A Peek at Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day is approaching quickly.  For my small chocolate business it is the last big hurrah of the chocolate season before things slow down coming on summer.  Yes, chocolate season.  People often laugh when I say this but for my business there is a definite chocolate season, albeit one of my own making.  I don’t have a storefront  space and since there isn’t a place for people to walk into at any time to buy chocolates the orders usually revolve around holidays.  Halloween starts it off, then Thanksgiving, and a steady incline towards Christmas.  Then it drops off headed towards Mother’s Day.  Father’s Day doesn’t garner any attention as far as chocolates go.  I guess dad’s don’t deserve them.

I’m working on slowly improving things with the boxes themselves.  I’m trying to make the boxes a bit of a joy to open, not just for the chocolates.  One of the things I’ve been working on is a small chocolate guide that will be included with each box.  Its not your standard guide, since my chocolates are not your standard chocolates.  And to give you an idea of what I’m offering this year for Valentine’s Day here is the guide below.  

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Each one of my chocolates has a story.  They originate from traveling and experiencing new flavors and cultures, from memories of my childhood and from people that I meet.  Put together in the box and you have an entire novel, each chocolate a chapter.  And of course for Valentine’s Day the novel is about Love.  I hope that you enjoy.

Cinnilla Hearts – Cinnamon.  Vanilla Bean.  Two of the most basic flavors in baking but combined they become somehow incredibly complex.  They remind me of the chanting Hindu symbol, Aum, or Om.  Within those letters lies the entire universe.  Within the simple lives the complex.  Its the same with these two flavors when brought together, every flavor seems to exist within these two notes.  Maybe that’s why I love these dark chocolates filled with luxurious cinnamon vanilla bean caramel cream.  Maybe its why you will too.

Gingers – Imagine a beautiful, famous, red headed actress, suddenly stranded on a tiny island with six other castaways, most of them arguably slightly insane.  Despite her situation and despite being stranded far from any sort of civilization, she wakes up every morning, perfectly styles her hair and makeup and insists on donning some sort of body hugging sequin dress.  Now that is the definition of fabulous.  And what better name for these gorgeous dark chocolate covered, ginger caramel creams than after my childhood’s favorite tv sexpot.  

Granadas – Granada is the Spanish word for pomegranate, which is appropriate since it is the symbol of the city.  And it is also a symbol of love.  I’ve taken a water based ganache and infused it with pomegranate molasses and a hint of Spanish saffron.  Add a splash of Prosecco and you have the perfect confection of love.  v

Honey Date Marzis – Marzipan was created in Toledo, Spain, in el Convento de San Clemente when it was Muslim ruled and Andalusia was known as Al-Andalus, or so one story goes.  And if you go to Toledo today, everywhere you will find places selling marzipan.  One of the best known is in the Plaza de Zocodóver, the Santo Tomé, el Obrador de Marzapán, a marzipan bakery from the 1800’s.  Marzipan and almonds have long been associated with love and aphrodisia, as have honey and dates.  Separately the three have been said to cause euphoria, combined I am afraid of the effects.  Proceed with caution.  v

Pacos – I created these for my last boyfriend, a beautiful Spanish man from the south of Spain.  Francisco.  I loved him deeply and although things didn’t work out I love him still, just as much.  These little chocolates represent for me the beauty of love, lasting love, even though relationships change the love can remain, just as strongly.  And just in case you’re wondering, Paco is short for Francisco.  Bananas foster cream center with a smidgeon of strawberry vanilla bean jam in luscious white chocolate.  

Pâté de fruits – A fancy French name for fruit jellies.  For Valentine’s Day I’ve combined Sour Cherry and Green Tea for a cool blast of, er…love.  The cherry has long been a symbol of sexuality, representing in literature both the male and female anatomy.  And green tea has been found to provide benefits for the sexual health mostly in men (but it can’t hurt the women either).  So be careful.  One of these is probably sufficient.  v

Roseberry Dreams – The rose has forever been associated with love and sexuality.  And strawberries are, well, strawberries.  Combine the two and you have a beautiful roseberry dream.  Delicate rose fondant with strawberry vanilla bean jam.  Its a beautiful combination and just perfect to give to someone you love or secretly desire.  Or just eat for yourself.  Self love is the best love after all.  v

SoS – I think of these as Snickers on Steroids.  A soft salted peanut caramel enrobed in dark chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt and a chili powder spice mix.   They definitely have a bit of heat.  And the beauty of chilis, powdered or otherwise, are that they mimic all the effects of being aroused when ingested, they stimulate endorphins, speed up the heart rate and break out a sweat.  So maybe for Valentine’s Day I’ll change these from Snickers on Steroids to Snickers on Sex.  

Wine Cherries – Chocolate covered cherries were always a favorite of mine as a child.  I loved everything about them. The cherry and liquid sugar inside always seemed like magic to me whenever I would bite into them.  How did they do that?  How?  Well now I know and I’ll tell you the secret:  it is magic.  Pure and simple.  And to make these little beauties even more magical I’ve added Prosecco into the equation.  Cherries soaked in Prosecco with Prosecco fondant.  Because saying you love someone is a magical thing.  v

And in the large box only:

P2J – Peanut butter squared jelly.  Its like an element on the periodic chart of cooking.  Imagine a small square of peanut butter cookie with a smear of sunshine raspberry jam and topped off with a square of peanut butter nougat.  Or caramel.  Or both.  I haven’t really decided yet.  

The little v at the end of some of the descriptions is to let you know that these chocolates are vegan.  


