Remember that blogging class I talked about?
We’re in it right now!
I’m showing the class — which is made up of attractive, attentive, excellent people, I’ll have you know — how to publish a post. And this is that post.
Remember that blogging class I talked about?
We’re in it right now!
I’m showing the class — which is made up of attractive, attentive, excellent people, I’ll have you know — how to publish a post. And this is that post.
My grandma was a stable figure in my life for a long time. She could be counted on for a hug, she never hollered at us kids — even if we deserved it and we so did — and she always, always had a few things in her purse: Trident cinnamon-flavored gum, a couple “fun-size” Snickers bars, a few Brach’s peppermints, an emery board, and fresh Kleenex. Always.
I never had much use for the emery board. The Trident was only interesting if my sisters hogged the Snickers bars/peppermints before I got to them. The Kleenex was handy. But more important than needing these particular items was knowing they would invariably be there. My grandmother’s consistently stocked handbag gave me a sense of security, a belief that there was order to the universe even if there wasn’t. I’m still not sure there is order, but in some universe, in some dimension, I can reach over in church and whisper to Gramma if I can have a peppermint and Gramma will stick her hand down into her purse and there will be one to give me.
Some friends and I were at a fried chicken restaurant not so very long ago. The restaurant was packed. The only seats to be found out on the breezy patio (the best place to eat fried chicken) were those wedged in between people who had gotten there before you did. We looked around to find a place to put our butts and our baskets and then I spied room next to some folks already seated. If we squeezed, the four of us could join the three of them at the wide picnic-style table. We asked, and they said of course and made room for us right away.
It helped that one of their party was a baby. Beautiful Blake, with her shining eyes and her caramel-cream baby cheeks couldn’t have weighed more than 20 pounds. Her young parents, Curtis and Kristina, were friendly and interesting and we all chatted over the course of our respective meals of hot chicken, collard greens, black-eyed pea salad, french fries, and so on.
When we were finishing up, my friend Leah and I were both frowning at our hands, which were covered in grease, and our fingernails, which needed serious attention. We looked at the line to the bathroom and were about to despair and wipe our hands on our bluejeans when Kristina pulled an entire pack of Dove-brand wet wipes out of her generous satchel.
“I’m a mom,” she laughed. “I’ve got what you need right here.”
We whooped with gratitude as Kristina passed the pack around. She made us all so happy! Our hands were wiped clean and cool after our dinner. But there was a deeper feeling of joy in this for me: Baby Blake is one heck of a lucky baby. That kid has a mom with wipes at the ready, you know? And she’s willing to share them with strangers who she made room for in a busy room, in a big city.
If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I like to learn things about the places I visit and share them with you.
Here’s a post about the Florida panhandle, for example. This dispatch came from from Sioux City, IA; and this one I wrote about Buffalo, NY from Buffalo, NY and in it I discuss the local specialty — sponge candy! — and confess to making myself sick eating a bunch of it.*
Well, greetings from Jefferson City, MO, state capitol — and home of the gooey butter. Sponge candy, you may have met your match. (I clearly like to learn about places that are known for delicious desserts.)
A gooey butter is a cake, but don’t call it “gooey butter cake” unless you’re from out of town. To locals, it’s just “gooey butter” and it’s legendary in Missouri. As the story goes, a St. Louis baker mixed up the proportion of butter while making up some coffee cake. Rather than throw out what couldn’t be that bad, the cake still being a combination of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs, he baked it anyway. The cake was sugary and sticky; he sliced it up and sold out in short order. Gooey butter was born.
I’m teaching two classes here at the big Missouri State Quilter’s Guild 2016 Retreat and then I’m doing the banquet talk tomorrow night, so I can’t get out to hunt down some gooey butter, but my new pal Terri said she might be able to find some. I told her she’d better not go to any trouble; Terri said, “Hey, if it happens, it happens.”
Terri was the gracious lady who picked me up at the airport and drove us two hours over to Jefferson City. We bonded because we shopped for pajamas together at Target.
The Missouri retreat has a theme each year, and this year it’s “Welcome To My Dream World.” Attendees are encouraged to wear pajamas to the banquet tomorrow night; I have also been encouraged to do this. I thought it sounded sort of silly at first but then I decided it sounded completely awesome. The trouble was that when I was packing yesterday, I realized my nightclothes were not gonna work. Either they were too — how to put this — “wispy,” or they were too old and comfy to become a keynote speaker.
When we got in the car, I asked Terri if there was a Target on the way. She said there was and that hey, she could get some pajamas, too! (She had the same problem as I did re: appropriate public pajamas.)
What I’m getting at is that tomorrow night I may be eating gooey butter in my pajamas — at work. These students loans ain’t gonna pay themselves, people!
*If you go to the right side of the screen and click “Travel” in the list of categories, you’ll see all the PaperGirl posts that have to do with traveling. But note that the “Work” category has a lot of travel writing too, since I’m usually traveling for work. Enjoy!
First, an update:
There were literally thousands of people* who took the first-ever PaperGirl survey the other day and I have been analyzing the results. “Analyzing the results” means I am scrolling through the responses and looking at the pie charts Google creates from the data, smiling and getting misty-eyed because you’re hilarious, kind, thoughtful people. Several of you, judging by the ink blot question, are super deep. I like deep. (There’s still plenty of time to take the survey. The link in this paragraph will take you there.)
In other news, this morning, I realized that I did not remember to buy half-and-half for my morning tea. This is a problem.
Drinking tea with honey without adding any milky fluid doesn’t work for me. I’ll bet a food scientist could tell me why. She would poke her glasses up on her nose with her index finger and say,”Oh, yes, well, that’s simple. You see, when combined in 170-degree tea, your milk polymers bond with your honey polymers and create what’s known as the ‘Earl Grey Bliss Point’ (EGBP) flavor profile.”
I would slap her on the back and say, “I knew it! Thanks, doc!” And the scientist would look startled and charge me $2,045 for the hour she took to tell me why I like what I like.
It’s happened before that I have been without half-n-half and I have solved this in different ways. I’ll make black coffee, say. Or I’ll pull on some pants and go down to the Peet’s Coffee on the corner and get a latte, which is a real treat and the only thing that cheers me up at times like these. But I looked really bad this morning: mascara under my eyes, crazy hair, and I needed a shower after running around the 90-degree Chicago heat the day before. I couldn’t inflict myself upon the good people of Peet’s Coffee.
Did I have a can of milk in the pantry? Sometimes I have those for cooking various treats. I peered into the shelf. No dice. But what did I spy? What can of milky substance did I spy with my little, squinty, dry-contacted eye?
Sweetened condensed milk.
But that would be ridiculous, I thought. What is this, Over The Rainbow Magic Fairy Dust Land? Nobody puts sweet, thick, delicious, almost-dulce-de-leche sweetened condensed milk in their tea! In the morning! Before they eat breakfast!
Unless they do. Unless they have to. Unless it’s an emergency problem situation.
It was so good. It was like, so good. Earl Grey Creme tea with sweetened condensed milk in it is something I could get used to. This is partly due to the flavor of the stuff, but also because I thought I’d better brew my tea extra dark so that it could handle the sweetness of the goo and the resulting beverage was rocket fuel. Woo! I rode my bike to class in like six seconds.
Sweetened condensed milk in your tea is officially PaperGirl Recommended.
*Please tell me there weren’t a handful of people who took the survey 1,000 times.
I don’t keep ice cream around.
