AJ and I met nearly twelve years ago. Our Ten Year Anniversary story, wherein I made a chocolate caramel cheesecake for him, chronicles the hazy nostalgia of how we got together and what we count as our anniversary date. But it’s not the beginning of the story for AJ and me. The beginning of the story actually occurred one year earlier. It involved a blasphemous Easter Celebration, Star Wars, a mother’s day gift, and one very special homemade rice crispy treat.
I had moved to San Francisco a year prior to meeting AJ and, as my friend Forrest described me at the time, I was a bit broken. I had gotten out of a relationship that was my first everything: first gay date, first kiss, first boyfriend. To say that I was lost and broken at the end of the relationship is to put it mildly, though to my credit, I was the one who eventually broke up with him (after he broke up with me and we got back together) It’s a story for another time, but in the end, I realized that he wasn’t the one. And I really needed to be with the one.
The move out here to California was a painful one. I was leaving my family for the first time (I found out years later that my mom cried after I drove away with the U-Haul truck) and heading out on my own. The actual drive out to California was complicated by the fact that my ex-boyfriend and I rented a U-Haul truck together to move out here, me to San Francisco, him to Los Angeles to be with his new boyfriend (a fact that I found out during the roadtrip out here). *shrug* It seemed like a logical idea at the time I guess.
San Francisco was shiny and new and despite being pleased that I was no longer in my hometown, a city that I always said I would move away from once I graduated from high school (but didn’t) I was pretty lonely. I was lucky that I already had a core group of four friends that I knew before I moved out here and they were my rock and foundation for my new life here.
The first year out here in San Francisco was tough. It was the dotcom era and EVERYONE wanted a graphic designer – that did web design (some things never changed). And though I did some web design, my heart was never in it, as I was a branding and print guy. In the end I temped at a number of place, design and otherwise, including an office building where I was unceremoniously fired from (it’s a hilarious fantastic story, remind me to tell you it one of these days – totally utterly my fault why I was fired, ah feckless youth…). The number of stories from that era is endless and any mistake that I could make, I probably did.
And a lot of those mistakes included really bad dates. One date had the guy show up, only to announce to me that he had invited along a coworker with him (yes, on our first date) who was due to show up any minute. Making matters even worse, he asked me if I wouldn’t mind being discreet, because he wasn’t out to his coworker yet. Another date ended with us making out in our bedroom, all seemingly going well, until the guy panicked for no reason at all, jumped up mid-kiss and ran out of my apartment. Was I that bad a kisser?
It was at the end of this series of bad dates that I met AJ. My college pal Jenny had tried to set me up with a coworker of her’s (not AJ) and it hadn’t worked out, but Jenny’s coworker and I were trying to be friends. He had invited me to hang out with him and his friend Bryan who, in turn, had invited AJ along.
It was the afternoon of Easter Sunday, 1999. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were celebrating their 20th Anniversary with a big street fair, which included closing off a block of Castro Street. For those not familiar with the Sisters, they are group of gay men, that dress up in nun drag and do charity work. You need to experience them first hand here in San Francisco to truly understand who they, but next time your in San Francisco, give me a holler, I’ll introduce you to some of them. Each Easter involves such fun “only in San Francisco” events like their Hunky Jesus contest, and this one was no different. In the end, they raised over $13,000 to give to various charities around San Francisco.
While at the fair, right before AJ met me, his friend Bryan decided to buy him a special treat – a rice crispy treat in fact. Sold by a guy dressed up as Dorothy from the Wizard of OZ, these treats had, a little extra something in them. Something that’s pretty common here in San Francisco. I’m just going to leave it at that.
AJ, of course, had never done anything like this before. In fact this happened to be the one and ONLY time he has ever experimented in a special treat from Dorothy. Immediately after eating it, he met me.
He did warn me ahead of time. He explained the situation and said that if he started acting funny or odd to not take it the wrong way. Of course, having never met him before, I had no base of judgment to what he normally acted like. Any warnings he gave me really didn’t mean much.
We left each other that day, with a vague “hey good hanging out with you…let’s do it again…” sort of passing. Though I was interested in him, I really wasn’t looking for someone to date. I was already in the middle of my bad dating frenzy and I certainly wasn’t looking for another person to put on that list.
A month or two went by. I had started dating a guy I referred to as “Right On Jimmy” as his constant catch phrase was “right on.” It wasn’t going so well. And then I ran into AJ in the bookstore I was working at.
AJ looked cute and slightly geeky and a bit frazzled when he walked in. He was looking for a book for his mom for Mother’s Day. As he stared in frustration at the selection on the wall, I saw him slightly shrug his shoulders and start to walk out. I called out to him and asked him if I could help. He looked over and his smile made me melt. Every single object in the bookstore went out of focus and all I could hear was him asking about a book for his mom.
I suggested a book for him (Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood – yes I remember the book, no I’ve never read, but I new it was popular for Mother’s Day) and he bought it. I told him to get my phone number from our mutual friend, the one who brought me to the Street Fair. He promised to and then walked out the door.
I don’t know why I didn’t give him my number right then. I was dating Right On Jimmy at the time and I’m not one to date multiple people. But he was cute and there was definitely a spark. Perhaps I wanted to test him to see if he really did like me. I wanted to see if it he would go through the effort of getting my number. Because that would mean he really was interested.
It was evident to my coworkers at the bookstore that I was clearly interested. Apparently they had a conversation standing right next to me, talk about how AJ and I were shameless flirting with each other, and how they could tell we were into each other because obviously we were oblivious to everyone and everything in the room other than each other. “It’s amazing how you can blatantly talk about people who are standing right next to you, and they won’t hear you at all if they are clearly interested in something else.” She said to my other coworker who nodded knowingly with a smirk.
My baby dyke coworker giggled as she told me this right after AJ left. I blushed. But it was true.
AJ did track down my friend, who it turns out, was not a mutual friend of his. He had to call his friend Bryan to get the number of their mutual friend to get my number. That’s a lot of loops to jump through. Clearly he was interested.
And he called me. We talked for an hour. Then he invited me to a Star Wars party.
In case it has not come up, AJ loves Star Wars. LOVES Star Wars. And, it being 1999, Episode 1 of Star Wars was coming out. To celebrate that, he threw a Star Wars party in which he showed all three of the original movies back to back.
I came in somewhere in the middle of Empire Strikes Back. I don’t know if I stayed the entire time or not. But AJ had pizza. We talked. I was smitten. And so we set up a date.
AJ was pretty darn adorable. Right on Jimmy and I ended things (well he ended things, but the outcome of it ending and my outrage over it, is a pretty entertaining story in and of itself) and AJ and I started to see each other. And despite everything looking great on paper, it just didn’t click. Call it bad timing, or the wrong place at the wrong time, but it didn’t work out. And five months later, we broke up.
It was hard, AJ immediately regretted breaking up with me. He asked me if we wanted to get back together. I hemmed and hawed. We hung out a lot, but we didn’t give it another try. Instead we became friends. Good friends. Best friends.
And when we did get back together, seven months later, it stuck this time; we had established that foundation and friendship. Had we not broken up, if he hadn’t broken my heart, it probably wouldn’t have had a chance to heal properly. I wouldn’t have had a chance to heal properly.
I’m not saying life has been perfect since then. We’ve had our good times and our bad times. But I wouldn’t trade any of it with anyone else. And so, for this Valentine’s Day, I decided I needed to make him some Rice Krispy Treats. I left out the special ingredient that Dorothy added, but I added a few ingredients of my own to make them special, chocolate, caramel and a little bourbon. As AJ said, these fancy Rice Crispy Treats are elevated. But they won’t elevate you like Dorothy’s. 😉
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. I hope you have a good one.
This post was inspired by Gluten Free Girl’s call for people to write their love story in their blog for Valentine’s Day. Please check out her post and read the wonderful comments that people have left telling their story. It’s an amazing and heartwarming experience.
Whilst making these treats, I listened the Cocteau Twins’ Heaven or Las Vegas. I’m not sure why. It just felt appropriate.
Bourbon Caramel Rice Crispy Treats with Dark Chocolate (gluten free)
These rice crispy treats do have bourbon in them, and if you taste the marshmallows, they are pretty boozy. But once you mix them with the rice crispy cereal the bourbon becomes just a faint subtle hint. If you like your booze, feel free to substitute two more tablespoons of bourbon for the cold water used to soften the gelatin. I won’t tell anyone.
Bourbon Caramel Marshmallows Fluff
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of powdered unflavored gelatin (1 1/2 packages)
2 tablespoons of bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark)
2 tablespoons of cold water
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 egg white from a large egg
pinch of salt
pinch of cream of tartar
1. Combine the powdered gelatin, bourbon and cold water in small bowl to soften the gelatin.
2. Place the sugar, corn syrup and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce to medium heat. You will want to use a large saucepan, because it will bubble up. Try NOT to use a nonstick pan, as one with a silver metallic bottom will allow you to better judge the state of the caramel as you cook it.
3. Meanwhile, as the sugar syrup cooks, place the egg white, pinch of salt and pinch of cream of tartar in the bowl with a standing mixer with the wire whisk attached. Whip on medium high until the egg white holds stiff peaks.
4. Go back to the sugar syrup and continue to cook the syrup until it starts to turn a little bit brown. The minute the syrup starts to brown, remove the syrup from the heat and swirl the syrup up around to make sure it evenly cooks. You don’t want to overcook the caramel. Usually I take it off the heat once it starts to brown and caramelize, and swirl it around to let the residual heat of the pan finish cooking it. If it isn’t darkening enough, you can always put back on the heat, but if you overcook, you have to start over. If you have a candy thermometer, you want to take it off the heat once it hits 320˚F, the very beginning of the carmelization of the sugar.
5. Once the sugar syrup is a golden amber color (about 340˚F if you’re using a candy themometer) take it off the heat and add the gelatin. It will bubble up and steam so be careful. Mix with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon until the gelatin has dissolved. Then take it over to the standing mixer.
6. Turn the standing mixer to high and slowly pour the syrup into the egg whites as the mixer whips the egg whites. Continue to pour until all the syrup is used up. Leave the standing mixer going for another 10 -12 minutes or to whip air into it and the marshmallow has cooled to room temperature.
Rice Crispy Treat
3 tablespoons salted butter
8 cups (10 oz) of gluten free crispy brown rice cereal (see note)
1 batch of bourbon caramel marshmallows (recipe above)
1. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with cooking spray.
2. Pour the bourbon caramel marshmallow fluff into a large pot or dutch oven, along with the butter.
3. Cook on medium heat until the butter has melted and starts to brown a little bit and the marshmallow fluffy has melted. Stir with a heat proof spatula or a wooden spoon until the marshmallow and butter have combined and thinned a little.
4. Add the crispy rice cereal and stir until thoroughly coated with the marshmallow.
5. Press the rice crispy mixture into the prepared pan, using a greased spatula or a piece of wax paper to evenly spread it into the pan.
6. Allow to harden at room temperature, about 20 minutes, and then grease a large chef knife and cut into 2 inch squares.
Assemble the Rice Crispy Treat
12 oz of dark chocolate, divided (preferably something that you like to eat out of hand)
1 oz of white chocolate (don’t use white chocolate chips as they don’t melt very well)
Gold luster dust (optional)
1. Line a baking sheet with a silpat, wax paper or aluminum foil.
2. Chop 10 oz of dark chocolate into small 1/4 inch squares. Place in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir the chocolate and microwave for an additional 30 seconds. Stir and microwave for another 30 seconds. At this point the bowl should be pretty warm and the chocolate fairly melted. Pull it out of the microwave and stir until the chocolate is completely liquid. If it still needs a little more time, microwave in 15 second intervals until melted.
2. Dip the bottom of one rice crispy treat into the melted chocolate, being sure to coat about a 1/2 inch up the sides. Place the crispy treat, chocolate side down, on the lined baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the crispy treat squares.
3. Once the treats are all dipped in chocolate, refrigerate the treats while you make the chocolate hearts.
4. Line another baking sheet with aluminum foil or wax paper.
5. Chop the remaining 2 oz of dark chocolate into small 1/ inch squares and place in the microwave safe bowl. Microwave and stir for 30 second intervals, just as you did in step 2, until all the chocolate is melted. Since there is significantly less chocolate to melt, you probably only need one or two cycles.
6. Pour the chocolate onto the lined baking sheet and, using an offset spatula or butter knife, spread the chocolate as thin as you can.
7. Place a small saucepan fill with a little bit of water on the stove. Fit a metal bowl over the saucepan, and make sure the metal bowl doesn’t touch the water.
8. Chop the white chocolate into 1/4 inch small squares. Place them in the metal bowl.
9. Remove the metal bowl and turn on the heat on the stove to bring the water to a boil. Once it is at a rapid boil, turn the heat off, and place the metal boil on top of the saucepan.
10. Stir the white chocolate in the metal bowl. The residual heat from the steam below it should start to melt it. Continue to stir until the white chocolate is completely melted and smooth.
11. Take a sandwich size ziplock bag and place it in a large mouthed glass drinking or measuring cup. Flip top of the ziplock bag over the rim of the glass. Using a spatula, scrape the white chocolate into the bag. Flip the top of the bag right side up and pull the bag out of the glass. Then zip close the bag.
12. Snip a very small opening on the corner of the bag. In a zig zag pattern, squeeze the white chocolate quickly over the dark chocolate on the baking sheet diagonally. Don’t worry if it gets a little messy. You’ll be cutting out hearts from it, so it doesn’t have to look perfect.
13. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 3 to four minutes. You want to cool the chocolate to the point where it looks matte on top, but isn’t rock hard. If you have cooled the chocolate too long, it will crack. You want it hardened but still soft enough to cut.
14. After the chocolate has had time to cool in the refrigerator, using a small heart shaped cookie cutter, cut hearts into the chocolate sheet. Once done, place it back in the refrigerator for another ten to fifteen minutes to completely harden up.
15. Once the chocolate hearts have hardened, pull the chocolate coated rice crispy treats out of the refrigerator along with the chocolate hearts. Crack out the chocolate hearts and place one on top of each rice crispy treat.
16. Once each rice crispy treat has a heart on top. Take a kitchen torch and lightly melt the chocolate heart on top, to affix it to the treat. This will take a little practice, but you want to keep the torch flame parallel to the chocolate, until the chocolate melts and looks shiny. If you torch it directly, you will burn the chocolate or burn the rice crispy treat (I learned this the hard way). If you don’t have a torch, you can place the rice crispy treats under the broiler for ten seconds or so. Or you can try using a hair dryer set to high to melt the chocolate. Finally, you can also just melt some more chocolate and dab a little bit underneath each heart as “glue” to affix it to the treat.
17. Place the rice crispy treats back in the refrigerator for the chocolate hearts to harden, about 15 minutes or longer. Once they have hardened, dip a q-tip or small brush and brush a side of the heart with gold luster dust if using.
18. Give them to your valentine and bask in his or her love.
Note 1. If you want to just make the marshmallows, you can oil and generously sift some confectioners’ sugar into a 9” square pan and then pour the marshmallow into it. Refrigerate the marshmallows for at least four hours or overnight. Then slice into squares and enjoy bourbon caramel marshmallows.
Note 2. If you are making these gluten free, you will want to avoid Kellogg’s Rice Krispies cereal as it has malt flavoring. Malt is made from barley which contains gluten. That said, there are a number of crispy rice cereals that are gluten free. I recommend Erewon’s Crispy Brown Rice cereal and Nature’s Path Whole Grain Brown Cripsy Rice cereal. Added bonus, they are both organic.