20 March, 2010

chocolate source

After doing a fair amount of research on the cacao industry and the sources of the beans I moved to the fair trade sources. This is one of my favorites and the Wedge coop has it in the chocolate section. The website is linked to their partners and supporters and has an appealing online shop. As a Wedge member, I get an automatic 10% discount on a case of 12 bars: my purchase for lent. I am watching the movie "Chocolat" this evening, story within the story, or stories, everything including domestic violence, children's rights, homelessness, vandalism, religious fanatics, paganism, globalization, and creativity. "Equal Exchange" also offers coffee and tea, both attractive products.

13 March, 2010

Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake from Gigi's

Late afternoon, low blood sugar, long workday and grey skies. Tomorrow brings daylight savings time and we lose an hour until we find it next fall. This purchase was lovely, although my companion was more critical than I of the flavor. He claimed it was too bitter, that it tasted of burnt coffee beans. We agreed that the texture was melt in your mouth so we did find some common ground. My practice seems to be bearing fruit in that today I ate two bites and then put my fork down and retrieve a "to go" box. The second portion, over half is sitting in the refrigerator and I feel content, simply to know that it is there waiting for me while I research the slave trade on the Ivory Coast: 12 year old boys indentured to harvest the cacao beans consumed by an impressive percentage of the world. Yes mixed into our chocolate consumption is the monster we call child slavery. At 12 my mother insisted I babysit her friends children. I was paid fifty cents an hour. The boys work for about a year to pay off their contracts of $38. Monstrous. I paid $5.50 for this slice of cake. I wonder how much of that made it back to those boys, assuming the chocolate wasn't fair trade, organic and that the source was unconfirmed. The irony of slaves imported to the new world to harvest various crops and the crops, such as cacao, imported to Africa to be cultivated and harvested by slaves in their own back yards. Perhaps we decide it was less expensive to take the cacao to the labor force than the brutality of bringing the labor force/forced labor to the New World. The chain from source to product makes it a challenge to be certain that the laborers have been paid a living wage. And unless you are purchasing a product from a place like the Wedge how do you know where those ingredients have come from to reach your plate? And how does one simply trust, with confidence that personal happiness, and indulgence has not been the source of someone else's suffering? The garnish of whipped cream, the woman behind the counter, the dishwashers in the back room: no separation, each holding the hand of the one next in line all the way back to the origin, where ever you choose to define the beginning. Intimately connected in our experiment, across oceans and back again. Looking forward to breakfast and sending those boys my concern. Is it safe to assume that the girls are involved with other services?

12 March, 2010

Chocolate Hazelnut Praline Cake from LaDuree in Harrods London

In November 2008 my daughter wrote to me about LaDuree at Harrod's. Her actual move to London was different than she had anticipated. More challenging, less profitable. And I missed her more than I imagined possible. My heart strings were stretched to their limit and I lay awake at night, listening for her psychic voice whispering across the miles of ocean. I stalked the LaDuree website constructing a new order each day, working my way through the entire menu. I described the weather and the circumstances of my meal on this blog, convincing many readers that I was actually writing from factual experience rather than my over-active imagination . This exercise was my way of dealing with my desire  to participate in her experience without wanting to live it for her or influence her decisions. Mid February I boarded a plane, crossed the Atlantic and floated through the Heathrow gates to her smiling face. She carried herself with complete confidence, directing me to purchase an Oyster card. In no time at all I found myself holding a plate of chocolate hazelnut praline cake, sipping jasmine tea while sitting across from my beloved daughter, In a dreamlike  state my virtual visits and blog entries mingled with jet lag producing a sense of Deja-Vu. To be able to just reach across the table and touch her seemed miraculous. Photos are forbidden at LaDuree, forcing us to exercise our artistic licenses. This document was accomplished via the creative neural pathways of my daughter's companion, giving a visceral understanding of the phrase "under the table".

Triple Chocolate Cheesecake from Chang Mai Thai

He was fascinated by food: my son was born with a discerning palate. Shortly before his third birthday he began to request the latest issue of Gourmet magazine as his bedtime story. Our list of "firsts" are predominantly food events. From his first meal at Chez Panisse and his first trip to the Napa Valley to his first time at Chang Mai Thai for their "Happy Hour". This triple cheesecake followed a full selection of appetizers, enough to cover our tabletop.  Half of the filling was dark richly colored and flavored chocolate, the other half delicate, subtle white chocolate surrounded by a puddle of warm milk chocolate sauce. Gone are the days when he stubbornly insisted on eating exclusively milk chocolate. He now consumes a wide range of dark chocolate with a wide variety of cacao proportions. He has followed the product from pod to bar through each messy, painstaking step. He is a veritable walking encyclopedia of chocolate, highly opinionated and his cacao curiosity is boundless. Perhaps one day, he will move out of my basement, heading for more adventures in chocolate. Until then, and sometimes impatiently, I continue to savour our relationship over chocolate.

