Wednesday, December 31, 2008
If you are making resolutions, I just read Leann's at Lake Champlain Chocolates and I think her list is great - check it out for inspiration:
I don't know about the whole eat local thing, but I like the rest of them. Of course, if I worked at a chocolate factory I might eat locally until I exploded.
When I think about about 2008, I'm proud of a few things - I got my CSP (a certification that's kind of a big deal in the speaking biz), I paid off my mortgage, I altered my client base so I might have a life. But most of my accomplishments have been in the professional and financial realms. I did take some cool trips - the Chocolate Show in NYC, the ChocoTour in PA starting with the visit to Fallingwater, the visit to Kentucky to see my friend Heidi and the bourbon balls. (Heidi - that sounds like a good name for a swing band.) There were some disasters - the Improv Debacle comes to mind. There have been scary health issues.
And there's been something that I have no idea how it will turn out. Early this year I met a great guy and we dated for a month. (Now to put this in perspective, for me to find a guy I want to hang out with for more than one date is a pretty big deal.) We had a blast and then he was deployed to Afghanistan. The deployment was for seven months (which has turned into nine). The question was - do I wait for him and see what happens when he gets back or do I move on?
My friends were divided on this issue - with the majority telling me I was insane to even consider waiting, that life was short, that I didn't really know this guy, etc. etc. But I liked him and if you have any idea of how many bad dates I've been on, you would know this is very rare. He told me he would understand whatever decision I made. (You have to appreciate that, but it was no help. Of course, if he were weeping and saying, "Don't leave me!" I would have left. Immediately.)
I, of course, could have dated and if no one better showed up, maybe could have kept him as my backup. But I thought, how would I feel about that if I were the one deployed? I knew I would feel terrible and I would decide to let the other person go. Why put myself through that pain? Why be the backup? I didn't want to do that to him. And I didn't think it would be fair to do to someone else. Presenting yourself as available when you really aren't is BS. Too many people do it and I hope Karma will kick their butts for it.
I could have dated in secret - hey, the chances of him finding out were probably zero. But that is not the way I roll. I am either in a relationship or I am out. I am not going to lie to someone and I consider omission in this case a lie. I have been lied to in the past (as I'm sure many of you have) and I will not do that to someone else. Not when it comes to his heart.
So I decided to wait. Of course this could turn out to be a bad decision. He might come back and decide he doesn't like me that much after all. Or we might not get along as well as we did. Or 100 other things might happen. But relationships are risky, and if you don't take the risk, you'll never know. And I think if I didn't play it this way I might have always wondered, "What if I had waited?"
Of course, he might come back and we hit it off great and it turns out to be the relationship I've been waiting for. I have no way to know. Right now, I just hope he makes it back safe.
So, just like you, I have no idea what 2009 will hold. All I can do is my best. So here are my resolutions:
1.) Every year I hope FireStar will do better than the year before. I measure that with income. I don't care if we are in a recession, I'm still setting the goal to do better than last year.
2.) I want to maintain my health and I measure this with my weight and my exercise program. Maintenance may not seem like a lofty goal, but any of you who are over 40, know that maintenance ain't child's play!
3.) I want this to be the year I have an intimate, committed relationship. And the best things I can do here are stay open, communicate, and not run away. When Leann said she was going to resurrect old dreams, it made me think of this old dream of mine - love.
4.) I want to take three exciting, fun trips. I'm already thinking about going to the National Confectioners Conference this spring. And I'm so hoping I can go to Candy EXPO in Chicago! I know that if I don't get these on the calendar soon, they may not happen. (But I'm hoping I'll have someone to travel with this year and I don't want to lock down too much. Keep your fingers crossed for me!)
Take a few minutes sometime today to review your 2008. What are you most proud of? I bet you did some great things and never really patted yourself on the back. What were your disasters? What did you learn? (I learned to ask way more questions. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.) I also learned how hard it is for me to handle things I can't control. Having a long distance relationship with someone at war brought up every insecurity I have. But after so many months, I realize all that insecurity exists in one place only - my own head.
Your life lessons don't count unless you take a few minutes to sit back and learn them.
And, most importantly write down what you want for 2009. I know we have control over very little, but I am convinced that charting your own course makes a difference. Deciding what you want doesn't guarantee that it will happen, but I promise you, it increases the chances a hundredfold.
My wish for you in 2009? You get everything you want and you enjoy the journey to getting it. And don't forget to eat some chocolate along the way!
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
That is a sweet set of CANDY DISHES!! Ha, ha, ha - how great is that??? Only $15.95 with my 20% off coupon! I don't know exactly what I'm going to do with them yet, but how cool are they? And if your name is Andy or Dan or you love NYC - these are for you!
Shop a sale - help a retailer. And if you see any great deals on chocolate - let me know!!
Monday, December 29, 2008
Most of my good buddies are like this - it's something I can't explain, but I think you know what I mean. The only way I can describe it is they don't hold themselves too tightly. They don't hold back some aspect of themselves. They tell me what they think. I meet many people and I feel like many of them are playing a part - "successful businessman or businesswoman", maybe "corporate leader" or simply "in control." The people I like the most are real - they may really have it together or not, but they pretend nothing. They laugh at themselves and I love to be with them.
Other people I just can't connect with - I want to grab them by the lapels and say "Live! Be who you ARE not you you think you should be!" I need some authenticity defibrillator paddles to shock these people back to themselves. If only it were so easy. Being yourself is the hardest thing you will ever do - most people lost themselves to conformity back in high school.
I like authenticity in experiences too. Vegas is fun, but the Venetian is not Venice and the Luxor is not Egypt. Sure, you can watch a video of almost anything on UTube, but it is not the same as being there. Being face-to-face with people in a seminar is a completely different experience than participating in a webinar. I like it real.
Which brings us to authenticity in food. Many blogs ago I said "Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should do it." I said this about chocolate gum, about chocolate Pez, and now I will say it about See's Seasonal Pie Truffles.
