Category Archives: my daughter

Royal Caribbean Cruises: Mayan Cacoa Company Excursion

20191231_143345-1In my last blog, I wrote about our fantastic shore excursion to the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio in Cozumel, Mexico. While I loved exploring the ruins and got some amazing pictures, for me the highlight of the trip was our stop at the Mayan Cacao Company. There were a couple different shore excursions coupled with the ruins and when I saw this one that also included a chocolate tour…I was hooked. History and chocolate? Take my money and sign me up!

The Mayan Cacao Company is clearly a happening place to be. It was hoppin! I think half the island may have been there when we arrived, but our amazing guide Edwin got us right on a guided tour of the operation. It began in a room (which was thankfully air conditioned after our rather sweaty time at the ruins) dedicated to the history of chocolate. There were some replicas of Mayan statues, actual cacao pods for us to smell, written and pictorial explanations of the history and chocolate making process and some small artifacts from early chocolate making. Our tour guide gave us about a five minute talk on the cultural significance of early chocolate making.

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Next, we headed down a shaded path, where a beautiful red parrot sat squawking at us. Our guide led us to a thatched hut-like building where people were making a chocolate based mole sauce for us to try. We learned about the process and the importance of mole in Mexican cooking and then got to try a small corn tortilla with the homemade mole on it. Although only the briefest whispers of cocoa were present, I thought it was quite tasty. My husband and son both loved it too. My daughter, the insanely picky eater took a bite, made a face, and handed it over to me. Her brother was eyeing the extra portion so I gave it to him.

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We continued to wind down the path and our guide stopped to show us some cacao trees and explain how they are nurtured and cultivated. She also showed us actual cacao pods on the trees and explained a bit about how they are harvested.

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Along the path we passed another gorgeous parrot. This guy was green and even more talkative. I’m not much of a bird fan, but after their earlier interaction with parrots (they got to hold and play with one), they wanted to stop and talk to these birds too. I took pictures, which was really pretty brave of me!

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The next stop on our tour was the demonstration room. As we shuffled inside, we were handed a little wooden spoon with some not quite liquid, not quite solid chocolate on it. Our presenter explained that it was fresh chocolate which had just been made during the last demonstration. It was DELICIOUS! My daughter, who at least loves pretty much all things sweet, devoured that sample, which was a shame because I definitely wanted another one!

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The demonstration was really pretty cool…and not just because we were in another wonderfully air-conditioned spot. The presentation was about 10 minutes long and explained the entire chocolate making process. The Mayan Cacao Company is true to its roots and at least the initial process hasn’t changed in centuries. Unlike the Mayans though, now the cacao is served in delicious bar form and not as a very watery, very bitter unsugared drink. As we watched, he pounded and ground the spices together to make the samples of chocolate for the next group.

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After the presentation (you can watch thefull version here), we got a chance to try the original Mayan cacao drink if we wanted. Of course my husband, son, and I grabbed some. There was a little station where guests could add some spices like cinnamon to the drink. Man, it was bitter! I cannot believe people actually enjoyed it at all. But I drank it up, even if it made me grimace a bit.

Luckily right next to that cacao station was a bar with frozen chocolate drinks for sale! I guess they also served non-chocolate drinks, but why bother? My sister, husband, and I each grabbed one. Although they all looked pretty much the same, we each tried a different flavor of liquor! I got a chocolate daiquiri, my sister got a chocolate margarita, and my husband got a mud slide. Of course we had to taste each other’s drinks! I think I liked the mud slide the best, but my daiquiri was pretty good. The drinks were made with HUGE chunks of the Mayan Cacao Company’s chocolate. My only complaint is that the chunks did not get blended enough so the bottom of my cup was basically a solid chunk of chocolate.

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As with pretty much every tour I’ve ever been on, it ended in a gift shop. And this was a glorious gift shop! They had samples of each and every one of their chocolate bars (about two dozen). They also had samples of some of their jams. Of course we had to try them all. I was surprised by how much I actually liked their dark chocolate. I don’t know if I’m just slowly becoming a dark chocolate convert or if theirs is just really good, but most of my favorite ones were dark chocolate! However, I ended up buying my favorite bar which was milk chocolate with cranberries, almonds, and grapes. My kids got the milk chocolate and hazelnut bar to share, although they had a hard time agreeing on one bar. My daughter thought they should probably sample all of them twice, but I made her commit to a bar after only one round of sampling!

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As a chocoholic, it’s no surprise that I loved this part of the excursion. If we ever find ourselves back in Cozumel (fingers crossed), I definitely plan to stop by again. If you are cruising the Caribbean and get a chance to stop in at the Mayan Cacao Company, it is a must visit!

