Chocolate Sunday – Brigadeiro!

braz brigadeiro 2, cropped

Brigadeiro at Braz Pizzaria, in Rio

One of the great things about travel is tasting foods you’ve never tried before. On a trip to Brazil in April, a group of us went out for dinner at Braz Pizzaria, a popular upscale pizza chain.  Dessert – in honour of our friend’s birthday – was a chocolate confection called brigadeiro.

The version we had at Braz, in Rio de Janeiro, reminded me of sweet chocolate pudding, but more semi-solid in consistency.  The one I made at home gelled even more, and was basically caramel-like in texture.

Brigadeiros are little chocolate balls made with cocoa, sweetened condensed milk and butter. The mixture is chilled, then rolled in chocolate sprinkles.  In Brazil, the dessert is often served at parties and for birthdays.

I found a recipe and accompanying video at a website run by a team of San Francisco-based Brazilians who teach Brazilian Portuguese and blog about their native language and culture.

I confess that my favourite part of the video was hearing the Portuguese-accented pronunciation of “brigadeiro.”

As a rule, I don’t use sweetened condensed milk. It’s not ideal if you’re lactose-intolerant like I am, not to mention that it has 22 grams of sugar in 2 tablespoons. Yikes!

But I made an exception for a birthday this week, and also because I wanted to recreate – at least for myself – the relaxed, vacation feeling I had in Rio, with its endless beaches, mountains and greenery.

I was delighted to find sweetened condensed soy milk in a Rio grocery store. That would eliminate the lactose problem, although probably not the excessive sweetness – but I didn’t buy it, and it doesn’t seem to be available in Toronto.

brigadeiro vertical

my brigadeiros

The recipe was easy to make, but it takes time – and a lot of stirring – for the mixture to reach the right consistency.

Brigadeiro is noteworthy for its history as well as its flavour and popularity – it’s named for a former presidential candidate, a Brazilian air force brigadier.  Here’s one source that offers more information.

Bom apetite!

Chocolate Sunday

I wrote earlier in the week that I was considering adding a fourth day to my three-day-a-week blog. I think it has to be Sunday, because no other day lends itself so well to the subject.

For the past month, I’ve reserved Tuesday and Thursday for blogging about journalism, writing and moving forward after downsizing; while Friday has been “food day.” But I think chocolate deserves a day of its own.

I’ve been thinking about a “chocolate” blog since before I stopped working, but I didn’t want to restrict the scope of my writing that much.

It started on one of my weekday morning walks. One of the friends I walk with was teasing me about life post-work, and he asked if I would “eat chocolate and shop.”

I may have laughed or groaned, or both, but I thought the phrase had a ring to it, and that it would make a great name for a blog.

I asked my other walking partner, half-jokingly, what she thought. She hesitated for a moment. “I don’t know,” she said. “It doesn’t really sound like you.”

“You’re right,” I admitted. “Maybe it should be ‘Eat Chocolate and Write.’ ” But I didn’t think that was quite “me” either.

Even so, I couldn’t shake the idea of writing about chocolate. All day long and even after that, ideas kept coming to me – about four dozen in total. I wrote them all down in my little orange notebook, and am looking forward to turning them into blog entries, starting this weekend.

So, to whet your appetite for Sunday, and if you need an excuse to indulge (in moderation), check out this New York Times article about the health benefits of eating chocolate.

My Little Orange Notebook

About a month before I lost my job, I bought a little orange notebook that has kept me on track since I stopped working.

In April, after the president of The Canadian Jewish News announced that the paper would cease publication, neither I nor my co-workers knew what was next for us. As it turned out, many of them are still at The CJN, because the board reconsidered its decision following a public outcry. The paper is being published again after a six-week hiatus, but about a third of the staff lost their jobs as part of a restructuring to make The CJN financially viable.

Meanwhile, I’ve filled 26 pages with ideas, as well as a post-work “to-do” list that I’ve been adding to as I go along.

Yesterday I spent time looking through my notebook. It’s a good yardstick for me, so that I can see how far I’ve come.  It also prompted me to dredge up some of the older items and give them higher priority on my to-do list.

My first entry, dated May 12, had to do with my new LinkedIn membership. “Add experience [to my profile],” I wrote.

“Start a blog,” was another entry.  I’d forgotten how much research I did before taking that step. I looked at the pros and cons of various blog hosts, and examined food blogs and writers’ blogs. I found out what I could about blogging, in general.

I considered various names for my blog, some of which were taken, but in the end opted just to use my own name.

The notebook also has entries related to a book that’s been percolating in my head for the past few years, and even a couple of ideas for more books.

As well, I have entries related to courses that could help me in my job search.

My biggest fear about losing my job was that I would have too many hours to fill, and I wouldn’t know how to use them well. My little orange notebook is helping to ensure that isn’t the case.


Blogging, four weeks in

For the past four weeks, posting my blog has been my priority on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings.

Now, almost seven weeks since I stopped working, the blog has become central to my post-work life. In my first entry, I wrote that I was starting the blog as a way to keep writing, bring structure to my day, and figure out – or evolve into – what’s next in my life.

I think it’s done that, and more. Continuing to write on a regular basis is important to me. I didn’t set out to write every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, but that’s how it worked out the first week. The schedule suits me, and knowing that I’m not posting at whim reassures me that I won’t let too much time go by without writing.

The type of writing I’m doing for my blog also helps clarify my thoughts – an important part of figuring out what’s next in my life.

Another bonus – because Friday is “food” day on the blog – is that I’m more focused on cooking than I might be otherwise. It’s fun, and we’re eating well at my house.

Lastly, the blog has helped me feel connected to friends, family and others who read what I write and provide feedback.

I’m thinking of adding a fourth day.


Oat Bran Muffins

Much as I adore good chocolate, I eat a pretty balanced diet and like to use a variety of fruits, vegetables and other healthy ingredients when I cook and bake.

Recently, I’ve started experimenting with oat bran muffins. Oat bran is high in fibre and lowers bad cholesterol, among other beneficial effects. Image

This week, I found a recipe online that I plan to make again soon. I’ll include the link at the bottom of this post. It’s from a  blog written by Jae Steele, a Toronto-based cookbook author and holistic nutritionist whose name I wasn’t familiar with.

On my first attempt to follow her recipe, I was sure I’d read the directions wrong. There’s no flour! Also, there’s no egg.

Without eggs, and with soy yogourt, as the recipe suggests, the muffins are vegan.

Another bonus – maple syrup, not refined sugar, is the sweetener. And a third – the muffins are celiac-friendly (gluten-free if you use oat bran that is certified gluten-free).

I was skeptical about the end result, though.

However, Steele wrote that the muffins would not turn out to be hockey pucks.

She was right. The yogourt and applesauce in the recipe made for a moist batter that held together, and the chopped apple, grated orange peel and dried fruit (she used prunes, I preferred raisins) added flavour and texture.

My only quibble is the small size of the muffins. It was hard to stop at one, and we finished them very quickly.

Not phone-shy any more

Many years ago, I had a summer job selling advertising for the Italian Yellow Pages. My supervisor couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t having much success. “You’re not phone-shy,” he said.

I’d never heard the term before, but knew immediately what he meant. I was in my teens, and my confidence didn’t quite measure up to his assessment.

I loved talking on the phone with my friends – my mother could never figure out how we had so much to say after spending the day together at school – but I found it intimidating to invite a guy I liked as a date to a party, or even to order pizza.

I like to think I’ve evolved. As a journalist, you can’t be phone-shy. Or in-person shy. At the very least, you can’t let it stop you from doing your job. There may be discomfort on occasion, but there’s also enormous benefit – the more experience you get, the less shy you become. And I can’t imagine a job that’s more interesting.

Being a reporter allows you – forces you, sometimes – to talk to everyone from celebrities to regular people with a wide range in between, and to ask questions you might not ask otherwise.

In my case, I’ve also had occasion to speak publicly, mostly to small groups, about my work.

Mordechai Ben-Dat, my editor for some 19 years when I worked at The Canadian Jewish News, offered me succinct advice, which I’ve never forgotten: Be prepared.

His counsel has stood me in good stead. I’m not (phone-)shy any more – most of the time, anyway.