Sarah Copeland is a woman who embraces life. The beautiful former recipe developer for the Food Network is working on her first cookbook, and is pregnant with her first child. She recently started Edible Living, a food and lifestyle blog that’s written in a warm voice and filled with stunning photos. I knew I was dealing with a special person when in anticipation of our meeting, I checked out her Facebook page and saw that for a recent birthday, she had received so many greetings that I was unable to count them, and the tone of the greetings was such that it was evident she is a devoted friend to a lot of people.
In the midst of all that she has going on, this passionate gardener was happy to meet me last week near her home in Astoria to give me a tour of her plot in the neighborhood community garden. I rendezvoused with Sarah at the newly opened Astor Bake Shop, located on a quiet corner of Astoria Boulevard, where she introduced me to Chef-Owner George McKirdy. We drank house-made ice tea and tasted decadent chocolate brownies at this comfortable, light-filled café. I couldn’t help but notice that Sarah was impeccably dressed in a skirt, jewelry, and white top, despite the fact that she must have had a hundred things to do before meeting me; I silently noted that it’s possible to look ladylike and wear stain-prone white even when hot, pregnant, and writing a book.
Sarah was reading over her cookbook manuscript when I arrived, and we dove at once into business talk and girl-talk, comparing notes on cookbook writing and on finding the man you want to spend your life with; I’m getting married in spring of 2011, and Sarah had lots of event-planning tips for me. Sarah got married last fall to her husband András, and from the glow that overtakes her when his name is mentioned, she has not let life’s demands overshadow newlywed romance. The couple is in the process of fixing up a recently acquired home upstate; for now, Sarah spends most days testing recipes and writing the cookbook manuscript in their Queens apartment.
We headed over to Sarah’s garden, a few blocks away. Like most community gardens in New York City, it’s a happy, hopeful place, beautiful in a lopsided way, with the ragtag sense of décor that results when many gardeners share the same space. Sarah pointed out old furniture that had been turned into trellises, and bits of odd household junk being used as structural support. No matter, the garden is the object of intense devotion, and was in full bloom on the day I was there. Sarah’s plot held an array of edible plants, many of which we sampled on the spot, including pole beans, blonde yellow cucumbers, summer squash, tomatoes, carrots, sorrel, and a bushy patch of chocolate mint. I could not get enough of the rich, cocoa smell of the mint, and Sarah said she was brewing it daily for ice tea.
Despite her potentially awkward physical state, Sarah got down on the ground to prune her little empire, quickly filling bags with produce for me to take home. Sarah is at the garden four times a week to pick, water, weed, and plant. She has been gardening since childhood, and has had a plot in the city ever since she got to New York. She is dedicated to helping everyone have access to healthy food; since 2003, she has volunteered at the non-profit Share Our Strength, teaching people about easy, healthy cooking. She is a co-founder of the well-respected Good Food Gardens, a charitable project funded partially by the Food Network, where kids and families who lack easy access to fresh, healthy food can get hands-on experience working in a garden and growing food. The gardens also offer cooking classes — sometimes from big-name Food Network celebs — on fresh, healthy eating.
When I got ready to head toward the subway into Manhattan, Sarah gave me a bouquet of chocolate mint and a Black-Eyed Susan from her garden, along with plenty of sorrel, cucumbers, and a huge bunch of chocolate mint that I would use for dinner. We promised to get together again soon, next time for a double-date with our significant others. Next year I may just be on that list of earnest birthday well-wishers.
Chocolate Mint Truffle Torte with Fresh Chocolate Mint, recipe from The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld
Makes 1 cake, 12 servings
This torte uses yet one more technique for infusing fresh herbs. This time you steep mint leaves in warm butter, strain them out, and use the scented butter in the cake. Flourless chocolate cakes are familiar to most serious chocolate lovers because they are the most intensely chocolate cakes imaginable. They are, in fact, cooled dense chocolate soufflés and very simple to make. The fresh peppermint flavor in this version gives it a refreshing taste.
About 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, for the pan 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour, for the pan 6 ounces (1-1/2 stick) unsalted butter 1/2 cup (gently packed) fresh chocolate mint or peppermint leaves 12 ounces premium bittersweet chocolate chopped 6 large eggs, at room temperature 6 tbsp. granulated sugar Garnish with powdered sugar
Preparing the pan: Generously butter a 9 inch springform pan and lightly dust the interior with the flour. Turn the pan upside down and bang out the excess flour. Wrap a large square of heavy-duty aluminum foil around the bottom of the pan and partially up the sides. Turn the pan right side up and set it in a shallow baking pan or on a half-sheet pan.
Infusing the butter: Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the mint leaves and let the butter sit in a warm place for about 30 minutes to absorb the flavor of the leaves.
Butter and chocolate mixture: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Create a double boiler by selecting a medium (10-12″) stainless-steel mixing bowl that will rest on top of large (6-quart) pot. The top of the bowl can extend beyond the rim of the pot, but the bottom of the bowl must not touch the water. Put about 2″ water in the pot and bring it to a simmer. If the butter has cooled, heat it again to thin it. Pour the butter through a fine sieve into the mixing bowl and press the leaves with the back of a spoon to extract all the butter. Add the chocolate to the bowl and place it over the simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted, then remove the bowl from the water.
Eggs: Beat the eggs and granulated sugar with an electric mixer on high speed for a full 10 minutes. They should quadruple in volume and become light colored, very thick and fluffy. Fold 1/4 of the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture, then very gently fold in the remaining egg mixture until completely incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Baking: Put the baking pan with the cake on the center oven rack and pour in enough water to come about 1/2″ up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until an instant-thermometer inserted in the center of the cake register 155 to 160 F, 25 to 30 minutes. The top of the cake will lose its glossiness and be slightly mounded, but it should not bake so long that it rises and cracks. If you insert a skewer into the center, it should come out gooey. Let the cake cool completely in its pan on a wire rack. Run a thin knife around the edge of the cake and remove the outer ring. The cake will keep tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream, ice cream or custard sauce.