For my friend

My friend Nancy died last night after a long fight with cancer. This is for you, Nance.

A blue jay came to sit on my window sill

as my friend was dying.

I thought

Do birds take our spirits to heaven?

And as I  ponder this

I see

cardinals everywhere —

five of them dashing, splashing, in and out of the birdbath and the cherry tree.

The birds are full of life and chatter

though the cherries are long past.

Even leaves are gone,

fallen to the cold earth.

A gray rain falls — the first day of winter —

the whole world is crying silently dying,

I shake my fist at God.

Why now?

Why her?

I think of bright spirits and laughter and sunlight and time.

seagulls

For my friend

Time gone.

and when it comes upon us all, there is never enough time.

This earth

these friends

that love

is all we had

and the future becomes the present unknown and unknowable

to us who are left with tears.

Lord, be merciful to my friend

who is journeying on a cardinal’s wing

a flash of red through a gray sky.

sycamore branches

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  — Matthew 10: 29-31

 

47. Caramel Apples for your ♡Sweetie♡

apple heartWe were sitting around a conference table at church a few years ago – about 18 of us – trying to figure out when we could have our next meeting. It’s hard to find a time, an evening, when 18  busy adults can all get together. Someone suggested February 14.

“But that’s Valentine’s Day,” Someone Else said.

Somebody said, “Does anyone really celebrate Valentine’s Day?”

Two hands went up. Mine and my husband’s. I guess we were the Anyones.

Everyone laughed. “Oh, that’s because the two of you haven’t been married very long,” they said.

Really?

It seems to me the longer you’ve been together, the more you should celebrate a holiday devoted to love. So – I’m trying a recipe for my sweetie-with-the-sweet-tooth from this lovely cookbook. (And I think grandchildren will benefit as well…)

The Apple Lover's Cookbook by Amy Traverso, senior food and home editor of Yankee magazine.

The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso, senior food and home editor of Yankee magazine.

The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso was given to me as a housewarming present by my friend Beth, who saw this cookbook and decided I ought to have it! Thank you Beth! I have only made one recipe from it so far — the Apple, Cheddar, and Caramelized Onion Pastry Puffs. They were delicious! I’ll give you that recipe later sometime; today we’re concentrating on the Salted Caramel Apples with Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crumbs. (If that isn’t making your mouth water, go make an apple pie instead.)

Before we get started, I will confess – my only foray into making salted caramels was a mixed bag. I followed the recipe exactly, and they tasted delicious; however, the caramel was too thick to be a caramel sauce, but not thick enough to be covered in chocolate, outside of a refrigerator. (But I gave them to my brother-in-law for Christmas anyway…) So, I’m not an expert, here. And I’ll show you my photos, success or failure…I promise.

Gather together:

8 Sweet-tart Organic Apples. (The wax that is on the supermarket variety can keep the caramel from sticking to the apple.) This cookbook is an amazing encyclopedia of apples as well as a cookbook, and she lists 19 apple varieties under sweet-tart, but the main ones you will find (unless you live in or near an orchard) are Granny Smith, Ida Red, Rome, Northern Spy, or Stayman Winesap. Our apples ran out before Christmas, so I’ve got Granny Smiths and Organic Galas from the local grocery store. Right. Galas aren’t on the list; there were no Ida Reds anywhere, so I went with what was there. It is February after all…Put them in the refrigerator for at least an hour before you need to coat them with the caramel. (Also read the note at the bottom of this post…)

Everything is pictured here except the heavy pot – I used my 5 qt. cast iron casserole pot – and the skewers. You'll see them later.

Everything is pictured here except the heavy pot – I used my 5 qt. cast iron casserole pot – and the skewers. You’ll see them later.

AND ♥ 1 cup Brown sugar ♥1/2 cup Corn syrup ♥1/2 cup Sweetened Condensed Milk ♥1/2 cup Whole Milk ♥1/4 cup Heavy Cream (Yes, this is NOT on Anyone’s diet – it’s caramel for goodness sake!) ♥ 1/4 tsp. Kosher or Sea Salt ♥ 2 Tbsp. Salted Butter ♥ 1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla ♥ 4 whole Cinnamon graham crackers ♥ a heavy bottomed pan ♥ popsicle sticks or smallish, sturdy skewers ♥ parchment paper ♥ a candy thermometer ♥ and the special antique glass candy stirrer (from Clara) that you have sitting around in your kitchen somewhere…

Before you start, break up the cinnamon graham crackers in a baggie and crush them with a rolling pin. Or however you like to crush up graham crackers. I cheaped out and bought the most inexpensive ones I could find – the brand shall remain nameless – but they sure aren’t like the old Honey Maids I loved to eat with milk. The Honey Maid Cinnamon Crisps were $4.99! So I shook some extra cinnamon on the crumbs, because I don’t think it is ever possible to put too much cinnamon in anything. Also cover a baking pan with parchment/waxed paper and put both of these near the stove.

IMG_1266 Melt the butter and add the sugar, corn syrup, all the milks and creams, and the salt. Adjust your burner to medium and don’t touch it during the whole process. Really. DON’T touch it. Patience! Stir gently until the mixture starts to boil.