Now I know See's has some rabid fans. Many people have told me how great See's Candies are. Here's their website: http://www.sees.com/. I saw this box of truffles and it looked pretty interesting:
Look at that design! Notice the crust around the edges - it looks like a pie! Yay! And look at those flavors - apple, pumpkin, pecan and cranberry orange! (okay, maybe not cranberry orange - that doesn't sound like a good pie.) But hey - apple, pumpkin, and pecan! Yay!
Oooh - looking good, eh? Pumpkin is milk chocolate covered, apple is white chocolate covered, and if you can't figure out the other two, you have had way too much egg nog. I don't even have to dissect these for you - See's did it for us!
Let me be honest with you. Pie is better. Why does pie need to be made into a truffle anyway? Pie is great as pie. Here's my take - cranberry orange is not my thing. I don't like orange in my chocolate. And here it really overpowers the cranberry. I hope no one makes an orange pie.
I love pumpkin as we have discussed before. Last night I had a canful of pumpkin with Splenda (a mere 140 calories - less than one and a half truffles!). I LOVE pumpkin. This truffle had a weird aftertaste like the Godiva pumpkin truffle. Pumpkin pie has never had a weird aftertaste.
Apple pie just does not cut it - it does taste vaguely of apple pie, but are you kidding? Let's think of apple pie - hot apple pie, flaky crust, melting ice cream - why would we bother with these? Apple pie laughs at these things.
The best of the four was pecan pie, but again, I'd rather have the pie. Or a pecan ball covered in chocolate. This box takes something great (pie!) and imitates it in something great (chocolate) and ruins both. Give me authentic pie, not chocolates pretending to be pie.
And I'll also need some defibrillator paddles and some ice cream.
Friday, December 26, 2008
It seems to me that most people want to find the motivation to do something (or to stop doing something). Let me give you some examples:
Lose weight or eat healthier
Get rid of clutter or be more organized
Get out of debt
Make better use of their time
I don’t think what is needed is necessarily motivation. I think what is needed is true desire, discipline, and information.
What do I mean? True desire – you have to really, truly want it. It starts here. It’s not going to be easy, but don’t lie to yourself. If deep down you really would rather have that new pair of shoes than pay off that credit card – I can’t help you. You’ve got to get this straight in your own head. You have to decide what you really want and go for it. When athletes take the field they want to win. Period. You have to have that level of clarity and desire.
You don’t hear much about discipline anymore and that’s a damn shame. Because discipline is what you’re going to need. The discipline to get out of bed when you don’t feel like it and go to the gym. The discipline to not buy those shoes and put that money in the bank. The discipline to go to night school when your friends are out partying. Every successful person in the history of the world could practice discipline. Discipline is doing what might suck in the short term to get you where you want to go in the long term. No discipline equals no success. There is no easy way out.
Information is vital. Too many people fail because they don’t know what they need to do to succeed. They don’t realize they will NEVER get out of debt paying the minimum balance on their credit cards. They don’t know that salad dressing, cheese and bacon they just dumped on their salad destroyed their diet. You don’t need more motivation – you need more information.
Here’s your “motivation:”
1.) Commit or let it go. You have got to be able to say “I will do whatever it takes to do ______________.” And you have to mean this. If there is any doubt in your mind, come back when you’re ready. Don’t waste your time until then.
2.) Get smart. You obviously aren’t that smart about this particular topic. Hey – there’s no shame in that!! If you could see my library, you’d know there’s a whole lotta stuff I’m not too smart about! But you need to quit thinking you have all the answers. Get a basic book on managing your finances or on weight lost or organization. Whatever it is you think you need “motivation” for. Anything that promises you a quick fix is a lie and a bad source. You are not going to become rich, skinny or organized overnight. You need to get smart, not suckered.
3.) Set up systems. Automatic payroll deduction, making your lunch the night before, immediately sorting the mail over the trash can, deleting all email by the end of the day – you have got to make this a no brainer. Your systems will start to form habits and the new behaviors will become easier.
4.) DISCIPLINE!!!!!!!!!!!!! These systems are going to be hard at first, they may be hard for a long time. Even the life long athlete has days when they don’t want to workout. That’s where discipline comes in. You have to work your system even when you don’t want to. Now – I don’t mean that if you have an injury, you keep working out. I mean if it’s cold outside and you just don’t feel like it, you man up and go. There’s a difference between taking care of yourself and being undisciplined, and we all know it. This is the difference between those who get what they want out of life and those who don’t. And the only person who can do this for you is you.
Don’t get discouraged – what I find is that the more you practice discipline – the easier it gets. You become stronger. Your self-esteem rises. You realize that you CAN get out there and do anything – you just have to push yourself.
5.) Keep on top of it. Life happens – sometimes things will occur that will throw you off track. You may have a health issue or you may have to go out of town for work and things may pile up on your desk. This has nothing to do with your discipline. The clutter comes back, the exercise regime can’t be completed, you regain some weight. That will happen, it’s okay. As soon as you can, get those systems going again. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Do what you can as soon as you can.
6.) Fight the P Sisters – procrastination and perfectionism. Don’t put it off till tomorrow. Better to do a little today than nothing. It DOES NOT have to be perfect. A short workout is better than no workout. A small binge is better than a huge binge. Get back on track as soon as you can.
You might read this and think – but I just want motivation to get out of bed and go to work or to be a better parent. You know what I’m going to say? Look at those steps in that context – are you really committed to loving your job? If not, don’t look for me to motivate you into it! If you are, are there things you could learn to make you better at it? To help you advance? If you don’t know, learn the answer!
Set up systems – if you love your co-workers, make sure you have a fun lunch planned with one each day. The discipline is that you have to fight to keep your fire about anything – you have to keep learning, keep growing, keep reminding yourself of what you like, etc. etc.
Do you see? These steps really do apply to anything you want to be “motivated” about. So there it is – stop waiting for that magic “motivation” and get on it!
