LAUGHTER – AND FOOD – IS THE BEST MEDICINE
The shock and hurt of losing a loved one has been tempered by the sweet memories of times shared with him. Some people may think us crass, but laughter is indeed the best medicine. Would our brother have wanted us to sit around and pound on our chests, wailing over our loss, or would he rather watch us from above sharing stories and laughter, jokes and fond memories? He can surely inspire us with his life: he was an amazing person who truly lived his life to the fullest, grabbing at everything he wanted. Gourmet cook, fabulous piano player, jazz singer not afraid to take to the stage whenever one of his favorite New York Jazz Clubs opened the mic to passionate amateurs, art collector, clothes designer, he was the true connoisseur: good food and wine, music and art, passionate traveler. My brother is someone to inspire us with the way he lived his life, the way he faced everything with a sense of humor and a good joke, advising and helping others, generous and caring, fun to be with, doing everything he dreamed of. His loss has left a gaping hole, but one we try every day to fill with laughter.
So the hours and days after the funeral, mom, Sue, Andrew and Carolyn, Simon and I shared stories and memories, tears mingled with laughter, lots of laughter, and food. The day after, we sat around the large wooden table overlooking the river, watching the wind toss around the palm fronds, in an old-Florida seafood restaurant, the kind he loved, plates piled high with coconut fried shrimp, scampi and crabbed stuffed mushrooms and drank a toast to him with the best bottle of Pino Grigio on the wine list. Our voices occasionally drowned out by the rambunctious crowd mixed with the Southern Rock floating out of the bar, we thought of him as we ate, as we talked, as we drank.
The following day, Sue and I jumped into the car to make our traditional trip to the grocery store, good intentions overflowing with thoughts of healthy meals. And of course, our sweet tooth and silliness prevailed and as we stood at the cash register watching items scoot by one by one, I pointed at the array of goodies flowing back into our waiting cart and said “Find the nutritional value in that!” Ice cream bars, lemon meringue pie, donuts, ice cream sandwiches, cookies, frozen pizzas and chips, not to mention Fruit Loops for Simon. Peels of laughter and Sue said “You have got to take a picture of our haul when we get home!”
Pizza ordered in and eaten while setting up the board games, hours of noise and teasing as we tossed down cards or tiles into the center of the table or evenings spent eating fried chicken and playing Wii Golf, madly whacking invisible golf balls, dreading the imaginary splash of the ball into the water, or exulting with that impossible hole in one, or tossing down weightless golf clubs as we watch the ball veer off course and land with a plop into the sand or get caught in the trees. A cool swim in the pool, the Florida heat beating down on our backs, taking a break for chilled drinks or a huge slice of cake hidden under scoops of ice cream.
Dinner out with friends, fried fish sandwiches on the river with Judi, burritos with Ellen and Mike under umbrellas as the wind whips through our hair, reliving our wild youth together or add Frank to the trio and laughter over perfect pistachio-crusted salmon and lavender-spiked chocolate pudding cake. Pizza night with Lee, sitting at home so we could comb through 30 year old photo albums and laugh and cry together. Magic!
Food and laughter bring us together, giving us a chance to relive the best of times and tighten the bonds we have with each other. Family and friends, we prop each other up through tough times and exult in all the good that comes our way, cheering each other on. Our memories and shared stories intertwine, beautiful braids of lives woven together to make one. Michael has helped bring us that much closer. Sweet indeed.
My lovely friend Meeta of the incredible blog What’s For Lunch, Honey? created the Monthly Mingle event, a wonderful place for food bloggers to get together and share food and good times like the best of friends. This month, another wonderful friend, Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen is the hostess (with the mostess!) and has chosen the theme High Tea Treats and this is the perfect chance for me to hop aboard the Monthly Mingle train. Everyday I sit in front of my computer and, often over a cup of coffee and a slice of whatever baked good I have on hand, I twitter chat with these beautiful women and a few more friends, so much like we are all sitting around the virtual tea table (or koffee klatch) sharing laughs and baking tips, adventures and desires. Aparna is a fabulous cook and her creations are both exciting and mouth-watering; diverse indeed! I have made these delightful tiny teatime treats to share with my friends at the Monthly Mingle, knowing just how important these heartfelt get-togethers are. And I do thank this wonderful group of friends who has helped me through this rough time with their kind words and thoughts, virtual hugs and support and as I pass around a delicate, chocolatey mini-Bundt cake to each, I raise my tea cup to you all and clink to our friendship.
DARK CHOCOLATE LIGHT-AS-AIR INDIVIDUAL BUNDTLETS
Adapted from Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters
½ lb zucchini
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups cocoa powder
2 ½ tsps baking powder
1 ½ tsps baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 ½ tsps cinnamon
2 cups sugar
2 tsps vanilla
½ cup milk
Wash and trim the zucchini. Grate the unpeeled zucchini finely into a small colander and set over a bowl. Allow to drain, without squeezing it, for about 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly butter and flour either a large Bundt pan or a 12-cup mini Bundt pan.
Measure out 2 cups of grated zucchini without squeezing it and discard liquid left in bowl. Set aside.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating just until blended. Beat in the finely grated zucchini. Blend in the vanilla.
Beat in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the milk added in 2.
Pour batter into the pan(s). As I was using my brand new mini-Bundt pan, I found it easiest and cleanest to use a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip. Just pipe in the batter about halfway up, maybe a tad more, but not too full as these mini cakes (Bundlets!) rise quite a bit.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, watching carefully so they don’t burn. One large Bundt cake should bake for about 55 minutes.
Allow to cool on a rack in the pan for a few minutes before turning or popping out, turning right side up and allowing to cool completely on a cooling rack. If you pop the cakelets out too soon, you risk breaking them.
Using my mini-Bundt pan, I made 24 Bundtlets and still have batter in the fridge for maybe another dozen.
These cakes had a dark chocolate flavor while being extremely, astonishingly light and airy, perfect to serve at Tea Time or breakfast. Strangely enough, the second day, though far from stale, they did seem a bit dryer, so if not all eaten the same day, serve with something that will help moisten them a bit, whipped cream, ice cream or a fresh berry coulis. I am curious to know if made in one large Bundt pan would it come out denser and thus stay moister longer?
CHOCOLATE WHIPPED CREAM
1 to 2 cups heavy whipping cream or as needed
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Whisk together the sugar and cocoa powder in a bowl until blended and no more lumps remain.
In a chilled bowl using chilled beaters, whip the heavy cream on high speed until it starts to thicken. Add the sugar-cocoa mixture tablespoon by tablespoon until you have the desired sweetness and darkness. (I used just under 1 cup of cream and beat in almost 4 heaping tablespoons of the mixture as I wanted a lighter chocolate flavor to offset the dark chocolate flavor of the cake.) Continue to beat until thick.