Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vintage Cookbooks

We spent the morning searching through yard sales, tag sales and a used book shop. Of course, we had to do lunch- fish 'n chips at the Merrie Olde Crafte Faire & British Festival. Awesome food aside, we came upon some vintage cookbooks that, if for no other purpose, shall provide some entertaining reading.

For a whopping $1 (US), we scarfed up 6 from the 1960s Better Homes and Gardens collection:
  • So-Good Meals "100 tasty ways to please your family! How to eat at home and like it!" (!)
  • Snacks and Refreshments "100 superb snacks- dips, nibbles, sandwiches, desserts, teatime tidbits"
  • Meals with a Foreign Flair "100 recipes from 18 countries! Main dishes, desserts, breads, salads- prize souvenirs from around the world!"
  • Meals in Minutes "Shortcut cooking, 180 recipes that BEAT THE CLOCK! Mealtime, on time, will be no problem!"
  • Cooking with CHEESE
  • And the piece de resistance... Jiffy Cooking!
 Once we were home, I realized there was a cookbook Don has had since before I even met him. The elusive Cookies and Candies:

We can't wait to see what memories will come back to us and possibly new food memories that await! I'll keep you posted...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Crazy Train, Italian style!

Wood-fired pizza at Cosimo's the other night inspired another memorable pizza moment... the Crazy Train in Italy.

While staying at our truly awesome villa outside of Florence, we'd have to pass through the little town of Compiobbi everyday. Along the way was a little dive called the Crazy Train pizzeria right next to the train tracks. We'd all joke about how we HAD to eat there, though one of us was not keen on the idea. "We didn't travel all this way to eat at some dive pizzeria." Remember those fateful words...

Finally, majority ruled and we descended upon the Crazy Train. Individual pizzas abounded and we each ordered our own. Wanting to try different things, we all swapped slices and enjoyed a piece of everyone else's pie. Fantastic! Every bite of every pizza was amazing. Even better was the fact that 7 of us each ordered a pizza, drinks and several of us ordered desserts and the bill came to well under $100!!

Later that week, seeking inspiration for our last dinner together, someone had the idea to get food to bring back to the villa rather than shopping and cooking. Why not revisit the Crazy Train? That we did. And no, we did not travel all that way to eat at some dive pizzeria. We traveled all that way to eat there twice! :)

Not the Crazy Train, but the view from our villa fabuloso!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Forgive my hiatus!

Sorry for the lapse in posting. With school starting a few weeks ago, things have been a little busy and my 28 students kind of took precedence temporarily.

I still have many memories to share, so it won't be long until posts come more regularly!

Thanks for hanging in there.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Belgian Waffles

Every time we go shopping, we are reminded of these delectable treats. The following picture adorns one of our credit cards*: 
How many different ways can you top your waffle?
What's not to love? And to make things even tastier, there are two types of Belgian waffles ("gaufres" in French): the Brussels waffle and the Liege waffle. The Brussels waffle is typically a lighter textured waffles with deep pockets to fill with various toppings, whereas the Liege waffle tends to be on the richer, denser and sweeter side. It's almost as if it has a subtle caramelized sugar coating. There are many other nuances to Belgian waffles, but those are the very basic distinguishing characteristics. I'll take either one right now. While we do have quite an awesome waffle maker, it's not quite the same. Only a true Belgian waffle is enjoyed on the streets of Brussels while jockeying for the best shot of the wee little Manneken Pis statue (pun intended), shopping for chocolate and Smurfs, and seeking out where you'll stop for a fine Belgian brew. Enjoy a gaufre while strolling through a Bruges flea market where you'll find a 5-Euro souvenir toaster. It could happen...

A few words of warning: While it is tempting to pile the toppings on your waffle, use caution and a little bit of common sense. Powdered sugar is very tempting, but as soon as something catches your eye you'll want to take a breath as you try to exclaim to your companions, thus bringing on a major coughing fit. Chocolate will also lure you in, but beware! It just might be molten chocolate lava that makes eating your waffle with any kind of tact seemingly impossible. Strawberries are good, but they're too darn healthy. If you must have them, slather them with a heaping pile of whipped cream!

*Yes, this is our photo, taken when we went to Belgium in 2005. Thanks to Capital One, we were able to customize our card! (What's in YOUR wallet?)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer fruit!

