Heart of Dark Chocolate: Escazu Chocolates


Photos by Escazu Artisan Chocolates

It all started with the Facebook post “Come in for a refreshing Coconut Limeade!!”

Nothing calls to my heart like a piece of dark chocolate. Stricken with lactose-intolerance, I’ve turned to this rich delicacy as my after-dinner standby. A dark chocolate connoisseur, I have left milk chocolates for the weak and pursued the dark jungles of the 70% plus crowd.

Escazu Artisan Chocolates in Raleigh, NC offer handmade, single source chocolate bars and truffles. These chocolates are serious, so the faint of heart need not try them. These food crafters roast their own cocoa beans, grind them, temper and mold the chocolate into eatable jewels. I’ve included a few beautiful photos in this post from Escazu’s Facebook album. Each photo is truly a feast for the eyes.

Photo by Escazu Artisan Chocolates

So, back to that Facebook post. Lounging on the couch, fighting off some damn head cold that kept me from attending SparkCon 2010 (BOO!) I see a glimmer of hope pop-up in my Facebook feed. “Come in for a refreshing Coconut Limeade!!” Escazu beckoned.

The allure of a vitamin C packed punch of sugar, lime and coconut sounded like perfect fuel for my gritty throat and bored body. A little outing would help me get over my sickness…right? It’s hard to keep a wandered down on a beautiful fall weekend. And to top it all off, Brian had already wandered to Escazu’s store without me, damn him.

After a quick drive, we arrived at their cheery store front. Once the door opened I was engulfed in the smell of deep chocolate. Dark, complex and spicy, the room smelled like tradition. The jewels were laid out inside a simple case, waiting for the hmmm and ummms of indecisive moments giving way to greedy conclusions.

Photo by Escazu Artisan Chocolates

I was very pleased to see that Escazu has added “Dairy Free” markers to many of their chocolates. A verifiable kid in a candy store, I limited myself to a homemade chocolate-covered marshmallow, plus a chili and a mango truffle to go with my Coconut Limeade. I was a recovering sick-y after all.

All were delicious. The chili truffle packed a surprising spice on the very end, leaving you with a lingering heat on your lips. The mango was sweet and light. The homemade marshmallow was fluffy and divine. The Coconut Limeade is my new favorite drink – such a great combination and an excellent recovery beverage.

More than great product, Escazu is a great local business. They are responsive and gracious on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’ve traded tweets and wall posts with them for a long time, praising their use of social media and asking questions about their product.

It feels good to support people who are pursuing their passion. That is another reason why I love the South, it’s studded with people who are making life work for them. They are working hard to make their passions their livelihoods.

Distance from Raleigh: 0 miles, it’s in Raleigh – Get the map

Wander Well Tips:

  • Perfection comes at a price, each truffle costs about $2
  • Great place for a first date or an impressive business coffee – they serve espresso, hot cocoa and cold drinks to compliment the chocolates
  • Great place to buy gifts, they have cute home wares and fancy boxes to make the favorite people in your life swoon
  • Get a little bit of the south delivered to your doorstep through Escazu’s online store

Posted in North Carolina, Raleigh | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Southern Snapshot: Maple in the Rain

At BugFest, there was a quick rain shower. We hung out under a beautiful old maple until it passed. It never ceases to amaze me how all those little leaves can create such a complete canopy.





Posted in North Carolina, Southern Snapsnot | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Gettin’ Down with the Insects: BugFest 2010

IMG_2055Calling all lovers of 6-legged freaks, it’s BugFest at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

I have a love for insects. I love to learn about them and see them behind glass, but I scream like a little girl when they flutter in my face. I capture home-invading spiders and cockroaches to put them back outside instead of ending their lives. But I’m also ramping up my mind and stomach to eat bugs at the 2011 Cafe Insecta at BugFest. It’s an odd love affair, but as most bugs are very odd, I feel like I’m in good company.

Bug Fest is an annual event held on the plaza and streets surrounding the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, NC. This event boasts loads of hands-on activities for children and brave adults.There are booths scattered inside and outside the museum. There was so much to see we didn’t even make it inside to see everything. Event admission and entrance to the museum was free – donations are always appreciated.

One of the star attractions is Cafe Insecta, where visitors can sample dishes featuring 6-legged delicacies. I didn’t realize you could actually eat bugs and I really wasn’t ramped up to try it that day – 2011, baby, 2011.

IMG_2081The highlighted bug this year was the humble honeybee. Jones Street was like a wild west main street with dueling beekeeping societies. All along the street there were Apis mellifera loving clans hawking honey, wax products and bee displays. One society demonstrated a lady with a bee beard. The secret is a queen in a small box strapped to the woman’s throat and a zen calm.

There was even one booth were you could hold a baby bee that had just emerged from its pupa that couldn’t fly or sting yet. It was fascinating to hold and see a bee up close. I love their furry thorax. The baby bees were a little clumsy which just added to its cuteness. I couldn’t help but think of the origins of the “Baby Bumblebee” song.

