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Posts Tagged ‘marshmallow’

I’m going to talk about friendship, loss, and candy. It’s a tall and improbable order and it’s also late at night, but I’m going to try anyway. Let me know how I did.

Once upon a time there were two families whose houses were just a few yards away. The kids were pretty close. Holiday parties, birthday parties, in and out of each other’s houses, falling out of each other’s trees, playing Atari and street games until dark, waiting for the school bus.

The two boys in the two families were especially tight. When the green-haired clown at one kid’s birthday party would call him up to the stage, the other would go up in his place. Not just once, either. No one ever really figured out why, but it was pretty funny.

One time, while talking on the phone, one of the little guys was eating jelly beans and wanted to share with the other, so he put a jelly bean on the receiver. It didn’t work and he was bummed. They were pretty young.

And remember when we all had land lines, and when you called someone, there was a split second before the phone rang? Once one of the boys picked up the phone and dialed the other…who was right there on the other end in that split second, ready to call as well.

The little girls in the one family delivered, then got older and made and delivered, holiday bread to the other family. This has persisted, without fail, since the late 1960s.

Everyone grew up, as these things go. The boy in the one family married, moved across the state, and became a dad to three daughters. One of the girls in one of the families became a kitchen fiend, the kind who makes Grandma-style treats and talks about it a lot. Once she made Martha Stewart’s recipe for marshmallows, which makes eleventy-hundred of them, and gave the boy some for his three daughters.

Suddenly the boy with the three daughters fell sick and didn’t recover. I know it looks like I just dropped that into the story out of the clear blue sky, but that’s actually how it happened. Everyone was blindsided. The families, both of them, kind of went numb, as these things go, too. At the wake the kitcheny girl spent a good amount of time wiping her eyes and hugging his dad and his sister. And she met his three daughters, now teenagers, for the first time.

In the hallway of the funeral home were cards on which visitors were asked to write a favorite memory of the boy. The kitcheny girl remembered, in writing, the time she asked him if his daughters might like some homemade marshmallows. How could she forget? His reply was, ‘…Is this a trick question?!’

His sister said goodbye with a last hug and said, “Allie, Vicki, and Stephie remembered you. They said, ‘It’s the Marshmallow Girl!'”

Life’s story, right? We’re lucky if it starts sweet and ends sweet.

RIP Johnny.

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Salted-caramel vanilla and dark chocolate. It was a chocolate day.

I was back in Princeton last Sunday in order to eat ice cream. I say this without the faintest trace of shame. Apparently so were the 15 people ahead of me in line at the bent spoon. It was an eerie, balmy 64 degrees in late February. But the temperature matters not. Not when it comes to this place. More on that later.

For the past three years I’ve done prop design for the February show at my alma mater, which is near Princeton. And I arrange time to get ice cream as often as I can over the course of the contract, even though it’s around an hour to the school and another 20 beyond that to Nassau Street and the smarterati. I love the trip, I love the town, and I love that scream.

Ice cream is not much of a gamble; in my experience, at worst, it’s just okay. (Calling ‘just okay’ in this case ‘plain vanilla’ would be too gratuitous. Uh oh; I said it anyhow.) I have never had bad ice cream, with the exception of one place here at the Jersey Shore that touts its product as healthy, but quite resembles very cold malleable plastic. Melt down the clear plastic bins from Target that you use to store soccer cleats in your garage, pop them in the freezer overnight, and you’d have this. It’s test-tube ice cream. No milk, I don’t think. I doubt a cow was even consulted.

This ice cream place, the bent spoon, is the polar opposite. It goes beyond even good ice cream, the way some farms go beyond organic. It is a tiny, tiny place that somehow manages to offer a few dozen varieties of ice cream and sorbet every day (along with homemade hot chocolate, marshmallows, and baked goods), and they make a point to be seasonally and locally driven.

Princeton is blessed by location, and we patrons are the enormously lucky beneficiaries. The town is at the western end of the state, and borders farmland. It’s hard to overstate how proud the region is of its produce; nearly every food venue offers locally grown products and makes sure we know it.

The picture above is no example of local, I’ll admit. But the calendar has plenty to work with: strawberry and honeysuckle in spring, sweet corn in summer, apples and pumpkin in fall. The bent spoon owners want us to taste where we come from, and where we come from is the Garden State. Even in winter the place makes ice cream flavored with evergreen; it’s spicy and heady.

I’ve gotten two scoops on days that are 36 degrees, days where the bitter wind whips down the sidewalks of Palmer Square, but does devotion care for temperature? Does love follow rules?

We closed the show last weekend, and my trips to Princeton are benched for now. But I’ll be back with the honeysuckle.

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Years ago Gourmet Magazine* published an article about a Scandinavian woman who, like the rest of her countrymen and women, grew up foraging. She took the lifestyle quite in stride, speaking of it the way the rest of us speak of lacing up New Balances. Hunting for chanterelles for breakfast with her grandparents, nibbling on bits of pasture as she walked home from school, she said with no pretense that her country was edible.

