Taza Chocolate – Union Square, Somerville

Taza Chocolate is having an Open House & Factory Tour this Saturday, May 2nd at their factory in Union Square, tazaSomerville. If you don’t know about Taza, how the chocolate tastes (delicious), or how they operate (excellent corporate citizens), the open house is a perfect opportunity to find out. You’ll see their factory, tucked into an industrial building, sample chocolate, meet the makers, and see where the beans are roasted and winnowed.

There are many details that set Taza apart from almost all other chocolate makers in the US, and I’d try to explain them, but they’d just get jumbled up. Youll be much better served by reading this excellent Cake and Commerce post. If you’re too excited to read, watch Sooz’s videos on How The Roaster Works, How The Cocoa Winnowing Machine Works, and Grinding the Cocoa Nibs.

Last week, I had the opportunity to go through temperingthe factory tour with the special bonus of seeing the beans ground into chocolate and watching some bars get molded out of the tempering machine. I refuse to cook with a thermometer, tempering is something I bloggers with hairnetsalways hope happens to the shell of my truffles by accident (it never does). Because of this, I got more excited to see the tempering machine than I was expecting. Like before with the post from Cake and Commerce, I’m going to shirk off the responsibility of writing up the visit, but lucky for you, Bostonist has covered it perfectly. Also, peep this wonderful picture of some of Boston’s best food bloggers (I know, you’re wondering what I was doing there, me too) in hair nets.

Taza’s ‘bean to bar’ process for making chocolate makes a bar that’s photo3about as far away from a Hershey Kiss as you can get. The texture of the chocolate is pleasantly grainy and the flavor is almost fruity. I like how they direct trade with (and actually overpay) bean co-ops to get the best of the best cocoa beans, and I like how the chocolate is delivered locally by Metro Pedal Power. I’m in the bag for them and you should check out their Open House. Also, if you see Alex (at left), be sure to ask him if he’d prefer to be known as a chocolatier or chocolate maker.

Taza Chocolate – Union Square, Somerville

Free Barcelona, Spain Travel Guide

It took seven and a half months, but I’ve finally finished the review of our trip to Barcelona and Sitges, Spain in June, 2008. I started it as a review to make remembering our trip easier. As I was writing it up, I decided to make it more of a travel guide to hopefully convince you to go to Barcelona. It was an amazing trip.

There’s a lot of information in here. The guide is broken up into 10 chapters linked below with the highlights of the day for easy reference:
Day 1: Boston to Barcelona: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Barcelona is very beautiful. Parts are dirty and smelly, but those parts are serviced 24/7 by sanitation workers. I was struck by how most of the buildings look like they were from the 50s or 60s and wondered what makes the replacement cycle so much faster in cities like Boston. The city is eminently walkable, and the transportation system adds to the ease in getting around. If you like looking out over cities from heights, you’re in luck. There are at least 6 different tourist destinations that offer great views of the city.

Bottom line?
Where to stay: Hotel Regencia Colon – Perfectly situated and affordably priced.
Must visit landmaks: Santa Maria del Mar, La Boqueria, Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà, Montserrat, Sitges
Must eat: Tapaç 24, Euskal Etxea, Chocolateria Valor
Must shop: Kukuxumusu, Xocoa

For my mom, here’s a slideshow of our trip and a collection of videos from different points.

Also, please play around with this map I made of all the places we went to or should have gone to. I spent days before we went researching restaurants, hotels, landmarks and popping them onto this map to make it easy to figure out what to do in each neighborhood once we got there. The price of this travel guide is worth it just for this free map.

In closing, I hope you’ll go Barcelona because it’s awesome and you going will validate our decision to go. If you do go, I hope you find this Travel Guide helpful because would validate the time I put into it. Because after all, what’s a blog based Travel Guide if not an adventure in navel gazing?

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Free Barcelona, Spain Travel Guide

Salt and Chocolate and Caramel

This NY Times article about salt and caramel made me hungry. But I wanted them to go further because salty chocolate is really where it’s at, and not not just bacolate, or bacon chocolate, (which we’ve talked about here, here, here, and here), either.

When we were in Barcelona (review to come, I SWEAR), we were served a dessert of 4 scoops of chocolate ganache drizzled with olive oil and topped with a pinch of sea salt. If I do nothing in the next 50 years, I will be a success if I can get this dish in front of the American diner. Anyone know anywhere here that serves this?

Salt and Chocolate and Caramel

Do You Know Where Your Turkey Comes From? – The Food Link Round Up

Sarah Palin caused an uproar a couple days ago by conducting an interview in front of a farmer slaughtering turkeys. I didn’t follow much of it, but my main reaction to it was more on the side of “Really? That was the best place for an interview” aas opposed to “those poor turkeys”. Though it lead me to this article by Patrick Martins, director of Slow Food USA. (Speaking of Slow Food…)

When you sit down to your Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, waiting for the main attraction to be brought in on a platter, take a moment to think about where it came from and how it found its way to your table.

So where’s my turkey coming from? I wasn’t sure my mom would know, but she did. Plainville Farms. I looked through the website and didn’t find much of anything except they have a ton of USDA labels about how they treat their animals. So I feel a little better that at least I know. So where’s your turkey from?

I had meant to post Michael Pollan’s latest (now 5 weeks old) NY Times effort –
An Open Letter to the Next Farmer in Chief – and this is as good a post to do it in. We’re in full food round up mode now, folks. It was neat how Pollan responded to readers’ comments in a different section, that’s a good move on the NY Times’ part.

And here’s an interview with Pollan from The American Conservative where he talks about the idea of food security being something the Right and the Left can work together on. Interesting parts:

You see it in other traditions, too: the Mayans also had grain reserves. Now the amount of grain we have worldwide is a six- or eight-day supply. If there were a major shock to the system, people would go hungry quickly. It was one of the reforms of the Nixon administration to get rid of the grain reserve under enormous pressure from agribusiness and big grain traders who wanted more control over the market and wanted to be able to speculate on grain prices.

and

“Arugula,” we should remember, is a marketing term invented by somebody who thought that this very common green, known by farmers all over the Midwest for many years as “rocket,” needed to be tuned up and given new appeal. It’s a complete marketing creation, and it’s completely ruined a very healthy green—at least from a political point of view.

Here’s the NY Times late to the chocolate covered bacon (bacolate) party we covered last year here and here.

Shopsin’s from April 2002:

What does happen occasionally is that Kenny gets an idea for a dish and writes on the specials board— yes, there is a specials board—something like Indomalekian Sunrise Stew. (Kenny and his oldest son, Charlie, invented the country of Indomalekia along with its culinary traditions.) A couple of weeks later, someone finally orders Indomalekian Sunrise Stew and Kenny can’t remember what he had in mind when he thought it up. Fortunately, the customer doesn’t know, either, so Kenny just invents it again on the spot.

Here’s a 2004 article from Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, on Bush’s USDA. There’s too much in here to quote, so just read the whole thing.

And of course I would be remiss for not posting the interview that started the post off. An, no, THE epic definition of political blindness, unless of course the GOP base rallies around stuff like this.

Do You Know Where Your Turkey Comes From? – The Food Link Round Up

Homemade Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Ice Cream Recipe

I’ve been making ice cream the last couple weeks trying out different flavors. I made Blueberry Chocolate Chip (Total Failure), Cayenne Cinnamon Chocolate Chocolate Chip (kinda success), Raspberry Chocolate Chip (kinda success), and Mint Chocolate Chip (success). Today I tried Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food and it’s great. If you like lots of junk in your ice cream (leading to more junk in your trunk), give it a shot.

I didn’t use a recipe, but I’ll try to recreate below what I did:
Start by putting 2 cups of cream and 1 cup of whole milk in a saucepan on low. Stir regularly to heat evenly without growing a skin on the cream and to avoid that heated milk taste. At the same time, whisk 2 eggs and 2/3 cups sugar for a while. Then do it for a couple minutes longer.
When the cream/milk is hot enough (you’ll know) pour it on, eh, let’s say 6 ounces of semi-sweet dark chocolate. If you want to make a different kind of chocolate ice cream, use different types of chips. Mix the cream/milk with the chocolate and stir it well so all the chocolate is melted and folded in. Pour chocolate mix into egg and sugar mix and stir well. Chill this mixture in the fridge for about 25-30 minutes, or until cool. I run the ice cream maker in the fridge to keep it extra cool, if you live in Alaska, you might consider running it outside. Put the mixture in the ice cream maker and turn it on for about 25 minutes or so. When there’s about 3 to 5 minutes left throw in chocolate chips to taste. You might want to use chopped up chocolate chunks instead. Prepare caramel and marshmallow sauce. (I used Fluff this time, and it’s great, but it gets hard in the freezer, so I’m going to check out marshmallow sauce the next time.) I folded this into the ice cream as I put it into the Tupperware, basically 2 big scoops of ice cream, one small scoop marshmallow, one drizzle caramel. Repeat until out of ice cream. Put some wax paper on top of the ice cream and sit on your hands for 2-3 hours after putting it in the freezer.
Eat a lot.

