Where to Buy Cotton Candy Grapes 2016

Like, each and every year I once again have a listing of stores that are stocking Cotton Candy grapes this season. These are the places to look. Call ahead to see if they have any in stock. Whenever I discover any confirmed sighting, whether via facebook, instagram twitter, e-mail, the comment section below, I will update the list with the confirmed sightings. I hope everyone that wants to try them this year will be able to. The season runs from early August through early September (season is about 5 to 6 weeks long).

Before you go into the store be forewarned, they may not be there. Sometimes they sell out fast. Some stores may not be getting a consistent shipment. I think we have gotten use to going to the grocery store and always finding what we want. Rarely do you not find green seedless grapes when you are looking for them. But rarely do we go looking for a specific green seedless grape from a particular grower. We just want green seedless grapes. If you did try to find a particular grower, you would probably notice that they weren’t available each day. Maybe a green grape from a different grower arrived on Thursday than they had on Wednesday.

Where to Buy Cotton Candy Grapes 2016

From my experience working in retail produce, I can tell you that communication to the people that stock the produce isn’t always good. Often they are under pressure to come up with an answer for that customer based on what they know (or don’t know). Those answers may not always be accurate. Here are things you might hear or I have heard or read.

They told me there was a problem with their supplier

This does happen from time to time. Grapery’s grapes do have limited availability on particular varieties. It is a great way to get the customer’s wrath off of yourself. So until Grapery says the season is over, don’t give up.

“Said they were done for the season

When something was in stock and then suddenly disappears this is what people commonly believe. Especially with Cotton Candy grapes now that there are limited supplies coming from Mexico in the early summer. Some produce workers believe that the season was over with those. Grapery says they will last into early September.

Wonder how they got grapes to taste like Cotton Candy, check out my answer to the question “How Did They Make Grapes Taste Like Cotton Candy“.

Cotton Candy Grapes Up Close 2015

Here are the stores that Grapery supplies grapes to. They only know what type of store they go to, not specific stores. That is up to each store’s distribution center and buying teams. In some cases, the individual store has control over how much they get. Some buyers at the store level may order more or less than others. Always best to call ahead, especially before making a trip of any significant distance.

Store Listings by State

Alabama
Publix
Rouses
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club

Alaska
Charlie’s Produce (distributor)
Sam’s Club

Arizona
AJs
Sprouts
Sam’s Club

Arkansas
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club

California
Sweet Surrender (Bakersfield, CA – confirmed)
Sam’s Club
Sprouts (confirmed in Corona)
Raley’s
Nob Hill
Gelson’s
Whole Foods (confirmed in Los Angeles)
Sully’s (Bakersfield, CA)
Bel Air
Vons/Pavilion
Bristol Farms (confirmed in Manhattan Beach)

Colorado
King Soopers
Sprouts
Brush Grocery
Heinies Market
Sam’s Club

Connecticut
Fresh Direct
Nathel & Nathel (Distributor)
The Fresh Market
Whole Foods
Big Y
Stop & Stop

Delaware
TMK Produce (Distributor)
Harris Teeter
Sam’s Club

Florida
Publix
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club
Harris Teeter
Boy’s Farmer’s Market

Georgia
Sprouts
Publix
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club
Harris Teeter

Hawaii
Whole Foods Market
Don Quixote
Foodland Hawaii
Safeway
Sam’s Club
Times Supermarket

Idaho
Yokes Fresh Market
Pacific Coast Fruit Company
Sam’s Club

Illinois
Schnucks
The Fresh Market
Treasure Island Foods
Hy-Vee
Niemanns
Sam’s Club
Mariano’s
Jewel Food Stores

Indiana
Kroger
Caito (Distributor)
Schnucks
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club

Iowa
Hy-Vee
Niemanns
Schnucks
Sam’s Club
Hometown Foods
Big G Food
JW’s Foods, Inc.
Maynards Food Center
Super Saver

Kansas
The Fresh Market
Sprouts
Hy-Vee
Sam’s Club
Whites Foodliner
Apple Market
Hen House

Kentucky
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club

Louisiana
Rouses
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club

Maine
Sam’s Club
Hannaford Brothers

Maryland
Wegmans
The Fresh Market
Whole Foods
TMK Produce (Distributor)
Giant
Martin’s
Harris Teeter
Sam’s Club

Massachusetts
Wegmans
The Fresh Market
Whole Foods
Big Y
Stop & Shop
Roche Bros.
Idylwilde Farms
4M Distributing
Sam’s Club

Michigan
Whole Foods Market (confirmed in Ann Arbor, MI)
Kroger
Busch’s
Hutch’s Food Center
Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace
Rocky Produce (Distributor)
Papa Joe’s Gourmet Market
Holiday Market
Plum Market
Vince & Joe’s Market
Randazzo’s
Sam’s Club

