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!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How do you eat your candy?

My previous post got me thinking: How do you eat certain candy?

When it comes to M&Ms, I’m a color sorter. Browns go first and then the orange ones. Sometimes I’ll alternate throughout the remaining colors; other times I work my way through one color at a time. Usually, red is the last color I savor as a tribute to its hiatus from M&Mdom for about 10 years due to “red dye scare.” I save the best for last. Then what do you do once they’re in your mouth? Some people suck on them until the shell is dissolved, others crack the shell open and then melt the chocolate out of the shell, and I imagine a select few just chew them all at once. I can’t imagine the latter. Don thinks I’m a bit insane, as he cares not about color or chewing habits; he’s a straight out M&M consumer, not an artist.

What about foil-wrapped candy like Hershey’s Kisses, Miniatures and the like? Again, Don says it doesn’t matter what you do once the chocolate is out of the wrapper. True, but I suppose it might reveal a little about who you really are. So what does it mean that I tend to fold my wrappers rather than scrunch or ball them up?

Any other candy quirks? Let me know!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Chocolate: The Early Years

"If you are not feeling well, if you have not slept, chocolate will revive you. But you have no chocolate! I think of that again and again! My dear, how will you ever manage?" - Marquise de Sévigné

Chocolate ice cream, chocolate cereal, chocolate cake, chocolate cookies, chocolate licorice. Bring it on! I’ll even take vanilla ice cream with any kind of chocolate in it. Mint chocolate chip is always a favorite, but not because of the mint. In terms of cereal, I enjoyed Cocoa Krispies and Cocoa Puffs way more than any fruity counterpart like Fruity Pebbles, Trix or Fruit Loops. As far as cake, there had to be some form of chocolate in and/or on it. A birthday cake was at times a Carvel cake and since it had the heavenly chocolate crunchies in the middle, it passed the chocolate test. When we went homemade, it was almost always a Texas sheet cake: chocolate cake and chocolate frosting! Don’t forget a Black Forest cake every now and then. And Chocolate Sin... Cookies were always better with some kind of chocolate in them. Oreos were a staple in the pantry, but there was nothing like a homemade chocolate chip cookie (or just the dough). Even muffins are better with chocolate chips. Then there’s chocolate licorice. OK, so it’s not actually licorice, but it looks like licorice and tastes like chocolate. I was glad to find out that chocolate licorice wasn’t just a Buffalo thing. There are chocolate Twizzlers and a local farm market carried a homemade version as well. Chocolate Necco wafers even do the trick. Good to know I can still get a chocolate fix in many different forms.

It’s all good, but then there’s just chocolate. Whether it takes the form of a bar, a bunny or a wafer, I’ll take it. Thinking back to my trick-or-treating days, it was all about the chocolate. I was never into gum, Smarties, Skittles, suckers and other fruity fare; I savored the Nestle Crunch bars, Kit Kats, Hershey bars, M&Ms, Milky Ways, Reese’s, 3 Musketeers, and Snickers- when my mom wasn’t trying to steal them and stash them in the freezer. My hands-down favorite chocolate candy: M&Ms. I eat a lot of them. I eat them often. As for how I eat them, that’s another post altogether.

My only question: Who decided that Halloween candy bars are “Fun Size?” If they were truly “Fun Size” they’d be the size of my laptop!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cereal

         Cereal was, is and always be my go-to breakfast. It's fun and it reminds me of childhood.
  • Life: My all-time favorite. I remember the smell of it when I would open the box. I still take a whiff whenever I open it. More than just a breakfast food, I used to just eat it as a snack without milk. In fact, I still do.
  • Frosted Flakes: Who doesn’t love Tony the Tiger? Frosted Flakes are classic; a simple cereal with just enough sugar to make it taste like you were eating dessert. They’re grrrrrrrreat!
  • Flutie Flakes: On a similar note, Flutie Flakes were Buffalo’s answer to Frosted Flakes. I still have my red and blue boxes; one remains unopened!
  • Honey Nut Cheerios: I vividly recall when I first had HNC. I was away at Girl Scout camp. At breakfast one morning there was this new (at the time) cereal. My friends and I proclaimed that it was the best cereal and went home to beg our moms to buy it for us.
  • Super Sugar Crisp: Here was a cereal that just put it all out there. No guessing as to what was in the box. Eventually the name changed to just Sugar Crisp, apparently losing its superhero status. Then, sugar became a bad word and the name was changed again to Super Golden Crisp, as they were back in good graces with the Justice League. Its current name is just Golden Crisp. This was the Post Cereal version of Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks. Again, sugar became evil and the cereal became known as Honey Smacks. Then they were just Smacks. (Really?) Now they’re Honey Smacks again. Despite all of these alter egos, one thing remains the same: I still enjoy a bowl now and then with my good friends Sugar Bear and Dig ‘Em.
  • Clusters: No childhood memory here, but a college memory. In my room at the Hotel Saranac dorm, I kept some food on hand for those times when institutional food just wouldn’t cut it. I always had a box of Clusters. One night I had a dream (nightmare?) about the squirrel from the commercial: he was chasing after me and trying to steal my Clusters! I know- scary, right? Yet I kept going back for more cereal. Had to show that squirrel who was boss.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Food Aversion #1

Not all food memories are pleasant. Three-Bean Salad, that classic picnic favorite, has haunted me for more than two decades. How can such a harmless festival of legumes cause so much terror? Get a job in catering and you’ll see how something can totally turn against you. Picture this: a huge company picnic on a sweltering summer day, hundreds of attendees, a team of caterers and one refrigerated truck full of provisions. One of my duties was to keep the salad bowls full. We didn’t make the three-bean salad fresh; it came in giant food service cartons. Lots and lots of cartons. For some reason, the three-bean salad required a lot of refills that day. All those beans, all that vinegar… while I reveled in the refuge of the refrigerated truck, I did all I could to keep from getting sick. For years after that picnic, I could barely hear the words three-bean salad without wincing. It took even longer before I would even look at it. I did actually eat it once, not wanting to offend my host, and I will admit it was not as awful as I thought. While I’m not rushing forward to eat all the three-bean salad I can, I’m slowly coming to terms with it and may even try it again someday.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Vacation-only Food

Have you noticed that there are certain foods that you would never buy or even eat unless you were on vacation? Here are a few vacation-exclusive treats:
  • Taffy: Taffy is a staple of any coastal vacation. The boxes boast “Salt Water Taffy.” How many people actually think it’s made with salt water? Does that really make them want to buy it even more? My rule is: check the box and pass if it’s not local. Even if it is made on the spot, what is the appeal and what makes us buy it? I will admit I’ve fallen victim to vacation taffy more than I care to admit. Take Daffy Taffy in Boothbay Harbor. They make taffy in the store, right up front by the window so you can’t help but get pulled in by the process. (Pun intended.) Then you get to mix and match your flavors from the dory full of loosely wrapped taffy bites. That must be it. Standing there is an investment of precious time. How do you get the value of that time back? Buy a box of taffy! You’ll feel like you practically made it yourself.
  • Fudge: Does anyone buy fudge at home? What is it about fudge that makes people buy it when they’re away from home? Why is it always for sale in vacation destinations? What does buying fudge have to do with the historic Mystic Seaport? As far as I can tell, the connection is weak. Though apparently a traveler’s will power is not!
  • Ice cream cones: I eat ice cream at home. Who doesn’t? When on vacation, though, it’s perfectly acceptable to go out for an ice cream cone every single night. It’s an expedition of choices. If you’re in a place like Bar Harbor, it’s a nightly dilemma to figure out which ice cream shop to visit. Even if there’s only one shop, there are still choices: flavors and toppings and cones, oh my! Some find a favorite and stick to it every time. Others make it a point to try something different every night, thus working their way through the entire menu. As you’re standing in line with everyone else who shares your passion for frozen dairy in a crunchy container, it’s inevitable that bonds will form. You share your favorite flavors, commiserate about yucky weather, and get suggestions for a great dinner. Time spent on the ice cream line is like a little vacation from your vacation.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Grape Twists- my new love!

