Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to Turn Bitter Events into a Sweet Life

Let’s face it – life can be hard. No matter who you are, no matter what your circumstances – bad things can happen to you. Your heart can get broken, a business deal can fall through, or your investments can go up in smoke. (Not that THAT has happened to any of us recently.) You need a boost – a way to hit your own personal reset button and get back in the game. Because that’s the secret really – you can’t give up. You have to have the hope that things will be better – that tomorrow is another chance to find love, put together a great business deal, or earn even higher returns.

I don’t think anyone can do this resetting for you – I think you have to do it for yourself. You have to find some techniques that work for you. Lately I’ve been using some techniques I borrowed from the love of my life, chocolate.

1.) Try new things (this can be read new books, listen to new music, hang out with new people, wear new clothing styles – you get the picture). Chocolate has been trying new things since it was discovered by the Aztecs. It started as a hot drink; it evolved into a myriad of candy bars, and now is an ingredient in everything from salad dressing to breakfast cereal. Chocolate is definitely a player in the game of life – always pushing the limits – even combining itself with bacon! If chocolate leads such an adventurous life, so can you.

Human nature is such that we get set in our ways, we hate change. This leads to boredom and depression. Mix it up!

2.) Have fun! Chocolate is definitely not uptight. The minute chocolate shows up – everybody smiles. Chocolate can be serious – when you start talking about dark chocolate and the benefits for your heart –that’s serious. But chocolate immediately reverts to fun. I have in my possession at this moment a grinning dark chocolate Easter Bunny. This bunny can save your life (in tiny doses) AND make you laugh. The key is that chocolate doesn’t take itself too seriously.

We get blue when we start taking ourselves and the things that happen to us WAY too seriously. We think if we make one mistake, our lives are over. We are so hard on ourselves! The truth is, if you gain 10 pounds, most people don’t even notice. But you can sure beat yourself up about it. In the grand scheme of your life – will people remember how skinny you were or how much joy you brought them? Remember how you thought you’d never recover from the loss of your first love? In 20 years, you’ll feel the same way about the loss of your invested money. Over time, very few things really matter. Have more fun – THAT is what you’ll remember and that is how we very often measure the true quality of our lives.

3.) Live unconditionally. Chocolate gives its all to you. It expects nothing in return. From the fragile cacao tree all the way through harvest and roasting and transport and preparation – chocolate goes through heck just to offer itself to you. And it doesn’t care if it winds up as a truffle in a fancy restaurant or a Tootsie Roll in a Halloween bag. It is still chocolate and still received with love and affection by all.

We don’t do this – we hold back. We worry about what other people might think of us. We don’t go to the beach until we lose weight. We don’t say what we really think because someone might not like us. As we age we get worse, we say “No” more to opportunities than we say “Yes.” Our world shrinks. Assume you are chocolate and wherever you go, in whatever form you take, people will like you and accept you. Be comfortable being you. Next time you find yourself putting conditions on your life (I’ll do it when I’m thinner; when I have a date, when the kids are older – remember – you may never have this chance again.) Chocolate ALWAYS shows up.

4.) Be flexible, but stay true to your nature. Chocolate can be a lot of different things. It can be molded into almost any shape imaginable. It can be paired with many other foods and mixed with many other ingredients. But we all know the taste of chocolate.

We humans can’t control much – not other people, not the weather, not the stock market. Very few things are under our direct control. To have any degree of happiness, we have to be flexible, to be willing to compromise, to share. We have to accept change. But, you must be true to yourself. If you sacrifice your core values, you will never be happy. If you hide your true nature and try to be something you are not, you will never be happy. Be like chocolate – be yourself. It won’t work in all situations, but when it does, the world will cheer.

I’m not saying these are easy – I think the reverse is true. But if you can force yourself to do them, I guarantee the results will far exceed the effort. And the more you do them, the easier they become. You can take bitter (the cacao bean) and make it sweet (chocolate). In the candy shop of life, you are your own chocolatier. Will you create a masterpiece? Or give up after the first bad batch?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Easter in the Tropics

What the hell was I thinking when I suggested orange as an Easter flavor? It apparently already IS an Easter flavor. How little I know. And I gotta tell you all, I am going to be biased here - I'm not a huge fan of orange. I like orange as a jelly bean, but so far, not much else. Well - I mean, I like orange juice, but we're talking candy here.

