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Tuesday
Feb142017

Red roses for Valentine's Day make 2,500-mile journey

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The road of the rose is a long one.

Approximately eight out of every 10 cut flowers in the United States come from fields in South America, making their way through security screenings at Miami International Airport before being shipped to florists around the U.S.

After President George H.W. Bush signed the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act in 1991, growers in South American countries including Columbia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru were incentivized to export products other than cocaine. With reduced tariffs on legal imports to the U.S., the flower business in South America blossomed.

The international shift in the flower trade was dramatic. Back in the 1970s, the U.S. produced 1.2 billion blooms of major flowers like roses and carnations, and imported just 100 million. By the 2000s, the U.S. imported 2 billion blooms and grew just 200 million.

Flower shipments peak during the three-week periods before both Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. More than 22 million flowers a day pass through Miami International Airport for a random screening process that involves “spanking” the flowers to ensure no unwanted pests are hidden behind the leaves.

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Tuesday
Feb142017

Reporter's Notebook: Cracking the chocolate code

ABC NewsReporter's Notebook by Becky Worley and Grace Wong

(NEW YORK) -- An entire wall of chocolate has taken up residence in my grocery store. I’m not talking about milk chocolate candy bars, but rather high-end gourmet chocolate that can cost $5, $10 even $20 a bar.

'Chocolate is the new wine'

“Chocolate is the new wine,” chocolatier Pam Williams said. Each bar may list its country of origin, blend of cacao (the seeds from which cocoa powder is derived), and information about the terroir (farming environment and practices). All of these factors contribute to the growing costs of chocolate.

Dark chocolate’s health benefits

Another factor in this escalation of chocolate popularity comes from research on the health benefits of dark chocolate, from lowering blood pressure and fighting inflammation to satisfying your sweet tooth with less sugar.

But $20?

But $20 for a bar of chocolate? Really? Does a $20 bar mean you get a healthier bar? A better-tasting bar? What’s the sweet spot on price where you can get a good bar without breaking the bank?

What do those percentages on the label mean?

A trip to Dandelion Chocolate, a truly artisanal chocolate maker in San Francisco, shows all the steps to get chocolate from bean to bar. The aroma in the factory café is intoxicating. My first question for our chocolatier: “What do the percentages of cacao listed on bars mean?” Pam explains, “The percentage only tells you how sweet it is. It does not tell you the quality at all.” For example, 70 percent means 70 percent of the bar is cacao, the rest mostly sugar and some binders like Lecithin. So a 95-percent cacao bar is pretty bitter, a 70-percent bar is sweeter.

The quality of the beans is not reflected in that percentage. Williams, our chocolate expert (what a job?) underscores, “You can make a 70-percent bar from really not-so-good tasting beans.”

Taste is subjective

To see how much variety exists in our palettes and the quality of modern bars, we invited nine self-identified chocolate lovers to test chocolate in a blind taste test.

We broke three bars into pieces. The bars cost $3, $7 and $11. Some testers identified specific properties of the chocolate: One said a sample was earthy, another said they liked the silky texture of a sample, and another preferred the chalkiness of a separate sample.

The mid-range $7 bar won our taste test

Of our nine testers, two rated the cheap bar as tasting best, three rated the most expensive bar as tasting best and four gave the highest rating to the $7 bar. Williams is not surprised: “The best bar is the one you like best.” She says it’s very personal.

What else makes a bar good?

Despite the subjective nature of chocolate, experts say there are some qualitative factors for picking a good bar. 1. Smell it: It should have a strong chocolaty smell. Some of the other words to describe chocolate -- fruity (raspberry is a common descriptor), earthy, nutty, smoky, buttery. 2. Look at it: The bar should be shiny, not dull, and should not be scraped or scuffed from the production process. 3. Listen: Dark chocolate should be brittle. You should hear a crisp snap when you break it.

Final benefit of dark chocolate: Less sugar

Milk chocolate is made of approximately 20 percent cacao and the rest can be sugar and binders. As a result milk chocolate can have five times the amount of sugar that dark chocolate has. Personally, I can only eat two to three squares of dark chocolate before I am sated. It’s so rich that it quickly satisfies my sweet tooth, while I can inhale an entire milk chocolate bar without a second thought.

Also if chocolate is your habit, think of it this way. If you eat 100 grams of chocolate (roughly two bars) per week for a year, the amount of sugar you will consume will vary widely:

  • Dark chocolate (80 percent cacao) = 673 grams of sugar.
  • Candy-bar milk chocolate = 2,902 grams of sugar.

