Category Archives: food

Chocolate Monday: Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Happy Birthday Truffle bar

3 Cs birthday cake bar with confettiI am not generally someone who loves shopping. I know that according to pretty much every movie, TV show or book ever written, that as a woman, I am supposed to simply adore shopping. I am supposed to reach near orgasmic heights at the prospect of finding some amazing discount on designer shoes or purses or some such nonsense. Although I can name some designers, aside from the famous Burberry pattern, I’m not sure I could actually identify anything by a designer. Oh wait, does Vera Bradley count? I can pretty much always recognize her stuff. Not because I like it (I am not a fan), but because just about every teacher in the world has some sort of Vera Bradley bag. I have four different friends with Vera Bradley lunchboxes.

But as usual, I digress.

About the only time I actually enjoy shopping is if I am with my best friend. And then, it isn’t for the shopping, but for the company. I love being out and about with my BFF. As long as we are not in Anthropologie, she actually makes trying on clothes kind of fun. A part of each trip to visit her in Athens, Georgia means finding one of her college students to babysit my kiddos so that the two of us can have a few hours to have a semi-fancy lunch and hit downtown to look at the fun shops.

At one of our stops this year, we found a store that carries pretty much everything girly. There were clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry, cards, soaps, lotions…if it seems like it should be in a boutique for women, they have some version of it. I’ve been in this store a lot, so I wasn’t really surprised at the majority of the inventory. However, when I saw a whole display of Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate bars and truffles, I knew I would be making a purchase this year.

3 Cs birthday cake packageMy BFF decided to buy the box of truffles. Each night as we watched something fun on TV, she’d take out two truffles, cut them in half and we’d savor them. I don’t actually remember any of the flavors of them, but I do remember enjoying them. My contribution to our nightly chocolate fest was two of their chocolate bars. I grabbed the Sea Salt Caramel bar (not sure how I’d miss this one so far) and the Happy Birthday truffle bar.

The Happy Birthday bar is really pretty cute. I think the little pieces of candy confetti on the back are a nice touch. While it may not be quite the same as eating the delicious looking cupcake on the front of the package, I love that they did their best to replicate the experience by adding the confetti. Visually I love it. However, I am not a big fan of sprinkles or candy dots like this on actual cake. I don’t like the crunch they give desserts and I don’t like the strange, nondescript sugar taste they add to an otherwise delicious treat. These candy dots are no exception. They detract a bit from my enjoyment because they add a sort of useless extra crunch to the bar.

3 Cs birthday close upThe milk chocolate is smooth and creamy and I think the best part of this bar is the bites of simple solid chocolate. The filling claims to be a buttercream frosting truffle. I’m not quite sure what a buttercream truffle would be as I’ve never had another company claim to make one. The center of the bar definitely reminds me of cake frosting, but once again, not in the way I’d hope for. It is almost too sweet. It reminds me a bit of the poorly made, almost cloyingly sweet frosting that comes on cheap grocery store cakes. My kids loved it, but then again, they both love sprinkles on cupcakes and love those cheap grocery store cupcakes some parent always brings in for classroom celebration days. I find myself scraping the frosting off and then being sad that the cake is too dry.

I had high hopes for this bar as birthday cake is one of my favorite foods in the world. Sadly, this was not a happy celebration.

Overall:

Taste: 4/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 3/10 (since I didn’t like it, it definitely made the $5 bar of chocolate seem way over priced).

 

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Chocolate Monday: Sweetie Pie’s croissants

Sweetie Pie breakfast.jpgWhenever I am in Athens, Georgia visiting my best friend, stopping by Sweetie Pie’s is an absolute must. And not just once during our visit!┬áLuckily, it is located directly across the street from the entrance to my best friend’s neighborhood.

Since my kids are fairly early risers, well, my daughter is, I am usually up before my BFF and her husband, so a couple of times during our visit, I get up, head over to Sweetie Pie’s and grab breakfast for everyone.

Sweetie Pie’s is fairly small. There is no place to eat inside the bakery and they have a limited number of pastry choices, but I have never been disappointed with anything I’ve tried there. Every day they have a variety of muffins, scones and sweet breads. Some days they have gigantic cinnamon rolls (I never get these b/c they have nuts in them and neither my BFF nor I like nuts in our cinnamon rolls) and some days they have croissants. To be more specific, every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday they have croissants. Yeah, I love them so much that despite living 10 hours away from the place, I know they days they have croissants on the menu.

