Thursday, January 29, 2009

More on Valentine's Day

Ah - after my rant on excellence, I feel compelled to share a little Valentine's Day love. The candy is FINALLY out in full force - yahoo!! Just a quick post tonight to share a few of the love offerings from our favorite mass producers of chocolate.

As to the excellence of these products, most food critics would not say they are excellent - they do not challenge the palate, etc. etc. BUT I think we have to use a different measure for them. These are produced in mass quantities - they are inexpensive, easy for most people to get their hands on, and consistent. They are the fast food of chocolate. And, hey, I like them just fine. Let's see what they are doing for the holiday:

These are cute - Kissables in Valentine's Day colors. And they taste pretty good. I think they would be perfect for trail mix, on ice cream, in cookies - maybe even tossed in the kids' oatmeal - wheee!

I actually like Hershey's Miniatures, especially Mr. Goodbar - it really is packed with peanuts. And sometimes this is all the chocolate I want. (Now I know this can't even come close to competing with fine Swiss chocolate, remember - fast food.) What I really like about these are the VERY cute Valentine's Day wrappers - adorable!

Tootsie Pops has a Valetine's Day entry - all cherry pops...

with cute Valentine's Day wrappers - this one says "Sweetie Pie!" "Love Me!" and "You're Mine!" Exclamation points by Tootsie.

Now I haven't looked very closely at a Tootsie Pop wrapper in a VERY long time, so I don't know when they changed the artwork. It still has the Indian, the football player, and kids engaged in various other activities, but they are more stylized than they used to be. And some have giant heads, out of scale with their bodies. I don't know what it all means.

But they are good, although it seems there is less Tootsie Roll and more Pop than there used to be. But sometimes I think my childhood candy memories are distorted, so I cannot be sure.

This is a great Valetine's Day assortment - what could be better than Snickers, M & M's and Twix?

These are some pretty small Snickers, but they are good. The Twix bars have some sayings on them - pretty lame ones I might add - "It's not a mix up... You're my Valentine!" and "Let's mix it up!!" Apparently the writers felt it was important to use the word mix in all of them. I have no idea why.

Overall, I say this is a good batch of Valentine's Day candies. All that is really happening here is new packaging, but I like it! Mars, Hershey, and Cupid - what a trio!!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why We Don't Reward Excellence

Sounds like many of you share my frustration when it comes to watching the slow, painful death of excellence.

Here are some of the reasons I think we don't reward excellence:

1.) It's hard. Wah. Someone has to figure out how to define excellence. Someone has to set standards. But our Economics professor clearly knows good work and bad work. This can be done. But it will take some work.

2.) Someone's feelings might get hurt (or esteem might get damaged). Wah again. That's life. Not everybody gets the dream job, every team can't win the Superbowl (Go Steelers!), all swimmers don't get the gold medal. Some people are going to lose. The sooner in life you learn this lesson, the sooner you can figure out what you do want to achieve and work harder at it. If I get a prize just because I showed up at school (and I'm not even talking perfect attendance here, I'm talking the "My Kid Breaths Oxygen at XYZ Middle School" bumper stickers) then I expect a prize for just showing up at work. I want a trophy because I warmed the bench for the basketball team. The best thing you can do for someone is let them lose at something. Either they will work harder and get better or they will find something they can win at - something that makes better use of their unique talents.

3.) Someone might get mad. Double wah. Yep, well, learn how to handle confrontation. Have boundaries. If you change a student's grade because he (or his parents) pitch a fit, then you are weak. Parents, if you are fighting your kid's battles, please get a grip. Don't fight with their teachers, bosses, or anybody else. Or get ready to fight all their battles for the rest of their lives. And don't think they'll ever fight for you - they won't know how.

4.) We have no idea what excellence is. This is different than number one - with number one, you know, but drafting the standards is difficult. In this one, you don't even know what excellence is! Many companies blab about excellence in their mission statements, but when asked what excellence in their industry means, they can't even tell you. Is producing green cars excellence for the Big Three? What about comfort? What about profit? Is excellence taking care of over-paid employees for life or taking care of customers over the life of their cars? Is excellence winning the game or is excellence being a good sport? I don't care if you do win the Superbowl - if you are a gangsta in your off hours, I don't think you exemplify excellence. See what I mean? What is excellence? Does anyone even talk about it anymore?

