Wait! Don’t go. Please. Before you say yuck and chalk this up to bad judgment on my part, give Brussels sprouts one more chance. I, too, was a skeptic. Steamed and boiled Brussels sprouts produce a reaction in me that can be compared to that of a five year old given a plate of broccoli. In short, I’ll give up dessert to avoid eating them and might just throw a temper tantrum if the issue is pressed. For years, my house was a Brussels sprout free zone.
My husband, I am embarrassed to admit, is actually a fan of Brussels sprouts in all their forms and last fall, he used all of his diplomatic powers to have our home’s embargo against sprouts lifted for one dinner. Finding myself in what was obviously a delusional state, I was contemplating granting his request and was flipping through cookbooks when I came across a recipe for pan-browned Brussels sprouts in Ruth Reichl’s The Gourmet Cookbook. The head note read that “these golden-brown nuggets are so nut-like in flavor that you could almost serve them with drinks” and that this recipe had actually made people like Brussels sprouts. At the time, I thought they might get more takers if they just stuck to encouraging people to drink while eating Brussels sprouts, but I made the recipe and, drum-roll please, was a convert.
I tried mango for the first time while I was living in Ecuador. I remember coming home on a particularly hot day to find my roommate, an Ecuadorean artist, savoring this tropical fruit. Feet kicked up, she would delicately cut herself a thin sliver of mango, bring it to her lips, and then eat it slowly, enjoying every tangy, sweet, and juicy bite. She ate that mango like it was the best thing she had ever eaten and relished every bite as if it were her last.
I must have been staring, because without a word I was offered a piece of mango from the tip of her knife. I took a bite and found myself in a similar heaven. Sliding into a chair next to her, we proceeded to eat every last bit of that mango and in an incredibly gracious gesture, she offered me the mango seed, still covered with bits of flesh, to nibble off with my teeth. Juices dribbling down my chin and over my hands, I swore I would never leave Ecuador.
Yesterday was Julia Child’s birthday and what better way to celebrate the occasion than making, and eating, a chocolate cake. And it’s not just any chocolate cake, but rather the Reine de Saba with glaçage au chocolat found in her most famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume One. Making the Queen of Sheba cake with a chocolate-butter frosting has been on my mind for a while now. The recipe appeared in the August issue of Bon Appetit magazine and a friend, who was learning how to cook this summer in Charleston, baked three different versions of the recipe. The cake itself is a classic chocolate and almond cake with a buttery chocolate frosting. Simply put it’s decadent and delicious.
It’s hot. Really hot. August is here with its sticky days, warm nights, and oppressive heat. Unless you are sitting on a beach, relief is hard to find which is why I’ve fallen in love with mint juleps this summer. The perfect summer cocktail, mint juleps, in their metal cups that frost up even better than an iced-beer mug, are a reprieve from the heat in the classiest of ways.
If, unlike me,you have a green thumb, you may have mint in your yard. If you do, and it hasn’t been contained in a pot, then it is most surely running rampant in your garden. Sprawling and overgrown at this time of year, most people have a surplus of mint. And what better reward for dealing with the herb and its ever expanding nature than to serve it up in a refreshing beverage.
On Friday, I had the good fortune to have lunch with my grandmother and cousin in Winston-Salem, NC. We ate at a delicious little restaurant called Bernardin’s where the highlight of the meal was dessert: a wonderful strawberry shortcake. With a crumbly biscuit, expertly whipped cream, and, of course, ripe strawberries, it was plate-scraping good.
As food has the power to do, this shortcake also brought back memories. My grandmother told about how she and my grandfather would tell their four children that strawberry shortcake wasn’t very good, so they could have more of the cake for themselves. I know this story is true, because my father, one of the four victims, can’t see strawberry shortcake without lamenting those lost years without shortcake thanks to his parents deception. My grandmother then told us about our great great grandmother Ivey’s strawberry biscuit roll. She claimed it was delicious and backed that statement up by telling about one guest who was so absorbed in eating a piece of this dessert that he did not notice that the family dog was eating his pants under the table. Having never tasted, let alone heard about this family recipe, I realized that my grandmother had made a lifetime habit of keeping shortcake recipes secrets.