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I like the three colors of foil, like the bell shape, nice execution. A little bigger than a Hershey's Kiss in size, these guys deliver. I gave them out randomly with a lot of other chocolate at a seminar and everyone was asking what they were. I'm telling you, it's the peanut butter. But, do I like them better than the miniature Reese's cups? No. There seems to be a better PB to chocolate ratio with the cups. But these are more festive. You pick for yourself. These make fab decorations before you eat them.
Let's get onto the REAL peanut butter:
Okay - here we have a Reese's Tree regular size, a King Size one, another Russell Stover Santa (this one filled with peanut butter of course), and a BIG Reese's Snowman. The snowman is festive - look at the Reese's sweater! There's also a search-a-word game on the back. This is clearly a stocking stuffer. Let's see them naked (is this becoming a chocolate porn site? I guess it is!):
Well, look at Russell Stover - Santa my ass!! Reese's regular size tree is not much better, but you can tell it's a tree. Russell Stover's could be anything - a snowman, a penguin, a teddy bear, even the baby Jesus. They have no game whatsoever in the shaping of chocolate. The larger Reese's tree is better and look at that snowman! We've got the sweater, the carrot nose, even detail in the hat and a holly leaf!
Let's cut them open, heh, heh, heh. Nothing like a little Christmas carnage!
Look at how big that King Size Tree is - I'm telling you, it is so decadent! "Santa" is the smallest of the bunch. But look at what happened to the snowman! When I cut him in half, the back stayed put. It's a solid block of chocolate.
Here are the taste results - Russell Stover is creamier than Reese's but it tastes less peanut buttery. The Reese's were saltier. You'll have to choose for yourself, but I'm choosing Reese's.
Now let's talk about the snowman. Too much chocolate for me. I get Reese's because I like the peanut butter. But I thought, "Score! I'm just going to eat all the peanut butter out of there!" But - it was too salty - it needs the thin coating of chocolate the trees have. The trees are so good!
But it's not over yet! I don't know if you've seen these, but if you like Reese's, you owe it to yourself to get some:
These are peanut butter, caramel and nuts, but I'll be honest with you, it's mostly about the peanut butter. But that is okay with me! I view these as a fancy version of the miniature cup. Try them! They are a great size for when you need a Reese's fix.
Why am I talking about these at Christmas? Because of these:
I first saw these in Oprah's magazine (and hey, Oprah knows her sweets). These are available year round, this is the festive Christmas packaging. And they are really good. They are made by the Koeze family, and have been for almost 100 years. I love these small American confectioners!! The clusters are peanut butter and pecans covered in chocolate - no caramel. The peanut butter is all natural and is VERY smooth and creamy and you can really taste the pecans. I was amazed at how fresh it all seemed. They are much larger than the Reese's clusters (and a lot more expensive). They are, however, excellent. As a lover of nuts, I was impressed by the company's website http://koeze.com/ and may have to place an order.
One final word:
This bar is by Bloomsberry & Co. They have the best packaging EVER. Very funny, clever. And they change it for all the holidays. I find the chocolate, however, only average. Don't get me wrong - it's not bad, it's just that the packaging is better than the chocolate - check out the website and see for yourself: http://www.bloomsberry.com/
This is the season of lights and glitter and fancy packaging, but what really matters to most of us is what it all represents. If you are religious, it is your faith. If not, it may be the love of the person who gave you a gift or the love of your family. Fancy packaging is great, but what really matters is the emotion behind the gift. Or how the chocolate inside tastes!!!! It's always what's on the inside that counts. Merry Christmas!
Monday, December 22, 2008
Now this is the one I've been waiting for!!!! Chocolate Peanut Butter Chex! Chex describes this EXACTLY the same as the Turtle Chex. That's pathetic. And I have to say, so is Chex Chocolate Peanut Butter. Bland, weak, not even as good as Turtle. Some of the cereal in Turtle is coated with caramel which is really good. I think this one would work better without the pretzels - they seem to overpower the too subtle peanut butter taste of the cereal. Such a good idea, but such a weak snack. What a tease. Was Jane Fonda involved here?
These are from http://www.daleandthomas.com/. I discovered them because they have a store by the M & M and Hershey stores on Times Square. I was drawn to the popcorn sign like a moth to a flame. Here's how they describe the Chocolate Chunk N'Caramel: A rich and sensuous combination of our finest, gourmet, fresh-popped corn, topped with buttery caramel and drizzled with deep, chocolaty indulgence. " (Take that, Chex!) The bag goes on to brag that they have the world's first Popcorn Chef - "Chef Ed graduated from the esteemed Culinary Institute of America, where he mastered flavor combinations and creative cuisine. All the while he couldn't stop thinking about his secret obsession: Popcorn, the Delicacy." How great is that?
(I don't think there's a Chef doing anything at Chex. Except maybe contemplating suicide.)
The ingredient list sheds a little light on why this stuff is so good - the number one ingredient is caramel, number two is chocolate. Popcorn, the Delicacy, is third! This is no low calorie snack, mind you, but it is mighty good!
Oh my - these are all but impossible to stop eating. Chef Ed is quoted on the bag, "I take individual kernels of freshly popped Dale's Caramel Popcorn and dip it in rich, creamy milk chocolate for a salty sweet flavor that can't be beat." Not by Chex , that's for damn sure. He also recommends trying them frozen. I just put a bag in the freezer. When Chef Ed speaks, I listen.
Chex, you want the perfect sweet and salty snack for chocolate lovers - this is it! Give up your lame attempts and back away from the chocolate.
Christmas Eve Special - PEANUT BUTTER!!!!
Anyway, this seemingly simple task required a global effort. It was probably manufactured in China, the guys that delivered it were from Kenya, and the satellite guys were from Vietnam. The problem was the satellite. The guys spent three hours trying to get my two sets to work. They got one to work, but not the other. Now you know how this goes, right? They say they will be there between 12 and 5, so you are stuck. These guys were with me from 3 until after 6. They promised to come back around 2:00 the next day. At 3:00 I called, they said they would be here soon. At 4:30 I called again, they promised 5:15. At 6:00 pm I called again! At 6:30 they show up.
