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How to Make Cathy Thomas’ Decadent Chocolate Candy Box Cake

With the world in the grip of a pandemic, I stay at home. My kids and grandchildren visit me in the front garden, most often spaced out around the glass wrought-iron dining table saved from my childhood home. Cautious? Absolutely.

So how do I create my monthly videos with local chefs, sessions taped standing shoulder to shoulder at the stove? I consulted with my editor and friend, Alan Gibbons. We agreed that I would take center stage cooking alone with the camera rolling—until safer times prevail.

I’ve been writing about cooking, food trends, and chefs for more than three decades. Before that, I taught cooking classes, rounding up groups of culinary students to watch and listen as I prepared myriad concoctions. I conducted culinary tours to Europe and Asia long before culinary travel became a thing, and I have written three cookbooks.

Along the way I’ve gathered recipes that I consider old friends, formulas for tried-and-true dishes that I’ve prepared many, many times. Each of these dishes brings back memories of delicious gatherings: fun parties, showers, and holidays.

I’ll start with the Chocolate Candy Box Cake. Unapologetic in its decadence, this almost-flourless chocolate cake looks like a box of candy. Covered in a buttery chocolate glaze, assorted chocolate candies are pushed into place while the shiny glaze is soft. It can be heart-shaped or square, round or rectangular, depending on the theme.

Unfrosted, the cake can be frozen up to two weeks, but be sure to pour the glaze on with the cake defrosted and at room temperature. And don’t refrigerate the cake again. Frosted, it will keep for two days left at room temperature. The glaze takes on a pretty patina, and it stays really moist.

Cathy Thomas' Candy Box Cake

Candy Box Cake

Yield: 12 servings
3/4 cup ground pecans (ground the consistency of cornmeal)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 eggs, room temperature, separated
Optional: 1 tablespoon rum or raspberry liqueur or orange juice
1 teaspoon sugar
Chocolate Butter Glaze:
6 ounces German chocolate, broken or chopped into small pieces
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, cut into about 12 pieces
Garnish: assorted chocolate candies (cream centered candies are easier to cut)

  1. Position oven rack in the lower third of oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch heart-shaped cake pan with solid vegetable shortening or butter. Dust generously with flour; invert and tap out excess flour. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Use the pan to trace a heart on cardboard; cut out heart and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine pecans and flour; set aside. Melt butter and chocolate in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat. Stir in water and blend until smooth. Place chocolate mixture in a large bowl and stir in 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup brown sugar. Cool 5 minutes.
  3. Separate eggs, placing yolks in a small bowl and whites in a large bowl or large bowl of electric mixer.
  4. Stir egg yolks, a little at a time, into chocolate. Add rum or liqueur and nut-flour mixture; stir to combine.
  5. With an electric mixer or electric hand mixer, whip egg whites on medium-low speed until small bubbles appear and the surface is frothy. Increase speed to high and add 1 teaspoon sugar.

Whip until soft, white peaks form. Scoop 1/3 of egg whites into chocolate and fold with a rubber spatula. Add remaining egg white and fold.

  1. Scoop batter into prepared pan and smooth surface with spatula. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until it feels soft but not liquid in center. Do not overbake because chocolate firms as it cools.
  2. Place cake on cooling rack for 20 minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife between cake and sides of pan. Place cardboard heart on top of cake and invert. Peel off and discard parchment. Return to cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet
  3. Prepare glaze. Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler (water below should be just below a simmer or simmering very gently. Stir in powdered sugar (it will seem like a paste). Stir in butter one piece at a time, stirring to melt. Once all chocolate is added, stir to combine. Spread the glaze on top and sides of cake. Top with an assortment of chocolate candies, pushing them into the glaze to stabilize their position.