Someday I will forage in Scandinavia with faithful Swedish reader Pelle as my guide, I hope. In the meantime, I am determined to gobble up my own country, starting with the Jersey Shore. For the past couple of weeks I have been extracting local flavors and making simple syrups. Granulated sugar, cold filtered water brought to a boil, immersion—1:1:1.

My pastry chef friend Matthew made macarons with lilacs a couple of weeks ago, and you read about the results last week. I have since been drenching pieces of my olive oil-almond cake in it every day. The rest I poured into a one-gallon freezer bag, labelled, and popped into the freezer.

Matthew wondered aloud if wisteria is edible. I looked it up, discovered the flowers are (a member of the pea family. Look above: Don’t they look like sweet peas?), and grabbed my clippers. It dangles from the trees that surround my lake. I will not say how close I came to falling in, nor what the waterfowl were likely thinking as they watched me test the brush that was the only barrier between me, the brackish water, and them. I snipped a few blossoms (see above) and jumped to safety. Then I took them home, separated the flowers from the stems, and put the flowers in a nice warm bath. The flavor is lighter, sweeter, and more delicate than the deeply perfumed lilac.

Next up: wild peppermint, which I found last spring at a time when I really needed a treat in my life. Soon after I made a big bowl of truly fantastic tabbouleh, with all local vegetables and really bloody local mint. This time around I need a treat again and can’t wait until the tabbouleh vegetables are ready, so instead I clipped about six cups’ worth and made more syrup.

This one was a like a smack upside the head: The whole house smelled like mint for the rest of the day.

I have always hated mint-flavored things, never could understand the immense appeal of chocolate-chip mint ice cream. To me it always seemed like eating a giant, cold heap of toothpaste. But when you start with an actual plant, the whole ballgame changes. The peppermint syrup is grassy, pungent—a knockout. It, too, went into the freezer. And mint being mint, I know I’m good for more, as much as I want, until just after frost.

In cocktails, in marshmallows, in marzipan…there’s no end in sight to what I can do with these syrups. And don’t look now, but honeysuckle season is right on our heels. And elderflower, too. Another newbie!

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Below we have the fruits of my flowers: lilac, wisteria, and peppermint syrups, respectively. Totally digging that the mint at right is faintly green.

I can’t wait to see what else is out there. The earth never fails to be there for me, to teach me about starting over, and to surprise me.

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*Will I ever stop mourning the loss of this publication?**

**Nope.

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Indulge me a bit, will you? I wait all year for the tiny crepe stand on the Asbury Park boardwalk to open, and I always eat my inaugural crepe on Memorial Day weekend. The four kids working behind the counter at this place have about as much space as Trader Joe’s allows between cash registers, yet they duck and move between the six hot plates with impressive efficiency. Which is good, because the crowd I was standing in was hungry, as the sun-soaked tend to be.

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This year my sister, who loves to say the crepes made here at this little tin shack are better than those she had in Paris, got the cannoli crepe. It comes with cannoli cream and little chocolate chips. Her friend got a S’mores crepe, with ground Graham crackers, baby marshmallows, and a squiggle of chocolate syrup.

I get what I always get: the Elvis Presley, containing Nutella, sliced bananas, and crumbled Reese’s peanut butter cups—everything but the barbiturates, as I told my friends. (Since you were wondering, there is a Priscilla, which has all of the Elvis ingredients plus vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Elvis could have put away the latter and then ordered in country-style ribs for dessert, so I’d switch the names of the crepes, myself. But I can still eat in peace.)

Getting crepes over Memorial Day afternoon, standing in the late-day sunshine in the middle of a crowded boardwalk, cooing over them and feasting on their gooshy warmth with plastic forks—it’s a very simple, very communal, and intensely satisfying experience. I don’t eat like this normally. It’s almost dizzying, actually, the degree to which this luxury tops the scales of my brain and taste buds. And full disclosure, I saved half and it’s in my fridge. Really cold, it’s good, too. A treat worth the wait once more…at least until tomorrow morning.

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Hey now! We love these!

1) Get the unfathomably groovy idea of making them from scratch.

2.) Find a recipe from an esteemed resource who would know from these things.

2a) Strut a little.

3) Make the graham cracker cookie bases, which turn out surprisingly delicious in their own right, and not just as a generic circle to hold the two gooey toppings.

4) Make the marshmallow, which I’ve done before many times using another recipe. Realize that this new recipe is different from the former in several ways, the most notable being that the former did not turn the product into Insta-Cement.

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No, this is the second batch. As if my hands, stricken with stickin’, could maneuver a camera with the first.

5) Coax the marshmallow from the piping bag onto the cookies with warm, carefully chosen expletives. To which it’s actually responsive, and confirms that the recipe must come from the south. Far, far, FAR south. Like underground south.

5a) Decide next time to use the marshmallow recipe that comes from more northern climes.

6) Melt chocolate. Read the recipe that says to dip the cookies into it by hand. Choose not to spend what would otherwise be a productive evening in the ER with third-degree burns that smell like chocolate, and carefully pour the chocolate onto each marshmallowed cookie. Feel winningly like Jacques Torres.

7) Watch in horror as the marshmallow oozes off each cookie under the heat and weight of the hot chocolate, like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but with better ingredients. Try to add more chocolate, but get the same results.

8) Shoot them maybe five different ways, each time having them insist on coming out blurry.

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Probably out of a deep sense of personal shame.

9) Taste one. It’s bloody effing fantastic. Question whether people would find it worrisome if I asked them to shut their eyes, then grope their way into the cookie bag, and then taste them.

10) Take my chances, dip them the way the recipe suggests, and find it works better than my Jacques Torres-y pouring method, even though some still ooze. Realize that there are plenty of people in my circle who are happy eating my kitchen mistakes.

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11) Re-panic when I also realize that since I don’t know how to temper chocolate–which the recipe does not even mention needs doing—it means there’s a solid chance the chocolate will have bloomed* by morning.

12) Cheer in a confused way** when even after Day 4, the chocolate topping has not bloomed.

12a) Get seriously cocky.

13) Bake Batch #2 with the worry-free poise of a principal dancer in the Ballet Russe who’s hoisted by a dancer with thighs like carved cedar. Use the favored northern marshmallow recipe, dip, and otherwise treat Batch #2 precisely as I did Batch #1.

14) Swear blue and green the next morning when 2/3 of them bloom.

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15) Seek out alternate chocolate topping for Batch #3, to be prepared this weekend.

16) With a fork, chip wedges of cooled chocolate out of the bottom of the Pyrex bowl and poke it into mouth. Do the same with the marshmallowy chocolatey dripped bits that are stuck to the cookie racks.

17) Be soothed.

*Tempering is the method by which chocolate is kept heated to a certain, consistent temperature, and guarantees a glossy finish. If you don’t do it, the chocolate blooms. It doesn’t affect the taste, but it looks funky.

**This isn’t easy. You try it.

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Hot chocolate is something almost everyone likes. Even those who aren’t fans of chocolate cake or brownies will usually accept a hot chocolate. There’s something so comforting, so nostalgic, about it, the way it conjures up memories of being drawn into the safety of home and kitchen, where any negative stuff that happened during the day floats away in the steam of what’s brewing on the stove. Those of us lucky enough to have had a cup of hot chocolate waiting when we got in from wet January school days or from snowball fights don’t forget.

This perfect little time machine of a drink can come from a blue packet and hot water. If that’s what you remember, and want to remember, knock yourself out. If that’s something you’d rather not remember, and rather want something celestial, here it is.*

This recipe makes one intensely thick, velvety mug of hot chocolate, one you could feasibly drink without a spoon, but having a spoon really helps.

First, take out a good mug—something worthy of what it’s about to contain. Nothing wussy for this. Thick earthenware or ceramic does the trick best. If it has little stenciled snowflakes on it, all the better.

Next, take out a small, heavy saucepan. Set it on the counter and put in a cup of milk**, 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch that you’ve put through a strainer (just to get any lumps out), and a little handful of very good quality chocolate***. I know hand sizes are different. Mine is dinky, and the amount I use, about 1/4 cup, works well for me. But if you have big hands and/or a tendency to speak in tongues after consuming too much chocolate, scale back.

Here’s what it looks like when it’s all in:

Turn on the heat to medium and stir with a whisk to help melt the chocolate and bring everything together. This takes a minute or so. Keep stirring.

Here it is when it’s getting hot and is almost combined:

Next it will boil a little, even though you’re still whisking. That’s okay, but turn the heat down slightly to medium low so it doesn’t get crazy. Burnt milk in a pan is a drag to clean. Once it starts boiling and you’ve turned down the heat, stir for two minutes. It will look like this when it’s done:

Take the pan off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes to regroup. Then use a rubber spatula to pour it into your very appropriate mug. If you have a homemade marshmallow on you, by all means, grace your drink with it. A blob of highly slurpable real whipped cream is nice, too.

Now take your drink and spoon and sit and look out at the snow falling. If it’s not, imagine that it’s snowing. You’re already halfway there.

*That sounded judgmental, I know. But you haven’t tried this yet.

**Faithful reader Dawn is an advocate of organic milk, and so am I. It really does taste creamier, not to mention you won’t be ingesting pesticides, hormones and steroids. Doesn’t matter if you use whole or low fat milk—the higher the fat, the yummier, of course—but I regularly use 1% and love it.

***I used 60% bittersweet chocolate buttons here, but I actually like semisweet better for hot chocolate. It has a really appealing tang that bittersweet doesn’t. Organic chocolate will taste cleaner, if that makes sense. Purer. You can also use good quality white chocolate. Really good, and if you save some to drink cold in the morning, it tastes a little like a milkshake.

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Thought you all would get a bang out of the Devil Dog chocolate and marshmallow cake I made for New Year’s Eve. The topping is supposed to be spread evenly over the cake, and eventually I did that, but I thought it looked so groovy like this that it deserved a shot for posterity 🙂

Happy New Year, everybody—and bring your appetites for 2012!

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