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Chocolate Monday: The Cake Shop (Oxford)

Oxford cakes.jpgOne of my absolute favorite parts of traveling is trying new types of chocolate. I just got back from the UK on Thursday and I wish I could say the majority of my souvenirs were not of the edible variety, but alas, I spent more on chocolate goodies than on anything else. In all fairness, this was my 5th visit to the UK and I’m not someone who wears t-shirts or sweatshirts very often nor am I someone who collects shot glasses or random tchotchkes of Stonehenge or Stratford or Edinburgh Castle…no matter how cool I may find the actual places.

Instead I spent my money on a few Harry Potter gifts for my children, magnets for my classroom whiteboard (I’m always in need of them) and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

making cakes in OxfordOne of the coolest chocolate stops I made was at the Cake Shop in Oxford. When I set out to look for fun and unique chocolate treats in the UK, I was thinking more along the lines of candy bars, truffles and cookies. The idea of buying a cake never crossed my mind. That is until I saw the absolutely adorable cakes on display in the window of this shop. I knew I had to have one.

The shop, which is located inside The Oxford Covered Market, had about 100 small square cakes on display. Some of them were extremely elaborate like the ones in the picture at the top of this post. I really, really wanted to buy that octopus cake in my picture, but knew there was no way I would want to eat all that fondant. Fondant may be beautiful, but it is not tasty. Most of the truly gorgeous small cakes for sale were also English fruit cakes. Try as I might, I have never been able to develop a taste for fruitcake. My grandmother, who was a disaster in the kitchen at anything except desserts, made fruit cake every year. Every year I would try it and while others raved about how good it was, I couldn’t stomach it. So, despite really wanting one of those beautiful designs, I had to make another choice.

close up Oxford CakeThey had simpler sponge cakes that just had expressions like “It’s a boy!” or “Happy Birthday” on them. I didn’t want an occasion cake though. Luckily for me, there were also blank sponge cakes in chocolate and vanilla available for sale. There was also a whole shelf full of fondant decorations that could be added onto any cake. My choice was easy: a chocolate sponge cake with an adorable book (in green, my favorite color) and a sunflower. It might not have been the cutest cake they made, but it was one I thought I might actually like.

 

I didn’t get to eat the cake right away. We had some VERY long days on our tour of London and I actually didn’t get to eat the cake until the morning we left for home. Yes, that’s right, I ate the cake for breakfast. My students laughed at me, especially after I teased one for eating sushi for breakfast, but I didn’t care. It’s not the first time I’ve eaten cake for breakfast and it will not be the last I’m sure.

The cake itself was moist. It had a layer of chocolate cream on the inside that was rich and delicious. Since it was covered in fondant, it did take a bit away from the taste of itself. It was lovely to look at, but it was mostly just a bit of chewy tastelessness. Although when it was eaten with the cake, it was fine and actually tempered some of the sugaryness of the cake. Still, I ended up sort of picking the cake out from under the fondant and leaving a rather large chunk of fondant on the cake board. I ate the sunflower, but not the book. I wanted to, I really did, but instead I pawned it off on a student. Even she could only eat part of it.

I’m glad I took the chance on this little cake because it was a truly fun experience, but it was a bit pricey. My cake ended up costing about $12.50, which was definitely a fair price for the artistry that went into the cake, but since the artistry was all fondant, it’s not a price I would pay again.

Overall:

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

 

 

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Chocolate Monday: Godiva Wonderful City of Dreams

godiva NYCWhen my best friend was visiting, we made our traditional sojourner to our favorite mall. It’s kind of a fru-fru mall with all sorts of high end shops. Not that we shop at most of them. We just aren’t Armani, or Burberry or Coach girls. We are Anthropologie girls (at least I like to shop their discount rack) and we are definitely Lush, Body Shop, David’s Teas and Godiva girls.

We can never hit this mall without a stop at Godiva. In fact, one of our favorite traditions is to stop in at Godiva and get a couple of delicious chocolate treats to take in to the arts theater at the mall. Instead of spending $10 on a tiny popcorn and a drink, we spend that money on truffles to nibble.

This time we skipped the movie, but did not skip the trip to Godiva. I was thrilled to see they had some new chocolates to try. While both my BFF and I like Godiva quite a bit, our biggest complaint is that we’ve gotten a bit bored with their offerings. I know it’s because their case hasn’t changed much in the nearly two decades we’ve been visiting our local boutique. So, whenever they have anything new, it is my vow to try it.

