Ola Rokita

Hi! I am Ola and I want to share with you my simple baking recipes that can change your life and how you feel.
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An interview with Lois Britton

An interview with Lois Britton,
the writer of the PolishHousewife.com food blog

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When I decided to start publishing my Polish baking recipes online back in 2018, one blog I came across was the polishhousewife.com written by Lois Britton.

At the time there were many bloggers publishing their cooking recipes in Polish, but there was only a handful of those who actually wrote their blogs in English. What’s even more impressive about Lois is that as an American native she not only embraced the Polish culture, but also mastered many of the traditional Polish recipes and made them accessible to those outside of the Polish community.

I find her blog not only to be extremely helpful for those learning about making Polish food for the first time, but also very inspirational, as Lois weaves her experiences with Polish culture into her recipes. Recently I had a chance to interview Lois and below is what she has shared with me.

***

Lois BrittonOla: Although in your blog, The Polish Housewife, you write about the Polish culture and events, your blog’s primary focus is on Polish food and recipes. I’m curious, what got you interested in cooking Polish food? From what I gather, you were not born in Poland, nor had prior experiences with Polish cuisine.

Lois: It’s true that I knew nothing about Polish food before I moved to Poland. I had eaten cabbage rolls at my in-laws home in Pennsylvania, but I don’t think I knew they were Polish.

I grew up in Arizona and currently live in Tucson, just 70 miles from the Mexican border, so I was much more familiar with Mexican cuisine. I’m curious about food and food-related traditions in general, so moving to Poland was a wonderful opportunity to explore. 

 

Ola: Indeed! Polish cuisine is very different from Mexican. Polish climate is a lot cooler and therefore many dishes are based on root and hardier vegetables, like potatoes, celery root, beets or cabbage. There aren’t as many spices in Polish cooking either. However, fermenting is very popular adding not only specific flavors to dishes but also helping keep your intestinal flora healthy due to probiotics.

What makes Polish cuisine special to you? Is it the taste, or are there health benefits that make Polish cooking so appealing to you? 

Lois: If I think about all the culinary trends over the last decade, so many of them apply to traditional Polish cooking, but they are not new in Polish cuisine: eating local, eating seasonal, fermented foods. Nose to tail cooking, slow food, growing some of your own food, to name a few. It’s like the rest of the world is catching up. 

 

Ola: I agree. I find that there are many health benefits to eating Polish food, for example, buckwheat, millet grouts, fermented cabbage and pickles, kefir, or the vast selection of soups.  

How do your friends and family react to your Polish cooking? Do they enjoy eating Polish dishes?

Lois: My friends and family are just thrilled that I like to cook! They enjoy Polish cooking and all of the other things that I make. I took placki ziemniaczane and gulasz to work one day to treat my colleagues to lunch. I taught them all to say, “bardzo smaczne!” and captured that on video. 

 

Ola: Fantastic! “Placki ziemniaczane” are a Polish classic and one of my favorite comfort foods. Your friends are lucky that they have someone like you to cook for them and introduce them to new flavors.

I find that my family and friends love Polish food too. It’s hard not to love dumplings or “pierogi”, Polish pancakes or “racuchy” or “kotlet schabowy”, also know as schnitzel, with young potatoes covered with butter and sprinkled with dill.

How long have you been writing your blog and what made you a fan of Polish cuisine?

Lois: I published my first blog post in June 2009 just 4 months before my husband began working in Poland. It was a general cooking/baking food blog called Food is my Love Language. I had been reading food blogs for a couple of years and enjoyed them so much, in particular the story that went with the recipe and the generous use of color photos. At some point, I decided that I wanted to join in the fun and told myself that if nothing else, I would eventually have all my recipes neatly organized online.

When I joined my husband in Poland, I started a second blog called Polish Housewife. The new blog was more about our life in Poland a way to keep family and friends back home updated on our life abroad. It surprised me that people I didn’t know were reading this blog. I started sharing Polish recipes. When we knew we would be moving back to the States, I didn’t want to lose the folks who had been following my Polish blog, so I combined the two with the Polish Housewife name.

As time went on, I, like many others, made the shift from hobby blogger to professional blogging. Part of any successful blog is finding a way to meet your readers’ needs, adding value to their life in some way. I realized that my readers wanted Polish recipes. To have them written down was filling a gap in their family’s culinary heritage.

I love so much about Polish food, but I also cook other things at home, but I seldom mention them, because that’s not what my readers are looking for.

 

Ola: I think your passion for cooking comes through in your blog and that’s why I enjoy reading your journey with Polish cooking. I agree, that knowing your audience well is key when writing a blog. Making it too varied can make your mainmessage a bit vague and tougher to follow.

What specifically do you enjoy writing about in your blog? Are there recipes that are more popular than others? Which recipes are your favorites? 

Lois: I enjoy the stories that go with recipes. Sometimes it has to do with how I first encountered a dish or it might be research that I have done to explain a recipe background.

Some recipes are definitely more popular than others. There are several hundred recipes on my website, but I can look at the analytics for any time period, a given month, a year, and the same fifteen recipes that will always be at the top: City Chicken, Potato Pancakes, Kolaczki, Makowiec, Gulasz, and Szarlotka to name a few.

I think my favorite recipe is Rogale swietomarcinskie, a regional pastry poplar in Poznań. I was fortunate to learn how to make this pastry at one of the popular bakeries in Poznań. Although when I make it now, I make the filling and put it on canned crescent roll dough, the kind in the tube. I made the proper dough recipe at home once, but it’s too much work to make in a home kitchen. One of my Polish friends, who is an excellent cook, was surprised to hear that I had made my own. She said no one makes them. We all buy them! My substitution is a good solution when buying them isn’t a possibility, and they are so much fresher. The people in Poznań eat 60 tons of the pastry on St. Martin’s Day. The bakeries have been working 24/7 for a week or more to make them, so the one you buy probably wasn’t made early this morning.

 

Ola: Wow! I didn’t realize that Polish people in Poznan, ate so many “Rogale swietomarcinskie”. I have never tried making this pastry because, as you said, the filling, made with white poppy seeds and walnuts, takes a lot of effort to make. I’m impressed that you have decided to make it yourself.

My favorite holiday in Poland is “Tlusty Czwartek” or Greasy Thursday in English when you eat a lot of greasy and fried foods like donuts or “faworki”, known as angel wings in English. One time I ate 6 “paczki” (donuts) in one day. That was a true feast for me!

Are there any dishes that you don’t like in Polish cuisine? 

Lois: “Flaki” is a challenge for me. I like the taste. I’m not put off by the thought of tripe. It’s the texture that gets me. I think it’s something that you have to grow up eating. 

 

Ola: That’s funny! I grew up in Poland and I saw my parents eating Flaki, and as much as they tried to convince me to eat it, I just couldn’t. As a kid, I couldn’t fathom the idea of eating intestines, or like you said, the weird texture is too much. 

Are there any Polish dishes that you have struggled with making?

Lois: The one that stumped me at first was Kolaczki. A rich pastry wrapped around a fruit, nut, or poppy seed filling. The first time I made them, so many of my neatly folded pastries popped open. I’m an accomplished baker, so that surprised me. My readers were great about posting tips in the comment section; it’s a common problem apparently. With their help, I’m having much better luck!

 

Ola: Glad to hear that your readers were helpful. I also find that many Polish cookie recipes that require fruit preserves for filling are tough to make because unless the fruit preserves are thick, they’ll spill once you bake with them. That’s why my favorite filling is plum preserve. It rarely spills because the plum tends to be thicker than most fruit fillings I’ve tried. 

When you cook, do you strive for perfection or do you prefer to experiment and make an original dish? 

Lois: Both! 

I think we all want things to turn out perfectly, but sometimes they don’t. I accept that and look at my recipe flops as a learning experience. I have been known to add a pinch of salt to dessert recipes that don’t call for salt, just because I think it brightens the other flavors in food.

Sometimes I might change the process a bit. Many old Polish recipes were written when most of the work was being done by hand. For example, many cakes have you beating the egg whites separately and folding everything together to get a light batter. Using a KitchenAid stand mixer, I can cream butter, sugar, and eggs until they are very fluffy and not have to separate eggs. I should do a taste test sometime with both methods side by side. 

I am comfortable doing the home version of the TV show Chopped, just making a meal out of what you have on hand, but if I want to try out something specific for the first time, I will read recipes for the dish in my collection of Polish food books, read some recipes from food blogs written in Polish (with the help of Google translate), and recall version that I may have eaten in Polish restaurants. It all comes together in what seems like the most reasonable, simple process for me. 

 

Ola: True, my grandmother would always beat egg yolks and egg whites separately even though she had a hand mixer. Similarly, when I make her recipes, I still separate the egg yolks and egg whites. I also sift the flour, especially when I make delicate cakes.

I think World War II had a big impact on Polish cooking. With food shortages and then after the war when women had to go to work, many recipes transformed as ingredients were substituted and people had to make food out of nothing, like the use of nettle instead of spinach.

That’s where I think experimentation came into play, as people learned to use every crumb of food and not waste anything. In many ways, the hardships pushed Polish people to innovate and create simple yet delicious meals.

Communism tried to unify what everyone ate, but I think our Polish creativity in experimenting with limited ingredients created some amazing foods, like “zapiekanka”, a toasted bread with cheese, ketchup and mushrooms that became as popular as hot dogs in New York city. Today there are hundredths of varieties of “zapiekankas” and tourists line up for hours to sample them

Your blog has been recognized by several media channels. Can you tell me more about that?

Lois: I was fortunate that Poznań natives followed my Polish Housewife blog. It was a novelty to have a foreigner writing about life in your city, and that opened up my first opportunities. I was invited to participate in an event for Polish media sponsored by the City of Poznań. They hired a translator for me. It was hosted by the head of the bakers guild and it focused a regional pastry that I mention below. I was also interviewed by the local paper sharing my feeling about Easter in Poland. I beat out the usual bunnies and chicks for the spot that year. It happened because someone who worked at the paper read my blog. 

Some opportunities, I sought out. When I was coming home to Arizona for a visit, I pitched the idea of demonstrating Polish recipes on local morning TV shows in Phoenix and Tucson. Imagine my surprise when they both said yes! 

At other times, I’ve just been lucky, in the right place at the right time, so to speak. 

 

Ola: I think you going to Poland with your husband was also an example of being in the right place at the right time, but I think it takes more than that. It takes curiosity and being open minded to not only embrace new culture thrown at you, but also to become a master of it’s cuisine. Lois, you are incredible and I applaud you for what you have built. It’s wonderful that others recognize it too.

On your blog, one can also purchase your cookbook, what inspired you to write it, and what kind of dishes did you write about?

Lois: For a few years before I wrote my cookbook, readers would ask if I had one, urging me to create one. They said it would be nice to have all of my recipes in one place. It surprised me because, to me, my recipes are all in one place – on my website. I do understand the desire for a cookbook though. I love to read them even if I never cook from them.

When I decided to write a cookbook, I surveyed readers twice, at first to ask about e-book versus print, 85% wanted a printed book. Again, just before I published, I asked about bindings. Overwhelmingly, readers wanted a coil binding, so I offer both coil and perfect binding because the latter is what bookstores want to carry. 

As for selecting the recipes, I thought about major categories and started listing the most popular recipes from my website. Then I added recipes that I didn’t have on my blog yet, but that seemed essential to include, things like smoked sausage and sauerkraut. 

 

Ola: I think anyone interested in Polish cuisine, will benefit from a book that has all the essentials in one place. Your book covers many key dishes that I think are staples, such as cabbage rolls or “pierogi”. I also have many cookbooks and I refer to them occasionally to check out a technique or verify amounts. But surprisingly, the book I use the most is an old cookbook my grandmother purchased in Poland back in 1960s.

