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Chocolate Monday: Lady M Cakes

Lady M.jpgMy first night in NYC had me in search of something sweet to follow my not nearly as I massive as I remember them being, pizza slice. It was just before 9 and since it was dark and I wasn’t really sure where I was, I didn’t want to wander too far from my hotel (hence the slice of pizza from a place with only a tiny counter and one table around the corner from where I was staying). However, the giant, strangely shaped Oculus was right across the street and promised not only stores that were closing up for the night, but also a few food venues, so I headed in.

What I found was Lady M. While I love chocolate, I am not up to date on my super fancy cakeries. However, just one look at the door told me I was in for something sweet and potentially out of my price range.  Although they have no connection, my first glance immediately reminded me of Vosges Haut Chocolat. I wasn’t sure exactly what this place had in store for me, but my curiosity was peaked, so I entered.

Lady M StoreUnfortunately, since I entered minutes before closing, they were out of just about everything. In fact, there were only two cakes left to pick slices from: the Signature Mille Crepes and a checker cake. Since the very nice gentleman working the counter suggested I try the signature version, since it’s what they are known for, I ordered one to go (obviously as there was nowhere to eat it in the store) and $9 later, I carried my slice back to my hotel room.

Yes, that’s right, the one piece of cake costs 1.5X more than my dinner had cost.

I can honestly say I have never tasted anything quite like this cake before. It was the epitome of light and airy. It is basically layer upon layer upon layer upon layer of crepes. In between each paper thin crepe layer is a layer of also paper thin pastry cream. I actually hesitate to call it a cake. It was far more like the most decadent breakfast dish ever. There was nothing even remotely cakey in the texture or taste.

It was sweet, but that’s about the only way to describe the flavor. Sweet. Not overly, cloyingly sweet, just sort of a light, slightly sweet taste. It wasn’t really vanilla. The only way I can think to describe the taste is whipped cream mixed with eggs. Not like scrambled eggs though. It was the slightly eggy taste that pancakes and crepes and waffles sometimes have. That sweet eggy taste.

Lady M with boxEach bite did basically evaporate in my mouth. I know I’ve talked of other desserts feeling like eating air, but this dessert was almost insubstantial with the way it completely melted on my tongue. I think it’s part of what makes the taste so hard to pin down and describe. It was the closest to eating air I think I’ve ever actually come.

Despite being so light, I couldn’t finish the piece. It was a large slice, but it wasn’t just the portion size. It was the taste. It was good, but it became too much unidentifiable light sweetness very quickly. The flavor was boring for me. I wanted some other notes or hints of something.

I’m glad I tried it because it was a unique taste experience I’m not sure I’ll be able to try again. If I do though, I definitely will want to try a different flavor. Or break from their signature dish and try one of their cool checker cake slices.

Overall:

Appearance: 8/10
Taste: 5/10
Value: 4/10 (an entire 9 inch cake costs $85)

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Free Reading Friday: Before the Devil Breaks You

Before the Devil Breaks YouBefore the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray has me torn. Part of me is seriously disappointed that I didn’t get all the answers I was seeking. The other part is thrilled that this series is going beyond trilogy.

When I was given this book for Christmas, I assumed it was the last of a trilogy, so I started it expecting closure. As I neared page 500 though, I realized there was no way it could wrap up and there would have to be more.

The first book in the series, The Diviners, is one of my favorites. Because the series is by Libba Bray, I assumed it would be YA fiction, as everything else I’ve read by her is. However, this series takes a much darker turn and has slightly older characters, which I think takes it out of the YA sphere. It’s hard for me to quite categorize. Supernatural thriller might be the closest I can get. No matter how it is categorized, I loved the first book.

Book 2, Lair of Dreams, was good, but I found myself struggling through it at times. Not because it was complicated, but because it got dense at times in a way I found boring at times.

Number 3 completely makes up for it though.

This chapter of the journey gives even greater insight into Evie, Sam, Theta, Ling, Memphis and Henry, although Theta, Memphis, Evie and Sam get a lot more time. This seems fair as Ling and Henry were the real focus of book 2.

This book goes into more detail about the nefarious Project Buffalo. Readers learn more about the fates of Evie’s brother James, Sam’s mother Miriam and the potentially evil Bill Johnson.

The big bad in this book is the King of Crows. He is diabolical and ready to destroy not just the Diviners, but the entire world. This book offers powerful glimpses of him, but I have a feeling Bray will show us his true evil in the next installment.

This book does leave readers burying some well-known characters. It also leaves the majority of the characters in true peril…which is a great place for the next book to pick up.

One of the reasons I love this book so much is that it brings to light some of the truly ugly pieces of outer country’s history, which are frightening parallels to what is going on today in our country. The pursuit of eugenics and the idea of purifying blood to make better Americans by getting rid of inferior races is not only a realistic portrayal of our past, but also a scary look into where some of our disturbing current beliefs about immigrants are.

In addition, Bray brings up the idea of what makes a patriot. All too often the term patriot gets used to justify horrific actions and beliefs and Bray explores just how dangerous this term can be and how grossly it can be manipulated.

I think this book is a perfect reflection of what is going on politically in America right now. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. This book reminds readers of this.

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Chocolate Monday: Eataly pastries

eataly pastriesOn my recent trip to NYC, I got to try several new desserty treats. In fact, on my very first night in the city, just hours after I touched down, finally made it to my hotel and decided to go out exploring, I found a cool candy store called Sugarfina. My first official purchase in the Big Apple was not a meal (even though I was seriously hungry), but a few tiny boxes of chocolate.

Since I was in town to do work for the College Board, they graciously provided breakfast and lunch for us each day. On our first full day of work, they also took us out for a very tasty dinner at El Vez. The meal was super tasty, especially the rey mysterio guacamole. If you ever get a chance to visit El Vez, I highly suggest trying it.

The second night, however, we were on our own to find a meal. A group of us decided to hang out together and go off in search of food. We settled on O’Hara’s Pub, which definitely would not have been my first choice for food, but since it’s clearly a firefighter/cop hangout, it reminded me of my dad and that was kind of cool. He would have loved the place. After we finished eating, half of our party wanted to go back to the hotel, but the other half had a raging sweet tooth and wanted something tasty for dessert.

I remembered my first night exploring when I’d discovered Eataly, a gigantic grocery/restaurant at the top of one of the World Trade Center buildings. In addition to the largest spread of cheese I think I’ve ever seen and a pizza place that made the slice I’d had at a corner store look woefully pathetic, I’d seen a gelato counter. Even though I hadn’t tried it that first night, it’s pretty hard to screw up gelato, so I suggested we check it out.

Although the gelato looked very tempting, there was no one working at that counter when we arrived and since it is right next to an amazing looking pastry counter, my eyes drifted over. La Pasticceria E had several dozen pastry offerings. More importantly, they had several tiny pastries, and for about $9 I was able to get 3 mini pastries to try. Which is exactly what I did.

eataly close up pastryI wasn’t smart enough to write down any of their names, but the first one I tried was a pistachio sponge cake that had a raspberry glazed top and a cut little pistachio nut. The layers of cake had raspberry filling in between. Oh my, this was LOVELY! The raspberry was achingly tart, just the way I like it. The pistachio cake was a little lost in the tart of the berry, but pistachio is a rather delicate taste to begin with, so it didn’t bother me. It made me wish that I’d chosen the bigger version of this one instead of three small treats.

That was until I tasted the second one. It was basically a cone shaped mound of whipped cream placed on a little cookie-like bottom and dipped in chocolate. It was heavenly! The cream was so light and airy. It was like eating a cloud. The chocolate, which I was worried would be dark and bitter was not at all. I’m not sure if the cream just balanced it out or if it was just a perfectly mellow bit of dark chocolate, but it was just that, balanced. I would have been happy eating a dozen of these babies.

Finally I tried the Chantilly cream puff. I’d had a large Chantilly cream puff last year on a visit to Charleston and it was one of the best desserts I’d ever tasted. I had high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, it did let me down just a tad. It was good, but I think I was so dazzled by the first two that this one just couldn’t live up. The cream was good. It was light and very fluffy. I couldn’t quite make out distinct flavors, but then again, it was such a small morsel that it was gone almost too quickly to. It was good, but not nearly as memorable as the first two.

My experience at Eataly was amazing and if I ever find myself back in NYC (or maybe the next time I’m in Chicago), I am heading there for sure.

Overall:

Appearance: 10/10
Taste: 8.5/10
Value: 8.5/10

 

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Free Reading Friday: The Graveyard Book

Graveyard bookI really loved The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. The story was fantastic and I adored the fact the audiobook was read by Neil Gaiman himself. He has a soothing, yet slightly creepy voice, which is perfect for this book. I always love when authors read their own books because they obviously put so much of themselves into the writing of the book that they truly understand each character’s voice and motivation.

This story is a delightful, if sinister tale of intrigue. It starts with the murder of an entire family, which is very unsettling. Well, nearly the entire family is murdered. The baby, who is not yet two years old, manages to get out of the house and into the local graveyard. Although the killer attempts to follow him, the baby is found by the Owens’, a ghost couple who never had children of their own. Although it takes a bit of coaxing to get everyone in the graveyard to accept a live boy, as he doesn’t belong there, with the help of Silas, a vampire, the boy is allowed to stay.

Nobody Owens, as he is quickly named, gets the protection of the graveyard and his would be assailant is unable to find him, as long as he is safely tucked away in the graveyard.

Bod grows up in the graveyard and over the course of the 15 years the novel covers, he has many brushes with sinister characters, including the Sleer, ghouls, and of course, the man Jack, who is still hunting him.

A fantastic read for anyone in grade 5 and above. I couldn’t wait to share it with my son who is in 5th grade. It was so much fun to talk about the book together and share our favorite parts of the story. Thankfully he loved it as much as I did. Not that I’m surprised as Coraline is one of his favorite books.

I also suggested the book to several of my students. It got passed around quite a bit thanks in part to a glowing recommendation from the first student I convinced to read it. I think it speaks to the universality of a book when 11 year olds 18 year old and 40 somethings can all love the same book.

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Chocolate Monday: Sprinkles

sprinkles red velvetRecently I was in New York to do some independent contract work for the College Board. Since my colleagues and I were working nine hours each day from Sat-Mon, the College Board provided both breakfast and lunch for us and even gave us a generous per diem for dinner.

I wasn’t expecting much in the way of breakfast or lunch as conference food is usually mediocre at best. However, I have to say the College Board can put up quite a spread. Although I never thought I’d ever write these words, by Monday we were pretty happy to arrive at breakfast and not find some sort of Mexican food, but lack of variety aside, the food was tasty.

Even better than breakfast and lunch was the fact that every day around 3 pm, just when the post-lunch food coma was setting in, our wonderful facilitators brought around a box filled with amazingly sugar morsels to pick us up and get us back on track. Each day these sweet treats came from Sprinkles.

Although I’d heard of Sprinkles through Cupcake Wars and through a fun little segment I watched on their cupcake ATM, I’d never actually tasted any of Candace Nelson’s creations. Technically I suppose I still haven’t had one of Nelson’s creations since she lives on the West Coast and I somehow doubt she spends much time in the Sprinkle’s kitchen these days.

But as usual, I digress.

On Saturday afternoon, our hosts brought around a box of cupcakes for us to pick from. We had three options: milk chocolate, strawberry or cinnamon sugar. As delicious as the last two sounded, I am first and foremost a chocolate girl, so I had to grab the milk chocolate one.

Sprinkles chocolateI will admit that when I was told it was milk chocolate, I was expecting, well, milk chocolate. I was not expecting the cake itself to be a dark chocolate. It was a bit bitter. Not so much that it was overpowering, but bitter enough that it definitely lessened my enjoyment. And it wasn’t just because the cake was misnamed. The cake was a tad bitter. While I did not initially think the cupcake had much frosting, as I was eating it, the frosting became a bit overwhelming. It was light, but as I continued to munch it, it felt like the cake disappeared and there was more icing than I originally thought. It was decent, but considering all of the hype I’d heard surrounding the first cupcake shop, I was expecting more.

Sprinkles completely redeemed itself on Sunday when the guys brought around cookies to soothe our sweet teeth. I grabbed a salted oatmeal cornflake cookie. Cornflakes are never my go to cereal, but I’m a big fan of salty sweet and an even BIGGER fan of oatmeal cookies. Oh my goodness! This cookie was AMAZING! It was the absolute perfect balance of salt and sweet. I loved that most of the salt was concentrated on the center of the cookie. Because I always prefer the center pieces of anything (crispy edges are not my thing), I tend to eat the edges of my cookies first, saving the best for last. In this case it meant saving the salty oatey sweetness until the end. The cornflakes didn’t add much flavor wise, but I think they did add a tad bit of crunch and really helped round the cookie out. Seriously one of the best cookies I’ve ever had.

Since we had a shorter work day on Monday, we weren’t expecting another treat. But, the College Board smiled upon us once again. This time, they brought another round of cupcakes to us…just a bit early. This time we were offered vanilla milk, vanilla or red velvet. As the milk chocolate didn’t thrill me and I wasn’t in a vanilla mood, I grabbed a red velvet.

Usually I find red velvet overrated. I didn’t have high hopes for this one since my first Sprinkles cupcake experience had been lack luster. Thankfully I was once again surprised. Although it was not as good as the cookie (that would be quite hard), it was a very solid, very tasty offering. The cake was perfectly moist. It had a great cocoa flavor without having to resort to tricks like adding chocolate chips. The cream cheese frosting was the perfect balance. It wasn’t overly sweet and nothing about this tasted artificial, which is a real problem red velvet often has. I truly enjoyed it.

Overall:

Taste: 8/10
Value: ????? They were free for me, so this is a 10/10 for that, but I have no idea how much they actually cost. However, I would easily pay $3 or $4 for that cookie. I might even be induced to shell over $5 for it.
Appearance: 9/10

 

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Free Reading Friday: Unshakeable

unshakeableMy principal gave me this book a few weeks before winter break and told me to read it if I got the chance. Unlike the Fish! book about improving morale, he wasn’t going to make Unshakeable by Angela Watson a school-wide book study. However, he’d liked it enough that he’d gone ahead and ordered a copy for every teacher in the building to read (or not read) at their leisure.

Although I am always a bit wary of books about education, I decided to go ahead and commit to reading it. I know it probably sounds odd for a teacher to say she’s wary of books about her profession. I mean, shouldn’t books about how to improve as a teacher be very important to my growth and development as a teacher?

In my experiences, I’ve found that they can be at times. But so often educational tomes are written by elementary teachers and while the advice and strategies offered are no doubt wonderful for elementary teachers, they have very little carry over into the secondary world.

I’m glad to say that Unshakeable did a better job of meeting my expectations than many education books do. While a large portion of the advice is definitely geared at elementary teachers, there are some gems in here for secondary teachers as well. Many of those gems I am already incorporating into my teaching, so it’s nice to see someone else confirm what I already believe to be best practice. Like Watson, I feel it is very important to be genuine with my students. I think they need to see the real me and know that I am not putting on some sort of educational three-ring circus in my class. I use humor and anecdotes about my life to connect to my kids. I respond to their journals and ask questions about their lives and interests and most share them with me. I take the time to get to know at least one important bit of information about every student I teach and that is hard considering I have nearly 150 students this year. But it’s important and I think it matters to my students, so I do it.

