I surveyed the ingredients on the counter, comparing them to the simple recipe pulled up on my phone. Satisfied I had everything, I turned on the burner, filled a measuring cup with slivered almonds, and dumped them into the pan.
“Here goes nothing,” I said to the little dog at my feet.
Earlier that day, knowing my cooking skill limitations, a friend had given me the task of bringing a bag salad to our gathering that night. Determined to fancy up the bag of butter lettuce chilling in the fridge, I had decided to make candied almonds.
“Let’s hope replacing brown sugar with regular sugar doesn’t mess anything up. Think that will work?”
The little dog cocked his head in response. I took it as a yes, and dumped the sugar into the pan, sprinkled in a little cinnamon, and picked up the spatula.
“Stir continuously for 5-7 minutes until toasted. Do you think they literally mean continuously?” I asked him. Met only with silence, I turned on a timer and began stirring.
Cooking has long been my nemesis. I am beyond uncomfortable in the kitchen. The loosey-goosey nature of cooking directions does not fit my desire for perfection and precision. Burned bread, chewy chicken, soggy vegetables, and other less perfect meals had caused me to hang up my apron years before.
“See where trying to be brave instead of perfect gets me?” I asked my little companion. “At least no one is expecting anything more than a bag of lettuce from me if this is an epic fail.” More silent staring and a tentative tail wag.
I glanced at the timer. Three minutes to go. As far as I could tell nothing was happening in the pan. I watched the almonds cut trails through the sugar, wondering how the two would ever cling to each other.
“Maybe I should have added butter.” A few thumps of the tail and the small butt wiggle he reserves for his favorite things. “You like butter?” I asked. More wiggling.
Turning back to the pan I noticed that the sugar seemed to be melting. As I stirred, it began to coat the almonds with a light sheen. Soon a little smoke and toasted almond smell emanated from the pan.
I glanced back at the recipe.
You can tell the almonds are done when you start to smell the toasted nut flavor and the sugar melts completely, coating the nuts.
“But there’s still two minutes on the timer,” I said to my little helper. “Do you think they’re done?”
I turned off the heat, certain burned almonds weren’t what I was going for.
I spread them on wax paper to cool, hoping they would cool into crunchy bits of deliciousness.
I cleaned the kitchen to pass the time, eventually returning with my companion to the almonds.
“Well, here goes nothing. You want to try it first or should I?” I asked him. He let out an excited whine. I flipped him an almond in response. It was devoured instantly.
“I’m not sure you’re the best judge,” I said, “you didn’t even taste that.”
I picked up my own piece and popped it into my mouth where it dissolved into a lovely blend of sweet and crunchy.
“We did it!” I yelled picking him up off the floor and spinning in a circle. “We actually did it!”
Later that night I gathered around the table with friends, enjoying our last dinner together before one moved across the country. “Where did you find the almonds for the salad Sara? They’re delicious.”
“I made them,” I replied to stunned silence.
“You cooked?” she asked. “But you hate to cook. Why the change? Because you’re learning to be brave, not perfect?”
“Yes,” I answered. “And because I’m going to miss you. You are absolutely worth facing my fears for.”