i never did attempt apple butter again

I never did attempt apple butter again this fall, even though I went to a farm and picked half a bushel of apples specifically for the purpose of trying to make apple butter and instead Other Half and I just ate the whole half bushel without cooking any of them. Oh, except that I tried to make apple brown betty, which involves apples, brown sugar (for reals, for once), diced up wheat bread and an entire cow’s worth of butter, and I think it was generally successful except that Other Half took a bite and said, I dunno, it just tastes like apples on buttered wheat bread to me. So if that’s what we’re going for with apple brown betty, then YAY FOR ME, America, I’m the next Top Chef. (If that’s not what we were going for…somebody let me know.)

The other tragedy, following the failure to make apple butter, is that I correspondingly failed to make apple leather from the apple butter. Apple leather seems to be a thin, flat, dried version of apple butter, which I think is supposed to be like homemade fruit roll-ups. I don’t have any idea why you would want to make your own fruit roll-ups, unless maybe you’re a hipster mom who wants her kids to Have My Childhood! Except Without Chemicals (and to be fair, if I had kids, I might be one of those too).

But now we’re out of apple season and into cold weather, I feel justified into moving in the Candy section of my home and hearth cookbook. I bought a candy thermometer yesterday, and now I’m going to attempt marshmallows. I actually have a meat thermometer, and I considered just using that – what’s the difference? It reads heat, right? – but my meat thermometer groups temperatures in ranges by animal: “beef & lamb” “poultry”, etc., and it will creep me out to think about cooking up pork marshmallows. It’s bad enough I have to use gelatin (hint: don’t google “what’s in gelatin”).

More later.

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^&%%$$!@.!! &&**! also, &*(&(*^^??>:!

Yeah. It’s later.

Holy &*(%. Apologies to candy makers everywhere, but you are crazy people. Making marshmallows = TOTAL %^$@! MAYHEM.

I’m instructed to cook up a syrup while the gelatin softens up in another bowl, then to very carefully pour in the sugar syrup and mix until the substance is “very white, stiff, and sticky”. Spread into pan, cool, cut into squares. Coat in confectioners sugar or cocoa. Easy enough, right? I decide to do both, so I prepare two pans, one with cocoa and one with confectioners sugar. I will have a sampler set! It’s going to be beautiful.

And the cooking part seemed to go so well, too. I clipped on the candy thermometer, the corn syrup/sugar stuff boiled merrily away, it reached 240 degrees and I “very carefully” poured the syrup into the gelatin mixture.

And it went all to hell.

It started boiling up and I had this sudden terror that I’d made an enormous mistake using a glass mixing bowl – what if it shattered? Didn’t that happen sometimes with glass bowls? But it didn’t seem to be cracking so I started with the mixing. Almost immediately I realize I have a problem: the syrup has coated the sides of the bowl with a thin layer of boiled sugar, which has instantly hardened into shellac. I know, because I start trying to scrape it down with a (“lightly oiled”) spatula, and it is not happening. Apparently I will have a shellacked glass bowl for life. But I am gamely mixing the rest of the sugar mix, which is rapidly – maybe too rapidly – thickening and climbing the beaters. I am trying to scrape it down and keep mixing so it doesn’t harden up but the froth is beginning to immobilize the beaters, so much so that I have to keep lifting it and scraping down so they can move again and then marshmallow bits start flying around the kitchen. And it’s sticking to every surface like glue – I can’t get it off one surface because it sticks to the spatula and I can’t get it off the spatula because it sticks to the spoon and I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH HANDS FOR THIS!! Must keep mixing!! And right in the middle of this one of the beaters has a complete nervous breakdown and literally hurls itself out of the mixer across my countertops (smearing a path of marshmallow goo in its wake). I start trying to jam it back in and I can practically hear it screaming, “Don’t send me back in! Don’t send me back in there, Warden, I’ll be good!” Well, I can’t mix with one beater so I have to get brutal with it (“what we have heah, is a failure ta communicate”, I hiss at it), but this requires grasping the whole beater and forcing it back into the mixer. Now I have marshmallow coating my entire right hand, which means I can’t scrape at all (unlooked-for side effect: I have a newfound appreciation for the complexities of Spiderman’s daily life). The beater makes another suicidal jump and I decide I have to move to the next step of spreading into the 8×8 pan to cool – it’s not white yet but it is stiff and goddamn is it sticky, so in it goes. Or as much as I can, because now it’s sticking to the bowl and I can’t get it out into the pan because it sticks to the spatula and I can’t get it off the spatula with anything – my right hand might be permanently glued to the glass bowl, I’m not sure – I get a second (“lightly oiled”) spatula to help and it’s immediately and helplessly trapped in the Marshmallow Pit of Despair as well. (Wasn’t that the final obstacle of the original Candyland? It should have been, if not.) There are webs of marshmallow from countertop to cabinet to bowl to spatula to hands and I can’t get ANY OF IT in the **((!@ PAN. Why am I compelled to do things like this?! Like they don’t sell marshmallows at the grocery store? Am I really going to improve upon the process?