The New Year’s Resolutions and Strawberry Vanilla Bean Filled Speculoos Donuts

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Back in the 90s I used to put out a zine called Bad Seed.  Zines were big then and the precursor to the blog.  There was a zine store here in the East Village called See Hear that I would frequent and would give my copies of the zine to sell.  I only put out five issues (technically four since the last issue was a double issue) but it ended up selling as far as Sweden and Japan.  Which was really cool.  

I had all of my friends contribute and I had a zero editing policy, believing that I wanted my friends voices to be heard, not my voice altering their voices.  So I had them give me their pieces exactly the way they wanted them published.  Which is what ended up bringing the zine to an end.  Live and learn.

One of the things that I published in issue two or three of the zine was my list: 101 Things I Want to Happen Before I Die.  I’m not sure why I thought anyone would find this even remotely interesting but here I am again now doing another one for my blog.  I hope you find it interesting.

Why 101?  Because one hundred seemed like the perfect amount of resolutions to do and there is always one last one that is added that never changes:  Figure out what the hell I’m doing here.  Its the main goal that encompasses all of the other goals and is something that I will do for the rest of my life and possibly never complete.  Which is fine.  It is the journey after all.  

The only rule I set for my resolutions was this:  they can literally be anything.  Anything.  They can range from the serious goals like, Start Doing Yoga Again, to dreamy goals, like Fall in Love Again to the near impossible goals, like Ride in a UFO.  I still, by the way, have to start yoga again; I’ve fallen in love several times since I first wrote that and though none of them has worked out they’ve all been with the most amazing men and I’m lucky to have been in love with all of them.  And if I told you that I actually have ridden in a UFO would you believe me?  Probably not, so I won’t even try.

I call them resolutions but goals could easily be substituted.  And usually once I’ve written them I forget all about them.  The amazing thing is that every year I start to write new ones and every year I go back and review my old ones and every year the amount of resolutions that I’ve completed is more than expected.  Go to the gym, check.  I go almost every day.  Learn a new language, check.  I am far from fluent but for the first time in my life I can communicate in Spanish.  Travel more, check.  I’ve been to many new places and seen some incredibly beautiful things.  

So these are my new resolutions for the coming year.  I hope that whatever you all decide, that your year is filled with love and adventure and all the happiness that can happen.  Everyone deserves exactly that.

