May 272011
 

The view of Atlanta from our room

Early Thursday morning, the birds were barely awake, sending their tentative chirps out into the air when Husband rolled my suitcases out of the house, while I followed, checking off for the tenth time the items written on the list I held firmly in my hand. Excited and anxious, I could not stop talking all the way to Los Angeles International airport, eagerly anticipating the BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta.

We departed right at 7.00am, and after valiantly trying to read Water for Elephants I brought along, I succumbed and took a nap, my head resting against the window, the book clutched firmly in my hands. I finished packing really late the previous night, and a few hours of restless sleep were not enough to keep me afloat.

The plane arrived about thirty minutes ahead of schedule, and as I made plans days ahead to meet my roommate Beth from OMG!YUMMY and several other bloggers arriving from the Bay Area at the airport, I was biding my time, walking through the Atlanta airport, and enjoying the Exhibit of African art rather then taking the speedy train. I needed to stretch my legs anyway. But at one point I decided to check my messages, and there were several informing me that the Delta flight everybody was on had been delayed for several hours.

Suddenly deflated, I gathered my luggage and sat down despondently. Sure, I had my reservation and I  could find my way to the Westin Peachtree Hotel, but roaming the streets of Atlanta by myself was not the most exhilarating thought. I send a text message into the ether, and seconds later, Sabrina of The Tomato Tart responded, informing me that she was a few meters away wearing a leopard head band. My spirits rose, my heart accelerated, and I rushed towards the baggage claim area to embrace my new friend.

And this pattern followed me throughout the conference: a few moments of an awkward silence were annihilated by hours  of laughs with new friends. The anxiety of approaching strangers and engaging them in conversation was immediately soothed by friendly smiles and words of support. Whenever I felt lost, I encountered a kindred spirit, and the world seemed at peace.

Beth and me at Sweet Auburn Market

At moments, I felt as if I did not belong, and the ghosts of middle school appeared, mocking and leering, threatening to bring me down and make me hide, cowering in the corner. But in no time I would be overwhelmed by a glint in someone’s eye, an unequivocal invitation to share a meal, a tentative “hello”, and the anxiety demons would retreat, defeated and vanquished by the forces of good that rule the community of food bloggers.

Most of the time I felt as if were flickering from person to person, trying to meet as many people as I could that I recognized from Twitter, leaving my seat in the middle of breakfast to hug a virtual friend, gathering courage to approach a veteran blogger whose posts inspired me to start my own blog, and shake hands with people as panic-stricken as I was.

I kept in mind the directive of Patti Londre from Camp Blogaway and tried to mingle and meet new people at every meal, every break, and every session. It was challenging and exciting at the same time, made easier by a glass of wine once the afternoon rolled slowly into the night. I felt empowered, and I felt brave, completely immersed in the Cinderella world of glitter and parties.

I barely took any photos, finding my Canon Rebel too cumbersome to tote around, and definitely not matching any of my Bohemian outfits. I decided not to let my blood pressure rise after not receiving any signal on my iPhone, and deserted my Twitter friends for the duration of the conference ( I only connected to my family at night in my room, after battling the inconsistent WiFi). I used my laptop only to get in touch with my new buddies, to get the right address of the restaurant we were meeting at, or to get the right time for our after-party soiree at the hotel lounge.

I have to admit that my escapades into the adventurous world of food blogging were made much smoother by my friend Beth, who graciously shared her room with me, after I promised I did not snore. We did not meet at the airport as we planned because her Delta flight was delayed by several hours. We met at Terrace Restaurant on Thursday night, along with a dozen other bloggers. We shared cocktails, appetizers, and dinners, gluttonous in our desire to taste as much as we could, satisfied in the end by the quality of food and sense of community.

Jane from Always Ravenous and me at Sweet Auburn Market

Beth and I talked about our families, our jobs, our blogs, and every day we delved further and deeper, comparing our experiences, questioning out motives, trying to figure out the best approach. We connected from the beginning and we stayed together for many hours of the conference, finding solace in each other’s company. I introduced my friends to her, she in turn shared her friends with me. We both enjoyed wine and organized a little get-together on Friday night.

