Chocolate Sunday – Hot Chocolate!

It’s a little early in the year for hot chocolate, but I’ve been thinking about it since a family trip to Sacramento last weekend for my cousin’s wedding.

IMG_6618My mom, who eats a very healthy diet, was tempted by the hot chocolate at our hotel’s breakfast buffet… until she read the ingredients on the packet. Additives, chemicals, and “all the things that aren’t good for you,” she told me, adding that it was probably delicious. Sigh!

So I’ve had an urge this week to make the hot chocolate I like to make in the winter, using just cocoa powder, sugar, instant coffee and milk. It’s easy, and the coffee gives it a rich flavour. Sometimes, for a bit of decadence, I’ll add a small amount of liqueur.

Just for fun, I googled “best hot chocolate recipe,” which led me to Epicurious, and this recipe, calling for bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate.

I may try it, but for now I’ll stick to my lower-fat version, and have a piece of chocolate with it if the drink doesn’t suffice.

Easy Hot Chocolate

(serves one)

1 generous tsp. each unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar and instant coffee powder or crystals (more of each if using an oversized mug)

regular, almond, or soy milk

1 tsp. Kahlua or Tia Maria (optional)

1. Mix dry ingredients at bottom of microwaveable mug with enough milk to form a paste (or mix with liqueur instead of milk). Use a teaspoon to mix.
2. Add milk to fill mug, and stir until thoroughly combined.                                                                                                                    3. Microwave for one minute on high.                                                                                                                                                                   Enjoy!




Special Potatoes

Last October, when I was in Crete for my cousin’s wedding, our family group had a wonderful dinner at To Stachi, a vegetarian restaurant in Chania. The meal was memorable not just for the food, but for the kitchen philosophy that Stelios, the soft-spoken owner, shared with us. We were quoting him for weeks, and we haven’t really stopped.

“People don’t come to your house for your special potatoes,” he advised. “They come for your personality!”

His words were a good reminder that the company at your table is more important than the food.

That said, I’ve been wanting to post a recipe for my brother-in-law Barry’s special potatoes, the ones I find hard to resist when they’re placed in front of me. Stelios was right, I don’t go to my sister’s house for Barry’s special potatoes, but they’re a nice bonus when we’re invited for dinner.

Barry’s Potatoes

Mini potatoes

Olive oil


Fresh garlic


1. Combine ingredients. Amounts are flexible.  Halve potatoes, or leave whole if they’re small.

2. Bake 30 to 35 minutes on parchment paper, or sprayed foil, on a cookie sheet.


Measurable progress

Before I stopped working in June, I borrowed three cardboard bankers’ boxes from a friend, and filled them with notes, pictures and other items I’d accumulated over 22 years at the same job. This morning, I was very happy to return one of the boxes.

Emptying out the last few items yesterday, I felt like I’d reached a milestone in my post-downsizing journey.

Although I’ve been chipping away at the other two boxes as well, having a completely empty box means that my progress is now measurable in a new way.

I didn’t give myself a deadline for going through everything, and sometimes I wonder if it’s taking longer than it should.

But, deep down, I believe that it will take as long as necessary, and the important thing is that I’m moving forward.

I didn’t blog on Tuesday (the other day that I post work-related thoughts) because I spent the day traveling home after a family wedding in Sacramento. It would have been easy not to post anything today too.

In my first post, on July 9, 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. As well as focusing on writing/journalism and career paths, I planned to write about food, which I do on Fridays and Sundays (food in general, on Fridays; and chocolate specifically, on Sundays). I realize now that the blog is also keeping me accountable, and serving as a means to measure my progress while I figure out what’s next.

Asiago oat bran muffins

A couple of months ago, I blogged about oat bran muffins that I made from a recipe on a blog called domestic affair. I liked them a lot, and have made them several times since.

But it occurred to me that it might be interesting to try a savoury version. My friend Jeff, one of my walking partners, suggested that Asiago cheese would be a good addition.

I was shopping yesterday and happened to find grated Asiago, so I decided to adapt the recipe, replacing cinnamon with thyme, and adding finely chopped onion and sundried tomato instead of apples and raisins. I reduced the amount of maple syrup just a touch, and the result was both sweet and savoury – flavourful, but not overpowering. It may just be my new favourite muffin recipe.

Asiago Oat Bran Muffins (adapted from Domestic Affair’s Apple Oat Bran Muffins)

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

3 to 4 sundried tomatoes

2 cups oat bran

1 tbsp. baking powder

generous 1/4 tsp. thyme

a pinch of sea salt

1/2 cup yogourt

1/4 cup apple sauce

just under 1/2 cup maple syrup, plus canola or safflower oil to equal 3/4 cups liquid

1/2 cup shredded Asiago cheese

1. Chop onion. Soak sundried tomatoes in boiling water 2 minutes, then chop finely.

2. In large bowl, mix oat bran, baking powder, thyme and sea salt. Add yogourt, apple sauce, oil and maple syrup, and combine until mixed together and oat bran is absorbed.

3. Add onion, sundried tomatoes, and scant half-cup Asiago cheese, and mix in.

4. Spoon batter into muffin trays lined with paper muffin cups. Sprinkle each muffin with a few additional strands of cheese, if desired.

5. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven about 16 minutes, until toothpick inserted in muffin comes out clean.


Leaving Anatevka

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into my former editor when I was shopping, and this past weekend I saw my former news editor unexpectedly.

It’s still strange for me to think that my former co-workers – my second family for 22 years – are not part of my day-to-day life. I’m starting to feel like an immigrant: surprised, happy, and a little wistful when I unexpectedly meet people from “the old country,” landsmen, to use the Yiddish term.

I think the analogy comes to mind because in June – for two weeks, as the final day of work approached for those of us who were downsized at The Canadian Jewish News – two people mentioned that the situation reminded them of the villagers preparing to leave Anatevka, the fictional shtetl in Fiddler on the Roof.

It was important to me to have that time before I left – tying up loose ends, deciding what to take home and what to leave behind, and bonding with my co-workers over coffee or tea, along with a seemingly endless supply of junk food and snacks in the office lunch room.

In a way, it provided closure for me, and helped me prepare to move forward.

As I fine-tune my resume in preparation for a job fair next week, I think about the  writing and journalism skills I honed at the paper, but also about the intangibles I gained – many of them in the lunch room, where there was, in addition to food, a seemingly endless supply of good conversation and lessons about life.