Donut Challenge Day 3: Honey Fluff Donuts & Sensory Reset

Donut Challenge Day 3Our donut tour of the Western Suburbs of Chicagoland continues today with a stop at Honey Fluff Donuts in Countryside. As I’ve done the past two days, I want to point out a broader concept I learned from this visit before giving you our review of the shop. What I realized from visiting Honey Fluff is that not every business needs to be the best or a standout to do well. And not every stop on any adventure will be amazing. In fact, maybe our adventures shouldn’t be one hundred percent over-the-top mind blowing. Sometimes it’s good to have an ordinary, everyday experience as you explore. I think of it as a sensory reset. Having a break from newness or from being “wowed” gives our minds and senses an opportunity to settle. It prepares us to be amazed again. After all, how much do you notice a light being turned on in a glaringly bright room compared with that same light being lit in a dim space?

When you plan adventures for yourself or your family, consider this factor. Think about whether it would be valuable to build in a “down” day intIMG_3598o your schedule, for a longer vacation. Or a break in an intense day-long activity. Or whatever a sensory reset might look like for your given adventure.

Not that Honey Fluff was a sensory reset exactly, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

IMG_3565Honey Fluff Donuts is located in a strip mall on Joliet Road not far from I-55 and I-294. An easy stop on a commute or trip across the area. What I noticed as I pulled up in front were the prominent signs featuring their deals. I like deals! 4 donuts for $3.39, plus tax? Yes, please! Of course the afternoon special offering a baker’s dozen for $6.80 plus tax would have been tempting too – except I don’t want to burn us out on donut eating (which is a very real possibility this week). Given that it’s not far from where I work, I can see myself stopping by for a baker’s dozen on another afternoon as a treat for the family. Instead this time I bought 4 donuts, which ended up costing about the same as one Dough Boy donut at Stan’s Donuts (for comparison’s sake). And I think that’s what Honey Fluff Donuts has going for them – their prices are reasonable enough for a family to grab a dozen for breakfast.

IMG_3606In addition to the requisite glazed donut, I chose a Boston Kreme, a buttermilk cake,  and a chocolate frosted cake. The shop had sold out of their sour cream donuts, which I would have liked to try. Otherwise, their selection followed the standard donut shop listings – nothing unique. Which I don’t think hurts them at all. Honey Fluff seems like a solid neighborhood donut shop that isn’t out to win accolades as much as they want to offer customers regular donuts.

Among the four we sampled, the Boston Kreme won out for best donut. The custard filling was delightfully thick and creamy smooth and they didn’t skimp on it – even cutting it into quarters, we both ended up with mouthfuls of filling (it drives me nuts when a donut is filled unevenly). The chocolate frosting tasted sweet and chocolatey, just as expected and the donut itself, while not flakey like Stan’s, held up well to the filling.

The glazed donut was underwhelmingly basic. A thin layer of glaze coated a donut that was more cake-like than you typically find in a yeast donut. I like that the donut held up well – it didn’t squish flat like some do. The flavor didn’t stand out. The same was true of the buttermilk cake donut. It was slightly crisp on the outside with a decent cake texture, but I couldn’t tell the difference taste-wise between it and the yellow cake donut with chocolate frosting. If it hadn’t been evening when we tried them, I would have liked to have had a cup of coffee alongside these donuts. That’s the kind of donuts they are – your donut-and-coffee type.

Bearing in mind the above, here are our ratings.

Honey Fluff Donut Scores

Presentation: 3 stars

Variety: 3 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 2 stars

Texture: 3 stars

Glaze: 3 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 2.5 stars

Overall Score: 2.75 stars

Do you have a local donut shop near you like Honey Fluff? And what do you think of my sensory reset theory? Have you ever worked in a break during your adventures?

 

 

Donut Challenge Day 2: Stan’s Donuts & Why You Should Seek Recommendations

Donut Challenge Day 2Our week of trying new donut shops continues with a visit to the brand new Stan’s Donuts & Coffee at OakBrook Center. But before I give a rundown on our Stan’s experience, I want to share with you something that I learned as we started this challenge: getting recommendations when planning an adventure can make a big difference. We would not have known about Stan’s if it weren’t for friends chiming in on social media to recommend it to us. In fact, the concept of our Donut Challenge arose from our awareness of some local shops partly through others’ recommendations.

When you’re planning a trip or starting a new hobby do you look to others who have experience for advice? Do you ask locals for restaurant recommendations and read travel guides for ideas on attractions to visit? Do you seek suggestions on the right tools to invest in for your hobby or the best places to shop for them? In the age of the Internet, it’s not difficult at all to survey your friends about any subject. And people are often eager to help. Don’t forget the value of this the next time you set out to do or see something new.

IMG_3559After work yesterday I headed up to Oakbrook Center mall to check out Stan’s Donuts. I’ve been shopping at this mall since my mother dragged me to the Crate & Barrel store there as a preschooler. Along with an array of department stores and specialty shops, it has some excellent restaurants (Mon Ami Gabi, The Cheesecake Factory and Wildfire, to name a few), plus Pinstripes, an upscale bowling alley, and a recently added AMC 12-screen movie theater. In other words, entertainment and nightlife are plentiful at the mall. In conjunction with the AMC, a new food court called The District was added. Stan’s Donuts opened a stall in The District earlier this month.

