Sunday, September 26, 2010

Safari #13: One Bite at a Time

Did you ever think that eating chocolate could support the local economy, promote direct trade, and be environmentally conscious?  If you eat Taza Chocolate, it certainly can.

My latest safari took me on a tour of the Taza factory in Somerville, where Taza has been making artisanal, organic chocolate for nearly four years.  Made Mexican style, the chocolate is ground using stone mills allowing for smaller bits to remain within the finished product offering a distinct and rustic texture. 

Taza uses direct trade to purchase its cocoa beans.  Rather than using fair trade, where a middle man acquires beans without regard to growing practices, Taza buys beans directly from a farm in the Dominican Republic.  Direct trade allows Taza to ensure that the farm uses both humane and organic farming methods.

Last but not least, Taza uses environmentally sustainable practices for the production and shipping of its products.  Each chocolate is hand-wrapped using bio-degradable paper and shipped using corn-based insulation.  The remaining cocoa shells (removed from the cocoa bean after roasting) are sold as mulch to local and organic gardens and to local breweries as an ingredient in beer.

If you're interested in learning more about how Taza produces its chocolate (and to taste some of its chocolatey goodness), sign-up to take a factory tour at the company website. 

A few tips before you go:
  • Skip the sandals and fragrances.  Since you are entering a manufacturing facility, you must wear closed toed shoes and refrain from wearing perfume or cologne.
  • Prepare to expand your palate.  You'll get a chance to try some traditional dark chocolate (ranging from 60 to 80%), but you will also be offered traditional Mexican flavors like spiced chilli pepper.  It's a little different, but it's worth trying.
  • Don't leave without chocolate.  While finished chocolate is sold in local retail stores and used at many local restaurants, you can also bring some home.  At home, it can be eaten as is or shaved and mixed into liquid (like milk) to make hot chocolate.
  • The factory is within short walking distance of Inman Square in Cambridge (accessible to the 69 bus) or a 10 minute walk from Union Square in Somerville (accessible to the 86 bus).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Safari #12: South End Open Market

Local. Chic. Indie. 

This is the mantra of the South End Open Market (SOWA) located at 460 Harrison Avenue in Boston's South End.  Open mid-May through late October, this market highlights handmade goods by local artists ranging from housewares and furniture to clothing and accessories.  Recently added to the lineup is the vintage market. 

If you're on the hunt for handmade or vintage goodies, check out the booths I visited during my recent trip to get some great local (and regional) flavor:
  • Lola's Urban Vintage (187 Harvard Ave in Allston) - the day's offerings included a great selection of late 70's and early to mid 80's jewelery.  Many items were priced under $10.
  • FidgetFinds (Rhode Island) - Tons of accessories including a great selection of day and evening bags. 
  • Calico (New Bedford, MA) - Great stuff all around.  I couldn't pass up the sunglasses.
  • Escama Studio (Arlington, MA) - Are you a fan of recycled items made into something new?  If yes, check out Escama's merchandise (and my soda can top handbag).

Some tips before visiting SOWA:
  • Try your luck at bargaining with the vendors - most times, they are willing to lower the price ;)
  • Hit the ATM.  While many vendors accept credit cards, some only accept cash. 
  • Food Trucks.  If you're hungry, head to one of the many food trucks available.  Most of these are also cash only.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Safari #11: I Roam Around, Around, Around

Well, I'm the type of gal who likes to walk around - and that's exactly what I did today.  With fall temperatures already settling in, there's no better time to head out on safari.  Where to go, you ask?  If you've already visited some of the other green spaces I suggested, head next to the South End and try one of my favorite routes.
Starting at the Back Bay T station, walk into the Southwest Corridor Park, home to the strollers and joggers of the South End.  There are plenty of nooks and crannies to sit and enjoy the greenery.  Walk through the park until you reach W. Newton Street.  If you're lucky, you may get a chance to see some of the area's creative spark.  Look what I found decorating the concrete posts.

    At W. Newton Street, turn left and continue walking about one mile until you reach two of the South End's largest parks, Blackstone and Franklin Squares.  Ornate fountains compliment these spaces along with trees reaching as far as the eye can see.

    If you feel like picnicking, stop at Flour Bakery, located at 1595 Washington Street, for some awesome treats - both savory and sweet.  My favorite: the smoked turkey with cheddar and cranberry chutney.
      P.S. If you're boots still feel like walking (and it's also a Sunday), head down Harrison Avenue and check out the South End Open Market where you can buy local arts and crafts in one of the most creative spaces around.  More on this in an upcoming post.