Sesame brittle

A while back one of Sparks’ friends, who was in the area on business, spent the weekend with us. It was a total guy’s-fest, and I was left to cook and clean in the house with the kid, which I guess is what you do sometimes when you manage a household and love your spouse and want him to have a social life. But at the end of the weekend I got hugs and thanks and, as a token gift, some of his birthday chocolate. It happened to be a Trader Joe’s milk chocolate bar with toasted sesame crunch in it.

Yowza. Sweets with nuts and seeds get me at a primal level. Add it to chocolate? And toast it? Ay carumba.

So I have had sesame brittle on the brain, and a few days ago I did something about it.

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My fingertips have been crazy dry. They are even cracking. If you have advice about what to do, please share.

Recipes for sesame brittle are numerous on the internet. They all agree that you need

1. Sesame seeds
2. Sugar
3. Honey
4. Water

After that, they branch out. Many call for butter to enrich the brittle, for baking soda to lighten it, for salt to give it sparkle, or for vanilla and nutmeg just because.

I am a purist–and I have vague memories of regretting butter in brittle in the past–so I decided to go simple. The only extra I added was salt, because I value salt in my sweets. I used approximately:

1.5 cups sesame seeds
1.25 cup white sugar
1 cup water
.33 cup raw honey

This was too much water, I think. When you cook sugar the beginning part is about cooking the water away, so really you only need to add enough water to dissolve the sugar in the first place. I think half a cup would do fine for these proportions–and save me about fifteen minutes standing by the stove.

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I toasted the sesame seeds in a dry skillet first. I’m pretty sure this was unnecessary, because they toast in the hot sugar while you’re waiting for Hard Crack. In any case, my brittle is super-toasty.

So: put it all in a pan over medium heat (if you’re adding any of the extras, besides salt, wait to put those in at the end). If you have a candy thermometer, clip it to the side. Cook until the thermometer is between 275F and 300F, or the mixture is rapidly darkening past “caramel” and into “amber”. Then pour it onto a silicone baking mat and let cool.

I’m so proud of myself when I manage to make candy and it turns out the way I intended. It doesn’t happen all the time, you know?

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Internet recipes say that when the mixture is cool, you should cut it with a knife. It is to laugh. I had to go at this with my meat tenderizing hammer. It helped to turn the sheet of candy upside down, so its perfectly flat side wasn’t against the perfectly flat tray while I did it. Helped with breakage and stuff.

Conclusion: it’s good. Burnt and sugary and reeking of toasted sesame. I don’t think I need any of the extras here–though a richer brittle is nice for richer seeds, like peanuts.

As Mimi would say, this recipe gets all ten fingers up.

Six

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Pookie turned six last week (and I am thirty-six, which means the kids graduating from high school this spring were BORN the spring I graduated from high school, and oy vey). She had her first real birthday party since birthday #1, with friends and a pinata and tie-dye colored birthday cake.

Not sure how to process the whole “six years old” thing. I mean, that’s where early childhood is really left behind, isn’t it? Though in a way our move out west was the watershed. Back there, we had diapers and sleepless nights and milestones and endless, undifferentiated days with each other. Out here she’s gone to preschool and now kindergarten, learned to get herself a bowl of cereal or a cup of water, learned to operate the TV (so important!), to count and write and even read a little. In a real way, the early childhood years ended almost two years ago.

But I digress. At six years old Pookie can put together a large, complicated Lego set all by herself. She can count by ones, fives, and tens. She can write me notes in wonderfully phonetic spelling, and read signs with uncanny accuracy. She sings and draws and dances, does “parkour” and sleeps with a growing collection of stuffed animals that include a narwhal, an orca, a cheetah, a cat, two frogs and the rooster Heihei from Moana. She is, as ever, smarter than me and wiser than me. This child is an old soul…which I knew right from the start. She is astonishing.

Love you to the moon and back, Pookie. I’m so looking forward to where childhood takes us.

Soggariffic

November and December were unusually dry and unusually cold. Two days ago that spell snapped. It’s warmer now, and has been dumping rain. This is what it was like all winter, last winter. At this time of year I spend a lot of time thinking about Seamus Heaney’s bog poems, and especially Bogland, and especially the final line: the wet centre is bottomless. I understand what he means.

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Scandinavian refugee grocery

Mimi has three Mondays off school in the month of January, and today was of course one of them. Long weekends mean 50% more entertaining-of-the-child, so today we made the best of it and visited Poulsbo, an ex-Norwegian enclave on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Poulsbo’s Norwegian roots are legit. The town was Norwegian-speaking until WWII and still today has a notable number of surnames ending with -sson as well as the tallest people I’ve ever encountered, anywhere.

