Technology Moves Faster than Sarcasm: Buttermilk Pudding with Spiced Mango Sauce

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

-Buttermilk: Better than those groady cancer sticks.-

BF smokes. A lot. It’s fine, really, I’ve made my peace with the fact. I no longer notice the fact that he smells like an immolated hobo and the mountain of cigarette butts only begins to bother me once they’re overflowing out of the ashtray and are filling a few empty Mountain Dew bottles.

His smoking only really bothers me when he quits. The problem being is that a few months later he usually picks it up again. My senses, now used to a smoke-free environment, are then besieged by tobacco clouds and I’m put off by the nose-scrunching chemical stink clinging to him. Until I become inured to it once again, a process that takes about a week, I am a romance-free zone to BF.

He’s trying to quit now. Again. I applaud him for it. I do. However, it’s a halfhearted applause, the same kind you give to other people’s children at a talent show. My hopes that this round of quitting is permanent are low. He’s tried everything. Patches, gum, books, aversion therapy, and my favorite, cold turkey, with its accompanying bitchy mood swings and foul grimace. This time the method is more modern. To be honest, its a bit too new on the market to know what the outcome will be.

It's an electronic cigarette.

-Sauced in two different ways: with compote and syrup, and with a mango sauce with diced mango. Of course, some chocolate or lemon curd would be equally awesome with these.-

Yes, I’m serious. The thing is actually plugged into my laptop charging as I type this. I didn’t even know what to think the first time he attached it to its USB connection. It may also have Bluetooth and be able to turn the cable box on and off, though I’m unsure.

If you aren’t aware electronic cigarettes are the latest in anti-smoking technology. Essentially, it’s a tiny vaporizer composed of a battery and a chamber that holds a nicotine-laced water-based liquid. When you breath air in through the end of the cigarette it passes through the nicotine chamber which superheats it and releases it as vapor into your mouth and lungs where it is absorbed into the blood stream. The vapor is mostly harmless to the lungs (minus, of course, the nicotine itself) and possesses none of the extra toxic chemicals, ash, or heat as smoke from a regular cigarette. The user is rewarded with a dose of nicotine. Furthermore, the feeling and sense of a cigarette is maintained. Vapor is breathed in and out, the motions and feelings are similar; all and all it is supposed to imitate the total experience of a cigarette. BF perkily tweets that the replacement vapor liquid is also far cheaper than actual cigarettes.

Given, the vapor smells a bit like someone left a piece of cheese out overnight, but it is better than the alternative. However, electronic or not, BF still has to smoke it outside.

Still, there does seem to be a stigma about them. A sort of embarrassment. Maybe it’s the fact they whistle a little bit when you use them? Maybe the newness of it all hasn’t been accepted into mainstream?

-WARNING: Do not plug into a USB port.-

I noticed this the first time I saw him use it. As we walked down the chilly streets of Sacramento in winter on our way to dinner I wrapped my hands around his arm and snuggled close for warmth. He began to smoke with his free hands and as I looked he seemed to be covering up the cigarette. I would have understood had there been a strong wind or something but there wasn’t so the action seemed odd. Then again, I realized, when did he even light the damn thing? We had only been out of the car for a minute. To do so would require ninja-like stealth and reflexes, of which his are minimal and utilized only in bouts of Call of Duty 3 on the Playstation.

“When did you light a cigarette? What are you smoking?” I asked.

“I didn’t. It’s electric.”

“They make those now? “

“Yep.” He took a puff and the end of the stick began to glow bright neon blue, like the color of a laptop’s power button and with the psychotic brilliance of a road flare.

Oh, did I not mention it glows bright neon blue? Yeah, it’s as if you’re puffing a giant Vegas billboard telling everyone to stare at your once-a-smoker face.

I stared. Then smiled and laughed before looking him in the eyes with what can only be called a look of total smarminess. “You’re hiding the glow from that cigarette aren’t you?”

“…Maybe.” He smiled and rolled his eyes to the side of the other street in the way that one might envision a child who has been playfully caught with a hand in the cookie jar.

We walked a bit farther before I – unable to let something this funny go – continued my harassment. “So what do you call this? If you smoke cloves you’re a hipster. Pot makes you a pothead. Hookahs make you a bored college student in the liberal arts. What do e-cigarettes make you?”

“I dunno. So let’s leave it at that.”

“A faux-douche? Hyper trendy? An overworked Apple employee?”

-To be fair, Apple employees probably use electronic pot.-

Boyfriend sighed and put the cigarette back in his pocket and opened the door to the restaurant for me. The proper act of a gentleman that signaled to me that he was gracefully ending the conversation. Darn. As a writer I really wanted a good description for people who used electronic cigarettes.

Lucky for me my friend, Holly, gave me an answer after I recalled my dilemma.

“It’s called being a pussy,” she declared before finishing off her wine.

Maybe so, but at least I’ll give BF credit where credit is due. He is trying again and I’ll do what I can to reward and encourage him. Generally, this means desserts of any sort, though chocolate is preferable. Still, after a few weeks of chocolate-heavy recipe testing I decided to go down a different path and give him something styled and plated. Two things I despise doing for a dessert that I’m not putting together at a restaurant. I hate plating at home. It strikes me as tedious and I’d rather just eat than go for pretty-points.

I went with a simple buttermilk pudding flavored with vanilla bean, topped with a perky step of spiced mango sauce, and diced fresh mango. Easy to prepare and sunny in flavor it seemed to be a polar contrast to the dismal cloud of smoking and the comedown from nicotine addiction. It would, hopefully, brighten his mood and attitude about smoking a bit. (He did suggest topping the pudding with a lit Marlboro Light, but I assured him that the flavor pairing wouldn’t work.)

This dessert is as easy as it comes. There’s only about 5 minutes of actual active work on your part. Either liquids are being cooked, chilled, or strained somewhere in between. It’s a dessert that lets you go about your business as it does its thing. Perfect for lazy cooks like myself.

I'm not sure that pudding can compete with a nicotine vaporizer when it comes to helping someone kick a habit (or start a new one?) but either way, the taste is sensational and certainly worth a go. Plus, no one calls a person who eats pudding a pussy.

-Pictured: A better option than cold turkey?-

Below is the recipe for the spiced mango sauce. My buttermilk pudding recipe can be found at Simply Recipes. My recipe for the compote of dried fruit can be found on Epicurious.

Spiced Mango Sauce

1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups mango juice
strip of lime peel
1 cardamom pod, crushed

Put all ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour or until reduced by half. Strain, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to cool before using on pudding. Hot this sauce is wonderful on pancakes, waffles, or crepes. Store in an airtight container for up to three days.

Seeking Approval: Chocolate Carrot Cake

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

-Can you guess how?-

In recent weeks I’ve learned that I crave two things in my life: approval and recognition. The two often go hand-in-hand and though they can be separated they are best enjoyed together.

Recognition without approval has another name: infamy. Never a good thing. The consequences usually being jail time, tears, or landing in a situation that my father would refer to as “totally screwed in every which way.”

On the other hand, approval without recognition is a fickle thing. How much pleasure can be reaped from the situation and its worth as a whole when its based on opinion and personal belief? Are you happy with the satisfaction that a job well done is its own reward? Some people are. Sometimes and in some cases that’s just fine enough for me.

However, I find that people do well with recognition for their hard work. Honey versus vinegar and all that. Parents worldwide can avow that positive reinforcement simply proves more effective, and any human resources manager, heck, anyone who has ever worked a job ever can tell you that people are more motivated to work when they’ve been praised and given positive, constructive critique. Even a smile, thank you, or simple "Good work," does wonders for a person's inspiration and self-esteem.

Together they create an epic and nearly unrivaled sensation. There is nothing better than being appreciated for competence. It boosts the ego, enriches the soul, and inspires us to do more and go farther than we thought we could.

Situations where neither one are received are disheartening, as if you’ve been told to beat a drum that doesn’t make any sound. The delivery of the message that no, you/your work/your passion aren’t approved of and that what you are/what you have done isn’t recognized is like being shot in the chest with a .48. You feel the life drain right out of you only to rise up as some dark cloud casting a pallor over your empty husk.

-Knobby, awkward, colorful carrots from the Farmers' Market. So awesome that they don't care what you think of them-

It. Is. Miserable.

Recently, my thesis experience has been somewhat reminiscent of this - both the good and the bad. Assembled of hundreds of hours and years of work the thesis no longer feels like it exists just for a diploma - a state acknowledged and governor signed approval that I’m a smart guy. (For without it, how will I ever know if I am!?) Rather, it feels like an extension of me.

At this stage I am seeking the approval of my thesis committee, people I hold in high regards and assume know more about everything in my field of academia than I ever will. Essentially, they hold my thesis in their hands. (Given, in the broad view of things the thesis is all in my hands, but at certain points I have to simply let go and allow others to do their part.) Currently, they are reading my thesis chapter by chapter, and returning it with notes and critique. With each part I turn in I hope that they will enjoy it and give it to me with the go-ahead to continue.

My professors are honest and straightforward. In my world their word is final. While at times this may unnerve and even frighten me these are the reasons I asked them to read my thesis. I respect their knowledgeable approaches. It is because of this respect that I crave approval and recognition so badly from them. That, and, of course, graduation.

Recently, I received feedback via e-mail on my first chapter. The first thing I noticed was the length. It was epic, like a book of Psalms. My eyes began darting around plucking up small, disorienting keywords like pieces of broken glass off the floor. They were words like "problem," "concern," and "unclear."

-Chocolate and carrots. Add some spices and booze and you are so go.-

My breathing became shallow and quick as I attempted to read the e-mail in whole but found myself barely able to focus on a single idea. All I knew was that it seemed I had failed and my professor was displeased. With conflicting feelings of reluctance and desperation I pushed through the rest of the notes. It was like slowly pulling off band-aid. Each sentence was a sting that made me hesitant to continue. This, however, was worse - while you may choose to simply rip-off a band-aid in one quick tear-jerking tear, there is no equivalent for reading an e-mail from your professor.

Then, suddenly, at the end was a tiny blurb; barely even a paragraph: “Keep up the great work. You can bring the next chapter to me.”

I swear, my heart skipped a beat.

Approval and recognition achieved! It was if God himself had come down from the sky just to tell me how awesome he thought I was and asked if I wanted to go out for nachoes and beer. Yes, that little bit might not seem like much (like I said, my professors are succinct), but it meant the world to me. It was what I needed to hear.

I went back to the beginning of the e-mail and read through it with a new attitude examining the advice and comments that had been diligently and carefully written down for me. It was all practical, feasible, and a completely fair assessment of the work I had turned in.

The following day I submitted in the next chapter and went to work fixing the previous one.

-Honestly, sometimes, I wish I had stayed in genetics back in college...-

Still, I found the emotional turmoil of the situation draining. I had exhausted every ounce of energy I had in an adrenaline-fueled panic and was running on empty. When i find myself in such a situation I find that making cake is not only merited, it's darn well therapeutic.

This cake is sort of a motley character. It seems to be unable to decide what it wants to be; a chocolate cake, a carrot cake, a bourbon cake, maybe a spicy tres leches cake with some pizazz? Either way I find it best not to dwell and simply to eat.

At the same time I might very well say that dwelling can be beneficial. Time is this cake's best friend and the more of it that goes by the deeper the flavors become. I suggest you consider soaking it with heavy cream or bourbon. While the liquid soaks dwell on the accolades that will undoubtedly be heaped upon you once you serve the cake.

