November 12, 2011
I love November, and now I have one more reason to add to long list of reasons why.
The month began with a surprise phone call from Dessert Professional Magazine editor Matthew Stevens, informing me that they had chosen Black Dinah Chocolatiers as one of the top ten chocolatiers in North America for 2011.
To receive the frosting on the cake (the cake being, of course, the magical month of November), before it’s even baked is astonishing, if somewhat disconcerting. This is an honor I never in a million years expected. I mean, really, four years ago Steve and I were looking forlornly out our second story office window, onto a winter-worn, snow-patched yard, wondering if anyone would ever know where we were or what we were trying to do way out here. In some ways, it didn’t matter. We were embarking on another adventure together! A very favorite pastime of ours, and one in which we take great, big, fat pleasure. But, in more ways, it did matter. We weren’t just bootstrapping this new venture to make ends meet. There was something to prove here. That our communities, far and wide, could embrace creative industry. And that creative industries could not only survive and thrive; but survive and thrive on a remote, year-round island.
Of course, we’re still trying to prove it. And we are completely and utterly floored sometimes by the support we get–not only from our island community, but from our communities on the mainland and beyond. Like the great stores that carry our products. Like the inns and clubs that open up their kitchens so that I can teach chocolate workshops. Like the Maine businesses and individuals that are willing and eager to work collaboratively with us to make this idea burn brighter. Like the publisher who asked me to write a book. Like the editors at Dessert Professional.
And most recently, an incredible offer from the hosts at the award-winning Camden Harbour Inn and Natalie’s Restaurant who are offering a weekend stay package November 26th & 27th in honor of my book Desserted. Get all the delicious details at the Natilie’s website, or at the Inn’s. But I recommend that you shoot straight to the menu for the special Au Chocolate dinner scheduled for Sunday the 27th. Designed by Natalie’s chef Geoffroy Deconinck (nominated as Best New Chef in the USA by Food & Wine), the menu features a three-course dinner inspired by the essays and recipes in my book, and celebrates chocolate in every bite. There will be a Prosecco reception beginning at 5pm, during which I will give a brief cooking demonstration from one of the recipes in my book. The dinner preparation will then be passed on to Geoffroy’s more expert hands, and I’ll have honor to visit with the evening’s guests!
This dinner will wind up an entire weekend of book events from Kennebunk, up the coast, which I will be highlighting in the coming days. However, seating and space at the Inn is limited, and I wanted to get the word out as soon as possible. I hope you can join, myself, DownEast Books and the Camden Harbour Inn and Natalie’s team at this very special event!
On the edge of a forest in Sargentville, Maine, right off Route 15, and about a 1/4 mile from the Eggemoggin Country Store, is a tiny Mexican restaurant called El El Frijoles. This place is the very best kind of California-style cantina–squashed into a classic Maine farmhouse barn, it creates a ironic kind of harmony perfectly suited to its quixotic owner/operators, Michael Rossney and Michele Levesque.
Michele is the magician in front of the stove at El El Frijoles, and whether she’s in the restaurant or next door in her home, Michele always seems to be cooking up something fabulous–and more than willing to share a plate with a friend. Her recipe for Chiliquiles is a simple, hearty breakfast which, she claims, is perfect for those mornings when getting out of bed seems totally beyond one’s capacity. Sounds like a great breakfast in bed to me!
- 1 T. olive oil
- 4 (6-inch) corn tortillas torn into strips, or 24 tortilla chips (Michele says she prefers to use chips for “added crunch.”
- 5 eggs, lightly beaten with a T. of milk
- 3/4 c. favorite salsa (If Michele doesn’t have any of her homemade salsas in the fridge, she always has a can of Herdez on hand.)
- 1/2 c. shredded Cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat and fry the tortilla strips until lightly browned and crisp.
Add the eggs to the skillet, and cook, stirring, until eggs are scrambled and fluffy. Stir in the salsa and the cheese.
Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with a wedge of avocado and a dollop of sour cream.
If you like your eggs spicy, Michele recommends Cholula hot sauce.
Serve the dish with some refried beans and a good, strong cup of coffee!
On the east side of the island, there is a lovely inn run by my friend and culinary comrade, Diana Santospago. While Diana is much more than just her inn, the Inn at Isle au Haut is a perfect manifestation of Diana’s many talents. Because there are no other restaurants on Isle au Haut, the inn offers three delicious, fresh, and beautifully presented meals every day, accompanied by some of the best shorefront scenery in the world. So good, in fact, that the Inn at Isle au Haut was just listed by Yankee Magazine as one of Maine’s top ten “Dinners with a View.”
Here is Diana’s choice for Mother’s Day breakfast:
“Baked Pancake with Berry Sauce and Melted Ice Cream is my choice for a breakfast recipe for your blog for a couple reasons. First, it’s practically foolproof for kids(with Dad’s help of course)to make for Mom for that special breakfast in bed, and it’s totally yummy.
First make the sauce.
- 1-1/2 cups of fresh or frozen raspberries, blackberries, strawberries or blueberries or a combination of any or all. (If using fresh berries, mash half of them.)
- 1/3 cup sugar or honey
- zest of 1/2 a lemon
Combine the berries, sugar/honey and zest, tossing gently. Let sit at room temperature until the berries release their juice and the sugar is dissolved.
Meanwhile, scoop out about 1 cup of good quality vanilla ice cream and set aside to melt.
- 2 eggs
- 1 C. milk
- 3/4 C. all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt pinch of cinnamon
- 1 T. unsalted butter
Here’s where Dad comes in!
Preheat a cast iron skillet in a 425-degree oven. Beat the eggs. Add the milk, flour salt, and cinnamon and mix well. Add the butter to the skillet. When melted, pour in the egg mixture. Bake for 15 minutes then lower the heat to 325 degrees and bake until puffed and golden-about 6-8 minutes. Slide onto a serving platter, slice into wedges, spoon on the berry sauce and drizzle with the melted ice cream.”
January 1, 2009
I officially began my life in food when I was 19. I was hired as a dishwasher at Zachary’s restaurant in Santa Cruz, California; and thus joined a varied and dubiously moral crew of dishroom alums that have passed through the battered back door of that restaurant for more than 20 years. Michael L–a burly, bearded hippie with a wild look in his crystal blue eyes–trained me to collect bus tubs from the dining room without pissing off the servers, run plates to the kitchen without attracting the cooks’ ire, and showed me how a good runner could collect a tub, run it back to the pit, empty, scrape and stack all the plates in it in less than 3 minutes flat.
“Each plate should take exactly 5 seconds to scrape,” Michael instructed while wielding a giant rubber spatula stained with the trademark yellow of turmeric from the home fries Zachary’s was famous for.
Though on that first day I was slightly frightened of Michael, he soon became the first member of the strange family I collected during the near decade I spent at Zach’s. Many of us spent 10 years or more rising and falling through the ranks there–hovering in that comfortable limbo where we’re still growing up (having not done a very good job of it at home), and not quite ready to be adults. As a result, my life at Zach’s seems to have imprinted my life in a very strange, profound and somewhat inappropriate way.
For instance, most of my closest friends are people that were once employed at Zachary’s–or people that I met through other Zach’s employees (I met Steve because a fellow dishwasher was his housemate). This is an example of a profound way I’ve been imprinted. But then I also do this weird thing where instead of saying “your welcome,” I say, “Chewbacca,” which is a further roughened bastardization of what my friend Miguel sounded like when he said “You’re welcome,” as he passed food from the Zach’s kitchen. So I say Chewbacca–involuntarily, mind you–instead of “You’re welcome,” which can be shockingly inappropriate, particularly if I’m speaking to a large, hairy stranger.
When one of the waiters from Zach’s moved to Japan, he told us in a letter that he had introduced his friends there to the Mike’s Mess–a highly caloric (and utterly delicious) dish of potatoes, cheese and eggs that the restaurant was most famous for (I say most famous for because Zach’s was also famous for other things that didn’t have anything to do with its food. Like its highly unconventional wait staff–which ranged from California beach bunnies baring lots of skin and 70′s punks in combat boots; to college preps in button downs and patchouli wearing hippies in desperate need of a haircut). ”The Mike’s Mess has made it to Japan,” he wrote. At the time I read this, sitting over my breakfast in the restaurant staffroom, I remember feeling a little betrayed. As if anything that existed with in the walls of the world that was Zach’s, could only exist there. But later, after the wonderful concept of people eating a Mike’s Mess in Tokyo really sank in, I felt elated, and liberated. All of the sudden, I had permission to own my experiences. Zach’s Mike’s Mess, became as much mine, as, well, Mike’s, I guess. Chewbacca became my way of saying You’re welcome, as well as Miguel’s (who, after years of the staff repeating what it sounded like he was saying, just started saying it and we gave up on the whole “you’re welcome” bit altogether).
The Mike’s Mess travelled with me across the country and made brief cameos in restaurants and inns that I’ve worked in since. And so did the rest of my collective experiences and habits that make me who I am. We are nothing if we aren’t the sum of the parts of our lives.
In this weird week between Christmas and New Year’s, I can’t help but wonder which experiences from this past year will come together to build the person I become in 2009. It’s something that you can’t predict or plan on. It just happens, and all of the sudden you realize you’ve changed. The world around you has morphed you–imprinted you, and in so doing, has, ironically, ensured your originality. I call it Old Year limbo–the place between who we were and who we will become. One more week of a sort of adolescence. Enjoy it!