Thursday, December 23, 2010

CHOCOLATE EXPLOSION!



It's late December, so the time has come to get making Peppermint bark, and this year, Truffles and Peanut Buttercups as well. I'm including my winging-it recipes that are constantly evolving to document general proportions and to give y'all a starting point, for those of you who've asked how I make these. There are a gazillion ways to make nearly anything, so I'm just recording how I made all this, today. Feel free to leave comments about how you make these! Disaster-prevention tips are always welcome! Here are the recipes. I trust that y'all will remember from Home Ec or a grandparent or whoever showed you around a kitchen to read the whole recipe from start to finish before embarking.

Peppermint Bark
Melt chocolate chips or bulk dark chocolate in a double boiler, or a similar rig - a metal bowl resting into a pot of simmering water. Be sure not to let any water splatter into the chocolate or it may seize up. This means instead of a warm pool of pourable liquid chocolate, you'll get a clumpy mess. As the chocolate melts, stir with a metal spoon. Line a glass or ceramic casserole pan with at least 2" sides (5.1 cm) with waxed paper. Once the chocolate is completely melted, pour half of it into the casserole pan. If you have loads of chocolate, use a big pan or many big pans, if you don't have much, use a wee pan. Smooth out your chocolate into an even-ish layer, and then place in the fridge to cool. Meanwhile, in another metal bowl melt white chocolate. You only need half as much white chocolate (or less) as dark chocolate. Also while the first layer of chocolate is cooling you can place your corn-syrup-free organic candy canes (yes, they make them, though they may be hard to find - and they're expensive, but with all that sugar they'll last a few years just fine) into a cloth or plastic bag. Then proceed with hammering the candy canes into bits. Be thoughtful with your surface. If you have some rage to release, you may want to take this part of the process outside and use a really sturdy surface. Some may be lucky enough to have a super-helpfull mother who does this so that you can multi-multi-task and start with the Peanut buttercups. Pause. Pause. So now your chocolate layer is all cooled and solidified and you can pour the next layer, the white chocolate. The heat of the white chocolate will melt the top part of the dark chocolate layer. If you'd like a fairly dramatic contrast between the white and dark chocolates, smooth the white chocolate just enough to spread out the layer, without mixing it too much with the dark chocolate underneath. Again, let the chocolate cool as you multi-task or breathe or whatever. And for your final layer: add the remainder of the dark chocolate that you melted at the beginning. Before it dries, sprinkle the candy-cane bits/powder over the chocolate. A thin layer of the powder will adhere pretty easily. The larger bits may need to be gently pressed into the chocolate so that it dries into the top layer. Let everything harden. Shake off excess candy cane bits and save for later to incorporate into future chocolate adventures. Viola! Peppermint bark. Gently break into pieces and place in glass jars or reuse tins.
Sprinkling and then patting the candy cane bits into the top layer of
dark chocolate, and the layers of the
finished Peppermint Bark.

Note: Please check out the ingredients of all your ingredients. Sadly we live in a time where hydrogenated palm oil is the second ingredient of much chocolate, including Ghirardelli. Not to mention the child slave labor that poisons the chocolate market - including huge multinationals like Hershey’s and Nestle. For more information, please see: "Chocolate’s Bittersweet Economy: Cocoa Industry Accused of Greed, Neglect for Labor Practices in Ivory Coast" Democracy Now! Feb 14, 2008

I've been trying to find a source of bulk fair-trade (certified or not) dark chocolate. The search continues, please let me know if you know of an ethical source for dark chocolate.


Peanut Buttercups
You can make your own Peanut Buttercups, replacing uber-sugared and hydrogenated-oiled peanut butter with real organic ground peanuts (or sunflowers, almonds, etc). I also added some local Honey and Cinnamon powder that helps save Orangutan habitat. Melt dark chocolate/ chocolate chips in a double boiler and stir. Once entirely melted, add the tiniest layer of chocolate to the molds you picked up from a kitchen shop/thrift store or that you saved from last year's Advent calendar or Ginger-bread-house-making-kits, etc. Stir enough honey and cinnamon to sweeten and spicen to your liking. Add a lil dollop of the filling into the molds, and press it down/ spread it around if you wish. Shallow molds harden pretty quickly, well, if you're not in a wicked hot kitchen. I have some larger molds - Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos sugar skull molds by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada who radically transformed my negative perception of skulls into one of beauty and respect. These larger molds take longer to cool (more surface area/thicker layer of chocolate= longer to cool), so I placed it in the fridge. Once cooled, add more chocolate to cover the Peanut Butter-mound and complete the cup. Let it cool again until completely solidified and they come easily out of the molds. Notes: Peanut Buttercups don't require much chocolate and pack a protein punch. I used silicon star-molds once and it the chocolate got all white and splotchy, so now I jut use my plastic molds. Today my mom showed me how using two spoons to scoop the chocolate out of the other makes the process much smoother!