Sweet approval and recognition.

Blogging, work, school, hobbies, proposal, projects, friends, families and relationships. We seek approval for them all and from them all. We want out friends to recognize our struggles and family members to congratulate us for overcoming them. Isn’t dating the search for approval and recognition crystallized into something solid and far too tangible? (If so, then, is a successful relationship the embodiment of achieving them?) It's a constant search. Thesis wise, there is still a lot of mountain to climb.

Either way, I hope that you are getting the approval you seek and the recognition you deserve. If for some reason you aren't make this cake and serve it to whomever. Or, if you don't have whomever around, just get a plate of your own and pat yourself on the back.

Chocolate Carrot Cake

3/4 cup All-Purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 Tablespoon freshly grated fresh ginger
Zest of one orange
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cream (optional)
1/4 cup bourbon (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pans (or line it with parchment paper.

2. Sift together the the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, and salt (do nto skip this step as likely your cocoa powder will have large clumps). In another bowl, mix together: the carrots, orange zest, and ground ginger.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the oil and sugar together. Once the sugar and oil have been combined, whisk in the yogurt until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until the batter is smooth and light. Add the carrot, orange zest, and grated ginger.

4. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in two additions, folding in until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan.

5. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until well-risen and firm to the touch, or until a cake tester comes out clean. If the top begins to get a little overdone, place a piece of foil over it to prevent burning.

6. Cool the cake in the pan on a cooling rack. You can serve this right away but it is best to keep self-control and let the cake sit for a day or two wrapped in plastic wrap to allow the flavors to intensify. This cake is great on its own but cream or bourbon can be added. 10 minutes before serving pour the cream or bourbon over the cake and allow the cake to soak up the liquid. (Do not use both as the bourbon can curdle the cream.) Serve slices with a little extra liquid for good measure.

And, so, we try again...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

-Macarons: Batches 1 through 3.-

I figured that the last time my knees were scuffed up this badly was probably in grade school. It was a guess. Honestly, I couldn't remember when I had last injured my knees like this, but it felt like the right guess. After all, grade school is the age kids scrape their knees and take sob starting falls into crab grass-covered soccer fields or blazing hot blacktop playgrounds, right?

My rear hurt just as much, though rather than scratched and bleeding it was heavily bruised. When I finally had a chance to admire it in the mirror I saw that it was swollen and mottled in various shades of indigo and brown. It felt as tender as a hammered ribeye.

Of course, I knew ahead of time that this was what would happen when I joined the gymnastics club. Then again, realizing and feeling are two different things. This is especially true when you realize that every position is uncomfortable to sleep in at night.

I had joined the gymnastics club in my freshman year of college. I had also joined the fencing club, which, incidentally, had led to its own injuries; those being a sore wrist and multiple whip like welts across my arms and torso. Both left me looking and feeling like I had joined the rugby or street kickboxing clubs instead, but I was determined to see through two of my life long goals: learn to sword fight and learn to do a standing back flip.

The former was going quite well as I had a natural knack for it and picked it up at an astounding pace. Within the year I was the second best fencer on campus bested only by a tiny girl raised in a former British colony in India who seemed neurally connected to her foil and was faster than thought. In four years I never won a match with her, but I could trounce any of the others.

-Progress is measured in smaller victories and new discoveries.-

Gymnastics, however, wasn't going so well. This is probably to be expected though as - with the exception of a tiny tots class my mother enrolled me in when I was six - I had never done gymnastics at any point in my life. I was also six feet tall and towered above everyone else in the club. (Gymnastics, I've learned, is a sport for short people. I assume all that jumping and landing on their feet for years stunts their growth.)

My first week in I was treated as an oddity but welcomed for the most part. While the more experienced members in the club usually spent their practicing pikes and layouts a few of them took turns coaching me on the first two basics: walking on my hands and the proper technique for falling down in every conceivable manner.