Minnesota
Lunds/Byerlys
Hy-Vee
Target
Maynards Food Center
Lerbergs Foods
Festival Foods

Mississippi
Rouses
Sam’s Club

Missouri
Hy-Vee
Niemanns
Schnucks
Sam’s Club
Mac’s Super Saver
Apple Market
Dierbergs

Montana
Sam’s Club

Nebraska
Hy-Vee
Sam’s Club
Allens
Thriftway Market
Lincoln Street Market
Rightway Grocery
Fosters Family Foods
Grand Central Foods
Dukeman Family Foods
Plum Creek Market
Apple Market
Super Saver

Nevada
Sprouts
Raley’s
Sam’s Club

New Hampshire
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club

New Jersey
Wegmans
Fresh Direct
Baldor
The Fresh Market
Nathel & Nathel (Distributor)
TMK Produce (Distributor)
Stop & Stop
Sam’s Club

New Mexico
Sprouts
Sam’s Club

New York
Fresh Direct
Nathel & Nathel (Distributor)
Baldor
The Fresh Market
Wegmans
Whole Foods
Stop & Stop
Sam’s Club

North Carolina
Publix
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club
Harris Teeter

North Dakota
Sam’s Club

Ohio
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club
Giant Eagle

Oklahoma
Sprouts
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club
Crest Foods
Country Mart
Apple Market
J B’s Market

Oregon
Roth’s Fresh Markets
Pacific Coast Fruit Company
QFC
Charlie’s Produce (Distributor)
Spokane Produce (Distributor)

Pennsylvania
The Fresh Market
Wegmans
Fresh Direct
Sam’s Club
TMK Produce (Distributor)
Giant
Martin’s
Giant Eagle
Altamonte’s Italian Market
Iovine Brothers

Rhode Island
Stop & Stop
Sam’s Club

South Carolina
The Fresh Market
Publix
Sam’s Club
Harris Teeter

South Dakota
Hy-Vee
County Fair Foods
Sunshine Foods
Jones Food Center
Maynards Food Center
Doug’s Food Center
Hartmans Family Food
Al’s Oasis
Menno Food Market
Sam’s Club

Tennessee
The Fresh Market
Publix
Sam’s Club

Texas
The Fresh Market
Sam’s Club
Whole Foods
Green & Fresh
HEB (confirmed in Burleson, TX)
Sprouts
Central Market
Winco (confirmed in McKinney, TX)

Utah
Sprouts
Harmon’s
Sam’s Club

Vermont
None

Virginia
The Fresh Market
Wegmans
Sam’s Club
TMK Produce (Distributor)
Martin’s
Harris Teeter
Whole Foods
Food City

Washington
Town and Country Markets
Yoke’s Fresh Markets
Pacific Coast Fruit Company
Spokane Produce (Distributor)
QFC
Frank Genzale’s Produce
Metropolitan Market
Thriftway
King’s Market
Orcas-Island Market
Charlie’s Produce (Distributor)
Haggen
Sam’s Club

West Virginia
Martin’s
Sam’s Club

Wisconsin
Schnucks
The Fresh Market
Festival Foods
Clinton Foods IGA
Hy-Vee
Sendiks
Copps
Metro Market
Pick-n-Save
Sam’s Club

Wyoming
Luckys (Jackson Hole)
Sam’s Club

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What to Expect Grapery 2016

It’s a “grape” time of year to be in the produce department. It’s another season of grapes from the Grapery hitting store displays across the country. If you haven’t heard of Grapery yet, they are a grower out of the Bakersfield area of California, who are all about flavor. They only want to grow grapes that have tremendous flavor. A lot of the seedless table grapes you seen in the store are grown for appearance, shelf life, and profit, with flavor not being an important part of the equation. Americans have gotten use to eating table grapes that taste like a little more than sugar water. Grapery has come in and changed the game. They are giving the consumer grapes that taste great. They have successfully change the way people think grapes should taste – and even look.

Each year I like to present you an update on what to expect from Grapery. It takes a long time for a grape variety to get up to commercial production. Here is an update on what to expect with each of their varieties this season.

Cotton Candy Grapes with Bag

Cotton Candy Grapes
This is the grape that first brought my and many other people’s attention to Grapery. A grape that tastes like cotton candy. Wow. Want to know how they did that? Check out my post from last season – How Did They Make Grapes Taste Like Cotton Candy?.

I spoke with their co-owner, Jim Beagle and he said that he is expecting about the same amount of Cotton Candy grapes in 2016 as there was in 2015. If you found them last year, you can check with the same store again. They are available now and should last in stores until the middle of September. Stores sell out quickly so make sure to ask if they have another shipment coming in the next day.

TearDrops

Tear Drop Grapes
One of the big changes this year is the name change of their Witch Finger grapes. They are now called Tear Drops. The change was made from feedback from their customers. Tear Drops have a more limited availability. They are more of a search to find. And their season is early and is about at it’s end right now. If you can still find them, make sure to pick some up. They are have a unique shape, giving them a wonderful texture and a great red grape flavor.

Tear Drop Grapes

Up close picture of the Tear Drop grapes

Moon Drops Grapes

Moon Drop Grapes
If you are a fan of this grape, I got some exciting news for you. There is a BIG increase in their availability this year. They should be much easier to find and for a much longer season. For those that haven’t experienced them yet, Moon Drop grapes are an elongated black seedless grape. They have a rich flavor and the unique shape gives them a nice crisp bite. Buy a bag or two for your next get together. Their shape will be a great conversation piece. Moon Drop grapes are available now until about mid-October.

Gum Drops

Gum Drops Grapes
More good news! I am happy to announce that the first small commercial crop of Gum Drops will be available this season. I was lucky enough to try this variety last year, while it was still in the experimental stage. I can tell you that I love these even more than Cotton Candy. They taste just like gummy candies. They pack a huge flavor in a small grape. I could see them soaring past Cotton Candy in popularity. They have very limited availability – like Tear Drops. You might not be able to find them this year. Look for them starting in late August through the month of September. If you find them I would love to hear what you think about them.

Sweet Surrender Grapes

Sweet Surrender Grapes

While not as unique as Cotton Candy or Gum Drops, Flavor Promise grapes are just really good tasting grapes, that come with a promise. Don’t like them, the other owner of Grapery, Jack Pandol’s e-mail address is right on the bag. I have a hard time believing you won’t like them. I have tried several varieties in the Flavor promise line and have approved of them all. Here is a list of the varieties and when they are available (these dates are approximate)

Sweet Surrender (Black) – July 20 to Labor Day
Sweet Jubilee (Black, Seeded) – August 10 to September 1
Sweet Celebration (Red) – August 20 to October 31
Autumn Royal (Black) – October 1 to December 15
Crimson Seedless (Red) – November 1 to December 15

Sweet Celebration Grapes

Sweet Celebration Grapes

Sweet Jubliee Flavor Promise Grapes

Sweet Jubliee Grapes

Flavor Pops Red Green

A Look to the Future
Grapery is always experimenting with new varieties. They will have another big wave of that coming in 2017. If you are lucky enough to find their Flavor Pop grapes you have a chance to taste the future. There is a limited supply of these grapes, they come with a number on the package. Each variety has yet to be given a name. Grapery is looking for your feedback. You might even get to help them a name – how cool is that!

Grapery Flavor Pops
That is what’s in store for Grapery grapes in 2016. If you have any questions, leave a comment below. I would also love to hear what your finding in stores and where you are finding them. Have a “grape” day!!!!

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Mariano Finds

There is no doubt that I love exploring grocery stores – as much as a pirate like searching for buried treasure. It is what I do for a past time. Whenever I am out of town I am looking for a grocery store to go into. I am a grocery store nerd to the core. On a recent trip to Chicago I got to make my first trip to Mariano’s. Back in January I drove by a Mariano’s. I was not able to stop as I was talking my wife and youngest daughter to O’Hare. I was disappointed that time but not this one. Lots of great finds to be had at Mariano’s. Below is some of the items that peaked my interest and should peak yours as well.

The front of the Mariano's  nearest to Chicago Union Station. There is also a Whole Foods right down the street.

The front of the Mariano’s nearest to Chicago Union Station. There is also a Whole Foods right down the street.

A collage of some of the produce selection on the day of my visit.

A collage of some of the produce selection on the day of my visit.

Of course the most important section to me is produce. Whenever I go into a new grocery store I am looking for unique or specialty items. Not just your plain old Cavendish bananas, navel oranges, or Honeycrisp apples. Mariano’s did not disappoint. They had plenty to offer beyond the basics. The thing I was most excited about were the Verry Cherry Plums. They are a cross between a plum and a cherry. They are smaller than your average plum but bigger than a cherry. They taste like a really sweet, flavorful plum, that has a really small pit. I really wish more stores carried these. I hope to see production of Cherry Plums ramp as well. If you can get a hold of these treasures, please do yourself a flavor (see what I did there) and buy them! They may be more expensive than other plum varieties but they are worth it.

Crown Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

Crown Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

How do you make maple syrup even better? Age it in bourbon barrels. It’s amazing the kind of flavor the syrup can pick up by just sitting in a barrel. Bourbon barrel aged maple syrup has a more butterscotch, smoky flavor. Really rich and a real treat for breakfast or even on top of ice cream. Check out another variety of syrup of Bourbon barrel aged syrup I reviewed this year.

