Tag Archives: raspberry

Marriage, macarons and mountain time

Lean in close, and I’ll tell you a secret.

I don’t really like people.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no curmudgeon, and I’m social enough when I need to be, but let’s face it: I’m an introvert. And I’m a writer. And as much as I hate to stereotype, that really does mean that, given the option, I’d rather sit inside with a good book than go to a raging kegger.

(That said, had you asked me the same question five years ago, I probably would have picked the kegger. So maybe this is just a sign of getting old.)

Increasingly, getting old(er) has meant more moving around, and friends moving around. A few years ago, two of My Most Favouritest People Ever, G & M, moved to the mountain town of Rossland, B.C. And while I was sad to see them go, I recognize that this means that I have another place to visit and discover, and more opportunity to miss—and look forward to seeing—two of My Most Favouritest People Ever.

Bears are in Rossland

Things are different in the mountains.

G & M got married last weekend in their backyard, surrounded by a small group of friends and family. We sat on bales of hay and watched two people agree to continue having exquisite adventures with each other. And before I even had time to shed a tear, they were kissing. It was done. And it was lovely.

G & M are pretty simple people. In lieu of a gift, they asked me to bring something sweet for dessert. And though I know they benefited from it, I think they also understood that that was the gift I really wanted to give them. Food as love.

So I brought macarons. I know, they’re almost irritatingly trendy right now, but even I’ll admit that they’re awfully pretty. And when done right, they’re one of my favourite things. So, one of My Favourite Things for two of My Most Favouritest People Ever. And let’s be clear—I didn’t set out to bring macarons. But Rossland is a nine-hour drive from Vancouver. Between nine hours without refrigeration and my desire to not spend the morning of the wedding in a kitchen, macarons just made sense.

Wedding macarons, raspberry and nutella

Turning a hotel room into a macaron factory is easier than you might think.

I made the cookie portions in Vancouver and froze them in preparation for the drive there. The morning of the wedding, I transformed the hotel room desk into a staging ground for macaron assembly: pink ones full of raspberry jam, chocolate ones full of nutella. Of course, some of the macarons didn’t fare the car ride so well…good thing, too, as every good (pastry) chef tastes her wares before serving them to guests.

The reception, dinner and dancing passed by in a blur. I have vague memories of salmon with mango salsa, a caramelized nut bar on shortbread, kicking off my high heels and bouncing around the dance floor and generally revelling in the glow of being around Good People.

Whether it was the hangover (literal and figurative) of the wedding or the innate idyllic nature of Rossland, that feeling permeated the entire weekend. It wasn’t long before I was saying hi to everyone walking down the street. That simply doesn’t happen in the city. And watching kids run into their friends on the street and make impromptu plans to play with each other? It’s nice to know that still happens.

The more time I spent in Rossland, the longer time got. I stopped checking my watch to wonder what I was supposed to be doing. I hiked to the top of a mountain. I took a nap in a park. I stopped to chat with people. I poked around antique shops. I sat in the children’s section of a bookstore and looked at picture books.

And it was wonderful.

Now I’m back in the city and trying to hang onto that feeling of mountain time. Savouring the morning cup of coffee and staring out the window, thinking about what the day holds. Striking up a conversation with strangers. Because I can.

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Summer competitions: Seattle chocolate salon, Vancouver blueberry festival

Ahhh, summer. All I want to do is sit on a porch eating cherries, discarding the stems and pits wherever they land. Maybe, if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll cut up some watermelon and have a seed-spitting contest—but only if I know I can win. Or hey, there’s always long afternoons on sunny patios with endless pitchers of sangria.

Still, it seems to be a season for competition. In fact, there are two coming up next week: the Seattle Luxury Chocolate Salon and the Vancouver Farmers Markets blueberry bake-off. I’m happy to say that I’ll be judging at both of them.

Seattle Luxury Chocolate Salon

As luck would have it, this chocolate salon always coincides with a heat wave. Call it fate. It’s a little unfortunate, since it makes it difficult to really taste the chocolate (less snappy, more squooshy) but it’s still great to see a room full of chocolate fiends. With a nice mixture of bean-to-bar producers, confection makers, this is usually a fun event.

Tickets are $25 at the door. The event runs from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday, July 11 at the Bell Harbor Conference Center (2211 Alaskan Way, Pier 66).

