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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)