Source: adapted from “The Simple Art of Perfect Baking,” by Flo Braker (Chapters Publishers) and “Simca’s Cuisine” by Simone Beck (Knopf)

Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”

–Photos and video by Curt Norris

Walking the Line: Navigating Changing Rules Throughout a Pandemic

The marine layer hasn’t yet cleared at the Orange Home Grown Farmers and Artisan Market on Saturday morning, and the line to get into the lot stretches nearly a block. Just beyond the ropes, bins topple with bright zucchini, melons, sweet corn, and peaches.

A man tells the entrance guard that he has a medical condition and can’t function with a mask. Then, walking to the end of the line, he hisses: “Sheep! You don’t need those masks. Take ’em off!”

Megan Penn’s voice is muffled through a hand-sewn mask printed with oranges. Her raised eyebrows speak louder. She says 98 percent of the customers comply with the new rules. “It’s just the 2 percent who are vocal.”

Penn, executive director of the foundation which runs the market, was among the first to reopen for business in April. “Controlling the total amount of people is key,” she says.

As we sort out how to co-live with COVID-19, local officials have been forced to grind out novel rules governing our behavior, with mixed results.

Although masks were still scant in March, Irvine mayor Christina Shea says members of the community were able to source them and donated thousands of masks. She enlisted other council members over several weekends to visit commercial centers and pass out the masks.

Orange Home Grown Farmers and Artisan Market; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Not everyone agreed with mask orders. Some social media users chastised Costa Mesa mayor Katrina Foley when the police issued misdemeanors at a popular restaurant where staff refused to wear masks. “I was getting hate mail from all the anti-maskers—(saying) I’m a whore and they hope I die,” Foley says.

Nevertheless, Foley says she sees most residents complying with social distancing, even while engaging in outdoor fitness.

Irvine tried to encourage recreational separation with one-way arrows on paths. The arrows don’t always work, especially in narrow and indoor spaces. The Orange farmers market abandoned them after it became apparent too many shoppers were doubling back. Newport Beach found them successful on Balboa Island and Corona del Mar’s blufftops, where they created a sort of loop, but the city stopped using them when crowds diminished.

Newport Beach has taken a more hands-off approach to social distancing enforcement, although the city temporarily closed the Wedge, the piers, the boardwalk, and the beach parking lots in the spring.

“The city has been very welcoming, very tourist-driven, and now to have to tell people, ‘No you really can’t come here right now’—that is a big challenge,” says the city’s new spokesperson, John Pope. Newport Beach leaders felt stung when the city was criticized as the nation’s problem child, cameras catching throngs of people mingling on the beach.

“It was a bad image, but it didn’t exactly show what was on the ground,” Mayor Will O’Neill says. “We can tell the distance solely looking at the lifeguard towers. (The photo showed) about a mile of beach … (but it looked) like a hundred yards, like people were all over each other.”

The county’s beaches had just reopened. The governor, calling the images “disturbing,” shut down the sand again.

As other beach cities prepared to go to court, Laguna Beach mayor Bob Whalen hammered out a plan quickly, got it to the governor’s desk, and opened his beaches right away.

“The Pageant of the Masters began in the 1930s as a way to help the artists. But it isn’t showing here for the first time since World War II,” Whalen says. The city is pushing for tourists who can drive to Laguna Beach, and trying to open what it can. To keep the restaurants alive, Laguna offered temporary permits allowing customers to spill into parking lots and some streets. Part of downtown has been shut down to cars entirely.

Foley also anticipates a financial hit from the loss of beloved traditions, such as the O.C. Fair, and she had to start making decisions in February. “The federal government got the grand idea to put the Princess Cruise people in the middle of Costa Mesa at the Fairview Development Center,” she says. Her team had a few days to fight the decision. The battle, which was successful, got the city moving earlier than others on pandemic-prevention measures.

“We’re taking the safe approach,” Foley says. “My husband grew up here. We raised our family here. There are so many families like that. We have many generations who stay in Costa Mesa. They still all stay connected, like a small town. The reason to be compliant is because you care about your neighbor. You can only stay home for so long, granted. We’ve had the challenge of finding that balance, finding ways for businesses to open safely.”