I was even at the Just Born factory when they told us the new flavor for this year was orange. I was covered in orange sugar dust - how could I have forgotten???

One of the things I like most about these is the multicolored sprinkles - how festive is that? And, now this is kind of weird - the inner marshmallow is pink. I don't know how that happened - I saw them made - orange blobs - solid orange goo. It's an Easter miracle!!! (I'm not going to say anything about Just Born and Resurrection - I'm already headed for the tropics as it is.)

Miracles aside - the taste is definitely orangey. If you like orange, marshmallow and sugar, these are custom designed for you. Having eaten them hot off the line, however, I am ruined forever and nothing less will do.

Even Hershey has orange Kisses!

Okay - that bag design is totally boring - I'd go so far as to say - it's ugly. And the Kisses - not so good. If you are into orange you might like these - kind of like a creamsicle. Too orange, too sweet, too gross.

Even Cadbury has an orange egg!! What rock have I been living under??? There's an orange rabbit on there for God's sake! Orange is an Easter staple! Orange is the backbone of Easter!

Of all the orange things, Cadbury was by far the best. I even sliced open my finger performing the autopsy on this baby (I BLEED for you all!). And it was worth it - check this out:

Wow - how cool is that? They still have the yoke! I was sure it would just be solid boring orange cream. Go Cadbury - you rock! These are worth trying, but I really prefer the traditional Cadbury Egg. These are just sooooo orangy! But Cadbury chocolate is so delicious it makes a nice combination. I still don't know why orange for Easter, but some things may never be understood. It's good that there are still some mysteries in the world.

And I missed some eggs for the Eggstravanza! There is a white Reese's Egg:

And a fudge Reese's Egg:

And a Mound's Egg! Will the possibilities never end???

I still think the original Reese's Egg is the best. White is good, but it's terribly sweet. It's my second choice. Fudge is last in my book - the fudge almost overpowers the peanut butter. And you know how I feel about peanut butter. I adore peanut butter. I would join the peanut butter cult if I knew how to find them. I could fall in love with Mr. Peanut - well. he might need to lose the monocle. Wait - back to Easter.

The Mounds Eggs has no weird aftertaste like the Almond Joy - the coconut was good and moist. No weird cream. But I still like Bounty best in the coconut category.

Orange you glad they didn't pick banana?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chocolate is a Many Splendored Thing

Happy Monday, everybody!! Thought I'd share some shots from the GORGEOUS chocolate shop in the Bellagio - Jean Philippe Patisserie: http://www.jpchocolates.com/

I gained weight just by breathing in here:

Look at these great chocolate sculptures:

And the show piece - a fountain with white, milk and dark chocolate. When I die, will you all scatter my ashes here?

Can you tell how big this thing is? It's amazing! I tried to break in, but casino security stopped me.

Of course, something has to pay for all this fancy beauty. See this chocolate bunny? He's MAYBE three feet tall. Cute, right?

Look at the price tag:

That is something that is staying in Vegas.

As far as the love life, I actually had a great date this weekend!! Woohoo! Can you believe it? I have to proceed with GREAT caution, however, because I actually like this guy. After the Afghanistan Affair I'm proceeding VERY slowly. (Obviously my judgement when it comes to men has not been the best.) Of course, we'll have to see if he likes me - there's the Big Personality, my chocolate obsession, and a myriad of other quirks to consider. Good grief - I could probably get better odds in Vegas!

Have a great week!! More EGGSTRAVAGANZA to come!!

And know that any country that produces a $325 chocolate Easter bunny is the greatest country in the world!!

Friday, March 27, 2009

More Eggstravaganza!! Cuckco for Coconut

I have to tell you, I still don't know how or why coconut became an Easter/Spring flavor. If anybody has any ideas, please let me know. I mean, why not banana? Or orange? Or the dreaded and horrifying lavender? But, hey, I'm rolling with it. (The White House doesn't have the only Egg Roll in town.)

The first coconut offering is from Lake Champlain Chocolates (LCC). This egg is dark chocolate with their awesome logo on it:

I hate to say this, because I love LCC, but this coconut is a joke. It's a great dark chocolate egg, but the chocolate completely overwhelms this "coconut" filling. I say "coconut" because it didn't really taste like anything other than dark chocolate.

