This post has been sitting on my desk, actually on my computer screen, open for the past week. If it were on paper, I would have probably torn it to little pieces by now. I can’t even remember, what was the point I wanted to make in this post?
In order to finish it, I need a good amount of chocolate. After treating myself to one square I found myself going back to the kitchen, a second trip, to bring the whole bar close to me. Creamy milk chocolate with almonds that my sister brought me when she came to visit us a few days ago. “My sister”, two words I haven’t used much in my life. I like that. But more about this some other time. Now, I’ve got another story for you.
The names, times, and places don’t matter. If you look closely, you will probably find someone near you with a similar experience. It, or another version of it, can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.*
You see, there’s this woman who owns and runs a little specialty food store where I have been shopping for the past 8 years. I like to go there every now and then and look for new ingredients. She brings all kinds of foreign food products from around the world, most of it you will not find at the usual grocery chain store. Through the years we have developed good relationships and got to know each other a little. We chitchat and sometimes share little personal anecdotes. This lady saw my children grow, she held them in her arms when they were babies, she talks with them too and sometimes gives them a little treat, or gently pinches a chubby cheek. We talk about all kinds of things, this and that, husbands, children, life in general, the news… I like that.
– OK, enough with the chocolate now –
Last week I went to the store after about two months that I haven’t been there. Like always, she asked me how I was and I answered that I had a bit of a crazy summer, yada yada yada… you know the story… And then she replied: “Believe me, I have a harder time”. I was surprised by this response, but I challenged her with a smile, “No, I had a harder time”, and she went “No, believe me, I do”, and I said “No, I do…” and then added, “OK, let’s hear your story”, and was still laughing about this childish exchange of arguments.
She then shared with me a story about her family. Turns out she is solely supporting three people emotionally, physically, and financially: an ungrateful 80 years old mother who needs the kind of care as if she was a 3 year old, a husband who suffers from depression, and a 20+ college girl who’s whole life is ahead of her. In addition to all that, she is running and managing the store all by herself and is barely making a living to support all four of them. She had tears in her eyes and I felt that I wanted to give her a big hug. I went behind the counter and we hugged.
It’s funny, or maybe “ironic” is a better word for it, how we see people around us but we don’t really see them, don’t you think? We’re mainly using our eyes, but not our hearts to see one another. We can “know” someone for years at work, in school, at the gym, it can even be a family member, or someone we consider a friend, but in some cases, we probably hardly know much about them.
Some people prefer the short and quick exchange of words with a cashier at the average grocery chain store because then they can still keep their anonymity and food safety and this is how they like it. Fine. As for me, I know that those cashiers might not be there the next time I shop so I don’t see the point in getting too deep into conversation with them. I have issues with separations so I prefer to invest in developing long-term relationships. This just doesn’t happen at Safeway, QFC, Ralphs, Vons, Whole Foods, or Albertsons.
There’s something special, even a bit magical, when shopping at little mom and pop stores, even at the fancier boutique stores. I see shopping at a small, local, and individually-owned business as being part of and supporting my local community. I want to be a part of that. I want to know the people. It’s a no brainer, just like the Chocolate-vanilla tea biscuits bars I am about to share with you.
Chocolate-vanilla tea biscuits bars
I felt like having a simple and back to childhood sort of dessert for the weekend. I made these bars/layered ”cake” using tea biscuits from that little food store. If you can’t find them where you shop try to make a graham cracker crust or use lady fingers (the ones that are being use for Tiramisu).
For a 9 x 13 inch (22 x 32 cm) pan
20-25 tea biscuits
1 small box (about 3 oz, 90 gram) INSTANT vanilla pudding
2 cups cold milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, optional
8 oz. chocolate (whatever you like, milk/semi/bittersweet, or a mix of all)
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream, optional
Place tea biscuits on the bottom of the pan in a single layer (cut any whole biscuit with a serrated knife if you need to fit into the last row).
In a bowl, prepare the pudding according to the instructions on the package. Set aside.
In a mixer bowl with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream with sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest using medium-high speed until the whisk leaves marks in the cream and holds pretty stiff peaks. (If you need to learn how to whip cream, see the photos below and also in this link.)
Gently fold the whipped cream into the pudding. Pour the mixture over the biscuits layer and chill until it sets.
Melt the chocolate:
1) Microwave method; (you have to use cream). Put the chocolate and cream in a bowl and microwave at 20 seconds intervals, mixing in between, until chocolate is completely melted. Cool a bit and pour over the pudding layer.
2) Bain-Marie method; (You don’t have to use cream. See photo below). Put the chocolate in a bowl over a pot with gently simmering water. The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Mix from time to time until the chocolate is completely melted. Cool a bit and pour over the pudding layer.
How to Bain-Marie:
* Warning to people who know me: Don’t dare ask me who this person is.