Because ice cream is delicious and it always looks better than anything else in the kitchen when it’s time to eat something, or when it’s not time to eat anything. If I don’t have a pint of Fancypants Farms Artisanal Organic Honeycomb Cashew Creamy-Time Gelato in my house, I’m less inclined to want it. Besides, that stuff costs eleven dollars!
But the other night, feeling, as my older sister would say, “a type of way,” I went into the 7-Eleven and bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Salted Caramel Core ice cream.
Back home, I took off the lid to find a chilled pool of thick, slightly salty, golden-amber-colored caramel, circled by a ring of sweet cream ice cream and — because stopping there would be out of the question — chunks of blondie brownie studded throughout.
Now, butterscotch is my favorite flavor of cavity. But caramel runs a close second because caramel is the poor man’s butterscotch and I’m used to it. (I guess everyone is poor because I never find butterscotch anything except in doctor’s offices and they never have the good kind.) My point is that the ice cream I had in front of me was 90% perfect in every way.
I put some in my mouth. And I realized that being an adult is very, very hard.
No one is watching you. You’re grown. If you choose to do something that puts you or someone else in danger, e.g., aspirating ice cream, you’re not going to get a spanking (unless you want one) and you’re not going to be sent to your room. You’re not going to get fined for eating a pint of Ben & Jerrys Salted Caramel Core Ice Cream at 9 p.m., or at 9 a.m, or both. It’s totally up to you. Totally. That’s a frightening amount of freedom. Too much?
I ate half of the pint, a spoon in one hand and the pint in another, except sometimes I put the pint down so I could smack my hand on the arm of the couch, grunt with pleasure, and yell, “Good God!!” and then I was back to it. I would’ve kept going but something very, very, (very) far back in my head whispered, “You will regret this… Wait until tomorrow at noon… No, eleven o’clock…”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against ice cream, enjoying it, or having it frequently, as long as you’re balancing things. But I am quite sure this particular ice cream has literally been engineered to shoot straight past “delicious” into “cocaine receptor.”
That food was otherworldly in its effect on me. I can’t buy it again unless I’m sharing it. I like my heart and I like my bluejeans. Eating a pint of Salted Caramel Core ice cream on an even semi-regular basis is not good for either, and I am not woman enough to stop eating it once I’ve licked the lid of a pint of the stuff.
It’s a jungle out there, guys — and sometimes, the beasts are caramel.
My Aunt Leesa had dozens of her own cookbooks and then inherited many from my grandmother. Looking for a praline recipe this morning, we discovered Mary Land’s Louisiana Cookery (1954). Scanning the index, we found something unusual before we hit “Praline.”
There’s sweet intro copy before many dishes and then precious few instructions or measurements in the “recipes”; Louisiana Cookery appears to be a cookbook for those who already know how to make this stuff but need a reminder before they, you know, skin a possum. That’s right. “Possum” comes before “Praline” in Louisiana Cookery. The intro:
“A clear, cold night, baying hounds, and a flash of flambeaux form a picture dear to the Southerner’s heart. Treeing possums has long been a nocturnal sport with country folk of the Deep South. Whether it be the large Virginia possum, the small Gulf possum, or the long-tailed Texas possum, both the hunt and its reward are exciting experiences. If the possum is taken alive, pen and feed him for two weeks on milk, bread, and persimmons.”
What have we have learned, students? “To tree” is a verb, and feed your possums persimmons for two weeks before you slaughter and eat it. Here I thought it was oranges! Oh, you southern cooks. You think of everything.
Land offers five recipes for your now-persimmoned possum: Clay-Baked, Idle Acres Plantation Possum, Arkansas Style, Louisiana Style, and Possum Dressing a la Gowanloch. Here’s the winner in my view, though this one doesn’t specify what another does, namely, “Scald, dress, and pick hairs off possum.” Take out your notebook, here we go:
Prepare possum as for kitchen baking. Roll in a sheet of moist clay and cover with a bed of coals. Bake from one to four hours, depending on size and age of possum. Break away the clay and eat. (Serves six.)
I do love the idea of baking something in a clay sheet. But if I understand this correctly, when you break off the clay, you’ve got hot possum. That is not okay. But I have to be careful sharing my feelings about the attractiveness of these recipes; I once shared my distaste over another of my grandmother’s recipe books and received a well-that’s-a-bit-harsh note (my first!) from a lady who thought I was being disrespectful and rude, that if “[I] wasn’t grateful enough to appreciate it, I should send it to [her.]” I felt like I was pretty fair. I mean, there was olive jello loaf involved. My grandmother was great.
If anyone makes Clay-Baked Possum and serves it with olive jello loaf and takes a picture and sends it to me, I will… I’ll think of something good. Because you should win something for that.
The picture above is not a picture of Buffalo’s famous sponge candy. There is no picture of sponge candy available to me at this time because a) we know I use only public domain images or images I have taken myself for PaperGirl, and b) I have now eaten all of the sponge candy that came through this hotel room over the course of two days, a quantity that would surprise you. No, really. It would surprise you.
But what is sponge candy? The devil knows.
That’s no colloquialism; not this time. I don’t say “the devil knows” with a shrug and look at the ceiling, as if to communicate “Sponge candy. Who can say?” No, I mean that the devil knows what it is. Because the devil has a test kitchen and he spends good money on R&D.
Eons ago, fathoms below Buffalo, NY, the devil put honey, baking soda, and sin into a big, fat (really, really fat) cauldron and he stirred it with The Spoon of Regret. He stirred and stirred and then, when his special “honeycomb toffee” was ready, he poured it out into sheets or something, cut it, then dipped the cubes into the most wonderful, creamy, silky milk chocolate you have ever tasted in your entire life. The devil then tried a piece of it and he laughed and laughed and laughed because he knew what he had done. He christened** the stuff “sponge candy” and now I’m on my bed with a stomachache and I can feel my hips expanding. “Oh, that’s impossible,” you say, “that’s just in your head.” I think you’re wrong. My hips are pooling and the more I look at that white paper bag in the trash can over there, the wider the pool gets and I feel it.
At the quilt shop yesterday, the devil used the kindest, most generous quilter named “Margaret” (sure) to bring me a bag of this famous candy simply out of the kindness of her heart. This was very smart of the devil because I didn’t suspect anything. Margaret, you were a pawn. I tried one in the kitchen and it was all downhill from there: I ate four before for my second lecture and six more when I got back to the hotel. I ate the rest of the bag about an hour ago. But wait. That’s not all.
Do you think I could resist going to legendary sponge candy-maker Fowler’s Chocolates two doors down from the quilt shop during the lunch hour today to buy large quantities of this delicious confection also known by adorable name “hokey pokey?” No, of course not. The devil is in the business of putting small-batch chocolate shops two doors down from quilt shops in adorable American towns. This quilt shop-chocolatier combo is deadly for many, many of my friends. A quilt shop adjacent to a chocolate shop is my tribe’s fly paper. The devil’s flypaper. Lock up your daughters and sons if they like to make quilts and have a fondness for pure gustatorial bliss: the end is near.
**this was difficult for the devil but he pushed through
I made bread. From flour.
I did this because I cannot stop watching The Great British Baking Show and, aside from being hopelessly in love with that Paul Hollywood, I find myself absorbing all this baking information and desire.
It’s absolutely clear to me why people become obsessed with baking things. It’s a fascinating, tasty form of entertainment. There are things about baking that make total sense to me: fermentation, moisture, steam, proving, etc. The more I bake, the more I will fail, so we’ll see just how much sense I have. But I didn’t look too closely at a recipe for bread and I got a darned good loaf of bread out of my oven around six-o-clock. My husband* has a great little video tutorial online; I watched that a bunch of times and then just sorta winged it.
