Sunday, March 23

Pizza Party

Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.
Anna Quindlen

We had company for dinner this weekend and, as I've been so consumed by various projects at work, I didn't have time to plan until Thursday.  When I finally sat down to write out the menu, I drew a blank.  My pen tapped hollowly on the table. Tap, tap, tap...  "What should we have for dinner this weekend?" I muttered more to myself than to anyone else.

"Pizza!" yelled Eve from her bedroom.  She has the ears of a bat!  Of course.  Pizza is always the answer, isn't it?  That got me thinking.  Everyone likes pizza, right?
I remembered the Ratatouille pizza I made back in January with leftovers.  Hearty chucks of eggplant and zucchini, delicate shreds of sweet basil.  I've been meaning to make it again, with a topping that's not too wet, designed specifically for pizza.   And so I began planning a causal, relaxed pizza party.  Don't get me wrong; this is not you kid's standard, classroom pizza party.  I wanted a grown-up party with intense, grown-up flavours.  A party where my guests are laid back but the pizza is anything but.  Where the laughter flows as freely as the wine; where we eat with our hands, with our elbows on the table, and the conversation stretches long into the night.  That's my kind of party!

And so I started tossing various combinations of cheese and toppings around in my mind.  It had to be something that was a bit unexpected, a bit gourmet.  Something that my guests wouldn't soon forget because, let's face it, pizza parties are a dime a dozen.  I wanted to make an impression.  It wasn't until I finally went to the market Friday morning, and strolled through my favourite section of gourmet cheeses and charcuterie, that the menu became clear in my mind.  The ratatouille pizza would have a Parmesan and black pepper crust and would be dripping in tangy Asiago cheese.  Oh course, when I'm making pizza I cannot forget the salami one that my kids just adore.  Like pepperoni only smokier, without as much heat, with a sweet, homemade sauce and chunks of tangy Feta, I know that's what Eve had in mind when she made the suggestion.

Sunday, March 16


If magic exists it lives in a pot of chocolate.  Like a cauldron of witches brew, the more I stir the more it bewitches me.  The aroma, rising in rivulets like ghostly fingers, grips and pulls me in, deeper and deeper I fall under its spell.  Hypnotic.  Watching my spoon trace endless circles round and round the pot.  And the colour!  The deepest, richest, darkest brown.  The very same, intoxicating colour of my daughter's eyes.  It draws me in, beguiling, ensnaring.  She has yet to learn the power she holds in those chocolate eyes.  My daughter, in fact, has chocolate running through her veins.  She was, after all, named after chocolate.  Vianne, her middle name, after Vianne Rocher, the enchanting owner of the chocolaterie in Joanne Harris' novel, and my very favourite movie, Chocolat.  And how very appropriate.  It was for my daughter that I created this pie.

As I sat at my computer last Friday, I was inundated with tantalizing photos of pie in my twitter stream and on facebook.  They were, of course, in honour of National Pi Day (that mysterious number that defines the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of each and every pie plate, large or small.)  As I scrolled through the recipes I realized, in horror, that I hadn't yet created a peanut-free, peanut butter pie for my chocolate girl!  The tragedy!  I had to come up with something immediately!

So with all these glorious images at my fingertips, I scrolled through the peanut butter pies, picking and choosing only the very best elements from each to go into my salted double chocolate sunflower pie.  A chocolate cookie crust as the foundation.  The best, organic sunflower butter, beaten with tangy cream cheese and a good dose of vanilla.  Clouds of freshly whipped cream are carefully folded in, creating the most heavenly, pillowly texture.  If this filling was a bed, I'd sleep forever!  And the topping, the part I find most irresistible - pure, rich chocolate, gently melted into luscious cream and unapologetically  smeared over the filling.  And as if three truly decadent layers were not enough,  let's not forget the sea salt.  The finest French fleur de sel, still moist, sprinkled liberally over the warm chocolate like diamonds embedded into the darkest mahogany.  Need I say more?  Or are you as spellbound as I am?

Friday, March 7

A Tale of Three Oranges

Long ago, in a palace on a hill, there lived a young prince who was very unhappy; he neither laughed nor smiled.  One day, a cunning witch set out to make him laugh.  For she was intent on marrying the stoic prince and becoming queen.  She dressed in her finest gown - a robe as colourful as the wildflowers in April.  Tiny bells, sewn into the lining of her skirt, chimed in rhythm with the sway of her hips.  In the palace courtyard, when the sun at its highest, the beautiful witch began to dance.  Upon hearing the bells and seeing the flashing colours of her dress in the sunlight, the prince came to his window to watch.  But, with each twirl, a silver thread which held one of the bells began to unravel and soon the bell came loose and fell to the ground.  The witch didn't notice and slipped on the bell, tumbling to the ground in a heap, her rainbow skirts billowing up around her like a cloud.  The prince, having never seen anything so funny in all his life, burst into laughter.  He laughed so hard that tears streamed down his face.  In amazement, the people of the palace stared out their windows and doorways at the witch.  For they had never heard their prince laugh.

The witch, quickly becoming enraged, stood and yelled in anger to the prince, who was still giggling in the most childish of ways, "Because you have laughed at me, I place a curse over you!"  Suddenly the prince felt a heavy sadness sink into the very depths of his heart.  "You will never again laugh... unless you find the three oranges,"  In a swirl of light and color she marched out of the courtyard, the bells tinkling behind her in the most melancholy way...

It's a bedtime story I heard many times as a child.  Like a pot of soup made with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, it's based on the classic French tale, Les Trois Oranges d’Amour by Alfred de Musset, with elements of various other fairy tales stirred into the pot.  My mother and grandmother each told it a little differently, and I'm sure I'm leaving something out.  I'd nearly forgotten the story; I haven't heard it in over 25 years!  And when I tell you what finally drew it from the deep recesses of my mind, you'll laugh.  You see, I bought a new bottle of hand soap for the guest bathroom several weeks ago.  Honey Citrus and Shea Butter.  Sounds innocent enough, right?  But, every time I wash my hands, a spell comes over me.  It has such a dreamy, intoxicating aroma that makes me so hungry.  "I must make something that smells this good!"  I tell myself, then quickly forget as I go about my day.

But let me get back to our tale.  My mother would tell it while I lay in bed at night, talking in a quiet voice while she swooped around the room, gathering up toys and clothes and blankets to be put away.  

Feeling so overwhelmed with sadness, the prince left immediately on a quest to find these mysterious three oranges.  He searched the countryside far and wide, under every rock and every tree.  He even climbed into the branches, searching for oranges among the leaves.  But alas, oranges didn't grow in this part of the kingdom, and his search with fruitless. (Pun intended.)  Soon he came to the seashore.  Dark clouds hung low in the sky as immense waves violently raked the sand and threatened to wash him out to sea.  Quickly he took shelter in a nearby cave.  It was so very dark that he could barely see his hand in front of his face, but in a flash of lightening he noticed something in the corner.  As he fumbled in the darkness, his hands came to rest on three small boxes.  They were cool to the touch and he quickly stashed them in his bag.