Category Archives: food

Chocolate Monday: Sweetie Pie

SP cookies

Cookies featured in photo: (top row): chocolate malt, peanut butter shallot, maple pecan
(middle row): oatmeal raisin and sweet and savory
(bottom row): pumpkin, chocolate chip and ginger turmeric

One of the best parts about visiting my best friend in Athens, Georgia is that it is a town full of amazing food. And I do love food.

Since I visit her for at least two weeks out of every year, I’ve had a chance to discover some favorite places that are must eats every trip. Despite having some tried and true favorites, she always manages to introduce me to some amazing new places.

On my very first trip to Athens four years ago, as I prepared to turn into her neighborhood for the very first time, I noticed that directly across from the entrance was a tiny shack-like building that appeared to be a restaurant. It was a smokehouse called Rooters. Since I love barbecue, I asked my BFF about it, but she said they hadn’t tried it since they didn’t have a single vegetarian option (a rarity in Athens). Her husband later told me that it was decent, but that their hours were so strange that he pretty much gave up trying to eat there.

About two years ago, right as I was preparing for our bi-annual trip to see her, I got an excited text from my BFF telling me that the BBQ joint was no more. In it’s place was an amazing little bakery she could not wait for me to try out.

And try it out I did.

Like its predecessor, Sweetie Pie has some annoying hours. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays and only open from 7:30-3:30 Tues-Sat. I also learned on that first trip if you are not one of the early birds, you completely miss out on one of their absolutely best treats: chocolate croissants. Now, I am a pretty huge fan of the chocolate croissant, no matter who makes it, but I have to say Sweetie Pie takes it to a whole other level. Wow…just wow!

But like I said, you have to get up pretty early in the morning to get them. The owner, Savie, only makes a limited amount and when they are gone, they are gone. Luckily she makes several other flavors of croissants that while not as good in this chocoholic’s opinion, are still completely worth it if you want to sleep in a little.

Much to my severe annoyance, my kids are pretty early risers. My daughter feels that 6 am is the perfect time to wake up, even on vacation. Now that she’s 7, I have made it very clear that unless the clock says 7:00 am, she is not allowed to get out of bed. And, if it doesn’t say at least 8:00, she is not allowed to wake me up. My son does like to sleep in a bit longer, but when he has to share a room with her on vacation, he tends to rise when she rises. The only time I have every been thankful for their insistence on rising before the sun even has the decency to start shining is when I get those chocolate croissants from Sweetie Pie.

Although my heart clearly belongs to those chocolate croissants, on this trip I decided to try something a bit different. This time I took a look at all the different cookies Savie had available in her case. Despite faithfully stopping in at least twice every visit, I’d only ever had croissants, scones, breads or cinnamon rolls before. I’d never actually tried any of her cookies and I thought this was the perfect chance to remedy this.

SP logoWhile Sweetie Pie features typical baked goods you’ll find in a lot of cafes like blueberry scones or pumpkin bread or almond croissants, Savie utilizes a lot of flavor combinations found in Asian desserts. She has taro root muffins, red bean croissants, Thai tea scones and green tea cupcakes. Although I have not tried them all,  the Thai tea scones and green tea cupcakes are excellent.

When I gazed at her cookie offerings, I found several rows of cookies both of the the very traditional variety: chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, pecan and the more exotic: sweet and salty, ginger turmeric and peanut butter and shallot. Yeah, you read that last one correctly, she offers a peanut butter and shallot cookie. And yes, I tried it.

I decided to order one of each cookie. While I knew there was no way I would be able to eat them all, since there were 5 of us in the house, I knew they wouldn’t go to waste. I also knew that I wouldn’t feel too guilty about trying just a couple of bites from each cookie. At least not over the course of a day or two.

And so later that afternoon, I embarked on an epic cookie tasting adventure. Eight cookies to try and eight cookies to write about.

