Category Archives: food

Chocolate Monday: Sanders Favorites

Sanders fullMy gym is directly next door to Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market, which is especially convenient when I’ve forgotten an ingredient I need for dinner. Although it doesn’t happen very often, it is nice to be able to just pop next door, especially since the grocery store right around the corner from my house has gone out of business.

The only downside to Fresh Thyme is that no matter what time of day I go in that building, there is always a line at the checkout and it moves exceedingly slowly. While it does make me uncomfortable, as I am usually still sweating a bit from my workout (and I hate being smelly in public), it also gives me more than enough time to check out all the impulse buys by the register.

On a recent trip to grab the cauliflower I’d forgotten at Kroger that same morning, I was stuck behind a family who only had a few items to scan, but a lot of questions for the cashier about the prices of their items. Luckily, a few pieces of brightly colored cellophane caught my eye: I spied chocolate.

In a tiny plastic container were individual treats from Sanders Candy. I’d never heard of this company before, so I figured my overly long wait was a sign from the cocoa gods that there was a possible treasure to be discovered. I grabbed one of each chocolate to take home.

Sanders turtleFirst up was the Chocolate Pecan Tortie…in other words…a turtle. My step-mom used to be absolutely crazy about any brand of turtle. Yes, I realize that technically there is only one turtle brand of turtle, but it’s pretty much a universal term for anything chocolate, caramel and pecan that comes in a small, turtle-like shaped lump. In fact, when I was first learning to make my own chocolates, I learned how to make turtles just for her (they are amazingly simple). While everyone else in my family got a box of assorted truffles and filled candies I made, she got a box of nothing but turtles and was thrilled.

Sanders’ turtle is pretty much what you expect out of a turtle. Chocolaty, chewy and a bit crunchy. The pecans were actually fairly small, so there was just enough to get stuck in my teeth with the caramel, but not quite enough to really give it a truly nutty taste. It was a perfectly ok turtle, but nothing to write home about. Turtles have never really been one of my favorite chocolate treats, but I like them just fine. And I’d say that’s what this one was…just fine.

Sanders caramelNext up was the Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel. Sea salt caramels are an absolute favorite of mine, which is why I saved this one for last. What can I say? I’m a save the best for last kind of gal. At first glance, I didn’t see any sea salt on this chocolate at all, which was rather annoying as the picture on the package shows a few dozen shiny pieces of salt on top of the candy. It was only after I took a bite that I saw a few grains. I generally like my sea salt caramel to have a heavier dose of salt. I don’t want it to be potato chip salty, but at least enough so that every bite has a bite to it and I truly get to experience the sweet and salty.

It was chocolaty and chewy and had just a tiny hint of sea salt, but once again, it was just fine. There is nothing wrong with fine chocolate. I’d take either one of these pieces over a plain ol’ Hershey bar any day. If a student gave them to me as a gift or I got them in my Christmas stocking, I’d eat them and be ok with them. I just wouldn’t seek either of them out again. They were too much like so many other company’s versions that nothing about them stood out.

Overall:

Taste: 5/10
Appearance: 3/10
Value: 4/10 (Each piece was about .75).

 

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Chocolate Monday: World Market Dark Chocolate with Fig Pistachio Filling

fig and pistachio whole barOne of the many reasons I love when my best friend comes to town is that she gives me a good excuse to go to stores that I love, but don’t often go to. World Market is a perfect example. Although there is a store located about 20 minutes from my house, it’s in another town and about the only time I go up there is when my kids have swimming. Since swimming nights are always such a rush, we really don’t have time to just pop into World Market to browse. Especially not when my kids love it and always ask for, well, just about everything. Trying to convince my daughter that she does not, in fact, need a bottle opener, even if it is shaped like a monkey, can be difficult.

But when my best friend wanted to go, it was the perfect chance to get out of the house and visit a favorite store.

Although I love the fun furniture and housewares at WM, my favorite part of going is always checking out the food aisles. I love all the international offerings as well as the funky, fun snacks they always have.

And I simply adore their chocolate selection. No visit to World Market is complete unless my basket has at least half a dozen different types of chocolate in it. On this particular trip I found a few tasty looking new treats to try.

fig and pistachio wrapperThe first one I grabbed was a World Market brand dark chocolate bar with fig pistachio filling. Although I am not a huge dark chocolate fan, I am trying to expand my horizons and find more dark chocolate I enjoy. Buying dark chocolate is always a risk for me. If it is paired with something super tart, like raspberry or lemon, I generally enjoy it. However, when it is paired with merely sweet or nutty flavors, I am often not a huge fan. Although neither figs nor pistachios are particularly tart, I love them both, so I figured this might be a risk worth taking.