While I definitely appreciate her enthusiasm and some of her ideas, I do still see a huge elementary influence in this book. One of her early suggestions is to take time to call each parent to introduce yourself as a teacher and mention one positive note about their child. She suggests doing this in the first week or two of school. This is an awesome idea…if you have a class of 20-30 kids. She mentions that it took about an hour of her life and it was worth it. I don’t doubt it was. However, there is no conceivable way for me to do this for 150 students, especially since in the first week or two I’ve only spent a few hours with them and don’t know them (or their habits) very well yet.

I think her idea of having family festival nights or of having parents drop by the classroom before school starts is a great one, but again, with 150 students there is no physical way I could host these kind of events. The same is true of her idea to be outside the classroom and greet each student indvidually. This is a great practice and I try to do it as often as possible, however, my classes are 85 minutes long with five minute passing periods. Those passing periods are the only time I get to go to the bathroom, so as much as I’d love to stand outside my room and engage each one of my students, that’s not possible. I usually barely make it back to my room before the bell rings.

There is definitely merit in a lot of Watson writes and so much of her book is about having the right attitude while teaching, which is essential to loving the job. I just wish more secondary teachers would write these types of books because the difference between being an elementary teacher and a high school teacher is almost like the difference between being a lawyer and a judge. Yes, our jobs center on the same ideas and basic principles, but our roles and the way we apply those ideas and principles are so very different.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Sushi Go!

sushi go cardsLast year when I took my kids to Athens, Georgia to visit my best friend, we spent a rainy afternoon at the always delightful Rook & Pawn. Not only did we have some super tasty food (I highly suggest the grilled cheese–Rook & Pawn style), but we also played about half a dozen board and card games.

I LOVE board and card games. For as long as I can remember, I have adored gathering around a table with friends and family to play just about any kind of board, card or charade-like game out there. I like ones that require me to come up with complex strategies and be completely cut throat. I like ones that allow me to play cooperative to achieve a common goal. I like those that allow me to make a complete fool of myself with my terrible pantomime or drawing skills. I even loves those games like solitaire that I can play all by myself. Board and card games are my jam.

While we were at the Rook & Pawn, we discovered an adorable new card game called Sushi Go! None of us had ever played it before, but since it is one of the few games that was nearly age appropriate for my daughter (who was 7 at the time) and still looked like something the rest of us wanted to play, we grabbed the deck, laid out the rules and shuffled the cards.

The game is pretty easy to actually play. Depending on the number of players, each player gets dealt a certain number of cards (in the three player game we played tonight, we each got 9). Everyone looks at their hand, picks one card they want to use and sets it down, face down. Once everyone has their card placed face down, everyone reveals this card and then passes their hand clockwise.

Sounds simple enough, right?

There is strategy involved though as different card combinations earn players different points. For example, the sashimi cards pay off big: 10 points–but only if you get three of them. And, when you keep rotating hands, there is a very real chance you won’t be able to collect three. Especially if other players are also trying to collect them.

As a parent, I think this is a great game because it is simple and goes quickly, which gives kids little time to get bored. There are multiple rounds, so even if my kids don’t win the first (or second) round, since their points add up, they hold out hope to win in the end. I also love the cards themselves. And so does my daughter. The adorable anthropomorphic pieces of sushi are not only cute to look at, but they actually make my daughter care less about her score. She doesn’t quite get all the strategy to the game (it is for ages 8+ and she just turned 8 last month), but she thinks the sushi pieces are “so cute,” that she doesn’t even mind losing. And believe me, any game that doesn’t make one of my kids want to toss the board/cards (they might get that competitive streak very honestly from me–I’ve never actually tossed a board though), is pure gold.

Although we love the game and have played it on each subsequent visit to Rook & Pawn, we don’t actually own it. It wasn’t until Monday, while I was desperately looking for a gift to bring home for my kids after a trip to NYC that I saw the game in a cute mall-like kiosk and had to have it. My daughter chortled with absolute glee when she saw it on the dining room table this morning. And sure enough, as soon as we got home from school, she asked if we could play it. I made them wait until after dinner, but then we gathered together, dealt out the cards and had a lot of un.

 

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