Apparently I have a hard time understanding Vietnamese. And it was starting to piss me off.
They show up, they seem to fix the second set. They take off. I even tip them!
I wish I had that $20 back.
The first set starts rebooting at random intervals, in the middle of shows. This process takes approximately 10 minutes. I curse the entire nation of Vietnam. And Jane Fonda. Bitch.
Now I have to stay at my house for a third day. The time frame this time is 8 to 12. The guy (a manager this time and from the United States) arrives just after 12. Now he was a nice guy, I liked him, until he proceed to talk on his Blue Tooth the entire time he was at my house. I wanted to say, "Dude! Focus! This will go so much faster if you just fix my set!" Plus I think it was rude. You're in my house, if I'm talking to you, don't start talking to some one else! I have to be at home while his guy routes all his drivers? An hour and a half later, he leaves. All he did was replace a faulty box. If he had gotten off the phone it would have taken about 15 minutes. Maybe Vietnamese isn't so bad.
I'm thinking I'm done - I had ordered an HD DVD player that was recommended by reviews on online, I got it all set up and I was ready to rock and roll! Merry Christmas to me!!
Today I swing by Target and notice they have DVDs on sale. Great - I'll get one to watch on Christmas! I see all the BlueRay disks. A sign says if you have a high definition TV, you are wasting your time with anything less than Blue Ray. I see a lot of Blue Ray. It's Target, not some electronics store. Blue Ray is obviously the standard. I'm not sure my player is Blue Ray. CRAP!
I immediately leave Target, go home and look at my player. No Blue Ray. This is such a nightmare - what a time-sucking black hole!! Why don't the sites online help Marshmallow Brains like me? Tell me Blue Ray is the standard! I dig the box out of the trash, pack up the player, print the return labels and research Blue Ray players. I find one - the low price is at Best Buy.
I box up the old DVD player (which I now have to take to a UPS drop off point). I go to Best Buy. The good news? The Blue Ray player is on sale! The bad news? I have to go to Knightdale to get it. (This was after I dragged one of the four register people who were standing around talking to each other to the Home Theater section. The guy there was swamped. They had to help me figure out where the player was.) You would think in this economy customer service would be a priority. Hello Best Buy? If you go out of business, it might be because you deserve to!!! (Hello, Chrysler, can you hear me now?)
Oh hell, I'm on a mission now - I WILL get this TV project finished if it kills me so I can watch a freakin' High Definition DVD on Christmas. I WILL EXECUTE!! I drive to Knightdale. I have already paid for this at the first store - no way was I driving all the way to Knightdale just to find out they sold them all! (According to guy at the first store, the Knightdale store had five.)
Let me also say that traffic everywhere was getting to be crazy and people were looking a little manic. As was I!
I walk in the Knightdale store. There's a guy stationed in the front of Best Buy to stop you from stealing (that must be the only reason because this guy was not the brightest bulb on the tree). I walked up to him and said, "Can I ask you a question?" He looked as if I just said, "Will you adopt me?" I continued past his stupefied look and said, "If I have already paid for something at another Best Buy, where would I pick it up?" He pointed at the customer service desk a few feet away. Apparently he is from neither Kenya nor Vietnam, but the Land of the Nonspeaking Idiots.
I go over to customer service. Someone has pulled my Blue Ray player! The guy at the first store said it would be waiting up front for me. I am pleasantly surprised. But this is one that has been opened and returned. Luckily the customer service woman sees this and calls someone up to get another. This person mumbles something like "I tried to find one..." I say, "The other store said you had FIVE!" I am starting to think about Jane Fonda again.
I wait. And wait some more. The store is big, but not that big. I start to wonder if the guy has gone on break or to Kenya, China, or Vietnam. I am wondering if I will have to raise a little hell about this. My body language has gone from hopeful to irritated.
Luckily for all of us, the guy shows up with a nice new Blue Ray player. I head out.
But I don't get out. The man at the door (from the Land of the Nonspeaking Idiots) who I have been in sight of the entire time, stops me and asks to see my receipt. (I think, "You have got to be kidding - you've been watching me for all this time! I've been five feet away!") The receipt is in my hand - I give it to him. He gives the receipt the same look he gave me earlier. He looks like a caveman who has discovered fire. I have just about had it. I say (apparently in Vietnamese), "Is there a problem?" He says "Um, uh, no, okay..." I walk out. I want to Napalm Best Buy.
I drive to the UPS drop off place and leave the old DVD player for return. All the time cursing my Marshmallow Brain. If I had just paid more attention, researched more carefully, grrr, grr, grrr. I, too, am an Idiot.
I get home. This player is by Panasonic. My new TV is also by Panasonic. The set up is easy. It looks great. I am happy. Until I find the remote for the first DVD player. I want to Napalm myself.
In celebration of my Marshmallow Brain, let's talk Christmas Marshmallow:
There are very festive - and a great low cal snack - you can have 14 for only 100 calories!! Woo Wee! I think these would rock in hot chocolate. Here they are outside of the bag:
Aww - how sweet they are. Not perfect, but not bad. There are fairly small - about the size of a quarter. For that size the shape is pretty good.
Now you can't talk about marshmallow and not talk about Peeps!! Look at these babies!!!
Look at that green! Wow! I tried both of these. The stars were amazingly fresh - nice and soft. That's the way I like my Peeps. But the taste - ugh. Now remember, mint is not my favorite, but these tasted like toothpaste. I ate one bite only. (And that's saying something! And not something good!)
The trees taste better, but the ones I got were stale. I don't like stale Peeps, especially since I've been ruined by eating hot Peeps off the line.
But here's the funny shot:
Ha, ha, ha!! Who would have thought both companies would basically do the same thing? And comparing the two just cracks me up! Look how little that Kraft tree looks in comparison to the Peep tree! It's like Reese Witherspoon and Ru Paul!
