The NYC Chocolate Project: Cocoa Store

Located at 15 E 18th Street the Cocoa Store is easily the smallest chocolate shop that I’ve been in. What they lack in space, they make up in creative use of that space. The walls are lined with some of the priciest chocolate I’ve had, and the jewelry-style display case makes their limited selection of truffles feel extra special.

The Cocoa Store in NYCNYC Chocolate Shops

Cocoa Store is a “retailer of prestigious chocolate brands from around the world”, and carries primarily five chocolate brands: Amedei, Domori, Castronovo, Dick and Taylor, and Harper Macaw.

You can buy single truffles from the display case, or chocolate bars and collections from behind. I definitely recommend the miniatures collection in front of the register, in this case your best bet is to acquaint yourself with the flavors of the chocolate offered before committing to a whole bar or collection.

Cocoa Store NYC register

Out of all the chocolate shops that I’ve been to, the Cocoa Store offers the most intense (and expensive) chocolate. If you, or someone you know, are hardcore chocolate connoisseurs – the kind that know the bean location and cocoa concentration of their chocolate – then you and they will love this place. Especially dark chocolate fans.

Initially I was sort of skeptical of the prices I saw at the Cocoa Store, however a little digging proved that the chocolates offered here are the real deal – they’re boutique chocolates with a world-wide following. Amedei’s single plantation chocolate, Chuao, is considered by some very influential chocolatiers to be possibly the greatest chocolate in the world. Food & Wine’s Pete Wells wrote an excellent article on the chocolatiers here, it’s well worth reading whether or not you’re a chocolate fan.

Cocoa Store NYC display case

Domori, another specialty chocolate, was founded in 1997 and are credited with restoring the cultivation of Criollo beans. In 2002, Gianluca Franzoni opened a plantation in Venezuela where he is cultivating varieties of Criollo that are on the verge of extinction.

Castronovo, owned by one of few female chocolate makers in America, Denise Castronovo, offers sustainable American craft chocolate. “Castronovo sources the cacao beans and contributes to providing an income for indigenous people who live off of the rainforest.  The prestigious awards she has received, including 7 World Final International Chocolate Awards, and 8 Academy of Chocolate Awards from London are just the result of her lifelong commitment.” – Cocoa Store

Amedei Chocolates NYC Cocoa Store

Dick and Taylor source their cocoa from around the world, using only organic cocao and organic cane sugar. With options like Black Fig, 72% Maple Coconut, and a limited release Vietnam Tien Giang with tasting notes of spice cake, apricot, and almond butter, you really can’t go wrong trying at least one. Each 2oz bar runs about $8.50, and ranks as a small, affordable luxury. Plus, the packaging is absolutely beautiful.

Harper Macaw chocolates are sourced from two of Earth’s most threatened biomes – Brazil’s Atlantic and Amazon rainforests. Their mission? Turning chocolate into a force for tropical reforestation. You clearly see their inspiration in the creative and eye-catching design of their chocolates.

Harper Macaw Chocolates Cocoa Store NYC

On my first visit I ended up spending roughly $80 on chocolates – I had a few pralines and truffles, an Amedei Toscano Red Chocolate Bar, Domori Napolitains D-Fusion Sleeve, a Single Origins Sleeve, a Domori Pret a Porter Chocolate Gift Bag, and a Criollo sleeve.

The sleeves are the best way to familiarize yourself with the varying degrees of cocoa content, bean sources and flavors, while the chocolate gift bag is great for gifting and easing yourself into the serious and intense flavors offered. The bag itself seems to be themed around hazelnuts with exception of the Rum and Chestnut ‘Cuneesi’ Pralines – which utilize chestnut cream and Agrimontana chestnuts liquor instead.

Amedei Chocolates in NYC

My favorite was the Amedei Toscano Red Chocolate Bar, which features a minimum of 70% cocoa content, and dried red fruit (strawberry, cherry, and raspberry). I always love the marriage of tart and sweet, and while the dark chocolate here isn’t exacting teeming with sugar, it’s still beautifully done.

Amedei Toscano Red

After doing my little bit of googling research into the brands sold at the Cocoa Store, I really feel much more enthusiastic about this little shop. You’d be hardpressed to find brands like Amedei elsewhere and I only know of one other place – 2beans – that carries Domori. In terms of access, the Cocoa Store is part of what makes the city so great – that we have the ability to hop on the train or bus and are able to access luxury chocolates, possibly the greatest chocolates, quite easily.

