I love when I find places I’ve visited in real life in books as well.

Even though I was not thrilled with the idea of going back to school after the break, I was excited about sharing this book with my students. My school has a growing LGBT+ population and I knew I would have a bunch of students who really wanted to read it. I think it is super important for them to find books which portray romantic relationships they can relate to and see themselves reflected in. Sure enough, the second I book talked it, multiple hands reached out for it.

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Wildcard Wednesdays: Dream Dinners

Dream dinners cookedBack in August, one of my best friends invited me to a rather unique birthday party. She invited four of us to a Dream Taste event she was hosting through Dream Dinners.

For a couple of years I’ve heard her talk about Dream Dinners. Often when I’d stop by her husband’s classroom to get my lunchbox out of his fridge (unlike the rest of us, science teachers get to have fridges in their prep rooms), I’d see him eating some of their leftovers and they always looked great. A part of me was interested in finding out just what Dream Diners was all about. However, a larger part of me poo-pooed the idea as I consider myself a pretty good cook and I love garnering the praise my family heaps on me after a successful meal. Even if it means I sometimes spend an hour (or more) putting dinner together after a 10 hour day at work (including my commute).

But when she invited me as part of her birthday celebration, how could I turn it down? Ok, I could have turned it down and still not been a total jerk of a friend. Since attending the Dream Taste required me to purchase at least three meals to prepare while I was there, my friend made it very clear that I was under no obligation to come. She knew I’d been interested in the past and thought the Taste might be an easy way for me to try it. She had a feeling I would love it as much as she does, but she didn’t tell me that at the time.

I was not quite sure what to expect when I got there. I arrived with a cooler in tow, just like she’d told me to. I found the birthday girl and three of my other friends ready and willing to experiment with something new. Since we’d had about 8 different meals to pick from, we had some overlap in what we were preparing, but each of us had at least one dinner no one else in the group was making. My friend, in true hostess style, showed us all how to get our order forms, our cooking instruction cards, our aprons and gave us a brief tour of the facility and  outlined the rules.

dream sideThankfully the “rules” are pretty simple. Find an empty station with the recipe card for the meal you want to prepare. Get the proper sized plastic bags to store meal contents in. Using the very handy, very clearly labelled recipe cards, follow all the steps exactly. Then, pop the cooking instruction card in the large bag (with all the smaller bags inside), put the meal in the fridge (on the shelf with your name on it), wash your hands and start over.

At first I was a little nervous. Although I am a good cook and someone who has done make ahead meals before, I’ve never done it in an industrial kitchen with all my recipe items already chopped and waiting for me. Plus, there were other people outside of our party there and they all knew exactly what they were doing, which was also a bit intimidating. However, after my first meal was measured, bagged and stored, I had the hang of it.

It was so simple and so fun! On several of my stations I got to work right next to my friends, so we had the chance to chat while we assembled our meals. Then, when we finished, there were samples from next month’s menu ready for us to try (along with candy and soda), so we all pulled up chairs, sampled, talked and looked at next month’s offerings. At that point, an employee came over and told us how it would all work if we wanted to come back for another round. It was a very low pressure sales pitch and two of us decided we liked it enough to try again (one lived in another state so it was never an option for her).

When I signed up, I only put $20 down on my next order, making sure to double check that I could cancel if my family tried the meals and did not like them. Thankfully, that did not happen. My family LOVED the meals I’d prepared. And they were so EASY! I thawed each one in the fridge two days before I planned to cook them. Since all the cutting and measuring was done, I came home, pulled the back out of my fridge, spent a few minutes mixing ingredients and cooking and before I knew it, dinner was on the table. Seriously, one of the meals took me less than 15 minutes to cook. And, it was delicious. Everyone in my family raved about it.

dream dinners coolerSince my initial order of 3 dinners, I have gone back three times. I actually just finished up my fourth order on Monday. I now have a freezer full of delicious dinners to try. I have chicken bruschetta skewers, oven baked chicken chimichangas, coconut shrimp with Thai chili sauce, pesto ravioli with chicken & walnuts, and rosemary smokehouse turkey burgers on pretzel buns to name a few. Of the 15 meals I’ve made, only one hasn’t been fantastic. Perfectly fine, but not fantastic. However, since I get to rate each meal and make comments on them, each time when I get the next month’s printed menus, if that item is on it again, I’ll get to see what I rated it so I’ll know to order a larger portion or to avoid it. In the four months I’ve been making meals there has yet to be a repeat offer.

