I went with her a few times in my younger years, and I didn't see what all the fuss was about. The summer crafts shows were the worst - it was unbearably hot and all we did was walk, walk, walk. The same snack foods that made their appearance at the carnival also worked the craft fairs - sausage and onion subs, funnel cakes, cotton candy, and caramel dipped apples. The air was so thick with grease and heat, the line for the lemonade stand was wrapped around the block.
As you can imagine, my favorite part was the food. I didn't care so much about the ornaments or the rainbow of soy candles for sale (although I did purchase a Chocolate Chip Cookie scented candle for my mother one year with my own money, I was so proud), I was all about the edible. There was always the same token vendors to choose from, yet I'd endure the heat, the walking, the rows and rows of primitive goods with the hope that we would get to the good stuff eventually. One year, she brought my grandmother along, and we waited outside a stand selling handmade soap from goat's milk for nearly an hour while she asked questions. It was brutal.
There's the condiment stand - the one that has a dozen samples of cream cheese based dips with flavors like Key Lime and Coconut or Strawberries and Cream. Of course, there was the savory side, too - broken pieces of pretzels sticks with jars upon jars of brightly colored mustard for tasting, spinach and garlic dip and mason jars with evenly stacked layers of lentils and dried spices and directions for do-it-yourself soup. The fudge station was always a delight to watch, partly because it was one of the few locations that was purposely chilled to keep the fudge (and customers) from melting and I would sit on the stoop and watched the candymaker slap thick ribbons of chocolate fudge onto the cold marble counter top and wish to be just like him one day.
But for anyone who has ever been to a carnival or craft fair, you know about the almonds. The single tiny stand that is nearly impossible to find yet you go all day long being tormented by the scent of spiced cinnamon floating through the hazey summer air and wondering why they don't provide a map to find it. It's always tucked away some where, most likely to keep the spice-intoxicated patrons from storming the place, but when you do find it, it's a glorious moment. They coat whole almonds with a cinnamon mixture and toast them in a little silver barrel that spins and spins until each one is covered with crunchy, crystallized bits of sugar and spice. It's a magical thing.
I've replicated the almond recipe at home, but truth be told, I like pecans even better. The almonds are delicious, sure, but they are so crunchy that one gets a sore jaw after a few handfuls. Pecans quickly remedy this unfortunate situation. They have a more mild crunch, a bit of sweetness on their own, and allow you to squirrel your cheeks full of them without adverse affect.
And really, it couldn't be easier. You whisk together a bit off egg white that acts as a binder for the aromatic goodness to come. Then you add a bit of soft brown sugar for sweetness and a potpourri of spices and toss the pecans in. Turning them about ever so gently, the goo will pull between the pecans like cinnamon cobwebs and off it goes into the oven where it will permeate your entire house with a fragrance that makes you wish St. Nick was just around the corner.
Now, in case you haven't noticed (and I don't blame you if it missed your eye), my blog turns 2 today! Now because it's been such a fun ride, and because I never want to stop doing it, and because you're just as much a part of this as I am, I'm giving away some of my favorite ingredients to add to your kitchen arsenal.
Here's what you'll get:
- 1 bag of pearl sugar (perfect for chouquettes!)
- 1 bag black cocoa powder (enhances anything chocolate)
- 1 container of Vietnamese cinnamon (I used it on this recipe and oh. my. word.)
- A secret surprise!
To enter, become a follower of If You Give a Girl a Cookie, "Like" the Facebook page, and leave a comment below. A winner will be chosen at random on Monday, May 2. No entries after midnight the day before, please. Love you guys and good luck!
Adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop.