Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chocolate - Part 1

From the NY Times, January 11, 2011 - By FLORENCE FABRICANT, Rare Cacao Bean Discovered:
DAN PEARSON was working in northern Peru two years ago with his stepson Brian Horsely, supplying gear and food to mining companies, when something caught his eye.
“We were in a hidden mountain valley of the Marañón River and saw some strange trees with football-size pods growing right out of their trunks,” Mr. Pearson said by telephone last week. “I knew nothing about cacao, but I learned that’s what it was.”
For some of us chocolate is an everyday food, relied on much like that morning coffee.  It's a very interesting fruit, grown only in a small area around the equator, discovered by the Aztecs and not until the invention of milk powder in the mid 1800s by Nestle, did we eat chocolate.
Chocolate is Native to Honduras.  Chemically Theobromine is unique to chocolate and the Koala Nut. In modern medicine, theobromine is used as a blood vessel widener, a diuretic and a heart stimulant.  Possible future uses could be in the fields of cancer prevention (from Wikipedia).
The Aztec leader, Montezuma drank his 'Xocolatl' as an aphrodisiac.  Don Cortez introduced this aphrodisiac to the Spanish Monarchy in the 1520s.  Not until a royal wedding in Spain of a French Princess to a Spanish Prince was Xocolatl (as a drink still) introduced to the rest of Europe.  The beans were ground up, steeped in water with sugar.  The drink had some of the telltale 'chocolate flavour' we know today but it was sugary and gritty.
The technology to grind chocolate to a finer paste was developed in France in 1732 and not until 1828 was the cocoa press invented by a man named VanHouten.

This process allowed half the fat to be removed from the paste so the drink wasn't fatty and slimy. The Dutch then treated this new cocoa powder with alkali liquid.  This gives cocoa powder it's colour, good quality cocoa powder is very dark and reddish.
Frys of England made the first eating chocolate in 1847.  They created this new chocolate bar from the by-product of the cocoa powder process developed by VanHouten.  It was still gritty and not like the smooth fatty chocolate bars we enjoy today.
In 1875 Daniel Peter of Switzerland was the first to add condensed milk, creating the very first milk chocolate bar.  When Nestle invented milk powder in 1879 (aka milk solids), the first mass produced chocolate bar was introduced, milk powder was cheap and a good filler to cut down on the amount of chocolate used.
Lindt then invented the conching method in 1879.  

It's a strange looking machine, it grinds the chocolate, sometimes for 24-48 hours with sugar, sometimes with milk solids.  This grinding creates heat and thus the chocolate changes on a molecular level and the sugar and milk solids caramalize.  This conching method finally gave chocolate that melt in your mouth quality!

By 1900, Hershey was producing the first mass, cheap, chocolate bars.  Through industrilization, affordability of sugar and milk powder and the use of fillers to cut down on the amount of chocolate used in each bar, everyone could now afford a little piece of Montezuma's aphrodisiac.  

From that point on, the boxed chocolate was developed in Paris by Jean Neuhaus, the filled chocolate "Praline" (pronounced Praline-a) was developed in 1913.  The New York Chocolate Exchange was organized in 1925 and chocolate was sold as a commodity.

During World War 1, most chocolate went to the troops and chocolate was rationed until 1953.

Next blog - Part 2: Where it grows, varieties, how it goes from fruit to factory and qualities of chocolate!  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tools for Life

I have become a bit of a mini-activist.  I'm not sure where it started, or how.  I've been searching for a charity that I really wanted to donate to for years, not really finding what I was looking for - not sure what I was looking for.  I think I saw a show on the Documentary Channel about the Sea Shepherd and their struggles in Taiji, Japan.  I'm not going to go into details, it's ugly and you should decide for yourself if you want to see what happens in our world.  I have my own personal email campaign.  The Sea Shepherd also practices passive aggression - I like that, they are an ever presence in Taiji, Japan but they never cross "the line".  You might have heard of the television series "Whale Wars" - that's The Sea Shepherd.  The head honcho is Paul Watson and he's a Canadian!

