I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts.

When I was about seven or eight, I watched The Parent Trap II with my brother and our cousins.  The storyline isn’t that important (best friends want their single parents to marry, and — coincidence? — one of those parents is a twin played by Hayley Mills) but what stuck with me for some reason was a scene early on in the movie where the two young girls bake cookies.  They had a huge mixing bowl on a kitchen countertop, and the two kept on throwing in what seemed to me to be the craziest ingredients into their dough: marshmallows! Cap’n Crunch! M&Ms! pretzels!  Then the girls formed their cookies and put them in the oven, and all I could think was, Gross.

I really think that that movie is what turned me off of baking.  Interestingly enough, it didn’t turn me off of cookies.

In the time that’s passed since The Parent Trap II, I’ve made my peace with baking, and with what my seven-year-old self would have thought to be gross cookie ingredients.  As a seven-year-old, for example, I never would’ve even considered eating anything with coconut in it; like my former teacher Steve Almond wrote in his excellent book Candyfreak, “Oddly, it isn’t the flavor of coconut that troubles me, but the texture… I feel as if I’m chewing on a sweetened cuticle.”

True dat, Steve.Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies -- 10thirty.

I like coconut, I really do, but its cuticleness just drives me bananas.  I think that’s why I’m so surprised that I adore these cookies as much as I do.  The trick, with these not-overwhelmingly-sweet cookies, is toasting the cuticle out of the coconut and amping up the richness of its natural flavor.  As a result, you get these little soft bites of truly intense coconuttiness — which just so happens to pair quite nicely with a luxe dark chocolate, I might add.

Have these cookies changed my mind about coconut?  Perhaps not.  But they’ve definitely got me thinking about coconut a bit more, and with something like a smile on my face.

Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookies, from Cooking Light
Makes about twenty-five cookies

1 cup flaked sweetened coconut
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
¾ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 ounces dark chocolate (70% cacao), chopped
Cooking spray

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Arrange coconut in a single layer in a small baking pan. Bake at 350° for 7 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring once. Set aside to cool.
  3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk until blended. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Beat in vanilla and egg. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Stir in toasted coconut and chocolate.
  4. Drop by level tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until bottoms of cookies just begin to brown. Remove from pan, and cool completely on wire racks.
I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” was originally recorded by Merv Griffith, but I’ve had a huge fondness for Danny Kaye since childhood, and since he was a huge lover of food, I went with his version.

Books for Obama.

Last night I took a great one-time-only writing seminar with Steve Almond, one of my old college instructors and all-around fantastic guy.  The theme of the evening was defining the line separating fact from fiction, a topic that I think all writers consider at some point or another.  Anyway, that’s not what I want to discuss at the moment.  This is:

I’ve made a decision as to what I want to write about on this blog, and, amongst other things, politics is not one of them.  That said, this is a post about politics.  If you care about the future of this nation and if you like books, please visit Steve’s website at stevenalmond.com.  Through the month of October, he is donating all of his book sales from his site on the following three books to the Barack Obama campaign:

Please show your support.

Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond

candyfreak.jpgI’ve got a terrible sweet tooth, so how could I possibly not enjoy a book dedicated to candy — particularly when the candy in question is predominantly chocolate? Not only that, but to discover that the author, one of my favorite writing instructors, is a candy-lover too? And not just a candy-lover, but the big kahuna of candy-lovers? (What is a kahuna? Why do we use this phrase?)

Candyfreak was published in 2004, and I was so taken with its honesty and humor that I recommended it to everyone I knew. Afterward I put it on a bookshelf and kind of forgot about it. (Sorry, Steve.) Then, earlier this month, I read a food writing anthology that featured a passage from Candyfreak that not only had I always liked, but also highlighted one of my favorite chocolate companies of all time. Now, I was having some avoidance issues with a few other books at the time, so I rooted through my stacks in search of it and hunkered down.