What’s weird is that my system doesn’t handle bread very well. Here and there, I can eat a bite. Mostly, this bread-baking curiosity is simply that: curiosity about how bread is made. My bread-eating friends will benefit, and that’s a good reason to explore this.
I’ve said often that I don’t want to learn to knit because I cannot possibly have another thing I love to do as much as sewing. There’s already not enough time for making quilts; you want me to sit down and purl? No way. But now I have a problem.
What is this, a food blog?!
I have been making a lot of pesto lately. Most of the items in my fridge right now are just vehicles for this pesto. I learned how to make it in Iowa City when I worked at The Motley Cow Cafe my last two years in college. I’m drumming up a PaperGirl mini-series on that experience. High-stakes drama, bodice-ripping, love triangles, salmon papillote — fascinating times. (Jeff, I remain ashamed about Charlottesville.)
Not long ago, Claus was coming over for dinner. I texted him to please pick up pine nuts because I was going to make my pesto and had forgotten that important ingredient. But the text was not received; Claus did not bring a single pine nut with him. I huffed and puffed; the man, much like me, never turns on his phone. I got my coat and went to get the dang nuts myself, when he said, “Let’s just eat something else.” No! Pesto! Then I realized I had walnuts in the pantry. Wasn’t walnut pesto a thing? I seemed to remember that it was.
It’s a thing, all right — and to my taste, walnut pesto is far superior to pine nut pesto. I’ll never go back. Pine nuts grind down almost to butter, while walnuts retain some body. Pesto is supposed to be a paste, sure, but walnuts lend a fantastic texture. That night, necessity was the mother of realization, and I’d like to share my excitement. This recipe is similar to my Cheesy Biscuits For All recipe, which is to say it’s rough — but I stand by it 100%. If you prefer a more precise recipe, may I show you something in life-altering chocolate cake?
*You’ll need a food processor to make this.*
A big thing of basil from the produce section of the grocery store
Olive oil (a lot)
A passel of raw, whole walnuts (make sure they’re not old — old nuts are so gross)
Decent-sized clove of garlic, if you like garlic
Parmesan cheese (a big hunk of it and don’t use the powdered stuff! Don’t even have that stuff in your fridge! Buy a hunk of Parmesan cheese for your fridge and grate it onto your food fresh! It’s such a small thing and it makes such a big difference in life! Got it? Okay, good!)
Cracked black pepper
NOTE: “But how many cups of walnuts is in a passel?? And how much cheese? What does “a lot” mean?? This is madness.” I don’t know the answers to your questions. Really, I don’t. But I don’t have to know, and neither do you. Just look at pictures of pesto. Think about how pesto tastes. Pesto is mostly nuts and basil, right? Right. And it’s oily. And it’s got a savory, almost onion-y flavor, and the tang of the Parmesan. Think on these things and then just go with your sense. It’s ratios. You’ll know what to do.
1. Fill a big bowl with water and float the basil in it. The dirt, sand, etc. will fall down to the bottom of the bowl. I don’t know if I have to do it this way, but when I wash basil in a colander, it gets depressed. Shake off water, blot with a paper towel.
2. In a pan on the stove, roast the nuts on a low heat. You don’t want to actually toast your walnuts, just “release the aroma” of them, as they say in Fancy Food Blogs That Don’t Know I Exist. Set aside. Don’t burn those nuts. Yuck.
3. Dice up those shallots. Same with garlic. Get olive oil in pan. Roast your shallots and garlic. People will come into the kitchen and ask you what you’re making. Say, “Go away. I’m doing something for the first time. I’ll let you know if it works out.” When the shallots and/or onion are translucent, set aside.
4. Pick stems off basil. Throw stems out, throw the leaves in a food processor. Put shallot and/or garlic mush in food processor, too. Dump in your walnuts.
5. Oh, I forgot to tell you: get that hunk of Parmesan and grate it. You can have too much Parm in your pesto, so don’t go overboard, here. And remember that Parm tastes salty, so when you add salt to your green sludge, go easy on it. You can’t unsalt.
6. Pour some olive oil into the food processor bowl with all the other stuff in there already. You’ll be surprised how much oil is in pesto. Because you don’t want crumbled green stuff; you want a paste. You want to spread this stuff on bread, or steak, or on someone’s face. Smooth. Almost creamy. So pour it in, baby.
7. Salt and pepper. See #5 for a word about salt. Now hit the button and watch the green sludge begin to blend and swirl.
8. Unlock the bowl, stick a finger in there. What do you think? Do you have nuts left? Do you need to put more in? Is it smooth enough? Is it amazing? Yeah! You did it! It’s tough to un-salt, and it’s hard to put more basil in your pesto if you’re out, and yeah, you might’ve put too much oil in this time but you can pour some of that off and with enough wine, no one will notice. But I bet you did pretty well your first time out!
9. Eat it.
When I sew, I listen to podcasts or no-eyeballs-needed television.
I’m impressed by people who can sew and watch Empire at the same time. The last time I tried to stitch while watching television with a plot (a cheap plot, even!) was years ago. I got dizzy snapping my head up to see what was going on then snapping it back down to make sure I didn’t sew my hand. But like a bonobo ape, it’s good for me to see fellow creatures from time to time, even if I’m in isolation. So if I’m sewing for many hours I’ll use my laptop as a TV and watch Hoarders or Kitchen Nightmares or The Profit. These shows require nothing of me. They have no plot, the structure is always the same. It’s the visual equivalent of white noise and I like it.
Looking for something mindless but tired of The Biggest Loser, today I found The Great British Bake Off on the list of shows Netflix wants me to watch. I like baking. I like British people. I like shows where talented people compete against each other to make pencil skirts, houses, crudite, etc. I clicked on the show and semi-watched many episodes while I pressed and snipped.
The show is really adorable. It’s a reality gameshow that pits amateur British bakers against each other to see who will win the title of Star Baker. There are two lady hosts, a stern main judge (a Tom Colicchio-type from Top Chef) and the head/celebrity judge, legendary English baker Mary Berry. The contestants are all gentle and kind, just as bakers ought to be; no one is growling or rolling their eyes at their competitors. Everyone’s just trying their best in the Florentine challenge, hoping for a win in the savory biscuit episode. The show is filmed in a pretty bakery tent set in the English countryside, Union Jack bunting tied up with string, bobbing in the breeze. Nobody even talks about winning. Seriously, they just bake beautiful things. When someone is eliminated they’re very British about it and leave their rolling pin (or whatever it is) on the table and give a “Cheerio!” to us.
But Mary Berry is the best part. She’s in her seventies, I think. Coiffed to perfection. Expensive neck scarves. Perfect manicure. When she tastes a contestant’s work, she nibbles it, brow furrowed and then says things like,“You formed the dough ’round a tin, then? Perfect. Just lovely. It’s quite difficult to do pinwheel biscuits and get them tight ’round the center; bit like a Swiss Roll, isn’t it?”
Or: “Bit soft in the middle, isn’t it? But good effort.” Or: “I think it’s enchanting and I love the brandy snaps she’s got there on the roof. Scrumptious!”
I was glad I looked up when Mary learned a contestant had used store-bought fondant instead of making it himself. She positively darkened. The contestant is no longer in the running for Star Baker. The Great British Bake Off is going to be tough for me; it’s not something to which I want to give my undivided attention, but there’s too much frosting and spongecake happening on the screen to look away for too long. I’ll try again tomorrow evening and see if I can sew an accurate quarter-inch seam while it’s on.