In Plain Sight: Bouldering at Pirate’s Cove in Corona del Mar

Photograph by Harrison Voorhees

The Scene Bouldering at Pirate’s Cove in Corona del Mar
Getting There The secluded beach is just north of the Corona del Mar State Beach parking lot.
Explorer Credit Harrison Voorhees; @harrisonvoorhees
Behind the Shot “During the hot Southern California summers, many of the good climbing spots get too hot to climb. So we like to go down to the beach and climb at Pirate’s Cove, where the ocean helps keep the temperatures a little bit cooler.”

Lasting Impact: Annette Walker Leads City of Hope Into Orange County

Photograph courtesy of City of Hope Orange County

Annette Walker’s official title is president of City of Hope Orange County, but “solutions architect” works, too. That was the assessment of a test she took after accepting the job in May 2018, and it’s an accurate description of her role: Walker is designing the future of the world-renowned, Duarte-based cancer research hospital as it expands to Orange County.

After opening a Newport Beach facility earlier this year, Walker is focused on the $1 billion, 11-acre comprehensive cancer campus set to open in Irvine’s FivePoint Gateway in 2021. The Coto de Caza resident—named to Modern Healthcare’s 2019 list of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare—talks about her latest chapter.

Why did you say yes to the City of Hope job?
I was working for Providence St. Joseph Health, and even though I was based in Irvine, there was a lot of travel because that organization is so big, with 51 hospitals in seven states. I was contemplating what I want to do with this—I hesitate to say the last big push of my career, but it is clearly a significant time with the accumulation of all my experience. What did I want to do with all the things I’ve learned? When I understood what a unique organization City of Hope is and what it could mean to Orange County if it were brought here, that’s why I said yes. This has been my home for 40 years, and it was the chance to do something that would have a lasting impact on my community.

What do you do as president of City of Hope Orange County?
It falls into several categories. The first six months especially, I spent a lot of time meeting with people: community leaders, the medical community, patient focus groups, and philanthropists. So in addition to the planning that was going on, there was a tremendous amount of time spent listening to craft the vision of not only what we should be but how we should enter the community. And once we’re here, what are our responsibilities going to be? From the beginning, we’ve wanted people to understand that City of Hope wants to be a good neighbor, and I mean that. We want to work with anybody in this community who wants to beat cancer.

Anything particularly memorable from your listening tour?The thing that struck me the most that I didn’t expect is the number of people who thanked me for taking the job. It has mostly been past patients who live in Orange County who made that trip to Duarte and were so grateful for the care they got from City of Hope. But they were still very aware of how hard it was for their family to drive from here to there. People stop me and say, “I just want to thank you for taking this job because City of Hope took care of my mom. They did such a wonderful job, and I’m so glad it’s going to be here in Orange County.” Some version of that story was said to me over and over again. It’s humbling and inspiring. It’s like I accepted a responsibility heavier than maybe I had originally understood, and I feel the weight of that responsibility to past, present, and future patients.

What are you working on now for the Great Park campus?
We’re finishing up the final details on the cancer center before construction, and then we’re going to diligently work at building out the programmatic elements that need to be there when we open the site. So that’s pretty complicated. We’re also recruiting the medical staff and faculty. Some of them might come from Duarte, but we’ve had a lot of national attention. I can’t tell you how many résumés are being sent to me unsolicited; people are excited about working at City of Hope, but they’re also excited about the location. I’m very involved in the planning, the business relationships, the fundraising, and the recruitment. It’s a startup, so I do everything.

How has COVID-19 affected plans?
We are reviewing our timeline to assess the impact COVID-19 and similar factors have had on the construction industry and other partners. For us, it’s full speed ahead on fulfilling the promise we made to Orange County.

