Table of Contents

  1. Happy Birthday Surprises
  2. Denise’s Ultimate Chocolate Mochi
    1. Ingredients
    2. Directions
    3. Chef’s Notes
  3. The Andrew
    1. Ingredients
  4. Early retirement = happy birthday
  5. Wait and see
    1. Updated May 28, 2020
  6. Parting thoughts

Happy Birthday Surprises

Staying at home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic makes planning a surprise for Andrew pretty darn challenging. The fact that I’m writing this story weeks in advance could tip my hand on what I have planned. If this all goes sideways, I may relegate myself to just wishing him a “happy birthday” with a double latte, as I do each morning when he first wakes up.

Andrew doesn’t ask for anything nor does he expect that I would do anything for him. He can’t stand doing anything out of a sense of obligation or reciprocity. Gifts are meant to come from the heart. And so even though he doesn’t care for birthday celebrations, he knows that I love to plan surprises. And out of his love for me, he is an enthusiastic receiver of these thoughtful gestures.

This year, I would either have to get really creative or really conniving. Otherwise, I may have to reset my own expectations to successfully pulling this off. As you can probably tell, pulling off a surprise is more for me than it is for Andrew. So, it’s time to get really conniving!

The first surprise will come in the form of something chocolatey, for what better way to say happy birthday than with a chocolate cake?


Denise’s Ultimate Chocolate Mochi

Over the years, this dessert made quite a few appearances at family gatherings as well as office potlucks.

In our house, the pantry is always stocked with Valrohna chocolate, Mochiko rice flour, and cans of coconut milk and evaporated milk (as written up in Canned Food Recipes). Ironically, each time when I begin to assemble the ingredients, I revisit a few different recipes because no single one of them does the trick.

For example, one recipe from FoodGal needs to be scaled up to a full box of Mochiko rice flour, however it lacks the rise and fluffiness that I like. In another recipe from Epicurious, the result has the fluffiness, but uses 2 cans of coconut milk, and it doesn’t factor the additional liquid introduced by chocolate, etc.

To me, none of them quite nail it. Ironically each time I make this recipe, I would merge the adjustments in my head. It didn’t occur to me until now to write it down. So without further ado, I have written down the ultimate chocolate mochi recipe.

Note: next to a few of the ingredients below, I have indicated my preference for the brands I would recommend. Not all chocolates are created equal.


  • 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
  • 6 oz coarsely chopped dark chocolate (Valrohna 71%)
  • 1 can (14 oz) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Nielsen-Massey Madagascar bourbon pure vanilla bean paste)
  • 3 cups sweet rice flour (1 lb box of Mochiko)
  • 2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup natural cocoa powder (Valrohna)
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Confectioner’s sugar for serving
  • See Chef’s notes for other additions


Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13 inch baking pan (pyrex) with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate. Add coconut milk and evaporated milk to cool down the mixture before adding eggs. Add eggs and vanilla; stir to combine.

In a separate large bowl, sift rice flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together. Create a cavity in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid. Stir until smooth and then pour into the prepared baking pan.

If there is too much batter, pour remaining into cupcake pan.

Bake until the mochi top is shiny and cake passes toothpick test, roughly 1 1/2 hours. Cool cake completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours. Cut the mochi into 24 squares before serving.

Bake mochi cupcakes in 15 to 20 minutes, until it passes the toothpick test.

Chef’s Notes

The chocolate mochi keeps covered at room temperature for 3 days. Refrigeration will dry it out. If you want to store it for longer, place in freezer. When ready to eat, thaw at room temperature.

If you want to level-up the tasty goodness of the chocolate mochi, feel free to add the following ingredients:

  • 1 cup of shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup rum or bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup pecans

…And certainly feel free to add them all! With the extra liquid introduced, you may need to bake 5 minutes longer. For kid-friendly version, you may want to hold back on the espresso. Its affect won’t burn off like the rum or bourbon.

Speaking of bourbon…


The Andrew

As we first wrote about in the Project Slocum series, here is the story of how Andrew has a cocktail named after him.

We have spent quite a few evenings at our favorite gastropub Side Door in Corona del Mar. We love this place for a few reasons, such as:

  • it has a farm-to-table mission
  • they do not course out their dishes
  • the quality of the dishes has stayed consistently great
  • seasonal menu showcasing the freshest ingredients

It also happened to be where we were married, so we often celebrate birthdays and anniversaries here.

Within a couple weeks of our first meeting, Andrew took me to Side Door, where I was introduced to a variety of cocktails. He favored drinks profiling whiskey or bourbon, including the Whiskey River. In the pursuit of variations on a theme of this particularly tasty cocktail, Andrew asked the bartender to riff on the Whiskey River. She concocted a new drink and served it to him. When he first tasted it, his face lit up and broke into a huge smile. I’m not much of a whiskey drinker, but I enjoyed it as well.

And thus was borne, “the Andrew,” named after the cocktail inspired by SerenadeWind’s captain.

When dining in establishments is permitted once again, I highly encourage that you find your way to Side Door and order “the Andrew.” Until then, please enjoy this recipe.


  • 1.5 oz Bourbon (High West Double Rye)
  • 0.75 oz Foro Amaro
  • 0.5 oz Calisaya liqueur
  • 0.5 oz Nocino Cherry Liqueur
  • Single Ice Cube
  • Orange Twist

Early retirement = happy birthday

Earlier this year as we were planning the phases of this transition, we agreed that I would quit my job first. Because I was pinballing quite a bit about this transition, Andrew did not commit to a timeline. He wanted to be 100% focused on helping me.

I joked to him that it would be awesome if he quit before his next birthday for the following reasons:

  • This way we have more time together
  • We can go full throttle at moving out of our house and onto a sailboat
  • It would also be so cool to say that he retired at the age of 40

To the last point, Andrew retorted that he was never cool.

The reality is far different today than it was earlier this year, when I first pulled the trigger. Coronavirus has already taken – and will continue to take – its own toll in all sectors of the economy. Furloughs and layoffs are the reality. So, we are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Speaking of…

Wait and see

Over a month ago, I ordered a gift for Andrew from overseas. I was informed that shipping tends to be 5-14 days. It has been forever and I have no idea if this package will arrive in time. Of course, there are delays now due to coronavirus.

And so the waiting continues…

Updated May 28, 2020

Today, we received the package in the mail which was sent from Australia. We’ll describe a little more about this in our yacht club blog post, but for now here’s a preview of the gift:

Officially yachties!
Officially yachties!

Parting thoughts

In our relationship, we celebrate each other in little ways and often with tasty food. Andrew has commented a few times that he had no idea when we became a couple what a fatty he married. Apparently, my metabolism had him fooled. I suppose it makes perfect sense considering I was named after Dionysus.

This week to celebrate opening escrow on RJ Slocum, we ordered curbside pickup from our favorite gastropub Side Door. While it isn’t the same as when we dine in on their cozy couches, by the fireplace or outside in their patio, we had a nice picnic overlooking the ocean in Corona del Mar.

Happy birthday, baby!

If you would like to delve deeper into our adventure as it unfolds, please consider joining the Serenade Wind Crew. Our sister site provides more information on what it means to be part of the crew, unlock the pirate’s booty, and receive other exclusive access and benefits.The first 50 members have a gift waiting.