And, in the spirit of sugar and bakery items, I am suddenly forced to confess that I keep a jar of Pillsbury FunFetti frosting in my fridge and frequently have to replace it. Because I eat it. With a spoon. Sometimes.
I like frosting better than cake!
It’s important to begin this morning that if you ever have dinner (or breakfast or lunch) at my house, you will get the freshest, most delicious ingredients in the dishes I lovingly prepare. And you should have a meal at my house because I’m a fine cook, if I can do a little horn toot.
That said, I would like to say without shame that I leave food out. Within reason. Eggs, milk, chicken, and anything containing these ingredients and a few others must be tossed if they are left out of the fridge for more than an hour or so. But cheese? The kind of potato salad that doesn’t have dairy in it but just vinegar and herbs and olive oil? Half a filet mignon in a restaurant doggie bag? Eh, whatever. If perfectly good food sat out overnight because sleep was more important than KP duty, I don’t feel too good about tossing it out the next morning.
Of course, I always give it a sniff. It’s amazing to me how the nose can instantly tell if a food is off. Our tiny olfactory senses and/or our tastebuds say, “Stop. No. Don’t. Do not. That is not okay for you/us.” If warning bells don’t ring, I shrug and put it in the fridge if it’s leftovers or cheddar cheese. Half-cut apples, onions, peppers? I leave them out as soon as I cut them! They’re all in a bowl on my counter. I do not want my fridge to smell like onions. When I need the onion again, I just cut off the wizened part and go about my dicing. I always use them within a day or so. Same with apples. Dried apples are sold for four bucks a bag at Whole Foods. They are free at my house if you want some.
Mold is not okay. Sprouting things are not okay. And again, if the food object doesn’t pass the sniff test, into the garbage with it. But in this deodorized, hand-sanitized world — while there are starving children in the city of Chicago — throwing good food out is an ethical issue. We’re lucky enough to have it. We’re lucky enough to share it. Though it’s true, “we’re lucky enough to be able to throw it away” sounds lame to me.
NOTICE FOR QUILTERS! Tomorrow begins a giveaway for Small Wonders fabric! Make sure to check PaperGirl for your chance to win! Thirteen zippy quilters will get a (great) prize. 🙂
You don’t know me. I’m in the area for work. I leave early tomorrow morning but before I leave Florida, I need to talk to you.
Lindsay, I stole your deli items.
My host took me by the Publix near the place I’m teaching to grab something to eat. There wasn’t much time. When we got there, I made a beeline for the Deli & Bakery section of the store.
There were tureens of soup. I got a portion of the turkey-kale-sweet potato, which I recommend to you the next time you’re in the Publix that I know for a fact is your grocery store of choice.
Just below that long deli counter, there on the right side, there were great piles of pre-cut meats and cheeses. I like a bit o’ thin-sliced chicken breast. I like a lil’ thin-sliced Swiss cheese. So I grabbed a bag of each. With the soup and then some kind of chocolate afterward, well. A perfect lunch, and it had all come together quickly. (I had chocolate in my purse already.)
Lindsay, that was your chicken and cheese. I had no idea what I had done until I got back to my hotel room and tore into my grocery bag. In the world today, apparently you can order portions of deli meats and cheeses online, go to the store, and have no wait to collect your meat or cheese. You thought ahead. You planned. You made deli selections and what did I do? I took them. I took your chicken and your cheese and I am horrified.
Because you were mad. When you got to the Publix later and dug around in that bin for your order, dug around like a badger in heat, Lindsay, because that’s what I would’ve been, a badger in heat, looking for cheese, well, you probably got real mad that your order wasn’t in there. I don’t blame you one bit. But it wasn’t anyone’s fault but mine. I didn’t know your name was on the label. I’ve never seen anything like that and I sincerely apologize.
I do need to tell you, with all seriousness, that that was the best deli meat I haver had in my life.
With Warm Regards,
Editor’s Note: It’s the “Tuscan Smokehouse Chicken Breast,” for those who have a Publix nearby. Delicious.
Please read Part I of this story (one post prior) or you’ll miss the important setup.
I approach the family, who was spilling out of the booth. There were Cheerios everywhere, but we did not serve cereal at the restaurant, so these were brought in from home. Two booster seats were cramming the narrow aisle but it was cool; these folks deserved (?) brunch like everyone else in Chicago. A yoga mat was stuffed into the corner because Mom had just come from class. Even though there was jelly soaked into my apron and egg on my shoe, I was chipper.
“Good morning, you guys,” I say, “You’ve been here a few times — I bet you know what you want!” I’m doing the assumed close, you see. Three new tables had been sat behind me and had already gotten coffee. Let’s do this.
“Yeah,” the mother said, and she put her fingers to her chin to ask what I prepared myself to be a focused question. “Belle is going to have the corned beef hash — do you think that’s something she’ll like? Corned beef?” Belle was six, so probably not. I told Mom, “Probably not. There are lots of peppers and corned beef is kind of an advanced thing… It’s a big plate.”
“Okay… I think… Belle, do you want corned beef?” Belle colored her placemat and said “Whatever,” without looking up.
“Let’s do that,” Mom said. “And Slade wants scrambled eggs, but can you have the kitchen make the eggs flat like a pancake?”
“Eggs on a pancake, sure,” I said, scribbling on my pad, making sure to press my pen hard so the carbon copy would come out clear for the kitchen.
“No, not on a pancake,” she said. “I’m wondering if you can scramble the eggs, like, flat.” She cocked her head and she looked like a cockatiel.
I looked up. “Scramble them flat.”
“You know, like put them on the grill and smooth them out, so they’re scrambled but, like, flat. And then flip it? So it’s flat? It would be like a pancake?”
I couldn’t stop blinking at her. Teddy, my righthand man, the best busboy who has ever lived, squeezed past me to grab the twenty-fourth pot of coffee of that morning.*
“Well,” I said. “I’ll ask the kitchen,” I said. On my pad, I wrote the shorthand word for scrambled eggs, which is “SCRAM.” Then, cocking my head like a cockatiel, I wrote, “FLAT.” So on my pad I had “SCRAM FLAT.”
“Thanks,” the woman said, “Is that weird?” I told her it was really, really weird. And I left them with a thank-you and a smile and banged through the double doors to the kitchen like we all banged through the double doors because that’s what double doors in a restaurant do: they bang.
“Glen,” I said, approaching the line. I could see the Great Men through the metal line where they were putting plates up. It was like a ballet back there. “Glen, this ticket says SCRAM FLAT. They want…” I could hardly tell him. This was a grown man. This was a man with dignity. I just came out with it: “Glen, they want the scrambled eggs flat. Like, scramble the eggs… Flat.”
There was no time for pausing but Glen stopped what he was doing and asked me what the [redacted] that meant. I explained the best I could. And he said “Alright,” because that’s what a Great Man does when faced with a challenge and indeed, about fifteen minutes later, I had a plate with SCRAM FLAT, sprinkled with parsley, with a twisted orange slice on the side. And love in there, because every plate had love in there.
Belle sent back the corned beef; Slade ate every bite.
*Teddy once caught me in the coat closet, bent me back like we were on the cover of a romance novel and kissed me on the lips. “Mi amor,” he said, “I’m in love with you.” That’s a story for another day.
I got a gift from a relative today. It’s a spiral-bound book made from my paternal grandmother’s recipe collection. Venita died several years ago and had amassed many recipes over her homemaking years in Houston, TX. That the recipes have been compiled is very sweet and it was a kind gesture to send me a copy. There is a problem, however.