That’s how I found myself selecting all three of the Wonderful City of Dreams chocolates they offered in the case. For some reason, they did not have the Shanghai Lychee for sale as a single piece. I’m sure this is probably a ploy to get people to buy the box, but since the box was $20 for 9 pieces (2 of each new piece and one standard hazelnut heart), I resigned myself to forgoing the lychee treat and being satisfied with the other three.

Inspired by my most recent trip to NYC, I started with the New York Cheesecake. I really enjoyed the fact that the creamy cheesecake filling in this treat has bits of cookie in it, which definitely reminded me of the delicious graham cracker crust of a real cheesecake. The choice to cover this in a blond chocolate was an interesting one. I was worried it might make it overly sweet, but surprisingly it didn’t. It added to the creamy taste of the cheesecake without leaving a film in my mouth that white chocolate often does. I also really liked the imprint of the Statue of Liberty’s famous crown on the top of the piece. It was cute and the second I saw it, even without knowing the flavor, I immediately thought of cheesecake.

Godiva TokyoNext up was the Tokyo Yuzu Orange. I’m not entirely sure what the building on the top of the chocolate is. It looks a bit like the Empire State Building, but I am assuming it is a famous building from Tokyo. I do like the little orange branches that surround it though. I’m not sure I’ve ever had yuzu before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. While the milk chocolate shell was creamy, the inside had a distinctive bitter taste that I was not fond of. It was far more grapefruit than orange. To be honest, I couldn’t really taste the orange at all. All I got was the bitter aftertaste of grapefruit….and maybe yuzu. It was really hard to finish this chocolate. And I know this will sound odd, but it left an odd taste in the back of my throat that reminded me of espresso.

Godiva LondonI decided to finish my tasting with the London Fraise Violette. This one have an image of the iconic double decker bus on it (even if it is more pink than red), and since I am leaving for the UK in four days, I was the most excited about this one. I was worried that the hints of violet might be overpowering. I’ve eaten several different types of floral chocolates and if the balance is not good, it ends up tasting perfumey, which is simply awful. I really wanted the strawberry to balance it out. At first, the violet hints were just that. I got a slightly floral taste at the back of my throat, which did remind me a tad of baby shampoo, but for the most part it was slightly sweet strawberry. It is not as good as the strawberry filling in their strawberry and cream truffle. I’m not really what about this piece screamed London, as so much of what I’ve eaten in London seems to be centered on lemon curd, toffee and black currants, but for the most part I liked it. It did leave me with a slight perfume taste afterwards and I found myself needing a drink to wash my mouth clean.

For the most part, these pieces were definitely better to look at than eat. As much as I love some of Godiva’s standards, lately their new pieces have not been impressing me much.

Overall:

Taste: 6/10
Appearance: 10/10
Value: 6/10

 

 

 

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Chocolate Monday: Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Happy Birthday Truffle bar

3 Cs birthday cake bar with confettiI am not generally someone who loves shopping. I know that according to pretty much every movie, TV show or book ever written, that as a woman, I am supposed to simply adore shopping. I am supposed to reach near orgasmic heights at the prospect of finding some amazing discount on designer shoes or purses or some such nonsense. Although I can name some designers, aside from the famous Burberry pattern, I’m not sure I could actually identify anything by a designer. Oh wait, does Vera Bradley count? I can pretty much always recognize her stuff. Not because I like it (I am not a fan), but because just about every teacher in the world has some sort of Vera Bradley bag. I have four different friends with Vera Bradley lunchboxes.

But as usual, I digress.

About the only time I actually enjoy shopping is if I am with my best friend. And then, it isn’t for the shopping, but for the company. I love being out and about with my BFF. As long as we are not in Anthropologie, she actually makes trying on clothes kind of fun. A part of each trip to visit her in Athens, Georgia means finding one of her college students to babysit my kiddos so that the two of us can have a few hours to have a semi-fancy lunch and hit downtown to look at the fun shops.

At one of our stops this year, we found a store that carries pretty much everything girly. There were clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry, cards, soaps, lotions…if it seems like it should be in a boutique for women, they have some version of it. I’ve been in this store a lot, so I wasn’t really surprised at the majority of the inventory. However, when I saw a whole display of Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate bars and truffles, I knew I would be making a purchase this year.

3 Cs birthday cake packageMy BFF decided to buy the box of truffles. Each night as we watched something fun on TV, she’d take out two truffles, cut them in half and we’d savor them. I don’t actually remember any of the flavors of them, but I do remember enjoying them. My contribution to our nightly chocolate fest was two of their chocolate bars. I grabbed the Sea Salt Caramel bar (not sure how I’d miss this one so far) and the Happy Birthday truffle bar.