In the end, about half a cup of marshmallow goo is forced into each pan, which means I am probably going to end up with 3-4 total marshmallows. (That’s if they actually harden up into a block I can cut apart, and I admit I am eyeing it doubtfully, as it seems to just be lounging about like the ectoplasm in Ghostbusters II).

Another experiment, another catastrophic failure. Sigh.

In happier news, though, I am currently percolating Toasted Walnut Brandy in my pantry, which involves toasting walnuts and then letting them sit in brandy for 4 weeks. It’s true I burned the walnuts…but I’m sure it’s all going to work out in the end.

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travel day: naked in stockholm

 As we undress in the locker room in the Stockholm spa, my sister and I have to have that conversation that you always have when getting a massage at a new spa, though usually only with yourself, titled: am I supposed to take off my underwear, or not? On the one hand, you don’t want to be told halfway through that your bra is in the way and you were supposed to take it off. On the other, you definitely don’t want to be the OMG! creepy person who took off her underwear totally unnecessarily! So unless you’ve asked ahead of time, and we haven’t, you have to make your own call.

Amanda and I each make our own decision and head to the massage rooms in our fluffy white bathrobes. We are all smiley as we enter what we assume is the lounge area, and then stop short. So many things are wrong here. So many.

Our massage tables are in the same room. They are right out in the open. Our masseuses are men. And worst of all, absolute worst of all, the masseurs wave hello, point to our robes, and order, “Ok, off.”

Listen. In the U.S., we have a naked thing. We just do. I know this seems completely silly, but Naked in Front of Strangers, or Maybe Even People We Know, is a truly horrifying proposition for most of us. Everyone knows about that girl who walks around totally naked in the locker room at the gym, and we think she is weird. (If you are that girl, please take a note: everyone would like you to put on a towel, especially if you are hot, because now you make us uncomfortable plus we hate you.) There is a Korean spa in the DC suburbs that my friends are all dying to visit, but won’t, because in one small part of the spa you have to walk around naked.  Of all the women I know in DC, I cannot get a single one to go because of the naked thing. “Can’t I wear a bathing suit?” every single one asks me. “No? Well, I’m not going.”

When you get a massage, many spas seem to go insanely out of their way not to see you naked. The tables are in their own individual rooms. You walk in wearing your bathrobe. The masseuse (which has always been a woman, in my personal experience, but I suppose it’s possible that is not always the case) tells you she will leave the room and you will hang up your bathrobe and slip under the sheets on the massage table, and then call her when it’s safe to come back in. That’s right: she waits until you have uncovered and then recovered yourself completely before she will enter the room. Then she will uncover, and then recover, each body part, separately, as she conducts the massage, so you don’t even have, say, one naked arm AND one naked leg exposed at the same time. That’s how anti-naked we are.

“Off, off!” the Swedish masseurs shout. We just stare at them. The masseurs, now assuming from our complete failure to respond means we don’t speak English either, both move forward and start untying our robes themselves.

Faced with imminent unwilling disrobal, Amanda makes a bold decision. She will go Nonchalant. Flinging off her robe herself, she strolls the table and climbs on without hurry. “We are in Europe, dammit”, she sends to me telepathically. “Act like we do this all the time.”

Unfortunately, my sensors are blocked and I stay with Frozen in Panic, which means my masseur has to literally rip the robe off of my catatonic body, nearly wrenching my right arm out of its socket because I can’t remember how to bend it. When finally successful, he cavalierly flings the robe across the room. “On!” he says, pointing to the table. This time I follow directions, if only to cover up one side of myself.  It seems to take 10 minutes, though surely it was only as many seconds, to be covered in a sheet.

By then, however, Amanda and I have both began giggling hysterically into our pillows.

“Quiet, please,” Amanda’s masseur tells her sternly. She tries. So do I. But being hushed just made it worse, and the more we try to muffle it the worse it gets, until we are both literally shaking the tables.

“We want to be calm, yes?” My masseur asks me.

“Yes,” I gasp out. Must. Stop. Giggling. Must stop!

It’s a solid ten minutes before we get ourselves under control, and even when we leave we can tell by the icy silence that the masseurs are not pleased with our bad behavior.

Not European. Not Nonchalant.

Some people really should have a naked thing.

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