Friday, March 26, 2010

Spicy caramel corn and my reading list

When I am blessed with a moment to spare and to consciously wrestle myself away from the computer or television, there is no greater moment spent than entwined on the couch, floor or bed arranged in some unnatural body position enraptured by the pages of a book or magazine.  These are some medical/food books that I’ve read lately that I would highly recommend.  They’re all quick reads and will leave you thinking.  And don’t worry; you can eat while you read.

Homebirth in the Hospital by Stacey Marie Kerr, MD. 

A family physician in northern California, Dr. Kerr outlines birth stories of women who gave birth in the hospital, but with minimal medical intervention.  The world of medical obstetricians and proponents of natural childbirth and homebirth are often portrayed to be on opposing battlefields.  Dr. Kerr suggests combining these two worlds for safe and happy delivery of babies, especially of high risk women.  The diversity of women outlined in the book goes beyond telling the story of the birth of their babies and beautifully portrays the meaning of motherhood for women from all backgrounds.

The Reach of a Chef
by Michael Ruhlman

The third in a series of books on chefs, the Reach of the Chef discusses the impact of celebrity of chefs and cooks today on the culinary industry.  He profiles many different chefs who have found extreme success in their field.  Often success is countered with a chef’s personal loss of his craft as he shifts to a more managerial position.  The overlying theme, to me, was that not unlike being a doctor or surgeon, being a chef involves an incredible amount of sacrifice, hierarchy, and diligence, mental, physical and emotional energy.  The difference is that nobody dies in the kitchen.  Personally, if I’m going to work that hard, I’d rather be in the OR than chopping carrots and planning menus. 

A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

This heart-wrenching memoir examines the year after writer and novelist Joan Didion’s husband died instantly at the dinner table while their only daughter was intubated in the ICU from severe sepsis.  Didion employs hard evidence from medical literature combined with fantasy and poetry to understand and cope with such tremendous stress and loss.  She grows to understand the science but also the “magical thinking” behind dealing with tragedy.  I read the whole book in five hours and could not put it down. 

French Laundry at Home
by Thomas Keller and Michael Ruhlman

While this beautiful book is primarily a cookbook, it is much more than that.  French Laundry at Home, through photography, montages and incredible recipes outlines the intense amount of perfection and wonder that goes into making Thomas Keller’s Napa restaurant run smoothly and deliciously.  I haven’t cooked any recipes from it yet, but it is marvelous just to peruse.

Any other books that you’ve read lately that you recommend?  I have three months before I start residency, and in that time I plan to pack a lot of reading in.  Let me know!

What’s better than reading with a snack?  I struggled for a long time to think of a snack that would be delicious, easily reachable and in small bites, and perfect to eat while reading along.  Then it hit me--caramel corn! This caramel corn is amazing; salty, sweet, and spicy.  I think that cayenne pepper is a welcomed addition because the spice is the only thing that slowed me down so I didn’t eat all of it before my fiancĂ© even got home from work (he would be very upset with me if I had made caramel corn and not shared). 

The caramel corn is easy to make, but does require a candy thermometer to heat up the syrup to the right temperature (the soft-ball stage).  Because I make the sugar sauce with equal parts of white and brown sugar, gauging the degree of cooked-ness of the caramel by its color simply doesn’t work.  You can get a candy thermometer cheaply probably at the grocery store, and I think it’s a good investment anyway.  The one that I got for a dollar works better than the fancy-schmancy one my dad got at Crate and Barrel that I used to make Christmas candy. As a suggestion borrowed from the lovely Orangette, I baked the popcorn for a bit to make it crunchy and delicious. 

Caramel Corn (I’m honestly not sure how much it makes because I ate half of it before I was done but it makes about 6 cups.  If you want to make more, the recipe is easily doubled)

½ cup un-popped popcorn
3 tbsp veggie oil
(or 1.5 bags regular microwave popcorn)

Over medium heat in heavy bottomed pot/pan, pop corn shaking occasionally with lid slightly cracked until most kernels popped.  Or just use an air-popper or microwave if you have one. 

For caramel:
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
½ tbsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1/3 cup water
3 tbsp softened butter (very important to soften)

Preheat oven to 250.  In heavy bottomed sauce pan, over medium heat, mix sugars, salt, cinnamon, pepper and water and bring to a boil.  Boil, stirring frequently, until candy mixture reaches 240 degrees or the soft-ball stage.  Turn off heat, and whisk in butter.  Add popcorn to saucepan (if it fits) and mix thoroughly.  Add corn to baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, stir and bake for another 10 minutes.  Allow to cool (if you can wait) and enjoy!


  1. Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is the only book I have read, in this year after my husband's sudden death, that rings absolutely true.

  2. Find a copy of Intern, by Dr. X (not the recent book by Sandeep Jauhar) and read it. Even the worst night of intern year won't be as bad as some of his were (thank God for Las.ix).