The Happy Birthday bar is really pretty cute. I think the little pieces of candy confetti on the back are a nice touch. While it may not be quite the same as eating the delicious looking cupcake on the front of the package, I love that they did their best to replicate the experience by adding the confetti. Visually I love it. However, I am not a big fan of sprinkles or candy dots like this on actual cake. I don’t like the crunch they give desserts and I don’t like the strange, nondescript sugar taste they add to an otherwise delicious treat. These candy dots are no exception. They detract a bit from my enjoyment because they add a sort of useless extra crunch to the bar.

3 Cs birthday close upThe milk chocolate is smooth and creamy and I think the best part of this bar is the bites of simple solid chocolate. The filling claims to be a buttercream frosting truffle. I’m not quite sure what a buttercream truffle would be as I’ve never had another company claim to make one. The center of the bar definitely reminds me of cake frosting, but once again, not in the way I’d hope for. It is almost too sweet. It reminds me a bit of the poorly made, almost cloyingly sweet frosting that comes on cheap grocery store cakes. My kids loved it, but then again, they both love sprinkles on cupcakes and love those cheap grocery store cupcakes some parent always brings in for classroom celebration days. I find myself scraping the frosting off and then being sad that the cake is too dry.

I had high hopes for this bar as birthday cake is one of my favorite foods in the world. Sadly, this was not a happy celebration.

Overall:

Taste: 4/10
Appearance: 8/10
Value: 3/10 (since I didn’t like it, it definitely made the $5 bar of chocolate seem way over priced).

 

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Wildcard Wednesday: Fitness trackers

fitness bandA few weeks ago I was at Target looking for a fitness band to store my iPod Classic (yeah, I’m old school) in while I work out. The electronics department had them, but they were a bit pricey. Thankfully they guy working the desk mentioned that they might have one in the back to school aisle.

I thought this was kind of an odd place to find them until I ventured over to that part of the store and found what were clearly the back to college aisles. Eight weeks ago when I’d gone back to school shopping for my kiddos, hardly any of the regular school supplies were out and none of the college wares were on display.

Not only did I find a fitness band that works perfectly adequately (I know, that is not a ringing endorsement, but it’s honest, and it was only $5), but I also found an off-brand fitness tracker for $10.

Now, for $10 I knew I wasn’t going to get much. However, since it promised that not only would it track my steps and tell me the time, but also allow me to set alarms using gentle vibrations, just like my Fitbit, I figured I had to give it a go.

For the most part, I love my Fitbit. I’m generally pretty darn happy with it. The only way my Fitbit could be better is if it a) told the time (I have the original Fitbit Flex) and b) held a longer charge (it is nearly two years old and now only holds a charge for 4-5 days).

My intention with this new fitness tracker was not to replace my Fitbit. My intention was to use it when my Fitbit is charging. Since I rely on my Fitbit not just to count my steps, but also to wake me up in the morning (a feature I ADORE), I thought this new tracker could be a real help for me. Normally I have to lose steps in order to plug my Fitbit in long enough to charge so that I can still wear it to bed so my alarm will go off. My plan was to wake up, put this fitness tracker on, then charge my Fitbit while I’m at work, then put my Fitbit back on just before I go to bed.

Sounds pretty great, right?

The first day it was. I loved being able to check the time on my tracker. I also loved that with the touch of a button I could see my steps. The only odd part was that I seemed to be taking a lot fewer steps than usual. And, for some reason, the alarm randomly went off at like 4 am and then again at like 8 am and then again at like 3 pm. Still, I made just over 10,000 and it seemed to be a ok.

I decided to wear it a second day. After all the alarm bug magically fixed itself, the band was a cute mint green, and I really liked that watch feature. However, even after doing a Zumba routine, I did not hit 10K. I have never made it an entire day at school and gone to a Zumba class and not hit my 10K. After all that work, the tracker was only registering like 8K. That made no sense to me.

I tried it a third day, which included a trip to the gym (although it was doing circuit training) and had similar results. That was when I realized that I clearly got what I paid for, a cheap watch with an alarm that counted some of my steps.

Oh well, it just reaffirmed my desire to get a new Fitbit which meets my current needs. Plus, my kids have been wanting Fitbits of their own and since I picked up an extra tracker (in black), I have a feeling mine might find its way into my daughter’s stocking while the black one ends up in my son’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall:

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

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

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