Categories
Adventure General

Part I of my trip to Isla Grande and How to Make a Delicious, Impromptu Beach Cocktail

I’ve been missing in action for over a week now, and the reason for this is that I have been away in lovely, warm, sunny Panama. I enjoyed all of my trip, but I would have to say that my favourite bit was visiting the Caribbean coast and some islands around it. This is why my first post is going to be about the beach part of my vacation.

To get to the coast one has to travel by road from Panama city to the Panamanian province of Colon, up until a little port on the coast called La Guaira. From there we took a boat ride to Isla Grande, an island off the coast. We spent two days there; it was both a beautiful and puzzling little place. It was an extremely laid-back and sleepy town, and people seemed somewhat erratic in their niceness and willingness to serve customers. (I feel I must clarify here that we visited the island during the week, and apparently, it gets much busier during the weekends.)

There were for instance, little stores on the island that sold snacks, toilet paper, water, alcohol etc., Now these stores seemed to keep arbitrary timings and on top of this, the store-keepers also randomly, decided not to sell a customer things even though they were seemingly open. On second thought, their decision not to serve you wasn’t random, I think that if you asked too many questions they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and refused to deal with you. Now, this didn’t happen to me, but it happened to my friends, and I have it on good authority (my friends who actually live in Panama) that this isn’t out of the ordinary at all. One morning for example, two of my friends went over to a store/café and asked if the Cafe was serving breakfast. The lady behind the counter asked what they would like for breakfast. My friends said they weren’t sure, “how about eggs?”, they casually asked. She then promptly told them that both the café and store were closed and wouldn’t even sell them bottled water.

Despite the island’s eccentric (but also friendly) inhabitants, all in all, I enjoyed myself and really liked the place. I would even recommend it to anyone who wants a relaxed Caribbean vacation. It isn’t crowded, it’s fairly inexpensive and there aren’t a lot of resorts, relatively speaking. This is a good thing in my opinion because the place was empty and peaceful. There are also very few foreign tourists here, and most visitors were Panamanians. I would recommend however, that you go during the week, rather than the weekend.

When we arrived, I was disappointed because much of the shore was either rocky or had restaurants and hotels built on it. The town seemed somewhat disorganized and it seemed as though the bars, restaurants and hotels were not making the best of the wonderful natural beauty around them. Most importantly, there didn’t seem to be a nice, sandy beach about, except for little sandy bits between hotels and houses. But after lunch we went out wandering and found a lovely, deserted beach on the other side of the island.

Beautiful beach, Isla Grande, Panama
Isla Grande, Panama (Photo: Matthew Snyder).

There was a part of the beach that looked like a Peninsula; waves broke on either side of it. You can see it more clearly in the picture below:

Beautiful virgin beach, Isla Grande, Panama
Isla Grande Beach, Panama (Photo: Matthew Snyder)

It was empty and beautiful, as you can see:

Secluded beach, Isla Grande Panama
Deserted beach stretch, Isla Grande, Panama (Photo: Matthew Snyder)

There was a café right on the beach, but oddly it had only one type of beer and only served fried plantains. It didn’t even open until about 4 p.m. This was another example of the inexplicable moodiness of the service industry on the island.

So the next afternoon, we went back to this beach with supplies of our own. We had snacks, pineapple juice and this insanely cheap Panamanian rum called Seco. As we were walking to the beach, we ran into a sole and very out-of-place looking vendor who was trying to sell fresh coconuts on an almost-empty beach. We bought some and while we were sitting on the beach sipping fresh coconut water, my friend Andrea pondered aloud if it would be weird for her to put some rum in the coconut. No it wouldn’t Matt and I exclaimed! The next thing we knew, we were making impromptu pina-colada inspired beach cocktails. Here’s how YOU can do this too, the next time you’re on the beach. (That’s my friend Andrea in the photos.)

First, take a fresh coconut and drink up some of the coconut water in it, to make space for the other ingredients:

Then, add a few generous ‘glugs’ of rum:

Next, add some Pineapple juice to taste:

Impromptu beach cocktail recipe
The best beach cocktail ever!

Swirl everything in the coconut about. Lastly, drink up!

It was a truly delicious cocktail!

Categories
Cooking Food General Recipes

How to Eat Delicious Homemade Pierogies

An alternate but equally fitting title for this post would be: How to Cheer Yourself up on a Cold, Wet, Gray Winter Afternoon. You’ll see why if you read on.

I was at home, sitting on the couch, trying to bring myself to work, do some yoga, or just be productive in some way. And I just couldn’t. It was dreary outside; we’d had snow early in the morning, but by now all the snow had melted into sludge. The sun was nowhere to be seen and I was generally feeling bloody awful, pardon the cussing. I hadn’t even the energy to cook! Can you imagine that? “I ALWAYS have the energy to cook, bake etc” I muttered to myself, half heartedly. I was, you see, even too tired and bored to be dramatically panicked by this laziness; I was also too tired to be dramatically panicked by my lack of dramatic panic. This, when I am the sort of person who uses exclamation points more than any other form of punctuation! See what I mean!

Anyway, I found the answer! Delicious homemade pierogies! You see, pierogies freeze well and I happened to find a couple in the freezer. They were basic or classic pierogies, stuffed with potatoes and cheese, made by a friend’s super sweet and part-polish Nana. So I promptly melted some unsalted butter in a pan and heated the pierogies up. I covered the pan at first and set the flame on low so that the insides of the pierogies could cook. Then I took off the lid and raised the heat slightly and toasted the outside a little.

Finally the garnish: I sprinkled some freshly ground pepper on top and then grated on some Irish cheese, Dubliner to be precise. I know, it sounds odd and inauthentic, but it works very well. This cheese is sharp, so it complements the relative blandness of the pierogies. And anyway, anything Irish and anything with potatoes go together in my book 😛 The final touch was a sprig of fresh oregano.

Here’s the end product:

I shall make pierogies myself one of these days, mushroom and cheese ones, and then I shall write all about it.

Categories
Cooking Food General Indian Cooking Recipes

How to Make Khichdi: A Low-fat, Fast, and Simple Indian Recipe

I spent much of this past week writing a long note on copyright theory. I had a deadline to meet (as I mentioned, in my previous post about sunbathing kitties) and I found myself working pretty much around the clock. So I ended up eating out quite a bit.  4 days out of the past 7, I walked out in the snow, slush, gorgeous winter sun, or whatever else this bizarre winter threw at me, and got takeout. Finally, yesterday, sick of all this, I decided to make myself some good, comfort food. I needed something that was simple, fast and healthy; especially something ‘fast’ because I wanted to send off the note to my supervisor before the end of the day. “What should I make?” I pondered, and then it struck me! I was going to make Khichdi!

I’ve forgotten all about khichdi these past few years, choosing to explore more complex and indulgent dishes like dal makhani instead. But today was a khichdi kind of day. Khichdi is the perfect food for when you’re sick, or too busy to make something more complicated. It’s just lentils and rice with some mild spices. You can however, add some vegetables (bleugh! (I am not a huge fan of vegetables, you see)) to it to if you want to.

Here’s how to make some khichdi for yourself:

Ingredients:

1 cup moong dal (you could also use other lentils like Tur dal for instance)

A little less than 1 cup rice

1 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp cumin powder (dry roast cumin seeds and then grind them, or you can buy the powder at the store)

1 tsp coriander powder (dry roast coriander seeds and then grind them, or you can buy the powder at the store)

1/2 tsp haldi (turmeric powder)

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1-2 green chilli sliced horizontally into two. (You can also use half a Jalapeño).

For the tadka (tempering):

1-2 tbsp of ghee (Indian clarified butter, you can make this at home, or buy some at an Indian store)

1/2 to 3/4 cumin seeds

3 dried red chillies

A few kernels of black pepper

2 pinches of heengh (asafoetida)

3 cloves 

Optional Serving Accompaniments:

Yoghurt

Ghee (you can find it in an Indian store; if you’d like to make it at home, here is my recipe)

Indian Pickle (you can make some at home, but this isn’t so easy. You can also buy some at any Indian store. I chose a Andhra-style tomato pickle for today).

