Our wild, wide home provides endless opportunities to wander. Before our son was born, my love and I would often embark on far off excursions in his trusty old hatchback, the trunk packed with adventure bags and firewood or skis and snowshoes for our quest. We ran a tight car, and would plan and pack expertly, prepared for any emergency and equipped with all the comforts we might want on the long drive. We would hold hands and have deep conversations while we snacked on chips and candy — junk food being an essential indulgence in our road trip ritual.
Our son’s first long car trip was tense. The back of our shiny new hatchback was stuffed to the brim with (mostly unnecessary) baby gear: clothes, toys, blankets, books, medical items, rockers, swaddles … and maybe a change of clothes and a toothbrush for each parent. I sat in the back, fretfully hovering over our tiny 2-month-old, intently watching his face for any sign of distress or discomfort. We had to stop many times to feed him and change him and stretch his delicate arms and legs. I don’t even think we snacked in the car for fear that the noise of rustling packages would wake our sleeping baby.
This past weekend we took a car ride on a day trip. The back of our still shiny but not quite new hatchback was packed with three pairs of matching boots for a beach walk, some extra layers, and basic emergency gear. Instead of chips and candy, I prepared a snack bag with raw vegetables, fruit and the ever-present goldfish crackers to munch on as we sped through the trees by the sea. Both parents sat up front so we could have our deep conversations while our little traveler sang to himself in the back and quietly played with his toys and books.
I still crave the junk food in the car, but since I want to set a good example, I’ve been forcing myself to create healthier alternatives. Although these candied pecans are quite sugary (comparable to the sugar content of store-bought candy, if I’m being honest), they also provide good protein and nutrition that candy lacks, so they make an acceptable substitute for my junky indulgences of the past. I’ll introduce him to sour gummy worms when he’s older.
5 cups pecans, toasted
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 stick salted butter
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Salt to taste
This recipe involves boiling sugar, so be sure your kitchen space is safely cleared of children and pets before you start.
Line a large baking tray (with raised sides) with a silicone mat. If you don’t have one, wax paper will work, but it’s more likely that the nuts will stick to the wax paper.
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan (a heavy wok would be better, if you have one) combine the sugar, brown sugar, milk, butter and corn syrup and heat until boiling.
Use a candy thermometer to track the temperature until it reaches 250 degrees.
Turn off the heat, stir in the vanilla, then add the pecans and toss until the nuts are evenly coated and shiny.
Very carefully pour the hot nuts out onto the tray and spread them out into a single layer, ideally with space in between each nut, but that’s a tall order.
Salt to taste. Try flavored or smoked salts for added depth.
Allow to cool completely then transfer to an air-tight container.