Ode to the humble chocolate chip

It’s chocolate time again, folks! I’ve blogged about chocolate before, specifically about the very depressing fact that world chocolate consumption is exceeding production, putting us at risk of having this most sublime of treats go extinct on us.

That thought, however, was simply too depressing, so I will rather dedicate today to a celebration of the chocolate chip (invented in the 1930’s by Ruth Graves Wakefield). In case you’re wondering, today, 15 May, is Chocolate Chip Day.

Chocolate chips about to liven up some otherwise plain banana muffins.  Hmmm, can't wait for the final product! (© All Rights Reserved)
Chocolate chips about to liven up some otherwise plain banana muffins. Hmmm, can’t wait for the final product!
(© All Rights Reserved)

Now a chocolate chip is an interesting thing. Unlike a slab of chocolate, or a fancy box of chocolates, chocolate chips don’t share that level of sheer indulgent decadence. No, they’re much more subtle – usually hiding away inconspicuously in the fridge or grocery cabinet. When they do appear, however, they can stand their ground against all kinds of exotic ingredients to play a part in the most extravagant culinary creations. Forget about chocolate chip cookies (good as they can be!) – I’m talking about chocolate chip mousse pyramids, blondie-brownie pies, chocolate chip waffles, chocolate chip and mascarpone cupcakes or, wait for it… the chocolate chip martini!

But aside from these moments of mouth-bursting glory, the chocolate chip remains quiet and unassuming in its corner of the cupboard.

It is exactly this indistinct nature of the chocolate chip that makes it so great. Even when all the other chocolate in the house has been greedily consumed during late night chocolate cravings, there’s likely to still be some chocolate chips in the cupboard, ready to be whipped out and made into something special.

In a way, life is much like chocolate (where have I heard that before!?). You get your slab-of-chocolate people – striking, impressive and in your face, but often too conspicuous for their own good. Then there’s the pick-a-mix chocolate types – all dressed up and fancy, but often more sight than substance. And then there’s the chocolate chip people, the salt of the earth, the unassuming ones who come to save the day when all the other chocolates are gone.

So let’s use Chocolate Chip Day to celebrate the chocolate chip, its inventor Ruth Wakefield, and all the chocolate chip people out there!

Celebrating garlic, super-food, medicinal wonder and fighter of evil spirits

It’s April 19, Garlic Day!

Then again, in my household, every day is garlic day – I just love the taste of these pungent cloves, and the fact that it’s good for me is just another reason for celebration.

Garlic, a close relative to onions, shallots, leeks and chives, has been around for a long, long time, dating back about 7000 years, and it has been used for culinary, medicinal and religious purposes in Asia, Africa and Europe. Over the years it has spread to become a truly global herb (or vegetable, depending on your classification).

Hanging garlic to dry after harvest allows it to keep for a long time. (© All Rights Reserved)
Hanging garlic to dry after harvest allows it to keep for a long time.
(© All Rights Reserved)

From a culinary perspective, garlic, both raw or cooked, adds a distinct, pungent flavour that lifts many a dish from the ordinary to the sublime. A staple in mediterranean cooking, it is also popular in many other cooking traditions. Mixing garlic with olive oil, lemon juice and egg yolks produce aioli, a delicious, mayonnaise-like sauce traditionally served with seafood, but also used as an accompaniment to many other dishes.

An interesting, fairly recent development in garlic cuisine is ‘black garlic’ – garlic that has been subjected to an extended fermentation period under high heat. During the fermentation, melanoidin is produced, which is responsible for the garlic cloves turning black. The resultant black garlic , which has a tender, almost jelly-like texture and a rich, tangy molasses-like taste is said to contain double the antioxidants of normal garlic, while not causing the dreaded ‘garlic breath’.

The medicinal benefits of garlic is well documented. It is used to lower cholesterol levels and reduce high blood pressure, and is said to strengthen the body’s immune system and fight fatigue. It has even been credited with preventing some cancers and increasing longevity, and it has been suggested to help regulate blood sugar levels. Garlic is rich in Vitamins A, B1 and C, and contains calcium, magnesium and iron, as well as a range of amino acids.

In addition to it’s medicinal benefits, garlic has also been believed to have spiritual powers. Europeans in the Middle Ages ate garlic to ward off the Black Death, and legend has it that garlic, worn around your neck, hung in windows, or rubbed on chimneys and keyholes, keeps vampires, werewolves and other evil spirits at bay. I suppose this means all vampires and werewolves suffer from ‘Alliumphobia’, which is the fear of garlic.

Delicious in a range of dishes, good for your health and effective at warding off evil spirits – what more can one ask for?