It has many great basics and even lists calories and nutritional content, which taught me a lot about eating a balanced diet. What’s amazing, Polish food is very rich, but most Polish people you see on the streets are slim. I think it has something to do with our Polish diet where we eat a lot of soup. Personally, I grew up on eating soup everyday, and today I realize how nutritious and healthy that was. Today, I continue cooking soups and paired with some bread it makes for a satisfying meal.

How can someone purchase your cookbook?

Lois: The Polish Housewife Cookbook: traditional recipes you wish your babcia (Polish grandmother) had written down is available on my website. I’m happy to sign and dedicate copies. I usually mail books every other week. If time is of the essence or you’d like free shipping, it’s also available on Amazon. 

 

Ola: Wonderful! I think many people will love learning how to cook Polish dishes from your book and have images to follow.

If you were to share any advice based on your cooking experience with someone learning to cook, what would it be?

Lois: For me, the hardest part of learning to cook was getting everything ready at the same time. That takes practice and some planning. I guess my advice would be not to stress about it. Keep it simple and enjoy the process.

 

Ola: Very wisely said, Lois. I also believe that one must keep on trying. Even if at first try the dish doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, it’s important to try again, and again. Every time you try to cook something new, be patient and as you said, with practice, cooking becomes easier and easier, and more fun.

What are your aspirations?

Lois: I have other cookbooks in my mind. I’d like to keep learning and adapting to new technology. It is difficult to say where you’ll be in 5 years because we may all be on a platform that hasn’t been invented yet. 

 

Ola: It would be wonderful if you published another cookbook. I’m sure it would be very special. I wonder if you would base it on another culture or if you would innovate and recreate some of your American dishes with a new international twist from your travels. Can’t wait to read it!

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me and I look forward to seeing what new recipes you’ll keep posting on your site, thepolishhousewife.com.

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Chocolate Brownie

Ola Rokita07 May 2020Comment (1)

 

Brownie

Brownie is chocolate-lovers dream

If you love chocolate as much as I do, then you must learn how to bake this chocolate brownie. I make mine with extra chocolate.

Making brownie is one of the easiest cakes to bake, yet the results are extremely satisfying.  You can make a very simple version or, create a taste thats more complex by adding nuts and spices.

For your brownie to turn out moist, reduce the amount of flour and baking time

Although most recipes I have seen recommend at least a cup of flour, I only use 3/4 of a cup because I find that too much flour makes the brownie dry. I prefer mine to have more moisture.

For this recipe I use wheat flour from Poland type 450, “Tortowa.” It’s very delicate so it doesn’t weigh the cake down.

Also, don’t bake this cake for too long, maximum 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 Celsius).

Cool the chocolate

Make sure that when you heat up your chocolate with butter, cool it off first before combining the mixture with the other ingredients. If you add the hot chocolate to your eggs, they can solidify and the mixture won’t be as silky.

Sift the flour

Although I rarely sift my flour, for this recipe I highly recommend that you do before adding it to the wet ingredients in order to avoid clumps.

Go nuts!

Personally I like adding walnuts or pecans to this recipe, but if you don’t have any, chocolate will do. I also enjoy eating my brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream and some strawberries or raspberries.

Try it out!

Brownie

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup cake flour (type 450 wheat flour "tortowa")
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 500 grams of chocolate)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (about 8 oz or 225 grams)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2-3 tbs cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp orange zest

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  2. In a medium oven-safe bowl add chopped butter and chocolate pieces.

  3. Heat up water in a pot and place the bowl with the butter and chocolate over the pot with the boiling water so that it sits right on top. Use the steam to heat up the butter and chocolate while you stir until they melt evenly.

    Heat up Chocolate chips
  4. Cool off the melted butter with chocolate mixture for at least 15 minutes.

  5. In the meantime, with the hand mixer beat together the eggs, sugar, orange zest and vanilla until the mixture becomes fluffy.

    Eggs beaten
  6. Add the cocoa powder and gently combine it using a spatula.

    chocolate powder
  7. Finally, add the flower using a sieve. Mix it into the batter gently with a spatula. Don’t over mix it.

    adding flour
  8. Pour the brownie batter into a square baking dish that's 12" x 12" (30 x 30 centimeters) lined with parchment paper.

    brownie in a pan
  9. Sprinkle few chocolate chips on top and bake it for 25-30 minutes.

  10. When finished baking, remove it from the oven and let it cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

    cool off brownie

Baked Bread

Several of my readers have reached out to me inquiring about baking bread at home. Given the common thread, I want to address the frequently asked questions I have been receiving.

Personally, I am a big fan of baking bread at home. It allows me to add only the ingredients I want and prefer. As a result, the bread is healthier and more nutritious than most breads I find in the US stores and bakeries. It’s also a fun activity to do with my kids and very gratifying. Plus, the bread is very fresh and tastes delicious.

To help you start baking your bread at home, here are answers to some of the questions you might have:

What flour should I use for baking bread?

 

Fours

If you want to bake healthier bread, I highly recommend whole-wheat flour, type 2,000 if you’re using wheat flour from Poland. Wholemeal or whole-wheat flour is rich in fiber, vitamin E, B1 and B2. Plus, it’s an excellent source of many beneficial minerals for your health, such as folic acid, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and iron.

This type of flour usually makes the bread denser and heartier.

You can also use more refined wheat flour, type 550 which is equivalent to the all-purpose flour found in the US. This type of flour is good for making challah, dinner rolls, or brioche-type breads. You can also use it to make pizza dough or flat bread.

The all-purpose or 550 type wheat flour usually makes the breads airier and lighter.

My other favorite flour for baking bread is rye flour, type 720. It has less gluten which means it’s less elastic than wheat flour, adds character and a nice light nutty taste to the bread.

To balance the elasticity of your bread with the taste, you can mix wheat and rye flours together.

white and dark breads

Which flour is best for making a starter?

 

The more refined the flour, the harder and longer it takes to make a starter. When making my starter, I either use Polish rye flour, type 720 and above, or whole-wheat flour, type 2,000. With type 720, it takes me about 3 days to make my starter, whereas with the whole-wheat type 2,000 flour it takes me about 2 days. Using flour type 550 (equivalent to the all-purpose flour in the US), it takes me 4-5 days, and requires more precise measurements.

Active Starter

Why should I bake my own bread at home
rather than buying it at the store?

 

When you bake your own bread at home, you know exactly what’s in it. Mass produced bread often contains different types of artificial chemicals, emulsifiers, and preservatives, such as sorbic acid, calcium propionate, or monoglycerides. You can buy artisan bread offered at select stores, but those can get expensive and in the US are often made with enriched flour that has synthetic elements and nutrients added to the flour.

Sour Dough

How difficult is it to bake my own bread at home?

 

Despite some opinions, you don’t need a culinary or baking degree to bake a delicious and nutritious bread at home. To make a simple bread with your own starter, all you need is an oven, baking sheet or pan, good flour, and some water.

Do I need a breadmaking machine to bake a better bread?

 

Breadmaking machines are great if you simply want to dump all the ingredients into one container and have a loaf ready in a few hours without much effort. You can also count on consistency when it comes to your loaf. However, before you invest the money in a breadmaker, start by first making bread with your own hands to understand if you truly need one. Many breads don’t require heavy kneading or manual labor to be made. Sometimes a few stirs is all it takes.

How long does it take to bake a loaf of bread?

 

Baking Bread

With your pre-made starter, it can take as little as one hour and a half, and it does not mean hands-on work. The on-task work is about 5 minutes during the entire process. This includes mixing the flour with the starter and water, transferring the dough into a loaf pan, and putting your bread in the oven.

How can I make a healthier bread?

 

During the process of making flour, often the healthiest part of the grain, germ and bran, is removed. This is why when making your bread add a spoonful of bran in addition to sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, flax seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, olives or herbs.

These can add many beneficial nutrients to your bread, like vitamin E, magnesium, extra fiber, protein, antioxidants, just to name a few. These ingredients also add exquisite taste to your bread and make it more filling.

sunflower seeds

 

Flat Bread

Ola Rokita23 April 2020Comments (0)

Baked FlatBread

To reduce calories yet still enjoy fresh bread, I often make flat bread because it’s quick, simple to make, and tastes delicious. This type of crisp and thin bread is also great to serve with different types of dips or with cheese and wine. Personally, I prefer it over crackers.

