Scott and I are about to become empty nesters. Emily has graduated from high school and is embarking on her university studies in just a few weeks (as in two weeks). Up to now, it has been a flurry of non-stop activity. First, there was searching for a prom dress, planning a pre-prom party, with my cousin acting as the official photographer, then Senior activities, including a trip for all graduating seniors to Busch Gardens in Tampa. Then commencement ceremonies and graduation parties.
I thought I would be able to relax after all the planning, cooking, setup and prep for the graduation party, but before it was even over, we were getting ready for college orientation — for both the student and parents. Since Emily is starting college in the summer, we are barely back from orientation before we have to turn around and head back to drop her off. For real, this time. Whoa.
For the past 4 months, I’ve been so caught up in my “to do” lists, that I haven’t had time to focus on what is arguably one of the most life-changing events to hit our family unit. The sudden departure of my daughter. Gulp!
At the same time that she is eagerly spreading her wings, ready to fly, I’m reminiscing about her first swimming lesson, or her excitement over a lost tooth and a visit from the tooth-fairy.
This sudden sense of nostalgia has caught me completely by surprise. I’m not usually sentimental, but this transition has left me with more than one lump in my throat.
The funny thing is that I’ve been in a sort of countdown to graduation for the past four years. Not with trepidation, but with anticipation.
The idea of quietude, no drop-offs and pick-ups and rearranging your schedule to accommodate hers, less dirty clothes (do you know how much laundry a teenage girl generates?) and definitely less eye-rolling, surly mumbling under her breath and outright disdain for her parental units — it all seemed magical when I had four, three, two — even one year left to go. But now it’s happening and I’m like a deer in headlights.
I think that’s why I’m in a sudden mode to make comforting foods. For Emily, I know she appreciates the unexpected sweet treat in the house, and she’s probably going to reminisce fondly about home cooking when she’s stuck in the college commissary. For Scott and I, I see this southern pecan caramel sauce with a healthy dose of bourbon as a salve to be applied liberally to our newly opened wounds.
- 1/3 cup pecans
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon bourbon divided
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place pecans on a baking sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes until browned and fragrant. Transfer pecans to a cutting board and chop.
In a medium saucepan, add sugar, corn syrup and 3 tablespoons bourbon. No need to stir. Have the whipping cream measured and next to the stove at the ready. Place saucepan over medium to medium high heat (depending on how hot your stove runs). Bring mixture to a rolling boil and watching the sugar mixture deepen in color. It will go from a light corn-syrup color, to light brown to amber. The change between light brown and amber is quick. Be ready for it. When it achieves a deep brown (not burnt) color, pour the cream into the center of the pan. It will steam and bubble vigorously -- that's ok. When it calms, remove it from the stove. Stir in the salt and chopped pecans. Let it cool for about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining teaspoon of bourbon. Transfer to a glass storage container. You can store sauce in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
I use canning jars for storage because the caramel sauce will harden up in the refrigerator. I remove the lid and microwave the jar for 30-45 seconds to soften the sauce before spooning it over ice cream.
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