A wee bit of a back story: In May, three friends and I flew to London, walked all over, sipped some lovely drinks, and ate some lovely bites. Then we drove to Bath, took in the sites and continued on to Cardiff, Wales, where we spiced up our lives! We took a lovely country drive back to London with a pitstop at Stone Henge and then had an evening and a morning for more London explorations. Our last stop was Spitalfields Market, where we found a delightful doughnut truck!
Hi! It's been a while, but I'm here, reminding myself I don't write for SEO (as the spam emails feel the need to reiterate for me on the regular). I don't shoot these photos for a weekly Instagram quota. Instead, the blog largely serves as a barometer of my "me" time. Am I expressing myself? Am I sharing time with others? Am I releasing the thoughts and stories in my head? Are there thoughts and stories in my head? Or, am I suffering from a full plate and a serious case of overwhelm?
My first recap of our Asheville trip focused on the divine trifecta of biscuits, chocolate & champagne, but this recap follows our wanderings on Haywood Road, in West Asheville, where I could easily see myself living if for nothing more than to make OWL Bakery (Old World Levain Bakery) a regular morning stop.
There's a leather-bound calendar I take with me from job to job, errand to errand, project to project. During my diligent spells, I carve out time to write the best part of my day, a simple gesture of gratitude meant to push me toward the positive side of life. More often than not, those notable moments revolve around my best friend, my Julep.
Join me on this wandering train of thought…
I know about as much about Cinco de Mayo as I do about St. Patrick’s Day, i.e.: I celebrate both thematically, and not very historically, through food. Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday. Churros, though probably of Portuguese origin, are common throughout Central and South America. Inspired by my love of chocolate and Mexican spice levels, my Spelt Flour Churro recipe includes a spicy, Dark Chocolate Chile Sauce, which leads me to the history of one South American chocolate hero and one South American chocolate heretic.
In reality, I’m talking about one, polarizing man.
Half a century ago, Ecuador was world famous for its cocoa, and the cocoa farmers were kings, but like all gambles with nature, no throne is ever safe from nature’s fury. A fungus called Witch’s Broom sucked the life from the cocoa trees and threatened world’s chocolate cravings. However, a short man, fondly and diminutively called Homerito, i.e.: little Homer, was intent on solving the crisis. Homero Castro was a plant scientist set on creating a new cocoa tree, one that would be highly productive and immune to Witch’s Broom. His enviable chocolate quest took him to Africa, the Caribbean and the Amazon, to collect different kinds of cocoa plants and crossbreed them (a modern-day Customs nightmare).
For twelve years, the entire life of a tween, he diligently crossed variety after variety, until finally, he believed he had succeeded. He arrived at a cocoa tree that was immune to the very fungus that threatened happiness itself. Castro named the new plant after himself and the city where he lived – Coleccion Castro Naranjal– CCN. He added the number 51 because of how many attempts it took to get it right- CCN-51. Cocoa farmers responded quickly and planted it by the acre. Chocolate tycoons arrived from all over the globe, and the cocoa crisis seemed to be averted except for one glaring detail: the taste!
Gary Guittard, owner of the company behind my recommendation for dark chocolate baking, likened the taste to “rusty nails.” These are not the fine palate notes or terroir adjectives you want from a cocoa bean description. The cocoa tycoons panned the product, the farmers were once again in dire straits, and Homero died tragically in a car accident, thinking his life’s ode was an utter failure.
However, the resourceful farmers determined a way to ferment the harvested beans, by sunning them in burlap sacks. The process eliminated the “rusty nails” quality, and CCN-51 was back in business! At this point in the historical tale, Homerito seems like an indisputable hero, but chocolate puritans scoff at the fermented CCN-51’s bland flavor. Gone are the nuances of these heritage cocoa beans, but as the chocolate industry discovered, the masses didn’t notice. We all want to think our tongue is God’s gift to rich flavors, but in reality, most of us never knew there was a switch.
As a chocolate lover, I mourn for the rips and tears in the ecosystem that put the sacred cocoa trees in danger and threatened the traditional farmers’ livelihood. However, as a chocolate lover who wants to keep eating chocolate, I see Homero as a hero. Like a true artist or tragic hero, he died without knowing the mark he left, so let’s all eat a spicy churro in honor of such culinary and botanical passion. Here’s to Homerito!
Spelt Churros with Dark Chocolate Chile Dipping Sauce
About This Recipe: Made with wholesome spelt flour and fried in a non-gmo safflower oil, these churros are far healthier than their street food inspiration, but they’re equally crowd pleasing. The dark chocolate chile sauce starts with a homemade cinnamon simple syrup. If you want to skip this step, substitute pure maple syrup, agave or honey. I used a dried Morita chile, which I found at a local Mexican grocer. They had several varieties available, so follow your senses and see what smell and spice level inspires you. If you have extra chocolate sauce, it makes a great cake or ice cream topping.
April showers bring May flowers…and floral donuts too!
I recently had to drive through a neighborhood I visit all too infrequently. The drive reminded me just how beautiful that neighborhood is, especially in spring. Each house seemed to be framed by a blossoming bush or tree. The bold house colors of the historical row homes and their antique details really seemed to sing. I drove at an elderly pace, taking in the views of white petals, bright pinks, a lot or two transformed into communal gardens, trees swaying on the blistery day… all of these views reminded me of how deep my hibernation had been.
Like the awakening annuals, the busy bees and the returning birds, I am ready for this change of season, for exploring new flowering fields and even the blooms breaking through concrete too. Despite the wanderlust whirling inside me that yearns for the exotic, far-off corners, I’m making a conscious effort to be more adventurous, more playful and to take the time to explore what’s close to home.
A flowering breakfast donut is a great reminder of all those goals! Here’s to April and its promises of spring in full bloom!
Blackberry, Lemon & Lavender Cake Donuts with Lemon Lavender Glaze
yield: about 12-15 donuts, depending on the size of your cutter
About this Recipe: Be sure to source an organic lavender bud for this recipe. I found mine at a Farm-to-Table conference, but I’m sure there are farmers or smaller stores that sell them as well. Avoid lavender that isn’t labeled food-grade, as it probably was sprayed with pesticides. I used a food processor to grind the lavender with the flour to make sure it was equally dispersed and to achieve a more palatable texture. You can substitute your favorite berry for the blackberries. Be sure to use an organic, non-gmo oil to keep these donuts as guiltless as possible. They’re best when fresh and still warm.