30 June 2010

Compliments are a beautiful thing.

I have this awesome friend Sheryl whom I have known since I was 22. (That's Sheryl in the photo to the right with another one of our rugby buddies.) She's ten years older than me and doesn't mince words. Over the past 13 years, she has been known to tell me things like "You're being a b*tch and it's getting old," and "what are you thinking, Freak?" No, seriously, we're friends. Good friends. The kind of friends who tell each other things that only friends can tell you because you know they're telling you these things for your own good and because ultimately, you both know you need to hear it.

So when Sheryl takes a moment to be... sweet... I really listen. And bask in the love like a snake on a rock on the first sunny day of the year. Or like a teenager at the beach during summer vacation. Or like any other thing that basks a lot in warm weather. Whatever, the point is-- Sheryl gave me a compliment and it ROCKED!

Now that I've given it such a build-up, I have to share. This, by the way, came out on Facebook, so you know it's legit:
Sheryl Turse Love you Daniele...you're demonstrating the open mindedness that's so important in regards to religion.. mutual respect and open exchange... Lack of these two qualities are what make the topics of religion and politics" not polite conversation"... Proving it can be is a start to ending the gang-land mentality that divides the world..
Monday at 23:51 · ·
(See those time stamps and the "like" and "delete" buttons? See? It's legit. A bona fide compliment on a semi-public forum for others to read.)

Now, in Sheryl's defense, we normally reserve heavy conversations for the campfire or rugby tours or late night drives on the way to some rugby match (I bet you didn't know rugby players could be all deep and philosophical, eh? Stereotypes aren't always true.). But this was Facebook and it was, if you look at the time stamp, getting towards the witching-hour. And this is why I love Sheryl. We don't always agree, but we respect and listen to each other's perspectives. But seriously-- this was a great FB moment, when a few of my Facebook friends who don't know each other in the real world got to "talk" to each other about something as serious as religion. I like to start things, stir the pot a bit, rock the boat, you know? So I posted this:

Danièle Bucar Coté I think I just totally confounded two very sweet, young Mormon "Elders" (who came up with THAT title for 20 year old, doe-eyed youngsters?!?). Literally-- at a couple points in the discussion they were speechless, and just looked at each other for help on how to answer my question. Poor little dears. But it was a pleasant, good-natured discussion...

Monday at 18:59 Friends only · ·
And of course, a couple comments centered around how Mormons (or anyone who proselytizes door-to-door) are rude and knock on your door to tell you things you don't want to hear. I get it. I once dated a guy who answered the door and the knocker's question of "Did you know Jesus died for your sins?" with "I didn't know he was sick." And I laughed hard enough at that story that he didn't sit next to me for a few hours in case I got struck by lightning. But honestly, I'm glad these young boys came by-- they were earnest, and honest, and full of hope and a desire to change the world for what they thought was "the better." How much more different is that than a young 20-something who wants me to recycle more? Or stop buying clothes made in sweatshops? In some ways, it's not any different than the person who wants me to stop voting to support gay marriage-- that person thinks they're making the world a better place. Just because I disagree with passion, doesn't mean their intentions are any less honourable.

I think it's really important for us to listen to things we don't want to hear. It's the only way we can truly grow. And also the only way to truly make the world a better place. The Mormon boys (I know, they're young men, but I could be their mother and they were really doe-eyed and innocent) called what they were preaching The Truth. The capital "Ts" were audible, I kid you not. But there is an old Native American saying (I'm not sure which tribe) that says "there are three sides to every story: yours, his, and the truth." And while the Mormons-- and many other more organizedly-religious people-- may believe that THEIR truth is The Truth, I believe that if we don't listen to things we don't want to hear, we won't ever get closer to THE TRUTH (yes, I mean all those capital letters).

I love those little Mormon Elders for sticking it out. They listened to me. They did. I know it because they looked confounded and a bit at a loss at times. They tried to discuss points I had made, but they just couldn't answer any of my questions without opening up all sorts of new questions that made them a little unsteady. And I swear-- I didn't say anything to purposefully unnerve them-- I didn't talk about premarital sex or adult toys or anything designed to make them blush or to disrespect their beliefs. It was a really nice discussion and I hope they come by the house again some time. I'd like to see what kind of argument they can make after telling their mentors (elder Elders?) about the conversation we had. I'd like to see how they're enjoying Maine.

I'd also like to encourage my friends-- and strangers-- to just talk it out with folks, more often. Don't be afraid of a little healthy discussion. Just keep the argument as logical and respectful as you can. You want to talk to me about gay marriage? Bring it on! Immigrants? Bring it on! Drilling for oil in Alaska? Bring it on! Let's talk to each other about it. Let's listen to each other about it. It's about trying to see every side of someone else's Truth, not just about making them see-- and adopt-- your Truth.