I have another bone to pick with LCC. This egg was part of an assortment:

The assortment has six flavors - gorgeous colors - very pretty. But when I took them all out and counted them, it had:

9 java - boo!

9 peanut butter - yea!

5 hazelnut

4 coconut

2 raspberry

1 caramel

Call me crazy, but I expected a more even mix. I only got 1 caramel (which I LOVE) and 9 java (which I hate). Not happy. I think we need to redraw the egg districts.

You know how I feel about Russell Stover. I bought their crummy candy at Halloween and again at Christmas and then decided No Mas! Compared to all the other chocolate makers, I just found their stuff inferior. But they had some great egg flavors I hadn't tried, so I decided to give them yet another chance.

They don't look bad - hell, even Russell Stover can make an egg shape. (Santas are WAY out of their league, but they can handle the egg). I like the nest - it's cute and using the jelly beans actually took some creativity! Go RS, it's your holiday!

The nest is really good, it is basically the Christmas Wreath I loved with three jelly beans on it. Nice and coconutty, moist - the only RS candy I really, really like.

The egg, however, is disappointing. It's the only egg that says it's a coconut CREAM egg, so maybe that explains why it's a little more gooey than all the others:

I think the "cream" might be marshmallow. This tasted sweet and not very coconutty. I didn't like it. If you like coconut, get the nest, forget the egg. (Boy, if only more people took that advice......)

You can't talk about coconut without talking about:

I was REALLY looking forward to eating this egg. I always liked Almond Joys, but I haven't had one in forever. Now get this - it has a weird taste. The only way I can describe it is like a cooking odor got into it. I know, gross, right? But that was what it was like. I opened another sealed one, tried it too - same thing. I don't know if I got a bad batch or what, but these were seriously disappointing.

The final coconut egg is from See's Easter candy - it's the giant one at the bottom:

See's has an Eggsortment (my make up word - you know I work fast and loose with the English language) containing peanut butter, coconut, and two flavors we'll review next. I like the sheer size of these eggs. Yay See's!

See's coconut egg is much better than Stover's, but it's very sweet. I like more a coconut taste. But of the eggs, See's was the best. And the biggest! WooHoo!

LCC has to get an honorable mention (even though I am still bitter about the assortment) for the deliciousness of their chocolate. It was definitely the best of the bunch. (or the dozen - eggs don't really come in a bunch, coconuts do........).

Now this isn't an egg, this is a bar made by Mars but not available everywhere. I got this one at World Market. It looks a lot like an Almond Joy (sans Almonds):

This bar ROCKS! It was the best of all the entries - at least as far as coconut goes. Nice chewy chunks of coconut - yum! Looks just like the Almond Joy egg when autopsied, so no real info there. If you're looking for a good coconut bar, this is the one for you. Happy Easter, My Little Coconut!

Weekend Update

Hi Gang! Quick post - I'm reviewing coconut eggs tonight (wow - are you so jealous?). The eggsciting news is that I should have much to report early next week!

I have a lunch date tomorrow - good potential - but you can never get your hopes up about these things. It's a Match.com date so I haven't met the man yet. And there's a huge singles Meetup tomorrow night. Who knows what might happen there? I could be called Marcy, hear how someone was beaten by his spouse, or maybe even be told of run ins with the law! All of which I find simply irresistible! Ah - the weekend! Who knows what might happen?

There's also the back-up promise of lots of Easter chocolate which NEVER lets me down! So have a great weekend - chances are good I'll be thinking about you! You all are with me on every date and during each misadventure! So stay tuned for the next episode of "Dating with Denise, Searching for a Man as Dependable (and sexy) as Chocolate."

Enjoy your weekend!!! (Eat some chocolate!)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More Peanut Butter Eggs (Better, Faster, Stronger)

I strongly agree with Marcus Buckingham, author of Discover Your Strengths, who says that rather than trying to work on our weaknesses, we should do the most to maximize our strengths. For example, I'm a great speaker, but I'm a lousy computer programmer. It makes much more sense for me to hire a web guy rather than try to get better at programming. I can spend that time getting even better at speaking.