I’ll start with the more traditional flavors. The chocolate chip cookie, which I worried might be a bit hard as it seemed a little on the thin side, was amazingly soft, buttery and just the perfect amount of chewiness. It was actually fairly light on the chocolate chips, which despite my love of chocolate, is what I prefer. It was very good, but might not be the best choice for someone with a true hankering for chocolate. My best friend, who loves her chocolate chip cookies filled to the brim with chocolate chips, thought it could use more.

The oatmeal raisin was exactly what I expected out of an oatmeal raisin cookie. It was sweet and buttery, with the perfect amount of raisins adding that burst of fruit with each bite. Oatmeal raisin cookies are always a favorite of mine and this one was great. I ended up eating most of this cookie during our epic Settlers of Catan battle the next night.

The pecan cookie, which was pretty big, was soft and chewy and very pecany. If you like nuts, this would be a great cookie for you. I’m actually not a huge fan of nuts in cookies, so while it was good, it would not be one I’d get again.

The pumpkin cookie, which actually had more to its official title which I could not remember once I got back to my BFF’s house (I think there might have been caramel in it too), was delightful. I know pumpkin spice gets a really bad rap, especially in the fall where it is pretty much in everything. Hell, I get annoyed by it myself. I think pumpkin spice Cheerios and Twinkies are pushing the envelope (and not in a good way). And don’t even get me started on the pumpkin spice dog breath freshener chewy things we saw at the pet store. However, as pumpkin pie is also an absolute favorite of mine, this cookie was nearly perfect.

SP choc malt cookieNow, onto some of the more unique flavors. My favorite of the all Sweetie Pie’s cookie offerings were ones I’d never tried in any other bakery before. My absolute favorite was probably the chocolate malt cookie. I’ve never actually  had a chocolate malt before. The closest I’ve come is like Whoppers malted milk balls–that’s similar, right? But this cookie was incredible. Once again, I was initially concerned about this one since it was so thin. I was positive it was going to be the type of cookie my BFF complains about Jittery Joe’s having. However, it was amazingly soft and chewy. It was also very, very chocolatey. I loved the light sprinkling of powdered sugar on the top of it (which amazingly did NOT come off all over my hands). It was light and buttery and reminded me a bit of chocolate fudge. However, it didn’t have that cloyingly sweet taste fudge often gets.

My second favorite cookie was the ginger turmeric. This cookie was the epitome of Fall to me. If I had to assign one taste to the season, it would not be pumpkin spice. It would be this cookie. It was chewy and had just the right amount of spicy ginger. It reminded me a bit of a molasses cookie, but it wasn’t as heavy or syrupy. If only the weather in Georgia would have dipped below 85 degrees, eating this cookie would have made me feel like Fall had finally arrived.

The sweet and savory cookie was not as savory as I worried it would be. The little tag with the cookie mentioned teriyaki as part of the flavor combination, so I was worried it would be too salty. However, it was mostly just very oatmealy. It actually reminded me way more of butterscotch than teriyaki. It probably didn’t hurt that it has the same slightly orange tint oatmeal scotchies have. It was a good cookie, but I liked the raisin version better.

Finally, I attempted the most intriguing, and admittedly potentially upsetting cookie: peanut butter and shallot. It definitely smelled like onions. It was an odd combo to say the least. The cookie itself didn’t taste like onions. It had an oniony after taste, but even that was fairly subtle. The peanut butter was also not overly pronounced. It was definitely a sweet cookie with slightly oniony hints. While I would probably never buy it again as it didn’t wow me, it actually wasn’t bad. Neither of my children were brave enough to try it (my daughter hates onions and she knows shallots are really just fancy onions), but my BFF and her husband did and they agreed it was not what they expected.

I am very depressed that my next visit to Athens will not be for another 5 months. Not just because I miss my BFF so terribly, but also because I won’t get any of Sweetie Pie’s amazing baked goods for a long time.

