Tag Archives: chocolate

The Friday Night Smoke Follies, and Chocolate to the Rescue

BOY, I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW much I was looking forward to sitting in my comfy chair in the living room last night, a mug of Tazo wild orange tea and a little bowl of chocolate chips by my side. My big cardboard box of garden seeds on the ottoman. A stack of flower books on the floor. A roaring fire going in the fireplace.

The fire part happened but the rest didn’t. In fact, the fire was short lived, though it did blaze long enough to fill our entire house with smoke.

Yes, as I’m sure you guessed, the flue was closed.

But not because we didn’t open it. Or at least go through the motions that should have opened it. I’ll spare you the archaic construction of the mechanism that opens our flue; just know that a (hidden) pin that connects a knob to a lever unceremoniously removed itself so that screwing and unscrewing the knob no longer opens or closes the flue (we now know).

We have had backdrafts on windy nights, we have had times when the chimney didn’t draw right away. And because we thought the flue was open, the smoke at first didn’t alarm us. In fact I had hopped in the shower right after we lit the fire, only to hear the smoke alarm go off and find Farmer upstairs pacing (he hates the alarm). My partner was focused on turning off the smoke alarm when I came down the stairs in a towel – and the fire looked like it was drawing. So right at that moment I wasn’t worried.

I went back up the stairs to put some clothes on and immediately realized the bedroom was filling with smoke. (Smoke rises, don’t ya know!) Farmer clung to me, I threw my clothes on while trying to keep my face in the damp towel, and in the few minutes it took before I headed back downstairs, the smoke in the stairway became eye-stinging, cough-inducing bad. Thick. I saw that my partner had grabbed the fire extinguisher out of the hall closet and sprayed the fire (it was out) and was flinging open doors and windows.

I grabbed Farmer by the collar and ran him out to the car, where he hopped in (he loves the car) and stayed for the next three hours.

We, however, spent the next three hours (with all the doors and windows open and fans going, on a lovely 30-degree evening) removing just about everything from the living room, vacuuming first with the shop vac, then with the regular vac, and dusting every surface. In addition to the powdery residue from the fire extinguisher all around the fireplace, there was a fine layer of something (and in some places, not so fine) everywhere, including over all the upholstered furniture. The something I guess was part dust (we aren’t very good housecleaners), part ash, and mostly fire-extinguisher leavings. Delightful! 

The good news about having to do this kind of cleanup during a pandemic is that you have face masks lying around! (It’s a good look paired with a wool hat, a down vest, and a vacuum.)

After the living room, we moved into the breakfast room, where that layer of stuff also covered the dining room table.

Then we changed the blankets on Farmer’s bed and brought him in. It was late.

I’ll say this: I now understand how people can get quickly overwhelmed by smoke in a fire situation, while thinking they can get through it. I’d liken it to good swimmers who think they’ll be okay if they fall overboard into cold water (I used to be a sailor), when in reality, hypothermia can arrest muscle response in a matter of minutes. Yikes. That smoke was on steroids. (And yes, the house smells and will smell for some time.)

This was an exceptionally crummy endgame for this week as I had been working nonstop on my usual deadlines plus the 120-page Island Guide going to the printer on Tuesday. I was exhausted. I wanted my chocolate and my comfy chair! (Can you say whiner?!)

I made up for it this morning by plunking back into that chair (after getting up early to try and get a vaccine appointment with no luck), drinking lots of coffee out of my favorite Emma Bridgewater mug, and eating Chocolate Toast.

I had planned to write about seeds today (and chocolate). But I’ll have to report in next week about all the cool vegetables and flowers I’m planning to grow (and our fancy new LED grow-light gizmo).

I do need to air my concerns about my chocolate addiction. Not that I think it is going away any time soon. I have been hooked on Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips for a long time. Sometimes I am able to give them up for a while, but I always find my way back to them. They are my writing companions, and without them this week, I was bereft. I had purposely only bought one bag on the last grocery store run, thinking I’d wean myself off of them again. Bad idea. Halfway through the week I was rummaging through the odd old bits of baking chocolate, consuming everything with cocoa in it, including some really sugary Baker’s white chocolate, which frankly was disgusting. (You can see why I don’t drink alcohol anymore.)

Finally, my partner made a special trip to the grocery store to resupply me. It was a good thing it was him and not me, as I might have been tempted by Cadbury mini-eggs, too. I love those things – eek! What is it about chocolate?

Maybe you’re in the same boat, too, and frankly, it’s practically a prerequisite to celebrating Easter to consume chocolate. So, in my evil temptress way, allow me to point you in the direction of Abby Dodge’s Ultimate Flourless Chocolate Cake if you need an Easter dessert. (So. Good.) Or Abby’s Double Chocolate Cream Cheese Fudge Brownies or my Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies if you need a snack. (Who needs hot cross buns?) Consider these a reminder that you can find new recipes (and a free weekly newsletter) from me over on cookthevineyard.com.

If you celebrate Easter, may it be filled with much chocolate and little smoke.

P.S. Hey, speaking of Abby, she and I, along with our pal Martha Holmberg, have been asked to do a little Zoom panel on April 11 at 3 p.m. for the Fine Cooking Community FaceBook page. We’ll be talking about the early days of the magazine. If you’re a former Fine Cooking subscriber, you might be interested in joining this group.

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Feeling Cookie-ish, Part 2: Dark Chocolate Crackle Cookie Recipe

DSCN0945Chocolate and orange—Love it or hate it? This is one of the (grueling) debates we used to have in the Fine Cooking magazine test kitchen when it came time to test recipes for the holiday issues. There was always a chocolate soufflé or chocolate something that had orange zest or oil added to it. Some of us were firmly on the side of “no orange in my chocolate!” Me, I happen to be a fan. That bright, citrusy tang adds complexity by bringing out the fruity side of a good bittersweet chocolate.

But, yeah, in the scheme of things, these are not the kinds of debates that are going to keep us awake at night. (Although they are a good diversion from things that are!) And really, the one thing they remind me of this time of year is what a gift those test kitchen tastings were. After eight years at Fine Cooking—and hundreds of recipes tasted—I had this huge collection of taste memories to refer to whenever I needed a recipe for a special occasion (or any time, really). Of course the memories were tied to recipes printed in the magazines, and I still have all 130+ regular issues on the bookshelf right behind me. But lucky for you, they are all (mostly) online at this point (and available in a CD). And better still, recipes have been collected into specially themed magazines which are easy to reference. So when it comes time to start baking cookies in December, I just pull out my Fine Cooking Cookies issue. (You can purchase it for $7.49 in the Taunton Store right now).

Most of my favorite cookie recipes are from my favorite baker, Abby Dodge (the author of several outstanding cookbooks, including The Weekend Baker). I got to know Abby when we were mere children (ha!) in the early days of Fine Cooking. Abby was the magazine’s first test kitchen director.

She is a chocolate genius.


So even though I realize this is supposed to be a blog about cooking and growing vegetables, I am going to share Abby’s Dark Chocolate Crackle Cookie recipe with you today. I simply have cookie-brain right now. After posting the Giant Molasses Crinkles recipe last week, I thought, well, I’ll just keep on cookie-ing for now! Since my Dad is arriving today and he is a fellow-chocolate lover (he used to secretly steal bites out of my chocolate Easter bunnies), I figured it was a good time to make what may be my favorite holiday cookie (at least in the top three).

And yes, there is orange zest in this chocolate recipe. But the wonderful news is that the cookie is delicious with and without it. I’ve used the suggested 2 teaspoons, occasionally 1 teaspoon, and sometimes none. All have been wonderful. There is a lot of cocoa and chocolate here, but the investment is worth it since the recipe yields a lot.        

photo-277Dark Chocolate Crackle Cookies

Recipe by Abigail Johnson Dodge from Fine Cooking Magazine Issue 89

These deeply flavorful chocolate cookies have a light, cakey, almost-brownie-ish interior. They are fragile when hot, so let them cool for several minutes on the cookie sheets before moving. You can freeze balls of dough for up to 1 month instead of cooking them all right away. Thaw them overnight before proceeding with the recipe.

Yields about 5 dozen cookies


 11-1/4 oz. (2-1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. table salt

8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

2 oz. (2/3 cup) natural, unsweetened cocoa, sifted if lumpy

2 tsp. finely grated orange zest

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

3 large eggs

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled until barely warm

3/4 cup (4 oz.) chopped chocolate (white, bittersweet, or semisweet)

1/3 cup granulated sugar; more as needed

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Line three large cookie sheets with parchment or nonstick baking liners.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer), beat the butter, brown sugar, cocoa, orange zest, and vanilla on medium speed until well combined, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating briefly between additions. Add the cooled chocolate and mix until blended, about 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until almost completely blended, about 1 minute. Add the chopped chocolate and mix until blended, about 15 seconds.

Shape the dough into 1-1/4-inch balls with a small ice-cream scoop or two tablespoons.

Pour the granulated sugar into a shallow dish. Dip the top of each ball in the sugar and set the balls sugar side up about 1-1/2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are puffed and cracked on top, 11 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.



Hoop House Dreams and Chocolate Christmas Cookies

All I want for Christmas is a hoop house. I’m not expecting Santa to fit one of these in my stocking or anything. I’m not even really thinking the UPS truck is going to trundle down the driveway with a big box from the Farm Tek catalogue. Mostly because we try very hard not to buy much that’s brand new. We do a lot of salvaging and recycling to save money and materials. This isn’t unusual on the Island—it’s amazing what gets traded around. Our next door neighbors just gave us a small fridge for our mudroom (what a boon!), and while they’ve been using it for years in their garage, someone else owned it before them and passed it along.

So I’ve put out the word that we’re looking for a hoop house. Hoop houses (sometimes called tunnels) are greenhouse-y kind of things—simple structures really, made by erecting a series of metal or plastic hoops, stretching a plastic film over them, and anchoring the whole thing with baseboards. Doors, ventilation, and sometimes fans are added at the ends, and the whole thing is a brilliant season-extender for vegetable and flower growers. Hoop houses come in all sizes; you could design your own and make it as small as you like, or buy a kit that can be anywhere from 14 to 30 feet wide and 24 to 96 feet long. (The big ones are big bucks, obviously.)

I’m not looking for anything monstrous like I see at Morning Glory Farm (photo at top of blog and above, top left) or the FARM Institute (photos above, top right and lower left), but I kind of fell in love with a slightly smaller hoop house that I happened to be in last weekend. Our local Slow Food chapter teamed up with farmers Caitlin Jones and Allen Healey at Mermaid Farm (just a skip up the road from me) to stage a Kale Festival on Sunday, and I was tagged to demo a few kale recipes—in a hoop house, no less. Very cool. I only got a pic (above, lower right) before the demo started, but you can see that the board-and-hay-bale benches fit nicely, and it was a perfect setting for the demo, considering the hoop house was nestled right next to the kale fields.

But while staging cooking demos in a hoop house would certainly be an added benefit, obviously that’s not the reason I want one. What we need is a place to start our vegetable seedlings. Doing it indoors again is not going to cut it; there’s not enough surface area—nor do we have enough growing lights—to handle the hundreds of plants we must start. Buying more growing lights isn’t practical either with the amount of energy they use. A hoop house would give us plenty of room to start everything we need—plus some to sell. We’d get our lettuce going earlier, too (last year I direct-seeded it all), so we’d be able to harvest for the farm stand much sooner. With a hoop house, we could even experiment with ripening tomatoes earlier or growing hotter peppers.

Practical reasons aside, I also just plain like the sensual pleasures of a hoop house. The quality of the diffused light is dreamy; the soaring, sweeping curves uplifting. For me, working in a hoop house is one step closer to the outdoors—a place I need to be at least part of every day. (Granted I have toiled in an under-ventilated hoop house in August, and it is not pleasant. But the extra warmth one provides in spring and late fall more than makes up for this.)

I have to be patient though, as this hoop house thing, I’ve come to realize, involves Builder Boy in a big way. (A hoop house is just not going to erect itself in our back yard.) And he happens to be very busy right now putting an addition on a house. And it’s not like we really need the hoop house for a couple of months. So I am occupying myself otherwise (both indoors and out) to keep my mind off the hoop house. Reading seed catalogues and farm memoirs (my favorite so far is The Seasons on Henry’s Farm), plotting out the new garden on poster board, sending in our soil test, turning over the remaining empty beds (arugula, kale, and lettuce still thriving, some in the cold frame), adding composted manure, planting the last of the winter rye.

Oh yeah, I’ve been in the kitchen, too, but not cooking nearly as many vegetables as I have been baking cookies. I’m on a tear this year since the universe has been handing me little windows of between-deadline free time. So I am indulging myself (and Builder Boy…and Farmer, who inevitably gets a nibble of everything Roy eats, except chocolate) and making a different cookie nearly every day. (Freezing for Christmas gifts, too.) The best so far is one from my very favorite baker, Abby Dodge. I couldn’t begin to count the recipes she’s created that have become a part of my regular repertoire. But I can tell you that if you love chocolate, you will absolutely not be sorry if you make these Dark Chocolate Crackles. I swear on my future hoop house.