Of caramels and sidewalks.

thIt was 7 below zero and 12:45 a.m. when I left Anchorage for Phoenix, a city where I don’t think it’s ever been below zero. My layover in Seattle was marked by several startling holiday visions:

  • An electric cart driven by Mrs. Santa; beside her, Santa played the guitar and sang “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.”
  • A life-sized plush snowman and a holiday princess walking through saying “Merry Christmas!”
  • An old time Father Christmas giving coloring books to kids and asking adults to applaud in appreciation of several embarrassed-looking Navy dudes.
  • A quartet of strolling carolers wearing Dickensian garb.
  • Someone dressed as a reindeer and what I think was a one-man band (but since the music was far away, it could also have been a one-woman band).

But you know what seems stranger than that now? The fact that I took a walk in shirtsleeves, on sidewalks I could actually see.

Temperatures in the 70s seem very odd. So did the brief but epic rainstorm that took place earlier this evening. But it’s great to be able to spend the holiday with my daughter and her husband. They recently found out that Abby is pregnant again. She’s had three miscarriages in a row, but we’re hoping for the best. Any and all prayers welcomed.

Read me somewhere else

I’ve put up two more articles at Money Talks News. “33 ways to make your loose change really count” suggests ways that squirreled-away change can get you through short-term problems, pay for a few treats or maybe even fund long-term goals.

According to the National Retail Federation, 57% of U.S. residents will “self-gift” this holiday season. “Get what you want for Christmas: Buy it yourself” notes that this can actually be a good idea – sometimes.

Another article, “Beat holiday stress with a ‘holidate’,” recently ran on Behind the Blue, aka the Valpak blog. It offers nine ways to beat stress without breaking the budget. This piece was also an Editor’s Pick in the Carnival of Personal Finance at Debt Blag.

Sweets and prizes

The Swagbucks rewards program is offering yet another bonus for those who join before the end of the day Saturday, Dec. 21. Use my referral link and then earn 1,500 points by the end of the day Tuesday, Dec. 31. That sounds like a lot, but some users earn more than that in a single day due to online games, shopping, surveys and other tasks.

You have until Dec. 24 to enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card in a contest sponsored by Coupons.com. More than two dozen ways to enter, all of them fairly simple — check the Rafflecopter widget at the end of the post that’s linked above.

Finally, I need to answer a couple of questions about my candy-making activities. The “My shoulder says I need a day off,” post mentioned that I did two batches of sweets to give away for the holidays. A reader named Arlene wanted to know what “Scotch brittle” is, and a reader named Barbara e-mailed to ask (teasingly) how I could mention a sea salt caramel recipe without actually sharing it.

Good questions! Scotch brittle is actually peanut brittle, but the recipe I use gets heated up to 305 degrees – and last year I went a little over that, which made it taste almost-but-not-quite burned. Still tasty, though. I called it Scotch brittle because I remembered reading that butterscotch was called that because of butter being “scotched,” or scorched, in the making.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, it could also be that the candy was invented in Scotland. A moot point, really, since this is brittle and not butterscotch. Although come to think of it, the Scots sure do love them some buttery shortbread and this brittle has a lot of butter in it.

As for the sea salt caramels, let me begin by saying that professional confectioners probably use cream. The recipe I use is based on sweetened condensed milk, which is fine by me because I get to scrape out the can with a spatula afterwards. [drools slightly at memory] Also, these are frugal caramels because the sea salt was free: It’s from a big bottle left behind by a tenant in the apartment building I once managed.

Both recipes are from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (aka “the red and white book”), published in 1968. It was one of the tomes from the last day of a Seattle library book sale; I paid $5 for all the books I could fit in a box. Always go on the last day.