Overall:

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

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Free Reading Friday: Sous Chef

Sous ChefAlthough I am not generally a fan of reality TV, I am slightly obsessed with cooking shows. From Chopped, to Iron Chef, to The Next Food Network Star, to Cupcake Wars, if there is competitive food creation, they’ve grabbed my attention. My son always tells me that I should be on one of the food shows because he thinks I’m a great cook. While that is definitely flattering, not only have I come to cooking a bit late in life (really only after he was born), but I am also very much a recipe girl. I need solid directions I can follow and add just a bit of improv to. I randomly forget my cooking basics like how to boil an egg or corn on the cob. I definitely get more than a bit flustered when trying to put together a complicated main dish and any sides at the same time and timing is NEVER my friend in the kitchen.

That being said, I am fascinated by those who can do it all and do it well. Aside from dishing out popcorn at the local movie theater, I’ve never worked in the food industry, so it is a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve had several friends who have been members of wait staffs in restaurants, but most of them were in college and did not take their jobs very seriously. What goes on in the actual kitchen remains a bit of a mystery to me.

Michael Gibney’s book helped clear up some of the mystery.

From movies, TV and my one Facebook friend who actually works as a chef, I knew chefs put in long hours. However, until I read Sous Chef: 24 hours on the Line, I had no idea just how long those hours are. I did not realize that my 8 hours a day being bombarded with questions from teenagers and the additional two hours or so I spend each night working on grading and lesson planning pale in comparison with life on the line in a kitchen. The idea of going into work at 9 am and not finishing up until after midnight is appalling to me. Although Gibney explains that the early hours before the restaurant opens for business (in his case dinner M-F and additional brunches on the weekends) are a bit slow and contemplative, the constant barrage of work that descends on everyone in the kitchen mid-day is enough to make me thankful I’ve only ever been on the dining room side of the experience.

The kitchen hierarchy was fascinating to read about. All the individual jobs I had no idea even existed are knowledge I am glad I now have. I also like finally understanding what a sous chef really does.

Reading his first hand account of the craziness that does not manage to burst into complete chaos once the tickets start rolling in has given me a better perspective on why it sometimes takes longer than I think it should to get my food. It also helps explain why sometimes things on the plate are not perfectly executed. It has also made me rethink my stance on sending food back to the kitchen (although I rarely do).

While I haven’t actually eaten at a restaurant since finishing the book, I believe the next time I do, the knowledge Gibney has given me will not only improve my experience as a customer, but also my empathy for my fellow human beings.

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Throwback Thursday: Best friend time

Buldog side viewI write about my friends a lot. I can’t help it. They are the most amazing people in the world. They are my family and I cannot imagine my world without them. Unfortunately, the years have scattered us across the country. Of our core group of 5, only one of them still lives near me. One spends a great deal of his time hiking in Colorado, one is trying to uncover the seedy underbelly of cyber security in DC and one is teaching Victorian sci-fi and horror in Georgia.

This summer my best friend and I got to spend four days bumming around DC with our reporter friend. It was amazing since it was the first time I’ve gotten to visit him in his new hometown (and it’s been his hometown for over a decade…yeah, I know, bad friend).

Last month, we all got together for another for another glorious four days in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. We rented a beach house, stayed up late, went on ghost tours and generally had a blast.

Then, just last week I got to spend part of my fall break visiting with my best friend in Georgia. Sure, she still had classes to teach, but in between those classes, we got to hang out at the coffee shop, go shopping, take my kids on adventures, eat a lot of super tasty food AND, most importantly, watch our favorite girly movies and talk, talk, talk.

One of our very first stops was Jittery Joe’s, a local coffee chain that has 16 locations: Nine are in Athens, four are in other towns in Georgia, one is in Tennessee and very unpredictably, one is in Japan. Athens actually has a surprising number of local, sort of chain restaurants, which I think is cool.

Jittery Joe'sWhen my best friend used to live around the corner from me, we spent countless hours at our favorite local coffee shop. Although neither of us are huge coffee fans, if we tried to count up all the spiced chais we drank over long talks about every aspect of our life, we could probably fill a swimming pool..and I’m not talking about a dinky backyard pool either. Because my best friend lived right around the corner and our local coffee shop was just right around another corner, my kids practically grew up there. In fact, they are friends with the owners’ kids, so they always loved going to the coffee shop with us. They’d bring books or electronic devices, share a cookie and let us talk for hours.

At Jittery Joe’s, we all fell right back into our old habits. Well, almost. The barista accidentally made a pumpkin spice latte and offered it to me for free, which replaced my usual chai. I also had to change out my usual cookie for a chocolate croissant. JJ’s has cookies, but they are flat and sort of hard. On my very first trip to Athens, my BFF warned me not to be fooled by the cookies because I would be horribly disappointed. As we share nearly identical sweet teeth, I trusted her. Thankfully JJ’s does have some good brownies, muffins and some passable croissants. The kids were happy playing their devices and I was thrilled to get some major best friend time in.

When my BFF was not teaching and we were not hanging out with my kids, we got more quality time in watching (and partially talking through) some of our favorite shows and movies. After my kids go to bed, we have a habit of putting a show we both love and have seen 100 times like Friends on in the background. We usually start off watching the show, but then start talking. Before we know it, three or four episodes have gone by with us only catching about half of what is going on, but not even remotely caring. We also like to hang out, browse the internet and read fun bits of information to each other. On our last visit together (when she came to see me before DC), we spent several hours reading hilarious book summaries and reviews to each other on Amazon. Yeah, I know, we are total geeks, but we both teach literature for a living, so this is big fun for us.

We also continued our tradition of watching movies our husbands don’t really enjoy. We re-watched Bride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. We broke out into songs in several places and debated the hotness of William Darcy (played by Martin Henderson) and Balraj (played by Naveen Andrews). It was a hard call, but in most scenes we went for Andrews. Of course, that could be because of our undying love for his character Sayid from Lost. While the movie was playing I found myself looking up the actors to see what else they’d been in. When we found out Henderson had played Brittany Spears boyfriend in her “Toxic” video, we had to watch that as well.

My Cousin Rachel was also on our to view list. Neither of us had seen it before, but she’d read the Daphne du Maurier novel it is based on and really liked it. We both really liked the movie and it lead to a great debate about our thoughts on Rachel’s guilt. One thing I desperately miss about my BFF living 10 hours away is our discussions about movies, books and TV shows.

On my last night in Athens, we also kept up a long standing tradition of watching a Mystery Science Theater production. Every Friday her husband makes popcorn and they watch either a Rifftrax or an MST3K. This time it was The Final Sacrifice. Like all movies featured on MST3K, it was horrific, but the jokes of Mike Nelson and his robot pals made it a wonderful, laugh out loud night. I love watching one of these movies the night before I leave because it makes the leaving just a tiny bit easier. Or at least it distracts me from it.

Junkman'sThis trip we did not get to do nearly as much shopping as I’d like. We weren’t able to get a babysitter and since dragging my kids clothing shopping is worse than a root canal (or so I’m told, I’ve never had one, but my BFF assures me, having done both, that this is true), we only got to pop into one store. Usually we get a few hours to shop all our favorite places in downtown Athens and I go home with an outfit (or two) more than I arrived with. My BFF is the best person in the world to go shopping with. She gives me an honest opinion every time and encourages me to indulge, which is something I rarely do. I, on the other hand, keep her desire to spend too recklessly in check. We perfectly balance each other out. Plus, we have a lot of similar taste in clothes. Since there was no way we’d be able to enjoy clothing shopping together, the only store we got to go in is the Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother, a really strange and eclectic Athens institution. My kids love going in there because they have lots of unique items (and TOYS!). I love it for the same reason. The owner seemed really keen on showing us all the anti-Trump merchandise that had come in. I cackled a bit when he said the only good thing about Trump being elected was all the anti-Trump merch he was able to sell. I told him I was glad Trump was making someone happy.

As usual, the visit was over way too soon. It seemed like before I could blink it was time to load my car back up and head back home. My kids and I left at 7:30 in the morning and there were tears all around. My kids were crying because they were going to miss my BFF (and her amazing dog) so much. My BFF and I were sobbing because it will be five more months until we see each other again.