 

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Royal Caribbean Cruise: Dolphin Push-Pull Shore Excursion in Grand Cayman

20191230_074625When I sat down to look at the shore excursions for our Royal Caribbean cruise on Brilliance of the Sea, I was ooverwhelmed. We only had two stops on our 5 night cruise, but there were at least 100 different options. While there may have only been a dozen or so basic components, there were so many combinations of those different components that I broke down after the third page of options. Finally I just sent my mom and sister some generic options: beach, animal encounters, historical sites, or something sporty.

Ok, I just threw that last one in as a joke. I knew no one in my family was going to pick something actually sporty. There are definitely several physical options for any shore excursion, but my people are not the sporty types. In all fairness, two of the group have limited mobility, so it’s understandable that we had to pick activities that were a bit lower-intensity.

The kids all wanted some sort of animal encounter. When I was listing some of them off to my mom, she was very keen on a sea turtle adventure. My kids thought that would be pretty cool too. And they even offered sea turtles with an additional option of stingrays. My daughter was not too keen on that one. But then my sister told my nephews that swimming with dolphins was an option and the decision was made.

That’s how we found ourselves sitting in the Pacifica theater at 6:45 in the morning on the third day of our cruise. No one was particularly happy to know that that particular hour still existed on vacation. When we signed up for the excursion it definitely did not mention the need to get up before the sun in order to hang with Flipper. If they had, I think my mom might have insisted on befriending Crush and Nemo instead.

20191230_110814But, we’d pre-booked and we were not about to cancel and lose that money, so when our group number was called we headed down to disembark. We had to get the tender boats over to Grand Cayman and all 9 of us boarded together and tried to stifle our yawns as we made our way to the shore. Once there we were bustled into vans with about half a dozen other group members and we set off for our adventure. Our van was just doing the dolphin swim. The other van that drove behind us had one of those combo deals and was heading off to a beach after we finished.

I had no idea what to expect. It was actually pretty confusing at first. We were one of the earliest groups to arrive, but it still took our guide about 10 minutes to get everything squared away. We’d been told we could bring cameras, but once we entered in to Dolphin Discovery, the employees told us we had to leave everything in the provided lockers. Aside from our suits, and our locker keys and our shoes (which we took off close to the pools, everything else had to be left behind. I was disappointed as I wanted to take some pictures of my kids frolicking with dolphins.

20191230_081819Once our gear was stowed, we were taken over and given life vests. We were then split into groups of 10. Somehow we got separated from the rest of our family, so instead of one big family group, it was my family of 4 with 6 strangers. They were very nice people, but I had hoped to share the experience with my entire family.

Our group headed over to a large pool-like area. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but I found this picture of it, so hopefully that will help. Our “pool” was at the far left-side of the picture–it’s the large one. Ours was actually divided into two with our group down on the non-sandy side. All 10 of us got into the water. There was a ledge about 3 feet wide and about 3.5 feet deep that ran the length of the area. Since only one person could swim with a dolphin at a time, it was a good waiting spot for the rest of us.

The weather was beautiful (in the mid 80’s) and the water was warm. Our instructor introduced us to Sherlock, our dolphin. Sherlock was charming and very well-trained. He waited patiently as our guide explained the “pull” part of our adventure. Each person would swim along the wall a little less than halfway out. Then, when given the signal, we’d swim about halfway into the middle of our “pool.” Our right arm would be outstretched ready to grab Sherlock’s fin when he came around and our left would be bend across our chest in order to grab hold of his flipper. Then Sherlock would pull us back to the ledge.

20191230_093226While we were waiting for the first person to swim out and get in position, Sherlock posed with the rest of us. We each got four non swimming interactions with Sherlock. We got to dance with him, get a kiss from him, give him a kiss, and hold his face next to ours. Each of these interactions were photographed for us and after the encounter we’d have the chance to buy our photos, hence why we weren’t allowed to bring cameras.

Frolicking with Sherlock was fun. He was very sweet. I’d never touched a dolphin before. His skin was sort of rubbery. His fins were oddly hard, but also flexible, which was such an odd combo.

When it was my turn to swim out, I did, worrying the entire time that I’d mess up and end up missing Sherlock. Thankfully Sherlock was a pro and our instructor told me when to grab, so I caught on the first time and Sherlock sped me to shore. Now, I am not a tiny person, but that dolphin had no problem pulling all of us back to the ledge, even the gentleman in our group who had to weigh close to 250.

After getting pulled by Sherlock, everyone was laughing. We all clearly enjoyed it. Well, everyone except my daughter. Her anxiety kicked in pretty hard core and she decided she did NOT want to swim out there (she gets very anxious in water). Our instructor offered to let her start from the ledge and have Sherlock just take her a small way and then turn around, but even that scared her. When he realized this, he was great with her. He let her play a few fetch games with Sherlock, so even though she didn’t do the swimming, she still felt connected to him and had fun.

