Ramp It Up: The World’s Greenest Soup


I got to go to my first farmer’s market of the year yesterday. I crawled out of bed, and got there early because if you arrive after 9:00, you get caught in the ambling zombie shuffle of people who think that their cheese curd samples are more important than my cheese curd samples, and I think we all know, that’s just crazy talk.

The downside of getting their early, and avoiding cheese curd related murder, is it was freezing.

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Sinister Citrus: Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake and Being a Grown-Up

I’ve spent a lot of time in my twenties wondering when a person becomes an adult.

Is there a magic age when you suddenly…

  • Drink enough water?
  • Remember your multivitamin, even if they’re the sour gummy kind?
  • Make the bed in the mornings?
  • Don’t spill pasta on your laptop’s keyboard? (That one just happened.)
  • Consistently wear socks that match?
  • Understand what a 401K is? (Current theory: Every month, I give away some of my money, and when it amounts to 401,000 dollars, someone gives me a burrito. But like, a good one. I don’t even have to pay extra for guacamole. And then they give me all my money back. And then they give me some extra money as an apology for taking all my money, and then another burrito.)
  • Generally just be better at things?

I usually always settle with the answer, “I am an adult, but I may just not be very good!”

Seeing as I just rage-quit filing my taxes because I hated it and the website was getting a little too cute with me and while I remember most of the lyrics to “Come Sail Away” by Styx, I don’t remember last year’s adjusted gross income, it’s pretty safe to say, I think the answer holds up.

I’ll finish them. I promise. Talking to you, IRS! (I’m sure they’re big fans.)

So yeah, I’m working on this adult thing. Being better about vegetables, posture, bills, showers (JUST KIDDING!), and while it’s hard to keep all the bases covered all the time, one small thing I’ve found that starts the day on the right foot is always making sure you have breakfast.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

I just made that up. Just now. That was me.

This week’s recipe is curtesy of Smitten Kitchen‘s Instagram. I then immediately googled how to save things on Instagram. Because I wanted to save that recipe, and also, I am bad at being a millennial.

Being-a-Grown-Up Breakfast: Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake (with some edits)

I’m a sucker for a blood orange. If you’ve never had them, they’re a little bit tangier than an orange, and they have a deep crimson color.

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You Butter Believe It: Butter, Scones, and Winter

I’m really bad at winter. Really bad.

I don’t like going outside, but don’t want to stay inside. Coats are stupid. Ice is stupid. My socks are in perpetual need of repair. Not to be inflammatory or anything, but I just don’t think winter is very good at all. It could be better. Maybe it needs some hobbies.

Mostly-real thought: “I should get some exercise! I don’t want to exercise in my apartment though , but if I go outside, I’ll slip on the ice and get a head injury and that will ruin my sparkling no-head-injury streak. I probably just shouldn’t exercise.”

I’m just not very good at winter. Logic breaks down, my spirit hot on its tails. The good news is the internet offers a lot of remedies to make winter not quite so stifling (Lamps! Lamps made of crystal! Other lamps!). Because I’m evidently not so good at winter, and subsequently, not so good at winter remedies, I mostly tried my own things.

And if there’s one thing I can tell you, it’s how not to battle seasonal affective disorder. The following methods do not work:

  • Pacing your apartment mumbling the words to “Let it Go” while weeping
  • Staring directly into the sun while scream-singing “Happy” by Pharrell
  • Crush three entire bottles of Nature’s Own Vitamin D pills and mix it into hot chocolate that you drink while reading a biography about Dick Van Dyke
  • Wear seven sweaters simultaneously, and yelling  Sweater weather! Sweater weather!”
  • High-fiving snowmen

Winter is hard, and when winter saps me of all motivation and energy, the 10 percent of my brain that I call “adult Meredith” has to play activity director for the other 90 percent, and those activities most often comes down to cooking.

And lucky me, between Christmas, Christmas money, and stealing cookbooks from my family’s home (they weren’t using them!), I came back to Wisconsin Winter armed with four new cookbooks.

I’ve had the cookbook Milk Bar Life for awhile, and it is very well-loved. It is a collection family recipes, both biological and work, and New York favorites recreated by author Christina Tosi.