Bags full of dried beans, lentils and the like.

Bags full of dried beans, lentils and the like.

I got to say I love when stores take bushel baskets, line them with burlap, and display dried beans, rice, lentils, etc in them. It looks really inciting – more so than when in a plastic bin that has no character. I was excited to see dried Tongue of Fire beans. This is a beautiful bean that I have grown in my gardens in years past (ran out of space this year).

Gourmet donuts with cereal on top.

Gourmet donuts with cereal on top.

Nothing says gourmet donuts more than Fruit Loops or Cocoa Pebbles on top. I admire the humor in that. I probably would like the Cocoa Pebbles donut, but I was busy eating this donnut:

A long john donut with maple icing and 2 strips of bacon!

A long john donut with maple icing and 2 strips of bacon!

Now this is a donut. Two whole strips of bacon with maple icing. I can’t begin to tell you the deliciousness that burst forth in my mouth when I devoured this sucker.

Cicero Candied Bacon Cream Soda. Never seen this flavor anywhere else!

Cicero Candied Bacon Cream Soda. Never seen this flavor anywhere else!

Speaking of bacon, I found this Candided Bacon Cream Soda made by Cicero – a Chicago company. First time I have seen this flavor of soda pop. I have had one of their other flavors in the past, their Salted Caramel Root Beer, which is outstanding. I need to get my hands on their entire line someday.

Make your own packs of soda with a wide selection of glass bottled treats.

Make your own packs of soda with a wide selection of glass bottled treats.

Their selection of glass bottled soda pop is the best I have seen since I visited Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati, Ohio. I love that you can make your own pack as well so you can try a variety of flavors and producers.

Henning's Two Tone Cheddar Cheese Curds

Henning’s Two Tone Cheddar Cheese Curds

The cheese department was a delight at Mariano’s as well. I saw at lot of great cheese there with some good sale prices – like $10 a pound for Parmigiano Reggiano. What I decided to grab for my lunch was a bag of Henning’s Two Tone Cheddar Cheese Curds. I love the easy snackablility that cheese curds provide. Plus it reminded me of my trip to Wisconsin back in January where I brought these curds and several others home with me.

Overall I was glad that I used some of my time in Chicago to visit a Mariano’s. I got some fun treats. Enjoyed looking at all the produce, cheese, and baked goods I saw. Some of the best sightseeing in Chicago is on a 2nd floor on Halsted street – a short walk from Chicago Union Station.

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Donut Peach Season

Mmmmm….donuts. Words so elegantly described by the famous philosopher Homer J. Simpson. Donuts are worthy of m to the infinity. Problem is a donut based diet isn’t going to do you any favors. But alas, we can have our donuts and be healthy at the same time. Thanks to the donut peach. Besides having the name and shape in common, these peaches are sweetly divine. They may not be as good as donuts, but for health reasons, they will suffice. When and how does one aquire these healthier donuts? Well that’s what this post is all about.

A beautiful display of "Flying Saucer" donut peaches at Whole Foods Market in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A beautiful display of “Flying Saucer” donut peaches at Whole Foods Market in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Where are Donut (Flat) Peaches Grown?
The majority of the donut peaches grown for commercial production in the U.S. is California. Almost all the donut peaches I have seen in stores comes from the Golden State. You can also find them from other states, but it will be more of a hunt. While the southern states of Georgia and South Carolina are big peaches growers, I don’t know of a lot of orchards growing them. The only grower I have come across is Watsonia Farms. I have never had one of their donut peaches, I have seen their products (summer squashes, Muscadine grapes) on store shelves at Whole Foods Market.

One grower that is nearby me that I want to check out is Quarry Hills Orchard in Berlin Heights, Ohio (between Toledo and Cleveland). They harvest peaches from July to September. They are one of my favorite places to visit on this plant. Their apple cider is die for and they have a selection of newer and classic varieties of apples.

If you are a peach grower state, check your local farmer’s market to see if anyone there grows donut peaches.

A side note
The majority of donut peaches will you find in stores are going to be the white flesh varieties, known for their incredibly sweetness and lower acid.

Where are Donut (Flat) Peaches In Season?
To determine the season, I look at the availability a couple of my favorite stone fruit growers. Kingsburg Orchards calls them Flying Saucer peaches. These are white fleshed donut peaches. Their earliest ones (May Flying and Galaxy) are available at the month of May. Then there is a gap all the way until August when their next couple varieties (Pink and Late) are ripe. They also have a yellow flesh variety called Golden Moon, which comes out in July.

Another of my favorite growers is Family Tree Farms. Their donut peaches, called Saturn peaches are available from the end of May through the end of June and then again around the end of July to late August. Final crops are between early September and mid October – although I think by then you don’t seen most stores carrying them as they have moved onto to larger displays of apples and pears.

