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September 29, 2008

Charles Chocolates 4th Anniversary

This Wednesday, October the first, marks the fourth anniversary of the opening of Charles Chocolates! It's hard to believe that as big and polished as they are they're only four years old.

But birthdays and annivarsaries pass all the time and I don't post word one on them. For me to actually bring it up on the site it's got to offer some benefit for my readers even for one of the companies I like to cheerlead for. Having said that it should be no surprise that they are having a nice set of specials this week - Monday to Friday only - to celebrate! And the deals are good online or in-store.

  • Spend over $40 and receive a free jar of their handmade marmalade

  • Spend over $80 and receive a free jar of their handmade marmalade and two homemade s'mores

  • Place ANY ORDER on their birthday, Wednesday, October 1, and receive a "special present" (mysterious!)

So, now that October has rolled around and the weather has cooled enough that shipping chocolate isn't such a dicey proposition it's a really good opportunity to try some of the wonderful goods they offer. I'm a big fan of their Tea Collection, but everything I've been lucky enough to try has been great. So help celebrate and treat yourself or someone special to some fantastic chocolate!

Charles Chocolates Online Store

Happy Birthday Chuck and Company!

September 25, 2008

A Chocolate Garden?

Ok, why has nobody bothered to clue me in to the idea of a chocolate garden? The whole idea is basing a garden around the colors and aromas of chocolate. And I think it's a lovely idea, especially now that I've seen some of the plants that people are planting in their chocolate gardens. I've never really considered a garden with lots of shades of brown (and other colors), but the more I look around the web the more appealing the idea is to me. Some of these plants are gorgeous. And there are ones that actually smell like chocolate. I've been trying to figure out what to do in the way of plants around the condo and didn't want to have the same floods of the same flowers that are so common in my little community. Now I've found something different and wonderful that really rather ties into my interests. I'm not entirely sure yet where/how I would put it (depends largely on size of the plants and what I do with patio design - the patio will probably happen in the spring and I need plants to surround it). But I've got a few months to figure things out (like what I can grow that I won't kill).

Anyway, I love the idea and did a little digging around and found some good articles and pages about chocolate gardens.

This article at the Visalia Times-Delta documents a stroll through a chocolate garden and is the one that clued me in to the idea. A nice read. Pictures would help (my opinion - it helps to see what she's talking about) but she communicates the ideas and experience well enough.

Next is Chocolate Flower Farm, a great place to see some of the cool plants that are finding their way into chocolate gardens. They have a great looking business going with more in the way of chocolate than just their plants. And their "In The News" page has links to some more great articles.

Last up are a couple of major outlet articles from eHow (who I really like) and HGTV. They're just here for more fun.

So, yeah, take a look around and see if you might not be a candidate for a chocolate garden.

Review: Dogfish Head Theobroma

Being caught off-guard and left at something of a loss isn't too out of the ordinary for me. And I tend to end up in such a state most often at those times when I really am certain that I know just what is what. Tonight I again find myself in such a state because I thought I had a good idea what the subject of tonight's post had in store for me. But tonight's subject is a beer from Dogfish Head. They take what I like to consider a "left field" approach to beer a lot of the time. They say the make "Off centered ales for off centered people" which might explain why I'm always interested in what they've got brewing (of my five desert island beers I would place two Dogfish ales - the 90 Minute IPA and the Palo Santo Marron - in their ranks - as a side note the Palo Santo goes amazingly well with dark chocolate). What they've had brewing lately is called, fittingly enough, Theobroma (as in theobroma cacao - the cacao from which our favorite food comes).

Theobroma is based, at it's heart, on history and chemistry. The brew is based on the chemical analysis of bits of pottery from over 3000 years ago and is a direct tie to the first known use of cacao for human consumption (good lord, what else would you use it for?!). Interestingly it was an alcoholic cacao beverage. It would seem the obvious course of action would be to take this bit of chemical magic and make a modern interpretation of it. And that is just what the lovely people at Dogfish Head have done albeit with a little Aztec and Maya twist or two along the way (the most interesting departure - as I understand it - is that the meat of the pod was used long before the seeds were, but the beer is based on the seeds assumingly because that is what we think of as chocolate). The beer is brewed with honey, annatto (a spicy seed), ancho chile, and nibs and cocoa from Askinoise (who I will go into in more depth soon - they have been on my radar for a while now and it's getting to be time I address them). And it's nothing like what I was expecting.

I came into this having never seen chocolate used in anything but porters and stouts. So I expected a dark beer with a nice deep roasty flavor and tons of toasty chocolate mixed in. And was I ever wrong. Theobroma pours a beautiful copper with a good head and nice lace. And while there are hints of cocoa about the aroma there is more of an interplay of honey and spice going on to my nose (not that I'm a beer expert or anything, I'm just a beer explorer). And the taste is really very much an ale. There's more yeast at play than I expected, limited hops, a good bit of the honey, and a nice helping of the spice as it develops. And there is a definite hint of cocoa running through it, more prominent in the beginning so it sort of recedes from the chocolate to the spices. It is not at all what I was expecting, but Dogfish Head have a way of doing the unexpected (in my experience this ranks up there with Raison D'Extra - which I blind tried - for unexpected). The magic of Dogfish is that even when they defy expectations they manage to deliver something that is unarguably good if entirely unusual and unexpected.