Take a moment to vote for your favorite summer fruit in the poll to the right =====>
(You can vote for more than one!)

Please leave a comment about which one(s) bring back fond summer memories for you!

Raspberries remind me of growing up. We had bushes in our backyard, both red and black. I was more partial to the black caps. Nothing was better than walking outside every morning, picking a handful and enjoying them instantly on my cereal! I still take great pleasure in finding ripe berries and eating them right then and there.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Deep-fried pickles!

I know what you're thinking... heart attack on a plate with a side of ranch dressing. Absolutely! We first encountered these a couple of years ago when we went out to dinner with our friends who were visiting us in Bar Harbor. Looking for someplace with decent food at reasonable prices, we stumbled upon the Thirsty Whale. Not much to look at, but we took a table and perused the menu. Deep-fried pickles? Hmmm... intriguing. According to Rich, you should find the one thing on the menu that scares you the most and try it. Done. 

How can you not love 'em?

These were no measly little slices either, they were whole spears that were battered (with something decidedly spicy in there), deep-fried until golden and served up with some cooling ranch in which to dip these evil spears of death. Well, there's something to be said about taking a chance. These were goooooooood!

So good, in fact, we returned to the Thirsty Whale the other day just to relive their glory. Sure enough, just as good. Though we could have just gotten away with just those for dinner since the rest of the meal was so big. But I digress...

The moral of the story: Find the one thing on the menu that scares you the most and try it! You just might be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, July 15, 2011


What's another name for a can of quenching, lemony goodness? Limonata. Lemon soda. Made by the San Pellegrino company (of bottled water fame), we first discovered this tasty drink while on vacation in Italy.

One day we took a ferry boat from Varenna and upon setting foot on land in Bellagio, Don decided he needed something cold and refreshing to drink. As luck would have it there was a drink cart stationed right off the dock. Wanting to go for something a little more exotic than a Coke, he opted for a Limonata. From that moment we've been hooked. Not long after that we hiked up to Castello di Vezio, a centuries-old castle perched high on a hill overlooking beautiful Lake Como. What did we find at the top at the entrance to the castle grounds? A bar! Seriously, these Italians know what it's all about. Well, it was a bit early for the heavy stuff so we decided on a cold can of our new favorite soft drink.

After returning home, we longed for the bubbly, citrusy drink we had in Italy. Lo and behold it existed here in the States! We also discovered Limonata's sister: Aranciata (orange flavored) It's not cheap ($4-5 per 6-pack), but every once in a while we indulge and take ourselves back to Lake Como even if for a brief moment.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Old-school beverages

We ate at Ruby Tuesday's recently, not that we eat at chains often but it was the day before our kayak trip. We didn't have much food, didn't want leftovers and hoped for at least the choice of something healthy. Knowing they had a salad bar, off we went.

This was much fancier than the RT's I remember growing up. One in particular will always stick in my mind: Pigeon Forge, TN. Most of you have probably never even heard of it much less been there. Well, it was one of our many road trip vacations... either to the World's Fair in Knoxville or to Nashville in the mid-80s. (Maybe both.) Anyway, besides the memorable name of the town, one thing will always bring back memories- the kiddie drinks. Everyone knows that a Shirley Temple is 7-Up or Sprite with grenadine syrup. Given the time period, RT's was too cool for curly-haired cuties from the 30s and 40s. Bring on the Princess Leia! Ah, yes. The era of Star Wars and all its glory. Being huge fans of the franchise, my sister and I were all over this one. Of course, if you felt like sipping over to the dark side, you could order the Darth Vader (Coke or Pepsi with grenadine)!

May the force be with you!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Fish & Chips

You can't go to London and not have fish & chips. Seriously, you can't... it's the law. O.K. maybe not, but it's just one of those 'When in Rome" kind of things. Of course, me being me, I had to do extensive research on where to find the best in London. I had a short list of little take-away joints, including the awesomely named Fishcotecque. Well, plans are just that. Plans. Things went differently than planned and that's o.k. If we never stumbled across the Porterhouse in Covent Garden, I would have never left my hat there (I'm convinced that where it defected) and I never would have had an excuse to buy a funky, furry new hat!

Back to the food... Porterhouse is an Irish gastropub. Four locations in Ireland and one in London. Lucky us! This was our first day in London with Jeff and Melissa, so we had some catching up to do. We didn't eat before they came, figuring we'd do what we do best together- EAT! So we were good and hungry. Three of us went for the classic fish & chips and Don opted for Bangers and Mash. Our portions were huge pieces of beer-battered (what else?) cod, thick chips and mushy peas. I'm not a pea person, but I had to at least see what this whole mushy pea thing was all about. Well, say the name- mushy peas. That's what you get. Not blown away, I focus on what I'm really there for- the fish & chips. Big, yes. Heavy, not at all. Delicious with tartare (sic) sauce and a nice pint. Cheers!

We never did get to Fishcoteque. I guess that gives us a reason to go back!

Monday, May 9, 2011

$7 Hot Dog

No, I'm not talking Yankee Stadium. This pricey tube steak was enjoyed in London. Seriously, who goes all the way to London to eat a hot dog? Not us, but when you need food sometimes good old street food just hits the spot.

It was a rainy day, perfect for visiting the British Museum and all its treasures within. As we left, there was a hot dog cart right outside the gate and boy did it smell good. We waited a little while to order and wouldn't you know it, just as I got up to order the Bobbies came and closed the cart down! Apparently operating without the proper license is a no-no. So, no bootleg dog for me. 

As we walked onward, the need for a hot dog still had a hold of me. All I needed was that initial whiff and I wouldn't settle for anything else. So we came across a tiny little hot dog stand. Not a cart, but not an actual food service joint. Basically, picture a newsstand that sells hot dogs, candy, salty snacks and drinks. Two hot dogs ordered, $15 spent. Were they worth it? Cost-wise, no. Definitely not the world's best hot dog. Hunger satisfaction-wise, oh yeah! When the food jones calls, you'd better answer it!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Christmas in London (part 2)

So Christmas Eve was enjoyable and provided us with a laid-back day to ease into London. Christmas morning greeted us heartily with a humongous breakfast (see English Breakfast post) and allowed us to venture out for a lovely day of walking most of central London.

A major concern in booking this trip was the fact that everything we read said that EVERYTHING was closed on Christmas Day. Figuring most restaurants would be closed, I did exhaustive research online to find something- anything- that would be open for a decent holiday meal. Along came Ozer, a Turkish restaurant. Indeed they were open, with a regular menu even. Reservations made. Of course it wasn't right near our hotel, so we had to walk as the Tube IS closed on Christmas Day. No worries- no snow and good food made it worth it.

Never having eaten Turkish food, we were up for the challenge. No challenge here except how to narrow down our choices! With it's Mediterranean location, Turkey offers many foods similar to Greek cuisine (which we love). To start, we ordered an appetizer sampler- falafel, salads, eggplant, spinach & feta and the like. Score one for Ozer. Don found a more classic Christmas dish- turkey- for his entree. Yes, Turkish turkey. I went for the house special of grilled meatballs in a tomato and yogurt sauce. Score two more for Ozer. We had to top it all off with dessert, so we opted for Baklava. Once again, Ozer delivered. A nice holiday feast that will surely be our only Turkish Christmas dinner!

Ozer @ Oxford Circus

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Christmas in London

Christmas Eve 2009 was our first (real) foray into English food. The salt-lick, yet strangely intriguing, baguette sandwich we had at Heathrow upon arrival doesn't really count. So, other than stocking up on crisps, not knowing if anything would be open where we could get food on Christmas Day, we ventured into the Jack Horner Pub for dinner. 

At first it felt a little weird to be in a pub at Christmastime, but a pint of Fuller's and some cheeky Brit fare changed our attitude entirely. The fish and chips came highly recommended by some fellow guests and then we took a chance on the Jack Horner Pie (specialty of the house)- a shepherd's pie type dish filled with meat and veggies. Both delivered on being delicious and filling. Who said English food is bland? We found it quite enjoyable; nothing a wee shake of salt couldn't cure! ;)

Score one for the London food scene so far. Sure, this was one of many in the Fuller Ale and Pie House chain, but it had the feel of a nice cozy local pub. Good beer, great food and fun people watching! Cheers to the Jack Horner Pub!

