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Posts Tagged ‘ice’

As the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen. Right now it’s 12 degrees F at the New Jersey Shore, and everyone on Facebook is comparing our temperature to that of Anchorage, AK (32F) and Davis Station, Antarctica (31F). It’s totally whack.

I’ve been staying warm working backstage which, with the stage lights lending their colorful gusto, is about 85 degrees. Outside, the ice has been a femme-fatale combo platter of treacherous and strikingly beautiful. Most people don’t stoop to take pictures of the snowflakes trapped in the ice at the bottom of their driveways.

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But I’m not most people.

And a recent fire destroyed some of the stores and homes in Ocean Grove. I did my laundry in the laundromat a few doors down. It was intact, but smelled strongly of smoke. People did what they did when 9/11 struck and when Hurricane Sandy struck: wandered a little, stunned; collected provisions for those who has lost their own; and cleaned up. Water from the fire hoses froze in the trees in the foreground—an eerily beautiful counterpoint to the burned debris behind them.

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And I’ve been in the kitchen, for a change. I love Valentine’s Day, and filled orders for European-style chocolate truffles (55% semisweet Ghirardelli chocolate, cream, and sweet butter rolled in cocoa powder or topped with fleur de sel). I am told hearts were warmed, which makes me happy.

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And I made marzipan. The candy hearts were sold at The Flaky Tart in the Atlantic Highlands, NJ.

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The Japanese maple branches and dragonflies (detail below) were pitches for Confections of a Rock$tar in Asbury Park…

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…along with a little (2″) dinosaur egg. This little guy warms my heart, as he did for the shop proprietor. Hey, it’s almost hatching season.

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Vanilla slushie gazing out onto the snowy landscape and mourning its squandered youth.

Back in the late ’70s my little sister had one of those Snoopy Sno-Cone machines. You fed ice cubes in the top, jammed the Snoopy-shaped mortar downwards, and shaved ice came out the front, where you caught it in a paper cup. Icy bits melted all over the table, and the LSD-trippy-colored syrup got everywhere. Which obviously spells big fun, so my mom made us play with it in the backyard.

This is the last in my year-long series of edibles not found with a bar code, that is to say, out in the elements. And aside from catching snowflakes on my tongue, occasionally getting a face full of it going downhill on a sled, and the above a la Snoopy, I’ve never, you know, eaten snow. Thought it would be fun to play around with it in the kitchen.

Step one was to snoop around for some recipe ideas. I really wanted to make Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family recipe for maple candy poured hot onto snow, upon which it turns into something like taffy. This is a New England favorite. I have The Little House Cookbook, but the recipe in it calls for molasses, not maple, which is an exceptional bummer and means I will have to keep looking and post about it later. I did see recipes for one simple dish; it was compiled of varying degrees of milk, vanilla extract, and sugar mixed into snow. Many started with a gallon of snow, but since I’m not holding a dessert fiesta for 20, I scaled it way back.

It snowed again last night, so I jumped at the chance to use fresh snow. Pulled out a Tupperware container and walked out to a remote spot by the lake to scoop some. The EPA won’t allow any pesticides near the lake, so I knew it was clean. Yes, I live in New Jersey; yes, there are some areas in the state that earn its reputation and where I would question the cleanliness of anything, not just snow*. But it sure ain’t here.

Back at home I spooned about a cup of snow into a bowl, then added a few splashes of milk, a dash of vanilla extract, and maybe 1/4 c of white sugar. You’re all boggled by my fierce attention to exact measurements, I know. I made it up. Make it up yourself until it tastes right. You’ll know. Most of cooking really works this way. And remember…it’s snow. You foul it up, you go outside and get more.

The dessert tasted a lot like icy and somewhat melted vanilla ice cream, but it was good—delicate and fresh tasting.

The next ‘dish’ was as simple as spooning snow into a glass and pouring Baileys over it. I was inspired by the drinks the South Pole crew made in the book Icebound, made with the cleanest snow on earth. They called them slushies. I made a Baileys slushie, Jersey style.

And to curl up and watch Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with it late on a Sunday night…it was pretty much just the thing.

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Ooooooh that’s good slushie.

*Just like any populated spot on Earth, mind you.

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Last weekend I had dessert with friends and family and neighbors. Among them were my brother-in-law Frank and a Puerto Rican gentleman, a neighbor. Both are rum lovers; both have strong opinions on which is the best. With neither variety on hand, both could have agreed to try the other’s favorite on their own, whenever they happened to do it.

But come on. Clearly it would be more interesting to raise the stakes…to invite a bunch of people…and offer not just the two favorites but three other rums in the race for the title.

Oh, and it would be MUCH more interesting to make sure the tasting was blind.

A rum-off, in other words.

The contenders:

  • Ron Zacapa (regular)
  • Ron Zacapa Plus
  • Tommy Bahama
  • Diplomatico
  • Flor de Cana

Frank is a great lover of Zacapa. The neighbor with whom he spoke, and who unfortunately couldn’t make the tasting, thinks Diplomatico rules the world of rum.

Provided by our gracious hosts, Kim & Doug:

  • Glasses, filled with the assortment of rums and labeled one through five
  • Cups of water
  • Lists, expertly written by resident six-year-old, Charlie

Tasters were obliged to rate the rums on a scale of one to five, one being the best. They were also invited to try to discern which was which.

Kim doctored each of her rums with a squeeze of lime and an ice cube. I’m not much of a drinker, so tasting them neat, they all struck me as thoroughly putrid. So I doctored them all up as well, and I’ll agree it made them much more palatable. Not that I’ll be swigging down rum anytime soon like a pirate born with an extra liver.*

Oh, the discussion that went on around the table! Oh, the cockiness, thinking we knew which was which! The scowls, the scribbling…and ultimately, the surprises…

Once through tasting, we all went down our lists one by one, describing which we liked, and didn’t, and why. My sister and Charlie were in charge of the big reveal, and they brought each rum out one by one. We matched numbers to rums.

Each of us had chosen the same favorite, even me: the Diplomatico.

And pretty much everyone thought Tommy Bahama was mouthwash.

Afterward, Doug dished up his incredible homemade vanilla custard to all of us. Frank poured Diplomatico over his. If for any reason the night’s success had been questionable before that, it wasn’t afterward.

*During the tasting I also learned some more common boozy terminology, like ‘smooth’. I’ve never known what people meant when they said that. It means it goes down without any burn on the back of your throat. Oh. I’m used to ginger ale, so what do I know.

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When I was growing up, weekends in the summer (much like weekdays in the summer) were spent at the beach. My dad would load up the tall aluminum jug with ice cubes and then fill it with orange juice, vodka and Grenadine, recreating a drink he enjoyed in Jamaica sometime in the 60s. Over the course of the day, visitors would sprint across the hot sand, cool their feet in the shade under our beach umbrella and have a couple of Dixie cups of this stuff. It was popular enough among my parents’ friends that one of their little daughters passionately disagreed with her teacher one day at school, insisting, ‘A Flamingo isn’t a bird; it’s a drink!’

This drink was so celebrated, and the coral color so pretty, that of course I tried it. Once. And I hated the alcoholic wallop. But recently I started thinking it might be fun to make a Flamingo for my own taste, wondered if it would be worth a shot to try make one that was better suited for drinking than for polishing the TV cabinet.* The chance came last night when I was invited to a party at the home of my good friends Kim and Doug. An extra lucky break for someone who is a novice (me) when it comes to drinks: Doug used to be a bartender. If I was going to learn to make a good Flamingo, I needed a good teacher, and he was very willing to be that. Done.

