Category Archives: my friends

Chocolate Monday: Condor Chocolates

Condor chocolates full boxOn my most recent trip to Athens, Georgia, my best friend and I stopped by Condor Chocolates. While we were there, not only did I get a very delicious dark chocolate brownie, but also a box of their 8 filled chocolates.

Condor is a cute, family owned chocolate shop founded by two brothers whose mother came from Ecuador, which is also where they get all their chocolate from.

Although I am not a big fan of dark chocolate, I always like to support local chocolate shops and every now and then I find a dark chocolate I really love, so I figured I had to give this chocolate collection a shot.

When I opened the box I thought the chocolates were all simply, but elegantly decorated. I had a moment of worry though–I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell the chocolates apart. It’s not like I could eat all 8 at once. Ok, that’s a lie, I could do it, but as it would make me sick, I knew I shouldn’t. So, when I opened the box a day later, the only one I was sure about was the raspberry chocolate. The little red dots on top, which look like individual raspberry seeds, was a dead give away.

Luckily I noticed the position of the raspberry in the box, right between a circular chocolate and one with what appeared to be a coffee bean on top. On the list of chocolates included in the box, there are 8 chocolates and the second row has a mayan, mocha, raspberry and spiced apple. The genius people at the chocolate shop put them in the box in the same order they are listed on the insert. I’m so glad I figured it out and that they have this clever system, otherwise I would have been lost.

Usually I’m a save the best for last kind of girl, but since I didn’t want to risk jumbling the chocolates and not knowing what I’d be tasting, I decided to eat them in order.

Condor bourbonMy first chocolate was the bourbon chocolate. Surrounded in dark chocolate, it definitely has a bitterness to it. However underneath that bitter dark is the distinct taste of slightly smokey, slightly sweet bourbon. It reminds me quite a bit of the center of my homemade bourbon balls. I’m not much of a bourbon girl, but I like bourbon balls. Especially because they always leave my mouth just a little tingly. So did this truffle. I felt like I’d just had a shot, only without the actual alcohol buzz.

Next up was the caramel truffle, which probably would’ve been my second to last treat if I was doing this in my usual order. But, as I was sticking to my chart, it became my second. I liked the little geodesic dome structure to it. It was sleek and fun. The dark chocolate on this piece is much more subtle, partially tempered by the very sweet caramel. It was not the usual buttery caramel I’m used to. It is definitely a liquid caramel, which is what I always prefer, but it was a mix of sweet with just a slightly savory hint. Salt-like, but not salty. I’m not sure quite how to describe it. I’m also not sure I really liked the actual caramel, which is a rarity for me. It was such a small piece, that it was hard to call it.

The dark chocolate was next for me and my first bite was definitely more than enough. It didn’t help that it had bits of dark chocolate nibs on the top and they scraped the roof of my mouth. For someone who loves dark chocolate, this is probably a dream piece, but I just couldn’t finish it.

Condor earl grayThe Earl Grey piece was a bit more my speed. I thought it was very pretty to look at. I love the bits of tea on top of it, especially the tiny purple beads. It didn’t have an overwhelming tea taste, but it did have tiny bits of tea leaves in it, which gave it texture. It reminded me of the few times I’ve eaten tea leaves by not straining properly. It did have a bit of a creamy taste to it, which reminded me a bit of putting milk in Earl Grey tea. Not my favorite, but I could definitely finish it.

 

 

Since I’ve had a few different chili chocolates, I figured the Mayan chocolate was going to have a spicy kick to it. This piece did not have a painful dose of spice–and I have had some that really have. One brand of chili chocolate I had was so spicy it made my eyes start to water. This one was more subtle. The center itself has a slight sweetness to it. The spicy doesn’t really hit until a few seconds after the bit is swallowed. There is a sort of lingering heat at the back of my throat and my tongue and cheeks have a slight tingle to them. Despite being a fairly dark piece, this is my favorite of the first five.