Jack Horner Pub, Tottenham Court Road

Of course, we opted out of dessert and decided to stock up on crisps, biscuits (aka cookies) and chocolate! Then off to the hotel to relax, watch some BBC on the tube and indulge in some nontraditional Christmas snacks.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I've always enjoyed potato chips, finding it hard to resist their salty goodness (especially with Bison Chip Dip). In England, however, they take their "crisps" VERY seriously! Funky flavors abound... I just wish I could try them all! (Well, maybe not the Prawn Cocktail flavor.) Even plain crisps aren't called plain; they're "Ready Salted." How very properly English. Of course they have the standard Cheese & Onion, Salt & Vinegar and such, but why bother? We can get those stateside. Here's a sampling of some creative flavors:
  • Steak & Onion
  • Smoky Bacon
  • Roast Chicken
  • Pickled Onion
  • Worcester Sauce
  • BBQ Rib
  • Paprika
  • Sweet Chili
  • Roast Beef & Mustard
  • Smoked Ham & Pickle
  • Fish & Chips
Determined to find a favorite, we had to sample a variety of flavors from various brands. While we didn't have a bad crisp (even Walker's- their version of Lay's- did a fine job), there was a definite winner: Marks & Spencer Taw Valley Cheddar and Caramelised Shallots. I don't know where Taw Valley is, but I must go there some day to pay homage to this exalted crisp.

All hail the King of Crisps!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

English Breakfast

It's not just a meal; it's an adventure. English Breakfast is not for the diet-conscious and/or the conservative eater. I'm pretty sure you could eat this meal in the morning and bank enough calories and fat until the next week!

So what is included in a full English Breakfast?
  • Bacon (back bacon, actually... most likely mistaken for ham)
  • Poached eggs
  • Fried tomatoes and mushrooms
  • Toast
  • Sausages
  • Baked beans
  • Hash brown potato cake
  • Tea
  • Angioplasty (Well, it should come with it!)
Yes, everything is fried. Even the toast. (I think.) So when you stay at a hotel in London around Christmas and you're not sure if anything will be open on Christmas Day, stuff your face with a full English Breakfast just in case there is no food to be found for the rest of the day. Of course, we were really paranoid that this would be the case, so we even added fruit, cereal, juice and pastries! Contrary to what everyone told us, however, there were plenty of places to grab a bit to eat, like the Charles Dickens Coffee House. While Chuck was not known for being a barista, apparently he actually lived and worked in that actual building. But I digress...

In summary, the full English Breakfast is NOT to be eaten daily. (Have you ever seen "SuperSize Me?") Though if you need to fill up or fulfill your fried food jones, it's exactly what you need. Just bring lots of Tums. Just couldn't get enough the first two days- we went out our last morning and had to get one last fill!

Thanks, Arosfa Hotel, for serving a killer breakfast!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


English food? Really? Really! 

Despite many warnings about bad food, we jetted off to London last Christmas anxious to experience life across the pond. Don and I still reminisce about our British food encounters, trying to rationalize why we actually loved everything we ate there. Now, we generally will eat just about anything and tend to be moderately adventurous when trying new foods. (We draw the line at organs, insects, and worms!) We do, however, try to avoid chain restaurants; not only do we prefer to support local businesses, but we are not fans of relatively unimaginative, processed food we can get anywhere. So does everyone else who has been there have really high standards while ours are really low? We can't imagine that's the case. Sure, British fare is not known for its intense flavor and seasoning. Then again, we sometimes can't resist some good old comfort food like fish and chips or meat and potatoes. We were told to go ethnic, so we did. We also just delved right into the local dishes and loved them. When in Rome... er, London!

Stay tuned...
  • Meat pies of many varieties
  • Turkish Christmas
  • English Breakfast
  • Fish and chips
  • Tapas
  • Pizza
  • Chinatown
  • Crisps
  • Hot dogs (yes, in London)
  • Polish New Year's Eve
  • Marks & Spencer and Tesco
GIANT paella at Covent Garden (about 3' across!)

Monday, March 28, 2011


This past weekend reminded me of some wonderful memories I’ve had with the national pancake of France. We enjoyed dinner from Simply Crepes in Canandaigua with friends after a day of wine touring. I had a scrumptious combination of ham, brie, caramelized onion and apples while Don enjoyed an equally tasty crepe filled with turkey and smoked Gouda. For dessert we enjoyed Nutella with bananas and a strawberry/blueberry with vanilla ice cream. Delish!

