Kicking and screaming....for chocolate sauce??

When we moved to the States over three decades ago, I got sucked into American pop culture. Just because that's all there was. I mean, we moved from Northern Italy to Big L in East Texas. In the 70's. Kicking and screaming all the way.

Texas in the 70's was not the Texas of the 21st century. Especially, East Texas. Sometimes I think East Texas still isn't quite in the 21st century, but that's part of its charm, n'est-ce pas? But at 16, it was anything but charming.

My first day in my new high school I was fielding questions, prompted by the overly anxious world history teacher to a sea of typical bored adolescents, suspicious of this girl from "where's she from??" who just might be interested in stealing the star football player from the voluptuous, but highly insecure, cheerleader. No, of all things, I had, up till this point, actually enjoyed school for pure academic reasons and hadn't considered that social activities might be the sole reason for attending?? Thanks, but no thanks, I wasn't interested in Mr. Muscles in his tight jeans and cowboy boots or in high-kicking my way through high school in a white-fringed green bolero and tutu, white go-go boots, a cowboy hat, and toy pistol.

"Do they drive cars there?" someone asked.

"What kind of clothes do they wear?" ventured another.

Sigh. It was pure infanticide. How could my father have brought us to wilt away in these hinterlands?! I now understood why the history teacher was anxious: Finally someone in class who understood that the Roman empire really and truly existed and preceded the guy on the packaging of Roman meal bread.

I kicked and screamed my way through high school in Big L.

There were no "foreign food" restaurants in Big L other than the El Chicos and the token Chinese place, which always looked like a B-movie set that got left behind. The former served meals that seemed like they'd been scooped off the frozen dinner trays onto your plate, and garnished with the sprinkling of shredded iceberg, and the latter served everything coated in a garish, sweet and sour red sauce.

Oh, and there was the occasional tamale place where my dad would buy himself a dozen tamales. He was the only one in our family who ate them. I think I never quite trusted that they weren't made with roadkill, or someone's missing family pet. They always smelled really good, spicy and corn-y, but I couldn't get beyond the vision I still had of those canned tamales that Daddy would buy at the commissary on post, heat up and devour. They were just so "wrong" -- nothing edible should slide out of a can the way those babies did!! With that little "pffuoph!!" sound when they eased out.

Every day after school, I did the stereotypical teenage routine: Plopped my books on the table, opened the fridge, stood there staring for a few minutes, then slammed the door shut. Went to my room, put away my books, turned on the TV, and headed back into the kitchen to check if anything "edible" had miraculously materialized in the fridge since my last inspection.

A few sighs and head-scratches later, I'd pull out some leftovers, maybe a slice of my mom's homemade pizza, or Reisauflauf, a sort of rice souffle. Remember, this was Anno 1973 PM, pre-microwave (and microwavable food), so afternoon snacks had to be something that could be eaten cold. Sometimes I'd grab the saute pan, toss in a buttered tortilla, heat it and roll it up with some chutney and sour cream. Or a heaping bowl of ice cream topped with some Magic Shell....

And then contentedly plop myself down for some episodes of Gilligan or the Brady Bunch. Ah, time to relax. Yep, and I'll admit that I loved those shows. The problems the Brady kids had and all those silly attempts Gilligan and his shipmates made to flee the island and a myriad of pirates were such sweet escape. Sometimes there was even an afternoon movie on, with beautiful star-crossed lovers and their (truly) impossible options. I'd get so engrossed in this heartrending distraction that the noise of cracking through the Magic Shell, or even chewing, was often too loud.

"Shhhhh!!!" I'd shush my mom if she happened to interrupt during such fragile and dramatic TV moments. "Can't it wait till the commercial?!"

Ah, commercials during a show -- unheard of growing up in Europe. At first I thought they were the greatest thing since sliced bread -- catchy tunes, great way to get to the loo without missing a beat of the show, time to dig in to my snack. That love affair was short lived. Now I'm thinking of letting my cable subscription go -- all because of commercials.
For lunch today, we had sweet potato vermicelli with broccoli and tofu. Yum, just hit the spot with all its spicy goodness. Some iced yerba mate with cardamom and kaffir lime to ease the heat. And all the while, I was craving ice cream. With chocolate sauce. Where that craving came from, I know not, but it had to be satisfied.

I used to love the way Magic Shell created a, well, a magic shell on the ice cream. That's the part I loved on the drumstick ice cream cones. Maybe because it reminded me of the frosty layer that's created by whipped cream layered onto ice cream. I don't know how many Eiskaffes, iced coffees, I've had in my lifetime, just because I love that icy layer of whipped cream freeze-bonding to ice cream. Eiskaffe is a "dessert" in Europe: tall sundae glass filled with small balls of vanilla ice cream, topped with strong coffee, maybe a shot of cognac, and topped with clouds of (usually and preferably) unsweetened whipped cream. Ooh la la!

When my son was little and I had tons of time to cook and craft, I used to make some incredible tortes and roulades, filled and garnished with homemade whipped cream: Heat together 3/4 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup best quality unsalted butter. Pour into a blender and blend on high speed for about 2-3 minutes. Pour into a clean glass and chill overnight. Whip and use as needed. Yeah, incredibly easy and incredibly delicious!!

Sometimes I'd pipe rosettes of homemade whipped cream onto a small baking sheet, freeze, then plop the rosettes into a freezer bag. That way I would always have fresh cream toppings for my hot coffee drinks.

I wanted to post about my chocolate sauce today, and I keep getting side-tracked. So without further ado, let me just tell you that I wanted coconut ice cream, which I had. I wanted it topped with chocolate sauce, which I didn't have. So, I went to my chocolate box (yes, while others have bread boxes, I have a chocolate box), picked out a (3 ounce) dark chocolate bar with sea salt and broke it into a glass marmelade jar. I considered butter, but decided instead to use coconut oil (because I love coconut oil and thought it would keep the sauce liquidy) and spooned about 3 tablespoons of it over the chocolate pieces. About 1 minute in the microwave, stir, and like magic, my chocolate sauce was.....Magic Shell??? Ha, it sure was and it was delicious and good for you all rolled up in one deep, dark, pourable mixture. And that little sea salt crunch.

Mmmm, left me (and J) kicking and screaming....for more :)

Sorry, I didn't get around to snapping a pic of the chocolate sauce, just the mate before brewing.

Stressed?? How about some wool and chocolate?

