"The place in between"

It is a beautiful, winter day in New England and I am enjoying the sun on my face, the invigorating breeze lilting by and the birdsong whispering in my ears. The delight in this present moment is nurturing…I am so grateful to be attentive to what is happening in this “place in between.” Earlier this week I was meditating and read an ancient writing from the Radiance Sutras translated by Lorin Roche, PHD that truly resonated with me and in reflection realized this has been my path for the last two years…”this place in between.”

Let me elaborate. Since I closed the doors of la maison de COCO chocolate café, one may think that I would feel an absence or a loss. On the contrary, I have felt quite blessed and at peace. This time has allowed me to create a new vision for la maison de COCO, to establish a new website, to create new products, to lay the foundation for the barn construction project, to gain inspiration from other chefs by traveling, and to find a business partner.

Lorin Roche explains, “Samputa  ‘the place in between’ evokes the image of the heart as the infinite singing bowl.” I interpret this as the “sweet spot” of meditation while rolling truffles and dipping chocolates. Is it any wonder that so many of my creative ideas emerge during this “place in between? “

This past year has been a lesson of acceptance and faith that patience has been my friend and that in taking this time and enjoying the place in between for la maison de COCO, the fruits of this creative energy will be rewarding for us all! 

"Les Treize Desserts"

 

It is December! I can now play my holiday music without shame. I love this time of year but can’t really put my finger on the reason for my enthusiasm.  Perhaps the most obvious reason is for the time we set aside for the baking and preparing of sweet treats. Or better yet, it may be the anticipation of spending quality time with family and friends. I have passed this passion on to our children. My youngest son and I have been secretly listening to holiday music while driving in the car since November and last evening my daughter enthusiastically took me on a cyber tour of her apartment decorated for the holidays. Tradition has played a large role in celebrating the holiday season for us. On Christmas Eve for the past 17 years we have invited friends and family to celebrate “Les Treize Desserts.” I was taught that this Provençal tradition of 13 desserts signifies the 12 apostles who attended the Last Supper with Jesus at the head of the table.  Our table is covered with thirteen desserts consisting of la maison de COCO signature truffles and chocolates, chocolate ganache tarts, biscotti, assorted Christmas cookies, Champagne Sabayon with berries, Bûche de Noël or La Reine, cheese plates, dried fruits and the most important of them all according to Tradition, a sweet bread referred to as La Fougasse . La Fougasse represents the bread of life “Jesus” and thus has been given its center stage on our celebration. I must admit if I don’t have time to make La Fougasse, I resort to the wonderful, store-bought Italian Panettone to take its place. I always use a brioche dough for the Fougasse and am delighted to share the recipe with you. It is taken from Peter Reinhart’s recipe in “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.” Since I am always trying to source locally, I find it is only appropriate to use his recipe since he teaches at our very own Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.

Joyeux Noël!

BRIOCHE:

“MIDDLE-CLASS BRIOCHE”

Sponge:

½ Cup unbleached Flour

2 Teaspoons instant yeast

½ Cup whole milk, lukewarm (90’ to 100’ F)

Dough:

5 Large eggs, slightly beaten

3 Cups unbleached bread flour

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1 ¼ Teaspoons salt

1 Cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 egg whisked for egg wash

Technique:

To make sponge, stir flour and yeast in a large bowl of electric mixer and stir in the milk until all the flour has absorbed it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to ferment for about 30 to 45 minutes. (sponge will rise and the fall when you tap the bowl)

To make the dough, add the eggs to the sponge and beat on medium speed with paddle attachment. In separate bowl stir together flour, sugar and salt; add to the sponge mixture and stir for 2 minutes on low speed with paddle attachment.  Allow the mixture to rest for 5 minutes so that the gluten can begin to develop. While mixing on medium speed with the paddle, gradually work in the butter, a quarter at a time, waiting until each addition of butter is equally worked in before adding next quarter. Continue mixing the dough for 6 minutes or until the dough is very well mixed. The dough will be very smooth and soft. Transfer the dough to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper that has been lightly oiled.  Shape the dough into a large, rectangle measuring 6 inches by 8 inches. Place oil on plastic wrap and with the oiled side down place it over the dough. Place in food grade plastic bag or cover with another layer of plastic wrap surrounding the entire sheet pan. Place in refrigerator immediately for at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and working quickly shape into the fougasse shape. I cut the rectangle in half and roll each half into a wider rectangle. Then I cut three slanted holes on each side of rectangle. At this point the rectangle looks like a leaf.  I separate the holes so that when the brioche dough proofs or rises they don’t close up again. Cover the dough with oiled plastic wrap and proof for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Gently brush with egg wash and sprinkle with a coarse sugar. Let the dough rest again for another 15 to 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350’F. Place fougasse loaves in middle rack of oven and bake until loaves are golden brown, approximately 30 to 45 minutes. Enjoy the wonderful smell and taste of this marvelous bread!

 

Food For Thought: Let's serve Compassion instead of Fear

I am not sure how many of you know of my family background.  Many know that I married into a French family and thus embarked on a lifetime of all things French.  I even worked under the tutelage of a French Chef to learn the French Classics while living in NYC during the 1980’s.  Little did I know then how much my own heritage would play in my passion for cooking.  A journalist asked me,  “When was it that you developed your appreciation of food and the importance of fresh ingredients?” I immediately turned to my first memories of food. I have to admit that these memories aren’t of fine restaurants in France or Italy but are of my daily childhood routine. I grew up with my father’s family of Italian immigrants close by. We enjoyed our ritual Sunday lunch surrounding a very long dining table at my grandmother’s house. Every Sunday I was joined by my uncles, aunts and cousins as we waited for the courses to magically appear served by my Grandmother from her small kitchen.  The aromas of fresh fennel and strong black coffee will forever take me to the seat at my Grandmother’s table.  (to be continued)

I was finishing this blog as the atrocities occurred in Paris…my only Food for Thought…When will HUMANITY learn to lead not from FEAR but from COMPASSION?

First order of business upon my return - Mission Bar Launch Date: November 20th

It is not always true that the Universe surrounds us with like-minded people but when it does, there is a quality of peace that envelops us. For the past year, since I have been restructuring la maison de COCO, I have noticed small and large companies who have chosen to join me in dedicating a portion of their sales to those in need.  I used to think of this as an affirmation that I was on the right path. Today I think it is a lot bigger than that; I see it as a shift in human consciousness. On my flight home this past Monday, I read an article in the Technology section of the New York Times Style Magazine that struck a cord with me. It was an article about the new vision of entrepreneurs in today’s business world. Two of these entrepreneurs stood out to me: Vineet Singal founded CareMessage as a nonprofit but he refers to his business model as a “for-purpose” social enterprise.  I love this straightforward and compassionate approach to business. Leila Janah also started three non-profit organizations helping the underserved that are all under one parent company, Sama Group. She is quoted in the article as saying, “A job is not just income; It’s dignity, hope and purpose.” I couldn’t agree with her more!

To that end, I am collaborating with MISSION– Newport on a chocolate bar that will be sold at their burger restaurant with 100% of the net profits going to Universal Promise – a non-profit organization serving the underprivileged in South Africa. We will be launching the Mission Bar on November 20th with the desire to offer dignity, hope and purpose to those in South Africa. 

Expo 2015 Milano, October 29th - Mexico Pavilion

We got an early start thinking that perhaps the lines would be shorter at the Expo; however, no luck there. Some visitors are waiting in line for somewhere between 4 to 7 hours!! Luckily there was only a half hour wait at the Mexican Pavilion and we were up for that. This time gave me the opportunity to take some beautiful photos of the pavilion; a remarkable design by Francisco López Guerra Almada, with Jorge Vallejo. They paid tribute to one of the country's most important food sources: corn. Inside, we were greeted with a wise philosophy: "It all starts with a seed, a promise in the palm of the hand; each seed is the carrier of an inheritance." This pavilion shared the history of cacao in Tabasco, the Eden of Mexico. I wholeheartedly share their philosophy that plants are not only a food source but also have an important role in healing the body. Have you had your dark chocolate today? Do you remember the signs I used to write on the backsplash behind the COCO Bar at la maison de COCO?  

"Dark chocolate helps to lower the plaque build up in our arteries, reducing the risk of heart disease."

 

Expo 2015 Milano, October 28th - Cacao and Chocolate Cluster

We arrived at the Expo 2015 on Wednesday under rainy skies but our spirits were not dampened. Heading straight to the Cacao and Chocolate Cluster, we visited Sao Tome and Principe exhibit with videos explaining the cacao harvest. I have always dreamed of seeing a real cacao pod and the EXPO allowed me to fulfill this dream. I was even able to point out to my patient sister the importance of the spongy layer I refer to as “nature’s packaging” surrounding each cacao bean. The next stop was the Cote d’Ivoire exhibit where we saw bags of raw cacao. It was nice to see them up close and personal: they look like a cross between an almond and a coffee bean. With a deluge of rain and a influx of visitors we decided to duck into the Franciacorta sparkling wine bar. Not a bad way to end our first day at the Expo!

"Water divides men, wine unites them." -- L. Bovio, taken from the Italian Wine Pavilion

 

 

 


la maison de COCO First Blog Post

Join me on Wednesday, October 28th, and I will share with you my experience at the Expo Milano 2015 World's Fair.