To those who know me, I’m quite a chocoholic. I’m all for good quality chocolate of Belgian origin. However, this weekend introduced me to a new food love: Arbor Hill Grape Twists. While touring some Thousand Islands wineries, we came across these goodies and just had to buy them. I’m a sucker for anything grape-flavored: gum, lollipops, Jolly Ranchers, Laffy Taffy, pop, juice and apparently now licorice twists. The scent alone is so intoxicating, I think I might sleep with these under my pillow. It is taking a LOT of restraint to not scarf down the entire one pound bag!

One pound of grapey goodness!
You can order them online through Arbor Hill Grapery. I wonder if they have a monthly shipment plan!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Foods that snuck over the border, eh!

Swiss Chalet Rotisserie chicken, those fries and that famous dipping sauce! Unfortunately the last of the US restaurants (2 remained in Buffalo as of last year) closed their doors for good, leaving the closest ones over the border. The good news is you can buy packets of sauce mix; the bad news is that you can’t duplicate their chicken. “Swiss Chalet, Okay!”

Tim Horton's Founded by hockey player Tim Horton, this donut and coffee chain knocks the socks off Dunkin Donuts any day! Our favorite, the elusive Canadian Maple, seems to only be available in Canadian stores. In the US we settle for the Maple Dip (same frosting, except just a hole in the middle rather than cream filling). As they continue expanding further into the US interior, I say “Bring on the TimBit!”

Smarties Not the sugary tablets rolled in a clear plastic wrapper. (See “Fizzers” below) These Smarties are candy-coated chocolate akin to M&Ms yet unique in their own right. Sold in tubes or boxes, and popular in Europe as well, Smarties come in an array of pastel colors. I swear that each candy shell tastes slightly different based on its color, but Don doesn’t. Guess you’ll have to experiment to find out.

Fizzers These were the Canadian version of our Smarties. Why didn’t they call them Smarties? Well, see the above description of Smarties. Fizzers looked just like the US Smarties and if you took them both out of their wrappers, you’d be hard pressed to find a visual difference. Pop them in your mouth, however, and you’d find out why they were called Fizzers!

Aero Bar Take a creamy milk chocolate bar and add air bubbles. Behold the Aero Bar. Its beauty is in its simplicity. These candy bars were lost for quite some time, but they have staged a comeback and I have seen them available in the US!

Hostess and Humpty Dumpty Chips Known for odd flavors, Hostess and Humpty Dumpty were the original pioneers of creatively flavored snack chips. Canadians LOVE their ketchup, so it stands to reason that chips would be flavored with their beloved condiment. For some reason dill pickle was always a popular chip flavor as well.

Kraft Dinner In the US we call this Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. The stuff in the blue box. In Canada, they are passionate about their Kraft Dinner. Same food, though north of the border it’s most likely enjoyed with- you guessed it- ketchup. All the fanciest Dijon ketchups…

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Other Buffalo foods of note

I could go on and on about foods from Buffalo, but in an effort to move on I shall give these foods their due. In no way do I mean them any less respect than those above. If I have missed a favorite of yours, please let me know and I will add it to the nod list.

  •  Sahlen's Hot Dogs The real deal; known to have been smuggled across county and even state lines in coolers and suitcases by various friends and relatives; the official hot dog of the Buffalo Bills
  •  Weber's Mustard Several varieties but classic horseradish and hot Texan sandwich mustard are my favorites
  • Chiavetta’s barbeque marinade: Required for anything you put on the grill
  • Chef’s pasta sauce: A traditional classic for decades
  • Anchor Bar wing sauce: I prefer Frank’s Red Hot, but since the Anchor bar invented the wing their sauce appears in stores everywhere
  • Parkside Candy: Been around since the 1920s; makes an appearance in the movie “The Natural” with Robert Redford
  • Shredded Wheat: Technically a Niagara Falls product, the grain silos still stand tribute to the cereal giant
  • Cheerios: All of the little whole-grain Os distributed along the east coast are made in Buffalo, prompting sales of t-shirts declaring “My City Smells Like Cheerios”