Roadside America: PEZ Visitors’ Center, Orange, Connecticut

I have to congratulate the good people at PEZ for their excellent signage. I had no intention of spending any time or money on candy, but when we spotted signs for the PEZ Visitors’ Center in Orange, Connecticut, we thought it was worth a closer look. I was driving from New Haven to New York with my mother and baby daughter (neither of which is currently a big candy connoisseur, but we all loved it), and a few minutes from following the signs off I-95, we were in front of several giant packages of PEZ candy.

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For a few bucks each ($5 for adults, including $2 in store credit), we were soon immersed in all things PEZ. Invented in the 1920s in Austria, PEZ was originally intended as a smoking substitute and the first dispenser was created to look like a cigarette lighter, without the “head” now so integral to the PEZ experience. Introduced to the US market in the 1950s, the US factory has been located in Connecticut since 1974. The Visitors’ Center is a combination museum and store, with windows onto the factory floor, and filled with interactive exhibits and videos about the PEZ-making process and history.The real fun, of course, is selecting your own PEZ candy to take home. You can choose from dozens of favorite characters from Harry Potter to Winnie the Pooh, as well as visitor center exclusives, like a reproduction of the original dispensers. You can also design your own dispenser and select your favorite flavors (they now have chocolate PEZ but peppermint is a thing of the past) to fill it, provided you are partial to stickers and markers for personalizing. As a traveler, I would have liked to see more of the foreign PEZ containers to take home, but there is a large variety on display, and it just may inspire me to visit the world headquarters in Austria, or the dispenser factory in Hungary.

Get your sugar high at the PEZ Visitors’ Center and Factory in Orange, Connecticut.

[Photo credit: Meg Nesterov]

Opening A Box Of Japanese Cookies

Japanese
As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife recently came home from an astronomy meeting in Tokyo and brought back lots of Japanese snacks. One of them was this tempting box of cookies she got at a sweet shop next to the university.

My wife loves Japanese culture. She loves the orderliness and attention to detail, both important traits for a scientist despite media stereotypes, and she loves their exquisite sense of beauty. For some reason Japan has never drawn me. I prefer the ebullient chaos of Africa or the Middle East. I’m more Tangier than Tokyo.

Still, I won’t say no to a box of Japanese cookies, especially when they come so nicely packaged.Japanese
The Japanese like putting things into neat, decorated little packages. Once we broke the seal on this box and opened it, we found it sealed on the inside too.

When we opened that up we saw six varieties of cookies awaiting us. All neatly arranged, of course.

The white ones tasted like meringue and the green ones tasted like green tea. As for the four other flavors, well. . .I have no idea. My wife says she experienced lots of flavors she couldn’t identify during her week in Japan.

The cookies came with a handy leaflet explaining them all, but that was in Japanese!

Five Halloween treats for grown-ups

Halloween candyLike many former kids, I used to live for Halloween. Sure, the dressing up part was fun, but so was TP’ing the neighbor’s tree. What All Hallow’s Eve was really about were Pixy Stix, Fun Dip, mini Milky Way bars, and REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups (in my world, the latter still reigns supreme).

Still, things change. We grow up; most of us lose our appetite for eating the equivalent of eight cups of sugar in one sitting, we’re aware that those candy bars will go straight to our ass.

Still, I find something a little magical about Halloween: the brisk fall air, the aroma of woodsmoke and swirls of brightly colored leaves. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth anymore, but there are some sophisticated treats out there capable of conjuring my inner child (mercifully, minus the buck teeth and tattling habit).

Below, my favorite confections, regardless of season:

1. Jonboy Caramels
I love me a good caramel, and this micro-Seattle company does them right. I discovered Jonboy at my local farmers market; despite the feel-good ingredients and ethics, these are no half-assed candies peddled by dirty hippies (kidding; I’m a longtime market vendor myself). Made completely by hand with local cream and HFCS-free, these pretty treats come wrapped in unbleached parchment paper, and are sold in little (recycled cardboard) boxes. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and these are intensely rich flavor-bombs redolent of that good cream as well as more potent, sexy flavors.

The selection is small and includes fleur de sel caramel, molasses ginger, and my favorite, an intriguing absinthe with black salt. Inspired by the salted licorice found in Scandinavia, Jonboy’s version is made with local Pacifique absinthe and a blend of anise, fennel, and hyssop. They’re dark and mysterious, like a trick-or-treater you shouldn’t let in the door.