What’s the message for patients in response to this crisis?Cancer doesn’t stop because of COVID-19, and neither do we. City of Hope is continuing our mission of providing lifesaving treatments while doing everything we can to keep our patients and staff safe. If you have cancer, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center like City of Hope can help ensure you receive uninterrupted care in a safe environment. As careful as we all need to be during this time, it’s important patients don’t delay necessary care and treatment. None of us should delay our regular screenings or important checkups.

At this point, you could rest on your laurels. How is this a good fit for you?
When I look back on my career, the things I’ve most enjoyed doing were when I didn’t have to follow a script. Strategy is my wheelhouse, and that’s where most of my career has been spent. My kids used to ask, “What’s a strategist?” I explained that a strategist is a person who caretakes the future of an organization. So my job here is to establish a future for City of Hope in Orange County—to start from the ground up and recruit people who want to be part of that. That was a big deal to me. Again, the location was important. I can’t say if it was in Arizona, I would have been interested.

What about O.C. appeals to you?
Orange County has been a wonderful place to not only have a career but to raise a family. It’s a beautiful place to live, and the older I get, the more I appreciate that. It’s also a wonderful community. I’ve spent my whole career in health care, and you hear on the news how screwed up health care is. There’s some truth to that, but there are also some things that are really good about health care. But if we did want to make health care better, where would it be possible? Orange County is one of those communities because we’re big enough to matter. So if we could prove that something could be done here, people would believe it credible. But we’re small enough that being involved in the community matters. People do care.

You and your husband, Chuck, raised six kids and you’re an advocate of work-life balance. What does that mean to you?It’s the wisdom to know when something really matters that you’re in one place, as opposed to another place. If you have an important meeting Thursday and then your child has a school event that day, how do you make the judgment call? Next week, will you remember that meeting? Or if you don’t go to the school event, would it never be forgotten that Mom wasn’t there for that? Now, you obviously can’t go to every school event, but there are some that you just can’t miss. And you don’t need to make any apologies for that.

How do you rebalance?
I love to walk, particularly on the trails in the canyons. It’s a time for reflection, and for a leader I think that’s particularly important. If you rush from one thing to the next, you’re always reacting. You’re not creating the environment to make it easy for other people to get their job done; you need to create an environment they can thrive in.

Any other leadership advice?
It’s nice to see buildings go up and all that, but the real joy comes from the people. I use the phrase, “Love your people.” When people know that you sincerely care about them and have their interests at heart, that’s the real value and reward of leadership. This kind of sponsorship, as opposed to mentorship, is an important element of leadership—whoever you work with should be better for having been with you. So if you’re a sponsor, you take care to understand for each person what that looks like. For some people, it’s gaining skills in a certain area. For other people, it’s earning a degree. A sponsor knows what those things are and actively advocates to make them happen. That’s different from a mentor. A mentor might say, “This is really good advice; I want you to do this.” But it’s different if I say, “This would be really good for your career,” but then I actively look for opportunities to make sure that you achieve that and that you’re given a chance. Projects without the people would not be satisfying. At least for me they wouldn’t.

How do you stay organized?
I’m in a learning curve because I have a bigger diversity of responsibilities in this role than I’ve had before. I’m learning how to schedule my time. I leave Fridays open to catch my breath and reflect on the past and coming week (the big things done and the big things needing to be done), and reach out to people I meant to connect with either by phone or writing them a note. Basically tie up loose ends, clear my head, and organize myself before I end the week so I can enjoy the weekend.

And you have to make time for family and your 12 grandkids.
Grandma time was another reason for taking this job. Travel sucks the energy out of you, and I’m old enough to need energy. To use it on an airplane isn’t the way I want to spend it. People ask me all the time, “How in the world did you have this career and that family?” And I first say I have an incredible husband who was a partner parent. I went back and got my master’s when I was 40 years old and had four kids, and then I got pregnant in the middle of doing it, and he always encouraged me. But I really believe that God wants to bless all of us so much if we just have the guts to accept it and say, “OK, yes, I’ll do it.” My faith is very important to me, this steadiness of faith that if I’m doing what I believe God wants me to do, I’m going to be OK. So whenever I make a big decision, I pray about it. And to the extent that I can hear (God’s direction for me), I act on it.