The hand walking was to help me find my center of balance with the ultimate goal to be able to walk a perfect square without rotating my body. Essentially this meant facing the same direction while making a box, which required skill walking on your hands frontwards, backwards, and sideways all while staying perfectly straight and pointed. It was quite difficult and more often than not I ended up tumbling down halfway through.

This then leads to the importance in learning to fall down properly. When doing anything complex in the air, any sort of mishap can lead to a fall that may result in serious injury or death. Considering the fact that I'm so accident prone that it's a wonder BF hasn't simple strapped a pillow to my head and padded all the sharp corners in our apartment I considered learning to properly fall down and gently roll out of it in order to protect my porcelain-delicate self a top priority.

For a month I walked on my hands and fell down for three hours a day, four days a week. My hands were bruised, elbows torn up, and my tuckus felt like a pincushion. However, my face and neck were unscathed. I had begun to master falling.

-Earl Grey macarons with vanilla bean buttercream. Ethereal; like tasting only the most heavenly of clouds.-

Many times, after a particularly rough tumble, I would simply lay down where ever I was and observe from the floor the people I was happy to call my fellow club members. I would watch the guys hop on the rings where they would twirl and tuck like a piece of ribbon in the air. Sometimes the girls would line up at one corner to tumble on the mat where, after a short run and a jump, execute a series of back-handsprings and whips that were powered by seemingly inexhaustible momentum until they petered out into a well-coiled aerial that left me breathless. I especially enjoyed the more experienced members' power tumbling as their hands and feet repeatedly stuck the spring-loaded floor with such force that it sounded like an artillery gun. On the floor I could feel the vibrations of each impact pass through me and I was excited by it.

Eventually, I stopped falling down. I was able to walk around with ease, and even gained the confidence to hand-walk over balance beams and stair rails. It was like I had discovered a long dormant super power and had to demonstrate it to everyone. A few time I hand-walked through the Student Union. At this time in college I had pink hair and usually wore a dog collar which probably made it seem like the all-punk circus was in town.

As time went by I gained more skills. I crashed, tumbled, and burned out more times than I could count; and each week I came home with bruises as fresh as summer strawberries and cuts the color of them. Still, I learned to do more and more. By graduation, I could not only do a standing backflip but had perfected my pikes, become skilled at the trampoline, and could do the splits.

I still generally shied away from the giant bar and rings as after my first experience where I ripped open the skin and flesh on my palms -something I was told would happen frequently. This, however, left me more time to round-offs and jumps; something I eventually gained a reputation for. My height was still a problem and I wasn't as flexible in my back as the others, but my height gave me the lift and leverage the others couldn't achieve and I could easily and literally jump over each and every one of fellow club members and while I knew they would always be years ahead of me I knew that this skill was mine alone.

I've lost these skills now. Years of no access to a gymnastic gym have tightened my tendons and rusted my limbs. If I try to do the splits, hell, if I even try to reach my toes it takes a concentrated effort, assuming I can make it at all. These days I usually get bored halfway there and go to the kitchen to make pie instead.

Or, more recently, macarons.

I recently called over Trina, BF's sister, who is a pastry chef here in Sacramento to help me make them. Neither of us had before and we figured between our combined pastry knowledge and armed with a copy of Hisako Ogita's, I ♥ Macarons, we felt pretty confident that we would be able to figure it out.

-Pistachio macarons with cherry blossom buttercream. Fresh egg yolks caused the batter to spread. We knew this would happen but wanted to test it anyways.-

The thing about Macarons is that they aren't necessarily difficult to make. The basic methods and techniques are simple enough. However, it takes mastery acquired through years of experience and skill to make them perfect.

Needless to say ours were not. On some the feet flopped, others were wearing smart, pointy caps when we wanted to see their shiny bald heads instead, and one batch spread out so wide we worried that they would be mistaken for pancakes. Only a few actually turned out looking like something out of the cookbook, and certainly none of them were cookbook cover material. A few were just goddamn fugly.