These recipes make me violently ill. I’ve been through this 200-page book twice and can’t find a thing I would even consider making in my kitchen. These are not mysterious and delicious knäckebröd recipes brought over from the old country; there are no inked-in notes from my grandmother’s grandmother, warning against too much salt or suggesting a helpful whisk technique. That would be a mazing. No, this is a compendium of recipes lifted straight from the pages of Better Homes & Gardens and similar magazines published between 1950-1979. Here’s what that means:
Apricot Cheese Salad — that’s gonna be cheddar
Fruit Cocktail Mold — contains hard-boiled egg and pimento
Hot Turkey Salad — includes crushed potato chips, grated onion, and “squirt of Tabasco”
Crunchy Veg Casserole — with frozen cauliflower and 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
An astonishing number of these recipes call for olives. Green, black, stuffed — just when you think an appetizer is going to escape the olive treatment, ohp! There it is! Also included in the book are menus. These are records of all the foods served at various luncheons and gatherings my grandma attended. It’s incredibly sweet that she kept such records. It’s also deeply depressing. I’m sorry, but I cannot read these menus without a tear rolling down my face for a generation of women who would’ve loved to be working on the Human Genome Project but instead were making sure they got tips for Loretta’s ham loaf before they left the living room. Why, here’s a menu now:
Menu #15 — Bridge Luncheon at Sandra’s
1. Chicken Salad
2. Potato Salad — large leaves around inside of bowl. Tomato peeled and opened like a large flower in center on top of salad
3. Avocado gelled salad in mold
4. Layrered Jello — in square pan. Layer of clear Jello on top, then diet cream cheese (pink color), then layer of clear gelatin
5. Fruit salad
6. Egg salad in Knox gelatin — in loaf — very good
7. Salted nuts
8. Coffee and punch
That’s three instances of Jello. I know: I live in a country so wealthy I can afford to make fun of food; my disdain for my dearly-departed grandmother’s recipe collection is (almost) as gross as the celery-and-macadamia nut “ring mold” on page 59. I have shame. I also have a moral dilemma. Do I keep this book? I do not want it. I loved my grandmother. But I do not want this. What do you do with a gift that doesn’t fit, is supposed to be imbued with sentimental value, and can’t be re-gifted?
Wait a minute… Do any of you want it?! I’m serious! It would be really cool to send it to someone who is into ’50s and ’60s food! There have to be people out there who like it, even in an ironic way. I’d be so happy to send it to you if you’ll use it. Please email me. First-come, first-served. So to speak.
On the way to give my lecture to the stately and gifted women of the Northern Lake Co. Quilt Guild on Wednesday night, my dear friend Heather and I stopped for a dinner of sorts at the Something Oasis on I-94. There were strangely no French bistros at the Oasis or one-star Michelin restaurants, so I ate a McDonald’s hamburger for the first time in lots of years — pretty good! — and Heather got a slice of Sbarro’s pizza. We were walking out when Heather gasped. I jumped a foot. I thought she had seen a spider on me.
“Cotton Candy Blizzard?!” she said, looking at a banner next to the DQ on our right. Indeed, Dairy Queen was advertising a Cotton Candy Blizzard. Heather was a sitting duck. “I’m getting that,” she said, and promptly ordered a mini. The guy handed her a cup of ballet slipper-colored ice cream with multi-colored sprinkles. I had a bite and couldn’t believe how much it tasted like actual cotton candy. A remarkable achievement, Dairy Queen. I could see how it would be easy to eat a large quantity of this food.
When I got home I researched the Cotton Candy Blizzard so I could write about it from an expert’s point of view. It turns out the DQ Cotton Candy Blizzard is a Thing. A Major Thing. The flavor debuted years ago but was only an experiment, a limited-time offering. The public went nuts for it and, in a brilliant marketing move (I imagine) DQ snatched the thing away and made people visit their restaurants again and again in hopes of seeing the flavor on the menu again. Well, this year they did a “Fanniversary” celebration and asked their customers what favorite flavor they’d like to bring back. Cotton Candy won by a landslide.
The flavor is available for a limited time, so get out there and get’cher self one. Note that the medium-sized Cotton Candy Blizzard contains 890 calories. Enjoy!
Sometimes I sit down to clack out the ol’ PG and the post writes itself. Other times it takes forever to put things together in a non-awful way and I fail at that all the time. I enjoy writing every time, but on nights like tonight, when I’m sleepy but still committed, I hope for a post that is simple to put together, one that doesn’t demand much research or intricate weaving of information.
It’s not going to happen tonight because I have hit a goldmine of information about my all-time favorite candy: the mellowcreme pumpkin.
Yes, the mellowcreme pumpkin; that Agent Orange mellowcreme pumpkin with the Wicked Witch stem. Woe betide the man or woman with a cavity, for that chubby candy will cause you to wince and realize you really need to get that looked at before you reach for another and just chew on the other side.
I didn’t need any other information about candy punkins to enjoy them but now that I read the Wikipedia entry on them, I love them more than ever. Apparently, the pumpkins are considered “candy corn’s first cousin,” which is adorable. Then, I learn that the pumpkins are made of “corn syrup, food coloring, honey, and sugar…beaten and heated in large kettles to produce an ultra-sweet syrup. This syrupy mix generically is called “mellowcreme” by confectioners, since the resulting candy has a mellow, creamy texture” and I thought the “mellow” was a play on “mallow,” like “marshmallow!” No. Then one of my favorite words in the English language was engaged in the description of the next step: “the mellowcreme slurry then was divided into two uneven amounts, with the large amount receiving orange food coloring and the smaller receiving green food coloring.”
I realize that was the work of the author of the post, but it adds to the charm of pumpkins, as well as this sentence: “Once dry, the candy is shaken violently to remove excess cornstarch and a final glaze is added to give the candy pumpkin a sheen.”
So now I love mellowcreme pumpkins more. In high school, I’d keep a big bag in my locker and distribute them to my friends between class. Anyone could’ve just bought their own bag, but mellowcreme pumpkins taste better when they’re contraband and given as a gift. You could call them “hot punkins.”
All the tips and info I’m sharing regarding the extinguishing of Hot Fire That Can Ruin Your Life is meant to be food for thought (burning, fiery food) and to inspire you to brush up on your emergency skills.
Yesterday, I had a pan of hamburgers in the oven that were surprisingly greasy and got so incredibly hot, I believe I was minutes away from a grease fire. I can’t be sure and don’t want to be; if I was sure, there would have been a grease fire and grease fires are bad.
The burgers were from Whole Foods. “Steakhouse” it said on the label when I pulled them from the freezer. When I got home yesterday there was no energy to go to the store, so this would be dinner. I put the four thawed burgers onto a cooky pan — one with a lip around all sides — and put it in at 400-degrees then went about my business. Maybe I got busy doing other things and forgot to check on the burgers halfway through. Maybe when it was time to take them out I let them cook 15 minutes longer and only did that because I was not paying attention. Maybe.
Regardless, when I opened the oven door, I gasped. The grease in the pan was a scalding pool that seemed like it was beginning to smoke. (I guess “steakhouse” means “80% fat and frightening to prepare.”) I turned off the oven immediately and got my biggest oven mitts to move the pan carefully, cautiously, I’m-not-breathing-till-this-is-ten-feet-away-from-me, to the counter. I spent several long minutes spooked. Grave. Wincing. That was almost on fire, I thought, and it made me wonder if I know how to put out a grease fire. Do you?
Here’s what you do NOT do:
– Do NOT throw water on a grease fire! This is the worst thing you could do! Do not do it!
– Do NOT try to carry the pot or the pan out of the kitchen! Leave it alone!