Advice - skip the Peep stars, get some of those little Kraft guys for your coffee or hot cocoa. Because who doesn't love the smell of coffee in the morning?
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Do you ever have those days when you're just really happy? I love those days! I had a day like that today - nothing out of the ordinary happened. I was just thinking about Christmas coming and having a wide open couple of weeks ahead of me. I also thought about the following:
*How glad I am the Aztecs took some weird pods off trees, broke them open and figured out how to make chocolate from the seeds inside
*How lucky I am to have work that I love
*How lucky I am that Jenny Prevatte made and sent me fudge and Mike Marley made and sent me brownies; and Carl Weaver brought me candy when he came to Raleigh for Thanksgiving
*How lucky am I to have so many good friends
*How lucky am I to have my health
*How lucky am I to have great clients
*How lucky am I to have my freedom
What about you? What are you grateful for?
Let me get you thinking - do you have children? are they healthy?
Are you married or is there someone in your life you love and who loves you?
Do you have a pet who worships you or that you worship?
Do you have a job?
Can you see? Hear? Walk?
Do you believe in yourself? In a higher power? In the future?
Do you have some Christmas cookies?
When I start thinking about all I have to be grateful for, it never fails to make me happy. This is the season to give thanks - no matter what your religion. It's the end of one year and the beginning of another.
Here's a poem by Walter Malone that I like:
They do me wrong who say I come no more
When once I knock and fail to find you in;
For every day I stand outside your door,
And bid you wake, and rise to fight and win.
Wail not for precious chances passed away,
Weep not for golden ages on the wane!
Each night I burn the records of the day-
At sunrise every soul is born again!
Laugh like a boy at splendors that have sped,
To vanished joys be blind and deaf and dumb;
My judgements seal the dead past with its dead,
But never bind a moment yet to come.
How appropriate is THAT?
The year before us is filled with opportunity - how lucky are we?
So be grateful for everything you have, everyone who loves you, and all the opportunity before you. (And that Santa Claus is coming!!!!)
Saturday, December 20, 2008
I think these would be terrific as favors at a New Year's Party - they are elegant and delish!
The Creme Brulee is my least favorite. I love creme brulee, but with the sweet milk chocolate, this is too much for me. It does have little crunchy pieces of caramelized sugar in it which is a nice touch, but I find this too sweet. But hey - what a great idea! Although I don't think everything needs chocolate. I'd rather have regular ol' creme brulee - no chocolate. It makes it too rich.
The middle one is my favorite - awesome, fluffy hazelnut mousse surrounded by that amazingly smooth Lindt milk chocolate. Ooooh - la - la! The mousse is light enough that the combo really works. GET THIS BAR!!! (unless you don't like hazelnut or chocolate, then don't. Alien.)
The final one is also amazingly good. This is for fans of darker chocolate - and Lindt describes it as "a fine milk and dark chocolate blend with a delicate truffle cream filling and crunchy biscuit pieces." It's sinfully creamy.
If you are looking for a decadent treat before you start some crazy diet - grab one of these and savor the hell out of it! I bet they're great with champagne!
Speaking of crazy diets, I know some of you are going to once again make that New Year's Resolution to lose weight. Here are some tips:
1.) Get serious or don't bother. Really, don't put yourself through this unless you REALLY, REALLY want it and do it right. Realize it's not going to be a change you make for a month or two. It has to be forever.
2.) Aim to lose about a pound a week. Any diet that has you losing lots of weight very rapidly could be dangerous. And the chances of keeping it off will be slim. (Pun intended.) You may lose more in the beginning of any diet, but most of it will be water weight. Hey, you didn't gain all that weight in two days, don't expect to lose it in two hours.
3.) Exercise. Quit your crying. I'd go as far as to say - if you don't plan to exercise, don't plan to lose weight. Or don't plan to keep it off. The vast percentage of people who have lost weight AND KEPT IT OFF exercise. Try walking - I walk about 5 miles five times a week. I love it. Say you can't find the time? Quit lying - you can find time for anything that's important to you. March in place while you watch TV. Have to watch the kids? Make them go with you - they probably need some exercise themselves.
4.) Write down what you eat and track the calories. This is the single most important hing you can do. You may find that this alone helps you lose weight. I think you would be shocked to find out how many calories you need and how many you eat. Writing every calorie down makes it impossible to lie to yourself. (Not that any of us ever do that!)
5.) Be VERY careful when you eat out. I went to lunch with a friend this week at California Pizza. I was planning to get a salad. That was until I did some research on the Net and found out that many of their HALF servings of salad had over 800 calories! For a salad? We split a thin crust pizza for less than 500 calories each. Do your homework or stay fat.
6.) Don't be too restrictive. If you tell yourself you can NEVER have chocolate again, you may start to obsess over it. (Some of us obsess over it anyway.) But if you buy one bar or have a few Dove dark squares in your desk, you'll be okay. Eat some of what you love, just be aware of the amount. Sometimes I have chocolate for dinner! Yay! I'm not saying this is the way to eat all the time, I'm just saying you have to make choices. You can't eat it all.
7.) Be realistic. None of us will ever look like the air brushed "people" in magazines. And fighting the aging game is a losing battle - we get older and things sag. See if you can find a weight that is healthy, that you feel good at, and that you can maintain and still have a life.
8.) Forget the carbs, protein - all that BS. Here's how it works - find out how many calories you need (mayoclinic.com has a good calorie calculator). Subtract 500 from that number to lose a pound a week. Start exercising. Start with a half mile walk. Move. You will get skinnier.
9.) If it makes you miserable, increase the number of calories. If the whole process makes you miserable, make peace with the size you are. No one says you have to lose weight - it's your body, your life.
And if you have questions or need help, let me know!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Festive. I like them. But....there is a usurper. I have found something I like better.