My son is a big fan of their savory ham and cheese croissant. Before she became a vegetarian, my daughter also really loved this one. Although it is never my go to croissant, it is tasty. The croissant is flaky and buttery, just like it should be. The cheese is not overpowering, but the slight gooeyness of it pairs perfectly with the melt in your mouth croissant. And Savie doesn’t skimp on the ham either. She doesn’t just dump a few ham cubes in there. She adds some thick, tasty ham slices to it. It’s a great dose of protein and pastry!

Savie also offers some super tasty almond croissants as well as some croissants with her famous Asian-infused flavors like thai coconut, red bean and green tea. However, my absolute favorite offering on her entire menu are her chocolate croissants.

SP close up croissantI LOVE these little pillows of heaven. I’ve had a fair amount of chocolate croissants in my life. While I’ve yet to have an actual croissant in France, I have had them at Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie in the France section of Epcot, in various cities in the UK, in places like Starbucks and Panera and even at a few local places, but these are my favorite ones.

 

How do I love them? Let me count the ways:

  1. The croissant itself is buttery
  2. The croissant is flakey
  3. The croissant is ever so crumbly (but in a super good way)
  4. The chocolate inside is slightly liquidy and gooey (unlike so many other places where the chocolate is pretty much solid like a bit of candy bar)
  5. The chocolate is a tad bitter, so it’s not too sweet

In short, it is perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 9/10 (mine looked a little overcooked this time, even though it was super tasty)
Value: 10/10

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Chocolate Monday: Savvy Cakes at Cakewalk

Savvy cakesOn my recent trip to visit my best friend in Athens, Georgia, she told me that a new bakery had opened up. She suggested we take a trip there, knowing full well that there was no way in the world I was going to turn down a chance to try a new bakery. Especially not one named Cakewalk. I’m always willing to partake in a cakewalk!

When we pulled up to the shop, I was a little thrown by the exterior. It didn’t really look like a bakery. It looked like someone’s house. Now, I know looks can be deceiving. After all, the best bakery I’ve found in Athens is in a building that used to be a BBQ shack. And when I say shack, that is really not an exaggeration. When it was The Butt Hutt, it was a take out place. With its transformation into a bakery, there is just room for a display case, a few display fridges/freezers and a fancy coffee machine. It is still a take out only place.

When we walked in the front door at Cakewalk, I was even more confused as I didn’t initially see any baked goods. I saw lots of home goods and cute gifts, but no food. Turns out Cakewalk is not actually a bakery. As the very enthusiastic and helpful woman working there told us, they aren’t zoned for baking. They are zoned for retail. So, what Cakewalk does is connect with small, local bakeries to resell their delicious treats.

What Cakewalk does (and does quite well in my opinion) is allow dessert lovers to take a “cake walk” through the store. Would be chocoholics can sample nearly all the cakes and bars available for purchase. The samples are already prepared in tiny sealed cups and customers can try as many as they’d like. The cakes are on display in large glass cake dishes for anyone interested and come from several local bakeries.

My best friend and I indulged in several samples, including an old-fashioned chocolate cake, a red velvet, a carrot and a double chocolate. Although they didn’t actually have a sample available, my best friend opted for a slice of the almond cake. Since I have a serious chocolate addiction, I had to go with the double chocolate cake.

I’m not sure which bakery my BFF’s cake came from, but mine came from Just Desserts Made from Scratch Bakery located in Statham, GA. For some reason, that I’m still not quite clear on, it is listed as a Savvy Cake by Just Desserts Made from Scratch Bakery.

Regardless of who made it, it was pretty darn tasty! The layers of cake were incredibly moist and very chocolaty. I loved the layers of creamy chocolate buttercream frosting. I was also happy that this cake was not too heavy on the frosting. For me, cake should always be the star. When people add too much frosting to their cakes, it almost seems like they are trying to hide the fact that their cake is not that good. I prefer a fairly thin layer of frosting on both the top and the sides of the cake. I actually would have been even happier with a little less frosting on this piece, but it was better than what many bakeries produce. I would definitely like to try more of these Savvy Cakes.

I did a little googling and it looks like Staham is only about 20 minutes east of Athens, so as much as I enjoyed the very friendly service at Cakewalk (and petting the seriously adorable dog who was hanging out in the store far from the actual food), I think on my next trip to Athens, my BFF and I will have to hop in the car and make a trip to the actual bakery for some additional treats.

Overall:

Appearance: 8/10
Taste: 8/10
Value: 7/10 (we bought from a retailer, so prices were a bit higher than at the actual bakery where they seem pretty reasonable).

