White chocolate’s not chocolate…whatever. This bar of Askinosie white chocolate is everything: single origin, direct trade, small batch, cocoa butter made in-house, four quality ingredients, and farmers with a stake in the outcome. Even farmer Peter Cruz is featured on the package. Yay for socially responsible chocolate.
But more than the bean to bar production the ingredients in this bar make me giddy. Giddy like skipping down the street or tap dancing around the kitchen (which is exactly what I do). There’s the rich and earthy tang from goat’s milk (such a sexy pairing!), the layer of roasted cocoa nibs on the bottom, and the micro grains of sugar bits that you savor as the chocolate melts in your mouth. I’m basically saying that this white chocolate in no way resembles the horribly waxy bunny-shaped bars we’re all used to. It’s the perfect balance of white chocolate sweet, goaty-milky tang, and a satisfying-crystally crunch.
My other favorite version of this bar has pistachios in place of the cocoa nibs! Don’t be shy. Try them both.
INGREDIENTS: Organic cane juice, cocoa butter (made by Askinosie with Trinitario Davao cocoa beans), roasted cocoa nibs, goat’s milk powder.
It’s sad to say but the last official party I hosted was probably about 8 years ago. It’s lame because I love entertaining, and even in my early days as a hostess we always had fun snacking and sipping at my tiny old house in Wedgwood. I even converted a tiny extra room into a “Moroccan tea room” with tons of floor pillows and lots of candlelight. The guys especially loved calling it the make out room, but the only thing they ever did there was to get in the candle wax and make a huge mess. So yeah. Boys.
My idea of entertaining has changed only a tad, but I’m using this opportunity to plan and collect key pieces that I can use for any type of get together. Here’s the concept I have in mind, using similar pieces that I already have or have just found, and a color palate that is (hopefully) far from the horrifying search results one gets when looking for ideas on this sort of thing.
Etsy has been an amazing source for vintage pieces at really great prices too. I’d recommend spending time searching there, but only when you know precisely what you want (combing through the results is a disaster otherwise). eBay and Craigslist are also great resources, especially when you’re looking for larger lots of dinnerware. (Our set of salad plates came from Craigslist!)
I decided that I want everything to be neutral: crystal/glass/ceramic with small bits of silver and gold. I actually like mixing the two and with only small bands of it here and there I think it will be nice little touches. The flowers will be more neutral as well with ivory, blushes and natural greens. Yep, no red flowers! The only bits of color will be the guys above, and they’ll be in the form of crepe paper that I’ll make into some sort of garland.
Some quick tips on collecting pieces:
Crystal pitcher – This Waterford one here is quite lovely, but there’s no need to spend big money. Check out a current sale at One King’s Lane and see some great ones for about $30.
Linen napkins - I have the greatest little vintage linen napkin collection resulting from a few mixed lot listings for less than $15 each. A quick search will get you lots of great results.
Champagne coupes – don’t spend big money on these. (I don’t really love the ones here, save for the gold rim.) Again, search eBay, Etsy, Craigslist.
Silver Serving tray – even new ones can be inexpensive, just take the time to find one in the shape, size, and weight that you want.
Serving utensils – I just picked these guys up on One King’s Lane for $30. Mother of pearl too!
I’ve gotten a few questions about the ceramic tea cup I used in the matcha tea post last week so I figured I’d share all about it since it’s pretty freakin’ cool.
The ceramic is an ancient pottery technique called nerikomi (or neriage) where colored slabs of clay are folded and stacked to create patterns in the clay. It’s widely considered to be one of the more difficult techniques to master because of the painstaking and delicate care that’s required to create the patterns. I happened upon these pieces at Far 4 here in downtown Seattle. When I saw this cup it was so Andrew to me: the colors, the pattern, the shape. It was instantly special and I had to get it.
This particular series is created by master ceramicist Yusuke Aida, one of Japan’s most respected artisans. More than just a cup we often pause to admire it as an object of art…and when you consider that many of us are guilty of cupboards full of free mug swag or crummy tourist souvenirs it’s been really nice to have a unique and special piece to enjoy with tea every day.
Have you caught on that Andrew’s cup has become our cup? All the more reason to justify finding one for me now, right? I’m really liking this checkered guy here.
With Yusuke Aida in his 80′s now, there are some younger artisans that have taken up the art of nerikomi, and the price point is not quite as high as. I am really excited about discovering Sakai Mika. Her pieces are for sale online here. And if you’re curious to see more of the nerikomi process, check out this amazing post on her technique.