IMG_2080I’ve mentioned on this blog that the bugs grow big in NC and wow, this event didn’t disappoint. One of the best things I saw was a great big caterpillar called the hickory horned devil or the regal moth(Citheronia regalis). It was amazingly beautiful. They live high in the trees in North Carolina, I hope I get to see on in the wild.  We also saw hornworms, assassin beetles, hissing cockroaches, and many more fascinating creatures.

The best thing about this event was the excitement for science. Everyone loved answering questions about their bugs. It was a great afternoon of soaking up more fun facts and learning more about the wonderful world around us.

If you are in town for the 2011 BugFest, you will not be disappointed. It’s a fun, affordable, family adventure well worth the wander.IMG_2049

Distance from Raleigh: 0 miles it’s in downtown Raleigh – See the map

Photo Gallery: BugFest

Wander Well Tips:

  • Prepare your belly for bugs. Cafe Insecta offers insect dishes from local chefs
  • Prepare to squirm there are lots of great bugs to look at and hold
  • Watch where you step, imagine the Class Insecta uproar if you squished a friend
  • Give yourself lots of time, this event could easily take three to four hours to experience everything inside and outside the museum.

Posted in Events, North Carolina, Raleigh | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Day Trip: Muscadine, BBQ and a River Wander

I get a bug in me for dirt. It’s a bug to connect with the land, see some people who work a lot harder than I do, and feel what our country is really all about. I want to see tractors, feel the grace of the hot sun on my neck and shake the calloused hands that work the earth.

I have daydreams of owning a working farm. I know I don’t have the grit or know-how to make it successful, but I fantasize about herding goats, tilling planting rows and canning the bounty of the season. The allure of waking up to be part of a living cycle rather than signing into a computer sounds wonderfully real and honest.

IMG_1998To get my fix I plotted a day trip through Alamance County, NC to seek out farm animals, road-side farm stands and rural life. For a wider scope of all the offerings in Alamance County check out this Google Map I created from the information on the NC Farm Fresh website. See all the photos from our trip.

Our Day Trip (click on the locations below to read more):

Posted in North Carolina | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

River Wander: Saxapahaw & Haw River

Okay, so I know that wander literally means to “walk or move in a leisurely, casual, or aimless way” but I really don’t like the walking part.

Hiking is just not my thing. Growing up in the mountains of Colorado I hiked a lot. Loaded down with a pack and hiking boots, I’ve done day trips and week-long backpacking explorations. It is great to get away from civilization for a bit, but it’s the walk back that’s killer.

IMG_1983Wanting to give nature a second go, I planned an afternoon hike along the Haw River in Saxapahaw, NC. I know I like water so the river expedition would be fun, and walking at near sea-level has to be easier than hiking in the Rocky Mountains…right?

Saxapahaw has newer developments along the Haw River where they are converting an old rivermill into a cute community of housing and small businesses. They host Saturday afternoon farmers markets and a music series during the summer. This up and coming community is well worth the wander.

IMG_1992There is also an extensive network of land and paddle trails in the area. Conserved by the Haw River Trail Partnership, there are varying levels for every fitness level.

We wandered on the 3/4 of a mile River Loop that took off right beside the Saxapahaw Rivermill building. This level trail winds alongside the river before bending back through the woods to loop to it’s trail head. We just walked out the bend and back.

IMG_1986We got to amble over a tiny log bridge, see some turtles (super excited about seeing turtles in the wild for the first time) and came up on a gentleman and his dog camping by the river (which was a bit weird).

So, am I a converted hiker? Will you see lots of hiking wanders on this blog?

No. Sorry, I still don’t totally “get” hiking. I do love to do all other sorts of wandering, but walking to a destination is just not my forte. I had fun strolling and chatting with my family, but I’ll keep my cute hiking sneakers for beating the path to good food, culture, shopping and beach adventures.

Distance from Raleigh: 53 miles, round about an hour – Get the Route

Wander Well Tips:

  • Bring your hiking shoes – if you are into that sort of thing
  • Neat place to live if you want rural and upscale lofts
  • Check out the Saturday afternoon farmer’s market and music series in the summer

Posted in North Carolina | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Southern Snapshot: Krispy Kreme

IMG_1876It was the electric sex and promise of sugary goodness that lured me in. It was partially fueled by a fair amount of booze and too many doughnut click-through ads on the internet.

We drove by the Krispy Kreme location in Raleigh with the giant neon sign and had to go around the block to get a batch. It was worth it!

A southern fave that has blanketed the nation, Krispy Kremes started in Winston-Salem, NC. Thank goodness for the south!



Posted in North Carolina, Raleigh, Southern Snapsnot | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Chicken of a Different Q: Hursey’s Bar-B-Q

Amble up to the Burlington, NC area and you’ll find old fashioned bbq joints called Hursey’s Bar-B-Q. These family style locales are full of tasty meat and wholesome sides.

