Saturday, August 03, 2002
great august beverages
of course, the best hot weather beverage is my version of iced latte. that's where you take 2 oz. espresso, 4 oz. milk, shake 'em together with ice, and add 1 oz. kahlua or vermeer chocolate liqueur.
however, some people just don't like iced coffee; for them, i recommend 3 oz. ratifia over ice with slices of orange, lemon, and carambola or star fruit.
of course, if you don't like ratifia, then get yourself some passito d'albana, chill the glass lightly, and break out the biscotti for dipping. . .
Friday, August 02, 2002
not like a dog
chocolate bark, or chocolat mendiant (beggar's chocolate) is one of the best chocolate candies, and is so easy to make it's practically a crime. it requires no cooking, which is so essential in august!
line the bottom of a 9x9 or 9x13 pan with baking parchment, depending on how thick you want the bark. sprinkle the bottom of the pan with 2 cups of nuts, either all macademias, or i like a mix of macadamias, whole pistachios, and silvered almonds. you could also add 1/4-1/2 c. sultana raisins or dried apricots, if you like. you will need to chop the macadamias, or at least halve them. the sultanas or apricots should also be coarsely chopped for best effect. if you can't afford or find macadamias, hazelnuts are great too.
you need about 1 to 1-1/2 lbs. of chocolate, depending on whether you want to completely cover the nuts, or whether you like the nuts peeking through. also some people like just enough chocolate to hold the nuts together, while others like a really thick bark. whatever. experiment!
i'd prefer valrhona manjari 64% for this recipe, but a 70% dark chocolate is actually good, if you like it. chop this up and melt it in the microwave, about 1-1/2 mins. on med-high. the chocolate will keep its shape, so stir it to melt. you may have to nuke it again once or twice for 30 seconds, depending on the weather.
great, now you've got the chocolate. pour it over as evenly as possible until you achieve the thickness you desire. to get it to hold together, the largest chunks or slivers really need to be at least 1/2 to 2/3 buried, i think. you may need to remelt the chocolate in the microwave. or not.
anyway, after you've poured, just cover the pan with wrap so the chocolate doesn't absorb any off flavors from the fridge and chill for about 45-60 mins. until firm. break it into attractive pieces.
all yummy. a fun variation would be to mix dark and milk or milk and white chocolates. melt them separately and pour them in thick overlapping streaks or stripes for a decorative effect. you can't really go wrong here.
Thursday, August 01, 2002
my prize for mad collecting has to go to a real chocolate fanatic, martin mihal. this czech native's awesome site features thumbnails of his thousands upon thousands of chocolate wrappers and labels from around the globe.
some chocolate wrapper collectors are a tad more picky. for example, fabricio romero, from mexico, collects only milk chocolate wrappers. he's particularly interested in labels from eastern europe, and the middle and far east right now.
i know from my site statistics that i have readers in south africa, japan, india, and saudi arabia. if any of you are reading now, please send your chocolate wrappers to these mad collectors! it truly means a great deal to them.
doubtless they all need to meet ms. r. chandravadhana of pondicherry, india, who probably has many wrappers in her own collection that would intrigue them!
i must confess that i eat quite a bit of chocolate, and rarely keep the wrappers. i should save up a few from my next mail-order deliveries from the chocolatiers i so admire and send them on. . .
btw, if any of you, dear readers, are seeking work, english emporium fortnum & mason is seeking a new chocolate buyer. salary comes to about US$54,000, but you must be willing to travel the globe in search of quality chocolate. tasting is required.