Homemade Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Ice Cream Recipe

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 8: Sitges

Thanks for clicking on the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. There are 10 chapters total, listed at the end of this post. Check out the introduction for more information.

It was on this day that the realities of staying at a gay hotel began to set in, but only in that the realities of staying at a gay hotel are that there aren’t any women down at breakfast besides J. Earlier in the week, it was impossible to notice because we were the only ones at breakfast. Today was very hot, so why not spend the morning lounging on the beach reading trashy novels? In any case, that’s what we did until lunch. We had a smoothie at Parrots Terrace and then light sandwiches at Mostaza right next door before, uh, going back to the beach to read trashy novels for the afternoon.

Douglas at Parrots who had steered us so rightly to The Beach House on our first night in Sitges suggested Mezzanine. We weren’t AS thrilled with Mezzanine, but only because of the incredibly high bar set by The Beach House. The atmosphere was lovely, the service charming, and the tempura de gambas had eyes. The food was presented amazingly, but unfortunately, there was something missing from the taste. The chocolate cake for dessert, however, was out of this world.

tempura-de-gambas

There are 10 chapters in the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. I hope you find them useful.
Introduction
Day 1: Barcelona to Boston: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Map of where we went or wished we had.

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 8: Sitges

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 9: Too Hot to Shop

Thanks for clicking on the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. There are 10 chapters total, listed at the end of this post. Check out the introduction for more information.

We had caught a headline saying something like “African Heat Headed to Spain”, earlier in the week, and if it hadn’t arrived by yesterday, it was certainly here today. After breakfast, we decided to take one more trip around town and down by the beach. On the boardwalk, we were surprised to find techno music playing and a set up for a spin class. Only in Sitges.

We caught our train back to Barcelona after sadly bidding Sitges adieu. Our hotel, Aparthotel Calabria, was in a different area of Barcelona than we had stayed earlier in the week. While it was fine, I’d suggest staying closer in to the Barri Gothic. This hotel is next door to two grocery stores, incidentally, and features giant rooms with kitchens. The room would definitely be great for a family, especially one that wanted to cook a few meals in. Our hotel looked out onto a courtyard of old buildings that had a very Eastern European feel. We dropped our bags off, cooled down for a bit, and headed out for some more walking around.

Needing lunch, we decided it was a good time to finally go to La Boqueria. La Boqueria, one of the must see attractions in Barcelona, is a large covered market with about 125 different food stands. Fish of all kinds, meats of all kinds, produce of all kinds, snacks, candies, herbs, spices, etc, etc, etc. Really a sight to see. We wanted to try either Pinotxo or El Quim but couldn’t get a seat, let alone a menu at either place and didn’t feel like dealing. J got a plate of different vegetarian foods at a health stand along the back wall. I had been hoping against hope to find the food I had enjoyed so much in Berlin, the Döner kebab, and I had heard rumors that Barcelona had them, too. Well, I found one, and it wasn’t any good. I guess we’ll have to go back to Berlin sometime to get them.

It was too hot to do anything. We had hoped to do some shopping, but couldn’t get it going. We had checked out the Chocolate Museum earlier in the week but hadn’t gone in, deciding to save it for today. It wasn’t too expensive, but it was geared exclusively to children and we should have skipped it. There were some cool chocolate sculptures, but nothing mind altering. Depressed and now needing a chocolate fix, we had to go over to Valor for some more cold chocolate drinks, which were delicious, again.

Unable to do anything else because of the heat, we kind of collapsed in the shade on the stairs of a museum in a forgotten plaza and listened to a woman play Flamenco guitar while we zoned out. Soon, we moved our siesta into the courtyard of the Ministry of Culture. There was fountain there in which we watched a woman put her feet. I don’t know what the fountain was for, but I’m certain it’s not for touristic feet dipping.

We had wanted to check out Comerç 24 but couldn’t get a reservation later than 1:15 in the afternoon so we decided to check out Tapaç 24, the no-reservation, Tapas joint by the same chef, Carlos Abellán. If you had only one day in Barcelona, I’d suggest coming here for lunch and dinner, it was that good. We ate a menu of tapas suggested by the waiter, I’m not sure we would have ordered differently. We ate foie burgers (a specialty), grilled cheese with truffle oil, pan y tomate, patatas bravas, and probably a few other dishes that I’m forgetting in all their glory. Best of all was dessert, something I’m going to bring to America if I have to open a restaurant myself. 4 scoops of chocolate ganache drizzled in olive oil and flavored with a generous portion of sea salt. It doesn’t make sense until you try it, trust me. Go here often in Barcelona.

There are 10 chapters in the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. I hope you find them useful.
Introduction
Day 1: Barcelona to Boston: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Map of where we went or wished we had.

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 9: Too Hot to Shop

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays

Thanks for clicking on the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. There are 10 chapters total, listed at the end of this post. Check out the introduction for more information.

It was J’s birthday today, which I clearly forgot until the middle of the morning. All week, I had been trying to think of a way to celebrate a birthday while on vacation and then I just forgot. Then again, we’re on vacation, the whole time is a celebration!

We thought we’d do a little shopping in the morning before catching a commuter rail-like train to Sitges. Taking advantage of our close proximity to Barcelona Cathedral, we popped in quickly in the morning and confirmed that it’s not nearly as cool as Santa Maria del Mar. There is this crazy garden in the back of the Cathedral, though, with palm trees and geese. We then headed over to Calle Petritxol to check out Xocoa. On our way, we heard a giant commotion roiling though the alleys. We got to the mouth of Plaça de Sant Jaume, only to be blocked by a giant garbage truck trying to get by 2 riot police vans. (Almost no one drives in the close alleys of The Born and Barri Gothic except for the street sweepers and garbage men and women, who seem to be cleaning nonstop). It took the garbage truck about 5 minutes to get by, which seemed like forever because I REALLY wanted to see what was going on in the square. It was impossible to tell what the people were protesting, but eventually, a group of men were let into the building and everyone cheered.

Xocoa is a chocolate boutique that sells lots of great snacks and gifts and snacks to gift. We picked up a chili chocolate bar and a few truffles that were yummy. There are a few other chocolate stores on this street, making it worth a visit.

We checked out a few more stores and then mistakenly went to 4Gats. I say mistakenly because I had talked about this as a restaurant to avoid and J had only heard me talking about it, not what I said. She thought I wanted to go there and I thought she wanted to go there. There’s a reason people need to communicate and that reason is to avoid restaurants like 4Gats. The restaurant is historic and the building interesting, but if you’re going to go, I’ve heard the coffee and dessert route is the way to go. We got the fixed price lunch menu and a chance to sit up on the balcony looking down on the main dining room. The service was friendly, but the food was awful. I got a creamy pasta starter that was the best of everything we got. J’s fish came with veggies that looked and tasted like they had been boiled for 2 days. We felt snookered, afterward, to realize that the desserts we had ordered were not part of the fixed menu as we had believed. Go here, take a picture, and then go someplace else for lunch.

We went back to our hotel and picked up our bags to go to Sitges. The train ride was about 35 minutes, and while it had been drizzly and cloudy in Barcelona, it was sunny in Sitges. We got off the train not knowing how to get to our hotel. Finding the information booth closed, we walked around Sitges, stumbled upon the Mediterranean Sea, and then lucked into finding our hotel, Parrots. After booking the hotel, I read up on Sitges and found it described as, “The internationally renowned sun-drenched gay mecca of Europe” and, “Gayer than the capital of Gayland”. I saw “Is Sitges too gay?” and, “Too gay for families?” on a couple of message boards, and whatever that means, the answer is no. Yes, there are a plethora of gay men in Sitges. Unless you’re a secretly gay Republican that pretends not to be gay by being virulently homophobic, you will have a lovely time in Sitges. That said, Parrots is a gay hotel with a sauna that just opened and J was the only woman down at breakfast, garnering a few inquisitive, but friendly looks.