So I am ill-prepared to review something like this, but feel some sort of duty to give it a try. It's good. It's different. If you're expecting tons of in your face chocolate flavor then you're bound to be surprised, but if you're like me you hopefully won't be disappointed. If you don't dig craft beers then you're probably better off sticking with more traditional fare. But the deal is I'm into craft beer. Not as much as I am chocolate, but I love good beer. And some of them can be very left field in nature. This one? VERY left field. But it's good. I can't argue with it, no matter how surprised I am by it. From my perspective this is a good 8 out of 10, but I'm one of those rare birds that dig chocolate and craft beer both. If you're a chocolate person with little interest in craft beer I hate to say it, but you're better off keeping clear. The Silver Bullet this is NOT. It's an "off-centered ale" that connects with this blog's "off-centered" author. It ain't for everybody, but if you're of the peculiar mindset that digs on both chocolate and craft beer you may be in for a tasty surprise.

September 17, 2008

The Chocolate Vacation That Will Be

So the idea I had when setting up the trip to Vegas was that I would skip New York this year. I needed the vacation and had done New York already so I would do Vegas and forego New York entirely. I immediately felt awful that I wasn't going to get to go to the chocolate show or any of my favorite shops in the city, much less any new ones. I suppose that given my lack of willpower when it comes to certain things (like chocolate) it should be no surprise that I've planned a trip to the Chocolate Show. Between the obscene cost and the fact I just finished getting spoiled with some 5-star Vegas action I decided that I wouldn't stay the night. It's a one day in-and-out type of trip. I'm going to hit the chocolate show, Kinokuniya, BookOff, Michel Cluizel, Kee's Chocolates and if I have time I'll try to hit Marie Belle. It's going to be tough trying to get it all in and I'm not sure I'll even have time for food (not that I can't grab a slice on the run - this is New York City, after all). But I really didn't want to miss the show. I'll consider doing a full scale run on the city in the spring when the Comic Con is on, but for now it's just a really fast run.

One of the really cool things about the trip is that the Chocolate Show has moved from up to pier 94 and I'm interested in seeing what the new digs are like. Not to mention there are more than a few exhibitors I am looking forward to visiting. I plan on spending rather a painful amount of money at the show and that brings me to a little issue I'm facing: transport. The plan is to only bring a carry-on so I can bust out of the airport on the quick and get myself to the show. There is absolutely no way they'll let me through security with a bag stuffed full of chocolate so I either have to check my carry-on on the way back, have a separate bag to check packed in the carry-on, or ship the chocolate back to myself before heading to the airport to head home. There is a UPS store between Kee's and one of the likely subway stations so it's likely that I'll be going that route.

But the long and short of the whole thing is that I'm hitting the show, hitting it hard, and taking pictures galore while I'm there. And buying and trying a ridiculous amount of chocolate. Should be a very busy, very tiring, very fun day. Now I just need November to get here faster.

September 8, 2008

The Chocolate Vacation That Wasn't

I've been in hardcore vacation mode for the last ten or so days and have been ignoring anything that didn't involve total leisure. Just really needed a break from everything and couldn't wait for November and the New York Chocolate Show to roll around. So I decided to go to Vegas. The cost of a three star hotel in New York in November is still more than the cost of a larger room at a five star hotel in Las Vegas. So off to Vegas I went with all these ideas for chocolate stuff to do while there. There was the Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie, the Ethel's Factory Tour, The Chocolate Swan, Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a Teuschers, and probably a couple of others that I'm forgetting. So I go to Vegas and of all of the places on that list what do I hit? Jean-Philippe since it's in the Bellagio where I stayed and Vosges. I had big plans to take all sort of pictures on the Ethel's tour and to review some of the chocolate from there, but in the end I just succumbed to the siren's call of relaxation. A very nice way to go.

So most of the chocolate I had was just stuff that happened to be on the dessert menu wherever I was dining. That and a chilled Bianca from Vosges (very yummy - the spices go very well with the white chocolate). I just didn't feel like going to the effort to find chocolate. I never got around to trying any Ethel's until I was in the airport waiting for my flight home. Still a really great vacation even if it was light on the chocolate.

And just for fun I'm going to hit a meme I ran into on Columbus Foodie. But that goes after the jump since it's pretty big.

The Omnivore's 100
*der schnippe*
Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses (apparently the king of cheeses?)
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese (I like to think I'll try anything once, but this I might not)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda (never heard of it, but a little research has me interested)
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV

59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (aim to do this next time I'm in Vegas - I had thought I had this covered this week, but they're stingy with those stars)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare (does rabbit count?)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

Not terrible coverage, but I got some work to do. Not that I totally agree with everything on the list or anything, but there are some things on there that I really want to try.

More chocolate this week!