One of my seminar attendees asked about this when I advised that an important part of leadership was putting the right people in the right jobs. I always use the example that some people are great at dealing with customers - they have outstanding people skills. There are other people who should be kept far, far away from customers. Not everyone can do every job. The question was, "Shouldn't you move people around to different jobs so they can learn different skills?" I said no - echoing Buckingham's words. Later, of course, I though of a better example. Would a football coach take his best kicker and put him in at QB so he could learn some different skills? No way. Put your people where they can excel. It's what will win the game and what will make the most money. The leader should figure out what people are best at and put them in positions that make the best use of their skills.

What does this mean for you? Figure out what you are best at - chances are you enjoy it the most - and find work that utilizes those skills. Don't know what you're best at? There are a lot of assessments that can help you figure it out, but the bottom line is that none of us can do everything well. Success is about figuring out what you do best and doing more and more of it!

And that bring us to our chocolate! I failed to include in my peanut butter Eggstravanza, Peanut Butter M & M's Speck-tacular Eggs (See? the BP is not so good with the details):

These compete most closely with Reese's Pieces Eggs:

Here they are naked:

Now, the M & M Eggs look just like regular peanut butter M & Ms except for the speckley Easter colors. But the Reese's Eggs are completely different than regular Reese's Pieces and therefore, I give them higher points. I also like the colors better.

But for the real deal - you gotta autopsy:

I wondered why the M & Ms weren't as good as the Reese's - they have chocolate. Now I know I am committing heresy, but I like the candy shell and the peanut butter better WITHOUT the chocolate. I think this is a great example of our motivational point. Reese's owns peanut butter. M & M's rocks chocolate and peanuts, but peanut butter, not so much. Do what you are best at, don't try to be all things to all people.

**WARNING** - if you buy Reese's Pieces Eggs you will not be able to stop eating them. Motivation by Chocolate and its author, Denise Ryan, are not responsible for any weight gain, increased heart rate, erections lasting longer than four hours, blurriness of vision, increased cholesterol levels, or fighting among family members. Happy Easter!!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Random Acts of Chocolate in the Spring

Still no luck in the dating arena - during my latest Match.com date, the guy didn't even crack a smile much less actually laugh. I am, however, pretty sure he was breathing. For his part, I'm sure he thought I needed to be put on Ritalin. The date gave new meaning to the phrase "one man show."

Springtime makes people do crazy things - fall in love, plan weddings, dig in the dirt. Apparently candy makers are also struck with Spring Fever. (I couldn't bring all those eggs on the road with me, so Eggstravaganza will pick back up in the next entry.) These aren't really Easter candy, although there are Easter Eggs on the Three Musketeers bag - right under the Limited Edition banner:

VERY festive - don't you think? Covered in dark chocolate and flavored with raspberry, these are a more subtle pink than those screaming red cherry ones I reviewed a few entries ago:

But again, I'm not digging the taste - there's something medicinal about it. Not so good. This edition needs to be kept limited, very limited.

Coconut seems to be a springtime favorite although I have absolutely no idea why. See's has a coconut egg, Russell Stover has a couple of coconut Easter things, Almond Joy does an Easter Egg. Why? I can see Summer - tropical - but Spring? Is there some politically correct Caribbean Easter Celebration? Is it the egg-like shape of the coconut? Anyway, check these out:

Coconut Creme Kisses - see the flowers? Springy.

I gotta tell you, I was skeptical here. I mean, how many damn flavors of Kisses do we need? How much coconut can you even fit in there? I just knew these were going to be gross. Well, I'll be damned if Hershey's didn't do it again! These are really good. There are actually coconut flakes in there! And, while I like coconut, I do not love it (coconut cake is not my favorite). But here, the chocolate coating created the perfect blend of flavors. These were surprisingly good. (Nothing on the Hershey wrapper about the coconuts being grown on a 500 year old coconut plantation, harvested by free-range natives with machetes sparkling in the sun, but they are GOOD.)

I like my chocolate like my friends - down to earth. Just be yourself. Don't go all prima donna on me. I mean, I do think these different sea salts are interesting and enjoy the creativity of the chocolatiers in using them, but when we start talking about how they sparkle in the sun, we have drunk WAY too much of the culinary Kool-Aid. At the end of the day, I just want my chocolate to taste good.