Recently one of the girls who has spent the past couple of month in Taiji, Japan documenting the tragedy that goes on there posted a picture on her blog.  Taiji is beautiful - breathtakingly beautiful.  Her picture was of a flat calm sea, with little ripples of wind sweeping across the water.  Normally I love weather like that, with flat water, a hint of a breeze that would make me smile, make me dream of those perfect sailing days.  Quietly ghosting along at 3-4 knots, just the sound of the boat pushing the water out of her way.  The sun shimmering off the occasional wave, the peace.  However, in this photo are 5 fishing boats, driving a large pod of striped dolphins into the Killing Cove.

Next time I'm on the water, when the water is flat, the light breeze blowing across my skin, the sun keeping me warm, giving our planet the tools for life, I will also remember the ugliness of that picture sent from Taiji and what that perfect day can turn into.  How we struggle to feed too many people with not enough to go around.

I wouldn't normally post this type of blog but I feel, as humans, we need to be aware of what we take from our planet, how poorly we treat the earth.

In 2001 Paul and I visited my dad and stepmom, Sue in Trinidad, they had spent a year sailing from Ontario to Port-of-Spain and were waiting out the hurricane season.  On our last day in Trinidad, we cleaned up the boat, Lady Simcoe, cast off the mooring ball and set sail to a little deserted island called Chacachacare, which is part of the Boca Islands in Trinidad and Tobago.  That is another story, very intriguing, very interesting.

On our trip back - it was one of those cloudless days, hot, no wind with the ocean like a mirror the never ending swell and the sounds of the infinite waves lapping up the island cliffs, broken only by the far off sound of a fishing boat's motor - we stumbled upon a large pod of dolphins.  I don't know how many there were but I do remember seeing them playing off in the distance.  We motored over and played with them for about an hour.  It was amazing to see them swim sideways along side the bow of Lady Simcoe.  They would look up you with knowledge, curiosity and playfulness. They knew what we were, they knew we were playing, knew we were laughing with them, having as much fun as they were.  It was probably one of the most enlightening experiences of my life

Maybe that's why I believe in what the Sea Shepherd and Captain Paul Watson stand for.  Without our oceans we are nothing.  Dead oceans will equal the demise of all life, after all, if you are a fan of Darwin, life evolved from the oceans.  Even if you don't believe in Darwinism, all life depends on the oceans.  

Currently, the oceans and ocean life are on a steep decline.  I hope one day to sail off somewhere on the ocean and I hope that there are dolphins and whales and dorados and flying fish and jelly fish to see in the wild, as they are meant to be, not in a zoo or an aquarium or at a place like Marineland.  I hope one day, my love of sailing and the water and open spaces and my zest for living that my dad instilled in me allows me to travel the planet to see the real world and the wild world.  I hope some day that my love of the natural world and the respect for life and our enviornment that my mom instilled in me will allow me to give back to the earth and help preserve it for everyone and everything that relies on our planet for life.

Please keep giving to your charity of choice but please don't forget to take care of the world we live in.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Art of Being Creative

We're all good at something.  I think we are born with the skills and talent to do something and if some of us are lucky, we hit the nail on the head, either through development in school, after school activities or just from reading about something and having enough interest to give it a try.  I was lucky, I got the creativity gene.

I remember one Christmas singing along with my new Sharon, Lois & Bram album (must have been REALLY young) and my mom and dad were astounded that I was singing right along.  I then begged for a flute one year, begged and begged and BEGGED - I got a guitar from Santa that year.  However, it turned out I was good at it.  Coincidence, maybe, I'll never know.  However, I ended up studying the guitar and music in College and then onto University.  Mistake, no.  I will never regret getting a University degree, however, being creative in North America is thankless and for most creative minds, one cannot make a living doing it and if they do it's just barely a living.  I eked out a living playing guitar for about 10 years before moving on.  However, having spent so much time with creative minds and having one myself, it's hard to let it go, I would say impossible.  I was sustained a serious injury from playing the guitar so there really is no way to go back playing anymore (although I wish I could).  I searched for a long time to do something creative where my injury would not come back to haunt me.  

