The Smoky Aftertaste of My Semi-Burnt Caramel Corn

Two days ago, on a generous late night whim, I had the idea of making caramel corn for my thesis class because (a) who doesn’t like caramel corn? and (b) our thesis instructor is allergic to gluten and, as far as I know, caramel corn is gluten-free.

And so I set upon the recipe that proved such a success last time and somehow, in the process, felt like the caramel was getting a little too dark. So instead of 5 minutes of stir-free boiling I stopped it at 3 and, after adding baking soda and vanilla, poured it on the corn. Into the oven it went and when the whole process was done the caramel corn tasted sweet but slightly burnt.

The shyster in me decided to pass this off as a more sophisticated caramel corn: a bitter undertaste for those with more refined palates.

As it turned out, yesterday’s class was cancelled and I felt like all my efforts were wasted until I set upon the idea of bringing it to my 9 – 12 Cabaret class this morning. It was there, in fact, that I told Patty and Alex (who were sitting to my right at our class’s large table) about the sophisticated popcorn with the burnt undertaste. “It’s sophisticated,” I assured them with manipulative charm. And so they chewed their first bites like a philosopher chews an idea: “yes, I see the merits here, perhaps there are flaws, but I accept the challenge this caramel corn provides: I shall savor the journey.”

They snacked for several minutes and then Molly at the other end of the table waved for us to pass the tub. Molly hadn’t heard my warning about the corn and our professor was talking so there was no way for me to package the smoky bitterness with sweet manipulative words. Alex, Patty and I watched her grab a large cluster and bite into it. She smiled, at first, the look of “good job, Adam! You’re a great chef!” And then, like watching a tire deflate, her face began to change. Alex elbowed me: “Look at Molly’s face.” She stared at me puzzled. “Is it supposed to taste like this?” And then she placed the remaining cluster of caramel corn back on the tub.

And then somewhat slyly Dan, sitting across from her, grabbed a cluster of his own. We watched the same process occur with him: there was nothing we could do. It was like that scene in Rear Window where Grace Kelly’s across the way and you see Raymond Burr coming back to his apartment and you want to scream: “Run, Grace Kelly, run!”

But afterwards Dan assured me that though the corn was bitter and disturbing at first it grew on him. Patty and Alex agreed.

And so should you slightly burn your caramel corn before bringing it to class, don’t hesitate to do so. If people tell you it tastes funny just convince them they’re unsophisticated and you’ll walk away a winner.

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