A Personal History on Candy: Earl Grey Chocolate Caramels

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

-Proper candy for a refined adult. Or, you know, sugar fix. Whatever.-

Cutting caramel is a methodical practice. Turn the sink on to a mere dribble and wait for it to heat to scalding. Run the knife under the water and patiently wait for the heat to transfer through the tang until the metal radiates in your hand. Quickly clean off the water with a towel and then cut through the brick of caramel. The piping hot knife should glide through effortlessly and leave the sides of each individual bite of caramel nearly seamless and smooth as cut class. Repeat for each cut.

It’s slow going to be sure, but this type of methodical handwork has its benefits. Once the caramel comes into contact with the tip of the knife the heat causes the candy to release a plume of aroma of gently burnt sugar and milk. In my case, also of chocolate and Earl Grey tea which the caramel has made stressed and bold. A scent that, for some reason, reminds me of Vivian Leigh’s voice in Gone with the Wind.

The experience is pleasant and somewhat unique for me. Not because I not only don’t make a lot of candy (I don't), but because I simply don’t eat a lot of candy. I never really have.

Some people might have you believe otherwise. After the fire when I stayed at Elise’s home I filled her kitchen with colorful bags of it for the first week or so, and subsisted on little more than artificial flavors, Red Dye 40, and corn syrup so refined it would make my teeth shake. Elise chastised me about how a food blogger and cook could eat such junk and harassed me until I ate a salad.

(Thing is, when I’m in a state of shock or general depression, that’s the only time I turn to candy. I ate so many Skittles the first few days that I actually got sick. Nowadays when I see a bag of them all I can taste is the rainbow of fruit pain. However, with the rare instance, candy isn’t much a part of my diet.)

-Chocolate Caramel: Seriously hard to make look appetizing.-

Even as a kid I didn’t eat a lot of candy, which, judging by my Halloween haul, you might find surprising. My Halloweens were productive and planned with near military-level stratagem and as methodical as my caramel cutting. I lived in a well-to-do middle-upper class neighborhood where people were more than happy to give you a five dollar bill for your UNICEF box and drop a king-sized Snickers bar in your bag. Our neighborhood, a oblong and lengthy block that was probably a good 3 miles or so with plenty of cul-de-sacs dotting the route was a goldmine with a thick chocolate coated vein running through the whole of it. A legendary route of the kind that kids dreamed of and parents loved. It was safe enough for parents to let their kids wander freely and lucrative enough for kids so that after 10 minutes you had enough candy to last for weeks. Even better, fewer kids were shuttled in from other neighborhoods as we were quietly tucked away in a hidden bubble of Orange County, California. You knew every other kid going door to door and no strangers messed up our time. It was ideal for all who lived there.

My brother and I would canvas the neighborhood early when the October twilight was still bright and casting long, spindly shadows that slunk along with us door to door. Later in the night, once the number of children began to dwindle, we would make a second round in different costumes from previous years. Diet-minded adults eager to get rid of the bags of candy they bought would begin to literally give us handfuls of candy if not outright pour their bowls out into our bags, which were actually-greedily- pillowcases. Eventually we would run back home and drop off one or two heaving pillowcases full of candy off before swiping more pillowcases from the linen closet and heading out for more.

By this point it wasn’t even about candy. It was about the game. Seeing just how much sugar we could milk from people and gather. How fast could we canvass the block and how many times? How much could we run door to door in the nest half hour? How clever could the costumes be? (My last year of trick or treating, at age 12, was a particularly proud moment for me. My coup-de-grace was wearing a death shroud and having a harvesting sickle strapped to my back. With me I carried around an old briefcase that I had painted on the words “I.R.S. Audit Team.” I think nearly every house I went to took a picture of that. The adults didn't stand a chance.)

-People these days look down of trick-or-treaters who can shave. What is the world coming to?-

At home the bloated pillowcases crackled with candy wrappers that demanded attention. Our last haul came in at nearly ten pounds of candy. We knew we wouldn’t eat it all. Our mom, a third grade teacher, would take some to her classroom. Dad would take a sack to the office, usually one he had filled with 3 Musketeers bars he had picked out of the rest. We would all be eating the stuff even up through May until mom eventually just threw it all away, disgusted at the fact she had filled our Easter baskets with Halloween swag.