Yusuke Aida ceramics available online, or at the Far 4 shop here in Seattle.
I am in desperate need of a proper wallet. I can’t even tell you what I have at the moment, but I think its original purpose was to house business cards. It will be a big purchase, so I’m holding out for the perfect find. It has to be functional, practical, resilient, and stylish.
This absolutely perfect specimen of a wallet does not meet any of the main three criteria, but it sure as hell nails the stylish aspect. I got to play with it at Barney’s the other day and it was glorious. The soft rosy-nude leather was to die for; the perfect hue, but oh so frageelay. Just as it could easily be taken into sweet territory, the gold hardware adds a sexy edge. And with a dimension of 4×8 it could also double as a small clutch. Two-for-one!
An upscale lifestyle store in Seattle…on Capitol Hill? For real? No way!
Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!
Totokaelo (toh-toh-kye-oh) is a gorgeous new store on The Hill, but the shop itself has been around for a while (you may recognize it from its smaller location in Pioneer Square). Featuring quality artisan wares from around the globe alongside some high-end designer goods, Totokaelo is a beautifully curated boutique with pieces at all price points…though the higher end is where it skews.
I was really happy to see the selection of artisan Japanese ceramics I’d been eyeing online but had hesitated buying without seeing and touching first. (They were as gorgeous as I’d hoped.) Beyond housewares there’s lots to be seen, and even if that’s ALL you’ll be doing Totokaelo is a great afternoon window shopping excursion.
There will be plush towels, Japanese ceramic housewares, and gorgeous furniture…
…there will be designer trinkets and toys…
…there will be clothing, jeans and jewelry…
…and there will be shoes!
Soap Box moment: While some on The Hill see the addition of this store as a swing in the pretentious and materialistic direction, I welcome the boutique with its celebration of artisan crafts and grown-up style. If we’re talking about the downside of “the gentrification of Capitol Hill” let’s turn the argument toward the poor city planning and the BARRAGE of cheap condos and apartments, and all of the mediocre restaurants and bars popping up down every street and on every corner. So there. I’m done now.
Opulent to no end. Each one is made to order and adds white glove packaging and delivery. The shade is a Chanel scarf and the draping chains are pearls and gold-plated vintage beads. Very boudoir-esque, no?
Special order at Vivre $9,200. [Yes. Seriously.]
François Pralus Barre Infernale
Like coffee, chocolate is a luxury item that’s become so easily accessible that it’s easy to forget that for about $20 we have access to the best the world has to offer. Seriously, this is mind blowing! In a time where faster, cheaper goods reign supreme we have the ability to reallocate a few dollars here and there to appreciate the finer things and indulge in excellence…like, for example, this epic bar of chocolate.
I use the term chocolate bar only in the most literal sense: it is in the shape of a bar, and it is made of chocolate. In terms of the conventional sense, trust me when I say that there is nothing conventional about this chocolate.
This is the François Pralus Barre Infernale Lait. I’ve been struggling to find the best way to characterize this, but it’s been really tough. In the classic sense (and according to François Pralus) it’s a praline, but I think it might help most people stateside to think of this as a bon bon of sorts, with a truffle-ish center. (Did you catch that?)
The progression of textures and tastes is euphoric. The outer chocolate shell boldly encases and yet blends into the most sumptuous, buttery, and decadent chocolate hazelnut center. In short it’s the perfect fat: as it hits your palate it’s one cohesive bite, but almost immediately it coats your tongue and oozes sexy hazelnut chocolate. The addition of the toasted whole hazelnuts is the perfect bit of tannic crunch.
This is NOT excessive-cocoa-butter-waxy-bland, just pure decadence. I’m not saying this is an exact comparison, but when talking about this with my guy the word foie gras did come up. So yeah…there’s that.
I purchased this from Cacao in Portland for $22. It’s worth every cent not just because of its artisan craftsmanship and quality (and size), but also because it’s so decadent it’s meant to be savored. You’ll just want to slice a few pieces off at a time and store it away from anything too warm or cold. If you’re looking for this in Seattle, check out Chocolopolis in Queen Anne, they also have it online for $19.
UPDATE [December, 12]: This guy is getting hard to find. Try here.
In case you’re curious here’s a cheeky little how-to:
If this wasn’t enough to convince you I’m not sure what else there is! All I can do is beg you to skip the chocolate from Trader Joe’s and indulge in something better every now and then. Trust me, the endorphins you’ll get from this are priceless!