The Chocolate Factory- A Visit to The Fresh Market

Back on track. A focus on chocolate as the highlight of my day. While visiting with a friend at lunch today, she suggested that I try the Fresh Market’s chocolate eclair. Perfect. That sounds delish. I love eclairs-especially with chocolate. Just the thought takes me back to Provence. Like a child, I loved to have a little bon bon after school. I didn’t really have a favorite bakery, so I tried whatever came along my walking path. I never had a bad sweet treat while studying abroad…and believe you me, I tried a good 30lbs worth!

I approached the bakery section of the market with grand expectations. Afterall I don’t think I have had an eclair since my France days. The word eclair in french means lightning- perhaps because they are like a little lightening for your tastebud. No one really know how they came to be referred to as “lightning”.

Imagine my surprise when I came upon this…It looked totally processed. The chocolate on top looked like it had been combed on (notice the lines…like a well raked sand trap on the golf course) and I was appalled to see a jared cherry on top with the red syrup oozing onto the whipped cream. The first eclair the baker pulled out was atrocious. I asked her to put it back and get a better looking one- I couldn’t let my fans down with a dowdy looking eclair.  (Note- I did try to help its appearance by taking it out of the grocery store plastic container and put in on a nice silver tray for the “photo shoot”.

I rushed through dinner to get to my sweet treat.  Surely it would taste better than it looked. Oh the disappointment. The pastry tasted like cardboard. The texture was dense  and my pallette screamed “this is stale”. It’s suppose to be crispy not dense. The cream filling tasted like jello instant pudding and the chocolate on top tasted like Publix cupcake frosting (don’t get me wrong- I love a Publix cupcake, but I expected something more from a french eclair from the Fresh Market). To top it off, the whipped cream on top was TOTALLY processed. Reality check…We are not in France. Definitely not worth $2.99. I could have gotten six eclairs of equal quality if I had just gone to Bi Lo. Perhaps I caught them on a bad day. The good news…I only ate two bits. It never hurts to save a few calories.

Now for the good news. I couldn’t help but make a stop at the chocolate section of the store. After all, it was on my way to the bakery section. Imagine my surprise when I saw Vosge Haute Chocolates! www.vosgeschocolate.com  This is the chocolatier from Chicago I mentioned on Sunday’s post. My favorite chocolate. Oh I couldn’t resist. And in the spirit of Commingle, I tried a new “flavor”. The Red Fire Bar: Mexican ancho y chipotle chillies, Ceylon cinnamon and drak chocolate. So- I like Mexican food; I love cinnamon (take two cinnamon vitamins everyday) and of course we all know I love chocolate.

Get this- the bar comes with instructions on how to eat it in order to maximize the experience:  “How to enjoy an exoctic candy bar”.  It looks to be an almost yogic experience. Oh my- all of my favorite things rolled up in one and for the value price of $5.99.

First you breathe- put on soothing music and breathe in (Yes- just like Yoga. I can do this.). Then you observe- dark glossy shine (got it) and you should see some red flecks of chili embedded in the chocolate (not so much…just brown); Smell- I rubbed my finger over the bar to release the aromas- well I didn’t really smell anything. Maybe because the smell of the processed eclair was overpowering.

Dig in- nibble on the chocolate and let it melt to the roof of your mouth. The melting part was a bit of a challenge. You know how easily a Hershey’s kiss melts in your mouth…it’s because of the cream. Dark chocolate melting is a bit more challenging.

Now for the taste- First flavor was bit like sweet tobacco- then for the spice- wowsers. You can feel the pepper flakes as it melts and then my eyes started to water. This is really hot..but sweet at the same time. It almost burned a little as it went down. Ah cinnamon-the final flavor- like cinnaburst gum with the “flavor crystals”.

The finish was more cinamon than chocolate so your mouth is left with a fresh cinnamon clean feeling (rather than that chocolatey coated feeling)- but with some remanent of the tobacco flavor.

What an experience. It was almost like the spiciness lit a fire while the rich chocolate cooled and soothed. This one goes on the keeps list. This bar brings chocolate to a whole new level.

Tomorrow I will be participating in Oprah’s No Phone Zone Day. One day without using the phone while driving. That means no talking or texting. Any one else up for the challenge?

A Detour from the Chocolate Factory

I took a little detour from the Chocolate Factory…a slight deviation. I did enjoy a strawberry flavored piece of dark chocolate after dinner. It was a perfect rectangle with deep red, pink and white sprinkles on top. I think it’s quite intriguing how nicely strawberries complement dark chocolate. The sweet but tart flavor of strawberry is a nice finish to chocolate. And this piece had a nice combo-the strawberry flavor was not overwhelming but rather a sensual complement.

