SoCo, So Cool in Austin, TX

I had the great pleasure of visiting the cool Texan capital that is keeping weird — a not-so-little place called Austin. Declared the “live music capital” of the USA, it’s a musical, tropical, funky paradise. Flying from New York, I was one early morning uber to LGA and onboard tear-jerk film away from the South Congress Hotel and rooftop pool oasis.

Wall Art at the South Congress Hotel #trucks #texas #soco

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monday

midday

We arrived at our beautiful hotel where our room included two queen mattress bunk beds! There were also endless pumps of Aesop in the bathroom, that were bolted to the wall so they wouldn’t end up in our suitcases. Smart.

My closest compadre Nicki and landed just in time to fill our bellies with the incredible cuisine at Elizabeth Street Café , a Vietnamese-French culinary adventure and true bánh mì boulangerie.

late afternoon

We took the afternoon to tour the neighbourhood that we would call home for the next two days: South Congress. Also known as SoCo, it’s an artsy, vibrant area south of Lady Bird Lake (which looks more like a river through the city). Its main artery is South Congress Avenue so if you can manage to stand in the middle of the road, you’ve got a direct view of Texas’ Capitol bookending the northern end of Congress Avenue.

S. Congress Ave. is filled with cafés and restaurants, and plenty of unique shops like South Congress Books and one of the largest cowboy boots stores I’ve seen south of I40, Allens Boots.

evening

We grabbed a drink and a bite at our hotel bar before venturing to Perla’s for a fish dinner. The bartender let us know our drinks were taken care of by a male patron, I did a thank you nod and enjoyed my free beverage but it might have been the first time I saw my always cool, calm, collected friend infuriated by his assumption that we like men and weren’t instead on a date with each other. She had a great point and that night I learned that she has better morals than me, because the economics of my free drink filled all my morals. (Love you Nicki!)

We sat inside at Perla’s but they do have a really sweet outdoor patio, while slightly more hot and humid.

Monday is jazz night at The Continental Club. This place has everything you could want for a live music hideaway — it’s one dark flight up with couches, pulled up chairs, and a bar serving cheaply priced Bulleit. The room had a low blue glow, filled with folks of all ages tapping their feet and enjoying the music. We sipped our nightcaps before hitting the hay on our giant bunk beds.

tuesday

morning

Did somebody say breakfast tacos? Hell yes. We headed to Jo’s Coffee for spicy egg tacos and iced coffee which we enjoyed outside while there was still a grey cover and a cool morning breeze. The tacos were delicious, as was every meal we ate on the entire trip. Austin is a food capital in my book.

Texas is big, so it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that Austin is big too. The city allows carsharing with Car2Go and we found it to be the easiest, most affordable route to see the city on our own terms.

We loaded into our teeny, tiny Smart car and hit some of Austin’s highlights: the University of Texas at Austin campus; the Whole Foods Market flagship; and Barton Springs — a three-acre swimming pool where Robert Redford learned how to swim.

With our squeaky little car, we headed back to SoCo for lunch.

afternoon

But first, doughnuts.

I believe these were called blue balls. They were blueberry doughnut holes of sugary goodness. Gourdoughs is on S. 1st St. at Elizabeth, just two blocks from S. Congress and surrounded by heaps of food options.

Then, more tacos at Güero’s plus margaritas rounding out dessert with lunch, followed by a siesta before the evening.

evening

Tuesday evening, we enjoyed wine and a charcuterie board at June’s, a beautiful spot with a fifties retro vibe and French-inspired menu.

Gold tables and cheers 🍻 in #Austin.

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Then, it was off to Vinaigrette for dinner—their speciality being salads. The sky cooled with the sunset and we dined over big bowls of greens in their beautiful backyard paradise.

wednesday

morning

Wednesday was oh so hot and humid. To make the most of it, we got up early to enjoy a little pool time with a coffee from the in-house Mañana coffee shop.

Forecast: 80s with a chance of 🌞🌞🌞

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midday

There was still time yet before our evening flights home to New York, so we hopped back into our trusty Car2Go and explored downtown Austin — home to the capitol, the historic Driskill Hotel and some fine BBQ which we finally sampled at Lamberts (no, there were no throwed rolls).

late afternoon

Back in SoCo with a bit of time to spare, we headed across the street to very cool Hotel San Jose and sipped frosé before frosé was a thing. It’s still the best I’ve tasted.

Until next time Austin!

A Spritz Selected by Venice

Venice is a city unparalleled.

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Its people are decidedly separate from their mainland counterparts–those remaining few who have memorized the lion city’s calles.

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Jan Morris, in her investigations of the city, describes the Venetian way as not only the most right, but the most unique. And it is so with the spritz.

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Before noon, weather no matter, people ubiquitously stand outside their preferred bar with an oversized wine glass filled with ice, a large green olive and a blend of prosecco, sparkling water, and Select.

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Select is the Venetian-made counterpart to Aperol and its taste is far less sweet, nearly bitter, and its color is Venetian red.

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Now that I’ve tasted a Venetian spritz, I might never turn back. And I bet, neither would you.

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Excitingly, Select was recently purchased by Montenegro and they have plans to expand it, so I hope to see more of it soon and find it here in the U.S.!

Ole Mill Towns of the Cannon River Valley

The Cannon River runs from southeastern Minnesota into the Mississippi River. Early American settlers were drawn to the area as they could harness power from the river to run mills — from flour to textile. The area is made up of beautiful hills of corn and soybean farms along the valley just tall enough to be enchanting and make for an arresting landscape, yet no cliffs so great as to cause a pit in your stomach.

Milling became the Cannon River Valley’s foremost industry, and the area became a center for innovation. Today, Malt-O-Meal in Northfield and Faribault Woolen Mill in Faribault, maintain flour and textile mills in their respective towns of origin.

Northfield, Minn.

Northfield, Minn.

Today, Faribault and Northfield remain thriving, quaint towns with strong historic roots, surrounded by rich farmland and the flowing Cannon River, just an hour out from the Twin Cities.

Faribault (Pronounced “Fair-boh”)

Faribault Woolen Mill was founded on the banks of Faribault, Minn. in 1865. World renowned for quality blankets and throws, the mill endures as one of the last vertical woolen mills in America.

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Faribault, Minn.

Fifth generation craftspeople continue to dedicate themselves to creating beautiful wool goods with century-old methods and machinery. The company’s flagship store is onsite at their Faribault headquarters. It’s beautifully curated with an entire section of discounted excess or compromised materials. We snagged a beautiful U.S. Navy blanket that was majorly marked down because of an extra blue dot, hardly visible to the eye!

Our Flagship Store reimagined, come and visit.  #FaribaultMill #MadeInUSA

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While here, be sure to stop for a flat white and a delectable pastry at the Bluebird Cakery. Another must for the area is a cup of Minnesota wild rice soup at The Warehouse A, particularly as the seasons turn cold!

 

Northfield

Northfield, Minn. has the charm and appearance of an old European city. Built right along the Cannon River in cobblestone, much of the architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are well preserved. Thriving Division Street is the main street which runs through the town, and it divides the city between the two college campuses to either side of the city — Carleton College and St. Olaf College.


Enjoy live music and spiked apple cider at the autumn Saturday farmers market in the square at the heart of town, or grab a drink on the river at Froggy Bottoms or The Tavern. Northfield has a helpful tourism site here.

One shop in Northfield that is a must-visit is MakeShift Accessories.

MakeShift is making jewelry pieces from industrial parts, and making unique, up-cycled treasures and trinkets in the process.

Last but not least, a historic defeat of Jesse James took place here in Northfield on Sept. 7, 1876 at roughly 2:00 p.m. Since then, a festival honoring those who protected the banks — some of whom lost their lives doing so — known as the Defeat of Jesse James Days has taken place the weekend after Labor Day each year.

Mad for Madison, WI

It wasn’t long after dating a Minnesota native that I learned of the Viking fandom tradition, passed along over generations. Purple and yellow were swiftly added to my dresser. Indeed being a fan of the Vikings is wrapped in great hope and regular disappointment. Think: How I Met Your Mother  episode where Marshall enters the Walleye Saloon and recounts with all the other Minnesota-New York transplants, the fateful 1999 NFC loss due to a lousy field goal.

Fast forward four years since my own initiation and my car dons a Vikings license plate frame, plus I experienced a firsthand repeat of 1999 in 2016. It’s all good fun, although snarls of Green Bay echo from our elders. I suppose like most rivalries — theirs is built on shared Upper Midwest snow fronts and Nordic roots.

