Monday, December 23, 2013

Green Gables Cooking: Chocolate Caramels

I am reading the Anne series by L. M. Montgomery again for the nine-hundred and fifty-fourth time, give or take. :) One thing that has always fascinated me about this series is the frequent mention of what they are eating.

I remember the first time I read Anne of Green Gables and they talked about eating chicken salad as if it were a delicacy. This made no sense to me. Chicken salad was available at practically every restaurant I visited. Why would this be a "special occasion" food? I didn't understand that in order to eat chicken salad, you had to kill a chicken, pluck it, roast it, let it cool, and then make it into a salad. That's a lot of work to go through for something like chicken salad, although I admit, it is one of my favorite foods.

I've decided that this time, as I read through each book, I'm going to take note of all of the foods mentioned and see if I can find recipes from the late 1800s and early 1900s for them. Then, I'll make the recipes and post them here. I know other people have attempted this - I'm not breaking new ground here - but it should be fun. I found this delightful little website, which has an extensive list of the foods from the books, but the recipes are not all authentic to the time period. I am going to try to avoid any recipes that have modern ingredients and use methods of cooking that are more similar to those times, but I don't have access to a wood burning stove, so my glass top electric will have to do. :)

I do want to note that the first food mentioned in Anne of Green Gables is crab apple preserves. Although I love making jellies and jams, I try to do this in season, based on what foods are available at my friends' farms. I will be skipping the preserves and jams for now, but may throw one in if the produce becomes available.

OK. Here we go.

The first recipe from Green Gables I have decided to attempt is for Chocolate Caramels. Anne mentions these as she explains that when she is in "the depths of despair" she isn't able to eat anything, "...not even if it was a chocolate caramel. I had one chocolate caramel once two years ago and it was simply delicious. I've often dreamed since then that I had a lot of chocolate caramels, but I always wake up just when I'm going to eat them." (AOGG, pg. 26)

I searched for Chocolate Caramel recipes from the 1870s, since that is when Anne comes to stay at Green Gables. After a little bit of digging, I found the following recipe from the Public Ledger Almanac for 1870 - 1873. (I've rewritten it in a more familiar format below.)
CHOCOLATE CARAMELS - Take one cup of sugar, one cup of molasses, a piece of butter the size of an egg, one cup of cream or milk, and two ounces of grated, unsweetened chocolate. Put these ingredients in an enameled saucepan, and boil them together, stirring constantly for twenty minutes. Then try them by dropping a little of the mixture into a cupful of cold water; when it is sufficiently cooked it will form into a ball in the water. Then remove from the fire and beat well until beginning to cool. Flavor with half a teaspoonful of essence of vanilla, and pour into buttered tins to the depth of half an inch. Before the caramels have hardened, mark them into small even squares with a knife.
To figure out how much butter is the equivalent to "the size of an egg," I used logic.

4 Tablespoons should do it.

Chocolate Caramels

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Cup Molasses
  • 4 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
  • 1 Cup Cream or Whole Milk
  • 2 Ounces Unsweetened Chocolate, grated
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
In a saucepan combine the first 5 ingredients. Bring to a boil. Continue to boil the mixture for 20 - 25 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking.

Remove the mixture from the heat when it reaches 240 degrees F (soft ball stage).

Stir and stir and stir until the temp comes down to around 120 degrees F and then add the vanilla.

Pour the mixture into a buttered 8 x 8 glass baking dish. Allow to sit for 15 minutes and then cut into squares. You can also roll the caramel into small balls and flatten with the bottom of a glass on a Silpat or parchment paper.

This recipes makes A LOT of candy. I didn't count how many pieces I ended up with, but it was a full Silpat.

Oh, and, this candy gets hard. It reminds me of a chocolate Werther's. Super tasty!

My first "authentic" Anne recipe turned out to be quite the success!

"I'll just eat one tonight, Marilla. And I can give Diana half of them, can't I? The other half will taste twice as sweet to me if I give some to her. It's delightful to think I have something to give her." - Anne Shirley (AOGG, pg. 89)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Let's Go Racin'!