OK- now for the detour. I had the opportunity to travel to a new part of town to a friend’s house for a jewelry show. I drove straight from work-only five miles- but it seemed like a world away. It almost felt like a drive through the country but the landscape was speckled with new developments with huge mc mansions. I’ve always heard about this part of town, but never visited. It’s quite nice. Huge old trees. Rolling pastures. I guess at some point it really was the country and at some point, it will be nothing but developments.

Now for the jewelry. I received the invitation and immediately took a look at the website. The website did not even begin to showcase how cute the pieces are. Interesting chunky necklaces, great long necklaces with large stones pendants (loved one with an amethyst) and lariats with many different types of stones. Definitely check out the website if you need something cute to perk up a last season sundress. It Fitz – www.itfitzjewelry.com

The Chocolate Factory- French Chocolate Truffles

When I heard we would be having an international themed supper club, I knew that I needed to come up with the perfect french dish…and what is more french than good chocolate! Luckily it’s Willy Wonka week and I had the perfect reason to try a new dish. Chocolate mousse originally came to mind. I can remember watching my “french mom” make mousse while studying in france. Unfortunately…I made Julia Child’s recipe a few months ago, so that wouldn’t be something new. And it was a week night, so it couldn’t be too complicated like most of Julia’s recipes. So I turned to Ina Garten and found a relatively easy recipe for truffles. I knew I would be amongst friends, so if it flopped, no big deal. But let me be the first to brag…they were INCREDIBLE. Rich. Creamy. Chocolate. Perfection.

They were far from beautiful (like the Belgium chocolates I just received). My rolling technique and the application of powdered sugar left much to be desired. But the taste made up for the appearance. Ya know – you can’t judge a book by its cover.

I’d like to also throw in…the truffles were the coup de gras following quite a smoragasbord of food: chips and salsa, edamame, mozzarella baked in a bread crust, olives, pizza, summer salad, egg roles, mac and cheese, green bean casserole, fried chicken, fortune cookies and fresh baked chocolate pie.

I can’t lie….I tried a little of everything (and had to put in double time on the treadmill the next day). And since it is chocolate week, I did have a piece of chocolate pie AND a truffle.

Let’s just say that this chocolate week is taking its toll on me. I think I know what death by chocolate really means.

Chocolate Chili from the Chocolate Factory

Chili- the perfect combo of protein, carbs and veggies. There are so many variations that I think it’s something I could eat everyday. Actually, I think when I was a single girl I did eat chili everyday (probably why I was single for so long). I love trying different chili recipes with different ingredients. And ya know…everyone seems to have their own derrivitive of chili. Like my friend A…she makes a great white chicken chili and one of my faves is a slow cooked bourbon chili with pork.  

I have seen chili recipes that include chocolate as an ingredient…but I was never brave enough to try it.  It just seems like a weird combo. But hey….it combines two of my favorite foods. What could be so strange?

So in the spirit of Willy Wonka and my chocolate factory…I cooked up a big pot of chili (Yes I realize its 80 degrees outside) and I added a few tablespoons of dark chocolate. First one tablespoon…then two…then three. The chili turned a rich dark garnet color. It had somewhat of a bitter flavor so I added a dash of sugar. Delish!

Here’s a run down of my chocolate consumption today…I have had a chocolate protein shake, hot chocolate, a chocolate kiss, a chocolate protein bar, chocolate chili and a piece of belgium chocolate! H. called my menu a “gastronomic disaster”. I thought it was heaven.

Tomorrow…homemade chocolate truffles.

The golden ticket…my own chocolate factory

What is your “can’t live without” food? Is there something that you crave everyday? And is there something that you can’t resist no matter what?

Pour moi-  It’s chocolate. Luckily dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants. Eating brownies for dinner last week really kicked up the chocolate cravings. It lit an adventurous fire to my taste buds. There is some sort of cosmic magnetic force in the universe drawing me to chocolate. It’s everywhere I turn…

My in-laws just returned from Europe and brought me a FANTASTIC box of dark chocolates from The Chocolate Line, a world famous chocolatier in Belgium.I’m not really sure what all of the flavors are…very exotic with interesting shapes and designs. Today I tried a flavor that was new to me…The dark chocolate was molded to look like a Buddah…and in Buddah’s belly was a ginger flavored filling. The ginger tasted just like the pickled ginger that compliments sushi. Very interesting. Not sure I exactly liked it. Never in a million years would I have paired chocolate with pickled ginger. A little weird. I get the pairing of bacon with chocolate- that salty sweet combo that Chicago’s Vosges Haut Chocolate is famous for.