Of course, we reminisced about our first Erie Canal kayak trip a couple of years ago. After our first night of camping, we set out from the JCC in Rochester to Pittsford. Our goal was to make it to Pittsford in time for breakfast at Simply Crepes. We made it and enjoyed perhaps the most posh breakfast any kayak campers have ever eaten. The perfect fuel for a full day of paddling!

Then we recalled the crepes we had in Paris. During our whirlwind tour of the City of Light, we stopped briefly outside the Pompideau Centre to research how good the crepes really are. First of all, the crepe itself had the diameter of a small kitchen table. Then, the crepe was smeared with the world’s most awesome substance- Nutella. Finally, Monsieur Crepe Guy took an entire banana and thinly sliced it onto the crepe. After a few folds, we had our quintessential Parisian crepe. Other than the fact that the Nutella turned into molten liquid and nearly burned every taste bud off our tongues, it was the most decadent, delectable and delightful street food we ever tasted. 

Post-crepe posing at Pompideau
I can’t think of crepes and not be reminded of my family’s Christmas breakfast tradition. Christmas morning means crepes. Mom never makes just one or two dozen, but (what seems like) about 60! There are the sweet varieties of either strawberry or applesauce, topped with powdered sugar. Then there is the savory crepe with ham, Swiss cheese and Mornay sauce. Breakfast always includes some kind of fruit and some type of bread or coffee cake, but the crepes remain the same: homemade, delicious and comforting.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm a grape-aholic

That's right. My name is Andrea and I'm a grape-aholic. I always knew I had a particular affinity for all things grape-flavored. It really just came to light today as I noticed the following on or near me: grape Nerds, Jones Soda grape carbonated candy, grape Laffy Taffy and (of course) grape licorice. Lots of grape licorice! 

New grape obsession!

I even just bought some grape-scented candle melts which are making the house nice and grapey smelling. Come to think of it, I recently purchased skin cleanser made from grape water. We have a monster grapevine in our backyard and, man, does it smell absolutely awesome in the late summer. Growing up, I was never really a fan of cola or even lemon-lime pop. I'd drink it if that was the only thing around, but given a choice I'd take a can of grape any day.

Our dining room lamp

I do like actual grapes, though oddly enough they're not my favorite fruit. Probably not even in my top five fruits. So why the obsession? No idea. Funny thing is that I LOVE strawberries, but I almost completely avoid anything that is strawberry flavored. 

Kitchen decor

As a kid, I did love the color purple. Maybe that's where it all started. What I do know is that today my love for the grape and all things related is closely tied to a little drink you may have heard of... wine!
Almost forgot about Goofy Grape!

Even a grape mirror!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Egg Salad

I’m making egg salad for lunch tomorrow. Simple, protein-rich fare that pulls through when cold cuts just aren’t cutting it. I’m a fan of lots of color and crunch in my egg salad. I throw in chopped celery, shredded carrot, maybe some diced red pepper, parsley and a spot of mustard. Sure, I should probably enjoy it on some kind of healthy whole-grain something or other, but there’s nothing better than good old squishy soft white bread to be the vehicle for my egg salad. 

Egg salad is perfect when I don’t want big food. That way of thinking is what brought Don and me to the Blue Dolphin in Quebec City on our honeymoon way back when. We were only about 3 days in to our trip and already sick of eating big, heavy restaurant food. We were dying for small, light food. Enter the Blue Dolphin- basically a diner/coffee shop in the heart of Vieux Quebec. Lo and behold, they had egg salad on the menu! Both of us ordered one and when our order arrived, what did we get? An egg salad sandwich. That’s it. Nothing else. No chips, no pickle, not even a sprig of parsley… no frills! And it was the best egg salad sandwich we ever ate. I doubt “Le Dauphin Bleu” is still open, but it lives on every time we eat egg salad.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Inspirations for today’s post: family culture and a recent dinner at Polish Villa. Kielbasa… a Polish sausage that I could not live without. Having grown up with homemade and Redlinski’s versions, there are not many places that can do it right. Hillshire Farms? Don’t waste my time. Not. Even. Close.

