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Caring with caramel

“Hey, what about some pudding! Or maybe ice cream? A popsicle?” The list goes on: frozen bananas, smoothies, chocolate milk, yogurt. What child wouldn’t jump at choices like these?

Mine, apparently. 

Now, many of you are new to my column, so you might not be as familiar with my love of vegetables. I have a high regard for nutrition and well-rounded pursuits of health, and there is so little not to love about fruits and veg. In fact, my passion for growing, eating, making puns about, and researching fresh produce is what got me writing a local foods column in the first place. I’ve been very mild in my recent columns, trying not to scare away new readers, but be forewarned, the veggies are coming. 

So it’s a bit out-of-the-ordinary for me to be offering, yea even encouraging and almost begging, my child to eat from a smorgasbord of sweets. The cognitive dissonance is real. 

I should clarify some of the situation. My almost-two-year-old, Benson, is more than happy to comply with these dietary allowances. Every time I repeat the options within earshot, I have to be prepared to deal with the consequences of him hearing about some of his favorite foods; in typical toddler fashion, his life suddenly depends on eating them immediately. 

But the kid these treats are actually for is almost entirely disinterested. A couple weeks ago we welcomed in two foster kids needing a short-term home, and the eight-year-old just had his tonsils removed. If you check back over that list, it might start to make more sense: all the options are cold, creamy, and soothing. Brother, however, thinks they’re all stupid, even though he enjoyed them last week when he could also eat normal food. 

As can happen with any of us, sometimes when placed within restrictions we want most whatever we can’t have. The grass is always greener on the other side, or in this case, the carrots, apples, chips, and all manner of crunchy, chewy foods are tastier. 

Fortunately, even a sore-throated, frustrated kid can’t turn down ice cream forever. Between it being on the roster here and getting it unbeknownst to me at the grandparents’ house, Brother has essentially been subsisting on ice cream alone for a couple days. Honestly, I’m fine with it, as long as he’s actually eating something. Plus, I looked in his throat, and a tonsillectomy is no joke. Eat the ice cream, kid, you earned it. 

So when he needed caramel sauce for his ice cream, how could I turn him down. I was afraid it would go the way of many other options this week and lose its appeal as soon as it was available, but I figured that if so, at this point the rest of us deserved a bit of a pick-me-up anyway. Making homemade caramel sauce is almost as easy as opening a jar, and approximately one and a half thousand times better. It takes some attention, but then everything smells like rich, buttery goodness, so it’s still worth it. A good pinch of salt takes it to the next level — good enough that Brother has come back to it multiple times when nothing else was acceptable. 

Salty Caramel Sauce

Salted caramel was a fad flavor a few years ago, and while I’m typically not a fan of food trends, it’s impossible not to jump on this bandwagon. The salt brings such clarity and depth to the burnt sugar sweetness, and the sauce has just the right thickness for drizzling, pouring, drinking, whatever you gotta do. Literally as I’m typing this I had to stop and get out frozen banana-sicles for the kids to drizzle salted caramel on. 

Prep tips: It is very important to use a light-colored pan so that you can see when the sugar is caramelizing. Pull the pan off the heat a couple seconds before you think you should so that the sugar doesn’t burn. 

⅔ cup white sugar

¾ cup heavy cream

¼ teaspoon fine salt

Add the sugar evenly to a light-colored, sturdy saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring and smushing with a heatproof spatula as the sugar melts. Once all the sugar is evenly melted, continue to cook and stir until it’s a nice amber color. Remove from the heat, and slowly and carefully pour in the cream while stirring. It will bubble and look weird, but keeping stirring; return to low heat to remelt the sugar if you get clumps. Stir in the salt. Serve hot or cold. 

Amanda Miller lives with her husband, almost-two-years-old son, and whoever else God brings them through foster care on the family dairy farm in Hutchinson. She enjoys doing some catering, teaching cooking classes, and freelancing, but mostly chasing after her kid(s). Reach her