We’d gotten a bit spoiled seeing each other three times in the as many months and this stretch is going to be hard. Even though I know I will see her again on spring break and we will have an amazing time, it was just as hard to leave her on Saturday as it was the first time I pulled away from her house four years ago. She is my family and without her, home just doesn’t seem quite like home.

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Chocolate Monday: Condor Chocolate brownie

Condor brownie fullOne of my favorite parts of traveling is trying beloved local eateries. Of course, when my forays into new food gems include chocolate shops, I get even happier.

Recently my travels took me to Athens, Georgia, which is not only the home of my best friend in the universe, but also a ton of amazingly tasty places to eat. In fact, in 2013, Zagat named Athens one of the 7 up and coming food cities. In 2014, it was named the Best Foodie City for Groups by ConventionSouth Magazine. In 2016, Fortune Magazine named it one of America’s 10 New Best Craft Beer Cities. These accolades come in addition to all kinds of ones for just being a totally cool place to vacation, live and go to college. Oh, and it’s also host to some pretty cool musicians like The Indigo Girls, The B52’s and REM. My best friend told me that pretty much everyone she knows has seen Michael Stipe shopping at Earth Fare. Somehow she keeps missing him.

Not only did we spend the week eating at some totally amazing restaurants like Cali N Tito’s, The Grit, Kelly’s and Jittery Joe’s, but we also got a chance to stop by Condor Chocolates.

We originally tried to visit them on Monday, but like half the places in Athens, it seems Mondays are verboten. Seriously, pretty much every place in Athens is closed on Mondays and it is more than a bit annoying. Although our initial attempt was thwarted by a closed sign, since we never give up on chocolate, we went back on Thursday.

Condor chocolate sells chocolate bars, chocolate truffles, cloud boulders (chocolate covered marshmallows), toffee, bon bons, macarons, brownies, gelato and chocolate drinks. Since they have a variety of deserts, shakes, and sipping chocolates, they actually have a dine in cafe. Check out their menu here.

We’d already been out for quite some time and the kids were longing to return to my best friend’s house to play with her dog, so we got our treats to go. Of course I bought one of each of their truffles (which I will review at a later date). My best friend and son got cloud boulders, which they both loved. My son described his as a bit of fluffy chocolate heaven. My daughter got a passion fruit macaron and she was delighted. In the last year she has become obsessed with macarons. I think this is largely due to some macaron shaped erasers she got from the summer reading program.

In addition to my box of truffles, I also snagged one of their brownies. Since Condor chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate shop (and cafe) and the owners are brothers whose mother was from Ecuador, all of their chocolate is from Ecuador and most of it is fairly dark chocolate.

Any regular readers of this blog know that I am not exactly on the dark chocolate fan bus. It’s only been in the last 10 years I’ve even been able to tolerate it and even then I get really picky about it. But, because chocolate is a passion, I am trying my hardest to learn to truly appreciate it in all of its forms.

Plus, who doesn’t love a brownie?

My best friend, as it turns out.

That’s ok, more brownie for me. My first bite was not the best. While completely moist (ugh, I hate that word) and chewy, it wasn’t the velvety milk chocolate brownie I was hoping for. Granted, since it is advertised as a dark chocolate brownie, it was totally unreasonable for me to have that expectation, but a lifetime of eating brownies has prepared me for velvety, milky happiness.

My second bite was better. And so was the third. I got used the the slightly bitter bite of the chocolate. The more bites I took also meant more bits of sea salt to balance out the very heavy, very dark chocolate of the brownie. Despite it’s darkness, thanks to the small chunks of dark chocolate in the brownie, it actually had a fairly creamy, if slightly bitter taste.

It was insanely rich and there was no way I could eat it all in one sitting. While not gigantic, it is a large brownie and both its denseness and richness make it a treat I think most people would find hard to eat on their own–at least in one sitting. I actually divided it into four servings, which was about all I could handle at a time.

Sure, I’ll admit that I ate one of those servings for breakfast, but that’s one of the glorious bits about being an adult. As long as my kids don’t see me, I can totally eat a brownie for breakfast!

