Nobody Knows the Truffles I’ve Seen

irish cream melts-1Today is the highest of the high holidays of chocolate. Nestled between Halloween and Christmas on one side and Easter and Mothers’ Day on the other, confection affection reaches a frenzy for Valentine’s Day.

And that means, once again, chocolate has oozed its sweet, smooth, silky self into all my waking hours. I’ve been sending chocolates all over the United States, to help people show their love to far-flung friends, lovers, and relatives.

It’s great fun to be part of this celebration, as folks try to decide just what combination of candies will best please their loved ones. All dark chocolate for some, no dark chocolate for others. No lemon or pumpkin seeds, please, but extra ginger or coconut would be great! Tastes are so individual and givers want everything to be perfect, especially on this day.

I also love writing up the note cards to accompany the candy I mail. I make up little stories to fit the odd or mysterious sentiments and imagine how pleased the daddy will be to get the candy from his children.

People aren’t just treating their love ones. I’m here to tell you that LOTS of people are treating themselves. As we’ve always been told, you need to love yourself first!

To be honest, all of this intense focus on chocolate means that it sort of loses its Valentine’s Day cachet for me. When you have chocolates on every free surface and are honor bound to do regular taste testing, you don’t need a special holiday devoted to chocolate! Every day is chocolate day!

As for my Valentine and me, we’ll celebrate by shoveling the most recent foot of snow. Then we’re planning a dinner that will evoke warmth and summer and picnics—Michigans, coleslaw, potato salad. If I’m lucky, my Valentine will play some “honey songs” on the guitar for me. And we’ll probably have some chocolate but we do that everyday!

And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that I almost never make truffles—I just couldn’t resist that blog title.

Truffles are so incredibly easy to make (2-3 ingredients and no need to temper chocolate?!), it seems wrong to take money for making them! And, the fact that they depend heavily on cream means that they aren’t as shelf stable as a lot of candy so mailing them and taking the risk that they might spoil unnerves me.

So instead of truffles, I make chocolate melt aways, combining tempered chocolate with a little coconut oil and flavoring oil. And, even though I just said I don’t get too excited about chocolate on Valentine’s Day, an Irish cream melt away might just get me to re-consider!

I hope your Valentine’s Day brings a happy balance of affection and confections!

The Power of Positive Vibes . . . And a Great Sister!

Thanks to the good vibes you directed my way and to my amazing sister, the holiday boutique I participated in was truly fun!

It was a long day—we set up at 7:30 a.m., the doors opened at 10, and closed at 7:00 p.m.—but it went by pretty fast. Those of you who assured me that, of course, people would want to buy chocolate were right—we had lots of interest and lots of folks went away with chocolate for gifts, and for themselves.

For the display table, I used some of my stash of vintage linens—I grabbed everything red and white—so it looked festive and different than the other displays. I polished up some Revere bowls and dragged out the vintage aluminum platters and was set to go.

The most popular items didn’t come as a surprise to me—chocolate-covered caramels with fleur de sel have always been my best seller and peppermint bark just tastes like Christmas.

I was so glad to have my sister’s help—most of the vendors were there by themselves and had no on else to rely on. Just having the friendly support of someone who totally understands me made a huge difference!

My introverted tendencies didn’t get in the way. I’m not especially shy—I’m what a friend calls “an introvert with good social skills.” So the day went fine while I was there but I was glad to have a long-ish drive home the next day, alone, with no one who wanted me to talk to them! My people batteries are drained!

So, thank you to all of you who were so supportive and made such kind comments beforehand and thanks, again, to the sister who is my biggest supporter and best marketer! I feel so lucky to have you all on my side!

Oh, Fudge!

IMG_4025What would Christmas be without fudge? Dick, without Jane. Tarzan, without Jane (was it the same Jane, do you think?) Santa, without Rudolph. Eggnog, without rum.

It would be sad, that’s what it would be!

While I’m away, selling candy to the huddled masses of Westchester County, New York, I thought I’d empower you to make your own holiday fudge. I could sell it to you but you’re a crafty, self-sufficient, DIY bunch and this fudge is really easy. If you do a good job with this, someday I’ll teach you to temper chocolate and you won’t need me at all!

And the recipe makes five pounds of fudge! You know you’d never buy that much candy but, hey, if the recipe provides that much, who are you to argue?

I’m giving you a basic recipe, published several years ago in the Buffalo News. I always, always, add dried sour cherries from Michigan because they counteract the sometimes-overwhelming sweetness of fudge.

I almost always add walnuts, too, because my husband loves them and it’s easier to put them in than to listen to him miss them, in that sad little voice of his.

You can add what you like—toasted pecans, raisins, craisins, toasted coconut, crispy bacon. All of the above. Or even none of the above, for purists.

This makes a pretty, always welcome, stocking stuffer, cut in 2- or 3-inch squares and tucked in a cellophane bag with a pretty ribbon. You can also add it to that plate of cookies you give all your friends and co-workers. Or you can keep it for yourself and start a diet with me on January 2!

FIVE POUNDS OF FABULOUS FUDGE

Line 10 x 15 pan with foil

* ½ cup butter or margarine
* 1 can (about 14-ounce) evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed milk)
* 4 1/2 cups sugar
* 8 ounces marshmallows; I use mini-marshmallows
* 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (all of these chocolates can be found in the baking aisle; they’re often sold under the name “Baker’s”)
* 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
* 8 ounces sweet baking chocolate
* 1 Tablespoon vanilla
*1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
* 1 cup roughly chopped dried sour cherries
(or about 2 cups of whatever add-ins sound good to you)

Combine butter, milk, and sugar in a large saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cover. Turn down a little and boil for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add marshmallows; stir until melted. Add the three kinds of chocolate, one at a time, stirring until melted. Blend in vanilla and whatever you’re adding.

Pour into foil-lined 10-by-15-inch pan. The 10-by-15-inch pan is often called a jelly roll pan. You could use any similarly sized pan but I wouldn’t go smaller or the fudge will be very thick. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Let fudge stand until firm. When the fudge has set, put a cutting board on top and carefully flip it over so that the fudge leaves the pan. Peel the foil off and cut as desired.

Fudge will dry out pretty quickly if left in the air. Wrap it in plastic and store in a plastic container for a few days or wrap tightly and freeze. Fudge freezes quite well!

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An Introvert Goes Public . . .

366_Alma_s_Boutique-1Later this week, I’ll do my first, ever, face-to-face selling of the candy I make. I’ll be at the St. Vincent’s Hospital’s Alma’s Boutique in White Plains, NY.

Preparing for this event is part of what has been keeping me too busy to blog, or to do much else for that matter. Because I’ve never done a show like this before, I have no idea how much I’m likely to sell so I’ve made a LOT of candy.

Preparing for an event like this has also reminded me what a perfect outlet Etsy is for introverts!

I had a dream last night about being on a motorbike that I couldn’t control. I wonder where that came from . . .

If you have any positive vibes to spare, send them my way!

peppermint bark-3

Chocolate Vs. Blogging

lucy and chocolateDo you know this episode of the old American TV show “I Love Lucy”? Lucy and her pal, Ethel, get jobs in a candy shop and are soon overwhelmed by the workload. It’s a classic!

As you may recall, I make candy. I can totally identify with Lucy and Ethel right now! I am pretty fully occupied by the demands of the holiday candy season.

I love what I’m doing–I’m up to my knees in chocolate! A dream come true! But it may mean that my blog is updated less frequently and my posts are short.

Please understand that I am thinking of you and will be back with more thoughtful posts as soon as I can be!

Winner of National Chocolate Day Giveaway!

tipsy turtle bark-1And, we have a winner! Thanks to all of you who entered the giveaway for a one-pound box of KerryCan chocolates! Readers had the nicest things to say about the candy photos, even those who were not able to enter the giveaway. I do feel bad about not being able to offer this to international readers and it was kind of many of you to let me know you understood!

The winner of the candy is Kimmie, a fellow WordPress blogger from Making Mondays. She’ll be receiving a sampler of items from the shop but because she told me she loves chocolate turtles, I’ll be sure to include some candy that includes chocolate, caramel and pecans! Kimmie, please contact me at kerrycan2@gmail.com with your address.

Again, thanks to all of you!

Happy National Chocolate Day . . . A Giveaway!

National Chocolate Day?! Now that’s a holiday I can get on board with! In fact, I want to write a book because I have a title that I think will sell a million copies. I’m going to call it 50 Shades of Chocolate!

To celebrate National Chocolate Day, I’m going to give one of my North American readers a one-pound sampler of the chocolates from KerryCan. It’s not that I don’t love my blog friends from around the world—I just don’t like to think of what international mail would do to a delicate box of candy.

So, if you’re from the US or Canada and would like to enter the giveaway, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post. Tell me, in the comment, what your favorite chocolate candy is—do you like chocolate straight? Or do you go for the chocolate-covered caramels? Or chocolate with peanut butter? Or mint? Or something else? Let me know and I’ll assign you a number, based on order of comments. Then I’ll use a random number generator to come up with the winner.

Be sure to leave your comment within 72 hours of the time this post was made (5 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings time in the U.S., on 10/28/13)! Good luck! (And if you don’t win, all of the candy is available in my shop!)

The Garden Diva (But Worth the Trouble)

IMG_3181One of the things we added to our garden this summer was a rose tree or rose standard. Our big box hardware store puts plants on deep, deep discount when their prime moment has passed and my husband couldn’t resist this tree for $5.99.

If I had read about the care and feeding of rose standards before he bought it, I probably would’ve said, “Don’t bother.” As I’ve told you before, I like a hardy, tenacious flower that thrives where it’s planted, with not too much input from me.

The rose standards are not hardy or tenacious and they need a lot of attention from humans–they are such divas! They’re actually created by humans and grown by grafting a hybrid rose to the top of a long rose cane, and that means they can be top heavy. Without real care in pruning, the cane will snap from the weight at the top. So they need to be supported with a stake, kept out of strong winds, and monitored for the cane bowing.

IMG_1751And, as if that weren’t all enough to worry about, they need special care in the winter. We will need to create a tall cylinder of chicken wire to go around the cane and then fill the cylinder with mulch, to protect the cane from freezing. We’ll try this but I don’t know if the poor thing will make it . . .

But in spite of all this, I have come to love the plant! It has given so much in the few months we’ve had it. It has gotten beautiful new foliage and produced dozens of the most gorgeous yellow roses, and they even smell fabulous! To top it off, it’s still blooming, better than ever, in October.

I do hope it makes it through the winter—I’ll keep you posted. If you’ve ever had a rose standard and have advice, please pass it along!

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As a postscript, I just finished dipping these coffee caramels and think they’re too pretty not to share!

IMG_3209dipped coffee caramels-1

Back in the Chocolate Again

  spicy bark-1 All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.
Charles M. Schulz

My kitchen has been cold and dark. Well, actually the kitchen has been pretty lively but, as a cook, I have been cold and dark since May.

My husband does nearly 100% of the cooking at our house (yes! It’s heaven!) and he has been very busy. I bake the occasional batch of cookies or loaf of bread but my main activity in our kitchen is making candy and chocolates. And I have not been able to indulge, in making or eating chocolate, since it got warm out.

The reason I had to take those months off is that it is impossible to temper real chocolate if the temps are above about 70 degrees. “Tempering” is the process by which chocolate is brought to the state where it has a high gloss, stays solid at room temperature, and has that “snap” when you break it or bite into it.

If a person wants to work with chocolate in warm weather, they either a) have a climate-controlled workspace or b) use a substitute for real chocolate, like the so-called “candy melts” or chocolate chips.

Candy melts and chocolate chips have their place in the world but they simply are not real, quality chocolate. And since, for me, chocolate is a treat (and a high-calorie one), if I’m going to eat it, or give it to my family, or sell it to valued customers, I’m going to use the real thing.

So, anyway, it’s cool now in upstate New York, so I’ve gotten back to this particular creative outlet. I’ve been re-listing candy in my shop. I guess I sell about 25 varieties and have been slowly getting them all back out there.

In the last few days I’ve made a couple different concoctions. First, I made a dipped candy that is similar to Mounds bars, but a little more robust and chewier. It has a center of coconut mixed with a cooked candy syrup that is then dipped into tempered chocolate.

coconut joys-4I also made a couple of batches of a spicy bark—dark chocolate, with toasted pumpkin seeds and dried sour cherries in it. It is souped up with cinnamon and some hotter spices, for a warm glow when you eat it. I made two batches because it is my mother’s very favorite and, since I was making it for a customer, I thought I better give my mom her fix, too!

The traditional way to make bark is to get the chocolate in temper, add the inclusions and then spread the mix, free form, on parchment paper. Then when the chocolate has set, you cut it or break it apart.

spicy bark-5When I made this bark yesterday, I did most of it that way but then made some into candy bars, using molds. I like the way they look (see that nice shine? The chocolate was in perfect temper!) but you can’t just break a little bite off, for a nibble, like you can with the traditional bark. What do you think? Is one form more appealing than the other?

choco barsI’m sure I’ll be back here, talking about chocolate as the months go by. I may even write up a lesson on how to temper chocolate, so you can make some of my goodies for yourself!

Fall Fixations: I Have a Few

foliage-2Like many of you, I find autumn exhilarating. I look forward to it all year for very particular reasons. I have four main autumn obsessions (well, five, but I’m not going to rhapsodize about college football here):

1)   Foliage—This is the most obvious and probably universally-shared of my obsessions. I’m lucky enough to live in leaf-peepers heaven—in what’s being called the “Adirondack Coast” of upstate New York. With the Adirondack Mountains on one side and the Green Mountains of Vermont on the other, and lovely, lovely Lake Champlain right in the middle, this may be one of the best places in the whole world to be obsessed with fall colors.

We take leaf-peeping seriously at my house. We check the foliage report to plan outings. When we drive around in other seasons, we take note of special vistas, to come back to in the fall. We have our go-to routes that we drive every year. We plan outings on weekdays, so as not to be disturbed by amateurs! And we would never, ever plan a trip away from home at this time of year! Miss foliage season? I don’t think so.

If you stay tuned you’ll be seeing my fall photos!

2)   Apples—My part of paradise is also home to many, many apple orchards so autumn becomes a chance to try new varieties and re-visit old favorites. When you’re surrounded by dozens of unusual apples you’ve never heard of, it’s easy to become a bit of an apple snob—don’t be talking to me about boring old Red Delicious.

Northern Spy, Autumn Crisp, Pristine, Spartan, Winesap—aren’t the names wonderful? And the taste! So far beyond what you’re going to find in the grocery store! One of our favorite orchards keeps an industrial-strength apple quarterer and corer on hand so we can taste any (or all!) of the apples before we buy! And they’ve been known to walk outside and pluck the apples directly off the trees for us so we get them extra fresh. Add to this the fresh-pressed cider, the hard cider, the apple cider donuts, the caramel sauce for dipping apples  . . . yes, I love fall.

If you stay tuned you’ll be hearing about apples!

apples3)   Snow geese—I know nothing about the migratory habits of snow geese except that they love the bay in front of our house. For a month, usually starting in mid-October, gazillions of gaggles of geese gather here and make a mighty sound! They are joined by Canada geese, who are very cool in their own right, but the white mass of the snow geese is particularly showy and astounding. To see a huge gathering of them take off all at once is like watching snow fall up!

The first time I saw them, after we moved here, I was taking a walk and could see a band of white on the far shore of the bay. It was a beautiful late autumn day—I could not figure out why there would be snow on the edge of the lake! I looked harder and listened and it finally dawned on me that those were geese! I ran home, we jumped in the car, and followed the lake shore until we found them.

Now I stalk them. And like any good paparazza, my camera is always clicking.

If you stay tuned you’ll be seeing snow geese in your dreams!snow geese-4

4)   Chocolate—This isn’t, perhaps, the normal person’s autumn obsession (although I know lots of people who would call it a four-season fixation!) But I make and sell chocolate candy. I can’t make it or sell it between May and mid-September because it is impossible to temper real chocolate if the temperature is warm (and never mind the difficulties of shipping it!)

So, for me, fall brings the added excitement of the beginning of candy season! All the high holidays of candy seem to fall between October and May, so those months find me tempering pounds of silky chocolate and stirring pots of burbling caramel. And beyond the making of chocolate, I obsess about new concoctions and combinations, packaging, pricing, photos—all chocolate, all the time. Not a bad way to live, huh?

If you stay tuned you’ll be hearing about chocolate! (I’m truly not trying to sell you anything—it’s just that chocolate is such a huge part of my world, I can’t imagine not writing about it here!)

new dark fleur-1Just writing about these things whips me into a frenzy of anticipation! The early-harvest apples are already available, the chocolate listings on my shop have begun to reappear, the leaves are just beginning to perk up with hits of red and orange, the snow geese will make me wait awhile. But it’s coming, fall is coming, and I can’t wait!

I look forward to sharing these autumn delights with you, as well as other “loving hands” meanderings. Is autumn a special season where you live? What do you like best about it? I hope you’ll be using your blog to tell us all about it, too!