This week, I went to a Halloween party for the Awesome Austin Writers hosted by adored YA authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Because I love this group so much, I thought I’d cook something extra special, never mind that I burn toast and leave my noodles to boil until all the water has evaporated.

What could be more Halloweeny and pitch-perfect for a bunch of children’sDecadent and Delicious! writers than caramel apples?

Plus the recipe says they only take ten minutes, plus another 25 for the caramel to harden in the fridge.

Well, being a total non-cook, I completely fell for this scam. Ten minutes? Try ten hours! Plus an additional hour-long visit to the chiropractor, because there’s no way not to throw your back out after you stab 70 apples with flimsy Popsicle sticks.

But let’s back up a second. I don’t put all the blame for my ordeal on the recipe. There are many guilty parties in this frightening tale.

First of all, upon rereading, I have to admit that the recipe does say to buy unwrapped caramels. But the grocery store offered a free package of caramels with each bag of apples I lugged home. Why would I notice if the caramels are the wrapped or unwrapped type when they are the free type and the Dow has just plunged another 500 points?

Picture this: I get home from the grocery store. My fingers work away through an hour-long Oprah show, and I still don’t finish unraveling all those sticky little squares.

Next, I wash and dry all 70 apples. Another hour.

When it’s finally time to plunge the Popsicle sticks into the hearts of these shiny red things, I’m ready. It feels good on a couple of levels. It’s only on the next-to-last apple stab that my rib pops out of place and my husband, Oren, enters the picture.

Okay, just to give you the full scoop, Oren makes homemade guacamole almost every night, and he helped me bake hundreds of butter bean cookies to send to my editor to celebrate the release of my book. In the kitchen, he is the master of his domain.

Oren talks me down. (He also presses a Bengay patch onto my back.)

Then he joins me for the fun part which actually does take only ten minutes: We swirl the apples into the goopy caramel, then twirl them through the ground peanuts or black and orange sprinkles, and set them on cookie sheets covered with wax paper.

Fun Part Over. Truly Scary Part Begins: How do you transport 70 caramel apples across town? Even Oren is stumped.

That night, I have a nightmare: I’m rear-ended and plastered to the windshield by caramel.

Finally, morning arrives. I’m listlessly changing out of my pajamas, when all of a sudden it hits me: “Pajamas!” I shout the way gold miners shout “Eureka!”

Later, around 2pm, my fabulous chiropractor pops me back into place. At 4pm, Oren helps me wash out the four big plastic drawers that I keep my pajamas andOperation Apple Pajama T-shirts in. He carefully packs one tray of apples into each drawer. Then I drive oh-so-slowly-and-carefully across town to the fabulous party.

For the first hour, everything’s sensational! I’m thrilled to see my writing buddies. We laugh and catch up on everything.

Then dessert time arrives.

I like to think of myself as more cooperative than competitive. Still, I can’t help but notice that author Anne Bustard’s adorable cat and bat cookies are going like hotcakes …yet only one—one—of my apples has disappeared.

No matter. We all know that if Muhammad doesn’t come to the mountain, you’ve got to take the mountain to Muhammad. I pick up a tray of my beautiful apples and a bunch of napkins.

“Would you care for a caramel apple?” I ask one person after the next.

Some things are truly spooky.

Friends after so-called friends screw up their faces with pity. Their eyes glisten the way people’s do when they know they are going to disappoint you. “Oh, I’d just love to,” they say, “but I just had a filling!” Or, “I’m on the grapefruit diet.” Or, “I’m allergic to sprinkles.”

Of course, some folks are kind enough to take apples and hold them—the same way one might nurse a glass of wine—until I pass into the next room. Pictured here from left to right are authors Helen Hemphill and Frances Hill Yansky. (Whether they actually indulge, who knows?)

And several writers say, “I’m definitely taking one home for my child/husband/dog.”

Curious, isn’t it then, that I arrived at this party with 70 apples on four trays. And when I leave, by my most conservative estimates (margin of error: +/- 1 apple), there are still 62 apples sitting pretty on 3 and a half cookie sheets. I can do the math! There were a grand total (drumroll please) of 8 apples eaten, taken, or held!!

In the end, I bring two complete trays back home (in the pajama drawers, of course), and leave one complete tray in the refrigerator for my hosts.

Fast forward 24 long hours…

Leave it to the innocent voice of a child to bring holiday cheer where there once was none!

It’s the next evening. I’m preparing dinner. My four-year-old son says, “I want an appetizer.” This is a ritual. Usually, following this request, I’ll serve some crackers or carrot sticks to tide him over until dinner.

But this is no ordinary night. I squat down eye level with him. “Guess what?”

His eyes widen.

“Tonight you get a very, very special appetizer.”

He had seen the trays.

“You can have one of mommy’s special candy apples!” I say. My heart pitter-patters with the joy of knowing I’m about to delight a child.

Then I hear his words, “I just want cheese.”

And my world is rocked to the core.

Please Note: It is my firm belief that those individuals who have eyewitness and/or digital proof to support their caramel apple eating deserve to be called out for braving the possibility of getting the muck stuck in their teeth and/or dislodging important dental bridges and crowns. With gratitude and admiration, then, I send kudos to the following truly Awesome Austin Writers who actually did sample my delicious desserts:

Greg Leitich Smith, author of Ninjas, Pirahnas, and Galileo; Tofu and T. Rex; and Santa Knows, a picture book co-authored with wife Cynthia Leitich Smith. (Eyewitnesses report Greg ate 2 apples, though no photo documentation is available.) Greg stands below with Jane Peddicord, author of Night Wonders and That Special Little Baby ( 0 apples).

On left, ad hoc librarian Nichole Chagnon (1 apple). On right, author of the Zack Proton series, Brian Anderson (1 apple).

Margo Rabb, author of Cures for Heartbreak (1 apple).

Posted in Shana's Posts, That's Life, Writing on 10/20/2008 01:00 pm


  1. What a terrific essay, and Miss Shana, I had an apple and loved it. Thank you so much for contributing the apples and your wonderful self to the party. In point of fact, several folks took apples home with them in zip-lock bags.

  2. This is so funny, Shana! If I’d had any idea you had made those apples and gone to so much trouble preparing and transporting them, I would have at least picked one up and held it! LOL.

    Actually, I love caramel apples, but I really do have a temporary crown in right now and have had a bad dental incident with caramel before…but it was more that I showed up on the late side and was so busy trying to talk to people, I hardly ate. I meant to go back for more pizza but never got around to it, and similarly didn’t make it to the cookies! (Though I did notice how attractive both the apples and the cookies were. So you certainly helped make for a nice table display!)

  3. Nichole Chagnon

    The caramel apples were awesome! I feel sorry for the poor souls that didn’t get to try one. Thanks again for making them. 🙂

  4. Varsha Bajaj

    Love this story. It reminds me of the time I decided to make biscotti for a Christmas cookie exchange. The recipe claimed it was “easy.” HA! After making 60 biscottis I didn’t want to see one for the rest of my life. And I am a biscotti lover.
    I’m sure the apples tasted wonderful!

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