Lebovitz Talks Tapenade but Sprinkles Chocolate Wisdom

1-David LebovitzChocolate is life serves as a useful mantra, but a life enjoyed chocolate-plus is just that much more tasty. It is just one reason why it is absolutely worth snatching the opportunity to hear baking and blogging maestro David Lebovitz talk of non-cacao-based foods during a recent New York City demo of a tapenade recipe from his 2015 James Beard Foundation nominated book, My Paris Kitchen.

Lebovitz, who left San Francisco for Paris, before learning to speak the fluent French he shares now in frequent asides with artist Romain Pellas who acts in both life partner and acting sous chef/in-kitchen critic capacities, explained that MPK was created to explain in part the Paris in which he lives, not the one that others visit or dream of. His goal was to, “present a different perspective, because I’ve lived there 14 years.” It is a perspective formed by life that is “not a part of the ‘left bank life’,” but lived in his branché neighborhood, “a whole different world” where he bonds with natives such as the râleur (complainer) of the local market from whom he acquired his tapenade until he retired, forcing Lebovitz to work through the steps to find the recipe he includes in the book, an all purpose, ingredients-everywhere, green olive basil and almond tapenade.

A key part of cooking in Lebovitz’s Paris is active engagement with the concept of au pif, which is [extremely] liberally translated as seasoning, baking, and following all recipes based on what you have on hand and to one’s own taste. Among other bits of personal wit and cooking wisdom Lebovitz proffered while making his tapenade (which he described “a poverty dish,” something that purposes every food scrap) is a belief that rosé wine is under-under-under appreciated and like all wine can always benefit from an ice cube splash; that a $25 bottle of quality olive oil is worth much more in the kitchen in general than a similarly priced bottle of wine on the table; that it is absolutely worth the effort to carry multiple liters of olive oil from Italy to his Brooklyn apartment and as many pounds as can possibly be carried of Costco pecans to his Paris flat; that one should be wary of storing things in the freezer because it is easy to lose them there; and that the flavor of capers shine best when rinsed and dried before using.

While chocolate was not the subject of the demo, there are recipes in the book such as his Bûche de Noël, a chocolate cake with salted butter and caramel sauce, and a chocolate terrine with fresh ginger crème. And Lebovitz, who famously made his bones creating desserts for Chez Panisse never leaves those roots behind. Describing a key part of French culinary philosophy to provide balance and consistency with dishes, he uses Valrhona Chocolate as an example of how diners in his adopted country are more taken with subtle herb flavors in their chocolates and other foods than those of his native land, who are more excited by the palate pop that comes with a spicier bite.

While signing books, Lebovitz, also author of The Big Book of Chocolate, shared a nostalgic note about his an early chocolate taste of inspiration — from a bit of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate he and his mother were using for a chocolate souffle recipe from the Settlement Cook Book. He did not, however, reveal the next masterful chocolate recipe he will be unveiling, preferring to save it for the book he suggested a couple times he was playing hooky from working on…

…which only whets the appetite for that book, tour, demo, and, of course, exploring  the recipes at home, au pif.

Questions/Answers with Chocolate Author, Kay Frydenborg

frydenborg chocolateThe Chocolate Scientist is a (working) title to inspire the imagination, and served that purpose, while not doing justice, to Kay Frydenborg’s recently published Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat. Written with tween and teen interests in mind (but delicious for all readers), her work surveys the medical, social, cultural, economic, religious, geographic, scientific, and culinary history of how humanity takes advantage of theobroma cacao (the “chocolate tree”) and its criollo, forastero and trinitario beans.

Kirkus Reviews pronounced the book, “A deliciously informative, engaging and sweeping chronicle…;” and The San Francisco Book Review said, among other nice things, “The writing is lively and the information compelling.”

Frydenborg’s Chocolate takes readers far beyond the simplest engagement with a checkout line candy bar, as it did in many ways for the established writer who claims that before beginning her research into what she thought would just be her next book, “I knew very little about chocolate other than that I liked eating it.”