Once our “pull” was done, it was time for the “push.” For this we each used a boogie board and swam out to the middle of the “pool” again. This time we had to lay on the board with our legs completely straight behind us. Sherlock’s job was to put his nose on one of our feet and “push” us back to the ledge. I watched as the first person, a young girl was pushed back to us. She zoomed at us giggling the entire time. Her dad was not as successful. He couldn’t keep his leg straight and Sherlock had to nudge him several times. He eventually got it and came at us a bit slower. When it was my turn I was once again worried I’d bend my leg and mess it up (like my husband did), but I managed to keep my leg rigid and Sherlock flew me through the water. Not nearly as fast as she shot my son through it though. He was like a 5 foot, 90 pound torpedo. I was worried he’d crash into us. But Sherlock knew when to stop and he came floating in.

When were were done, we changed back into our clothes and headed into the gift/photo shop. I took one look at the prices and realized no matter how cute they might be, there was no way we were buying them. To get all pictures for our group of 4 would have been about $250. I loved the experience, but to me it was more important to have it than to capture it on film. I would have liked one to, but I knew if I saw one, I’d want them all. So instead I let my son buy a little bottle of Grand Cayman sand in a bottle, and I bought a can of Pringles for my family to share.

Swimming with dolphins was something I’d always wanted to do and I was glad we got to. Even if my daughter was a bit scared, she had a blast and fell in love with Sherlock. It was definitely worth it!

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Royal Caribbean Cruises: Briliance of the Seas Windjammer Cafe

20191228_120846When I told my nine year old daughter that we were going on a cruise, she cried. They were not tears of joy.

She’d been on a cruise once before when she was 5 and had a pretty scary experience. We were at the pool enjoying our very first few hours at sea when a boy much larger than she was ran on the small inch deep section she’d been playing in, and knocked her over into a deeper part of the pool. If this image is hard to picture (because it is definitely hard to explain), the picture below shows the different depths of the pool. Luckily I was right there, jumped in, and saved her. But still, she had horrible memories of it and did NOT want to go on another cruise. There were tears, there were protests. It was initially pretty awful.

20191228_164226So I slowly started reminding her of all the good, not scary parts of a cruise. I think it was when I said the magic word–BUFFET–that she stopped her tears.

My kids both ADORE buffets. They beg and plead for them. I am not really a fan, but my daughter, who has some major texture issues and is a rather picky eater, loves them. I think it’s mostly a chance to find foods she feels completely comfortable with and definitely knows. The rest of us are rather adventurous eaters and love Indian, Thai, and Cajun food, all of which she despises. But a buffet means everyone will be happy, right?

So, when I told her that she could eat several of her meals not only with her cousins (who she adores), but also at a buffet, she was suddenly delighted. I’m the opposite. The older I get, the less enamored of buffets I am. With the exception of The Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, as an adult, I have never been to a buffet that has blown me away.

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And I was not blown away by The Windjammer Cafe on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. Breakfast had pretty standard breakfast fair. There were made to order omelette stations, which I skipped because I did not want to wait in the daily lines. There was also just about every form of breakfast meat available. There were biscuits and gravy (with very bland gravy), grits (which were even blander), and several different ways to eat eggs. There were several dozen different types of breads and pastries. My daughter was THRILLED that there were donuts. When I told her she couldn’t have one because she’d had one the morning before, she was quite upset. But then she found out they had pancakes and a topping bar with chocolate sauce, so she thwarted my attempt to get her to eat something healthy by getting two of those. There were also several types of cereal and yogurts. My personal breakfast favorite (aside from the bacon) were these little yogurt, fruit and granola parfaits. I ate one every day. They were super tasty and very impressive.

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For the most part it was like every other decent, but not exciting breakfast buffet I’ve ever been to. In all fairness, I’m not much of a breakfast fan, so I was bound to be underwhelmed. My kids, gave it two thumbs up for breakfast.

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Lunch was a bit more my speed. There were a variety of sandwiches and chicken, tuna, and egg salad to make my own. There were also a lot of different cold salads. I’m always a huge fan of those. Sadly, they only had the delicious chickpea salad on the first day of the cruise. If I had known that I would have had more of it. I appreciated the traditional salad bar as well as it helped me feel I could offset some of the unhealthier options. One thing I noticed was a lack of cooked veggies, so it was nice to always have salad options. There wasn’t much variety of fruit, but if you like melon and pineapple, this buffet will be heaven. My kids were happy that they could get burgers, hot dogs, and pizza every day for lunch. Since my daughter would pretty much live on pizza and hot dogs if I let her, she was thrilled. She was also thrilled with the dessert table at lunch. She loved having access to the ice cream machine, cookies, cakes, jello and fun parfait creations. My favorite thing about lunch was the chocolate and vanilla swirl soft serve. I have always been a sucker for a swirled cone!