Hershey's is trying to get in on the higher end with their Truffle Kisses. I reviewed the cherry ones a few entries back and they were awesome. These chocolate truffle ones are good too:

These are made with a much better chocolate than the regular Kisses and they are larger. These were good, but nothing to really write home about. I liked the cherry ones better. Save your money and buy one grain of salt at Vosges.

So this spring - have fun, be yourself, and don't forget to laugh. And remember, Almond JOY is the nutty one - the world needs more joyous nuts!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Easter Eggstravaganza! Round One Peanut Butter

I'm back from Vegas and the trip was great - even though I wasn't there very long. I do have to say I would not go back during Spring Break and March Madness - too many people. More like Mardi Gras than typical Vegas. But hey - any day I get paid to speak is a good day and if I'm speaking at the Bellagio - life is grand!!

I went down to Steve Wynn's next extravagance, Encore (a huge casine, resort combo). I really think the Wynn is fabulous - although they don't do it up for spring like the Bellagio. Encore is aptly named - after all, the encore is nothing but a shadow of the main performance. It's a lovely, elegant place, but it didn't blow me away. I prefer the Wynn. Now the Bellagio is just unparalleled. I'm saving the shots of the chocolate fountain - these are just shots of their conservatory decorated for spring. I got up early one morning so I could shoot it when it wasn't packed full of people.

Getting up early also let me see the army of people out there replacing wilted flowers, redoing designs - it was impressive. And they weren't just in the conservatory. The Bellagio had fresh flower arrangements everywhere. Gorgeous, elegant, of the highest standard - and Vegas has fantastic deals right now. If you want to stay in a place of the utmost elegance for a steal, I say go to the Bellagio. And see Cirque's Show "O" while you are there. Cirque du Soleil is something everyone should see before they die. It is am expression of the best in man. Every time I see one of their shows I am so moved by the beauty, the imagination, and the skill of the performers. Please don't miss Cirque.

Here are some shots from the conservatory:

Yes, this cute guy is made out of fresh flowers:

This is the area behind the check-in desk:

How beautiful is that? Can you just feel spring? They change this display regularly and it is breathtaking every time. I think one of the best ways to keep motivated is to get a big dose of beauty. The Bellagio provides that everywhere you look.

Spring is a time of rebirth, of new beginnings - of spring cleaning!! Time to get rid of clutter and dirt and anything else that has been junking up your life! One of the pagan and Christian symbols of the season is the egg. And, my friends, Motivation by Chocolate is having an Eggstravanganza! We are going to be reviewing all kinds of chocolate eggs! Whee!! What could be more fun that that?

And we're starting with my favorite - peanut butter! (Okay, my show isn't quite like Cirque's - unless you find poetry in melting chocolate - but the tickets are much cheaper. And the performers are sooo low maintenance.)

Since I stopped at Vosges in Vegas, let's quickly review their organic peanut butter bonbon:


Gorgeous packaging - Vosges has the most beautiful and elegant packaging anywhere. Nine bonbons for $27.00 - oh yes - that's $3.00 a bonbon. I should keep this box and have my ashes placed in it when I die. Here's the description of these apparently magical chocolates:

Two types of rare sea salt are speckled throughout this bonbon, adding a subtle crunch and remineralizing the body with calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. Pink Himalayan salt is hand-mined from deep inside the Himalayan Mountains where it was deposited from the sea over 250 million years ago. Each bonbon is topped with Maldon salt sourced from Southeastern England. Maldon salt is made from the water of the Blackwater River estuary in Essex county, collected via natural methods, boiled and gradually evaporated. As the water slowly boils off, beautiful pyramid-shaped crystals remain that sparkle in the sun. Maldon salt has a mellow, soft flavor with none of the bitterness characteristic of grey salt.

Somebody call the FDA! Remineralizing the body? Hand-mined? Sparkling in the sun? You have got to be kidding! I'm thinking some peanuts were involved, but what the hell do I know?

If any of this high-falutin' stuff is true, I guess $3.00 a pop is cheap. I mean it must be expensive to do all that hand mining and have all those English people standing around watching salt dry.