Years went by until Don and I were let in on the secret existence of an amazing meat haven, Quaker Creek Store in Pine Island, NY. You would drive right by it if you didn’t know any better; it’s basically a convenient store and deli that happens to make and sell its own meats. As far as we’re concerned, Bobby Matuwszewski is a sausage deity. His kielbasa rivals that which my grandmother made and sold; if she liked it, it HAS to be nothing short of incredible. My parents are known to stock up and take a cooler full back to Buffalo. Sure they have Mexican chorizo, Italian sausage, Cajun andouille, German bratwurst and maple breakfast sausages, and even my beloved “TV snacks” (cabanossi), but it’s all about the kielbasa. So in an effort to further expose our family and friends to unique culinary treasures, we try to make Quaker Creek’s delicacies part of our social gatherings. Whether it’s just grilled kielbasa with beer mustard or a ‘basy dog at a cookout, their meats are always a hit. And if it's good enough for Tyler Florence and Anthony Bourdain, well... enough said.

The only other kielbasa that ever came close was not even Polish. A random posting in the newspaper community calendar led us over 30 minutes away to the Ukrainian Society camp in Ellenville. Made fresh and brought in from Brooklyn, their kielbasa was a bit thicker than its Polish cousin, but every bit as delicious and utterly impressive to family members.

I remember Nan and Pop and various other relatives gathering together to grind, stuff and smoke their own kielbasa. A recipe does exist in the family “files,” so maybe someday we’ll make our own. Hopefully it will measure up. Na zdrowie!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Monte Cristo Sandwich

What's so special about ham, turkey, and cheese on what is basically French toast? The fact that I remember my first one makes it a pretty special sandwich. While I don't recall specifically when I first had that Monte Cristo, I do know for a fact that it was on a family vacation to Walt Disney World. I can narrow the time frame to somewhere between 5th and 8th grade; I'm leaning towards 5th grade since that's the trip when I ran into Liz, a 4th grade classmate of mine, coming out of the restaurant on Main Street USA. A departure from the everyday cold cut concoction, the Monte Cristo struck me as a sandwich masterpiece encompassing the sweet and salty. My favorite parts were the powdered sugar sprinkled on top and the currant jelly served on the side. I didn't know what a currant was at the time, but my fascination got the best of me and I dove right in.

My latest Monte Cristo? The inspiration for this post, it was at the Glen Park Tavern in Williamsville. Again, out to dinner with the family. No powdered sugar. No currant jelly. Maple syrup on the side this time. Different, but not as good as my original.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Runs in the Family

So, now I know where it all comes from. The whole foodographic memory, that is. We were enjoying the fine Polish cuisine of the Polish Villa in honor of Nan. Pierogi, kielbasa, potato pancakes... the only thing missing was the kiszka (thank goodness!). As we were analyzing the smoked kielbasa, Mom pegged the maker of that particular sausage. She noticed the fine grind of the meat and very mild seasoning. Amazing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Oatmeal and Cream of Wheat

I’ve paid homage to cold breakfast cereal, so here is my tribute to my favorite hot cereals. These friends and I go way back and while I’ve eaten my share of the instant versions, I’m waxing nostalgic about the old fashioned, long-cooking varieties. If you can read and measure you can make either one, but Nan always made them best. There was that special something she would do to make my oatmeal/C.O.W. the most delectable, comforting bowl of cereal ever. She always got the consistency right; I believe my mom used the term “wallpaper paste.” I do know there was more to it than just cereal and water. There was definitely brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Perhaps they were made with milk (probably whole milk) rather than water. Now that I think about it, I’m sure there was a good-sized chunk of butter involved as well. To this day, I still can’t get the proportions or taste quite right and I regret taking it for granted that they were such simple foods to prepare. Sure, things always taste better when someone else prepares them, but no bowl of oatmeal or Cream of Wheat ever came close to that which Nan made for me. I’m still on that quest. I only hope that someday mine will be as great as yours, Nan! 

Love you always...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Easter Candy

Easter is an amazing holiday for a kid, yet a dichotomous one for a Catholic kid. All that candy! You want to please your parents and CCD teacher, right? All that candy! But how can you focus on the Easter miracle, sitting on a hard church pew, when everyone else you know is already digging in to their sugar-filled baskets? All that candy! Well, you learn to cope for about an hour and then you dig in.