The back cover of my Milk Bar Life. And yes. I cooked it. That’s a thing I did.

One of the new additions to my cookbook collection is Tosi’s original publication Milk Bar, the recipes from the Momofuku Milk Bar (a favorite of mine while at school). These recipes look amazing. She includes the classics for which the bar is best known, cereal milk ice cream, crack pie, cake truffles, etc., while also including some close cousins of those recipes so you can vary your menu at home.


They also look a little expensive for people who splurged on her Middle Eastern themed dinners last week. (I mostly just had to keep buying flour because I kept messing up the pita. I also ended up using an entire bottle of olive oil. I don’t think I was supposed to use that much olive oil.) They probably don’t look that expensive for normals.

Flipping through the cookbook today, I was looking for a recipe that 1) looked like I wouldn’t mess it up and 2) looked like I already had most of the ingredients, and sadly but also very appropriately given my southern heritage, I settled down on her recipe for mustard butter.

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Baking Cookies: A Lesson in Pioneers and Inner Beauty

Well, here we go.

No, but thank you for offering.

We got our first snow this morning, y’all! And after shrieking “NO!” into my pillow for 47 minutes, throwing three shoes at the wall, explaining to my neighbor why I threw three shoes at the wall, openly wailing, explaining to my neighbor, curious about the open wailing, that we might be dealing with a ghost and definitely not my melodrama, I said to myself, “the pioneers never wailed about snow. They only wailed when the coyotes stole the butter churn.” I pulled myself up by my novelty socks, and decided to go to do human things. Like clean and go to the grocery store. And stop wailing.

For the record, it’s not the temperature or the snow that gets to me, but the seemingly interminable nature of the temperature and the snow. It’s a marathon. A cold, frigid (hopeless?) marathon. But the one thing Winter has going for it is the holidays.

You’ve got something to look forward to! You’ve got a month where you don’t care so much about the temperature growing colder and roads getting more hazardous because if you celebrate like me, you have decorations and gift-shopping and baked goods and movies about people learning the real meaning of Christmas! Hint: it’s not about presents.

SO! Welcome to Christmas at Under The Parrot Umbrella! We’re not haunted by prospective seasonal affective disorder here!

The decorations: The family tree has been plastic for a long time. I do have vague memories of going to buy a real tree, but I have many more memories of trying to remember all the things that broke with its plastic counterpart the year before. “Were the lights always broken? Did it always tilt to the side? Were we always missing branches?”

So this year, I decided to get a small four foot tree for my apartment. This is my house! We will have whimsy! Evergreen-scented whimsy!

I’m learning, thanks to all the needles on the ground after one week of having the tree, there may have been reasons to go plastic.

The gift-shopping: Yeah, like I’d tell you. Though I will mention while I was home for Thanksgiving, I caught my mother googling, “odd but wonderful Christmas gifts.” Trying to tap into Google’s whimsical side, I guess.

The baked goods: Today’s baked good is only the jolliest of cookies: gingerbread!

Unfortunately, baked goods, even jolly ones, means going outside.

Every Sunday, Spring through Fall, I walk to the grocery store, and after staring at my rolling cart, that I, only with the deepest affection, call the “I’m an old lady” cart, for 5 minutes, I decided I should probably walk today too. Exercise!


Me: Maybe I should take my car.
“I’m an old lady” cart: Get up. We’re walking to the store you lazy bag of hairballs.
Me: ….you know that hurts my feelings.
“I’m an old lady” cart: When I was your age I didn’t have feelings.

Aside #1: the walk was pretty uneventful. As a general “don’t worry about me, parents!” disclaimer, whether driving or walking, when it’s snowing, a person should always act as if other drivers’ breaks won’t work. Not in a “the world is a death trap!” way, but in a way that gives other cars a wide berth because ice is a sneaky minx and can surprise you.

Aside #2: The grocery store has been going through a revamp, and today I find this where the cheese used to be…


Me: Where’s the cheese, grocery store?! WHERE’S THE CHEESE?! I DON’T CARE ABOUT SNAPPLE. I NEED MY FANCY CHEESES. DO YOU THINK THIS IS A GAME? WHAT SICK PART OF YOU THINKS YOU CAN MESS WITH PEOPLE’S HEARTS LIKE THIS? *shoves the grapefruit display to the floor*
Grocery store: It’s ten feet to your left.
Me: Cool, thanks so much!

