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BonBonBar 2010 Holiday Newsletter… Blogged

Saturday, February 6th, 2010
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Hello,

Happy Holidays!  Even though I have been quiet on the newsletter front, it has been busy at BonBonBar.

The most exciting news is that I have been hard at work writing a cookbook! It is called Beautiful Candymaking, and it is due out in the Fall of 2011 through Sterling Publishing.  The book will feature my take on a wide range of candy recipes — from toffee to fudge to caramel corn — along with candymaking tips/techniques and gorgeous photography courtesy of The White on Rice Couple.

After developing so many recipes for the book, I thought that it would be a good idea to recharge and seek new inspiration for the company’s confections.  So, BonBonBar will be closed from December 23 to February 1 as I eat my way around France, Italy, Brazil, and California.  I am looking forward to returning with refreshed ideas for new products, but it most likely also means that, unfortunately, some candies will be rotated out in the new year.

As always, thank you so much for your support and enthusiasm.  Happy customers have always been my favorite part of this BonBonBar adventure, and you have given me the amazing opportunity to run a truly artisan food company that will be going into its fourth year. I am grateful, and lucky.

All the best for a happy and sweet holiday season, and I hope that BonBonBar treats will be a part of it!

Thank  you!

Nina

Founder & Chief Chocolatier,BonBonBar

MORE BONBONBAR NEWS

So far, our candy bars are being featured in Fine Cooking, DailyCandy, and The Huffington Post’s 2010 holiday gift guides.

If you would like to place your holiday orders in advance of when you would like them to ship, please let us know in the comments of the order.

All orders placed during the break will ship after February 1.

Camp San Francisco

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

A trailhead across from the front door was too much for me to resist when I was looking at the Presidio apartment that I now live in.  Where does it go, I wondered?   Where doesn’t it go? Every time I go for a walk in the Presidio, I discover something new and surprising in this unique corner of San Francisco.  For the first week, it felt like camp, or a college campus without the college.  It’s a place that I would normally think about driving to, so it feels a little peculiar to step right into it from my home.  Even my backyard is bordered by forest, but then, the city is right around the corner, too.

The Presidio used to be a military base until it was developed for civilian use.  Throughout the park, there are clusters of residences in addition to some businesses, from George Lucas’s companies to a bowling center.  And it’s federal land, which means that crime is in federal jurisdiction… which means that there is no crime, as far as I can tell.

Most of it is pretty open, with windy paths and roads and buildings….

….

But there are trails to hike with varied foliage and views.  There’s the occasional coyote, too, though I have yet to see one.

What gets me every time is that when you follow the natural descent of the land through the park, you find yourself on the waterfront with a wide open sky.  I never thought that the Golden Gate Bridge would be such a looming part of my life… in all its states of fog.

I walked across the bridge one morning, but it was so loud from all the cars that I’m not sure if I’ll do it again.  But Crissy Field is lovely, and the walk on the path along the water to the bridge, or in the other direction, towards the Marina, is very nice, with a healthy traffic of bicyclists, runners, dogs, and baby carriages.

And the beach along the water…

And green art…

If you walk towards Fisherman’s Wharf (or better, the Ferry Building), you come across the Palace of Fine Arts, a monument that I’d managed to not know about before, but one whose idiosyncratic existence strikes me as wonderful.

I also think that it’s wonderful that a family of 4 figured out how to have a thoroughly civilized lunch at a table in the middle of the dome.  Too bad they’re all but hidden in the shadow in my picture, but I’m posting it anyway, because as I have a feeling they would say, well, why not?

I’m still figuring out my food options around here– the Presidio has little, but the Marina and Cow Hollow and beyond are full of places to eat and buy food — but I think that my most satisfying prepared find so far is Bakesale Betty, which is in Oakland.  I went to try a dessert, but when I saw what looked like foot-high Fried Chicken Sandwiches being assembled, I had to get one.  Juicy and crunchy and little spicy… and I’d recommend doing away with the bread (although it’s perfectly fine in its soft, voluminous way) and eating each of the two chicken breast pieces cut side up/batter side down with some coleslaw balanced on top for a fried chicken experience to remember.

