M and M Babies

April 8, 2010

As a Valentine’s present, Granddan had M and Ms custom-made with photos of Ellis and Thalia.

Grandma Betty thought they were too precious to eat.

Angèle felt that somehow, the beautiful decorations made the candies taste better than usual.

Jonah had long maintained that Ellis and Thalia are so delicious as to be good enough to eat; now, he could finally make good on his threats.

(Bowl made by Angèle using a colored clay stacking technique.)

Cross-posted at N of Two.


Dean’s Sweets

April 6, 2010

Cross-posted at N of Two.

Although the babies’ first trip to a chocolate shop occurred at 24 weeks old, it was not their first encounter with chocolate. That happened when they were 2 weeks old, in the Continuing Care Nursery.

The day before Ellis and Thalia were discharged from the hospital, Angèle and Jonah went for brunch at a favorite Portland eatery and found a new chocolate shop next door. The chocolates are made by Dean, and his wife Kristin served us and gave us the full spiel.

Dean’s Sweets offers a very small menu of truffles and a few other chocolates. There is a focus on liquor-based, fruity, and spicy truffles. Many of the flavors weren’t up our alley, but never fear — we were able to find a few that appealed to us. It’s not quite like being in Belgium, but we’re always big fans of family-owned shops selling handmade artisanal truffles.

There were also some outstanding fresh blueberries on a stick.


Destination: Corn Muffins

September 11, 2009

Once again, sorry for the egregious lag in posts. Since I’m currently in the midst of a month-long (give or take) hospital stay, I have more time to blog.

I realize they are not chocolate, but these corn muffins get special exemption to join the Land of Chocolate. They come from Maine Diner in Wells, Maine, almost an hour from our house (and between home and the Portland, Maine hospital where I am currently). We first went to Maine Diner when Jonah’s seafood-loving family was visiting. With a large group of people, they were able to sample the two kinds of lobster rolls, clam and seafood chowders, lobster pie, clam-o-rama, mac and cheese, lobster club sandwich, and probably more. I had waffles, but mostly I filled up on the corn muffins that came as side dishes for some of the dishes. The family makes a point of returning to Maine Diner every year during their annual summer visit.

The next time, we took my mom to Maine Diner when she came to visit. She had been talking about wanting to try lobster rolls for weeks before her trip, so we decided to trek to the best lobster rolls around. My mother still brings up the lobster rolls every month or two; on a given day, if I mention that Jonah and went out to dinner, she asks, “Did you go to Maine Diner?”

Once we went to an arts festival that just happened to be in Wells, and I happened to suggest that afterward we might as well stop at Maine Diner. Jonah was more than happy to go along with the ruse. Another time, we took Jonah’s friend Dave, who had never been to Maine before despite growing up in neighboring Quebec and living in Boston now. Dave doesn’t even like seafood, but he did just fine.

A couple of times when I’ve been north of Wells, I’ve taken a detour to Maine Diner on my way home. I generally order around 4 corn muffins to go — more if Jonah wants any.

Corn Muffins

These corn muffins are as good as any I have had anywhere. Moist and soft, they have a higher flour to cornmeal ratio than many recipes (either that, or the corn meal is ground more finely?). I make very good cornbread, made even better by the use of honey butter, but these corn muffins are perfect on their own. They can act as breakfast, a light lunch, a dinner side dish, a dessert, or a hits-the-spot snack. Find me a chocolate treat that can say that!

Oh no, I have gone too far! I am sorry, chocolate. I apologize for my hubris, fueled by the memory of the corn muffins. Please accept my apology.

For the record, the dessert that I get at Maine Diner (because the corn muffins don’t count) is Indian Pudding. It’s not for everyone, but I rather enjoy it. It’s like a combination of cream of wheat and cookie dough, which sounds awful, but is quite delicious. It’s a regional dish, but I haven’t had any elsewhere in New England that’s nearly as good. They also make a truly remarkable blueberry pie. And I can’t even attest to the lobster dishes…

Grade: A


Inauguration Day Special Part 2

January 20, 2009

Following up on the Election Day Special, I just reviewed the elephant and donkey truffles from Moonstruck Chocolates.

Let’s move now to the other election chocolates that made headlines, here and elsewhere, from L.A. Burdick of Walpole, NH and Cambridge, MA. As with Moonstruck, I was first introduced to Burdick when my friend Paul, a.k.a. Dr. Boutin, came to visit and brought me a little Burdick box. (Note: unlike most of my friends, who have PhDs, Paul is a real doctor. So it’s conceivable that he might actually save someone’s life, instead of helping the person express their feelings about dying or reciting a passage about death from Ovid). Anyway…

Obama visited Burdick’s factory in Walpole during the primaries, and famously ate a chocolate mouse.

