“I watched the sunrise today. Couldn’t sleep.”

“How was it?”

“Average.”

I decided to turn a room into a camera obscura for this photo (no Photoshop!). A camera obscura is created by letting a small amount of light into a pitch dark vessel through a pinhole. Such vessels include a camera, cardboard box, or in this case, a room with the window completely covered, save for a small hole cut out. The light that enters through the pinhole will project an inverted image of whatever is on the other side of the window (like a house and a tree…not very interesting, but what I had to work with), much like the human eye interprets the world.

candied-starfruit

While the brain automatically flips the images the eye registers so we see the world right side up, a pinhole and a wall don’t have a brain, so we get an inverted image in a camera obscura. After your eyes adjust, the image on the wall will become quite clear, but a camera with a very long exposure will do an even better job of seeing it and will bring out color and detail. Yay, science!

Photo credit: BBC

Photo credit: BBC

So what does this have to do with Mad Men? In the season three episode, ‘Seven Twenty Three’ there is a total eclipse of the sun (you’re welcome!) and it seems to make the characters a little madder. Betty buys a fainting couch, Don drugs himself with secobarbital and alcohol, then gets beaten and robbed by the teenage hitchhikers he picked up, Peggy makes some questionable decisions, and Don is forced to sign a contract with Sterling Cooper. One of the more innocuous scenes is Sally’s third grade class turning cardboard boxes into camera obscurae in order to look at the eclipse.

vegan-moon-pies

With the Space Race underway and the solar eclipse in this episode, I decided to photograph a space-themed dessert in the camera obscura: Vegan Moon Pies and Candied Starfruit. Two graham crackers sandwiched between marshmallow fluff and dipped in chocolate, then garnished with candied starfruit. It’s barely a recipe, but it produces some seriously delicious results. I used peanut butter cookies instead of graham crackers because peanut butter cookies are better than graham crackers.

Moon Pies

Ingredients

Graham crackers or cookies
Vegan marshmallows or marshmallow fluff
Chocolate
Vegetable shortening

Instructions

  1. If graham crackers are not circle-shaped, cut them into circles.
  2. Make a sandwich with two crackers and marshmallow fluff. Pop in the freezer for a half hour to make for easier dipping.
  3. Melt chocolate chips, adding 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening per cup.
  4. Dip sandwiches in chocolate and let set on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Candied Starfruit

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 starfruit

Instructions

  1. Combine sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil around 230°F.
  2. Cut starfruit into thin slices. Add to the saucepan and let boil for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit in the syrup for 5 minutes.
  3. Transfer the starfruit to a parchment-lined baking sheet using a slotted spoon. Let cool.
  4. At this point, you can either dehydrate the slices with a dehydrator, or an oven at its lowest temperature (crack the oven door open, even). Let dehydrate until chewy and free of moisture. Mine took a couple of hours in a 170°F oven with the door cracked open.
Photo credit: AMC

Photo credit: AMC

Don’t look at the eclipse, Betty. Your eyes will melt.

camera-obscura-photo

And a final image inside the camera obscura. While Photoshop probably would have been much easier, it would have been way less fun and magical.

P.S. Today the Vegan MoFo blog is giving away a copy of the yet-to-be-released Cheers to Vegan Sweets. Head on over there to enter!

Cheers to Vegan Sweets

“Everybody likes to go to the movies when they’re sad.”

*Note: This post is spoiler-free.

mad-men-gif

While the first week of MoFo focused on classic Mad Men food and episodes, this week will center in on Mad Men in a cultural and political context. The characters on Madison Avenue witness several events that overturn the political climate of America and the emotional and cultural context of the show.

Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Don takes Bobby to see Planet of the Apes. They share popcorn as the camera goes back and forth between the screen and their faces. Afterward, Bobby is mesmerized and Don suggests they see it for a second time. As he helps his son open a box of Milk Duds to tide them over during the second viewing, Bobby begins talking to the usher. Wildly out of character, he says: “Everybody likes to go to the movies when they’re sad.” The look on Don’s face is a little sad and confused, possibly because he was having a torrid affair instead of paying attention to Bobby’s precociousness over the past couple of years. Essentially, Don’s attempts to become closer to his son effectively show just how far away he’s placed himself (but I guess we can’t blame Don too much when his son is a different actor every year).

Bobby’s observation is universally true. With their experience in mind, I decided to make classic movie snacks, popcorn and Milk Duds. The caramel is adapted from Vegan Candyland, and coated in chocolate.

