Dalai Mama Dishes

by Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

Dalai Mama Dishes

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

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Maple Snow Taffy

Posted December 20, 2008
Find more about taffy , dalai mama , maple syrup
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You could so totally even say it glows!

Note the use of mason jars for measuring--which is very pioneering of me, no?

What you can't see in this picture is Michael leaning into me and singing "giving the tree the trim" in a way that makes me understand how dirty those lyrics might actually be.

Ben faints with exhaustion during the 5-minute taffy wait. Wake up, honey, it’s ready!


Sure, it’s not dirty slush in a gutter, like she prefers, but Birdy will settle for this gloriously pristine bowl of snow so long as we’re talking maple syrup.

To quote Christina Rossetti via Shawn Colvin: "Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow on snow..." In fact it is snowing still, snowing cats and dogs-very quiet cats and dogs. I look out the window, and snow is dumping torrentially out of the sky, utterly noiselessly. Don't you love that?

And so the kids have a snow day-on the one single day of the year when they didn't even want one, this last day before the holidays, with teacher gift bags packed and waiting by the door (Vanilla extract! Shhh. It will keep.), and Ben's chorus due to perform at a nursing home, and a planned after-school skating party... Ben had even hastened downstairs last night to withdraw his spoon from the freezer, to throw an ice cube into the house, to turn his pajamas right side out-hoping in vain to undo all of his superstitious snow-making rituals, but here we are. And it's just lovely. Even in bed this morning, the very reasonable Ben said, "Well, I can't say I'm exactly sad to be home!" Exactly.

Plus, we finally have enough snow-enough clean snow-to make this favorite seasonal treat of ours. Despite the title of this post, we actually call it by its early American name. "Why is it called sugar on snow?" Birdy asks, indignant, the entire time I'm making it. "It's not sugar." And the entire time I'm making it, I try to explain how the early settlers and later pioneers-like Laura and Mary-didn't have access to cane sugar, and how maple syrup was sugar for them. And Birdy pauses before saying, "Still. It shouldn't be called sugar on snow." I'm just warning you, in case you have any terminological sticklers in your family. So it might be simpler just to call it maple taffy, which is really what you're making here. That will also help clarify the whole snow-eating issue: you're not making snow ice cream, where you pour cream and sugar and vanilla on snow and eat the whole bowl with a spoon, which is also lots of fun and certainly easier-even though it's altogether maybe 1 gazillionth as good as this, IMHO (as people like to add unhumbly). What you're doing instead is pouring liquid maple caramel onto snow, which chills the syrup, which then hardens into a chewy lump, which you use to rid yourself of any malingering dental work (kidding, ha ha, it's actually fairly soft). Eating the leftover snow is certainly an option, but I always think snow tastes the way a jar of pennies smells-I cannot hear its snowy siren song the way, say, Birdy can, who will gobble snow from a car tire or the bottom of someone's boot like she's been starving for months. She also favors the seed-and-shell-strewn snow from beneath the bird feeder. Fiber, right?

If you happen to live in Santa Cruz, where you're much too busy hiking mountains in your bikini and boogie boarding with a margarita in one hand and gathering the Meyer lemons that have fallen all over your patio to scrounge up a bowl of snow, simply spoon the hot caramel into a dish of ice cream, where it will still do its taffy thing.

And with that, dear friends, I bid you a fond and joyful holiday farewell! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and may all of your New Year's dreams come true. "All of them?" Birdy wants to know. "Even the bad ones?" Good question. So, no. May only your most beautiful dreams come true.

Maple Snow Taffy
This is our friend Nicole's recipe, and, like her, it is perfect in every way.

1 cup maple syrup (ours is B-grade amber-cheaper and darker-and we love it)
¼ cup salted butter
Clean snow (or, need be, ice cream)

In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, heat the syrup and butter together until the mixture reaches 220-235 on a candy thermometer, aka somewhere between the thread and soft ball stage, for you candy-making hardcores out there. If you don't have a candy thermometer, time it for about 5 minutes after it comes to a boil, and then pour a little onto a plate that's been waiting in the fridge: when the syrup is ready, it should thicken up into a soft taffy on the plate; if it doesn't, then cook it a minute or two longer. Needless to say, your children should be nowhere near this while it's on the stove. "There is nothing hotter than hot sugar," my mother used to say ("Really, Mom? Not even the sun?"), and, because of the crisp English certainty of her pronouncements, I still assume they're all true.

Let the mixture cool for a couple of minutes, then pour it by the spoonful over bowls of clean snow (or ice cream) where it will harden into a sweet lump of maple insanity. You won't be sorry-well, until it's gone, and then you'll be sorry.

Get a printable version of this recipe.

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Maple Snow Taffy

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About Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir, Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family, available online and in bookstores nationwide.

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