dream dinners rawLast month I discovered their mini chicken pot pies. We’d gotten to sample them at my first official Dream Dinners session and I knew my kids would go gaga over them. When I put together all of the ingredients at the store, I was a bit worried that they’d be complicated, but they were amazingly simple to prepare, ready in about 30 minutes and my family raved about them. The only way this dinner could have been easier to make was if I’d bought frozen processed pot pies from the grocery store and then they would have had all those extra preservatives, salt and who knows what else. However, with these pot pies, I knew exactly what was going into them and could even tweak the spices if needed. My husband told me I had to order them every time I can.

While Dream Dinners isn’t cheap, it’s run me about $200 for 12 meals (we get 4 portions out of each meal, so it’s about $5 a portion), considering the time I save on nightly food prep and cooking time plus the food waste I’ve managed to cut down on for recipes that only call for a few tablespoons of an ingredient, I think it is completely worth it. I know I will be going back for many months and maybe years to come.

 

 

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Chocolate Monday: DeBrand’s Classic Collection

Debrand classicI know it seems like I cannot sing the praises of DeBrand’s Chocolate enough in my blog. The truth is that I cannot. I have fallen madly, hopelessly in love with it. It is some of the best chocolate I have ever had and I am beyond thrilled that they have opened up a store less than 15 minutes from my house. My wallet and my waistline may not be so happy down the line, but for now, I am giddy with excitement.

Although I’ve only been to the store once so far, while I was there not only did I pick up some of their amazing pecan caramels and a chocolate shortbread cookie, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, but I also put together my very own box of their classic collection. Although I have favorites among both their truffle and connoisseur collections, my heart truly belongs to their classic collection. The best part about having a store so near me is that I can go in and hand pick all of my favorites to ensure that there is never a chocolate I like but do not love–I’m looking at you mocha cream.

Looking at my box of goodies, it’s pretty clear that most of my picks are milk chocolate. That should not surprise anyone who reads my blog with any sort of regularity. I’m a milk chocolate girl. Still, I do have some absolute favorites in their dark chocolate collection as well, so I had to throw those in.

The first piece in my collection of 8 is their gourmet PB&J. This is a bit of an odd choice for me. As much as I love any combination of peanut butter and chocolate, the idea of throwing the jelly into the mix generally grosses me out. When I was younger, I had a few oddities I thought were quirky enough that they earned me bragging rights. One was that I did not eat pizza. The second was that I never threw up after drinking too much. The third, was that I’d never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The pizza thing died as soon as I went off to college. It’s not that I’d never had pizza or anything. My father just loved it so much that we ate it constantly and only sausage and green pepper pizza…two toppings I despise to this day. I got sick of pizza, so whenever they’d order pizza, I’d just eat breadsticks. However, my freshmen year of college several of my friends would buy cheap pizza from this place that delivered until 3 am and we’d sit in the study lounge, eat pizza and talk until the sun started to rise again.

I caved to the puking after drinking only once in my entire life and that was a bad, bad, bad night that I have almost no memory of. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that when I mentioned getting a tad sick (and it was just a tiny, tiny bit), all of my friends realized I’d crossed some sort of line. It’s never happened since, which I still consider a sort of badge of honor.

As for the PB& J thing, I don’t really have a good reason for it. My mom never made them for me and I never asked for one. I’d never tasted one until I was 19. I had missed dinner in the dining hall due to a late class one night and the guy I was dating made me a sandwich. Since we were in the dorms, there wasn’t much on hand. He thought it was nuts I’d never had a PB&J so he made me one. I ate half of it out of politeness, but did not see the appeal and have never eaten one since.

However, somehow when it you take away the bread and cover it in chocolate instead, I find it appealing. It doesn’t hurt that this PB&J uses a very tart raspberry jam. Raspberry and chocolate is my weakness and this piece is an amazing blend of salty and sweet.