Signature Turtle Cake from Cafe Latte

Chocolate Raspberry Dacquoise from Bakery St Honore

Double Chocolate Cupcake from Butter Bakery

Chocolate Rollup from La Chocolaterie

Flourless Chocolate Cake from Rustica Bakery

Chocolate Mousse Cake from Whole Foods Bakery

Chocolate Raspberry Cake from Patrick's Bakery

Spoonriver Flourless Chocolate Cake with Passionfruit Sorbet

German Chocolate Cupcake from Butter Bakery

Mexican Chocolate Cake from the Wedge Coop Bakery

09 March, 2010

Double Chocolate Cake from Gigi's

As a child I "gave up chocolate" for the time leading up to Easter. It was difficult and not very successful. My heart simply wasn't in it and my motivation was low. This year I decided to eat chocolate cake for lent. Mindfully. With great awareness of it's sensual pleasure and history as an aphrodisiac. To paraphrase Virginia Madsen in the movie "Sideways": With each slowly consumed morsel I like to think about the life of chocolate. I like to think about what was going on when the beans were growing., how the sun was shining if it rained. All the people who tended and picked the cacao, and the sugar cane and if it's older chocolate, how many people might be dead by now. I like to think about how chocolate production has  evolved  and how the flavor changes with temperature and manipulation. Sometimes I cut a slice of chilled cake and leave it on my desk and eat it throughout the day noticing the changes as it warms to room temperature. It appears to be alive and constantly evolving, gaining complexity.It peaks with the first bite so by savoring, and spreading out consumption of that one piece I feel like each bite is the first. Until I reach the inevitable last crumb. I try to vary my selections and the sources, thinking about the bakers and service people who make my experience possible. And the countries who build their economic structure on the ingredients. I try to buy fair trade, organic and wonder about the cows and chickens who contributed to the product. Were they treated humanely, with dignity? When possible, I walk to the "bakery of the day" so the purchase becomes a pilgrimage for me, too. Silly perhaps, but much better than the fasting and self-flagellation of my previous years.  

Chocolate Caramel Cake

04 March, 2010


On the way to Country Manor, where my mother is currently a resident of the long term care center, I pass the Puma store. And usually I fantasize about leaving the freeway, parking in the glorious Spring sunshine and finding my favorite shoe in a wide selection of colors at a fraction of the retail price.

But I don't.
Until today.

Motivation is an elusive thing. Sometimes I discover that am motivated by fear, confusion, a desire to procrastination, to gain peer approval. And today, as I approached the exit, I heard my old inner voice saying there was no time for this Puma detour. And today I took a moment to simply relax and trust the  journey. I could feel a shift in my motivation from wanting to "do it right" to "resting in joy", feeling the sunshine on my face and in my hair. 

02 March, 2010

snicker salad

Overhearing a discussion about snicker salad I wondered how salad greens and snicker bars came to be paired up in the same dish. What kind of dressing would be the most suited for such a concoction? Is it served as an appetizer, a first course or as a palate cleanser? And is it accompanied by champagne or a lighter still wine? Or a shot of Jack Daniels, but no, probably Cuervo gold would be the wiser choice. As I tuned into the culinary conversation other questions came up. Who would make (and serve) such a concoction and is the recipe open to adaptations: Perhaps Kit Kat or 3 Musketeers instead of Snickers? I was given the recipe: Cool whip, chopped green apples, and broken up Snicker bars, mixed together and chilled until serving, or transporting to the annual family reunion. My sister is the Queen of snicker salad and all similar creations. With a family history of diabetes, alcohol and breast cancer it is easy to glance down the road and predict her future fairly accurately, assuming there is no deviation from the current path. No intervention. No wake up call. We are free to make choices which shape our experience and this is hers: the snicker salad lifestyle. At one time we were "facebook" friends, "cafeworld" neighbors. Her daughter stayed with me for the weekend when she was 3 years old. Growing up in Gaylord, MN, we shared a room for a time.  And now, with our mother in "long term care/skilled nursing" she removes me as her "facebook" friend. Silliness in the midst of trauma, possible elder abuse of our mother. What is it about family relations that prevents healing, recognizing the benefit of diversity and insists on blind compliance or imposes the sentence of abandonment. How is her identity threatened by my desire for a more compassionate approach to our parents aging? Has she simply worked in family law for too long? Is there a way to reach the same conclusion without objectifying our mother's existence, and simply warehousing her body?