Socialverse is Here!

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Please enjoy this shameless plug for my boyfriend’s new website, Socialverse!

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You may already know that Chad’s good at thinking up dreamy birthday cake ideas, but you should also know that his true area of expertise is software engineering. With Socialverse, I like to think that his company has developed a way for people to walk the world from the comfort of their computers.**

When you sign up, you get your own little doppelganger who can stroll around a map of the US. While you can explore cities and states that you dream of visiting, the site is mostly geared towards local search and social networking. So, you can chat up locals and friends near and far as well as browse businesses. Of course, people like us would probably first think to check out and add our thoughts to the restaurants and markets, but even I sometimes need to go to the hardware store or see a dentist. Socialverse lets you put your favorites on the map and find new places to go.

I suppose that it’s like citysearch and yelp, but Socialverse is cooler because it’s in real time (using Web 2.0 in clever ways) and you can actually see where these places in the country are b/c “you” are there, too.

In a typical move, Chad has thoughtfully provided lots of goodies that go above and beyond basics. So, here’s a cheat sheet to my favorite things that you can do that might not be obvious right away:

  • Click on the “online” line on the upper right of the screen to see who else is online. Click on someone’s name to move closer to them.
  • Place your blog (as an object) in an area where people will find it useful. You’ll find Sweet Napa already on the map somewhere in LA.
  • Find the nearest ATM.
  • If a location isn’t on the map yet, add it and talk about it.
  • Use additional motions — such as sleeping, meditating, dancing, and acting scared.
  • Adjust your appearance — clothing, size, hairstyle.
  • If you are a business owner, you can promote your business online.
  • Check the weather.
  • You can’t zoom in or out on the main map, but if you click on “Self” then “Mini Map” in the “Navigate” menu, you can see where you on a zoomable mini map.
  • Share photos.
  • Search local classifieds and post your own.

Please keep in mind that this is, as Chad says, “the early public beta.” There are still bugs, but he’ll happily be the victim of anyone’s criticism… or suggestions… or insouciant banter. When the basics are ironed out, the long-term goals are to make it a nexus of local search for any type of person, business, or organization you may be interested in, and in turn, a way to build relationships and become closer with your community. More features will be added — such as perhaps coupons and ads for shops around the corner being implemented, trees being planted, menus being posted, icons being customizable, and whatever people want that the world can support.

So, feel free to sign up, check it out, and tell everyone you know about it. The world is wide open.**

**Right now, the map only functions in the US, but there are plans to make it international down the line. Also, the faster your internet connection is, the faster you’ll be able to do things. Broadband is recommended. It is also only compatible with Firefox and IE for now.

One Day in Napa on May 5

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007
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Thanks to special deals from Southwest, Chad and I were able to indulge my wily scheme to visit Napa (and Sonoma!) for one day. No hotel… mostly movement. We flew out of Los Angeles at 8am, and we flew out of Oakland at 8pm. It was a tight schedule, but everything went like clock-work — the 4 shuttles, 2 planes, and 1 rental car. There was the issue of the collapsed freeway, but that only added a tolerable amount of traffic.

It’s been 3 months since I moved away, and I was so eager to remember the day that I took pictures of everything that I could. I’ve compiled them into an album on Snapfish of 136 photos with some captions (sorry, registration required). They are snapshots, not composed photographs. The majority of them were taken from the passenger seat of our rental car, going as fast as Chad deemed fit. It’s amazing how many of them are in focus, and even contain pieces of what I was aiming at. I like to think they fit well on the web, which reveals and preserves so much of day-to-day life around the world. I recommend slideshow mode. This was what it looked like to drive around Wine Country on May 5.

I did miss some things, though, like the two girls in Sonoma walking around with a youtube-inspired sign that said “free hugs” on one side.

