When I worked in Chinatown in D.C., I’d trek weekly to Chop’t, a make-your-own salad joint, a few blocks from the office. There was always a line snaking out the door, most people’s noses glued to their smart phones, but I craved veggies, so I’d stand and wait, rubbing my pregnant belly and staring down at my fat ankles. At the registers sat a big jar of salted caramels. I could get two for $1. Back at my desk, I’d think with glee, “This bite costs 25 cents, but it’s worth it.”
And then, one day, I realized: “Why don’t I just make them myself?” So I jotted it down on my “Things to do while on maternity leave” list: “Make sea-salt caramels.” (Heh, I forgot about that list in the newborn fog.)
Well, C. is 17 months old and we have since moved to the California desert, far away from any place to buy gooey sea-salt caramels.
This week, mulling over what project to tackle, I thought: “It’s caramel time!”
People rave about Ina Garten’s recipe on the Food Network. Among other things, it calls for 1/4 cup light corn oil and a candy thermometer.
So I lug C. to the grocery store to buy the ingredients. As soon I return and unbuckle C., I realize I forgot the thermometer. And then, in the kitchen, I notice the oil is full of high-fructose corn syrup. Yikes. (This flies in the face of my bid to eat natural sugars, but I make an exception since it’s something I’ve always to make.)
After dinner, I tell A. I’m off to get a candy thermometer. It’s after 9 p.m., I’m tired, but I go anyway and the only candy thermometer I see is $2.99. Hm. That seems cheap. I buy it.
I read more comments — “Don’t use a cheap candy thermometer,” and “A candy thermometer is vital!”
The next day, while C. is napping, I start one pot for the sugar, water and corn syrup. I put the cream and butter on the other burner. I open my candy thermometer, fumble it, watch it sail through the air in slow motion and CRASH, shatter to pieces on the kitchen floor. Nice. Now I’m trying not to step on glass shards while I’ve got pure sugar boiling like a thick lava on the stove.
With no thermometer, I have no idea how long to cook the bubbling brew, so I take it off after 10 minutes. I put it in the fridge. When I take it out a few hours later, the caramel is hard and greasy. I roll it into an unattractive log (it seriously looks like poop), slice it into pieces and wrap each piece in a torn scrap of parchment paper.
C. sits in the high chair, watching me sweat and swear under my breath, and says, “Me-mel, peas?” [Caramel, please?] I give him a tiny bite, then remember he has three molars breaking through. (After I release him from his highchair, he toddles to the bathroom and returns with his toothbrush and toothpaste in hand).
After all of this, I pop one in my mouth and YUM. They really are delicious, exactly as the comments say. And almost as good as the caramels from Chop’t.
Now we have a box of sea-salt caramels to enjoy for some time — in moderation, of course. And the best part? I’ll stop asking myself: “I wonder how to make sea-salt caramels.” ‘Cause now I know. It was probably a blessing they were such a pain to make, because I have no need to make them again.