Cocoa Store
15 E 18th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 982-8005

https://cocoastore.nyc/

10 Books to Look Forward to This Year!

10 Books to Read this Year | read more at nyctalon.com

Far off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise! We’re well into the first month of 2017, and you might be looking to escape into a new book. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. These new releases, or continuing series, will be sure to get you on your reading game. Fair warning, most of these are YA, as is my preference. For other genres, follow me on Goodreads for some other exciting reads!

The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser – January 3rd

The Book Jumper

This fantastical YA fiction story features Amy Lennox who, after moving to Scotland with her mom to stay at the family’s home on Stormsay Island, finds out she is a book jumper. Able to leap into a story and interact with it, Amy’s powers are as dangerous as they are thrilling. When someone starts stealing from the books that Amy visits, she must team up with fellow book jumper Will in order to solve the mystery of the thefts. Available now!

Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book by Jennifer Donnelly – January 31st

When I found out one of my favorite authors, Jennifer Donnelly, was writing this book I was so excited. Then when I saw the cover – well, just look at it! It’s gorgeous. You all know that we loved the Beast not for his baroque-style castle, but for his envy-inducing library. Talk about happily ever after. Here’s that cover:

Beauty and the Beast Lost in a Book

An original addition to the beloved Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, Lost in a Book follows the lonely, bookish Belle as she finds an enchanted book in the Beast’s library called Nevermore that carries her into a glittering new world. There, Belle is befriended by a mysterious countess who offers her the life she’s always dreamed of.

But Nevermore is not what it seems, and the more time Belle spends there, the harder it is to leave. Good stories take hold of us and never let us go, and once Belle becomes lost in this book, she may never find her way out again.

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones – February 7th

Wintersong

Liesl is the innkeeper’s daughter, the secret composer, the girl with magic in her soul. She abandoned fantastic tales of the Goblin King long ago in favor of taking care of her family and helping her brother in his musical studies. But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. I give this book a solid rating – see my review here.

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey – February 14th

Miranda and Caliban

Miranda and Caliban is bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey’s exciting retelling of The Tempest. Carey explores the themes of twisted love and unchecked power that lie at the heart of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, while serving up a fresh take on the play’s iconic characters.

Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jensen – March 7th

They say that Château Beaumont is cursed, but servant-girl Lucie doesn’t believe it—how could anyone as handsome as Jean-Loup Christian Henri LeNoir, Chevalier de Beaumont and master of the estate, be cursed? She cannot imagine the monster that lurks behind his handsome façade, and after the chevalier reveals his brutal cruelty, Lucie clings to the hope of revenge. She wishes to see Jean-Loup suffer, and a wise woman grants her wish, turning Jean-Loup into a hideous beast and Lucie into a candlestick, sleek and silver and impervious to harm. For months, Lucie casts her enchanted light on Beast and illuminates his grotesqueness…until the night an intruder shows up on their doorstep and changes everything. Filled with magic and fierce emotion, Lisa Jensen’s imaginative retelling transforms a classic into a lyrically written, psychologically complex exploration of good, evil, innocence, and truth that defies expectations.

This story offers a unique twist on the classic Beauty and the Beast story, keep an eye out for reviews!

Hunted by Meagan Spooner – March 17th

Hunted

Beauty and the Beast retellings always have a special place in my heart (see my Uprooted review here), and this year is especially friendly for this type of tale in light of Disney’s much anticipated live-action film. Check out what Goodreads has to say about this promising book:

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas – May 2nd

A Court of Wings and Ruin

This NA (that’s New Adult, for you young’uns) series has captured the hearts of Maas fans everywhere. The third installment of this riveting series picks up with Feyre back in the spring court with Tamlin, and the entire world on the brink of war. Expect to feel all of the feels. All. Of. Them. Also expect to wish for a time machine (a little blue box, perhaps?) that will bring you closer to the release date of this book, because May 2nd is too far away.

The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye – May 16th

The Crown's Fate

If you liked the first installment of this series, The Crown’s Game, then you’re bound to love the second. If not, now’s the time to dive into this historical fantasy. Pick up on May 16th, or pre-order here.

Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson – May 30th

Dark Breaks the Dawn

A princess, magic, a corrupt king, romance, the battle between light and dark. What are you waiting for? Oh yeah, that May 30th release date. Preorder here.