5.) It's not politically correct. What if we define excellence and the short kids can't be MVP for the basketball team? What if we define excellence and the girls can't win? Or the green people? When the winners have to be diverse rather than excellent, it's no longer excellent. Not everybody is good at everything AND IT'S OKAY! I'm not talking about discriminating. I'm talking about setting standard that have everything to do with results and nothing to do with how much money your parents do or don't make, what color your skin is, what your gender is, or anything else. But people start to freak out if some group doesn't win. The day will come when a group not represented wins (Tiger Woods). But if the bar had been lowered so a black golfer might win, we might never have gotten a Tiger Woods. The hours of practice, the hard work, the discipline were developed for excellence. Any high achiever will NEVER ask that the bar be lowered for them.

6.) We want to make ourselves feel better. Johnny got bad grades and feels embarrassed? Let's give poor Johnny a prize, he tried after all. Poor Martha has so much going on at home, let's not pressure her to actually help customers today. It's not about Martha, it's about you - you don't want to feel bad by pressuring her. It's like loaning money to your always broke brother, you're giving him the money to get rid of him or so that you can feel superior. Want him to stand on his own two feet? Stop rewarding his failure.

7.) Rewarding excellence might highlight our own shortcomings. What if everyone in your honors Econ class fails? Could you handle what that might mean about your teaching? What if your employees NEVER reach their goals? What does that say about you as a leader? What if your kids don't get in that college you want them to? What does that say about YOU?

Geez - why bother with excellence? Let's just overeat, quit exercising, play video games, put up with employees who mistreat customers, show up late, dress like slobs, buy things we can't pay for - oh - and count on someone else to bail us out.

Because the pursuit of excellence gives you what nothing else can - self respect. Stop taking away others chance to earn it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Where has all the Excellence Gone?

Today's post has nothing to do with chocolate; it has to do with thought and learning in America. I spend a lot of time in my car driving to speaking engagements and I adore audio books. I am such a geek that I even listen to audio books on my IPod. Some are nonfiction, some are fiction. I have always loved books.

Last week I listened to The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby and while I think she has her own political agenda, she raises some great points. The most disturbing of which is American kids are not as smart as their contemporaries in other countries. And the gap is widening.

Pair this with a talk I attended on the differences between the generations. According to the speaker, Generation Y (those born between 1980 and 2000) think they are the smartest, most wonderful people ever to walk the earth. They don't think they should have to pay their dues, they think they should be in charge. They are very technologically savvy and they think anyone who is less so is an idiot. So they think they are geniuses and they know less in many areas than those in preceding generations. For example, they might know how to text, download music and win at video games, but they have no idea where Israel is. Gr8.

Partner these tidbits with an article in the Raleigh, N.C. News & Observer concerning grades at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. The article is about grade inflation. Apparently 82% of all grades at UNC-CH in the fall were A's or B's. (This is not good.) Across the country grades are getting higher and higher. (And our kids are getting dumber and dumber.) You have to love this - in the exercise and sports science department - 94% of undergrads got As! 94%! What a joke!!! Let me guess - all the football players took those classes? Being on the Dean's List is meaningless.

This was the part of the article I found most disturbing:

Gilleskie, the economic professor who crunched the data for this new grade report, has struggles grading in an honors-level economics course that involves a great deal of tough written research. In a class of 15 honor students, the work ranges from very good to "really bad" Gilleskie said. But it's very difficult work, so should she give C's to students low on the ladder?

She gives mostly A's, she acknowledged.

"They're undertaking a task that very few others have done, and the fact that they got through it is an accomplishment," she said. "But is that right? That's what I struggle with."

This is a struggle? Attending class and doing crappy work is an accomplishment? You know what I think? Gilleskie should be fired.

(Let me also say that I graduated from the Honor's College at the University of South Carolina - I never expected any professor to give me an A - I expected to earn it. Gilleskie is saying just because you got in - you deserve an A. Lord, I hope no one who's supposed to be solving the nation's economic crises has an economics degree from UNC-Chapel Hill!)

She gives A's for really bad work. What does that teach anyone? Isn't her job to TEACH these students? Wow - guess a degree with honor's from UNC Chapel Hill is a huge joke. Hope the parents and students paying for that don't mind. Hope the students that are doing really good work don't care that their honor's degree is made meaningless by this teacher's actions.

But I probably can't blame Gilleskie. She's just a cog in an educational machine that doesn't seem to have any spine. I see public schools allocating all kinds of funds to deal with the slower kids or the abused kids, but not the smart kids. If Johnny can't read, we can't fail him, that might set off his parents or hurt his self esteem. Instead we'll hold back the rest of the class while we deal with Johnny. Or we'll just pass Johnny even though he can't read because it's just easier.

I don't have an answer for all this. I do think that if our institutions of learning refuse to reward excellence and only excellence, we will fall farther behind countries that do. If we celebrate the ability to win a video game over the understanding of a work of Shakespeare, we will get what we deserve. (And parents, this starts with you.) I'm not saying that we obliterate the former, not at all. But we cannot lose the later. The best teachers I had taught me how to think, how to learn, and they created a lifelong thirst for knowledge. There is no excuse for giving a student an A for really bad work.

