As many of you may recall, I lost one of my best friends earlier this fall. It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever gone through. Sure, I’ve lost folks I love very much, but they’ve always been older and it’s never been out-of-the-blue. But Jean was my age with dreams the size of Texas and a heart of solid gold. I’m talking 24-karat. I still have moments where something happens and I think about what a kick Jean would get out of it. Lady Gaga and Elton John at the Grammy’s. Jersey Shore (no one loved bad reality TV more than Jean). This Friday would’ve been her 30th birthday, so I’m flying out to Boston to attend the first annual “Jean-a-bration.” We’re celebrating a big birthday and a big life that we all miss so dearly in a big way. And you know what? There’s nothing that girl liked more than a party. I know she’ll be proud. I’ve really never tried to celebrate an event or landmark when it’s tinged with this much sadness–so we’ll see how it goes. I guess there’s no right or wrong way to go about it.
I went to graduate school in Boston and haven’t been back since. So I’m excited to visit all my old haunts. I’ll take photos for you and share some of my favorite places to eat when I return. And if you have any favorite Boston spots, let me know! It’s been a few years since I’ve been back, and I hear things have changed a bit, so I’d love any suggestions. In the meantime, I wanted to leave you one of the best comfort drinks I know, perfect for heavy hearts or just a really gray afternoon: Mexican hot chocolate made with Ibarra.
I first learned of Ibarra when I was around sixteen. It’s when I started drinking coffee because–you know–everyone else started bringing to-go mugs to class and it all seemed very adult. This great bakery downtown did Mexican mochas made with Ibarra and I jumped on the wagon. They had a rich chocolate flavor with spicy cinnamon notes. It all seemed magical and mysterious until a few years later when I realized you can buy Ibarra at the store and the drink I loved so much was pretty darn easy to emulate at home.
Now this particular recipe is for Mexican hot chocolate, but feel free to add a shot (or two) of espresso to make yourself a Mexican mocha. You can find Ibarra at a Mexican grocery store or a well-stocked gourmet food market. It is made with granulated sugar so a) don’t munch on it right out of the package–it’s grainy! (I tried) and b) no need to add sugar. I have a friend who puts a little almond extract in her whipped cream, and I think that’d be a nice touch for this, too. So drink up. In the name of love and chocolate and life and memory and gratitude. And while you’re doing all that, I’ll drink to Jean.
Chop tablet of Ibarra into blocks for easier melting. Then warm the chocolate, chile, milk, and dash of salt in a small saucepan. Heat until the chocolate is melted–should be quite hot (although not boiling).
Froth with a hand-blender (or blend in a blender) until the bits of chocolate are completely dissolved and the top becomes foamy. Top with whipped cream and cinnamon and drink immediately.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.