I’m excited to report that Candyfreak is just as involving a read the second time around. Even though I knew it was coming, I still snickered gleefully at the following:

Here is a catalogue of all the candy in my apartment as of right now, 3:21 pm, October 6, 2003:

  • 2 lbs miniature Clark Bars
  • 1.5 lbs dark chocolate-covered mint patties
  • 24 bite-size peanut butter cups
  • 1 lb Tootsie Roll Midgets
  • Four ounces of Altoids-like cinnamon discs
  • Six ounces cherry-flavored jellies (think budget Jujy Fruits)
  • A single gold-foiled milk chocolate ball with mysterious butter truffle-type filling
  • Two squares of Valrhona semi-sweet chocolate (on my bedside table)
  • Three pieces Fleer bubblegum

I am not counting the fourteen boxes of Kit Kat Limited Edition Dark, which I have stored in an undisclosed warehouse location, nor whatever candy I might have stashed, squirrel-like, in obscure drawers.

I’ve got to say, Steve’s apartment at 3:21 pm, October 6, 2003 sounds incredibly like my own personal Barbie Dream House. Minus the Tootsie Rolls. I’ve never been fond of those.

Title notwithstanding, Candyfreak is about more than just confectionery items, chocolates and nonpareils. There’s also more to it than the history of Big Hunks, Peanut Chews and Twin Bings. It’s about Steve — his ties to the past and his hopes for the future. Candy just happens to be the thing that holds it all together.

Make That Three at a Time.

I don’t know how this happened. Actually, that sentence is what is called a bald-faced lie, as I do actually know how this happened, this being the fact that I am now reading three books at once. The three books in question are, in the order in which I started reading them:

The reasons why I am reading this books are as follows:

  1. book club
  2. I have no idea, and
  3. because I haven’t read it in some time; I like to reread books; lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Steve, who was my writing teacher twice in college; and it just so happened that there was an excerpt in The Best Food Writing 2004, which I finished reading earlier in the month.

I got entangled in these three very dissimilar books because :

  1. About a year ago I started a book club as a way to potentially meet new people and potentially read books I wouldn’t normally have chosen myself, which is how I ended up getting a used copy of Arsonist’s and reading it on my commute to and from work. Now, Arsonist’s is still in hardcover; while it’s not necessarily long it is still quite substantial, so when Keith and I went down to New York two weeks ago, I left it behind. I didn’t want to pack both my laptop (light at five pounds, but still) and the hardcover (not that long, but still) in my handbag (quite roomy, but still), especially because I would need to schlep everything around on the subway, since we weren’t leaving until after work. Instead I packed the infinitely lighter Best Food Writing 2004 And so…
  2. …when we got home from New York, I was fully embroiled in the food anthology and although I knew I could stop reading at the end of whatever excerpt I was in the middle of, I finished the book. This would have been the prime time to return to Arsonist’s, which I hadn’t really been enjoying as much as I hoped, but instead I reached for Intuition, which I purchased on recommendation (Whose? I don’t remember.) with a gift card I received for Christmas. This is where things got a bit repetitive: Keith and I are going to New York again this weekend, and it just so happens that my copy of Intuition is a bulky hardcover (also purchased used, by the way), and I’m again bringing my laptop, and I’m madly in love with my roomy handbag, and I’m not enjoying Intuition as much as I had hoped…
  3. …which brings me to Candyfreak. Like Arsonist’s and Intuition, I’ve Steve’s book in hardcover. Unlike Arsonist’s and Intuition, it was purchased at full-price, brand-new. In addition, it’s considerably smaller, both dimension-wise and length-wise. Oh, and I’m enjoying it much, much more.

I’m hoping, upon our return from New York, that I’ll finish Candyfreak, if I haven’t already done so, then plow through Intuition, before revving myself up to get Arsonist’s out of the way on or by the twenty-seventh, when book club meets. Then again, I might just pick up something else.