Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Clouds in my coffee"

The lyrics to Carly Simon's "Your So Vain" rang in my ears when I was on my family vacation to South Dakota last week. I had an enjoyable trip, hiking, bicycling, inhaling cool crisp air and looking out at the breathtaking scenery of  the rolling black hills and mountainous rock formations. The skies were perfect with clouds resembling dollops of whipped cream, scoops of softened vanilla ice cream, and "clouds in my coffee." 
Please don't judge me for associating nature (and just about every commodity in the world) with dessert— you're just as guilty for splurging in this read! 
I know there is a deeper and darker meaning for the term "clouds in my coffee." These words do not simply refer to the cream slowly changing the dark color of a freshly brewed cup, nor to the blanket of froth comfortably resting on top of the hot liquid ready to leave a mark above your upper lip (milk mustache). As I pondered the meaning of Carly's words I tried coming up with a more positive interpretation, separate from this classic song. Looking out at the picturesque clouds in the sky brought images of my favorite treats like vanilla bean ice cream and light and fluffy whipped cream to my mind. This moment of truth is analogous to my thoughts when coming across across those four words in Carly's song; I can't get myself to think of anything but a creamy gourmet luxury. It is very frustrating since my interpretation of these words do not fit with the rest of her song, but maybe Carly was trying to teach the world a lesson that amongst conceited people and bad tasting food, lies clouds of cream and sugar. Clouds in coffee can be good— especially if you like milk in yours. Clouds in the sky are imperative, for they provide moisture for cocoa beans to grow properly and your cakes to turn out perfectly. 
So you may be wondering, how the bitter words of "You're So Vain" remind me of the great delicacies in this world. Let's just say that I look for the sweet aspects in life. After all if life is like a box of chocolates, there must be at least one truffle inside that will satiate your soul (if not your sweet tooth). 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Marble Schmarble

What do you think of when you hear the words marble cake? Is it a dense, vanilla and chocolate combination cake? Or is it a pound cake, with both chocolate and vanilla flavors? I'm used to the latter. Every time a close family friend travels to her hometown, she brings back loaves of marble cake from her favorite bakery. The reason why I say "loaves" is because each cake is tightly nestled in a pliable aluminum metal loaf pan. This cake is a moist combination of sweet and savory flavors of vanilla and chocolate. It has the texture of pound cake, for it is heavy and doesn't crumble when dipped in a cup of coffee. 
My great grandfather, as my Dad reminisces (every time he holds a piece of cake in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other), "was a dunker." Grandpa Al wasn't a pro-basketball player, but he was a master of cake eating. His technique entailed dunking a small wedge into a hot cup of coffee. Ahh, he was a great man! I'm proud to have a family so in tune with their taste buds and such formality in eating rituals. 
Prior to baking my first "marble cake" I did my research. I read recipe after recipe, looking for a match for the perfection I am used to. I even searched the dictionary; only to reassure I was making a proper marble cake. The only slice of advice I learned from Miriam, was that this delicacy is "a cake made with light and dark batter so as to have a mottled appearance." That did me no good— I should have realized that Miriam Webster is no Julia Child (well maybe of the communication world). 
I finally settled for the recipe, Marbled Butter Cake. I thought it would turn out to be one of the best dunks I've ever made. I'm an optimist, but it wasn't until I saw my mouth smudged with dark chocolate and yellow batter, that I knew my cake would at least taste good. Well, I guess I wasn't too worried as I was licking the bowl clean
As it turns out, my cake complied with Miriam's standards more than my own. It was a delicious cake, but not dense enough for the traditional dunk. If you're looking for a light chocolate and vanilla mixed cake, this is a good recipe for you. Don't fret if you're a dunker, I'll be on the prowl for the ultimate marble cake recipe. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Learning From Our Mothers

I couldn't make it home this weekend to see my mom for mother's day, therefore I am dedicating this post to her.

I'm having a little tea party tomorrow with a little over 15 of my closest girl friends. No, I am not trying make a political statement, rather a "farewell, have a wonderful summer" gathering with breakfast(y) foods— my favorite.
I was at Central Market a few hours ago and as I was picking out produce for the salads I plan to make, I noticed a woman struggling with the price-marking scale. On my way over to help her, a man dressed in a chef outfit (the standard buttoned jacket and cotton pants) ran up to her and explained exactly what to do. They must have known each other because they were sharing the same cart. I caught on when I saw a menu peaking out of their basket; this "take home chef" was shopping with his client for ingredients so that he could help her create a feast.
As I wheeled my basket, full of colorful California strawberries, Texas blueberries and the greenest cucumbers, I continued thinking about that woman. My first thoughts were wow, that must be really nice to have a professional chef help prepare a meal. For a moment I imagined how much easier it would be having a chef prepare food for my soirée, while I assist him. About a minute into that euphoric thought, I came back to reality with a sense of empowerment. I realized that the middle-aged woman, probably only cooks on occasion (if at all) and had no one to learn from when she was a young girl. Now, her mid-life crisis involves a chef and a grocery cart full of foreign items. At less than half her age, I confidently stroll through grocery stores choosing ingredients for my gourmet meals.
I am filled with remorse for not realizing sooner, that having a mother who I can learn from is invaluable. I don't know where I'd be without her lessons in charming people through the art of food. I have grown up watching her entertain guests with lavish meals and beautiful spreads. I have been her witness and aid in the kitchen. I have seen her make the the moistest German chocolate cake and have enjoyed eating it with her too.
I stand in my kitchen today, and the rest of my days, as her daughter hoping to emulate the poise and composure she possesses when creating the perfect dining experience for family and friends. This Mother's Day, I dream that I too can be such an exemplar for my daughter.

Friday, May 1, 2009


I went to dinner with a couple of confidantes the other night. When a friend confessed "I don't like chocolate" my mind began to race, for I was truly perplexed. I couldn't help thinking, that she is lying. In all my life, I've met few people who dislike chocolate— or at least who say they do. I don't think it is even possible to detest this rich creamy treat. White, Milk, Bittersweet, Dark...the breeds of chocolate are endless. I understand if one does not enjoy the sweet buttery taste of white chocolate, but to discriminate against all types—ce n'est pas possible! 
For the past year dark-chocolate has been my favorite fixation. When my grandfather told me that chocolate with 60% cocoa or higher is "good for you" I began justifying my actions.
A few chocolate chips and fresh strawberry slices in plain yogurt, always satisfies my sweet tooth. Chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate kisses— you can never go wrong with chocolate.