Since this is a food blog, I don’t want to bury all my leads, so these were the food and drink goings on…

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The top sirloin burger at the girl & the fig in Sonoma (here are previous posts). The cambozola option is the way to go with this burger, but bacon’s optional. I love the way this burger tastes, but as always, the subtle genius is in the Dutch crunch roll. It gives a satisfying crunch, but its inner softness marries it well with the other elements in the burger. I’ve read that a burger bun is ideally as soft as the burger meat, and I agree… and I can admire this bun because it bends the rule for a greater good. I suspect that the bit of salt from the cheese and the bit of butter from the bun are also secret weapons in this burger.

Unfortunately, Chad and I ordered our burgers medium-rare, but mine turned up rare and his medium. His was also missing cheese, which is, as I mentioned, mandatory. When informed, the restaurant took the plate back, put a piece of cheese on it in the kitchen, and brought it back out. I’m kind of conflicted about that. While I hate to see food go to waste, a cooled off burger isn’t as much fun to eat and doesn’t melt cheese well. It’s like a permanently defective burger.

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At least our Roederer and Fig Royale (w/ black mission fig syrup) were refreshing. And the bread was freshly soft on the inside and delicious.

And for fellow devotees, the rabbit pappardelle pasta is on the menu again. When I had it last year, it was phenomenal.

Then to Bouchon Bakery in Yountville (previous posts here). Disappointed that their once heavenly Cheese Danishes were still sporting a coarse sugar crystal dusting and looked over-baked, I got a pistachio macaron, and Chad got a caramel.

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The caramel flavor was good — caramel-y, butter-y, salty, but the cookies a bit too dense… and the filling a bit too light and buttery. Instead of a lighter than air wonder, the whole thing felt more like a standard sandwich cookie.

On the other hand, my first bite of the pistachio macaron was spoiled by my need to exclaim that “this is the worst macaron I’ve ever had!” The top crust shattered above the empty pocket of air in the cookie to lead to the way to the hard and chewy remainder of the cookie.

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I went back into the store with it, and told them that it was really tough, like it was stale, and asked for a caramel instead. I would have loved a good pistachio one, but I didn’t want to take another chance with it. I was promptly given a caramel one by a courteous staff member, and was told that it was odd that they were stale b/c they were baked in the last day or two… but in my opinion, that’s a day or two too much for macarons. They don’t age gracefully.

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I wish that the pain au chocolat could have made up for it, but that was off, too…

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It shattered more like a folded cracker than a laminated dough. Perhaps it was old, but it seemed more like a prep issue to me. Either not enough butter was used or it was rolled while too warm to prevent it from laminating properly. At least the chocolate inside it was unaffected, and quite edible.

That was all the food we ate there. You might say that it was a little disappointing, but we’ll probably go back to both the next time we’re up there. This is one reason why I’ve never been comfortable with “reviewing” eateries, and recommending them to other people. None of them will ever have perfectly consistent food. Every dish that leaves the kitchen is different. Every dish is practice to improve.

I can reconcile these facts two ways. The first way reminds me of something that a film professor once told me – the skill of a director is measured by what she edits out of her movie. What’s shown is truly the best and most pertinent. This applies to restaurants in so far as what they choose to put into customer’s hands. It’s quality control. There will always be some rejects in food preparations, but standards vary about what will go out, from restaurant to restaurant, employee to employee, and day to day. There are waste and cost issues with this, so that’s where the “every dish is practice to improve” idea is handy.

Also, there are the emotional ties to restaurants. I happened to like the girl & the fig and Bouchon Bakery as local hangouts and will always have good memories at both, food-wise and personal-wise. Very subjective. Only an offensively bad experience would keep me away from them in the future, and going back to them is nostalgic excitement. Like most of this trip, it was just pleasing to know that they’re still out there.