Pure orange juice was easy enough to find. But a word about Grenadine: I was astonished, and frankly disgusted, by the contents of the Grenadine that’s available. There were three brands at Foodtown, and two of them—the biggest names!—contained high fructose corn syrup, red food coloring and precious little else. Seriously—it’s just goo. Grenadine’s supposed to be a pomegranate-based syrup, for crying out loud. The last bottle had all of the other stuff in it, but DID contain pomegranate juice, so it won.**

I gave Doug the orange juice and Grenadine and asked him to use plain vodka (Grey Goose, if you must know). He got out one of those shaken-not-stirred mixers, just shy of two cups, and got to work making the inaugural Flamingo. I watched, figuring if I didn’t like how he made it that I’d try it on my own, but darned if he didn’t nail it on the first try.*** It was refreshing and tropical-y with just a breath of vodka to adult it up. And he even chilled the glass by keeping ice water in it while he mixed the drink. Lovely stuff.

Here’s how he made it:

Load a martini glass with ice water. To an ice-filled mixer add 1.5 shots of plain vodka. Top off with chilled orange juice. Add a couple of shakes of as pure a Grenadine as you can find. Shake well. Pour off ice water and add mixture. Serve immediately.

My hosts tasted it and liked it, and my sister—who remembers it from our childhood as well—liked it as much as I did.

Isn’t it cool to think an heirloom doesn’t have to be a quilt or a doll or jewelry? And isn’t it even cooler to think an heirloom can evolve…maybe even be improved for another generation?

*Someone has to wonder these things.

**Next course of action: I’m going to make my own. Pomegranate juice is available at well-stocked supermarkets. How hard could it be to add a bit of simple syrup and reduce it ?

***It’s totally who you know.

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I’m a sucker for buying anything kids are selling on card tables in front of their houses. I don’t care if the lemonade is watery or if the cookies are stale; I’ll buy them.

When I was a kid, my sister and our two friends used to try to sell stuff to neighbors all the time. Shrewd businesswomen that we were, we set up our table at the end of our friends’ driveway, which faced the town ball field and tennis courts. Less-than-shrewd businesswomen that we were, once we added blue food coloring to 7-Up. (We actually thought we could market this stuff in cans!) Two worn out tennis players approached us and when they saw the color of the drinks, one said to the other, “You go first.”

Oh, the foolhardy days of my youth.

Recently I drove past a building in my neighborhood, one I lived in some fifteen years ago. Behind a table on the sidewalk were three beautiful Latina girls about ten years old. On the table was not a pitcher but a curious red-and-white machine. Holy innovative beverages, Batman! Was this what I thought it was?

I parked and called out to them, ‘What are you selling?’ and in unison they answered, ‘Snow cones!’ Well, sold, obviously.

‘What flavors do you have?’

‘Just cherry.’ (Not blue, in other words. English was their second language and they still knew more than my sister and me.)

They grinned and got to work. The machine gave them a hard time; it took a lot of elbow grease to hold the machine with one hand and pulverize the ice cubes with the lid with the other, so they called their mother out to help.  And I took French, not Spanish, but I still understood the conversation between the two because it was the same as it would have been between any antsy daughter and her aggrieved mother:

‘Mom…it’s taking too long!’

‘Don’t start. You were the one who wanted a snow cone machine for your birthday.’

‘I didn’t know it was going to be such a pain!’

‘Well, aren’t you glad I didn’t have to work today and could help? Thank your lucky stars.’

Ten minutes later (it really was, but who cared?) I was offered a plastic cup of crushed ice with streaky squirts of cherry and a bendy straw. One of the girls said, ‘Do you want this, too?’ She held up a little open can of sweetened condensed milk, which I use when I make caramel and which is a staple of Latin cuisine, especially in that voluptuous knockout, Tres Leches cake.

‘Of course!’ I said, and she poured some of the stuff on top of the mixture, less like a snow cone now than like a slushie with a Spanish accent (but again, who cared?) and paid them. They were so excited.

Told a few friends about this, and one commented that a drink like that lacked rum and nothing else to be a perfect summer drink. While I’m inclined to agree, it really was perfect the way it was: A buck for a trip to the tropics.

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