My second chocolatey delight was the caramel coconut. Despite being a dark chocolate piece, I find this one exciting because it is three tastes I love all rolled in to one. The caramel is speckled with little chunks of coconut which give it a perfect texture. The caramel is the ooey-gooey liquidy kind I love. While I do think it would be even better in milk chocolate–I’ve always been an Almond Joy gal, it’s still a solid offering. I like the little bits of coconut that stick in my teeth at the end, leaving me a bit longer to enjoy the piece.

debrand vanillaNext up was a version of one of my absolute favorites in life: vanilla buttercream. This one is pretty good. Not quite as thick as I usually like my vanilla creams, but still full of delicious vanilla flavor. I liked it, but it’s not my favorite in the collection.

Since I love caramels so much it’s really no shock that half of my custom box was full of caramels. Nor is it a surprise that I decided to try the Debrand caramel. Unlike their other caramels, this is not a liquid version. This is a straight up, super chewy block of caramel covered in creamy milk chocolate. The caramel is soft, creamy and perfectly sticky. I loved letting it slowly melt in my mouth. It’s not as good as their pecan caramels, but still really darn good. I love that it is more caramel than chocolate.

debrand rose caramelI immediately tried another caramel because really, is there such a thing as too much caramel? No, no there isn’t. This one is the rose carmella. I love the rose design on the top of this piece. The description says it is a liquid caramel with a hint of rose water. I’ll admit that I’ve never really had much rose water (or any flower flavored water), so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pick up those hints. After all, I’m terrible when it comes to picking up fruity hints in beers and wines–I’m better with wines since they are already a bit fruity, but when a beer says it has hints of apricot or strawberry, all I ever taste is, well, bitter beeriness. Blech. This piece is definitely a liquidy caramel, which makes it an A+ in my book. Since it is also covered in sweet milk chocolate, I think the flowery hints do get a bit lost in the big picture. However, when I tried a taste of just the caramel, there was definitely a slightly perfumy taste to it, which I found interesting and kind of cool.

Peanut butter and chocolate is another personal favorite combination of mine. The only reason not to simply adore peanut butter and chocolate is if you are allergic to it. Otherwise, I am suspicious of anyone who doesn’t love the marriage of two of the most delicious flavors on earth. This piece is a salted peanut butter, which I think sounds even more intriguing. The peanut butter inside is super creamy and definitely just a little bit salty, which is fabulous. It’s so interesting because from a texture standpoint it reminds me of creamy peanut butter, but the extra saltiness to it makes me think of the far superior crunchy peanut butter. It also makes this piece a bit more savory than sweet, which I really like.

My second to last piece was a dark piece, but since it was a strawberry rhubarb caramel, I saved it for last. I was about 10 years old when I had my first piece of strawberry rhubarb pie. I was at the county fair with my aunt and we stopped in the Grange building to visit another aunt and uncle who happened to be volunteering. The Grange building was basically a big restaurant, so we decided to eat with my aunt and uncle. I couldn’t tell you what my main course was, but I grabbed a piece of strawberry pie and was super excited. It didn’t taste like the strawberry pie I was used to and when I mentioned it to my aunt, she told me about the addition of rhubarb. Even though I like the straight sweet of strawberry, the tart that goes with rhubarb became a new love for me. This caramel piece has that same, hit you in the back of the mouth, puckering effect of that first piece of fair pie. Once the initial wallop of the tart rhubarb subsides, there is a lovely undertone of sweet, sun-ripened strawberries. The caramel really just lends it a slight creamy texture. Honestly it is more rhubarb than anything else and that is 100% ok with me.

debrand raspberryMy final piece is my “best for last” piece: a milk covered raspberry. This piece is also available in dark, and in the last classic assortment I got from DeBrand, I got the dark chocolate version, which I really liked. So I was super excited to try their milk version. Even though tart raspberry is the way I enjoy dark chocolate best, I will always be a milk chocolate girl, so I had to try it. Oh my goodness! This is sheer, unadulterated goodness. It’s a raspberry cream, so while it has a bit of the velvetiness of a standard cream filling, it is also drenched in totally tart liquidy raspberry filling. It is a raspberry cordial filling to make Anne of Green Gables proud. I cannot heap enough praise on this piece and will go back again and again and again for it. I could easily buy a box with nothing other than this piece in it and be thrilled. Of course I would miss my other favorites too much, so I guess I’ll just have to keep saving this chocolate for last!

Overall:

Value: 10/10 (at $18 a box, each piece is $2)
Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 9/10

 

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