She lives near (yes, it’s true) Hershey, Pa., with college-sweetheart husband Lans, but grew up in Sarasota, Fla., where her favorite chocolate treats were M&Ms, rich dark chocolate fudge, Toll House cookies made from the recipe on the back of the Nestle’s chocolate chip package, and her grandmother’s fudge pie (posted below). She also dreamed of having a horse — which she now does (and is named Remy), along with two dogs (current “muses,” Saada and Junie). Also in her background are experiences as a hotel maid, editorial assistant, preschool teacher’s aide, newspaper staff writer, freelance magazine journalist, and constant scribbler of stories, articles, poems and books.

Taking time from home and work, the occasional whipping up of a quick batch of too-addictive brownies (with 100 percent cacao, butter sugar, vanilla and an egg or two), and her current project, a book exploring the co-evolution of dogs and people, she kindly answered a few questions about Chocolate.

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: How did the book change from when you first had the idea to where your research led?

Kay Frydenborg: Chocolate began, in my mind, as a very different book from the one it eventually became. I had recently published my first nonfiction young readers’ book for Houghton Mifflin — Wild Horse Scientists — which was part of the venerable “Scientists in the Field” series, and I was thinking of ideas for another book in that series, which is aimed at middle grade readers. I came across a couple of stories — one in the New York Times and another on National Public Radio — about the discovery of some rare cacao growing in a remote location in Peru. This particular variety of cacao had been thought to be extinct. The article mentioned several people who I quickly tracked down, and who became important characters in my book. One was Dan Pearson, the entrepreneur who inadvertently stumbled upon this rare source of chocolate, and another was Lyndel Meinhardt, a senior biologist and cacao expert with the USDA/Agricultural Research Division. Lyndel was based in Beltsville, Md., which is an easy drive from my home in Pennsylvania, so I knew interviewing him there would be uncomplicated in terms of travel. I was intrigued by the idea of scientists hiking through the jungle in the Amazon, hunting for wild chocolate. So my original proposal to my editor was this book, tentatively titled “The Chocolate Scientist.” Turned out my editor and the company’s managing editor quickly envisioned a much bigger book about chocolate, for a somewhat older reader — a stand-alone book rather than one for the SITF series. I knew very little about chocolate other than that I liked eating it, like most people, so I knew this would be a more ambitious project than I’d envisioned. But I loved the challenge of it, and I love research, so I was off. How great that part of my “research” would involve sampling lots of amazing chocolate!

CAC: What was the best chocolate taste you had while writing the book and what were the circumstances?

KF: It’s hard to name just one, but writing the book definitely changed my chocolate-buying and eating habits. Even though I live not far from Hershey, Pa., and wrote a good deal about Milton Hershey in the book (it’s a great American story), I discovered a whole world of fine chocolate that I’d never really known existed. I guess one of my chocolate highlights was receiving some dark Peruvian chocolate from Maranon Chocolate, Dan Pearson’s company, along with some Maranon cacao beans and nibs. Also, the first time I baked my grandmother’s fudge pie recipe with good 100 percent dark chocolate, or brownies with same, the results were amazing.

CAC: What is different about how you think about chocolate as a result of the work you did for the book, and has anything you found out about chocolate worked its way into future projects?

KF: The part of the story that really grabbed me was the social justice aspect of chocolate and its long history. There are many parallels with other products we enjoy every day, and my consciousness was definitely raised about the human cost of some of those beloved products, and about how consumers can sometimes effect change that makes the lives of people in other parts of the world better. The environmental aspect of the story was also important to me. My current project is on a totally different topic — dog evolution — but the history of European conquest of the Americas that I first researched for Chocolate also plays a big part in this next book, so I felt as if I already had my footing on that history, at least more than before researching and writing Chocolate.