So now I am wondering if Buddah had ginger in his belly, what do you think the flavor of the piece with a cigar stamped on the outside will taste like?

As I sat down to write this afternoon, I saw that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  was on TV. I have never seen this movie…It’s fate. CHOCOLATE EVERYWHERE. I had to watch it (while I indulged in my Belgium dark chocolates).

Sometimes we fight the universe and sometimes its just easier to listen! Clearly chocolate is calling: 
 This week I will create my own little chocolate factory. Maybe if I eat soooooo much chocolate this week, it’ll no longer feel like such a treat and I won’t CRAVE it all the time.

So…for the next week, I’ll try to eat chocolate at every meal-even breakfast and will even try to incorporate chocolate into our entrees. At minimum…each day I will share with you a new chocolate adventure.  We’ll call this week a taste of the “sweet life” in the chronicles of AGH.

Addendum: I just learned that the Belgium chocolatier was designing an Alice in Wonderland display for the window. This cosmic connection to chocolate is CRAZY! 

Here they are preparing for the Alice in Wonderland Display. Assuming that is the Queen of Hearts in the background.

Piggy Piggy Piggy

Mustard based, ketchup based, vinegar based, sliced, pulled, chopped..Regardless of your preference, BBQ is a southern delicatessen that we learn to appreciate and savor at an early age. From football tailgating to a wedding shower, there is no occasion too formal or casual for a little BBQ.

It wasn’t until I went to college…well maybe even after college…that I realized there are so many types of BBQ. Growing up in eastern NC, we had pulled pork with a vinegar based sauce. That was nonnegotiable. You can’t find anything else in the eastern part of the old Tar Hill state. (My favorite is Kings BBQ in Kinston). And I have to admit, I am not sure that even now I recognize anything else as BBQ. Why would you cover the delicious smoked pork with a bunch of thick sweet or even spicy sauce? I can remember frequently attending Pig Pickins where we really did pick meat off of a whole pig. I don’t think I have had the opportunity to pick a pig since I left ENC.

Ya know…if I ever had the opportunity to open a restaurant in France, I think I would open a BBQ joint. The french have most cuisine really figured out, but when it comes to BBQ…they don’t know what they are missing. Serve it up with a little baguette and finish off the meal with a little creamy camembert…I think I am on to something. If this marketing gig doesn’t work out, you might find me in southern france teaching the frogs about pig!

Anyway…Gville hosted its first BBQ Cook off this weekend as a benefit for Project Host. A few years ago C and H bought a huge cooker from TX. They formed a team: Too Bad You’re My Cousin. Though C. no longer participates in the team…we still enjoy going to the competitions and sampling the pig! For this competition, they had to cook extra BBQ to be sold to the public for Project Host. 24 butts to be exact…to put this in perspective, that is well over 100 lbs of BBQ and someone has to pull all of that pork.

It’s a bit strange, but I really enjoying pulling pork so I volunteered to help. I’ve never officially pulled at a competition. So I woke up bright and early saturday morning and pulled pork for about 2 hours…sampling a taste here and there! I’m not sure I have ever seen so much Q and I certainly have never been around to see the Q go to the judges. So fun…and for a great cause. 

And that was just the beginning of Pig for the day…we went to a BBQ and Beans party Sat night!  I think I may need to take a break from pig for a while. Afterall,,,you are what you eat!

Has this ever happened to you?

Today I experienced something new that was a little…well… A LOT…disgusting.

Feeling on top of the world from my awards gala the evening before, I happily cruised down the interstate to Gville. Couldn’t wait to get home to share my success with C. Sunroof back. Singing along with the tunes, I needed something to drink to keep my voice at its prime singing status so I pulled into a gas station. I wasn’t 100% happy with the gas station I had chosen but it looked to be the newest at the exit. I I grabbed my wallet and headed in. Figured while I was there I should probably take a bathroom break. Ya know where this is going right?

I’m still not sure how it happened, but somehow I managed to DROP my wallet in the toilet. OH YEAH. Luckily only “clean” water in the bowl. It almost happened in slow motion. Remember how Seinfeld used to show the “tragic” scenes in slow motion? That’s exactly what this felt like. It felt as though the wallet descended for an hour…from my hands to the toilet. My heart fell to my stomach.