I would maybe eat four pieces of it a day. I didn’t really want most of it. I just don’t eat, and never did eat a lot of candy. Too many processed sweets and my body practically goes into insulin shock.

However, the one exception were the small caramel candies. The little square of Brach's classic burnt sugar. It was and is even more so today a small-name, old school brand of candy; the kind most kids usually pay little attention to. As if there were nuggets of gold found at the bottom of a stream I panned them out of the piles and chewed up every single one I could find until my jaw went store and every crevice between my teeth was tacky with the chewy leftovers. Caramel was, and is, one of my weaknesses when it comes to candy.

Still, making it is something else. And, unlike store bought candy, you have more control. You know what's going into it and with practice you learn to guide the flavor and texture to taste. So, once in a while, I make candy. The batch will usually last a few weeks as I only eat a piece or two a day. Enough to get a saccharine fix and make the jitters go away.

This particular caramel is unique and may surprise you a bit. The milk is cooked with sugar from the get-go as opposed to being added later in the process. A good dose of unsweetened chocolate is stirred in along with a spoonful of Earl Grey tea. The result is something dark and sophisticated in flavor, the cinema noir of confections. A sparse crust of crushed cocoa nibs add a bit of dimension and textual character to the candies and make them all the more engaging. I've also learned the a small glass of Madiera is deliriously perfect pairing with these.

This is a good beginner's candy recipe if you've never done it before. All it requires is a good eye, a candy thermometer, and some patience. Then, get out your knife and carefully cut the caramel into squares. Enjoy the aroma, and, then, enjoy your candy.

Chocolate Earl Grey Caramels
Adapted from The Essence of Chocolate

Unsalted butter for the pan
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (99% dark preferable), finely chopped
1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea leaves, finely ground
2 tablespoon cacao nibs, crushed (optional)

1. Line a 9x9 pan with 9x17 piece of parchment paper (the paper will droop over the sides) and butter well.

2. Stir together the cream, sugar, corn syrup, and salt together in a heavy bottom pan. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until it reaches 250F. Remove from heat and let cool for a five minutes.

3. Add chocolate and tea. Stir together and pour into the pan and spread with an offset spatula. Gently press on cacao nibs and let the caramel sit for a few hours.

4. Cut apart into 1-inch squares. Serve or store in an airtight container.

Making Cheese: Paneer, Pineapple, & Cucumber Salad

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

-Homemade cheese in a tropical Spring salad.-

“It’s squeaky!” I beamed.

BF paused his video game knowing that if he did not direct his attention to me I would get between him and the screen and ensure the death of his character. I grinned like a maniac and held out a seared piece of cheese prompting him to eat it. He surveyed the unidentifiable food the way a bomb team would inspect a mine field. He then considered me, possibly as crazy, and somewhat hesitantly pressed for more information, “What’s squeaky?”

“The paneer! It’s squeaky!”

My explanation being of no help he dropped his gaze back over to the paneer and studied it.

“It’s cheese. Please eat it. I just took it out of the fry pan and it is extremely hot,” I pushed.

He opened his mouth and I gingerly placed it on his tongue. With his first chew the cheese became audible as the pressed curds began to eek apart as if BF were masticating some terribly scared mice.

“See? Squeaky cheese.” It shouldn’t have been that thrilling or nearly as funny, but it was. I guess when you make your own cheese for the first time you can’t help but contract a dairy high from it.

The past year or so has been a whirlwind of cheese education for me. I’ve devoured any number of books and websites, and even more cheese all in the name of knowledge and whey (or so I say to justify eating an entire wheel of Petit Basque in a single sitting as if it were going to run away the second I stopped swallowing). At this point the science, the processes, and molds and bacterial cultures and the cheeses they're associated with no longer held any mystery. Each became identifiable and precise to me, and could be catalogued in memory and taste. I feel I can hold my own against many more knowledgeable cheese gurus.

However, there are still two things any cheese fiend still needs to do to be taken seriously by the Dairy World: visit a dairy and make cheese.

-The divot is there because I knotted the cheesecloth before pressing. The knot then pressed into the paneer. Lesson for you. Wrap and fold. Not wrap and knot.-

The former is something I keep meaning to do. I'll get right on it, soon. When I find time. Probably. The thing is that something inevitably pops up and bumps this task down the to-do list. Deadlines come up for old projects, research has to be done for new ones, studying, cooking, my attempts to revive the walking dead corpse that is my social life, and let's not forget familial guilt over my lack of visiting or calling are all vying for my unmitigated attention.