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One big draw of cruises is having dinner in the formal dining room. It’s fun to get a little dressed up and order fancy meals and desserts. We did eat three of our meals in the fancy dining room, but dinner was actually when the buffet had the biggest draw for us: Indian food. Oh my goodness…this cruise had some fantastic Indian food. Every night there were at least two different offerings, one with meat and one vegetarian as well as either roti or papadums. I think I may have eaten my weight in papadums over the course of the cruise. I tried every single Indian dish they offered in the Windjammer and there wasn’t one I didn’t LOVE.

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After spending the day at Grand Cayman, the feature at the buffet was Caribbean and Indian cuisine. That night there were four different Indian offerings as well as Jamaican meat patties, fried plantains, and jerk chicken. It was, without a doubt, the best food I had on the cruise. I could have eaten it every single night and been blissfully happy. My mom, husband, and son who also love Indian food agreed. It was spiced perfectly. I had been worried that since it was being mass produced for a cruise that the flavors would have been dulled down to suit all taste buds, but that was not the case. It was spicy and flavorful and amazing! I definitely needed some extra water that night.

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For those who needed some milder dishes (like my nephews and daughter), there were still some great offerings at dinner. Every night there were a couple of different chicken and pasta dishes. There was always a carving station with roast beef, ham or chicken ready to be served. Just like lunch, there were two different salad bars, and tons of different  rolls. One of my personal favorite items was the steak, pork chops, and chicken they had cooked to order. I wanted a steak one night, so I walked up to the counter and ordered it medium well. It was done in a few minutes and it was tasty. Every night they had made to order options. One night they had a stir-fry option. One night it was a make your own pizza option. The night we were in Cozumel The Windjammer Cafe had a Mexican fiesta, but since it was New Year’s Eve, we decided to eat in the formal dining room to celebrate. I am still a bit sorry we missed this night as Mexican food is my favorite.

And of course, my favorite part of any meal is dessert. Like most buffets, dessert can be hit or miss. They often look much better than they taste. But let’s face it, it’s easy to make desserts look good. The plate below is a perfect example. And yes, I did try some of all four. The pecan pie and coconut cookie were just ok. Nothing special. I only had about two bites of each. But, the lemon meringue pie and the sugar free chocolate mousse were fantastic! I actually hate meringue, but this one was delicious. It wasn’t the stiff meringue I’m used to, so my guess is that it was some sort of hybrid recipe, but even as full as I was, I could have eaten a dozen of these. The lemon was so tart that it made the back of my mouth water a bit, just like I like it. And despite being a no sugar added dessert, that dark chocolate mousse was delish! I also had an insanely good chocolate cherry parfait dessert one night, but sadly the picture did not turn out very well.

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One of my favorite things about the Windjammer was the different seating options. Because it was pretty crowded in the morning, we often found ourselves eating in the outdoor section of the restaurant, which was right at the back of the ship. We had some lovely ocean views and breezes as we dined. I also like the veranda area which is still air-conditioned, but set off and a bit quieter. Since the walls are floor to ceiling windows, there were lovely views while we ate. We found ourselves sitting by windows several times, and it just added to the relaxing vacation vibe I wanted.

While The Windjammer Cafe may not be the most impressive buffet I’ve ever eaten at, it was pretty good. I would definitely suggest the formal dining room for breakfast (eggs Benedict!), but it was great for a light lunch and the Indian and Caribbean food at dinner blew me away. It may be a few more years until we find ourselves traveling the high seas again, but after this experience, I know it will be far easier to get my daughter on board!

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An enchanted afternoon at the Enchanted Rose

forrest room.jpgOn Tuesday October 8th, Disney opened its latest lounge, the Beauty and the Beast inspired Enchanted Rose at the Grand Floridian. While I was not there for the initial opening, I did get to go the very next day.

My mom, sister, and I were enjoying a girls’ trip to Disney World. Despite growing up in Anaheim, home to the original Disneyland, my Mom had only been to Disney World once. Back in 1980 when she went, there was just the Magic Kingdom and although the Polynesian Village Resort where we stayed did exist, she’d never seen it. My sister, had never been at all. For me, this was the perfect chance to show them the wonders of Disney at a pace I knew they’d enjoy.

Enchanted Rose signWe planned our trip rather light. Although we had four nights at the Polynesian, we only had two park days planned. Both were at Epcot and both were intended as a means to eat and drink our way around the world (which we did, but that’s another post). In between our bacchanals, we had a day of rest and relaxation and it was on this day that I realized The Enchanted Rose had just opened.

