A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Friday, December 21, 2007


I decided that I was going to do some candy making and baking for this holiday season. I am going over to Joëlle's on Monday to do a gift exchange, and since they will be hosting and making food, I wanted to contribute. One of our party has a gluten allergy, however, so I had to do a little research and find some good holiday recipes that would not aggravate this condition. This meant also shopping for specific items, including special flours not made from wheat. I even bought gluten-free vanilla. Myself and the woman at the store were at a loss to figure out what puts gluten into regular vanilla, but if they have a bottle that says "gluten-free," may as well get it.

I must say, this woman at the store was very helpful overall. I was at a large supermarket, in the health food section, and she ran to the baking section to find the vanilla. She also answered my dumb questions about the recipes and how they indicated tablespoons and teaspoons. I understand "tb" and "ts," but they were not uniform throughout. One recipe even had "tb," "ts," and then plain ol' "t." That was when I learned capital letters are for table and lower-case tea. Huh.

Here was my ingredients haul:

Cough drops, gum, and whiskey not called for.

Note the recipes taped to the cabinet. Easy access, no flipping through books or seeking out the paper.

My first assignment was what will hopefully be the toughest: divinity.

Like most divine things, divinity is a persnickety creature. It reguires close monitoring of the mixture, and it also requires a non-humid day. I was warned that rainy days would not be suitable for making this candy, as the pieces won't properly set. This meant I had to check the weather forecast for Portland--nicknamed "Puddletown," remember--to choose my ideal day for the project. That would be today, the only day expected to be free of rain. To help matters, I turned on the heater in my living room for the first time this winter and the one in my kitchen for the first time since I moved here in 2002.

First task: chop a cup of walnuts. For this, I actually had a machine. Go figure.

Second task: separate the egg whites. Believe it or not, junior high home-economics class comes in handy quite often. I actually knew how to do this, bouncing the yoke back and forth between the two halves of the egg shell while the white drips out.

Next I dump the sugar, water, and corn syrup into the a pot and boil. The recipe called for white corn syrup which I did not find, so organic syrup would have to do (it was next to the gluten-free stuff). Does anyone know, does the white syrup help with coloring? You'll see why I ask later.

Check it as it boils. It's like Cream O' Wheat on acid.

You have to either monitor this goop with a thermometer or perform tests on it once the sugar dissolves. The test is dropping a bit of it into cold water and seeing if it hardens into a ball. I don't know if they mean like a perfect little ball, like a marble, I went with a state that was something close to it. Could have been mistake #1, I don't know.

Then you pour the goop into the egg whites, stirring all the while, and add vanilla.

Beating the mixture is important at this stage. My stepmom told me that beating it by hand would be hard. (Stop snickering!) I do not have an electric mixter, however, so I had to show what a macho dude I am and put my muscle into it. I ended up sitting on the floor and using two spoons at once. This after trying to stir simultaneously with one spoon in each hand. Try it. It's impossible!

Note that the cat stayed the hell away from me this whole time. Too bad. I'd have loved to see her try to steal some divinity goo and then run around like a freak when she couldn't get it off her paw.

In the middle of this all-important mixing process, the phone rings. It's the special alarm-style ring I have for the front door. It's the UPS man, and he has two packages for me. I can't stop beating, however, so I run out there with my bowl and spoons. He laughed, and was cool about it. He didn't call me a "homo" or punch me or nothin'. In fact, he didn't even make me sign for the packages so that I wouldn't have to mess around with the little pen and the LCD screen. Good on UPS!

The envelope is full of books from Tokyopop, the long box turned out to be a poster for Invincible, which I guess I got because I am on the Image comp list. I am trying to get my friend Mason to take it, because he really likes Invincible and for some reason I'd like to be the catalyst for him never getting laid again. I don't want to destroy anyone's self-confidence, but I'm pretty sure the ladies don't think highly of the superhero posters. Granted, my Audrey Hepburn posters inspire UPS drivers to punch me and call me "homo," so who am I to dole out advice?

Last step is to add the walnuts. You do this once the goop forms "peaks" when it drips off the spoon. Again, I don't know how literal that is supposed to be, so I did my best to guess.

The recipe then indicates that you have to dollop the goo with a teaspoon very fast. Once you start stirring, this is when everything hardens, so you have to hustle.

If I ever do this again, I am going to have to work on my dollop technique, because I wasn't getting the divinity off the spoon very well. I was also disheartened to see that the candy was flattening out like a cookie and not sticking in a craggy clump like the divinity I've always had.

It's also not very white. More off-white. This is why I wondered about the corn syrup.

The early samples of the little stray pieces that glooped to the side suggest that even if they aren't pretty, they actually taste all right. The texture is maybe a little more fudge-like than it is supposed to be, but that could pass as the candy dehydrates. They turned out very, very sweet.

I have learned that I am no good at eyeballing how much a cup of walnuts are, and I think I bought about three. I have a caramel recipe that I may try that calls for walnuts, I just need to get some raw honey. I will definitely be making ginger snaps, though, but I'm doing that Sunday night.

So, yes, still plenty of time for embarrassing stories of me cooking. Today went too easy. There is going to be a price to pay here somewhere.

Current Soundtrack: iPod shuffle, and to be honest, I haven't been keeping track

Current Mood: hungry - i cooked but did not make lunch!


Maryanne said...

You're a brave man, from everything I've ever heard, divinity is one of the toughest candies to make. Which is a shame seeing as it's so so yummy!

Denny said...

It would take Paula Dean in my kitchen for me to even attempt making divinity. I'm sure they'll taste amazing!

Check out the box of unsweetened baker's chocolate for a great recipe on chocolate drop cookies - not sure about the allergy issues, but they are AMAZING!