Apologies and Some Holiday Baking

So, sometimes I decide to teach full-time, apply to PhD programs, and train for a marathon, all at the same time. And, at those times, I forget to be a good blogger. Now, I’ve survived my first marathon, finished applying to graduate programs, and…well, I still teach. But that’s less of an excuse.

As my first foray back into writing, I thought I should reflect on one of the more interesting food-related experiences I had over the holidays. On one of my weekends on duty at the school before our winter break, my teacher friend and I hosted a group of students to bake and decorate sugar cookies. You need to understand a bit more about my student demographic to know how momentous this was. Many, if not most, of my students are Chinese, and baking, indeed, even owning an oven, is not nearly as common in China as it is in the United States. Many had never made cookies before (although I use the term “made cookies” loosely. We used the sugar cookie dough from a tube).

My students are a wonderful and powerful reminder of how our perceptions of food are colored by our cultural background. That weekend, it was not only close to Christmas, it was also one of our bakers’ birthday, so she had requested that we bake “the cake with the fun in it” for her. Funfetti cake, we assumed. After baking the cake and letting it cool on the counter, we gave the girls a simple buttercream frosting and some decorating icing. The girls proceeded to frost the top of the bottom layer and then place the other layer on top.

When they reached for the decorating icing, we asked, “Girls, don’t you want to frost the whole thing…? And then decorate it?”

“No!” they replied, shocked. “Then it would be too sweet,” replied the girls who had just consumed their weight in sugar cookies.

The end result was this:

DSCN0024

A stranger looking cake I’ve never seen. But my students were thrilled with their baking success. My friend and I clearly had a specific set of rules for how cakes should be put together and decorated, developed over years of American, middle-class birthday parties. Our students, clearly, did not. A valuable reminder for me that, despite the fact that this cake looks a little like the head of a Peanuts character, there is no “right” and “wrong” in food.

Happy Holidays!

To celebrate the holidays and thank some of the special people in my life, I made my own candy for the first time. I’m not filing this under “Cooking for the Fearful” because, frankly, I was a little fearful going into this. Making candy has always struck me as too precise and precarious an enterprise for my less-than-exact ways in the kitchen. However, the bark recipe in particular is pretty foolproof, and mouse assembly is a breeze.

Orange Coconut Creams (from Taste of Home)

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 package (2 pounds) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons orange extract
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate
  • 8 ounces German sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
Directions:
  • In a small saucepan, combine milk and butter. Cook and stir over low heat until the butter is melted. Place the confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Add milk mixture; beat until smooth. Add the coconut and orange extract; mix well. Roll into 1-in. balls; place on waxed paper-lined baking sheets. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  • In a microwave, melt the chips, chocolate and shortening; stir until smooth. Dip balls into chocolate; allow excess to drip off. Place on waxed paper; let stand until set. Yield: 9 dozen.

Chocolate Cherry Mice (adapted from FamilyFun Magazine)

Ingredients:

  • 24 maraschino cherries with stems
  • Waxed paper
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 24 milk chocolate Hershey’s Kisses, unwrapped
  • 48 almond slices

Directions:

  • Drain the cherries and pat them dry with paper towels. Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper.
  • Place the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and heat them until smooth, working in 15-second intervals, stirring between each.
  • Holding a cherry by its stem, dip it into the chocolate and swirl it around to completely cover the fruit. Set it on its side on the waxed paper and immediately press a Hershey’s Kiss onto the cherry for the head. For the ears, gently wedge two almond slices between the Kiss and the cherry. Repeat to make 24 mice.

This next one’s a recipe of my own creation…

White Chocolate Bark

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb white chocolate
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried mango
  • ~1/2 tsp ground cardamom

Directions:

  • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Melt the white chocolate, either in the microwave or in a double boiler. Once the chocolate is melted, spread it over the aluminum foil until it’s about 1/4 inch thick.
  • Sprinkle chopped up mango and ground fresh cardamom all over the chocolate.
  • Let the chocolate cool, either at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Once cool, break the chocolate apart into big chunks.