I didn't want to like these better. I just wanted to try these, thinking they would be far inferior to the lauded Tootsie. But the true test is which one is left in the candy bowl. And the truth is.....Toot - Toot- Tootsie, Don't Cry! I ate all the Cherry Cordials and left the Tootsie Rolls! Who am I?
I know - what the hell are these? They look cheap, they look cheesy. They are 2 for $5.00! They must be crap!
Oh no, baby! These rock! They are soft, chewy, and the perfect mix of cherry and cocoa. And they have only 30 calories and are also low fat. They kick Tootsie butt. Go crazy - invest the $2.50 and check them out.
I got them at Walgreen's with their sister candy:
I like these too - VERY festive. Also low in calories and fat, and I prefer the chewy peppermint to the traditional. And look at those trees - cute, cute, cute! (Hello, Russell Stover - some candy companies at least TRY!! I mean to get a tree in the middle - a green tree with a brown truck - wow!)
Let's look at all these guys naked:
Okay, maybe Brach's aren't perfect in appearance, but they are so soft, I think it kind of melts the design. But I don't care - they are good!!!
The lessons - do what you've always done and you might miss something better! Try new things, go new places, meet new people. And don't judge a candy by its wrapper.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Let's talk Santa.
These are Nestle's Santas:
They are coaster sized disks with a cute Santa face and each says Santa Claus is Comin' to Town! The Butterfinger disk is awesome! I love Butterfingers, so that was not surprising. The Crunch is okay. To me all Crunch is only okay. Bland, waxy chocolate - pass. It's the peanut butter that saves the Butterfinger Santa and the chocolate seems better than that in the Crunch. But I could just be deluded by the peanut butter.
Now look at this:
Do you see those blobs? Those are "Santas" according to Russell Stover. Maybe mummies. Maybe potatoes. One looks like the Pope. They ain't Santas. I put in Snickers Nutcracker to make it even more clear how lame the RS Santas are.
I mean, come on! Did they even try? You can see the buttons on the Nutcracker's jacket! I can barely make out "Santa's" head! BOO on aesthetics. Coal and switches, RS.
But let's talk taste. RS's caramel Santa was not too bad. Nothing extraordinary, but not bad. I still don't like the way their chocolate just crumbles. Not melts - cracks, crumbles. Snickers' Nutcracker is better - you've got caramel and peanuts and I like the chocolate better.
The coconut cream Santa is okay if you REALLY like coconut cream - it's sweet, with coconut chunks but not creamy. It has the consistency of marshmallow. I found it gross. The coconut Santa (not cream, just coconut) is an inferior version of an Almond Joy with no almond. (And not much joy.)
There's also a coconut wreath (apparently RS goes all out with coconut at Christmas. I don't think of coconut as a Christmas treat, but hey, why not?) Better than VEGETABLES.
Again, aesthetics not so good. I'm not going to elaborate - you can see for yourself. BUT - this was my favorite of the RS treats! I'm surprised! I like it! Hey, Mikey! RS may not be dead to me yet! I would actually buy this again. It's not a chocolate coated thing like the others, the chocolate is mixed with the coconut and it's nice and moist. YUM! No switches!!
Remember Russell Stover's infamous Buzzard Egg at Halloween? The one I busted for being an Easter Egg repackaged and repackaged badly? Well, it's BAAAACK!
And the competition is none other than the Cadbury Ornament Creme Egg! (Hey -at least they tied it to Christmas and called it an ornament - RS just said "Marshmallow and Caramel" and stuck a Santa picture on the label.
Here they are naked - at least Cadbury tried to make theirs look seasonal:
Russell Stover is just sticking with the Easter decoration year round. RS is lazy in the aesthetics department. More coal and switches. Santa is SO watching! (And he's not laughing at the Pope thing.)
Let's look inside these babies, where the yolk meets the egg!
Now, there really is no competiton here. The first picture is RS - there is a big hole where caramel should be. And look at that spongy marshmallow! Something is just not working here - I don't know what happens to the caramel. There's some weird liquid between the marshmallow and the chocolate so maybe it's caramel. I don't know. I didn't like it as a buzzard egg and I don't like it as a weird Santa egg.
The Cadbury egg is much better - it actually looks like an egg, it's creamy and delicious. Although I have to confess that it is a little too sweet for me. But it blows RS out of the nest.
So here are my favs - the Butterfinger Santa disk, the Snickers Nutcracker, and the RS Wreath. I higly recommend them all - they are relatively inexpensive and taste pretty darn good.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Ho, ho, ho!!!
Monday, December 15, 2008
Carl likes fruitcake. And I have to admit that there is some mighty fine fruitcake out there. It really doesn't deserve the fear and loathing it seems to generate. I mean fruit, nuts and cake are involved - what's wrong with that?
USA Today contained the results of an online survey of 3,600 apparently insane people. Respondents were asked about their holiday snacking plans. Fruitcake came in last at 11% (behind even trail mix at 12%). This must have been multiple choice, who even THINKS of trail mix as a holiday snack? The number one choice was cookies with 65% - which I wholeheartedly agree with. I worship Christmas cookies and making them used to be a tradition for my family. I have a lot of good memories surrounding the Christmas cookie. And Christmas cookie dough. Mmmmmm............cookie dough.....I need a moment.
But number 2, number 2 was VEGETABLES! WTF! VEGETABLES BEAT OUT CHOCOLATE! Who in their right mind when asked about holiday snacking, says, "Oh yes, I plan to eat vegetables as my holiday snack." What about Chex Mix? What about peanuts or mixed nuts? What about nachos? Or chips and dip? What about those little hot dogs or wings or meatballs? What about snack cakes like Little Debbie? What about ice cream? What about cheese and crackers? What about FRUIT for God's sake? What about chocolate covered cherries? What about candy canes and Tootsie Rolls or any candy? VEGETABLES BEAT CANDY?
Now clearly some of these people are just plain lying. We do not have an obesity epidemic because people are snacking on vegetables. Some other possibilities are:
They were too embarrassed to document the fact that they were planning to sit around eating frosting out of the can.
