Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We Have a Mole Hole

Mole hole in my driveway, December 2011.
I'd never thought much about the difference between moles and gophers until a barely subterranean trail appeared in our driveway and I started to wonder what kind of varmint had made the mysterious dirt trail.  I've heard my father complain about gophers getting at his garden from time to time.  I know they're herbivores and that they'll eat anything in sight.  And then there's the inevitable Caddyshack reference.  But I'd never given moles a second thought.  

We first noticed the trail a few days before the giant winds hit Los Angeles and in the wake of our 18 hours without electricity, the mole hole was far from the front of my mind.  That is, until we started talking to our neighbors while checking out the 30 foot long tree branch that blocked half the road in front of our house.  When our neighbor saw our driveway, he said, "Ah-HA!  I see our mole came to visit you."  He said this in a somewhat delighted tone and it took me a beat to decide if his pleasure was that of a man happy to see his friend the mole or happy to see that a pest had fled his yard for the neighbors' yard.  I made a disgruntled face (not quite knowing why I made it) and he quickly assured me that the mole was our friend.  He said the mole would eat unwanted insects and that we were lucky to have him around.  I think he was trying to make sure we didn't do anything unkind to his mole friend.  

Once I figured out that we had a mole, I did a little research and discovered that moles eat mostly worms and that in spite of my neighbor's kind words for our mole, most people are NOT fans of the mole.  They are considered a pest by most "mole vs. gopher" websites and it seems that most people want to get rid of them.  Moles burrow shallow trenches in grass and "ruin" the lawn.  Luckily for our mole, we don't really care about our lawn.  If he went after our garden, we might have to reconsider.  But for now, we say "live and let live".

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Secret to A Great Pie Crust: Ghee

Jared's delicious pecan pie with ghee crust, 2011.
With the holidays quickly approaching, my friend Jared has been experimenting with pie crust recipes.  He's got a secret ingredient that I've never heard of being used in a pie crust-- ghee, which is the traditional Indian version of clarified butter.  I was surprised by this idea, but it made sense.  I've eaten pies made with butter and they're pretty good, but Jared's version using ghee was really good.  He's made several attempts so far (one with just ghee and one with a combination of ghee and lard) and I've been lucky enough to try them both.
"Pumpkin" pie with ghee crust and molasses, 2011.

The pecan pie was great.  I must admit that pecan pie is one of my favorites and the addition of chocolate chunks made it even better.

Jared's version of "pumpkin" pie, made with his homegrown squash, was special not only because of the homegrown squash filling and ghee crust, but also because of the molasses he drizzled over the pie before topping it with whipped cream.  Jared even invited me over to check out his last giant squash before he picked it, chopped it up, and cooked to make... you guessed it... more pies.  I can't wait to try the next version.
Jared's giant squash, ready for picking, 2011.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Easiest Holiday Candy

My 2 year old who just can't seem to let go of her "hammer", December 2011.
The easiest (and most beloved) Christmas candy we've made this year has been the by-product of the much more rigorous undertaking of making chocolate-covered candied orange peel.  Regular readers of this blog know that I've tried to make chocolate-covered candied orange peel several times this year already.  I'll write more about my latest attempt in a future post, but today I want to share the best candy-making process I've ever tried with the kids-- chocolate-peppermint bark.

My 2 year old daughter and I decided to make chocolate-peppermint bark with the leftover chocolate from the chocolate-covered candied orange peel we'd just finished making.  We had a lot of chocolate melted in the double-boiler and it seemed a shame to waste it.  I looked around the kitchen to see what we could dip in chocolate BESIDES the much labored over candied orange peel.

I considered graham crackers, but rejected them on the grounds that they were too hard to dip down into the bottom of the double-boiler.  And they didn't seem worth the effort.  We tried marshmallows first and in the interest of full-disclosure, I must admit that the girls loved them.  I, however, did not.  They kept dropping down into the chocolate and they were very hard to fish out of the quickly hardening chocolate.

It was at this point that I remembered we had a box of miniature candy canes stashed away in the upper cabinet.  We made white chocolate peppermint bark last year and gave it out to friends as holiday presents.  People either loved it or hated it based on the strength of their sweet tooth.  It takes a real sweets-lover to like white chocolate.

Annabel whacks the candy canes, Dec. 2011.
Dark chocolate is a crowd-pleaser and even my young daughters love it.  I realized we had a match made in heaven-- chocolate plus a reason to let my 2 year old whack candy with a meat tenderizer.  

My daughter had such a good time breaking up the chocolate that I had to stop her just as she was ripping a hole in the plastic bag we used to contain the peppermint shavings.  And by the time we'd finished sprinkling the melted chocolate with peppermint shards, she was still reaching for her beloved "hammer".  I had to hide it in a drawer to keep her from using it on the bananas in the fruit bowl.  Or the fruit bowl.