Yesterday was my birthday.
It was one of those strange, mid-week birthdays where I had the day off but everyone around me was going about their daily work like it wasn't one of the most wonderful days of the year. (Seriously, I even had to wait to back my car out of the driveway while the municipal truck was trimming trees out front.)
I believe that climbing small mountains on my birthday sets a good precedent for the year, so I found a willing friend and her two daughters to climb with me. We fortified ourselves with tea and just-made chocolate chip cookies, and set off.
We walked up the road, thinking the path might still be too muddy. But when we reached the rocky, mossy top, we could see that at least one side of the mountain would be dry enough and oh-so-much-prettier than the paved road.
We began clambering down the rocks, telling the girls to go backwards and put one hand on the mountain so you don't fall off it and so on.
Sometimes, we found the path. And sometimes, just as quickly, the path stopped and we were scouting our own way down through the rocks and moss. This was the best part, actually, because we had to look at the ground so carefully.
We spotted dark purple flowers that looked something like camas and we found rosy sedums blooming. There was a cleft of rock that was particularly inviting to a five-year-old girl. They tried to pick up everything: from baby flowers to hairy moss to heavy rocks.
In short, it was a perfect birthday morning. I thanked them with a little packet of lemon gumdrops.
I have only recently learned how to make these gumdrops and I am thrilled that I can now make candy without a candy thermometer. (Although I do have one. I'm just a bit scared of it.)
These little drops are old-fashioned and subtle. Their flavour comes from lemon juice, orange rind and sugar. They are soft and jiggly in a way that commercially-made candy can't be. They are lovely.
I wonder what I'll learn to make by my next birthday?
Last year: Grand Forks borscht and Up Island
Two years ago: sophisticated marshmallow squares and red lentil coconut curry soup
via The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser
4 packets powdered gelatin
1/2 c. + 1/2 c. water
2 c. + 1/2 c. sugar
juice of 1 lemon
grated zest of 1 orange
3 drops yellow food colouring
Butter an 8-inch square baking dish. Set aside.
Mix the gelatin into 1/2 cup water in a bowl. Let it stand for 5 minutes. Set aside.
In a medium pot, stir 2 cups of sugar and 1/2 cup of water together carefully. Bring it to a boil, stirring often. Use a pastry brush dipped in cold water to keep crystals from forming on the sides of the pot above the liquid. Once it boils, add the gelatin mixture and whisk in. (Don't worry if the gelatin is very clumpy; patient whisking will incorporate it into the sugar mixture.) Again bring it to a boil and stir often until it thickens, about 15 minutes.
Pour in the lemon juice and orange zest and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the food colouring. Pour it into the prepared dish. Chill in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.
Put the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. Butter the tip of a large chef's knife and keep the butter handy to re-butter when necessary. Drag the knife tip through the lemon gel to make 1/2-inch squares. (Don't worry if you don't see the gumdrops pulling apart from each other at this point. They will once you're done cutting and you start pulling them up.) Butter a butter knife and work it along the edges of the pan.
Butter your fingers and pull a couple gumdrops up (possibly with the help of the butter knife at first). Pull them apart and coat them in the sugar. Repeat until you're all done.