Jonboy Caramels are available throughout Seattle at farmers’ markets and specialty stores, and select Washington and Oregon Whole Foods. Five box minimum for online orders (you’ll be glad to have extra, believe me).Halloween candy2. sockerbit
This groovy New York shop in the West Village is dedicated to “Scandinavian candy culture.” The name translates as “sugar cube,” and is also one of their namesake treats (a strawberry marshmallow square). Just like Ikea, crazy names and diversity are part of sockerbit’s charm. All of the essential categories are here: chocolate; licorice; marshmallow (who can resist something called “Syrliga Skumshots,” which are bottle-shaped sour marshmallows?); sweet; sour, and hard and wrapped candies. All are available for order online, and free of artificial dyes, flavors, trans-fats, and other synthetic nastiness.

It’s hard to make a decision in this place, but if, like me, you’re a slave to anything gummy and chewy, (red Swedish Fish people, I’m talking to you), you’ll be very happy with the tempting selection of fruit jellies. Skogsbär, here’s looking at you.

3. Recchiuti Confections
Lucky me, I used to work next door to this revered San Francisco Ferry Building confectionary (I worked in a meat shop; they traded us for chocolate). Chocolatier Michael Recchiuti is a genius, but it’s his delicate, botanically-infused chocolates that bring a tear to my eye. Bonus: many use herbs sourced right outside the door at the Saturday farmers market. Think lemon verbena; star anise and pink peppercorn; rose caramel, and candied orange peel. Just as heavenly are Recchiuti’s exquisite pates de fruits, S’more’s Bites, and…just about everything else. Order them all online at your own risk.

4. Dutch licorice
Licorice is an acquired taste regardless, but the earthy, intense, salted Dutch stuff is another thing altogether. Made with real licorice root extract–no artificial flavors here–they’re bracing, spicy, herbaceous, and strangely addictive. Any bona-fide candy store worth it’s, um, salt, will stock at least one imported variety.

5. Salt & Straw ice cream in holiday flavors
Ice cream season is supposed to be over (isn’t it?) but this five-month-old Portland, Oregon shop begs to differ. Some examples of their delicious array of super-regionalized “farm-to-cone” flavors: Hooligan Brown Ale and Olympic Provisions bacon, Stumptown coffee with cocoa nibs, and pear with Rogue Creamery’s Crater Lake blue cheese.

New to Salt & Straw is their line-up of Thanksgiving and Holiday flavors, which includes bourbon pecan pie, made with Stone Barn’s Oregon Whiskey; eggnog with butter-rum caramel; blood orange cranberry; pumpkin cheesecake, and a sweet-and-savory brown bread stuffing studded with chestnuts, herbs, and dried apricots. Online orders are a minimum of five pints.

Understanding and Preventing Sugar Cravings

The Candy Man arrives at Ritz-Carlton Chicago, A Four Seasons Hotel

chicago hotelOne child’s dream is another parent’s nightmare.

The Candy Man has officially arrived at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago, A Four Seasons Hotel, and is bringing sweet treats to kids of all ages staying at the hotel.

Associated with Chicago local store, Candyality, the Candy Man arrives at guestrooms (on reservation only) to deliver $5 half-pound bags of all things sugary to hotel guests.

Children wanting to indulge (and adults who need a sugar fix, or a bribe for the kids) can mix and match from the Candy Man’s cart of gummy, chocolate, sour, crunchy and sweet candies. To keep things interesting, The Candy Man will reveal your personality traits based on what candy you choose (we suggest you mix it up and try to stump him).
Your comprehensive personality profile will determine whether you’re competitive (sugary), good listener (fluffy), negotiator (crunchy), creative (colorful), and more.

Opening in December of 2007, Candyality opened in hopes of being more than just a typical sweet shop. The store, located atThe Shops at North Bridge on the Magnificent Mile, is as much a destination as a candy store, thanks to employees who read tea leaves, tarot cards or zodiac charts. Of course, there’s no scientific research in the reading of sugary personalities, but what do you care? You’re walking out of there with a bag of candy sure to keep you on a sugar high for the rest of the day.

Chocolate thief to lose hands in Iran

Can you call it “sweet revenge?” Probably not …

A man convicted of robbing a candy store has been sentenced to have his hands chopped off. As if that isn’t enough to keep him from stealing, he’s also going to do a year in prison. The guy was arrested back in May, when the police found “$900 (£560), three pairs of gloves and a large amount of chocolate in his car,” the BBC reports.

So, if you find your way to Iran, bring a full wallet – or exercise some restraint. The BBC adds that amputation is usually only used in the cases of habitual thieves, but I don’t know that I’d roll the dice. If you want a candy bar, just buy it. Then, you’ll have the hands you need to eat it.

[from hapal via Flickr]