I bought the ticket for BlogHer Food conference way back in January. I don’t know what I exactly expected from the conference, but I know what I received: a Eureka! moment from Sabrina and Irvin during their Design and Branding panel on Friday morning; an inspiration from Aran, Tami, and Stephanie after their insightful presentation; a boost of energy following funny and informational Photography on the Cheap session by Sarah and Alice. I felt motivated, energetic, and empowered.

I learned something about myself, too. I assumed a lot, I projected a lot, and I lost a lot. My middle school ghosts emerged and I averted my eyes on many occasions, avoiding contact, afraid that any attempt I made would be met with ridicule and a cold shoulder. But any time I engaged in the conversation, I realized that my assumptions were wrong, and that most of the cool kids were as introverted and shy as I was. I am usually a fast learner, but in this instance it took some time for me to realize that it was only my perception that prevented me from meeting anyone and everyone at the conference.

I can continue to kick myself in the butt for ages, but the truth is that I benefited immensely from BlogHer Food conference. I know that Beth and I are going to make our friendship stronger. I know that I have a wonderful connection with Jane and Sabrina. I am happy to count among my friends Lydia and Kelly, Megan and Susan, Pam and Andrew, Christianna and Rene. Some of them are veteran bloggers, some are journalists, and some are fairly new, just like I am. Even if I did not learn anything at the sessions organized by the women of BlogHer Food, I would have departed satisfied, smiling all the way to the airport, basking in the afterglow of the energy, love, and support I received in Atlanta.

My roommate had to leave really early on Sunday morning, and I stayed in the room until checkout time. Unable to connect with anyone, I left my suitcases at the hotel and took MARTA to the High Museum. I spent hours entranced by history, art, and stories, interrupted only by my lunch at Table 1280, a fabulous little restaurant just across the museum. That was truly an unforgettable day.

Our flight left the Atlanta airport around 8.00 p.m. I was comfortably seated against the window in the crowded airplane when a women and her three year old child appeared, their seats separated, one of them sitting next to me, another in a row across the aisle and ahead. While everybody was looking away, consciously hiding their glance, I volunteered to switch places and moved into the middle seat a row ahead. I did not expect a reward for being a good Samaritan – I travel every summer with three girls and being separated on a Transatlantic flight is major downer – but the steward brought me not one, but two bottles of Caberenet Sauvignon as soon as the plane gained velocity.

I did not do it for the wine. I did it because I could relate to the mother’s plight. The wine was a welcome bonus, though:) In  retrospect, everything worth saving and savoring from BlogHer Food conference in Atlanta could be summed up in a few words: pay it forward.

I think that this post could be useful to future blog conference atendees and I am linking it to Feed Me, Tweet Me, Follow Me Home blog hop, hosted by Alex of A Moderate Life and April of 21st Century Housewife.

May 152011
 

chicken and andouille sausage from bibberche.com

I loved the rhythm, the melody, and soul-wrenching whine of the fiddle in Jambalaya long before I had a clue who Hank Williams was. I tried in vain to get a grasp of the lyrics, but the only thing I could understand, after rewinding the tape deck on our family Grundig again and again, were the lines “son of a gun we’ll have big fun…”. And jambalaya. Except that I had no idea what a jambalaya could be. At thirteen, I was obsessed with deciphering the lyrics of many foreign songs, failing miserably most of the time. But as an incorrigible romantic, I really wanted the song to be about love, unrequited if possible, to coincide with my melodramatic view of the world at the time.

My crystal ball did not inform me that twenty years later I would marry a Southerner who loves Hank Williams and thinks Willie Nelson is a minor deity. He considers the food south of the Mason-Dixon line true American. If he had a choice, he would make a big detour to avoid for eternity his home state of Georgia, which is not on his mind, but he cannot get detangled from the strong emotional ties that hold him bound to Brunswick stew (whatever that is), stewed okra, and anything deep-fried. He lived all over the south from Georgia to Texas, but his tongue is true to Louisiana and Cajun cooking.