A ripe Peach Pie donut peach sitting on my dinning room table, ready to be consumed!

A ripe Peach Pie donut peach sitting on my dinning room table, ready to be consumed!

Varieties to Look Out For
I am sad to say that most of the donut peaches in stores are really more style than substance. They lack any real flavor – especially the white varieties. There are a couple types that you need to check out and buy up if you are lucky enough to find them.

Four peaches to a case that resembles an actual donut container. Even has an easy to hold handle on top. An adorable idea from Family Tree Farms. These particular ones I found at Trader Joe's in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Four peaches to a case that resembles an actual donut container. Even has an easy to hold handle on top. An adorable idea from Family Tree Farms. These particular ones I found at Trader Joe’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Peach Pie Donut Peaches
This variety comes your way from Family Tree Farms. They take a while to ripen, but are full of flavor if you eat them at the right moment. They do have notes of pie spices in their flavor profile. Definately worth checking out. They even come in a cute, carrying case, that makes them look like they are actually donuts! This year I have found them at Trader Joe’s and Kroger.

The ultimate in flat stone fruit - the Nectafire donut nectarine. Beautiful outside, bursting with flavor inside.

The ultimate in flat stone fruit – the Nectafire donut nectarine. Beautiful outside, bursting with flavor inside.

Nectafire Donut Nectarine
This is actually a nectarine. It’s a donut nectarine. In fact it’s the best tasting nectarine variety I have ever had. By far. No contest. Juicy and just bursting with flavor. These have both style and substance. They have a beautiful red color. I just love them. I used to buy them at Hiller’s Market each summer, however that store was bought out by Kroger and I can no longer find them in my area. Rest asure, I will find them again. Nectafire is harvested in mid July by Rembrandt Fruit.

Are you a fan of the donut? I would love to hear from your experiences with donut peaches. Have you tried any of the special varieties I mentioned? Leave your comments below.

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Best Produce to Buy at Trader Joe's

Trader Joes Sign Arb

Trader Joe’s has established for itself quite the following. People are attracted to their unique products and smaller scale stores. That have tons of unique and interesting items from their cookie butter to coconut oil in a spray can. One thing that I personally don’t think is all that and a bag of sriracha chips is the produce department. It is not a big draw, at least not for me. I prefer to shop places that have sales and more local produce. That doesn’t mean you should just avoid produce at TJ’s. While I won’t typically go to Trader Joe’s for produce specifically, there are things I might be there if I am already in the store. Below you will find my recommendations on items that are worth purchasing.

Trader Joe Bagged Apples

1. Bags of apples
They always have bagged apples for a decent price. You are better off buying them by the bag instead of individual apples. The single price of an apple is more pricey. Remember Trader’s doesn’t do things by the pound. You are paying a per apple price.

Trader Joe Bananas

2. Large sized Bananas
My strategy when choosing bananas at Trader Joe’s in the opposite of what I do everywhere else. Typically for my kids sake I choose bunches with smaller sized fingers (that is actually what they are called!). Since again no by the pound pricing, I pick the bunches with the largest bananas on them since I will be paying the same price no matter the size of the actual banana.

Trader Joe Salads

3. Bagged salads
They have a good selection of packaged salads. Their organic selections are actually Earthbound Farms. I have watched employees take the salads out of boxes that said Earthbound on them. It’s not uncommon for Earthbound to package their salads with store brand labels. The same is true at Whole Foods Market.

Trader Joe Avocados

4. Bagged avocados
My son loves avocadoes, which I am so happy about. They are so good for you and he will just eat them with a spoon. I usually will pick up a bag of avocodos when I am in the store. The price is pretty good – $2.99 for a bag of 4. Lot of places you have to pay at least $1 for one avocado and that sizes can vary quite a bit.

Trader Joe Potatoes

5. Bagged multi-colored or small potatoes
They are good at having bags of multi-colored or small potatoes in stock. I see them every time I got to the store. These are really good for quickly boiling or sauteing.

Thomcord Grapes

Thomcord Grapes – a cross between Thompson Seedless grapes and Concord grapes

6. Special Seasonal Items
There are some cases where they do have special seasonal produce items, that I will buy there. They were the first store I got Thomcord grapes from. These are seedless grapes that are a cross between a green Thompson seedless grape and a concord grape. They have that Concord flavor that you know in love from your Welch’s grape juice and jelly jar. No seeds to worry about like you do with regular Concords.

During citrus season I pick up their bags of Sky Valley Heirloom Navels. These are navel oranges grown the traditional way that put California on the map for citrus. They are super sweet and full of flavor you will never find in a standard Navel orange. I do buy their Cara Caras and Satsuma mandarins sometimes, but they can be hit or miss in terms of flavor.

