Playing Hooky: White Rabbit Cacao, Muffins and Saul Bass

Instead of working on a Luxury & Fashion News post today, I instead took some time away from the news front to sample some New Zealand artisan bean to bar chocolate, bake some muffins, and read the Saul Bass book I bought myself for Christmas.

1.) White Rabbit Cacao: One thing I miss about not being in the United States is the ready and easy access to all kinds of artisan food products, from cheeses and meats to baked goods and chocolates.

While New Zealand’s food production is some of the best you’ll find, the smaller consumer audience here (and the sheer distance from most of the rest of the world) makes specialized production not quite as attractive an option for making a living as, say, setting up a business in the U.S.

So after wistfully reading Joey Alycia’s first-person account of her tour of the Mast Brothers chocolate factory in Brooklyn, New York, I hopped online to see if I could find any artisan bean to bar chocolate makers here in New Zealand — and what do you know, I found one!

White Rabbit Cacao - Madagascar dark chocolate (75% cacao)
White Rabbit Cacao — bean to bar chocolate, and made in New Zealand

Located deep in the Southern Island of New Zealand, about 1530 kilometers from Auckland (or around 950 miles), it’s not exactly an afternoon jaunt, but the next time we’re in Queenstown, I’m bugging the BF to take an extra day so we can drive out to Cromwell and meet the people behind White Rabbit Cacao — cuz this stuff is *good*!

They make four different varietals from single bean estates: Dominican Republic 70% cacao dark chocolate (my favorite — it has a fruity complexity that absolutely took me by surprise); Costa Rica 70% cacao dark chocolate; Venezuela Mantuano 72% cacao dark chocolate; and Madagascar 75% cacao dark chocolate (my second favorite — a deep, earthy bitterness that’s wild and rich).

2.) Banana Nut Muffins — I had some bananas ripening on the counter and it was definitely time to do something with (about?) them. One of the best, practically fail-safe muffin recipes I’ve found is the one out of the River Cottage Everyday book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

The recipe is actually for Lemon Curd muffins, but it’s easily adaptable to substituting jams, fresh fruits, berries and nuts. And it gives me the opportunity to play around with my collection of Aftelier chef’s essences, to boot.

Banana Nut Muffin
Banana Nut Muffins with yoghurt and spices

I think one of the best tips from the River Cottage Everyday recipe is to substitute 125 grams of almond meal for 100 grams of the plain flour (the recipe calls for 225 grams of plain flour total). This gives the muffins a beautifully nutty flavor foundation while contributing to a particularly crispy exterior.

*NOTE 1: I always add additional nuts for extra crunch on the inside, too.

Ingredients: plain flour, almond meal, baking powder, vanilla sugar, rapadura sugar, vanilla herb salt, allspice powder, cinnamon powder, ground vanilla beans, unsalted butter, whole milk, plain yoghurt, eggs, mashed bananas, roasted Brazil nuts, roasted almonds, rolled oats and Aftelier cinnamon essence, with Demerara sugar to top.

I also made an apricot and plum fruit sauce to serve with the muffins (or to spoon over ice cream, whichever we prefer!). I have a pic — it may not look like much, though it tastes terrifically tart and fresh.

Apricot & Plum sauce (with orange and cinnamon)
Fruits for the saucy

I was bizzy!

3.) Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design — And to wrap up my day and reward myself for baking and stewing so assiduously, because, you know, it’s such hard work (yeah, right, I couldn’t keep a straight face saying that, either), I sat down with the Saul Bass book I bought myself for Christmas.

*NOTE 2: I say “For Christmas”, you say “Just Because”, tomato, tomahto, etc. etc.

Maria Popova (at her excellent website Brain Pickings) states that Saul Bass is “possibly the most famous graphic designer of all time” and that the recently published book that looks back at his influence on 20th and 21st century design is “truly, one of the most beautiful, inspirational, important design books you’ll ever lay eyes and hands on.”

Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design
The best design book of 2011

And while that may sound like hyper-exaggeration for its own sake, it’s not. The book is indeed an astonishing endeavor, with a respectful and loving examination of the man’s life work, made even more immediate and personal because it was designed by his daughter, who obviously (and deeply) respects her father’s prodigious talent.

But if nothing else, the book will introduce you to my new all-time favorite B-movie, Phase IV:

Efficiency trumps spontaneity every time

The minute I read about it, I had to download it from iTunes and watch it (while eating banana nut muffins smothered in fruit sauce).

Do you now understand why I didn’t get any writing done today?


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