My 101 Resolutions for 2019

  1. Start doing yoga again (one of these days…)
  2. Get a colonoscopy (ugh!  Its time.  Ok, lets be honest, past time)
  3. Pay attention!  Don’t get distracted…
  4. Write a winning business plan
  5. Buy a guitar and start to play again
  6. Write a book that goes viral
  7. Become fluent in Spanish (o en español: quiero hablar todo en español)
  8. Start to learn French (oui)
  9. Spend a day laying in an expansive and empty field in Normandy just watching the clouds and the day pass by.  why Normandy?  Because its beautiful there.
  10. Buy an expensive, tailor made suit that makes me look like a million and one dollars
  11. Always have enough socks, underwear and a change of shoes
  12. Move to Madrid and open up a small cafe/bakery/chocolate shop
  13. Complain less
  14. Go to Italy.  Anywhere in Italy as long as it includes the Amalfi Coast and to visit my friend Kristin who I met while staying in a hostel in Philadelphia almost twelve years ago and I keep promising her I’ll visit.
  15. Constantly work on making myself the best version of myself possible (however one does that)
  16. Own a piece of property (an apartment, a house, a mansion, a small island, its all good)
  17. Design and knit a sweater that everyone wants but nobody else can have
  18. Spend less time on my phone and apps and more time in the real world
  19. Stop eating all forms of junk food.  Except poptarts.
  20. Walk the Camino De Santiago.  Finally.
  21. Get my driver’s license back again
  22. Go back to Fusio, that small town in the Alps in Switzerland just above Locarno and spend a week there just enjoying how slowly the world can move
  23. Improve my social media presence 
  24. Start to digitize all of my old analogue photos, start a new instagram account dedicated solely to posting those and become an instagram superstar
  25. Stay for a week in an old English Manor house
  26. Go to either Hammerfest, Norway or Reykjavík, Iceland during the month of June to see the midnight sun.
  27. Go back to Iceland in the winter and stay in a bubble room out in the wilderness and fall asleep watching the northern lights dancing above me
  28. Learn how to play the accordion then go play on the sidewalk in Paris
  29. See something, anything, absolutely magical
  30. Find a place I never want to leave
  31. Make my first million (I know, first billion is now the marker to aim for but I’m still just a bit humble)
  32. Have a living room again with a comfy old couch that is bathed in the midday sun that I love to take naps on
  33. Create a confection that tastes like childhood
  34. And one that tastes like love
  35. Have a view from my bedroom that fills me with joy and awe every morning that I wake up as its the first thing I see
  36. Stop repeating old mistakes and bad habits.  They’ve never really served me well so stop relying on them time and again.  Let them go
  37. Get a new tattoo
  38. Create two new types of caramel corn mix and call them Crack and Smack
  39. Go through my things and get rid of anything not essential
  40. Put up a new blog entry every two weeks
  41. Become an astrophysicist
  42. Always tell the truth
  43. Go back in time and take a vacation in the 80’s just for a week.  Maybe two
  44. Draw a New Yorker cover that they use, preferably for my birthday issue
  45. Have a reason to own a tuxedo
  46. Go camping again.  It’s been way too long
  47. Grow old gracefully
  48. Meditate in a monastery
  49. Learn how to moon walk while hula hooping (I can already hula hoop so I’m halfway there)
  50. Start a food walking tour of New York
  51. Learn to dance like Napoleon Dynamite
  52. I’m not sure if I’m ready to fall in love again.  So I’ll just let this sit here as it is.
  53. Become a good writer (maybe that should go before no. 6 Write a book that goes viral.  Eh, whichever comes first)
  54. Don’t hang on to things, what is important will always be there.  What isn’t, let it go.
  55. Let it go (This is an important lesson so I’ll repeat it)
  56. Get used to the idea that one day I will die (I know, I know, a bit morbid.  But I am in my fifties, it is creeping up, slowly)
  57. Never die
  58. Create something absolutely, undeniably, irrevocably beautiful
  59. Get completely and totally lost
  60. Wake up New Years Day and have a big plate of Goetta with syrup and some homemade Strawberry Vanilla Bean Filled Speculoos Donuts (see below)
  61. Go back to Bequia (a small Caribbean island, part of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines municipality in the West Indies.  I love it there)
  62. Never worry about money
  63. Learn how to make my own clothes (outside of knitting.  Like, sewing and stuff)
  64. Read more books (I’m half starting a lot of books lately and not finishing them)
  65. Cook more at home
  66. Finish everything I start, no matter how long it takes
  67. Gain some cool superpower due to a freak accident and start to go around bringing crime to its knees
  68. Learn to appreciate everything
  69. Write a best selling cookbook and get asked to be on the newly revamped Martha Stewart show that she’ll bring back just so she can showcase my talents on the first episode
  70. Do something better with my hair (its just so blah)
  71. Get my teeth fixed (don’t ask, just accept it as a thing that needs to be done)
  72. Manage to find the time to do everything that I want to do
  73. Make sure everyone I know knows how much they mean to me and how much I love them
  74. Never let fear stop me from doing anything
  75. There is still magic in the world, I firmly believe this.  The first winter I moved to New York City I was walking home at night, it had been snowing all day and was still snowing lightly.  The streets were completely covered in snow and nearly empty.  I was making my way towards Alphabet City when I turned a corner and found myself walking down a street where almost every window on the block had a string of Christmas lights hanging straight down.  I was the only person on the street, walking, under a canopy of hanging lights.  It was pure magic, I’ll always remember it.  I want to create something that feels like that, pure magic.
  76. Don’t take everything so seriously.  Relax
  77. Spend more time at the beach (with heavy sunscreen to avoid angering the skin cancer gods)
  78. Move out of New York.  It’s time.
  79. Slow down
  80. Go back to Ronda, Spain and spend a month there
  81. Start to sketch again
  82. Learn how to cartwheel (I know.  Seriously.  I know)
  83. Stay in perfect health the entire year
  84. Develop telekinetic abilities so that as I’m walking down the sidewalk I can gently move people out of my way when they’re blocking the sidewalk.  Or gently suggest to people to move back over to the proper side of the stairs instead of charging up the down side or down the up side.  
  85. Or going along the same lines, I could run for office and once I’m elected mayor of New York City I could enforce pedestrian police to ticket people and send them to a special school for people who obviously don’t have any proper social skills.
  86. Let loose a bit more
  87. Don’t take everything so fucking personally 
  88. I want the kitchen of my dreams.  Professional grade ovens and a massive stovetop and a fridge that can store enough food for a small town for a week.  And an island.  And tons and tons of counter space.  
  89. Go to more parties
  90. Become a bit more disciplined
  91. Only fly first or business class
  92. See more of the world
  93. Get out of my comfort zone (I’m actually pretty good at doing this but sometimes one needs to be pushed a bit further)
  94. Buy a leather jacket again.  Its time
  95. Get a pair of handmade leather pants again.  Its time
  96. Have more sex.  A lot more sex
  97. Learn how to make the perfect croissant
  98. Knit my first pair of socks
  99. Go back to school or take a class and learn something new
  100. Make sure that this year is the best year so far, whatever happens 
  101. Figure out what the hell I am doing here

 

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Strawberry Vanilla Bean filled Speculoos Donuts

Speculoos Spice Mix

  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground mace
  • ⅓ tsp ground ginger 
  • 1/5 tsp ground white pepper (pinch)
  • 1/5 tsp ground cardamom (pinch)
  • 1/5 tsp ground coriander seeds (pinch)
  • 1/5 tsp ground anise seeds (pinch)
  • 1/5 tsp grated nutmeg (pinch)

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Jelly

  • 3 lbs strawberries, about 3 3/4 cups – 4 cups juice
  • 2 vanilla beans
  • 1/2 packaged pectin (I used sure•jell)
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar

Yeasted Donuts

  • 1 package quick-rise yeast
  • 3/4 cup milk (100˚ to 110˚)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp Speculoos spice mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Canola oil for frying

Sugar coating

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp speculoos spice mix


Directions:

Speculoos Spice Mix

Mix all ingredients together well.  Put into a jar or container.

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Jelly

This is based on the recipe that comes inside the sure•jell package.  The changes I make are to increase the amount of juice slightly, add the vanilla beans and only use half the amount of pectin in order to get the right consistency.  The first batch I did I followed the recipe exactly and the jelly turned out fantastic but much too set for what I wanted.

Hull and cut up the 3 lbs of strawberries and put them into a blender.  Process until completely broken down and liquified.  Putting a strainer over a bowl strain out seeds and leftover flesh.  Once I strain it the first time I usually put the leftover seeds and flesh back into the blender and blend a second time just to make sure I got everything.  

