December 22, 2008

Live to Eat - My Life in Chocolate

I grew up in a family that celebrated the great things in life with food. A good report card meant a meal at my favorite restaurant. Winning first chair in the woodwind section of my high school orchestra deserved a three layer chocolate cake with strawberries and cocoa crème icing. 4th runner-up in the Miss Atlantic County (NJ) pageant was a feast of enormous proportions starting with a celebratory brunch featuring chocolate chip pancakes the morning after and culminating with a buffet dinner for family and friends that evening. I don’t dare to imagine what level of food frenzy would’ve erupted had I actually won the crown and moved on to the Miss New Jersey pageant. Anyway, such has been my life. In my adult years, I haven’t had any desire to change the role food plays. I’ve just learned to love the gym, daily power walks and eating healthy in frequent, dramatic spurts.

Chocolate has elite status in my business life as well. It’s no secret that my favorite chocolatier is
Vosges Haut Chocolat. Their artisan flair appeals to my sensibilities. I’m so enamored with their delicacies that I gave each member of my amazing staff a box of their Exotic Truffle Collection. Since the first proclamation of health benefits from consuming dark chocolate, I’ve made sure that a bar of delectable Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates No. 1 Dark 70 or a Maya Gold “Fair Trade” from Green & Black’s is always in my production room. Customers who’ve come to my design studio have sometimes been treated to a Brownie Cupcake from one of my much loved NYC bakeshops, Crumbs.

I recently had to make a grand apology to my boyfriend for a minor lapse in judgment that resulted in us having to miss a friend’s holiday party that we’d both been looking forward to for months. No number of “I’m sorry’s” would’ve mattered that night so I knew my creative mind had to come up with some expression of sorrow that would have a significant impact. Then it dawned on me. I live with the reigning king of food consumption so as the old saying goes “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. But what combination would bring joy, satisfaction AND forgiveness? Here’s my successful solution:

Recipe from Epicurious.com

Spiked Hot Chocolate

Yield: Makes 6 drinks.

INGREDIENTS
4 cups milk
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup dark rum
1/2 cup Frangelico
Garnish: whipped cream

PREPARATION
In a saucepan, combine the milk, the chocolate, the sugar, and the cinnamon and heat the mixture over moderate heat, stirring, until the chocolate is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Add the rum and the Frangelico and heat the mixture, stirring, until it is hot. Divide the mixture among 6 heated mugs and top each drink with some of the whipped cream.



Recipe from JoyOfBaking.com

Chocolate Fudge Cookies

INGREDIENTS
1 cup (115 grams) pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (could also use walnuts or hazelnuts)
1/2 cup (56 grams) cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee powder (optional)
1 pound (450 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (57 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 3/4 cups (350 grams) granulated white sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (170 grams) semisweet dark chocolate chips
1 cup (170 grams) white chocolate chips

PREPARATION
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Place the pecans on a baking sheet and toast for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly brown and fragrant. Let nuts cool and then chop coarsely. Set aside.

Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder into small bowl. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the sugar and eggs until pale yellow and thick, about 5 minutes. When you slowly raise the beaters the batter will fall back into the bowl in slow ribbons. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture and vanilla extract. Fold in the dry ingredients to the chocolate batter and mix only until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the batter until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, spacing evenly. With moist fingers, press batter to form 3 1/2 (9 cm) to 4 inch (10 cm) rounds. Bake cookies about 12 - 14 minutes or until the tops of the cookies become dry and cracked, but are still shiny. Do not overbake these cookies.

Remove from oven and place baking pan on a wire rack to cool. When cookies are firm, remove from baking pan and let completely cool on rack.

These cookies are best the day they are baked but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days.

Makes about 24 large cookies.

Warning: This solution may cause over caffeinated intoxication.

While my life is full of adventures, both on the up side and the down, one constant will always be that an infusion of chocolate in any form will make everything alright.

