Day 340 – National Chocolate with Almonds Day

This day seemed a bit oddly worded. It wasn’t Chocolate Covered Almonds Day, it was Chocolate With Almonds Day. I guess that meant that I didn’t have to enrobe almonds in chocolate, I just had to add them to anything with chocolate. It seemed a strange distinction and I wasn’t sure what direction I was going to go. Today was also a graduation celebration for my nephew Tom who recently received his degree from the University of Connecticut. We were heading to his house today for the party and when parties and days of celebration collide, I generally try to bring something to the party to reflect whatever day I am celebrating. However in this case, Tom is allergic to tree nuts. I thought bringing him some kind of chocolate dessert packed full of almonds which could send him into anaphylactic shock would be insensitive (if not attempted nepoticide). No, I would leave the almonds home.

Given that news, I decided to enjoy the chocolate with almonds in one of the best ways I know how. It’s a version that dates back to 1908 when Milton Hershey decided to add almonds to his famous bar of chocolate. Growing up, that was always the versions of chocolate with almonds that you had available to you (although the folks at Mars would take great umbrage to that statement). Mars bars just weren’t part of my candy scene. Neither were Hershey with almonds, not being a fan of nuts at the time, but my parents liked them and they would show up on occasion. Over the years however, Hershey’s innovators (or Oompah Loompahs) have worked to improve their product and they have come up with a pretty great version called the Nugget. It’s a mini-nugget shaped bar that’s thicker than the regular Hershey bar so you get more dense chocolate taste. Plus it has almonds strewn throughout, so you get the deep milk chocolate taste and burst of whole almonds in every bite. It’s kind of perfect. That would be the best way for me to celebrate Chocolate with Almonds Day – with the best.

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I gave one to Lola too and even unwrapped it for her to be nice, but when she bit it, she did not know what the product name was, only that it was chocolate with almonds. She was immediately impressed and she said that it’s greatness was because of it’s nugget-shape. I told her that’s what they were called, Nuggets, and for a moment she had a minute of self-satisfaction. It really is a great product. If you are reaching for chocolate with almonds, reach here.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to Tom’s graduation party (sans chocolate with almonds). It was a warm day but the party was poolside with plenty of shady spots to gather. It was a happy occasion. It’s hard to believe Tom has graduated college. He’s no longer the little kid looking up at his silly uncle with a puzzled face and cute little smile. He’s a kind, funny and smart young man on his way in the world. We’re all proud of him (none more than his parents) and it was fun to be part of a celebration in his honor. This was the first time that a party for Tom had beer available that Tom and his friends could drink, so it was even fun seeing him and all his buddies in this new light. It reminded me of that time after you graduate college and you go to all your friend’s graduation parties. You are on the party circuit throughout the summer and life is good. That was the joy I saw here. We wanted to stay and play along. There was a floating beer pong game being played in the pool and Lola and I wanted to jump in and show off our newly acquired beer pong skills. I even had visions of Lola doing a keg stand had we stayed longer, but we left the fun to the kids (er…young adults). We actually had to leave somewhat early. We were heading into Boston for a concert. So around 5 pm, we made the rounds to say goodbye. Lola showed Tom how to do a cement mixer shot and then we were on our way. We really are proud of Tom and grateful to be part of his day, even if we were only there for a short while.

We were heading to the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in the Seaport to see Idina Menzel. If you don’t know who Idina is, she’s probably most famous for her song “Let It Go” from the Frozen movie and for being misidentified as Adele Dazeem by John Travolta at the Oscars. But, she is more than that. She’s Broadway nobility having created the role of Maureen in the original Rent and also the role of Elphaba in the original Wicked. She was on Glee for a brief moment, playing the mother of Lea Michele. But at the very core, she is an incredibly talented singer and performer. This would be our ninth time seeing her which is the most times I have seen any group or performer. I first learned of her when I was watching Dave Letterman one night and he had the cast of Wicked on performing the song “Defying Gravity.” I was blown away and soon after, I decided to surprise Lola and buy tickets to the show. Lola had not heard of the show and this was really before it had become the Broadway smash that it is today. We saw it with the original cast which included Idina as Elphaba, Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda, Joel Grey as the Wizard and Norbert Leo Butz as Fiyero (who would later star as Kevin Rayburn in the Netflix series Bloodline – and if you know that show, you’ll be amazed at that trivia). We were once again blown away. It just delivered in so many ways as Broadway shows tend to do. Idina would go on to win the Tony for that show. Shortly after, I noticed that she was playing a show in Boston. It was a really small venue, the Regatta Bar at the Charles Hotel, and it would be just her singing an array of songs from her shows and her albums. I got tickets and we went. There had to be less than 100 people there. It was that small. But we discovered what a great performer she was. We actually bumped into her in the elevator. It was one of those odd moments where we got in the elevator and went down instead of up so we just had to ride out the mistake. Then Idina got in with her manager on the bottom floor as she was walking out of her first performance of the night. So it was just the four of us in an elevator for a good minute or so. Lola recognized her right away although we got too shy to say anything.