And so, on our most recent car trip from New York to Andrew’s homeland we stopped through Madison, WI in what we had understood to be a wasteland of Packers fans in cheese hats. Nay, I hadn’t really heard it was a wasteland. Madison is an incredibly cool college town that is beautifully set between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. And that delicious squeaky cheese is quite easy to come by.

downtown madison

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The Wisconsin State Capitol building stands at the heart of downtown Madison. Strolling the area is to play Hide and Seek with the Capitol and the lakes that border either side of the downtown stretch.

The Dane County Farmers’ Market

The Dane County Farmers’ Market is America’s largest producers-only farmers’ market and located right at the foot of the Capitol.

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We found the squeakiest squeaky cheese here. Check the schedule here.

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Boutiques, coffeehouses and cocktail bars are abundant on downtown Madison’s main thoroughfare.

Madison Modern Market. 310 State Street.

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shopmadmod.com

little luxuries. 230 state street.

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day to night

Cheese counter turned DJ spinner. ?? #onlyinwisconsin #madisonwi #cheese

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Merchant. 121 South Pinckney Street.

For dinner, head to Merchant for a delectable cheese and charcuterie platter and a Smokin’ Barrels whiskey cocktail. At 10:37pm, a DJ takes over the cheese counter with fresh spins. I wasn’t able to uncover the significance of 10:37 — if you know the scoop, please share.

willy street in marquette

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At the opposite end of Madison’s downtown along the city’s stretch betwixt the lakes Willy Street maintains an artsy vibrance with vintage shops, artisanal butcher shops, a co-op and plethora of bars.

Weary Traveler Freehouse. 1201 Williamson Street.

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This place is everything you could want from your local pub: cheap and tasty fare with some art to inspire.

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Pieces Unimagined. 1228 Williamson Street.

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piecesunimagined.com

Monroe Street

We called this area home for the weekend in Madison — it’s a gorgeous residential neighborhood with tree lined streets abutting University of Wisconsin’s impressive Arboretum. A paved Green belt surrounds the lake and park, perfect for joggers and cyclists.

colectivo coffee roasters. 2530 monroe street.


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Colectivo actually has locations all around the city but the location on Monroe was one of my favorite with two entire wall of windows that opened up onto Wisconsin’s cool summer breezes.

Gates & brovi. 3502 monroe street.

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This place is a self-described “east coast fish house meets midwest supper club” and that pretty much hits the nail on the head. The seafood is phenomenal, as is their pizza. The decor is spot on. We found this place our last night in Madison and we certainly remember it as a favorite.

gatesandbrovi.com

 

When you’re leaving town, be sure to stop at the National Mustard Museum. No ketchup allowed.

Vermouth: Beyond the Martini

I think I’ll always remember the first time I indulged the nectar of the grape skin. It was a hot July day and the sun shone brightly overhead. I stood gathered with a few friends around a large barrel upon which six green bottles were presented before us by our host and sommelier.  Each one of these green bottles was filled with vermouth.

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VerVino Vermouth

Bright blue skies began to descend into an evening glow. Rows of vineyards filled the horizon. We all stood a bit warm and flushed from the series of pinots, rieslings and rosés we had just sampled. Murmurs and concerns of the onerous Sunday return to the city echoed about as the night drew near.

Vermouth is a spirit, it’s what happens to the grape skins once they’ve been shed for wine making. Waste not, refrigerate not and that is the birth of vermouth. They get their flavor, scent and all around character from what’s in the ground, the air, the region, and in season.

Despite the “secret” recipes, one can induce the moment each of these vermouths were produced by their photograph on the label and imagine what he or she might with every swig.

At Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton, New York, they have produced this incredible collection of vermouths, each bottle uniquely reflecting changing of the seasons from spring through autumn.

The vermouth was poured into small port glasses which we sniffed, sipped and passed to each other, beginning with springtime. Not even a candle could hold a candle to the fresh scents of fennel, and from the vermouth bottled in the summer seasons — of melons and arugula. The final bottle was prepared in the fall. Unlike the others which ranged from pale and dark golds, this was red in color. Its smooth, yet spicy character delivered me to a cold evening by a fire. Each and every vermouth shared its own bottled up piece of a season in scent and taste — each one unique and phenomenal.