No surprise that there is a grocery to cater to them. This place is amazing. I am used to seeing down-to-business Asian markets; every town of any size has them. To see the same sort of thing filled with Scandinavian/Nordic fare, though? Bizarre. Start by imagining Dollar General. Now imagine it’s 1959 in a remote Norwegian fishing village. There you go. I say this with the utmost affection, by the way. I am 4.3% Scandinavian by heritage.

It’s good for a thorough poke-around every couple months, and we have developed a taste for gjetost. But I digress.

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The produce section. Apples, carrots, beets, celery root, and rutabaga.

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The bottled fish aisle. Want lutefisk? They’ve got it. The pub around the corner sells lutefisk tacos.

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The cheese aisle. I thought I was getting the tinned butter in here, but apparently not. Today they were out of Natural Viking cheese, which is my favorite. I know I like MY Vikings natural, don’t you?

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The licorice aisle.

I understand that much of northern Europe loves this stuff.

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The pickle aisle. Because they can pickle that.

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I can’t exploit a store this way without buying something (especially not when a clerk catches me mid-snapshot and pointedly asks if I’m finding everything), so I bought some licorice. I’m 25% Dutch so I figured it should be at least 25% enjoyable.

It was not as bad as the black “licorice” jellybeans of my childhood.

A letter to myself about Christmas

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Dear Kat,

You are writing this on January 10 for you to read sometime around Thanksgiving of next year. Right now you are utterly and completely overwhelmed. You were manic in the month of December. You had a breakdown on Christmas day. Since the holidays ended you have been digging as hard as you can to get yourself out from under the mountain of to-dos, many of which were neglected in favor of the holiday fervor. Suffice it to say, when put this way, this Christmas past doesn’t sound like a success.

So here are your current thoughts about it:

1. You are a Christmas freak in a family of non-Christmas-freaks. Your daughter will be a completely different person next year of course, but this year, she wasn’t into it. She doesn’t want to do things too early, so cool your jets until she’s actually on Christmas break. She doesn’t want too much stuff. She doesn’t want too many sweets. She does–brace yourself–want lots of attention and lots of experiences, so give her that. Gift giving? Try for her stocking plus three wrapped presents. You don’t even have to buy her something big; you know others will likely step up to that job, and even if they don’t, she doesn’t care.

2. Remember all those dreadful lectures about expectations and taking things as they are? Those are for you, dummy. Your kid has never in her life awoken early on Christmas morning or been eager to start opening presents. Don’t expect her to do that. Don’t expect her to be excited about sitting at the table for Christmas dinner either…and that goes for your husband, too. Don’t work hard cooking anything fancy. Just think of simple, tasty, treaty-feeling stuff that will keep everybody fed and relaxed. And those expectations? Evaluate whether asking for them as gifts would intrude on your family’s autonomy and individual enjoyment. What I mean is, when Sparks asks what you want for Christmas, consider saying “I want us to stay up late watching Rare Exports on Christmas Eve,” so he knows that you’re anticipating that, and is ready to stay up late.

3. Don’t try to schedule Christmasy activities with the kid (except The Nutcracker, because this year she was crazy about The Nutcracker). Don’t fuss about decorating cookies or a gingerbread house unless she indicates that she is ready to do it NOW. If you want to do a project like that, start doing it, and let her join if she chooses. Don’t let her boss you around and don’t you try to boss her around. You tossed a perfectly good gingerbread house kit this year because it got caught up in your power dynamics. Let. It. Go.

4. I know it sounds awful, but try to keep up with housework. Try to keep the house as tidy as possible, because Christmas goes off like a bomb. The New Year is a great time for major organizing and housecleaning, but girl, you only have so many hours in the day, and housecleaning isn’t the ONLY thing on your plate.

5. Are you still writing? Because right now you couldn’t care less about writing. Has that book sold? Because if it hasn’t, maybe you need to reevaluate the whole thing.

Love, Kat

Nine years of Pudding

Just a note from the seemingly endless morass that is winter break:

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It is our ninth Puddingversary. Nine years ago today I brought her home from the humane society. She was about three then so she’s about twelve now. She’s skinny and sleeps a lot, but since the great cross-country drive a year and a half ago, she has seemed like a more trusting kitty. Like that whole ordeal finally got it into her head that we’re keeping her. So in addition to the lap-sitting and toy-chasing and nap-taking, she now allows belly-scratching and picking-upping, which were strictly verboten in the early years.

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Luvya, Pusskins. Hope there are many more years ahead.

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