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Throwback Thursday: The tree that owns itself

Tree that owns itselfAthens, Georgia is one of my favorite vacation spots. True, it has no beach or theme park or plethora of dazzling museums. The weather is always a bit unpredictable in March, so there is no guarantee it’ll be warm. What makes Athens such a great place for me to visit is the fact that my best friend lives here.

To be honest, any place my best friend lives will become one of my favorite vacation spots. Anchorage, Alaska in winter? If she is there, I am there. The Mojave Dessert in the middle of summer? If she’s got a house there, so am I.

Thankfully, it turns out that Athens is also a pretty cool place, even if she didn’t live there. Of course, if she didn’t live there, I’d never have known this.

My kids and I just returned from a wonderful week long visit where we got to spend time in some of our favorite Athens locations. We went to several of their amazing parks (World of Wonders and the park next to the Bear Hollow Zoo are our two favorites). We played a ton of board games at The Rook and Pawn. We spent way more money that we should have clothes shopping. And we had some pretty phenomenal food at some of our favorite places (Cali N Tito’s, Pulaski Heights, and The Grit).

My best friend and I also got to try some place brand new (to us): Donna Chang’s. While I know this amazing little place would have been totally lost on my kids, my BFF and I adored it. My best friend is a vegetarian and although her husband is pretty accommodating, since Donna Chang’s is “family” style and there is only one full veggie item on the menu, he was not too keen on going. We didn’t actually even try that menu item since they have a bunch of really tasty small plate items that are vegetarian. My absolute favorite was the dry fried eggplant. She fell in love with the bouncy peanut noodles. We finished the meal off with some simply fantastic ice cream (lemon curd and ginger). It was glorious.

Another first on this trip was a drive over to see the Tree That Owns Itself. Yes, you read that correctly, there is a tree that owns itself in Athens.

When my BFF told me about this wonder of the Georgian world, I thought she was kidding. She definitely was not. However, despite all of our trips to Athens (this is our 7th or 8th visit), we’d never been to see it. While we were out and about driving one day, she suggested we hunt for it.

She’d actually only been to see it one other time, when another friend was in town. It took us a few minutes to find it, not because it’s hard to find, but because she forgot exactly where we are going. I had to plug it into my GPS. Turns out she’d only missed it by a one road. After a drive up an incredibly steep hill that I think would be absolutely treacherous if there was even a hint of ice, we found ourselves facing a rather large tree with a plaque in front of it.

The actual tree is set off by a little bricked “garden” area. The plaque announcing the tree’s origins and bequeathing the tree it’s “freedom” sit in front of it. On either side there are houses and it’s pretty clear the owners get a lot more traffic than they might like as they have signs reminding people the bit of brick “road” on either side of the tree is not public land. Only the small patch the tree sits on is owned by the tree.

The tree is a quirky little bit of history that I think speaks volumes about the kind of quirky town of Athens. If you are ever in Athens, it’ll take a minute to see, but it’s definitely worth it.

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Chocolate Monday: Viva! Argentine Cuisine cupcakes

Viva cupcakesSpring break is finally here and just in time. If I had to sit through one more class or grade one more final, I might have lost my mind!

Ok, who am I kidding, I’m a teacher…I lost my mind a long time ago! Plus, I actually have tons of grading (and planning) to do over break, but I’m sort of in denial mode for the moment.

The biggest reason I am denying all the work I need to do is because break also means a trip to Athens, Georgia to visit my best friend. And, for the first time since she moved to Athens to become a professor at UGA, we have the same spring break!

Don’t misunderstand, I am thrilled with any trip to see my darling BFF, but usually when my kids and I go to visit her, she still has to do quite a bit of teaching, grading and planning for her own courses, which means several hours every day that she is off on campus and I am trying to entertain my kids. And, last year it rained half the time we were there!

But this year since we all have break together, we get to spend nearly every waking moment together (she did have to to in to campus for about two hours today) and the weather so far has been a bit chilly, but the forecast looks bright, sunny and nearly 75 degrees a few days. Considering it snowed in Indiana today, I’ll take having to wear a fleece because it’s a bit windy!

One of my favorite things about visiting Athens (aside from the endless hours of catching up, shopping and movies with my best friend) is the food. Athens has some really amazing places to eat. I live in a city about seven times the size of Athens, but I’m not sure we have anywhere near the number of delicious eateries around town.

Our first stop this trip was Viva! Argentine Cuisine. I ADORE Viva! My best friend and her husband took my kids and I there on our very first trip into town and we all agree it is an absolute necessity of every trip. I’m not sure what my kids love more, the super tasty empanadas or the cupcakes. Who am I kidding? Of course it is the cupcakes!

Every day, Viva! offers a variety of moist, delicious cupcakes. I’ve never been there when there are less than a dozen flavors. I’ve tried eight or nine different flavors and I’ve yet to be disappointed in any of them. One of my absolute favorites is their version of dulce de leche (it has another name I can’t remember…its nickname is Alfie). It is simply melt in your mouth good. As much as I love it, this time they had several Girl Scout cookie inspired cupcakes I’d never seen before, and I had to try those instead.

They actually had three Girl Scout cookie inspired cupcakes: Savannah Smiles, Tagalongs and Samoa. Since Samoas are my absolute favorite Girl Scout cookie ever, that was the first one I ordered. Although I love the taste of lemon, I am not a huge fan of the Savannah Smiles. They are just not lemony enough. And while I was sure Viva! would have an amazing lemon cupcake (I’ve had their blueberry lemon one before and it is awesome), chocolate and peanut butter is a hard combination to beat, so I had to pick the Tagalong cupcake.

I know picking two cupcakes seems more than a little decadent, but one thing I love about Viva! is that they have mini versions of most of their cupcakes, so I was able to get both a Samoa and a Tagalong with very little guilt and no nausea from over eating!

Since I’m a save the best for last kinda gal, I started with the Tagalong cupcake. It was a great chocolate cupcake filled with a bit of peanut butter and about a third of a Tagalong cookie on the top. The cake was rich and delicious. It was perfectly moist, which can be a real issue with mini cupcakes. Often they are a bit overcooked and dry, but Viva! always has perfectly baked cupcakes. The only odd bit about this cupcake is that the bit of actual Tagalong on top was not even remotely crisp. It was the first time I’ve ever had a Tagalong that didn’t sort of “snap” when bitten into. It was a decidedly flimsy cookie bit. Still, it wasn’t enough to dampen my spirits or make me not like the dessert. It was still super yummy, if a bit of an odd texture.

My Samoa cupcake was even better. Once again, it was an awesome chocolate cupcake with a little dot of caramel filling. The caramely coconut frosting on top was superb. And, the Samoa piece on top was the right consistency, which definitely made it even better. It was precisely what I’d expect the cake form of a Samoa to be. My son liked it so much he ordered two of them!

Overall:

Appearance: 9/10
Taste: 9/10
Value: 7/10 (at $2 a pop, mini cupcakes are a bit pricey, especially since regular sized ones are only $3 each).

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Throwback Thursday: Selling Girl Scout cookies

Girl Scout Cookies

When I was a kid, I loved being a Girl Scout. I can’t remember a single moment I wasn’t having a great time hanging out with my troop. I loved meetings. I loved earning badges. I loved playing games. I loved the Girl Scout Olympics. I loved camping.

Yes, that’s right, I loved camping…and even running…as long as it was through Girl Scouts.

I remember time spent at international food festivals where each troop member would research other countries and cultures, prepare food to share with each other and spend the evening pigging out. My mom and I picked France and she helped me make gateau au chocolat…or chocolate cake for those of you not in the know. It was fun and delicious.

I remember camporees where we would make “swaps” to, well, swap with girls from other troops. Each swap would be some tiny crafty thing that somehow tied into the theme of the camporee and had our troop number on it. The goal was to collect as many different swaps as possible, all while getting to know girls from the surrounding areas.

I remember learning how to lash (I have completely forgotten how), how to make hobo stew (I could totally still make this) and how to make those strange plastic lanyards and keychains every kid whoever goes to camp ends up making.

Girl Scouts was amazing.

I also remember Girl Scout cookie time. Aw…the joy of being surrounded by all the delicious different varieties of cookies.

When I was a kid, Trefoils still had sugar crystals on them, one of my favorite cookies was called the Chocolate Chunk,* and they were only $2 a box. Every year I busted my butt to sell as many cookies as possible. My mom was a stay at home mom, so she had no work friends she could sell cookies too. My step-dad worked in a place that did not allow people to bring in any kind of fundraising materials, so he couldn’t sell them either. Unlike most of my fellow scouts, my cookie sales were all on me. Thankfully the majority of my extended family bought TONS of cookies and not only paid for the cookies, but then paid to have my mom ship the cookies to them, all the way from California. While I was never a top seller, I was able to fall solidly in the middle.

