Surprise road trip

Yesterday was absolutely perfect.

I woke to Jason climbing into bed telling me he had a surprise for me.

His internal alarm clock still wakes him up before 5 a.m. So yesterday, while I was still asleep, he ran up to the store and bought some supplies to change the oil in his car. On his way home, he stopped by Dunkin Donuts and bought our favorite tasty treat, blueberry donuts.

It was the perfect treat to get the day started. While he went to the shop to change his oil, I jumped in the shower and got ready for our day.

I was excited to spend the day with Jason.

Although Jason is no longer working two jobs, he’s still working really long days, six days a week. Those days sometimes start as early as 4:30 a.m., which means we are both in bed pretty early the night before.

The nice part about this new job is he now has every Sunday off. Lately we have just hung out at home, doing yard work, or being lazy, so he could catch up on his sleep.

Yesterday, being lazy was not the case.

I knew about some of our plans, but he surprised me with a road trip.

We started off the day by going to a flea market that was kind of disappointing.

Ever since Saturday afternoon I have really been in the Christmas spirit. Jason called me Saturday morning asking me to meet him at the store. We picked out stockings for us and our three animals, as well as more Christmas lights for the tree because our puppy destroyed one set.

Yeah, Christmas decorations!

After he headed back to work, I decided to keep the momentum going and drove to another store in search of some soft ornaments that I could hang on the bottom of the Christmas tree. The cats broke a few of our ornaments since putting up the tree, which meant all the breakable ornaments slowly got hung higher, leaving the bottom pretty empty.

I had success at the second store and found four soft ornaments. The best surprise was when I got to the register and one of the ornaments was free.

When Jason got home later that afternoon, he suggested that we check out the flea market Sunday morning. That maybe they would have some homemade Christmas ornaments that we could put on the tree.

Although we did not find any ornaments, we were able to catch up with some of our friends that have a stand at the market.

While we were walking around the market, Jason asked me if I wanted to go to Gatlinburg and shop for some Christmas decorations there.

I love when Jason is spontaneous. I love when we take surprise road trips.

After going back home to do some research of shops in Gatlinburg, we hit the road.

Of course on our way to Gatlinburg, we took a small detour to a place he has been telling me about. Jason took me to a cute little apple orchard in Cosby, Tennessee called Carver’s Orchard & Applehouse Restaurant. It’s one of the places he delivers such items as produce and nuts to a few times a week.

We walked into the candy store and our mouths dropped open. Jason bought us a  small box full of homemade chocolates with an assortment of nuts in them. While savoring the delicious taste we walked through the store next door. As soon as Jason opened the door for us, a delicious aroma of apples filled my nose.

With a box of half eaten chocolates in our hand, we decided to hit the road again.

One of the many things I love about our surprise road trips is the conversations and nonstop laughter that fills the car. He’s always doing something or saying something to make me laugh.

Now, we were getting closer to Gatlinburg, closer to the store we wanted to check out, Santa’s Claus-et.

It took a couple wrong turns before we found the store because it was no longer located in the same place the internet told us before leaving home.

The store was adorable and full of Christmas ornaments and figurines of every size to add to your Christmas cheer.

Yesterday, as Jason and I were talking about Christmas decorations, I told him every year I wanted to buy something new, so we could build our collection for the holidays. Right now all we have is ornaments.

So before leaving, we decided we would collect a different Santa Claus every year.

This is the first of our collection . . .

IMG_2690 I felt like a little girl after we chose this cute Santa Claus. We were adding to our Christmas tradition.

Now that the Christmas spirit completely took hold of me, we decided to head to downtown Gatlinburg. This area is definitely touristy with an array of t-shirt shops, fudge shops and any other little trinket you could think of.

My favorite part about walking downtown was looking at the buildings. I really liked the brick structures. The downtown area was also decorated for the Christmas holiday.

Before leaving Gatlinburg, we had some dinner, which was needed after all of our sweets.

Although it was nice walking around downtown, experiencing the atmosphere and walking into some of the shops, we both shared the same thought. We have definitely become outdoors people. We would have rather hiked in the mountains, then shop the strip.

Once the weather warms up we will most likely take a trip back to Gatlinburg to enjoy the scenery, in the outdoors, in the way it was indeed to be, in nature.

I can only imagine the hiking and the waterfalls.

Yesterday was a perfect day. Full of laughter. Full of new memories, all with my best friend and love of my life.