CAC: In what ways does your work on this book change how friends and family consume chocolate?

KF: In my own family, we eat more organic dark chocolate than before, and I hope my family and friends who read the book will see that as a good change to make in their chocolate consumption habits, too.

CAC: Why did you decide to include recipes, and which was your favorite?

KF: It just seemed like a natural addition to a book about such a popular food almost everyone eats. I thought it might add another layer of appeal and accessibility to a book that was rather heavy on history and science, because everyone cooks and everyone eats — and many people would rather eat chocolate than almost any other food! I enjoyed experimenting with savory chocolate recipes (there’s one for chocolate chili in the book), but I guess I’d have to say my sentimental favorite is my grandmother’s fudge pie, which I have been making since I was a child.

CAC: Which upcoming projects excite you?

KF: My next book, as I said above, is about dog and human co-evolution, and I’m very excited about it. It will be called A Dog in the Cave: Co-evolution and the Wolves Who Made Us Human,and it’s for about the same age reader as Chocolate, with I hope a lot of adult interest too. I’ve loved dogs all my life (currently have two) and I’m fascinated with paleoanthropology, so it’s a perfect subject for me. Like my other books, this one will be a mix of science and history (plus great dog stories). The scientific discoveries in this area in the last few years have been nothing short of astonishing — it’s a very, very hot field right now, with new discoveries coming out so fast it’s hard to keep my book current even as I write. I’m currently working on revisions, and the book will be out in early 2017. I’ll be writing more about this as publication gets closer — interested readers could check my website and blog, which is linked to the site for news about me and all of my books. I’ll be signing copies of Chocolate at the upcoming Fine Chocolate Industry Association annual event in NYC on June 27.


My Grandma Crowell’s Fudge Pie

(from Chocolate by Kathryn Frydenborg)

Beat until soft ½ cup butter
Add 1 cup sugar gradually; blend until creamy; beat in 2 egg yolks
Melt, cool slightly, beat in 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (100% cacao)
Beat ½ cup into butter mixture
Add 1 teaspoon vanilla
Whip until stiff; 2 egg whites; ⅛ teaspoon salt
Fold into batter
Bake in a greased 8-9 inch pie plate at 325 degrees about ½ hours
Serve with vanilla ice cream (optional)

Don’t Hit Them, Eat the (Chocolate) Books

chocolate booksMuch can be said about chocolate as the hook upon which to hang a narrative. For non-fiction it might be the big bang for a review of issues arising from an incident of killing bears in New Hampshire, or destroying monkey habitats in the Cote d’Ivoire. The cacao pod can also germinate into a policy discussion on international trade as Canada and Mexico currently threaten a war using US chocolate as a hostage. It may also support an economics case study as in the case of how Venezuela’s President Maduro screws up Venezuela’s cocoa trade as he also dissolves the positives in the remainder of his country’s economy.

Or it could be the genesis for fiction. Recently, proving that powdered cocoa actually can expire, an Italian granny poisoned famiglia by serving from a package more than 30 years old. For novelists in search of ignition, there are also the tragic tales with comic elements of the Syrian refugee who on his eighteenth attempt to flee the country’s misery nearly drowned in a tank of British chocolate, and the Granite State hunter who killed the bears with dark chocolate but was so heartbroken he took the season off hunting them with bullets.

While the quality brown continues to intrigue authors and readers, changes in publishing provide less incentive to write those stories. However, as long as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tops lists of favorite books at least a few cocoa-themed books to make it to shelves.

Among recent publications to seek are mystery writer Joanna Fluke’s latest in the Hannah Swensen series, Double Fudge Brownie Murder, as well as the paperback Hallmark Channel movie tie-in for The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.

For readers whose interests head in the direction of gay-themed steampunk romance there is H.B. Kurtzwilde’s Chocolatiers of the High Winds, while those with a preference for the more evangelical Christian of themes may find succor in the pages of Deb Burma’s Living a Chocolate Life.