Put the juice into a large pot.  Cut open the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds.  Add to the juice.  Whisk to combine and add the pectin at the same time.  Put over medium high heat and let come to a roiling boil (a roiling boil is when the liquid doesn’t stop boiling even when you stir it).  Add the sugar all at once and stir to combine.

Let come to a roiling boil once again.  Once it does let it continue to boil for one full minute before taking it off the heat.  Ladle into sterilized jars, wipe down rims and put on lids.  

Put sealed jars into a pot of boiling water that covers them by at least an inch.  Let them boil for five to ten minutes then take them out and put standing on a towel.  Let them cool overnight.    The tops should vacuum pop inward as they cool.  If they don’t refrigerate that jelly.  You just ain’t ready for that jelly.

Yeasted Donuts

Over medium high heat combine the milk and butter, stirring until butter is melted and the mix is hot but not boiling, about 100-110˚.  Remove from heat.

In a mixer combine 2 1/2 cups flour, sugar, speculoos spice, salt and yeast and beat on low speed to mix.  Add the hot milk mixture and raise the speed to medium, mixing until well blended.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated.  Add the remaining flour and mix until the dough is well blended and smooth.  It will still be somewhat sticky and won’t pull away from the sides of the bowl but that’s ok.  

Scrape the dough into a large, greased bowl, cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and proof until almost doubled in size, about 45 minutes.  (The way I proof is to turn the oven on to warm for a minute or two to get a nice heat going inside the oven, then turn it off and put the bowl into the oven with the door closed.)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Lime a second one with paper towels.

Generously flour your work surface and turn out the dough.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 1/2 inch thick.  Using a donut cutter or a glass, cut out as many rounds of varying size as possible.  I like to use two or three different sized cutters just to get a more interesting finished look.  

Transfer the cut donuts to the parchment lined baking sheet.  Gather up the left over scraps and repeat the entire process until you’ve used up all of the dough possible.  Cover the donuts with a clean kitchen towel and proof for about 30 minutes.  They won’t double in size but they will look soft and puffy.

I use a deep fryer so pour the oil in and set the heat for about 360˚.  You can also use a heavy sauté pan that will hold about two inches of oil and a deep fry thermometer as well, whatever works for you.  Once the oil is at the proper temperature, put two or three of the donuts in and start to fry.  Keep in mind that each time you put in a donut it will drop the temperature so be careful to keep an eye on that.  

Deep fry until golden in color about 1 1/2 minutes.  Turn and cook on the other side about 1 minute longer.  Take out donuts one by one and put onto the baking sheet lined with paper towels.  

Put the 1 cup of sugar with the tablespoon of speculoos spice into a brown paper lunch bag and toss to mix.  While the donuts are still hot put them one by one into the bag and toss to coat them with the spiced sugar mix.  Once you have them all cooked and all coated with speculoos sugar then begin to fill them.

Fit a pastry bag with a pastry filling tube tip or a 1/4 inch round tip and spoon the jelly into the bag.  Once the donuts are cool enough to handle, insert the tip into the donut and pipe about 2 tsp of the jelly into each.  

Serve right away.


Returning to Spain

Today I’m returning to Spain.  At the moment I am at JFK waiting on my flight.  I’ll fly into Madrid where tomorrow morning I’ll catch a train to Toledo for a couple of days.  From there I’ll travel to Huelva to spend some time with my recent ex Francisco, then up to Seville and finally a week in Madrid.  I think I’m ready.  It was April that I was there last and when I left I wasn’t sure when I would return.  You never really know how ready you are for things until you are deep in the midst of them.  So I’m not concentrating on things.  What will happen will happen.

But this much I do know:  

I know I’m going to wake up early before the sun has risen.  I’ll go buy churros and porras from the nearby stand where a bottle of anise sits on the counter to help customers stay warm while they wait. Once the churros are done frying in a large vat the man cooking them will put them onto a large sheet of wax paper and cut them into smaller pieces using a large scissors.  There will be patches of oil soaking through the paper.  The amount of churros and porras I’ll get for the few euros I’ll pay will make me laugh.  There will be a lot left over.  They’ll be hot and light and a little bit greasy.  Back at the apartment I’ll make up a small mug of chocolate sauce and then dip the fried bread in.  

I know that my breakfast will consist mostly of pan con tomate, toasted bread rubbed with garlic, spread with grated tomato and topped with Iberian ham.  When I have breakfast.  I often skip breakfast while I’m traveling.  I’ll have the tomato toast with a cappuccino or cafe americano.  I’ll sit with Duolingo open on my phone and practice my Spanish while I sit there in the midst of Spain.  The morning will slide by.  I’ll order another cappuccino and continue to just sit.  Maybe I’ll write a bit on my phone, the next blog entry after this one.  I’ll think about my mother and how much I wish she had the chance, just once, to sit with me in a cafe in Madrid.  She wasn’t worldly in the least and I know she dreamed of seeing Germany where my family is from but I don’t know if she had aspirations like I do to see everything I can.  She seemed content to see the world from where she was.  Still, I know how tickled she would have been to be in Spain.  

I know I’ll  stand at the counter at La Mallorquina, the famous panadería in the Plaza del Sol, and I’ll have coffee surrounded by an equal amount of locals and touristas.  I’ll try choosing between their napolitana de crema and the napolitana de chocolate.  I’ll come here twice, just as I arrive in Madrid, and just before I leave.  Each time it will be a slight struggle as to which I will pick.  Upon arriving I’ll want to have the perfect thing at that moment to welcome me back.  Upon leaving I’ll want that perfect thing to lock this memory into place along with the other memories I have here.  Most likely I’ll buy both, each time.  There will be a cluster of Spanish women at the pastries counter where they’re ordering things to take home.  Next to me an older gentleman will read the paper while drinking his café cortado that he will pronounce like cortao when he orders.  It will be busy but still it will feel calm and relaxed standing at the counter.  Outside a large metal cylinder Christmas tree will stand guard over the plaza and lines will form at the small kiosks selling the Christmas lottery tickets.