I was not at all excited about the espresso chocolate. I am not a coffee gal and anytime there is a coffee or mocha or espresso flavored chocolate, it’s usually the first chocolate I eat (if I don’t give it away), so that I can get it out of the way and move on to better, tastier chocolates. I do like the design on this one. It has some cute white “pearls” and a little coffee bean on top. Just from an aesthetic perspective, I find this one very appealing. If you are a coffee fan, this one is definitely for you. Surprisingly, I didn’t hate it. It definitely had not only the taste of coffee, but also a slight hint of crunchy coffee beans–even before I bit into the actual bean. It was actually creamy and fairly tasty…and not just for a coffee chocolate.

Condor raspberryThe raspberry chocolate was the next on my list. This was the one I was most excited about. I LOVE raspberries. In fact, my love for them is so deep that they actually helped me ease into dark chocolate. I attribute my biggest leaps in my tolerance of dark chocolate to Godiva’s raspberry cordials. This meant I had pretty high hopes for Condor’s raspberry chocolate. And those expectations were fairly well met. Although it didn’t have the liquidy raspberry center I love in a cordial, the center was VERY tart, which is my only real desire in a raspberry dark chocolate pairing. Unlike the rest of the the chocolates, this one has an added layer of what looks a bit like raspberry jam, which gives it that lovely, fruity, tarty sweetness. The bitterness of the dark chocolate is completely eclipsed by that super yummy raspberry. I love the little tiny bits of raspberry seeds in it too. While not quite as amazing as Godiva’s raspberry cordial, it is a close, close second. I actually saved the last bit of this truffle so it could officially be my last taste of Condor chocolate.

My final piece was the spiced apple. This one had a thinner layer of dark chocolate surrounding it, but had a surprising amount of bitterness to it. It also had quite a spicy bite. It reminded me a bit of eating Penzy’s pie spice right out of the jar. It was very heavy on the nutmeg and a bit too light on the apple for me. It wasn’t bad, but did not fulfill my hopes. It made me very glad I reserved that last bite of raspberry.

I enjoyed about half the pieces in this collection and truly loved one. When I go back to Condor on my next visit, and I will definitely go back, I’ll be a bit pickier about my selections. I’ll probably fill my box halfway full of raspberries. I may also have to try the gelato.

Overall:

Taste: 6/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 7/10

 

 

 

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Throwback Thursday: Georgia with kids part 2

Rook and PawnOne of my top priorities when traveling with my kids is to get them to spend as much time as they can outside. Even though my kids always pack their backpacks and often a separate toy bag to the brim with some of their favorite ways to pass the time, when vacationing anywhere they will be forced to spend waking hours in either a hotel room or at a friend/family member’s house, inevitably they run out of ways to make those same toys fun to play with day after day after day.

It’s already hard enough for kids to be out of their usual environments for extended periods of time. But I’ve found that unless our vacations have the thrill factor of an amusement park vacation, my kids need a lot to do or boredom quickly sets in. At home, they are fine. They will play by themselves, or sometimes even together, for hours on end. However, even on our two yearly vacations to the beach, where there are cousins to play with and to Georgia, where my best friend always surprises them with fun crafting supplies, the sheer number of hours the adults would like to just hang out at the house and chat is too many for them.

Because I don’t want my kids to have to sit around a house that is not theirs for several hours every day of vacation, I always try look for lots of fun things to do outside. However, sometimes the weather just does not cooperate.

This year, during our bi-annual trip to Athens, Georgia, we had three days of rain. While only one day was a bit of a deluge, the other two were still fairly steady in their ickyness. After being trapped in doors the entirety of the first day, my kids needed out of the house.