We asked Douglas at the front desk where to go for dinner, and he sent us to, what he called, “The third best restaurant in Sitges”, The Beach House. It was amazing and the portions were very generous. J got the watermelon salad and baked tortelini and I got the Cesar and Tuscan chicken. Everything was fabulous and, well, fabulous.

There are 10 chapters in the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. I hope you find them useful.
Introduction
Day 1: Barcelona to Boston: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Map of where we went or wished we had.

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 3: Gaudi and Eating

Thanks for clicking on the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. There are 10 chapters total, listed at the end of this post. Check out the introduction for more information.

Barcelona is filthy with interesting architecture. Random apartment buildings are decked out with flamboyant patterns and colors, and of course, there is Antoni Gaudí. Gaudi’s buildings are fascinatingly unique, featuring a distinct use of colors and shapes. You could go to Barcelona and not visit any of Gaudi’s landmarks, but, then, you’d be kind of worthless.

Passeig de Gracia is a street north of Plaza Catalunya featuring 2 of Gaudi’s buildings. Passeig de Gracia is a wide, charmingly European boulevard with high-end retail on either side. After a short walk you’ll come to Casa Batlló on your left (but be sure to notice the buildings leading up to it, as well, interesting in their own right). We weren’t sure how much Gaudi we needed in one day, so after seeing it was 16 Euros to enter, we took some pictures from the street and skipped it. Further down on the right is Casa Milà taking up about half a block. Seemingly more interesting, and half as expensive than Batlló, we decided to give it a shot. We had to wait in line for about 20 minutes before walking in to the oval shaped courtyard. There are 3 areas to check out at Casa Mila, the apartment furnished as it would have been when the building opened, the attic with its weight bearing brick arches, and most interesting of all, the roof. The roof features several oddly shaped chimneys on multiple levels and a 360 degree view of the city. I could have spent 2 hours on the roof just taking in all of the views.

Instead we journeyed on to La Sagrada Familia. We should have figured out a better way to get there than walking because, by that time in the day, we were drained and it’s about 15 blocks or so, more when you get a bit lost. We got to Sagrada Familia and saw a sign announcing a 60 minute wait for the lift. That did it for us and instead of going in, we looked up at it from a couple different angles and then walked all the way back to our hotel. Again, not that far, but far enough at that point of the day.

And then the eating started. We had plans to meet Crystal and Dan later that evening at, “Her favorite wine bar in Barcelona” – which happened to be right in, “my favorite placa in Barcelona” – at Placa Santa Maria del Mar. We skipped the wine bar and instead went to Heladerias Tomo II for some gellato before dinner, I had brilliant chocolate in a mini tulip cone. The plan was to go to Tapas 24, but it was closed Sundays so we went to the Irish Pub next door for a drink and to figure out what to do next. We decided to head to Port Vell to Luz de Gas for waterfront tapas on a boat. To get there, we took the Metro, getting our first look at Barcelona’s mass transit. And like just every mass transit system I’ve ever been on, it was faster, cleaner, and more convenient than the T.

Now Luz de Gas may play some of the most “lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, f*cked up playing” you’ll ever hear, but it’s an incredibly lovely spot and the food is delicious. We had the octopus, patatas bravas, pan y tomate, chorizo, and some great cava. And now I never have to eat octopus again. Which is nice.

After stuffing our faces with tapas, we decided to head back into The Born for dinner at Origen 99’9%. Dinner after so much tapas? Yes. Origen serves traditional Catalonian dishes with an eclectic flair. Unfortunately, and likely due to the truckers’ strike, many of our first choices were unavailable. We’ll have to try rabbit with chocolate another time. The cheese plate was great, as was the stuffed onion, as was the Crema Catalan. The fish we could have done without. Awesome atmosphere, too. After dinner we went back to Tomo II for more gellato, but they were closed. Sad.

There are 10 chapters in the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. I hope you find them useful.
Introduction
Day 1: Barcelona to Boston: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Map of where we went or wished we had.

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 3: Gaudi and Eating