Fireworks: UK vs. US

UK                                                                   US
-damp, cold                                                   -hot
-a few fireworks in the back yard          -have they stopped yet this year?
-a penny for the guy                                  -fundraising
-big bonfires                                                 -barbecues
-burning effigies                                          -barbecues
-winter coat and gloves                           -shorts and T-shirt
(and of course both places have plenty of organized public displays)

Yesterday was the 4th of July. Here in the US, that generally means fireworks. Lots and lots of them. In my neighborhood, the explosions started about 2 weeks ago with whistling noises, occasional  booms of things that sound too loud to be legal, and the on-and-off crackle of fire crackers at strange times of the day. However, all of that pales into insignificance compared to the sheer volume (both in quantity and noise) of fireworks that go off on the 4th itself.

The first time I spent July 4th in the US was when I visited here in 2005 or so with my husband when we were still dating. I was amazed by how many fireworks people set off. How could they keep going for so long? How much money did these people spend on fireworks? Didn’t they know it was dangerous to set these things off in the street? Of course, I promptly forgot all about it until we moved here in 2010. That year we had just had a very, very tall tree cut down and the whole of the back yard was covered in twigs, sawdust, and tree branches. 622049
Let’s just say we didn’t sleep so soundly that night, with a yard full of tinder and fireworks exploding all around.

This year, the July 4th temperature was 110F, and it has been a very dry year, so I’m very thankful that we didn’t have a tree situation this time. The whole notion of fireworks on a hot, hot day (and night  – they go on until at least midnight, without a single break, as though each house has coordinated things so as to maintain a constant stream of explosions) is very different from my experience of fireworks growing up. For most Brits (although perhaps less now than when I was younger) fireworks means November 5th. Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night. It also means a high likelihood of a cold, damp, drizzly evening rather than scorching sunshine. As a kid, I didn’t think it was all that much fun to wait around getting freezing cold just to watch something that was over in 5 minutes. Having fireworks in the summer certainly makes sense from that point of view. Well done on the founding fathers for signing the declaration in July rather than November. Of course, we need to remember Mr. Fawkes, without whom November 5th would be forgotten. Sometimes when I was a kid, I’d see teenagers sitting outside shops with a stuffed pile of clothes, collecting a ‘penny for the guy’. I always wanted to give a penny, but my mum would tell me it ‘was begging and it’s not allowed.’

It looked fun though. That part appealed to me a lot more than the fireworks, although now I find it a bit strange to encourage kids to build effigies to burn later on a fire. Do kids still do that these days? Here in the US, fireworks are sold to raise money for various organizations. Where I live, I’ve passed firework stands raising money for a school, a fraternity, and a racing pigeon club (!).  I’m not a fan of allowing random people to set off fireworks in their own backyards, but it’s a way of raising money.

As a scaredy-cat child (I’ve written before about the fear instilled in me by various public service films I watched growing up), I was uncomfortable at the fireworks displays to which my parents took my sister and me a few times. At least twice, we went to displays at the village vicarage. There would be a giant bonfire with a guy on top and a small fireworks display. Of course my parents would want to get close enough to see, while I’d be convinced the bonfire would collapse, burning everyone within a mile-wide radius. I was once offered a sparkler. I declined. After all I’d seen the warnings on TV where a little girl picked up a spent sparkler and ended up with a giant bandage on her hand.

Now, I’m still not too keen to get anywhere near fireworks, but a nice, organized display can be pretty spectacular. fireworks

Melting

Today is day 7 of a heat wave. Every evening this week, at around 7:00 p.m., the hallway thermometer in my house has been averaging around 96°F (35°C).  Outside it has been even hotter at 103-6° F, depending on the day (39-41°C  or so), Forecasters promise some relief tomorrow (93! Never, growing up in England, did I imagine that one day I would look forward to a temperature in the 90s as as a ‘cool’ temperature!) All week, I’ve felt like I am melting. However, yesterday I decided to do some melting of my own…Melting of chocolate chips, that is.

I’ve mentioned before how I don’t really care to cook, but my husband had said something about cheesecake a couple of months ago. For some reason I decided right then to find a  cheesecake recipe.  and make it before the year was out. He likes cheesecake a lot, but I don’t because the cream cheese gives it a funny taste.  I looked online, however, I couldn’t get past the cream cheese issue and all the other recipes I found required gelatin. Powdered cow hooves? No, thanks.

Then, a few weeks ago, I came across a recipe on Made of Stars, a great blog with vegan recipes. Ally, the writer of Made of Stars, has a recipe for a no-bake chocolate Kahlua Cheesecake (minus the cheese!). It looked very easy – one of the most important considerations for me with any recipe – so I bookmarked it and decided to come back to it later. I usually bookmark recipes, only to delete them two years later without ever making them.

My husband doesn’t like alcohol, so my version was minus the kahlua. I also made a couple of other changes to use things I already had in the house. It came out looking really not too bad at all. DSC09978

This is the original recipe with my variations in italics.

The Base – 13 biscuits (I used Honeymaid graham crackers – the box had three packages and I used one. I crushed them by hand in a plastic bag)
1/2 cup walnuts (I used a handful of roughly chopped pecans),
coconut oil (I used 2 Tbsp of Earth Balance spread),
2 Tbsp raw cacao powder (I used cocoa powder),
1 Tbsp icing sugar,
orange zest, (I didn’t add this because my husband doesn’t like chocolate with orange)
kahlua, (I didn’t add this)
salt. (Nor this)
Melt the coconut oil/butter/butter substitute then mix everything together and press into a pan. (I lined mine with foil)
The base is required to spend an hour in the fridge in order to ‘set’.

Filling ingredients – 350g (12oz) firm silken tofu
300g (10oz) non-dairy sweetened chocolate chips, melted (I just used a bag of regular semi-sweet chocolate chips)
3 Tbsp raw cacao powder, made into a paste with 50ml(3 Tbsp)of hot water – cool slightly (I used cocoa powder and heaped up the spoons!)
1 Tbsp icing sugar, sifted (It was a very heaped spoonful and not sifted – didn’t notice that it should have been until now. Oops.
1 Tbsp Kahlua (none)
3 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp unsweetened almond milk (or other non-dairy milk) (I used skim milk)
Decoration: non-dairy white chocolate and dark chocolate (That’s going too far for me!)
Method:
1. Place the ingredients into a food processor in the order that they are listed. Process until smooth. Add additional almond milk if the texture is too thick. Taste the filling before adding it to the base. If it is not sweet enough, add an additional tablespoon of maple syrup. You may want to add more Kahlua! (I liquidized the tofu in my mini-blender with the milk, then just mixed everything together in a bowl because the blender was too small to fit in anything else.)
2. Remove the base from the fridge. Pour the filling into the base, and smooth the surface with a spatula.
3. Refrigerate for a few hours (or overnight).
4. For decoration, sprinkle finely grated white chocolate and dark chocolate across the surface of the cake. Decorate with small wedges of dark chocolate. (I skipped this.)

Result: I didn’t tell my husband that I’d made it with tofu. A previous experience involving black bean brownies taught me to keep quiet about unconventional ingredients. Once he’d declared it delicious, I revealed the secret ingredient (none of the fat of the nasty old cream cheese) and it was too late for him to change his mind! It’s not too sweet, with a very rich chocolate taste. I’d scale down the ingredients another time and make just a couple of small cups with the base crumbled on top instead. Overall – it’s a great recipe and it took very little time or effort to make. You can make it completely vegan, or make it a hybrid, like I did. Thanks to Ally for sharing it!DSC09982