Sparks of Life by Janet B. Taylor – August 1st

Sparks of Life

For the first time in her life, Hope Walton has friends . . . and a (maybe) boyfriend. She’s a Viator, a member of a long line of time-traveling ancestors. When the Viators learn of a plan to steal a dangerous device from the inventor Nikola Tesla, only a race into the past can save the natural timeline from utter destruction. Navigating the glitterati of The Gilded Age in 1895 New York City, Hope and her crew will discover that high society can be as deadly as it is beautiful.

The second addition to this exciting time-traveling series is sure to be a hit! Pre-order here.

What books are you reading this year? Leave your comments (and recommendations!) below.

The Sweetest Treat from the Heart of Brussels: Planète Chocolat

I can’t believe it’s almost the end of the year! 2016 has been a crazy ride to say the least, so it’s only fitting that we end it on a sweet note. Every year my family has a fun little New Year’s Eve party where we screen Poseidon (the Kurt Russel one) and King Kong (the Jack Black one) and go all out on hors d’oeuvres and sweets. There is nothing so magical as ringing in the new year with decadent chocolates and sparkling bubbly on the tongue. This year will be extra special as we’ll be adding Planète Chocolat chocolates – straight from Brussels – into the mix.

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Planète Chocolat is one of the few artisan chocolateries to be found in the heart of Brussels. Made from 100% pure cocoa butter, without artificial flavors, or genetically modified foods, Planète Chocolat is dedicated to creating delicious chocolates that just as much a treat for the eyes as for the palate.

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Although Planète Chocolat is not in NYC, and couldn’t be a part of our NYC Chocolate Project, they do offer 24-hour express delivery via DHL. So if you’re looking for a super last minute gift, or some excellent chocolates to share with family and friends at your New Year’s Eve party, Planète Chocolat have got you covered.

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Planète Chocolat were kind enough to send me a box of one of their Christmas collections. There are about 18 different kinds of chocolates included in the Christmas Box of Chocolates: Orange Ganache, Caramel Chocolate, Praline & Honey, Amands Au Café, Praline Citron, Ganache Truffle, Noix de Muscade (nutmeg), Belgian Cookie (speculoos), Cocoa Ganache, Coffee, Cinnamon, Honey & Chestnuts, Pralines Honey, Praline, Praline Coffee, Praline Rice, Pralines Coconut, and Pralines Mint.

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The chocolates themselves are all very good, my favorite being the Cocoa Ganache which is much more intense then the Praline – which will be a hit with Nutella lovers – another favorite of mine. This chocolate is perfect for gifting or keeping on hand, you simply can’t go wrong with this crowd-pleasing collection.

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To find out more about Planète Chocolat and their amazing shipping times click here – and definitely take a peek at the Christmas Box of Chocolates for your holiday entertaining!

#StayPeculiar – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children out on DVD & Blu-ray! {GIVEAWAY}

For my entire life I have abhorred carrot cake. I’ve always had weird taste buds, I liked grapefruit juice when I was a toddler (that horrid, bitter stuff that I can’t even touch now), adored salty pickles and olives since childhood, and have always shown a preference for extremely tart sweets. But carrot cake, carrot cake was my sworn enemy after someone gave me a piece at a birthday party when I was a kid. There I was, prepared for birthday cake when I ended up with some vegetable infused, nutty, monstrosity. Traumatizing. Then last year I was desperate for something sweet and somehow ended up with a slice of carrot cake. Now, in a, let’s say peculiar twist of fate, I am totally obsessed with it.

While I used to hate carrot cake like some kids hate brussel sprouts and spinach (which I’ve always loved, as if I wasn’t a weird enough child), I am a devoted hard core fan. Line up your carrot cakes because at this point I’ve eaten so much carrot cake that I can tell what nuts you used, what frostings you frosted with, and the quality of your carrot shredding skills. My immediate thought when I saw that scene in Miss Peregrine’s, when I saw Fiona grow that massive carrot was “omg! They could make so much carrot cake out of that!”. My sister, who was with me at the theater and is also a massive carrot cake fan, leaned over and whispered “carrot cake”. Ah, great minds.

As you’ve probably guessed by the title of this post, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is now out on DVD and Blu-ray and digital – basically available for purchase in the medium of your choosing! I am obsessed with this movie and am currently almost done with the first book. I love this story, and the Peculiar children, and Jake, and Emma, and am determined to figure out how to copy Eva Green’s makeup for Miss Peregrine! Haha! The movie was so much fun, when I saw the trailer I knew I was going to break my rule about reading the book before seeing the movie. It’s one of those films that you just have to own.

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If you haven’t finished up your holiday shopping, I definitely recommend you pick this up for your favorite Peculiar! It would make a great stocking stuffer – you could even bundle it with the books and some movie theater candy and make it a gift bag or basket.

You can also enter to win the Blu-ray here! Just comment below with your peculiarity, and retweet this tweet to enter!

*Ends Friday, December 23rd. Giveaway is open to US only, 18+.*

Interview: Alice Through the Looking Glass Costume Designer Colleen Atwood

Earlier last month I joined Disney and famed designer Colleen Atwood for tea and a chance to talk about her work on Alice Through the Looking Glass, which has recently been released to DVD and Blu-Ray! I’ve been a fan of her work for a while, she has such an inspiring story and has designed for some of my most favorite movies including Edward Scissorhands, Little Women, Planet of the Apes (2001 movie), Big Fish, Memoirs of a Geisha, Into the Woods, The Huntsman movies, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and of course both of the Alice in Wonderland films.

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She’s so lovely in person, and I was so thrilled that I was able to, along with other bloggers and press, ask her a few questions.

Q: Are there any secret locations or places where you find inspiration?

Colleen Atwood: Well I find them everywhere, like fabric stores – sometimes I see a piece of fabric that’s great and I go “oh! That could be this!”. I get ideas from all over the place basically. There’s a great flea market in France, in Paris, that I go to in the north of Paris and it’s always great for inspiration for bits and pieces that are interesting. So many movies are made in London – this movie is made in London -and London has Portobello Road [flea market]. Which, sometimes I don’t really have a purpose in mind, I just get up early on Saturday morning and go there when it first opens, before it gets crowded and wander around and find like – he has a lot of weird buttons on his costume and most of those are sourced there and you know, old hat pins, just weird stuff people have in trays in front of their stalls and it’s fun to just discover things that way.

Q: Any favorite flea markets in New York?

CA: You know in New York I like the – and I meditated on going down there this morning – the one on 26th street, it’s like a garage you walk through and I love wandering around there. And there’s the emporium there that has some great stuff so I usually visit there. And there’s a great lingerie place there that’s beautiful, upstairs, it’s quite expensive but she has great stuff. There’s a few places, sort of warehouse wholesale, that I’ve gone to in Brooklyn but they’re not as accessible to people who are just walking around and shopping.

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Q: Time has a really distinct costume, what was your inspiration or thought process behind that?

CA: I wanted him to be, kind of feel like he was something to do with a clock without literally being a clock. And I also loved the sort of graphic aspect of the clock kind of towering over little Alice, luckily Sacha’s [Baron Cohen, who plays Time] already about 6’3”-6’4” so that helped that I didn’t get a short guy for the part. But I put him in really high platform boots for part of it, and then he has those long thin legs so we did long skinny legs and a poufy pant and the big shoulders to get him wider, sort of like a grandfather clock. And then we came up with an idea to get him even taller with using a tall hat on him like the bishop’s sort of medieval hat that he has, sort of like a Greek Orthodox style from way early in time. And in his fitting for that we had brown paper and we just kept putting it in different hat shapes and trying them on him and figuring out which one was the best for him and for Time, and we came up with that one and it was sort of maximum height. We had some that were taller but it was too much, it almost made him look shorter. In the movie you see on his hand he has a thing that has all these rings and stuff – that was a piece of metal mesh that I found in a flea market and then I found all these watches with convex lenses on them that stuck out so that they were like cabochon jewels, so we took those and made them into his hand piece to make it a sort of element of time. And the rest was all kinds of stuff, different materials. We had a long cape on him and then most of the time he wore the short cape because it made him look funnier with his skinny legs.

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Q: Movement is such a big part of this film, you chose to use very different textures in the fabric. Was that something that you just felt, touched it, and knew that this would be a great dynamic on the screen?

CA: I’ve done a lot of digital films at this point and know kind of what the camera sees, and especially when you go darker than a medium ground, it’s really important to have a texture and almost like a surface that has a little shine to it that kicks back some light. Otherwise all you get is sort of a black shape, you don’t really get much depth. So I’ve learned to paint into costumes, and add layers, add stuff to them to give it more dimension that way it’ll work in a lower light situation. So I use that trick a lot on this movie and I like texture, I think it tricks the camera in a way that’s interesting because sometimes you can’t even perceive what it is but it gives you a feeling that’s nice and a little bit more interesting than if you had just used a fabric as it comes off the peg.

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Q: Obviously designing for a sequel is going to be a lot different than the first time, what was your approach when you were revisited these characters and kind of built of the way that you already had designed for them?

CA: I felt like it was nice, I felt like I knew them. I knew who they were as people so I felt like I could have a little more play with them. I had a couple more opportunities because we had the flashback for the girls, where they were there kind of their teenaged selves, and then each of them had been on a journey. My constant was, other than her flashback, was Mirana – the Anne Hathaway character – her costume sort of remained the same. But Alice, when we left Alice she was going off to see the world and she came back as a very rare thing, a sea captain as a woman, so I had the opportunity to take the beautiful uniforms of the period and make one for her. Then we had to create her Chinese look from her Chinese journey, and then re-visit something that perhaps the Hatter had made for her in her final costume with the balloon pants and the kind of whimsical blouse made out of strips of fabric. So I kind of took each character and sort of felt like I could go free with them, it was sort of like a totally new movie for me as a designer but with the people that I knew from before.

Q: Is there one character from the movie that stands out as being the most enjoyable to design?

CA: Well, when you get a movie like this they’re all fun! Because they’re all such different things. I mean I love Helena’s costume and her take on the character is so much fun, and it was great to get to do her armor which I really loved doing with the thorn heart chest piece, and the military braid hoop and the sort of deconstructed military madness that the Red Queen would come up with. Mia’s clothes were great; I mean they were like a really beautiful journey. I got to use embroidery and all sorts of techniques that I hadn’t used before on the Alice prequel.

Listen to the entire interview here!

Alice Through the Looking Glass released to DVD and Blu-Ray on October 18th, if you don’t own it yet then it would make a great gift this holiday season! Alice Through the Looking Glass is a spectacular adventure featuring the unforgettable characters from Lewis Carroll’s beloved stories in which Alice returns to the whimsical world of Underland and travels back in time to save the Mad Hatter.

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Enter to win your own copy of Alice Through the Looking Glass right now – just leave me a comment about your favorite outfit in the movie, or if you haven’t seen it, is there anything you found interesting that Colleen revealed in her interview? Personally, I loved when she spoke about creating Time’s outfit – the amount of detail is really incredible! Leave an extra comment/entry if you RT this!

*Giveaway ends 11/23/16. US, 18+.

Straight from London: Artisan du Chocolat

I can’t believe the holidays are already here. I know it’s only October, but really, people have clearly brought out the pumpkins, pumpkin spice lattes, and are only a hop and a skip away from rocking around the Christmas tree. It’s thrilling, and if the weather would be a little more autumn and a little less winter I would be even more excited (no, but seriously, it’s been icy cold here in the city). If you haven’t already started thinking about the holidays, then now’s the time. My favorite gift to my mother last year was these amazing chocolates from Artisan Du Chocolat. Because the famed chocolatier is located across the pond in London, naturally some gifts like this one will take a little more forethought and planning.

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The chocolates can take up to a couple of weeks to transport, I ordered early in December last year and sat the box on a cold windowsill until Christmas morning – they arrived with plenty of time to spare. I’m not sure if the excellent shipping was because I live in NYC, so I would definitely advise giving yourself a week leeway if you live on the West Coast or in the mid-west or basically anywhere else that’s not the East Coast.

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These photos are from last years’ haul, but Artisan du Chocolat has whipped up some new and exciting offers for this year’s holiday season including an advent calendar for children and one for adults as well. The calendars are a great way to familiarize yourself with their chocolates – or you can pick up any of their assortments.

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Last years’ Holiday Beseen Assorted Tin was fantastic, featuring some of Artisan du Chocolat’s best chocolates – ganaches, salted caramels, chocolate pearls, coated nuts, etc. An assortment like this is perfect for holiday gifting, and also really great to keep around the house for holiday visitors.

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But what really makes Artisan du Chocolat worth the swoon-worthy shipping fees are, of course, their salted caramels. Or more specifically, their Original N°1 Salted Caramels. I first discovered them when I was at The London years ago at a press event where our parting gift from the team at Gordon’s restaurant there was a few of these salted caramels.

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These sea salted caramels where originally created for Gordon Ramsay’s menu at Claridge’s in 2002 or 2003. I’m not shocked that Chef Ramsay placed them on his menu as they really are a special treat. Unlike most salted caramels, this chocolate solidly encases a surprise of liquid sea salted caramel. Artisan du Chocolat uses pure untreated grey salt which is “harvested by hand from clay marshes, holds a wealth of minerals and trace elements that enrich its taste.” Sounds good, doesn’t it?

I’m a massive fan of passion fruit desserts, anything tart or even citrusy appeals to my sweet tooth. If you’re like me and like a little tart to cut through your sweet, the Passion Fruit Sea Salted Caramels are right up your alley. These chocolates are delightfully intense.

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Artisan du Chocolat chocolates are all prettily packaged, if the conversion rate was friendlier I would definitely buy them as gifts for all my friends and clients. For now I’ll make a holiday tradition out of ordering these for the woman that brought me into this world (and myself!).

More details on Artisan Du Chocolat, and to order them, click here.

How Bootler is Simplifying Online Food Delivery

bootler-chicago*This post is sponsored by bootler, all opinions presented are my own.*

The hottest question in my house is “What is for dinner?” And on Friday nights, it also happens to be the main source of contention. Of course we’re ordering out, but what are the delivery fees? How quickly (or slowly) will the food arrive? And are we sure that we’re getting the best price from all our delivery service options? If you live in Chicago, then Bootler has got you covered. And luckily for me, they’re headed to New York soon too!

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If you don’t know, Bootler is an online aggregation service for food delivery. Bootler works with 6 different food delivery services to allow customers to pick restaurants, compare prices and availability, and ultimately save both time and money. As someone who occasionally feels overwhelmed by all the delivery options out there, this is music to my ears.

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Check out their quick vid for more info:

Bootler is simple, you just enter your address and select what type of food you’re craving from the restaurants available to your location. They recently launched their mobile app in September and are growing exponentially – did I mention we can expect them in New York City soon? I’m so excited! They’re also headed to more major cities too! Of course this means while you Chicagoan’s are currently enjoying some Epic Burger Delivery, soon I’ll be searching on Bootler for my own epic burger too.

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With 100,000 visitors per month, and 2,000 people ordering via Bootler daily, I cannot wait to take advantage of Bootler’s service. You can also order alcohol from Bootler in Chicago from a delivery service called “Saucey” – so we know where you’ll be getting your New Year’s beverages from!

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The ordering process is wonderfully simple – you search and pick where you would like to order from, you create your custom order, then you can compare the different delivery services’ and select which one to place your order with. Ta-dah! Pizza (and champagne from Saucery, if you’re over 21) just in time for Friday movie night!

Find out more and sign up with Bootler here.

Rethink Sweet with Buddy Valastro & Whole Earth Sweetener Co.

Buddy Valastro has recently partnered with Whole Earth Sweetener Co. in a campaign to Rethink Sweet, featuring new and exciting ways to make tasty treats using Whole Earth’s line of sweetener – and if the Cake Boss says it’s good then you know it’s good! Whole Earth Sweetener Co. offers a line of lower calorie, non-GMO sweeteners that have 50% fewer calories per serving than their traditional counterparts. Fortunately for me, I was able to see the sweetener put to the test firsthand when I was invited out to the Lackawanna Cake Factory & Filming Studio out in Hoboken a few weeks ago. I don’t often find myself in that neck of the woods, but I don’t think twice about crossing state lines when cake is involved.

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First off, the inside of the factory/filming studio smells insane! Like butter and sugar and everything good and lovely to eat. If you don’t know (I didn’t!) the factory is where all of the Cake Boss cakes are made. This means not just the wedding cakes, but the store-bought Cake Boss cakes that you see at other bakeries and places like BJ’s. Basically they bake up all the pieces of the cakes and pastries and send them off to be assembled closer to the location of where you would buy them.

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We were given a tour of much of the factory, which was super exciting. There were giant mixers, a room where we saw employees rolling out innumerable pastries, and so much more – but my favorite had to be the decorating room.

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I actually tried my hand at cake decorating a few years ago and it is hard work, and I for one do not have the knack for it. While I’ve resigned myself to the life of a mere cake-eater, I have such an appreciation for the decorating team at Lackawanna Cake Factory –  if you’ve seen the show, or have been on their website, then you know that their work is beautiful.

Buddy also stopped by to tell us a little about why his partnership with Whole Earth Sweetener Co. –

“As a fourth-generation baker, quality and taste are a top priority, and Whole Earth Sweetener Co. uses ingredients sourced from nature, like stevia and monk fruit, which are crafted and manufactured into a great tasting line of lower calorie sweeteners that you can’t find anywhere else. Not only do Whole Earth Sweetener Co. products taste great, they also let you indulge in the sweet foods you crave and love, but with fewer calories.” – Buddy Valastro, Cake Boss

He also spoke about working with Whole Earth’s Sweetener and how he went through a testing process of using the sweetener and altering some recipes to accommodate any changes in the final product. He really stressed how that was most important to him – that what you bake tastes good, which is why he really loves Whole Earth’s sweeteners because it is a lower calorie sweetener that was still an excellent tool for him as a baker to make great treats.

