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The Kitchen You Have

This year, we moved from a small cabin with a decently large kitchen to a tiny apartment with a tiny kitchen. People love to complain about their kitchens, and to be fair, most kitchens are horribly endowed, their dimensions and layout seemingly thought up by a hobbit or, more likely, by someone who didn't do a terrible lot of cooking.

And while I too have been known to utter a disparaging word or two against my own kitchen, I've come more and more to enjoy its constraints; to work within them. It's a little like learning a language. You can see it as restrictive to use nouns and verbs and semicolons, or you can harness the words and use them to create what you will. Of course, words will fail you. They will never be able to describe the lovely and strange arc of our existence accurately. They are tools, and their insufficient nature is perhaps what makes them all the more appealing.

I feel the same sort of thwarted affection for the series of kitchens I've worked in. Their peculiarities and quirks, while momentarily irksome, only serve to endear me more to them. Perhaps this is because, just as many of the daily difficulties we face can make us better, cleverer, stronger people, kitchen obstacles make us better cooks.

The best batch of apple butter I ever made was a haphazard affair. Being a very broke student/farm intern, I foraged crabapples from the college campus (!) for this experiment. I made the apple butter in the kitchen of the singlewide mobile home where I lived on the farm. At that point, only two of the burners on the stove worked, and when I realized that I lacked a food mill or much of anything to run the apple butter through to remove the seeds, I grabbed an unused roll of window screen. It wasn't the most efficient way to go about things, but it called forth upon a resourcefulness and creativity that many of us rarely need to harness in our user-friendly world.

These days, all the burners on our stove work, although sometimes the big one in front needs a little jiggle to get it going. We even have a miniature dishwasher to help with the clean-up. But like many of you out there, we work in a very "real" kitchen--one with too little counter space, an oven that runs much too hot, and not enough cabinetry (we currently keep our beans and grains in 5-gallon buckets under the sink). And while we may fantasize about a someday kitchen flooded with natural light and stainless steel, I think at bottom all we want is what we already have. Because the best kitchen is the kitchen you've got.

Other articles you might enjoy: Chocolate Bark or Clusters, Dark Chocolate Truffles, Sorghum Sponge Candy

Easiest Peppermint Patties
Makes enough for eating and giving (several dozen)

*Note: If desired, you may use dipping or coating chocolate for this. This type of "chocolate" does not taste as awesome as dark chocolate, but you don't need to temper it to get a good, glossy sheen, and it sets nicely. So the way I see it is that it's a trade-off: either use good chocolate for better flavor or use a dipping chocolate for greater ease and a prettier look. I almost always choose flavor over appearance, but it's your call.

Combine in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (you can do this by hand, but if you have a stand mixer I highly recommend using it):
           One 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
            5 to 6 cups powdered sugar
            2 teaspoons peppermint extract
Mix on low speed until very, very thick, adding more powdered sugar if necessary. Cover and chill for at least an hour and up to a week. When ready to shape and coat, portion the peppermint filling into small balls using a teaspoon or just eyeball it, rolling the balls of "fondant" between your hands. If at any point the mixture becomes warm and hard to work with, put it in the freezer until it is well-chilled and firm. Shape the balls of filling into thin discs and chill until firm. Alternatively, you may roll out the filling between two silicone baking mats and cut it out using a small round cookie or biscuit cutter. I won't claim that this is a faster method, but it appealed to the perfectionist in me.
Melt (you may temper the chocolate if you like; I did not, for the sake of ease):
            2 pounds high-quality bittersweet, semisweet, or dark chocolate
Dip the peppermint discs into the chocolate using a fork, working in small batches and keeping the remaining discs in the freezer until ready to coat them. Place the coated wafers on a piece of parchment. Chill to set the chocolate and store the finished patties in a cool place in an airtight container.

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Use “true” cinnamon (Ceylon, or canela) for the best result. If you prefer to grill or broil your fish, just warm the sauce and serve alongside as a condiment.