A Meditation on Caramel

I love experimenting. Unfortunately, if you are a perfectionist this can get exhausting. As I mentioned on my Q & A page, I have decided to take on the slightly neurotic task of making as many things from scratch as I possibly can. I’ve had some successes and failures over the past year, but I recently had a breakthrough with a recipe that had been taunting me for months: caramel sauce. I can’t tell you the amount of grainy caramel that I’ve consumed and forced on my supportive friends. For a recipe with simple ingredients, namely sugar and water, one would think it would be simple to execute. It is not.

I have finally learned that you have to let the sugar do its thing. You have to give up control. You heat sugar and water … and wait. DO NOT STIR IT. Swirl it only if absolutely necessary. You may start worrying that the some of the sugar is burning or that it is not mixing properly or that you hair is turning gray prematurely and now that you think about it, you might also have a rare fungal disease. Let go of it all. It helps to think like a Buddhist on this one. Buddhists believe that human suffering is caused by clinging to things: trying to exert control over what the sugar is going to do will only cause you pain. Let go.

There is a great analogy about this that comes to mind involving how to ring a bell. It's a simple notion: if you clutch a bell too tightly when you ring it, you’ll just get a muffled sound. If you hold a bell loosely, it will ring loud and clear. This is a lovely concept and it works as well with caramel sauce as it does with learning how to loosen your grip on life. And so I am trying to incorporate more Buddhism into my life, starting with caramel sauce. It’s really a delicious way to do it. And I almost forgot: since I also find that bourbon is helpful in letting go on occasion; it’s in the sauce too.

Letting Go Salty Bourbon Caramel Sauce

1½ cups sugar

1/3 cup water

1 cup heavy cream

2 tbsp bourbon

Pinch of sea salt

Heat the sugar and water on medium heat until the mixture turns chestnut brown; this will take about 10 minutes or so. Do not stir it. Swirl it occasionally, if necessary, to blend. Remove from heat and add the heavy cream, bourbon and salt. Return the sauce to the heat and stir to blend everything together. It will thicken as it cools; I recommend refrigerating it. Enjoy. This will make about 1½ cups.


Why Prunes? Let's Get Things Started ...

Plums got charisma.

Besides being baked into tarts, stewed into jam and stuffed into pork roast, they are a fruit with symbolic chops. They are thought to be a sign of good omen. They have also—ironically—signified both purity and fertility.

The English language is lousy with plums in poems and sayings; they’ve been romanticized about and sexed up. (See the plum apology by William Carlos Williams and you’ll know what I mean.) And yet, they have a stone fruit stepsister that is vilified as much as the plum is revered: the prune.

Where plums got purity and hope, prunes got constipation. Where plums got sex, prunes got nursing homes. But things are about to change for the prune. Refer to it as a dried plum, if you must. Say prune with a French accent if it pleases you. However you slice it, the prune, my friend, is about to be reborn.

Prunes—from here on out—can be used as inspiration for how to eat and live. Because what matters in the kitchen (and in life) is what something is, not what it is called. This blog will touch upon the origins of food and the joys of cooking, but it will also be simple and honest and, with any luck, offer a little comfort when the pot of life boils over.