Hmmm, clarinet, flute, oboe, violin...nope. So for a long time I wallowed like a Sea Lion on my couch watching television with the world going by, my mind in a constant state of beige.  One day, I just quit my day job, tired of the abuse, the yelling, the pressure.  Yup, just left.  I spent the summer sailing, reading, painting the eavestroughs until one day I was walking around my neighbourhood and stumbled upon a cooking school.  COOL.  I cleaned out Paul's savings account and enrolled.  I was hooked from day one.  I was able to get a job working as butcher and for the next year I went to school 5 days a week and worked 5 days a week - talk about one tired individual.  However I  no longer wallowed like a Sea Lion on my couch watching television with the world going by, my mind in a constant state of beige.  I was creating and being creative.  I also realized the importance of the trades and how underpaid and under appreciated the trades are.

Unfortunately the daily toil of the butcher shop wore me out physically and I was no longer able the do the job and I couldn't find a job as a chef making more than minimum wage so I went back to the beige office job I had before.  However, one difference, I could work for myself running my own pastry business part time and have the money to expand my pastry and catering skills.

Unfortunately, thanks to trash television with shows like Cake Boss and celebrity chefs like Duff Goldman, everyone thinks they can decorate a cake.  I'm not pooh-poohing anyone else's creativity or skill, lord knows there are a lot more creative and skilled cake decorators out there than me.  I do know that a lot of those 'companies' don't bake or make their products from raw ingredients.  I even know a few cake decorating companies who use boxed cake mixes.  I find the art starts from the raw ingredients.  The flour, eggs, butter etc.  It actually takes me more time to do the baking etc. then the decorating.  It takes artistry to create your signature cake or icing recipe, it takes a keen eye to choose the right ingredients and complimentary flavours.

Most people choose to buy their sweets, cakes etc. at places like Costco because it's "cheaper".  But where's the artistry in getting something cheaper...Then there's the question of what is the real meaning of cheaper.  You get what you pay for.  Those big box store 'bakers' just do what they are told, they aren't artists, anyone can write Happy Birthday on a cake, it's easy to follow a set formula for decorating a cake in the same old colours, the same design ad nauseum day in and day out without thinking.  So what does "getting something cheaper" mean to you?  To me, it means sacrificing our homegrown artists to the likes of the mass produced, fake products anyone can get or make.

I think when one finds one's talent in life we are blessed.  Even though I work really hard, long hours I am able to work part time being creative in an industry where creativity is embraced and welcomed.  Alas, once again a creative field that is not very profitable unless you are a rock star or a true celebrity chef (because we all know people who aren't on tv don't really count). 

Next time you go for something "cheaper" ask yourself if you are supporting ugly corporate America or fresh, creative ideas that people who care about their art come up with, not just to fill their bank accounts.

NOW LET THEM EAT CAKE!  Here's my favourite cheesecake recipe, right down to the caramel, bananas and RUM:

750 g     Cream Cheese
175 g     White Sugar
30 g        Flour
3            Eggs
2            Very Ripe Bananas
2 tbsp.   Dark Rum
320 ml   Heavy Cream
3 ml       Vanilla

Combine cream cheese and flour, mix until fluffy.  Add eggs 1 at a time until absorbed.

Heat sugar in a sauce pan until it just begins to caramalize.  Add banana chunks and continue to caramalize sugar.  Add rum and flame.

Slowly pur rum banana/caramel mixture into cheese mixture while mixer is on low speed, mix well.

