Sochi is done, medals lost and won, and all that’s left of the spectacle of the five rings are some great victories, some crushing defeats, and a few new faces on the Wheaties box. And of course, the highlight reel. I recently saw an NBC special on what they believed were the “highlights” of the Olympics. All the typical stories were there, along with a few not so typical (Bob Costas’ eyes of pink, Vladimir Putin’s tracksuit of red). All that was fine, but in my mind that’s not what I will best remember from Sochi. With the time difference between here and there, an unexpected Olympic upside occurred. Because night was day and day was night in the land across from Sarah Palin’s porch, I was able to watch the ice-skating competitions while they happened. That meant that I could watch the loops, spins and salchows while enjoying my morning coffee. Which is when I discovered the best thing in all that endless NBC Olympic coverage. On the mornings after the Zamboni cleared the ice, and the stream of sequins and sparkles skated on, that rare magnificent bird and master of explaining everything from twizzle to blizzard appeared — Johnny Weir. You remember Johnny, right? Trust me, if you’ve ever seen him, skating or not, you’d remember Johnny Weir.
Figure skating in and of itself has always been a bedazzled showy kind of competition. Makeup, beads and feathers are the mandatory uniform, and competition is set to music of a razzmatazzy mix you’d hear accompanying eager young hoofers paying their dues at Knotts Berry Farm or Disneyland. As a result, the sports commentators, ex-skaters themselves, often have a kind of corny schmaltz befitting the competition. Who could ever forget that special brand of apoplectic excitement Dick Button brought, or the way he tossed off snarky salchow commentary. Sure it was entertaining, but did you really understand what he was saying? I loved Dick, but there was always a certain air of superiority and unexplained details, thus guaranteeing Mr. Button was always the smartest skater in the room.
That all changed when Johnny walked into the rink. While Dick was in the usual sport coat and tie, Johnny dared to wear his beads and plumage off ice too, and usually Chanel or Louis V. Yet with all that twizzle and attitude came serious smarts. I finally understood why things were right or wrong, and why a “blizzard” was a sure sign points would be shed. His pronunciation of names that would tie most tongues in knots was impeccable, and his criticisms always offered gently and with care. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have his share of snarky goodness, but it never seemed aimed at the very hard-working athletes on ice. He shared what it was really like to be down there, just a scared kid praying that a klieg light would fall on him before he had to skate right after the next big gold medal star came off ice. It made it all seem less silly, and more human.
And then there were the highly quotable “Weir-isms”. When asked to describe the competitive atmosphere on the women’s practice ice, he responded “it’s like a Paramus shopping mall at Christmas”. When a pair’s “story” was Romeo and Juliet and the music began with birds singing, he pondered, out loud; “birds singing…does that mean he spent the night?” Now that’s MY kind of commentary! Johnny made you look AND listen, all while somehow pulling off a fascinator hat one day, a fabulous fuchsia Chanel jacket another, and a braid to show support of the protesters in Kiev the next. Most remarkably, none of his outside trappings ever took away from his spot-on observations, ample knowledge and genuine love of the sport.
I’ve always watched figure skating a little begrudgingly, seeing it as more spectacle than sport. But if NBC keeps bringing Johnny back, I’m a fan. And if they don’t? That move would be worthy of the snarkiest Dick Button-ism ever…
Naturally, all that sparkle and sizzle on the rink brings about thoughts of chocolate. But then again, most things bring about thoughts of chocolate in me. Anyway, The other day I was looking for something to curb my sweet tooth that would be a little out of the ordinary and totally decadent, especially since I’d worked up quite an appetite watching all those other athletes work out. Over the years I’ve seen recipes using the unexpected combination of chocolate and beets. Yes, you heard right, chocolate and BEETS. Cooked pureed beets add richness and amazing texture to this chocolate loaf cake, and topping it with a chocolate port wine glaze? Well let’s just say Johnny would have something quite fabulous to say about that…
Chocolate Loaf with Chocolate Port Wine Glaze
Makes 1 Loaf, about 12-14 slices
For the cake
- 3 ounces chopped semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
- 2/3 cup softened butter
- 1 cup + 2 TBSPP brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup pureed cooked beets (I used 1 can of sliced beets, drained)
- ¾ tsp vanilla
- 1 1/3 cups flour
- 2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
For the Glaze
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 ½ TBSP butter, cut into small pieces
- ¼ tsp salt (omit if you are using salted butter)
- ½ tsp instant espresso powder
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- ¼ cup Ruby Port (you could substitute a fruity red wine if you have no port)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a loaf pan.
Melt the chopped chocolate and 2 TBSP of the softened butter in the microwave, (30 seconds, stir, 30 seconds) until melted. Stir until smooth. Add the pureed beets and vanilla to the chocolate, and stir until well combined. Set aside. Beat the rest of the softened butter with the brown sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the chocolate mixture to the sugar, butter and eggs (don’t worry if it looks curdled.)
Whisk together the dry ingredients, and add a little at a time to the wet until thoroughly combined. Pour into loaf pan and smooth tip. Bake 30-35 minutes or until a tester in center comes out clean and the edges start to pull away from sides of pan. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on rack.
To make the glaze:
Melt the chocolate, butter, salt and espresso powder together over a double boiler until smooth. Once melted, add the powdered sugar and whisk until smooth. While the chocolate is melting, bring the wine up to a boil in a small saucepan. When the chocolate mixture is smooth, remove from the heat, add in the port and stir until fully incorporated. Let the glaze cool until slightly thickened (about 10+ minutes) and a rubber spatula leaves a trail when stirring.
When the loaf is cool and the glaze is ready, invert onto a plate so that the bottom is now the top. Drizzle the glaze over the loaf, heavily in the middle first, then along the edges so that it drizzles over the sides, covering the edges almost completely. Let sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours (if you can keep your hands off it) until the glaze is set.
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