Providing middle-schoolers interested in health (or needing to write a report on something interesting), something to chew on there is Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg. Finally, there is the most traditional of looks at chocolate: the methods and recipes book of a noted chocoaltiere, in this case choco-genius Fritz Knipschildt’s (and co-author Mary Goodbody’s) Chocopologie

If after reading all this you find yourself too tired to red, there is also Book, The Baking of courtesy of Ann Reardon.


#chocolate #videos #books

What Could Make 2015 the Winter of Chocolate Poetry?

child google doodleWinter’s chill, somehow, seems the perfect weather for thinking about the intersection of poetry and chocolate. The elaborating wordplay of the genre, its ability to suggest so much in content while hacking away at excesses in form, should be a perfect match for the sublime sensuality of creatively developed and enhanced cacao.

Sadly, often it is not.

There is the oft cited Rita Dove’s Chocolate noted in previous posts, but given how beloved the subject, there is surprisingly little chocolate poetry of note. A recent Google found a quasi-epic from Michael Rosen as he blended childhood joy and disappointment at its passing with his Chocolate Cake

as well as the surprisingly sensual Chocolate Poem by filmmaking poet Tehut Nine

Beyond that, there are random groupings (with the expected variability) such as the one at Poetry Soup and a recent news posting of second graders taking part in a “Hot Chocolate Poetry Hour

Clearly, given the pleasures of chocolate and possibilities of poetic expression this is not satisfactory. Suggestions as to what it will take to inspire the deserved more are now being accepted.


#chocolate #poetry

Someday It Won’t Be Thanksgiving Without Chocolate

chocolate turkeysTurkeys be damned, or at least brought down a peg. Thanksgiving turns out to be a holiday of a lamb … as in Mary Had a Little Lamb …

As in, we don’t have the 1621 Pilgrims and Wapanoag (who together likely savored venison, and certainly not the pictured chocolate turkey) to thank for the upcoming onslaught of overdoing both food and shopping. We should actually thank Godmother of Thanksgiving, Sara Josepha Hale, who is more famed as progenitor of the rhyming tale of the young miss and her wooly pet.

Hale, an editor of early 19th century magazines for New England gentlewomen, made it her mission to lobby for a national holiday for giving thanks, which President Lincoln decided in 1863 would be a useful way to mark the third year of America’s Civil War.

Regrettably, we can’t also thank Hale much for anything in the way of chocolate. Additionally a cookbook author, she seemed to think of it mostly as a drink and gives very chocolate short shrift in her very long-named 1856 work, Mrs. Hale’s new cook book. A practical system for private families in town and country; with directions for carving, and arranging the table for parties, etc. Also, preparations of food for invalids and for children.

Given the mythmaking that has been part of its history there is no reason that just because Godmother Hale wasn’t a proto-chocolatista that chocolate should not in future years play a prominent place in the T-Day story and traditions (chocolate-loving mythmakers wanted).

It would be nice for a full cornucopia of cacao creations to be a central place in the holiday’s mystique, but the fruit of the cacao tree does already have a small place among the day’s desserts, although that place is primed for expansion.

Perhaps the holiday’s prandial delights could be made even more robust with a post-meal palate cleanser such as chocolate cabbage leaf cups for vanilla ice cream, or chocolate pudding shots to accompany viewing television or touch-football-in-the-backyard. (If the thankful spirit moves you so, feel free to thicken up what is billed as a “health” recipe libation with another chocolate-based liqueur.)

Ultimately, the history and traditions and myths of the day don’t matter. Life is about mouth (and soul) pleasing. To insure some pleasure, one can always rely on genius chef Michael Symon and his newly developed Chocolate Pumpkin Pie. As likely everyone already knows, with the right chocolate added and no matter whether there is or isn’t turkey on the menu — or even if its journey to the the table was a disaster — the day and meal will be the stuff(ing) of family legend as well as national myth.


