Yesterday, the little advertisement sidebar on Facebook tried to interest me in a retirement plan. “Man, is it confused,” I thought, but actually it was a nice change from the Weight Watchers ads and the ads for the new Dr. Oz diet that Facebook has been trying to tempt me to click on for the last few weeks. (And ads encouraging me to become an ultrasound tech. I have no idea what about my profile has suggested to the ad scanners that I’d like to go back to school to become an ultrasound tech.)
Seriously, Facebook, the only one of those ads I’ve ever clicked on was for yoga pants. And actually, I didn’t even click on it; my cat did when he stepped on my track pad. So, you would think I would just get nothing but ads for yoga pants when I logged into Facebook because it’s the only thing I’ve given Facebook any indication that I’m powerless to resist, but ‘tis obviously the season for New Year’s resolutions, most of which apparently consist of turning over a new leaf, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, exercising some will power, etc.
You would think we’d be the most self-disciplined culture in the world.
I’m not saying that those kinds of resolutions never work. Five years ago I decided to quit smoking some time around New Year’s-ish. That is to say, at the end of December, Santa left a box of Nicoderm CQ in my Christmas stocking, and I started thinking about maybe opening it on January 1st. Perhaps it wasn’t a New Year’s resolution as such because I didn’t actually take the plunge until March or something, but loosely speaking, one might call it one of the more bootstrappy-type decisions I’ve made in my life.
Mostly though, I’m a proponent of making New Year’s resolutions that I actually want to keep—things that delight the soul but that I’ve made lame excuses for why I can’t do. For example, I hoard pretty jewelry like a kleptomaniac raccoon, but I never used to actually wear it because I always thought I had to save it for a special occasion. A few years ago, I realized there wouldn’t be enough special occasions in my lifetime to allow me to make use of the collection of sparkly things I had already amassed, and if the law of mathematical proportionality had anything to say about it, was only going to get larger at a constant rate as time went on. Thus, jewelry every day. The year before last, my resolution was to skip over the songs I hate on my iPod when I’m running. I had it into my head that I would “use up” all the music I love if I didn’t also suffer through the songs that make me crazy. Like I said, lame excuses. I’m sure they have their origins in some deeply vulnerable and reptilian part of my psyche, and someday it might worth thoughtfully exploring the origins of such things, but today it’s probably okay to just say, “Those are really nonsensical and unsatisfying,” and let them go.
Last year, my resolution was to start a baking blog. Much like the whole quitting smoking thing, it didn’t really get underway until March, but I like to think of myself as a slow yet careful starter. Happy New Year, everyone, and may you make resolutions that fill your heart with light.
“And a Happy New Year” Salted Vanilla Bean Caramels
- 1 cu heavy whipping cream
- 5 T butter
- ½ tsp vanilla
- ½ vanilla pod
- 1 ¼ tsp sea salt
- 1 ½ cu sugar
- ¼ cu light corn syrup
- ¼ cu water
Line an 8×8” pan with tin foil, parchment paper, or wax paper and butter the lining.
In a small saucepan, combine the whipping cream, butter, vanilla, salt, and vanilla pod. (Would you believe I actually have vanilla pods? Poor Baker 7; Empty Kitchen 5.) Before you add the vanilla pod to the pot, split it lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a paring knife. Put the seeds in the liquid and then drop the whole pod in as well. Bring to a boil and stir until the butter is melted, then set aside.
In a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the sugar, corn syrup and water to a boil over medium high heat. Stir until the sugar is melted, and then let it simmer until the syrup is golden, swirling the pan occasionally. Apparently you’re not supposed to stir during this step. I think it has something to do with preventing the sugar from crystalizing around the spoon, but I might be making that up. (Warning: sugar can go from lovely golden to burned mess in a matter of seconds, so don’t walk away from the pan.)
Once the syrup is golden brown, pour the cream mixture into it. It will bubble up like a science experiment—don’t be alarmed; this is supposed to happen. No safety goggles are necessary (but if you lose an eye, please don’t sue me). Simmer until the caramel reaches between 246 and 248 on the candy thermometer. (I have no trick for making this without a candy thermometer other than gauging by color and smell when the candy is caramelized. When it starts to smell like caramel, it’s caramel.)
Pour into the prepared pan. (If you are anything like me, at this point you will be filled with the overwhelming desire to dip your finger into the newly poured caramel to sample it. I beg of you, resist this urge. It will stick to your finger like burning napalm.) Allow the caramel to cool for about half an hour, and then sprinkle a little more sea salt on the top. Allow it to cool completely, then cut it into 1 inch squares and wrap each one in candy foil or parchment paper.
Recipe adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride