Saturday, November 24, 2012

It's a marshmallow world

There are some mysteries of life we're not supposed to ever figure out: why you lose one sock when doing laundry, how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop, or perhaps one of these nuggets that always seem to pop up.

However, the mystery around how to make marshmallows is not one of these things. Learning how to make marshmallows is a magical and amazing process. Making marshmallows can get you out of whatever gloom you happen to be in (more on this later) and people don't actually believe that you can do it. Because who makes marshmallows except Jet Puff?

The answer: I do. I make marshmallows. And I make homemade graham crackers (because Martha Stewart told me to). Pause for a moment to consider this information and enjoy this at the same time:

I'm guessing that Frank and Dean were drinking heavily before this was filmed. I can't be certain but if my Rat Pack knowledge serves me correctly, that was really a staple of every performance. That accounts for the choreography and the fact that Frank is sort of holding Dean up as they come down the piano key steps. However, it's awesome and fun and marshmallow-y so we should all watch it every holiday season just for smiles.

I learned to make marshmallows about 4 years ago (before this whole trend started so I clearly like things before liking them is cool). I found a recipe in a copy of Woman's Day magazine my mom had. It seemed simple enough and my mom gave me her 20+ year old stand mixer so that I could try it out (because my mom is great and had her own shiny Kitchen Aid stand mixer to use). Around the same time, I also got the Martha Stewart Cookies cookbook and decided to try to make homemade graham crackers. This is also the cookbook in which Martha quotes Proust before a recipe for madeleines so you know it's amazing.

Anyway, the whole experiment was a success. My co-workers enjoyed a random homemade treat (microwave s'mores aren't too bad) and I've made this combination over and over again ever since. I've tried peppermint marshmallows (a little toothpaste-y but excellent in hot chocolate), raspberry and strawberry (interesting but not my favorite), and chocolate (no surprise that these are wonderful).

My first batch ever, 2009
But my go-to marshmallow is vanilla - lovely, snowy vanilla marshmallows. Something so simple and easy is always the best. When you start, you don't think that the ingredients (gelatin, sugar, corn syrup or simple marshmallow syrup, vanilla, and water) are going to come together into the fluffy magic that is a marshmallow. But then you put everything in the stand mixer and 15 minutes later - viola! Marshmallow heaven. The first time I made them I watched the mixture change from clear liquid to marshmallow and it was awesome. I had no idea that's how it all worked. And I made a very bold declaration: that making marshmallows could get you out of a Lou Reed gloom if you were in one.

What's a Lou Reed gloom you ask? In several episodes of the Gilmore Girls, Lane and Rory discuss their gloomy moods based on music or musicians. Lane uses "Lou Reed gloomy" to describe her conundrum of actually liking a Korean boy (which her mother would love) and that this one fact ruined him/their relationship for her. Later episodes discuss Johnny Cash gloom.

I love the idea of describing your mood based on musicians. I've taken this a little further than the Girls and divided my gloom scale into five levels:
  1. Lou Reed gloom - encapsulated by the song "Perfect Day" in which Lou has a perfect day with a person that clearly just keeps him around for no reason. I also like the way he says "sangria" in this song. There's hurt and love and gloom.
  2. Johnny Cash gloom - Have you heard his version of "Hurt"? Even before that there was always a little gloom in his songs - regret, longing, violence, bad behavior.
  3. The Smiths/Morrisssey gloom - Do I have to explain this one? Just because you put an 80s pop beat to a song doesn't make it peppy. Loneliness, despair, angst, and a little loathing abound.
  4. Hank Williams gloom - "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" just about sums it up. There are plenty of peppy Hank Williams songs too but most of his songs are about loss and being used (story of his life). That yodel was a cry for help, my friends.
  5. Radiohead gloom - This particular kind of gloom also involves paranoia. Whenever I listen to Radiohead I immediately think "At least I'm not Thom Yorke."
(As an aside, I really like sad songs so even if I wasn't particularly gloomy I could still listen to a great sad song any day. Like these or early Wilco.)

Last batch, August 2012
I've made marshmallows a lot since that first batch. Usually it's because I'm bored and figure that the my co-workers really need a treat the next day. But on a few occasions, I made marshmallows because I was in one of the above moods and the process and the magic (and the goodness) at the end snapped me out of it. Who knew something so simple could be so powerful?

Tomorrow is marshmallow and graham cracker day at my house. I'm teaching a few friends how to make both. I'm going to make vanilla marshmallows today and tomorrow we'll do another vanilla and maybe chocolate and peppermint (depending on their preferences). I have some chocolate too so s'mores will also be on the menu. If anyone is feeling gloomy, I suspect this process will get them right out of it and into a blissful, marshmallow state.

It could be all the sugar but I like to think it's magic instead.

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