Since my best friend was not on fall break and still had to teach classes, we decided our first activity that would get us out of her house, but also keep us out of the rain, was a trip to The Rook & Pawn. On our last three visits, we’ve had at least one rainy day and since my best friend and I both love board games, she has suggested we take the kids. It is a wonderful place to pass several hours with kids. Not only is the food pretty dang tasty (I highly recommend the grilled cheese with brie, tomato and spinach and the seasonal salad), but they have a wall of board games that stretches from floor to ceiling. Anyone who cannot find a game they want to play is just being a crab! Our trouble is not finding a board game we all want to play, but in limiting it to just a few so that we don’t spend the entire day there. For anyone who might need to take the edge off of another day spent indoors with whining kiddos, they also have a lovely drink menu. Since it was only day 2 and I had to drive back to the house, I just had a Diet Coke.

My best friend met us at the Rook & Pawn after her classes were done for the day and we spent several hours trying new games. Sushi Go! was my personal favorite this trip. My son really liked some Star Wars spaceship Wookie game he and his sister played while my BFF and I chatted. Last time we went we tried Settlers of Catan Junior, which was not only fun (my BFF and I are HUGE Catan fans), but was a great gateway to teach my son how to play the grown up version.

nature centerWhen it continued raining on Tuesday, I was more than a little disheartened. However, on our very first trip to Athens, we encountered similar rain storms and my best friend introduced us to the Sandy Creek Nature Center. Since I knew she was a bit burned out on it having just recently gone with another friend and her two young children, while she conducted classes, I packed up my munchkins and we headed over to the nature center.

The nature center is not a place you can spend hours at, at least not if it is raining and you are just exploring the educational center. With younger children you could probably kill two hours there without much trouble. However, since my kids are 7 and 10, an hour was pushing it for us. I kept having to redirect them to small pieces of the exhibits they hadn’t really looked at. I tried to get them involved in the scavenger hunt, but since they’d done it on our last visit, they weren’t having it. The educational center does have two classrooms and sometimes if they are open the staff will let kids go in and play in them, which provides even more entertainment. However, there were school groups at the center when we went, so we had to stick to the main exhibit room.

My hope is that one of these days it’ll be nice enough that we’ll actually get to go on the trail and look at the gardens as well.

Even though the rain had cleared on Wednesday, since it was my BFF’s last day of teaching for the week and she was going to be home by 2, I took the kids for a morning at the local Chuck E. Cheese. Even though they’ve been to our Chuck E. Cheese quite a few times, they actually managed to spend more time at this one, in part because there were so many different games and they had to really think about which ones they most wanted to play. My son managed to win the “jackpot” on some balloon game and walked away with enough tickets to buy an actual prize. He was thrilled!

We also found several really awesome programs at the library for the kids to attend. My son got to play chess while my BFF and my daughter found a nook to read books in. My son thought it was pretty great because even though he lost more games than he won, he was the youngest player (by 2 years) and actually beat a player who was 16. We also saw a magic show one morning at the library and both of my kids got to assist with different tricks.

Athens is a great town to visit with kids…even when the rain threatens to ruin the vacation.

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Throwback Thursday: Vacationing with kids

Athens playgroundFrom the moment my best friend delivered the devastating news that she’d gotten her dream job–10 hours away from me–I started planning my first visit to see her. It just so happened that her move at the end of July coincided with my school’s very first year on the balanced calendar. In between trips to our favorite coffee shop and last minute movie watching, she was packing up boxes to move three states away and I was putting the finishing touches on my lesson plans.

Although juggling the heartache of her leaving with the extreme stress that comes with the start of each new school year was really weighing me down, I just kept reminding myself that in a little over two months I’d be taking my first trip to see her. I attempted to delude myself into believing that I’d be so caught up in the new semester that it would be easy to forget she was no longer right down the street. Sadly, I’ve never been a great liar…not even to myself.

The time did pass and at the end of the grading period, we loaded the family up and headed to Georgia. Of course, we only stayed with her one night before continuing on to Disney World. After five days that I can only describe as the best family vacation we’ve ever been on, we turned around and headed back to see my best friend.