The chocolate itself has the usual bitterness of dark chocolate. It is not so dark that I cannot eat it, but it is dark enough that I wouldn’t want to eat more than a small square of it on its own. The filling, which is supposed to be a mix of figs and pistachio has a very slight sweetness to it, which does offset the dark chocolate, but only very mildly. The filling has the grittiness of figs, but I had real trouble tasting any pistachio in it. There is a very slight creaminess to it that reminds me a teeny tiny bit of pistachios, but I’m not sure if that’s really there or if I’m trying to make some sort of connection.

fig and pistachio close upI gave my husband a square of the bar as well. He is the biggest pistachio fan I’ve ever met (he once even owned a pet chameleon named Pistachio). Without even a word from me, he commented, “Well, I can kind of taste the fig, but I don’t taste any pistachio.” My husband is not really a chocoholic, but he does like dark chocolate more than I do. He liked the piece but said he couldn’t eat an entire bar. Neither could I.

My kids both really liked it, but they also go gaga over plain ol’ Hershey bars and those cheap gold coins Santa leaves them in their stockings each year. My son has also eaten chocolate covered insects, so I’m not sure his love of it is quite the ringing endorsement it may initially seem.

Overall:

Taste: 4/10 (the flavors were too subtle for me)
Appearance: 6/10 (the packaging was very pretty and the bar was appetizing)
Value: 4/10 (the bar is about $4 for two servings, but I know I won’t eat any more of it)

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Throwback Thursday: Travel mugs

owlI have lost another travel mug. I don’t quite understand how I have done this, but this is the second mug I’ve lost in the past two years. And once again, it is not one of the random travel mugs students or extended family members have gotten me as gifts.

This mug was one from my children’s first school. It was not only easy to carry and easy to clean, but also the exact perfect size to hold the water I heat up for my tea in my Keurig. I don’t actually make the tea in the Keurig…I think it’s too weak that way, but I get the hot water from my Keurig and the mug that has gone missing perfectly held one run on the medium fill and one on the small.

Although I did love this mug, it was not quite as important as the first one I lost. The first one, which I’d had for several years, was full of pictures of my kids and my dad, who has passed away. I know exactly where I left it: at an education conference on a university campus. When I realized it was gone the next day, I knew I’d never see it again. I lost it the Tuesday before Thanksgiving break and the only reason the building was open was because of our meeting. I knew everyone would be gone until Monday and that by the time I called about it, some janitor would have tossed it. I was right.

I should be clear that I am not someone who loses things often. I may misplace my keys for a few minutes or forget where I set something down in my house, but I never just leave things behind. So to do it twice, in two years, is a big deal. Especially since I used these mugs all the time. I had the one with my kids on it for about 3 years and the one from my kids’ school for 6.

The only upshot to losing my mug is that I had to use one of those generic mugs someone got me as a gift. It is not a great mug: it’s too heavy, is not insulated so it gets way too hot and is a sort of ugly plaid color. The reason I’m calling this an upshot is because I do get to use the adorable drink koozie one of my best friends got me a few years back. She bought it not just because it was adorable, but also because an owl was the mascot for my kids’ school. Every day when I see it on my desk in my classroom, it makes me smile.

So even though I’m drinking from a new mug, I get to see my old friend the owl every day.

 

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Wildcard Wednesday: Dieting update

popcornersI’ve been doing this whole eating better and exercising bit for 18 days now. I know that isn’t long, but considering the last few times I’ve tried to start I’ve quit before I even made it a full week, I’m feeling pretty good about my chances this time.

Not only have I kept my calories below 1600 every day for the past 18 (usually below 1400), I’ve been to the gym for 16 of the last 18 days. Each day I did 30 minutes of exercise on either the Arc Trainer, the elliptical, the treadmill or the stationary bike. I alternated each day so I never did the same activity twice in a row.

I knew I was going to have to ease myself back into this routine, which is why I started off at 1600 calories. If the last 30 so years of dieting and exercise have taught me anything, it’s that I don’t really like dieting or exercising, so if I am going to commit, I have to trick myself into doing it. Rather than jump back in all the way, slashing my calories by, well…let’s just say a large percentage, I have to dip my toes in and slowly warm up to this diet.