Angelcots

Angelcots white apricots

A super sweet variety of apricots, called an Angelcot. I have made some amazing jam with these apricots.

Honey Fire Nectarines

Honey Fire Nectarines

Trader Joe’s sells nectarines and peaches in little cardboard crates. The nice thing about these crates for a foodie like me is that they list the variety that is inside. I once found some Honey Fire nectarines. Those were all kinds of amazing. Sweet with a rich nectarine taste. I recommend checking the boxes for this name whenever nectarines are in season. I saw this variety in June before.

Another piece of stone fruit to watch out for are the Rose apriums from Family Tree Farms. They come around in August. An aprium is a cross between an apricot and a plum, with a higher percentage of apricot. These are some of the sweetest fruit I have ever had. And so juicy. Can’t wear a nice shirt while eating these guys.

A Final Thought
One last thing to add is that I never buy berries at Trader Joe’s. Each week some other grocery store will have some type of berry on sale that will make it cheaper than Trader Joe’s. So I completely avoid them.

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bourbon barrel aged maple syrup

If there is one thing I didn’t have enough of as a kid it as maple syrup. I honestly can’t ever recall having the real stuff until I was an adult. I certainly never had it at a restaurant. My favorite thing to order on vacation for breakfast was always french toast, so I had a lot of syrup during those trip, but never the legit stuff. Now as an adult I have come to learn that real maple syrup is a magical elixir that is one of the most tasty things ever created on this planet. I love it all, especially the really dark, grade B stuff – now normally referred to as Grade A Dark Amber. So how can you possibly improve on it? Many maple syrup makers are finding a way – aging the syrup in bourbon barrels!

I first saw this concept at Trader Joe’s. And now I am beginning to see it pop up more and more at different stores all over the place. More and more people are starting to age their maple syrup in bourbon barrels. It is definitely is a new trend, I expect see more of.

How Does Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup Taste Different?
This process of aging the syrup in bourbon barrel really enhances the flavor of the maple syrup. It has a richer, more complex, smoky, butterscotch-like flavor. It is all done without adding any additional ingredients to it, just put the syrup in the barrel.

The first one I ever tried was made by Droscha Farms out of Mason, Michigan. I found their syrup at Whole Foods Market. It was the perfect thing to use a gift card I had on. Besides the Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup they also sell a Vanilla Cinnamon Infused Maple Syrup and a Tahitian Vanilla Maple Syrup. You can purchase their product directly from their website.

I found a wonderful video online that goes more into the process of how this syrup is made. The video was made by Bissell Maple Farm. Their family has been doing maple syrup in Ohio since the 1800s.

It’s more than jut putting maple syrup in a barrel. You need the right barrel. Bissell uses white oak barrels that were used as bourbon barrels. Then they chose a specific maple syrup that has the right strength to create that balance of flavor you get from barrels. You don’t want the maple syrup to have too strong or too weak of a maple flavor. For example, the maple syrup I got from Droscha Farms is a medium syrup. Enough maple flavor to play well with the flavor picked up while in the barrels.

I recommend picking up a bottle if you find it one of your local grocery store. Yes it’s going to be more expensive than your normal maple syrup, I would let the kid just go crazy with it at the breakfast table. The higher cost is to be expected as it takes time for the syrup to age. What they say is true – time is money! In this case, spending more of your money will bring a better product to your table.

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Rhubarb Sprouting

Rheum rhabarbarum. What we call rhubarb. It is the thing of which pie makers dream about. They love paring of this tart vegetable – although for legal purposes is it considered a fruit – with berries – especially one with the name “straw” in them. Rhubarb is not available year round, at least in it’s fresh form. So one needs to know when can I get it and you might also want to know where it is grown.

Hothouse vs. Field Grown
First you need to know that there are two ways rhubarb is grown – in greenhouses or in the field. The hot house grown rhubarb shows up earlier in the year, naturally (or not naturally if it’s grown indoors?). I usually see it in the very early spring or even as early as late winter. Since rhubarb sales go up quite a deal in the presence of strawberries, when strawberries prices deep as they tend to do in March, you will naturally find more hothouse rhubarb available.

Hothouse rhubarb is usually more uniformly red in color. Some say it’s sweet and more tender too.

Field Grown Rhubarb
Most of the field grown rhubarb that is sold in the U.S. is from the Northern U.S., particularly Oregon and Washington. They are well suited to rhubarb production. The first field grown rhubarb typically shows up in late March to early April. Around this time the hothouse grown rhubarb is done, so their seasons may just barely overlap.

If you leave in a northern state you should be able to find it locally. Check your local farmer’s market in mid to late spring. Here in Michigan it lasts into June.

