Friday, October 12, 2012

Maple Leaves, Mountain Apples, and Wild Mint

The last two weekends I have been very lucky to visit some incredibly beautiful places. This time of year is the perfect time to be outdoors, to savor the fresh air, the colors, the light, all of the wonders of nature.  I really believe October is a gem of a month, and I hope I can capture some of its brilliance in photographs.

I am convinced this is the year of the apple, as I have seen more than ever. And when nature produces such lovelies, why not take advantage of the bounty? I was so intrigued by the great variety of apples that I saw when visiting Apple Mountain. The little trees were just bursting with dark purple, maroon, deep red, black, pale pink, and canary fruit.

Besides the orchards at Apple Mountain there are many things that I adore about the Manzanos- all of the things that are so unique to New Mexico. When my family took a day trip to pick apples and go hiking I thoroughly enjoyed the drive as we passed chamisa and wild grass pastures, red rock mesas, groves of alligator juniper, rustic hued oak, abandoned ghostly barns, and windmills reaching to the majestic blue sky.

We went to one of my favorite fall hiking destinations, Fourth of July Canyon. It is appropriately named- for it is home to the so rare maples in the state which, when ablaze, are as awe- inspiring as fireworks. Driving to the trail head, the little dirt road takes you into the canyon, past a mountainside that was swept by a fire not too long ago. But now the skeletal black tree trunks are surrounded by foliage of crimson and bright orange.

Wild turkeys flocked near the road as we approached the trail head. The sun filtered through the trees just perfectly. Some of the tree's branches were decorated with hundreds of maple seeds, which I absolutely loved when the sun shone through them. It was as if the trees were strung with tiny light bulbs.

And not only is the forest visually beautiful, but the smell is also so fresh. The trunks of the ponderosa are unmistakably reminiscent of vanilla, the pine earthy, and the patches of wild mint beneath the maple trees so cool and calming.

I knew I just had to commemorate Fourth of July Canyon somehow. So I decided to make a fresh wild mint sorbet and maple leaf shaped tuiles sweetened with maple sugar.

The sorbet was so delicious. The little flecks of mint were just like the last bits of green in the forest, the last bits of sunny, warm days when you want something cool and refreshing.

And the maple leaf tuiles were crisp just like the fallen leaves blanketing the forest floor. The maple sugar gave them a nutty, toasted flavor, yet they were still light as a feather.

Even though we were a couple weeks too early to catch the prime of the maple color change, I think it was perfect. It was just the touch of autumn that I needed for inspiration.

Wild Mint Sorbet

2 1/2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup fresh mint leaves

1. In a medium saucepan bring the water, sugar and lemon juice to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Pour the sugar syrup into a medium bowl and refrigerate until very cold, preferably a minimum of five hours or overnight.
3. Just before pouring the syrup into an ice cream maker, chop the mint finely. Stir the mint into the syrup and then freeze in the ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Freeze until very firm.

Recipe from the kitchen of Cirque du Souffle :)

Maple Sugar Tuiles
makes 8-16 leaves (depending on size and thickness- mine were a little thicker than traditional)

1 large egg white
1/4 cup maple sugar
1/4 cup Jeanne's All Purpose Gluten Free Flour Blend (see Lavender Peach Crostada post)
4 teaspoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put egg white and maple sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Reduce speed to low. Add flour blend and salt; mix until just combined. Add butter, cream, and vanilla; mix 30 seconds.
2. Place leaf stencil in a corner of a rimmed baking sheet lined with a Silpat baking mat. Using an offset spatula, spread batter in a thin layer over stencil. Carefully lift stencil. Repeat, filling sheet with leaves. Bake until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. (If you do not have a leaf stencil, spread the batter in a thin layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for about 2 minutes, until firm enough to cut out leaves or other shapes with a cookie cutter. Place back in the oven for 4-6 minutes until golden.)
3. Lift cookies with a small offset spatula, and quickly drape over a rolling pin or other rounded object to cool (to create curled leaf effect). Repeat with remaining batter. Cookies can be stored between layer of parchment in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 days.

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies

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