There is a lot I love about fall—good hair weather, changing leaves, chunky sweaters, trading open toes for boots. But there is a dirty little secret that I have harbored since I was a child: one of my favorite things about fall is the new TV season. I’ve made it clear that during my formative years my desired television viewing habits remained only desired. And I’ve also mentioned the irony (hypocrisy?) behind the strict “idiot box” policies that were enforced by my parents; my father was a creative director at an ad agency (yes, he had Don Draper’s job) and TV commercials kept a roof over our head.
In spite of (or perhaps because of) the dictatorship run by the people who kept our color television under the lock and key of their bedroom, I only wanted to spend my evenings in TV’s thrall. Their rules didn’t nurture a yearning to curl up with Tom Sawyer, Jane Eyre or Moll Flanders (or God forbid, my homework) but rather, with the Bradys, the Angels or the Carringtons. And so, just as buying a new pencil case put a little spring in my step, so did the unveiling of the signature theme songs each network used to usher in the new season's line-up. The really sad thing is that I actually remember a few of them (“Now is the Time, ABC is the Place!” Fall 1981 anyone?). I am truly curious as to what was going on in my brain at the time that made escaping into the black box more appealing than staying on the reality side of the screen. Although, thinking about anyone’s life at 15 it isn’t really that hard to figure out.
Here is where things get even more ironic: the automotive industry was the entire reason why the networks' season began in September in the first place and my father spent 30 years working on car accounts. According to my source, (you-know-who) back in the day (it still may be true) car companies were the biggest advertisers on television. New cars were rolled out in September and it followed that that would be when their ad needs were greatest, so let’s bring on the new shows. What’s also interesting (to me) is that the idea of January (mid-season) replacement shows was tied into the re-launches of the car models that had been introduced the previous September. Get it? The whole model was shaken up by the foreign car companies and their foreign schedules and the explosion of cable so none of this really applies to either business at this point. But old habits die hard in TV land and so, “Now is the Time [and my TV] is the Place!”
Of course, because I am a theater geek in princess clothing I am very happy to welcome back Glee. I’ve been watching since day one and recommend it to anyone, whether or not you are in high school or care about musical theater. Then there is 30 Rock because Alec Baldwin is brilliant, Private Practice because Tim Daly is Tim Daly, The Good Wife because I’m obsessed with Julianna Margulies’ eyebrows and Modern Family because everyone says it’s great and I have yet to watch it. I’m also watching Running Wilde, co-created and starring my hilarious friend Will Arnett (shameless plug for friend, sorry), plus I’m in the middle of Mad Men and easing into Top Chef: Just Desserts. As you can see, I am very busy.
Speaking of busy, keeping my hands occupied while watching all of this is a constant challenge. I don’t know about you but I have a very hard time staring at a screen with my hands resting by my side. At the movies I’m always nibbling on something and that happens at home too. The reason I took up knitting 10 years ago was so I could do something productive while watching TV, other than stuffing my face. And that tactic worked for awhile. Basically, I learned one sweater pattern and one hat pattern and I knitted them for the babies in my life. But there were two problems; first, yarn is a lot more expensive than a bag of chips and second, the babies grew. As their size went up my bank account went down. So now I’m back to eating.
I do my best to time my dinner to the show du nuit but the network programmers aren’t always taking my dining schedule into consideration. At 10pm I find myself empty handed, or to paraphrase Estelle Costanza again, “sitting there like an idiot without a piece of cake” and sometimes I’m not in the mood for cake. Actually, that’s not true. I always want cake. I just don’t want to look like someone who always eats cake. Really, I’m usually hankering after a little combo of salty and sweet and when I saw this recipe in the September issue of Bon Appetit I was intrigued. Caramel corn, cashews and….bacon? This I had to try.
Oh no, it is really good. Don’t be too freaked by the bacon (or Fakin if you’re a vegetarian), it just gives a little smokiness to this salty, sweet, spicy, crunchy, perfect grown-up version of Cracker Jacks. Now I have a new problem—I’m going to look like someone who ate 15 cups of snack mix. Maybe I should have stuck to cake. Or maybe I should go back to knitting. Anyone having a baby?
Note: Personally, I don't see the point of the tea in this recipe. I think you could just go with warmed cream, sans tea. Also, use your favorite nut if cashews aren't your thing. And forgo the bacon too if it freaks you out. The nuts, popcorn and caramel would be delicious even without the addition of a smoky meat.
TV Time Nutty Spicy Caramel Popcorn
from Bon Appetit, September 2010
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1/2 cup popcorn kernels
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 ounces bacon, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted raw cashews (one 2.5-ounce package)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 oolong tea bag
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Heat popcorn and oil in covered heavy large pot over medium-high heat until kernels begin to pop. Using oven mitts, hold lid on pot andshake pot until popping stops. Pour popcorn into very large bowl.
Cook bacon in heavy large skillet over medium heat until almost crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain; cool and chop into small pieces.
Add bacon and cashews to bowl with popcorn. Sprinkle with coarse salt and cayenne; toss to coat.
Bring cream and tea bag just to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat; let steep 15 minutes, occasionally pressing on tea bag with back of spoon to release flavor. (I poured my mixture into a mug for a better steep.) Discard tea bag.
Line rimmed baking sheet with foil; coat with nonstick spray. Coat 2 wooden spoons or heat-resistant spatulas with nonstick spray; set aside.
Stir sugar, 1/4 cup water, and corn syrup in large saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high; boil without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 9-13 minutes.
Remove from heat and immediately add cream (mixture will bubble up). Stir until blended.
Immediately drizzle caramel over popcorn mixture; toss with sprayed spoons until evenly coated. Transfer to sheet.
Place caramel corn in oven and bake until caramel is shiny and coats popcorn, tossing mixture occasionally, about 20 minutes.
Cool completely on sheet on rack, tossing occasionally to break up large clumps.
Yield: 15 cups