Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sweet Notes on Purim

Sunday, March 20
Today is Purim. It is a custom to give friends and family fun gifts of food and snacks on Purim. Something like a small bag of oreo's and a bottle of milk, or a bag of chips and a juice box would be completely acceptable. But because I have a bit of a sweet problem, I always go a little nuts with my Mishloach Manot (purim packages). Sometimes I get all cutesie-tootsie and come up with some kind of theme; like 3 different kinds of cookies delivered in a cookie jar with an iced coffee attached to the side. This year's theme is Simply Sweets; glorious, terrible-for-your-teeth, blow-your-healthy-eating-regime- sweets.
On wednesday night I stirred up a couple of batches of cream caramels. I added another layer of flava by using some good French salt from Williams Sonoma, and then finished them off by sprinkling some Australian pink salt (also from WS) across the top. They are kinda awesome. The making of the caramels were somewhat time consuming and labor intensive but not overly difficult. However wrapping them all in wax paper was literally a pain in the neck.

Thursday/night: I continued with my sugar mad science experimentation. I made around 8 different types of hamantaschen dough; cream cheese half a bar, cream cheese whole bar, chocolate with buttermilk, traditional with coconut milk and vegan buttery spread. The results were interesting, and at times surprising, and almost all were very sticky. In the end I conclude that the dairy-free doughs kept it 's shape the best, and that the cream cheese doughs were the tastiest.
For fillings I made a tart cherry lekvar, which is an eastern european method for making fruit jam and butters. Dark dried cherries stewed in a combination of lemon juice, water, a little sugar, and a split vanilla bean. Still feeling the sugar rush that came with the salt caramels, I made a caramel nut filling which was too runny to use. There was a batch of blueberry cream cheese hamantaschen, I utilized the cream cheese dough for it, and because it had a creamy tartness to it I sprinkled the tops with coarse sugar which makes the cookie sparkle like Queen Esther (the heroine of the Purim story). Then I went into peanut butter territory. I spooned 1 tiny teaspoon of peanut butter which was melted with a little cream and brown sugar to make a sturdy and sweet filling. Next to it a tiny teaspoon of red raspberry jelly- so that's my PB& J Hamantaschen. I also spooned peanut butter alongside chocolate ganache for a Reese's style hamantaschen.
As I was getting later and later into the dark chocolate night, my experiments started getting wackier and more sugar-crazed. Partially melted dark chocolate chips mixed into condensed milk result in a not-unpleasant tootsie roll flavor and texture when baked.
And then there were the barks in the night. An orange infused dark chocolate bark topped with dried cherries (featured ingredient of Purim '11) and pine nuts. Next I made a milk chocolate bark topped with chopped cocktail peanuts, and rice krispies. And then for the white-lovers I made a vanilla bean flecked white chocolate slab with dried blueberries and slivered almonds. At Hub's suggestion I made a combo bark: equal parts dark and semi sweet chocolate bar topped with slivered almonds and tart dried cherries.
I had a sweet raindrop of an idea as I was falling asleep on thursday night: Semi sweet bark with chopped marshmallows, dried cherries, and chopped walnuts. 'Cos life can sometimes be a Rocky Road, and the world seems to be falling apart, and sometimes it just feels good to is sit back, close your eyes, and eat sweets.
Last night I stayed up until 3 wrapping those blasted, utterly swoon-worthy, cream caramels. And packing up the variety of barks, and hamantaschen. And then whimsically assembling it all in paper bags, popcorn boxes, and chinese food cartons. Now I think I'm ready to take the cure to sweets overdose: Salt. Real food. Water.

Sour Cherry Lekvar

2 c. dried cherries
1/2 lemon juice
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
1 split vanilla bean

Put dried cherries, lemon juice, water, and stir in sugar. Add vanilla bean. Heat over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble, lower to a simmer and let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until most of liquid is reduced. Remove from heat, and transfer cherry mixture to a food processor and coarsely chop (pulse for a few seconds). Makes enough lekvar to fill 3 dozen hamantaschen

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I might have gotten to the party an hour or two late, but at least I didn't miss it. I'm speaking in code, because I am so flummoxed and overwhelmed by a recent read. Over the past 4 days I greedily binged on Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I spent my spare moments in the lives of Patty and Walter Berglund. I hung onto every one of Franzen's words, allowing his observations about marriage, love, childrearing, American society, technology, and the environment to really get in, and then accepting the itch that comes along with it. It was the kind of book that makes you examine your own life, because the book is an exploration of everything. And like all great art it makes you think. It almost felt like the book was written just for me, which makes me realize that we all are trying to figure out what it means to be a person and live a life. I think that's what makes us human. Everyone has their own stuff to deal with, their own miseries, errors, and injustices, and our response to it is what makes up our lives. Of course, amidst it is freedom and acceptance and triumph- the good stuff. Sharp and unflinching observations on humanity and it's trappings go down much easier when the words are smooth and seamless. There were sentences of description or dialogue that glittered with beauty and truth. My favorite: "Humanity coming at him from every direction. Andean musicians piping and drumming in Union Square.....A pair of fur-coated ladies ballsily appropriating a cab that Casey hailed outside Bloomingdale's. Tres hot middle-school girls wearing jeans under miniskirts and slouching on the subway with legs open. Cornrowed ghetto kids in ominous jumbo parkas, National Gaurd troops patrolling Grand Central with highly advanced weapons. And the Chinese grandmother hawking DVD's of films that hadn't even opened yet, the break dancer who ripped a muscle or a tendon and sat rocking in pain on the floor of the 6 train..................each encounter was like a poem he instantly memorized"
The author created a universe in 642 pages. How does someone do that and still live in their physical world? Maybe they do it by living so observantly in their physical world? Maybe it's just a double sided gift? Whatever it is, it is contained in Jonathan Franzen, and he shares some of it with the world.