I had solved the mystery of Jambalaya long before I met Husband, while I worked at Key Largo Restaurant in Walled Lake, Michigan. As I was getting acquainted with the menu, which was a combination of Louisiana, Florida, and the Caribbean cuisines, it dawned on me that Hank was singing about food. And I liked him and his song even more.

We served crayfish ettouffe, jerk chicken, conch chowder, Key lime pie, coconut shrimp, jambalaya, and gumbo. I was slowly adapting to new tastes, eager to discover unfamiliar ingredients and cherishing the challenges of the palate. And whenever Shawn Riley, our regular one-man-band, would start unpacking his equipment on the deck overlooking the lake and pretending to be somewhere tropical, I would ask him to sing Jambalaya at some point during the night.

Husband moved into my Ohio apartment dragging in a great collection of well-used books, an old, battered, but heavy cooking pan, and a lot of clothes that I disposed of on the sly, little by little. One of the first things he searched for at Cleveland’s West Side Market was filé powder. Once he secured it, he scurried home, stopping to purchase fish, shrimp, and sausage. He had been promising to make a pot of gumbo from the second or third e-mail we exchanged, and I was intrigued by his enthusiasm.

I stood dutifully by his side while he made it, and it was a long, time-consuming dish. Hank was crooning in the background, and Husband was pulling out every quote, fact, and anecdote from his Southern hat. He was not satisfied with being only the cook. He had to be the entertainer, too, and he fancies himself a comedian. The only thing he did not do was break into the Louisiana shuffle, for which I was eternally grateful, as Husband is completely devoid of any sense of rhythm.

After hours of chopping, and stirring, and simmering, he scooped a small pile of rice into each of our bowls, and ladled a hefty amount of wonderfully spiced, flavorful, dark stew on top of it. I wanted more rice, but Husband assured me that in gumbo, rice is considered almost a garnish, its neutral taste perfectly complementing the spiciness of gumbo. From that day on, the big pot and a huge wooden spoon with a leather attachment were his to keep.

When Daring Cooks announced that we are supposed to prepare gumbo for May Challenge, I was thrilled. For years I have been listening to Husband drone on about the importance of stirring roux for at leas forty minutes, the necessity of “holy trinity” to be chopped in equally small pieces, and the superiority of andouille sausage. But this time the big pot and wooden spoon belonged to me. He was at work when I was researching innumerable recipes on Internet, figuring out in the end that his method was a good one.

I had all the ingredients lined up on the kitchen counter, eager to cross into the unfamiliar territory by myself. I reverently stirred the roux until it was the color of chocolate, loose and shiny, its aroma moving away from lard and flour and ascending to another level. I cooked the chicken leg quarters with a carrot or two, a stalk of celery, and a wedge of onion for about one hour, trying to extract all the goodness those bones hide within before pulling the meat off. I wanted the flavorful broth to bring an additional layer of flavor to the stew.

gumbo ingredients from bibberche.com

I cut the aromatics evenly into small cubes, replacing the green pepper with red, preferring the sweet undertones to bitter, and added them to the roux to sweat and get soft and glossy. Spices and herbs went in next, stirred around for a minute, just before I added the stock and the chicken, already pulled off the bone. The stew simmered and bubbled until all the layers reached perfect harmony.

This was a dish simple and complex at the same time. I spooned a small pile of rice in each bowl and ladled the gumbo on top, eagerly awaiting Husband’s reaction. When I saw a smile on his face, I knew that I managed to cross the intimidating Mason-Dixon culinary line, and join the multitudes of Beulahs and Ednas who wielded the power in Old Dixie.

Husband and I might fight over the proprietorship of the gumbo pot, but I know that despite our competitive personalities, we will enjoy a delicious bowl of Southern goodness every time we move away from the stove, proudly carrying the steaming pot to the table. And you can bet that Hank’s version of Jambalaya will be playing in the background.

I hope you will take a trip South with me, stirring the roux and chopping the vegetables for “holy trinity”. I provided the lyrics to that crazy song just in case you decide to hum along and not think about definitions and sense.

Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo
‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

The Thibodeaux and the Fontainneaux, the place is buzzin’
Kinfolk come to see Yvonne by the dozen
Dress in style, go hog wild, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a file gumbo
‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.

Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

gumbo roux from bibberche.com

HUSBAND’S MEAN GUMBO

Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken, cut up in 8 pieces
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • ¼ large yellow onion
  • ½ cup lard (or butter)
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • I large onion, diced
  • 1 green pepper (red, yellow, or orange can be substituted), diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (less or more, depending on taste)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 basil leaves
  • 1 tsp file powder
  • ¾ lb andouille sausage, cur in circles

Directions:

Put the chicken and vegetables in a stock pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil on high heat. Immediately lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes, until meat is done. Let it cool, strain, take the meat off the bones, and reserve the broth.

In the meantime, heat the heavy skillet to medium and add lard. As soon as it melts, add flour and lower the heat to medium-low. Stir until incorporated. Keep on stirring frequently for 40 minutes, until the roux turns the color of chocolate. As it cooks, the roux will become looser.

Add vegetables and stir for 5 minutes, until softened and transparent. Add the spices and herbs and mix for a couple of minutes to release the flavors. Add the broth, chicken, and sausage, and simmer for another 30 minutes. In the end mix in file powder.

Taste for seasonings and adjust to taste. Serve with plain white rice.

May 132011
 

I never experienced hunger as a child unless I got so distracted playing that I forgot to return home for the midday meal, or when I insisted on skipping supper, determined to lose that stubborn pound or two that puberty can lovingly bestow. That was the golden age of Yugoslavia, and none of the kids I knew lacked food on a daily basis. The social programs were firmly established and well organized, with free and subsidized school meals.

We ate breakfast every morning, and I am not talking pop tarts or cold cereal. We had sauteed chicken livers accompanied by fresh bread from the bakery around the corner and a glass of milk heated just enough to kill the undesirable germs; thick, golden pieces of French toast slathered with Mother’s homemade apricot jam and mild, barely salty farmers’ cheese; roasted peppers warmed in kajmak served with sweet, plump, summer tomatoes; garlicky sausages hanging off the beam in the pantry quickly fried in lard until their skin crackled and we would dunk them in sharp German mustard, polishing the plate with the last bit of bread crust; pastries, and croissants, and milky yeasted rolls, soft and yielding, followed by a glass of tangy yogurt.

And still, we were silently jealous of the kids who ate their breakfast at school, feeling left out and kept away from this secret club with special treats and perks allowed only to its members. We griped at home, and even though we had a full meal awaiting us at home after school, Mother gave up and let us buy lunches at school for a while. In the beginning, we were elated as we stood in line gripping vouchers firmly, ogling the goods behind the counter, feeling empowered by the right to choose. But we were usually still full from the hearty breakfast, and the food we bought started loosing its appeal after a week or two.

Pretty soon we were overcome with guilt, taught at an early age not to have hungry eyes. We knew better than to waste the leftovers. We offered them to our classmates, sometimes untouched. The novelty wore off, and we eventually realized that Mother was right. Contrite, we decided to skip the school lunch, not willing for a second to take food away from the kids who really needed it.

This recent recession has hit our family hard. As is always the case when life adheres strictly to Murphy’s law, we arrived in California with no disposable income. We had to swallow our pride and get free lunches at school for the Beasties, unable to provide any food until our paychecks started arriving some three or four weeks later. Our youngest has Type 1 Diabetes and it was torture for us when she had to eat inferior school food, instead of my home-prepared fresh lunches to which she was accustomed. But we had no choice. As guilty as we felt, we knew that they were getting some sustenance. The thought of our second and fourth graders going hungry in twenty-first century America was a terrifying thought, exacerbated by the never-ending reports of growing unemployment, foreclosures, and bankruptcies.

As soon as the first money started trickling into our coffers, I took control of our food situation and reverted to the habits that were familiar and comfortable for me. I shopped at cheap ethnic stores, making friends with butchers and produce guys. I cooked every meal painstakingly, recording the expenditures on a dry-erase board, trying to keep the grocery bill to a bare minimum. In time we recovered enough that the girls could stop eating school lunches. The relief was unanimous.

