Musings

Field Trip: Bar Cocoa

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I ate dessert for dinner this week. And it was divine.

Bar Cocoa in the Ritz-Carlton hosted a group of Charlotte bloggers, and I had the good fortune to attend. It was a lovely experience, and it started with macarons. Bridges and bridges of macarons.

Blueberry-lavender is newest member to the Bar Cocoa macaron family, and I can vouch for its deliciousness. I tried nearly a half-dozen flavors – coconut, dulce de leche, honey, pistachio, and the aforementioned blueberry-lavender – and am hard-pressed to pick a favorite.

Most people choose the best seller Red Velvet. For me, it was a close call between the coconut and blueberry-lavender, but in my world, coconut always wins.

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After the macarons there was honey-pecan and peach-mango gelato. I would not kick either flavor out of my freezer, but the peach-mango was unbelievable. It made me happy to have taste buds.

Gelato was followed by eclairs: classic, s’mores, strawberry-pistachio, raspberry-rose, and caramel.

Picking a favorite eclair is, I imagine, like picking your favorite child. It simply can not be done. Sure, there are things you appreciate about one more so than another, but at the end of the day, you love them all.

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Next up was the signature Ritz-Carlton Cake. You can only visit Bar Cocoa at the Ritz in Charlotte, but you can order the signature cake at any Ritz.

You guys, I am not a big fan of chocolate cake. The crumb is always too heavy or the flavor is too intense for my tastes. But this cake. This cake is the one.

It was my favorite thing on the menu. I want to say it was light and layered with flavor and an all-around delight. The Ritz says, “This deeply flavorful specialty cake…features a rich, dark chocolate flavor with bursts of orange throughout, creating a delicious balance of sweet chocolate and sharp citrus.”

Yeah. It was that.

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Then to wash it all down, the milkshakes came out. Cookies and cream, banana-caramel, and double chocolate made with chocolate-hazelnut gelato. Cookies and cream anything is hard to beat, but the chocolate-hazelnut combination came pretty darn close.

This assortment of amazing desserts was shared with us by a group of incredibly friendly and professional Ritz-Carlton employees. Pastry sous chef Jeanette Payne graciously educated us about our desserts as we scarfed them down like a pack of wolves. Well, as I did at least. (Seriously, here we are nearing the aftermath).

So that’s the desserts, but that’s not all. Bar Cocoa features special events, like a free gelato bar where a gelato scoop like those seen above are served atop a petite waffle cone. I think this happens on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons in the summer, but I could be wrong on that. These details were provided when I was eating like I’d never seen a dessert before in my life, so I might have missed some things.

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Another event is the Chocolate & Champagne Dinner. If anyone out there would like to get my attention, inviting me to this five-course all-dessert dinner ought to do it.

In all seriousness though, the Cocoa Lab Cooking Classes are a must-attend for anyone in Charlotte who is remotely interested in learning how to make desserts. The classes are held from 9 a.m. – noon on Saturdays and limited to eight people per class. The $75 per person price includes hands-on education from a pastry chef, complimentary parking, a recipe collection, keepsake apron, and of course the desserts made during the class.

I really can not say enough good things about this experience. In addition to the desserts featured here, cheesecakes, chocolate mousse, cupcakes, and other sweets including  Norman Love chocolates are available at Bar Cocoa. Find them at 201 East Trade Street at the corner of Trade & College in Charlotte. And please invite me with you.

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Bar Cocoa generously provided my desserts and drinks. My only obligation was to show up and enjoy myself. I wrote about my experience here because it was worth sharing. Any errors or omissions are unintentional and my own. All photos you see here were taken with my iPhone. Click here to see me in action.

Weekend Update {A Few Favorites}

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It’s been a while since I posted  a roundup of my favorites, so I hope you’ll indulge me for a moment. Better yet, I hope you find something here to like too!

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When I saw New Belgium’s Coconut Curry Hefeweizen on the menu at a bar/restaurant the crowd I run with  frequents, I just about had an excitement attack. I love coconut- curry anything and I love beer, so I was smitten at first sight. Not so sure about the combo in a beverage? Try this recipe for coconut curry popcorn seasoning instead.

I would have liked to offer you a picture of the actual beverage (instead of its label), but I thought it unwise to open a bottle when taking photos at 10 a.m. They may be lax, but even I have standards (#isit5′oclockyet? #isitnoonyet?).

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I like to drink my new favorite beer while I read my new favorite magazine: Garden & Gun. I actually learned about this magazine from a “friday favorites” post on a blog I frequent. There is so much to read in this magazine, I don’t even know where to begin.

This month I’ve read about pies, a shooting team from Missouri which is one of the winningest programs in all of college athletics, cast-iron cookware and the history of the bourbon and coke. Speaking of bourbon…

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Cloister Honey is a Charlotte business that sells, well, honey. As you may have surmised from the beer discussion above, I tend to like things with a spike of unexpected flavor. Enter bourbon-infused honey.

