23 December 2009

Slinging hash: peppermint bark

Ours is a chocolate mint family. I ate a vast quantity of mint chip ice cream when Sarah was in utero, and it is hard to imagine a combination those flavors that I would find unappetizing.

And so last year around this time, when I came across a recipe for peppermint bark, I had to try it, and it was unsurprised to love it. Although I am Jewish, I am not immune to the Pavlovian Christmas baking reflex, and Sarah has earned a reputation as the Jew Who Loves Christmas, and so last weekend, on a snowy Saturday, we broke out the double boiler.

Peppermint bark is essentially a sandwich of white chocolate with a chocolate ganache filling. It contains two things I'm not crazy about on their own — white chocolate and peppermint candies — but it all comes together nicely. Making it isn't hard, but it does require an hour or so of patience, as you spread melted chocolate and wait for each layer to cool before laying on the next.

By the time we were through with dinner, the bark was chilled enough to slice. It was a messy job, sending bits of starlight mints about my just washed kitchen floor, but that's what you get for cleaning up prematurely. Hands flew to catch shards as I broke up the sheet of chocolate, but seeing as mine were among them, I could hardly scold. If you are at all like me, you eat this until you are hovering at the edge of sugar shock, have a glass of water, and then eat a bit more.

Peppermint Bark
adapted from Orangette, who adapted from Bon Appetit

Make sure your white chocolate contains cocoa butter, not hydrogenated oils. Whole Foods white chocolate chips, or Ghiradelli white chocolate bars are good quality and not too expensive.

Crushing the mints is a bit of a pain in the ass, as you have to remove each one from its wrapper and then crush them. I place them in a plastic ziploc bag and have my kids enthusiastically go at them with the blunt end of a rolling pin.

24 oz white chocolate, finely chopped or white chocolate chips
30 red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies (starlight mints), coarsely crushed
7 oz bittersweet chocolate chips, such as Ghirardelli 60%
6 tbsp heavy cream
¾ tsp peppermint extract

Turn a large baking sheet bottom side up and cover with aluminum foil. Mark a 12 x 9-inch rectangle on the foil. Melt white chocolate in metal bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water) until chocolate is melted and smooth. Pour approximately 2/3 of the melted white chocolate onto the rectangle on the foil. Use an icing spatula to spread the chocolate to fill the rectangle. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup crushed peppermints. Chill until set, about 15 minutes.

Microwave the cream in a glass measuring cup in thirty second intervals until steaming, about 60 seconds. Pour cream over bittersweet chocolate, leave for a minute, and then stir until the chocolate melts. Add the peppermint extract. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture over chilled white chocolate rectangle. Use icing spatula to spread bittersweet chocolate in an even layer. Refrigerate until very cold and firm, about 25 minutes.

Rewarm remaining white chocolate in bowl set over barely simmering water. Working quickly, pour white chocolate over firm bittersweet chocolate layer; spread to cover. Immediately sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes.

Lift foil with bark onto work surface, break or cut into pieces, eating as you go.

21 December 2009


Friday afternoon, the boys were playing together when David and I heard banging, accompanied by Sacha shouting, "Ow, ow, stop it, stop it, STOP HITTING ME GABRIEL!" Although he sounded more angry than injured, I would have been remiss had I not investigated.

At the bottom of the staircase stood Sacha, hitting himself in the head with a hollow plastic tube,  while Gabriel played on the other side of the room. Sacha saw me and initiated evasive maneuvers, much as a cat who suddenly takes an intense interest in grooming to distract attention from the shame of having been caught doing something especially clumsy. I did not take disciplinary action, because I was laughing so hard I had no credibility.

Not two minutes later, Sacha started again, with the banging, and the shouting. Now things were getting interesting; although he'd already been exposed, apparently the joy of potentially setting his brother up was so intoxicating that he could not help himself.

While I admired his persistence, for the second offense, he got a time-out. As I led him to the step, he continued shouting, "Ow, ow, my bone; Gabriel hurt my bone!"

I felt the now familiar rush of pride upon being confronted with yet more evidence that while he may be in the fifth percentile for weight, my youngest is in the hundred and tenth percentile for balls.

16 December 2009

Embrace the paradox

The delicate negotiations required to get Sacha to stop shitting in his pants have left me with an inverse relationship between soiled laundry and patience. For every shit in the desired location, there are several in the undesirables.

The standard advice for a hard case such as my beloved is to have them make their deposit in a diaper, while in the bathroom. What parenting manuals fail to mention is HOW THE FUCK TO GET THIS TO HAPPEN, because the mere suggestion sends Sacha into prolonged fits of rage.

While this seems like a perfectly reasonable interim step, in our case, the logic falls apart when you consider that a)we are dealing with an irrational being, and b)one of the cardinal rules of diplomacy is never negotiate with terrorists. 

My son is armed and dangerous, and he needs no yellow cake uranium to manufacture his weapon. When I consider all the time we spend strategizing, and carefully calculating our next move, it occurs to me that were you to substitute Iran for Sacha, and weapons of mass destruction for shit, the substance of the discussion would remain unchanged. When I finally succeed in putting toilet training behind, I will be eminently qualified for high level diplomacy, and I intend to submit my resume to the State Department.
Some people move forward without looking back, while others have a hard time letting go. Sacha is clearly in the latter camp, and he is mightily conflicted about leaving infancy behind and fully embracing childhood. 

If nothing else, toilet training Sacha has taught me that you're never too young for an existential crisis.

He is clearly going through something, and I empathize with his confusion. Yet he is four, and my third child, and I am done with diapers. Reconciling these two conflicting ideas leaves me in the position of wanting to hold, soothe and spank him, in equal measure.