Building on that publicity, Burdick decided to make election-themed chocolate assortments. Brilliant capitalism. Some of the chocolates had specific geographical connections to the candidates, and some were just thrown in there to fill out the box. We’ll detail each of them below.
Ballot Box

I haven’t been to Walpole, but the Cambridge store has the ambiance of a bustling European tea and cake house, except with more baseball caps and sneakers.


I happened to go on Halloween, and the election theme was combined with a spooky death theme.

The chocolate cases are extensive and varied.

Not part of the Obama or McCain assortments was the Baton Framboise, pictured below on the left. I decided to pick up one of these because I knew that Jonah would enjoy it. I was right. The interior was a chewy raspberry jelly, with an intense flavor. Grade: A

Included in both assortments, and also purchased separately by me, was Richelieu. The filling had a mild cherry flavor, but the dried cherry on top created a perfect combination. After sharing the first one, we were both vying for the remaining two. Grade: A-
Case 3

Burdick offers three varieties of mice, two of which were in the McCain or Obama boxes and one which wasn’t. I bought a lone dark mouse (below, left) to achieve full coverage of the mouse catalog. It had a mild orange flavor combined with a very strong dark chocolate flavor; the filling was a light, fluffy mousse. All of the mice had almond ears, which introduced their own distinctive texture in addition to the aesthetic contribution. Grade: B+

The white chocolate mouse (below, center) came with the Obama assortment. If you are a fan of cinnamon, this is the one for you. It is the best cinnamon chocolate I have ever had, anywhere. Grade: A-

The milk chocolate mouse (below, right) was part of the McCain box. It had a mild kirsch flavor, but I found that the flavor of the almond ears upset the delicate flavor balance. Grade: B-

The McCain box featured Peanut Butter, Kentucky Rye, Hot Pepper Tequila, Arizona Citrus, and Kentucky Truffles along with some standbys.

Peanut Butter: We both loved the filling, which was smooth with an intermittent tiny crunch and fairly firm. The peanut butter flavor wasn’t overwhelming but had a forceful undertone. Grade: A-

Kentucky Rye: The ganache was nice, but I happen not to like whiskey. Jonah, who doesn’t care for drinking whiskey but can handle the taste better, found that it had a nice blend of liquor and citrus flavor. Grade: B+

Hot Pepper Tequila: When they said hot, they meant hot! I like neither hot pepper nor tequila. Jonah doesn’t mind spice, but found that the white chocolate couverture added nothing special. Grade: C-

Arizona Citrus: Smooth ganache, nice couverture. Mild citrus flavor, with an emphasis on orange. Grade: A-

Kentucky Truffle: Very truffle-y. Excellent filling. Couverture broke off strangely, but it was excellent all around — super subtle. Grade: B-

Honey Truffle: Filling was reminiscent of Demel caramels but had a more gooey texture and wasn’t nearly as good. Jonah’s reaction: “Ugh.” Grade: B

Lemon Pepper Truffle: Very lemony. Grade: B

Unlisted Fig: It’s the one in the photo below that looks like it has a golden raisin on top. Fruity with a smooth filling. I’m not big on surprises, but I do enjoy solving puzzles, so the fact that it was unlisted was kind of fun — more fun than eating it. Grade: B-

McCain list

Obama’s assortment also included Richelieu, Kentucky Truffles, Honey Truffles, and Lemon Pepper Truffles, so I won’t repeat those. In addition, there were Kansas Corn Crunch, Hawaiian Pineapple, Kenyan Coffee, and Lemon. Jonah loves pineapple and coffee, and my family is from Kansas, so the deck was stacked.

Kansas Corn Crunch: Mild crunch, smooth filling, mild boozy flavor. Not sure about the corn part. Grade: B

Hawaiian Pineapple: Like the Baton Framboise, the filling was jelly. It had an extremely strong pineapple flavor. Jonah is more of a fan of both pineapple and jelly than I am, so his grade is A-, while mine was B+.

Kenyan Coffee: Wow, did Jonah like this. Long after he’d eaten both of them, he kept asking if there were any left in the box. The flavor was strong but not overwhelming; a perfect coffee chocolate. Grade: A

Lemon: The description says, “Lemon and rum ganache, coated with milk chocolate and Trinidadian spice.” I expected better than this strong lemon flavor with a fluffy filling. Grade: B-
Obama list

In the chocolate competition Obama’s box came out slightly ahead by our standards, but it was surprisingly close. Whomever you may have wanted to win the election, Obama’s win was good news for the Land of Chocolate, because Burdick is still selling the Obama box (currently rebranded as the Inauguration Assortment).

I guarantee that when Jonah reads this, he will say nothing about the inauguration and instead will resume reminiscing about that amazing Kenyan Coffee. We’ve got priorities around here.


Inauguration Day Special Part 1

January 20, 2009

Remember on Election Day when I said I would review the chocolates before the next president was inaugurated?