Believe me, I want to see happy goats and climate controlled caves lined with rounds of cheese stacked in so high they turn the room into a cultured Greek Parthenon. I want to put on plastic booties and a hairnet and see curds cut. My goal is to go home and curse out the washers at my apartment complex because they can’t get the primordial barnyard funk of so much cheese out of my clothes from touring a room of elderly blues.

Sadly, that will have to wait.

Anyways, making cheese is more doable and makes for a nifty weekend project.

Cheesemaking is one of those skills that many home cooks have lost. You see, cheese is more widely available than it ever has been and, really, there isn’t any practical need for people to know how to make their own cheese outside of personal satisfaction and cooking for cooking’s sake. Why go through the trouble of attempting your own Cheddar when Fiscalini produces a stalwart of the breed. Why raise goats when Laura Chenel has been doing such as damn fine job of it for the past 30+ years? (Plus, in my experience, goats can be total assholes. I've been butted a few times and lost a good flip-flop when a goat decided to make a snack out of it.) Making a blue at home is trying at best, but Whole Foods has a special on Bayley Hazen.

See where I’m going? Home cheesemaking isn’t a necessary skill. At least, not in the practical average American sense.

-Toasty cheese!-

But aren't knowledge and adventure reason enough to give it a go? The desire to better understand your obsession and master it is expected. Kids can memorize every minor detail about 650 pokemon. (Though this makes me wonder why our nation's test scores are so low?) Foragers carry books and sheets of white paper to do spore cap tests in order to identify poison mushroom from dinner mushroom. Coders learn C++ to make more engaging flash games, god bless them. Cheeseheads strain and press their own curds.

I decided to make paneer because it’s about as 101 as you can get for cheesemaking. Paneer is a simple cheese used in Indian cooking and usually made at home. It is also foolproof cheese. Simply heat some milk, pour in the vinegar, then stir, separate, and press. Congrats, you made paneer. It may sound like I’m breaking this down too much but I assure you that changing the oil in your car is more stressful and requires more experience than this.

The taste of uncooked paneer isn’t anything to swoon over. You won’t try it and wax poetics about it and you're unlikely to find it gracing a cheese plate. It tastes like concentrated milk, but, then again, that’s what it essentially is. Of course, the flavor also depends on the milk you’re using. You want to use a really high quality whole milk or top cream whole milk (the latter has more fat). If you use a milk that was made by cows who lived their lives roaming the country side eating grass and flowers and generally playing their happy cow games then it’ll taste better than milk from a factory cow who spent its life praying for a quick death that wasn’t going to happen.

Cook panner and it becomes an entirely different food. Sauteed in a bit of butter or oil the sugars and fats crisp and caramelize. The milk’s origins become loud and brilliant. The paneer takes on a toasty, wheaty flavor that soon submits to the taste of cream and clover. You realize the panner is just as excited as you when it meets your teeth with a cheerful squeak-squeak-squeak of appreciation.

Like other cheeses, paneer can also be flavored to give it character. Some people toss a thread of saffron into the milk as it cooks to impart a bitter flavor and Brahman color. Others mix in some freshly ground and toasted cumin or coriander into the curds before pressing. Cilantro or basil leaves can be wrapped around the paneer before its bundled and pressed in cheese cloth to impart a haunting grassy spice. It’s all up to the cook how to alter and flavor the paneer. Paneer, essentially, reflects the personality of the cook.

Unlike other cheeses, paneer is meant to be used as an ingredient and not as a stand alone cheese. It’s used in curries, wrapped in pastry and deep fried into fritters, sautéed with vegetable, marinated in chilies… paneer is essentially an everyday staple food used in a variety of dishes. It’s also a great food source for vegetarians looking to add some texture and unique flavor to their food. I’ve discovered that it’s also excellent in omelettes, tacos, and tossed in a pasta buried in a garlic-heavy tomato sauce.

This panner recipe is a simple one you can do any night of the week. I've personally found that paneer is fabulous in fresh salads. Tomatoes and greens are great, but tossing it with cucumber and pineapple is a fresh, spring-y salad perfect for warm weather.

Anywhose, give it a try. You'll love it. Even better? You can cross "learn to make cheese" off your list.