Although this brownie is definitely a treat I had to portion up and could not eat large quantities of, I’m glad I tried it. It was tasty and really started to grow on me. On my next visit to Athens, I might even try it again. Of course I might also have to get some of their toffee because I LOVE me some toffee!

Overall:

Appearance: 8/10
Taste: 7/10
Value: 8/10 (at $5 a pop, it seems pricey, but since I got four servings from it, I think it’s a pretty good value).

 

 

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Chocolate Monday: Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch

Hershey's Cookie Layer CrunchI was rushing through Kroger with my kids the other day, trying to pick up my daughter’s prescription when we happened to pass one of those stand up displays that divides the central walkway in half. You know the displays, the ones that guarantee that if you come around a corner and get stuck behind someone pushing their cart at a snail’s pace, you’ll be stuck in the store forever. They are the concrete dividing walls of the grocery world.

Thankfully this trip we were sans cart and we could zip around the horde of shoppers all trying to grab those final ingredients for dinner.

As I started to pass on the left, a glint of orange caught my eye. I’d seen the Hershey’s cookie bars before, but only the mint chocolate and vanilla creme ones. Not that I’m too good for either mint chocolate or vanilla creme, but at first glance they hadn’t stood out and screamed, “TRY ME!”

I’d picked up the mint bar before as mint chocolate chip is one of my favorite taste combinations, but it’s dark chocolate. I’m not a fan of really good, high end dark chocolate and I am REALLY not a fan of cheap dark chocolate. To be honest, aside from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I’ve never been a huge Hershey girl, and I have never liked those little Hershey’s dark miniatures. While vanilla creme is admittedly more up my alley, I just got the impression it would be like a cookies and cream bar and I’ve never been a huge fan of that flavor combination either.

So I’ve passed by many a Cookie Crunch display.

This time though, I saw the orange sparkle that almost always announces caramel. I paused in front of the display, staring at the package. Should I? Caramel and chocolate is a must have on any sweet list I make. Surprisingly it was not the caramel that sold me. It was the bits of shortbread cookie. One of my favorite candy bars of all time, Twix, mixes delicious caramel, chocolate and shortbread, so this one had to be a winner too, right?

Hershey's cookie midshotThe chocolate is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Hershey’s: inoffensive, nondescript chocolate. I know many people love Hershey’s chocolate. One of my grandmother’s absolute joys in life was a simple Hershey bar. She didn’t even want almonds mucking up her bliss. For me, the only truly good use for a Hershey bar is in a s’more. Other than that, I have little use for them. The chocolate is fine, but it’s just that: fine.

And that’s what this chocolate was, fine. I was a bit disappointed that the shortbread was just in small bits throughout the bar. I wanted a little more cookie in my cookie crunch bar. I wanted it to have that distinct Twix-like crunch and this bar is kind of lacking on the crunch element. The shortbread is fine, but it seems to provide more texture than flavor. And it’s placement is spotty so some bites didn’t even have that much shortbread in them, which was a disappointment.

Hershey's cookie close upI wasn’t quite sure from the picture on the front what to expect as far as caramel consistency goes. One thing I love about caramel is the way that different companies change up both the flavor and the texture. I love ooey-gooey caramel. I love rich buttery caramel. I love thick, chewy caramel. Pretty much any form caramel comes in, I love. The caramel in this bar was a bit uneven. In the first bite it was almost completely absent. I got a slight hint of it, but not enough to even figure out what type of caramel I was dealing with. The second bite was better. It had more caramel flavor and I was able to tell that the texture was thicker than a Caramello, but more liquidy than a Turtle. The consistency of it was good, but apparently in the piece I was eating most of it had somehow managed to pool at one end. When I got to that end, there was a ton of caramel and it was by far the most enjoyable bite.

The flavors meshed ok, but I felt over all the entire bar, which I had high hopes for was just ok. There’s nothing really negative about it, but also nothing really positive. It just sort of is. It’s better than a Hershey bar, but if I really want this flavor combination, I’ll save the $2 extra dollars (and change) and just get a Twix.