Molds, Making the Peanut Buttercups, and the Innards.
Truffles

10 ounces Dark chocolate
1 1/4 cup Coconut milk
optional: Cocoa powder, more Dark chocolate, Coconut flakes


Pour the coconut milk into a double boiler and warm on low heat. Meanwhile, chop the chocolate into tiny pieces, if they haven't been so already, and then place into another metal bowl. Once the coconut milk is warm, pour it over the chocolate bits and place the bowl over the warm water. Stir the mixture constantly until the chocolate has melted and mixed completely with the liquid. This is your ganache
. Refrigerate until hard (approx. 3 hours, can put in the freezer if you’re in a rush).




Stirring the Ganache, fresh-pressed Ginger juice, and Dad
lends a hand with his Laser Thermometer (138
°F/58.88°C)




Separate containers holding the various flavors of ganache, Rolling the ganache into balls - the balls got stickier as my hands got stickier, the smoothest ones were created just after rinsing off my hands, Re-hardened ganache, and Finished truffles.

Remove ganache from refrigeration and scoop out by the spoonful, rolling into balls with your hands. Place balls on a wax paper-ed baking sheet and return to refrigeration to harden. Once hardened, remove balls from refrigeration and roll in a shallow bowl of cocoa powder, fair-trade if possible, and/or dried coconut flakes. Or you can melt more dark chocolate in a double boiler and gently roll the cooled balls in the warm chocolate, which when cooled will created a harder outer layer over the softer ganache. If storing for later, place balls in containers, and place waxed paper between layers. Store in the refrigerator and remove 30 minutes before feasting on them.

Flavors: For simple chocolate truffles, this is all you need. However, you can add other simple ingredients to create chocolate flavor explosions! Today I made two batches and separated both in half. Four flavor possibilities. Last time I created Rose (using organic rose powder from Mt. Rose Herbs), Vanilla-Coffee, Ginger, and Orange. I pressed a tiny bit of dried pink rose petal into the outer chocolate layer of each Rose truffle as it dried. I pressed a tiny bit of chopped Ginger chew (you could use crystallized ginger with the sugar rinsed off) to identify the ginger ones. And atop the Orange I added a couple crushed Red pepper seeds. Today I made Ginger, Orange, Coffee, and Vanilla. I made Ginger truffles by grating enough fresh ginger root and pressing it through a fine metal strainer to get 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger juice. Potent! For the Orange, I added 5 drops of *organic* Sweet Orange essential oil to a half batch (please use essential oils with extreme caution: they are highly concentrated. Please don't ingest them without really knowing what you are doing). I added 2 tablespoons of homemade Vanilla extract to the Vanilla truffles. I infused 2 tablespoons freshly-ground fair-trade Coffee beans into the coconut milk for a few minutes, and then strained out the bits before melting in the chocolate. With the exception of the ground Coffee beans, I added the flavor ingredients after I'd removed the ganache from heat and poured it into smaller containers, such as glass measuring cups. I stirred each thoroughly and then placed it in the fridge. (Adding flavor ingredients after removing from heat is especially important when using a few drops of essential oils, as they will quickly evaporate with heat. Likewise, the alcohol in ingredients such as Vanilla extract or say Damiana-infused Brandy, will evaporate if left over heat.) 


Chocolatey Notes: Playing with chocolate gets messy, so get out all your supplies beforehand and have a spatula handy to scrape all the good chocolate from bowls and fingers! Bendy rubber spatulas are the best (but make do with what you've got)!

A note on flavorings: Foods, herbs, and spices should be flavorful enough without involving chem labs. You don't need "flavorings," natural or otherwise, just the actual plant sources. See Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" for a fascination description of the "Flavoring Corridor" off the New Jersey turnpike, born of the perfume industry.
Keep all the chocolatey bits for a finale mystery chocolate blend!! Melt all the dribbles and chunks into Peanut clusters (roast Spanish peanuts and stir them into the chocolate, place dollops of the concoction onto waxed sheets), more Peanut Buttercups, Truffle ganahe, etc. I know you probably don't want to think about any more chocolate ever at this point. But you'll change your mind! Of you'll have friends willing to take it off your hands.