Vegan Milk Duds

Ingredients

1/3 cup vegan margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup soy milk
1/4 cup light corn syrup or agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate chips
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening

Instructions

  1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, set aside.
  2. Combine all ingredients (except vanilla, chocolate, and shortening) in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a low boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.
  3. Cook the mixture to firm ball stage, 248°F. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can test for soft ball stage by dropping a spoonful of caramel into a glass of cold water. If it holds its shape and produces a squishy ball, it’s at soft ball stage. Cook for a 2-4 minutes longer to achieve firm ball stage.
  4. Remove from heat and continue stirring until the mixture stops bubbling. Stir in vanilla.
  5. Drop about half teaspoon portions of caramel onto the lined cookie sheet until all the caramel is used up (or pour leftovers into a large mass, sprinkle with salt, and cut into salted caramels!). While the caramel is still hot, it will probably flatten into discs.
  6. As the caramel cools, you can roll the discs into balls if you’d like. They don’t have to be perfect; they’re called Milk Duds for a reason.
  7. When the caramel is completely cool, dip them in chocolate. Melt the chocolate and shortening together in the microwave or on the stove using a double boiler method.
  8. Dip the caramels in the chocolate, remove with a fork, and place back on the parchment-lined cookie sheet to cool. Repeat with all the caramels.

mad-men-movies

Bring your homemade Milk Duds to the movies to accompany your popcorn!

Fairy Food Recipe

fairy-food

My first experience with fairy food was at a Milwaukee vegan bake sale. It goes by other names like sponge candy and honeycomb candy, but it all tastes like the crisp exterior of a toasted marshmallow covered in chocolate and magic. The most notable part is that this recipe relies completely on chemistry; it’s basically a science fair volcano, and sugar went along for the ride. Yes, the recipe contains corn syrup. I don’t know about you, but if I’m making a conscious decision to eat sugar mixed with liquid sugar and a volcano, all covered in chocolate, I’m not going to be too particular about the syrup. I imagine agave or brown rice syrup would work similarly if you’d prefer to use that over corn syrup.

I won’t lie; this recipe takes some finesse. Timing is crucial when it comes time to transfer the mixture to a pan. When you stir in the baking soda, the mixture will foam up like crazy. It’s hard to see, but try to quickly dissolve the baking soda as much as possible before pouring it in the pan. Otherwise you’ll end up with hard, crunchy bits of sugar and pockets of baking soda in your fairy food…yuck. You do want the mixture to deflate a little as you whip it up so the mixture doesn’t continue to expand in the pan, which will create spillage over the edges, and large bubbles. We want nice, even foam that will solidify into toasty, crispy candy.

Fairy Food

Makes an 8×8-inch tray

Choose a saucepan that’s small enough for the tip of the thermometer to be covered in the mixture so you get an accurate reading, but large enough for the mixture to bubble and expand at the very end (it will quite a bit).

Ingredients

1 cup white sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon baking soda
12 ounces chocolate chips
2 teaspoons canola oil

Instructions

Line an 8×8 pan with parchment

In a large saucepan over medium heat, stir together sugar, corn syrup and vinegar. Bring to a boil, and heat to hard crack stage, 305-310 F (any less and the result will be chewy, weepy fairy food). This usually takes 15-20 minutes. Make sure the tip of the thermometer is not touching the bottom of the pan because this will skew your reading. I cranked up the heat partway through cooking to move it along. You should really be using a candy thermometer when working with high temperatures that need to be precise, but if you want to live on the edge, cook until a small amount of syrup dropped into cold water forms hard, brittle threads. Do not stir once the mixture begins to boil.

While you wait for the mixture to reach hard crack stage, line your pan with parchment paper. Have your baking soda measured and ready to go, with no clumps (they will end up in your candy, which is unpleasant!). When the mixture reaches hard crack stage, remove from heat, and quickly stir in the baking soda with a whisk. Get that mixture into the pan, stat, then let cool. It won’t take too long to firm up, but avoid moving the pan so the candy doesn’t deflate while cooling. Cut into little pieces when cool.

Melt the chocolate chips and oil in a makeshift double boiler, stirring occasionally until smooth. Dip the candy in the chocolate and place on a parchment-lined sheet until set.

vegan-candy

Cake Pops

Cake pops

Cake pops! I had so much cake leftover from the last cakes I made that I decided to catch up with the times (in 2010) and make some cake pops.

The recipe is pretty simple and not really an exact science. Combine crumbled up cake with just enough frosting to hold it together. I’ve also seen cream cheese, vanilla extract, or other flavor extracts added to the cake. I had a bowl of chocolate and vanilla cake that took just a few spoonfuls of frosting (less is more: you don’t want to bite into a ball of frosting!) to keep the cake from crumbling. Take 2 tablespoon portions of dough and roll into balls. Stick some cookie sticks (these can be found at craft stores) in the cake balls, place them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and freeze until solid.

Finally, you need to melt some chocolate in a microwave or double boiler. It took about 6-7 ounces of chocolate (1 cup chocolate chips) for 10 cake pops. Add a teaspoon of vegetable oil to the chocolate for smooth dipping.

When the cake pops are frozen, dip each one in the chocolate, return to the baking sheet (or stick in a block of styrofoam or florist’s foam if you want them perfectly round). Then decorate with your choice of sprinkles, chopped nuts, or other colorful dessert makeup. Let the chocolate set, then enjoy!

I wanted to have some fun shooting photos of these cake pops, so I decided to make a whimsical, glittery chocolate solar system!

Cake pops