Some kids would wake up on Easter morning and go on a hunt for the candy left by the Easter Bunny himself. We, however, were in on the accumulation of our basket contents. Tradition took us to Antoinette’s Sweets, a chocolate dream that seemed to be in a far away land. Turns out, it was only about 7 miles from our house. Walking into Antoinette’s you were instantly hit with the aroma of chocolate wafting through the air. You had to walk past the ice cream parlor to get to the hall of chocolate. I’m sure it wasn’t that big of a room, but I swear it was the size of a football field at the time. Every size, shape and flavor of Easter candy existed on their shelves and tables. Hollow and solid. Milk, dark and orange? Bunnies, chicks, lambs, crosses and eggs. Oh, the joy of being able to pick out what we wanted. Upon returning home, we’d haul out the Easter baskets and fill them up just so. After the obligatory plastic grass went in, the candy set up followed. In went the chocolate of various sizes, shapes and flavors. Then add lots of jelly beans, Peeps (well-aged, of course), Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs, malted milk eggs and more jelly beans. Part of the joy of the Easter basket was finding those long lost jelly beans at the bottom after you thought all the candy was gone!

Nowadays I still enjoy Easter candy. We don’t make the trek to Antoinette’s anymore; we usually hit the drug stores and supermarkets the day after for 50% off deals. There’s nothing like Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs. They’re still as good as I remember. I think I could survive just by eating those alone. Peeps are still “cured” in an opened package until they reach peak crunchiness. Pastel M&Ms and jelly beans cater to the Easter sweet tooth just as well as anything. It just goes to show you that you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the Easter candy season.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Chocolate: The Later Years

"It has been shown as proof positive that carefully prepared chocolate is as healthful a food as it is pleasant; that it is nourishing and easily digested... that it is above all helpful to people who must do a great deal of mental work." - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

I used to think I knew a lot about chocolate. Well, I DID… that is, until our trip to Belgium- a country with its priorities in check: chocolate, fries, waffles and beer. Everywhere you look there is a chocolatier, sometimes one on every corner. Life is good in Belgium.

Chocolate is not just something used to fill Easter baskets, it is an art form. Chocolate is not sold in stores, it is sold in boutiques. It is treated with the utmost respect and given the white glove treatment (literally). Belgian chocolate is heaven on earth. While there are many purveyors of fine chocolates, our devotion lies with Pierre Marcolini. He is a chocolate god. What he can do with chocolate will astound your senses and make you forget you’re paying around $100 per pound. (Makes that sponge candy a bargain at $18 a pound, doesn’t it?) He scours the world for the best cacao beans and creates the most unique flavor combinations. How about a lavender-infused truffle? Or one laced with Earl Grey tea? Each delicacy is topped with a gold-leaf label. These are definitely not chocolates you scarf down one after the other. I liken the Pierre experience to wine tasting; take it slow, little bits at a time, and savor every smooth morsel. 

Chocolate display at Neuhaus for Easter

If my memory serves me correctly, we actually dined on a box of Pierre Marcolini chocolates on Easter while visiting our friends in Brussels. That’s what I’m talking about!

When Pierre (or the funding for it) is not available, we’ll opt for Neuhaus. Our first encounter with Neuhaus chocolate was when our friends came back to the States for Easter and brought with them a GIANT chocolate egg filled with various truffles. That only solidified our need to go visit them in Belgium. Neuhaus is a more mainstream chocolatier with a handful of stores in the US; it is also about half the cost of Pierre Marcolini! If you figured it out, that’s still not cheap but it is really good chocolate. It’s fun working your way through the box, or ballotin, of assorted pralines. Not to be confused with the southern candy, Belgian pralines are chocolates packed with various fillings (buttercream, nuts, marzipan, liquor or even more chocolate). Neuhaus includes a visual guide to your chocolates so you see what you’re getting yourself into before you commit. It’s hard to find a bad praline, though, so even if you indulge blindly you’re sure to enjoy each and every one.

After our trip to Belgium, we find it a challenge to eat anything but Belgian chocolate. Call us chocolate snobs; we'll admit that we are. It's our guilty pleasure, though there's usually very little guilt involved when we seek its pleasure!

Contents of our carry-on!