December brings all kinds of weird customs. Not just Santa Claus. (There is no sanity clause. Chico Marx said so.) When we had our place in New York, I always dreaded what we called he annual extortion: tips for the doormen, concierge, package man, handyman, et al. As part-time residents, we scarcely partook of these people’s services, save the doormen, whose services we had no choice but to use — yet we were expected to cough up a ridiculous amount of money as a courtesy, or perhaps to keep up the karma that we wouldn’t need the services of, say, the plumber. I remember the first December we owned the apartment, calling up an old boyfriend who’d lived in a doorman building his whole life. I knew he’d understand my question and give me a straight answer. When he said $150 a person I practically spat. The building management company used to provide a convenient list for residents so that nobody would get left out of this bizarre annual ritual.
When we sold the apartment, I figured I was done with that particular custom, but I hadn’t realized it would eventually reappear in my life in the form of teacher gifts. Call me scroogey, but I don’t feel like I should have to give Akiva’s nursery school teachers extravagant gifts. After all, I pay tuition. Still, the social pressure is just too strong, and I do in fact adore and appreciate his teachers. I learn a lot from them, and I want only the best for them. Some of the families give gift cards or elaborate creations. In years past we gave home-baked cookies or organic maple syrup in decorative bottles. We’re low-tech and low-key all the way.
This year, I’d had it in mind again to make things for Akiva’s teachers, partly because it’s homey and friendly, and partly because it’s all we can really afford. At Small Notebook I found a link to a recipe for salted caramels drizzled with chocolate. Although I’d never made candy before last Saturday, I decided that would be the perfect gift for Akiva’s teachers: a fistful of caramels, handmade and prettily wrapped.
Little did I know.
The recipe is preposterously non-specific, and the first batch ended up a little tough. I thought I knew what to do to fix it, but the second batch came out too gooey. Hope for the Goldilocks batch was in vain, but I somehow had the idea that they were still usable. A little time in the refrigerator and they’d be fine. Meanwhile, I went to the craft shop, bought individual foil wrappers, small boxes, and a rubber “thank you” stamp. I wrapped all 120 caramels, stamped a lovely red “thank you” on each of eight small boxes, and set about filling the boxes and writing little notes to the teachers.
Then I decided to taste one of the extra caramels.
Goo, goo and more goo. They stuck to the paper. Mercilessly.
In all, I just threw away four batches of caramels, handmade and prettily wrapped. Meanwhile, the red ink on the boxes smudged, rendering them more like a nursery school art project than clever crafty gift boxes. Which is just as well since there’s nothing to put in them. Into the recycling they go.
I’m just going to write the teachers notes, enclose a family photo, and be done with it.