Samhain

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The end of October also means the end of our Indian Summer.

Another sunny and warmish day here, a friend and I drove out to our favorite Homestead Garden Center this afternoon for pansies, panolas and soil.

With clearance in progress, ahead of the coming Christmas trees and wreathes, we also picked up some end of season ferns and perennials.

 

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We drove home contented, with the back of my auto filled to the brim with trays of plants and bags of good rich compost.

 

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Our conversation was interspersed with,”Look at that!” and ” Oh, how pretty!” our whole way out into the country, and back, as we enjoyed the beautiful trees along the way.

My partner has had an eye to the weather all day. 

 

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It seems we have a n’oreaster in store this weekend.

We don’t expect to see snow, but we’ll have wind and our first truly cool days and nights.  So often these windstorms strip the trees of their leaves just as the color hits its peak.

 

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So gentle October will blow away as two storms converge tomorrow over the East Coast, bringing  the first blast of winter to the eastern United States.

It snowed this morning in Chicago.  Snow on Halloween?  Really?

 

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This is the season of changes; endings and beginnings.

This is a good time to remember that the seeds of the new are always contained in the husk of the old.  Don’t you find that to be true in your own life?

 

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Samhain  is a transition time;  a time of remembrance.

I spent much of the day catching up with friends and meeting new neighbors.

A good way to mark this special day, I think.

 

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And this afternoon I finally dug up the last Begonia “Gryphon” from its spot on the deck, and brought it into the garage for winter.

I’ve been procrastinating, as you have probably guessed; but  finally have almost all of our Begonias indoors.

Those that remain outside are sheltered, and one especially huge pot just isn’t going to come in this year.  (Unless I can figure out a way to wrestle it from the deck into the garage before that first true freeze, that is.)

 

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Finally, I made chocolate spiders for the neighborhood Halloween party this evening.

It is a little late to be giving you the recipe now, I know;  but I’ll write it out so you have the idea for next year.

 

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We have been corralling real spiders in the house for the last few weeks.  It amazes me how they find their way inside.

But we keep a glass jar and an old greeting card handy to catch them and carry them back outside.

The chocolate variety (of spiders)  are big and delicious looking.  They might look especially frighteningly delicious  perched on a huge scoop of pumpkin ice cream.

Whether you celebrate Samhain, Halloween, The Day of the Dead, or even good old Guy Fawkes Day, I hope you have enjoyed it with those you love!

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Chocolate Spiders

1.  Pour a bag of milk or semi-sweet chocolate bits into a glass bowl, and microwave on high for thirty seconds.  Stir.  Microwave and stir in fifteen second intervals until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  Stir the chocolate briskly with a rubber spatula for about two minutes to temper the chocolate.

2.  Line a baking pan with waxed or parchment paper.

3.  Stir about two cups of Asian Chow Mein noodles into the chocolate and stir to coat.  Add more noodles, as needed, until all of the chocolate is used.

4.  Lift small lumps of coated noodles using two forks, and place them on the parchment.  Each “spider” should be about a tablespoon of noodles and chocolate.  Flatten the pile slightly, and arrange the noodles so it looks like a spider with many legs.

5.  Use two M&Ms or other small round candies to make the eyes. 

6.  Place the tray of chocolate spiders in the freezer for ten minutes, or the refrigerator for thirty while the chocolate hardens. 

7.  Serve on a platter, bag the spiders individually in candy bags, or serve as a garnish on ice cream.

All that is left... the end of the batch.  These don't have quite as much chocolate as the ones we took to the neighborhood gathering.

All that is left… the end of the batch. These don’t have quite as much chocolate as the ones we took to the neighborhood gathering.  But you get the idea….

One Word Photo Challenge: (More) Chocolate

"The Forest Floor" chocolate cookies

“The Forest Floor” chocolate cookies

In my world, “chocolate” means just that… chocolate!

I grew up the daughter of a “choco-holic” and learned early that an easy way to please my dad was to make him something with chocolate in it… the more, and the darker, the better.

So here are two variations on an  autumn treat which I’m calling, “The Forest Floor.”

I hope you will try it out this weekend.  If you like it, it might make a fast and easy addition to your holiday spread next weekend as we celebrate Samhain and Halloween.

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Spread out a cup of coconut, a half cup of sliced or slivered almonds, and a half  cup of chopped walnuts or pecans on a baking sheet.    Toast in a medium oven for a few minutes until they are fragrant and lightly browned.  Chop some dried cherries into small bits.   Prepare about a quarter to a half cup of dried fruit.  Chopped apricots, raisins or cran-raisins would also work well.

 

This tempered chocolate looks lumpy because the coconut, cherries, and nuts have been stirred in and coated in chocolate.

This tempered chocolate looks lumpy because the coconut, cherries, and nuts have been stirred in and coated in chocolate.

We begin by melting the chocolate. 

If you’ve worked much with chocolate you probably already know that you must keep water away from it as you melt and temper it.  That is why I prefer the microwave melting method to the double boiler method.  Too often the steam from my double boiler affected the melting chocolate and it “seized up” on me.

No worries, seized chocolate still tastes just fine.  It just doesn’t have the proper consistency for serious candy making.

Select a good quality chocolate, milk or dark, and place 10 to 12 oz. in a glass bowl or large measuring cup.

Microwave on “high” for 30 seconds, and stir.  Continue to microwave the chocolate, 15 to 20 seconds at a time, until it stirs smoothly.  Add 2 TB of real butter near the end of this process.  I also added 1/2 tsp. of good ground cinnamon to the chocolate with the butter for a richer flavor.

Stir the chocolate vigorously for a minute or two to temper it.  I use a rubber spatula to keep the chocolate neatly off the sides of the bowl.  Tempering gives the finished chocolate a smooth, crisp texture and clear color.  It hardens better when well tempered.

Stir a quarter of your coconut, fruit, and nuts into the chocolate as you finish the tempering.

Pour the tempered chocolate into a shallow mold, and tip with more coconut, nuts, and chopped dried fruit.  This milk chocolate is ready to chill.

Pour the tempered chocolate into a shallow mold, and top with more coconut, nuts, and chopped dried fruit. This milk chocolate candy is ready to chill.

The first preparation gives you a solid candy bar.

I used a shallow aluminum pan, left from some delicious frozen something from Trader Joe’s.  Use any shallow mold you have on hand.

Spread the chocolate fairly evenly in the mold.  Top with a generous sprinkle of toasted coconut, nuts, and fruit.

Use the spatula to gently push the toppings into solid contact with the chocolate.

Cover with plastic wrap or slip the mold into a large zip-lock bag, and place the chocolate in the freezer for 10 minutes or the refrigerator for 30.

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When solid, cut into small servings.  Once hardened, this can be stored on the counter in an air tight container.

The second preparation is a bit crunchier and a bit less intense.  It also uses less chocolate for those watching either calories or pennies.

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Cover a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper, and lay out a dozen graham crackers.

Melt and temper 10 to 12 oz. of  chocolate, adding cinnamon, coconut, nuts, and dried fruit at the end of tempering.  I used Hershey’s Special Dark baking morsels because my Dad loves Special Dark above all other chocolate.  Yes, these are going to be a gift for him.

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Divide the chocolate evenly between the crackers, dropping a large spoonful on each.

Spread the chocolate evenly on each cracker with your spatula or a small knife.  Sprinkle more nuts, coconut  and dried fruit on top.  I added chopped pistachios to mine, and finished with a light grinding of sea salt.

Oh, the salt makes all the difference!

 

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Cover the tray with plastic wrap, and freeze for 10 minutes or refrigerate for 30.  When the chocolate is hard, lift the crackers with a broad spatula and cut or break them into serving sized pieces.

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“The Forest Floor” chocolate cookies

 

These will keep in an air tight container longer than it will take you to eat them!

I hope these “Forest Floor” chocolate candies and cookies make it into your holiday menu, and that your friends and family enjoy eating them as much as you enjoy making them!

 

With appreciation to Jennifer Nichole Wells

and her One Word Photo Challenge:  Chocolate

"The Forest Floor" chocolate cookies

Recipes  and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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