They are confused by candy corn and jelly beans.
They really are PLANNING to eat veggies, but know that's just a fantasy and they will be heading straight for the Fritos and Velveeta.
They thought the vegetables would be covered in chocolate or powdered sugar or fried. Or fried, then covered in powdered sugar and chocolate. Ho, ho, ho!
Three vegetable farmers each responded 1,200 times.
They had the shakes so bad from crashing after all the sugar they've been eating, they hit the wrong key on their keyboards.
And the number one reason they might have responded this way:
And if any of you really are dead set on snacking on vegetables, feel free to send all other snacking items to me. Even fruitcake.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Now it's been a long, long time since I've eaten a Sugar Baby, but I remember them fondly. These, however, are not good. They are really hard - like really stale Sugar Babies. Maybe the coloring didn't work so well? What a bummer - I was really looking forward to these. Also the green on the package looks great! The green on the candy is a pastel green. Not festive. Festive for Easter maybe, but not Christmas. Oh well, maybe they'll be better next year. Go with the regular ones for the stocking!
I've seen these around the holidays for years and always wanted to try one. I couldn't really get what it was:
They do come apart just like orange slices. If you like orange and chocolate, this is for you! It's milk chocolate and orange oil and it definitely delivers on the orange. It started as a big hit in the UK, now it's sold all over the world and is manufactured by Kraft. Get this - according to Wikipedia, "Its history dates back to the 1920s, when the so-called "Chocolate Apple" was first produced. The orange was launched in the 1930s and was much more popular than the apple, leading to the apple's phasing out in 1954." I can't image the apple tasting very good, although a REAL apple covered with or dipped in chocolate is fabulous. This is VERY fun for a stocking! Definitely more fun than a regular ol' orange.
Whoppers has a holiday entry - Whoppers Sno-Balls:
These are like regular Whoppers, but they have a candy coating. I liked them. The box is cute, they are addictive. Now, don't get me wrong - Whoppers can not compete with Chocolat Moderne's caramels. But as a fun Christmas candy - they are okay. (I like Reese's Whoppers the best, then the regular ones because they have more chocolate, but I swear I can't stop eating these!) The box is small - grab one!
The last candy is something that looked interactive:
I thought that maybe you were supposed to somehow decorate the star with the "snowballs"? I don't know - it seemed like they were supposed to go together. So I opened the package:
Um...I don't get it. The little "snowballs" really taste terrible. The dark chocolate star isn't bad, but it's not too good either. It's hollow and I'm not a big lover of hollow chocolate shapes. I like solid chocolate. Maybe you're supposed to split the star open and then load the snowballs in and eat that. Or just look at it. Maybe it's a decoration. I don't know, I really don't get it. There's also a Christmas tree. Don't buy these. They are weird. I'm scared of them.
I love the season - from the wonderful to the weird - how fun are all of these? How lucky are we that confectioners are working to develop new ideas and new treats for us? Yahoo!! Make sure you have some fun this season and try one or two new holiday candies. We'll be trying more here!!! On Donner, On Blitzen!
Friday, December 12, 2008
Don't know the details on this one, but it's pretty hot:
Here's a warrior princess by Valrhona:
And finally, check out this one by Dina Sadik and Vanessa Greeley:
Yes, that is the Chrysler Building on the headdress (and a Angelia Jolie look-alike in the background). Dina was actually there and I got to talk with her. She was VERY sweet and so excited about the project. Definitely a non-snob. And if you visit her website: http://www.essentiallychocolate.com/ you'll see she has as much reason to be snobby as anyone! Her work is gorgeous - I wish her online shopping cart was set up - I would totally order from her.
Let me give you a couple of facts about the costume she and her friend Vanessa Greeley designed from an article at: http://www.northjersey.com/betterliving/fashion/Chocolate_makes_a_fashion_statement.html:
The outfit includes a satin cape studded with more than 100 chocolate rings, a three-layer chocolate corset modeled after the chocolate bra, and a chocolate belt with flashing electronics interwoven that sits above gray spandex pants and a pair of calf-high chocolate boots.
The headpiece made of Callebaut Belgian chocolate and Valrhona French chocolate weighs close to 10 pounds. It's the outfit's pièce de résistance, crowned with chocolate spires, spikes and spears and weighted on either side by Manhattan-themed regalia like taxicabs and a pretty sweet replica of the Chrysler Building.
When I took the picture of the outfit, Dina came up and asked if I liked it. She was so nice and so approachable (unlike many of the other chocolatiers), that I was thrilled to talk with her. She told me she and her friend had made the piece and gave me her card.
What made me think of this brief interaction was how different it is when you actually meet the person behind a product or idea - how interacting with them gives you a new appreciation for their efforts - or not (if they are rude and snobby, I feel worse about their products). The Internet makes it easy to be mean, as we saw in the NYT review. The critic probably didn't know any of the people involved in making those chocolates. If she did, maybe she would have chosen her words more carefully. I'm not saying she should say she likes things she doesn't, but there's a difference between saying you didn't care for something and that it should be fed to dogs.
I think of that horrible woman who drove one of her daughter's teenage classmates to suicide by pretending to be another teen and being cruel to her. I read another article where a grown man killed himself because of all the horrible postings criticizing his recent disastrous ad campaign. The people who posted were all anonymous. It is even easier to be cruel and torment others when you can remain hidden - not connected to your vile words. And even more recently all those people watched a young man commit suicide over his web cam, some even egging him on.
If we all had to look into the other person's eyes when we typed our words, I'd like to think we would never be so cruel. What we would see there would be the same things we see in our own eyes - the fear of rejection, the hope for acceptance, the desire to be liked. Almost all of us now have access to the Internet, all of us hold the pen that is mightier than the sword. How will we use it? We are all so fragile - sticks and stones do break our bones, but words can break our hearts.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Rosa, who writes a great blog http://zomgcandy.com/, called it snarky - and that's the perfect way to describe it. Snarky and not helpful. First the writer does some name dropping: "I brought the chocolates listed below to Chanterelle restaurant in Manhattan (like it would be in the Bronx) for a side-by-side tasting with the pastry chef, Kate Zuckerman, who has a palate I trust." Ooh la la!
