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Archive for December, 2008

I have been reflecting the past few weeks and I realize that I do have a good life. It’s not glamorous, flashy, or even a little bit famous but I am proud of what I have accomplished and who I am.

I had a patient yesterday who has reminded me of why I got into nursing in the first place. It’s not the med pass, starting the IV, or having an accurate account of I/O’s that make the difference. Being present for others when they need something, listening even when they aren’t speaking those are what matter even in life outside the hospital. It’s so easy to get caught up in passing your meds on time, thorough assessments, phone calls to the pharmacy for clarification, getting the kids to all their activities on time, cleaning the house, running the errands that we forget to stop and just listen, listen to what isn’t being said. Being present, in that moment, to help someone else along their journey makes a difference in the world.

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Happy Holidays everyone!

I dread Christmas season for several reasons. The outside pressure of “What are you doing?” with the shocked horror on people’s faces that I am scheduled to go into work for a few hours. It’s not as if there is some magic wand somewhere that holds the power for people to not get sick and not need hospitals on holidays. It’s not like I went into nursing thinking that I’d get every holiday off. I actually had someone who didn’t realize we do more than just oncology on our floor ask why the oncologists didn’t schedule things differently. Really giving people chemo therapy so their immune system is wiped out and then end up very sick over Christmas break?

The long lists of what people are getting their kids for Christmas when they spent more on one present than we are spending on all three of our kids put together is always a bit rattling too. I don’t want a big Christmas with tons of toys and presents and everything under the sun, but somehow the questioning manages to get under my skin somehow.

The inner pressure of The Great Big Giant List of Things That Must Be Done is harder to deal with than any of the others. I start making lists of candies and cookies in September because baking does get me in a chipper mood no matter the reason, and how better to stay awake in a boring class than trying to figure out how goody plates can be arranged with truffles and which colors should go on the outside of which balls of ganache. Then things must be cleaned, decorated, shiny, and perfect.

Perfect.

Is anything in my life perfect? No, it’s not and it never has been. Honestly I don’t think I’d want it either. It might be nice to try for a while but I quite like things the way they are. It’s my own kind of perfect.

This feeling of dread builds at the end of the year with the worst hitting from Black Friday (another thing I choose to not participate in, I don’t care how cheap I can get that do-dad that I really don’t need or want I’m not getting up at 3 am to stand in line for it) until Christmas Eve. This year, tonight, on Christmas Eve eve I had an epiphany. I may dread Christmas season, but I absolutely love Christmas. I never finish everything on my list of things to do, the perfectly mapped out goody plates always have something missing (this year it’s the eggnog truffles, sorry guys), and no one will likely ever buy me a new car or that class I’d like to take from BetterPhoto. Come Christmas Eve none of that matters; Christmas magic takes over at that point and everything is wonderful.

From sitting around watching the kids share their toys and play their new games to looking for your name on Grandma’s Christmas tree it’s a few days of my kind of perfect. I haven’t not worked a Christmas day or Christmas Eve since I started running EMS, but even being able to give of myself, share my skills with people who really need them, is a piece of my kind of my perfect. I’ve never missed the kids opening a present, or had to be gone all day. Christmas magic floats into my day at work too. Things always go a little extra smooth, people are a little more grateful, and we always have lots of good food to go around.

I hope everyone has a very Happy Holiday and that you are able to enjoy this special time of year.

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tempering chocolate

My chocolate doesn’t have much of a temper apparently. At least for tonight it’s got more patience than I have. Tomorrow is a new day though. Meantime, here is how not to temper chocolate.

The chocolate I bought for my chocolatiering attempts this year talked about how to melt but not how to temper. It shows beautiful truffles and all kinds of chocolate dipped things on the front. I questioned whether I needed to temper or not. I put a lot of effort and time into these truffles (the ganache is wonderful BTW) and I decided I didn’t want their finishes to be less than I was capable of because I wasn’t willing to try. Better to try and fail than never to have tried at all.