IMG_3558I parked in the lower level parking underneath the wing of the mall anchored by Nordstrom’s (entrance is on the south side), although the mall would recommend parking in the Purple Parking by the AMC. From where I parked I took the elevator to Level 2 of the mall and exited just outside The District – very convenient. Luckily, I arrived at an off hour. No movies had recently ended and it was too early for the dinner hour crowd. Even so, I waited in a line behind a little more than a half dozen people. According to the cashier, the lines had typically been 30 deep or longer since the Grand Opening on March 18th.

Stan’s Donuts sells a large variety of flavors and prices them in categories: Standards, Specialties and Dough Boy’s Best. You can choose from old-fashioned donuts in traditional and unique flavors, filled pockets and bismarks, pretzel-shaped donuts, cake donuts and more. I chose one from each category: a standard glazed, a chocolate orange old-fashioned (specialty),  and a Biscoff Pocket (Dough Boy).StansDonuts

Here’s what we thought of each one: the glazed yeast donut had a nice flakey texture, with the layers evident. They had puffed up nicely and even had a few air pockets, reminiscent of a beignet. However, the glaze itself had separated and made the outside a bit moist. Katherine, Evelyn & I agreed that it was good, but not the best of the three.

Like the glazed donut, the Biscoff Pocket was nice and flakey. The glaze-coated pocket held just the right amount of Biscoff Cookie Butter filling. As someone who enjoys dunking Biscoff cookies in my coffee, I could very well see how this would pair well with a cup of joe (which Stan’s sells). This one I would buy again.

Finally, the orange old-fashioned with a chocolate frosting did not disappoint. The taste was excellent – the cake donut had a complex orange flavor and the rich, deep chocolate of the frosting matched it well. The donut itself was soft with crisp edges. Katherine’s only wish was that it had more chocolate on it.

Stan’s Donuts & Coffee Scores *

Presentation: 3 stars

Variety: 5 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 5 stars

Texture: 3 stars

Glaze: 3 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 3 stars

Overall Score: 3 2/3 star

IMG_3560Right now, Stan’s & DeEtta’s are neck-in-neck in the overall score. We’ll see how the others match up in the coming days. In the meantime, we definitely recommend Stan’s Donuts – particularly if you are in search of a unique flavor like the Biscoff Pocket, Captain Crunch Bismark, or a Lemon Pistachio Old-Fashioned (which friends tell me they love).

* (texture, glaze & flavor based on Glazed Donut only)

Donut Challenge Day 1: DeEtta’s Bakery

Donut Challenge Day 1If you’re following along, you know that my daughter Katherine and I have embarked on a seven-day tour of seven donut shops/bakeries in the Western Suburbs of Chicago in search of our favorite. Before I give you the Day 1 results, I want to point out something about this challenge: it’s interesting because it has a theme. In other words, if you are searching for a way to spice up a weekend, a vacation or a school break, look for a theme to center your activities on. We chose donuts because it had become apparent that there were some good shops out there that we hadn’t tried and after all, what were we waiting for? But you might make a summer-long goal of visiting every park in your town. Or maybe you want to check out all the food trucks in a city near you during a given week. Giving yourself a list to work through adds purpose and direction to what otherwise might be an aimless week off.

So for our Donut Challenge, Katherine devised a rating scheme. Each shop will be judged on the following categories: presentation, variety, creativity/uniqueness, texture, glaze (because we plan to try a glazed donut at every stop), overall donut flavor, and overall score. She chose a 5-star scale, where 1 star = bad, 2 stars = worse than average, 3 stars = average, 4 stars = better than average and 5 stars = amazing!

IMG_3550Yesterday we began our challenge at DeEtta’s Bakery on Fifth Avenue in Naperville. This isn’t strictly a donut shop per se, but on Friday through Sunday they serve freshly made donuts. And they recently won a judge’s choice award for their chocolate sour cream old-fashioned at the Chicago Donut Fest.

We drove across town to this little bakery that sits just across the street from Naperville North High School. Katherine surmised that students probably stop by there on Friday mornings to grab a donut. I’ll bet she’s right! As it was, a steady stream of cars flowed into the small lot there bringing patrons eager for coffee and donuts.

Behind the counter, two women worked serving coffee and packaging donuts for customers. We didn’t have to wait long. DeEtta’s offers a standard variety of donuts flavors, along with a handful of unique tastes like cinnamon sugar, pecan, and maple bacon. We chose to sample the vanilla sour cream old-fashioned and a chocolate frosted chocolate cake donut (we’re both big chocolate lovers), plus we brought home a maple bacon for my husband to try.