It was just after noon and we hadn’t eaten yet, so we figured it was the perfect time to hop on the monorail and head over. We noticed they had a menu which includes appetizers and figured it would help offset our otherwise liquid lunch.

rosesThe monorail lets travelers off on the second floor in the Grand Floridian and since it wasn’t quite 1 yet and we weren’t sure where the Enchanted Rose was, my mom and sister went into the gift shop while I investigated. It took less than two minutes to figure out that the Enchanted Rose is also on the second floor, tucked away in the far right corner from the monorail exit. The sign outside the bar hints at its elegance, especially the lovely live roses on the table right below it.

The bar is definitely the center-piece in this beautiful movie inspired lounge. It was beyond lovely and I found myself wanting to sit at the bar, something I never really want to do. The chandelier, which Disney says is inspired by Belle’s iconic golden ballgown, is breathtaking. But, since my mom and sister were with me, and the place was pretty empty, we went ahead and entered the Garden Room, which is inspired by the enchanted forrest surrounding the Beast’s castle (pictured at the top of this post).

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As if these two spaces aren’t lovely enough, there is also a patio and a library room. We really wanted to sit in the library, since we are all HUGE book nerds (English teacher and a former librarian in our party), but it does not open until 4pm, so if you too want to feel as if you are in the Beast’s reading room, you have to arrive a bit later than we did. Still, I enchanted librarydid manage to get in and have a quick looksie. There is actually a bookcase in the room, but it is down on the farther end of the room and it was not easy to get a picture at that angle.

Another interesting tidbit of information we found out AFTER we’d ordered our drinks, is that the kitchen doesn’t open until 5pm, so while we had visions of appetizers to help soak up some of the VERY potent drinks we ordered, that was not an option for us at 1pm. While my sister, who is a bit pickier about what she eats due to her gluten allergy, was not enthusiastic about the very limited menu at the Enchanted Rose, I am an adventurous eater and love to try new things, so I was particularly disappointed I did not get to try the crab and gnocchetti gratin. enchanted envy

enchanted loveWhat the Enchanted Rose does have is darn good (and strong) drinks. It even has two signature cocktails that come with their own “stories.” I didn’t quite know what this meant, but loved the idea of a Love and an Envy cocktail. I debated between the two for quite some time before settling on Envy.

And what does a cocktail with a “story” mean exactly? It means that the server brings out everyone else’s drinks first, confusing you just a bit. Then, they bring out this really cool drink cart:

enchanted drink cart

Then, as they slowly make your cocktail, they tell you the story behind it. For envy, it is the tale of all the girls in the town who were green with envy over Gaston’s affections for Belle. While each ingredient is added, so is another portion of the tale. Once the drink (and the tale) are complete, the server hands it over and you get to enjoy. I don’t know about Love, but I can honestly say that Envy was delicious!

I actually recorded our server making my drink, so if you want a sneak peak, you can check it out here on my YouTube channel (along with several other Disney and Universal Orlando videos).

Even though the Enchanted Rose is a lounge with deliciously strong drinks, children are still welcome. I can’t imagine they’d want to stay long as it does not have much to offer children. The menu is not kid-friendly; my very adventurous son would probably try everything on the menu, but my daughter wouldn’t try anything except the truffle fries and only because she’s had truffle fries before and no one explained to her what a truffle was. The decor is beautiful and has clear ties to Beauty and the Beast if one is looking for them, but it’s not whimsical the way kids would want. I felt a bit bad for the two kids who were seated two tables away from us. They were clearly stuck there while their parents had a drink. They weren’t old enough to have phones and seemed bored.

Still, if you are a true Disney fan or even a Beauty and the Beast fan, it is a must stop on your next Disney vacation. And, if you need help planning your next trip, I’d be happy to help at no cost to you.

 

 

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Munchie Monday: Byrd’s cookies

byrd's cookies all.jpgLast week my family made our annual pilgrimage to Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Ok, so it’s not actually any sort of religious trip, unless you’re like my aunt and consider a trip to the beach a way to worship the sun. Ever since my daughter was a teeny tiny baby, 8 years ago, my husband’s family has headed to my SiL’s beach house in Wild Dunes (I can actually see my SiL’s house in the picture on this link) and we’ve spent a week together.

I know for many people this probably sounds like a dream. An entire week spent in a house that is not only right next door to a pool, but can also claim the ocean as its backyard, is the stuff that relaxation videos are made out of, right? Clearly anyone who thinks this has never met my in-laws.