The season tends to slow down in the summer time, as the heat turns up. Rhubarb doesn’t grow as well in the heat. You should see how pathetic my rhubarb plants look in August! However, you may still see it into the summer as rhubarb does store well. You can freeze rhubarb as well for later use.

During the fall, you will be hard pressed to find it. I can’t recall ever seeing it. I don’t think there is much imported rhubarb, outside of maybe from Canada.

Grow It Yourself
Rhubarb is easy to grow yourself, depending on where you live. Those in the North can easily grow it. I never put much attention into my rhubarb plants and they come back year after year. I got the plants from a friend who just quickly dug a spot when I was home and planted them there.

If you live in the South, it will be more challenging. Your best plant transplants in fall, and harvest your stalks through the winter months. When the heat gets going, the plants will die off and you have to plant anew.

Recipes

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Muffins

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Muffins | Every year I can’t wait to make these. I like them better than pie!

Pluot Rhubarb Crisp

Pluot Rhubarb Crisp | Try pairing rhubarb with other fruits. They go well with some sweet pluots (a plum-apricot cross)

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Cocoa Metro Chocolate Milk

Ah chocolate milk. Does it get anymore comforting? Even when it’s not great, it’s still good. But when it actually is great, woah. Mind blowing woah! Before I was adult I had my share of chocolate milk, either store brand, Nestle, or whole milk with syrup added to it. While I liked those things, none of ever blowed my mind. Until I was an adult and sought out the best. This past week, I found one of the best – Cocoa Metro Belgian Chocolate Milk from my local Whole Foods Market.

Who is Cocoa Metro?
The company behind this life changing chocolate treat formed out of a love for chocolate. The company founders, Mike and Lizzy are chocolate fanatics. So much so that they planned vacations around promixity to cocao plantations. That is a serious foodie. I have to admit I have planned vacations around food, actually pretty much every vacation I do has something to do with food (ex. trip to California to eat Ojai Pixies off the tree). At the very root of this company is a love for chocolate. Besides the milk, they also offer drinking chocolate, cocoa powder as well as body care product like lip balm and lotion bars.

Why is Their Milk So Good?
Simple. The chocolate. This isn’t like putting syrup in your mouth, this like drinking chocolate. So rich. So chocolaty. Not too sweet at all. Just perfectly good to the last drop (and when you drink this stuff, that last drop comes way too fast). Loved, loved, loved it!

The milk contains cocoa, vanilla, real sugar – not HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), milk of course. In order to keep the cocoa from not settling in a clump at the bottom of the bottle, carob bean gum is added. It makes up less than 1% of the contents of the milk. Carob bean gum also called locust bean gum is dervied from the seeds of a carob tree. It doesn’t add any flavor to the milk and was chosen as an alternative to carrageenan, which some consumers are concerned about. I found a website that I thought did an excellent job explaining each of these in a non threatening, non alarmist way. Read more about carraggenan and carob bean gum.

Back to the fun stuff. This chocolate milk is worth seeking out especially if you all you ever known is store brand or the popular national brands. Cocoa Metro Belgian Chocolate Milk is so good, that a picture of it should appear to the word decadent in the dictionary.

To find Cocoa Metro Belgian Chocolate Milk in your area, check out their store locator. Stores include Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Gelson’s, Sprouts, Bristol Farms, and more.

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Whole Foods Laguna Beach

How many times have you heard someone say “it tastes like chicken”? Particularly when referring to unique types of meat. What does frog taste like? Chicken. What does alligator taste like? Chicken. What does a T-Rex dinosaur taste like? Probably chicken. You know why people say that? Because chicken doesn’t have much flavor, it is extremely mild. At least the chicken that most of us eat. If you cooked up a piece of chicken breast and put no salt on it, you probably are eating of the most bland things you can find. Why is this? Is this the way it has always been?

I have been thinking about this recently after reading an article in NPR’s The Salt. Whole Foods Market has announced that they will only allow slower growing types of chicken by 2024. What does the speed a chicken grow have to do with anything?

Over the years people have been breeding chickens that grow faster and produce more breast meat. It’s the lean meat that health conscious people are clamoring for. This process has been going on for years so that now we have chickens that grow to twice the size at half the time. Saves time and money for the producers. Problem is this is not something that would happen naturally without our interference. We have selected breeding our chickens to the point where they can barely move – after generation after generation of breeding together the largest birds. In the natural environment they would surely die. They wouldn’t be able to move properly to eat and drink, plus they would be easy prey for predators. I am not a huge animal rights person, but I do not think it’s respectful to knowingly watch an animal struggle to survive in order to be more profitable. I don’t believe this was the intended result it is what has happened and it’s time to stop and reverse directions.