"But they're beautiful on the inside!" I told myself.

Looks aside they tasted amazing. Better, in fact, than most I've had at many fine bakeries. We made three different flavors: Earl Grey with vanilla bean buttercream, pistachio with cherry blossom buttercream, and chocolate with nutella. Each tasted as complex and sweet as a bell choir, and their delicate texture and barely toothsome shells seemed to strike all the right chords as if someone began plucking a harp strings in your chest.

They still need a bit of work to make them perfect and I picture many more batches will be made in the future. There are no bruises involved; just too many leftover egg yolks which isn't so bad. After all when it comes to baking and failing all you can do is get up and try it again.

-No recipe this time. I don't want to give one until I can get the recipe perfect and be able to answer any questions you might have.-

Aversion: Chocolate Espresso Shortbread

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

-No aversion to these at all.-

Unlike my friend, Janelle, who has an intense aversion towards Peruvian flute bands and movies where large-breasted teenagers have their organs band sawed off by psychopaths, I find intense fascination in them. Should she hear either one in the background she will go out of her way to locate its source and then proceed to get 200 yards away from it and whip out her MP3 player in order to drown it all out. Don't even try to get her inside a Hot Topic store. It's like she's afraid the droves of hipsters will beat her to death with lead pipes decorated with Rainbow Bright decals.

On the other hand I do everything in my power to avoid various objects, people, places, and ideas. I'm no different from my friend, or in that matter anyone else.

Personally, I use every fiber of my being to avoid disappointment, hearing about astrology as a means of guiding your life, ironing my clothes, prolonged small talk, court TV, the state of boredom, and the state of Wyoming. I also have a tendency to steer clear of guys who wear too much Abercrombie & Fitch clothing. (This, though, is easily mitigated if they're wearing Abercrombie & Fitch's cologne, Fierce, which usually encourages bouts of heavy purring in me.)

The sources of aversion are numerous; they can be icky, painful, traumatic, unknown, or far too familiar. Other times it may be trivial such as my disinclination to check the mail, which I'm sure must piss off my mail carrier as he tries to cram yet another day's bills and fliers into a too tiny mailbox.

Of course, some sources of aversion are extreme and with proper grounds. When I graduated college I fell into a job at a local non-profit. The work had moral glitter and I enjoyed the fact that while it made me look selfless when people asked what I did at parties, really, it was a comfy job that paid well and had good benefits. The only downside of that job was my ex, Will, from my freshmen year of college, worked there.

-Nibby doughs are happy doughs. Plus, they make for a great Valentine's Day cookie.-

We had broken up years ago for many reasons. He was the first person I had ever dated and he pressed for marriage while I was still eighteen. I felt that I could be tied to a table and suffocated with pillow and still not be as smothered as when he called me six times a day. Saran wrap could take a lesson on cling from him. I in turn had only dated this one person. I wanted freedom, so, I cheated. I cheated a lot. The relationship was a velvet prison, too comfy and familiar to leave, so I found a way to ensure that he would break up with me.

That relationship, as a whole, was like a Melville novel. It started out with potential, but it was boring, tedious, and by the end left me wondering why I had stuck with it as long as I did. The breakup was efficient, though, not without crying, and I found myself pretty well over it by the month's end.

Still, the prospect of working with and seeing Will on a regular basis was about appealing as having a colonic preformed with industrial strength drain cleaner. I took great pains to avoid him at work; I took lunches late, I prowled around corners, and I sat on the other side of the room at staff meetings.

During times we had to interact we were cordial to each other for the sake of professionalism, an often under-appreciated savior. However, throughout the conversation we sprinkled in insults and snide comments that only the two of us would recognize. In fact, each public passing was like a coded game of the dozens for us. If we didn't dislike each other so much this game might have even been more fun than it already was (to me, at least).

