Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: July 2014 Charleston Epicurean Box

Today, I found a box on my porch with a distinctive imprint of wrought-iron gates stamped on the front. That's right, friends, it's time for another Charleston Epicurean box!

A refresher: Charleston Epicurean is a subscription service that promises 4-6 gourmet and/or artisanal products each month, locally sourced from the Charleston area. (Here, I must tell you that if you have never been to Charleston, you are missing out on one of the true jewels of the South... except for the fact that I want you to keep reading my blog, I'd tell you to go start planning a trip RIGHT NOW.) June was my first month with Charleston Epicurean, and I wasn't overly in love with that box (review here), but I have been eagerly anticipating my second box of goodies anyway... and now, here it is!

Inside my box, prettily protected with crinkly grassy packing material, I found:
  • Grey Ghost Bakery "Chocolate Espresso" and "Lemon Sugar" cookies (4 cookies, $4.00): Like any sane human being, I do love a good cookie, so I was excited to see these... especially the lemon-flavored ones, because lately I've been on a lemon kick for some reason. Unfortunately, the lemon sugar cookies didn't survive the trip from the Lowcountry to the Bluegrass intact... not like I'd let that stop me, so of course I mooshed together the crumbs a little and ate them anyway. (Afterward, I realized that I should have sprinkled them over some ice cream... when life gives you lemon-flavored cookie crumbs, make a sundae!) For me, they were perfectly serviceable sugar cookies, but I would have preferred a stronger lemon tang. Much to my surprise, I wound up greatly preferring the chocolate espresso variety. I'm actually not a huge chocolate lover, but these cookies had a surprisingly potent cocoa flavor with none of the overdone sweetness of many chocolate cookies, and the hint of espresso beautifully complemented and heightened the chocolate. Both varieties had a tender, crumbly texture that I enjoyed, although I'm sure that didn't help with the shipping! So, would I buy? I'd absolutely buy the chocolate espresso if I found them next time I'm in Charleston... but I didn't find them special enough to order them and pay shipping instead of buying something locally, though, especially given the fact that 50% of them arrived in pieces.
  • Charleston Mix Bold & Spicy Bloody Mary Mix (8 oz., $2.50): I love a good Bloody Mary... but I find that in most cases, I have to do a lot of doctoring to spice them up to my liking. With this mix, however, I don't think I'd have to doctor much at all! Actually, when I first tasted it, I thought it was overly seasoned... but then I realized that it's because I was tasting it straight, not cut with vodka. (What can I say? It's 5:00 somewhere, but not here right now!) It may be just a wee bit too salty for my liking, but I really appreciated the assertive flavors, especially the distinct kick of celery, which is one of my favorite flavors in a really good Bloody. The mix has a certain grittiness from all the included spices... normally I wouldn't say "gritty" and mean it in a positive way, but this time I do. I enjoyed catching and savoring little crunchy bursts of celery seed and black pepper. It has a mysterious hint of complex sweetness beyond what I tend to expect, and a glance at the ingredient list reveals that it can probably be attributed to the inclusion of brown sugar and marjoram... interesting! I was also having a niggling feeling that something was fundamentally different about this mix, and that ingredient list clued me in to what it was: the heat comes from habañero mash instead of the traditional horseradish. I'm not 100% sure that I don't miss the pungency of horseradish, but still, this is a complex, interesting, and potent twist on the Bloody Mary. This sample size is really only enough for one drink (at least if you make a big-ass Bloody Mary like I tend to), and although I would have liked a larger bottle, this size is more than sufficient to make an informed decision about the product. (Side note: these small bottles are available to purchase in quantities of eight, and I think they would make cute gifts, with tiny bottles of vodka attached... perhaps for a bachelor/ette party or something of that type.)  So, would I buy? As with the cookies, this is something that I would definitely buy in Charleston, but probably wouldn't go to the trouble and shipping cost of ordering online... but luckily, that won't be an issue at all, because this product is apparently available to me locally at World Market. Huzzah!
  • Jimbo's Lowcountry Seasoning (2.5 oz, $5.95): When I opened this seasoning blend, it smelled oddly familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. My mother, however, immediately said, "Is that poultry seasoning?" After she said that, it was all I could smell... that earthy, herby sage scent of a November kitchen. One of the entries on the Jimbo's Facebook page talks about mixing this seasoning in with sauteed onion and celery and serving it over rice... and that seems like a pretty perfect use for something that is strongly reminding me of Thanksgiving stuffing. I'm pretty sure this will be good on chicken, but I haven't gotten that far yet. I did, however, mix it into some pasta salad that had turned out a little bland, and it imparted a nice hint of added flavor. Side note: whenever I get around to making an actual Bloody Mary with my remaining Charleston Mix, I'm going to take Jimbo's recommendation to rim the glass with this seasoning. So, would I buy? No, both because it's not particularly unique for me, and because this bottle will probably last me a looooooooong time. (Yes, I'm one of those naughty people who doesn't replace rarely-used seasonings as often as I probably should. I shudder to think how old my current poultry seasoning probably is... but, I mean, it still smells good!)
  • Black Tie Soap Co. Handcrafted Soap in "Citrus Scrub" (4.5 oz., $6.50): To be honest, I normally use liquid soaps because I feel like bar soaps get kind of grotty and icky (technical terms), but I do have a soft spot for handmade artisanal soaps, especially ones with interesting scents. This soap is one that definitely passes muster for me, because the citrus scent is just divine, and as I said earlier about the cookies, I've been grooving hard on all things lemon-scented lately! So, would I buy? Well, maybe... if I could figure out how! I had a near-impossible time tracking down an online presence for Black Tie. First I found an Etsy page, but with no products listed. Then I found the Facebook page linked above, which gives a website link... but that link takes me right back to the Facebook page! Dear Black Tie: if you want the business of non-Charlestonians who are discovering your products in these boxes, it would be good to have a functioning online shop. As much as I'd like to be able to hit you up at the Folly Beach Farmer's Market, that's a hell of a drive for me to get some soap!
  • Charleston Receipts Album ($9.95): Color me surprised when I noticed that something big was peeking out from underneath that crinkly packing grass... a recipe binder based on the classic Junior League cookbook "Charleston Receipts," which I already own and which will be right at home next to this album on my shelf! The tabbed dividers feature recipes from the cookbook, and each section includes plastic sleeves for recipe cards. The included cards, as well as the cover, feature charming artwork by Charleston artist Tate Nation. My only complaint here is that I will most certainly require more recipe cards and plastic sleeves, as there are only a couple in each section, and while both items are available on the Junior League's website, the shipping cost for a few pieces of paper and plastic is rather excessive. So, would I buy? Well, I probably wouldn't buy another binder, but I will most likely end up sucking up the stupid shipping cost and ordering more inserts! My current recipe book is almost full, and this one is just adorable.
So, in summary, let's first look at the math of it all: the dollar value of the box rang up at $28.90. As with my first box, it didn't meet the $33/month cost (per my three-month membership), and at first I found this a little jarring because I'm used to other subscriptions that wind up with a numeric value higher than the price paid... but this time, I find more personal value in the contents, which is more important to me. I will use everything I received, I will definitely see about tracking down the Bloody Mary mix locally, and I'm sure I will enjoy the recipe binder for a long time, so that makes me happy. August will be the last month of the three-month trial I allowed myself, and I'm already curious to see if it will win me over and convince me to continue my subscription!

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