A Different Choice for Election Day 2016 ~ Kerrygold Imported Skellig Sweet Cheddar Cheese

Uncategorized | November 8, 2016 | By

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No, this isn’t a political post, it’s a FOOD post, of course…because I’m stress-eating this afternoon, wondering where our country will be tomorrow morning when the votes are in.

I saw Kerrygold Skellig in an ad the other day and thought now why haven’t I seen that in my grocery store?! Then last night, when I ran in to my favorite local shop to grab a couple of things, there it was, perfect for a mid-afternoon Election Day cheese snack. I grabbed a cranberry cheddar and a bag of crackers to go with it. After watching too many hours of election coverage today, I really needed a break and a tasty treat to take my mind off it for a bit.

Skellig was just the thing. It made me think. It made me weigh the differences between it and its sister cheese, Dubliner, which happens to be one of my favorite cheeses. It made me wonder if it was just plain better than Dubliner, or just another option…um…kind of like my choices for the presidency. So much for getting my mind off the voting, but…yum!

Skellig isn’t sweet like my cranberry cheddar, it’s still on the sharp side, but has a pleasant sweet creaminess that makes it just slightly different than Dubliner. The crystallized enzymes that are present throughout a block of Dubliner are also present in Skellig, I was happy to find.

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So vote on, America, while I sit nibbling my red and white and blue (packaged) cheeses. See you on the other side!!

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Chocolate Tasting & Touring in “Chocolate Town”, Hershey, Pennsylvania

Uncategorized | October 21, 2016 | By

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Sabotage. I was doing very well in my low carb lifestyle, with a slice of pizza and a glass of soda allotted for the following day, when, while traveling through Pennsylvania one evening, my husband decided he needed to refill our truck’s gas tank, and he to needed to do at the next exit, which happened to be the Chocolate Town (Hershey, PA) exit. I was nervous when, following his fill-up, he headed right into town to have a look around. The next thing I knew, we were getting a hotel room with a view of the old corporate offices and a chocolate kiss street lamp hanging over the road. I knew then that I would be adding chocolate, and probably a lot, to my already overloaded carb plan for the next day. Sigh. I tried to suppress a naughty giggle but…Hershey, Pennsylvania!!!

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Everything was closed by that point, but we figured, after doing a quick online check of the hours of all of the attractions in Hershey, that we would have time to squeeze in the museum tour, with a little chocolate tasting, the next morning, if we were back on the road by 11 a.m.

I love how spontaneous my husband is. I grew up with parents who loved to surprise us kids with impromptu or secret trips. I’ll never forget the time they showed up at school in the middle of the day in one of those monster Winnebagos to check us out early so we could go camping about an hour up the road. My sister and I flipped out, thinking they had bought it, but were just as excited when they told us they had only borrowed it from friends for the weekend. Another time, on a trip to visit a former college friend of my dad’s, they kept us distracted by looking for “alligators” on the road. The “alligators” were the shredded semi truck tires that end up all over the highways in Florida. But my sister and I soon recognized the old wooden signs that line the entrance to Disney World before you get to the gate. We didn’t know if we dared hope but asked, “Are we going to Disney World?!” We were. On other trips, Dad would load up our van and we would all pile in with no particular destination in mind. Those were my favorite times. So, naturally, it was important to me, and my husband who very quickly grew to love this family tradition of mine, to raise our kids the same way. The only problem is, our younger son has started trying to put his foot down and now “requires” notice a day in advance of plans we have. But we never know if we will end up doing anything on the weekends or just chilling at home. The best compromise we can come up with to help him out is for me to tell him on Thursdays, “Just so you know, we might be hopping in the truck and heading out somewhere on Saturday or Sunday.” Ha ha. Poor kid. We rolled with his sensitive nature during his developmental years, but then started making sure he was able to deal with being “a little uncomfortable” some of the time, too, even though, with all of his father’s health issues and scares, he’s already had more of that than any kid needs. But to keep that spirit of spontaneity, we still allow ourselves last minute outings, asking the boys first thing on a Saturday morning if they’d like to go with us or hang out at the house, now that they are both almost grown. Or, if it’s a day trip idea out of town that we want them along for, I send my husband to their rooms to break the news to each of them and get them up and in the truck, because our “little guy” grumbles less at his father than his mother, as I’ve always had the honor of being the “bad guy” as the homeschool teacher, scheduler, chore list enforcer, vegetable eating monitor, etc. But whether he grumbles or not, has had advance notice or not, those last minute plans always end with smiles and him saying he had a great time. And my heart swells every single time.

