Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Culinary Risk Taking

Do you have a list?

You know the one.

The "list of everything I need to do/accomplish/attempt before 'x'" (insert age of 30, death, baby, marriage or any other significant life milestone).

We all have them.  Some lists may be more organized than others.   Mine is filed away mentally, although I am seriously considering putting it down on paper one of these days.   For two reasons, one, because my memory just isn't what is used to be and two, because if you put it down on paper, then somehow, it is more real.   Besides, then you get to check stuff off of it and this is (almost) the best part.

My list is long.   It has many things on it.   I've been hacking away at it this past year.   Some items are big, some not so big.   All are things I'd like to give a shot.

Today's post isn't about the big things.    Not the skydiving, flame eating, swimming with sharks or public karaoke singing variety.   (I lie, none of these are on the list.   John's maybe, not mine.)

It is about a small little portion of the list, a tiny corner reserved especially for culinary risk taking.    You may laugh, but I am serious.   I have a list of things that I have always been a little timid to try.   (too many ingredients, challenging technique, just darn impossible, etc.).   Most of recipes definitely require a little time, a luxury which I have actually had this past year.    

I have been slowly but surely working through my list.   Some items I will make public, many I will not, some are still in hold status, requiring a true bout of courage.

(Macaron anyone?  I will conquer these ... someday.)

So when John came home before the holidays and announced that he needed  a gift for the office... like, tomorrow, (Is this what it is like to have kids?  If so, sigh...), a little brain child appeared that softly whispered to me.... "Make Caramel.   (Preferably caramel squares wrapped in an outer layer of soft pillowy marshmallow.)"


First, I've never made caramel in my life.   Wait, I've never made candy in my life.   But it is on the mental list and I suppose there is no time like the present and I'm sure John's office won't mind being guinea pigs (yet again).

Did I mention that I do not have a candy thermometer? (Warning One - Please do not try making caramel at home without one. I had no idea what I was delving into.)

Caramel making is a tedious process.    It requires time and lots of patience.   Lots of time.   Lots of patience.    Slowly (slowly) but surely the little list of sweet and buttery ingredients will transform itself into what is was always intended to be.    (Warning Two - You WILL get sick if you "taste test" too much of this stuff.    I am like a little kid with sugar.   Too much is never a good thing.  Trust me on this.)

In the end, we had a lovely little gift of individually parchment wrapped caramels for the office.     I am skipping all of the steps in the middle, because my point here is really about risk taking, not the recipe.     The quote I can never remember but that would apply here is the one about if you keep doing the same things over and over again, you will keep getting the same results.    And one of my favorites, what's the worst that will happen that if you try and fail?  

(PS - If you are wondering, huge fail in the marshmallow wrapping.   Huge.   Disgusting in fact.   I'll leave that to your imagination.  Also, incredibly fun to clean up.)

You can apply the lessons above to the little things, in this case, culinary risk taking in the form of a small adventure in caramel, or you can apply them to the big things.   As an added bonus, a little success in the way of small things will go a long way in giving you a little extra courage for the big things.

Besides, all of this gives me a nice little answer to those that ask me what I do on my days at home.   Culinary risk taking has a nice ring to it, I think.    Kind of even makes it sounds important.

So throw caution to the wind and give "it" a shot!    What's next on YOUR list?


  1. i'm so impressed! i have a friend who makes wonderful candies, and i just watch in awe.

    i have a little list of things to do before the big 3-0. i've only crossed one off, but am contemplating a snowboarding weekend, since apparently we're getting a bunch of snow today. that would take care of another.

    i like the little challenges, too. they can't all be crazy and big - that's just exhausting. :)

  2. Caramels... impressive!! I'm glad you were able to salvage them from the marshmallow mess AND cross something off your list at the same time :). On my list? Learn how to do zippers and buttons on my sewing machine!

  3. Yum! I know it's always good to take risks in the kitchen...my next one...seasoning a brand new wok...which I'm dying to use, (Chad bought me the best stir fry cookbook for Christmas) but I've got to season it first!!!

  4. Not sure that I would attempt those- yet. I'm afraid to say that my list would include organizing the kitchen. And that is a scary thing indeed.

  5. Kelli - Snowboarding... that's a great one! I used to ski, haven't in years, but I'd probably be shaking in my boots on the board. Good luck!

    Sarah - It helped that I delegated marshmallow clean up to the H. :) Learning to sew zippers and buttons, yep, that definitely sounds like a decent challenge. I just acquired my mom's sewing machine and still need to figure out how to turn it on (Its on the list!)

    Meeling - Seasoning a wok sounds like fun too... I LOVE stir fry! In fact, I need to add a wok to my 'buy' list ;)

    Lala's - Ha! Organizing a kitchen... I dare say that might be a big item! Definitely scary! (I'm in the midst of doing the same... and trying to combine two kitchens into one. I do one drawer at a time :)

    I love all of your list items! Thanks for sharing these! It is fun to see what everyone else has next...

  6. I have one of those lists, I keep adding to them in my moleskin book. I also joined the daring bakers because the monthly challenges are always something that I'd be too chicken to do (well.. not all of them. the royal icing one is something that i do all the time)


Thanks so much for your comments! I love hearing from you and read each and every one!