Virtual O.C. Events to Check Out This Month

Bowers Museum, bowers.org
“Bowers at Home” offers virtual docent-led tours of two of the museum’s permanent exhibits: “Gemstone Carvings: The Masterworks of Harold Van Pelt” and “California Bounty: Image and Identity, 1850-1930.” In addition, visitors to the website can watch archived live streams with Egyptologist Kara Cooney and fashion historian Carmela Spinelli and listen to the Bowers Museum podcast, which features conversations with historians and authors.

Chance Theater, chancetheater.com
To close out the “Chance Cyber Chats” series Aug. 7, actor and director James McHale, dramaturge Jocelyn L. Buckner, and scenic designer Bruce Goodrich will discuss the production of “An American in Paris” streaming on Broadway HD with director and theater co-founder Casey Long.

Musco Center for the Arts, muscocenter.org
Three live-streamed events are available to watch anytime: “Magic and Healing: Kevin Spencer in Conversation,” in which the award-winning magician, educator, and consultant speaks about his experiences working in classrooms and hospitals; “Juilliard String Quartet in Conversation,” a discussion about classical and chamber music and the state of the arts with the quartet’s musicians; and “Ever a Dancer,” with professional dancers Sean Greene and Liz Maxwell talking about their careers and today’s contemporary dance landscape.

Pacific Symphony, pacificsymphony.org
Members of the symphony continue to upload “Quarantine Clips,” videos of themselves performing in their living rooms, front yards, and parks. Favorite past performances are broadcast every Sunday at 7 p.m. on KUSC-FM (91.5), including “Rhapsody in Blue” with pianist Aaron Diehl (Aug. 9) and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with violinist Clara-Jumi Kang (Aug. 23).

Segerstrom Center for the Arts, videos.scfta.org
The “Center at Home” series includes an ever-growing slate of short instructional videos led by artists and educators. Highlights include the Chameleons teaching the basics of mime performance, Tupua Productions leading a Polynesian dance class, Native American storyteller Jacque Nunez recounting “The Turtle Story,” and award-winning Native American hoop dancer Terry Goedel explaining the regalia he wears while dancing.

Seoultown Supper in Costa Mesa Delivers Family-Style Korean-Inspired Meals

Chef Debbie Lee is the founder of Mind Body Fork, a Costa Mesa-based meal delivery service with wellness and sustainability in mind. During the pandemic, the Ladera Ranch resident launched Seoultown Supper, bringing back the Korean-inspired dishes she’s known for. From pork mandu to bibimbap bowls, you can expect a weekly lineup of family-style Korean pub fare. She recently partnered with Gunwhale Ales, so you can now add beer to an order of $50 or more.

Photograph by Asher Hung

What inspired you to launch Seoultown Supper?
During the start of the shutdown, I had a few Asian American clients asking me if I could do a “healthyish” version of the Korean pub food I was known for (when I was based in Los Angeles). So I took on the challenge. It started with dumplings, and then I added a stew and a few banchans. Then I thought if I could get enough clients to want this as a weekend bonus, I could also create work for my team. Seoultown Supper was created initially as a pop-up to have a little “Korean Kuarantine” fun while helping my team get extra hours. I had no expectations that a little kimchi would go such a long way. So far, everyone is loving being able to get an array of “seoulful” goodness delivered to their doorstep, contact-free.

What are some things you kept in mind while developing the meals?
I was inspired by a book called “Food Rules” by Dr. Cate Shanahan when I was looking for a program that I could live with. When I read her book, I could not believe that it was so simple, and most importantly she said to go ahead and eat that chicken or duck skin! I was my own guinea pig; I (applied) her blueprint of metrics and nine months later, I lost 29 pounds. It’s basic common sense principles: keeping to healthy, non-toxic oils, not using refined or processed sugar or sweeteners, and no gluten. I also source all my products through our local farms and ranches, vetting them to make sure they are meeting our sustainability standards. We don’t have a set menu. The offerings are based on what I find at the market that week. It does make it a bit more challenging; however, our clients love the element of surprise and variety in their meals.