 I know I’ll hunt down the polvarones Felipe II, an almost moist version of the usually very dry Spanish version of shortbread. I’ll buy a box, maybe two, one for me and one to take back to give out to friends. Spain should be shared, its beauty and culture wrapped up in the decorative red and white wrapper of the polvarone. I should research this Felipe II. Read about the history of why this almost bland but delightful cookie is named for him. But I’d much rather just taste the history.  Eat it in cookie form and enjoy.

I know I’ll wander the aisles of el Mercado San Miguel.  I’ll stop in front of the olive stand and look at exactly how many different ways they serve olives and want to taste every one.  I’ll pass people gathered round small tables peppered here and there around the market or cozied up to counters around the display cases eating foods I don’t recognize.  I’ll stop at a butcher who serves Iberian ham and bread and a couple different types of wine.  I’ll use my very limited Spanish to order something and hope that I understand what is said.  When it comes time to pay they’ll tell me the amount but I won’t understand so I’ll just hold out a hand full of coins and let them pick what they need.  

I know I’ll drink beer.  Or cerveza sabor limón to be precise.  Shandies.  I don’t particularly like beer but here in Spain it’s what you drink.  Beer or coffee.  Sangria I’ve learned, is for tourists.  I’ll order the beer and some tapas: a fried, crumbled bread dish called migas.  Or salmorejo, the sister to gazpacho that’s blended to a sauce or soup and served with chopped, hard boiled egg and Iberian ham.  And if I’m lucky enough, I’ll order berenjenas y miel, fried eggplant drizzled with honey that I’ll dip into the salmorejo before popping it into my mouth.  And of course croquettes.  Ham croquettes, served hot with the consistency of room temperature butter.  So smooth and just beautiful.

I know that I’ll spend a few days in Huelva with my ex Francisco.  It will be difficult.  So much has happened in the time since we’ve separated even though it was only February.  I know that it will feel like home. It will also feel strange and a little uncomfortable.  I know that it will make me sad.  I know that when I first see Francisco we will both be nervous and slightly scared of seeing the other.  And I know that the moment we see each other it will just be gone.  We’ll go to his mother’s apartment a few blocks away, for lunch most likely. She’ll have Francisco carve off pieces of Iberian ham from the large leg sitting in the kitchen. There will be fried fish of all sizes, sausages and bread or crackers.  Maybe there will be cake. Or packaged pudding that comes topped with a large biscuit that gets wonderfully soggy sitting on top of the pudding.  Everyone will speak rapidly in Spanish so that I understand very little of whats going on but still I won’t feel left out.  

And I know that when I come back I’ll return a much more interesting person than I was before I left.  I know that all of these experiences whether I remember them or not will stick to me, will sink into my skin and become a part of me.  Like the food.  Like the people.  Like the cities and trains and plazas and calles.  Spain will always be Spain.  And I couldn’t possibly love that more.


A Third Lammie

 

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I keep playing around with this basic idea of the Lamington using different breads and cakes.  Each new one spawns another idea for the next and I have another Lammie ready to go.

Side note:  I was hanging out with one of my favorite people the other day, my friend Liz.  I gave her a box of these newest Lamingtons and she said to me, “I just call these Lammies.”  So Lammies they have become. 

A little back story on these particular Lammies:  I got the original recipe for coconut bread in the Caribbean.  I used to stay at my friend Kerry’s villa on the small island of Bequia in the Grenadines.  She had a wonderful housekeeper named Madia who was always smiling and so kind.  A few times when I would go down, Kerry would arrange with Madia to spend a day with me teaching me how to cook real Caribbean food, the way she cooked for her family, the way her mother taught her.  Not how she would cook for the guests staying at the villa.  I was very specific.  

We got a coconut from out in the yard and she started showing me how to extract the meat from the shell and then process it to make it into an ingredient for the bread.  Although trying to record what she was doing was difficult.  She never used measuring cups of any kind.  She would just pour out amounts, then I would stop her and measure what she had just poured out all the while asking, “Two cups of flour?  does that sound right?” and she would respond, “Yes, yes, that’s good.” but in a way that I knew she didn’t really put much stock into my uptight measuring approach to cooking.  The way she cooked was based more on sight and feel, they knew when things were the right amount by instinct.  

Another story about this bread:  when Madia was showing me how to make the bread we were about to pop them into the oven and I asked her what she thought about maybe adding some lime zest to the batter first.  She seemed a little surprised at this.  I don’t think, despite her loosened with how she created food she was accustomed to being experimental.  But I really wanted to try so the lime zest went in.  The final bread was fantastic.  I don’t know if its the coconut or what but the bread is moist and light and so so so delicious.  And although it is made with fresh coconut it only has the lightest hint of coconut flavor.  Which I love.

The recipe created two good sized loaves and the last thing Kerry and I needed was to sit around eating all that bread.  So she decided to take a loaf and drop it off at the villa of her friend Wendy.  

Now Wendy was a Brit who had managed to make herself a pretty sizable fortune, I seem to remember being told, with g-strings but that may be something my mind made up because it just sounded so fabulous.  She had a home in England, one on Bequia, one in Tel Aviv, one in the South of France and who knows where else.  At the time I met her she had a younger tennis pro boyfriend (she was in her seventies, he was in his twenties) named Fabio.  To be honest he was a bit obnoxious but she obviously cared for him.  