Do not substitute anything for the whole milk. Cream will result in soft paneer and skim won't yield much of anything. Makes two cups of cubed cheese.

1/2 gallon whole milk
1/4 cup white vinegar

In a heavy-bottomed pot bring milk to a boil over medium-high heat. Slowly add the vinegar and stir. The curds and whey will separate. Pour into a stainer lined with cheesecloth (a thin tea towel could also work). Wrap up the curds tightly. Place in the sink and weight down with a cutting board topped with something heavy like a hefty cookbook or a kettle filled with water. Allow to drain for two hours. At this point you can use the paneer or wrap it in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Paneer, Pineapple, Cucumber Salad
Serves 2-4

1 recipe paneer (see above)
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced
3 cups chopped pineapple
1/4 cup of cilantro, roughly chopped
juice of 2 limes
pinch cayenne
salt and pepper

1. Dice the paneer into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

2. Place oil or butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add paneer, lightly salt and pepper it, and sautee until lightly browned on all sides.

3. Toss together all ingredients. Taste and adjust spice and salt to taste. Serve.

Escape From Anxiety: Strawberry & Wine Jam

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

-In order to bring about a calming sensation...-

I peered across the room to the see the clock on the kitchen oven. By this time of day the sunlight was blasting its way into the apartment completely annihilating the dull green glowing time. I finally had to get up from the couch and delicately tip-toe around the piles of papers and research that stacked like a miniature skyscrapers around my feet. Once in the kitchen I cupped my hand to block the light and check the time. 10:32 AM.

“Oh hell,” I muttered. I had woken up at 6 AM to start working and already four hours had flitted away without my notice. My head, buried in the collected works of Karl Marx and Carlo Petrini and fueled by an exaggerated cup of black tea, had been too preoccupied.

My stomach growled a low bass rumble that shook the kitchen. I felt exhausted, stressed, and completely empty. I grabbed a piece of bread and smeared it with a bit of butter before wolfing it down to fill all the nothing inside me. As soon as I swallowed some of it a ripple of nausea took over. I felt my throat beginning to contort and my tongue instinctively taking a sluice-like position. I turned on my heel and threw myself over the sink and spit out the bread I was still chewing. I immediately braced myself for what was sure to come.

I waited. My stomach churned. My diaphragm sent my torso heaving. Nothing came. I waited some more. Nothing.

-Pictured: Not vomit.-

I dragged myself up and wiped the tears out of my eyes. A deep breath followed by another, heavier breath. I forced the rest of the bread down. I washed it all with the rest of my tea, which by now was hoarse and cold but I wanted the bitterness to nullify the lingering gastronomic vertigo that my stomach seemed to be recoiling from.

It was time for a break.

The anxiety attack had been caused by, unsurprisingly, the thesis. I had finally received feedback on my last chapter from my second reader. Most of it was positive, but she had noted a few places where she thought my arguments rested too much on broad generalizations and needed some more concrete evidence, preferably Marxist.

I had avoided learning anything more than the basic premises of Marxist critique and theory during my academic life because I had found it rather dull and uninspiring. Now, at the end of a nine year run of undergrad and grad school, Marx came bum-rushing in right before the finish line to kneecap me with a lead pipe. I had spent the previous 32 hours reading through most of Marx's major works attempting comprehend his theories. (Which, now, I will admit, are kinda intriguing.) I was mentally drained and physically exhausted.

-Is making jam a marking of the proletariat? Is it Petit Bourgeois? These are not questions one asks oneself when trying to prevent sugar and strawberries from scorching.-

I was doing my best to do a three day turnaround on my thesis and get a near-perfect draft to my final reader. With only 5 weeks left in the semester I needed approval or else I was doomed to enroll in a regular semester instead of enrolling in continuous enrollment semester of which I was currently on my last semester of.

Here’s how it works and the situation I find myself in: Each student gets three semesters of continuous enrollment where you aren’t really taking classes. It’s just more time to work on your thesis or project. Continuous enrollment costs about $200. If you go past three you have to re-enroll in a regular semester which costs about $2000.

I’m trying to get the thesis fixed and approved under a tight deadline so I can finish this semester. The reason for the anxiety is that if my reader requests a revision I probably won’t have enough time to fix it and get it to her. I would have to wait 6 more months and pay thousands of dollars in order for her to spend a few hours reading a revision. Her hands are essentially tied as she is disallowed to legally or contractually do any work outside of school time and read it when she is not on the clock else she get in trouble with the school.