Wednesday, July 31, 2002
chocolate is important
rarely do i agree with andy rooney, best known as the cranky commentator of 60 minutes. but this one time, he is the man.
in a fun list of his 10 best tastes, he starts with salt and sugar -- for what they do for his home-made bread! "you can tell a good restaurant before you eat your meal by the bread they serve," he sagely notes. and he's wise enough to praise the well-known traditional italian bread baked in a coal-fired oven in the bronx by terranova bakery on arthur avenue. andy, we didn't know you had it in ya. . .this bread alone is worth the trek north to arthur avenue's uniquely new-york-italian enclave.
such real bread itself ranks at number 4 on his list, above even chocolate, which comes in at 5. much to my surprise, coffee doesn't appear at all. andy, what's wrong with you? still, rooney's article gets my nod for its elegant statement of an under-appreciated fact: chocolate is important!
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
usaid report on chocolate labor in ivory coast released
long-time readers know that i have spent waay too much time discussing the use of child slave labor on cocoa plantations in west africa. many people around the world were concerned about this problem, and this concern led this year to the chocolate industry creating a foundation for the rescue of child slaves. also the chocolate industry has signed an agreement with several west african governments in a bid to end all forms of abusive child labor by 2005.
it's a complex problem. for example, who's a child slave? if your impoverished parents feel forced to sell you to feed the rest of the family, are you a slave? i would say so, but others, citing an african culture of indentured child labor, did not! if a child-trafficker abducts you away from home without you or your family's consent and sells you to the plantation owner, are you then slave? (everyone seems to agree on this one! )
not only was there wrangling on who is a child slave, there was also doubt on just how many there were. the bbc visited the african cocoa fields and discovered many children in forced servitude. yet others said child slaves were rare. the government development agency, usaid, undertook a formal study to understand the scope of the problem. and this study has now been released.
usaid finds that there are some 284,000 child workers on african cocoa farms, of which 2,500 fit the "kidnapped and trafficked" definition of slave. this is much lower than the estimates of many activists, who had often used numbers around 15,000.
while having better numbers may bring us a sigh of relief, they leave the biggest question: if regional poverty and children's rights are not addressed on a high level by african governments and unicef when 2005 rolls around, isn't there the danger that former child chocolate slaves/indentured laborers will just be sent out to the factories by the parents who sold them in the first place? does this agreement between the chocolate industry and the african governments actually solve the problem, or just move it around to someplace slightly less visible?
Monday, July 29, 2002
birds, bats, elephants
long-time readers are familiar with the concept of songbird-friendly coffee -- the idea being that many songbirds have historically wintered in the shaded coffee groves of warmer climes. the popularity of self-shading varieties of coffee among farmers has led to a decline of the fruit trees traditionally planted around the perimeters of coffee, and this has led in turn to loss of songbird wintering places.
to encourage the retention and restoration of songbird habitats, the bird-friendly coffee movement certifies, and sells at a premium price, coffee farmed in a way to protect songbirds. thus by purchasing this coffee you can encourage coffee farmers to cherish the bird-important shading trees.
along this line we now also have bat-friendly coffee, for endangered and agriculturally useful bat species. and in the congo, swiss photographer karl ammann is attempting to protect endangered elephants with elephant-friendly coffee. let's hope he can get this project off the ground. . .
Sunday, July 28, 2002
the doctor sez to eat your chocolate
that's right -- celebrity doctor andrew weil, known for promoting health and well-being through alternative medicine, suggests you start consuming more dark chocolate. why?
long-time readers know i've been quick to report mainstream, peer-reviewed medical studies showing that cocoa butter contains heart-healthy stearic acid and other great anti-oxidants.
dr. weil goes far enough to suggest that you should eat premium-quality dark chocolate at 70% cocoa content, preferably one whose first ingredients say "chocolate," and not sugar. i go beyond that to sugget you look for a bar without lecithin. chocolatiers often replace some of the cocoa butter in chocolate with lecithin. but now that we know how good cocoa butter is for you, you want every bit you can get!
however, i do think the story has an error. it has the doctor recommending an occasional 10 oz. bar. that's a little much. i think the story means 1 oz.; previous studies have shown that 1.5 oz. of premium-quality dark chocolate contains all the good stuff you need in a day!