I do not mean this post as a condemnation of my in-laws, who on an individual basis are almost entirely great people–except for that one. It is very hard to share a house, even a decent sized one with 15 other people for an entire week. The actual house only sleeps 10 people comfortably (12 with air mattresses), so thankfully four of those people didn’t actually spend the night at the house. My MiL and FiL had a hotel room at the Boardwalk Inn, which is actually right next door. Additionally, two members of my MiL’s extended family also spent the days at our beach house, but their nights at my SiL’s condo in nearby Charleston. However, for pretty much every waking hour of the day, there were 15 people in the house. Seven were children ranging from 8-14. That is a LOT of noise, especially when most of it is contained between two floors with walls that are surprisingly thin.

And don’t even get me started on the nightly “entertainment” from bands at the hotel next door.

But again, that’s not the purpose of this post. Inevitably what happens at some point during this trip, we all get more than a little sick of each other. For my family this means a trip to a matinee one day. It also means at least one lunch and one dinner (and this year one breakfast) away from the basically required family meals to have some alone time. It also means our yearly trip into downtown Charleston, where we always visit the City Market and the surrounding shops.

Despite a serious need for an extended break from everyone around Wednesday, we had a few hiccups and didn’t actually get into town until Friday, our last full day of the trip. I was excited not only to visit some absolute favorites from years past (Charleston Crab House, Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits, The Spice and Tea Exchange of Charleston, and Kilwin’s to name a few), but to discover a brand new shop I’d never seen before: Byrd’s Cookies.

Byrd’s was so new, in fact, that they didn’t even have their official signage up on the building yet. They’d been open for less than a month and had I not seen a sign on their door offering a taste test of cookies when I walked into The Spice and Tea Exchange, we might have walked right on by. I am so glad we didn’t!

Byrd’s may be new to downtown Charleston, but they have been a cookie tradition for over 90 years. They started in Savannah, Georgia with their original Scotch Oatmeal cookie and now have over a dozen varieties, all of which were available to taste test when we went in. Although I wanted to try them all, I was good and only tried about five varieties. All that I tried were really good. It was hard to make a decision about which four varieties to buy (it was buy 3 get one for $1). In the end we decided to let each person in the family pick their favorite.

My daughter picked the Key Lime cookies. These powdered sugar covered cuties are VERY sweet. They definitely have a bright, limey taste to them, with vanilla undertones as the flavor wears down. My kids and husband LOVE them. I am not quite as big of a fan, even though as a rule I love key lime. I don’t like the slightly odd feel the powdered sugar leaves on the roof of my mouth. However, I have never been a fan of powdered sugar covered treats. One of the reasons I avoid many jelly-filled donuts is because they are covered in powdered sugar. I also don’t like the little Hostess Donnettes with the powdered sugar at all. I hate being messy and I HATE when my hands have food residue on them, which I think is part of the problem. The other problem is that powdered sugar always seems to leave a bit of a residue both on my fingers and in my mouth and I am not a fan. Anyone who likes powdered sugar will probably love these cookies though.

Next up were my husband’s pick: the original Scotch Oatmeal ones. These are quite good, although they do have the tiniest hint of a dark molasses flavor to them. Not that I mind, I just wasn’t initially expecting it and it took a few cookies to grow on me. They actually remind me a bit of one of my favorite childhood cookies: Archway Iced Oatmeal cookies. Yeah, I was that strange kids who really loved oatmeal cookies. I still don’t like Oreos at all and I never crave Chips Ahoy! but give me an oatmeal cookie, with or without icing and I’m over the moon. I’ll take a soft, fresh from the oven oatmeal raisin cookie over a chocolate chip one pretty much any day. I just love the creamy sweetness of oatmeal cookies. Although these little guys are crunchy, not soft, they are still amazingly good. They have that wonderfully oaty flavor that always reminds me just a bit of nuts. They aren’t overly sweet, which I think is perfect at times. I couldn’t eat an entire bag in one sitting, but I know I will be reaching into this bag quite a bit.

Since all of us are huge peanut butter fans, it was not a shock that my son picked chocolate peanut butter. These are so creamy and peanutty! With the crunch, they remind me a bit of eating a spoonful of chunky peanut butter (my favorite). The chocolate in them is subtle and really only in hints, which I don’t mind. The peanut butter is clearly the star here and that is great. I love that when I bite into them I can see real chunks of peanuts. These tiny treats are full of even tinier bits of peanut, but packed with tons of peanut flavor.

Byrd's salted caramelNot to brag, but my favorite, are without a doubt, the ones I picked: salted caramel. I know, I just had a post about salted caramel butter cookies. I also know that these days everything is salted caramel and that many people think it is way beyond cliche/overdone/boring now, but I don’t care. I am not a bit ashamed to say I LOVE these cookies. They are utterly amazing and I cannot stop eating them. They are sweeter than the peanut butter chocolate or Scotch oatmeal, but thanks to the salt, not as sweet as the Key Lime, so they are in that perfect sweet spot for me. They are buttery and delicate. They practically melt on my tongue. The caramel flavor is long lasting and simply amazing. No matter how much I try, I cannot stop eating these amazing cookies. Even though I haven’t finished the 8 oz bag yet (although I have come frighteningly close to it), I have already looked online about buying another bag. Now that I know these exist, they are a must have for me. I cannot imagine a world where my pantry is not stocked with them from now on.