I had appealed to the school for an extension, citing that the house fire last January during my first continuous enrollment semester had destroyed most of my research along with everything else and that I hadn’t dis-enrolled at the time simply because it wasn’t on my mind. Homelessness will do that. The graduate department (aka: The Bastards) perplexedly concluded that this was not a valid reason. So now I'm trapped in a web of bureaucratic yellow tape and deadlines. I imagine the dean of the college simply lying in wait deciding on when to plunge its mandibles into my wallet and soul (it’s not a matter of either/or, but of which one first).

-Screw you, graduate studies office. You get no berries. Just the finger.-

I was now on day three of trying to revise and perfect a 160-page document on that not only did my graduation hinder on, but another six months of my life and thousands of dollars of possible tuition money that would come out of my pocket. Hence the anxiety attack.

Staring into the sink I knew that there was only one thing to do right now. I got out my good pot and my canning materials, and pulled out the hefty bag of strawberries I purchased the other day in preparation for this. I would make jam.

Jamming is my mode of escape from stressful situations. It’s methodical work that requires all of your senses and attention. You have to diligently cut and chop every piece of fruit to similar size. You're constantly touching, smelling, observing, and tasting. Jamming requires you to be intimate with your produce as each batch will have a different personality. Yesterday’s may be slothful and bubble for hours in a syrupy mess before coming together, while today’s may be unripe and unruly, and tomorrow’s batch may be quite keen on you and jam with little more than a click of your heels. Each batch requires supervision and an always stirring hand in order to ensure uniformity.

Jam, thank god, requires that you think and focus on nothing else but jam.

This is why I find it to be such a grand escape. Plus, the bonus of jam making in order to escape is the jam. Your effort results in a rich, concentrated fruit that envelopes the eater.

As I pushed the strawberries into the pot I noticed a bottle of Bordeaux sitting on the counter. BF and I had opened it last night and capped the rest off for later. Without much consideration I grabbed the bottle and poured a few steady glugs of it in the pot. I immediately then put the bottle to my lips and finished the rest. It was dark, fruity, and with a taste of berries and pepper; but without exposure to air the wine was also harsh and burned at my negligence. I twitched a little and felt better as my body warmed.

-Booze makes everything better. This includes breakfast.-

Time passed and the jam came together. It tasted as red probably should, full of spring and precociously sweet fruit. I processed it and licked the spoon clean.

The wine began to take hold and the work had relaxed me. My stress began to wash away and my brain relax as it pushed out concerns of superstructures and deadlines and thought about lid sterilization. Ah, lid sterilization. I pondered about how utterly simple and wonderful lid sterilization is. No rhetorical questions are involved in processing jam. You just preform the task with attentive care.

As I write this days later the anxiety is still present, but tamed. My thesis is now sitting in a professor’s office awaiting judgment. I’m still on the verge of throwing up half the time when I think about it or open my e-mail knowing that a fateful e-mail may await me. The well wishes I have received are hopeful, inspiring, and greatly appreciated, but now it rests on my work and the approval of a single individual. I have no inkling on what her impressions will be.

Still, I have jam. I can eat that and momentarily, even for just a split second, relax. Those split seconds matter to me. That is why jamming, then, is so damn important. Any escape is.

Strawberry & Red Wine Jam
3 1/2 lbs. strawberries, hulled and diced
1/4 cup red wine
juice of 2 lemons
1 lb. sugar
1/8 teaspoon butter

1. Place all the ingredients in a stainless steel or copper pot, or a enamel lined dutch oven (not an aluminum pot as this will leach). Let macerate for about 10 minutes. Place a small plate in the freezer as this will be used for testing later.

2. Turn heat to medium-high. The mixture will bubble and froth vigorously. Skim the foam off the top and discard (or save it and put it on cheese or yogurt; super tasty). The boil will subside to larger bubbles, but still bubble vigorously. Be sure to begin gently stirring the jam frequently to prevent it from sticking and burning to the bottom.

3. After about 20 minutes begin testing the jam by placing a small amount on the cold plate. Allow 30 seconds to pass and then run your finger through it to see what the cooled consistency will be. Boil for a few minutes longer if desired for a thicker jam.

