Three days ago, I submitted my final grades for the fall semester, and though thoughts for the necessary spring planning are already skittering in the background of my brain, the winter break sprawls with possibility and the lure of new endeavors: like learning to make pulled sugar decorations!
I have loved sugar sculpture ever since I learned it was a thing that existed, which came in the early 2000s, thanks to a gamut of Food Network competition shows. Over the course of a day, teams of chefs poured and pressed and pulled and puffed sugar into five-foot tall sculptures: birds of paradise atop swooping green vines; carefully balanced lilies with petals tiger-striped or blushed; roses that looked fresh-plucked, even down to drops of sugar dew. I remember blown sugar horses, mid-gallop, rising from pulled sugar waves. It was magic. It was frivolous and decadent and served no purpose but to be admired; while such decorations are edible, very few people actually want to consume pounds of what is, essentially, simply hard candy.
It is important to me to make time for frivolousness. It’s a little push back against my need to be useful, to produce something. And though what motivated me to do this now is that I want to fancy-up my planned Christmas Eve dessert and I decided that only something this over the top would do, the whole endeavor is absolutely temporary and silly. I am not a pastry chef (though maybe I would like to be, except for all of the debt I would accrue going to pastry school now and the brutality of the culinary world). There is no “transferrable” aspect of this endeavor (except maybe cultivating patience and exercising my capacity for failure, which are two things I do all the time otherwise, given the nature of my many hobbies). It is simply pleasurable.
There’s the requisite danger of working with boiling sugar, of course, but I make caramels regularly and jam often enough not to be afraid of that. One learns quickly that this is not the time to multitask; one learns the allowances of what is forgivable and what is not. Over- or under-cooked sugar doesn’t work; letting the edges of the sugar puddle over-harden when it’s coming down to workable temperatures means inelegant, crispy bits in the shimmering mass. But with a $15 heat lamp (the kind Tractor Supply sells for keeping chicks warm) and a $5 bulb, the pulled sugar can be kept nearly infinitely pliable. Case in point: we threw The Fellowship of the Ring (extended edition only!) on, and I spent the next three hours and change making the things below.
There’s pleasure in the impermanence of these, too. It’s not just that they can be consumed (though they probably won’t be), but that such decorations are neither meant to nor able to last. Like the little lull between semesters, all of this is temporary, which is a cornerstone for the joy.
What I’m making: Textiles, but make it sugar! Next, I want to try some multi-color work.
What I’m reading: Can I say I’m reading everything? Or at least as much everything as I can get my hands on when they’re not covered in sugar? I am playing a little bit of catch-up with my winter-break, balancing finally getting to “books everyone has read but me” (The Night Circus, Gideon the Ninth, Sea of Tranquility) and queueing up some new books by friends, like The Consort by J. Warren and Slip by Michael Pogach, and not brand-new but the still rather recent Less is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer.
What I’m writing: I continue to work on getting at least a few small things squared away in this in-between space, at least incrementally. As is usually the case with breaks of any sort, I get a little lost with the interruption of a schedule, and I’m trying to respect the feeling that maybe a few fallow days filled with other creative pursuits is not the worst.
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Since it’s the season for arguing what’s a Christmas movie: The Lord of the Rings is my favorite set of Christmas movies. Is there anything more resonant to the holiday experience than a long and grueling trek to distant lands, full of hidden dangers? …maybe that’s just me.
oh WOWOWOW holly!!! sugar sculptures! these are exquisite, and impermanent, and perfect.
i must see a galloping horse made of sugar. i simply must.