Thursday, February 18, 2016

Taking a break from sugar? Don't panic

I have options for you.  But first, let's state the obvious: where the F have I been?  It's been two months and no posts.  Well the holidays hit and then a death in my family and then work and traveling and honestly, I struggled to get back on the horse.  Getting back to the real world can totally suck.  It's tough!  But eventually we all have to do it.  

So, getting back on the horse.  I have been planning this post since Christmas and intended to write it in January but I think post-Valentine's Day works too.  If you're anything like me everyone you feel like a stuffed pig after the holidays and eating sugar/carbs/fat is the last thing you want to do.  So what do we do?  We give up those indulgences for awhile in order to get back to normalcy and de-puff.  And actually it's needed, because one of the best things about eating candy is the buildup to enjoying it.  The planning, the selecting, the looking forward to, the excitement.  Kind of like vacation.  And you can't be excited about anything when you feel like a puffy pig.

So giving up sugar.  Don't panic, it can be done.  You just need to find adequate substitutions for yourself.  That's where this post comes in, I'm sharing with you one of my absolute favorite non-candy, no-sugar, sweet treats.  The "That's it." fruit bar. 
the cherry "That's it." bar

Why do I love this fruit bar?  Well first, there is no sugar in it.  There is literally 1 apple and 10 cherries in this bar.  Second it's DELICIOUS.  Each bar has 1 apple in it so the flavor is determined by the other fruit.  The cherry flavor is my favorite as it uses really sweet, red cherries and even tastes better than some cherry flavored candies (seriously).  Finally, this bar has a nice, chewy, almost meaty texture which makes you feel like you're really biting into something rather than tolerating a substitute.

My second favorite flavor is strawberry (or mango!) but it's hard to pick since these bars come in a range of flavors including pear, blueberry, apricot, coconut, banana, and pineapple.  They sell the mango and blueberry bars at Starbucks and several flavors at Whole Foods however, both retailers charge full price.  You might find a local grocery store that sells them cheaper (my Fairway runs a 2 for $3 sale sometimes) or you can buy them online.  Here's what you're looking for in the store:
And there's my favorite candy substitute.  I hope this post helps you during your next no-sugar phase or even during the week if you're pausing your sugar intake to build excitement for a candy-filled weekend.  Make things easier on yourself, check out That's it. fruit bars and let me know your favorite flavor.

Happy Questing!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Thanksgiving in Amsterdam

This post is loooong overdue but here goes...happy belated Thanksgiving!  How was yours?  Hopefully relaxing and filled with all of your favorite T-day food pies.  Mine was spent abroad in Amsterdam with some friends, we had a fantastic time!  Amsterdam is an enchanting city filled with beautiful, friendly people.  Seriously, everyone there was tall, stylish and hot.  I kinda felt like a homeless troll everywhere we went and I STILL had a great time.  Also, Amsterdam is completely underrated.  It has everything, including my new favorite candy store!  But before we get into that, a few things...  

First, the Nordic and Dutch people love their licorice, especially black licorice.  I had some Danish and Swedish friends who obsessed over salted black licorice and bought it in bulk to bring back to NYC and ration out.  While I salute their commitment to candy, I've tried it, it's definitely not what you're used to, and it tastes exactly as it sounds.   If you go abroad, you will find it all over Amsterdam.

Next, chocolate (always need chocolate!)  One day during the trip, we popped into a grocery store for some water and my friend randomly grabbed a Tony's Chocolonely bar and gave me a taste.  Thank god for her.  That bar was so good that I went back into the store to scope out their flavor lineup and buy my own.  I got the salted caramel milk chocolate bar and the hazelnut milk chocolate bar, both exceeded expectations so I had to investigate further.  Tony is a real overachiever.  Not only do his chocolate bars taste great but he's a chocolate do-gooder too.  I found that Tony's Chocolonely is a local chocolate company based in Amsterdam that makes ethical (100% slave free) chocolate bars in all kinds of flavors.  And, MORE good news, Tony's Chocolonely just launched their first U.S. presence in Portland, Oregon.  This is great as hopefully now that they're in the states, it will only be a matter of time until they sell these bars online and ship them across the U.S. so we can all enjoy them.
Tony's Chocolonely bars
chocolate lemon cheesecake bars
milk chocolate with hazelnuts
milk chocolate with salted caramel
Ok so on to the main event.  If you are in Amsterdam then you MUST check out my new favorite candy store, Candy Freaks.   Why do I love this store so much?  Because it is truly unique.  This store sells regular aka "classic" bulk candy, natural bulk candy, and organic bulk candy, including gelatin free gummies!  I've never seen a candy store that sells organic, natural, and gelatin free candy by the pound (or kilo).  Revolutionary.  Check it out:
Candy Freaks store front
their wall of bulk candy
"classic" aka regular bulk candy
natural bulk candy
organic bulk candy 
Talk about an awesome, unique find!  First off, when we walked into the store a man very generously offered us tastes of his favorite candies, just grabbing pieces of candy and offering them up, including their DOUBLE salt black licorice.  He then asked my friend if she wanted to spit it out after seeing her face.  I mean, you gotta love that he encouraged a taste fully knowing that we are Americans who are not used to salty licorice.  He still tried!  I'm a sucker for perseverance, especially when it comes to sugar.

