June: The Sunny Star of the Culinary Calendar

I don’t know about you but this time of year, I start building whole weekends around food – oh who am I kidding, I do that most weekends. But June is the perfect time to immerse oneself in the foodiness of it all. Days are longer (so grilling pineapple on the grill doesn’t require a flashlight) and warmer (so all those no bake ice box cakes can come out to play) and there are so many food-related days out to enjoy!

Observances-wise June is:

  • Candy Month – which in all honesty might be more appropriate somewhere in the holiday-heavy latter half of the year but no matter – candy is candy is candy.
  • Dairy Month – which makes a lot of sense if what you really want to say is MORE ICE CREAM PLEASE but you want to sound healthier.
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month – which makes TOTAL sense scheduling wise – far more than candy. And seriously, what is better on a hot summer day than a really juicy, “tart-sweet-and all tastes in between” fruit salad. And so many “pick you own” options that you could fill every June weekend with them.
  • Frozen Yogurt Month – as I said this time last year, it’s been ages since I had a first class frozen yogurt. And now it;s been even longer. Still searching.
  • Papaya Month – I would have thought this was covered under Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month but possibly the papaya has a stronger lobby than I thought.

Maybe you’re looking to be hands-on with the culinary creativeness but also want to get out of the house and enjoy the summer weather – well, the season of food faires and food festivals is upon us and those are the events for you!

  • This weekend, for example, if you find yourself in NYC (as I sometimes do) and you’re feeling pecking (or starving) – head over to the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party (June 7 & 8 in Madison Square Park).
  • BBQ not your thing? The Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival is June 8 this year as well. One of the key events in the Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue calendar, this really is a delicious result of everything that makes the Lower East Side/Chinatown such a weird and wonderful place to go. Egg rolls and egg creams? Come on, where else will those two things come together? With acrobats? Exactly.
  • The Food Truck Festival of New England is back again this year – apparently food trucks as a trend are here to stay so presumably they will stop being a ‘trend’ and will now be a ‘given.’ There are 6 festivals planned between June and October – so if you are in Somerville or Worcester, MA this month, keep an eye out.
  • South of the Mason-Dixon Line, there’s the 25th Annual Texas Blueberry Festival on June 14. Yes, it’s in Nacogdoches but no you don’t have to know how to pronounce Nacogdoches to attend. I couldn’t pronounce it as a child either and ended up calling it Nack-a-nowhere because not only could I not pronounce it, I could never find it on a map. The fact that I continued to call it that into adulthood is more habit than I desire to needle to good people of Nacogdoches. All 10 of them. No, no – I kid, I kid. Go, enjoy some blueberries and the rest of the awesome food that can be found at food fairs and festivals across the Great State.

  • If Texas in June sounds a bit too warm for your tastes (and having grown up there I can attest to the warmth’s WARMNESS), head up to Colorado and some cooler Rocky Mountain Air. Not chilly but more comfy. And no need to forgo foodie fun either because they’ve got the 26th Annual Pine Grove Rhubarb Festival on June 8th.  Frankly rhubarb isn’t ACTUALLY my thing, the ‘all you can eat Pancake Breakfast’ and the achingly beautiful surroundings are enough to make me want to go.
  • Also on June 7 but more East Coast time than Rocky Mountain time, is the Ashland Strawberry Faire is held in – you guessed it – Ashland, Virginia.

As usual, there are way too many food fairs and festivals for me to list here – but luckily for all of us, the folks at Food Reference have a) more time and b) actually do this sort of thing professionally so they are awfully good at staying on top of these things. Therefore – get yourself over to their June Food Festival round up to find food fun near you this month.

But what if you, potential food festival attendee (like the vast majority of people in the world), are not in the USA? What do you do?  No worries. Food festivals, as I have said before, speak the international language of YUM! In the UK? Check out:

  • In Cheltenham, there is the appropriately named Cheltenham Food & Drink Festival on June 13– 15
  • In London: Taste of London invandes Regent’s Park once more – this year on on June 18-22
  • Pembrokeshire Fish Week Festival June 28-July 60 – held every year since 1999
  • BBQ isn’t just found in the Carolinas, Kansas and all points South and West in the US. BBQ – pulled pork in particular I find these days – has crossed the Atlantic and entrenched itself as firmly as any carbonated beverage or cookie cutter coffee chain. One sure sign of this is Grillstock (or as they say, meat.music.mayhem) – in Bristol, June 7- 8 and in Manchester on June 28–29
  • Apparently June 16-22 is National Picnic Week here in Britain and while the weather doesn’t always say “picnic” to me, I’m more than willing to grab a basket and wade in – so to speak.
  • June 28-29 is the Newbury Food Festival Armed Forces Day Celebration
  • The BBC Good Food Show Summer is June 14 – again in Birmingham, so centrally located, you almost have no excuse not to go.

