Do you recall your first truly spectacular cup of hot chocolate? Not the kind that comes out of a packet but the first cup you ever had that was so thick and luxurious you almost had to eat it with a spoon? Well, I remember mine. It was on my first trip to Europe with my parents and we were in Germany where Daddy had to do some business. We stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast which served a typical European breakfast, i.e. croissants served with jam and butter and all the water, coffee, juice or hot chocolate you can drink. Mama was always a chocolate addict…she didn’t care if it was a 25¢ candy bar from the corner gas station or a sumptuous, elegantly ribboned box of bonbons straight out of a fashionable Parisian confection shop. It was all great to her and she loved every bit of it. Mama and I went down to breakfast, Daddy was already off with his people, and sat outside at a pretty little table on a patio surrounded by a riot of Old Garden Roses, all in bloom, sharing their heady perfume to our surprised pleasure. Being on holiday we ordered a pot of coffee and one of hot chocolate with plans to enjoy several cups of each. I only remember the chocolate which came out hot, steam pouring out of the spout. Mama poured then we settled in to plan our day. At first sips our eyes met and widened with astonishment. This was not like any hot chocolate we had ever had before, dense and smooth with none of the watery, chalkiness the powdered stuff always imparts.
Layer after layer of mysterious but most pleasing flavors went on and on overwhelming our senses. This hot chocolate was silky and velvety yet earthy. And, get this, it came with a side of freshly whipped cream. Oh, man! After that there was no stopping us. We ordered hot chocolate at every breakfast, in every country we visited and not once were we disappointed. Back in the States I promptly forgot about our newly found breakfast drink and it has remained in the deep, dark recesses of my forgetful mind. Probably safer that way. It’s not exactly slimming. For me, this is a once-a-year extravagant indulgence. This hot chocolate is a dream of creamy, chocolate joy. It’s like The Moldau symphony in a cup. Evocative and enigmatic, it will transport you. I wish you a magnificent journey!
Dark and rich, this drink is worth every calorie. It’s very easy to prepare but because there are so few ingredients you really should try to use the best chocolate available to you. I have been able to locate only one whole powdered milk at the grocery store. I don’t want non-fat powdered as it takes away from the full-flavor you’re working towards. On the boxed milk aisle you’ll find a yellow labeled tin of powdered whole fat milk called “Nido” by Nestle Corporation. Dark chocolate is a must but be adventurous an experiment with different kinds. You get what you pay for so if this hot chocolate is made with cheap chocolate chips, well, that’s just what your drink will taste of…chemicals, fillers and artificial “things”. Trader Joe’s has a super 1 pound block of 72% cacao dark chocolate that is not only loaded with flavor but super inexpensive. I believe it’s $5.00. The bar is huge and you’ll get quite a bit of baking out of it. A small whisk is needed to ensure all the lumps are taken out. If you don’t have a whisk, grab two or three forks, place them back to back, wrap a rubber band tightly around the handles and whisk away. It can also be gently reheated the following day by placing in the microwave on the defrost level and warmed in 2 minute increments, stirring between each increment.
Most people think of Saint Patrick’s day when the 17th of March rolls around but I’m reminded of my older sister, Cynthia’s, wedding anniversary. Almost 40 years ago I was working in Puerto Rico with Delta Airlines and being away from home had missed all the wedding planning and preparations. Unable to leave work until the afternoon of the rehearsal dinner, I flew into Fort Lauderdale in time for the rehearsal dinner after-party which I was hosting. This was almost 40 years ago, when tropical drinks were thought of as exotic and slightly dangerous. My post-dinner party was to be a Puerto Rican pina colada celebration and I arrived well prepared. My suitcase was loaded with small cans of Coco Lopez cream of coconut, a product almost unknown here in south Florida at the time, my blender and a blender I had borrowed from a friend. I had boarded the flight with two handles of golden Puerto Rican rum…one in each hand. My only instructions for Mama were to stock up on ice, pineapple juice and limes. Knowing my flight would touch down at about the same time the dessert course was being served I had told Mama I would take a cab to the house; there was no need to send someone to fetch me. The taxi driver helped me to the front door with all my goodies. The house was quiet. I opened the front door and gaily called out, “Hi, everybody! I’m home!” My eyes swept the high ceilinged living room and quickly accessed the mood. Mercy. Every guest was sitting quietly…politely…ram rod straight. I turned to my little brother and sister and murmured their orders. They understood the tragedy of a flat party and the importance of their chores. Within minutes we had salsa playing, both blenders whirred away offering up a frosty concoction to the waiting crystal goblets which were whisked out of the kitchen and served to the waiting guests. My brother Tommy, sister Pamela and I happily buzzed about the kitchen mixing batch after batch of rum drinks while enjoying the laughter, cocktail chatter and music from the rest of the house. We all had a delightful time. The following day the weather was glorious, the bride was beautiful and glowing and the wedding was exquisite. We had done our jobs and done them well. All these years later I wish you a happy anniversary, Cynthia and Wash!
If you’ve never tried making this cocktail at home you must. This pina colada may be served over ice or with the ice blended in as with a “slushy”. Either way you’ll find, unlike many mixed and served in bars, hotels and restaurants, it’s not too sweet and much lighter than the aforementioned drinks. It is best mixed in your largest pitcher or an empty plastic gallon jug then chilled. If you plan on serving the iced “slushy” version, pack your blender half full of ice, pour in the already mixed drink then blend until liquified. This recipe doubles or triples well. Your cocktail will also inspire tropical trade winds when garnished with fresh pineapple spear. But beware. They go down quite easily!
Hey, y’all! This is a quick post to introduce you to my new fave morning coffee. My two besties, Dana and Andrea, and I have gone paleo as of a few months now. And since then I’ve learned so many of my friends have embraced the paleo lifestyle, some completely, some only on weekdays and some are just leaning towards it. All have declared how much better they feel and, here comes the lagniappe, how much better they look. Everything from shedding unwanted pounds to the quality of their skin, paleo seems to be one of the more healthful choices of the day. I was a fan of almond milk in my coffee until a few months back during one of our Girl’s Weekend when Andrea introduced us to a teaspoon or two of high-quality coconut in our coffee. It was delicious! But the oil was never fully incorporated and I know I’m über fussy but I truly cannot enjoy a cup of coffee with a spoon hanging out. Sorry, but it’s who I am. So in discussing this we took it a step further by zipping the combination in a mixer and voila! I wish I had taken a photo of the three of us. It was early morning, the sun was barely up and we were all still in our nightgowns, with bed-head, no makeup, blown away at the creamy, frothy libation before us. The foam on top had to be at least an inch thick and stayed in place just like a conventional latte. One of the few times we were all speechless. It was heaven! And here it is. This drink can be made with an immersion blender, conventional blender or Magic Bullet. If a Magic Bullet is used, don’t twist the cup to lock it in place or you’ll end up with hot coffee all over you, the counter, the floor and any nearby cabinets. I speak from experience. Just hold the cup down and pulse it. I don’t advise heating the coffee with the coconut oil in the microwave as the oil loses much of its nutritional value. Stove top is best.
Oh, and if you enjoy sweetener in your coffee, go ahead! But try it first without and see if don’t enjoy it.
There are several thing we moms enjoy receiving on Mother’s Day. Massages, facials, manis and pedis are consistent winners. Jewelry is ALWAYS exciting especially when handmade out of macaroni and string. I have an artisanal necklace handmade by James which I treasure made of string and beer can tabs. However, a summer bag or cute, strappy sandals are always appreciated. I think what we all want is the perfect day…you know…the one where everyone is home and getting along. Dad is happy and sweet to everyone and the kids are cheerful and act as though they’re thrilled to spend the day with Mom and not with their friends at the beach. It’s the day when moms want to feel a little like a girl again. Yes, we LOVE, L.O.V.E., opening homemade cards from our children and seeing how excited they get when preparing us breakfast in bed. But part of the day is the girly thing and that’s where the husbands come into play. I realize I’m not my husband’s mother; he is quick to point that out as we get closer to Mother’s Day. But if Mom is running behind the children getting them ready for church, brunch and the beach she’s not relaxed. Mama doesn’t want to man the grill or mix the cocktails. Nor does she want to think about what she’ll pack for lunches the following week while standing in line at the grocery store Sunday night. No. What she’d really like is to be pampered a bit and not have to lift a finger. For just one day. Just one. Bottles of champagne will bring big smiles as will pretty cocktails. Even better in the pool. On a float. With James Taylor, Jack Johnson or John Mayer singing away in the background on the outdoor speakers. Those are my thoughts. So to all my moms, Happy Mother’s Day. You bring us joy!
This drink is a marvelous concoction from the book “Essentially Lilly” published by Harper Collins. It’s a great book on entertaining by our wonderful Lilly Pulitzer, replete with photos of vibrant, brightly colored Lilly prints and fabrics, Lilly’s family and her legendary Palm Beach pool parties. It’s a fun, fun read. As she states in her book, if you wish to make this Bellini alcohol-free substitute the Prosecco with either sparkling apple cider or ginger ale. Also, leave out the sugar. The fruit puree can be prepared one day ahead of serving, covered and refrigerated. It will then be mixed with the sparkling wine just before serving. Mama will be so happy!
When James graduated from high school we hosted a big, fat, fun party to celebrate. It was fabulous. So five or six months before his college graduation I decided to throw him another one. This one would be more difficult because I was making all the arrangement and plans long distance, from three states over. After discussing the party with James I began to hammer out the details. And save my money. By the end of March I had the restaurant reserved, menu and drinks planned and contract signed. The party was to be at a Greek restaurant on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, a restaurant the three of us had been enjoying since James had started school at Carolina. Jimmy and I both feel that this particular Greek restaurant is the best we’ve ever eaten outside of Greece. The inside has an edge to it while still being authentic; the food is spectacular and imaginative WITHOUT using foam or stacking and, what made me truly happy, was that our party was on the second floor balcony overlooking a patio. The week before leaving for North Carolina, little sister Pamela mentioned that she and her crew were flying out the Thursday morning before grad weekend and suggested we all travel together. Our original plans were to fly out Friday but why wait to party? Jimmy changed our reservations and we were set. I couldn’t wait to see James! I knew he was feeling a little down about leaving all his friends compounded by the fact that he had picked up some kind of bug or cold or something. Cynthia and Elizabeth were flying in from New Jersey and San Francisco on Friday to round out the celebration and family was just the ticket to brighten my boy up. The Carras’ and Schloss’ flew in Thursday morning, we picked up our rental cars and split up. They were checking into the hotel we were all staying and we were off to see our boy. When we arrived at James’ house he said he felt so rotten he couldn’t come downstairs and let us in so he just gave me the code to unlock the front door. His room was on the third floor. We got to the top of the staircase and entered his room. He was sick…really sick. Mama and Daddy went into action. I sent Jimmy for cold medicine, ibuprofen, Coke with shaved ice and Panera’s chicken soup. I wiped James’ brow with a clean, cold cloth. I made up his bed, picked up clothes, and filled a garbage bag with empty paper cups, coke cans, dirty napkins, tissues, paper plates and all manner of college kid trash. I opened his graduation packet and hung up his gown, cap and cord. After getting him settled in, we told him we were taking him to the doctor the following day, first thing in the morning, so if they could do anything to make him feel better he would have a whole 24 hours to get back to normal. That night Jimmy and I barely slept for worry. The following morning James could barely make it down the stairs. I was calm…after all, we were on our way to the doctor’s. At the doctor’s office James texted us ever once in a while. “I’m waiting for the doctor.” “They’re giving me a chest x-ray.” “Now they’re giving me a breathing treatment.” The last text was “Pneumonia!” Thank the Lord we got up there a day early! We left the medical building laden with instructions and prescriptions…and we each had a job. Jimmy was to get more soup, sweet tea and all the high-octane meds. I was going upstairs with James to get him back in bed and clean that nightmare of a room. And James was to get better. I found him a clean tee-shirt and pajama bottoms, put him on the sofa and stripped his bed. I washed all the bed linens, separated the clean and dirty clothes, washed the dirty clothes and folded 400-lbs. of clean ones. In the kitchen I grabbed another garbage bag and picked up more tissues, napkins, dead soft drink cups, old mail and wait! What’s this? A large box of pizza with only one piece missing. It had been there two days. I moved to toss it in the garbage bag when James moaned, “No, Mama. It’s good. It’s just fine. Don’t throw it out.” As I set it aside he sent a quick text and fell back in the bed. Two seconds later we heard the pounding of racing footsteps coming up the stairs. It was a fraternity brother/housemate happy as can be to take the two-day old pizza off James’ feverish hands. Jimmy and I laughed and shook our heads. Boys. By then it was afternoon and James was all set to sleep for the rest of the day. He had taken all his medicine, eaten and showered. He was exhausted. We left him to then stop by the restaurant where James’ graduation party was to be held and see what our options were. I knew the antibiotics were super-powerful but there was always the chance he wouldn’t be better by the next day. At the Greek restaurant we waited by the hostess stand for the young lady in charge of events and parties. I hadn’t met her yet; didn’t even know what she looked like. But when I saw that dour, angry face making her way over from the back of the restaurant my heart sank. This was NOT going to be fun. Everything about her body language screamed irritation and inconvenience and we hadn’t even spoken yet. After introductions I explained our situation, that James was sick, we didn’t know if we could even HAVE the party and when would we have to let her know if it was to be cancelled. She tightly crossed her arms, scowled at us and snapped, “NOW! You’ll have to tell me now. I need to know right now!”. Just barely keeping my temper in check I asked if we could have a couple of hours to at least discuss this and she responded with a dismissive, “Sure.” not even looking at us but typing on the computer keyboardin front of her. We left the restaurant and made our way to the back of the building to a lovely garden patio which provided shaded quiet and elegance to the patrons of the neighboring restaurants. We split a salad while trying to discuss the possibility of James getting better and which receptions, graduations and parties we had to attend versus which we wanted to attend. It was hot. It was the end of the day. I felt beaten up and beaten down. My heart ached thinking how James hadn’t been able to say goodbye to so many friends who had already left for the summer. He just couldn’t get out of bed. He hadn’t even seen the rest of the family yet. There was a good chance he wouldn’t be able to walk at his own graduation and he had worked so hard for so long. I couldn’t bear the weight of it all but I didn’t want Jimmy to see me crying. As tears of frustration, anger and worry streamed down my face I just sat there quietly with my big sunglasses on not making a sound. But you can’t fool my Jimmy. He was about to put another bite of salad in his mouth when he put down his fork and brightly said to me, “You know what? I’m going to go do something. I’m just going to talk to “her” for a second. Just see what our options are.:)” I blew my nose with one of those crappy, sand paper rough paper napkins when he turned around, smiled sweetly at me and said, “I’ll be nice. Really”. I remember thinking, “Oh, shit. She’s gonna get it now. She doesn’t know who she’s messing with.” He left and I called a friend. She let me boo-hoo and have a pity party. As a mother she knew how I felt. When I saw Jimmy round the corner I quickly said, “I gotta go! Jimmy’s here!” and I turned my attention on Jim. Well, apparently he DID tear the event planner a new one. That woman was shaking when he left the restaurant. He told me everything and ended the story by saying, “When I looked over and saw you…well…nobody makes my wife cry!” I have to tell y’all, I’m strong and typically can fight my own battles and pretty well but I’ve got to say it felt really good hearing that. At a time when I felt ineffective and vulnerable he made me feel completely protected. And safe. Nothing could hurt me or James. The following day was wonderful! The antibiotics had kicked in and James felt well-rested. We went to his Entrepreneurship minor graduation and the all the receptions. At the end of the day was our party and it was beyond perfection. After Miss Party Pooper’s tantrum the staff was bending over backwards to please us. A stiff breeze flowed through the beautiful balcony where the party was held. The sunset scattered pinks, yellows and oranges across the sky. Cocktails were mixed and hor’s d’oeuvre were passed. We stayed all night and after the last guest left the whole family sat down and had Greek coffees, green teas, and Greek desserts. We laughed, had party chatter and told stories. We made fun of ourselves and each other. I was so grateful. There IS something to be said for being rescued by a knight in shining armor!
I may be wrong, I usually am even though I pretend I’m not, but with the temperature already creeping into the very high 80’s I think summer may have just hit south Florida! It’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing. Thankfully, we have ocean breezes and central AC. I hadn’t quite noticed that the heat was upon us but when Jimmy pulled out his bathing suit, rummaged around on his tobacco table for the perfect Sunday cigar and headed out to the pool for the second day in a row it dawned on me. Time to start REALLY working out again and, by the way, a bikini wax wouldn’t hurt. I got my suit on, slung my towel over my shoulder and joined him. Let me make myself clear. It’s not really MY towel. When I get in the pool I only take the towels in James’ closet…the boy’s towels. Let THEM get bleached out by chlorine or get dirt on them. Any way, the pool looked, well, not quite party ready. And the water was still too cold. I stood on the bench seat in the deep end and I wasn’t happy. I could feel myself getting crabby and peevish. I hate it when I get that way; I feel it coming and sometimes I can head it off and sometimes I can’t but today is my complete day off and, dammit, the pool looks like shit. There. I said it. I just stood there watching tiny, brown Royal Poinciana leaves slowly drift by as Jimmy was cleaning the pool, happily puffing away on his cigar, and I thought, “No. I don’t want to waste my day being bitchy and frustrated and stupid. There’s GOT to be something I can do to ward this off.” And that’s when Jimmy said, still cleaning the pool, completely unaware that there was a potential hissy fit a brewin’, “Man, I’d do anything for one of those bullfrog drinks right now.” I perked right up at the idea of outside day drinking. “Now you’re talkin’.”, I thought happily drying off thinking, “There’s GOT to be something frozen in that house I can blend with rum”. Task designed and assigned I headed off to the kitchen to see what we had. I knew we had a handle of Bacardi Lemon Rum living under the bar but what to flavor it? I tore through the freezer past the now brick-like Tsoureki bread, moving aside the broad beans, the broccoli, the yuca. Geez, there’s GOT to be something in here. My hands, now blue with cold, raked through the bottom drawer looking for that peach or strawberry canned drink mix that I knew in my heart of hearts was long gone. “Damn,” I muttered to no one, “Disappointed!”, I yelled fully aware that only the dog would witness my tantrum. But, wait. What’s that acidy yellow plastic corner peeping out? Well, well, well. There is a God after all and He has given me a frozen solid pack of pure Lulo puree! For those of you who are not familiar with the magic of Lulo it’s a fruit from Colombia that imparts a lemony, citrus taste with a pineapple sidecar finish. I am happy now! In the blender I combined half of a 14-ounce pack of frozen Lulo pulp with too much of the lemon rum, probably a cup and a half. I get carried away so pour the rum as you see fit. I added a bit of sugar as the fruit is unsweetened and packed the blender with ice. After 60 seconds or so on “liquify” it was perfect. Smoother than a slushy from 7-11. I tasted it. Nooooo! It was too raw and sharp. This frozen mess needed something…anything. I had some far gone bananas for my smoothies but, no, THAT’S NOT WHAT I WANT. Wait, wait! There are half a dozen very tired strawberries killing time in the refrigerator until someone throws them out. Perfect! I tossed them in after lopping off their tops, added a few more ice cubes and some sugar and a star was born! After another 45 seconds swirling through the blender I ended up with a gorgeous, incredibly smooth, not too tart-not too sweet summer drink. I closed my eyes and savored the icy perfection slide down my throat. The afternoon was saved! So get to the grocery store and stock up not on the drink mixes in the can but frozen packets of fruit pulp. The hispanic section will have a treasure trove of flavors so have a party and experiment. Even if it’s only the two of you! Guaranteed fun and you’ll be nice to the world.
My very first thought this morning as I woke up was quiet but earnest and plaintive. “I don’t want him to go.” I repeated that thought over and over. Lying in bed I pondered the made-up dialogue Pamela and I often have with each other. We each know our lines and the roles are reversible. I’m me and Pamela’s James or Pamela’s herself and I’m Catherine. We ALWAYS have this mock conversation and it goes something like this. “James, sweetie, I’m sorry but this little experiment of yours just isn’t working out. We’ve given it a couple of years and now it’s just time to come home. I’m sorry. I’M SORRY. It’ll be fine. I promise! We’ll make slice and bake cookies. It’ll be fine!” But we NEVER say that to the children. No. They’re living their lives, as well they should, spreading their wings and embracing all that this world has to offer. But when they leave for college, after every break, we sure do miss them! After a quick but satisfying cafe con leche I left the house to do my race walking routine. The day was exquisite! One of those sparkling, vibrant South Florida days that makes you count your blessings. So I did. I looked around and took in such beauty. I love Florida oaks and so many in Victoria Park, our neighborhood, have long, dreamy locks of Spanish moss draping down from their boughs…swaying from the occasional breeze. Magnificent and perfect in every way!
So James will go back to school. And so will Catherine, Zach, and Megan. Charlotte will go back as will Josh and Ryan. But know your mammas will all miss you desperately and when y’all need a little taste of home you can throw back a little sweet tea!!
3 quarts cold water
4 family size tea bags, I like Luzianne
1 cup sugar
fresh mint, optional
lemons wedges, optional
Bring water to a boil and take off heat. Add tea bags and let steep 5 minutes or longer if you like stronger tea. Remove and discard tea bags and let tea come completely to room temperature. Add sugar and stir until sugar has dissolved. Serve on ice with mint or lemon, if desired. Refrigerate only when completely cooled to room temperature or tea will become cloudy. A no-no in the South!