Dirt tracks and lots of dust. Pepsi out of a giant milk carton-like container. Being one of the boys. Hanging out at the garage before the race and in the pits afterward.

Orange County Speedway plays the backdrop to so many of my childhood memories. Every summer, this was where we went on the weekends. Feeling the rumble of the big block engines as they roared around the track made me feel alive, made me want to do something crazy!

I had dreams, when I was around 9 or 10, of driving one of those cars someday. If I had lived with my dad, who knows, maybe that would have become a reality. 

I was sorting through a box of old pictures and found this:

I have a very distinct memory of this night, that may or may not be completely accurate. We were hanging out before the races in the stalls that held the 4-H Club cows during the summer fair. The fair hadn't started yet, but the smell of cows from past summers lingered in the air. I don't know why that was the place to be, but it was, and I remember thinking it was the height of cool to be there. 

This was back when I refused to smile with my teeth showing, since I was the owner of a David Letterman-type tooth gap, about which I was completely self-conscious. And my hair - I wore it like that, to the side and super curly, because one of the women we hung out with at the races was always telling me how lucky I was to have naturally curly hair. I had heard that all my life from my mom, but no girl believes what her mom has to say about her looks, or at least, I didn't. One word from this other woman, though, and I made sure to keep my hair down, to show it off.

This picture is such a classic "Dad" picture. He was still working for UPS at the time, so he had to keep his hair short and his mustache trimmed. A t-shirt and jean shorts made up his off-hours wardrobe. This was about as fancy as it got with him. I would borrow t-shirts from him all summer, and I always took one or two home with me. I never wanted to wash them once I unpacked them, because they smelled like him. I only got to see my dad once a year, for a few weeks or a month at a time. He was the epitome of cool, the definition of "fun" and I wanted to have something tangible to use to escape when the real world of living with my mom, the "responsible" parent, got to be too much.

I wish I could talk to the girl in this picture and tell her to take more pictures, write more entries in her diary, about the stuff her dad and she did together. And I wish that New York and Florida weren't so far away from each other, so I could just hop in my car and go spend a little time with him this month.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lot of Livin'

In my last post, I mentioned that I found a new job. Well, that lasted all of 1 1/2 days. If you know me, you know I am not the type to commit to something like a job and then back out of it at all, especially that quickly. It was an extremely hard decision for me to make, but I just didn't feel like this was going to be a good fit for me.

This situation has made me realize that I have to start being more mindful of how I spend my time, my life. If it doesn't fulfill me, if it doesn't take me closer to where I want to be physically, mentally, spiritually, then I don't need to do it.

This might mean that I should take a little technology break. Not a cold turkey, cut myself off from the world kind of break, but more like a limit myself to only X amount of minutes on the computer each day kind of break. My time is valuable and there are so many things I want to be doing. Sitting around in front of this laptop all day is not helping me get started.

This video applies, I think. OK, maybe just the title. But I think it's always a good time for Ann-Margret.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Welcome, December! (In List Form)

I don't want to jinx anything, and I know, we are only 2 days into the month, but December might just turn out to be ok.

  • I got a job today. !!!
  • I got to spend time with one of my dearest friends, her beautiful family, and my lovely mom tonight. We walked around St. Andrews and looked at the pretty lights, then I finally got to check out the Amavida Coffee House. Yum!
  • I started the 30 Day Guns, Buns and Abs Challenge yesterday.

I'm also adding the 30 Day Plank Challenge to the mix because what fun will it be if only my legs are sore?

J is doing this with me, although I'm not entirely sure he is a willing participant. So far, I am...ok. I mean, I've finished two days of the challenge. How hard can it be to make it all the way through?

  • The first rehearsal for the Dearly Departed Joy Of Life Singers was tonight. I get to sing with my own personal Dick Van Dyke and it looks like the rest of the choir ain't too shabby, either.
  • Diana gets her staples out tomorrow! She is making great progress and healing well. 
Yeah, so, December? Thanks. Thanks for coming in like a freakin' rock star. Finish strong, friend!