A Christmas Treat: Sugar on Snow

by Caroline

Usually by Christmas Eve, I’ve baked at least half a dozen batches of cookies, but this year for a change, the kids and I made candy for their teachers: salted chocolate pecan toffee, spiced chocolate bark with dried cherries and pumpkin seeds, and, now that we’re in snowy Connecticut, a kind of maple candy called jack wax.

It’s always a bit of a nostalgia trip for me to come to Connecticut, where I relive with my boys some of the farm and garden life  I experienced as a kid with my grandparents. In the summer, we gorge on fresh berries and vegetables from the garden. In the winter, we plan our meals around what my Dad’s put up in the freezer. The boys start every day with a bowl of thawed frozen berries, and we continue from there, pulling from pantry and freezer, making soups with the squash, chili with the dried beans, gratins with the potatoes, pastas with the frozen chard, broccoli, beans and peas.

This winter, we’ve arrived to find over a foot of fresh snow on the ground and plenty of last year’s syrup in the pantry, and so I finally got to teach the boys how to make a snack I first read about in Little House in the Big Woods. As a Christmas treat, Ma Ingalls boiled up molasses and sugar (it was too early in the year for fresh maple syrup) and Pa brought in two skillets full of fresh snow; Mary and Laura drizzled the thick syrup over the snow to make candy. My siblings, cousins and I did this with our grandparents when we were kids, but it’s likely been thirty years since I’ve eaten fresh maple candy.  All you need is a cup of syrup and some fresh snow.

Boil the syrup until it comes to about 240 degrees on a candy thermometer, or let a drop fall from your spoon into a cup of cold water to test; it should form a soft ball. Drizzle over a pan of fresh snow. Eat.

It looks like this:

Dessert, (urban) homestead style

by Lisa

Unlike Caroline, I don’t bake a lot. We were joking the other day about our families and how although we have many things in common, there are some major differences. The fact that we eat meat for one. The fact–as she joked–that I’m going “going urban homestead.”  I demurred, but she’s not entirely wrong.

This fall, as we do every year, we roasted and froze 40lbs of tomatoes, made and froze about 20 family-sized servings of pesto, froze 3 flats of raspberries, and picked over 300 apples. My freezer is a sophisticated and delicately balanced puzzle of epic organization.

I do this because it saves me time and money, it adds some variety to our winter diet, but I do this mostly because all this produce tastes better than the canned kind. Bring home mountains of fresh, organic produce, freeze it immediately, and you have a farmers market in your freezer all winter long.  Yes, it takes time in those weeks that you’re canning and freezing, but then when school starts and you need a quick dinner, just reach in your freezer and there it is: emergency pesto, tomatoes that cook to the richest, sweetest sauce you’ll ever make, a surprise dessert.

But now, with the weather not turning, the apples are not lasting as well as they should.  So this weekend, it was time to invest in an automatic apple peeler and make apple sauce.  The gadget worked like a dream, and while I roasted beets and peppers (because, okay, the hoarding & stockpiling instinct is still strong within me), Kory, Ella, and Finn went to town. In about ten seconds flat, a four year old can peel an apple.

And so can his sister:

Or they can peel, core, and slice into cute spirals in the same lightning speed:

They ate a lot of apples, and Ella chomped down the skin like it was a long string of candy.

I made the apple sauce by instinct after reading a few recipes online.  Honestly, I made it for the kids. I don’t think I’ve eaten applesauce for 30 years. But after tasting our homemade version, I’m guessing that Ella and Finn will be lucky to have two more bowls.

We ate it warm that night for dessert. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It tasted like fresh picked, intensely sweet apples. Dessert gets fancier, and more chocolate-y, but I’m not at all sure it gets any better.

Homemade Apple Sauce

20-30 small apples

1/4 cup organic white sugar

1/4 cup organic brown sugar

2-3 strips lemon zest (from an organic lemon)

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 cup water

1 cinnamon stick

1. Peel, core, and chop or slice the apples. (Alternately, try leaving the skin on for flavor).  Put them in a large pot with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer until apples are nearly dissolved.

2. REMOVE lemon zest and cinnamon stick.

3. Mash with a potato masher for a thicker, chunkier sauce. Or pass the mixture through a food mill.

Note: If you use fewer apples, just reduce the amount of sugar and zest accordingly, as long as you keep the brown & white sugars of equal proportion.  But you can also freeze this in individual or family-sized servings, just in case you’re compelled to start your own stockpile.


by Caroline

I’m surprised to find I haven’t written about dessert yet in this forum, since I have a lot to say about the subject. And despite how healthy I try to keep my family, we certainly don’t avoid dessert. We’re just as likely to make an afternoon project of making cookies as making paintings, and if we have a bowl of apples, I’m just as likely to bake them into a crisp than to slice them up to feed the kids.

Today, after a late-afternoon romp in Golden Gate Park with frisbee and soccer ball, we walked up to one of our favorite local restaurants, a casual place where they bring the kids mason jars full of crayons and the silverware waits for use in repurposed cans of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. We eat there often (despite some memorably bad evenings there, no fault of the restaurant). After a simple supper (a roasted artichoke to share, pasta of various sorts all around, a nice salad of roasted beets, arugula, endive and manchego), Tony slipped in a quiet dessert order. The ginger cake here is so good we don’t even order the excellent chocolate cake anymore, which might be all you need to know about it. The cake is spicy and moist, a little crispy round the edges, and sits next to a generous scoop of homemade pumpkin ice cream, all surrounded by a pool of rich dark caramel sauce. It might be my favorite restaurant dessert in a city that’s rich in excellent desserts.

Tonight when the waiter put the dessert down, the boys fell on it. Eli practically snarled at me when I used my spoon to force his back down onto the plate and reduce his giant bite by half. Ben, with longer arms, snuck in for bites from the side while Eli stood up to get better access. “Eli!” I cried, appalled at his manners; “Do you even know what the cake tastes like?” He didn’t even pause to answer; didn’t, in fact, even swallow, but answered by shaking his head no. When it was gone, he took a deep breath and sat back, satisfied.

The subtlety of texture and flavor was lost on him; it was sweet and good and for now that’s all he needs. But in the interest of refining his palate, we’ll keep ordering this cake. In fact,  I think next time we’ll order two.