I love cream soda, but I find most commercial versions to be a little bit cloying and corn-syrupy. Acting on a recent craving for something fizzy and sweet, I made my own vanilla-caramel syrup to add to seltzer for a soda with straightforward flavors and customizable sweetness. The result was a clean-tasting soda with a delightfully nostalgic flavor. It is a fine accompaniment to some buttery popcorn, but it would also make a perfect base for a bourbon cocktail, an old time-y egg cream, or an ice cream float. —Anna Hezel
Heat sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. After about 5 minutes, when the sugar begins to caramelize and turn to liquid, tilt the pan from side to side to gently move the caramel around.
When the sugar has entirely transformed from white granules into amber liquid, add the water. The caramel will solidify upon contact with the water, but continue to cook for about 10 minutes more until the caramel has dissolved completely into the water.
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and salt. Allow to cool to room temperature. (You will have about 1/2 cup of syrup, which can be covered and stored in the refrigerator.)
Into a glass of ice, pour 1 cup of seltzer and 1-2 tablespoons of syrup, according to taste. Stir and enjoy.