Anyway, I also bought a couple spices from The Spice House in Chicago while in the campus store at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. According to their labels… Ground Mahleb, which is the pit of sour cherries, is used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern breads, cakes, and pastries… China Tunghing Cassia Cinnamon has a very high 4% natural oil content, which lends it a smoother, sweeter flavor while maintaining a strong spiciness. I’ll report back when I use them. I also bought a fancy cherry pitter at the Sign of the Bear in Sonoma, because I have high hopes for lots of cherries this summer, along with every other fruit I can manage.

I wanted to go to Duckhorn Winery, but it was closed for a special event. I have a good knack for choosing wineries on days that their closed, but luckily, Plumpjack was open.

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The lively rock ‘n roll and conversations that surrounded us mirrored the boldness of the wines, which were a bit tannic and strong for me. Chad was more of a fan.

We also went to Paraduxx, which is is affiliated with Duckhorn. Again, the mood fit the wines. A relaxed, chic tasting room (and patio) matched the smooth and luscious wines.

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Their wines are all fusions of zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.

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Be aware that tastings are $15, though it does include table service, spiced almonds, cheese straws, and bottled water.

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Frankly, though, if you’re going to Wine Country with someone else, sharing tastings is the best option. Once you become accustomed to the fact that all wines taste and feel differently, you become eager to see what else is out there — what else wine can do. If you have to drink all the tastings by yourself, you’re more apt to become tipsy and unable to sample more, at least thoughtfully. After a while, the tasting size seems like so much. If you like it, you know you want to buy some or look out for it on the future, and if you don’t, you want it out of your way. For better or for worse, wine tasting is rarely a time to savor, per se. It’s a time to evaluate, and you may as well try as much as you can without getting overloaded. On the other hand, I prefer wineries like this one — with tables and chairs, a mellow ambiance, and pre-filled up glasses — so if you want to savor… well, just go right ahead.

A Weekend in Colorado

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

I met up with Chad in Colorado this weekend to attend a friend’s wedding. I love visiting different parts of the country and seeing firsthand what people are doing with food and drinks, so here’s what we came across in Loveland, Fort Collins, and Boulder (in addition to that fantastic slice of pumpkin wedding cake that I had)…

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Johnson’s Corner was named one of the ten best breakfast spots in the world by Travel + Leisure Magazine in 1998. It’s a full-service truck stop that’s been around since 1952, and has just that sort of charm. The service was very friendly, too.

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Hand-Breaded Chicken-Fried Steak, Hash Browns, Two Eggs, (the remains of) Pumpkin Pie, Biscuit and Gravy, and Pancake. This wasn’t our breakfast… This was my breakfast. As I worked my way through it, Chad said “Oh my god, I don’t know how you’re doing it… That’s awesome!” That’s pretty much how I felt about the Chicken-Fried Steak. It had the best breaded coating that I’ve encountered — thick enough to have its own uniform and slightly crunchy body, but with a good give and an addictive taste, spiked by a bit of pepper.

I also liked the pumpkin pie a lot. Not too sweet and not too custardy, it tasted of fresh pumpkin. I don’t need anything else. Of course, this place bills itself as a truck stop, so you accept the spray whipped cream as part of the territory; or you don’t, and simply scrape it off.

The pancake, eggs, and hash browns were pretty standard.

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Biscuits and Gravy, Hash Browns, Scrambled Eggs. Their biscuits were just a little flaky, but more soft on the inside — almost springy, but not tough and with a slightly crisp crust. They were different and I liked them a lot — especially with the very peppery gravy and sausage on top of it.

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Cinnamon Roll. The day before, we stopped in to get a cinnamon roll, which is their “world-famous” signature item, to go. I liked it. It was balanced — chewy and spicy-sweet, but not cloying; its bottom was just syrup-steeped, but not swimming in syrup like some cinnamon rolls. One of my pet peeves with cinnamon rolls is when the top center swirl part is tough and over-baked, but this one was uniformly baked. They sell them to go in plastic clamshell containers, and they had a microwave to heat it up a little.

