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.
For those of you who value the sanctity of St. Patrick’s Day, i.e. the American St. Patrick’s Day of reappropriated Jameson, Guinness and general shenanigans, I have a donut for you! This donut will either nurse you to health if you partook in weekend revelries, or it will kick off your merriment if you hold the 17th to be the true day of commemoration. This is a “hair of the dog” donut, (though in an appealing, palatable way, I assure you). How did “dog hairs” come to cure hangovers?
In 1898, Ebenezer Cobham Brewer wrote in the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: “In Scotland, it is a popular belief that a few hairs of the dog that bit you applied to the wound will prevent evil consequences. Applied to drinks, it means, if overnight you have indulged too freely, take a glass of the same wine within 24 hours to soothe the nerves. ‘If this dog do you bite, soon as out of your bed, take a hair of the tail the next day.'” To put this sentiment in Latin terms, similia similibus curantur (like cures like). To put this in St. Patrick’s Day terms, come 9 am, you may need to drink an Irish Coffee.
While we are reveling in booze and history, the Irish Coffee has a tiny tale of its own worth sharing. The original Irish coffee was invented and named by Joe Sheridan, a head chef in Foynes, County Limerick. Foynes’ port was the precursor to Shannon International Airport in the west of Ireland. The coffee was conceived after a group of American passengers disembarked from a Pan Am flying boat on a miserable winter evening in the 1940s. Sheridan added whiskey to the coffee to warm the passengers.
After the passengers asked if they were being served Brazilian coffee, Sheridan told them it was “Irish coffee.” You can almost hear his authoritative accent cutting through the fog and mist while forcibly handing piping hot coffees to the weak Americans. He should have been a hero and a legend, but instead, we imbibe brunch after brunch without paying proper homage to this whiskey hero. Shame on us.
Inspired by the hair-of-the-dog qualities of an Irish Coffee, this powdered sugar donut hides a Jameson-laced, coffee custard, and it’s not for the faint of heart. The Jameson is added after the custard has cooked, so the alcohol content remains. Steer clear of kids, coworkers and bosses, and slip away on St. Patrick’s Day morning. Enjoy this boozy breakfast with a (spiked) coffee and cure what ails you (or brace yourself for what will ail you).
Happy March & Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
p.s: I originally created this recipe for my friend Joanna’s blog Jojotastic, so be sure to head her way for some great content! Also, the featured Maidenhair Fern & Moss are available at Roxanne’s Dried Flowers.
Gluten Free Brown Rice Donuts with Irish Coffee Custard Filling
About This Recipe: The choice of organic brown rice flour means this donut is gluten-free and high in protein, iron, fiber and vitamin B. This recipe creates a very wet, sticky dough. It may look too deflated, but resist the urge to add more flour. Your donuts will puff up when fried. The cup of whiskey in the custard yields a very boozy flavor. Adjust according to your whiskey preferences. Make the custard first to allow enough cooling time.