So on our impromptu Chocolate Town trip, I took one for the team (naughty giggle) the next morning and headed down to breakfast with my little family to carb it up. Of course they even had Hershey’s Syrup at the breakfast buffet.

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My stomach recoiled when I saw that and all the other sickly sweet things on the buffet, the likes of which I had been avoiding for quite a while, but within an hour we were in the museum across the street and that old craving kicked into high gear, getting my mouth watering for the chocolate we intended to sample at the end of our self-guided tour.

The Hershey Story museum takes you from Milton Hershey’s childhood to how he started in chocolate production.

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Then it guides guests past a timeline of world events that coincided with the Hershey Company’s growth, such as the sinking of the Titanic which Mr. Hershey narrowly escaped when he didn’t board with the VIP maiden voyage ticket he had purchased, and on to other endeavors of Mr. Hershey and the company. The timeline was enormous, covering several walls, and so much fun to read!

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At the end of the tour, there is a chocolate tasting bar and a hands-on interactive “distribution center” for visitors to “work” in traditional factory waist aprons, to get an idea of what employees at Hershey experienced.

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And of course, there is a gift shop loaded with chocolate and chocolate related products such as aprons, mugs, and even jewelry, as well as a cafe so guests can do even more sampling of Hershey chocolate products.

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I learned a lot I didn’t know about the Hershey company that day. Two of my favorite things were that they used copper bathtubs, retrofitted with wheels, for hauling ingredients around the factory. That just seemed so Willy Wonka to me, “No other factory in the world mixes their chocolate by bathtub.”, I could imagine Milton Hershey saying to his investors.

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I was also surprised to learn on our tour that the first artificial heart, the one I heard so much about while growing up in the ’80s, was invented at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

After being surrounded for a good hour by everything chocolate, we were more than ready to take our flight of “Chocolates from around the World”, with the chocolate tasting bar’s warm drinking chocolates, which were more melted chocolate than the hot chocolate beverages I had imagined. When this was explained to us by our server, we very quickly decided to share one flight, rather than each of us sampling a full set of six small glasses, which were about the size of a double shot.

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Boy were we glad we split a flight! That was a lot of chocolate, even divided four ways by a family of chocoholics. In the end, we unanimously decided that “Java”, a rich, creamy 33% cacao blend, was the most fun to sip in liquid form. But we also really liked “Tanzania’s” silky, dark richness. The only downside we could find with our tasting experience, and what seems like a missed opportunity for Hershey, is that you can’t buy samples of the chocolates you tasted to take with you, like you can when you go wine tasting or sample a flight of beer at a brewery. I just found that a little disappointing.

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Because we had plans to stop in New York for pizza later in the day, we took pastries from the Hershey cafe to extend our chocolate tasting to finish that meal. Two of us couldn’t resist trying the Chocolate Factory Cupcake, another, the Peppermint Patty Cupcake, with an entire peppermint patty stuck in the fluffy chocolate frosting, while a strip of chocolate covered bacon had my husband’s mouth watering. So off we went, on to other adventures, with a bakery box full of Hershey’s for the road and more sweet memories made for our family.

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A Recipe for New York Style Pizza and a Taste of Mystic, CT for Hannah McKinnon’s Novel MYSTIC SUMMER

Uncategorized | September 21, 2016 | By

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I was thrilled to open my mailbox and find that Mystic Summer, Hannah McKinnon’s newest novel, had been sent to me from the publisher at Simon & Schuster, Inc. to review. My husband and I spent our first year of marriage living about ten minutes from the picturesque whaling seaport of Mystic, CT and had recently returned to give our sons a tour, showing them our old stomping grounds.

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By the time we reached Mystic, our family was wrapping up ten days of sampling different pies throughout New York and New England, starting with a floppy, soppy, just-the-way-I-like-it, thin crust on our way to the seaport states, through New York. We liked Brother Bruno’s in Middletown, NY so much that we stopped in for another dose on a following trip to New England.