Yesterday was spot on. It was a day we both needed. A day we both needed together away from the house, away from our daily grind.

I truly have found my soul mate, my pefect match.

Decadent chocolates

Norman Love 2

Norman Love Confections

Sweet Treats: Satisfying that sweet tooth in South County

Published in South Fort Myers Community Lifestyles August/September 2014

Everyone loves a sweet treat every now and again (and again). Southwest Florida offers a few sweet destinations where individuals have an opportunity to indulge themselves with some incredibly decadent chocolates, confections and other tasty tidbits that will satisfy their sweet cravings.

The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory owner Steven Jones said he and his wife, Triston, opened the store at Miromar Outlets the Saturday before Memorial Day this year. The couple owned a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Omaha, Nebraska, for three years before moving to Southwest Florida.

Steven said after their lease expired, they started looking for their next destination when the corporate office shed some light on the location at Miromar Outlet.

“I jumped on a plane, came down for 24 hours and looked at the space,” Steven said.

sweet1The couple attended Missouri Western State University and participated in an entrepreneurial program through the business school that awarded them a store at the end of a competition. Jones said they had a benefactor who had given them a loan for five years for the store. The circumstances, he said was “as long as you get that loan paid off, the store becomes yours.”

The Joneses paid off the loan in less than two years.

“That’s how we got into the Rocky Mountain franchise system,” he said.

Although the Joneses are a part of a franchise, the Miromar Outlets store is a family-owned small business.

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is known for its oversized pieces of chocolate.

Steven said after a gentleman accidently made larger pieces of chocolate and it sold, the habit stuck more than 30 years ago.

The store offers all types of chocolates, ranging from single pieces to packaged collections of sweets. Tempt your taste buds with truffles, bears on a stick, chocolate-dipped marshmallows, chocolate- dipped strawberries, English toffee and giant peanut butter buckets.

A favorite of his is the chocolate dipped potato chip – sweet and salty.

“It’s a salted potato chip that is dipped in chocolate,” Steven said of the salty sweet treat.

He said his wife’s favorite sweets are the peanut butter fingers because of the smooth and creamy peanut butter engulfed in a thin layer of chocolate.

Rocky Mountain also carried 12 flavors of hand dipped Blue Bell ice cream and more than 12 gourmet caramel apples.

In addition, Steven said they make all of the fudge in the store on a big marble slab the traditional, old fashioned way, as well as the caramel from scratch.

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is located in Section F, next to the mall office and near Subway and the playground area of Miromar Outlets, at 10801 Corkscrew Road, Suite 189.

The store is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. For more information or to place an order or special reservation, call 239-949- 6757.

Norman Love Confections

Norman Love Confections

Norman Love Confections

Norman Love Confections began offering fine chocolates in 2001, when Norman Love first introduced his handcrafted chocolates to the Fort Myers community.

Love learned the craft of making pastries in France and was the executive chef for luxury resorts of The Beverly Hills Hotel and the The Ritz- Carlton. Throughout his 13 years as the corporate executive pastry chef, Love opened 30 hotel and resort pastry kitchens, both internationally and domestically, before deciding to enter into the private enterprise in 2001.

Norman Love Confections uses the finest ingredients to create more than 35,000 individually hand-painted, gourmet chocolates daily. The chocolates are shaped in hand-crafted molds and turned into true pieces of edible art.

sweet2Sharon Arnold of Gravina Smith Matte and Arnold Marketing and Public Relations said every year Love changes the signature flavors and often reintroduces some of the wellloved, retired flavors back into the rotation.

She said there are 36 signature flavors, including dark, milk and white chocolates, as well as elegant truffles.

“The newest flavors are bananas foster, caramel macchiato, creamy peanut butter truffle, French vanilla truffle, Spanish almond, nougat and tropical cream,” Arnold said.

If sugar-free is what you are after (a variety that is often difficult to find, or when it’s found, it’s pretty tasteless), you’re in luck; Norman Love Confections also offers a savory assortment to satisfy the taste buds of those who require less sugar in their diets.

These specialty items – and all other Norman Love confections – are available as wedding favors, gift baskets, engraved with corporate logos and customordered selections are now available, also, courtesy of Norman Love Confections’ specialty chefs.

The award-winning confection company also offers annual and limited edition holiday flavors.

