Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 7 a.m.
Sometimes we're not the brightest stars in the sky. This fact became most painfully obvious when we returned from a recent press trip to Grand Cayman (we were dispatched to check out the second Michael's Genuine location, which, we're happy to report, was just as amazing as the original). Anyhow, us journos were given a goodie bag upon departure that included everything from notebooks, brochures, and pens to luggage tags and jars of sea salt. But then there was a strange cellophane bag labeled, "Sponge Coral"...
Now any ethical scuba diver/ocean lover would be appalled to discover the islanders had packaged up bits of an endangered species as a souvenir gimmick but, heck, the damage was already done, and no one put any money out for it, so technically...
Here's what the label announced: "Harvested only during the full moon from the Cayman Islands' fragile marine parks. We choose only the oldest and most perfectly formed sponge coral, carefully kiln dry and candy it using an ages old secrete [sic] Cayman recipe... And if you believe that..."
Duh! It was candy! But not like any candy we had ever seen. Five healthy, tightly honeycombed bricks in a buttery yellow ombre called out, begging us to experiment. "Hmmm. Smells like butterscotch. And it does look like pieces of dried-up sponge," was our first reaction. Followed by "Omigawd! This is ridiculously crunchy!" and then, "Wow! This is so sugary sweet -- it's like eating maple syrup in solid form!" followed by, "Geez, this could be the best treat EVER!"
It is seriously that good. And even more fun to play with. Take a huge hunk into your mouth, bite down, and let the bits fly. (We're pretty sure one of us was able to get the crumbs to travel nearly two feet out from our mouths with one aggressive chomp.) Then let your saliva dissolve it into a pool of sugar, and never mind the clusters that get stuck deep in the crowns of your molars. A little unladylike digging with a fingernail should loosen those critters in no time, and besides, they keep the flavor lasting for a few extra minutes.
If you're wondering how the stuff is made or why three near-native Floridians had never seen them before, check out this Wikipedia stub and learn. We're too busy picking up the crumbs off a plate with a wet finger to continue typing. (Besides -- the damned confection has more nicknames than the Jersey Shore cast.)
Oh yeah -- we forgot one last thing. Who should eat this? Those of us with amazing dental plans who don't mind vacuuming after a snack.