This time my husband only spent one night before he had to head back home to work, leaving me and the kids behind to spend an amazing week with my best friend and her husband. Although we had no car of our own, it really wasn’t a problem. When my best friend had to teach we either hung around her house doing crafts and taking walks or we went to campus with her and played in the fun park-like area near her building or she lent us her car and we went to local parks. Then, when she was off, she introduced us to a plethora of really fun places for the kids to play while we got to talk.

Since this initial trip, we’ve found some favorite places in Athens that we go back to every single visit.

park bulldogOne of the best parts about visiting Georgia in October is that the weather is usually pretty nice. Unlike Indiana, where the temperatures sometimes sink down into the 40’s, in Georgia the weather rarely dips below 75, which means plenty of outdoor time with the kids. And since my kids LOVE to be outdoors, if it’s not raining, we plan outdoor activities.

This year we got to check out the new World of Wonder park, which is actually part of Southeast Clarke Park. We’d actually visited the park on one of our previous trips and while the playground was pretty cool and the kids had a blast, it was not nearly as epic as the updates are. The playground was actually moved to the other side of the park and now has two separate park areas, one for kids under 5 and one for bigger kids. The bigger kid playground features 10 different slides, a really cool webbed climbing merry-go-round thingamabob, a three-story tree house looking structure for kids to climb, wobbly bridges, tons of swings, lots of room for families to sit and even these really cool porch swings (of sorts) that are in shaded areas. The picture at the top of this blog is from the WOW park. My kids had a blast on it. My son particularly liked the “mushrooms” which were these stepping areas that reminded him of the mushrooms in Mario Bros. He loved the way they sprung beneath his feet as he jumped from one to the next.

My BFF and I loved that we could sit on a lovely shaded bench and talk while my kids ran amuck on the playground. Since we could see just about every area of the playground from our seats, we never lost eye contact with the kids for more than a few seconds. And, since the playground is surrounded mostly be a wide open grassy area (and is completely fenced in), it’s not like they could really wander off anywhere.

Bear Hollow signOn our last full day in Athens we also got to visit one of our favorite places: Memorial Park/The Bear Hollow Zoo. My BFF is not normally a fan of zoos. Like many people, she hates the fact that animals are taken from their natural habitats, forced into cramped spaces (at least compared to how they’d live in the wild) and put on display for our amusement. However, she is a huge supporter of The Bear Hollow Zoo. The reason is simple: The Bear Hollow Zoo only has animals that are native to Georgia and only has animals that have been injured and are in need of rehabilitation and protection. All of the animals in the zoo have been injured and cannot survive on their own. They are brought to the zoo by people who rescue them. Some times the animals can be rehabilitated and released back into the wild, but often times their injuries are so severe that they would not be able to survive in the wild, so instead they get to live out their lives at Bear Hollow. The zoo is fairly small with only less than two dozen animals in it, but it’s pretty cool.

The zoo has a few birds, including two owls, an alligator, three bears, an opposum, a tortoise, an otter, a bobcat, an eagle, deer, turkeys and some reptiles. Every time we’ve gone we’ve been able to see all of the animals, which is pretty cool. Since it is part of the public park system, it’s not fancy, but it’s a great way to spend half an hour with kids.

Bears at Bear HollowAs part of her service learning class, my BFF has her students do volunteer work for the zoo, so she always has some great information to share with me and the kids. One year she even got us a “backstage” tour. We got to feed almost all of the animals (we skipped the alligator and the snakes) and even got to go into some of the enclosures. My daughter still goes on and on about how she fed the bears blueberries. Yes, that’s right, my kids actually fed the bears in this picture yogurt covered blueberries. It was initially pretty terrifying for me to watch, as I was sure they’d lose at least a finger if not an entire hand, but they loved doing it.