Overall:

Taste: 5/10
Appearance: 4/10
Value: 4/10

 

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Throwback Thursday: Friendcations

IoPI recently returned from a glorious and much needed friendcation at the Isle of Palms, South Carolina. For those of you who don’t understand my completely made up word, a friendcation is a vacation taken by a group of amazingly close best friends who, thanks to the cruel hands of time and career, have been flung all over the country and rarely get to see each other.

My particular group of best friends found each other in college. We all met in various ways during our freshmen year of college and quickly became inseparable. The core group of us are all from more than slightly dysfunctional families (and all but one of us have divorced parents). We went to college seeking knowledge, but it turns out we were looking for a bit more. We were looking for family.

And that’s exactly what we found. I have lived every significant event in my life with these people. I’ve also lived most of the very insignificant ones with them. At several times in my life, I think they are the only reason I kept going. I know with absolute certainty that I would not be who I am today without them. I also know that I cannot begin to thank them for all they’ve done for me or to express to them just how much I love them. But luckily, I know I’ll never have to. They already know. It’s part of what makes us, us.

Not only are we close emotionally, but for most of our adult lives, we’ve lived close to each other as well. Up until 4 years ago when she finally landed her dream job as a professor of literature at a wonderful university, my best friend in the entire universe lived right around the corner from me. Not long before then, another one of my besties and his girlfriend moved out to Arizona (and then Colorado) so that she could pursue her dream of getting her PhD in psychology. The third in our group actually moved away much earlier to pursue a career in political journalism in Washington, DC, but since he still has family in the state, we saw him a few times a year.

As of now, there are only two of us still in Indiana and it breaks my heart on a regular basis.

Thankfully, two years ago my Colorado bestie and his girlfriend decided to get hitched. Rather than have some crazy elaborate wedding with hundreds of guests, they invited only their closest friends and family members for four days of merry making and celebrating. We all jumped on planes and piled into the biggest, nicest vacation home I’ve ever stepped foot in for one of the best long weekends of my life. Not only did I have the honor of seeing two people I love very much vow to love each other forever (in a gorgeous lake side ceremony in the mountains), but I got to spend 4 solid days with the people I love most in this world (well, at least outside of my immediate family).

Over the course of those four days we tried to escape from a Phantom of the Opera-themed escape room, went on the best scavenger hunt ever, saw a fantastic burlesque show, played drunken Street Fighter at a video game bar, ate a ton of amazing food, helped prepare a few million pounds of food with very dull knives, had drinks at a super swanky bar I do not think we belonged in, played trivia, partied until hours of the morning I’d forgotten existed outside of shoving a bottle into a baby’s mouth, had some funky eggs benedict (my favorite breakfast food) at a super groovy brunch place, and ya know, went to a wedding.

It was so fantastic that we all decided we had to do it again.

DestinSo last year, right smack in the middle of September, my best friends and my Colorado besty’s wife’s best friends found ourselves barreling toward Destin, Florida. Once again we rented a HUGE house. This time it had not only a hot tub, but also a pool. The weather was gorgeous and we spent four days playing on the beach, swimming, hot tubbing, racing go-karts, chasing each other on water bumper boats, eating amazing food, playing D&D (did I mention we are all geeks to the core?), singing karaoke, and biking around town. It was amazing.

When it was time to get back in the car and drive home, I didn’t want to. I knew that the second the car pulled away I would start missing them all so much. And I did.

I went back to work the next day and thankfully it was a silent reading day in two of my classes (the entire period isn’t silent reading, just 25 minutes). I’d just started a new book called Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma. I didn’t really know anything about the book, but I loved the cover. It turns out that in many cases you can judge a book by its cover. In the first few pages of the book I knew I’d found the perfect book for me. The book centers on four best friends who met in college. Four friends who became family and still lived near each other, supporting each other through everything. I swear Jansma wrote this book about my friends.

As soon as silent reading time was over and my students started journaling, I logged onto my personal email (something I rarely do at school) and sent my friends a message containing a quote from page 5 that perfectly described us: “Sometimes we missed those who hadn’t come to the city with us–or those who had gone to other, different cities. Sometimes we journeyed to see them, and sometimes they ventured to see us. Those were the best of times, for we were all at home and not at once. Those were the worst of times, for we inevitably longed to all move here or there, yet no one ever came–somehow only left. Soon we were practically alone.”

It was like Jansma knew us. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once.

This year, we once again got to take our friendcation. This time, we landed in Isle of Palms, SC. We all stayed in the beach house my sister-in-law owns. Although it lacks a private pool, it is right next to the ocean, so we still managed to have lots of fun. We explored downtown Charleston, went on a ghost tour, tried out a gastro pub, played D&D again, sipped super fancy beers in a roof top bar that one of my friends joked we were not young or pretty enough to be in before leaving to go to a complete dive bar where we were definitely the best looking people, and sang karaoke. Most importantly, we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking and laughing and having the most fun in the world together. One of the best parts is that I actually flew into Atlanta so that I could ride to SC with my best friend, her husband and our wonderful reporter friend, which meant a full day of very exhausting traveling, but one spent with the best people.

On the way to the airport, we started making plans for next year. We all want to see the Big Easy, so I hope we can make it happen. I know that no matter what is going on in my life, I will make this next trip a priority. I miss my people too much not to.

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Chocolate Monday: Tcho orange + toffee

Tcho orange toffee packageI am a sucker for toffee, pretty much in any form it takes. I’m also a big fan of chocolate and orange fusions. In fact one of the few ways I truly enjoy dark chocolate is if it is paired with orange or raspberry. So, when I was shopping at World Market and saw Tcho’s orange + toffee bar, I knew I had to try it.

A few years ago while thumbing through a magazine at my dentist’s office, I saw an article about Tcho chocolate. The flavors sounded amazing and I was heavy into my chocolate Monday blogs, so I pulled out my phone, used my notepad function (why I didn’t just take a picture of the magazine page still perplexes me) and wrote down the company name with the intention of finding their chocolate bars and reviewing them. For some reason, I did not follow through.

Recently I’ve noticed Tcho chocolate bars at my local Kroger. I thought about picking some up, but I already had several chocolate bars waiting to be reviewed at home, so each time I’d go down the candy aisle, I’d look wistfully at them and keep on pushing my cart. When I was at World Market though, the bright, shiny orange wrapper really grabbed my attention and caused me to pause and rethink the purchase. It wasn’t just the packaging I fell for though, the lure of toffee was just too strong.

tcho full barActually, I’m not sure if it was the pull of toffee so much as it was the giant question mark that appeared in my head when I tried to imagine why anyone would pair toffee and orange together. Toffee and chocolate I totally get. Orange and chocolate I also completely understand. But toffee, orange and chocolate? This seemed like some sort of sorcery to me. I had to try it.

My very first bite had me pleasantly surprised. Despite being a dark chocolate bar, it was not overly bitter, which is my universal complaint against most forms of dark chocolate. As I let the first bite melt onto my tongue (which it did), my mouth was flooded with the bright burst of citrus. This is definitely an orange chocolate bar. The toffee flavor is much more subtle. Actually, it’s almost non-existent. To me the only real contribution the toffee gives this bar is a tiny crunch. Still, it’s a nice crunch. It’s not overly crunchy or Pop-rocky as toffee can be when it is thrown in rather gratuitously. When I manage to separate out the toffee, I notice it has a slight buttery taste to it, which I think just balances the bitterness of the chocolate and tames the citrus just a tad.

This is definitely a bar I prefer to savor by letting it slowly dissolve on my tongue. The flavors are just brighter and more pleasurable when they melt than when they are chewed. This bar is a great introduction to Tcho and has me wanting to try more from them. I know that on Sunday when I head to Kroger to get my groceries, I’ll be adding another Tcho bar to my cart. Probably the mint chocolate one.

Overall:

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

 

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