– Do NOT put a glass lid on the top of a grease fire in a pan! It will break!
Here’s what you CAN do:
– Call 911. If it’s really bad — and I think mine would’ve been — there’s very little you can do and it could get dangerous, fast. Grease fires are extremely hot and spread quickly; they’re also fueled by a liquid, so splashing a la napalm is highly possible. Get help.
– Turn off the flame and put the lid on the pot. Obviously, this works if your fire is on a pan or pot on the stovetop. A lid on the pot will stop the fire from getting oxygen and may extinguish it.
– Baking soda can work. But you need a lot of it and most people don’t have a vat of baking soda three inches from their hand when they’re at the stove.
– Apparently there are better-than-ever fire extinguishers on the market that we should probably all have, including me. Get one.
– Even if you think you don’t need to, set a timer for heaven’s sake, and be somewhere within earshot of it. The fire safety info I looked at this evening said basically all kitchen fires happen because people leave the kitchen and forget they’re making things with fire and gas.
This post isn’t as fun as this one and it may not sell books — by the way, thank you for all the orders: I’m gratefully deluged! — but it’s one I hope you’ll share around online or talk about at lunch tomorrow. It’s easy to forget kitchen safety stuff.
I have just a few days left in Iowa. On Tuesday, I fly to California where I will be for almost a full week. Mom and I will be lecturing at the irresistible Meissner’s Sewing in Sacramento and that’s fun, but even funner is that my favorite aunt lives in Sacramento and I’ll be staying with her. We will drink pots of coffee and talk about bloodlines and Ferragamo footwear.
Before I leave, I have a lot of cooking to do. Mom and Mark have a kitchen far bigger than the one-bedroom apartment kitchens I’m used to, so whenever I’m home, I get to set up a mini-culinary school for myself. Within the past week, I’ve practiced marinating and grilling, I baked coconut-macadamia crisps, I’ve made succulent fruit salads with unexpected herbs (basil n’ sage!) and worked with some sauces. But what I made today may be the finest food I have ever produced in the test kitchen: I made a perfect chocolate cake. Would you like the recipe?
Note: I made enough changes to both the cake and the icing recipe I found that I’m calling it my own, but like a yoga pose or a quilt block, there ain’t nothin’ new under the sun. But I do feel proud about the bourbon I added when the recipe called for no such thing.
Mary’s Test Kitchen Chocolate Cake + Chocolate Icing
INGREDIENTS + INSTRUCTIONS – CAKE
– 2 cups flour, sifted
– 2 cups sugar
– 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
– 2 tsp. baking powder [Note: there was no baking powder, so I did a cream of tartar/baking soda substitute. It’s 1:2 ratio and was this one of the secrets to the cake’s success?? Necessity? Mother? Invention? Could be.]
– 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
– 1 tsp. salt
– 1 tsp. espresso powder
– 1 cup half-and-half
– 1/2 cup vegetable oil
– 2 eggs
– vanilla, which I never measure but just pour in
– a nice splash of Wild Turkey and then some more
– 1 cup boiling water
1. Put on an apron for heaven’s sake. Set the oven to 350-degrees. Butter and lightly flour two cake pans. When your mother’s dog looks up at you for a treat, say “Scram, kid. It ain’t gonna happen.”
2. Mix all the dry ingredients in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Start boiling the water.
3. Now put in the wet ingredients while the water is boiling. Be methodical about this — do I need to say more? I mean, do the oil. Then an egg. Then the other egg. I did the bourbon last.
4. Take that cup of boiling water and add it — slowly — to the batter as it’s mixing. This adds air bubbles. Reflect on how rad baking is.
5. Pour batter evenly into the two pans. Bake for about 35 minutes or till the knife comes out clean.
6. Take out the cake and cool it. I hate, hate waiting for anything to cool, so I put the cakes in the freezer and they cooled pretty fast.
7. Frost. Dust with cocoa powder. Go out into the garden and pluck a rosebud from the bush. Place atop. Receive hugs.
INGREDIENTS + INSTRUCTIONS – ICING
Caution: Get icing out of your field of vision immediately after making. Its power is total and will disable the part of your brain that says, “I can’t just eat spoons of icing out of a bowl.”
2 (1.65 oz.) Trader Joe’s 72% cacao chocolate bars because they were in your luggage and looked better than the Baker’s chocolate in the cupboard
1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
Pinch of salt
Lots of vanilla
1. Focus. Say to yourself, “A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” Say it again.
2. Melt the sweetened condensed milk and the chocolate in a heavy saucepan. When you add the vanilla, it will probably catch on fire for a minute, which is awesome. Be careful, but enjoy the moment.
3. Add the salt.
4. Cool the Pot of Evil until you can’t stand it anymore and have to ice the cake.
Ever wanted to gain something like 5-6 pounds in a hurry? Sure, we all do! Follow my simple steps below and you’ll be on your way. Be sure to read all the way to the flabby bottom to learn how to lose it, too!!!
Step 1: Sit in a car for 3-7 hours a day for three weeks.
Step 2: Tell yourself that hiking and camping are basically exercise.
Step 3: Eat lots of cashews, dates, small chunks of parmesan cheese (your favorite) and banana leather, telling yourself that none of these foods are processed and are therefore basically calorie-free. Travel with a European so that you get plenty of full-fat yogurt with muesli, even though you never eat, nor spell correctly, muesli. Eat chocolate and tell yourself that because it’s the expensive kind and you’re sharing it with someone, you’re not really eating that much.
Step 4: Consume Pringles because your travel companion has a “thing” for them and though you have not eaten a single Pringle since freshman year in college, this is a crucial step. Do you want to gain 5-6 pounds in three weeks or don’t you?? Motivation, determination. Note while eating Pringles that the slogan on the can, “Once you pop, you can’t stop” is accurate.
Step 5: Feel exceedingly happy. Feeling happy will cloud your awareness that you are on your way to gaining 5-6 pounds in three weeks.
Step 6: Repeat steps 1-6.
Now that you’ve gained 5-6 pounds in three weeks, aren’t you wondering how to lose it?? Sure, we all do! I’m here to tell you the secret to losing 5-6 pounds not in three weeks, not in two weeks, but in one week with almost zero effort! Probably! Maybe not! But this secret step will unlock your potential to lose 5-6 pounds before you know it! Here it is:
Step 1: Stop doing all those things.
Step 2: Resume your normal life, which includes walking to the store and stuff.
Now get going, and remember: your weight is in your hands! And on your hips.
Last night, I ate a rack of barbeque ribs. The entire rack. And I have no regrets.
I don’t clean my plate too often. There’s usually something I can’t eat or something I don’t like as much as something else (sorry beets, but I am eating blue cheese instead of you.) So when the waiter comes to take away my plate, he’s gonna have to scrape stuff into the garbage. Now hang on: I’m not wasteful, I’m just not a plate-licker. Last night was an exception.
Mom and I are in Kansas City lecturing to the hundreds (!) of attractive, talented women of the Lee’s Summit Quilt Guild. We arrived around five o’clock yesterday and had time to have dinner together. This would have been terrific no matter what day it was, but it was Mother’s Day! It was super to be with Mom on Mother’s Day.
We went to Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza district; if you’ve never visited, you must make it there someday. The area is four miles south of downtown and is all cobblestones, terracotta tiles and fountains. The folks who designed it modeled the whole thing after Seville, Spain, so you get the picture. Have I mentioned lately how much I love the work I do, work that allows me to travel the great United States? Well, I’m mentioning it again.