And parents, next time you give Junior an award just for showing up, you are working against excellence and for mediocrity. My Dad would never give us money we didn't somehow earn. The only exception he ever made was for books. If we wanted a book, he would always buy it. Parents what are you teaching your kids? In Freakonomics success in school was equated with one thing - the number of books in the home. If your parents don't read, you probably won't either. Jacoby also equates intellectualism with reading. And reading a paragraph on a website doesn't count.

Employers, next time you hand out an award just because someone showed up and breathed for five years, you too are rewarding mediocrity. What do you do for excellence? What do you give those who showed up with a great attitude and really contributed to the bottom line?

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about why we don't reward excellence. (Right now, I need some chocolate.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Valentine's Day Conversation Continues

I seem to be on a nostalgia roll (pun intended). While better than the "chocolate" Necco Wafer, no one would say a Tootsie Roll is the best chocolate they have ever tasted. But the company has been around a long time (1896) and is another great American candy company. They produce lots of other popular candies - Sugar Babies, Junior Mints, Andes Mints - to name a few.

And I like the Tootsie Roll - low in fat and with a good taste, I'm a fan and I don't care who knows it! Here's this year's Valentine offering:

I would like to see the Tootsie Roll people get crazy and make Tootsie hearts. I think that would be cool! Hey - a girl can dream, right?

But Tootsie is trying to get in on the Valentine's Day conversation and Necco better watch it's back!

See these? They read Puppy Love, Kiss Me, Call Me, I Love You, Sweetie Pie, and Be Mine! Sound familiar? Hmmmm....... at least I can read these. But I do think Necco was robbed.

Now here's something I did not like:

All the Tootsie Rolls are vanilla. And it's not a very good vanilla. At first they have kind of a chemical taste, but as you keep chewing (what can I say - I'm no quitter!) they have a better vanilla taste. But these are inferior to the chocolate Tootsie Roll and I hope the Limited Edition stays limited.

If you want a REALLY good chocolate Valentine treat, try these:

I really like Guylian - especially their chocolate seashells. (So creamy!) And these are completely delicious - the Guylian website describes them as "individually wrapped, delightfully sculptured Belgian chocolate hearts filled with exquisite roasted hazelnut praliné." They will melt in your mouth. A Tootsie Roll may NEVER melt in your mouth.

The Guylian hearts have been my favorite Valentine's Day treat so far. Oh - and on the back, the hearts say "I love you." What could be better? This is chocolate that tells you it loves you. I'd say Guylian has taken the Valentine's Day conversation to a whole new level.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Voice of Valentine's Day

There's nostalgia and there's amnesia. I had fond childhood memories of the Necco wafer pack. All those flavors, all those cool disks - it seemed to be so much for the candy money!! So when I saw the all chocolate pack, I thought I'd try them:

They taste exactly as good as they look. Chalky. Kind of hard. Like a really stale disk of chocolate flavored sugar. If you want fake chocolate, the Tootsie Roll is 1,000,000,000 times better. And actual chocolate, well, there is truly no comparison. The Necco Chocolate Wafer is like chocolate minus everything that makes it chocolate.

Probably the most famous thing the Necco company makes is Sweethearts. Look what I found today at Target:

Chocolate Sweethearts!!! I liked these WAY better than the regular Sweethearts, but I hate those, so that's not really saying much. The whole box IS only 110 calories, and they actually grew on me. I started off not liking them, then couldn't stop eating them. A pack of eight boxes was just over $2.00. (That's only about 25 cents a box!) If I were a Mom I'd get these for every kid in my kid's class.

Now here's the bad news - can you read these? Me neither. The messages are invisible. I like the messages. I hope they find a way to fix this. Be Mine, Call Me (now also Txt Me and Fax Me), Be True, and Kiss Me are Valentine's staples. I'd go so far as to say the messages are the whole point of this candy. I think Necco created the language of Valentine's Day.

Love the retro looking box, even like the concept (although the flavor could be better), but GOTTA have the messages! Come on, Necco, I'm cheering for you!

From the Necco corporate website:

NECCO (New England Confectionery Company) dates its start back to the summer of 1847. It is the oldest multi-line candy company in the United States. NECCO’s new Corporate World Headquarters in Revere, MA, manufactures timeless candy classics such as NECCO® Wafers, Sweethearts® Conversation Hearts, Mary Jane®, Clark®, Mighty Malts®, Haviland® Thin Mints, Candy House® Candy Buttons, and Squirrel Nut Zippers®.

