how to make peppermint bark

When you bite into a piece of peppermint bark and close your eyes, you might see multi-colored Xmas lights, the diamond like sparkle of snow crystals in the moonlight and maybe even smell pine needles. It is much nicer to make your own, but in a pinch, any peppermint bark will do and you should eat it all winter because it is definitely a winter only sweet. Its cold sweet bite illuminates dark nights.

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Here is my recipe for peppermint bark:

1 1/2 lb – good quality semisweet chocolate chopped into small pieces
1 1/2 lb – good quality white chocolate chopped into small pieces
3/4 tsp peppermint extract
5 or 6 candy canes

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Line a 9×12 baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Using a double boiler or put one pan on top of another pan with boiling water in the bottom pan, you slowly melt the semisweet chocolate in the top pan. Stir continuously and be careful that the chocolate does not burn. When the chocolate is melted, add 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract, mixing well. Spread the chocolate out onto the lined baking pan, smooth it out with a spatula and give it a little shake so that it is even. While this is cooling, it is a good time to crush the candy canes. I used an old ice crusher – one of my very good yard sale finds, but you can wrap the candy canes in a dish towel and simply pound them with a hammer or a heavy spoon.

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Once the dark chocolate is cool, you should put it in the fridge so that it hardens a bit more before you put the white chocolate layer on it. Now, melt the white chocolate the same way you did the dark. When the white chocolate is melted, add 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract and stir. Then add the crushed candy canes and mix well. Spread the white chocolate on top of the dark and put it into the fridge. Once the top layer of white chocolate encrusted with peppermint candy is hardened, you can remove it from the pan and break it into pieces. Merry peppermint. Merry winter, dear readers.

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canning pink

I tried my hand a a little bit more canning. I love radishes, especially because you get to put a lot of salt on them. I once heard someone say “the radishes are a vehicle for the salt”. I didn’t realize radishes were spicy until I tasted one from the farmer’s market. After that, I never bought another supermarket radish again. I discovered watermelon radishes at a Supper Club in Brooklyn hosted by Nan of Toast Home Cooking. The radish was beautiful and so I scoured the farmer’s market in Union Square till I found some for my first experiment in canning something that is not sweet.

Their beauty gave me pleasure when I sliced them

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I just had enough for a couple of half pints which I will use on salads and sandwiches in the dead of winter. This is how I did it.

I boiled half water and half vinegar with a little salt. The sliced radishes and a clove of garlic were put into the hot jars and the hot brine was added. Then I processed the jars in the hot water canner for 15 minutes. Everything turned pink.  Here are instructions for safe canning.

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the honor system vegetable stand

In New York City you must be ever vigilant for thieves. You’d better chain up your bike just so and don’t even think about slinging your handbag over a chair in a restaurant.

I am enjoying letting my guard down in the country where you don’t even have to lock your car in the shopping center parking lot. There are many vegetable stands that still use the old fashioned “honor system”. The stands are unmanned and the produce is set out with pricing on hand-written signs. Sometimes they don’t even have the pricing, they expect you to leave what is fair. There is a metal cash box for you to leave the payment in.

I get my corn from a dairy farm where they set out piles of just picked sweet corn and the metal cash box on a wooden wagon in the driveway. I like to buy vegetables and eggs from my friends and neighbors Martha and Richard’s stand. When you chop their kale, it smells as strong as wheat grass juice and your fingers are stained green. Martha says that sometimes she thinks the cash is a bit low when she goes to pick it up, but then the next day there is more money than expected. It is because the day before someone didn’t have small bills. That’s the honor system.

the roadside sign

the roadside sign

the mountaintop garden

the mountaintop garden

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the honor system vegetable stand

the honor system vegetable stand

can – can

I suddenly got the urge to start canning while spending the summer in the country. The most food preserving I’d ever done was to freeze some herbs. We live in a metropolis where you can buy produce from all over the world anytime you want. Its not in the culture to think about “putting things by” to get you through the winter. But living in such close proximity to farms and eating their bounty all summer has put me in another frame of mind. It’s a different story when you slice a zucchini and it is so fresh that you can see it sweat little beads of plant juice and down the road you see beef cattle eating grass in sunny pastures. Oona said “Mom, think about how much better your tomato sauce would be if you made it with farm tomatoes and basil from your garden”. I thought about cooking comfort foods in the deep winter. I thought about opening a mason jar of August tomatoes and how its essence would return me to this summer and how the smell of hay and rainstorms and the sound of goat bells would come back to me on a cold dark night.

I thought about Frank’s penchant for eating slimy canned peaches as a midnight snack and that made me think about canning some more. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead he spooned out fragrant slices of summer peaches packed by my hand when he was sitting at his computer late at night? It would be love in a dish.

Our dear friends Beth and her daughter Nipu invited me and Oona to go peach picking at Fix Brothers Farm in Hudson, New York. The peach orchard was at the top of a mountain with spectacular views of the Hudson Valley and the day was hot and sunny. It smelled good and I didn’t want to leave. The danger in those “you pick ems” scenarios is that it is so much fun and you pick so fast that you pick too much and you get sticker shock when they weigh your bag (this happens when you are picking with kids and you don’t want to spoil their fun). Unlike the time we went apple picking when the girls were younger, this time we paced ourselves. We picked only what we could reasonably pay for and preserve and enjoyed the day on peach mountain. We set our peaches on the kitchen table to fully ripen and the trailer was redolent of peaches for days.