That’s an additional 11.5 cups of sugar a year if you choose candy-bar milk chocolate over dark chocolate.

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Tuesday
Feb142017

Valentine's Day by the numbers: See how much money is spent on flowers, candy and cards

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — How much money does Valentine's Day cost?

Total spending for the holiday is expected to top $18.2 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. That's an average of $136.57 per person.

As you head out to buy candy, cards or flowers Tuesday, here's a closer look at this year's Valentine's Day by the numbers.

Just over half of Americans — 54 percent — are expected to celebrate the holiday this year, the NRF said.

Jewelry is the most popular Valentine's Day gift: 20 percent of consumers are expected to buy jewelry, spending a total of $4.3 billion, the NRF said.

Loved ones are also expected to spend $2 billion on flowers, according to the NRF. The most popular Valentine's Day flowers are, naturally, roses; 250 million roses are produced for the holiday, the Society of American Florists said.

Don't forget chocolate and candy — $1.7 billion is spent on candy alone, the NRF said.

But nothing can replace love letters. Couples will exchange 190 million greeting cards during Valentine's Day, according to the NRF. Americans are expected to spend $1 billion on cards, according to the Greeting Card Association.

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Monday
Feb132017

Playboy to feature nudity in magazine again

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Playboy is going nude...again.

A year after the magazine decided to stop printing photos of naked women, Cooper Hefner, Playboy's chief creative officer and son of Hugh Hefner, announced the mag would return to what made it famous in the first place.

"I'll be the first to admit that the way in which the magazine portrayed nudity was dated, but removing it entirely was a mistake," Hefner said in a statement on Twitter. "Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn't a problem. Today we're taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are."

 

 

Playboy's au naturel look will return in the March/April issue, featuring a title that reads, "Naked Is Normal."

"Playboy will always be a lifestyle brand focused on men's interests, but as gender roles continue to evolve in society, so will we," Hefner said in a statement.


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Monday
Feb132017

Verizon now among major wireless companies to offer unlimited data plans

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Verizon is trying to win back customers by offering unlimited data plans again.

After feeling the heat from Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile who have offered discounted unlimited data plans, Verizon announced its new plan would be $80 per month or $45 per line for a family of four.

But for consumers who use a lot of data, if you top 22 gigabytes, the carrier said, "your data connection could slow."

Verizon stopped offering unlimited data in 2011, so why the change now? Ashley Lutz, deputy editor of business for Business Insider, told ABC News: "Consumers said enough is enough, they wanted their unlimited data. Verizon was forced to do it."

How can you decide which data plan and which carrier is right for you?

"You should look at your plan, you should look at data, how much you use per month and ask yourself if an unlimited is worth going for," Lutz said to ABC News.


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Monday
Feb132017

Stocks close higher as US indexes reach new highs

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street was in the green on Monday as the major indexes posted new records.

The Dow jumped 142.79 (+0.70 percent) to finish at 20,412.16.

The Nasdaq gained 29.83 (+0.52 percent) to close at 5,763.96, while the S&P 500 finished at 2,328.25, up 12.15 (+0.52 percent) from its open.

Crude oil prices were about $53 a barrel; down nearly 2 percent.

Notable Stocks: Shares in Apple rose 1 percent to close at a new all-time high after Goldman Sachs boosted its stock price target.

Verizon Communications, Inc. slid 1 percent after news it would offer unlimited data plans again to wireless customers.

Teva Pharmaceuticals soared nearly 6 percent after beating investors' expectations with sales in the fourth-quarter.

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Monday
Feb132017

Valentine's treats at Goofy's Candy Company

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The biggest candy store at Walt Disney World is also one of the resort's most popular places come Feb. 14.

Located in Disney Springs, Goofy's Candy Company is a kid's sugar-infused dream come true. There's all the typical candies you'd find at a sweets store -- gummies and chocolates and gum galore -- but it's the Disney-themed confections that make this a can't-miss stop for the family vacation.

ABC News was invited to go behind-the-scenes and get hands-on with the cake pops, one of the most popular treats on Valentine's Day and all year long. From Mickey and Minnie to Olaf and Maleficent, there's nothing the skilled candy makers at Goofy's Candy Company can't craft.

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.


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Monday
Feb132017

Four Valentine's Day gifts that can be purchased without leaving the desk

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Valentine's Day is mere hours away, and for those who've procrastinated finding the perfect gift — or simply forgot that the holiday falls on Feb. 14 every year — here's a quick list of four thoughtful gifts that can be bought right from the desk.