Vancouver Farmers Markets blueberry bake-off

I make a weekly trip to the Main Street farmers market, where I load up on gorgeous fruits and vegetables. Whether it’s luscious cherries, delicate summer squash or insanely fresh spring garlic, the market is one of the highlights of my week. I go for the hard-to-find stuff: collard greens, zucchini flowers, heirloom tomatoes. And I have been known to walk away with pounds and pounds of fruit: cherries, apricots, strawberries, raspberries.

And now, blueberries!

To celebrate the bounty of B.C. blueberries, the Vancouver Farmers Market is having a blueberry muffin competition. I’m, ahem, helping them out as a judge. I’m charitable like that. They’re accepting entries until Monday. More information is available on the blueberry muffin competition entry form (opens a pdf).

And even if you’re not entering, check out one of the faboo farmers markets that run across this fine city of ours.

Strategy and stamina

I attended the Seattle Luxury Chocolate Salon last weekend. In principle, it sounds like heaven on earth. A room stuffed to the brim with chocolate bars, chocolate confections, and even chocolate spa products? Good heavens to Betsy, I say.

If you stop to think about it, it’s actually a really challenging situation. There was no way I was going to taste everything, so first I had to figure out which ones were interesting enough to taste. That narrowed it down from 27 exhibitors to about 10.

Still, ten is a lot. Especially considering that most tables were sampling anywhere from 5-15 items.

I started with the bean-to-bar producers, and there were some pretty impressive chocolates in the room. I look forward to the next time that I’m in the same room with Amano Artisan Chocolate, Theo Chocolate and Claudio Corallo Chocolate. Each company has a slightly different approach, and it makes for really interesting conversation – and incredibly delicious chocolate.

Next up, the confections. There were a lot to sample, so I had to be pretty brutal. If I didn’t like one sample, I’d try one more. And if I didn’t like that one, then that was it.

I definitely lingered at the Chocolopolis table, working my way through their guided tasting of five single-origin chocolate ganaches made with chocolate from  different producers. It still surprises me how this seemingly simple thing – cacao, cocoa butter, chocolate – can taste so different, and the tasting definitely drove this point home.

I enjoyed the Saint Basil truffle from Intrigue Chocolates, though some of the other flavours were less remarkable. I’ll keep an eye on them, because I think they’re doing some interesting things.

William Dean Chocolates were showing off their cuckoo creation: a bleu cheese ganache on top of a pecan marzipan, dipped in dark chocolate. I appreciate the effort – and the pecan marzipan was a wise choice – but in the end, I’m not a fan of bleu cheese and chocolate. (For the record, I’m also not a fan of curry and chocolate.)

I also sampled their pate de fruits in raspberry and pear flavours. The flavours are nice, but the textures are a bit firmer than traditional pate de fruits. I mentioned this, and it turns out that it’s intentional. The firmer texture is meant to appeal to the company’s clientele in Tampa Bay. Sigh. At least it’s a case of someone knowing what the real deal is, and then consciously working around it – and not just a mistake.

In total, it took me five hours to navigate the room. Mind you, I wasn’t eating the entire time. I spent a lot of time talking to people, some time in seminars, and some time walking around aimlessly in an attempt to digest faster.

And listen to me, griping on about having to eat too much chocolate. What’s that I hear? Oh, don’t worry. It’s just the world’s smallest violin, whining away in the distance.

Christopher Elbow: the classics

Sometimes, I have so many things running around my head that I’m not sure which one to tease out first. In context of this here blog, I have so many notes on delicious, chocolatey things that sometimes it’s hard for me to know which one to talk about first.

In Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter says, “Oh dear. Well start at the beginning and when you get to the end…stop.”

(It also happens to be an email signature of a good friend of mine, so it’s not like I’m always thinking about the Mad Hatter. But hey, I do have high hopes for this movie.)

So, I will begin at the beginning, with Christopher Elbow‘s classic flavours.

Exhibit A: champagne. It’s a milk chocolate-based ganache, which is a good choice – dark chocolate probably would have overpowered the delicate champagne flavour. In fact, “delicate” is an excellent word to describe this confection. There’s a very subtle champagne aroma to the ganache, and it’s like it was constructed by fairies with tiny hands. It’s tastes of delicate, fragrant champagne, and the effect is incredibly elegant. You taste a bit of alcohol, but this is far from boozy. There’s a lovely acidic finish, and – believe it or not – a bubbly sensation just before the flavour dissipates. It’s like champagne, transmogrified into chocolate form.

Exhibit B: raspberry. The description, “raspberry pate de fruit topped with dark chocolate raspberry ganache,” is pretty straightforward. There’s no flowery language, no cutesy name, no marketing buzzwords. And once I tasted it, I understood why.

This chocolate doesn’t need a description. It’s full-frontal raspberry, but in an incredibly refined, elegant way. It’s fruity, bright, clean, and positively juicy. Other chocolatiers make a similar product, but the pate de fruit can be a bit too stiff or gelatinous. Elbow’s pate de fruit is, well, almost al dente. It has a bit of give and texture, but it’s delicate enough to meld seamlessly with the ganache. The ganache itself has a pop of fresh raspberry.

And the most impressive thing with all these chocolates? The finish. These chocolates take you through a very deliberate, well-executed flavour profile…and then they’re gone. The crispness of the finish is really quite remarkable. If you’ve ever been to the symphony (and I hope you have – go once, just for the experience) and have seen the artistry in making all the instruments go quiet at the exact. same. time., then you begin to understand just how deliberate these chocolates are.

Raspberry love

Chocolate and raspberry is a classic flavour combination, for the simple reason that it works. It’s quite easy to make something chocolatey and raspberry and have it work, but it’s something else to make the combination stand out in the sea of mediocrity.

Not only does Norman Love make the chocolate-raspberry combination sing, he does it twice.

His raspberry heart is gorgeous. It’s a white chocolate shell decorated with red cocoa butter. The key here is that the cocoa butter spray isn’t opaque. It’s sprayed in a gradient, so you can still see the white chocolate peeking out and it’s visually interesting – almost 3D.

And inside? Inside is a perfectly smooth, white chocolate-based ganache that is fruity and buttery. The white chocolate compliments the raspberry perfectly without being heavy or cloying, and through some crazy miracle, there is only the faintest milky aftertaste from the white chocolate.

And then there’s the raspberry dome. The shell is absolutely perfect: a thin layer of dark chocolate that is a thing of beauty. It’s decorated with swirls of red and white cocoa butter, and it’s stunning. Inside is a positively juicy raspberry ganache. First, you taste the punch of raspberry, which mellows to the bitterness of the dark chocolate, and finishes with the cocoa notes of the dark chocolate.

Put another way, the raspberry dome is like the love child of dark chocolate and dark raspberry. And when I say raspberry, I don’t mean a light, pink, frou-frou raspberry. I mean a late season raspberry that you want to squish between your fingers.

And this love child? It’s wearing a red dress and stilettos and it’s going to break your heart.

Robin Chocolates raspberry heart

Oh, Valentine’s Day. I dislike it for so many reasons, personal and professional. Regardless of whether you’re single or coupled up, it’s a day fraught with tension and expectation. And I have made enough heart-shaped chocolates, decorations and desserts to last a lifetime.

I do, however, really like those cheap chocolate hearts that are wrapped in red foil. I think it must remind me of fun Valentine’s Day memories, when you could deliver a valentine to the boy you liked and have it mean something. Those were the days before you had to give a valentine to everyone in the class, lest someone’s feelings get hurt.

Robin Chocolates makes a raspberry ganache heart that sort of reminds me of those foil-wrapped hearts. The flavour is lovely – it’s a bright, fruity ganache that definitely tastes like raspberries, as opposed to some random red fruit. The texture is smooth and creamy.

The molded chocolate shell is absolutely perfect. I mean, it’s uniform all the way around, and thin enough that it just yields to your teeth (or, in my case, knife) without interfering with the ganache inside. The bottom of the chocolate is perfectly, absolutely smooth. And that, my friends, is very hard to do.

Having said that, the top of the heart is decorated in an opaque layer of red cocoa butter. I don’t have anything against cocoa butter, nor red, but it seems a bit excessive to me. After all, I signed up for chocolate, not for red dye. I would have appreciated a light smattering of red – for visual interest – with more emphasis on the chocolate. Because hey, that’s what I’m eating, right?

You can buy Robin Chocolates here. Their online store isn’t up yet. If you ask very nicely they might ship stuff to you, but only if you live in the continental US.

Robin Chocolates

It seems like years ago that I was wandering around Boulder, Colorado. It was, in fact, a mere month ago that I came across a cute little shop called Oliv You & Me, which carries all sorts of gourmet goodies. I ogled the olive oil, viewed the vinegar, and…wait, is that chocolate?

They had a selection of Robin Chocolates, a small company out of nearby Longmont, CO. While I would have liked the opportunity to pick and choose, I settled for a pre-packed box of four confections. It contained one each of pomegranate, mint chocolate chip, chocolate caramel fleur de sel, and a raspberry heart.

They’re really pretty, but I got over that “too pretty to eat” thing years ago. Good thing, too. Otherwise, what would I talk about for the next four days?