In terms of flavor, these newer, fast growing chickens do not have it. They are grown and harvest so fast and eat a diet that doesn’t result in flavorful meat. It’s quite bland. If you can ever find a chicken of an older variety that is raised and processed the traditional way, you would be shocked at the difference in flavor. The closet thing I have had is a stewing hen, which is an older bird that has to be cooked low and slow but produces a much, richer, tastier meal. As often with cooking, flavor cannot be rushed.

Air Chilled Chicken Drumsticks

Air Chilled Chicken Drumsticks from Whole Foods Market

Another option would be to try an air chilled chicken. Most commercials chickens are dumped in water in order to get their temperature within range fast after slaughtering. Air chilled chicken are blasted with cold air. Both do the job of stopping bacterial growth. The water method adds water weight to the chicken, diluting the flavor. Air chilling takes longer and is more costly but will result in a more flavorful end product. A lot of grocery stores sell air chilled now, including Whole Foods.

Check out my recipe for Roasted Chicken Drumsticks with Potatoes, Dill, and Kale

whole foods market huntingon

So Whole Foods has decided to not sell the fast growing varieties anymore. But it will take time, not until 2024. Why not just do it right away? They have to give the farms time to change over. If they just pulled them at once, they would have a massive shortage in chicken and a ton of customers would be outraged, probably to the point of not wanting to shop there anymore. As much as people love Whole Foods, it is still a big business and won’t just make this change immediately. The older types of chicken are out there and it will take time for farms to begin raising them instead. It’s possible too that some businesses may choose to not continue to do business with Whole Foods instead, depending on how much their profits are coming from selling to them. There are also stores in many regions of the country that may all carry chickens from different sources, so it takes time to get the entire company up to speed when their sources are from all over.

I applaud them for doing this, for the benefit of the chicken as well as for the consumer who will get a better tasting product in the end.

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Coconut Secret Amino Sauces

I love sauces. BBQ sauces. Tomato sauce. The orange sauce that costs my favorite orange chicken at my local take out Chinese place. Sauces are a great way to really deliver flavor to the tongue. They are the first thing you taste when you bite into whatever they are coating. I love making my own sauces but am not against of giving others a try, especially when they are unique and hard to make at home. This brings me to a pair of sauces that I tasted at Whole Foods Market made by Coconut Secret. They are known for their many coconut based products – aminos, vingear, oil, and even snack bars. The sauces I am reviewing here today utitlize their coconut aminos.

What are Coconut Aminos?
Coconut aminos are made from the sap of the coconut tree. It is naturally aged and is fermented. Coconut secret adds sun dried sea salt. Coconut aminos can be used as an alternative to soy sauce. It contains no wheat like some soy sauces do, thus it is gluten free. The name aminos comes from the 17 amino acids that are within.

As with a lot of things in the store, soy sauce has been cheapen for the sake of time and most importantly profits. Most commercial soy sauces do not undergo the traditional fermentation process that came them better flavor and more health benefits. Instead mass produce soy sauces is produced quickly and with lots of added salt to make up for the lack of natural flavor. If you buy the generic cheap soy sauce you are no doubt getting exactly what your paying for.

In terms of comparing the flavor of soy sauce to coconut aminos, I find them to be comparable with coconut aminos being more sweet and less salty than most soy sauce. I think that most people wouldn’t be able to tell that you used them over soy sauce unless you told them.

Coconut aminos are the base for the two sauces from Coconut Secret I am about to talk about.

Garlic Sauce
The ingredients for the garlic sauce : Organic Coconut Sap, Organic Garlic, Sea Salt, Organic Ginger, Organic Cayenne Pepper. The sauce is very well balanced. It is sweet with plenty of garlic flavor and the spice of the ginger and cayenne. I tried with some sauteed asparagus and mushrooms – a winning combination for sure. Add it at the very end of cooking and let it steam for a moment to slightly reduce, carmelize, and coat the vegetables. Use it to flavor any vegetables or rice.

Teriyaki Sauce
The ingredients for the teriyaki sauce : Organic Coconut Sap, Sea Salt, Organic Onion, Organic Ginger, Organic Garlic, Organic Cayenne Pepper. The difference in this sauce is that it contains onion with less garlic. A wonderful sauce to use on chicken or pork. You could use it as a marinade or just add it at the end or at the table. I have to say that I do like the flavor of the garlic sauce just a hint better, but that doesn’t mean this one isn’t a winner itself.

Both these sauces are uniquely flavorful and since I don’t have any coconut sap I can gather in my backyard this one of the few bottled sauces that’s worth the money. To find them in your area, use Coconut Secret’s store locator. You can also purchase the sauces online, see link below (this is an affiliate link)

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I'm Eric. I live in Ann Arbor, MI with my wife, 3 kids, and a flock of ducks. I love grocery shopping, trying new fruits, farmer's market, and traveling.
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