Gifts for the gourmand


If the way to a sweetheart's heart is through his or her stomach, check out Goldbely's curated list of Valentine's Day treats. Known for selling the nation's best — and most popular — food items, it's no surprise that the foodie site's selection for the holiday is mouth-watering. From heart-shaped pizzas to "sugar lip" cookies to coveted cakes from top chefs, the site's winningest feature may be its overnight shipping.

Rest and Recharge


Staycation doesn't necessarily mean staying at home. Download the app HotelTonight and book a last-minute overnight stay at a local hotel with a deep discount. The site specializes in same-day hotel deals at up to 70 percent off. Use the money saved to sprinkle a few rose petals on the bed and room service and there's all the makings of a romantic getaway.

In-home pampering for the eternally stressed


When the local spa is all booked up — or it sounds good to stay in jammies all day — check out Zeel for same-day, in home massages from licensed therapists. Bonus: Couples massages are $30 off with the promo code VDAY30. Simply download the app, select the location and it could be time for the massage table in as little as one hour.

For the literature lover


A hard-cover love story or book of poetry may have been slightly more romantic, but loved ones might prefer their e-readers anyway. Simply go to Amazon's Kindle book section and at check out, select "give as a gift." Enter the email address of the recipient and the day it should be delivered — even add a personalized message. Need inspiration? Check out Amazon's selection of romance books.

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Sunday
Feb122017

Conway's Comment on Ivanka Trump's Brand Being Blown 'Way Out of Proportion': White House Adviser

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller defended presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway's televised pitch to "go buy Ivanka's stuff" as a lighthearted remark and said "people are blowing this thing way out of proportion."

ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos asked Miller about the House Oversight Committee's two leading members requesting the Office of the Government Ethics to review Conway's comments made during a Fox News interview on Thursday and to recommend any appropriate disciplinary action.

"I think that what you have is a situation where you had the president of the United States sticking up for a member of his family," Miller said on "This Week" on Sunday. "And you had a counselor to the president who was making a lighthearted comment in defense of someone who’d been treated very unfairly."

"I think that the media has taken this to a level it does not merit, and I think anyone watching that interview would understand that it was a lighthearted comment made in defense of somebody who had been treated unfairly," Miller added.

During an interview on Fox News on Thursday, Conway responded to reports that some retailers plan to stop carrying Ivanka Trump's clothing line.

"This is just a wonderful line. I own some of it, I fully -- I'm going to give a free commercial here," Conway said. "Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online."

The president has praised his daughter, Ivanka, and blasted one of the retailers, Nordstrom, on Twitter.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended the president's tweet during his daily press briefing Wednesday.

"This is a direct attack on his policies and her name, so there's clearly an attempt for him to stand up for her because she's being maligned because they have a problem with his policies," Spicer said.

Stephanopoulos noted that Sears and Kmart have decided to pull Trump's furnishing lines, and asked Miller, "Is that a direct attack on the president's policies, as well?"

"I’m not going make a comment on that. I don’t have any information on it. I do want to say that Sean Spicer, as always, is 100 percent correct and that what he said is true and important. And I agree with it," Miller said.

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Sunday
Feb122017

Tiffany Trump Gets Front Row Treatment at Chinese Designer's NY Fashion Week Show

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Taoray Wang(NEW YORK) -- While Ivanka Trump deals with Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus dropping her fashion collection, fellow first daughter Tiffany Trump is enjoying front-row status during New York Fashion Week, currently underway in Manhattan.

And while her dad works on relations with China via diplomatic channels, Tiffany, 23, is bettering relations with China in her own way.

Tiffany attended Shanghai-based designer Wang Tao's fashion show for her Taoray Wang label Saturday morning with her mother Marla Maples, who was married to President Trump from 1993 to 1999. Tiffany's boyfriend, Ross Mechanic, also joined the mother-daughter duo in the front row.

A statement released by Taoray Wang said Tiffany wore a double-face cashmere pale pink and white coat over an ivory wool crepe dress designed by Wang.

Tiffany and her mother were ushered to their seats by security and Secret Service about ten minutes before the show began. They also headed backstage after the runway presentation.

According to Taoray Wang, Tiffany wore Wang's white double-breasted custom coat to her father's inauguration, after first meeting Wang at her last New York Fashion Week show in September.

Wang told the South China Morning Post that she hasn't received any negative feedback from associating with the first daughter, who she describes as a "wonderful young lady."

"I would rather focus on personal qualities and characters, rather than labelling them," Wang told the newspaper.

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