Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Chocolate fondue, vacation eats, and the United Tastes

I had some inertia after my last post in Jan that turned into an unplanned months-long break from blogging- chalk it up to not wanting to crack open a laptop in the evenings after cradling one all day for work. As for weekends, they seem to disappear without a trace. Now Spring is here and I thought I would pop in and share some food moments from the past few weeks. 

Valentine's Day fell on a Sunday this year. We planned a cozy family meal with a special dessert- chocolate fondue- featuring the stereotypical ingredients for that day: strawberries and chocolate. 

My 9 year old enjoyed making these strawberry hearts. As fruit carving goes, these are easy peasy. Lop off the stem, cut the strawberry in half vertically (stem to tip) and carve a notch at the top end to make the heart shape. 

For the fondue, I literally just made a chocolate ganache. 1/2 cup cream, heated until it simmers- then turn off the heat and add 1/2 cup chopped chocolate (I used a mix of dark and milk choc). Let it sit, stir until you have a nice creamy sauce. Serve warm. (Can be gently reheated if it gets too thick).

We served strawberry hearts and chunks of pound cake (store-bought this time) for dipping. Other things that would be nice for dipping include pretzels, graham crackers, bananas, apples- but we kept it simple with just two kinds of dippers. Hand a fork to each diner and let the dipping begin. What an excellent dessert for sharing with the ones you love! I can't believe we haven't done this before. 

* * *
One of my favorite things about the US in general, and Georgia in particular, are the state parks. National parks get lots of attention and kudos and that's great, but the state parks are accessible, scattered around the state and offering opportunities for low-cost, low-maintenance getaways that are a short drive from home. They are perfect for a family with young kids. We don't want to spend time in transit, and we don't need big, splashy destinations. Just a small, splashy destination preferably involving a lake, river, waterfall, ocean or other water body (both my kids absolutely love the water.) 

Earlier this month, we rented a state park cabin for the weekend and spent a couple of days next to a picturesque lake. I packed all the food we needed, and over this short vacation, we were able to go canoeing and hiking and build a campfire for s'mores. And it was all pandemic-safe- forget crowds, we barely encountered any other people. The cabin even had a small private lake beach right next to it. 

Row, row, row your boat

Eating on the porch

The little lake beach next to our cabin

Sunrise from the back porch

* * * 

From real travel to armchair-and-kitchen-travel- My daughter and I have started a project that we are calling the "United Tastes". She owns a book- Greetings From The 50 States: How They Got Their Names by Sheila Keenan, illustrated by Selina Alko. We are visiting each state- ahem, virtually- in alphabetical order, and reading a book or two from each state and making a food from each state. I've been writing about this project every weekend on Instagram; we are done with the first 4 states, all the ones that start with A. This project will take us well over a year. 

We started our journey right next door, in Alabama, and read a picture book about the civil rights struggle in Gee's Bend, Alabama- Belle, the Last Mule at Gee's Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Alexander Ramsey Calvin and Bettye Stroud. We made banana pudding, a Southern specialty by layering vanilla custard with nilla wafers and banana slices. 

Banana pudding

Then we flew North to the vast expanse of Alaska, and made "fish" and chips, that is, frozen Gardein fishless filets and frozen chips, all cooked to perfection in a convection oven. The kids were so delighted by this meal. We read a book about how life (for animals and humans) in the frozen Alaskan landscape is so different from our own- This place is cold by Vicki Cobb. 

"Fish" and chips

Our next stop was back in the South, in the Southwest this time, in Arizona. We learned a bit about the Grand Canyon online (now that's a national park that I do hope to visit someday) and made baked veggie chimichangas- layering refried beans, cheese and sautéed veggies on a large tortilla, rolling it into a burrito and baking until crisp. This was a hit, a solid meal that will go into the dinner rotation.