Here's one brutally hacked open:

And the taste? Well, you know I am pretty ruthless when it comes to peanut butter. The more peanut buttery the better. This was too far to the chocolate side of the house for me. Not bad, mind you - the salt is a nice touch. But in the category - I'd rather have Reese's. And you can fill the trunk of your car with $27.oo worth of Reese's. Guess that puts me in food critic hell. Or maybe the food critic ghetto.

But on to Easter!

The heavy hitter in the peanut butter category is Reese's. I don't care what anyone says, when it comes to peanut butter and chocolate, Reese's owns it. Other companies all use orange to signify peanut butter - why? Because orange was the color of the Reese's wrapper since back in the 1920's. (I am only guessing at this, but unless someone gives me a better reason this makes the most sense to me.) Marketers have always tried to benefit from the success of the strongest product in a category.

Here are the peanut butter egg offerings I've found so far from Reese's this season:

Same thing, different package:

These are like regular Reese's Pieces except they are shaped like eggs. Which means - more peanut butter!!! YAY!!! These rock! I love them.

Now these are all the different sizes of chocolate and peanut butter eggs:

Here they are naked:

The smallest is my favorite only because it's such a good edible size. Each has 85 calories - and you can pop the whole thing in your mouth. YUM! They aren't sold individually only in a big bag. Next to that is the standard Reese's Egg - 180 calories. Then the double sized egg - 340 calories and good God - this thing is really huge - the giant molded egg. It has 840 calories. If I had gotten this as a kid I would have started an Easter Bunny cult. (Hell, I still might.)

What can I say? These are all awesome. The only complaint is the same one I have with all of the giant Reese's molded things (remember the snowman at Christmas, the heart at Valentine's Day) the base is too thick. Too much chocolate. I know they have to do this or all that peanut butter will seep out - I learned this by looking at all the grease and the back of the double sized egg. All that peanut butter kind of oozes through the thin layer of chocolate. I, of course, like this.

See the thick base here?

The next up is See's Egg Quartet. I'm just pulling out the peanut butter egg for this entry. We'll review the rest soon. Keegan Hurd, in See's Marketing Department contacted me and asked if I would review some of their Easter treats. And you know I said YES! (Keegan is my Easter Bunny this year.) He liked the Eggstravaganza idea and was kind enough to send me a bunch of See's eggs.

Check out See's Easter candy yourself. They have some great stuff.

See's Peanut Butter Egg is a good size - here it is compared to the Reese's Eggs:

See what a good size it is? It's actually somewhere between the standard Reese's Egg and the double one. And look how delish it looks when autopsied:

I had pretty great expectations when I bit into it. But it was a little on the sweet side for me. Close to Reese's, but needed a little more of that salty kick. However, the texture of the peanut butter was much better - smoother and creamier. Definitely worth a try. The PB to chocolate ratio was perfect. Maybe they should get some of that estuary salt from England.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Lake Champlain chocolates. My ex husband (God, it seems hard to believe I was ever married!) and I visited their factory about a million years ago. Sometime around when that salt was being deposited in those Himalayan Mountains.

They have a cute bag of assorted eggs:

See - peanut butter is orange! Love the logo design on the egg - classy, nice touch, beautiful attention to detail. The autopsy photo (that's not caramel, just melting milk chocolate):

Now - if you have been paying attention to my many reviews of peanut butter and chocolate you will know right away what I'm going to complain about. Yep - too much chocolate. While I do think that, I have to say that the quality of LCC's peanut butter is hands down the best. And their chocolate is to die for. I can't wait to review the other flavors in this gorgeous assortment.

LCC has a lot of oh so cute Easter items:


And last but not least:

A cute assortment from Lindt - they really have some creative items this year. Again, peanut butter is orange. This one was lovely - smooth creamy milk chocolate and nice peanut butter. You can't really complain about it. The highest quality chocolate, but I actually like Reese's better. More of that awesome salty peanut butter. Hey, I'm in the ghetto - what can I say?

Here's my ranking of peanut butter eggs:

1.) Reese's

2.) See's

3.) Lake Champlain

4.) Lindt

Now as far as the quality of the chocolate, reverse the list. But I'm all about the peanut butter.

Oh - and you'll notice I did not include Russell Stover. As you all know, I am trying to learn from my mistakes and make better choices. Russell Stover has broken my heart one too many times.

And now for their encore:

Here's the whole cast!! A standing ovulation!!!