Wendy had a housekeeper named Dion who was known all over the island as having the best rum punch recipe and for never, ever sharing the secret recipe.  As far as I know she never shared it with anyone.  

Every year Wendy held a fancy dress party at her villa.  Her villa was located on a small cliff overlooking the tiny harbor town Port Elizabeth and to be standing along the lawn with the island outline curving into the ocean was just magical.  

The theme for the fancy dress that year I think I remember was Guys and Dolls but I had nothing to wear, nor did Kerry.  after we arrived I was standing next to a long counter outside that held rows and rows of glasses containing Dion’s famous rum punch made up for anyone to partake.  It was standing there talking with one of the other British expats that I learned of the fame of the recipe and of Dion’s notoriety at not revealing anything about it.  And to be honest it was really, really good rum punch.  It wasn’t long before I had had a few and I think partook of a joint going around, when I found myself standing in the kitchen, the reason of which is lost to my memory.  Dion was moving around the party making sure it was going smoothly and she came over to me and started talking.  Wendy, it turns out, had been absolutely taken with the loaf of coconut bread we had dropped off and Dion wondered if it wasn’t possible to get the recipe from me.  

On the spur of the moment, I’m sure impelled by the alcohol content of my bloodstream I told her I would be happy to pass it along on one condition.  She share with me the recipe for her famous rum punch.  She just laughed out loud and instantly told me without hesitation.  

Maybe nobody had ever just come out and asked her before.  

It’s her rum punch recipe I use when I make my rum punch truffles on occasion.  

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This is the beautiful thing about food.  And cooking.  It has such an incredible ability to bring people together.  Halfway round the world and it united two people from completely different backgrounds.  It became a conduit for our knowing each other just a little bit better.

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If you haven’t worked with fresh coconut it is an easy ingredient to deal with.  Once you’ve broken it out of its shell.

To start off with, when I say coconut, I’m referring to the small, hairy, brown, hard-shelled coconuts, not the green, more oblong coconuts.  Those will work I’m sure, but those aren’t the types of coconuts we had available.  

In order to get to the meat of the coconut the first thing you must do is let out all of the water trapped inside.  Find the three eyes on one side and, using something like a hammer and a screwdriver or a nail, drive it into each of the eyes to create three holes.  This will allow the water to run out easily.  Just turn the coconut upside down on a glass or bowl and let it collect.  You can shake it to release it faster if you want.  

Save this water for later.

Once the water is done draining, wrap the coconut in a towel to prevent pieces from flying everywhere.  Using the hammer just start hammering away at the shell until it cracks.  Once it cracks just keep hammering until its in different pieces.  The meat will usually still be mostly attached to the shell.  Using a knife or something similar, wiggle it between the shell and the meat and slowly pry the meat away from the shell.  You might have to do this several times before all of the meat is free.  Discard the shell.

Coconut meat is so beautiful in its absolute whiteness.  When we perceive colors, scientifically, what we are seeing is actually the reflected colors.  Everything absorbs light and reflects some back and the light spectrum that gets reflected back to our eyes is what creates the illusion of  color.  Everything else is absorbed.  When we see white however, everything is being reflected back and little or nothing is being absorbed.  So when we look at this coconut flesh we are taking in the entire spectrum of the rainbow.  

I digress.

There will be patches of the inside of the shell covering the outside of the meat.  Just take a vegetable peeler and remove everything until all you have left is just the absolutely white coconut meat.  This you will cut into smaller pieces and put into a blender.  Add the coconut water, straining out anything that might be floating in it from the coconut, then add enough water to completely cover the meat.  Process this for several minutes, until the meat is completely shredded.  Strain the meat from the liquid coconut (now) milk, squeezing the coconut to remove all the liquid possible.  Keep both the meat and the milk, you’ll need them both for the recipe.

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For the cake:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1 cup coconut meat

For the lime curd:

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • Zest of two limes
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, diced

For the coconut lime glaze:

  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (plus more possibly)
  • Zest of two limes
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 cups macadamia nuts
  • Left over coconut meat, toasted

 

For the cake:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9×13 baking pan and put aside.

Crack open coconut, take out meat and slice thinly into a blender.  Add enough water to cover and blend until fine and water turns milky.  Strain out solids and save milk, squeezing coconut to get out all milk.

Reduce the coconut milk down to about 1/2 cup. 

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.  Put aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer cream together the butter and the sugar until creamy.  Add eggs one at a time, blending to incorporate after each.  Add yogurt, coconut milk and vanilla and blend until incorporated.  

Start adding dry ingredients slowly until everything is incorporated.  If the batter is too thick add a 1/4 to a 1/2 a cup of milk a 1/4 cup at a time.

Pour into greased, floured baking pan and bake until golden and a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes to an hour. 

 

For the Lime curd:

Add enough water to a medium saucepan to come about 1-inch up the side. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. 

Meanwhile, combine egg yolks, salt and sugar in a medium size metal bowl and whisk until smooth. 

Add juice and zest to egg mixture and whisk until smooth. 

Once water reaches a simmer, reduce heat to low and place bowl on top of saucepan. (Bowl should be large enough to fit on top of saucepan without touching the water.) Whisk until thickened, approximately 8 minutes, or until mixture is light yellow and coats the back of a spoon. 

Remove promptly from heat and stir in butter a piece at a time, allowing each addition to melt before adding the next. 

