During the holidays, my food contributions are usually sweet and decorative. I'm thankful that my family makes the bigger meals, and they're probably thankful that I don't. I'm not a bad cook, I just have a history of freaking out in the kitchen. Hopefully this is changing though. I'm learning that it's best to create something, however imperfect, just to get it out of my heart and into the world. With art, food, or whatever we choose for an outlet, creativity needs to pour forth. Bottled up, it just creates a pressure that wants to be uncorked. So in the spirit of enjoying the season, temper tantrum free, here are my recent offerings - sweet apples and a little leaf sketch.
My craving for a caramel apple started last month. Somehow my childhood memory was triggered and I knew I had to have one before the season's end. Anyone remember Wrapples? That fabulous kit that came with flat caramel circles and popsicle sticks? I remember the excitement of putting these together with my grandmother, mom, and sister. Popping them in the oven and then eating them while they were nice and warm. Mmmm. We may have taken the easy route in the 70's, but they still tasted like Heaven on a stick. I couldn't find these in the store (pity) but I researched the real way to make them, the original 1950's way - melting caramels in a pot.
Sounds simple enough, I thought. I can handle this. But searching around the internet, I noticed there was much more to it now. Sooo many imaginative versions out there. People weren't just using caramel, they were layering with chocolate, nuts, sprinkles, drizzles, etc. etc. Wow! I was officially inspired. The thing that really got me though, the crowning glory, was the little natural branch on top that seemed to be replacing the old popsicle stick. I loved this idea, because it implied a story. I wanted to hold one of these and imagine I had plucked a caramel confection straight from a tree. Straight from an enchanted forest maybe? Ohhh yes. So this is where I started. Trekking through my backyard one afternoon, I collected small branches, boiled them on the stove, dried them overnight, and added a little gold paint for charm. Aren't they lovely? I'm a little bit proud.
I did get to the cooking part too, somewhat reluctantly, but keeping a positive attitude. The first step seemed fairly simple. Melt caramels on low to medium heat - stir constantly. Not much happened on low heat though, so I bumped it up to medium and moved on to step two. Chop nuts. Knife? Hammer? Nooo, too aggressive. Let's keep calm as long as we can. Rolling pin? Ahh yes, a more polite way to pulverize, but I searched all drawers and couldn't find it. How about a wine bottle? Perfect. Polite and cultured. So I rolled and crushed the nuts, and simultaneously rolled and crushed my stresses away. It was quite therapeutic, and I was doing the job well, until I heard my husband walk in and say, "Weren't you supposed to stir constantly?".
Nooooo! I tried to explain my distraction, but it didn't change things, the caramel was burnt. I stared in silence at the little dark spots swirling around as he stirred. Maybe I could pretend they were chunks of cinnamon? Nutmeg? No, it was pretty obvious, I'd have to do it over. Deep breath. Okay. Smile.
The next batch turned out great, thanks to my mother's advice to put one pot inside another pot of water. Instant double boiler, like the candy makers use. Very nice. It melted perfect and smelled ohhh so good. But - when we started to dip the apple, it slipped from the stick - arrrgghh. My pretty little stick wasn't grippy. What should've been a one handed project, quickly required four hands, two spoons and an unfailing sense of humor. We grappled with the apple, trying to smear the sweet stuff on in some attractive fashion, but to no avail. It was gloppy, drippy, and not at all how I thought the story would go. It wasn't pretty, but it was pretty funny.
The process continued like this for a while, but eventually, the thing that saved the day was - a corkscrew - David's bright idea for gaining control, and it worked! This also reminded me that 'behind the scenes' is behind the scenes. Save the pretty stuff for later.
I'd like say everything went swimmingly from here on out, but molten stuff has a mind of it's own. This is true for caramel and for chocolate, which unfortunately, I had to make two batches of as well. Melting chocolate chips by themselves would've been fine, but I added milk. This didn't make it creamier, it made a giant brownie. This might be where I tossed myself on the sofa saying "Why???" but I quickly recovered and made it through. So they didn't look as smooth as Wrapples, oh well, the awesomely chopped nuts covered up most of the globs, and they tasted amazing. I think this happens with many creative things. If we trust ourselves to finish it off well, we can relax with the mishaps along the way. Especially if we can let ourselves laugh.
And after all of that, can you guess what we did? We plucked out those golden sticks and ate the apples with a fork. The story changed, no enchanted forest, but it ended in a freak-out-free happy enchanted kitchen.