I've always got knitting projects going (like the scarf pictured here made with light moss-green Icelandic Lett-Lopi wool). Always got one scarf or another that I'm working away on. I love to knit long, wrap-around-you-numerous-times scarves. Don't know what it is about knitting scarves, but....but yes, I do know: it's completely de-stressing. It's like luxuriating in a bubbly, frothy bath of, ahem, wool.
Wool?? No, I know that doesn't sound de-stressing, especially having grown up wearing wool tights that sometimes itched so bad I thought I was going to hurl. Patterned wool tights that left their rows and curlycues so deeply grooved on my butt and thighs, only to keep me scratching hours after I got to take them off. Remember those?? They were fine outside where it was so cold that you couldn't feel most of your body anyway, but get indoors and sheer woolen terror would set in. Geez, the thought makes me shudder!!
But, pour moi, knitting scarves is kind of mindless. All I have to do is pick up my kneedles and start click-clacking. Well, that and remember what row I'm on if I'm following a pattern -- because I can not memorize a pattern to save my life....but I have a written pattern, so memory stress is not an issue. Plug in a movie, pour a glass of wine or hot cuppa, and before I know it, a quarter is done, then half, then nearly there, then bind off. Ahh, I feel so much better.
And with scarves you don't really worry about tension and gauge, or knitting with anything other than what feels good against your own skin. You can easily make up your own "patterns" by incorporating a few types of stitches, a cable here, some stripes there, and repeating rows quite mindlessly till you get the length you want -- or you run out of yarn. Colors and yarn types are infinitesimal, too. Silks and silk blends, merinos, cashmeres, bamboo, cotton. You name it, it's out there to buy.
Tart 'em up with all kinds of beads, tassels, crocheted or felted flowers and such. The right scarf looks great with anything: chunky merinos with jeans to glittery rayons with cocktail attire.
Need a great gift? Knit a scarf because just about everybody loves scarves. A gorgeous tweed for guys; rufflle-edged chenille or cashmere for the girls. Usually when I'm buying yarn, I've got someone special in mind when I pick out a hank of this or that color.
Also, I read about a cool project the other day that involved knitting (or crocheting) red scarves for orphans leaving the foster system. Gotta Google and look into that before I forget about it. I know it involved getting the scarves to an organization, I believe, from September to November of this year and they would then match them up with kids and give them out. Sounds great! I think some yarn shops may be involved, so check with your favorite shop if you want to participate.
Don't know how to knit or crochet? Check out because they have all kinds of tutorials and inspiration out of the wazoo. When I'm stumped or just too stressed to come up with something on my own, I head to ravelry. There are also tons of knitting/crocheting blogs written by some of the most (enviably) creative men and women on the planet. It's absolutely amazing what some knitters have on their needles, and how prolifically productive they are. Blows me away. And don't get me started on the hand-knit socks.
Of course, if I'm super stressed, I head to the kitchen. There's always chocolate in there and just a piece or two of that edible darkness can start the soothing, calming process. Mm, I put it in my mouth, letting it warm in the cradle of my tongue, then let it start melting and flowing like slow-flowing lava to the back and sides of my palate....ahh. Seems to fill every stressed and craving pore of my body.
My oncologist is always telling me to gain a few pounds. According to studies, she says that underweight women score as poorly as overweight women when it comes to cancer. Ack, is that a stressor or what?!?! Why she doesn't write me a scrip for chocolate is beyond me. Wouldn't it be cool to head into the drug store and drop off a scrip for a pound of Michel Cluizel Noir aux Ecorces d'Orange dark chocolate, TID, no generics accepted? And 12 refills, please?
Nini Belle and I went shopping today: sushi for lunch (delicious), tennis shoes for her (2 pairs -yay!), hikers for me (woohoo!), and groceries for both of us. The Plano Whole Foods had its usual Saturday sampling going on, most of which I don't ever get to enjoy because it's not gluten- or meat-free. But today, there was a beautiful young vendor, raw food chef Susan O'Brien of Hail Merry, sampling her raw coconut macaroons and chocolate mint tarts. Oh, wow, they were both super delicious. One bite of the tart and I knew why chocolate was called theobroma, food of the gods. However much I was wanting to sell my soul for one of those little 3-4" tarts, though, my one-salary-household couldn't quite justify the price, so I came home and made my own. And it's wonderful!! I made mine mint-less, but I'm sure you could easily add mint extract, or any other kind of extract, to flavor the chocolate tart. Hm, fresh orange or tangerine zest?
It's raw. It's vegan. It's gluten-free. It's chic. It's satisfying. It's delicious. It's got lots of coconut oil, with all it's MCFAs (middle chain fatty acids) so it's extra good for you!! My doc would be so proud.
It's kind of like a scarf: Dress it up for a special occasion dinner, served on a gorgeous plate with maybe some fresh raspberries, chocolate curls, and some champagne. Or do the chunky tweed version like J and I do and cut yourself a chilled slice and chow down, baby ;) And, yes, lick those fingers!!!
Banana's Raw Chocolate Ganache Tarte
Makes 1 8" tarte -- in about 10 minutes from start to finish! Or you could make smaller tarts, or even fill mini muffin pans, or.....
Crust ingredients:
1 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup raw macadamias
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 grinds of coarse salt
1. Place all crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse, occasionally scraping down, till all is blended. You can decide how chunky you want the nuts to remain, but I like them about the size of coarse polenta meal.
2. Turn the crust into the tarte pan (with removable bottom) and press evenly into the bottom and sides.
3. Refrigerate while preparing the ganache and clean out the processor bowl and blade.
Ganache ingredients:
2/3 cup cocoa
2/3 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
1. Put all the ganache ingredients into the processor bowl and whirrrrr for 5-10 seconds.
2. Pour the ganache into the prepared crust and refrigerate for several hours.
3. Once it's cooled and hardened a bit, decorate as desired.
4. When ready to serve, cut into wedges and let sit a few minutes before serving.
Notes: I ate my first serving of tarte with a small scoop of coconut ice cream. It would be great with strawberry or any other flavor. I ate several slices after that, directly out of hand.
The unchilled ganache would likewise be delectable over a scoop of ice cream, or over a slice of vanilla pound cake.
Although I haven't tried it, I bet a jar of the chilled ganache (which could be eaten straight out of the jar) could be made softly spreadable by placing the jar in some warm water.
Like a scarf, it would be a great gift.
Let me know what you think.

Seeing Things

So I'm out on the patio a few days ago, smiling away at the rainbows I'm creating while I water my little flower and veggie garden, when I saw an odd looking rock under the tomato-moonflower-cucumber 'monstosity' we've got growing in one corner by the house. Sonoma is our 'rockhound,' always trotting around with a rock of some sort in her mouth, moving rocks around in the dry "riverbed" we created to run around the patio. I stood there for a minute trying to figure out which rock that might be....