Once we finished up at Bear Hollow, we walked down a short wooded path to get to Memorial Park. Although much smaller than the WOW park, it has a fun little playground, which is geared more toward younger children. My son, who is 10, still finds ways to have fun on it, but everything is sized a bit more for my daughter, who is 7. In addition to the playground equipment, Memorial Park also has a large man made lake full of ducks, geese and turtles. There are hundreds of turtles in that lake. And, there are little machines with food in them scattered all around the lake, so once we finished on the playground, I handed my kids a few quarters and we killed another 20 minutes walking around the lake and feeding animals. The turtles were not too quick on the uptake. Most of their food was snatched by very quick little fish. My kids thought that was hysterical.

One great thing about the parks in Athens is that they also feature the famous UGA bulldog. My kids LOVE driving around Athens and looking for bulldogs, which are all over the city. At the parks not only do they get to look, but they get to climb on them as well. My kids have memorized where some of their favorite bulldogs are and they make a game of trying to be the first to spot them. Whenever we find a new one, they get very, very excited.

Not only is Athens the home of my best friend, but it’s also a wonderful place to find great food and some great outdoor family fun.

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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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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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Teaching Tuesday: Fall break

Starting school at the end of July is more than a little depressing. The weather is at its summery height, people are posting vacation photos, few stores have their school supplies completely out and almost all of my fellow teachers are starting their countdowns until school starts. Already having two or three weeks under my belt before they’ve even clocked in for their first teacher work day is upsetting.

The trade off comes at fall break. Sure, no matter what school I’ve worked at, I’ve always gotten a fall break. But up until my school switched over to the balanced calendar, that fall break was always just two days. At my first school it was a Monday and Tuesday. In Florida we lost it due to the make up days we had to spend because of hurricane closures. At my current school we got our four day weekend in the form of a Thursday-Sunday break.

But when we switched to the balanced calendar four years ago, suddenly those two days became 10 and it’s pretty darn glorious. Our summer may have gone from 10 weeks to 8, but those 8 extra days off during the first quarter are worth it.

Since our grading periods have always been 9 weeks, our fall break was still toward the beginning of October, however, when we returned from it we usually still had two weeks left in the grading period. It was a nice break, but most of it was spent catching up on grading so that I could get ready to head into finals. If we were lucky, our old grading period would end on a Friday and we’d have until the following Wednesday at 8 am to get all of our grades in. Basically fall break was a lot of grading.

A few times our grading period ended on a Wednesday and we’d start the next grading period the very next day, which meant grades were due by Monday morning at 8 am, so those years fall break just meant I got to sleep in until 9 or so and then grade non-stop.

And while I still end up grading over fall break, since I get to spread that grading over 14 days, I never really stress out about my grading. I get it done at a far more leisurely pace while sipping tea or in between trips to the children’s museum or even on car rides to Disney World.

Not only do I get time to do my grading, I actually get a break from school. I get to do things I enjoy. I get to read books for fun. I get to hang out with my kids. We go on family vacations. In fact, I just got home yesterday after spending my first week of fall break visiting my best friend in Athens, Georgia (she’s a professor at UGA). I did some of my grading while she was teaching classes and then when she got home, we got to hang out.

Having time off in early to mid-October is awesome. It’s the off-season for most vacation destinations, so prices are lower. The weather is still nice enough for travel, especially for going to places like Florida or Georgia where I can pull out my capris and short sleeves and frolic on beaches or in gardens. Plus, since most schools are still in session, crowds are much smaller and easier to maneuver. Our two Disney World vacations have been about 25% cheaper than if we’d had to take them in the summer.

If all this wasn’t reason enough to love the balanced calendar and our wonderful break, when I return to school next Monday, it’s a brand new grading period. No matter what mistakes students may have made in the first quarter, it all starts over fresh. The kids come back refreshed and so do I. Before fall break I am usually about at my breaking point. Kids are getting antsy, whiny and beyond annoying, but it is amazing how two weeks can change it all. They come back relaxed, recharged and ready to start it all over again. Discipline issues, which were on the rise in the two weeks prior to break, are back to start of the year levels.

Plus, everyone is generally excited that there are only 9 more weeks until winter break. And that includes two wonderful days off for Thanksgiving.

 

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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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