Right now I feel like not only are my toes in, but starting yesterday, I took my first step toward submerging myself in this diet. I dropped my calories to 1500 per day and upped my exercise to 35 minutes.

Image1In my 18 days, I’ve lost 3 pounds, which is really helping to motivate me. I’ve also cleaned out a lot of the junk food in my house and replaced it with healthier choices. I am CRAZY about chips and salsa. I know that while salsa is a great diet option, chips are a big no no. I know myself too well…one serving of tortilla chips is never enough.

As it happens, I was at World Market the other day and happened upon some fun, low calories snacks. One of the bags I grabbed was Salt of the Earth Popcorners by Our Little Rebellion. Not only are these delicious on their own, but dipped in salsa they taste a lot like tortilla chips. However, one ounce, which is a HUGE serving, has only 110 calories. I can heap them with salsa and get away with a snack that has about 150 calories. Tasty, satisfying and surprisingly filling. I also tried the same company’s Spicy Salsa Bean Crisps and fell in love. They have some nice heat to them and are also great dipped in salsa.

I did have a bit of a set back today though. I was craving a cheeseburger. I wanted one so badly. We’d been stuck in traffic on the way home from school for over an hour and I caved. I stopped at the McDonald’s drive-thru and got a burger and fries. However, thanks to my calorie conscious breakfast and lunch, I still have 130 calories left for the day–not that I plan to use them. A burger and fries were a big enough treat.

My ultimate goal is to lose 50 pounds. However, I think that might be more than a bit ambitious. I did it once before, but I was an awful lot younger back then. And I didn’t have children, so I could be more flexible with my diet and my workouts.

Still, I think I can at least lose 20, which would make all of my clothes fit better. I might even be able to drop 30, which would be my pre-second baby weight.

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Chocolate Monday: David’s Tea “Just Peachy” tea-infused chocolate bar

David's Tea close upIt took my most of my adult life to start liking tea. My step-dad loved cheap old Lipton iced tea, so we always had it in the house. Try as I might, I couldn’t stand the smell of it, much less the taste.

I tried tea again in high school, this time at the insistence of one of my best friends. I was losing my voice and we had a big show choir concert coming up, so she made me hot tea with honey. I choked it down…and I am not exaggerating, it was a struggle to drink it. Plus, when one cup didn’t magically cure me, I stopped trying it and went back to lozenges and Chloraseptic.

In college one of my boyfriends was addicted to a Chinese buffet place. Although I have never been an enthusiastic eater of Chinese food,* he could eat it almost daily. So, we compromised on once every few weeks, which meant way more time than I would have liked in that buffet line. I did, however, like the sugar donuts. I also took another chance on tea because it was free and we were broke. This time it was green tea and I found that if I dumped enough sugar in it, I could actually stand the taste of it. Of course, enough sugar was usually three packets in that tiny little cup, so I pretty much voided any potential health benefits from it.

A few years later, during another bout with illness, a friend brought me some peppermint tea and again, with the help of my friend sugar, I could not only drink it, but actually like it. It became my new cold/sore throat aid.

It wasn’t until I went on my super big diet in my late 20’s (when I lost 50 lbs), that I actually learned to like tea. I had to give up all sugary drinks and even though I still hate coffee to this day, giving up drink calories meant basically giving up my spiced chai lattes. I had to find an alternative and it came in the form of tea. Of course, since I had cut out most of my sugar, I added a bit of Splenda instead, and viola! I liked tea.

I am now a bit of a tea fiend, usually going through at least two travel mug-sized servings a day. Which means I spend a lot of time in tea stores.

david's tea packageAnd it is this time spent in tea stores that brought me to my latest find: David’s Tea’s tea-infused chocolate bars.

I first stumbled into the store after a visit to their competitor Teavana. I had no idea the mall I was at had two tea stores, but I needed a Godiva fix and David’s Tea opened up a mere two shops down from my chocolate mecca. Since the new tea shop was on my way to Godiva and it was full of bright, eye-popping colors AND they were offering free tea samples, I had to stop in.

I’m glad I did, because I fell in LOVE with their teas. When I was paying for my first batch of tea, I couldn’t help but notice the equally brightly colored boxes of chocolate right next to the register. I didn’t grab one then. After all, I had to make sure I liked the tea first, but I definitely looked at all the flavors.

I’ve been eyeing these bars ever since. Finally, on a recent trip, I noticed this peachy chocolate on sale and I figured what the heck. I might as well try it. I happen to really love peach flavored tea. I’ve never really had any peach flavored chocolate before, but I also love peaches, so I thought it might be an undiscovered gem.

David's tea full barThe bar is pretty thick. It’s separated into five distinct segments, each with the name of the tea shop on it. It’s not particularly interesting to look at. The back has a few little “bumps” where I assume peach or tea bits are, but for the most part it is pretty smooth. The chocolate itself doesn’t smell very peachy.

At first I didn’t get much of a peach flavor either. It’s definitely got a creamy milk chocolate texture. Letting it slowly dissolve in my mouth gave me a vague hint of peach, but nothing too grabbing. With the next bite I decided to really just bite into it. When I did, got a burst of peach that tasted not so much like a fresh summer peach, but exactly like a mug of peach tea, which has been slightly sweetened (these days I sweeten with Stevia). That’s when I noticed the gritty texture of actual tea leaves in the chocolate. It was a bit unsettling at first. After all, it sort of remind me of chewing on a twig, but once I got over that, I enjoyed it.

Subsequent bites were not quite as infused with peach flavor. It seems the peach tea portions are spread out so that for the most part it was creamy chocolate with just the tiniest hint of peach and then BOOM! full peach tea flavor.

It was definitely a unique tasting experience and I’m glad I tried it. I really want to try their milk chocolate macaroon bar as their chocolate macaroon tea is one of my absolute favorites. If the bar really has the flavor of the tea the way this peachy one does, I’m guessing it’ll be quite good.

Overall:

Taste: 7/10
Appearance: 5/10
Value: 8/10 (this bar was on sale for half price, so it was only $3, which is a good price for quality chocolate. At full value I’d give it a 6/10)

*I know I sound really picky here, but honestly, aside from Chinese food and lima beans, there’s not much I try to avoid. And I will eat Chinese food, it’s just never my go to and I always feel I could have eaten something tastier, like Thai food or Japanese food. I’ll also eat lima beans if they are in something…like soup. On their own those beans are dead to me.

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Chocolate Monday: Co Co Sala

Coco closeThis might be my last post about my DC trip, which I’ll admit makes me a bit sad. While I only spent four days there, they were four really fun days. On our last morning in town, just hours before our plane was to depart, my best friend and I took one more rather purposeful stroll around town. On our very first day, while waiting for our DC friend to wake up, we spent a few hours walking around and doing some light shopping. As part of our walking adventure, we stumbled on a chocolate shop. Sadly, it was closed when we first passed by, but we thought we’d give it one more try before we headed home.

This time it was open, so we headed in to Co Co Sala. It wasn’t until I got back home and actually looked up the company online that I realized it was not only a chocolate boutique but also a full fledged restaurant, complete with some pretty amazing sounding desserts. It’s probably better for my waistline that I didn’t know this because I think we might have just had dessert for dinner one night.

The boutique itself was pretty spartan. There were only a small handful of their signature chocolates on display in the front case. Most of them were dark pieces, so I wasn’t instantly excited about them. The two pieces I was interested in were out of stock. Behind them was a shelf of their Co Co Bars. There were only five to pick from in the store, although their website offers 9. That day my choices were: dark, milk, blonde, Some More (s’more) and Dulcey Pearl. Looking at the website, I really wish the Frankly, My Dear bar would have been in stock because it seems right up my alley.

CoCo full with beadsAlthough I usually love anything s’more inspired, since it was dark chocolate, I decided to try the Dulcey Pearl bar. The three different types of chocolate “pearls” really made this bar appeal to me. I also liked that the descriptive card said it was “An elegant blond chocolate bar reminiscent of dulce de leche.” I love dulce de leche, so I figured this one was a good risk.

Despite being a “blond” bar, this one does not have the overly sweet taste that often comes with white chocolate. I like white chocolate in moderation, but find that far too many of white chocolate bars have an overly sweet, almost artificial taste to them. This bar does not. It does have slight undertones of caramel, but they are only the vaguest hint. Mostly, this bar is just super creamy and quite delightful. I like the added little crisp from the “pearls.” They don’t really alter the taste much, but they give the bar a fun texture. Sort of like eating a “crispy” bar, but without the constant crisp, which allows for a smoother, creamier texture.

