Hot Sugar Action

It’s a new year! Time for the standard resolutions that will be dropped in a couple of months (eat better! exercise more! write in the darn blog more than once a month!). But it’s also a fine time to focus on a new hobby.

Lately I’ve been exploring the world of candymaking–or, as my husband and I joke, gettin’ some hot sugar action. A few months ago I picked up a book on it (Sweet Confections: Beautiful Candy to Make at Home), partly because I was interested in learning how to dip things in chocolate, but perhaps more because the cover looked good enough to nibble.

Reading it whetted my appetite for learning more. I’ve got lots of friends who are amazing bakers, but candymaking is an area where I don’t have many people’s brains to pick, so I’ve had to do online research and experimentation. The book’s recipe for saltwater taffy just gave us hard candy; success was found elsewhere. For Christmas I received another book: Candymaking. Both have been helpful in their own way: Candymaking has a lot more variety in each area, but Sweet Confections features a photo of every single recipe, which can be incredibly helpful.

It’s ironic that even though chocolate was my gateway temptation, it’s one area where I’ve done very little further work. For chocolate to stay stable at room temperature and not require refrigeration, it needs to be properly tempered. On top of that, I’ve found there are many different ideas on what’s the best way to dip chocolates, or at least the non-round ones. (For round ones, the consensus appears to be that hand-dipping is best–and yes, that means using your hands to coat the centers with chocolates.)

At any rate, I’m having a lot of fun with it, and will likely be writing more about my candymaking adventures in the future. I’ve got some favorites already, and some drool-worthy ideas of what to try next. I’ve also been compiling a mental list of equipment I’m going to need at some point. To my husband’s chagrin, one of those dream items is a new kitchen. I’ll just have to keep him plied with caramels, and maybe one day he’ll concede.



I’m bringing paperback

Kindles, Nooks, iPads, even smartphones… it feels like everywhere I look, someone’s got some kind of e-reader. Heck, even my mom got one for Christmas last year! Being the voracious reader that I am, you’d think I would be first in line for the latest device. But this is one geek trend I’m skipping, for now. I’ll take my reading the old-fashioned way.

I grew up devouring books. Most times when I got suspiciously quiet, it wasn’t because I was up to mischief, but rather because I’d gotten lost in a book. And I wouldn’t just read them once–if I liked a book (and I rarely met one I didn’t) I was happy to return to it many times. Even as an adult I get as much pleasure reading a book for the second or third time as I did the first time through. Some people watch their favorite movies over and over, spouting memorable quotes. Why should it be strange that I do this with my favorite books?

So, it seems like a no-brainer.  Electronic readers have all kinds of advantages over traditional books. They’re kinder to the environment than printed editions, they’re easier to carry when you want to take the whole library along, and I could read late into the night without turning on the bedside light. Anti-glare screens make it convenient to read outside, and advances in battery usage make it possible to go for weeks without needing a charge. But I’m still not sold. I’ve got a more important, less personal reason to pass for now: I want my son to love reading as much as I do.

Kiddo is still too young to tell an iPod from a smartphone, and the only difference to him between those two and our laptops is their size. In this little boy’s eyes, all of them serve the same purpose: to prevent Mom and Dad from paying Kiddo his rightful share of attention. If I pull out my phone to take a quick peek at my email, he’ll grab my arm and say “No, mom!”  He’s even reacted that way occasionally to other electronics like our digital camera. So, as handy as an e-reader might be for me, he’s not going to see it as a book. He’s going to see it as one more distraction.

Children copy the behaviors modeled by their parents. I remember playing in the backyard as a child while my own mother sat nearby with a book in hand. To show Kiddo how enjoyable reading can be, we have to demonstrate it with items he recognizes as books, not gadgets. Frankly, it’s not that much of a burden for me. I like reading traditional-format paperbacks.  They’re a good fit for my small hands. I like the feel and sound of fanning a new book’s pages; I love flipping to a random place in an old read and thinking, “Oh yeah, I remember this part!” and diving in.

And there are other benefits to analog versions. It’s easy to purchase a new one without needing any special software installed. I don’t worry about breaking them if I drop them, and I can keep reading on the airplane during takeoff and landing, while other electronic devices have to be turned off and stowed. Sure, they both get ruined if they fall in the bathtub, but the replacement cost of a mass-market paperback is considerably lower.

I have no doubt that a couple of years down the road, I’ll be ready for the latest Kindle or its kin. But for now, I’ll take my dead-tree versions, with the hope that I’m planting a seed for the future.