Fix Brothers Orchard in Hudson, NY

Fix Brothers Orchard in Hudson, NY

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I bought a canning kit by Ball that had the canner and all of the handy accessories I would need. I found a book on canning at the library but the author wrote so extensively about the dangers of bacteria and food poisioning that I returned the book and instead bought the Ball book on canning. It was in a magazine format and more optimistic and user friendly for the beginning canner. A chef I know told me that many people are put off by canning because they fear killing their families. I think of course the warnings must be made, but probably a lot of that is lawyers talking. I canned in a small kitchen in our off-grid trailer with no running water and my friend Martha who is a canning fiend, proclaimed my vacuum seals as good to go.

Here are full instructions on how to can food

I processed the peaches according to the instructions in the Ball Book. The peaches were packed raw and instead of a plain simple sugar syrup or water, I canned them in a basil syrup. Here is the recipe with the adaptation of the basil syrup.

2 to 3 pound peaches per quart
lemon juice (or powdered citric acid which is vitamin C)
Basil infused simple syrup

Make the basil simple syrup by boiling 5 1/2 cups of water and adding a fistful of fresh basil leaves. Turn off the water and steep the leaves for about 20 minutes. Remove the basil leaves, re-heat the water and dissolve 2 1/2 cups of sugar in the basil water and keep it hot. This was enough syrup for 10 quarts of peaches.

Peel the peaches and toss the slices in lemon juice (or something that has a lot of vitamin C) to prevent their discoloration.Pack peaches into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Ladle hot basil syrup over the peaches leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two piece caps. Process quarts for 30 minutes in a boiling water canner.

I also made a plum jam from plums harvested by Paulina and Nico, local farmers who sell produce at their roadside stand.

The plum jam was easy and filled the kitchen with a marvelous scent. You do not have to peel the plums, only chop them up. I used the recipe for Dawson Plum Jam from the Ball Book. I don’t know what kind of plums we had, all I know is that they were dark red inside and beautiful. I added lavender from my herb garden to this. I do not normally like flowery food, but this combination was a good idea. Here is my adaptation of the plum jam recipe to include the lavender.

5 cups coarsely chopped plums (about 2 pounds)
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
a few springs of fresh lavender

Combine the plums, sugar, lavender sprigs and water in a large pot. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. I removed the lavender sprigs after about 15 minutes of boiling. Cook rapidly and stir constantly as the water will cook down and the plums will thicken. You don’t want the plums to stick and burn. Once it is thick and jammy, remove from heat. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

There will be scones with lavender plum jam for brunch this winter.

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herb harvest

It’s time to put gardens to bed so I say goodnight to my herb garden. You gave us such good meals all summer long. Three different kinds of basil on our tomato salads, parsley for the chimichurri on our steaks and fresh mint in our mojitos.

I harvest and freeze the fresh herbs so that this winter we can smell and taste the summer again.

Millie must have liked the smells in the herb garden because she liked sitting there when I weeded.

Millie must have liked the smells in the herb garden because she would always come and sit there while I worked.

herbI washed and chopped the fresh herbs and put them in water inside a muffin tin to freeze. That allowed me to freeze a larger amount than in an ice cube tray.

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I then popped out the herb cubes and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. Now I say hello to Fall.

hibiscus flower tea for me

I’m done with diet sodas and sugary bottled juices. Water is what I sip, but no matter how many lemon or cucumber slices you put it in, it can get a little boring. Sometimes you just feel like sipping a cold flavored beverage.

agua de jamaica

agua de jamaica

I discovered Agua de Jamaica (prounounced Ha-mike-ah) at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant. It is delicious and refreshing and good for you. Hibiscus flower tea is full of antioxidants, vitamin C and lowers cholesterol and high blood pressure. It is usually served sweetened because it is a tart drink, but I’ve gotten used to drinking it straight without sugars. I buy the dried hibiscus flowers at my local herb shop Flower Power where all the herbs come from US organic farmers.

Flower Power herb shop in the East Village

Flower Power herb shop in the East Village

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Here is the recipe:

Add 1/2 cup of dried hibiscus flowers to 4 cups of water and boil for a few minutes. Turn off flame and let it steep for at least a half hour (the longer you steep it the darker it becomes – a beautiful magenta color). Strain it and add sweetner to taste and put it in the fridge.

dried hibiscus flowers

dried hibiscus flowers

All photos were taken on my phone with the Hipstamatic app using Blanko film and the Hornbecker and the Libatique 73 lenses.

chilling and ice grilling

We said hello to 2013 at our off-the grid getaway in New York’s Schoharie Valley. We arrived to over a foot of newly fallen snow and a clear starry night illuminated by the full moon. Ice crystals sparkled like diamonds in the moonlit blue snow. The silhouette of tall pines and naked hardwood trees were black against the blue ice.

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It was warming and invigorating to shovel the heavy snow into a lacework of paths that allowed us to access the firewood pile for heat and the hand pump well for water. Since I’d left the charcoal grill out from last summer, I decided to use it to cook our New Year’s Eve dinner. I made a little path all around it, pushed the snow off the picnic table with my shovel and got ready to grill.

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Marinated and Grilled Filet Mignon

4 pieces of filet mignon
¼ cup of olive oil
¼ cup of red wine
1 tsp smoked Spanish paprika – I like the Chiquilin brand.
1 tsp Dominican or Mexican dried oregano (or fresh oregano or thyme is great too)
salt & black pepper

Whisk all ingredients together and marinate the meat for at least 2 hours. Grill it to your desired doneness.

I also made grilled garlicky zucchini that reminded us of summer.

Garlicky grilled summer squash

Slice the squash length-wise as thinly as possible. Add finely chopped garlic, salt & black pepper and enough olive oil that the pieces of squash are coated all around. Let them sit while you fire up the grill to absorb the seasoning. Grill them until they are soft and have grill marks.

Franklinton Vly, Schoharie County, New York

Franklinton Vly, Schoharie County, New York