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Liberate vermouth from martinis and negronis, and let it stand alone.

A Walk in the Park: Storm King Art Center

Set among the green Catskill mountains and creeks which flow into the Hudson River, more than 500 acres of manicured landscape is home to large scale art installations. Storm King Art Center, located Upstate New York, lures art enthusiasts and curious amblers daily.

Amblers Among Us

Amblers Among Us

My month-long journey living in Kingston had come to its end. The car was repacked — stuffed with shoes and bins, coats and heavy sweaters set apart as Springtime was making its arrival, assuredly this time.

A girl tests gravity

A Gravity Test

And so, it would be our thirtieth day, that Andrew and I would finally make it to Storm King on our return to the city.

Cartwheels.

Cartwheels.

The area feels like a bowl.  None of the park is viewable or a tease from the highway. Instead these massive art installations stand concealed by the surrounding terrain.

Scale

The approach

As a volunteer at a museum in New York, entrance was free and near to it is a quirky outdoor café which served up delicious chili. We dined outside watching bicyclists and trolleys of tourists pass by.

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Human scale

Paths and walkways are built throughout the park but exploring these artistic monsters up close is encouraged.

Spider web

Spider web

The sheer vastness of the park makes it easy to understand may visitors may opt for wheels, and on my next trip, I would likely rent a bike to see more of this curious place.

It's all about the hat

It’s all about the hat

The sheer size and heft of material of each installation remarkable.

The Inner Workings

The Inner Workings

Come one, come all to check out Storm King.

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake

Shrimp Fest

Shrimp Fest

Corinthian

Corinthian

U.F.O. Landing Pads

U.F.O. Landing Pads

Hidden Hollows and Peeking Moose

A few miles north of Woodstock in Shandaken Wild Forest, is Rochester Hollow. A long dirt road which feels akin to trespassing reveals the start of the 5.6 mile loop through the woods.

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The hike begins with an uphill climb along a creek, and the ascent is slow and steady until you reach the furthest point of the trail before turning back.

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Stone walls from early settlers remain, intricately built to last forever like those which roam a Scottish countryside.

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At the top of the trail is a lean-to for camping, an impeccably kept log cabin style shelter with a bench and a view.

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Chipmunks and birds scatter about while the bears sleep.

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After our multi-hour expedition, we descended to the Peekamoose. It’s a gorgeous bar and restaurant just around the bend from the trail head. The bar is adorned with forest-like wallpaper and taxidermy animal heads. Outside a fire-pit is lit and visitors can enjoy s’mores nightly. Bar patrons were jovial with each other, the local Monday night crowd.

Our meal was scrumptious and began with some delicious brews on tap along homemade breadsticks. We enjoyed a three course meal for Restaurant Week right at the bar: beet soup to start, follow by cod, and concluded with homemade blackberry ice cream. It was a beautiful, welcoming setting and the perfect meal to follow Rochester Hollow.

Bouquets, Boutiques & Booze Shops in the Hudson Valley

Delightful shops are plentiful in the Hudson Valley. Take a tour through haberdasheries, pick up a lovely bouquet, a bottle of Slovenian wine and signature pieces for the home imported from around the world.

 

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Woodstock General Supply

33 Tinker Street. Woodstock, NY

A few years ago, while camping at Kenneth Wilson State Park outside of Woodstock, we popped into town for a sit down brunch and strolled the main streets. Woodstock General Supply is a cabin-esque outdoorsman’s haberdashery with a collection of clothes, candles, notebooks, and grooming products.

woodstockgeneralsupply.com

 

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Kingston wine company

65 Broadway. Kingston NY

A photo posted by @kingstonwineco on

During our month-long stint in Kingston’s Rondout District, we were luckily enough to be neighbors with this delightful and well-stocked wine store. Friendly shopkeepers and a collection featuring the untapped and tasty Slovenian and Georgia wine market make this a must-visit for any picnicker or dinner party host/attendee.

kingstonwine.com

 

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hops petunia

73B Broadway. Kingston, NY

Hops Petunia was another glorious neighbor in the Rondout District. Almost daily, we’d peer through the windows of meticulously set, beautiful displays of flowers and candles. Here I also discovered one of the best smelling candles of all time, a Sage & Cedar soy candle, made by Simply Curated. You can also purchase a Hops Petunia bouquet at Brunette Wine Bar down the street.

hopspetunia.com

 

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nectar

1412 State Route 213. High Falls, NY

High Falls is a quirky town abutting a canal. It’s beautiful and while very small, vibrant with food, flea markets and magical shops like Nectar. Two buildings filled with a plethora of treasures from India make up Nectar, along with a warm atmosphere and tea for patrons.  It’s the type of place where we could meet a couple the same age as Andrew and I from his own hometown in Springfield, Missouri. Far from home, and yet a nexus of the universe awaits at wonderful Nectar.

nectar.com

 

Downtown antiques

23 main street. accord, ny

Ron Sharkey is the fine eye behind this antique furniture shop and outpost at the High Falls flea market. American flags, old books and a trunk are among the items we have taken off his hands. There are all sorts of amazing flea markets to discover in the Hudson Valley, here is a guide.

 

Outdated: an antique café

314 Wall Street. Kingston, NY

This is a café meets brunch spot meets antique shop. Sip matcha with a homemade muffin and buy the decor at this coffeeshop in the Stockade District.

 

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fern

243 Warren street. hudson, ny

A photo posted by Jason Roskey (@fernhandcrafted) on


There is no shortage of beautiful furniture at this Hudson shop. The craftsmen at Fern are also among the designers behind the Hawkins New York brand. Here is a piece I did on Hawkins in And North, a curated guide to upstate New York.

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germantown variety

212 Main Street. Germantown, NY

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Germantown is extremely small with no more than a restaurant, grocer, antique shop and the local general store — and yet, everything in Germantown is quaint to perfection. 

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pirate upholstery

25 broadway. kingston, ny

I didn’t get to go inside this custom leather workshop, but I admired their handiwork on motorcycles and bicycles from the window. 

A Photographed Journey Through the Stockade District

Commonly referred to as Uptown Kingston, the Stockade District is the remnant of a mid-17th century Dutch settlement. One year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it was here that the State of New York was established, and Kingston selected as its first capital. George Clinton took office as New York’s first governor and John Jay opened the first term of the New York Supreme Court.

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It is considered the Stockade District because an actual stockade  — or barrier — once surrounded the high plain area.

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The intersection of Crown and John Streets is the only intersection in America with preserved Colonial-era Dutch stone buildings on all four corners.

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Later in 1777, the same year New York had been established, the British took the city by surprise and burned it. While some of the buildings were spared and still stand today, an estimated 326 buildings in the area were destroyed.

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The city was rebuilt and a few years later, George Washington visited, commending early Dutch Colonial Governor Peter Stuyvesant for his foresight in building a protective barrier.

It was in 1783, as the Revolutionary War was drawing toward its close and British defeat, that New York proposed Kingston as the national capital.

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The Senate House

Over the next century the area continued to grow and spread to other areas, including the Rondout, located at Rondout Creek.

It wasn’t long after Kingston’s rebuilding that people concerned themselves with its preservation, and so among its historic preservation efforts the local Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) chapter paid for one of these restoration efforts and moved their headquarters here, where they remain today.

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Today, Kingston has a vibrant Main Street with several antique shops, restaurants, yoga studios and favorites like the Stockade Tavern and the very cool Outdated café.

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It’s commercial streets are known for their portico style which run the entire length of the streets.

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The Stockade District is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in New York.

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And yet, it seamlessly has a new and coolness too.

Artisanal Chocolate Meets Bar Snacks

Sipping a Sunday pre-dinner cocktail at a favorite local haunt, Stockade Tavern, the chocolate, jalapeño dipped-corn nuts bar snack captured my attention.

A delightful mix of crunch and sweetness from the corn nut, bitterness from the cacao and spice from the jalapeño made me want to bag it up and take it to the movies.

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It turns out I can buy it by the bag, by the jar even, in nearby Woodstock. Bryan Graham is the founder and chef behind the Catskill Mountains-based Fruition Chocolate Works and Confectionery. Fruition is a small batch bean to bar chocolate workshop crafting bars, truffles and sipping chocolate among other delights.

I think I’ll have to make a visit to their chocolate factory in nearby Shokan.