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When I was growing up in Florida, our family friends were Italians from New York who owned several restaurants, over the years, in my home town. Because my parents gave the kids in their family a ride to school every morning, my sister and I were lucky enough to catch the ride home with theirs, which meant frequent stops at their pizzeria on the way home when business needed tending. These stops invariably meant tall glasses of soda circled around what remains the best cheese pizza I’ve ever tasted, the kind that just hangs straight down, dripping cheese and sauce when you pick it up. Kinda like the ones we find at Brother Bruno’s.

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We found other noteworthy pizza parlors on our last two trips to New England– in St. Johnsville, NY, at Lombardo’s, at Bella Piazza Cafe and Pizzeria in Plymouth, MA, and at Portland Pie Co. in Manchester, NH.

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Of course, we also made sure we took the kids to Mystic Pizza in Mystic, CT, the place made famous by the Julia Roberts movie of the same name.

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My little guy decided that the “secret ingredient” in “Leona’s” pizza is paprika. I think I might agree.

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Mystic is a picture perfect town. I’ve always thought so. From the bascule bridge that plays an important role in McKinnon’s book, bringing main character Maggie Griffin a little closer to the love of her life, to the quaint main street with its little shops and nearby waterway, also integral to the story.

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I had just had to stop in the town’s crowded little sweet shop on our last trip to see if I could find some saltwater taffy to take home.

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Mission accomplished.

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The “tour” of Mystic McKinnon gives readers with her detailed and frequent descriptions would have brought the town to life in my mind if I hadn’t already had my own fond memories of the character of the seaport and “honeymooning” there with the love my life for an entire year, before we moved on and started “real life” together; sunny morning walks through town and across the bridge that ended with pastries and coffee at a local bakery and misty evening strolls that led to hand dipped ice cream, when the weather permitted.

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Here is my own tried and true pizza dough recipe that I’ve used for years as a base for any number of topping combinations. Clay pizza and baking “stones”, preheated in a very hot oven, 400 to 450 degrees F, make pizzas reminiscent of the wood fired brick oven baked ones I helped roll out in an Italian restaurant in Honolulu, decades ago. The only thing missing with these clay baked pies is the dusting of wood ash from the floor of a brick oven which, in my opinion, gives the real deal its flavor. A wood pizza peel can be tricky to use, but is key to getting a pizza on and off the hot baking stones in the oven. It doesn’t take long to master the flick of the wrist technique needed to get the job done, though I do prefer a thin metal peel to a wooden one for efficiency. Anyone wanting to make great “pizzeria style” pizzas at home should invest in a couple of clay pans and a peel and practice using them…with copious amounts of flour to prevent sticking. It’s definitely worth the effort. And, while you wait for your dough to rise, let the Mystic Pizza jaunts in Hannah McKinnon’s Mystic Summer inspire you. I guarantee they’ll have your mouth watering for fresh, hot pizza and interesting topping combinations.

Basic Pizza Dough

Ingredients:

6 cups all purpose flour + more for flouring the work area and peel

1 T yeast

1 tsp. sugar

1 T extra virgin olive oil + more for oiling the proofing bowl

1 1/2 tsp. salt

4 c. warm water (around 108 degrees F)

Method:

Sift together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.

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Make a well in the center. Add the tablespoon of olive oil to the warm water. Stir the water and oil into the flour mixture.

 

Stir in an additional cup of flour. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until the dough forms into a nice, smooth ball. Coat a large bowl with olive oil. Turn the dough in the oil to coat. Cover with a towel and leave in a warm place to allow the dough to rise, from one hour to overnight.

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Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead a few times before smoothing into a ball. Portion the dough for the size and number of pizzas that will be made. When I made pizzas to go with this book, I used some of my dough to make garlic knots and even a little cinnamon log that I baked into cinnamon rolls, since I had plenty of nice, soft dough on hand.

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To bake your pizzas, you can either grease pans and smooth your dough into them, heat clay stones in a 400 degree oven ahead of time and make your pizzas on a well floured peel, or make your pizzas on a floured surface and flip them onto the peel before placing them on the hot stones.

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Add any toppings you want and bake until the cheese is melted into the puffed and bubbly crust. For the New York style cheese pizza, I used mozzarella and provolone slices.

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And when it was baked and served, I did the sloppy, floppy cheese pizza test.

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It passed with flying colors!!

Short and sweet, like the year spent in our little apartment outside Mystic, Mystic Summer gave me everything I wanted in a fun and touching summer read, with the added bonus of a stroll down memory lane. The homemade pizzas the book inspired me to make were a nice finish to my nostalgic journey.