Method:

Start by soaking the moong dal in water for about 30 minutes. You don’t generally have to soak moong dal, but it cooks faster if you do. Also, I like the dal to be well-cooked, even squishy in khichdi, which is why I wouldn’t skip this step in this recipe.

Moong Dal
Pre-soaked moong dal used in making khichdi

Place a pressure cooker or pot (that comes with a lid) on the stove.  Add the lentils, rice, garlic, green chillies and red chilli, turmeric, coriander and cumin powders and stir. Finally, add 2 cups of water, place the lid on the cooker/pot, lower the heat to medium and let the lentil-rice mixture cook. If you’re using a pressure cooker, let the mixture cook until the cooker lets off 4 whistles. If you’re using a pot, just let the mixture cook slowly, stirring occasionally. The mixture is done when it’s squishy enough for you, but make sure not to overdo it or you will end up with a goopy mess.

Now, add one or two tablespoons of ghee (I added two but one will do the trick) to the smallest pot you own, and turn on the heat to high. When the ghee is hot, add the cumin seeds and wait for them to splutter. Then, add the red chillies (torn in half), black pepper, cloves and heengh to the ghee and toss them about. When the chillies darken add this spiced ghee (called the tadka or popu) to the lentil-rice mixture. Your khichdi is done!

Serve with yoghurt and some pickle.

Khichdi
Khichdi- a rice and lentil dish that is great as comfort food, for when you’re sick, busy or lazy 🙂

I like eating south Indian ghee with khichdi, so I served some ghee along with it in a little tart mold. That’s what I placed right on top of the khichdi.

Khichdi with Ghee
Khichdi tastes best with a generous helping of Ghee- Indian Clarified butter.

If you want to know more about making south Indian ghee, you can read about it on this website. I am sure I will post something about it soon enough though. I LOVE ghee in general and South Indian ghee in particular.

Categories
Cats General

Sunbathing Kitties

I’ve spent much of the day working; I have to send my supervisor a note on my thoughts on copyright theory. It’s fascinating to think about copyright law and philosophy and I love my work, but the truth is, it can get a bit tiring and I am desperately in need of a good break. When I don’t have the time to make chocolate-related delicacies I unwind by looking at kitty-pictures. I was so tickled by some of these photographs that I thought I’d share them with y’all.

And so, for your enjoyment, I present a small selection from my collection of sun-bathing kitty photographs:

20120212-214918.jpg

Winter sun-bathing on my lap
Kitty in the bushes- I know technically this isn't really a sun-bathing photo, but he looked so cute and incongruous in the bushes, I had to include this photograph.
Categories
Chocolate General Recipes

Cocoa Body Butter that Will Make you Swoon!

Today, I am going to be writing about food without writing about food. “How”, you ask, “is this possible?” Read on my aspiring domestic goddesses and gods and you will see!

In a previous post (a recipe for chocolate brazil-nut butter), I raved about The Body Shop’s brazil-nut body butter. While this is my favourite flavour, a close second, is their cocoa butter body butter. Despite how much I love this product though, the truth is that I’ve always wanted a body-butter that was even more, well cocoa-ey. (By now, if you’ve been reading one or two of my blog-posts, you know that I am definitely not a “less is more” type of person; more is definitely better in my book!) In the past, I’ve made my own body and face oils, having been inspired and coached by an old friend of mine, Ralph, who now practices naturopathy and Ayurveda in South Germany. So the concept of making my own skin-products isn’t entirely new to me; I’ve just never gotten around to it.

Then, in December last year, before I pushed off to India for the holidays, I had friends over for dinner, and one of them mentioned making her own lip balm. This got me thinking, and I resolved to make my own body butter someday. And then, I promptly tucked away said resolve somewhere in the back of my mind and forgot all about it. What with packing, flying to India and having wildly inappropriate dance parties with my insane family (and by this I mean my parents, Aunts, and Uncles happily prancing about to bollywood dance music with us young’un’s), I just didn’t have the chance to give it a go.

And then today, I woke up with a rather inexplicable craving for homemade body butter. It may have something to do with an email I got yesterday from The Body Shop asking me to “Indulge in Chocomania: it’s Sinfully Good and Totally Guilt Free”. Guilt free? Really? Not when I am spending what is literally my entire week’s entertainment budget on lotions and potions that smell like the food I would be buying if I had any money left!

So I went out exploring in my neighborhood and bought some pure shea butter and cocoa butter. And then, I made my own, deliciously decadent body butter and I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that the smell, texture, and look of it had me giggling, smiling and babbling excitedly.

The first whiff of it was absolute, pure delight. Try it and you’ll see what I mean!

Equipment:

A double boiler or a microwave

Hand-held mixer or whisk

One medium bowl and one large, deep bowl

Jars to put the body butter in

Ingredients:

(All the ingredients I used were organic)

100 ml pure Cocoa butter

50 ml pure Shea butter

2 tbsp Vitamin E oil (at least 2000o IU)

3 tbsp Sweet Almond Oil

1/4 to 1/2 tsp Vanilla Essence or Vanilla Oil

1 Tbsp Mineral Water

Method:

You can buy cocoa butter in the form of “chips”, or in a jar. If you buy it in a jar, you might have to place the jar in warm water for a bit, just to soften it up a bit, before you take it out. I placed both the shea butter and cocoa butter jars in a bowl of warm water in the sink for about 5 minutes.

Now measure out the cocoa butter and shea butter into the medium bowl and place it in the microwave. I would heat it on a very low setting (time defrost) for about 20 seconds at a time, checking on it periodically. You want the butters all melted and looking like this:

It’s important to do this carefully as you don’t want to overheat the butters. Once the butter-mixture is nice and melted, stir it a bit and place it in the freezer for 5 minutes to cool down. Then, add the sweet almond oil and vitamin e oil, stir and put the mixture back in the freezer for another 5 minutes or so, until the mixture has firmed up. Once firm, take it out, add a tablespoon of water and using the hand held mixer or whisk, beat the mixture.

At this stage in the process, I was taking in the wonderful smell when I realized the only thing that would make this smell better would be vanilla essense. Since I bake a lot, I had some lying about, and so I added 1/4 tsp to the mixture and whipped it up into a wonderful, light, creamy and delicious smelling mixture 🙂 When I smelt it, I felt it needed some more vanilla, so I added another quarter teaspoon. On a side-note, I would have used vanilla oil if I had some around because vanilla extract has alcohol (which dries the skin). However, if you don’t have any lying about, I am sure the essence is fine, since you’re using such a small quantity of it.

When you feel it’s suitably fluffy and you’re happy with the texture, scoop the mixture into clean, dry jars!

And there it is, your very own, delicious body butter that will have you smelling like something you want to eat. I am not sure why I want to smell like something I’d eat, I just do! It makes me wildly happy and if this sounds like the sort of thing that makes YOU cheerful, go ahead and give it a go- it’s easy!

Categories
Chocolate Chocolate Truffles Cooking Food General Recipes

Basic Dark Chocolate Truffles

So by now, I think it is fairly obvious that I love chocolate. However, truth be told, I’ve become sick of all the usual chocolate you can buy at the drug-store or supermarket- the likes of Lindt, Ghirardelli, Cadburys etc. I even, to be honest, am sort of over store-bought hazelnut butter- a.k.a. Nutella.

No hell has not frozen over, and no I have not been kidnapped by someone who is now pretending to be me on my blog so people don’t report me missing (if you are someone who is considering kidnapping me by the way, this tactic will never work, I talk to my parents and some close friends virtually everyday, so I would be reported missing if I didn’t answer my phone in 2 hours max.) “But Nutella is AWESOME” you exclaim or if you’re my mother or father, which you probably are if you’re reading this, you heave a sigh of relief, because until now you thought I was going to develop heart disease and diabetes and god knows what else at the very tender age of 29.

But don’t get too excited dear parents, I am NOT giving up chocolate. I am saying I am over this store-bought stuff because it’s too sweet and frankly not very good chocolate. If I could, I’d go eat pralines and truffles from Soma (this amazing chocolate store in the distillery district in Toronto) or Leonidas or Patchi or some other chocolate store that knows what they’re doing. BUT, the problem is, I couldn’t possibly afford to- considering how much chocolate I guzzle on a daily basis and considering I am but a poor doctoral candidate.

NOW I finally have the solution to this problem. Handmade, homemade truffles! And now that I’ve figured out how to make them, I simply cannot understand how I was ever able to eat that rubbish they call chocolate in supermarkets and drugstores.

In addition these truffles are the answer to my goldilocks-type problem with chocolate. My problem with most dark chocolate is that it’s not as creamy as milk chocolate; my problem with milk chocolate is that it isn’t chocolatey enough. Happily, one of the things that makes truffles magical is that they can be rich, creamy and smooth and ALSO have a strong chocolatey flavour.

If you’d like to discover true happiness as well, keep reading, because what follows, is a detailed narrative of how to make basic dark chocolate truffles.

Equipment you will need:

A cutting board and knife OR a food proccessor

2 medium sized bowls

2 plates

Parchment sheet or foil

Little paper cups to put the truffles in

Ingredients:

8 Oz (approx 225 g) good dark chocolate (at least 70-80 % cocoa solids)

1/2 cup cream (whipping cream in Canada or heavy cream or double cream elsewhere)

A dollop of butter (at room temp)

2 pinches of salt

1 tsp vanilla essence

A few tbsp of Cocoa powder

Method:

Chop up the chocolate on a cutting board into fine pieces with a large knife. This is the tiresome part of the recipe. I have a food processor, so I just break the chocolate up into individual squares and then throw it into the processor. The reason you want the chocolate broken up into fine bits is because you want it all to melt when you pour in the hot cream.

Throw the chocolate bits into a bowl. Next, get the half cup of cream just to a boil and immediately turn off the heat and pour the hot cream into the bowl with the chocolate. Using a ladle, make sure all the chocolate is covered by the cream.

Let it sit for 2-3 minutes and then delicately fold the mixture. It’s important not to be rough because then you will get air bubbles into the chocolate. That wouldn’t be good as you want the chocolate to taste smooth and rich.

Add the dollop of butter, vanilla essence and salt and mix gently. Place the bowl in the fridge for about an hour, until it firms up. In the meantime take out the plates and place two sheets of parchment or foil on them. Once the chocolate mixture is ready take it out of the fridge and spoon out the chocolate in small portions onto the parcement or foil. The portions should be approximately the size you want the truffles to be.

Place the plates in the fridge again for about 15 mins. Take the truffles out when they’re firmed up again and roll them about in your hand until they’re more or less spherical, then place them back on the parchment. You can also try to shape them as tear drops- but good luck with that, it’ll take patience. This part of the process is so much fun! I love it because the chocolate looks and smells delicious. I would recommend washing your hands periodically in between, as you will get chocolate all over them, and it will be more difficult to shape the truffles if you’ve got melted chocolate on your hands. Also, the washing will help to cool your hands.

Once you’ve shaped all the truffles, take another bowl and put about 2 tbsp of cocoa powder in it. Take each truffle in your hand, roll it about for a second or two, just enough to warm the surface and then roll the truffle in the cocoa powder, until it is covered. Then place it in a paper cup. Repeat until all the truffles are done.

Mmmm they will taste delicious. You can put them in the fridge for two weeks or more, but take them out a few hours before you serve them- so that they’re at room temperature.

These basic truffles were so good, that I’ve tried quite a few variations too, such as, dark chocolate truffles with hazelnut butter-cream filling; truffles with a hazelnut centre that are coated with toasted, crushed hazelnuts; and dark chocolate truffles with a hint of orange. I will post pictures and recipes of these variations soon!

Categories
General

Hello world!

I hope this post finds you well and happy! This blog is about my life. This means I will be writing primarily about chocolate, baking, cooking, good books I’ve just read, great/good restaurants about town, wonderful places I travel to and cats. In fact, I’ll probably write a lot about cats and chocolate.

I hope more than just 3 people end up reading this blog- those five being, my parents and my best friends- you know who you are ;). More importantly, I hope whoever does read this blog, enjoys it.