We would see her again when she came back to Boston and played the Berkley School of Music. It was a bigger crowd and a better show with a whole back up band. Still, she kept it intimate. She has an incredible stage presence and talks to the audience throughout each show. Soon after that, she was booked at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH which was almost like playing in our living room. Another great show. As time went on, she was becoming more and more known and the venues were getting bigger and bigger. We would see her in Boston two more times. Once alongside the Boston Pops as one of the Pops special concert series. Then we would see her again at the Wang Theater. After that show, she made her return to Broadway in a show called If/Then which was a tale about someone’s life had they taken different choices along the way. She was the featured performer and we had to go see it, so we did. It was a great show, although it did not hang around very long. Soon after that, Frozen happened and her career skyrocketed. She then came around again and played a really big venue at the casinos in Connecticut. That was the last time we went to go see her; that is until tonight.

On our way to the show, it started raining which made traffic a bitch and also made us all wet as we walked around Boston en route to the show. It wasn’t too bad, but just added a little frustration to the night. The Blue Hills Bank Pavilion is a neat little venue. It’s smack in the heart of the Seaport right on the water with the planes taking off from Logan in the background. It’s under a giant tent, so were safe from the rain. It was actually a pretty good space and wasn’t cramped as some theaters are. They had lots of options for buying beer and drinks, although because we got there late, we didn’t stop for any. It was clean and spacious. It was still partially lit by the daylight coming in from the sides of the tent. As is her norm, Idina started the show a bit late, but when she came out, she crashed open the show by pounding on two bass drums creating a rhythmic call to all in the audience. The show was one.

She’s just a great performer. Even though I don’t know all her songs, she makes you enjoy them. She brings in the songs that made her famous which meant she sang “Seasons of Love” and “No Day But Today” (and even a little “Over the Moon”) from Rent and she sang “Defying Gravity” and “For Good” from Wicked. She naturally sang “Let It Go” from Frozen (her finale) but she also sang “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” too which she mashed up ever so sweetly with the Beatles “Dear Prudence.” Idina does a lot of cover songs too and she puts an interesting spin on each. She sang one of the best versions of “Bridge over Troubled Waters” I have ever heard which started out with her singing alone on stage without back up and then the band came in as the song began to climb. She busted into Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” in the middle of her own song “Cake” and she nailed the Robert Plant lines perfectly albeit with her own sound. Plus she featured all her fellow performers and musicians on a funky version of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” which got you moving in your seat. She talks to the audience throughout the show which I appreciate and which adds to the intimacy, even when there are thousands on the audience. We were once again blown away by her talent and so happy to have made the journey to Boston tonight.

Before we left our house, I put the chocolate with almond nuggets in the car. My hope was that they would be a good snack for our travels. My vision was to grab a couple out of my pocket in the middle of the show and Lola and I could celebrate the day in the audience of Idina. But then heat happened. When we left the graduation party, they had been in the car and had already melted. I picked up one and it was like picking up water wrapped inside a golden wrapper. Not my best plan ever – to keep chocolate in a hot car. But the thought was there. On the way home, after the AC had been on and the night had cooled, I tried to eat one. It was still melty so I ended up having to scrape it off the wrapper with my teeth. It’s probably all over the steering wheel. I guess I learned my lesson. I should have kept them …ready for it?…..Frozen.

My chocolate with almond celebration was kind of simple today. I just bought the best version I could think of and enjoyed it. But the day was more celebration than ever. It just started with a sweet treat but then drifted to a party to honor one of life’s great moments in the village that was built around Tom. It was a tribute to his success and that’s always fun to celebrate. Then the day drifted to a celebration of music and great performance. It was a journey through music guided by someone who has played a big part in our life over the last 15 years or so. It was celebrating life with Lola. Taking the time to enjoy the gifts others give the world. Putting a song in our heart from someone who has changed our world for good. Yeah, that’s a pretty great day and it came with chocolate with almonds too.

Next up: National Sugar Cookie Day 

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