Norman Love Confections BLACK, an ultra-premium line of intensely dark chocolates, has been added to the assortment of sweets. BLACK is made from chocolates from five of the finest growing regions of the world.

The first Norman Love Confections BLACK Sipping Chocolate, inspired by European traditions, can also be purchased to satisfy any sweet tooth.

Do you love the traditional treat, s’mores? In 2009, S’more Love by Norman Love Confections was launched. The tasty treat is filled with a crunchy fresh-baked graham cracker, light and fluffy homemade marshmallows and salted bourbon vanilla caramel.

sweet3Artisan Gelato by Norman Love will also gratify the cool and sweet desires, offers decadent sundaes like hot fudge gelato, salted caramel gelato, strawberry and yogurt, as well as peach melba.

Norman Love Confections Chocolate Salon and Artisan Gelato by Norman Love is located at 11380 Lindbergh Blvd., Fort Myers.

The salon is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m,. Saturdays. Artisan Gelato is open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

For further information call 239- 561-7215 or visit NormanLoveConfections.com.

‘Satisfying that sweet tooth’

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Sweet Treats

Satisfying that sweet tooth in Cape Coral

Published in August/September Cape Coral Community Lifestyles

Everyone loves a sweet treat from time to time. Cape Coral offers a few sweet treat destinations where individuals have an opportunity to indulge themselves with some incredibly tasty artisan chocolates, fudge, cookies and cupcakes, which will satisfy their sweet cravings.

Rosie’s Gourmet Fudge

Rosie’s Gourmet Fudge has been a part of the Shell Factory for more than 38 years, offering sweet goodness to its customers at the 2787 N. Tamiami Trail location.

Fudge master Kim Corbett said they offer 30 different varieties of fudge, all hand-made at the shop. She said the 45-minute process begins by pouring ingredients into a copper pot and cooking it at 230 degrees.

After the fudge is done cooking, it’s poured onto a marble slab table and shaped into loaves of bread with a little spatula. Once shaped, the fudge is put onto trays that are then moved to the store’s display.

“I make four to five batches a day,” Corbett said.

page 23Fudge is made daily except on the weekends – all without preservatives. Since the fudge is made without preservatives, it can be left out for two weeks or put into a freezer for up to a year. The fudge, however, cannot be placed in the refrigerator because it will harden.

“On Monday we make it again and start fresh,” she said. “I try to make up a good selection.”

On average, there are 20 different flavors of traditional and gourmet fudge.

Some of the varieties include maple pecan, plain maple, Butterfinger, Snickers, chocolate raspberry, mint chocolate chip, Health Bar, cookies and cream, chocolate walnut, vanilla with pecans, coconut, and peanut butter banana. Another favorite is penuche, which is old-fashioned brown sugar fudge, offered both plain and with walnuts.

Corbett said the fudge has nuts rippled throughout, as well as inside. The candy fudge is made the same way. Chocolate-covered Oreo cookies, chocolate-covered pretzels and chocolate-covered marshmallows are also offered to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth.

Rosie’s also carries homemade ice cream, made in Sarasota from an Amish family. There are 28 flavors offered. Some of those include peanut butter cup, cotton candy, rocky road, pistachio, Oreo cookies, Superman, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and two sugar-free flavors.

Banana splits, sundaes, root beer floats, coke floats and milk shakes also grace the ever-tasty menu. Corbett said Rosie’s offers specialty waffle cones and a variety of toppings, as well.

For further information about Rosie’s Gourmet Fudge, visit Et sy.com/ shop/Ros iesGourmet Fudge or call 239-997-5555.

Miz Catherine’s Dessert Cafe

A business reopening their doors on Santa Barbara Boulevard is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth with its gourmet cupcakes, cookies and variety of cakes, at 3032 Santa Barbara Blvd., Unit 201.

Catherine Hoggs-Perez reopened her store, Miz Catherine’s Dessert Cafe, earlier this month after closing at the end of April. The cafe originally opened on Nov. 2011.

page 24“I’ve been baking since I was a young girl,” she said. “I always baked with my mom and grandmother. It is something we have always done in my family and we bake from scratch.”

Hoggs-Perez spent time taking classes in New York at a culinary school, primarily to acquire some new decorating skills.

Her bakery consists of cupcakes, cookies, cake pops, wedding cakes, custom cakes and birthday cakes.

“It’s just a sweet shop,” Hoggs- Perez laughed, which is all made from scratch.

