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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Candy Canes

Besides listening to too much NPR, I watch too much Food Network. I love food and cooking; most of all I love finding out how food stuffs are made, from taffy to chocolate confections to chips to twinkies. The other day I stumbled on a show about candy canes. I don't like eating the stuff, but I was entranced by the process of making it.

The confectioner boils corn syrup and sugar together in a copper bowl until the mixture reaches a precise temperature. Then he pours it on a table cooled from below by water and swirls the candy about with a large pallet until it has the consistency of taffy. He adds the peppermint flavor, then splits the batch in two: one portion is for the white spiral in the candy, the other is dyed red. Then the candy has to go on a machine with three rotating prongs in order to have air incorporated into it. The red and white chunks are then put together in the shape of a thick, short log.

In the final step, the log is placed on a sort of trough that keeps the candy warm and thus pliable. The trough also rotates the log so that the red and white parts spiral along one another. At one end of the machine the confectioner pulls at the candy -- the log turns into the shape of a snake, its body thick at one end and skinny at the other -- and lenghtens it until it reaches the right diameter. He rubs his plastic-gloved hand along the log, fluidly and with ease. Then he snips off a length of candy cane that travels on a conveyor belt to the person whose job it is to bend the cane into its familiar shape. This worker has a window of only thirty seconds to do the bending before the candy hardens completely.

What amazes me is that the confectioner in charge of all this served an apprenticeship of six years to learn how to make candy canes. You have to know how to shape the candy without having it stick to your hands; you have to understand chemistry and thermodynamics; you have to have a bit of the artist in you. I was reminded, watching this show, about the craft and attention and imagination that goes into making things I take for granted every day.


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