Sometimes life has a way of teaching you what you need to know. The other day I had it in my mind to make caramel apples, something I had never done before but I felt that it would be an expression of autumnal love. I imagined the children coming home from school to a counter full of luscious Granny Smith apples coated in a thick caramel; I imagined wrapping the apples in Halloween-motif cellophane for the children to take to their teachers. An apple for the teacher—how idyllic. I even imagined the photos I would take and the piece I would write about the caramel apples. "Halloween Apples!" I would title it. So perfect in my mind.
Here's what actually happened: the children came home from school to several bubbling pots full of different kinds of caramel sauce sitting on the stove, globs of caramel sauce on the countertops and on the floor, and nine naked Granny Smith apples skewered with chopsticks plus one apple sitting in a pool of caramel sauce that—despite my absolute best efforts—would not stick to said apple. I tried different recipes. I tried heating the caramel. I tried cooling the caramel. I tried scuffing up the apple peel. NOTHING worked. I fail at caramel apples, I thought to myself. The whole afternoon, wasted.
My boys, sensing my apple-related despair, rallied. My nine-year-old told me that an apple on a stick was a treat in and of itself, even without the caramel, and to prove it he grabbed one and bit enthusiastically into it. My eight-year-old, who is making musical instruments out of recycled materials at school right now, said, "You know, Mom, my teacher says if our instrument doesn't turn out the way we want it to, maybe we can use it another way, and at least we're trying our best." That was exactly what I needed to hear. If it doesn't turn out the way I want it to, use it a different way! I sliced up the apples, poured the caramel into a little bowl, and served it up to the children for their afterschool snack. They loved it! Later I drizzled it on ice cream to make sundaes, and I swirled it into a pan of brownies I was making for the Parent Association meeting. This morning the boys told me they were looking forward to apple slices and caramel sauce again after school. It worked out pretty sweet, for a failure.
In a large saucepan, stir together sugars and water and bring to a boil on high heat.
Reduce heat to medium, allow to simmer undisturbed for ten minutes, until sauce is a dark caramel colour.
Remove from heat, stir in coconut milk and vanilla extract.
Allow to cool completely before serving with apple slices, or drizzling over ice cream, or swirling into your favourite brownie recipe.