Flat bread is also extremely easy to make with very few basic ingredients, such as flour, yeast, and water. For this recipe I chose wheat flour from Poland, type 550. You can also bake a healthier version with whole wheat flour, type 2,000. Or, to mix half of the 550 type and half of the 2,000 type to balance the taste.

Flat Bread

Ingredients

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour (Type 550 - at least 11% protein)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp dry active yeast (10 grams of fresh yeast)
  • 1 tbs olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a stand-mixer bowl, pour 2 cups of warm water.

    Lukewarm water
  2. Add sugar and two tablespoons of flour.

  3. Mix it with a whisk and add the yeast.

    yeast
  4. Wait 5-10 minutes for the yeast to activate.

  5. Add salt and the rest of the flour and mix the ingredients with a spoon until combined.

  6. Using a hook tool of your stand mixer, mix the dough on a medium speed for 5-7 minutes.

    mixed dough
  7. If your dough does not start to peal off the walls of the bowl, add 2-3 tbs of flour. Make sure to not add too much flour as it will make the dough less supple.

  8. Once the dough starts to peal off the walls of the bowl, pour in the olive oil.

  9. Mix the dough for 5 more minutes.

  10. Let it rest for at least 45 minutes covered with a clean dish towel.

    expanded dough
  11. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit or 260 degrees Celsius.

  12. Cut two sheets of parchment paper (25x25 cm or 10 inches x 10 inches)

  13. Once the dough doubles in size, take about 30 grams (1 oz) of dough, sprinkle some flour onto a clean flat surface, and using a roller pin roll out the dough into long and thin pieces. Place them onto the cut squares of parchment paper, about three on each.

    baked flat breads
  14. Bake your bread by placing the parchment paper with the rolled out pieces onto a pizza stone. Bake for about 5 minutes, until the breads start getting a lightly golden tint.

  15. Repeat for the next set of breads. If needed, save left over dough in the fridge for up to 3 days so you can make some more fresh flat bread over the next few days.

  16. Cool off the baked breads for about 5 minutes and enjoy with some cheese, or dipped in olive oil and grated parmesan.

Coconut Macaroons

Coconut Macaroons are very easy and fast to make. It only takes 15-20 minutes to prepare them! Also, the recipe requires only a few ingredients, but the result is delightful.

Another plus is that coconut is a great source of manganese. An important mineral said to be good for your bone health. It’s also rich in antioxidants that are great fighters against free radicals that do damage to cells in our bodies.

Coconut Macaroons are also gluten and dairy free, so for those who try to avoid gluten, have celiac disease, or are lactose intolerant, they are an excellent dessert choice. In my recipe I also reduced the sugar portion to make them less overwhelming and reduce the unnecessary calories. I find the shredded coconut sweet enough, so a little bit of sugar goes a long way in this recipe.

Coconut Macaroons Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites
  • 2 cups shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For chocolate covered coconut macaroons

  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 Celsius.

  2. In a medium bowl, add egg whites.

    Egg Whites
  3. Beat the egg whites until they form into a very stiff form.

    egg whites
  4. Keep mixing as you slowly add powdered sugar.

    Powdered sugar and egg whites
  5. Once mixed in, add lemon zest and vanilla, and mix it all together.

    shredded coconut
  6. Using a spatula, mix in shredded coconut cup by cup. Gently mix it together to preserve as many air bubbles as possible.

    mix coconut and egg whites
  7. Using an ice-cream spoon, scoop little balls of the mixture onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.

    coconut balls
  8. Bake for 25 minutes until the macaroons start to turn golden.

    baked coconut macaroons

To add extra flavor to your coconut macaroons, you can dip them in melted chocolate

  1. Simply melt some semi-sweet chocolate chips over low heat in a small sauce pan, and dip the cooled macaroons in it. Chill for 20 minutes and enjoy this delicious dessert with some tea or coffee.

    chocolate dipped macaroons