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    Maple Ice Cream with Wet Walnuts and Maple Caramel Sauce

    While we all believe that finding friends, keeping friends, nurturing those friendships is hard – well, it is, actually. Trust can be hard. Still liking those people once you get beyond the ‘isn’t it great we both like Chinese food’ phase doesn’t always happen. It can happen, though.

    There are THOSE friends – knowing you can be out of touch for months, years, and one look, one smile, one hug, one phone call, and time melts away as though the last time you saw or spoke to each other was yesterday. Those long time friendships – like The Dear One and I, knowing each other since the 6th grade – those are the people who know you the best. They knew you before you built those walls, before life tainted you, before you became jaded. Was life perfect, no? Were we perfect, no? But we truly were more innocent and perhaps that’s why those friendships are so easy and lasting.

    I am lucky enough as an adult (well, really not, much like Peter Pan I won’t grow up) to have a few friends I would throw myself on the gauntlet for … you know who you are so I’m not naming names. You know, those people you would move heaven and earth for if they asked … and move it twice as much when they don’t ask, that is usually the time they need you the most.

    The Dear One, who admittedly is reclusive, has a few of these friends. Long time – 30 year friendships. Friends who I am very grateful for, as they have taken me into their hearts as though we have known each other for that long as well. I am grateful for each and every one of them (there could be a few more gals in the mix, but hey, they’re all great!) Sadly, this week, we lost one of those dear, special men. Charlie and The Dear One bonded instantly – much time on islands, playing with birds, counting stars, drinking, talking about life, women, family, heartache, future. The Dear One would and has many times, dropped whatever he was doing for Charlie – and Charlie the same in return. It didn’t matter when the last time they saw each other was – when they were in each other’s presence, no time had gone by. Charlie’s new bride, Mona, and I became friends instantly. Charlie and Mona were married a month before The Dear One and I – little did we know, he was ill even then – we celebrated at each other’s weddings.

    Charlie’s passing has made us realize how tender life is, how precarious, how precious. How petty bullshit and slights that no one can even remember need to be put aside, and why friendship and love needs to stand in the foreground, shining like a beacon. A beacon that guides you to those who will always love you, always welcome you, always be there to catch you when you fall, always look past your perceived inadequacies. A beacon that rings out, ‘I am your safe harbor, always’. We all really need that, don’t we?

    We have celebrated Charlie’s life with friends – more than once and will continue to do so … A LOT (a lot of whiskey is usually involved).

    One of these celebrations involved dinner with two dear friends that we have spent far too little time with of late. Why? Who knows. Should it be? No. Sometimes being the first person to blink is really hard. Then no one blinks and you sit around missing that person(s) and cannot figure out how to get it back. Sometimes time just goes by and that just becomes a norm – not one anyone likes or wants but just is.

    Charlie’s passing put us in and on the same path again. It was wonderful. Giggling. Stories. Great food. Great friends. Hopefully we will not wait so long to do it again. I have missed them BIGLY. Thank you, Charlie.

    You are reading this wondering what does this have to do with Maple Ice Cream with Wet Walnuts and Caramel swirl? Well, I’ll tell ya … I needed to bring something to this wonderful dinner and I’ve been jonesing to make this ice cream. So I did and I did – and it was FAB-ulous!

    The Dear One had suggested maple ice cream, remembering trips for ice cream on Block Island, going so late in the day or evening that the only thing left was maple ice cream. I would always walk away instead of having maple ice cream. It always looked so … TAN!

    But this would be made with OUR own maple syrup, and what if I make some wet walnuts with maple syrup, and – WAIT! – What if I add a caramel swirl – OOOOHHH! A maple caramel swirl!

    The ice cream is delicious. The wet walnuts are gooey (but not too gooey) and salty. The maple caramel swirl? Well, it’s good, but I need to come up with a different way. I substituted the maple syrup for the water and it is not soft and ribbon-y, but tough and tooth breaking. Still ‘can’t eat enough’ delicious!

     

    • 1 1/2 C whole milk
    • 2 T sugar
    • 1 1/2 C heavy cream
    • 5 large egg yolks
    • 3/4 C dark maple syrup
    • 1/4 t coarse salt
    • 1/4 t vanilla extract
    • Wet Walnuts (recipe follows)
    • Maple Caramel Swirl (recipe follows)

    Warm milk and sugar in medium saucepan.

    Pour cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.

    In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then pour the warmed egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan.

    Stir the mixture constantly over medium-low heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir. Stir until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.

    Pour the custard through the strainer and into the cream to cool.

    Add the maple syrup, salt, and vanilla, and stir over ice bath until cool. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator – at least 3 hours.

    Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the Wet Walnuts.

    Wet Walnuts

    • 1/2 C, plus 1 tablespoon dark maple syrup
    • 1 1/2 C walnuts, toasted and very coarsely chopped
    • 1/4 t coarse salt

    Heat the maple syrup in a small skillet or saucepan until it just begins to come to a full boil.

    Stir in the walnuts and salt, and cook until the liquid comes to a full boil once more. Stir the nuts for 10 seconds, then remove them from the heat and let cool completely before using. The nuts will still be wet and sticky when cooled.

    NOTE: This will look like WAAAAY too many to put in the ice cream, but after you have nibbled a few here and there – wait, no, actually it’s the perfect amount!

    Maple Caramel Swirl

    • 6 T Sugar
    • 1/2 C heavy cream
    • 2 T Maple Syrup

    In a clean, dry, nonstick skillet, sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over medium heat. When the sugar begins to melt and lightly color, sprinkle in 2 more tablespoons and start swirling pan to help evenly distribute sugar. Add the final 2 tablespoons and cook, swirling pan until all the sugar has melted. Let cook, swirling occasionally, until the sugar syrup caramelizes and turns dark brown. Pour in the heavy cream and 2 tablespoons maple syrup (stand back; it may splatter).

    Simmer, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula until smooth. Cool completely.

    NOTE: When I made this caramel swirl in my Rhubarb Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl, the 2 tablespoons of maple syrup was 2 tablespoons of water. The water kept this swirl from becoming too hard – you know, too much sugar (as if!). The maple doesn’t lend much here flavor-wise, so next time it’s back to the 2 tablespoons of water and keeping my fillings.

    Now, to put it together –

    Spoon about 1/3 of the caramel mixture into whatever container you are using to freeze the ice cream in in the freezer. Then 1/3 of the ice cream mixture and repeat, ending with the ice cream. Cover and put in freezer until solid. Mine took overnight.

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    Maple Syrup

    Before I start … dear friend, dear, dear friend, I can see you from here, pixie with the flame red hair, hanging your head and groaning. This certainly falls under the ‘Ernie Wonders Why!?’ category. Read on …

    Maine winters are tough. And long. And cold. Long and grey. Long and dreary. Did I mention long?

    This winter has been particularly harsh. Though, truth be told, the harshness started at the end of FEBRUARY! You know, that point in the winter season when snow should be melting, wistfully waiting for the first crocus to peer it’s little head out of the ground. This winter NOT SO MUCH.

    We have had nor’easter after nor’easter dumping FEET of snow at a time.

    This is the point in time when we look outside, seeing nothing but snow, we try to find some project to occupy ourselves. I’ve knit enough. I am cooked out (HA!), crafted out. The Dear One has made enough noise and dust in the shop and is at a stopping point in construction.

    We thought our salvation had come while running errands in Vermont a few weeks ago, we saw a maple syrup making kit. Light bulbs went off, eyebrows raised, glances shared, this may just be the thing to beat the winter blues. Did we buy it? NO! It was expensive. They didn’t have taps, just tubing, and we left that big box of hope on the shelf. Disappointment all around. The thought of tapping our own trees kept rolling in our minds on that quick 8 hour drive home.

    Maple Syrup. Maple Syrup. What did (maple syrup) you say, dear? Maple Syrup. What do we need (maple syrup) from the store. Would you like chicken (maple syrup) for dinner tonight? See?

    We finally had a (short) reprieve from the bitter cold … actually crawled up to 40! Hmmm … sap runs on warm days. Honey, says the Dear One, let’s give maple syrup a whirl! YAY!

    Off to the store I went and we purchased 1 drill bit, 4 pails for gathering the sap, 4 spiles (taps with hooks), 1 lid, 3 disposable lasagna pans, 1 very large steam pan, 1 5 gallon bucket.

    The Dear One built a fire pit outside for the fire, gathered some wood for the fire – we used various conifer trees that we had cut dow, surely we’re not using the wood for the wood stove for this! Just outside the front door there is a cinderblock base, with a piece of grating on top, a pan on top of that, an old chair from the elementary school, various coolers filled with varying amounts of sap. It looks like Appalachia out there … or a war zone …

    Ready, set, go!

    Or so we thought.

    We picked the 4 maple trees for their closeness to each other, the fire and the house. In hindsight, trees easier to get to in case you get walloped with 2 feet of snow is probably a good thing. 2 of these trees involved a short walk up the driveway, across a gully with a steep edge and slogging.

    The Dear One drilled the holes and we hung the pails. Sap started dripping into the buckets almost immediately. The lid in the above photo is not ideal, though it will happily be sold to you for ridiculous amount of money. The wind blows it open. Falling snow and ice shifts the lid. The disposable lasagna pans I bought can be moulded to the pail and stay in place much better – and they cost $1.99 for 3 of them.

    So, as the sap drips we kept an eye on the pails. We emptied the pails into the bucket – as you can see, Bob helped too!  As an aside, just as we were about to begin to boil – WHAM – snow. We poured the sap into 3 small coolers and one large cooler, put them in the shade in a snow bank and hunkered down – again!

    Next step – build a fire. You need dry wood. Lots and lots of dry wood. Lots and lots of dry wood. Our first attempt at fire didn’t work so well. So bad in fact, that sap was going to be dumped and things were being kicked around the yard. We decided to give up and be prepared for this next year. But just as I was about to start cleaning out ALL the coolers, buckets, pans, etc., The Dear One had a Wylie Coyote moment and found a cache of dry spruce and built a roaring fire. Well, perhaps we were off to the races after all!

    You pour the sap into the pan. It’s a little disheartening. It’s clear. It’s water. It tastes like nothing. I was hoping for a hint of something. A soupçon. Nope. Nothing. Sigh. You know you’re going to be feeding this fire for a long, long time, you just hope the end result looks and tastes more like maple syrup than this beginning.

    And you wait for a boil (and drink beer).

    And feed the fire.

    And wait for a boil (maybe Allen’s Coffee Brandy is better).

    And feed the fire.

    And wait for the boil (where’s the bourbon).

    Suddenly, in between your 3rd or 4th time of feeding the fire (and drinks) the sap boils! You start to do a dance around the fire reminiscent of Max and the Monsters in The Wild Things. It boils down, you add more sap, comes to a boil (dance some more), it boils down (feed the fire), you add more (sip of drink) sap, comes back to a (dance, dance, dance) boil, feed the fire (almost forgot that for a moment and the fire NEARLY went out), AND REPEAT many, many times (wait, check the pails some more)!

    You’re waiting – well, in our case, to use up the sap we had on hand – for a color and a certain viscosity and, truth be told, we have NO clue whatsoever what we’re waiting for – perhaps Godot).

    We punted. It was cold. It had been HOURS. All our sap was in the pan boiling. There were no more snacks or beer. The sun was setting. We made the executive decision that this was good enough. It most likely should have boiled longer.

    Now you pour the molten hot sap/syrup through a strainer that is really just a gigantic coffee filter and into a big pot. Did I mention hot? Hot fire. Hot pan. Hot liquid.

    Into the house now for the 2nd boil. You’re trying to get to a soft ball stage – or as one of Mr. Google’s friends said – 7 degrees above boiling water for your elevation. Really? Just give me a number, a temperature. I’m exhausted. At this point, I hate this project. I hate maple trees. I smell like Smokey the Bear. I’m nearly blind from the smoke and soot in my eyes. AND THERE’S STILL MORE TO DO!

    This sap/syrup needs to be boiled down more. You want that amber color. You want it to coat the back of a spoon. You want to watch it like a hawk – as the friends of Google instructed – because one second too long and your 8 hours of agony could be ruined. As with the outside boil, this probably should have gone on a bit longer as well.

    Not being able to stop myself, I made my toil linger. I decided once I reached the right temperature and thickness, I was going to then ‘can’ the syrup so it would last. I’m not sure I needed to do this and there are opposing views on whether this step was necessary, but I thought why tempt fate!? And besides, at this point I am delirious and I could have moved Cadillac Mountain to Canada as long as I could shower!

    In the end 20 gallons of sap made 3 pints of maple syrup. Sigh! Stop laughing, Ernestine.

    What we’ve learned:

    • Have lots of dry wood.
    • Make sure the Dear One has had plenty of sleep.
    • Make sure there’s a lot of beer and snacks.
    • Start early.
    • Get two chairs to sit by the fire – not that you can figure out where to put the chairs so smoke doesn’t go in your eyes.
    • More beer (a suggestion by the Dear One)
    • Build a sugar shack!
    • Let it boil outside longer
    • Let it boil inside longer
    • GO TO THE STORE AND BUY MAPLE SYRUP!!

    Yes, Ernie, I know. They sell real maple syrup in the store. Even my Dad said, have you heard of Log Cabin?

    Truthfully, nothing beats this taste! The flavor is totally worth the agony.

    We’re waiting for it to warm up a bit. We’re going to do this one more time. What can I tell you? It must be like child birth. You forget the pain and agony. If you didn’t why would people do these things more than once!