filling the empty nest with food
Stories and fables in history and literature abound about learning the hard way: everyone from the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke to most of the duped or naive animals in Aesop’s fables (My favorite is the grasshopper. Probably out of envy for how shamelessly lazy he gets to be, at least for a while) to Shakespeare’s tragic heroes. Particularly poor Othello who believed “honest, honest Iago” enough to smother his own wife, falsely accused by Iago of cheating on Othello. Only too late does Othello learn that Iago is the most evil of liars, and then Othello can’t bear to live anymore once he realizes he’s wrongfully killed his wonderfully sweet and loyal Desdemona. His wail to the gods upon learning (the hard way) that he trusted the wrong person is seriously heart-wrenching:
O cursed, cursed slave!
Whip me, ye devils…
Blow me about in winds! roast me in sulphur!
Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire! (Othello, Act V, Scene 2)
My hard-won cooking lessons don’t get quite to that level of remorse, but I have made enough mistakes where I should think twice about many things I’ve done rashly. Things like doubling candy recipes. A long way, I realize, from Othello’s wife-murder to screwing up homemade candy. And not to trivialize Othello’s self-inflicted agony, but sometimes regret is regret.
I have a note to myself in an old Betty Crocker cookbook on the Peanut Brittle page. It says: “If you double this, it takes HOURS to cook and increases the risk of burning. RESIST!! MAKE TWO BATCHES!” The multiple exclamation marks and the yelling at myself about how many agonizingly long hours it takes for a double batch of peanut brittle to reach that perfectly crunchy, hard-crack stage of brittleness is the hit-me-over-the-head reminder. Trust me…a double batch takes much more time than you want to spend standing at the stove watching a candy thermometer creep forward at its glacial pace.
The note to self brings back memories of past Christmas seasons staying up late at night willing the candy thermometer to move at more than a few degrees per hour, or so it seemed. Getting that innocent mixture of sugar, water and corn syrup to 300 degrees seemed to take forever. Those exclamation marks (since I’m not normally a person who speaks in exclamation marks) also remind me that it took more than one double batch of late-night sleepy stirring to get me to recall my mistake from a previous year.
The peanut brittle recipe, by the way, yields delicious candy. Better than any store-bought version I’ve ever had. And it really doesn’t take that much of any evening to whip up–as long as you MAKE ONE BATCH!
O cursed slave!Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!