The sign proudly proclaimed the home of “broasted chicken” – which I had to Google. Wanting to taste this technique, we both ordered chicken and bbq plates full of meat, slaw, hushpuppies and fries

The chicken was delicious! I got dark meat which was juicy and fried crisp. The batter on the chicken was flavorful, but not thick. The pork was wonderfully moist and not too vinegary. Tasty, but simple. Brian liked the slaw because of its small cut, I say “meh.”

This was also the first place I tasted the NC-local fave Cheerwine. This bubbly, spicy, cherry concoction is now a fave. It’s sweet and wonderfully southern.

A wonderfully southern meal to be repeated for sure!

Distance from Raleigh: 59 miles or about an hour – Get the Route

Wander Well Tips:

  • Come hungry – portions are hearty
  • Order it with Cheerwine – you won’t be sad
  • There are more locations – Elon, Burlington and Graham

Posted in North Carolina | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Southern Snapshot: Mouse Door

This is the mouse door outside Artspace – hey mice have to get artsy too!

Posted in North Carolina, Southern Snapsnot | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Pick Your Own Adventure: Benjamin Vineyard and Winery

Musky, heady and distinctly southern. Once you know the smell of a muscadine grape it’s hard to forget.IMG_1925

Muscadine grapes are native to North Carolina, first discovered by European explorers to the region, they were first cultivated for commercial use after the prohibition. Here is a great article from Southern Living on the history of muscadine grapes and how to best to grow these funky fruits.

Our first sips of muscadine wine was at Benjamin Vineyard and Winery in Saxapahaw, NC. This small vineyard offers pick-your-own grapes in harvest season, as well as wine tastings and special events.

Our first wander was through the vineyards to see the fruit on the vine. The bunches of grapes are small, less than a dozen fruits per bunch. They grow just like any other grape on lush vines that reach out for a stronghold.

IMG_1907Muscadines are interesting to eat. Their eatable hulls are tough to the tooth, but palatable. The fruit inside is juicy and pulpy with large seeds. It is an acquired taste for sure. It’s very similar to muscat grapes, if that helps at all.

After family photos and lots of wandering around the vineyard, we settled up for some wine tasting. It’s only $3 a person to try as many wines as you want and for $5 you can keep the souvenir glass and taste to your heart’s content.

We tried a nice flight of wines including:

  • ’08 Chambourcin – fruity, red very drinkable
  • Carlos – very drinkable, has the distinct muscadine taste with a clean finish
  • Hunt – sweet, a little over powering finish
  • Blackberry Bramble – very sweet, would be great to reduce for a dessert syrup

IMG_1954We went home with a bottle of Carlos and the Cabernet Sauvignon, which were both wonderfully affordable and delish! You can order all their wines online to get a little bit of the south delivered to your doorstep.

Picturesque, affordable and fun, Benjamin Vineyard and Winery is a delightful wander.

Distance from Raleigh – 52 miles or about a hour – Get the Route

Wander Well Tips:

  • Swing by in the harvest season, September through mid-October, and pick-your-own grapes for $1.25 a pound
  • Bring a designated driver and sip wine for just $3 a person
  • Bring your camera, vineyards offer beautiful backdrops for the beautiful people in your life
Posted in North Carolina | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Afternoon Culture: Artspace

Honestly, Artspace is one of my favorite things about Raleigh. It is a cross-section of what makes the south unique and beautiful.

According to its website “Artspace is a non-profit visual art center dedicated to presenting quality exhibitions and educational programs within an open studio environment.” In essence, it’s a working gallery space where individual arts can work and sell art. Think shopping for a wide-range of local art in one dynamic and welcoming space.

But don’t feel like it’s all about acquiring your next masterpiece. There are three rotating gallery spaces plus pieces showcased throughout the building. Every time you wander through Artspace, you’ll see something new.

What I like most about Artspace is that it oozes creativity. You can feel the artistic sweat in every brush stroke. These are people who are dedicated to their work and it feels good to be in that environment. You can chat up artists, asking them about their process, getting the back story on pieces and techniques.

I have not been able to explore their educational offerings, but I’m sure that each class is just as dynamic as the organization. Classes range from young artists to college-prep and adult dabbling.

My first Artspace purchase was a custom-made ring from metal artist Megan Clark. She designs fabulously affordable and organic metal jewelry. Her organic but machines style is wonderfully southern. I’m proud to wear and support a local artist.

Artspace is a cornerstone of the First Fridays art scene and has special events, like LoPop, throughout the season. Visitors can vote for their favorite piece of the evening while noshing on light fare and purchased wine.

There is always something to see at Artspace, which makes it a great wander in downtown Raleigh.

Distance from Raleigh: 0 miles, it’s in Raleigh – See it on a map

Wander Well Tips:

  • Give yourself about a hour to explore
  • Save your pennies – you’ll see lots of stuff you’d like to take home
  • Expect a wide range of artists in the studios and contemporary art in the galleries
  • Donate to keep the goodness going – $2 per person
Posted in North Carolina, Raleigh | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment