OK, I admit it: I'm tired, I'm grouchy, I had a bad day at work. I don't really feel like eating, much less cooking. Or even writing. But I am, right now, as we speak, taking part in one of my favorite "healing" rituals -- Moroccan Mint Tea. I am a huge believer in its powers.
I got addicted to Moroccan Mint Tea in Paris (of course. tired of hearing about Paris yet? too bad!). The Paris Mosque and the World Arab Institute both have tea rooms where it's served practically by the gallon. I LOVE to go to the Institute in the middle of the day with a crossword puzzle and have a pot of tea. I LOVE to go to the Mosque late in the evening, sit outside, and have a glass or two. It's such a great way to wind down or chill out.
Moroccan Mint Tea is very simple: gunpowder green tea and mint. At the Institute and the Mosque, it's made with fresh mint. It's traditionally very heavily sweetened -- the glasses are always sticky! It's such a beautiful thing. It's served out of long-spouted brass teapots, poured from about a foot above, into intricately decorated glasses that are only slightly bigger than shot glasses. I'm too lazy tonight to go looking for pictures, but you can find them very easily with a little internet search. You can also find real Moroccan Mint Tea recipes, and actually buy the pots and glasses. I, unfortunately, have not procured any of this equipment yet... but it's all on my mental wish list. Instead, I bought this beautiful tea set at the Grasshopper Shop in Bangor -- a very cool store with lots of gifts, clothes, housewares, and generally neat stuff...
Isn't it beautiful? I love the color, I love the size, I love the shape, I love the feel. It has an amazing texture that can only be described as silky smooth. Yes, I am a tactile person. I can't walk past a marble countertop or polished granite building without touching. But I digress (as I so often do). I also have a much fancier Bodum tea press, which I will show off sometime in the future. This pot holds eight ounces of tea -- enough to fill the little cup twice. I use Republic of Tea's Moroccan Mint Tea, and I sweeten it with Splenda (not so traditional, I know... but if I used real sugar in all the tea I drink, I'd weigh 200 pounds!). We've all heard about the health benefits of green tea, and mint is good for a lot of ailments, too. This tea is crisp, refreshing, relaxing, and low enough in caffeine so that I can drink a couple cups right before I go to bed, and still sleep. It cures what ails me. I just finished my first cup... and now the second one is calling my name!
... when the Raniers hit eastern Maine's grocery stores! Fresh Bing cherries are hard enough to come by, and I eat as many as I can while they're available here. But Ranier cherries...? Oh, yeah babe. They're even more rare here, with a much shorter selling season. I love living here, and our grocery stores have come a long way in recent years, but good, fresh fruit can still be a rare commodity. I've already sung the praises of nectarines (and other stone fruits), which are available here all year to a certain extent, but there's just no comparison to the fruits of early summer. I am one happy camper at this time of year, and I practically live on fruit (well, except for that cake yesterday...).
Look at those colors. Amazing, aren't they? This is a very red batch. Often the skins are mostly yellow, with just a hint of red blush. The inside flesh is a glorious shade of the palest yellow -- much like the inside of a white nectarine, in fact. For those of you who haven't ventured there, Ranier cherries are slightly bigger, plumper, juicier, and sweeter than Bings, if such a thing can be imagined!
Kevin, who has a deep-seeded, childhood-trauma induced, burning HATRED of anything resembling a cherry (due to that yucky artificial flavoring added to all children's cold medicine!), thought for the longest time that I was nuts for loving fresh cherries so much. I couldn't get him to even touch a Bing. But a couple years ago, on a trip to Paris, I saw Raniers at all the fruit stands -- dirt cheap. I was all over them, needless to say. After much coaxing and convincing that these don't taste a thing like children's Tylenol, he tried some... and liked them! Since then, I've even gotten him to eat some Bings once in a while, though he much prefers Raniers. I am torn between the two.
After last night's sugar rush, I'm having something a bit healthier for a snack tonight. =)
I fought the chocolate and the chocolate won. I managed to curb the cravings over the weekend, but I really wanted chocolate cake, and finally caved in today.
My favorite chocolate cake recipe was printed in a cookbook my mom's church put out in the late '70s or early '80s... we've been making it for almost as long as I can remember! It's quick, it's easy, it calls for common ingredients and requires no fancy tools. No mixers, no beaters, no bowls. Just a cake pan and a fork. Well, measuring spoons and cups, too.
It's not a fancy, take-to-the-neighbor's-dinner-party cake. It's a weeknight family dessert cake. Why? You may understand better when you see the recipe:
Sift together in an 8x8 pan:
1 cup sugar
3 heaping tbsp. cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
Make three holes in mixture. Put 6 tbsp. cooking oil in one, 1 tsp. vanilla in second, and 1 tbsp. vinegar in third. Pour 1 cup cold water over all. Stir with fork. Bake 1/2 hour at 350. Frost with favorite icing.
Isn't that fun?!? When you're a kid, this is the coolest, weirdest, bestest recipe ever. Now that I'm 30-something (eek!), it's still cool and weird and great, and I know exactly how and why it's so good. Do you...? =)
Because it's mixed and baked in the same pan, it's not exactly a cake you turn out (I've never dared try it, anyway!) and frost all fancy-like (hence the no-dinner-party comment). You leave it in the pan, smear on whatever you want, and serve it as is. Tonight, I sprinkled a couple handfuls of milk chocolate chips on top as soon as it came out of the oven, then put back it in the (now turned off) oven for just a minute. The chips melted and I spread them out with a rubber spatula to make an instant icing. I have no idea where I read that trick, but it stuck with me, and this is the first time I've tested it. It worked out pretty well, if I do say so myself.
It never comes out of the pan perfectly -- especially the first couple of pieces! But what it lacks in elegance, it more than makes up for in flavor. It's a moist, fluffy, chocolatey, satisfying cake.
Someone recently posted a comment to this site asking if I have an "RSS Feed." Being quite new to blogging and website design, I have heard of such a thing, but have no idea exactly what it is. I got onto the help forum of my server (blogdrive.com) and asked how to provide such a feed. Several questions and answers later, I think I have something. So, for those of you who know what this all means, there is a little orange "xml" button near the bottom of the left-hand column of my home page. I think it's what you're looking for... please let me know if it isn't (or even if it is so I know I figured it out!)! Thanks. =)
Yesterday was a cool, rainy, dismal, very un-summer-like day here. It made me want to bake something. I was dying for something ooey-gooey and chocolatey, but logic took over. I decided to be a bit more practical and bake something healthy that I can take to work for breakfast. After poring over several cookbooks, I went back to one of my favorites, "Oat Cuisine" by Bobbie Hinman (you may remember this book from my "sweet, tart, and crunchy" post two weeks ago). Once again, I was craving the crunch of cornmeal. Somehow, though, I ended up making Toaster Oat Bread. I had made it once before, with good results, so it seemed like the thing to do. Plus, it would give me something new to blog about. =) It's described as a "heavy, crusty bread... really enhanced by toasting."
It is heavy, and it is crusty, and it's fantastic. I love dense bread you can really sink your teeth into. And this is so healthy, too, with 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber per serving! And, of course, it is, as advertised, greatly enhanced by toasting. I like it with just a touch of butter (I am addicted to European style cultured butter!) and a good bit of honey (locally produced, of course). Here's the recipe, as printed in "Oat Cuisine:"
Toaster Oat Bread
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup oat bran
1 cup rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups skim milk
1 tablespoon honey
Preheat oven to 375.
Lightly oil a 5x9 inch loaf pan or spray with a nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients, mixing well.
In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and milk and let stand 1 minute. Stir in honey and add to dry mixture, stirring until all ingredients are moistened.
Place mixture in prepared pan. Smooth the top lightly with the back of a spoon.
Bake 35 minutes, until crusty and brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.
Remove to a rack to cool.
Cool completely, then slice and toast.
It's really easy, and you probably have most of the ingredients on hand. I didn't make any changes to this recipe at all... except for inadvertently leaving out the baking soda. I left something out of my banana cake a couple of weeks ago, too, didn't I? Must be old age. It still turned out great, though. Maybe it would have risen slightly more if I'd remembered the soda, but no one will ever know if I don't tell. =) Oh, and I used 1% milk, because that's what I had in the fridge!
And in case you were wondering -- I took care of my cornmeal craving this morning with some multi-grain pancakes!