To learn more about chocolate, see the article that my friend Sandra Lory of Mandala Botanicals wrote: "More than a Valentine’s Sweet: Theobroma cacao". Keep an ear out for these workshops: El Cacao, The Plant That Chocolate Comes From with Sandra Lory, Herbal Valentines with me (Feb 2012: at City Market in Burlington and Hunger Mt Coop in Montpelier), and Raw Chocolate with Linda Wooliever.

For more chocolate-y recipes, see the Valentine's Aphrodisiac Recipes post.

Fair trade Chocolate-based remedies available on Dandelioness Herbals' online etsy shop (with descriptions): 

*Chocolate Spice Elixir: a Warming Aphrodisiac with Damiana, Ginger, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cayenne, Vanilla, and Fair trade Chocolate Syrup
*Volcán de la Pasión: Cinnamon Rose Chocolate Honey Aphrodisiac Elixir


Today's Sources of Culinary Inspiration: Julia Child, Grammy and Pop-pop's sweets, the films Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat, and Tortilla Soup, PBS's The Meaning of Food, and the books Botanica Erotica by Dina Falconi and Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses by Isabel Allende. And I just found out that Maya Angelou recently wrote a book entitled Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

DEC 1st IS WORLD AIDS DAY




Dec 1st is World AIDS Day and is the perfect opportunity for getting tested, talking with your partner(s)/kids/parents/friends about safer sex, harm reduction and supporting those in our communities that are HIV positive and living with AIDS. For general info about HIV/AIDS please visit The Body.

Roy Belcher from VT Cares (Committee for AIDS Resource, Education, and Services) has created the film "Breaking Barriers: Fighting Stigma," sharing personal stories of people in Vermont who are living with HIV/AIDS. I was able to attend a viewing at the local
public library (where it is available for loan) earlier this week and was moved by the stories shared.

AIDS didn't really impact my life until the summer after graduating from high school when I worked at a Unitarian Universalist conference center that hosted a gathering of Gay and Bisexual men
. I loved serving in the dining hall that week, being surrounded by an enormously inclusive and colorful atmosphere that seemed to both embrace and challenge masculinity - and dining attire ranging from bearded men wearing dresses to others wearing only leather thongs. The presence of such a vibrant community of men coming together to relax, dance, learn, share support, feast, etc. was healing for me just to witness, but it was definitely bittersweet. It was heartbreaking to see the quilt that they bring out every year and have to add the names of members of their community who they've lost to AIDS. I don't mean to perpetuate the myth that AIDS only affects gay men, or that it is a "gay disease," but my experience of coming from a small and very hetero-dominant town where HIV/AIDS was rarely discussed and then suddenly being temporarily and peripherally in a community where so many have lost lovers and friends really had an impact on me. I felt like I was seeing a world that I was not supposed to see.

Anyone with a heart would empathize with the pain of loss, but I was outraged at the silence. The experiences common to one particular and targeted community (i.e. police brutality in communities of color) is not supposed to be of concern to the majority, to those in the dominant group. For some reason, though I was raised in a heterosexist* and sometimes violently homophobic culture, something just didn't stick with me. The belief that a family is a man with "male" anatomy married to a woman with "female" anatomy, and their children. The idea that heterosexual lifestyles are somehow normal. ?! That sex is defined solely as a man penetrating a woman, which excludes a lot of people and practices. I could go on and on... Because the fact is that whether we've thought about it or not, whether we've explored what we were taught about sexuality and gender, whether we identify sexually as lesbian, gay, queer, questioning, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, straight, somewhere else on the sexuality spectrum, or as something else entirely and whether we identify gender-wise as female, male, trans(gender), cisgender (non-transgender), genderqueer, or something else entirely, we are all harmed by homophobia.

