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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Everything, with the Best Coconut Candies

We've had a very good Christmas. As for many people, for us the holidays are bitter sweet this year. We have loved ones who are suffering and fading, and it's awfully hard to watch. But, we do the best we can and we show up. Loving someone who is suffering can open one's heart in new ways. It can be fatiguing, but I know that our loving presence helps when nothing else seems possible.

Mix the candy and scoop onto parchment, then chill.

I am always searching for ways to bring some small pleasure to the people I love. For my mom-in-law, who can be lost and frightened in her dementia, I try to bring eye contact, smiles and hugs. I agree with her and nod and tell her that we will always love her and keep her safe. That's all we can do. For my father-in-law, who cares for her, we come and share a meal and easy conversation. We are patiently waiting for him to allow us to give him a break. Meanwhile, we just show up with love and whatever normalcy we can bring.

Once chilled, melt the chocolate and butter. Roll the balls smooth.

My mom has had a hard couple of years providing care for her own mom, my Grandma Betty. I love them both so much. My mom has health issues that often cause her a great deal of pain. When I visit, I try to convince her that she is a princess and she should allow me to do the work, chores and lifting. She tries to remember, but like me, she likes to do things for herself and she likes to do things for others. These coconut candies are her favorite. When I asked her if she would like them again this Christmas, her eye brows lifted in keen interest. When she bites into them, her eye lids flutter and she makes happy noises. This is just about enough present for me - to know that through this simple gift I've given her the opportunity for days of pure pleasure. For me, this is part of the magic of cooking. There is care and nourishment, but there is also the gift of pleasure. 

I hope that all of you who peek in on my little blog experience joy and pleasure this Holiday Season. No matter how we celebrate, we can all share the joy of Winter's sparkling lights and knowing that the longest night of the year has passed and we are now heading steadily back into the growing light of Spring. May Peace be with you.

Carefully dip the balls in the melted chocolate, one at a time,
and place on clean parchment.
Chill again, melt more chocolate and give them their second dip.

Mom's present, before we broke into them and helped her enjoy them.

Coconut Candies
For the candy:
14 oz. dry, shredded and sweetened coconut
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 can of sweetened condensed milk (7 ounces)
2 tbsp. soft  butter
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Stir all the candy ingredients together in a bowl until well combines. Use a teaspoon or 1 tbsp. cookie scoop to portion the candy out onto a parchment paper lined cook sheet. Place in the refrigerator for a few hours or over night, until they are set. 

For the coating:
2 10 oz. bags of dark chocolate chips (I like at least 60% cacao), divided
2 tbsp. butter, divided

Place one bag of chocolate chips and 1 tbsp. of butter into the top of a double boiler. Gently melt the chocolate over water that barely simmering. Make sure the bottom of the top part of the double boiler does not touch the water. If the chocolate gets too hot, it will "break" and look curdled. Stir the chocolate until very smooth. While the chocolate is melting, roll the balls between your hands so that all the little coconut shreds will be tucked-in. Dip the candies, one at a time, into the chocolate. Carefully lift them out of the chocolate and let them drain for a bit. Place back onto a new sheet of parchment. Then they are all done, place them back in the fridge. While they are chilling, melt the second bag of chocolate chips and the remaining butter. When melter, did each ball again, one at a time and place back onto the parchment to harden. When all the balls have had their second coat of chocolate, place them back in the fridge and chill until they can be easily handled and put on a tray for gifting. 

Makes about 2 dozen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Random Food Fridays - Cream of Carrot and Fennel Soup

This latest soup is the result of my CSA box. Winter brings lettuces, carrots, fennel, greens, oranges and apples. Not all of those ended up in this soup. Carrots and fennel are the star.

Fennel has a flavor and fragrance similar to licorice. It's pretty good raw, especially with oranges. But that is not my favorite way to enjoy it. Fennel becomes rich and sweet and mild when cooked. It is a great addition to a gratin or a soup. If you've never tried fennel, you should give it a go!

Cream of Carrot and Fennel Soup
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 leek, chopped (be sure to wash out any sand)
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced thin
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups diced carrots
1 tbsp. fresh chopped tarragon, or 1 tsp. dry tarragon
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parley
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup half and half
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Place a large pot over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the leeks, celery and fennel and sweat them down until they are translucent. Add the remaining vegetables and herbs and stir to combine. Add the chicken broth. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the carrots are very tender. Use a hand-held blender to puree the soup. There will a few chunks. If you want this soup very smooth, puree in batches in a blender or food processor. Stir in the half and half. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Makes about 10 cups.