My mom always made savory pancakes (appam) from rice and fresh coconut milk for us on Easter. I loved watching her select a coconut from the hairy heap at the grocery store, lift it to her ear, and shake it like a musical instrument. If she heard enough water slapping around, it made it into our shopping cart. When we got home, my mom would pull out the large cleaver that all Malayalee immigrants from her generation used to whack apart a whole chicken. She would hold a coconut over the sink in her right hand and wield the cleaver in her left hand with the blunt side facing out. Then with the daring of Evel Knievel and finesse of a Cirque du Soleil performer, she would crack open the coconut with a steady blow and pour the cloudy water in glass. My mom insisted that I drink some. It tasted odd to me, but she had a dreamy expression on her face when she sipped it.
After she cracked the coconut open, my mom would use the cleaver to break its shell into several large pieces (never pulling out the cutting board). Then she would pry out the obstinate flesh with the tip of a sharp knife. The inner flesh was white, but the portion encircled by the shell was covered with a thin brown skin with the bendy quality of linoleum. It had to be scrapped off. My mom would chop the peeled flesh into small chunks and grind it in a blender. I loved to watch the thick milk gush between her fingers as she squeezed the pulp. The whole process was a labor of love.
In second grade, my mom frosted chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing. She dipped them in sweetened shredded coconut to keep them from gooping together the way they had the year before. She delivered them to my classroom and at the appointed time I was allowed to pass them out. Many kids grew silent as they devoured the home baked treats, but others shrieked "Eeeeew, I hate coconut!" or "Coconut, yuck!" That's when I learned that the world can be divided into two camps: those who love coconut and those that hate it. Fortunately, I was a thick-skinned child who coveted coconut. After school, I gobbled up the rejects with a friend before walking home.
COCONUT ALMOND TRUFFLES
Makes about 20
1/2 pound (8 ounces) milk chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
20 almonds, toasted
Chop the chocolate and place it in a medium size bowl.
Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour it over the chocolate.
After a minute, gently stir the chocolate until it is completely melted and looks glossy.
Pour the chocolate in a shallow bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate it for 2 hours.
Heat oven to 350. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet. Bake until it just starts to turn golden. Cool.
Put the coconut in a shallow bowl.
Chop the almonds in half.
Using the teaspoon from your measuring spoons or a melon baller, scoop out a teaspoon or so of the chocolate. Roll it into a rough ball and push two almond pieces in the center. Roll the chocolate in the palm of your hand to form a shapely ball.
Roll the ball in the coconut to coat. Repeat until you have 20 truffles.