28 June 2008

Michigan: Mackinac Island fudge

A couple weeks ago the Sunday Pioneer Press travel section ran a story I did on Mackinac Island (http://www.twincities.com/travel/ci_9566606). Although I didn't have the word count to include some info on specific fudge shops on the island, I thought I'd at least mention here my take on fudge in general and Mackinac Island in particular.

First off, before I even talk about the island's sweet shops, it's important to know that I consider my mom's fudge the all time best. I've never tasted fudge like hers in any fudge shops. For that matter, I've never tasted any homemade fudge like hers, period. She made the kind of fudge that was hand-beaten. I can still see her with her well worn wooden spoon and hear the noise it made in the bowl. Before she beat it, she would drop a droplet of the warm chocolate that had been bubbling on the stove for awhile, into a glass of cold water. That was how she could tell the exact time when it was ready to take off the heat and begin the beating.

The result of her chocolate fudge was not a creamy soft light and high confection--it was a dense dark chocolate rich with butter and cream--barely an inch high.

At any rate, I say all this so that you can understand why the fudge I have tasted at many tourist type shops does little for me and why I may taste it, but rarely buy any. It has to be exceptionally good before I'll part with my cash--and I can count on one hand the places I've bought it. One of them just happens to be Jo-Ann's Fudge shop on Mackinac Island. I had read that Murdock's Fudge was the original shop that started selling the sweet, and my driver who took me on a tour of the island recommended May's variation as his all-time favorite. But after tasting Jo-Ann's plain chocolate fudge, I knew I had to buy some for my flight home. It was buttery, rich and creamy, but not cloying sweet. It was definitely still not my mom's but it was still definitely worthy.

For the record, Mackinac Island has an annual Fudge Festival. Check out http://www.mackinacisland.org/fudge.html for more information.

20 June 2008

Ireland: Galway bakeries

When people think of Ireland, they don't generally think about fabulous food or delicious sweets. They think of Guinness and fish and chips obviously, and green green pastures and grazing sheep. They think of music and pubs and soft misty mornings and warm friendly people.
But I have to say that while visiting Ireland last November, I experienced all of the above--yes, even the fabulous food and delicious sweets. (I also experienced rain. But that's another story.) This being a blog about sweet treats, I'm here to tell you that I found Galway an especially sweet town. The first shop I happened upon was the Gourmet Tart Co. where I spotted the pedestal platter full of those incredible looking strawberry meringues in the window (pictured above) as soon as I started up the street for my one day of shopping. However, I decided to wait to purchase one until on my way BACK to the car. Mistake. Big mistake. Actually on any trip, this is a Cardinal Mistake (CM). Never, never, NEVER ASSUME you will be able to find your way back to any particular spot you see ever again-- whether to take a photo, or purchase something you spotted in the window. Of course, if I had been with my girlfriends, this would never have occurred in the first place. They would have reminded me. But I was with my family. At any rate, you guessed it. When I returned to the shop (I did find it again), and went in to buy my meringue, the shop girl sadly informed me that they were sold out. And while the ones in the window were still displayed, she told me they were not fresh. (I was ready to take one of them. I mean, meringues stay fresh for days I wanted to tell her.) Need I say I was crushed? I was. Luckily, I was not leaving Galway until the next afternoon. The next day I bought and ate the meringue as soon as I got to the shop. And it WAS well worth waiting for!! I have not had such an exceptional meringue since. It was on par and in fact superior to a few meringues I have eaten in Paris. I would love to know how they managed to get the strawberry jam swirled so perfectly in them
Galway had several other bakeries as well. I visited Griffin's several times as they sold jars of orange marmalade made with Irish whiskey and I wanted several to bring home for gifts. Also, the fam discovered if you bought a cup of tea there, they threw in these delectable mini scones that simply melted on the tongue. One of my sons talked me in to buying a wedge of some chocolate covered confection with dried fruit too (dried fruit always raises a red flag with me). But it turned out to be quite yummy. In fact, so yummy, I wished I'd bought more. Two other bakeries I also checked out were The Oven Door (a cute little shop) and Goyas--where the wedding cakes in the windows were darling and decadent and different than any I've seen here in the USA.
Above: Me-- finally with my meringue!!!Posted by Picasa

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09 June 2008

Chicago: Garrett's Popcorn Shops

In January, I was in Chicago. That was, let's see, going on almost 6 months ago. And right now, not only am I in need of a serious summertime visit to the Windy City (the best time of all to visit), I'm desperately in need of a Garrett's popcorn fix. More specifically, their famous Chicago “Mix” --a combination of caramel corn and cheese corn. One of Oprah’s favorite things. Think sugar and salt. Sweet and savory. Highly addictive. Once you open the waxed paper bag, you can't stop. Your fingers get kind of orange-y, sticky and greasy (but in a good way). Winter time Chicago, there's nothing like returning to a warm hotel room after a visit to say the Signature Room at the 95th—high atop the John Hancock Center-- where you’ve just sipped a Mojito and watched a spectacular sunset with your best friend, and then junk fooding out back at the room with a full bag of freshly made Garrett's mix -- laughing together over a rented movie. (I'm talking about a Brit comedy here, not the pay-per-view stuff by the way.)

Tip: Garrett Popcorn has been around since 1949 and now has several locations, but long lines still prevail. (I know people who have waited in line 45 minutes or more. What?? Are they crazy? I won't name names.) But through the years, I've discovered the Randolph Street location usually has shorter wait times (a good thing when you are running late to the airport and have made your taxi stop at the shop--did I mention not to forget to buy a bag for the flight home?) If you can’t get to Chicago, you can order online, but for the real deal, a trip to the Windy City is always a good thing.