Photo of Chocolate Truffles Courtesy of Vosges.com

December 15, 2008

Mobile Metalworks

Who knew the inventor of the mobile was so much more than an acclaimed artist! I recently discovered the innovative work of American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) at an amazing exhibit of his creations at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. What made this collection so important and personally gratifying to me wasn't the abstract metal monuments he created such as the one for the Olympic Games in Mexico City or the sculpture he created for the New York Port Authority. It was his little-known jewelry designs, mostly created as gifts to family and friends.

Calder's rarely soldered earrings, necklaces and bracelets show his incredible ability to bend and mold wire to his liking. I appreciated the visible plier marks in some of the pieces as I reflected my own adventures in wire wrapping. His creative mixes of metal and wood are breathtaking. Calder's designs were rough, unsophisticated. The bold brashness of certain necklaces brought to mind a time when women were not fearful of the eclectic and thought the "trend" was a dreadful bore. This was the jewelry that stopped conversations and illicited shocked stares of awe - cliche but true works of wearable art.

You can view Calder's Jewelry at The Met through March 1, 2009. The Whitney Museum hosts sculptures from his Paris years now through February 15, 2009. Learn more about the artist at calder.org.


Images Courtesy of Calder.org

December 8, 2008

Get Thee to ETSY....Holiday Edition

Welcome to your fashionable source for those very special things in life from the extremely popular shopping site, ETSY, a place to buy and sell all things handmade. Here are my December picks, highlighting the unique talents of ETSY sellers that I think you should know and whose work will surely bring a smile to your face:

gretchenmist

SweetLollipopShop

fuzzybunny

Kzsox

pepponi

coffeeclouds

ara133photography

trilliumhillart

Think handmade and shop these talented artists and the thousands of others (including yours truly) you will find on ETSY this holiday season.

December 1, 2008

Technology the Old School Way....Sort Of

BlackBerries, iPhones, Centros, BlackJacks….I’ve resisted the obsessive buying frenzy that accompanies each time a new communications device is introduced to the marketplace. And it’s been hard because I live with one of the most rabid new handheld technology consumers on the planet. Our home is filled with almost every style of BlackBerry ever made. Over the years, we’ve given some of the older models away to deserving friends and family members and we are currently looking for a few non-profit organizations to donate the rest. (Suggestions are welcome) Mind you, none of the new technology purchases made in our household have been done willy-nilly. Much research and people polling takes place before hard-earned dollars are parted with. CNET has become a trusted ally in our quests. I should clarify that I ALWAYS assist in the investigative process. I hunt down product reviews, package deals, etc. but one of the last times I actually pulled the trigger and opened up my own wallet was when my current cell phone, the Motorola SLVR came out and the only reason I bought it was because my trusty albeit antiquated Palm T/X needed a Bluetooth capable device to mate with in order for me to meet my growing business communication needs.

I am not technology averse. On the contrary, I was just as excited as everyone else when the iPhone was introduced as well as its current competition, the BlackBerry Storm. I was cautiously thrilled that there was one gadget that could do so many incredible things. I just wasn’t going to be one of those people who camped out in front of AT&T or Verizon stores, needing to be the first in my peer group to fall so fast for the hype to own this latest tool of innovation. Marketing be damned! I’m not that gullible. I’ve waited, talked to a few friends who own one, read all of the reviews and came to the conclusion that my current setup was not so bad. Sure, having an all-in-one device has its merits, convenience not withstanding. And I’m sure my shoulders wouldn’t object to a little less weight to bear from my already oversized handbags. The problem is if you lose one, you’ve lost it all. You’re completely off your game until you can get another one. That’s why I like specialists. I like the steakhouse that offers other types of food but makes sure that it does steak as steak should be done. I like lingerie boutiques that carry a great selection of bras and panties and not much else. When those printer/scanner/copier things came out, I was leery. I kept thinking that if one function broke down perhaps the other functions would become disabled as well. In older models, that became inevitable. So, I feel more comfortable with technology that does one thing well. Call me old school, if you want, but I’ll be sticking to what works – my Palm T/X for calendar maintenance & internet access, my Apple iPod Nano for tunes and my Motorola SLVR for voice communication.

By the way, no one in our household owns an iPhone or a Storm – yet.
Photos Courtesy of BlackBerry.com and Motorola.com

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