Monday, December 22, 2008

reducing the mania

Every year at this time I am knee deep in flour, tossing about sticks of butter, and running to the store for another missing ingredient. Not this year. Rather than choosing six or seven kinds of food based gift items, I narrowed it down to two. Yep. Two things to make, taste, give, and share. Seems stingy. But it has increased my sanity. Also reducing the mania, taking remaining vacation and personal days from work. Normally I am the sort of person who prides herself on how few days of work I miss. Yet, as I have begun to strive for a more seamless, sustainable life, I realize how much more you need to be home to accomplish it.

For example, want to grow your own vegetables and then harvest and put up for the winter? Need a few extra hours each day in the garden. Want to make more of your own clothes, replace paper products with cloth that needs to be laundered, bake your own whole wheat bread or pizza crust, or simply eat fewer meals out? You need to be more connected to your base of operations. It is that simple.

Yet is it? With all of our demands for time and the pressures of life, it can be incredibly easy to let those important things go. I do it often. Then suffer for it. Less connectedness, more frantic searching for meaning. More meals eaten on the run, of food that I don't even want in my body, fewer minutes spent in prayer, and missed opportunities to truly engage with those around me.

Back to the Christmas two gifting foods are vanilla-caramel popcorn with sea salt and cranberry-pistachio biscotti. The former is an adaptation of a Martha recipe. Her original recipe had almonds and entirely too much caramel to popcorn. I increased the vanilla, removed the nuts, and replaced regular salt for thicker, chunkier sea salt that provides a sharp earthy contrast to the sweet and smooth taste of vanilla scented caramel. Here is how I make it:

Vanilla Caramel Popcorn with Sea Salt
Makes about 25 cups

* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
* 3 cups corn kernels (3/4 C for each batch of popcorn)
* 4 tablespoons canola oil (one for each batch of popcorn)
* 2 cups packed light-brown sugar
* 1/2 cup light corn syrup
* 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 3/4 teaspoon thick sea salt - more to taste in the last round of baking
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda


1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Butter 2 rimmed baking sheets; set aside. Place corn kernels and oil in a large pot over medium-high heat; cover. Once kernels begin to pop, shake pot frequently; when popping slows to about 3 seconds between pops, remove from heat; uncover. Transfer to a large bowl. Add almonds; toss.

2. Cook sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring, until it reaches 255 degrees.

3. Remove from heat. Stir in extracts, salt, and baking soda. Pour over popcorn mixture; toss to coat. Divide between prepared sheets. Bake, stirring occasionally, 1 hour 20 minutes. In last round of baking sprinkle additional salt onto popcorn. Popcorn can be stored in airtight containers up to 1 week.

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