Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Brownie tour

I've just returned from the most wonderful holiday. Road trips do it for me everytime. I love the way everything feels so free! No one knows you, the ones that do don't know how to get hold of you, you don't know where you're going to end up at the end of the day and...anything can happen!

One thing that struck me was the light. There is a technicolour vibrancy to the sky that we in England are rarely blessed with. Its gently pink-purple arrival in the mornings, then its brazen stretch over the whole day. Stark, wide, clear clear blue that seaps behind the horizon at night. And the air! It was kind of...marbled, warm in some steps, with refreshing streams of coolness in others.

We met lumberjacks and gold miners, cowboys and naked hippies. We ate beautiful succulent steak and wild salmon, hash browns and omelettes and fresh, ripe(!) avocados. We feasted on porcini lasagne and slurped up creamy clam chowder - and all the time there was delicious wine at hand. 'Clean Zins' and powerful Syrahs...and by day those oh-so-gluggable Pinot Gris'.

Most importantly though - and what with being a professional chocolate enthusiast - I was eager to get my chops round any piece of it that so much as winked at me. It was always catching my eye - from the velvet-like bittersweet chocolate custard at Chez Panisse to the heavenly chocolate haystacks in the Chocolate Haus in Mendocino - and I was up for it all. Black & White milkshakes, chocolate bananas, cocoa nib meringues and chocolate waffles all came into the equation, but it was the brownies that really got me going. It's not that I always physically required one, more that I felt compelled to get one - even if it meant three in a day - just so I knew...

You see, I have this fascination with what makes the perfect brownie (anyone that knows me will vouch for this) - and each one is so different. In London we have a myriad of choice but I can only think of one brownie (Choc Star excluded) that cuts it and this was made for me by a really great pastry chef who I hope to work with very soon! The rest are either delicious but dry, delicious but not cooked, delicious but more like a fondant, delicious but cakey, delicious but corrupt (who puts hazelnuts in a brownie?!), way too heavy on the vanilla, way too heavy on the VANILLIN or just absolutely wrong.

In San Francisco they love to put 100% cacao in them. This way more sugar can be added without being too much, meaning denser, fudgier brownies. My top three of the trip were from Poulet Deli (Berkeley), Citizen Cake (San Francisco), Scharffen Berger (Berkeley), with Recchiuti and Tartine's also very yummy.

I also discovered a hotbed of exciting new chocolate. As well as new bars from Scharffen Berger (loved the Las Islas and Kumasi Sambirano blends), I was delighted to discover new makers through Adam at Fog City News and Michael at Cocoa Bella, both in San Francisco. Just tucking into a Havana Heat 'Bistro Bar' by Chocolat Moderne of New York before my dinner...gotta run!

Sunday, 3 September 2006

Cali calling!

Oh my God, I’m so excited - running around like a nutter getting ready to go away on my research trip / roadtrip to San Francisco and up. The way they do things in the Bay Area is right up my street. Loads of milkshakes, ice cream, cake and chocolate! MMmmmmmm and I’ll be sampling all of it.

My mum and me go off on these great trips and have a right old laugh. She’s so much fun and likes picking up weirdos and freaks almost as much as I do (plenty of them over there). We always end up in these extraordinary situations. Usually it’s to the Deep South where up in the mountains and down in the woods it’s all about moonshine and ‘coon hunting, listening to the blues in rundown old shacks and gittin’ greasy with the soulfood!

This trip will be quite tree-huggy I suspect and I relish the chance to get into that Emerald Triangle up in Humboldt County - gimme some of that good Pacific Coast air….So I’ll write all about it. In the meantime I leave the lovely Millie in charge of Jimmy. The van will be back in position on Brick Lane from now on into the hot chocolate months.

I’ve got to go and catch that plane now - 11 hours of doing absolutely nothing. Bring it on!

Friday, 1 September 2006

Festi circuit

Camping. Still not quite sure how I feel about it. I’m more of a Winnebago girl myself, but the last few weeks have dictated that I get involved with the zippy-zippy, nylon rustle and hot face in the morning thing on a much grander scale than usual.

As we steer Jimmy from motorway to motorway (boy can he get surly on some of them slopes), each new festi presents itself in various degrees of high production/heavy security wonderment. I ain’t gonna lie, the first festi of the summer, Big Chill- the biggest of all - had me feeling terrified. I couldn’t imagine how it was going to be and the unknown had me super-stressed. Luckily I had some pretty hilarious wingmen on my team and together, we figured that what we lacked in professional output and hardcore signage, we’d make up for in good customer chat and lots of bling (not to mention the trustee ‘Gay mic’ which ensured everyone in Herefordshire knew we had some tasty ice cream on us).

What I hadn’t anticipated was the number of ridiculous conversations we’d find ourselves part of as people would get drawn to the van and then seem unmoved to leave. Like a conveyor belt of characters from some twisted fable they’d turn up in their various outfits, have a chocolate martini shot or brownie fudge sundae (let’s not get into what was happening to the frozen choc-dipped bananas), often try and enter the choc-mobile - ‘but it’s so beautiful!’ - and then eventually have to make way for the people behind to have a go.

It is a bit like having a grown-up Wendy house doing Choc Star and it’s very interesting seeing the different reactions to it. The festi crowd are the perfect people to appreciate it and (despite my initial stress at all the logistical demands) we have been having a right old laugh.

The other weekend we went to Cambridgeshire for the Secret Garden Party and got positioned with Jimmy’s ass backed right up against the Up All Night tent. Now I like music. I love it in fact. But what with relations already rather strained between me and tents, plus an advancing lurgy, plus being regularly traumatised by visits to the porta-loos, my sense of humour was tested to the max as the bands did their thing. Holy shit! Forget about ear-plugs - that base was attempting to take over my entire nervous system. It was so horrific it was funny.My mum eventually arrived one morning brandishing a child’s potty - so we could at least conquer the toilet scenario…I couldn’t quite figure out how best to pull it off though - sauntering past the ‘Groovy Smoothie’ lot all nonchalantly, clasping the little plastic vessel and then ducking behind a camper van/hedge/fence. Think I’ll have to work on that idea.

After the Secret Garden I drove home to Suffolk. What bliss! Over to Bury St Edmunds and down to stay with my friends Tash and Noche in their new Southfork-style ranch. I was happy to see that my old pal Gormenghast was still in business and pulled over to purchase some plums from the little table outside her rambling garden. The beard was as fecund as ever. Way past attempting to style it out, it occupies her face as if she has as much business cultivating one as the next man. We should take her to Bestival with us…