the double salt black licorice... like a little double black diamond for your mouth
This encouraged sampling struck me because most candy store staffers will tell you that you can taste anything in their store ("just ask") but I've never actually been in a store where the person is delighted to share their favorites with you, picking them out, placing them in your palm, and encouraging you to taste them for yourself.  His enthusiasm was fun and contagious which is exactly how a candy store should feel.  Candy is fun!  It's meant to be enjoyed!  Turned out, this man was married to the store owner so we got to meet the cheerful couple behind Candy Freaks.  They were a delight and I'm happy to be giving them some good PR.

As you can see in the earlier photos, they had a wall of candy divided into classic, natural, and organic candies with chocolate, licorice, and gummy options in each section.  Here are some of my favorites, bearing in mind that there were so many unique candies to taste that I didn't get to them all (I know, I know, I thought I was a pro too):

organic gummy berries...see the berry seeds inside?
organic ginger gummies 
organic cherry and peach hearts
gelatin free strawberry licorice, my #1 pick!

They also had their own chocolate which the owner imports from Belgium and then adds different mix-ins to.  I had the milk chocolate with salted caramel which was heaven but the white chocolate with strawberries looked fantastic too:

So that's a look around my new favorite candy store.  I miss Candy Freaks already and will be sending every Amsterdam-bound person I know to it.

It's fitting that we found excellent candy in Amsterdam as it was an awesome city filled with cool, gorgeous, friendly people...of course they have excellent candy!  If you're headed to Amsterdam, pick up some (or like, 20) Tony's Chocolonely bars and step into the truly unique Candy Freaks store to sample the natural, organic, and double salt black licorice for yourself.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Buy this when you're in Spain

Hello!  I'm finally back after a week of traveling and an INSANE week at work.  I'm sure your week has been crazy too as everyone is wrapping things up before Thanksgiving and prepping for the holiday.  It's good to be back and talking about candy so let's jump right in.  This week, I have a recommendation for you from Spain.

About two years ago, my friend and I went to Barcelona and Ibiza.  It was a super memorable trip and it yielded some unforgettable candy too.  In Spain, they are big fans of the fruit and cream licorice, especially strawberry and cream.  I sampled strawberry and cream licorice ALL OVER Barcelona.  They had so many different shapes and sizes of it along with sour and not sour (regular?) versions.  Some licorice came in a long rope form like the stuff I found in Jerusalem, some were skinny and short like the ones I found in Italy, and all of them came in a sour or regular version.  There was a lot of licorice sampling to be done...I was really happy in Spain.  However, after careful consideration, I finally landed on the best combination: short, medium-thick, and regular.

Here's the winner:

Haribo Fresa-balla!  Man, these people really know gummy candy.  These licorice bites are soft and chewy right out of the bag with a nice strawberry flavor and vanilla cream center.  The perfect ratio of strawberry to cream.  I can safely say that during our 6 day trip in Spain I ate 6 bags of these things.  And that was AFTER going through the initial process of elimination in Barcelona taste testing all of the other shapes/sizes.  But, like most things in life, it took hard work and dedication to find the winning combination.

Sidebar: some dude we met on the beach one day noticed that I had a bag of these and launched into how terrible a company Haribo is and how there are like horse hooves or something in their gummy candies and blah, blah, blah.  He went from being interesting to a real downer.  It was like ok buddy, I noticed that you're wearing a speedo but I'm not going to point it out and make you feel bad about it.  For the record, I buy and eat organic when I can, I don't smoke, don't drink much, have 1-2 cups of coffee a day, work out regularly and pretty much lead a healthy lifestyle.  So if I want to follow the 80/20 rule and spend that 20% eating horse hooves and sugar then please, just let me do that.  That's my rant on letting other people make you feel bad for how you choose to spend your 20%.  Don't worry, just follow the 80/20 rule and you'll be fine.

Ok so unfortunately, I can only find this strawberry flavor on foreign websites.  They sell them at Tesco in England for example which will be a process to order if you live in the states.  Amazon sells a multi-flavor version of these so that might be the closest you can get to them in the U.S.  I was able to get my hands on a few bags again because my friend went back to Ibiza and was kind of enough to offer to pick up more crack candy for me.  The convo went like this:

A: Do you want me to get more of that candy you liked in Spain?
Me: Ooooo, yes, please.
A: Ok how many bags?
Me: Um, one
A: Are you sure?
Me: No, two.  Plus a pica.