-As tasty as these are they're a bitch to photograph.-

I realized that this intense aversion started to go too far when I actually hid in a broom closet to dodge him. Almost immediately after I hid myself, naturally, he was stopped by his supervisor and pulled into a conversation. I spent about twenty minutes trying to stay silent with a mop handle jabbed into my kidney. You may say I could have just walked out but after anything more than thirty seconds in a broom closet it's pretty safe to assume that there isn't any excuse you can make that won't cause people to question if they should invite you over to their next party.

I'm not sure why it was like this. I had faced him before on numerous occasions and had weathered it fine, even politely. Maybe after all this time I had begun to feel guilt? Maybe I simply was tired of the uncomfortable looks and false pleasantries? Maybe I just didn't want to see his stupid face? Either way, I simply didn't want to be around him.

Of course, not all aversions are as deeply personal. Some are simply based on intensely focused displeasure. Cooking is no different. There are some culinary tasks I just avoid at all costs.

I do my best to avoid cooking fish. This isn't because I don't know how, but because I never remember how to clean or cut them and I don't want people who think I'm a good cook to know otherwise (though with this confession I guess that's no longer a problem). I keep my distance from lima beans. My mother's cooking has ensured that they and I will never be on speaking terms.

If I can avoid it I won't bake anything in a waterbath, as a combination of poor coordination and boiling hot water never seems to work well for me. (This fact alone means every baking instructor I have ever had insists on making me get over this fear of mine. The result usually being an accident and the aversion increasing.)

-Perfect with a glass of milk which will help dilute the sheer amount of caffeine you'll inject into your bloodstream.-

Lastly, and maybe most surprisingly, I tend to shy away from cooking with chocolate. Don't confuse this with me saying I dislike chocolate. I enjoy it quite a bit. However, if I'm given the choice to make chocolate chip cookies or prepare a simple jam or fruit tart I'll go with the latter. In addition, when it comes to messiness, fruit is generally the cleaner of the two and, yes, that does factor into the decision for me.

This is all much to BF's lament as he prefers chocolate to fruit, even to cigarettes, which is really saying something assuming he could hear me when he smokes outside on the patio.

Going through the last few posts I noticed an exceptional focus on citrus and cheese and as much as I love that I need a break from it myself once in a while. I actually craved something musky and bitter, something crunchy, and chocolate seemed the way to go.

Chocolate shortbread with espresso powder seemed the right way to go. To say these cookies have only a shot of espresso is misleading. It's more like a buckshot of espresso in the torso. The right amount of chocolate and espresso give these a nice bang. Crushed cocoa nibs add a little more crunch to the sandy texture of the shortbread and make a simple, but intense cookie.

This isn't to say I won't still avoid chocolate when it comes to baking. It's a given that I will, but it's always nice to have something rich and reliable to fall back on when I'm feeling forward for cocoa.

Chocolate Espresso Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from Elizabeth Falkner's recipe in The Essence of Chocolate

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 heaping tablespoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cocoa nibs, crushed with a rolling pin
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Combine flour, espresso powder, cocoa powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed for 5 minutes, being sure to scrape down the sides and bottom as needed. Add the vanilla and mix for 30 seconds. Add about half the flour mixture and mix on low speed. Scrape down the bottom and sides and add the rest of the flour mixture. Once incorporated mix at medium speed for 2 minutes. Mix in cocoa nibs.

4. Lay out a sheet of parchment paper and place the dough on it. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness with a rolling pin. (You can also lightly flour a work space, but I find my method far easier, cleaner, and the shortbread keeps a sandy texture by not picking up the flour.) You may find the dough getting too soft. If it does, place it in the freezer for ten minutes to firm it up before you continue rolling. Cut into desired shapes and place on baking sheets about 1 inch apart.

5. Bake for 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Remove the pans and allow to cool for a minute or two before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 3 dozen.

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