That seemed really distant at the time, but here we are. So, as promised, to honor today’s historic occasion (Happy Inauguration Day!), I present the reviews for the chocolates I pictured on that other historic occasion.

First up: Moonstruck Chocolate’s donkey and elephant truffles

Donkey and Elephant Truffles

I first encountered Portland, Oregon-based Moonstruck Chocolates when my lifelong friend Sonia, a.k.a. Prof. Sabnis, brought me a little box when she visited New Hampshire from Portland. (Those of us raised by Chinese moms are incapable of visiting someone’s house without bringing a gift.) The assorted chocolates that Sonia brought were better than these truffles, though not nearly as adorable.

The elephant was filled with dark, dark chocolate ganache. The donkey was cinnamon and milk chocolate. Good, but not great — both in the B- range. Although aesthetically appealing, the white chocolate couverture (colored grey) detracted from the flavor.

Their purchase did lead to a cash register receipt I never imagined I would see.


In the spirit of open exchange that we hope will characterize the next presidency, I must tell you that in the course of research for this post, I discovered a competing blog called Candy Blog. “Competing” is actually a misnomer, though, because:

  1. That blog is more candy-focused than chocolate-focused. I will never review Necco wafers, Skittles, Red Vines, nor any other standard store-bought candy — unless that store happens to be somewhere really fantastic.
  2. They are attempting to create a comprehensive candy catalog. I seek The Chocolate Experience.
  3. They seem to do most of their eating locally, whereas I tend to travel the globe.
  4. They have ad revenue. This blog is actually a loss leader for me.
  5. They presumably seek readers who are not people that they already know.
  6. Their photography is technically superior, whereas I tend to photograph my subjects either on pottery that I made myself or staged against unusual backdrops such as Zen gardens, 700-year-old synagogues, and the Canadian border.

More politically-themed chocolate reviews but less self-analysis in the next post.


Festival of Treats 12: Lekvar

January 12, 2009

In honor of our trip to Hungary this summer (you know, the one I haven’t blogged about yet) I decided to make both Hungarian hot chocolate and a Hungarian treat for this year’s festival. I also made hot chocolate with Chinese spices, but I didn’t get a picture of the hot chocolates this year. Last year I made Mexican. Next year it will be from another nation — can you stand the suspense?

Anyway, in deciding what Hungarian treat to make, I needed to balance my very limited amount of time with the usual labor-intensity of such goodies. I also wanted to try something that was clearly Hungarian but that I was capable of making well.

I chose correctly in terms of the cookie itself, but my time estimate was a bit off. I was still up at 3:30am the night before the Festival still folding these cookies.

The cookie part is a delicate cream cheese dough. The filling is almost purely apricot. “Lekvar” actually refers to the filling, not the cookie. The etymology is fascinating — the Hungarian word comes from Latin via four other languages, and refers to a paste you use to hide the taste of medicine (the obscure English word is electuary, which has obvious linguistic similarities to lekvar). You could hide any medicine inside these cookies and the patient would gobble it all up happily. In fact, your biggest worry would be overdose.

My half-Hungarian husband, connoisseur of Hungarian pastries for almost 35 years, declares lekvar to have earned a tie (with dominoes) for his favorite Treat. It was a struggle to get him not to eat them all in the few hours between their baking and the Festival.


Finally, I leave you with the full Festival of Treats selection for 2008. The Festival for 2009 will bring some new treats, probably some new pottery on which to place the treats, and hopefully some new attendees to join the existing Festival-goers. Thanks to all who have attended in the past, and to future attendees — you have no idea.

Pictured alphabetically from top to bottom:

Festival of Treats 2008


Festival of Treats 11: Dominoes

January 11, 2009

I said ohhhh ohhhh Dominoes.”

–Van Morrison, sort of

Immense mystique surrounds dominoes. Their name betrays nothing about their contents, and they are nothing like anything that most people have had. They are Jonah’s very favorite Treat each Festival.

It used to be that either the entire batch was gone before the Festival had ended (unless I secretly hoarded some for us), or we failed to tell the guests about them to decrease consumption. Neither of those outcomes embodies the Festival spirit, and so I have started making double batches, which works out better for everyone.

Jonah tends to describe them as, “Don’t ask. Just try it.” Since that doesn’t work on a blog, I will describe them.

Bottom layer is coconut, graham, and chocolate.

Middle layer is custard.

Top layer is chocolate.

This combination is somehow so perfect.

We first encountered them at a friend’s wedding at a dairy farm on the Gaspé Peninsula. The wedding had been catered by a few of the ladies who lived in the town of 600 people. I heard several members of the bride’s family approach the sweet table and exclaim, “Ooh, dominoes!” I don’t know why they are called dominoes, and I don’t know who invented them. I only know that they are fantastic.

Because of the refrigerator problem, I didn’t manage to get a proper photo of the dominoes. Here is a photo of the scraps. The scraps taste just as good, but the real dominoes are cute little squares.



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