4. Ladle into hot, sterilized canning jars and seal leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe the rims of the jars clean before applying the lids. Screw on the rings to finger-tight. Work quickly. Process in a water bath to ensure a good seal. If you want you can skip the water bath and just screw the lids on tight where the heating-cooling process will create a vacuum seal, but the water bath is a surefire method for a secure seal.

*To sterilize the jars, rinse out clean mason jars, dry them, and place them, without lids, upright in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes. To sterilize the lids put them in a shallow bowl and pour boiling water over them.

Sometimes Creativity Wins Out: Rosemary Walnuts

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

-You know those recipes that take only two minutes of your time to make? I love those recipes.-

There is no rhubarb to be had in Sacramento.

Seriously, I’ve looked everywhere. I combed the aisles of the Farmer’s Markets and called every super market and Co-Op in two counties and I’ve come up empty-handed.

BF’s sister insists that she just bought some at Raley’s market the other day, but my own queries result in confused produce boys who have no idea what I was talking about and who swore they nary a stalk had graced their aisles. This leads me to wonder if either the produce boys are simply confused or liars. Another theory is that BF’s sister is having a laugh at my own expense. Perhaps she simply doesn’t know rhubarb from red kale? The latter would be most depressing as she’s a professional baker and, thus, she should know better. Furthermore, if this is the case, I would assume her “rhubarb” pie to be just terrible.

It’s April, though. It must be out there somewhere. It’s like hunting for a four leaf clover in a field. You know they exist; you just have to get on your hands and knees and search. Still, I’m not sure I want to pluck every green strand of grass looking for one. Sometimes you just have to call it quits.

This particularly sucks because the last three posts were supposed to feature rhubarb. (Well, four, now.) No firm stalks sitting on any tables or displays signaling to me in neon fuchsia brighter than a 1980’s track suit. I was happy to settle for the pale seawater green variety that admittedly tastes the same but lacks the colorful pop. Yet, there was nothing.

-Pictured: Epic Creativity.-

So, instead, I decided to just get creative. This is something that sometimes works out and sometimes causes small kitchen fires or the shellacking of the bottom of my oven in a black carbon crust that used to be something edible, like sugar or cream.

I began my culinary snipe hunt for inspiration by tumbling through the cupboards checking labels and looking through half used bags of fruits and coconut flakes. Eventually, I was going so far back into the reaches of the pantry that I was practically in Narnia before I remembered that my friend, Blair, an eneologist and farmer with an all-American appearance, had gifted me a huge bag of walnuts from his parent’s orchard.

On the counter below sat a small bunch of fresh rosemary given to me by another friend. Normally, I left rosemary out to hang in the kitchen and perfume the room, something I learned in college as a way to combat stinky roommates. I wasn’t sure what Paul had done to this particular plant but it had to be wrapped up at all times. To free it from its plastic confines was to make the entire kitchen smell like every tree in Tahoe was having an orgy in my kitchen. I love the piney scent of rosemary but this smelled like every nefarious needle was intent on going up my nose and stabbing my brain.

I decided then and there to combine the two. I had plans to serve some cheese as an appetizer to some guests that night having come into a precocious wedge of Nicasio Reserve in Davis and still having a hunk of Maytag blue on hand. I figured a complimentary snack of rosemary roasted walnuts would make for a sensational accompaniment.

-These will also pair well with most other cheeses and plenty of cured meats.-

I gave the rosemary a fine mince before tossing it into a bowl with the walnuts, a dash of cayenne, some olive oil, and a bit of melted butter because why not add butter? A flick of kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper finished it off.

The smell as it baked was warm and coniferous. It was impossible not to be invigorated from it. It was as if the kitchen were converted to an aromatherapy studio and the green perfume made the air seductive and clarifying. Indeed, the roasting walnuts were electric to the senses.

It was hard to remember why I had any longing for rhubarb after these little treats. Salty, verdant, and with a flavor that’s wise and husky like voice of someone’s aging grandfather. So yeah… to heck with the rhubarb. Sometimes creativity and a sack of walnuts just win out.

Rosemary Roasted Walnuts
Recipe adapted from Willow Pond Herbs

1 pound walnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, well chopped
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
a few grinds of fresh pepper

Preheat over to 325°F. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and toss to mix. Spread on a baking sheet large enough to hold the nuts in a single layer. Bake for 20-25 minutes being sure to stir once or twice. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Serve right away or at room temperature. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 2 cups.

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