I didn't know what Necco even stood for until today!

I'll buy these every year if it will help a U.S. Candy company that has been around since 1847. You know, I'm feeling very nostalgic after all.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Want Expiration Dates!!

Chocolate can last a long time if stored properly. That would be between temperatures of 60 degrees and 68 degrees and with no crazy extremes of humidity. Dark chocolate bars can taste good after two years and milk chocolate after one year. With filled chocolates, there may be other ingredients that can't last this long. That's why you hope the manufacturers put expiration dates on the packaging.

Since I've started writing this blog, I've accumulated more chocolate than the average human should ever have. I try to keep an eye on the expiration dates so I can review things before they go bad.

But I'm noticing that lots of my bars have no expiration dates. What the hell? Let me show you why this is a problem:

Look at these pictures. Look at that fluffy, creamy filling. I wanted to review these bars last week. But look at them:

Is that creamy? Fluffy? Moussey? No. It looks old, stale, dried out. The chocolate seemed okay, but the fillings did not live up to the billing. I thought at $6.00 a piece these were a complete rip off. BUT I didn't know if it was because they were old or because they were just not good. They carried no expiration date. They could have been made five years ago for all I know. I think anything that is edible should have an expiration date or a best by date. Or, as my friend Carl Weaver of the National Confectioners Association suggested, a production date.

How can a buyer tell what he or she is buying? In places like World Market, I'm betting some chocolate might stay on the shelf a long time. How can the buyer tell what is fresh and what is not? I think this is a problem. Even the package of peanut M & M's I reviewed yesterday has no expiration date. Surely they can't last forever. Hell, these days even SODA has a best by date.

I've discovered that a lot of chocolate tastes MUCH better when it is fresh. But with many of these brands you can't tell. I can see why manufacturers don't want to print dates on their products. They can sell them longer. But does that serve the consumer?

Remember Godiva's pumpkin truffles? They tasted a little "off" to me. But there was no expiration date anywhere. So who knows? I have to assume they just didn't taste good.

Not all chocolate makers do this - many have expiration or use by dates. I think all of them should.

Bloom is another problem. Chocolate cannot handle rapid changes in temperature.

Here's bloom on a Baci:

It still tasted great. And, interestingly enough, the other Baci had no bloom. Go figure. They were in the same box!

More bloom. No expiration date. Bloom has more to do with handling than time, but...

Bloom looks so bad it's hard to get past it. The chocolate tastes fine, but looks bad.

I just want an expiration date. I know it won't save me from bloom, but it will make me feel better.

I think we should get the Naked Cowboy on this immediately.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How Do I Love Thee?

AAIIEEE! I have to save you from some possible Valentine's Day disasters.

If you see these, don't even touch them:

They look cute, right? GLAACK! They are marshmallow (according to the wrapper) but plain ol' Kraft marshmallows are WAY better. These are kind of hard and tasteless. If, however, you need something for a craft project, these might be just the thing!

I was so excited to find these!! And so disappointed to taste them.

If you really like cherry, you may really like these. But they are too cherry for me - I much prefer the regular 3 Musketeers. And look at how scary that pink is! Yeow!

But all is not lost (not by a LONG shot!). Solid winners:

If you haven't tried the dark chocolate peanut M & M's - they are terrific!

And you can't go wrong with a classic:

And these are just delicious:

Dark chocolate with almonds, heart shaped AND with romantic messages inside - the best of the lot. They could get a little more festive with the outside wrapper, but that is a very minor point.

The advice in these is mixed - good advice - "The best things in life are chocolate." Not so good advice - "Trust with your heart, not your head."

I would change that to "Trust, but verify."

Others I might include -

"Actions speak louder than words."

"Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

"Love of chocolate is never unrequited."

"Don't put yourself last, everyone else will too."

Years ago I discovered the best way to have a great Valentine's Day. Buy yourself what you really want - flowers, chocolate, jewelry - whatever it is. If you don't get what you want from someone else, you'll still be happy. If you do get what you want - that's fantastic - a bonus! Valentine's Day shouldn't be about expectations. Expectations can lead to disappointment and ruin what would otherwise be a fun day.

Remember the last post? Hoping you get a good Valentine's Day gift is useless. Buying yourself a good Valentine's Day gift will make Cupid proud (and you happy).

Monday, January 19, 2009

To Hope or to Act? THAT is the Question

Hi Gang! Sorry for the slack postings! I'm on the road in Georgia, so I've been busy.

I did make my first Valentine's Day run today (just in case there was different candy down here) and I got three different sizes of Reese's Hearts, chocolate bear Peeps, dark chocolate and milk chocolate peanut M & M's (they were on sale - buy one get one free, so...), some interesting looking marshmallow hearts, cherry flavored Three Musketeers Mini's (can't wait to try those), and dark chocolate Dove hearts with almonds! Whee! No camera, so I have left them in the truck of my car. If I bring them into this hotel room, I'll eat them all.