*Goes back to listening to “Larger than Life” by the Backstreet Boys*

For my gingerbread recipe, I went with the Pioneer Woman’s, but instead of charming houses, we’re going to make gingerbread studio apartments.

Let’s break this down into 1) making the cookie dough, 2) making the icing, 3) making the den of insecurity the apartment.

Dough-pe*

*Like “dope.” Because my dough will be dope! I am very cool.

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Recipe Review: Chicken and Rice a la Food Lab

Some things…

this is a garbage system.

  1. The threshold on my AC unit between “Why do you hate me” cold and “I want to die” hot is only visible by microscope.
  2. My birthday was last week!
  3. I recently had a bit of a crohn’s flare.

I’ve mentioned it briefly in the past, but to clarify, I have crohn’s disease. And for those unfamiliar with the comings and goings of autoimmune diseases, you deal in ebbs and flows. Flares and remission. Totally fine and not-at-all fine.

Or in the case of my and my Crohnie-colon, totally fine and low-to-medium fine. I’m pretty lucky as crohn’s disease goes, but the flares are there and one struck this week.

When that happens, there is a certain diet I cling to while I wait for my medicine to dole out some talking-tos. The food is as inoffensive as possible, so your system can get back online while you also don’t pass out, and inadvertently pull a hilarious prank on your officemate.

My pranks are really great.

Basically-real thought processes when in dietary recovery mode:

Does this thing I’m eating taste like something?
…Yes?
Well, stop eating it!

Am I enjoying eating this thing?
…I mean, kind of.
What are you thinking?!? (Left hand smacks the Salt & Vinegar chips out of right hand)

How’s that baked chicken and plain rice treating you?
…Tastes like sadness.
DO YOU THINK THIS IS A GAME?! CHICKEN AND RICE IS YOUR LIFE BLOOD! IT TASTES LIKE RAINBOWS!

For me, take the BRAT diet- bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast- and add plain chicken. BRACT. BARCT. Almost-CRABS!

Sunday through Monday: A banana. Chicken and rice. Applesauce. Another banana. Chicken and more rice. Applesauce. Chicken and noodles, but basically rice. More applesauce. More rice, and also chicken. Three bananas. Rice shaped into a chicken.

On Wednesday, I felt my body gain a little traction. So, I logically deemed it all right to eat a strawberry milkshake, a cheeseburger, cream soda, and roughly 42 cherry Starbursts. (The best Starburst.) The next morning, I woke up with aches radiating out from both hips, a telltale sign I’ve done a bad thing.

It was then I decided, I needed to become a person who doesn’t assume 42 cherry Starbursts are fine. Who doesn’t currently have a deep and meaningful relationship with Flaming Hot Cheetos. Who doesn’t eat bleu cheese and hot sauce on crackers when it was too late to make dinner.

It was time to be a person! I’m 28 now! It’s time to eat vegetables and drink water and make peace with chicken and rice! Optional: Don’t make an art out of “on a cracker” meals.

Like a person-who-makes-delicious-things from above, Kenji Lopez-Alt posted a recipe on The Food Labs Facebook page for, get this, chicken and also rice. More specifically, halal-cart chicken.

It’s sound delicious. Let’s do this thing:

The chicken

I’ve said it before. Raw meat is super gross, you guys, but then it turns into delicious things, and you forget you were once faced with a bird autopsy!

I’ve also become convinced, the way to make killer chicken is a nuclear accident a marinade. And Kenji’s was pretty great.

garlic, olive oil, garlic, garlic, and also oregano

As per usual, I didn’t want to spend the seemingly thousands and thousands of dollars five dollars per spice, so instead I just upped the garlic! Never a bad idea! (Except those times it was a bad idea.)


My paranoia-pro-tip for marinading meat is the protector bowl. My biggest refrigerator-based fear is the Ziploc bag bursting, and the bowl sees to it that you don’t have to worry about that! Now, you can spend all your time worrying about spontaneous-refrigerator-explosion.

Come to think of it, other people might already use the paranoia-bowl. How should I know? I just became a person this week.

Four hours later, and it’s time to cook the chicken.

Kenji’s instructions: “Add the chicken pieces and cook without disturbing until they are lightly browned on the first side, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, flip the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the chicken is cooked through and the center of each thigh registers 165°F. on an instant-read thermometer, about 6 minutes longer.”

Ok. At this point, I’m looking at my three packs of chicken thighs (I grabbed an extra to cook for work lunches), and looking at his estimate of “6 to 8” pieces in his recipe. I count, and I have 20 chicken thighs. Something has gone wrong.

But what do you do with extra raw chicken?* You cook it!

enter: skillet

It very quickly became apparent that the following things were true:

  • This chicken is already disturbed. I’m cooking it. I think jostling it around the pan is the worst of it’s problems.
  • I’m not going to measure the temperature, Kenji. I’m just going to keep flipping it looks e coli-averse.
  • I’m going to die before I cook all of this chicken.

47 years later and two different shirts being treated for oil splashes, the chicken is finally done. On to the rice…

The Rice

I originally set out for this to be a one-pot recipe. It actually worked out that I was wildly inpatient, and pulled out a skillet.

According to the recipe, you melt some butter and toast the rice before cooking it, but I still wanted the good flavor bits still left in the bottom of my skillet.

Recipe-Rogue! Take half a cup of the chicken broth, and while the skillet is still hot, use it to scrape off all the flavor left behind. When the rice is done toasting, pour that into your dutch oven with the rest of your chicken broth.


Recipe-Rogue (AGAIN)! I have a hard time digesting certain vegetables -I’ve essentially written kale out of my life- but when I cook rice or soups, I always like to get some extra vegetables that the recipe doesn’t call for. It allows me to sneak some nutrition and texture in, and because with rice and soups, you’re letting it cook for longer, it doesn’t have quite the same “consequences.” Basically, cook the hopes and dreams out of it, you guys.

This time, I went with cabbage. I mixed it in with the rice when toasting it, and it was perfectly cooked by the time the rice was ready.

The Sauce

Truth be told, I didn’t go with Kenji’s sauce. It’s probably delicious, but in an effort to keep this meal as stomach-friendly as possible, I steered clear of the mayo.

I ended up crafting a homegrown tzatziki. I highly recommend Ina Garten’s tzatziki, but if you’re feeling a little more slapdash (and I will admit, nothing about this is authentic), here’s my version:

  • 2 cups of plain greek yogurt
  • 1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Dill till your heart’s content.

Here’s how…

  1. Realize you bought vanilla yogurt. Walk back to the grocery store. Double check that you got plain yogurt.
  2. Seed and chop the cucumbers.
  3. Dump all of it in a bowl.
  4. Eat with everything.

I added some radishes and some shredded carrots, and all in all, I really like this dinner plate. It’s got flavor, but nothing that would rock the boat. Would I recommend this recipe? Yes!

Do I still want to eat 42 cherry starbursts? Yes.


Growth is a process, guys.


*You freeze it. I’m realizing now that you freeze it. Bad call, self.

Spreadable Garlic: For Fighting Spreadable Vampires

 

my life.

 
February and I have never had a great relationship.

The sheen of the new year has worn off. Winter is just hitting its stride, but between Fall and January, you’re all sweatered out. What once brought you so much joy, just makes you feel like a baked potato. Emotional death by turtleneck.

This February was no different. Winter and work joined forces. The goal? Make Meredith exhausted, while also twitchy with cabin fever. It’s a fun combination for everyone involved.

Seeing as this week brings the month of March, I wanted to get back on the blogging-horse. In other news, I would definitely pay to see a blogging horse.

That being said, let me list the things of which I am afraid:

  • Manganese deficiencies
  • Vampires
  • Smelling too good
  • Friends

Fortunately, there’s one thing that can help you battle all of these fears: Garlic

In Christina Tosi’s cookbook Milkbar Life, she includes a recipe for “Spreadable Garlic”. Brace yourself, vampires of suburban Wisconsin. Garlic can spread now.

The ingredients:

  • Five heads of garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Aluminum foil
  • For the stinky brave: 3 anchovy filets
I call them my "little baby aliens" and/or Harry Potter's Tylenol.

I call them my “little baby aliens” and/or Harry Potter’s Tylenol.

  1. The recipe says, using a sharp knife, chop off the top eighth of an inch from your garlic heads. The Meredith Edit: An eighth of an inch is actually not many fractions of an inch. The later parts of the recipe will go a lot more smoothly if you chop off a little bit more. Go for half an inch. Then, place the heads on a sheet of aluminum foil.
  2. Drizzle one table spoon of olive oil over each of the bulbs, followed by a sprinkle of kosher salt.
  3. Seal the aluminum foil into a pouch, and roast for two hours at 350 degrees.
  4. Let the garlic cool slightly.

It doesn't get prettier. It does smell delicious, though.

It doesn’t get prettier. It does smell delicious, though.

This is where we need to pause and quote Tosi word for word.

Next step: “…while they are warm, pop the garlic cloves out of their skin and into an air tight container.”

Ahem. The garlic does not pop out of anything. When you only cut off the top eighth of an inch, most of the cloves are still sealed. So instead of “popping” the garlic out, one is forced to “toothpaste” the garlic out: Take the clove of garlic, grip one end to the cutting board, and using the blade of a knife, slide it to the other side of the garlic squeezing the garlic out of the first break in the skin. It’s messy and inefficient and gets so much garlic all over your hands, you’ll be forced to make up excuses like telling people that it’s the hot new thing in skin care. FYI, they won’t believe you.

The conclusion: Chop off more than an eighth at the beginning of this adventure. The top of the cloves are open, and they are much poppier.

Seasonal Affective Disorder? Throw some color at it. That’s a thing.

Possible uses for spreadable garlic:

  • Spread on a sandwich
  • Include on a meat and cheese plate
  • Stir it into your chicken salad
  • Serve on meat or fish
  • Incorporate it into a salad dressing
  • Incorporate it into your vampire fighting

The Meredith Edit: Given that this recipe is a thousand percent garlic, it makes sense that it is very garlicky.* I added three anchovy filets to my jar of spreadable garlic. It was enough salt to cut through the garlic, but not enough for the jar to smell and taste like a dock.

*Surprising.

Review: The Food Lab Does Breakfast

 

Queen Victoria also likes science based recipes

A few months ago, I was gifted The Food Lab by Kenji Lopez-Alt. It is a big honking, beautiful, brick of a book. If cooking is not your thing, it also works as an effective weapon against intruders.

If you like knowing the science and mechanics behind your food, this is the book for you. If you like to go off book when you’re cooking, maybe stick with “Do What You Want” Stew. His recipes can be meticulous, and specific, and frankly, a little involved, but having tried a good number of his dishes, the results are typically amazing. His recipe for extra-crunchy fried chicken is still some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.

I’ve mentioned previously, I use my Sundays to prep my food for the whole week, and all signs point to this being a long one. Cue breakfast! Breakfast is the best, you guys. I don’t understand people who don’t like breakfast.* There is nothing more comforting than a breakfast sandwich, a cup of coffee and a book, preferably about Queen Victoria. She was a weirdo, but she’s my kind of weirdo.

I digress. I remember once as I child, my mom saying, “we’re having breakfast for dinner,” and thinking it was truly the ultimate rebellion. Breakfast for dinner?! Get out of this town. Breakfast is for morning time!

I always was a rule follower.

So with a little help from my culinarily-rebellious half, let’s see how Kenji does breakfast. This week’s agenda: lemon ricotta pancakes, potato hash with corned beef, and bacon. Because of course, bacon.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes:

Why is my stove always so dirty? Also, I’m realizing now, white blobs aren’t super appetizing.

Both the good thing and bad thing about The Food Lab is Kenji includes the recipe for everything. Everything. You get excited about a recipe, and get ready to cook, and suddenly you realize that you were supposed to make your own fresh ricotta and dry pancake mix for this recipe, as well as craft your own mixing bowl from clay you gathered during your travels.** But don’t worry, those recipes are all included.