In preparation I watched a couple of videos on tempering chocolate. The one I linked is not the method I used, but it is a much more enjoyable video to watch. I could listen to Jacques talk about chocolate for a long time. Also on the opening bit did you notice all the beautiful confections? Key lime ganache? mmmm.

Knowing how candy making goes I had all of my chocolate cut, bowls clean and very dry, candy thermometer handy. I even had my candy canes chopped for topping my mint truffles. With this much prep exactly what can go wrong?

{feel free to make a long list or laugh at this point}

I separate out my chocolate for seeding and melting. In the bowl goes the melting chocolate and on top of my slowly simmering pot of water. I’m watching my temperatures close because I have mixed chocolate and one of the videos I watched had different temperatures for dark and milk chocolate. Fortunately they overlap so I’m planning on moving it off of the heat at 118°.

In all my planning I didn’t grab a towel so I could pull the bowl off of the make shift double boiler. I’m at 95° and my towel is two steps away. Shouldn’t be a problem should it? Well, something unusual happened and my temperature jumps up to 125°. Yes, far above my goal temperature.

It can’t be that bad can it? Really it probably just means it will take a little longer to cool down to 80°. So I dump in my seeding chocolate wondering if I left too much out. One of the videos mentioned if you get to 80° and you still have chunks of seeding chocolate that haven’t melted to pull them out and save them to use next time. What if I have too much seeding chocolate?

Having too much seeding chocolate was not a problem. My seeding chocolate was melted and my temperature was at 122°. Hmmm, I start to think this might be a problem so I pick up the bowl and carry it over to the counter where it’s cooler than by the stove thinking the cooler side of the room should help. 30 minutes later, I’m still working the chocolate and the chocolate is still over 100°. How is that possible? The Epicurious video was only 04:23 and he even discussing storing chocolate. I know the magic of editing but this is ridiculous.

I put down the spoon and grab a glass baking dish and put some cool water in it. {yes, go ahead laugh} and put my bowl inside of it careful to not get any water in my chocolate because I know I don’t want it to seize. I’ve had chocolate seize before and it’s not recoverable. I’m working the chocolate, from the edges in because I know it’s going to be cooling there the most and it starts to get a little thicker. Oooo, yeah! Temperature finally gets down to 80° and I move it back over to my double boiler set up. Yes, I know Jacques says to use the hairdryer instead but I’m not listening.

The cold from the bowl continues to work and in 2 seconds I have chocolate that is setting up. Not thickening up but setting up. Again, this can’t be good. I don’t have the double boiler heating because I know I want it to warm up gently, almost as if by a hairdryer.

88°, I can do that right?

Or not.

The chocolate around the outside is a lovely 88° and the center is still setting up. So I stir faster hoping it all evens out and I still have tempered chocolate (I rarely give up on things working out for me, I like to push through until the very end) By now my bowl is hot enough it keeps heating up the chocolate well over the 88° and into untempered territory.

At least I can try again, as I said the chocolate is very forgiving and up for trying again tomorrow! Now if I can figure out how to deal with my bowl heating up my chocolate. I wonder if I can pour my melted chocolate over top of my seeding chocolate in a not warmed up bowl? I guess it’s worth a shot. It’s not worst than anything else I did to the chocolate tonight.

I will post truffle pictures if I ever manage to get them dipped before I eat all of the ganache balls.

Peppermint truffles

Update:

I decided to try one truffle in the chocolate and see how it set up. Good news is they set up beautiful so either I did manage to temper my chocolate (doubt it) or the chocolate I picked up doesn’t need to be tempered (most likely in my opinion) either way I’m happy. Bad news is, I didn’t pick up enough chocolate so they are only partially dipped tonight.

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Growing up I always wanted to make candy. After all, there were only 3-4 ingredients so that means it must be easy. Right?

Well, I wasn’t too far off. I don’t think making candy is hard it requires some precision, pre-reading, prep work, patience and carefully measuring things. None of this is how my Mom cooks or taught me to cook (which I am grateful for, I love being able to add enough flour to get a sticky dough and I bake things until done. Who needs things like a timer?)

Once I moved away from home I decided to venture into the land of candy making. I started with those hard to mess up zap the bottle of chocolate coins in the microwave and squirt it into the molds and let it sit type of candy making. Now every Christmas I look for new recipes, new techniques and I always make a few old favorites like Anna’s Almond Rocca. I’ve lost the source but I believe it came from a foodie message board from when I was dealing with The Scientist’s food restrictions. If I can find which one definitely I’ll let you know.

Like any recipe before you begin you need to make sure you have all of the equipment and ingredients. Anna’s Almond Rocca list looks like this (if there is an equipment must have I always put it with my ingredients when I write down recipes. Nutritional software doesn’t like it but I do)

Ingredients

2 Cups Sugar
1 Pound Butter
1 Cup Water
1/2 tsp. Salt
3 Cups slivered Almonds
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 pound bar of milk chocolate
Candy thermometer
Big soup pot
Wax paper
Candy spoon (this is a wooden spoon with one hole in the middle, I’ve found it’s perfect for nearly every kind of candy I’ve made)

Then I read, and reread the instructions, especially if it’s a hand me down recipe you never know when they are going to throw an extra ingredient in there that you don’t have available then gather everything I’m going to need it cups and have it so I can reach without walking. It almost makes me feel like I am on a cooking show, minus the live audience and someone else to do the dishes.

Anna’s Almond Rocca instructions are italicized

Reserve 1 cup of the almonds and set aside. Mix sugar, butter, water, and salt in large, heavy saucepan and heat to boiling over medium to medium high heat. Make sure there’s room in the saucepan for the mixture to foam up and boil.

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Foam up indeed. Very quickly. The first time I made this I was cleaning up sugary pre-almond rocca mess from cracks and crevices in my stove for a very long time.

Heat mixture over medium to medium high until it foams and reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. When temp reaches 240, stir in 2 cups of almonds.

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It smells wonderful here, although it’s always a little sad to see the temperature drop again. It rises so slowly as it is. (did I mention patience is needed?)

Stir mixture constantly and watch temp carefully until temp reaches 290.

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I have “constantly” underlined and highlighted on my recipe card. That must mean that I’ve made a mistake or realized it was really important. It should clue me that I shouldn’t be putting down the spoon to take pictures because I am home alone or answering the phone when Paul calls from the UPS store.

Remove from heat, stir in soda and QUICKLY pour onto a cookie sheet covered with buttered or greased wax paper. Mixture should start to harden immediately. As mixture hardens, sprinkle chocolate chunks over hardening mixture and spread the chocolate chunks around until they melt. Sprinkle melted chocolate with reserved almonds. Let sit until toffee hardens and chocolate sets.

Being home alone and nearly burning the almonds as it was I was not going to tempt fate and try messing with things during the quickly part of the process.

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Candy making is so much easier while the kids are at school, and nearly impossible if you have a baby in the house but not an extra set of hands. The old saying a watched pot never boils easily applies to watching a candy thermometer raise to a specific temperature. They don’t raise steady, they take large jumps at a time so leaving a pot even if it doesn’t need to be stirred constantly is not suggested.

Happy Holidays everyone!

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I don’t believe that people always get to pick the animals in their life. In our experience they’ve usually chosen us.

Meet Kitty, the as of yet unnamed because we are still looking to see if someone out there is missing him, cat who adopted us

We've been adopted

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I’ve been going through some old pictures and came across this one.  It’s of Rusty shortly after we rescued him from the shelter.  He was an absolutely amazing dog that I can’t imagine not missing.  If we had more time, and didn’t already have a zoo I might be keeping my eye open for another.

Rusty

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