I also ate some peanut butter today - I am SUCH a risk taker! Salmonella, scmalmonella.

I will be reviewing these and who knows what other Valentine's Day treats. Yahoo! Life is good!!

And don't worry, the bloom and expiration date expose is still coming! Mars is nervous, I'm sure.

Right now I want to rant about something I saw in USA TODAY. It was one of those little polls they have off to the side of the stories. The question it posed to small business owners was, "Do you feel there is anything you can do to make a difference in whether your business succeeds or fails in the current economy?"69% said yes. But what shocked me was that 31% said no. What the hell? If that was how they responded, that 31% DESERVE to go out of business.

Take the words "the current economy" off that question. If you think you can make a difference in good times, why would you think you can't in tough times? Surely 31% don't believe they can't make a difference in their own businesses? Have their brains fallen out?

You can either lay down and "hope something will change to make things better" or "try new things to stimulate business." (Those were the choices in the USA TODAY poll.) Any time you opt to simply "hope something will change to make things better" you are being a victim. Why would you not try everything possible before you just sat around and "hoped"? Hope is never a bad thing - it is hope that has that 69% trying new things. But hope should start at home. Get off your own butt before you expect some secret external factor to come in and bail you out. (And I do mean bail out.)

Bail yourself out and you have security. You'll know what to do next time. You'll be stronger, more competitive, smarter. Let someone else bail you out and you rely on them forever (hear me, Big Three?). Do kids learn to walk because you carry them? No. They learn to walk by falling a few times and working like hell to say upright.

I know we can't control much, but I will NEVER believe that hoping is better than taking action.

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt
"Citizenship in a Republic,"Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Do you want to be someone who dared greatly or someone who hoped things would change?

Roll up your sleeves, get in the arena! Your life, your business, your world is what YOU make it. That 31% should be ashamed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Blurry Line Between Cereal and Candy

This is going to be a relatively short post because I am working on an expiration date expose that will blow the lid off the chocolate world! (Or will at least be mildly interesting to the 25 readers of this blog.)

As I have said before, I love the grocery store. To me, there can be no better place than one containing thousands and thousands of food items. Oh the possibility! All the glorious things I haven't tried! New things arriving everyday! A tribute to human ingenuity and imagination! And the taste bud.

Today I spent some time on the cereal aisle. I love cereal. Although I usually get boring healthy brands. But when I saw these, I decided to take one for the home team, and buy them.

I gotta give General Mills top honors in the marketing department. What kid is not going to scream his head off when he sees this? The box looks like the Reese's wrapper, hell the cereal bowl is a Reese's cup wrapper. And these taste pretty darn Reese'slike. They really are pretty good. If they looked more appealing you could serve them in a bowl at a party! Are they cereal or are they candy? Or little cookies? Who knows?

See - not very delicious looking. Look a lot like dry dog food. But they really taste great! When I was a kid, I would have eaten the entire box the day my Mom brought it home from the grocery store.

I give them zero points for health but 10 points for taste. And 10,000 points for marketing and exploiting children. It all depends in what you're looking for in a "cereal."

There's another entry although not so well marketed. I remember Corn Pops from when I was a kid and they were good! These are NOTHING like the Corn Pops I remember. I think Kellogg's should have just come up with a new cereal.

These too claim to be chocolate and peanut butter. But in truth, they don't hold a candle to the Reese's Puffs. Equally unhealthy and even uglier in appearance, these are a desecration of the Corn Pops name. No points for anything.

The Reese's Puffs even have a list of 18 things to do before you're 18 on the back of the box. (They really should leave these motivational type things to the professionals. Like me.)

Let me share some of the 18 things:

bungee jump

go backstage at a gig (yeah, Miley will love to have you)

play a part in your favorite TV show (there's a realistic goal)

invent a word that makes it into the dictionary (are you kidding me? how about LEARN a word that IS in the dictionary?)

complete a road trip coast to coast (parents, that's a good one for your under 18 children, huh?)

but they did add the last one - reach 18 years of age - yes!! (um, by the very title of the list this makes no sense)

But hey, we all gotta dream, right?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chocolate, Cookies, and Choice

I love cookies. I really do. But not all cookies are created equal.

Some cookies break your heart.

These Chocolate Toffee Brittles look fabulous on the box:

But are not so good in real life. They actually might have been better without the chocolate. I think toffee shortbread would be delish, but with the chocolate, these didn't work for me. They weren't worth 100 calories each so I pitched them. I've been saving the box for a "somethings are better without chocolate" post. I do think that chocolate does not have to be added to everything. We'd get pretty sick of chocolate if it was all there was.

Speaking of something that doesn't seem to be made better by adding chocolate, Vosges has a new mushroom and chocolate bar. I kid you not - Organic Enchanted Mushroom Candy Bar - Organic dark chocolate + reishi mushrooms + organic walnuts. Maybe things have gone too far. Do mushrooms need chocolate? Or more importantly, does chocolate need mushrooms? When will chocolate say, "Enough! These horrible experiments must end! I am not an animal!"

Speaking of horrible, look at these:

Hello Panda! How about Hell No Panda. These look like slightly charred Oyster crackers with cross-eyed pandas printed on them playing various sports. Why go to all this trouble? I counted 10 different designs in a box of 16. There is a panda playing golf, tennis, ping pong, soccer, baseball, doing gymnastics, kayaking, sailing, skiing and lifting weights. Is the panda really the animal for all this activity? Why not pick a sloth? Or maybe go with Hello Jaguar - an animal that might actually do something.

I'm not sure about the shape - some are shaped kind of like a panda head, some are round, all are half full of choco cream. I think the only reason they have the cream is so kids won't choke on the dry crumbs from the rest of the cookie. Kids will like these because kids like everything. I suggest you have 10,000 or so better options.

Well, we've heard from Japan. Let's go to England. Back in June 2008 the British voted on their favorite cookie (known as biscuits to the Brits) of all time. Now I don't know how the poll was conducted, but knowing the English, it was right on the money. They chose McVitie's Chocolate Digestive:

This is a cookie where chocolate DEFINITELY made a difference. The chocolate was added in 1925 and that's when sales skyrocketed. Of course, when I read the results of the poll, I had to get some. And, well, they are not so good. They are made from wheat flour (thus the digestive part, I guess) but they only have one gram of fiber each, so that is BS. Of course they taste like cardboard so maybe it's the placebo effect. English food is pretty bland and generally awful, so this falls right in line. Thank God for the Revolutionary War.

The chocolate chip cookie (biscuit) didn't even make the top three. No wonder the English look so dour.

So much for Japan and England, let's go down South! Where an RC Cola and a Moon Pie are tradition! I saw these in the grocery store and had to grab them. They are PEANUT BUTTER Moon Pies!!!

Well, actually, they are are only made by the Moon Pie people. They are not technically Moon Pies. Where a regular Moon Pie has marshmallow, this one has peanut butter. Where they have graham cracker, these have chocolate cookie. And the whole thing is coated in chocolate. And I gotta tell you, they are pretty damn good. Now don't get me wrong, these aren't like a homemade cookie, I'm not suggesting that. But for a mass produced cookie, they are good! And they kick the Digestives' butt! Once again, America wins the war!! Whoo hoo! Made ONLY in Chattanooga, TN! Hmmm, I wonder if I can get a tour of the plant....

Now this isn't technically a cookie. It's a muffin top:

But I'm including it here to show you the choices you have. These are amazing - they taste like a brownie and they have chocolate chips. Vitalicious also makes some with peanut butter chips. They also have brownies with walnuts. These taste great! And here's the best part - they only have 100 calories!! They are loaded with vitamins and have 5 grams of fiber! (Digestives, you suck.)

And let's just see everybody together and naked:

See how big the Vitalicious muffin top is? 100 calories!!! 170 for the Peanut Butter Moon Pie cookie next to it, 168 for both Digestives (but why bother?), and about 20 calories for each HellNo Panda. This is how I don't get fat. When I really want a nice big chocolate fix - I eat these! I pop the frozen brownies into the microwave and top them with fat-free vanilla caramel Jell-O Pudding. For 170 calories I have an outrageous dessert.

Here's the website and some grocery stores carry them too. I think chocolate, corn muffin and banana nut bread are the only ones worth getting. Sign up for their e-mail and they send out coupons from time to time.

Well, there you have it. I don't care what anyone says, America Rocks! We have everything from Peanut Butter Moon Pies to Vitalicious Muffin Tops AND we have the freedom to chose. Thank God for the Founding Fathers or we'd be stuck with those horrible Digestives. God save the Cookie!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tutti Frutti, oh Rudy

Little Richard was born in the town I grew up in - Macon, Georgia.

Today we are going to talk about chocolate with fruit flavors.

That means we have a theme song - Tutti Frutti, oh Rudy! a wop bop-a-loo-bop a wop bam boom!