"Pica" is what we started calling the sour variety of these candies.  Neither of us knew at the time what pica actually meant but inferred that it was sour.  Plus it was fun to say.

In the end, we decided that the regular version is still the best but pica is a fun way to mix it up.

So that's my pick in Spain.  If you go there, def pick up a bag of these but make sure you get the regular, medium-thick version unless you want to go ahead and sample all of the different shapes and sizes for yourself (which is actually pretty fun).  These are sold in just about every corner store in Barcelona and Ibiza so they're really easy to find.  In fact, if you're going, can you grab me a bag?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A hidden gem in Chelsea, NY

Happy Friday!  Have you recovered from Halloween yet?  I'm slowly accepting the fact that winter is coming and trying to enjoy NYC and the fall leaves as much as possible.  The bitter, soul-crushing, cold and wind are coming so you've gotta get out now and enjoy the weekends while you still can.  In an effort to get the most out of every last fall weekend, I've been touring around the city and buying candy from all my favorite spots.  I haven't really covered much in NYC yet and there is a lot to cover.  This posts starts with one of my favorite hidden gems in New York City, inside Chelsea Market.

If you're in NYC or planning a visit then you have to walk through Chelsea Market.  It's a long hallway of specialty food stores, restaurants, wine bars, a grocery store, and coffee shops.  It's a foodie's paradise.  It's also home to Food Network where I heard that they shop for groceries downstairs and then shoot some of their shows in the studios upstairs.  Even though Chelsea Market is one of my favorite places to wander around, it's still horrifically crowded with tourists.  Especially on the weekends.  Going in, you kind of have to accept the fact that you're going to be walking in this massive zombie-crawl throughout the market.  Or you can pretend that you're in a parade like I sometimes do, to keep from going crazy and stampeding everyone.  It's best to just keep your and wave.

Ok so deep in the back of Chelsea Market is a store called Chelsea Market Baskets.  It's billed as an "artisan foods" store with "inspiring gifts" which is all true actually.  But what they don't mention is their great chocolate selection.  A whole wall of chocolate bars, a glass case of chocolate truffles, and jars and jars of bulk chocolate candy.  And not just any bulk candy, Marich candy.  You might remember Marich from that time I freaked out when I saw them in a Chicago Whole Foods.  Marich is quality stuff and the only place I've ever seen it sold by the pound in NYC is at Chelsea Market Baskets.  Ta-daaaaa:
yes, go inside
When I first discovered the awesome candy here it was like finding lost treasure.  I had been through Chelsea Market before but didn't realize that this veritable gold mine (chocolate mine?) of candy was inside.  They have all kinds of great chocolate candy by the pound including some favorites like lemon blueberry shortbread and triple chocolate toffee...

jars of bulk candy
jars and jars...
AND seasonally, they get one of my all time favorites: pumpkin spice caramels!

pumpkin spice caramel
These taste just like pumpkin flavored caramel, no weird fake taste at all.  They are exactly as the name suggests.  If you like pumpkin flavored things you should definitely buy them.  They're also sold by Marich online.

Moving on to the chocolate wall.  (I really hope I get to say those words again some time). Chelsea Market Baskets has an entire wall of artisan chocolate bars.  They're the fancier, bean-to-bar chocolate bars and make really nice gifts for chocolate lovers...or yourself on a random Saturday.
fancy chocolate bars
more fancy chocolate bars
A lot of the more well-known chocolate brands are represented here and if you're anything like me you'll stand facing this wall for an hour several minutes trying to decide which new bar to buy. 

Finally, if truffles are more your thing then you're in luck as they have a nice case of truffles too.  I don't tend to buy truffles often because I eat them all as soon as I get home (just me? I keep wanting to try all of the different flavors I bought and then next thing I know they're gone and I'm out like, 20 bucks in 2 minutes).  Anyway, the few truffles I've had from the case are all great quality.  If you have the willpower and can play the long game, then go for it.

case of chocolate truffles
So that's it.  The first of many more NYC posts to come.  If you find yourself in New York then you must take a (slow) stroll through Chelsea Market and stop into Chelsea Market Baskets for some fine chocolate.  Let me know your favorite fancy chocolate bar in the comments below or tag me on Instagram @thecandyquestblog.  Happy questing!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween at Hershey Park

Happy Halloween!  For the last two years, my friends and I have been going to Hershey Park for a little girl time, roller coasters, and chocolate.  It's been so fun that we've continued the tradition, making this trip our 3rd annual.  This year, we ended up pushing the trip into late October which meant that we were there during one of their "Hershey Park in the Dark" weekends.  Way better timing.  Lines were shorter, the air was chilly, the leaves changed colors, kids (and some parents) were dressed up, and shopping at Hershey's Chocolate World (ChoWo to the locals) had more of a purpose since Halloween is this weekend.  Candy is in season!  So in celebration of Halloween, the holiday of candy, here's a tour of the "sweetest place on earth."