My daughters are as spoiled as I was back then, growing up protected by an overall sense of stability with Father’s job secure and Mother’s ingenuity and creativity at its peak. But the cloud of hopelessness, fear, and despair that we lived under for a while is still too fresh for me to become complacent. I am driven by the feeling of guilt I felt when I could not make a sandwich for the first time in my life, because we could not scrape .99c for a loaf of the worst white bread. I do not care what demons I have to fight at my odious job, as long as my little girls do not go hungry.

When the bake sales for Share Our Strength were going on last year, we were barely making it. I felt that I made a tiny difference when I fed neighbor’s children several times a week, realizing that they had even less then we did. This year, I decided to join the efforts of so many devoted, kind, and giving people all over the country who are trying to end hunger amongst American children one day at a time. It does not matter how little we have, there is always someone who has less.

My kitchen counters are piled high with baking ingredients eagerly waiting to be chopped, mixed, softened, creamed, beaten, and rolled. As I do not see any job offers flying my way for the position of a pastry chef, I have curbed my ambition and chosen to make several varieties of petit-fours from Mother’s and Njanja’s recipe collections.

I will join more than forty food bloggers in the Los Angeles area tomorrow with trays of cute bite-sized morsels wrapped in cellophane and tied with pretty bows. I am excited and a bit nervous, hoping that the event will be successful. I know that not every child will have the chance to experience Mother’s lovingly prepared food, but a bowl of cereal and a glass of cold milk can put a smile on a hungry face.

Thank you, Gaby for organizing the LA Food Blogger Bake Sale. I admire your endless energy and that big heart of yours. To read more about this event and for the list of the participating bloggers, go to What’s Gaby Cooking. I hope to see at least some of you tomorrow!

May 112011
 

flourless chocolate cake from bibberche.com

I was the first born, a precocious, inquisitive, and curious child who tortured everybody around with interminable questions. Mother was, unfortunately for her, the one that stayed at home and who tried to come up with answers amidst grueling house chores, taking care of our Grandparents, and back to back visits from relatives, friends, and Father’s patients. When I was seven or eight, she dragged out of the library an old, heavy book bound in brown leather, and presented it to me with a sigh. It was Vujalklija’s The Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases, and it was to become my invaluable companion. She went back to the complex chocolate torte she was making, no doubt hoping that this gigantic volume would grant her enough reprieve from my inquisitions to finish the cake. But I did not stop asking questions.

Drawn to books and surrounded by adults until my sister arrived and grew enough to become my inseparable playing buddy, I was a socially awkward child. I loved company, but never knew how to approach a new group of kids. I wanted to be included, but always feared rejection. Even though Mother stopped working once I was born and stayed at home with us, they decided to put us all in preschool to learn how to make friends.

I hated every day spent there. At four, I stopped taking naps choosing to read instead. But in preschool I had no choice and for an hour I closed my eyes and daydreamed. I was a slow eater, always lost in the clouds, my mind travelling to unknown distances, unfocused on the food in front of me. Many times I had the entree poured on top of the soup still in my plate, having to eat the abominable mixture under the scrutiny of hawk-eyed lunch ladies.

One April, Djordje jumped off the see-saw while I was aloft, and I fell and broke my nose. On another occasion several girls were playing a beauty parlor game, and I was chosen as a customer. They hacked at my hair with dull school scissors until half my head was covered in bald splotches. When my parents deposited me on the couch, Njanja cursed them for bringing me home looking like that. Who could have blamed her? On the overcrowded night-long trip to the seaside camp, the teachers put me to sleep on the floor of the bus, and during the night someone vomited all over me. They did not wash my clothes upon arrival, but put them in my suitcase, which made all my clean stuff stink like puke. On the same trip, someone stole my sandals, and I walked on the hot sand barefoot, wincing in pain and hiding my tears. I didn’t know how to raise hell and I was pushed to the sides and ignored. I trusted the adults, but they had their favorites. I was not one of them.

The first day of school was an exciting moment in my life. I started the first grade one year ahead of my preschool peers and I was looking forward to meeting new kids and starting over. As my parents were standing to the side, their proud smiles making their cheeks hurt, we were entering our new classroom two by two. As the line progressed, the girls were pairing off in this seemingly orchestrated dance, holding hands and giggling. Boys were punching each other and laughing with each faked fart or burp noise. I remained alone, framed by couples in front and behind. To my horror, I had to walk in with a boy who was also left without a partner. We both stared ahead, ignoring each other, our cheeks flushed and hearts bursting out of our little chests.

first day of school

first day of school

I filled in my friends’ math tests before finishing mine. I whispered the right answers  left and right, only to have the same people I helped run away from me while walking home. Unable to gain acceptance in the popular crowd I befriended the social outcasts, Gypsies, and kids everybody avoided for being too slow and different. I spent hours every week trying to correct Fs, desperately wanting everybody to move forward and live a better life.

In high school I decided to change my ways. I was still painfully shy, but I realized that the world was not going to wait for me to get out of my shell. The first day, I plopped myself in the first row, a few seats on the left from the teacher’s desk, trying to ignore everybody behind me, concentrating only on one person. During recess, I talked to anybody willing to offer a smile. I helped a student with his math homework several times, and I got a bodyguard for life. I did not select my friends by their standing, or rating, or stature in the community. I was oblivious to the social strata, and followed my parents’ example in befriending anyone who seemed sincere, nice, and shared the same values as me.

I was never manipulative and calculating. I searched for kindred spirits with a zeal, opening my soul to many, and offering my ear to any willing to talk. I debated with the intellectual crowd, smoked cigarettes on the sly with the trouble-makers, watched the games with the jocks, blinked in total bewilderment when my techie friends endeavoured to explain that two parallel lines would meet in eternity. All these different people empowered me and gave me bits of energy necessary to face the world every morning.

I have several high school reunions behind me. People approach me and tell me that they wanted to be my friends, but they thought I was too aloof, too arrogant, too snobbish. Once in a while a good-looking guy would confess that he had had a crush on me way back when, and we would laugh, enjoying the moment that never happened. I take all this home and I analyze, and ponder, and dissect. I ask all of them silently where were they when I felt alone, and ignored, and neglected. I ask the good-looking guy why he never asked me out.  In the end I ask myself if I was nice enough back then to make them like me…

I did not have a good day yesterday. The end of a friendship is always very traumatic and the pain takes time to ebb. I am at the beginning of the grieving process and tears are never far away from my eyes. I decide one moment that I am just too old to have my heart broken, and in another I know that I cannot be anything else but a trusting, giving, naive, and gullible romantic who sees only the good in people, accepting the harsh reality of many more heartbreaks.

My twelve-year-old, Anya, asked me if she could make me a cake for Mother’s Day. I could not have imagined a better gift. While I worked, delivering Eggs Benedict with instant Hollandaise and Belgian Waffles born out of a box, my girls measured, weighed, baked, and licked the bowls. They do not carry around The Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases, but tiny iphones that fetch whatever information they require or desire… to include a fantastic recipe for chocolate cake. When I arrived, the only thing left to do was to put whipped cream and berries on top.

The cake was creamy, fudgy, rich without being too sweet, the touch of espresso bringing out the deep, seductive taste of dark chocolate. When my tears finally dried out around midnight, I buried my fork in a piece of firm, but yielding cake, and closing my eyes really tasted the love and affection my daughters managed to weave into it.

my girls made the cake and took the photos

my girls made the cake and took the photos

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE

(I helped them with the recipe combing through dozens; I finally mixed everything together to make it as easy and uncomplicated for the inexperienced, but willing to learn pre-teens)

Cake Batter:

  • 1 cup (150gr) chopped semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 115gr) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup (150gr) sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons espresso or instant coffee powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (50gr) unsweetened cocoa powderGanache:
  • 1 cup (150gr) chopped semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) heavy whipping cream

Directions:

Put the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat until the butter is melted and the chocolate is soft. Stir until the chocolate melts. You can also do this on a stove set at very low heat, in a double boiler. Transfer the melted chocolate and butter to a mixing bowl.

Add the sugar, salt, and espresso powder. Add the eggs, beating briefly until incorporated. Add the cocoa powder and mix just to combine.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for 25 minutes; the top will have formed a thin crust. Remove it from the oven, and cool it in the pan for 5 minutes. Loosen the edges of the pan with a table knife or nylon spreader, and turn it out onto a serving plate. The top will now be on the bottom; that’s fine. Also, the edges will crumble a bit, which is also fine. Allow the cake to cool completely before glazing.

Glaze: Combine the chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat till the cream is very hot, but not simmering. Remove from the microwave, and stir till the chocolate melts and the mixture is completely smooth.

Spoon the glaze over the cake, spreading it to drip over the sides a bit. Allow the glaze to set for several hours before serving the cake.

May 042011
 
Camp Blogaway from Patti Londre

Thanks, Patti (and Ray) for the photo!

We moved from Ohio to Southern California in August of 2008, arriving at our new apartment complex in a rented white Ford SUV, with pink and a purple Barbie bikes strapped securely to the roof. While we were unpacking the meager belongings that made the first cut, the Beasties were shyly making friends with their new neighbors, Yesenia, Noemi, and Vanessa, who were hovering around, having been told new kids were moving in. I was grateful to the three Sanchez sisters who took my girls away for hours at a time and make them completely oblivious to our state of depressing, albeit temporary, destitution.

While they were climbing the hills and running down the sidewalks in ever growing crowds, I lacked the necessary anchor. I followed my routine, walking downhill and across the street, making really good time through the parking garage, and speeding up through the mall, trying to avoid the smells and sights of the forbidden goods, feeling stronger with my 99 cent sunglasses covering half of my face. Coming back from work, I walked the same path, this time up the hill, weaving between BMWs and Lexuses, hiding the stains on my shirt clutching my purse against it, counting the steps as I tiredly put one foot in front of another, relieved only once I reached our front door.

Even if my friends were not so far away, I would not have reached out to them, afraid they would detect a faint note of desperation in my make-believe voice colored the brightest hue of California sky. I carried my daily burden with stoic resignation, unable to shrug it off, my aching body finding relief only when I curled up on the couch after a hot shower, laptop resting on my thighs, a cocktail within easy reach.

The sugar-plum visions of our previous life danced behind my closed eyelids: plump tomatoes from my August garden, hand-in-hand morning walks with Husband through our subdivision, the sparkling wake a family of ducks left in the lake, two pairs of pink ballet shoes, the immaculate ebony shine of a car in the garage, a color wheel of paint samples on top of the shelf,  silly jello shots at the neighborhood Clam Bake party, a telephone number of a trendy restaurant scribbled on a post-it note and affixed to the desk, an un-opened 100 CD pack behind the computer, an Amazon box just freed from several books fresh off the printing press, a gift certificate for a much needed facial…

I moved the cruel traspassers away in a blink or two, calling forth the images of the Beasties with their scratched knees and sunburned cheeks, their English slowly absorbing the melodic and highly exaggerated drama of Mexican Spanish. I dispersed the ghosts of the summers past Skyping with the College Kritter, satisfied in the knowledge that she was making friends at Berkeley and slowly weaving the ties that would keep her afloat for the rest of her life.

Husband and I found ourselves painfully alone, and while he endured, used to solitude, I suffered, going back and forth from the tiny apartment to mindless work, unable to find someone to call a friend. In silent desperation I kept on writing, spilling my sentiments into a faceless Word document, baring my soul to an invisible friend.

I reached out into the vast expanse surrounding me, and slowly, some amazing people emerged offering the gifts of their friendship smile by smile, and word by word. All of a sudden the hills became less steep, and my steps gained a vigor that I thought had disappeared forever. I felt energized and immune to the poisonous darts of malice, stupidity, and ignorance that used to make me cry for hours at night. My shoulders straightened, my eyes glistened once again, and I started to feel tiny roots taking hold, binding me to the arid hills and rosemary bushes of Southern California.