Without any real options, I had to stick my hand into the toilette to retrieve my wallet. I am cringing just thinking about it. Luckily I was in a bathroom with paper towels. Imagine how gross if I had been in one of those dryer only bathrooms.

Feeling really deflated. My moment of grateness was over. Back to regular me. My glam bubble burst…I took my WET debit card up to the counter to purchase a diet sprite. This was definitely a new experience I will not forget and certainly hope to not experience ever again.

I must buy a new wallet…the memories are too painful to continue using this one!

And the winner is…

interior page of brochure

Rewind to March 2009- About three months into my new position with DH l, we were presented with the challenge of giving our recruiting campaign an overhaul. Seemed easy enough. We called on our creative agency and began work. But then came the catch. Just like every good reality show…we were given a major detour. We didn’t have the budget to complete the work. Sometimes my creative heart jumps in before my mind…and I quickly volunteered to execute the campaign in-house working primarily with freelancers…no help from the agency! Oh and did I mention I had 1/3 the estimated budget? Oh and the website, videos, displays and brochure needed to be complete in 10 weeks?

I built my team…a stylist, a photographer, a videographer, a web designer, a web programmer, a graphic designer and a printer. Voila…my own little agency. We created a campaign to showcase DH as a fun, hip accounting firm…but with the resources and growth potential of a big national firm. Take a look at the end product: www.dixon-hughes.com/careers 

And did I mention that the results of this campaign were amazing! During a really challenging recruiting time, we were able to recruit candidates that exceeded our expectations. And DH was recognized at schools that they had previously experienced awareness challenges.

Fast Forward April 22, 2010: The South Carolina Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America hosts its annual Mercury Awards. We won every category we entered. And the winner is….

Brand/Reputation Management
Brochures more than 8 pages
Website
Social Media (this is the first time PRSA has recognized this category…and we were the FIRST winnner-something new)

And finally….Best in Show for Social Media!

When the devil speaks, sometimes you should listen!

If you could choose anything for dinner, what would you choose? Pizza, steak, tacos…BROWNIES! 

That’s right…tonight I had brownies for dinner. TWO HUGE BROWNIES. Rich, delicious, melt in your mouth brownies. C. wasn’t around for dinner tonight, so I could eat anything (I’m not saying there were a lot of choices). After sweating my booty off at hot yoga, I was famished. I stood in the kitchen gazing into the fridge when I heard this devilish call from the counter…I tried to resist. I tired to focus on the leftover veggie soup, but the voice was too loud. Don’t lie, you’ve heard that voice before.

How many times in your adult life do you just let it go and be a kid? It’s not often, right?

These weren’t just your run of the mill, out of the box brownies. My neighbor is a FANTASTIC chef and a great baker. I had dinner at their house last night and they sent me home with three of his made from scratch brownies (that’s right this baker is a “he”- lucky girl to be married to him). He swears the recipe comes from the back of the flour bag, but I think there must be a secret ingredient like some sort of french chocolate or something. These brownies are dense, chewy, wowsers for your taste buds. I didn’t just ravenously devour these brownies. I savored every single bite, smacking my lips with each mouthful. Not caring about caolories, fat, carbs or cavities.

For  me, these brownies are like crack. After months of a low carb diet, I needed these brownies like an addict needs his crack fix.  I wish I could share with you, but I think I’ll eat the last one for dessert!

SPAM- It’s not what’s for dinner…

How many emails flow through your inbox everyday? Better yet- How many email accounts do you have?

I currently have three email accounts: business (because I have to), yahoo (which I have had for 12 years) and Gmail (because I wanted to secure a user name before google takes over the world). I have a long history with the yahoo account and I must have gone through some really lonely times and subscribed to a million emails- mostly retail. There aren’t enough hours in the day to read all of them. I mostly skim and every now and then I am enticed to buy or attend an event or donate to a cause or take a trip somewhere.

So my new thing for today is unsubscribing from all of these useless emails: Overstock, Gap, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Travelzoo, Orbitz, etc.etc. (Did you know that by law, these companies are required to provide an opt out/unsubscribe button CAN SPAM ACT of 2003?)   Do I really care that Old Navy has $3 flip-flops? Hardly.  It’s a little like Spring Cleaning.- weeding through the things you don’t need (like those terrible leopard print pants that your “friend” convinced you to buy).  There are, of course, those emails that I can’t live without like the Kenny Chesney updates, Oprah Previews and local businesses whom I fully support like Lables and Table 301- those go in the keep file.

 The journey has begun and every journey begins with the first step. I must get back to the unsubscribe demolition…