She hopes to add cobblers, slices of pie and parfaits to the menu to provide a variety of desserts customers can choose from while enjoying a cup of coffee.

Hoggs-Perez said when creating and decorating cakes, she takes individual’s ideas, and adds her own sweet touch, making masterpieces.

“The bride sends me pictures and we chit chat of what their dreams are and come up with something special for them,” she said.

In order to make a wedding cake, Hoggs-Perez said she has to have at least six- to eight-week advance notice, unless the cake is less intricate, which can then be made in less time. With birthday and theme cakes, she needs at least two to three weeks advance notice.

“I just love doing them,” she said of making wedding cakes.

The cafe will also offer gluten-free and vegan cupcakes for customers, in addition to the 25 flavors that already grace the shop.

“On a daily basis, I do between seven and eight flavors,” Hoggs-Perez said of the cupcakes. “After two days I rotate to two new offerings.”

Some of the gourmet cupcake flavors include mint chocolate chip, classic red velvet, coconut chocolate chip, cherry pistachio, pink lemonade, classic tiramisu, lemon raspberry and blackberry delight.

The cafe also offers an assortment of cookies, which regularly rotates. The cake pops, which she said children really love, come in such flavors as key lime, chocolate, lemon, pumpkin and peanut butter.

For more information about Miz Catherine’s Dessert Cafe, visit MizCatherines.com, or find the cafe on Facebook by searching “MizCatherinesADessertCafe.”

Send It Sweetly

If artisan chocolates and gourmet popcorn is among your cravings, stop by Send It Sweetly in South Cape Coral to satisfy that sweet tooth.

Ande and Shane Grant opened Send It Sweetly a year ago on 47th Terrace after making sweets in the Phoenix area for a while. Ande said although her husband has played with chocolate his whole life, due to working in restaurants since he was 15 years old, he has been creating chocolate flavors for the past four years.

The couple purchased the 6,000- foot building, 1309 SE 47th Terrace, and decided to give it a facelift by re- painting the exterior and putting up new signs, so customers know precisely where they are.

sweetsThe couple makes artisan chocolates, custom candy bars, more than 50 flavors of gourmet popcorn, half-pound jumbo cookies and half-pound Belgium brownies.

Boutique wines from small vineyards are also available.

“My stuff is the best that is bad for you,” Ande laughed about the ingredients they use for their Noela Chocolat.

She said they carry Belgium chocolates in dark, white and milk chocolate in close to 100 different varieties. Some of the flavors include pistachio, chipotle cinnamon, honey caramel, green apple, strawberry and raspberry.

The purees are pure and natural, and the business uses fair trade chocolate whenever possible.

“We try to use fair trade because they help the farmers; it is organic and kosher,” she mentioned.

Ande said the one thing she and her husband take pride in, is when customers bite into their chocolate, they know what the flavor is without looking at a cheat sheet.

“If you bite into orange (flavored chocolate), you are going to know exactly what you are eating,” she said. “We put a lot of product inside of them. We don’t skimp on them. That was how we started tweaking our chocolate so people know … there is no doubt in your mind.”

The couple also makes customized candy bars in bright colors like yellow, metallic, silver, purple, red, copper, green, gold and red. The copper, for example, includes a variation of honey, caramel and walnuts, while the green has pistachio and caramel and the silver candy bar includes gooey marshmallows and graham crackers.

“My husband I like to play with stuff,” she said of creating new flavors. “We are constantly trying new and different things.”

The gourmet popcorn includes such tasty flavors as orange cheese mixed with caramel corn, pretzel toffee crunch, green caramel apple and regular caramel drizzled with chocolate. Ande said she uses coconut oil to make the popcorn.

The Grants’ shop is geared toward gifts and personalization. The business’ specialty is personalizing the sweet gifts by using an engraving machine on the merchandise.

Customers can personalize their chocolates by placing a business logo on top, or if someone gets married, their wedding date can be added to the chocolate. Boxes and wine bottles can also be engraved with whatever the customer chooses, as the business offers many customized boxes of selected chocolates.

“It’s a personalized sweets factory,” Ande said. “If someone walks in, we can turn the logo-ed chocolates around in 48 hours.”

Shane has his own transfer sheets on premise, so nothing goes out, everything is made fresh and in house.

To see a collection of what the Grant’s offer, visit SendItSweetly.com, or call 239-793-3859.