IMG_3554

Katherine sampling the vanilla sour cream old fashioned

IMG_3553Here’s what we thought of DeEtta’s donuts: they were good. Actually, I thought the vanilla sour cream was very good. Coated in a thick layer of glaze that gave a little crunch as you bit into it, this donut was melt-in-your-mouth light. The sour cream gave it a moist texture and the edges were crumbly crisp, in a good way. The glaze added just the right amount of sweetness to the outside, without soaking in to make it soggy. I would say the vanilla sour cream was my favorite of the two. Katherine preferred the chocolate cake donut. I did like the flavor – a solid, light chocolate, and the frosting matched it well without being overwhelmingly chocolatey. The texture, on the other hand, was too cakey for my tastes. It literally felt like eating a donut-shaped slice of cake. I like cake, but not in the morning, so that did not work for me. As for the maple bacon, Mike enjoyed the donut but didn’t care for the bacon topping. While clearly the bacon had been cooked to a crisp, it became chewy sitting atop the donut. That didn’t stop him from eating either the donut or the bacon, though!

Now before I give you our combined star ratings for DeEtta’s, I want to note that ratings for flavor variety and creativity/uniqueness may skew toward the donut shops during our challenge. After all, if all you are serving is donuts (and coffee), then you have space and time to experiment. On the other hand, bakeries may choose to narrow their offerings to a group of tried and true flavors, while also giving customers other pastry choices such as coffee cakes, muffins, and scones. I’m not sure we should hold that against them. We may have to adjust our scoring as we go along.

That said, here is what we thought of DeEtta’s donuts:

DeEtta’s Bakery Donut Scores

Presentation: 3 stars

Variety: 3 stars

Creativity/Uniqueness: 3.5 stars

Texture: 4 stars

Glaze: 4.5 stars

Overall Donut Flavor: 4 stars

Overall Score: 3 2/3 stars

Have you been to DeEtta’s for their donuts? If you have, which donut(s) is your favorite?

Spring Break Adventure: The Donut Challenge

The Donut ChallengeIt’s Spring Break here. While many families have left town to head South (for the warmth), North (for skiing), or just about anywhere else to simply get away and explore somewhere new, most of my family is home. Our youngest needed to have her tonsils removed and Spring Break allows just enough time for her to recover without missing any school. On Friday she had surgery and since then we’ve been chilling around the house, watching movies and catching up on projects that have been waiting for our attention, while Evelyn chills on the couch or in her room.

Notice I said most of our family is home. Our eldest was lucky enough to accompany her grandmother on a trip to New Jersey to help watch her cousins. That leaves Katherine here to spend her break watching her sister get over tonsil surgery. Relaxing? Yes. Interesting? That depends on what we find to do besides watching an endless stream of movies.

Which led Katherine and I to create The Donut Challenge. We have heard of various donut shops and bakeries in the area, but somehow we’ve only managed to try one non-chain donut shop in all the years we lived here. It’s time to change that. We’re setting out to try donuts from seven shops in Naperville and the surrounding suburbs over the next seven days. Katherine devised a rating system that critiques each shop’s donuts on a variety of characteristics, from presentation, to texture, to flavor variety and more. And to make comparisons simpler, we plan to sample a simple glazed donut at each location (if available). By the end of Spring Break, hopefully we’ll have narrowed it down to our favorite, without putting on too many pounds.DONUT Challenge List

Here are the places we will be visiting on The Donut Challenge:

DeEtta’s Bakery in Naperville

Stan’s Donuts and Coffee in Oak Brook, IL

Honey Fluff Donuts in Countryside, IL

Ingram’s Busy Bee Bakery in Downers Grove, IL

Glaze Donuts in Naperville, IL

Dimples Donuts in Naperville, IL

Sylvia’s Bakery in Darien, IL

My goal is to report back on our findings each day. So stay tuned…

Do you have a favorite donut shop? What makes it most appealing to you?

 

Road Trip Planning Help

Help Road Trip PlanningPlanning to head out on a road trip with your family soon? If you’re like me, the days leading up to your departure will be filled with trying to remember everything that needs to be done – stop the mail and newspaper, arrange for pet sitters or house sitters, double-check hotel reservations, check that the car is in good shape. And that doesn’t include packing. I always climb into our car for long trips with a sense of dread, as in “what have I forgotten.” Because all it takes is leaving behind one key item to throw a trip out of whack. On the flip side though, sometimes bringing along just the right item can turn the miles on the road from humdrum to delightfully memorable.

So for your sake and mine, I put together a list of Family Road Trip Must-Haves. These are the top 10 things I’ve found to make a positive impact on our trips. They’re the essentials I want to remember for every trip. Some of them might seem obvious (snacks!), but believe me, in the thick of preparation when mom is juggling packing lists for multiple family members, along with all those other duties, even the obvious can get overlooked. Some of the items I only discovered or only became available after years of traveling with kids (portable hotspots, anyone?). And others we learned to pack the hard way (cleanup supplies!).

I hope this list helps you as you get ready to head out of town. While you’re at it, I’d encourage you to also download the free 18 Summer & Family Vacations chart. It’s a simple way to plan and record how your family spends free time together. It allows you to see at a glance how you’re doing and what you want to pursue to maximize the years you have as your children are growing.

How about you? What is on your list of top things to bring on a family road trip?

I always enjoy hearing what other families can’t do without. I often learn how I can improve the experience for my crew.