A couple friends had one fresh with their breakfast that morning, and commented that it was a bit too moist. It was served still hot, so I could see that. Like most other breads, I think it needs to cool down to get to its proper consistency (and then reheating it slightly is fine), unless you want that extreme gooeyness.

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This is the Johnson’s Corner Chapel across the street.

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We also went to the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, which makes Fat Tire, Blue Paddle, Sunshine, and others. I was amazed by the strong, unusual flavors in some of their beers — like bananas, figs, and cloves (Abbey Belgian Style Ale), coffee (1554 Enlightened Black Ale), smokiness (Mothership Wit Organic Wheat Beer), steak (Lips of Faith), and citrus vinegar (La Folie, Wood Aged Sour Brown — to me, the sour patch kid of beers; no one could drink more than a few brave sips of it). The Sunshine Wheat Beer was the most neutral of my lot — smooth, with just a slight tinge of orange. And btw, the tasting of 4 beers of your choice is free. The tasting room has a groovy lodge/bar vibe.

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They had postcard/coasters that they’d mail for free for you if you filled them out there. Congratulations to those across the country whose addresses I remembered off the top of my head — my tipsy thoughts will be arriving in your mailboxes soon.

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Buffalo Ribeye with Burgundy Mushrooms and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes. At Henry’s Pub in downtown Loveland.

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I just had to include this Bailey’s over ice and Stoli Blueberry with Ginger Ale at the Sports Station Bar b/c they cost only $8. And I find that almost any fruit flavored vodka is delicious with ginger ale.

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My new baker’s biceps actually hurt my shuffleboard prowess. I don’t know my own strength anymore. At least they helped me out in foosball.

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In Boulder, we walked around the Pearl St shopping area, and had lunch at the Boulder Cafe.

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Italian-Style French Dip – Garlic Toast Topped with Shaved Prime Rib, Mozzarella Cheese, Rosemary au Jus, and Fruit. I was impressed by the description on the menu, offput by the simple appearance, and then dazzled by the fantastic taste and texture. The bread was spot-on crusty and just a tad dry (so that it soaked up the jus well), the meat moist and juicy, the garlic spread pungent, the mozzarella melted, and the support from the rosemary spectacular.

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Cheddar and Colorado Ale Fondue w/ Apples, Bread, Jalapeno Chicken Sausage, and Potatoes. The fondue had a loose, saucy consistency, rather than cheesy and stringy. I just couldn’t trust it, even though the flavor was fine.

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Chocolate Guinness Cake. A wet consistency and an off flavor.

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A Powell’s Sweet Shoppe is opening in Boulder. I didn’t realize that it’s a franchise — I really like the Powell’s in Healdsburg, where you can find anything from gummy hamburgers to single origin chocolates.

There was also a very good kitchen and home store called Peppercorn. I got a bag of Goji Berries (known as wolfberries to some and “the most famous berry in the Himalayas”) to experiment with when I start baking on my own again.

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We also stopped into Belvedere Belgian Chocolate Shop, which is connected to the Bookcliff Vineyards wine tasting bar. I was surprised by the number of wine tastings available in Boulder. I didn’t get a chance to try one, but I’ll keep my eyes out for a Colorado wine in the future.

So, I was a bit torn about Belvedere. They had some interesting truffles for sale — like lavender, cayenne, etc — but their chocolates were riddled with air bubbles from improper molding. The bubbles wouldn’t affect the flavor, but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them. So, I got a Bequet salted caramel (creamy, but needed more salt) and the chocolate bars above (with a “what I can’t see now won’t hurt me” logic and a strong hope that — surprise! they’re properly done). Too bad they both had air bubbles, but the chocolate tasted very good. I believe that Belvedere uses unsweetened Callebaut chocolate and additional ingredients to make them. The dark chocolate had notes of berry and melted quite smoothly; the milk was creamy and rich. They made me wish that I’d tried the truffles and that they didn’t have bubbles that mar their appearance.