It’s been a long, snowbound winter, and while the new rush of spring has officially arrived—along with blooming daffodils and bright colored shorts and cute strappy flip flops begging me to buy…Buy…BUY!—I’m still hanging onto the last few weeks of family and friend time in the snowy wonder of my beloved Utah mountains.
Spring skiing. It is the best. THE BEST I tell you. It’s the perfect escape from winter, an affirmation of the thaw ahead. Warm sun kissing my cheeks, the smell of burgers on the outside grills mid-mountain and slushy snow to guide my skis through. For some reason spring skiing always seems so much more freeing, like you don’t have as much to prove by getting better, skiing harder and weathering the storms. Which is why I savor these last few outings with Smudge and our friends.
Watching Smudge and her BFF *E* ski together is such a crazy experience. These two little girlies met in pre-school and became inseparable—they were one another’s first playdate, went to their first concert together and are always at the top of one another’s sleepover list.
Thank goodness Smudge has such good intuition, because *E*’s parents quickly became some of our best friends too, maybe because we share way too many coincidences in our life timeline to ignore that our friendship was meant to be. Michi and Adam—or A-Game as we like to call him—are the type who are always quick to the rescue and pretty much game for anything, especially when it comes to giving *E* as much life has to offer as possible. You can see why we’re friends, I mean, who WOULDN’T want to be friends with people like that?
For the past two years we’ve all gotten season ski passes so the girls can get outside and take advantage of living among some of the greatest snow on earth. It was pretty much a given Smudge would be a skiier since G Dawg and I grew up on skis. Smudge and *E* were both born in Los Angeles and we’re all convinced they will be pretty disgruntled when they realize they could have grown up as beach bunnies, rollerblading up and down the Venice Boardwalk instead of making snow angels. Ah, but we will do our best convincing that growing up a snow bunny will definitely have its merits. Hello, who doesn’t want to be Lindsey Vonn in the winter and Gabby Reese in the summer?
But until they decide they need to hang up their ski boots for boogie boards, we’re all about documenting and encouraging them to have fun. A-game is always at the ready with his camera, videotaping each event and documenting the memories we are apt to create. G-Dawg has the patience of a saint, teaching the girls how to move from “french fries” to slaloms with a bunch of snow ball fights in between. I’m just there to corral the cats.
Now Michi on the other hand, she’s the heart and soul of the group, the organizer, the one that makes things happen no matter how hairbrained a scheme it may sound to others. She’s all in, and I can’t wait for her newest conquest of acquiring an Airstream trailer comes to fruition. She has dreams of camping, whilst I have visions of parking it in the ski lot, pulling out the barbeque and camping out for happy hour after the day’s runs are done.
But until then, we’ll keep it a bit more civilized. Like we did after skiing last weekend. Not wanting the great spring day to end, we high-tailed it to A & M’s house just a few miles from the resort for a little aprés ski wine and chocolate tasting. Ah, the perfect end to a perfect day.
My idea was simple, and easy to execute, which was a good thing since these thighs were still relishing in that afterski burn: Assemble some great chocolate in a myriad of different flavors, pair them with a nice wine for the ladies and whiskey for the boys plus a few snacks to tide us over ‘til dinner while the girls traded their ski helmets for bike helmets and took advantage of pedaling outside in the longer afternoon sunshine.
What a great way to relax and catch up, and one that you need to try. Here’s some suggestions for your own chocolate tasting. You can get as developed and detailed as you want but I prefer to keep things on the mellow end of the scale.
1. Educate yourself first. As the hostess you’ll want to lead and inspire the chocolate conversation. We all know we love chocolate but do you know what the difference between “cacao” and “cocoa” is? No? Here’s a handy chocolate reference to bone up on your chocofacts.
2. Let the chocolates be known. Your tasters should know what they’re eating so they can choose their favorites. For our tasting I simply used one of my big, porcelain serving platters and wrote the names of the different flavors of Ghirardelli chocolate with a Sharpie pen. You could use a fine dry erase marker if you prefer. Since the platter is porcelain and has a shiny finish, the ink comes right off with dish soap. If you’d prefer to create tags for your wine, check out Pinterest for inspiration on fun tag design.
3. Create bitable tastes. Plan on ½ ounce to one ounce of 5-8 different types of chocolate per taster. Break the chocolate into bite size pieces. Like a wine tasting, this event isn’t meant to serve as a full meal, but as a showcase of different flavors.
4. Theme your chocolate tasting. I chose dark chocolate thanks to my love of its depth of flavor. You could also choose milk chocolates, or maybe a range that includes fruits and white chocolate too.
5. Be a discerning chocoholic. Just like wine or cheese, each chocolate has its own notes, its own individual flavors. While evaluating the chocolate think about the following key points:
- How sweet is the chocolate, and on the opposite end, how bitter?
- What are the flavor notes? Here are a few to consider: Peppery, fruity, winey, nutty, salty or sweet, with hints of herbs like nutmeg, cinnamon, lavender and mint or flavors like toffee, chilies or fruits.
- What is the taste on the tongue? Rate the chocolate on whether its on the dry side to milky.
If you’d like to create rating cards, have guests rate from 1 to 5 on the value scale or simply pass out notepads to keep track of your chocophile thoughts.
6. Have tastebud cleansers on hand. Offer your guests a few bites in between chocolate tastes to clear the palate. Some favorites include: fresh berries or figs, dried cherries or mango—ours was dusted with chili—mild nuts, pretzels and a baguette with fig spread. Even potato chips will do.
7. Pair your drink with care. Save your summer Sauvignon and instead think red. Pair a nice red Zinfandel or Syrah, Port, whiskey or warming liqueur with your chocolate bites. Even tequila will match up nicely. We broke out Michi’s Noccino, a hazelnut liqueur Michi brought home from Italy. Non-alcoholic pairings could include a nice latte or chai tea. So what was the end result of our tasting?
The boys were both partial to the Ghirardelli Toffee Interlude, a dark chocolate with toffee bits and caramelized almonds thanks to the crunchy bits complementing the dark chocolate flavor. My husband is a toffee-holic so this was no surprise to me. Their runner up favorite was Hazelnut Heaven, again, loving the crunch of roasted hazelnuts with smooth, dark chocolate.
Michi of course was thorough in her ratings so I’ll let her speak for herself. “There were too many wonderful options to choose just one favorite. I loved pairing the Italian Noccino liqueur with the hazelnut chocolate. The combined hazelnut flavor really made the flavor stand out. But my favorite pairing was fresh raspberries with the Midnight Reverie. The tart sweetness of the raspberry set off the bitter midnight chocolate. The grapes of the Cabernet Matinee chocolate really stood out. It had the best of both worlds in one—chocolately creaminess with a velvety wine. Mmmm…” I may need to hire this girl.
And what about me? My favorite wa the Sea Salt Soiree, a chocolate enhanced with a spikes of salt that deepened the flavor and crunched with roasty toasty almonds. My dream bar. I don’t know if the others got to try any, I was hoarding it like a squirrel before the frost.
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