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Photographs by Meadow Linn

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Imaginary Family


I’ve been living alone for five years, but I still don’t know how to cook for just one. This evening, for instance, I filled a roasting pan with three pounds of free-range chicken and a mountain of potatoes and beets from my garden. Cucumbers and mammoth heirloom tomatoes—also from my garden—I tossed with thinly sliced red onion and chopped parsley to fill a large salad bowl.

I’ve spent the better part of my twenties and early thirties cooking for the family I always imagined I would have. A 7-quart saucepan is my go-to pan and the vegetable garden I planted is so large that it is currently feeding the entire neighborhood.

This evening while preparing my customary much-too-large-dinner-for-one, I decided that I would pretend my imagined family was actually real. My loving husband and my three adorable children were due home at any moment and I didn’t have any dessert. I pretended I was a contestant on the Food Network program Chopped. My mission was to create a fun and healthy-ish dessert for my children, using whatever I could find in the cupboard. The second caveat was that the dessert had to be finished before the chicken was done, as that was my actual dinner.

I scoured the cupboards, fridge, and freezer. A new challenge presented itself: the dessert couldn’t contain eggs, fruit, or milk. I keep a small flock of laying hens, but I had given my last half-dozen eggs to a neighbor earlier in the day. A ragged bunch of over-ripe grapes didn’t foretell culinary success, and instead of milk there was just the half-half I use for my morning tea. Using chocolate chips seemed too obvious and didn’t really fit the “healthy” parameters anyway, so I continued to delve further into the cupboards. My eyes landed on a jar of organic white popcorn, and I suddenly knew that I had found my challenge. Although I have never made popcorn balls or even proper caramel corn, I decided that I wanted to attempt to make naturally sweetened Cracker Jacks. The following recipe is what I came up with, and I’m pretty happy with the results. I think my future children will like it too. Let me know what you think.
Honey Corn

As a result of using honey instead of a combination of sugar and corn syrup, the popcorn will be soft and chewy and should be eaten the day it is made.

4 cups popcorn (1/4 cup unpopped)
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
3/4 cup honey
2 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Combine popcorn and peanuts in a large bowl. In a 2-quart saucepan combine honey, water, and salt. Over medium-high heat bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the baking soda and stir constantly until a candy thermometer reads 260 degrees. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Carefully drizzle honey mixture over popcorn and nuts. Stir to combine. Once it’s cool, enjoy by the handful. It’s very sweet and very sticky, so be sure to have a cup of coffee, tea, or milk on hand and lots of napkins.