Scotch brittle: Heat and stir 2 cups granulated sugar, 1 cup light corn syrup and ½ cup water in a 3-quart saucepan until sugar dissolves. When the mixture boils, add 1 cup butter (or margarine if you must, but….really?). Stir often after temperature reaches 230 degrees. At 280 degrees add 2 cups chopped peanuts; stir constantly until mixture reaches 305 degrees. Remove from heat and quickly stir in 1 teaspoon soda, mixing well. (It foams up – so cool! – so keep stirring hard.) Pour onto a pair of buttered cookie sheets, spreading the mixture thin. Break up when cool.

Sea salt caramels: Melt 1 cup butter (or margarine, feh) in heavy saucepan. Thoroughly mix in 1 pound brown sugar and a dash of salt; stir in 1 cup light corn syrup. Gradually add a 15-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, stirring constantly. Cook and stir over medium heat to 245 degrees (this should take 12 to 15 minutes). Take off the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour into well-buttered 9-by-9-by-2-inch pan. When cool, cut into squares and dip the tops in sea salt (or chopped peanuts). Note: I have an 8-by-8-by-2-inch pan and it worked just fine.

The thing about both peanut brittle and caramels is that people think it’s incredibly hard to make either one. You will get all sorts of props for giving homemade candy for Christmas.

They’re so rich that relatively small pieces go a long way, i.e., a small tin makes a nice gift. That means you will have plenty to give away and some to keep. Hint: Don’t eat them right after licking out the condensed milk can. Pace yourself.

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  1. Melissa F

    You are so right, I always thought it was hard to make caramels. I never even bothered to look for a recipe thinking it was a lot of hassle. But, it sounds easy and I am going to give it a whirl this weekend for some added extras for gifts I plan to give. Thanks for sharing this with us. Praying all works out for Abby! Enjoy your time with your daughter and son-in-law. Merry Christmas Donna!

    • Donna Freedman

      Merry Christmas to you as well. You will be amazed at how easy these things are — and the next time there’s a bake sale or office potluck you can impress the heck out of everyone with your confectionery prowess.
      Hint: After Christmas you may see sales on sweetened condensed milk. Buy a few cans to keep in the cupboard. I also found light corn syrup being remaindered after the holiday.

  2. Carolina Cooper

    I am praying for Abby and her baby-to-be. It’s not necessarily true that “the 3rd time is the charm.” Sometimes it’s the FOURTH time!
    Abby sounds like she will be a great Mom, and after reading so many fun things about you with your great nephews, I KNOW that you will be a truly awesome Grandma. Keep us up to date, please.

  3. Love peanut brittle and love caramels but I don’t care for the trend of putting sea salt on the caramels or chocolate. I guess I’m a purist but I just don’t like them messing with the original versions.

    • Donna Freedman

      These caramels are delicious plain — or, as also suggested, with chopped peanuts. They are a lot like the Squirrel Nut Zipper candy of my youth. Go ahead, try them. Your dentist has kids to put through college, after all.

  4. I recently found you blog from a link from MSN. I used to read you there and didn’t know that the bloggers were fired. I hope new opportunities are opening up for you. Enjoy your Arizona Christmas! I live in Tucson and I’m happy with the 1 or 2 days of snow a year. I’d rather read about it and look at the pictures.

    • Donna Freedman

      All sorts of opps are opening up, thanks. One of my favorites: the chance to slow down. I still need to make a living, but it’s been nice to have the chance to pick and choose.
      Thanks for coming over. Hope you’ll subscribe to my feed or just keep checking in.

  5. Teinegurl

    I have grown an affinty for spare change now thanks to you Donna! I even taught my kids to search for pennies on our walks to school. My good friend Alex paid for her vacation this year with those $1 golden coins. Everytime she would encounter them at work she would switch them out for a greenback and save them for her travel fund.

    • Donna Freedman

      When my mom remarried, she and her new husband paid for their honeymoon with quarters they’d saved during their fairly long engagement. Little drops of water…
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  6. Thanks for sharing these recipes! I needed something else to make so those caramels will be perfect!

    And my best wishes for Abby. After reading your work for the past few years, I know you will make an amazing grandma!

  7. Keeping my fingers grossed for Abby.


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