Making caramel

Put the candy thermometer in the pan at this point. Keep your eye on the thermometer and stir gently every minute or so, but this part takes a while – maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. You want to get the temperature up to 238 degrees, or the soft ball stage. Stir it every once in awhile, but don’t lick the spoon! It’s like, boiling? Worse than burning your tongue on coffee or pizza! Instead, get your apples out of the refrigerator, wipe them off with a paper towel if they’re damp, and insert your sticks. I’m using recycled plastic skewers from an edible arrangement. I thought they would be fine, but since I’m writing this from hindsight, I think they may be a little bendy.
Apples ready for caramel

When the temperature gets to the soft ball stage, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. I actually let the temperature get up to 240 degrees; I didn’t want any runny caramel! It worked. When the caramel is getting to the right temperature, you can actually see it thickening up and changing texture in the pot. Roll the apple around in the caramel; hold it up, twirl it, make sure the entire apple is covered, and dip it in the cinnamon graham cracker crumbs. I think you could use chopped pecans instead, and it would be yummy. Put the apples on the parchment covered tray, and do another.

IMG_1277The hardest part is getting the whole apple coated – especially the top. You can tip the pan; you can use a spoon; but even so, I could only get 7 apples coated. I probably had enough left for the eighth but just couldn’t get it around the apple. So I did what any normal person would do – I poured out the last of the caramel, sliced up the apple, and ate it as is. Refrigerate the apples for two hours before you do anything else with them.
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I wrapped mine in parchment paper and tied dark red bows around them. It was the closest I had to red ribbon. I’m going to add some hearts tomorrow, but for now, I’m done…
Except for this important note: The Granny Smiths I had were straight from Giant Eagle, and the wax on them was thick. In the recipe, Amy Traverso gives a technique for getting the wax off, and I would be remiss if I didn’t give it to you. Boil a pan of water, and using tongs, dip the apples in the water for 30 seconds or so. Then, with a paper towel, dry the apple and rub the wax off. It works! Ms. Traverso says this is not necessary if you have organic apples, so I did not do this technique with the Galas. If you look closely, you can tell the caramel didn’t stick as well to the red apples as it did to the Granny Smiths. My thought is that even store-bought organics have that food-grade wax on them.IMG_1278

If you notice the first apple at the bottom – that was the first one I did. I didn’t get the entire apple coated at the top, so I spooned some on later. That’s the one I ate. It was delicious! The apple was actually a little softer and juicier than normal; the next time I make these, I will use the boiling technique on all the apples.

IMG_1281The texture of this caramel is great. When I poured out the last bit, it hardened up without even being put in the fridge. It would be great to pour into a pan, let it harden, and then maybe melt some chocolate over it? I’ve got leftover ingredients calling out to me. The only thing better than caramel with apples is caramel with chocolate.

IMG_1282

The taste of a fair in February…

42. Tackling the mudroom

This wonderful warm weekend I discovered that it’s not just the sun I miss during winter; I also miss being outside without coat, hat, mittens, and boots!

Wait! What’s that yellow glow? It’s the Sun!

It was really warm this weekend. Like 65 degrees warm! The sun was out occasionally, peeking through the clouds, but mostly it was gray. I didn’t mind. We turned the heat off in the cottage, and opened the doors. Henry went in and out and was happy. I went in and out and was happy. We even had a bonfire on Saturday night (just a small one) and it was warm enough to stand outside next to it WITHOUT jackets! Mother Earth Farm –the garden center next to the cottage (How wonderful is that statement!) has the countdown on their sign — 10 weeks until spring!Bonfire in January
Mr. H.C. was rebuilding the last window down in his workshop (and kind of grouchy about it) so I was on my own. But he actually gave me permission to start destroying the mudroom. Demo, as it is known in the trades, is a blast, and usually he gets to do it; but with the door open, and my crowbar in hand, I started taking off the cedar shakes that are were the “walls” of the mudroom. (Probably he was grouchy because he wasn’t wielding the crowbar!)

One of the mudroom walls covered in cedar shakes

One of the mudroom walls covered in cedar shakes

I know you are going to ask why we would begin messing up ANOTHER room in the cottage before we are even half-finished with the kitchen… Well, you see, the mudroom is attached to the kitchen. In fact, it is the Entryway to the kitchen. And the doors that we are going to put between the two rooms have to go in NEXT. So the doorway/wall between the rooms had to be taken down, so we can rebuild it to fit our new beautiful French doors that we got for $70 last fall. (You can see them  here in post 16. The Color of Apples .) They aren’t quite the same size as the old sliding glass doors, so building the frame for these doors is the next project.

Let me tell you — taking down and rebuilding is a S-L-O-W process! It took me all day and I didn’t quite get all the shakes off. I was trying to be careful because we might want to reuse them for something. Don’t you think a chicken coop sided in natural cedar shakes would be poulet heaven?

I found this rustic chicken coop sided in cedar shakes at www.theartofdoingstuff.com. I fell in love with it and even pinned it to one of my pinterest boards.

I found this rustic chicken coop sided in cedar shakes at www.theartofdoingstuff.com/chicken-coop-inspiration/
I fell in love with it and even pinned it to one of my pinterest boards.

20130112-232710.jpgAfter Mr. H.C. primed the last window, he came up to help. His mood visibly improved once I shared my crowbars. I understand. Windows have gotten me in a funk before as well. (See post 29. Being Thankful for Failure Takes a Better Man than I.)

The downside of the warm weather and demo-ing a mudroom were ladybugs and stink bugs. They were everywhere. Behind the cedar, under the cedar, in groups, single, falling from the ceiling, crawling on the floor… We thought it was just because we were taking off old cedar that had been there for thirty years, but it turns out this warm weekend brought out the stinkbugs in Everyone’s houses, not just ours. We ended the satisfying weekend with only two splinters, several boxes of acceptable-to-reuse cedar shakes, and almost-bare mudroom walls.
IMG_1111

Yep, the walls ain’t pretty!

On to Door #2!