Let's start with orange:

We have already reviewed Terry's Orange (the best thing about it was its cool shape and that I had to beat it with a stapler to get it to break apart into slices). As a rule, I'm not thrilled about the chocolate/orange combo. I dunno - just seems like there are sooo many better choices (I mean why pick orange when you can have caramel, peanut butter, or nuts?)

The fluorescent nightmare on the right is a teuscher Mandarin Chocolate bar I got this in their Fifth Avenue store which is decorated like a bad cross between a funeral parlor and Hello Kitty. It's actually disturbing - like five year old beauty queens. The home page of the website gives for a feel for it. This is a Swiss chocolatier, but this bar is awful. I have several of their bars, so I'm hoping the others are better. Avoid this orange wrapper like you avoid orange traffic cones.

The Lindt bar really surprised me - it actually has pieces of orange and almond slivers. And I found the chocolate richer, smoother and creamier by far than the teuscher bar. This is the best orange/chocolate combo I've tried yet. If you like orange and chocolate - this is IT! Good Golly Miss Molly!

Chuao Chocolatier makes these ChocoPods:

Great packaging! Love the shiny, metallic pink wrapper and the cacao pod shape! These were Passion - Passion Fruit Caramel. Okay - I don't know if I got a bad batch, but these tasted terrible. Maybe the passion fruit is too weird, I don't know. I just thought they tasted, well, wrong. If I see a different flavor, I'll try these again, but they were really bad. Oh Rudy!

Another Lindt bar:

This one is a 70% dark bar (delish, smooth dark chocolate) with cherry filling and supposedly with "the lingering heat of chili." My verdict? zzzzzz Boring. Too subtle on the cherry and chili. If there's a whole lotta shakin' goin' on, it ain't going on here. Pass.

Now these kind of scare me, but I'm going in:

Let's start with Crave by NewTree The chocolate was good, but I'm not a big apricot fan and the apricot flavor is pretty strong. I did like the fact that in this box are three individually wrapped bars - very nice. Here's what I don't like - they have 11 flavors - crave is one - others include forgiveness, blush, cocoon, vigor - PLEASE! Forgiveness is not a flavor! Neither is cocoon! Everybody has to have an angle, but damn! There's a whole lotta BS goin' on! (I'll try more of these, though - the chocolate was nice and smooth.)

The other two are by Dolfin (they had a great chocolate bar that was weak on the almonds, reviewed in the Nuts post). In the tan wrapper is Summer Memories, Apple Crumble - it has apple, hazelnuts, and sugarcane. Eh. Didn't do much for me. Sounds more interesting than it is. Caramel and chocolate REAL apples are soooooo much better.

The screamin' green wrapper is Fruity Escapade (okay, that's just insane - it sounds like something the Fruit of the Loom guys would be involved in). The flavors here are apple, peach and apricot. What the hell was I thinking when I bought this?

Actually it's not bad - the chocolate has so much flavor and the fruit is very subtle, so the combo is very good. There are fruit pieces in the chocolate. I like the size of this bar too - it's a 1.058 oz bar (those large Lindt bars are 3.5 oz to give you a comparison).

So far, I really like fresh fruit with chocolate best - the giant apples at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory - oh, baby!! Those are awesome!! But of these bars, my very favorite was the Lindt Intense Orange. I highly recommend this one. A wop bop-a-loo-bop a wop bam boom!

Music is a great motivator - I think we all should have a theme song. Or at least a cool fruit costume.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I Love My Crazy Friends!

I am really lucky to have some of the friends I do. I'm not sure I deserve them, but I am truly grateful I have them.

Three of these wild ones (all my friends seem to be a little bit crazy - and that's the way I like 'em! If someone isn't a little off center, then they are just too boring.) sent me Christmas presents. There were all out of the blue, completely unexpected, and totally wonderful.

The first one is from my buddy Don Johnson (no, not Miami Vice although Don does ride a mean motorcycle). Don sends me the most hilarious e-mails EVER and is a totally cool guy. Way cooler than the Miami Vice Don Johnson. He sent me this:

Now this is not a giant chocolate bar (although it is designed to look like one). It's a great book!

Loaded with gorgeous pictures like this and information on tasting chocolate, chocolate holidays, how chocolate is made, and 40 recipes - it's fantastic. I wish I just had someone to make all these for me. Looking at the pictures alone makes my mouth water. Don - you're the best!!!

Another friend, Diane Fain Worthen, sent me these:

Diane MADE the cool red scarf surrounding the chocolates. It's a really unusual scarf - the picture doesn't do it justice. How thoughtful is she - she was thinking about me keeping my crazy, messed up neck warm in the winter, and she knows red is THE FireStar color. It just doesn't get any more thoughtful than that! Diane is one of those super women who can tame children, horses and men with one hand and make great things like this with the other!