We went to Houston’s for dinner. Houston’s has been in Kansas City for well over thirty years, maybe longer. (Research tells me they have a handful of locations in other cities, now.) The wait for a table was over an hour, but Mom and I spied a couple stools at the bar and nabbed them.
I saw this man eating this slab of meat and every fibre of my being screamed, “Eat that! Please eat that as soon as possible!” I ordered the barbeque pork ribs and skipped the coleslaw and fries for a side of broccoli. I know, I hate me, too.
I ate that slab of ribs like it was the first meal I had had in a month. I didn’t do the flip-top head thing and insert the entire slab, whole, into my face. If I could’ve I might’ve. Those ribs were so buttery, so succulent, I’m weeping as I write this. The sauce was the perfect balance of tangy and sweet and the sauce seemed to have soaked through the meat as it cooked: this was not meat painted with sauce. This was meat doing naughty, naughty things with sauce. This slab of ribs was sacrilegiously, slap-yo-mama good. All right, maybe I just haven’t had decent ribs in awhile, but I don’t think I was just rib-deprived. These were the Lord’s ribs.
Anyway, I ate the whole thing, bone by bone. I sucked the things dry. The broccoli felt a little left out until I was done with my plate and then they got their big moment when I used the stuff to wipe up the sauce. I realize I may have painted an undignified, unladylike picture of me with BBQ sauce all over my face, panting over a plate of bones. This is my fault. I tried to dab the corners of my mouth with my white linen napkin but if anyone sitting close had looked at me closely, they would’ve seen wolverine in my eyes.
I go to Chicago next week (I know), then Wisconsin for my sister’s wedding (I know!) and then it’s to St. Louis for a BabyLock event. Looks like I need to attack polish sausage, cheese, and toasted ravioli, in that order. Until those pit stops, fasting on water is perhaps wise.
Makes 5 cups
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 10 lemons)
1 cup superfine sugar (or use as much simple syrup as you like to reach desired sweetness)
2 cups water
Strain lemon juice into a pitcher and mix with sugar; stir until sugar dissolves. Add water; stir again until well combined. For pink lemonade, stir in cranberry juice.
If you’d like pink lemonade, add some cranberry juice! If you like sparkling lemonade, you can use sparkling water. If you put some vodka in there, you’ll have a Vodka Collins. You can put a sprig of lavender in there for some lavender lemonade, or even some basil, if you’re feeling it.
Yesterday in New York City, before I had to go to the airport for my flight home to D.C., I had lunch with my friend Anita at Fred’s, the restaurant inside Barneys on the Upper West Side. I’ve been to the Fred’s in Chicago several times and hard as it is to admit, New York Fred’s is better. And by “better” I mean the people-watching is better. The black-clad waiters weaved through the place like a pack of minks, slipping in and around everything that was moving, which was everything inside the restaurant: people, trays, wine bottles, large amounts of money, etc. There were sets of friends having wine and gourmet snacks, small and large families eating lunch. There can be no doubt: Fred’s is a restaurant for the well-heeled (or spies like me) and there’s a lot to observe. The accessories alone!
It was a good place to have lunch, what with my extremely good news yesterday. I wore my fur coat. Anita looked smart, as usual. She’s been a New Yorker for many decades and she is of that city in all sorts of ways: artistic, shrewd, streetwise, and honestly slightly weary (in a charming way, of course.) We were seated and I ordered a glass of pinot noir and a hamburger; it’s a zeroed-out choice, as the cholesterol in the meat is zapped by the red wine’s flavonoids or whatever they are for lord’s sake.
Somehow the conversation turned to age. At thirty-five, I look at age quite differently than when I was twenty-five, obviously. Anita, being sixty or so, looks at it in her way, and what she had to say about her age was fascinating and depressing, though it ends well. Sort of.
“I’ve come through the period of time when I was invisible,” Anita said, cutting a piece of her omelette. “It’s strange, because as a woman, you’re invisible for a long time and then suddenly you’re an old lady.”
“Woah,” I said, and the rest of my life flashed before my eyes. There may have been a purple hat involved.
“See, when you’re in your fifties, more or less, you become invisible in society. It was amazing how no men would hold the door for me for a long time. Women would push past me. I was a persona non grata, really. Doors would literally close in my face. But then I turned sixty and now everything is much better. Because people see me as an old lady and the courtesy is back. Doors are held for me every time. People smile. It’s great.”
A forkful of salad was frozen halfway to my open mouth. In my peripheral vision, I saw a girl of seven or so in a black velvet holiday dress with a big red bow in her hair. She had the most beautiful, milk-and rose-colored skin of any child I had ever seen. The best soap, the best lotion, the best bath in the world is money.
“Oh, Anita. That’s…fascinating,” I said. “I’m glad the invisible period is over. How long did it last?”
“About nine years.”
When I turned thirty-three, I played around with saying I was thirty-two. I just liked thirty-two better. But I cut it out pretty quickly. It’s lying, for one thing, which is not okay. And for another thing, I earned thirty-three. The year before that was hard and great and hard and great and why on earth would I erase it.
It ought not to be invisible.
I love the people who live below the Mason-Dixon line. I’ve said so before.
I’m in South Carolina and this morning, I had breakfast with a group of women who dazzle me with their professionalism, their brains, and their hair. These are Women Of The Carolinas and I, for one, am impressed. “Good” stereotypes are really no better than the bad ones, so one has to be careful about saying, “All women in the South are this or that way.” But dammit, all these women are fabulous and they are fabulous in a way I’m afraid us Yanks only dream about. It’s the hair and the mascara, yes, but it also has something to do with their reactions to things. Down here, it’s like you get a .2 second grace period that isn’t available anywhere else in the country. You get just a moment more tiiiime with everythin’ and Lord knows we all need just a little more tiiiime, sweethaart. I have to think about it some more, what the difference is, but I’m full of dinner because they keep feeding me, which isn’t a Southern thing, just a fellow human being thing.
At breakfast, one of the Carolinians ordered a food I had never heard of. When she told the waitress what she wanted, the other women at the table wrinkled their noses and rolled their eyes. “You’re gettin’ that again, oh Lord.”
“What?” the young woman said, sheepish. “Ah love livermush.”
I set my coffee down. “I’m sorry; did you say ‘livermush’?”
She blushed just a bit. “Mm-hm,” she said. This girl is very good at her job and does it while looking like a cross between Botticelli’s portrait of Simonetta Vespucci and that character Elsa from Frozen. (Have you seen that movie? Do you know what I’m talking about? No? Frozen? Well, anyway.)
I asked this girl to explain what she had just told the kitchen to give her for breakfast. Turns out livermush is foodstuff made primarily in North Carolina that consists mainly of pig liver, head parts, and cornmeal. This…product is formed into a loaf and then sliced up and fried. When it is fried, it is then put between two pieces of bread and served as a sandwich, or it’s served with grits and eggs, or sometimes it’s served on its own, or it’s fried and then not eaten by anyone above the Mason Dixon line or any children anywhere, ever.
There’s another name for this food: scrapple. I know this because I just spent a half-hour researching livermush. When you read this blog, you know, you learn stuff.
I’ve had scrapple. I had it at a restaurant in Chicago not long ago. There was a moment in time when any self-respecting restaurant in any self-respecting city wouldn’t be caught dead without offal** on the menu. If you didn’t have a beating cow heart, a plate of entrails, or a cocktail served in a deer hoof on your specials list, well, kid, pack it up. I was never too into all that, but I did order scrapple once. I figured it sounded so disgusting that it had to be delicious. It just had to be, at a place like that, at that price. Indeed, it was delicious. There was a small portion. It was very protein-y, and the bottle of wine I was enjoying with my companion was extremely expensive, so really, everything tasted incredible.
“Ah I know it sounds gross,” my breakfast pal said, “But livermush is great. Ah’ve loved it since I was a kid. Ah know it freaks everybody out, I’m sorry.”
Go for it, Elsa. There’s all the tiiime in the world to have regular ol’ bacon. I’ll have what you’re having; let me live your life for awhile. Mine needs a Southern-style break.
**Offal: (n.) the entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food; refuse or waste material. I’ll have you know the secondary definition of offal is “decomposing animal flesh” which reminds me of this article I read about “high meat.” If you’d like to not eat anything else for the rest of the week, go google “high meat” and you let me know how that goes.
Marianne Fons is a legendary quilt personality known coast to coast and around the world. I’ve seen people practically kiss her hem upon meeting her; I’ve seen her sign napkins.** To thousands of quilters, my mother is Friend, Neighbor, and Beloved Quilt Teacher. But in the kitchen, my mother is no star. In the kitchen, she approaches remedial. She would be the first to admit this and did admit this when, moments ago, I yelled from the living room into the kitchen,
“You wouldn’t say you’re a good cook, right? I mean, you don’t consider yourself like, a person who makes more than four things? Is that accurate? Can I ask you something for PaperGirl?”
“Okay,” yelled my mother. Loud and unsure is an interesting tone of voice.
Knowing how much she hates interroom conversations, I picked up my laptop and went to where she was: at the kitchen sink. We kids pitch in in the kitchen when we’re here, but it cannot be denied that my mother does the lion’s share of dishwasher-ing at holidays. Mom seems to like KP duty. She’s first one with her hands in the sink, after all, holiday after holiday, practically racing to scrape the plates and haul out the box of Cascade. I slouched up to the other side of the bar, ate some grapes, and asked her in a more civilized way how she viewed herself as a cook.
“I make a great cherry pie,” she said. “I make good mostaccioli. My chicken ricotta soup is good. But I’m not a person who knows how to cook, no. I’m just good at following a recipe.”
“And you would admit you’re a picky eater.” It’s not possible to be a good cook if you’re picky.
“Oh, absolutely,” my mother said. I was glad she didn’t try to argue this point. I’ve never seen a pickier eater than my mother. Actually, I did see a pickier eater, once. She was four and was wearing an Elsa costume in public on a Saturday morning while I was trying to have brunch. Either that little girl agreed to eat something her tired, weary parents offered her or she has starved by now.
“The thing is, though, I’d much rather make a quilt than a dish,” my mother sniffed, hand-drying a pie plate. “At the end of a quilt, you have something that lasts.”
This is Marianne Fons-brand snobbery; harmless (no one will ever really fight over what’s more special, grandma’s chess pie recipe or grandma’s patchwork quilt) but readily available, designed to insure she comes out on top. Maybe it’s not snobbery at all but unflagging optimism; maybe we could all do with more of it, I don’t know. But regardless, every once in awhile my mother makes a comment that belies her “who needs it” position vis a vis food arts. She’s got a daughter (me) and a soon-to-be son-in-law (Jack) who take our cooking seriously. I got down to the chicken soup business yesterday and within a few minutes there was a nutrient-rich, aromatic slurry simmering on the stove; Jack has been known to say things like, “The lemons are macerating” or “Pass the dashi.” Jack and my facility in the kitchen seems to inspire Mom to gingerly expand her repertoire every once in awhile (read: Thanksgiving.)
My stepdad, Mark, was getting his hair cut the other day and saw the good people of Good Morning America talking about pumpkin flan. He told my mom that pumpkin flan sounded pretty good to him, and Mom, seeing this as her yearly opportunity to flex a bit at the stove, proclaimed that she would be making a pumpkin flan this year for Thanksgiving. And make it she did.
It looked just the way it was supposed to. It came out of the pan beautifully and the flavor was spot-on. I know because actually ate some. Pumpkin flan is definitely not on my list of “legal” foods, but I’ve been so sick lately, I figured it couldn’t possibly get any worse. So far, I have not died.
And so, my mother’s new name is Marianne Flans. We’ve decided she needs to make pumpkin flan every year for Thanksgiving because it is delicious, but also so that she can come by her new name honestly: she needs to make multiple flans to truly be Marianne Flans, plural. But we did also decide that when used in the singular, it’s acceptable to pronounce “FLAH-hn” as “f-LAN,” with the long “A” sound, for this means we have a new word to add to our favorite game ever.
**My mother would want me to point out that I’m signing napkins, now, too; I also have a fame experience my mother likely will never have and would not want: I was asked to sign a girl’s cleavage with a tube of lipstick after performing my set at the Green Mill Uptown Poetry Slam. It was a memorable moment for all.
The Thanksgiving holiday is nearly upon us. I wonder if I might contribute an idea as you plan your meal. If someone coming to dinner has Crohn’s or Colitis, you might already have special (read: expensive and time-consuming) foods on your menu, but I’ll offer my suggestion anyway in hopes you don’t know anyone with either disease and you can just take my recipe as amusing and possibly worth making and serving.
I make these cheesy biscuits. They taste so good and they do not destroy me. They will taste good to you and will not destroy you, either. And now:
Mary’s Non-Destroying Cheesy Biscuits
Big portion of farmer’s cheese
Bunch of blanched almond meal (also called almond flour, but only get the blanched kind)
A whole lot of grated, quality parmesan cheese (not that Kraft stuff in the green can! For shame!)
Salt + pepper
Serves: A lot, I’m not sure. What’s a serving?
Mix farmer’s cheese (also called dry-curd cottage cheese; hard to find but findable and not the same as regular cottage cheese for lord’s sake) and the eggs in a big mixing bowl. A wooden spoon is fine for stirring, but if you have a big mixer, great. Pour in some of the almond meal. Then some of the parmesan. Throw in some salt. Little pepper. Keep putting in almond meal and cheese into the bowl and mix it real good so that deep within your soul, you feel like everything is distributed. Add a touch more salt. Just make it look like biscuit batter, kinda lumpy and thick, not runny. (You couldn’t make this stuff runny if you tried because you’re dealing with nuts and cheese. If your batter is runny, you have done something I do not understand.) Spoon lumps of batter onto a non-stick cooky sheet. They should be the size of gooey hockey pucks.
Remember that you forgot to turn on the oven. Turn it on to about 350-degrees. When it’s probably hot enough but who knows for lord’s sake, put the be-biscuited sheet into the oven for like 12 minutes? Set the timer or you will forget. When the timer beeps, check on your biscuits. They will need more time in the oven. I usually turn the sheet around at this point (using hot pads) because our oven in NYC is old and crotchety. Bake the biscuits a little longer. Five minutes? Six? I can’t help you with everything! You’ll have to figure it out. You can smell them when they’re done and when you see that they’re just beginning to brown, they’re for sure done. Take them out of the oven. Attempt to wait for them to cool; fail. Slather your chosen biscuit with butter; keep transferring hot buttered biscuit from one hand to other; blow on biscuit; burn lips; enjoy.
Clearly, I created these on my own and I have no exact amounts of ingredients or time to offer you. I wing ’em every time, but they always turn out fantastic. Just keep adding cheese, and if it gets too dry, add another egg. You’ll be okay.
If you’re interested in gluten-free foods, they are that. If you’re a paleo-person, they are that, also. They are totally non-carb, as well, if you care. All I know is that they taste like cheese, you can put butter on them and most importantly, they actually taste like real biscuits but they do not destroy me.