I need to explain here that we collect rocks from wherever we go. Big rocks, like the boulder-sized crystals we've found while cruising around on some Eastern Oklahoma lakes to rugby-ball-sized granite chunks from the Texas Hill Country to river rocks from the Traun in Bavaria to pieces of various summits we've reached. All my friends know what to bring me whenever they go on a trip: a rock. No, not something from a neatly landscaped shopping center or hoity-toitily coifed hotel grounds, but a real rock they might spy while out hiking around. Like the heart-shaped rock from the cathedral in New Orleans or the bushrock from Australia (shhh! you're not supposed to take bushrock out of Oz).

The night J first brought Sonoma home, he took her for a little let's-get-better-acquainted run through her old neighborhood where she was being fostered. Sometime during the run they stopped and J petted and 'talked to' her, explaining that she was going to be going with him to her forever home. There at their feet was a little granite landscaping rock, probably kicked out of someone's yard by some bored kid. Sonoma grabbed it up with her teeth and J let her carry it for the rest of their run. But she didn't drop it when they hopped in the car to come home. And she didn't immediately drop it when she walked into our house. She carried it around with her as she inspected her new digs room by room. So J started calling it our rock.

"Sonoma! Where's our rock?" he'd sing-song as he played with her.

She's not like Leia, absolutely obsessed with anything even remotely resembling an orb. No, she likes her shredded towels, any one of her dozens of stolen socks, any stuffed anything she can grab while you're running after her like a crazed person, yelling "Drop it!!!"
But she does like her rock. And she considers any rock on our property her property. Is that where the term 'rockhound' comes from??

And I like my rocks, too. Enough to know just about where each one is at any given time, and whence its provenance. Yeah, I took Geology :) Actually, I did my honors thesis on rocks from the Caribbean island of Antigua, "Sourcing Lithics in Antigua". Earned me a Summa cum Laude, thank you very much.
So when I saw this odd-shaped rock under the tomato-moonflower-cucumber conglomerate, I couldn't help but wonder why it didn't appear familiar. Where'd this thing come from??

Well, upon closer inspection, I knew immediately and exactly where it came from -- it was another compost bin 'dividend.' That wasn't a cucumber vine so gracefully intertwining and birling 'round the tomatoes and moonflowers. It was a canteloupe!! Ha!

Now why did I go through all that when I wanted to blog today about arepas?? Um, I think it's because when I looked through the camera lens to shoot the arepas on the placemat, I saw dots. Colored dots on the placemats; dots of arepas on the plate; dots of corn in the salsa; lots of dots. And then my mind 'moseyed' in its own peculiarly rambling way to the canteloupe rock. Yeah, mhm, that's exactly how it was.
We had arepas for lunch a few days ago. They're pretty quick from the mixing bowl to the table. They taste great. They're homemade. They reheat well. All definite and welcome pluses in my summer (non)cooking book. So we had them again for lunch today.

I used to buy them at a South American cafe downtown. I always had the cheese-filled. J always got the ham-and-cheese and/or ham-cheese-fried egg-filled. They serve them with a fresh tomato salsa and lots of napkins. But I can make 6 for the price of one. So now, unless I happen to be driving by the cafe and starving, I make my own.

I've read all kinds of ways to make the different kinds of arepas. I've found that the recipe on the bag of masa precocida para arepas (pre-cooked masa) is perfect: 2 cups masa, 3 cups warm water, and salt to taste (I grind in about 1 teaspoon). Mix all together till you have a soft dough; let sit about 5 minutes (it will firm up); then shape and fry. Doesn't get much simpler. They can then be sliced in half, filled as desired, and served with everything from ham, cheese, eggs -- anthing savory -- to butter, jam, honey. The choices are endless.
Most of the time, however, I fill my arepas with cheese. Sometimes I use manchego slices, other times crumbled cotija, other times chipotle cheddar. Here's how I make my arepas:

I wet my hands, take about 1/4 cupful of dough, roughly shape it into a disk, lay it onto a cutting board and top with some cheese, making sure to leave the edge clean. Then I take another 1/4 cupful of dough, shape a disk, and press it onto the cheese-filled dough. Seal it well and pat it all into a disk about 1/2" thick. Set aside and make several more.
Heat a large saute pan over medium, spoon in about 2 teaspoons coconut oil, and layer in a few arepas. They should be golden brown on the bottom; flip them over till the other side is golden brown and serve. Mm, muy ricas!!

Cool any leftovers, wrap, and refrigerate. To reheat, heat a skillet over low-medium (no need to add oil) till both sides are crispy. Great for breakfast with guava jam!!
How do you like your arepas?