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Friday, July 29, 2011

Vanilla Latte Helps Heat Vamoose

In the Heat Wave of Summer 2011, who needs a hot drink?  Even if you don't start the day with an hour's worth of exercise in 90% humidity, as I do, there is something less appealing about a steaming drink when it's sizzling outdoors.  Since most of us rely on coffee to motivate our mornings, I began to dream of substituting something frosty and cooling.

vainilla café paleta

This frozen treat is the opposite of what is expected, mirroring this time in my life.  What should be searing is shivery.  What should be upright is inverted.  What is considered dessert breaks the fast.  But delights abound when one relaxes into the previously unimagined.  I think this vanilla latte is paleta perfection!

Vanilla Latte Recipe

3 cups (24 oz) brewed strong coffee
1/4 cup milk
1/8 cup cream
1/8 -1/4 cup vanilla syrup to taste (recipe below)
Stir all ingredients together, pour into molds, cool in refrigerator, transfer to freezer and freeze 4-6 hours.  

Vanilla syrup

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2-3 t vanilla extract or paste
Bring first three ingredients to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes or until syrup thickens.  Remove from heat, add vanilla.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Season for Collaboration

My passion for making paletas has mostly been a solo business.  I daydream, shop and concoct on my own.  My walking partner, unable to escape my persistant paletas prattle as we trudge four miles daily, has frozen a few for herself.  But for long hours and days, I collaborate in Cindy's Cozy Kitchen with three people: me, myself and I.

The autonomy is appealing.  No one directs my time or dictates the flavor of the day.  I can do as I please, but a question lingers.  Appreciating that artistry is limitless, I ponder if I can be truly inventive without the input of others?  Then, my teenage godchildren stop by.

One would think a teenage boy would primarily have partaking of paletas in mind.  After tasting three treats, Ben requested we make a batch together.   Confident in his choices, we boldly exchanged ideas as we made preparations.  With laughter and splatters abounding, strawberry peach blackberry paletas debuted that day.  Cindy's Cozy Kitchen was transformed into a sensation of creation!

In this season, there has been need for hours alone, sorting thoughts and soothing my emotions.  I could simply keep to myself out of anger and fear of continued hurt.  But in that choice, I become fixed and frozen, like my favorite treats.  So, I open my heart as I open my kitchen, knowing that there will be messes to clean and boil-overs on the stove top.  Experiencing grace in the presence of others, I realize the sweetest taste sensations come with collaboration.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hibiscus Raspberry Paletas How-To

Recipe adapted from Paletas by Fany Gerson

paletas de jamaica con frambuesa  

My favored herbal drink for many years has been Red Zinger tea.  When I found this recipe using the same base, hibiscus flowers, I knew it was a must try!  This is not a simple paleta, but I believe it is worth the effort.  For your encouragement, I've illustrated the steps taking you from mere dried sticks of flowers to ruby red refreshment.

Agua de jamica is the base using:
1 cup dried hibiscus flowers 
4 cups water
1/3 cup sugar or more to taste

Rinse the flowers in cold water and drain thoroughly.  

Cover flowers in cold water and allow to soak 4 hours or as long as overnight.  

After steeping, bring mixture to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add sugar and simmer only until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  

Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a pitcher, pressing with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible.

Add water to make 4 cups of liquid and refrigerate until completely chilled, or go on to next step if making paletas immediately.  

To complete the paletas you will need:
2 cups agua de jamaica (recipe above)
2/3 cup sugar
4 cups fresh raspberries

Rinse raspberries, add 1/3 cup of sugar and let sit until raspberries release their juices, about half an hour.

Combine the 2 cups of agua de jamaica with the remaining 1/3 cup sugar.  Simmer over medium heat until sugar dissolves.  Cool in refrigerator.  

Divide raspberries evenly in molds.  

Pour agua de jamaica in molds.  Freeze until set 4-6 hours.  

Find a warm patio with a cool breeze and revel in refreshment!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Perfection Not Required Part II

Finding a perfect recipe for a paleta is akin to discovering a mythical creature. One simply does not exist. A paleta recipe cannot be set or adhered to exactly, they are merely suggestions, guidelines. The acidity of the fruit of the day, carefully chosen at the farmers stand or supermarket, requires varying amounts of sugar. So it's guess and add, taste, and add a bit more until the concoction has a balance of sweet and tart.

Paletas made with a single flavor are much too simple for a sophisticated palate. Concocting a piquant combination often requires standing at the refrigerator or pantry door, hoping for another fruit or spice to present itself to be added to the chosen base already waiting in the Cuisinart. It's inspiration, not instruction.

Until seven months ago, I followed a recipe for life that I drafted and refined to perfection. The elements were essential and I did not vary from the instructions. The recipe gave me purpose, it sustained me and burnished my self-worth. Like the fruit in the food processor, with a major life change, my life's recipe was pulverized. The essence was retained, but the form is quite different.

So, I add a cup of new fruit, a bit more sugar, a dash of spice and give it a whirl. I test each new venture for sweetness and authenticity. The outcome has often been tasty and exciting, but disappointment and rejection have been the occasional result. The merit is in the trial and in the error, the guesswork and inspiration. As long as I answer the call to be fruitful, the recipe will be as perfect as it can get.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Perfection Not Required

One of the primary reasons I love creating paletas, aside from the fruity, frosty goodness, is that perfection is not required! In fact, if perfection is your pursuit, you might want to move along. Creating paletas means putting aside plans and recipes in favor of daily discovery. My next few posts will explain why.

For most paletas, fresh ingredients are required, meaning intriguing jaunts to the local produce stand and farmers market. But sometimes, I merely make a mundane stop by the grocery store to purchase what is ripe and juicy. Arriving, I might dream of concocting tangy blueberry paletas, only to find sugary watermelons in full fruit. I cannot make blueberry paletas without supplies. I must choose from what is before me.
sandía paleta de menta

Of late, I've unearthed a life lesson here. With resigning from a beloved job, my existence has changed dramatically. I've been bombarded with watermelon when I had my heart set on blueberries. For a while, I refused to taste the sweetness of the red fruit, or note the beauty in the contrast of the dark green rind and shiny black seeds. I wasn't grateful for provision; I thought only blueberries would sustain me until I realized I must choose from the options given.

Putting together paletas parallels life, requiring not perfectly made plans, but discerning the possibilities in each new day, finding succor and discovering joy in its goodness. This season is all the sweeter for it, and I am thankful!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cindy's Cozy Kitchen

I played with some different names for this blog, but realized it had to be Cindy's Cozy Kitchen.  I began calling my kitchen by that name when my sons were young.  At that time in their lives, the ultimate happiness was a trip to Mickey D's for chicken nuggets (back when their origin was a mystery), fries, a soft drink plus a fabulous (so they thought) toy.

Discussions about meals often went something like this:  "Mom, can we go out to eat tonight?  Please, please?!?"  I would often reply, "Sure!  We're going to Cindy's Cozy Kitchen!" To say they were dismayed would not properly express their displeasure.  At the time.

Fortunately, as their bodies matured, their palates improved.  They came to appreciate my homemade dishes and even invited their friends over for dinner.  When our older son's punk rock band members began to choose to eat with us rather than pick up drive-through, I realized that attention + home cooking + love wins even teenage hearts!

But well-fed boys keep growing, and eventually they leave home.  Somewhere around the first semester away in college, what they craved most was a meal Mom cooked.   These days before driving home, they call me to order their favorite menu items.  I don't have to offer a toy or prize to compel them to eat at home.  And they bring their friends.  Lots and lots of friends.  Cindy's Cozy Kitchen FTW!