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After having a couple of slices (yes, it was that good and I have no control over what happens when me and cake are in a room together) of cake made with the sweetener, I was completely sold! We also decorated these cute gingerbread men that were also made with Whole Earth Sweetener Co. – I put my, albeit limited, decorating skills to the test and created this little gingerbread man who is clearly ready for colder weather.

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Whole Earth Sweetener Co.’s range of products feature a Baking Blend, Turbinado Raw Cane 50, Whole Earth Sweetener Honey 50 and Whole Earth Sweetener Agave 50 – which are now available in 45 states from more than 60 select retailers as well as on amazon.com. To find out more about Whole Earth Sweetner Co. click here.

A Better Snack: Olives From Spain

This post is sponsored by Olives From Spain

Every year, Spain’s top wineries get together to celebrate their latest and greatest offerings with both wine novices, connoisseurs, and industry professionals. Hosted by the Trade Commission of Spain, Spain’s Great Match was packed this year. Thanks to Olives From Spain, I was able to attend and not only get a peek at popular vinters, but also dine on the country’s other favorite – olives!

Olives From Spain at Spain's Great Match, read more at nyctalon.comOlives From Spain at Spain's Great Match, read more at nyctalon.com 

I’m actually a hardcore olive eater – if you’ve been following me on twitter or Instagram you might know this already. Not only do they rate as one of my favorite snacks, but they are a strict requirement for my cheese plates. I mean, really, a cheese plate is not a cheese plate unless there’s a decent Manzanilla olive somewhere on it. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually know too much about olives, aside from my preference for the Spanish Olives mix at the grocery store. Luckily, the Olives From Spain team was on hand to school me on some interesting facts:

 Olives From Spain at Spain's Great Match, read more at nyctalon.com

Did you know that most olives are used solely for oil extraction? I had no idea! And while the time it takes for every olive to go through the process required to get them ready for eating may vary, only a select few are deemed suitable for consumption. I love that – it makes my snacking olives feel that much more special. Speaking of special, the olives served at Spain’s Great Match by Olives From Spain were something extra – just look at these Olives with Marcona Almonds (another Spanish specialty), diced piquillos, and Carables cheese. So, so good.

 Olives From Spain at Spain's Great Match, read more at nyctalon.com

But my favorite was the Queen Olives stuffed with goat cheese, and served with a slice of apple, honey, and extra virgin olive oil. Queen Olives are named for their size, which the Olives From Spain folks informed me correlates to their price. The larger the olive, the more expensive it is. I’m familiar with stuffed olives – I’ve had them with piquillos, lemon, and almonds, but up until this event, I’ve never had them with goat cheese. I expected the cheese to come across as sharp and bitter, but the combination of the olive with the cheese, apple, and honey struck such an ideal balance that I had to restrain myself from snapping them all up and eating them myself.

 Olives From Spain at Spain's Great Match, read more at nyctalon.com

Spain’s olives not only deliver great flavor and make a great low calorie snacking food, they also pack in a surprising amount of iron and fiber! There are currently more than 300 million olive trees in Spain, so there’s plenty to go around (or at least enough for my snacking habits). Which is a good thing, seeing as how Spain produces about half of the 145,000 tons of olives we import every year. Suffice it to say, the US is a massive fan of Spanish olives.

 Olives From Spain at Spain's Great Match, read more at nyctalon.com

How do you enjoy your olives? Do you serve them as a table snack? Or do you use them in marinades, salads, or stews? Olives from Spain are so versatile, but if you’re looking for a creative way to serve some look no further than http://olivesfromspain.us/ for more recipes and to learn more about your favorite Spanish olives!

8 Books on Our Radar for Fall 2016

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The fall is an ideal time to catch up on your reading list and there are so many amazing books coming out these next few months, chances are I will probably post a second fall book list. For now, here are the books that you definitely will want to add to your shelves asap!