Remove to a clean container and cover by laying a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

 

For the coconut lime glaze:

Whisk together the lime zest and the coconut milk then whisk into the sugar.  It should whisk to a nice thickish consistency, thick enough to hold when coating the cake but still runs easily from a spoon.  If you need to make it thinner, just add more coconut milk tablespoon by tablespoon until it seems right.

 

For the toasted coconut/macadamia nut mix:

You’ll have coconut left over after you use the 1 cup in the batter.  Take whatever you have and spread it evenly over a baking sheet covered in parchment.  Put into the oven at 350˚ or 375˚ and toast until it has browned.  Rotate the sheet a few times to ensure even browning and stir the shredded coconut since it will start to brown along the edges.

Let coconut cool then put into food processor with macadamia nuts and process until small pieces but not completely pulverized.  It’s easier if you do it in smaller batches with the macadamia nuts.

 

Putting it all together:

Take a serrated edged knife and trim the edges off the cake then cut the cake into two smaller rectangles.  Cut each of these horizontally.

Spread a good portion of the lime curd on the bottom half then cover with the top portion of each rectangle.  Then cut each of these into twelve smaller pieces.  You’ll have twenty-four pieces altogether.

Have the coconut milk lime glaze and the chopped macadamia nuts with toasted coconut in separate bowls.  Starting with the coconut lime glaze, dip each of the squares in using your hands.  Roll them around until fully coated then shake off any excess and drop into chopped macadamia-toasted coconut.

Cover and coat each piece with the macadamia coconut mixture and then place on a wire rack until the glaze is firm


Two Variations on the Lamington

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Recently I was talking with Francisco, my ex who lives in Spain.  Earlier that day he had sent me a photo of the sobao pasiego cake he had proudly made for the first time.  Its a classic Spanish cake made with olive oil and flavored with lemon zest.  It’s a cake his mother makes regularly; she had made it for me while I was there over the holidays last year.  It’s a very simple, slightly lemony cake.  Very wonderful.

I asked Francisco for the recipe.  This is what I got (he had actually translated it into English for me so I had to retranslate it back into Spanish for full effect):

  • 3 vasos de harina
  • 2 vasos de aciete de oliva
  • 2 vasos de azúcar
  • 1 vaso vino blanco
  • 1 vaso leche
  • 2 huevos
  • 2 paquete de levadura (alrededor de 30 gramos en total)
  • 2 cáscara de limón

In Huelva, the city in Spain where Francisco lives, it seems that a glass, un vaso, is a standard unit of measure.  I have other recipes from him similarly structured, with no directions or instructions of any kind.  Just a list of ingredients.  With a glass as a measuring tool.  I’ve never actually attempted to do one since I was a tad intimidated.  This recipe seemed simple enough, I thought it was time I tackled this.

So I go to the internet to look for other recipe examples of the sobao cake, preferably in English since my Spanish is still very elementary.  I find a couple but nothing that really gives me any guidance.  

So then I do a search for the main ingredients: three cups flour (I’d already decided to interpret vaso/glass as cup) and two cups sugar.  I uncover the 1-2-3 cake which seems to run along the same basic lines as this recipe; one cup butter, two cups sugar, three cups flour.  So I take its basic directions structure and apply it to this recipe.  I also keep thinking that two cups of olive oil seems to be quite a lot, even though that’s what Francisco’s mother has done for I have no idea how long.  So I convert butter to be replaced by olive oil and that gives me 3/4 cup (based on the 1-2-3 cake structure, 1 cup of sugar equals 3/4 olive oil), and while mixing I decide to up that to just 1 cup.

And its about this time that I run across a recipe from David Lebovitz, who I admire on so many different levels, for the Australian Lamingtons, a beautiful individual sponge cake layered with either raspberry jam or ganache, dipped in a chocolate glaze and finally rolled in coconut..  And I realize that I could use the sobao cake to make a newer version of the Lamington.  I have some homemade lemon curd in my fridge which would be great as a filler.  And I could use the chocolate glaze from David’s recipe but instead of rolling it in coconut I’d roll it in chopped almonds.

Which is precisely what I do.   

The cake turns out great.  Like I said, its a very simple cake.  And then when I turn them into these Lemon Lamingtons they turn out fantastic.  Really.  I am completely happy with how they are and started to think about making them a part of my standards that I offer.  

Until I think about my banana bread.  

Lately I’ve been making this delicious banana bread that I glaze with a vanilla bean buttercream glaze.  It’s been turning out wonderfully and I’ve started to get orders for it from a few people who are aware of them.  And just recently I’ve been working on perfecting a banana caramel cream which I had finally grasped.  There were a couple of jars on my counter that I had just made. How would that go sandwiched between two layers of the banana bread made as a cake, glazed with the vanilla bean buttercream glaze and then, say, rolled in chopped pecans?

So that’s what I do.

And the resulting cakes are just magnificent.  There are those times when you do something and you know instinctively that it is as perfect as it is going to get.  There may be other variations but this is it, this is the one.  

This is one of those moments

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Lemon Sobao Lamington

 

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Well the name is a mouthful, I’m sure it could just be called the Lemon Lamington which trips off your tongue nicely.  Or even the Lemonao Lamington.  Whatever its called its delicious.