Baked veggie chimichangas

Last week, we were in Arkansas. We read an Arkansas folktalk set in the Ozarks- Good Morning Granny Rose by Warren Ludwigand made Arkansas chocolate gravy- a sweet version of typical Southern breakfast gravy. I halved the recipe and reduced the sugar, and served the gravy on pancakes. The kids declared that chocolate gravy is even better than syrup. We might have to do this again for special birthday breakfasts. 

Pancake with chocolate gravy

This has been a really fun project so far and next week we will be in California. Any guesses for what we will make?

How are you all doing? What have you been cooking and eating lately?


  1. Hi Nupur!

    I am a long time reader who has enjoyed reading your blog and cooking from it. I loved the Valentine's Day treat and your states project. Can you please share the name of the books as you read them? I am thrilled to be the first person to comment!
    Thank you so much for all your hard work.

    Best regards,

    1. Hi Smitha! Thanks for the nice note :) I'm glad you like the states project.

      I've edited the post to add book names. If you're on Instagram I post pics of the books we read there; often there's more than one book for a state, and it is whatever we are able to find at the public library. For Arizona, I did not get a chance to get a book so we look up something online. As you can see it is a flexible and fun project without too many hard and fast rules :D

  2. What an amazing mom you are, Nupur! And yes, I do wonder where your daughter gets those rubbish ideas from!!!!! Lots of love to all of you and I look forward to following your 50 States project. Such a great idea!

    1. LOL Kamini! :D Lots of love to you too, and glad you like the States project!

  3. Glad you are back Nupur! What a lovely idea about the cuisine of each state! I might adapt this to do in the summer.

    1. Hi Sangeetha, thanks for stopping by! Yes, it would be a great summer project. We are doing about 1 state every week so it is going to take us a year!

  4. hello Nupur,
    Thoroughly enjoyed this post esp. about low-cost, low-profile state park visits here in US. We've done several mini picnics in state parks over the years with so much fun, entertainment for all age groups. I'm so happy your family enjoys water; our family loves water and maybe that is one of the main reasons we enjoy cruising.

    Loved the idea of United -Tastes; your project with Lila. This will be an enriching experience. This reminded me of a post-card project my son did in 3rd grade where kids had to collect one post card from each state in US. I remember both of us reaching out to our friends at school/work and they in turn reaching out to their relatives and friends. By the end of the month, we had collected a post-card from each state in US; each one addressed to my son with a beautiful message from folks unknown to us. Precious and priceless experience. We've all the post cards saved in an album. He's a senior graduating next month; but this is one of his fav. projects to cherish.

    Truly wish you both enjoy this project and share your progress with us. My love to lil one too :)

    Be safe God Bless

    1. Meena- picnic season is almost here and we are looking forward to getting together outdoors with friends in small groups. I absolutely loved hearing about your son's postcard project. It is amazing that the simplest things like postcards lead to the strongest memories. I will have to keep this project idea in mind!!

  5. The states project is so good Nupur! Currently my 7 year old is reading Mahabharata, after tiring himself out of superhero comics. Whole day he spends play acting as a king, fighting imaginary battles with his cars (!). He was asking me what do the kings eat and I told him certainly not popsicles. lol. He was not pleased. We are living on curd rice and popsicles, its so hot in Bangalore. Your chocolate pudding popsicles are a staple over here.

    1. Hi Neha- That's awesome that your boy is reading the Mahaharatha! I love that he is keeping himself amused. I can imagine that you want cold, simple food during the dog days of summer. We are headed in that direction too, and I look forward to more salad and sandwich meals. You reminded me to start making popsicles again!

  6. I love your armchair-and-kitchen travel and I'm very curious to know what both of you came up with for California. Tacos? Churros? I'm going to have to try your chocolate fondue on a special occasion, it looks great :) Love to all of you, Shoots

    1. We made California rolls!! They turned out great. Tacos and churros are both great ideas. We also considered california club sandwiches, sourdough bread and ranch dressing.


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