For most people, meeting a new acquaintance is fairly straight forward; you may shake hands, you will probably make note of how nice it is to encounter one another, and you will likely engage in some form of small talk. Now, this isn’t always true, of course, but usually the conversation rests somewhere between the weather and what you studied in college. Which means it lies exactly in line with my “Excuse YOU!” mark. Let’s take a second today, as Valentine’s Day approaches, to discuss the question I find the most difficult of all to answer: “Where are you from?” Goodness, I don’t even know these days.
The thing is, for me, there isn’t a simple answer. I say “Canada,” and you assume that I speak French. You assume, more specifically, that I grew up there. You assume that I have been only there and here, where we are meeting. You probably ask me how I ended up in the same space as you. And the answer, for a 26 year-old who has moved 23 times, is much more complicated than you were considering. Usually I just say something like, “They couldn’t keep me away!” Which is the truth, excluding the fact that I have no idea who “they” are.
And, you know, I don’t always encounter that question, anyway. But it does come up. It comes up when I say, “In Alberta there were days that the sun never fully set or rose,” or “This one time in Atlanta, I didn’t know I was talking to Tony Hale and I told him he reminded me of Buster Bluth,” or “In Florida, I sliced my foot open on a sea shell the same day that flesh-eating bacteria was announced to be proliferating,” or “I knew a butcher in Italy once who insisted on calling me ‘Superman,'” or “I once lived on a small mountain outside of Toronto,” or “When I was in high school in Upstate New York…” Okay, okay. You get the picture. It comes up.
The thing I’ve been learning in the telling and retelling of these adventures is that, somewhere between my birth outside of Toronto and the strange story of why my house in Detroit was for sale and walking around barefoot on the Florida bay front in college and eating sourdough flapjacks in the midwest, my roots can be found. Unlike many, who have memories of one or just a handful of houses where games were played and friends were made and songs were sung and family stayed, I am tied to my whereabouts by the stories I have collected.
These Toasted Almond Chocolate Cornflake Clusters are a mere byproduct; my dad, a man from New England, met my mom, a woman from that Canadian mountain I mentioned, in Toronto, and they married and had me. We moved around a lot and, at some point, my dad connected my uncle to a job opportunity that led him to bring my favorite family members across the Atlantic to Southern Germany, where they have spent over a decade immersing themselves. I’ve seen my cousins blossom into multilingual young women who can sing, act, and take on life with that same sense of excitement that I think might run in our blood. Without that immersive sense of adventure, I would never have encountered the idea for this recipe.
I got a text message recently from my German cousin (who is, coincidentally, one of my all-time favorite humans) about how Frau Weigel, their very kind neighbor who took care of her and her sister after school, used to make these simple chocolate clusters. It was as if Frau Weigel stored Nostalgia somewhere in the confines of her quaint apartment overlooking the cobblestone and the rolling hills of greenery. She’d mix almonds and cornflakes with melted chocolate to make the German delicacy Schokocrossies for my beloved girls. Somehow, over the span of the last ten years or so, I never encountered the recipe in my time spent there, too. So naturally, in time for the Chocolate Fest that is Valentine’s Day, I had to rectify that. When I texted my cousin back to tell her I had switched the recipe to include sliced instead of slivered almonds, and that I had toasted them, too, she responded with the words of someone who knows me all too well:
“No one would expect you not to, anyway.”
These are the people I love, and this is where I come from. May your Valentine’s be filled, too, with the kind of love that has stories and roots.
Toasted Almond Chocolate Cornflake Clusters
Makes 12-16 clusters
2 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
3 cups cornflakes
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a double boiler, melt chocolate chips. If not using a double boiler, microwave chocolate chips, stirring ever 15 seconds or so until melted. Set aside and let chocolate cool slightly, about 5 minutes or so. In a large bowl, combine corn flakes and toasted almond slices. Pour in chocolate in halves, mixing in between. Use two tablespoons to gently spoon clusters of the mixture onto parchment paper. Refrigerate immediately until the clusters have set, about 20-25 minutes. Store in an airtight container. Clusters will last up to 5 days.