This year I got to experience Girl Scout cookie time like never before: as the mother of a Brownie. Yes, that’s right, my second grader is one of those fairly cherubic looking little girls who no doubt bombarded you as you walked out of the grocery store, or hardware store or craft store, or super hippy breakfast place in that really trendy section of town, and asked if you want to buy a box of these delicious and addictive treats.

I can’t remember a time in my adult life when I haven’t had a box or two of cookies stashed in my pantry or fridge. For the past 6 years, I’ve bought them from one (or both) of my nieces. Before that I bought them either from a host of colleagues whose daughters were selling them or in few rare cases, from students who’d stuck with scouting into high school. Those years were wonderful. I’d buy four or five boxes, they’d last for a few months and I’d be satiated for a few months more. Then, around January, fresh out of Christmas goodies, I’d start wondering when cookie time was going to roll around again.

But this year, everything changed.

This year cookie season started off not with a call from one of my nieces asking me to buy a box, but at a cookie rally on a Friday night over winter break. My daughter and I joined her troop members in one of the most crowded meeting rooms I’d ever been in, trying desperately not to get overwhelmed by the three ring circus that was the rally. Not only were there six craft tables with girls packed so tightly they could hardly move, but there were adults circulating around the room with trays of cookies for everyone to try. On top of this, there was someone constantly making announcements and drawing numbers for a raffle.

My daughter, who has some major sensory issues managed exactly two craft tables before she couldn’t take it anymore. Even the prospect of more cookies (she’s already managed to sneak 6 and we generally allow one cookie for dessert) and raffle prizes couldn’t make her endure a few more minutes of the chaos. We were out after 20 minutes.

Then came the selling of the cookies. My daughter will proudly tell you she sold over 300 boxes of cookies, which was enough to get the turtle music speaker she really wanted. This is not true. My husband and I sold most of those cookies. Sure, she sold about 70 of those boxes, but that was mostly because she worked a cookie booth at a local Kroger on the day of the Superbowl. In two hours, the three girls sold 165 boxes.

What all this meant was a TON of cookies piled in my den. I don’t remember exactly how many cases we had once all was said and done (we had to go back for five additional smaller orders), but at one point I know we had 16 cases in there. It was nuts!

All of this did mean I got to try every single variety of cookie this year. Although they were all the same as last year, I tend to be a creature of habit, so I usually only get Samoas for myself and Do Si Dos for my husband. This year, though, I let my kids each pick a box of cookies (Thin Mints for my daughter and Toffee Tastics for my son). We had to try the S’Mores cookies since they were pretty new as well. Plus, I couldn’t remember if my husband liked the peanut butter sandwich or chocolate peanut butter, so I got some Tagalongs too. At the cookie rally I grabbed a Savannah Smile and a Trefoil to round out my collection.

Although I found I really enjoy the S’Mores (not as good as the real thing, but pretty tasty nonetheless), in nearly 35 years of eating Girl Scout cookies, my favorite cookie has not changed.

My heart forever belongs to Samoas.

*For a trip down Girl Scout cookie memory lane, check out these old favorites too.

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Chocolate Monday: Samoas

SamoaIt’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, it’s not Christmas…it’s Girl Scout cookie time!

Thanks to the cookie rally I got to attend with my daughter this year, I got to try every variety of cookie on sale. Despite some pretty tasty offerings (I’m a big fan of the S’Mores cookies which were new last year), after all these years, my favorite has not wavered even once.

I love Samoas.

These are the best packaged cookies ever. Notice, I didn’t say they are the best cookies ever. There is not much that beats a fresh from the oven cookie (no matter what is in it). But if we are talking shelf-stable, plastic wrapped cookie, I’ll take a Samoa over any other cookie out there…especially the vastly inferior Keebler knock-off Samoas. Nice try elves, but we see what you are up to. Peddle that rubbish elsewhere!

There is just something about the combination of toasted coconut, caramel, chocolate and shortbread that just makes me smile. It is sweet without being over the top sweet. The shortbread has just the right buttery crunch and the caramel gives it a creamy chewiness that almost makes it seem like a soft cookie. I love how it is both soft and crunchy at the same time. It’s a rich, buttery, chocolatey piece of heaven.

And, I won’t lie, I love the way the caramel makes the coconut stick around in my teeth just a bit so that even after I finish my cookie, I still have a bit of amazingness to savour.

No matter what other cookies the Girl Scouts introduce, Samoas will always be my joy. That doesn’t mean I won’t take a Thin Mint or Trefoil if offered, but dollars to donuts, I always want my Samoas.

Overall:

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

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