Umberto Eco said in his book, The Name of the Rose, that "truth is indivisible. It shines with its own transparency and cannot be diminished by our interests or our shame." We may never know the Truth for real. Or completely. But it's there. Always. And until we recognize that it is there; until we really make a truly honest effort to look at It from all sides and angles; until we recognize that It looks different to other people-- only then can we actually start to make this world a better place for everyone. Because if you're not dealing with reality, it doesn't mean it goes away or changes. It's always there. It's indivisible and cannot be diminished by what we want it to be or not be. It's time to listen to one another. To discuss with one another. To be open-minded about things that don't appeal to you. Think of it like brussell sprouts. Or asparagus (eww!). Keep tasting the different preparations-- even if it's just to keep confirming that you don't like the taste!

And Sheryl-- you are a beautiful person and a fantabulous friend. Don't you ever change, Lady! I am very lucky to have you in my life. You're awesome-- I don't care what your parents say. : p

27 June 2010

Drink like you're Irish? How about a cupcake?

"An Irishman is the only man in the world who will step over the bodies of a dozen naked women to get to a bottle of stout." (Anonymous)

I got these off my friend's blog and had to try them for myself. To be able to fit into my clothes, however, I had to share. A lot. These are rich. These are VERY rich. Okay, if these were starring in a Hollywood film, they'd earn more than Daniel Radcliffe did last year. For those of you more inclined to watch NESN or SportsCenter: these are not quite as rich as Tiger Woods, (but they won't cheat on you with every bimbo who bats her eyes at them). I brought them to my friends' camp party where the adults enjoyed them no end and the teenagers' hands were slapped away vigorously. These also made an appearance or two at some late night cribbage games where they helped us all to feel like we won, even when we were outpegged.

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes:
source: Smitten Kitten via Sweet Cheeks In the Kitchen
Yield: 20-24 cupcakes

I made these using Ghiardelli cocoa powder (I was all out of my KAF favourite, dark Dutch-process cocoa powder), Baker's bittersweet chocolate (I was all out of my preferred Lindt bars), Guinness stout (of course), Tullamore Dew whiskey (I used to date a man from Tullamore, County Offaly, who drank like he had a hollow leg: Adrian, this one's for you, you B.I.F.F.O.), and Bailey's Irish Cream. And I upped the amount of whiskey and Bailey's, because my grandmother's maiden name is Murphy and I felt my heritage justified it. I'm glad I did, because I barely tasted the whiskey as it was and I really think the richness of the frosting requires that kick to keep it from getting too sweet...

For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes:
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Ganache Filling
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (optional)

Baileys Frosting
3 to 4 cups confections sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperatue
3 to 4 tablespoons Baileys (or milk, or heavy cream, or a combination thereof)

Special equipment: 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer and a piping bag (though a plastic bag with the corner snipped off will also work). Note: I used a knife and cookie decorating plunger thingy I had acquired somewhere. I think the plastic bag might be less messy.

Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely. Note: I lightly spray/grease my liners or cups (I don't use liners with my silicone muffin pan) so I can release the cupcakes without a mess/crumbling. I'm very glad I did, because my cupcakes didn't rise a whole ton and I needed them to be intact to receive the ganache filling.

Make the filling: Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey (if you're using it) and stir until combined.

Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom - aim for 2/3 of the way. A slim spoon or grapefruit knife will help you get the center out. Those are your "tasters". Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.

Make the frosting: Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.

Ice and decorate the cupcakes.

Ms. Moxie is an off-road kind of girl!

I'm from Away. Technically, so is my husband (he was born in CA, lived in Lawrence, MA until he was 15, then moved to Jay, Maine) but he blends in significantly better than I since he actually knows where a lot of places are. Or used to be (more on that in a different post). So, when we decided to get a dog, the choice was easy: a black lab or lab mix. It seems like the majority of Mainers have labs-- a practice sanctioned by L.L. Bean: black labs abound on a variety of their products (yes, so do lobsters, but those tricky crustaceans are much harder to hike with and you can never take them to the beach for fear of being boiled and then served up with butter).

Enter Moxie. Originally named Annie Mae (think either mint juleps on the front porch swing or a tough Japanese heroine who masquerades by day as a dutiful school girl with pink hair), we felt our precocious 1 year old pooch needed a name as spirited as she. And funnily enough, Moxie only goes after my drink if I'm drinking Moxie. It's like she knows it's technically her birthright. Or maybe she hated her original name as much as we did? Either way, she's embraced her name.

