This posting is a bit of a follow-up to the Fasting & Feasting post from a few weeks ago. The idea is that life is not and should not be one note. You feast too much, you die. You fast too much, you die. But when you combine the two, the balancing effect is just right. More than that, experiencing the one only builds anticipation and appreciation for the other.
Similarly, as I've noticed in my adventures in cooking over the past few years, food is at it's most delicious when there is a depth of flavor, elements of both sweet and salty. This inspired a recent cooking experiment, from the same magazine as the recipe in the above-mentioned posting, but this time for Apple Cider Caramels. The idea was that this homemade treat would be a simple, delicious, and inexpensive gift for a few friends, neighbors, and teachers. Well, at least a few of those adjectives proved to be true.
Let's just say reducing a sugary liquid over medium high heat takes more time and much more attention than I was ready to give (not to mention it coincided with the news coverage of the horrifying school shooting last week, so our attention was definitely not only on the stovetop). Needless to say, I burned the apple cider to a charbroiled lump of coal, saturating my home in a not-so-delicous, acrid smoke smell, not one but TWO TIMES!
I was so frustrated and surely my lungs couldn't take the potential of any more sugar smoke inhalation, but I decided this sweet-seeming but deceptively evil recipe would not beat me. I made my third trip of the day to Trader Joe's to buy yet another jug of cider, and I left Katherine to the job of dislodging the coal from the bottom of our pots (it was good therapy--sorry!)
Thankfully, the third time was the charm, and all our efforts were left with two small cups of highly-concentrated apple-sugar goodness.
After a few more steps, including a volcanic cream whisking into the boiling caramel and an overnight stay in our overflowing fridge, it was time for the big reveal. All of these efforts would be blessed and our friends would so grateful for all the figurative blood, sweat, and tears so lovingly poured into this small Christmas gift (oh and the literal decreased life-span of my lungs). As you might guess, something didn't quite work--I guess baking is supposed to be very precise, who knew--and the caramels were not exactly as pictured in the magazine.
In fact, one pan really couldn't pass for anything other than caramel sauce. So back to the store for some sort of containers. For all my troubles, God did give me a nice wink though, when I looked more closely at the small glass containers I picked up, and they had an anchor stamped on the bottom.
We sprinkled a little sea salt on top of our labor of love. This trick strangely brings out the sweetness even more. I suppose the salty reminds your tongue how sweet the sweet really is in comparison.
In this expectantly hopeful season that is so often ironically riddled with unmet expectations and hopelessness, that is sometimes more burned than even bittersweet, may we never lose sight of the bigger picture. Not an ounce of the burned or the bitter or the sweet is wasted, and in fact, when it's all combined together, it makes for the most delicious treat you have ever tasted.