Category Archives: chocolate

A Taste of Asheville

Asheville sunset

Asheville, NC

was my destination for Day 2. Have you heard of Asheville? I had not until about a year ago, when my numerous trips to Charlotte, NC meant that I had dipped a toe in the waters of western North Carolina, leaving me clamoring for more.

Asheville is the unofficial capital of the western North Carlina region, which includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (but more on that in the next post!) and a whole lot of rural backwaters. My first few hours there I walked only a few blocks, but found above 7 street musicians performing- quite a musical town, it seems.

I also found several different views of the city itself from denizens and newly-arrived outsiders, from “artsy” to “overpriced” to “in the process of gentrifying” and more.

I had an afternoon, a night, and a morning to explore the city, and got down to business:

Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, Asheville, NC

Grove Arcade

is a sort of shopping arcade like I found at the Victorian Market in Inverness, but modernized instead of kept historical. This structure held one of my favorite finds in Asheville, the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar— I mean, can you imagine my excitement?? Such an awesome idea, and so well designed and structured inside to promote cozy little conversations.

Up Haywood Ave, I found another of the city’s highlights:

Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe

which was all a good indie bookstore could hope to be: a font of local knowledge, a repository for independent book news, a generator of uncountable staff recommendations in every category, a magnet for many local writers and visiting authors… the cafe did not manage to tempt me with its delights, but that may have been because I had already popped into:

French Broad Chocolate Lounge

where I promptly tried to order one of everything (have I done this before?) and the counter staff were patient with my questions and very helpful. I love the principles that guide the company, summed up and displayed proudly in the lounge area:

Malaprop's Bookstore Cafe

I had dinner at a small southern-style tapas joint that was pretty good, The Southern, and then found a place hosting a ‘string band’ for the night- which I learned meant bluegrass if they sang along with it. It was a bar called:

Jack o’ the Wood

and I would love to share the band’s sound with you (they were called Chompin’ At The Bit) but WordPress isn’t allowing videos for security reasons… and I’m on the road trying to get these updates out as they come, so that’s enough of that!

I returned after one fun set to my lodging, my first ever experience of AirBnb, up the hill to the north of downtown. As I would later learn, the picturesque winding, hilly roads of the neighborhood would be good practice for the Great Smoky Mountain Roads! And then next morning, I ventured forth to a famous local joint:

Early Girl Eatery

which serves typical southern breakfast fare, biscuits and gravy, fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, even “Meat ‘N’ Two’s” a southern staple, or so I’m told. I went for the biscuits and smoky bacon gravy, my first ever! Very scrumptious, and my wallet approved as well ($4 lunch, don’t mind if I do).

It was a delightful, too-short taste of a town that definitely has a lot to offer. My favorites, and missed attractions that merit a return visit are: the music, the indie scene, and the Biltmore Estate (not enough time to justify the $45 ticket).

Got any thoughts on these last three? Or the other places I mentioned? From Asheville? What did I miss?

I’ll be spicing up the ‘Life Observation’ posts with ‘Local Travelogue’ posts like this one as I criss-cross the country; next up: the Great Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains in Fog

They do look pretty smoky in the fog, don’t they?

Care and Feeding of a Distant Friend

Crackles, To Go
Just in time for her quick visit to the U.S., I am writing about my friend Jessica, and the care package I sent her in Beijing, China.
Having been advised that it might take a long time to arrive (‘the long boat to China’), I did a little research to see which type of cookie might stay fresh the longest. Too much moisture might lead to mold, too much butter might make them go stale, and too delicate a structure would have them arrive in a thousand pieces. So I settled on these:

Chocolate Polka-Dot Mint Crackles (adapted from A Baker’s Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies, a great book for all you want to know about cookies)

Ingredients:
5 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
2 c flour (I used 1 c all-purpose, 1/2 c pastry flour, 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour)
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
4 eggs
2 c granulated sugar (I reduced it to 1 c white sugar, 1/2 c brown sugar)
1/2 t mint flavoring (I made half a batch this way, the other half with 1/2 t cardamom and 1/4 t black pepper)
1/2 c white chocolate chips (I despise white chocolate, so went with semi-sweet)
about 1/2 c granulated sugar for rolling
about 1/3 c powdered sugar for rolling

Directions:
1. Place chocolate and butter together over low heat in a saucepan until mostly melted. Remove from heat and stir together until completely melted and smooth.
2. While that is cooling, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.
3. Then in a large bowl, combine eggs, 2 c (or less) sugar, and your flavoring together (whether mint or cardamom or some other combination), and beat until thick and creamy. Stir chocolate mixture again to smoothness, then beat into egg mixture until it smooths out too. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the large bowl, mixing gently. Gradually add remaining flour, stir to combine, then add chocolate chips.
4. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight (it will thicken to fudge consistency).
5. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
6. Put the rolling sugar and powdered sugar in containers (I used an oval tupperware for one and a plate for the other- the tupperware with sides was handy to shake instead of handling the dough a lot).

7. Dip into the dough and roll pieces into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball in the granulated sugar first, then in powdered sugar to coat, shaking off excess. Place balls on cookie sheets 2 inches apart and squash tops slightly.
8. Bake until puffed and crackly in appearance. Since my oven is on crack, I rotated the sheets at 4 minutes, then baked for 5 more, but the book recommends 12 minutes. Only you know your oven well enough to judge.
8. Let set a minute on sheets, then take off with a spatula and place on wire cooling racks until firm and cool.
Makes 4-5 dozen.

They’re a pretty cookie, but two words of warning. When you start dipping and rolling, your hands will get dirty. Like, mudcake dirty. And it would be ideal to have an assistant to open the fridge door or move the baking baking sheets around so you don’t get little blobs of it EV-ERY-WHERE.

Second, if you are waiting between rolling the first batch and the next, put the dough back in the fridge. My first attempt showed quite a difference between those that went into the oven straight from the fridge, and those that waited around while the first batch cooked and cooled. Don’t let this happen to you!

They come out very soft and chewy, and lend themselves to easy variation, so this recipe is definitely a favorite to keep in your back pocket… as long as you have 8 hours to chill!

Do you have a good story or recipe for sending cookies (that made it!)? Do tell! I would love to hear in the comments below.

TLT Cooking School Now Open for Business!

Yes, you read that right.
As part of my Creative Endeavor Year of 2012, I am pursuing my passions for teaching, guiding, cooking and travel… by offering cooking courses!
I have been ever so excited about this since January, but managed to keep mum as I planned, prepared, and conducted two trial runs, one with friends, one with friends-of-friends whom I didn’t know (I hosted strangers!).

Both trial runs went very well, and my lovely guinea pigs gave me great feedback for how to tweak this or that aspect, which I have incorporated into my menu and planning process. I am SO READY.

The theme, and the way I incorporated the passion for travel into this activity, was Scotland. Ah yes, you do remember, I was a little obsessed with it last year? Well, it didn’t go away. Apparently I’m marked for life.
And it’s not just Scotland. While I had a marvelous time pouring over books of Scottish cultural history and traditional receipt-books, I am just as excited to do the same for other locales I have visited and have some connection with, such as Turkey, Ireland, France, and let’s not forget… Italy! (coming soon)
But for now, it’s Scotland. The menu reflected traditional peasant cuisine, with some shortcuts for practicality and taste.

Menu:

Hors d’oeuvre: Oatcakes with Cheese, Preserves, & Honey 

Vegetable Accompaniments: ‘Neeps and Tatties,’ Fresh Green Salad

Main Course: Herring Sauteed in Oatmeal 

Dessert: Millionaire’s Shortbread

The shortcuts, you will observe, involve the toppings for the oatcakes, and the millionaire’s shortbread (a bit of an anachronism when considered in context with the other dishes, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining).
I was aiming for good, peasant food that used some different ingredients and techniques than the ones we are used to here in the U.S.
I searched out local, seasonal, organic ingredients, and got most of the way there on most of the dishes (let me know when the eastern U.S. gets back in the sugar business, though). All in all, it’s been a thrilling and rewarding experience to be able to pass on some knowledge learned about a place I love and a cuisine I am very much interested in. Win-Win, all the way.

And so, I am putting out the good vibes to all you who may stop to read here from time to time. Do you know people who live in D.C. that are interested in cooking and travel? Do you live in D.C? Are you looking for something to do on a weeknight other than go out to eat or get Thai take-out?

I would love to host you and your friends, or you and your soon-to-be friends, for an evening of cooking, baking, learning, and of course… EATING! Because let’s not forget the primacy of the eating experience, and that it is what brings us together so often, in so many ways. Mangia!

And to finish, the gallery of pictures of Millionaire’s Shortbread, the rich man’s Twix Bar (shortbread, caramel, and chocolate)… how can you NOT want to gobble it all up??
If you’re interested, email me at Margaret’s email or twitterpate me at @tastelifetwice where I like to pass on others’ great content on food, life, and travel as well.


See you here (subscribe by feed / email) & there (Twitter)!

NOMNOMNOMNOM