Three years later, we're thinking we should have named her Scout. She loves going hiking with us at Mount Apatite (named for the product of the quarry, not misspelled hunger pangs), but she rarely stays on the trail. In fact, even at the base of the trail, this is usually how we hike "with" our dog. That black spot in the distance is our Moxie Moops (yes, she has a lot of goofy nicknames. Don't judge us.):

She also can't stay out of the water, and the great thing about Mount Apatite is there is plenty of it-- some running, some "ponds"-- and since we are religious about getting Moxie's Lepto vaccine every year, we can let her romp around in almost all of it without worrying about her getting sick:

Per Maine State Park regulations, dogs at Mount Apatite are supposed to be on leash at all times, but almost nobody follows that rule and we've never seen it enforced or even mentioned by other park frequenters in the 3 years we've been hiking there. If you are in the area and looking for a good place to let your dog get some good exercise (without requiring a TON of fitness from you!), Mount Apatite is a great option and it even has ample parking.

Score one for the L/A area!

24 June 2010

Restaurant Review: Marché (Lewiston, ME)

I know of at least one friend of mine who does not agree with my opinion of Marché at all-- and normally we agree on lots of food-related topics (King Arthur Flour, chocolate as a food group, etc.). I think, however, that I just feel really strongly about Marché and its owners-- but I think that's more than obvious as you read along. This is the review I submitted to Google, so it's the same one you'll see if you Google the restaurant:

My husband and I were excited to try this place, despite our lukewarm experience at the same owner's upscale restaurant Fuel (located just across the street). We should have known better.

We ordered the "Frenchie" sandwich which allegedly consists of tomato compote, pulled pork, a burger, and brie cheese. The name and the cheese were the only thing French about this sandwich, but it sounded intriguing-- I wanted to know if it would work. It didn't. The tomato compote was simply some cherry tomatoes (2 of which were not fully ripe-- half yellow/green, half red) which had been barely mushed and sautéed. The pulled pork was bland. There were TWO thick (I mean over an inch thick each), bland, overcooked, dry burgers which overpowered the entire sandwich (and did not come close to filling the diameter of the bun-- why would you do that?). And the brie was a tiny piece perched on the top that was barely noticeable. I opted for the "fruit cup" instead of the potato chips and got 5 small chunks of what was probably canned pineapple. Thanks for the hint of fruit in my fruit 1/8-of-a-cup! My husband didn't even finish his half of the burger-- I think I've seen him leave behind only one other meal in our entire relationship because he abhores wasting money.

My husband ordered a crêpe dish-- chicken, spinach and béchamel sauce. This came unassembled with the mush of filling looking like it had been vomited up on top of the folded crêpes. Both crêpes were thick and had been overcooked, looking more like Indian nan bread than crêpes. And I can't tell you how lovely it was to spend half our lunch time scraping the filling off to the side so we could assemble our own crêpes. (Was this too hard for the chef to do? We saw employees darting back and forth between Marché and Fuel. Maybe our chef was on a break from his real job and that was why our crêpes were thrown on the plate in a disassembled heap?) This would have been forgivable, however, had it not been for the taste. We only noticed that there was spinach in the filling because of the green swirls deep within the sauce. And the chicken declared its presence only through its texture-- we sensed chewy chunks and figured (hoped?) they were chicken. Very bland béchamel sauce rounded out the unpleasant experience.

As two individuals who have lived in France, we can verify that these items would inflame any Frenchman or -woman into suing Marché for slander. As two individuals who have been fortunate to eat in some very fantastic restaurants around the country and even around the world-- we would assert that this food was not worth our trip around the corner. Save your money and your time-- whoever's running Marché certainly doesn't expend any on the food or the service! Why should you?

And off we go!

Yes, it's time. I'm no longer reserving my opinions for my top-secret group of FB friends, message board friends, and those unlucky strangers within hearing of my rather distinctive (muppetlike?) voice.

Originally, I figured I would only start a blog if it had a focused purpose: food recipes? restaurant reviews? movie reviews? reviews of current events? Well, I have this problem, see; I have a hard time narrowing things down. It's why my schedule is always full and yet I never seem to have time to do everything I want. It's why I can mostly play 4 instruments, own at least one piece of equipment for almost every kind of sport or outdoor activity, and it's probably also why I have a mixed breed dog. When people ask "this or that?" my only honest answer is "Both, please!"

So here it is: my blog of nothing in particular. Read it; don't read it; comment; don't comment; like it; don't like it-- it's all good. This is still a free country-- I can say what I like and you can agree or not.

And that is a beautiful thing...