Ultimately, I don’t think you’re going to ruin anything by buying pre-made ingredients from the grocery store, especially if you have a track record of not making cheese very well, but I tend to get a little paranoid about that, given how specific his instructions are.

For example, the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of melted butter, that has been slightly cooled. How slight is slightly? Or the instruction to, “heat 1/2 teaspoon oil in a 12-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers.” Until it shimmers? What if I have a generally-shimmery outlook on life? I don’t, but what if I did??

In my kitchen shimmers=when I’m worried the pan is getting too hot, and my kitchen lighting isn’t conducive to shimmering so just do it already!

Snark aside, this was a pretty straightforward recipe, and truthfully, pretty lovely to prepare. Zesting lemons always leaves my studio apartment smelling nice and clean. And the reality is, my apartment is kind of nice and not at all clean. I chose to save the rest of the batter, and fix the pancakes on the spot throughout the week. That also allows me to change it up a little bit, if I want to mix in some blueberries and raspberries.  Would I make it again? Definitely, yes.

I’m pretty sure I burnt them, but the pancakes had a nice subtle flavor that paired with the potato hash really well. And speaking of…

(Here is the recipe, so you can try it on your own. )

Hash(tag): 

(You don’t have to tell me how clever I am. Unless you want to. Then send it to me in an email because compliments make me uncomfortable.)

Sigh. I am once again microwave-less when a recipe calls for a microwave. According to the recipe, I’m supposed to cook the potatoes in the microwave till “slightly undercooked.” I employed the Meredith “Poke it and See What Happens” method. If you are unfamiliar, and you are cooking potatoes in an oven, when you should be cooking them in a microwave but you don’t have a microwave, preheat the oven to 400. Leave them in there for 8 minutes. Then, poke them to see if they feel slightly undercooked. No? Stick them back in the oven. Yes? Awesome. Thanks for using the Meredith “Poke it and see What Happens” method. It was a pleasure to have you.

Don’t be intimidated, I’m just very good at food.

I’m less good at deli counters. I was trying to buy corned beef today at the deli counter, and asked for “8 ounces of corned beef in thick slices,” what I got was 8 slices of corned beef in “very thin slices.” Come on, deli guy! I just mastered the meat counter! Don’t ruin my confidence!

So this recipe, originally advertised as potato hash with corned beef, has turned into potato hash with dreams of corned beef. A corned beef after taste. An air of corned beef. The corned beef is basically a garnish.

As for the recipe, it’s pretty good. It’s hard to mess up what equates to a big skillet full of stuff. Because I’m pairing this with the lemon ricotta pancakes, I plan on adding a cup of spinach to the pan when I reheat it to try to calm down carb central. On that note, I also went 50/50 on the russet potatoes and the sweet potatoes. The recipe calls for all russet, but when you eat sweet potatoes it at least looks like you’re trying to be healthy. Would I make it again? Yeah, if I had a craving.

Bacon: 

Pretty much what you would expect out of a recipe that explains how to cook bacon.

  1. Have frying pan.
  2. Put bacon in frying pan.
  3. Wait.
  4. Eat bacon.

So I don’t have a lot to say on the matter. Much like the hash, it’s hard to mess up bacon.

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Timeout: I’m eating these things as I type this post. I’m not a big pancake person, but I HIGHLY recommend them. I cooked two servings of the batter for dinner tonight, and I want to go make more. I’m definitely going to make these again.

——————————————

  

 Overall:

If you want a cookbook with specific dishes that you can quickly make on a weeknight after work, this is not the book for you. If you want a cookbook that will teach you technique and culinary staples that, once mastered, you can use over and over again, The Food Lab is more your speed.

And if you fear intruders, I’m telling you, it’s got some heft.

You guys! This was pretty successful! I love when recipes don’t end in me wondering if I should just throw away a pan!

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*I don’t know if we’ve discussed this, but I don’t actually like chocolate. When people discover that, I always grow weary with the inevitable response, “but it’s chocolate!” But when I hear people don’t like breakfast, an indignant, “but it’s BREAKFAST!” is not far behind. I stand by my indignation. Chocolate continues to be mediocre.

**That last one is a lie. But if you do make clay mixing bowls, I think it would probably help.