The chocolates are from Van's Chocolates in Hendersonville, North Carolina. And Diane picked a great assortment and took the time to enclose a guide for me!! No guessing necessary! YAY!

The top row has a caramel (which was good and chewy, I like 'em that way!), a pecan turtle (these were the freshest pecans ever - delish!), a chocolate cream and a vanilla cream (the chocolate cream was wonderful, but VERY rich and the vanilla was a little too sweet for me). The next row had an almond toffee (very good), a peanut butter meltaway, a raspberry meltaway, a peanut cluster (I'm telling you these nuts were so fresh - it was like they were just grown!) and a coconut haystack. Van's were very good - MUCH better than Russell Stover's assortment and the pieces featuring nuts were excellent. I will make sure I stop in next time I'm out in the western part of the state. Thanks, Diane!!! And thanks for the scarf - it's always really nice to get a gift someone went to the trouble to make.

And that brings us to the wild and crazy, Jay Rowe. Jay is hard to describe - here's a guy who went to clown college (so you know he's hilarious) but also teaches etiquette classes. To give you an idea of the many faces of Jay, he sent me this lovely ornament:

Look at her! Isn't she sweet? She's Hallmark's Angel of Chocolate! Russell Stover makes a chocolate Pope, Hallmark makes a chocolate angel. God is smiling. Although I notice the Angel of Chocolate is EATING the chocolate. Shouldn't she be extending it to us, like mercy? Or maybe she is saving us from ourselves. Either way - what a great gift!!

But Jay also sent me this button:

And if you knew him, you would think, "That is SO Jay Rowe!" He is too funny and a terrific friend. The Chocolate Angel and the Chocolate Slut - you saw it here first, Ladies and Gentlemen! Under the big top! Thanks to our Ringmaster - JAY!!!

So - take a few minutes to be grateful for all YOUR crazy friends and all the laughter and joy they bring into your life. And never doubt that taking the time to send someone something means the world to them. I got so much joy out of these gifts! And I knew that all the senders were thinking of me. These gifts all came from the heart and I cherish them as well as the givers.

Don, Diane and Jay - thank you so much!!!! (And no, readers, I am NOT giving up my Chocolate Slut pin! So don't even ask.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut

I love nuts. Many have said I am nuts, but that's another entry.

Let's talk chocolate bars and nuts.

Here we have Valor's Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Chocolove's Cherries & Almonds in Dark Chocolate. Valor has whole almonds which I love. But it was like they were on the bottom and there was a thick layer of chocolate on top. I thought the chocolate was average. Almonds A+, chocolate C.

Chocolove has the cherries which really make it. Otherwise it's only okay. Wish it had the almonds of the Valor. Almonds C, Chocolate B. Cherries A! Chocolove also has a love poem inside the wrapper which I adore. I am a sucker for romance.

Speaking of romance, Baci (kisses in Italian) by Perugina is one of my favorites. Packed with chopped hazelnuts and topped with a whole hazelnut, these are delicious. They also have a romantic quote wrapped in each one. These deserve an overall A++.

The little bar in the back wrapper is Carezza by Costa, a Peruvian chocolate company. It apparently contains secret almonds which I could neither see nor taste. Combine that with yucky chocolate, this was a D. I didn't spit it out or feed it to a dog, but it was not goo

Vosges (an $8 candy bar) Gianduja Bar is simply mind blowing. I took a bite and exclaimed, "Holy God!" The milk chocolate is so soft and creamy it melts in your hand. And this is what Gianduja is - "hazelnuts and almonds are caramelized with sugar, then the mixture is ground into a fine paste, and finally it is gently mixed with milk chocolate." All I can say is it is well worth the eight bucks. A++

This bar is just a lie. Look at that picture! Look at all those almonds! It's false advertising - there are MAYBE half that many almonds, and the chocolate is only average. D for lying. Call Oliver Kita - I think my human rights have been violated.

The Perugina (makers of the delicious Baci) dark chocolate with almonds is also only okay. Not enough almonds, chocolate a B. Stick with the kisses.

Now the Dolfin bar has great dark chocolate with lots of richness and depth but just not enough almonds. It also comes in a really cool resealable wrapper (nice!). Chocolate A+, Almonds C

And then there are two organic entries. Love the sea salt in the Lake Champlain bar, but adore all the almonds in the Green & Black's bar. Both have great chocolate (although not quite as smooth as Vosges and not as deep and rich as the Dolfin bar.) Solid As.

The best dark chocolate and almond combo I have had to date is Trader Joe's dark chocolate almond bark. There are so many almonds - the chocolate is just there to hold them together! That's the way I like it! If you're going to go nuts, you should go all the way. (But don't forget the romance!)