10 December 2009

A surefire cure for vegetarianism

When Sarah was in third grade, she had a brief flirtation with vegetarianism. I never got the full story, but something she'd encountered during a science lesson had made her reconsider her love of beef.

Although I am not a vegetarian, I have vegetarian leanings, and so, I agreed to indulge this, provided she broadened her diet to include more — read, any — beans and nuts, to compensate for the loss of animal proteins.

After about two weeks, during which she had consumed one almond and looked in askance at a pinto bean, I had had enough. So over a steak dinner during which she ate potatoes and pushed vegetables around her plate, I raised the steaks stakes, issuing a fatwa declaring that she could continue on this path as long as she liked, but until she began to consume more protein, there would be no more sweets. "Please pass the steak," she replied, and proceeded to eat the rest of us under the table.

I had to employ a similar strategy when Sarah asked if we could have chicken for dinner tonight. No, we could not, because we were having bibimbap. Today was a particularly efficient day of housewifery, and the beef had been marinating all afternoon. Sarah's brow creased as she explained that she could not possibly eat this, because the last time I made it, she had noticed some cow parts in the beef, and it had grossed her out.

Rather than note the flaws in her logic — that beef is cow parts, or she had prefaced this by asking for chicken — I stated that if it was too troubling to her, she could eat rice for dinner, and skip dessert. 

Problem solved.

07 December 2009

Dispatches from the potty front

Since my ignominious defeat last summer, several people have asked me if I've had any luck toilet training Sacha. My standard response is, "Hell no, I would have blogged the hell out of that."

In the past few weeks, however, we have made significant progress. I'd like to say that after much reading of parenting manuals and soul searching, we managed to find the key that unlocked the mystery of Sacha, but the truth is, we owe it all to television.

Because there are a few things — eating and shitting being chief among them — that you cannot force another person to do, we have been largely resigned to waiting this out.

My mother, however, in keeping with grandmaternal tradition, is not above bribery. When I had the flu, I heard her ask Sacha what he wanted in exchange for delivering the goods. "Nothing," he replied. When she probed further, promising to get him whatever he desired, he answered, "T.V."

And thus, a plan was hatched. For every pee, he would get to watch five minutes of television.

And after months of failed attempts at behavior modification with stickers, tickets and candy, it worked. In two weeks time, we broke out the underwear.

Would that he would not shit in them, it would have been great.

But we measure progress by each individual's yardstick, and this was undoubtedly a huge leap forward. As Sacha still had no compunction about shitting himself, I was loathe to keep him in a pull-up any longer for fear of encouraging backsliding. As is so often the case with Sacha, he had us between a rock and a hard place.

And so we did the only thing possible, and procured many, many, many more pairs of underwear.

(I try to refrain from dwelling on the utter strangeness of cartoon character embellished foundation garments. It's just plain weird to see the image of Patrick Starr on your child's bum, like a bulls eye, or in our case, an invitation. Because we have been worn down to nubs by now, every morning after Sacha makes his sartorial decision about whether he will swathe his ass in Diego or one of the Wonder Pets, or the Hulk, David and I look at one another conspiratorially and offer this prayer, "Please don't shit on Ming Ming.)

I'll spare you the details, but suffice it say that yesterday morning, as we Jews say with Hanukkah approaching, "Nes gadol hayah sham." A great miracle happened here.

We clapped. We cheered. We called the grandparents. We ate ice cream for breakfast.

But lest we get too cocky, Gabriel offered this sage advice. "You know, Mom, Sacha's probably not done pooping in his underwear."

"I know."

Gabriel continued, "I would say, he'll probably do it three or four more times, and after that, maybe he'll be done."

And true to form, today, Sacha shit himself twice.

Two steps forward, one step back. Or more accurately in this case, one shit forward, two shits back.

02 December 2009

slinging hash: poached pears

For Thanksgiving dessert, I usually serve pumpkin pie and pears baked in red wine. Pie, because I like it, and pears, because the majority of my family DOES NOT LIKE PIE. While I try to steer clear of anything smacking of jingoistic, I believe this to be un-American, but I am willing to overlook it, because I love them.

This year, although my Thanksgiving preparations proceeded with unprecedented smoothness, not having a double oven, I was crunched for oven space, and wanted to go to sleep. This made baking the  pears problematic, so I decided to poach them.

It's extremely simple to poach fruit, and pears are especially delicious prepared this way; these are the two criteria I look for in most things I cook. I like Bosc pears best for this, because they're firm fleshed, and hold their shape well. You prepare a flavorful liquid, add some spices, bring it to a boil, immerse cut fruit, and simmer for a spell.

Poached pears have the added advantage of being able to sit on the stove top overnight with no ill effect, a distinct advantage if like me, you were tight on refrigerator space on Thanksgiving eve. 

In a last minute fit of derring-do, because I'd also made these for the kids, I decided to serve the pears as an appetizer, with blue cheese, which is something David and I used to eat at La Bouillabaisse, on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. As we reminisced about these pears, David reminded me of the last time we ate there, shortly before we moved to New Jersey, when, eight months pregnant with Sarah, I freaked the wait staff out by having a glass of wine with dinner. That was fun.

Oh, my, these are good.

Poached pears
Adapted from The Cook's Bible

4 cups water
2 cups white wine
1 cup sugar
2 bay leaves
1 strip orange rind
1 piece of vanilla bean
a few sprigs of rosemary
handful of crushed black peppercorns

3 pounds of Bosc pears
Blue cheese (I like gorgonzola dolce) 

Combine the ingredients for the poaching liquid in a saucepan large enough to hold the fruit. Bring to a boil, and turn heat down to a simmer.

Peel, halve and core the pears, add to the poaching liquid. Simmer for about 25 minutes, until pears are tender.

Prior to serving, remove pears from liquid and reduce over medium-high heat by about half. Serve with a bit of syrup, and a wedge of blue cheese