Here are two of her comments:
Endangered Species 70 percent cacao, organic chocolate: sugary, moldy taste, had to spit it out. Suggestion: perhaps it was just a bad batch. But if dogs could eat chocolate, I would have given it to the dog. *
Green and Black’s 70 percent cacao, organic chocolate: not much going on other than cacao flavor, a little moldy tasting, astringent. Suggestion: put it out on the giveaway pile for the office mooch. *
She had to hang around with a pastry chef at an upscale Manhattan restaurant to come up with that? Maybe we should review how lame her writing is. I wish I could have seen her sitting there spitting out food - nice image, classy. Suggestion: maybe she was drunk.
I don't want to be snarky either. I guess I just feel bad for all the chocolate companies she shredded. And it wasn't like she lauded many. Judging by the 54 comments of people writing in to defend their favorites, maybe she can't speak for all of us.
And that, dear readers, is the point of this entry. No one can speak for everyone. In fact, the only person they can speak for is themselves. Just because you're a high-speed food critic, doesn't mean that you and I will like the same things. That doesn't make you wrong, but it doesn't make me wrong either.
One of my favorite books is "If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him." (Don't freak out, we're not bashing the Buddha!) The message of the book is that no one can tell you what is right for you. You have to find out for yourself. You have to take the journey of your life, ask your own questions, and find your own answers. Run from (or kill) anyone claiming to have all the answers. I love this book.
I think it's fine that there are food critics, and movie critics, and art critics. I like to hear what they have to say. But I don't always agree with them. I like to read what all the people who post things on Amazon or other sites say about products. I often find these much more helpful than what the "experts" say. They are written by people like me. They say helpful things like - the book was slow at first, but hang in there. Or - I loved this, but the controls were too hard to use. I had to send it back. And they are very seldom mean - even if they didn't like something, they don't say things like "Give this to your dog." Or "My fifth grader could write better than this." Why be hateful?
All I can figure is our NYT writer was trying to be funny. But it didn't come across that way and it didn't offer much in the way of helpful information. I actually found the 54 comments to be better than the article! That's one thing about the Internet, we all do have a pie hole, and the reader can decide who provides the best information. Maybe that food critic is scared we won't need him/her anymore.
One thing I think we do owe ourselves to to try many things before we decide what we like. Try a lot of candy bars before you lock into one favorite. Listen to a lot of types of different music before you commit your entire budget to Britney Spears. Don't let your journey be about just staying in the place you started.
You don't need anyone to tell you what's the best chocolate or the best book or the best movie for you. You don't need anyone to tell you who to love or what job to take. They can guide you, help you learn, but at the end of the day - only you know what's really the best choice for you.
(And if you have to spit something out, you might want to keep that to yourself.)
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Well, let me share my recent example.
I'm single and the holidays can be lonely. So several years ago I decided to start taking great trips during those holidays. It's a slow time business-wise, so it's been a fantastic solution. I expand my horizons, don't miss out on lots of business opportunities, and don't sit around feeling sorry for myself.
This year I was seriously considering going to Greece. I bought several books on Greece, contacted several companies that do tours of Greece, and thought it might be the location for this year. But the economy took a nose dive and I decided it would be wiser to pay off my mortgage rather than take an extravagant vacation.
Of course, as the holidays approach I've been wondering if maybe I made the wrong choice, if I shouldn't have played it safe. Can you say, "Whew?"
As many of you know, Greece is in a horrible state right now. It's being torn apart by rioters. Obviously I would have had to cancel my trip or if somehow I had gotten caught in this mess, there's no telling what could have happened. It certainly wouldn't be the Greece I wanted to visit.
We don't have a crystal ball, we can't know the future. Sometimes something seems bad (this recession) but maybe you will also realize there's some aspect of it that's for the best. Maybe we'll reassess what's important to us. Maybe we'll treat our customers like they are worth their weight in gold (which we sometimes forget when times are good). Maybe we'll operate more efficiently. Maybe some companies will fail that really needed to. Maybe you'll be let go from a job you really hated and find work you really love. We can't see the future and what the end result will be. So hang in there!!!!
Of course, one group that is loving the recession is confectioners! People view candy as a simple, affordable pleasure. Yay! And you can get some really decadent chocolates for really affordable prices. This is one of my favorites:
FERRERO Prestige contains three different confections - the traditional Rocher in gold which is a creamy chocolaty filling surrounding a whole hazelnut, within a delicate, crisp wafer - all covered in chocolate and chopped hazelnuts. (Ferrero also makes Nutella - they know their hazelnuts.) I am always amazed by how light these are. Light and delicious! And look at those gorgeous wrappers!
The Garden Coco is also fantastic - described as a savory combination of rich coconut cream surrounding a sweet almond, within a delicate, crisp wafer...topped with meringue and shredded coconut. Now that sounds like it might be too much coconut or too sweet. But it really wasn't - it was REALLY good. Not too sweet, not too coconutty. A wonderful mix of textures. I think you should try it.
The one I liked the least was the Rondnoir - described as a unique combination of a creamy, dark chocolate surrounding a "black pearl" of fine dark chocolate, within a delicate, crisp wafer (I think they need more adjectives) ...topped with crunchy dark chocolate morsels. Maybe because this one has no nuts, it's my least favorite. The other two are so good, this one pales in comparison. Odd that the dark should pale....(maybe I need some new words myself!).
Bottom line - you never know what the future holds. Something that seems bad today could end up to be something good tomorrow. You might meet the love of your life at the second job you had to take to make extra money. The Universe works in mysterious ways. Your only job is to keep showing up and staying open to hope. Oh - and make sure you eat some chocolate along the way! Carpe diem, carpe chocolate!