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Maple syrup, a little chocolate, and spring in ME

March 14, 2013

Spring is definitely in the air around Camden. Warming temperatures and rain have washed away most of the snow, and we are slowly starting to see signs of green slowly emerge. The transition between seasons is always an interesting one. Spring brings us new bursts of color, warmer temperatures and the sounds of birds chirping in the air—a vibrancy that is always welcomed after the peaceful quiet of winter. In Maine, March is also known as the time when the sap starts flowing and the state’s maple producers work around the clock to make that wonderful “liquid gold.”

Although it isn’t officially spring yet, the start of the season is easily symbolized by the hundreds of sap buckets that don trees around the state this time of year. It is a celebratory time – for locals, visitors and producers alike. So much so that on the fourth Sunday in March, we celebrate “Maine Maple Sunday,” where sugarhouses across the state open their doors to offer free samples, special events, and demonstrations on how Maine maple syrup is made. It’s a unique experience that connects us with these farms, with our food, and with our history. If you’ve never experienced fresh maple syrup still warm from the tap, it’s not to be missed!

This week in March also happens to be American Chocolate Week. According to the National Confectioners Association, Americans pale in chocolate consumption compared to other countries. Denmark has the highest per capita consumption in the world at 29.5 pounds, while the Swiss eat 22 pounds and Americans just 11 pounds per person in the United States.

We’re here to say, “Let the chocolate guilt be gone!”

Chocolate is regularly picked as one of the ten healthiest foods, with dark chocolate providing the most health benefits. In fact, studies have shown that chocolate can decrease your risk of a stroke, boost heart health by lowering blood pressure and levels of bad cholesterol, boost your mood, improve blood flow and circulation, and it even offer some UV protection from the sun. So feel free to indulge a little – you’re actually doing something good for yourself (in more ways than one)!

Like author Sandra Boynton said in her book Chocolate: The Consuming Passion, “As with most fine things, chocolate has its season. There is a simple memory aid that you can use to determine whether it is the correct time to order chocolate dishes: any month whose name contains the letter A, E, or U is the proper time for chocolate.”

We couldn’t agree more, so to celebrate both maple season and American Chocolate Week, we thought we’d share a couple of sweet confections with you – the first is a Maple Cashew Bark (courtesy of the Maine Maple Producers Association) and Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies (from the Hartstone Inn’s first cookbook, Hartstone Inn Cookbook).

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Creamy Maple Cashew Bark
1 1/2 cups Maine Maple Syrup
1 1/2 cups cashew nuts, lightly toasted (do not use salted nuts)
2 or 3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
Lightly butter a baking sheet and set it aside. Combine the maple syrup and nuts in a large, heavy pan and slowly bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring as little as possible, until the mixture reads 270 degrees on a candy thermometer. Stir in the butter and remove pan from the heat. Quickly stir in the baking soda, which will make the mixture foam. Pour it at once onto the prepared sheet and use the back of the spoon to spread the candy as thin as you can get it. Allow to cool, then break into pieces and store in an airtight tin.

Chocolate Chip and Walnut Cookies
(Makes 40 cookies)
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup walnut pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together the shortening, sugars, eggs and vanilla until fluffy.
Mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir into creamed mixture.
Mix in the chocolate chips and walnut pieces by hand.
Make balls with a #40 ice cream scoop and place about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat or on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool.
Hartstone notes that these chocolate chip cookies can be made without nuts, with a different type of nut, or if you really like chocolate, you can add 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder and 2 Tablespoons chocolate syrup to the recipe, and replace the chocolate chips with an equivalent amount of 1/2-inch dark chocolate chunks!

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No matter what time of year you visit, our inns will spoil you with homemade breakfasts and home-baked treats that will keep you coming back for more. Do yourself a favor this spring, and spend a little time on the coast of Maine. It’s a great time to experience the beauty and abundance of the season as well as our wonderful natural surroundings.

And make plans to join us for Maine Maple Sunday on March 24. We’ll be posting more about this and about Maine maple syrup very soon!