Our first stop was the amusement park (Hershey Park) and second was the chocolate factory store (Hershey's Chocolate World).  ChoWo is where you're invited to stuff your face with candy, buy up all the chocolate you can carry, take a factory tour, sample chocolates, and even create your own candy bar.

Here's the entrance to the amusement park, get excited try to contain your excitement:
It was the perfect fall day to walk around and ride some rides.  The leaves where changing which made every spot in the park picture worthy.  Here's a pic of us bailing on a ride and walking out of the line...
...and a pic of someone's pumpkin carving talents...
But on to what you've been waiting for... a building full of chocolate!
Behold!  The entrance to ChoWo!  Upon entering, they have signs for chocolate tasting, sign-ups for the factory tour (which is kind of like an amusement park ride where you glide past their recreations of the factory in a little car), and ticket sales for the create-your-own candy bar experience.  This I highly recommend.  You walk back into a little "factory" and use a computer to design your bar choosing your chocolate, your mix-in ingredients, and designing your wrapper.  You get to watch your bar go down the line and come to life.  It's a fun experience and the chocolate tastes fresher and creamier than a regular Hershey's bar.  But, since we had done all this before, we navigated past the entrance to get to the real goods...discounted, fresh, Hershey's chocolate and candy.  The initial view is pretty exciting:
Move, kid 
This store is a labyrinth of candy (minus David Bowie) and sectioned off by brands so Twizzlers are all together, Reese's, Kit-Kat's, Hershey's Kisses, etc., it's all here.  They even have a fill-your-own bag station with different flavors of kisses and chocolates to choose from:
For a first-timer, the store is a little overwhelming (slash exhilarating) but as a veteran, I only stopped to snap the new and noteworthy finds for you.  Like this oversized "World's Largest Hershey's bar": 
And these "Extra Long" Twizzlers (why doesn't the usual length work?  What are you doing that you need an even longer Twizzler?)  But whatever, in case you do, here they are:
I was excited to stumble upon a seasonal item...pumpkin spice kisses!  These taste just like pumpkin and white chocolate and exceeded expectations:
pumpkin and white chocolate, keep 'em coming
And they had some caramel apple Twizzlers that I was sure I would hate but ended up loving.  They were really soft and chewy because they were fresh out of the factory.  What a difference!  The apple flavor in these by itself would have been too green apple-y and fake but combined with the caramel center it tasted just like fall. 
In fact, I regret not buying more from the Twizzler's section since the softness and chewy texture of the fresh-from-the-factory bags made a huge difference in taste.  They had every flavor imaginable, I only snapped a portion of what was there.
Ok, but the real reason to come here, the freshest tasting option at ChoWo, are the Reese's cups.  The peanut butter here is still kinda creamy which make Reese's cups taste so much better.  
light snack anyone?
I always stock up on Reese's cups and bring some back for friends when I go since the taste difference is so noticeable.  I think the Hershey's chocolate bars pretty much taste the same but the Reese's cups from the factory store taste much fresher. 

Ok, moving on to some new candy.  First are these little to-go bags of different "snack" mixes.  There were a few versions including this pretzel/chocolate/almond bag, a Reese's bag, and "snack bites" which were little bites of chocolate/almond clusters.

These are nice, portable options that give off the trail mix-y vibe so that you can pretend you're eating healthy.  But really at that point, why bother?  If you want chocolate or candy just go full hog and eat what you're really craving.  Otherwise you're just going to delay the inevitable and then you've eaten trail mix AND candy.

Next, Hershey's recently unveiled new kisses which are larger and contain "crisps" and an entire roasted hazelnut.  Sort of Hershey's answer to the Baci kisses from Europe:
crisps and a roasted hazelnut in the center
These were good but not very chocolatey.  If you're really craving chocolate then you're better off just eating a regular kiss.  The hazelnut in the center kinda takes over because there's not enough chocolate in the middle to offset it.  Still good though and worth trying.

For the last photo, I'll leave you with this shot of the glorious Hershey's Chocolate World cafe where all of your chocolate concoction ideas can come true:
that guy on the left is like "Hmph!  Where is my chocolate?"
So that's it.  The 3rd annual trip to Hershey Park and ChoWo was another smashing success.  I hope you make the trip sometime with your friends and family and that you go in the fall.  It's the perfect day to spend catching up, enjoying the beautiful fall foliage, and eating your favorite chocolate.  

If you try Hershey's new hazelnut kisses, comment on this post or tag me on Instagram @thecandyquestbog and tell me what you think.  Happy questing!