Maybe you are not so much hungry as thirsty? Have a free day June 29? Head off to Spain’s Festival of Wine Drenching  in Haro, capital of northern Spain’s Rioja-producing region. Yes, you read right – wine drenching. Just you, a white shirt, water pistol full of cheap red wine and 5000 other people with the same. Hijinks – as they say – will ensue. Lonely Planet covers this and many other festivals around the world for June. Not all food-related but food isn’t EVERYTHING.  … I can’t believe I just said that.

All this and I haven’t even touched on the daily June food observances – that’s another posts (or several) for another day. Some, of course, we have already touched upon. But for those who like to plan ahead – keep in mind that soon, the following days will be upon us:

  • June 6  Applesauce Cake Day
  • June 7  Chocolate Ice Cream Day
  • June 9  Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day
  • June 11  German Chocolate Cake Day
  • June 12  Peanut Butter Cookie Day
  • June 13  Klutzes of America Day
  • June 14  Strawberry Shortcake Day
  • June 16  Fudge Day
  • June 17  Apple Strudel Day
  • June 17  Cherry Tart Day
  • June 19 Martini Day
  • June 21  Peaches & Cream Day
  • June 22  Chocolate Eclair Day
  • June 23  Pecan Sandies Day
  • June 24  Pralines Day
  • June 25  Strawberry Parfait Day
  • June 26  Chocolate Pudding Day
  • June 29  Almond Buttercrunch Day


Cooking: Learn By Doing

I’ve had a lot of discussions of late about how fewer and fewer people do any sort of actual cooking. As a result of all these conversations, I’ve heard all the reasons – no time, no knowledge, no interest, etc.

While I can’t add more hours to the day and can’t force them to be interested enough to turn to the stove instead of the microwave(*) – I can point out a few resources to address the lack of skill or knowledge.


Some of the best cooks I know have learned via the tried and true method of trial and error. They got themselves a book and jumped in feet first. By book, I mean a broad-based, broken down step by step book:

That’s the kind of thing to start with – not a themed book based on some TV show chef’s latest outing. That said – Nigella Lawson may be a big star of the TV cookery world but How to Eat (a title which predated the stardom and led to the TV shows) is one of the best books I’ve found, holding your hand while getting your feet wet, so to speak.



There are also lots of places online you can read about specific cooking methods and even see them at work. YouTube is awash in people demonstrating recipes at all skill levels but if you want something more structured or organized:


I can hear the quibblers quibbling already. “But doing it online by myself isn’t the same as taking a cooking class in person.” No, of course it’s not. Because doing it online by yourself means you can go at your own pace and repeat sessions/episodes as much as you like. Oh and hello? A lot of them are free. Have you looked at the prices of cookery courses lately?

And before the quibble continues, I know that learning on your own – self-driven, self-taught whether from books or online – is not the same thing as learning from a parent or grandparent over a course of years. But people learn in many different ways and – here’s a thought – maybe your parents and grandparents didn’t cook.

My mother is an amazing cook but she certainly didn’t learn from her mother. Dear God, the idea is both ludicrous and appalling. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my grandmother dearly and while she could crochet like a fiend and was hard to beat at canasta, she could and did ruin everything in the kitchen – from toast to  ‘steam in the bag’ veggies to macaroni and cheese. Cooking was NOT her forte and she had nothing of use to pass on to my mother in that regard. My mother is a self-taught fab cook.


Just try making something. Anything – just to see how it goes.  Pick a recipe that doesn’t require special equipment or skills, or send you to the shops for a pile of expensive ingredients, but which isn’t just boiling pasta and dumping a jar of sauce over it.  Try mashed potatoes – nothing could be easier.

What you need

  • 4 or 5 average-sized potatoes – use the Yukon Gold type potato – not too waxy like the small round potatoes and not as starchy as the baking or russet potatoes.
  • 1/2 or 1 cup of milk or cream (depending on how creamy you like your mash)
  • 2 or 3 tbsp butter (or a bit more if you want super buttery mash)
  • enough salt and pepper to taste
  • a pot big enough to boil your potatoes
  • a colander to drain the potatoes
  • a masher or a large fork for mashing the cooked spuds

What you do

  • Wash the potatoes
  • Peel and quarter the potatoes (though I will be honest, I love leaving the skins on – not only because I like the texture but it’s less hassle and quicker that way)
  • Boil them for about 20 minutes, or until a potato feels soft when you poke it with a fork. (Tip: only put in enough water to cover the potatoes – they’ll cook faster.)
  • While the potatoes are boiling, get the butter out of the fridge, grab the salt and pepper and if you want creamy mashed potatoes, the milk. If you prefer denser mash, skip the milk
  • Get your colander in the sink and drain the potatoes. Put them back in the pot and put the pot back on the stove, with the stove set on the lowest heat setting just to keep things warm while mashing
  • Add butter and start mashing the potatoes with a masher until they’ve reached a consistency you like.
  • If you’re going for creamy mash, this is where you start adding a bit milk and continue mashing and adding milk little by little until potatoes have reached the desired creaminess.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Eat

If you want to jazz up your mash, you can add garlic or mustard, top them with cheese, stir in a bit of hot chicken stock or soup … seriously, you can do anything with them. It’s not brain surgery. It’s food. Try it. No one is watching and if you screw up – so what. Who’s gonna complain? The potatoes?

None of these sites or books or tips will turn you into a kitchen superstar overnight and I’m not saying there won’t be some missteps (even first-class cooks have those). But until you take some action – actually try something, however small – it’s all theoretical. With cooking the only way is to learn by doing and we need to stop equating ‘doing’ with ‘difficult’.

(*) I have nothing against microwaves or ready meals – I have been known to utilize and enjoy both. I simply don’t believe the microwave is always faster and better and it makes no sense (financially or health-wise) to make ready meals the ONLY thing o the menu.



Transatlantic Towers Culinary Round Up

There’s been a lot happening here at Transatlantic Towers – much of it being of a culinary nature so I offer this round up of links, thoughts and passing fancies.

As regular readers will know, @dungeekin enjoys making bread but you may not know that he has been experimenting with various flavoured breads. Behold the latest in that effort:


The crust is always an important aspect of bread results for him (and for me as the official Transatlantic Bread Tester). So it was with great interest that I read “Rustic White Bread from a Bread Cloche” over on The Kitchn (if you don’t know the Kitchn, do check it out. Useful and inspiring). I’ve never used a bread cloche and if the results are as reported, it might be interesting to give it a go. I like the DIY options discussed in the comments as well. After all, if I can do the same with a dutch oven and a pizza stone, no need to splash out the cash on a new gadget. New gadgets in the kitchen always make me think of that Alton Brown advice about ensuring everything in the kitchen can do at least double duty and shunning what he calls unitaskers (with the exception of the fire extinguisher).

Speaking of Alton Brown – I’ve been going back and re-watching a lot of Good Eats. Damn, that’s a good show.  Also, I have to say – I love his Best Thing I Ever Made segments. The one I think made my mouth water the most was the Mushroom Stroganoff (ah the joys of YouTube when you live far away from US cooking channels) Love mushrooms!

Still, one can’t sit in front of the TV or computer screen all day. One must get out and about once in a while so next weekend we’re off to the Thame Food Festival and the Shipston Food Festival. Going to those types of things is always interesting for food folks. A) You’re surrounded by other food folks and quite likely they are doing things or using ingredients you have not yet used so you can not only get ideas but pick the brains of other food folks.  Last weekend was also a bit of a culinary explore – stopped by Daylesford Farm Shop where we stared in amazement at the size of the meringues, stood in awe of the breads and considered ideas prompted by the many herbs and oils on display.

That evening, exhausted from our adventures we relaxed by – what else – puttering about the kitchen, re-orging the spice/herbs cabinet and then @dungeekin produced a Sunday dinner like this:


Another thing that will be happening soon is the transition of a few of the herbs from back garden to window sill for the winter. Space is the main issue so we won’t be moving all them. Just three key herbs that we use the most and which can reasonably be expected not to try and take over the kitchen windowsill.

We’re trying to be good about how we use the space in the kitchen (and we are lucky in that there are quite a few cabinets) so we cleared out and organized the herb/spices. The tinned, boxed and jar-stored staples also got a check but it really wasn’t until we started re-arranging the cookery equipment itself that Miss Thing decided we needed closer supervision:

cabinet cat

I don’t know that our work was up to her standards – she didn’t LOOK impressed. But then, she is a cat.

Culinary Wool-Gathering

Have Caesar dressing but no greens. So made Caesar tuna for lunch then combined w/ lemon juice & Dijon mustard into a marinade for chicken. So this is what happens when killing time while my bagel toasts. I always have tuna on a toasted plain bagel.

  • I happened to be out in the garage earlier when it once again occurred to me, “Damned we have a lot of champagne for two people who don’t drink champagne.”  We have a lot of stuff in the garage (usefully set up as a spare pantry at one end) but it’s the champagne that always strikes me as particularly absurd. I mean, – what do we DO with it? How many champagne brunches can we POSSIBLY throw? And before you say “re-gift, I confess I can’t recall where a lot of it came from so that’s a no go.  As usual in cases where I am at a loss and my better half isn’t here to pester, I turn to the internet. There I found a few cooking uses for it including a champagne sauce for the poaching of seafood, using it as part of the liquid in risotto, in syrup for fruit – even a glaze for ham (paired with vanilla) . What do you guys do when you find yourself a few too many bottles up of the sparkling stuff? This MUST be a common issue after New Year’s parties, right?
  • Had wonderful brownie this weekend at the entertainingly named Greedy Goose Pub in Moreton-in-Marsh. It was served warm and as they plated it, they added a leaf of mint between the warm brownie and the vanilla ice cream on top. The heat from the brownie sent mint into both the cake and a ice cream. It was LOVELY
  • Last night’s Great British Bake Off involved that key British classic – the trifle. I rather like trifles. They are pretty, multi-layered and oh so flexible. I may have to try making one eventually. I’ve never done it – coming from the US as I do and trifles not being quite as popular there. In fact, I have no recollection of ever having been served a trifle or seen one on a menu there. I might be wrong but no memory comes to mind. I may shoot for a slightly less than traditionally sweet one though as a) hubby is not a sweets fan as a rule and b) I’m currently going through a spice phase and a trifle seems like a good chance to play around with them.
  • Speaking of desserts – Tomorrow is both Macadamia Nut Day and Eat An Extra Dessert Day. Which to choose, which to choose … Now hold on! February is Macadamia Nut Month. If that is the case, why does it also get a DAY? A day so far from it’s month? I smell a rat. In that case, I shall go with the dessert. Or rather desserts as I am told to have an extra one. I think this will do nicely:




TV: The Good, The Bad & the Bland

I watched two cooking shows last night – one good, the other not so good.

The Good – The Incredible Spice Men. These guys are terrific – they’re funny, knowledgeable, clearly LOVE cooking in addition to being good at it (quite often you don’t get the sense that some of the cooking presenters don’t actually enjoy what they’re doing. Maybe they did at one point but … ) But Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh – they love it. They love talking about food, cooking it, sharing it. And the delight they take in it is infectious. If nothing else, you want to sit in that madhouse of a kitchen set and watch them create these spiced up versions of classic British dishes.


If they can get across nothing else other than the idea that spice does not equal burn, they will have accomplished a lot and I think they are well on their way to that. They are using a vast arsenal of spices in this program for both sweet and savory dishes (adding the vanilla beans to the cheese? Brilliant and I can’t wait to try it) and showing that spices are ingredients worthy of attention, not after thoughts. There’s often a moment I have while watching the show – like when they put cinnamon and pepper with strawberries – when I think “Of course! It seems so obvious now that I’ve seen it done.” Another cinnamon moment was the pulled pork with cinnamon and clove. Pulled pork is a BBQ staple from my childhood and I love it but variety is the spice of life so I have no hesitation about changing up the flavor profile on this childhood favorite, especially as – another “OMG! Of course” moment – both those spices would play so well with pork. Also – because they explain what they are doing and why, extra useful information is imparted as well. I didn’t know how to pick out a decent chunk of ginger before – but now I do.

I’m sure there will be complaints about artificiality – some who don’t care for the puns, the gallivanting around, the “set ups” where we’re led to believe tension is high as spicy fish and chips are presented to “scary” biker gang (which was the mellowest, most clearly non-threatening biker gang I have ever seen in all my days). But it’s a TV show – and by definition it is an artificial construct. The secret to GREAT TV cookery shows is when the viewer feels like they are being talked to as opposed to being talked at – and this show, these men succeed beautifully in that regard.

Jamie Oliver on the other hand …

The Not So Good – Jamie’s Money Saving Meals. I’ll be honest – I’ve never much cared for Jamie Oliver as a TV presenter. His early cookbooks were really interesting and a useful read. But watching him on TV has always been a bit of a slog for me, even in the early days when he was “Gosh-Golly, Who Me?” Jamie. I just don’t think he’s very good as a presenter.

In the early days there were moments where he seemed to forget he was on camera and in THOSE moments, moments where he was just talking about the food to whoever was prompting from off to the left, worked. As soon as he recalled that he needed to hit his mark or hold to get an angle, it fell apart.

Now that he’s “Tilts At Windmills” Jamie, I find him even harder to watch. Not because of the tilting at windmills (he’s often gotten hold of a legitimate issue but then gets a bit ‘bull in a china shop’ when addressing it). No, I find him hard to watch because instead of becoming more at ease with the fact that he’s on TV, he seems to have forgotten how real people move and talk. People complain that Nigella is now a parody of herself, arch beyond words and over the top. But she’s got NOTHING on Jamie Oliver. With every successive show, he is more and more like someone playing Jamie Oliver, all his ticks and schtick while the cooking has all the depth and detail of a cooking sketch on a TV variety show. Dan Aykroyd as Julia Child comes to mind.

J_OLast night was perhaps the most glaring example to date. I commented mid-show that it was more infomercial than cookery show but I should have said it’s like a bad infomercial because there have been infomercials in my life that have imparted more information per sequence than last night’s show. Yes, the tips of storing fresh herbs was useful but mostly because it reminded me I needed to harvest the herbs outside before the weather gets properly chilly. Using leftovers is a great way to cut down on food waste but I can think of several equally interesting, quicker and MUCH cheaper ways to use leftover brisket and I can do it without the relative pantry and equipment luxuries he seems to assume are at hand.

Look, I don’t agree with eviscerating the man for pointing out that fewer and fewer people bother or know how to cook these days (he’s right). The articles last week, shrieking that he’s down on the poor for buying ready meals are clearly built around carefully picked comments from conversations about how PEOPLE (all of them) are subsisting on ready meals or take-aways. But that won’t sell as many papers so it became “Rich man criticizes poor for having audacity to eat.” As tedious in its way as Jamie himself and even more predictable.

Will definitely be keeping up with The Incredible Spice Men (and quite likely buying their book as they seem to share the TransAtlantic Towers outlook on what food and eating it about) and giving Jamie a miss. Might thumb through the book should I come across it in the shops – then make a call on the book separately but if the rest of the series is like last nights, no reason to miss something more interesting. Like emptying the dishwasher.

Jump Into Some June Food Fun

Normally I note the daily observances but the truth is – there are monthly observances as well. For example, June is:
fruit bowl

  • Candy Month – which I might have placed in October for convenience sake but no one asked me
  • Dairy Month – the timing of this seems to me like someone looked at the daily holidays and decided since all this ice cream was around, might as well throw the dairy doors open wider
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month – June makes complete sense for this to my mind. ALL that citrus-y goodness and weekends of “pick your own” – delicious
  • Frozen Yogurt Month – god, it’s been ages since I had a first class frozen yogurt
  • Papaya Month – I’m still very much on the fence about papayas. Maybe I’ve just not had really good ones.

Of course, we’ve examined some of the daily June observances in days gone by with monthly round ups, things like German Chocolate Cake Day and how German doesn’t mean German in the way you think. Or how we skated lightly over Peanut Butter Cookie Day (thanks to my personal distaste for all things peanut butter) and then made up for it by offering a plethora of choices for those interested in a Rockin’ Rocky Road Day.

But who wants to sit home all summer READING about all this food when you could be out and about among the food and other foodies. Food festivals are the answer and June is awash with Food and Drink Festivals across the United States:grilling

But what about if you are not in the USA (as – let’s face it – most of the world isn’t). No worries. Food festivals speak the international language of YUM! In the UK? Check out:

mangosLooking to wander a bit further afield? If all this talk of food making your thirsty, maybe you should think about the World Of Beer event in Montréal this weekend. Perhaps you’re someone who likes to play with your food. Go on! Mom isn’t watching. Head off to Spain’s Festival of Wine Drenching  in Haro, capital of northern Spain’s Rioja-producing region. Yes, you read right – wine drenching. Just you, a white shirt, water pistol full of cheap red wine and 5000 other people with the same. Hijinks – as they say – will ensue. Also on this month around the world?

  • International Mango Festival might be a good way to observe Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month – all you have to do is be in New Delhi, India on June 30 to July 2, 2013. Apparently it is QUITE the long standing event, having been established in 1987 and offering an ABUNDANCE of pickles, jams and the like as well as mango-eating competitions, tastings, quizzes and a mango market.
  • The BC Shellfish Festival is a great reason to check out Vancouver Island in June
  • Taste of Amsterdam is the four day Amsterdam arm of the “Taste festivals” (the same gorup that does Taste of London) and this year it is being held from June 6-9

Site Seeing and Tasty Reading

Just a fly by post at the moment, my friends as I have much on my plate – no pun intended. No seriously, none intended. Didn’t even see it coming until it was on the screen. But here’s some of the stuff I’ve been checking out lately and some things I will very likely be coming back to comment on. In the meantime, what  food news have you perused lately?

Back with more soon, my friends… eat well and enjoy

Food News Peruse: March 2012

UK Food News Peruse:

Some of the local (oxfordshire) food-related Twitter feeds I’m following:

  • @BarCornerstone is here in Didcot. Excellent baked goods and brunch! ?
  • @oxfork – need a place to grab a quick coffee or snack in Oxford? Check out Oxfork
  • Millets Farm – fantastic farm shop and cafe
  • Food of the Ox hunts out and reveals many of the eateries I wouldn’t have found myself
  • Oxfordcupcakes – CUPCAKES! What else do I need to say, really?

Taking National Cocoa Day Global

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the — what? Oh, the sun’s out. The weather isn’t all that bad after all. Well, never mind that – it’s still holiday season and nothing says holidays better than a festive, steaming mug of hot cocoa.* This must be why National Hot Cocoa Day (Dec 13) sits so comfortably smack in the middle of December and all its holiday chaos.

My friend Tara is a Cocoa Connoisseur – serious consideration is given to the taste, the smell, the texture of both basic and specialty hot chocolate. It doesn’t matter whether it’s left coast or west coast, a high end cafe or a food truck – to her, it’s the chocolate itself that matters. Tara adores the hot chocolate at Payard (NYC and Las Vegas) and with good reason. I’d go all the way down to West Houston Street** to indulge in this chocolatey goodness. I say “all the way” because I was up on 72nd Street and it was certainly a haul on cold wintery days. A haul but worth it. Then, Payard moved closer and my joy was boundless. Payard was part of the Plaza Hotel’s culinary concourse – on 58th street!***

Every February for the last 19 years, City Bakery celebrates hot chocolate with their Annual Hot Chocolate Festival and put different variations on offer every day of the month. Check out the cocoa line up from last year to get a sense of what fabulous flavors await those of us who make it through the holidays!

Of course, I can’t get to Payard or City Bakery at the moment as I’m in Oxfordshire at the moment. I’m look forward to hunting up some topnotch hot chocolate in the area but can anyone suggest a starting point for my search? I hear good things about Chocology (located in Oxford’s Covered Market) and their Valhrona hot chocolate. Yay or nay? Other recs? Suggestions further afield? I’ve had some excellent samples of the hot cocoa art in London (the Artisan du Chocolat stall at Borough Market^ sticks in my mind) and am always happy to wander in to try others. Have recently heard tell of a Spanish chocolate being served up at Tapas Brindisa ^^ as well.

Of course, it’s not necessary to go OUT for a first class cup of hot cocoa. My own preference is to make it at home (spiced up with some cinnamon or a bit of orange peel on occasion) and some of my friends do the same. Whether you use a mix or really  take the homemade thing serious and make it from scratch, you’ll no doubt want to try some of these yummy options such as:

  • Ellyn suggests: When using instant cocoa, add a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg or splash of vanilla. For something my grown up, start with amaretti (kirsch or Grand Marnier), 1/3 milk or 1/2 & 1/2, mix it up til a thin paste or thick syrup, the stir in the hot water (or hot milk) it gets all frothy! Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate is also high on her list.
  • Laura Anne (whose advice on many and varied culinary issues has always served me well) mentions “Vanilla bean and mint, into Very Dark Cocoa.” To this end, she says, shove a vanilla pod into the cocoa while it’s stored, then scrape the seeds and mash it with the milk. Result? An intense (and in my opinion AMAZING sounding) taste.
  • Maribeth likes her spicy with a bit of chili
  • Patrick follows the advice of the great Ina Garten and punches his cocoa up by adding a dash of coffee and cinnamon. It will, as he says, ” perk up even the dodgiest of store bought brands of cocoa…”

Which version sounds best to you? Have you got a hot chocolate “best kept secret?” Are you willing to share it? Come on, other hot cocoa lovers are waiting with mugs at the ready!

* OK a few things say holiday season more directly such as – a brightly shining menorah, a pile of presents under a twinkly tree, leg lamps (extra points for reference ID) and Burl Ives singing “Silver & Gold.”

** 116 West Houston Street. New York, NY 10012 (between Thompson St. & Sullivan St.

*** 1 West 58th Street. New York, NY 10019 (Concourse Level of the Plaza Hotel)

^ Green Market, near Southwark Cathedral

^^18-20 Southwark St, SE1 1TJ

Need Breakfast Quick. Want Breakfast Edible

As I perused this morning’s news, I saw an article about breakfast on the go. Now, if I am in the mood and have time, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. But alas, I don’t often have the time and according to this article, I am not the only one.

People are always grabbing something “on the run” while pulling on their jacket or as they slap on that last touch of lipstick. And because speed is of the essence, they aren’t thinking much about the nutritional value of what is in that paper cup or styrofoam container. Over the long term, this can have a negative impact on your health and in the short term, it’s not actually very satisfying which is why you’re always jonesing for something else to eat by 10:30 am or so.

Given all that. I completely understand why the editors of Health magazine would consider it time well spent to work with nutrition experts to come up with a list of popular chain restaurants breakfast options that are – maybe not healthy, per se – less unhealthy than others. There seemed to be something missing from their examination and assessment of which “go go go” breakfast option you are going to “grab and gulp.” Taste.


So which chains did they speak with (Starbucks, Subway, IHOP and Dunkin Donuts) and what “healthy” options were on offer from those chains:

  • The ‘artisan protein snack plate’ from Starbucks looks good in theory and in the pic (above) but it looks very unlike the sad apple slices and hardening cheese I’ve seen in person. And how is this “faster than having an apple, coffee and a muffin at home?” If I’m rushing so much that I can’t grab my stuff at home, how do I have time to

a) wait in the line at Starbucks and

b) arrange everything so beautifully on the plate.

And c) when was the plate every that nice at Starbucks?

  • All the criteria in the world won’t make the Western egg white and cheese muffin melt at Subway any more edible.
  • Even if it came with a tiara, I’d avoid anything called the “simple and fit veggie omelet” – doubly so if it came from IHOP. IHOP is for silver dollar pancakes. End of.
  • I love me some Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee but I admit to having have serious doubts about the true nature of the ‘egg’ and ‘sausage’  in the egg white turkey sausage wake-up wrap.

It’s all well and good to declare these fast food options “healthy” because they fit some pre-determined caloric/sodium/fiber criteria but no where does it indicate whether any of this stuff tastes any better than the container is comes in.

I’m all for making healthier choices and I’m all for making healthier choices that also allow me to get where I am going on time. But I can buy some gala apples, some raisins and coffee. Pair that small bit of bi-monthly planning with a coffee maker with a timer and I’ll be at work long before the folks stopping off for this stuff. And – bonus – I’ll be paying less for it as well.