Pour into 8" spring form pan.
Bake approximately 30-40 minutes.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Long Way

     "Exhausting gales, dangerous waves, dark clouds scudding across the sea with all the world's sadness and all its despair.  Continuing anyway, perhaps because you know you must, even if you no longer understand why.

     Clear skies, sunsets the colour of blood, the colour of life, on a sea sparkling with power and light, giving you all its strength, all its truth.  Then you know why you are continuing, why you will go right to the end.  And you would like to go further still." 
- Bernard Moitessier, from his book, The Long Way about his sailing journey around the world, alone, in 1968-1969

I haven't written about sailing lately, and with the cold weather, don't think of it that much.  However, I once again, for about the 5th time, started reading Moitessier's The Long Way.  The first Around Alone race, non-stop.  1968 it started and the last boat to leave on its journey was the Teignmouth Electron with it's skipper, Donald Crowhurst.  Only one sailor made it back home, Robert Knox Johnston.  Donald Crowhurst died during the race under mysterious circumstances, a couple had to turn back because of bad weather  Nigel Tetley capsized only 2000 kms from the finish.  Bernard Moitessier, after rounding Cape Horn decided to keep going and sailed halfway around the earth again before finally setting anchor in Tahiti.  

Back then they didn't have digital knot metres, no radar, no GPS, no HAM radio, no satellite telephones, weather faxes or lap top computers.  No fancy freeze dried food or scientifically created clothing.  No high tech carbon fibre boat hulls, lines, sails or equipment.  No 'team' back home designing sails, boats or gear.  They had friends helping to sew new sails or collect rubber hosing for water tanks.  Strangers donating old winches and a little money.  Some had wooden masts, wooden boats.  Others had new designs in sailboats that are very common today, a trimaran.  They depended on wool to keep them warm and mostly dry, canned food, instant coffee, canned milk, rice and hoped for whatever fish they might be able to catch to sustain them.  They collected rainwater to fill their jerry cans, and had to wait until the sight of land to radio the coast guard their Lloyds of London call number to report in, or call a passing ship to report their whereabouts. Moitessier had a slingshot, he would wrap up his rolls of film, letters, charts in a jar and hope it met its mark on a passing ship's deck.

Moitessier was a philosopher.  He writes about the open ocean, its quiet days, its nasty days.  He also writes about the life that kept him company while on his 10 month voyage.  The sea birds, the dorados, the jellyfish, the phosphorescence, the dolphins.  

Nowadays we are imprisoned in our consumer culture, the need for success in one's career, in one's pocketbook, the need to buy the latest and greatest television or electronic gadget.  We are imprisoned in a world where there is not enough food to go around, in a world that values money and possessions over life experiences, friendships and family.  It's refreshing to read Moitessier's journey.  This story is not just for sailors, it's for everyone.   The paragraph on the back cover of the book states "...Moitessier began to regard this as a voyage that could not end for him with the rewards of those whose values were not his."  Sometimes when I'm on the boat and there's no wind and we are bobbing along at 0.24 knots and it's just me and Paul, it's nice to think about nothing - just stare at the colours of the water, the colours of the sky, the life around you, the warmth of your companion.  I, like a lot of people always ask myself 'why are we here' and I don't ever think we will ever know the answer.  I think we all ask ourselves that question when we slow down, sit and think.  We should all do that more often, sit and think.  

Sailing gives me that time to sit and think.  Cooking does as well.  You have to be patient to cook, to learn, to create.  I like to work in my kitchen sometimes in the quiet, it allows me to think.  How often do we turn off the television (that really adds no real value to our lives), turn off the radio, turn off our man made world and stop and think.  Our thoughts don't have to be profound, sometimes I think about the rust spot on my car, at least I'm having a thought.  

Our lives are too complicated and I don't think some of us are really living. Our lives are short.  Let's re-evaluate our time here on planet earth!

"To have the have the choice...not knowing what you are heading for and just going there anyway, without a care, without asking any more questions."  Thank you Bernard Moitessier for making me think.