31 May 2010

Sugar Cubes

When I lived in Gabon, the only way to get refined, white sugar was in the form of cubes. Let me restate that: the only practical way to get refined, white sugar was in cubes. I'm sure some of the swanky expat stores in the capital sold granulated sugar by the bag, but I shudder to think what it would have cost. I preferred to spend my luxury money on cheese and just crush up sugar cubes when I needed them for occasional baking. Besides, the sugar cubes were made locally, so it was a boost to the Gabonese economy to buy them. I'm a giver.

The kids and I hosted some friends for dinner tonight.* The friends brought the fixings for a before-dinner cocktail of a sugar cube soaked in bitters topped with champagne and a twist of lemon. (This must have a name, I just don't know it.) Seeing the box of sugar cubes made me think of Gabon, and how I would get these cravings for American dessert—American food of all kinds, but specifically dessert as at the time I had a raging sweet tooth—and how one of the many toils of baking there was crushing up those sugar cubes. I knew exactly how many made a cup, was it 48? Seems like to many. Maybe it was 36? I can't remember and it doesn't matter now. The cubes came in a cheap blue box, gritty and grainy. The sugar was coarsely ground and the cubes were fairly loosely held together; the Gabonese would cram an impossible amount of them into a single cup of NescafĂ©, often topped with an equally impossible amount of sweetened condensed milk. Forget the caffeine: the Gabonese were on a sugar high in the morning.

It was sunny today, and warm. Summer is ever so slowly on its way. I can't wait for the heat. I complained bitterly about the heat in Gabon, but ever since I've been back, I can't shut up about the cold and how it bothers me. This damp, dreary, chilly and totally typical Oregon spring has taken the wind out of my sails. When I lived in Gabon, I'd reach for a sweatshirt when the temps dropped to 80°F or below. I'm not quite that cold-adverse now, but I'm ready to feel the sun on my face, to sleep in something other than fleece, to not always need a scarf of some kind around my neck.

I'm just as happy, though, not to have to crush the sugar cubes anymore.

*As an aside, I'm quite proud of my Memorial Day non-BBQ: we had three kinds of homemade cheese + crackers and bread for an appetizer (cubed white cheese with basil and red pepper flakes paired with plain water crackers, soft herb cheese paired with roasted garlic baguette, and cubed white cheese with honey and cinnamon paired with sweet wheat biscuits); salmon teriyaki; sweet potato salad w/chili-lime dressing; sauteed asparagus; white rice; and for dessert, strawberry shortcake with homemade shortcakes and freshly whipped cream. YUMMERS.

18 comments:

Emily said...

If you cant wait for the heat in portland this summer, you must have AC. Last summer my little bungalo was a miserable inferno. I swear it gets hotter every year, or maybe Im just getting fatter. Your memorial day anti bbq sounds lovely.

Anonymous said...

That drink sounds like my mom's favourite, except she adds brandy too. Yummy.

Katie said...

Could you share the recipe for the sweet potato salad?

Kim and Scott said...

As soon as you mentioned the Gabon sugar cubes I remembered the blue box! But I can't remember either how many cubes to a cup. If you need some Gabon-style heat to warm you up, come on down here. 8am and the thermometer already reads over 90. Phew. I could go for some fleece-weather!
-Kim

Bella's Mommy said...

I remember crushing all those sugar cubes up to bake too. I made a lot of banana bread when I was in Gabon. We had some pretty hot humid days last week that felt a lot like Gabon.

Megan said...

Your BBQ sounds delicious!

Betty M said...

Here in the uk that combination is rather boringly known as a champagne cocktail. It really needs something better.

Watercolor said...

Supposed to be 96 here this week. Want it?

OTRgirl said...

That sugar cube concoction sounds amazing. As does your non-bbq. The sweet potato salad sounds amazing. (what Katie said!)

I have the theory of wanting to live in Portland, and then I read a post like this and think...do I really? I'm nervous that California is making it difficult to live other places.

Holly said...

I believe the drink is called a champagne cocktail!

Snickollet said...

A link to the sweet potato salad recipe follows. One comment, though: I roast the sweet potatoes rather than boil them. I don't roast them 'til they are dark and caramelized, just until they are cooked through. The oven is just more forgiving; even if you roast the potatoes for a bit longer than you mean to, the salad will still be fine. If you overboil, though? You end up with sweet potato mush. Also, 1-in. cubes seemed quite big to me. Mine were more like 1/2-in.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Sweet-Potato-Salad-with-Chili-Lime-Dressing-102099

Assateague Girl said...

Your post reminded me of what happened to the sugar cubes in the blue box when the power went out and the ants started raiding the refrigerator.... I'd open the box the next morning to find little cubes with holes... the original contents having been carried away, grain by grain, by the army :)

Snickollet said...

@Holly--

Well, that's a disappointingly boring name!

@Assateague Girl:

I once made a pizza out at post, using some of that coveted cheese, plus homemade tomato sauce and crust, and what Kim and I did not eat, we left in the oven overnight. SO DUMB. Ants, roaches, mice . . . who knows what all had destroyed most of what was left by morning. What on earth was I (not) thinking?!

-snick

Holly said...

Thanks for the Gabon post. I suppose I was lucky to have plenty of sugar in Panama. Panamanians also love their sugar loaded strong coffee in the morning. And what a horrible memory- chica de leche ideal ie condensed milk straight up.

CV said...

That day we made yogurt last year, it definitely felt like sacrilege to sweeten it with honey instead of sugar cubes, didn't it?

Jane said...

I remember making "chocolate chip cookies" with those cubes when I was studying abroad in Cameroon! (Quotes around the cookies because I had no recipe, used a crappy, smashed-up Cameroonian chocolate bar that barely tasted like chocolate for the chips, and didn't use enough sugar because, well, cubes. All things considered, however, they came out quite well.)

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

Ahhh Peace Corps treats... We discovered that the nasty Russian bread didn't taste so bad when drenched in sweetened condensed milk and cooked like French toast. I shutter to think of it now!

Fairlington Blade said...

We're working on a watermelon theme. My low fat Indian cookbook (who'da thunk it possible?) has a recipe for watermelon granitas. Blend half a seedless watermelon. Heat 1/4 cup of raw sugar, 1/2 cup of water, and a few red chiles (optional). Put in the freezer and stir occasionally. Great stuff.

BTW - The CD you gave us ages ago is the boys' bedtime music. Virtually every night. Thank you so much.

Paul

P.S. Looking forward to seeing you in August.