Knowing that Byrd’s is now in downtown Charleston has already got me looking forward to next year’s beach vacation, even if it does mean squeezing into a house with 14 other people!

Overall:

Taste: 10/10 for salted caramel (8/10 for the others)
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 10/10 for the salted caramel (8/10 for the others)

 

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Wildcard Wednesday: 4th of July

Charleston beach.jpg

This year I decided to take students to the UK during my family’s regularly scheduled trip to the beach. Since the only reason we go to the beach is because my in-laws orchestrate a big family get together there, my heart was definitely more set on the UK trip. Plus, we stay at a beach house my SiL owns, so I knew my husband’s family would be able to be a bit more flexible with the beach week. And if not, it would save me two 12 hour drives to Isle of Palms and a week in the same house with 14 other people, most of whom are only related to be me by marriage.

True to form, as soon as my MiL knew the dates I’d be going to the UK, she arranged for our beach week to be moved. It’s not the first year we’ve had to mix it up, although the other time was also to accommodate a student trip to the UK three years ago. Luckily my trip coincided with my in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary, so they were happy to move things around so we could have a big family party to celebrate this milestone. That trip was scheduled for the end of June and we just missed being at the beach on the 4th of July.

Wild Dunes is a surprisingly popular destination for the 4th of July. Since my in-laws knew two years in advance when my trip would be, it was no problem for my SiL to make sure her beach house was not rented out for the holiday week. So this year we celebrated America’s independence without any sparklers or bottle rockets as setting off fireworks is illegal on the Isle of Palms. For some reason we also didn’t have the traditional cook-out, even though there was a grill at the beach house. We had my FiL’s homemade spaghetti sauce (which I regret to say I am the only who is not a fan of it–too much meat and not enough spice), pasta, garlic bread and salad. It was a perfectly fine meal, if a little strange.

My family did celebrate our independence a bit by going out to a really awesome breakfast at Acme Lowcountry Kitchen. I cannot give them high enough praise. Truly awesome experience. Delicious food, good service, plus we got to eat on the covered patio, which was really nice. I’d been there once before with friends, but I got to introduce my husband and kids to it and they loved it. Especially my son who, despite ordering from the kid’s menu, had way more food than any of us. He was in breakfast heaven.

We spent our day walking the beach and hanging out in the nearby pool, which the kids loved. Both were insanely crowded though. We usually go to the beach over Father’s Day week and even though mid-June is way cooler than July, the beach and pool are never as packed. We actually had someone plop down in front of us on the beach (complete with three beach umbrellas and chairs), partially obscuring our view of the beach, which has never happened before. There were just a lot of people.

Although we had to buck some of our usual 4th of July traditions, we did get to see some pretty cool fireworks, even though they were a little far away. A little after 9 we headed up to the top balcony of the beach house and waited for the city display to start. It was a little slow at first and the fireworks didn’t look very impressive, mostly because they were rather far away, but as the minutes ticked by, the spectacle picked up. The finale, which didn’t happen until about 9:45 was one of the most impressive I’ve seen in awhile. It was gorgeous. My son loved the fact that several of the fireworks formed hearts. My daughter was so tired after a day at the beach and the pool that she completely slept through them!

The only real downside to the day was that the “entertainment” that happens at the Boardwalk Inn next door didn’t stop playing at 10 as usual. Every night during the summer there is a live band next door in the pavilion between two of the pools. The bands begin playing around 7 and have to be done by 10. Since they are outdoor and our beach house is right next to the pavilion, we can hear every single note played. One night, my son was in the bathtub and he yelled out, “Mom, they’re playing ‘Sweet Caroline!'” Then he started singing along. That’s how loud it is every night of our vacation. My husband and I have to listen to mediocre cover bands cover mostly the same songs for at least an hour every night. Even with the TV on watching Netflix, we can still hear the music.

On the 4th of July I was excited to watch an episode of Preacher and figured that the band was going to finish their set with a song or two with their remaining 10 minutes. Nope! Because it was the 4th they played until 11. We still watched Preacher, but had to rewind a few times because the choruses of “Born in the USA” and about half a dozen CCR songs were so loud. It was annoying, but I was glad they didn’t go completely cliche and play “Proud to be an American,” which every other band had played at some point leading up to the 4th.

It was definitely an interesting holiday. I’m glad we went, but I think I’ll be happy to go back to mid-June next year.

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Munchie Monday: Rococo Bee Bar

Rococo Bee BarI know I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I am willing to spend rather ridiculous amounts of money on chocolate. Some people go on shoe shopping sprees. Some have an affinity for purses or tools, or for people like my husband, Magic the Gathering cards. I always tease him about the thousands he has spent on cards over the years. He fires right back at me about chocolate. I can honestly say I spend way less on chocolate each year than he spends on his Magic addiction, but that is not to say the chocolate bills don’t rack up.

On my recent trip to the UK, my students joined in on mocking my spending habits. While many of them thought nothing of dropping 30 pounds on clothing from Oxford, 50 pounds on jewelry in London or in one case, over 100 pounds for a cashmere sweater in Edinburgh, when I spent 47 pounds at a chocolate shop in York, it was days before I heard the end of it.

Not that I cared much. I don’t like clothing with logos or names on it, I hardly ever wear jewelry and don’t even want to think about caring for a cashmere sweater! Yes, I’ll take my edible spending habit any day.

When I went into York Chocolate Story, I really, really wanted to take the chocolate tour. York is, after all, a chocolate city. Yes, that’s right. While other cities in the UK earned their wealth from wool or cotton or steel or coal, York has pretty much always been known for its sweet treats. They have a chocolate trail where visitors can follow in the footsteps of chocolate development. This was my kind of city. On our initial walking tour we passed about a dozen sweet shops and I made sure to memorize where the ones that specifically dealt in chocolate were.

Despite my complete love for chocolate, I’ve only ever been on two chocolate tours before, once in Hershey, Pennsylvania and once when my husband and I went on a bourbon themed trip in Kentucky. We found a small family owned chocolate shop that did tours and then tastings of bourbon balls and it was great. I’ve wanted to go on several other tours, but I’m always on vacation when I find them and inevitably no one else wants to go with me. Since I was chaperoning a student group on this trip and they wanted to shop for souvenirs, this tour was another pipe dream for me. Instead, I had to settle for a visit to their cafe and shop.

At least it was a really cool shop with tons of candies to choose from. It was really hard to limit myself. I wanted so many of the delicious looking treats, but I limited myself to a box of filled chocolates from York Chocolate Story, a tin with some sort of amazing looking chocolate bark, three large chocolate bars from various localish confectioneries, a box of six truffles from the chocolate case and one tiny bar from a company called Rococo Chocolates.

Until I grabbed this bar, I had no idea it was “London’s Best Luxury Online Chocolate Shop.” Turns out I managed to miss their actual shop when I was in London. Despite being in Covent Garden twice during my three day stay, I didn’t find them–in all fairness, one of the times I was tied up with a student who was having a panic attack and didn’t get to see anything there. I really wish I’d have gotten to visit the star. While York Chocolate Story did have a decent selection of Rococo’s chocolate bars, they didn’t have any of the specialty Roald Dahl ones and I would have bought at least three of those: one for myself and one for each of my kids who love Dahl’s books.

Basil and limeI grabbed the miniature Basil & Persian Lime dark chocolate bar. I wanted to try this one since it was a flavor combination I’ve never had before. Whenever I am somewhere new, I often try to find truly unique chocolates. Anyone can make a regular old milk or dark chocolate bar (granted with varying degrees of success), but I like to try the more exotic. I’ve had spiced chocolate before, but usually it’s cardamom or ginger or chili. I’ve never had, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen, chocolate infused with basil. I was also hoping the tartness of the lime might offset the bitterness of the dark chocolate. Although I have gotten much better at appreciating and even enjoying dark chocolate, I still like it best when it is paired with something tart like raspberry, lemon or lime.

The bar itself is very cute to look at. I love the detail of the bee on each section of chocolate. I was wondering why it was called a “bee bar” and while I’m still not sure if there is a connection other than the design, I liked the connection I could verify.

My first taste of the bar was a bit off putting. The basil was VERY strong and the lime marginal. However, as it slowly melted on my tongue, the basil died away and the lime became the lingering note. The dark chocolate was definitely bitter and not that offset by the basil or the lime. It was not an extremely bitter dark chocolate though, so I found it tolerable. On one of my bites I did sort of feel like I was actually crunching on dried herbs–not so much in taste as in texture. I found it slightly unnerving, but not so much that I stopped eating it.

The bar did leave a slightly odd aftertaste in my mouth. It was slightly herby and slightly sour. I definitely wanted a big drink of water after I’d finished with two squares of the chocolate. After that, I still had a lingering taste of chocolate in the back of my throat, but it was just barely there and sort of nice.

I split the other two squares between my kids and they both really liked it. Of course, they are far less picky about sweets than I am. Probably because they are not allowed to blow their allowances on chocolate bars.

Overall:

Taste: 7/10
Appearance: 9/10
Value: 6/10 (at $2.45 this bar is a bit small for the price)

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