Obviously if I am a female-identified person who was deemed female at birth and raised as a girl and I'm walking down the street hand-in-hand with my male-identified, male-born, male-raised sweetie it's pretty safe to assume that we are not going to be targeted, attacked, or even killed, at least in terms of our gender and sexual identities. Especially as someone with privilege in the realm of how people perceive my gender and sexual identity, I don't mean to minimize the very real discrimination and violence that queer and transgender people face
when I say that we're all harmed by homophobia and transphobia. I don't mean to paint some naive picture that sexuality doesn't matter or to imply that the solution is to simply just love who we want to love and be who we want to be. What I do mean is that we all have both a sexual and gender identity, even if how we perceive ourselves or how others perceive us is reflected and encouraged in our culture and communities. And for this reason, we all have a stake in getting to the roots of homophobia and transphobia and working towards justice. The existence of homophobia and transphobia, even if we don't notice it in our day to day lives, keeps all of us from thriving. Expose yourself to nearly any kind of media and you will find some (possibly closeted) violent homophobe ranting about gay marriage attacking all that "we" hold dear, another city/county/nation outlawing homosexuality - keeping archaic anti-sodomy laws on the books - raping and/or killing gay people, or hopefully you'll see some brilliant, supportive, inclusive, open-minded messages of not just tolerance (putting up with "those people"), acceptance (Ok, you're kinda like me), but straight-up, we're-all-in-this-together-and-all-have-the-absolute-and-unquestionable-right-to-be-and-love-and-get-it-on-with-who-we-want solidarity! (See the 'Supporting Queer and Questioning Youth' links to the right if you need a bit of that!)

So what I do mean by "no matter who we are we are all harmed by homophobia" is that when we're not free to be our full, radiant selves, when we walk into a doctor's office and a gazillion assumptions are made about our gender identity and our sex life, when the mainstream translates queer to mean perverse and straight to mean normal, when our cousin-sweetheart-mom-son, etc. is not safe to walk down the street as their full glorious self and maybe with their full glorious partner, when images of glowing white hetero families are crammed down our throat at every commercial break and in every magazine spread, we all suffer. We don't get the access to the health care we need, we don't get accurate information about risk and prevention and the sexual practices we prefer, we live in silence and shame about our bodies and our completely natural attractions and feelings, we're brainwashed into thinking that our dreams of having an equal, spirit-growing partnership and family is not possible, we proceed in our life doing what we believe is expected of us and what we think other people do instead of truly following our path and exploring fully.

All of us. All of us. If these statements don't relate, I feel pretty confident if you and I are able to talk for a few minutes we could find ways that at least most of them actually really do relate to your life. In a big way. Email me.

So the gathering of gay men had their
32 anniversary this year. And in a few days I will turn 32 myself. My birthday wish: a love celebration! With lots of dancing. Not just one night. Not just this month. Forever and ever. And what's that look like? I don't even know. But I do know that it involves some serious self-love, some serious unconditional love in our circles of family and friends, the safe space to be honest, real, & open, being fully present in our bodies, knowing our boundaries and our needs and voicing them, listening, knowing our status in terms of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections and discussing this openly with our partner(s), kids, friends, etc. and valuing & respecting ourselves and each other to practice safer sex and making sure that the people in our lives have access to the info and support they need. All of us.

*Heterosexism is a system of attitudes, biases, and discrimination in favor of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that everyone is heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the only norm and therefore superior... heterosexism as discrimination ranks gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexual people as second-class citizens with regard to various legal and civil rights, economic opportunities, and social equality in the majority of the world's jurisdiction and societies. (taken from Wikipedia, with the parts I didn't agree with removed. If anyone else has a better definition, please post it!)

I can't leave on that note. So, action! Check out what kind of anonymous, free HIV testing is happening in your neck of the woods. Get tested. Support these projects by giving some time or money. Let others know about it. Wear a red ribbon. If you feel comfortable, tell others about your experience getting tested to help de-stigmatize STI's, open up conversations, and create a culture of awareness. When someone makes some ignorant comment about AIDS, school them. (We gotta be the good sex educators most of us unfortunately didn't have!) Educate yourself. Attend presentations, films, and drag balls that support organizations that support HIV/AIDS support, testing, prevention, and education. Dispel misconceptions like "Oh, it's okay that we didn't use a condom cuz s/he looks clean." Question gender. Challenge homophobia, trans(gender)phobia, and rigid ideas of gender at the dinner table, in the work place, in the classroom, at the ballot box, in the bedroom, etc. Address people with the name and pronoun that they prefer you to use when speaking to them (even if you knew them in the past with a different name/gender). Have you any more ideas? Please post them or send them to me. Yeah!

Please see earlier blog post:  In Praise of Pink (Toenails), Masculinity, and Transgender Propaganda.