Saturday, December 26, 2009

Peppermint Patties from Scratch

When it comes to baking for the holidays, I love all things minty. Oh, yeah. And chocolately. I always make sure that high quality peppermint extract is in my arsenal of required pantry items.

I actually didn't do much cookie baking this year, but this one was a winner. Remember York Peppermint Patties? These from are a pretty good contender in the ring of mints.

Here's what you need. Powdered sugar, chocolate, cream, mint and vanilla extracts, a bit of shortening (not in photo) and butter.

You'll want to cover your cookie sheet with a silpat or some parchment paper. The dipping part gets pretty messy until you get your rhythm down.

Mix everything but the chocolate in a food processor.

Until it becomes a big white lump.

Next break the big lump down into many small lumps, about 1 teaspoon in size. I did some tablespoon-sized lumps also, but each little mint packs a big sugar punch. I'd keep them on the small size next time.

After trying to flatten the little balls with the bottom of a glass and then the palms of my hands, my tried and true technique was to flatten each ball with my fingers and then rotate 90 degrees and flatten again, creating a sort of cross hatched print. Place the mint patties into the fridge for while you melt the chocolate.

Lots of chocolate! Chop up a bunch of it, like so.

Then put the chocolate into a double boiler, which is simply a smallish pot full of boiling water on the stove top upon which you place a bowl, in this case a glass bowl. Add the shortening.

Stir until melted.

Now the fun -- or challenging-- part. Using forks, spoons, chopsticks or any other implement in your kitchen, dip the patties and drain the excess chocolate off. Carefully place them on the parchment paper. Once completed, put the tray into the fridge to harden off.

Once completely cool, store the mints in a tupperware making sure to layer with more parchment paper to prevent sticking.

Nothing says Christmas like a peppermint patty from scratch.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Inventive Sledding

Last weekend we took advantage of a crisp clear day in search of snow for sledding. In a caravan of two cars full of parents and kids and high levels of anticipation, we headed to the mountains. This outing had been several weeks in the making. Between waiting for good weather, procuring and building sleds, and sourcing chains for the tires, it took a few weekends before this became reality.

Our intentions were to make it to a defunct ski slope about an hour outside of Dushanbe. But we found ourselves in a small picturesque village just beyond the town of Takob, when the fishtailing started to take place.

We weren't the only ones with some troubles. At this point, a micro truck and a small hatchback were struggling to get up a pretty insignificant hill. The other half of our two-car caravan had already traversed said hill without any problems.

The truck just couldn't get the traction it needed. Cars were starting to back up. At a standstill, Paul got out to join the others to see how they could help.

At this point, we were still gung ho and decided to put on the tire chains. With frozen fingers, we quickly realized the chains were too small. Paul wanted to push on, despite the fishtailing our car had already proved it could do -- and very well.

I, on the other hand, was not so gung ho. If there was an opposite of gung ho, that's what I was. My mind quickly starting to formulate an argument for sledding right here, in this very village, across from an old abandoned factory built in 1944.

And without a ski slope in sight.

There actually was a pretty steep side street that seemed to have tire tracks, and what appeared to be sled tracks. After a bit of negotiation, whereby I was happy and relieved, Paul was grumpy and dejected, and the kids were ecstatic to be out of the car, we parked and unpacked our gear.

And the kids quickly got into snow mode.

The other car we were with had a hard time negotiating the roads ahead and made their way back to where we were. At this point, we noticed some local sledders making their way down the side road.

After checking each other out for a while, we realized it was time to get our game on. It was Team Tajikistan vs. Team America on the slopes of a small hill, in a small village, with some small (and not so small) kids.

Introducing Team America, in no particular order.

The A Girl. She's small but packs a huge punch.

Sparkly Girl #1

Sparkly Girl #2, cheering her team on. Or surrendering from the get go. It's a bit unclear.

The D-man. Don't let the cute smile fool you. He's a ferocious competitor.

The Beej. Warming up with push-ups.

And now Team America's captains.

Captain Kronendome.

Cap'n Pippy John Stocking.

And Paul "The Dog" Hambone.

Now, introducing the competition. Give a big hand for Team Tajikistan!!!!

The Dark Man, dressed all in black.

Mr. GQ.

The lynchpin of the team, Sistah Sled.

LNG. Little No Gloves. Tough as nails.

Now, let's check out each team's sledding apparatus.

Team Tajikistan had finely-honed, well-tested, cutting-edge aerodynamic sleds. Take a look at this uni-ski.

Team America took to the slopes with their waxed plastic baby bathtubs. They weren't on their home turf and seem a bit disoriented.

While Team Tajikistan employed the more traditional sled,

Team USA pulled out their hidden weapon: the special toboggan crafted from the finest flooring linoleum.

Immediately after the starting flare was fired, the course was packed. Both teams started out strong.

Team Tajikistan were a fine display of team work.

It soon became clear that the Tajik team was serious. They scored extra points choosing to sled down unchartered territory. First on the sled.

And then on the uni-ski.

Team Tajikistan were ahead by the third heat.

Team America struggled.

They seemed a bit tired.

And a bit distracted.

In the final round, it was no holds barred. It was almost a dead heat until Team Tajikistan pulled ahead.

Team America wasn't going to go down without a fight. The Dog gave it all he's got. Until he biffed it. Notice the Tajik team member's grin as the American coach gets a mouthful of snow.

Hanging his head in shame, his team mates come to their rescue to offer support and a helping hand.

The thrill of victory.

And the agony of defeat.

The crowd dispersed, satisifed that they got their monies worth. Team America headed home and immediately planned their comeback.