CoCo with nameI also think the bar was attractive to look at. Not only was the front of it fun with all of those little pearls and the simple, but attractive logo, but the back was also enticing. Although it was simply a bigger version of the logo, I though the cluster of pearls at the top was cute. The packaging is simple and elegant. I think it would make a lovely gift.

After trying this bar, I definitely wish Co Co Sala had had a few more offerings that morning we popped into the shop. I know the next time I make it to DC, I will definitely pop in not just for another bar (or two), but also to try some of their food, especially their desserts.

Overall:

Taste: 9/10
Appearance: 9/10
Value: 7/10 (although it is tasty, at $10 a bar, it is still a bit pricey)

 

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Wildcard Wednesday: Back on the treadmill again

I do not like to exercise. I have never liked to exercise. And, no matter how hard people try to convince me that if I just get into the regular habit of it I will start to enjoy exercising, I know this is not true. I know this is not true because people have also tried to convince me that I will learn to like coffee and beer and after a great many years trying all three, I can say with absolute certainty that I dislike all of them. Not equally, but still, my dislike for each is strong.

This means that in my life I avidly avoid coffee and beer and for the last year or so, I’ve been pretty good at avoiding exercise as well. The avoidance of coffee and beer actually has real benefits both for my overall health and my waistline. The avoidance of exercise…well, not so much.

While I’m not actively avoiding exercise the way I am coffee and beer, for the last few months, my excuses for not exercising have really been piling up and are, quite frankly, lame. They are also partially to blame for the fact that over the last year it’s gotten harder and harder, and in some cases impossible, to fit into my favorite clothes. Hell, it’s gotten harder and harder to fit into some of my clothes I don’t even really like anymore. My “fat” jeans are now my every day jeans.

And that’s a problem.

I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. I’ve tried a variety of crazy diets and even did some probably beyond questionable things to keep my weight down. Thankfully at this point in my life I am old enough and sensible enough to realize that the only “diet” that has ever truly worked for me is counting calories and exercising.

About 15 years ago, I was at the heaviest point of my life. That summer I took a group of students on a trip to London during what turned out to be a horrific heat wave. We’d all packed for the 70 degree weather that historical trends and forecasts were promising, only to arrive to 8 days of 90+ temps. Not only that, but the tour company I booked with had us on daily forced marches. We’d be out and about the city by 9 am and wouldn’t be back at our hotel until about 9 pm. Some of that time was spent on buses that were more akin to saunas, but most of it was spent walking, walking, walking. We were so hot and so tired and probably so dehydrated (they do not have the never ending supply of water in restaurants that we do in the US), that none of us really had much of an appetite.

When I got back from my London adventure (which despite my description above was one of the best times of my life), I was 10 pounds lighter. And I knew exactly why: I’d hardly eaten and I’d walked and walked and walked.

This adventure kicked off my most successful diet ever. For countless months to follow, I lived on no more than 1300 calories each day and went to the gym at my apartment complex at least 4 times a week. It took awhile, but I dropped 50 pounds, which meant I was at my lowest weight since my junior year of high school. It was glorious.

And I kept that weight off for almost five years. Then I got pregnant with my son. After he was born I managed to lose all but 5 pounds of my baby weight, and I was ok with that. I kept that off…until I got pregnant with my daughter. After she was born I managed to lose all but 5 pounds of my baby weight again, so I was still only 10 pounds up. I had to go up a size, but that size was really steady for about 5 years.

Over this last two years it’s been slowly creeping again. I stepped on the scale last week and was appalled to see that while I was yet up to my absolute heaviest, I was only 5 pounds shy of it.

So here I am, back on the treadmill again. Well, actually I’m alternating between the Arc Trainer, the exercise bike, the elliptical and the treadmill, but you get my meaning. I’ve re-opened my My Fitness Pal account so that I can track my caloric intake and my exercise. I’ve set reasonable starting goals for myself: 1600 calories per day and 120 minutes of exercise each week. I’m ignoring the calorie adjustment the program gives me for my exercise and strictly adhering to my calorie goal. In the six days I’ve been working on this, my calorie count has been below 1400 each day and I have 130 minutes (I plan to do 30 more today).

My plan is to lower my calorie limit to 1500 per day and up my exercise to 130 minutes per week starting 8/1. Then in September, I’ll put it down to 1400 calories and 140 minutes. By October I want to keep things at 1300 calories and 150 minutes. Once I’m there I hope I can stick with it until I get things back under control.

I know this will not be easy, but I have to do it. I want to be healthy.

 

 

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