I spent the last weekend in the San Gabriel Mountains, just on the other side of Big Bear where the Technicolor blue sky meets majestic peaks enveloped in snow. I would have been happy gazing at the blue expanse through the pine branches alone, breathing in the crisp and sharp mountain air, listening to the gurgling of streams and feeling the strain in my leg muscles as I climbed yet another hill covered with pine needles.

But I was not alone. I shared this beautiful spot with more than 90 fellow food bloggers attending Camp Blogaway, a brainchild of our own Patti Londre (and yes, I am calling this beautiful piece of Californian real estate mine!) who orchestrated every little detail perfectly, blaming her inner Virgo for making her stay focused and organized. Yes, some girls had to sleep on upper bunks (do not get me started on the VIP treatment of our five token boys!), the beds squeaked, we had to leave the water in the sinks dripping to avoid freezing, and they warned us that there are real bears roaming the property. But this was the best all-inclusive vacation I have had in a long time.

What was included? Clumsy and not so clumsy attempts at making fondant roses; marketing table displays that challenged each one of us to come up with the theme that represented us the best; wine tasting by Wente vineyards that continued barely interrupted throughout the weekend; cutting tiny parallel slits into some gorgeous Idaho potatoes with a really sharp Cutco knife we got to keep; standing in line waiting for meals and gabbing happily to people in front and behind; leaning back on the couch by the fire, browsing through a pile of cooking magazines, ripping the best ones without feeling guilty; tasting refreshing and tangy watermelon limeade that could have been improved only by a shot of Patrón; getting up at 6:30 to make it to the walk around Jenks Lake, cutting through the forested hills and standing in awe at the indomitable beauty of  the calm sparkling surface of the mountain lake, surrounded by silence, interrupted only by pebbles that rolled under our feet; uncontrollable giggling while making our way to the cabin, warmed by pinot noir, our cheeks hot from the fireplace, reliving long-gone and carefree teenage days.

I had to curb my euphoria and sit still during the discussions. Curious and eager to learn, I devoured every word uttered by the panelists, from SEO and tips for increasing blog traffic, to a tutorial on making successful videos, to the solutions of dealing with time management and the stress induced by blogging, to forming lasting relationships in the community and staying true to your own style of writing, to opening up to the corporate and public relations worlds, to the ideas that lead toward succeeding in having your favorite photos accepted by the most coveted photography site.

Swag Bag from bibberche.com

Patti did not have to crack the whip to make me listen. I recognized the voice of reason and fought my own introverted and shy demons when I joined the Round Robin every time another meal was served, or another demonstration scheduled. She wanted us to mingle, and we mingled. She forced us to talk to strangers, and we discovered that most of the strangers are genuinely warm, nice, and sincere people, eager to open up and share their lives and experiences. There wasn’t one of us who did not lament the lack of time and wished for another couple of hours devoted to forming friendships. We laughed, we giggled, we screeched, and we cried.

We recognized our similarities and praised the differences. We shared, learned, discussed, and questioned every aspect of our blogging lives. And as the afternoon on Sunday approached, we said our hasty goodbyes, hugged each other, waved through the car windows, and promised to keep in touch. The weekend was magnificent. The farewells were emotional, with a tear or two hidden between the smiles.

As we were driving down the mountain, the reality was slowly coming toward the horizon. The routine was looming in all its ugliness, but life all of a sudden had a different meaning. I have found again the tie that keeps me afloat. And no matter how many hills I have to climb and descend, I know that I can do it, propped by the smiles and kind words of my friends.

Camp Blogaway

Several other campers have written about our little retreat (some of them have even taken photographs, while my camera sat behind my bed all the time, rightly feeling ignored and forgotten:

Family Spice

5 second rule

Satisfied (I so wanted that title, but Louise was faster!)

painperdu

In Erika’s Kitchen

La Fuji Mama

Lamb Around

Created by Diane

Showfood Chef

Adventures with Nancy Rose

Out A Thyme

Jolly Tomato

Sippity Sup – the best video, Greg!

Rustic Garden Bistro

Food Blogga

Amuse Bouche (this is Betty’s newsletter, but she is starting a blog soon!)

Zest