I am not a huge bourbon fan, but I really like this honey. It offers just the right amount of bourbon flavor, sweetness and warmth. It is especially delicious in these no-bake peanut butter energy bites which I love to eat as a snack. Or breakfast. Or dessert.

Last but not least, this song. A few months ago, my friend Melina posted this video on her Facebook page. I listened to the song, thought it was catchy, and moved on. Then I read this interview and heard it on the radio within a 24-hour time span, so I thought it was time to share.

The tune is not only catchy, but the lyrics make me laugh a little. I’d take the tiger on a gold leash. How about you?

Happy weekend!

Weekend Update: Beach Read Edition

June 1 007 Edited Weekend Update: Beach Read Edition

I love books! They are my vice. I hear you scoff. Surely, books can not be a bad thing. Well let me tell you, they are. It is not all that uncommon for laundry to pile up and dishes to crowd the sink because I choose to spend the day with a book. Really, it’s a problem.

I really do not know why I like reading so much. The anticipation of what is to come with I flip back the cover? Escaping, experiencing or vicarious living? It’s a mystery.

When a friend recently asked for book recommendations for her trip to the beach, I cemented my plan to write a beach reads edition of the weekend update posts. I feel I must warn you, she asked for something light, and after thinking about what I have read lately, I had little to suggest. I guess since I prefer comedies at the movies, I save the drama for my books.

Some of these books I have read recently, while for others it has been a couple of years. It is by no means an exhaustive list of my favorites, just what I have thought to share today. Here goes…

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I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.”  

I know I am! And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini is the most recent book I have read, and I surprised myself by liking it as much as I did. It was a bit hard to follow the style that jumped from the 1950s to the present day to random years in between in no particular order. Couple that with the story told from the viewpoint of multiple characters, and it is certainly not for everyone. I liked the book for the way it captured the subtle human experiences that define us all.

 

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 You’ve been crying,”  she said, slightly astounded.

A little.” 

Because of her?”  The final word was weighted. I could picture it round and heavy, making a deep thump in a pillow.

How can you not appreciate words that make you see a word drop like a paperweight into a pillow. More importantly, why can’t I write like that (see above quote about waiting for the extraordinary). Sigh. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. I loved Flynn’s first book. Sadly real and full of surprises all the way through, Flynn weaved a new tale from the old story of  living a lie. I also recommend the immensely popular Gone Girl in which the descriptor “sugar-cloud kisser” still sticks in my mind. You will not want to put it down. (P.S. – I tried to read Flynn’s Dark Places, but it was just too dark.)

 

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Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.” 

Middlesex was the first Jeffery Eugenides’ book I read, and it remains in my top five favorites. I only heard of the book because one of my major goals in life is to read every book that has one a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Middlesex won in 2003. More recently, it is the audio book the characters played by Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand listen to in The Guilt Trip. It is the story of Calliope Stephanides and her journey of going from Greece to Detroit and from a woman to man. Sounds crazy. It’s captivating.

“I don’t know what you’re feeling, I won’t even pretend.” 

It was by picking up Middlesex that I learned Eugenides also wrote The Virgin Suicides. I loved the movie; I thought it was bold. The book was very much the same as the film, so you probably will not get too much more from reading it if you have already watched the movie. Still, it is a worthwhile – albeit twisted – read. Weekend Update: Beach Read Edition

She may have looked normal on the outside, but once you’d seen her handwriting you knew she was deliciously complicated inside.” 

The Marriage Plot is Eugenides most recent book. It was much lighter than the first two. Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are the college-age players in a story that explores love, life, God and the early 80s.

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But what are our stories if not the mirrors we hold up to our fears?” 

Read something by Wally Lamb. My friend Melina recommended his books to me when I was in a bit of a book slump, and I am so glad she did. Her description beats anything I could say: “Complex characters. Beautiful metaphors. But all oh so tragic.”

His characters get under your skin. They agitate and aggravate and keep you reading. Oprah agrees. She picked both I Know This Much Is True and She’s Come Undone for her book club.

As you have likely deduced, when I like one book by an author, I tend to seek out all he or she has written. The first Wally Lamb book I read, I Know This Much Is True, remains my favorite. The story chronicled the lives of two twin brothers – one with a mental illness and one without.

Well, get used to it, the whole world is nuts.

I wasn’t a cynic; I was a banged-up realist.”                                                    

I went on to read She’s Come Undone about annoying Dolores Price and her struggles from adolescence to adulthood, followed by The Hour I First Believed about Caelum Quirk’s journey as he nursed his wife through the aftershocks of PTSD. Nothing like a light beach read, huh?

For something much less tragic, Wishin’ and Hopin’: A Christmas Story is perfect for Christmas in July. It is a quick, funny read that actually takes place throughout the year and leads up to Christmas.

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So, that’s that. I can’t invite you to dinner, but I can invite you to my virtual book club. If you would like to see my full bookshelf, feel free to link up with me on Goodreads or Slice. And tell me, what are you reading?