For the Cake:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 (or 2) cup olive oil (the original called for 2.  I haven’t tried it but I’m sure its great)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup white wine (I used Prosecco because I was planning on making Prosecco marshmallows)
  • 1 cup milk 
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 packets of yeast
  • Zest of 2 lemons

For the Curd:

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • Zest of two lemons
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, diced

For the Chocolate Glaze:

  • 6 ounces (170g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tbsp (40 g) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, natural or Dutch-process
  • 3 cups chopped almonds

 

For the curd:

Start with the lemon curd since this takes a little time to set up.  You can make it the day before or several days.  Or just always have a jar in the fridge ready to go.  It’s great with many things.

Add enough water to a medium saucepan to come about 1-inch up the side. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. 

Meanwhile, combine egg yolks, salt and sugar in a medium size metal bowl and whisk until smooth. 

Add juice and zest to egg mixture and whisk until smooth. 

Once water reaches a simmer, reduce heat to low and place bowl on top of saucepan. (Bowl should be large enough to fit on top of saucepan without touching the water.) Whisk until thickened, approximately 8 minutes, or until mixture is light yellow and coats the back of a spoon. 

Remove promptly from heat and stir in butter a piece at a time, allowing each addition to melt before adding the next. 

Remove to a clean container and cover by laying a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd. Refrigerate several hours or for up to 2 weeks.

 

For the cake:

Sift the 3 cups of flour into a bowl.  

Put olive oil and sugar into a mixer and mix until incorporated.  Add milk and wine and mix on medium speed until incorporated.

Add eggs and yeast.  Then add flour and mix until smooth.  Last add the lemon zest and mix until incorporated.

Put into a buttered and floured 9×13 baking pan and bake at 375˚ for about 45 minutes to an hour or until a fork inserted into the center comes out clean. Take out and let sit for five or ten minutes.

Release from baking pan and put onto a cooling rack and let cool.

 

For the glaze:

Make the glaze by melting together the chocolate, butter, and milk in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Remove the bowl from the pan when everything is melted and its smooth, then whisk in the powdered sugar and cocoa powder.

 

Put it all together:

Taking a guide again from David Lebovitz, the easiest thing to do to start is using a serrated edged knife trim the edges off the cake then cut the cake into two smaller rectangles.  Then cut each of those horizontally.

Spread a good portion of lemon curd on the bottom half then cover with the top portion of each rectangle.  Then cut each of these into twelve smaller pieces.  You’ll have twenty-four altogether.

Have the chocolate glaze and the chopped almonds in separate bowls.  Starting with the chocolate glaze, dip each of the squares in using your hands.  Roll them around until fully coated then shake off any excess and drop into chopped almonds.

Cover and coat each piece with the almonds and then place on a wire rack until the glaze is firm.

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Banana Lamingtons

 

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The same as with the Lemonao Lamington, start with the filling.  The banana caramel cream needs a few hours at least to cool and can be kept in the fridge for several weeks.  Great on ice cream.

For the banana caramel cream:

  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 2 cups cream plus more to equal two cups
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water

For the cake:

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sour milk
  • 3 mashed ripe bananas
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

For the glaze:

  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (plus more)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 cups chopped pecans

 

For the caramel:

Start off with ripe bananas.  I go for really spotted to almost brown bananas.  More sugar, more sweetness, more flavor.  These you will cut up and put into a container with the cream and then put into the fridge for at least two days.  You can leave them for longer but the cream won’t absorb much more flavor after two days.  It won’t hurt it either.

Once the two days has passed, strain the bananas from the cream, mashing the bananas a bit with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much of the liquid as possible.  You will wind up with less than two cups liquid most likely, so just add more fresh cream to the banana cream to equal two cups.

Put the banana cream into a small pot.  Into a larger pot put the sugar, corn syrup and water, stirring to incorporate the liquids.  Place both over medium high heat.  Heat the cream just until it starts to form bubbles.  Turn off the burner and let sit while the sugar continues to caramelize.

Watch the sugar.  It will slowly at first then more rapidly begin to caramelize.  Pick up the pot slightly and swirl the sugar syrup to even out any areas coloring faster than the rest.  Continue this until the sugar starts to color, first a slight golden color then slowly getting more amber and darker.

When its golden in color slowly add the hot cream and turn off the heat.  It will bubble and rise so be careful.  Stir it until it settles down and stopped bubbling.

Pour into heatproof jars and let cool for at least four hours.

 

For the cake:

Preheat oven to 350˚.

In a large bowl, mix together butter or margarine, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Set aside.

In another bowl, sift together flour, salt, soda, and baking powder. Add these dry ingredients to the creamed mixture.   Add sour milk and bananas to the batter. Beat together well.

Grease and flour one 9 x 13 inch baking pan.  Pour batter in and pop into the oven.

Bake for 25 to 40 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Take out and let cool for five to ten minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to continue cooling.

 

For the glaze:

Scrap out the vanilla bean seeds and put into a saucepan, pod and all with the butter and the milk and heat over a medium heat while stirring until the butter has melted.  Let cool for a few minutes.  Remove vanilla pod and then whisk into the sugar.  It should whisk to a nice thickish consistency, thick enough to hold when coating the cake but still runs easily from a spoon.

 

Putting it all together:

Again take a serrated edged knife and trim the edges off the cake then cut the cake into two smaller rectangles.  Cut each of these horizontally.

Spread a good portion of banana caramel cream on the bottom half then cover with the top portion of each rectangle.  Then cut each of these into twelve smaller pieces.  You’ll have twenty-four pieces altogether.

Have the vanilla bean buttercream glaze and the chopped pecans in separate bowls.  Starting with the vanilla bean glaze, dip each of the squares in using your hands.  Roll them around until fully coated then shake off any excess and drop into chopped pecans.

Cover and coat each piece with the pecans and then place on a wire rack until the glaze is firm