#chocolate #Thanksgviving #recipes #foodhistory #history #myths

Beginning with Charlie and Chocolate

chocolate booksA new Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book cover appears gratuitous, not least because the book biz is hurting enough without shooting itself in the face with artwork.

But maybe it is genius?

Perhaps it’s a diabolical plan to spend a bit for a new, outrageous cover in the British market that is so off-putting as to inspire worldwide publicity and drive book buyers to pony up for other copies of Charlie? It may be the fiftieth anniversary of the title, but that doesn’t mean it can’t use a bit of push to get off the shelves. (Maybe instead of the ugly cover they should have made more of the lost chapter?)

In that spirit, our rose-colored-glasses, glass-half-full selves are inspired to note a few more books about chocolate that deserve their own push as holiday buying season opens up. Having started with Charlie, we’ll note that piggybacking on the anniversary celebration is Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, a miscellanea of information on how the book came about.

On the subject of books for kids, there is a new picture book for young (to be) reader, The Cookie Catastrophe, and a new title for libraries and schools, Chocolate (Explore!), as well as a young readers’ mystery, Secrets at the Chocolate Mansion .

With any luck for embattled publishers, readers of that Secrets will age into exploring further the niche chocolate has in the mystery genre. Current queen of the genre, Johanna Carl (who kindly answered questions here) is newly represented in her Chocoholic Mystery series by The Chocolate Clown Corpse. Also new is the initial “Chocolate Covery Mystery,” Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates], which situates bad happenings in a small chocolate shop in Maryland.

Regarding small and unexpected things, there is a recently released chapbook of well reviewed poetry built around a rhapsody on chocolate, This Is Belgian Chocolate: Manifestations of Poetry.

Not last. Never least. There are words to be read about chocolate as food. Consider sharing Chocolate: 90 Sinful and Sumptuous Indulgences, which includes a particular coffee-chocolate cake celebration. Recipients will also be grateful for The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book, which includes background on the Toll House Cookie creation myth; a print adaptation of lessons from the Ecole Grand Chocolat Valrhona in Chocolate Master Class: Essential Recipes and Techniques; a recap in pictures, notes, chef profiles and recipes of the 2011 World Chocolate Masters Competition in A World of Chocolate; and a revelry of mini-masterpieces to bring to life at home that comes with its #foodporn…

as trailer for celebrichef Will Torrent‘s new book, Chocolate at Home.

From controversy to food porn via chocolate-inspired poetry. Honestly, publishing has seen worse days.


#chocolate #books #foodporn

Chocolate for Breakfast, the Summer Meltdown

chocolate chip pancakesChocolate for breakfast is the sort of brilliance that occurs when you think too much … or when summer suffocatingly swelters and you just can’t think at all. It is a flash, a vision, a great soundbite whose endgame is often one of disappointment — why else are there unfinished Nutella jars?

So, despite whatever future regrets the rest of this post may offer, we’ll note that CforB does backstroke languidly through the zeitgeist. To enter into the swim, just dump chocolate chips into pancake or waffle batter, do the “chocolate” spread thing on toast, or ignore the edibles altogether and start your day with a bump of chocolate shooter

If you wish to be a tad more selective in chocolatizing your morning, consider the words of Oprah (presumably the heavier version, although her editorial staff does make mention of research into cacao’s slimminging properties). She who shall be named by but one letter hath weighed in with her collection of “healthy” chocolate breakfast recipes.

Non-caloric cultural variants of this foodie trend (at least occasional trend include Chocolate for Breakfast, the mostly forgettable USA Network 90-minute movie knockoff of a Sex and the City episode, and Chocolates for Breakfast, a 1950s novel that literary history claims shocked contemporary sensibilities, as it was penned by an eighteen-year-old Pamela Moore, who fictionalized based on her life in ways teens were not supposed to think about,much less read or write about; sadly she would go on to commit suicide in her 20s, months after giving birth to her son.