Why did you want to showcase Korean pub food?
Given the current dining climate, I wanted to bring a family-friendly menu of goodies that people could quickly reheat and serve. Also with distance learning and working from home, the last thing I think anyone wants to do is start from scratch to make a meal. And Korean food is very labor-intensive. I’m all about convenience and wanted to offer that to all. I also wanted to provide a service that I knew we could carry on, no matter what the current situation is during the pandemic. Plus, how can you not be happy with a little Korean fried chicken in your life?

What dishes are you are most proud of?
Definitely a few of the standouts are my mandu (Northern-style dumplings) and my Korean fried chicken. And everyone loves the japchae (stir-fried glass noddles), which I happen to make vegan. 

Any new dishes you’re excited to add?
Every week, I like to add some seasonal favorites and go with what I think the crowd is looking to have. Since it is getting hot out, I have been adding more and more vegetables to the list. We also decided to make the menu options to have at least 40 percent vegan choices for those who are eating plant-based. And right now, it’s all about the pickles, so you will see us getting really creative with the kimchi options this summer.

Check it out!
New weekly offerings get posted every Friday night for morning delivery the following Friday.

The Cat & the Custard Cup in La Habra Closes After 41 Years

Widely regarded as a sentimental favorite, the La Habra gem announced yesterday that it was permanently closing its doors. “Who knew on March 6th, 1979, my parents would establish a fine dining restaurant that would see an astonishing 41 year span?” wrote owner Creed Salisbury on Instagram. “A restaurant I was raised in, where my children were raised, where my wife and I worked side by side and where my son would go on to be chef.” In honor of this O.C. classic, we look back at our latest review of the family-owned restaurant and fun facts about the Salisbury dining dynasty.

Review: Timeless Classic Cat & the Custard Cup Continues to Impress, Especially During Holidays

Dining Dynasties: 5 Things to Know About the Paterfamilias of O.C. El Cholos and The Cannery


Megan Anguiano Hosts Creative Mornings, A Monthly Lecture Series in O.C.

What is Creative Mornings?
Creative Mornings is a free event with different themes each month. I helped start the O.C. chapter three years ago. As the host, I pick the speakers, get breakfast sponsored, and find venues. Our manifesto is that everyone is welcome, and everyone is creative. We live in such a fast-paced, individual world, and this is a chance to slow down, be in real life with people, and hear what they have to say. Everybody has a story to share.

What draws people to the events?
Maybe the theme speaks to them, or they just want to find groups of like-minded people. Maybe they just moved here and don’t know anybody. It’s a great vehicle to meet people and really get your footing in Orange County.

What was your favorite session so far?
Our first event ever. The theme was anxiety, and the speaker had this really raw and vulnerable conversation with the audience. During the Q&A, one man shared that he deals with anxiety but didn’t previously know how to talk about it. So it was great to watch it actually impact somebody. It was exactly what I think Creative Mornings should be: an open, safe place where everyone can be exactly who they are and get exactly what they need.

How has hosting these events affected your view of the county?
There are so many little stories in Orange County that people often miss because O.C. is very siloed. People in Irvine don’t leave Irvine, and people in Santa Ana don’t leave Santa Ana. But if you actually take the time to cross through, it’s amazing how many different and diverse people you meet.

Register for a lecture online!

Elli Quark in Irvine Offers a Healthier Yogurt Option

Founder Preya Patel Bhakta launched Elli Quark to offer a healthier option in the yogurt section. Quark is a creamy European cheese that is nutritiously dense and can be paired with sweet and savory ingredients. Get it in flavors such as German chocolate or strawberry ($1.50 to $4 each). At select O.C. markets and for delivery at socalmilkdrop.com.

Photograph by Emily J. Davis