Damn Delicious – 100 Super Easy, Super Fast Recipes by Chungah Rhee

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As a hardcore Damn Delicious fan, I have to say I am beyond thrilled that Chungah – the brains behind one of the internet’s most popular food blogs, Damn Delicious – is releasing a book. With her signature mouth-watering photos, the Damn Delicious inaugural cookbook features 240 pages of exclusive new recipes, as well as some of Chungah’s most beloved dishes. Releases on September 6th, pre-order here.

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life by John le Carre

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The Little Drummer Girl was my first ever le Carre and I’m still obsessed with it. In The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, John le Carre gives readers a glimpse into his life – from serving in British Intelligence during the Cold War to meeting with two former heads of the KGB. This first memoir from the noted author is sure to be a thrilling read. Release date: September 6th, pre-order here.

Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking

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My Breads Bakery obsession has already been well documented here, just look at those pictures and tell me that this cookbook isn’t worth its weight in Nutella babka:

“Israeli baking encompasses the influences of so many regions—Morocco, Yemen, Germany, and Georgia, to name a few—and master baker Uri Scheft seamlessly marries all of these in his incredible baked goods at his Breads Bakery in New York City and Lehamim Bakery in Tel Aviv. Nutella-filled babkas, potato and shakshuka focaccia, and chocolate rugelach are pulled out of the ovens several times an hour for waiting crowds. In Breaking Breads, Scheft takes the combined influences of his Scandinavian heritage, his European pastry training, and his Israeli and New York City homes to provide sweet and savory baking recipes that cover European, Israeli, and Middle Eastern favorites. Scheft sheds new light on classics like challah, babka, and ciabatta—and provides his creative twists on them as well, showing how bakers can do the same at home—and introduces his take on Middle Eastern daily breads like kubaneh and jachnun. The instructions are detailed and the photos explanatory so that anyone can make Scheft’s Poppy Seed Hamantaschen, Cheese Bourekas, and Jerusalem Bagels, among other recipes. With several key dough recipes and hundreds of Israeli-, Middle Eastern–, Eastern European–, Scandinavian-, and Mediterranean-influenced recipes, this is truly a global baking bible.”

Breaking Breads is available for purchase on October 18th, pre-order it here.

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

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Bestselling author of the Shatter Me series, Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore promises to be an equally enthralling read. Futhermore tells the tale of Alexis Queensmeadow, a 12-year-old who must travel through the mythical and dangerous world of Furthermore where “down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong” all to save her father and bring him back to their home in Ferenwood. To be fair, this book released on August 30th, so not technically a fall release, but close enough. Pick it up here.

Gilt Hollow by Lorie Langdon

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Lorie Langdon must be a writing machine! Her and Carey Corp’s much-anticipated conclusion to the Doon Series just released this summer and she’s already back with a pivotal YA book just in time for the fall. Gilt Hollow follows Willow Lamott whose best friend Ashton is a murderer, and who also happens to be freshly out of juvie and headed back to the small town of Gilt Hollow. Will Ashton’s desire to clear his name and become the man that Willow sees him destroy everyone he loves? If small town drama, mystery, and suspense is your thing – then you’ll love this book. Pre-order ahead of the September 27th release date here.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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The second addition to the Six of Crows series, Crooked Kingdom promises to be a dark continuation of an already dark and thrilling story. Readers of Six of Crows are dying to know what will happen to Kaz and the crew, if you haven’t read the first one – it’s been generally likened to a fantastic and dark YA version of Oceans 11, so if you’re into heists, planning, with a little mystery and a load of magic thrown in you will love this series. I definitely recommend getting them in hardcover, the book design is amazing and certainly deserves a spot on your shelf, releases on September 27th.

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

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The queen of YA herself, Stephenie Meyer is releasing a new novel. The Chemist, her first thriller but second adult novel, is about an ex-agent on the run from her former employers. She must take one last case to clear her name, of course this one last case will probably involve very deadly circumstances. Sounds very Jason Bourne, and very promising – we still have a while to wait yet, it’s expected to release on November 15th. Pre-order on amazon here.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartless-by-marissa-meyer

Author of the extremely popular Lunar Chronicles series (seriously, do these authors never sleep?), Marissa Meyer brings readers an exciting tale of none other than the Queen of Hearts. We know her as the terror of Wonderland. In Heartless Meyer brings us the girl before monster, Catherine, who wants to open a bakery with her best friend and fall in love on her own terms. But this is the Kingdom of Hearts and fate has other plans. Intrigued? So am I, pre-order this tale ahead of its November 8th release date here.

There are so many other amazing books to look out for – what are you reading this fall? Did you read anything amazing over the summer? Let me know!