More recently, a Nashville group trying to gain some noise for a young singer in the Inspirational Christian God Country (anything left out there?) category took up the CforB — not to be confused the hallowed TCB line — and tossed out to YoutTube a Chocolate for Breakfast ditty recognizably owing much more to the concept of a Hannah Montana than the tradition of a Kitty Wells.

Wandering a bit further afield, there is Bill Cosby getting his way with his wife by feeding kids a Chocolate Cake for Breakfast, which is only another way of starting the days with the breakfast basics of milk and eggs and flour.

If hunger has built from having traversed the internet so, perhaps it is time to return to the original idea. As a recommended, occasional indulgence, consider a “perfect chocolate pancake,” this one courtesy Cupcake Jemma.

Chocolating Up Passover

chocolate matzoCacao, along with religion, are connecting ancient rituals and today’s concerns through chocolate seders. The explored theme is that as part of the Jewish Passover celebration (beginning this evening at Sundown) of Jews escaping slavery in ancient Egypt observants find links from their history to the abuse of children and adult workers  who struggle to survive on the path from harvesting to relishing chocolate.

Among the prominent proponents of the connection is Rabbi Deborah Prinz, author of On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, as well as a supporting Haggadah, generally the libretto for the evening’s seder ritual.

The idea of a chocolate seder is not Prinz’s alone to push.

Nor does the celebration of chocolate and the seder have to be about connecting the tears of yore to the sadness of today. It could also be about the food (and not just in the way of the older religion outdoing Easter chocolate bunnies and eggs of its offspring). It can just be about adding intriguing recipes to family traditions, whether it is chacatzo, chocolate charoset, chocolate mousse pie, matzo meal chocolate chip cake, or a flourless (flour and most other grains are not allowed) chocolate roulade.

The idea is to celebrate, connect family, and enjoy. All of which is made better — as everyone knows — with homage to chocolate.

Choco-Hype, Healthily Speaking

darkThere is joyous screeching again about dark chocolate as the panacea for whatever ails you. It includes excitement about how dark chocolate promotes healthy teeth. Hyperventilating is also encouraged by headlines howling the news of a study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Mars (not that there is necessarily an undue amount of self-interest here in how taking a couple high-concetrate flavanol-extracted dark chocolate pills (or fake) a day will buck up the old ticker, which follows up a report on dark chocolate helping to restore flexibility to arteries for 44 Dutch fathertubbies by preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels.

Not to diminish any unfettered joy with some ick, but the key seems to be something about how gut bacteria feast on dark chocolate and (better living through chemistry) how that produces burgeoning good microbes.

Speaking of “good microbes,” this might be as good a place as any to place to throw in a note about a Washington Post hemp brownie recipe (oh, how far the one-time president slayershave fallen) as well as a shoutout to the new Hershey Psychic, which would be a pretty fun job even if it isn’t quite what the title indicates.

Anyway, if inspired by headlines and dreams, and think runaway chocolate proseletyzing could be your thing, you could do a lot worse (financially speaking, at least) than to take at least a few lessons from David Wolfe, author of Naked Chocolate

It’s all almost enough to get one to forget about the importance of taste. Almost …

Horror, but Not Horrible Chocolate

killing cookiesThere is a time and place for chocolate … and for many that is today’s Halloweenapalooza.

And there is a time and place for horror … (see above).

For those whose All Hallows eve is the time for a horror update to the more refined observance, but not the place for the crapchocolate that is passed out in “fun sized” globs, then we suggest some horror in keeping with the chocolate theme, or an evening’s entertainment spiced up (and down and in fact run through) by Masters of Horror: Chocolate, the unsettling 2005 teleplay of a young divorcee aromatically and psychicly linked to a beautiful, deadly woman. It was written and directed by Masters of Horror creator Mick Garris, director of The Standand The Shining: