We live one block away from a hot chocolate cafe here in Seattle where they also happen to sell really nice truffles and little sweets. When Sam works out of his home office, he’ll often go there for a change of scenery and without fail, he brings me home a truffle. My favorites tend to be the vanilla sea salt, but it’s really a toss up between that and the dark chocolate marzipan. I’m not sure where he got the idea, but last month for Valentine’s Day, Sam decided to strike out on his own and made homemade truffles instead of buying them. He researched how to make marzipan and bought these little chocolate molds to turn them into truffles. I wasn’t privy to any of this, really, and the night before I had strict instructions to stay out of the kitchen. My best guess was that there was chocolate cake on the horizon. Little did I know the next day would include truffles with our morning coffee.
When I was in my twenties, I had a lot of thoughts about how holidays should be or what I felt my partner should do for occasions like birthdays or Valentine’s Day. For whatever reason (probably because holidays were such a big deal in our house growing up; my mom did, after all, invent the “birthday table,” a tradition in which she transformed our dining room table into a themed celebratory centerpiece with streamers, balloons and the ever-present birthday crown), I felt like I should have a certain kind of Valentine’s Day — that if it was the right person and if they truly loved me, they’d surely know that you were supposed to get flowers and chocolates and write a sentimental card worth saving for years. I think a lot of those feelings were centered around the constant questioning about whether the person I was with at the time was the right one, if they were really ‘my person.’
But a funny thing happens as you get older – or seems to have happened as I’ve gotten older. It began to occur to me that what love and gestures I could make were at least as important as those I hoped for in return. I also began to suspect that my many prescriptions, the affirming gestures, devotions and rituals I’d practically formed into a checklist, actually fell so far short of the serendipities, surprises and gesturing of a truer love. A lot of those shoulds really needn’t have been, really (although let’s not get carried away: I do still really love birthday cake).
So Valentine’s Day came and went without a grand dinner or many of the things I used to feel it should include. Instead, we woke up to bagels and lox from Eltana, strong coffee and Sam’s marzipan truffles. The sun came out for the first time in a quite few days, so we decided to go on a long walk and ended up visiting our friends, Brandon and Molly, and sipping small berry smoothies from straws at their kitchen table. Later that afternoon, we walked down to the beach with Molly and June to look for sea glass, the sun bright and the air brisk, the day so casually unfolding on its own without any of the prescribed notions or forced gestures that I’d once clung to. It was several hours later, the afternoon light mostly faded, before we all got home, feeling a little windswept but like we’d had quite a day. Suffice it to say, I’ll take long impromptu walks, sea glass and wood-fired bagels over a dozen roses any Valentine’s day of the week.
I was so impressed with Sam’s little marzipan jewels that we decided to make them again and photograph them — we timed it around Oscar weekend so we could share them with a few friends who came over. I thought this would be a full day project, but the marzipan really takes a mere 5 minutes to come together and let’s just say it’s reallllly good I didn’t know this fact until now. So if you’d like, you can just follow the marzipan recipe here, store it in the refrigerator, and slice off little bits to have with tea or coffee. That’s treat enough.
If you want to go all the way and turn them into truffles, you will need a little mold and you simply melt dark chocolate in a double-boiler (we didn’t fuss with tempering it and it still came out shiny and snappy) and put a dollop in the bottom of the mold, place a little truffle ball on top of that and cover it with a spoonful of chocolate. Then chill to firm. Alternatively, if you don’t have a mold, I think you could easily just spear your little marzipan balls with a toothpick and dip them into the chocolate, laying them out on parchment to cool. They’ll be more rustic looking that way, but no less delicious.
Megan’s Note: If you can find almond meal made from blanched almonds (versus the more “natural” almond meal made from almonds with the skin still on), that’s the easiest route. Alternatively, you can blanch and grind your own almonds; if you do this, just aim for a very fine texture. Second, there seems to be a lot of discussion on the internet about the relative safety of the raw egg white in most marzipan recipes; our consensus (and the consensus of many) is that most eggs today are pasteurized and since you’re refrigerating the marzipan, it’s really not an issue. If you have personal reason to be concerned or are still nervous, Sam assures me that you can use two spoonfuls of corn syrup instead of the egg white, but we’ve not tested this so I can’t speak to the flavor or consistency.
The first time Sam made these he used more sugar and a stronger extract; we both agreed it might be nice to try and tone both down, and I think this ratio is spot on. While I’m often nervous about the addition of rose water to desserts as I think it can become overpowering very quickly, it’s so subtle here you will barely notice. I’ve seen bakeries who use a little orange blossom water instead, and that would certainly be nice, too.
For the marzipan:
For the chocolate coating:
To make marzipan: Scoop the almond meal and powdered sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix to break up any lumps. Add the almond extract and rose water and mix to combine. Add the egg white and mix again until it takes on a dough-like consistency. If dry and crumbly still, add a little water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until it comes together into more of a dough. Turn the marzipan out onto a clean surface and knead a few times so that it fully comes together and begins to soften into one nice ball. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Store marzipan wrapped in plastic wrap or waxed paper, refrigerated for up to 2 weeks, or frozen for up to 6 months.
To assemble truffles: Using low, controlled heat, melt the chocolate in a double-boiler, stirring frequently to ensure it melts evenly. Using your favorite truffle mold, dollop a little chocolate in the bottom of each indent and swirl around until the interior is completely covered. Grab a small piece of marzipan and roll it into a ball and then a flat little disk roughly the diameter of your mold. Press the marzipan disk into each of the molds, and then top each with enough chocolate to reach the top of your mold. When finished, place in the refrigerator to cool and firm up (or the freezer if you’re eager like us). If you’d like to top each with a sprinkling of salt, get a small cup of water ready and dip your finger in the water. Moisten the top of each truffle lightly and sprinkle the salt on top — the little wet spots will dry leaving a pretty, salted top.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.