I got my first job in New York in the Fall of 2000, working as a graphic designer for an incentive marketing startup in Midtown, on 5th Avenue and 31st Street. At the time, the internet industry was still recovering from the recently-burst dotcom bubble that had left the landscape littered with lots of very bright kids that had been showered with millions of dollars from investors, only to suddenly find themselves out of work after their second round of fundraising. For many, the self-destruct of their companies had been deserved; a company whose best idea was to sell pet supplies on the internet really didn’t need to reward employees with $5,000 desks and profit sharing programs that would never actually come to fruition. At the same time, many good ideas (like the company down the block from us, who wanted to serve streaming video online long, long before the technology of the medium was ready,) got caught up in the bad press of the companies that were spectacularly flaming out all around us.
While my friends and I considered ourselves fortunate to be working for a company who had an idea that we all basically believed in, and that even had a few million bucks in untouched investment money in the bank, there was definitely a spooky mood in the air. We crowded around one another’s workstations each morning, where websites like F*cked Company brought the dismal news of each new day, and Odd Todd made us laugh with his crude Flash animations that seemed to tap specifically into the hopelessness we all felt. Looking back, it seems like a very strange way for all of us to have started our careers, with the marked cynicism and a basic mistrust in management that should have taken many more years to develop.
As I reflect on those years, however, it’s also with a fair amount of excitement. You’re only 22 once, and getting paid to live and compete in the greatest city in the world during those first few years of my career is something I feel lucky to have experienced. When I first began working there, I still lived in New Haven, and would take the Metro North commuter train in to the city in the mornings, before walking through the crackly Autumn air to the office. Some nights after work, I would couch surf at one of my coworker’s places (in the way that only seems possible at a company where the CFO is 26), but most of the time, I would hop a late-night train back home to Connecticut. When I close my eyes, I can still remember that walk back up 5th Avenue, brain fuzzy from a few post-work pints of commiseration with my new friends. I’d stop outside Grand Central, and buy two bags of piping hot Nuts 4 Nuts sugar-coated peanuts to stuff into my coat pockets for the ride home. They’d warm up my hands enough to get the heavy door to the train station open, to buy a train ticket and a can of Foster’s for the ride back North.
The smell of these “street nuts” from the Nuts 4Nuts cart is burned into my memory, and is something that I will always associate with the descent of Winter in NYC. You can smell a fresh batch cooking from a block away, with big clouds of sugar-scented steam billowing off the tiny chrome and plexiglass carts. Though the company has never released the “official” recipe, it has to be simple enough to prepare on the side of a busy city street, which should make recreating them at home even easier. As it turns out, it is; sugar and water are all you really need, though I like to add a little vanilla extract, as well. You can also experiment with adding cinnamon, or even cayenne or sea salt. The only constraint is that the peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, or pecans you use must be raw; the oils present in roasted nuts prevent the sugar from crystallizing and adhering properly to the nut.
Nuts 4 Nuts Copycat Sugared Street Nuts
Makes 2 cups
- 2 cups raw peanuts, cashews, almonds, or combination
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Bring all ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add nuts, stirring occasionally.
After about two minutes, stir fast; after a minute more, the water will evaporate and the sugar will crystallize on the nuts. When this happens, turn off the heat, but keep stirring, and the sugar will begin to caramelize and turn brown.
Pour nuts onto prepared baking sheet, and spread into a single layer. Bake nuts until sugar begins to melt, about 5-7 minutes. Stir nuts, and bake until nuts begin to turn brown in places, about two minutes more. Remove from oven, stir to distribute caramel, and let cool completely.