The Texas Millionaire

She had the posture and demeanor of a whipped dog—submissive yet hopeful.  Her facial expression was usually a small, apologetic smile.  She was an average size woman, yet seemed to be under the impression that she took up too much space, so her hands stayed clasped and arms tight against her body.  Her steps might be quick or slow, but always so light she seemed almost to float.

Mona lived her life under the constant, paralyzing fear of offending—anyone.

When I worked at the hospital lab in Elizabeth City, it was staffed mainly by women.  It was a kind of a slightly dysfunctional sisterhood.  There were occasional squabbles, but we all had each others’ backs.  You mess with one person from the lab, you messed with all of us.

Mona was hired at the lab, and because of her sweet self-effacing personality, everyone liked her.  She was cheerful, quick to volunteer help, and very kind.

She had three kids between the ages of twelve and six.  They were very shy, polite, and always had one eye on their mom.  Mother and children were an uber tight unit 

But somehow, without knowing why, we felt sorry for her.

When the lab Christmas party rolled around, we understood.

Her husband was awful.

He was a bully.  He was a strutting peacock of a bully.  The kind of bully who assumed that everyone was as twisted and small as he was.

He took delight in humiliating his wife.  He barked orders at her, made her wait on his every whim, and blamed and belittled her if everything was not perfect.  He’d then gesture to the person he was standing near, and say something like, “Can you believe how stupid she is?  She’s lucky I put up with it.”

Of course, we were all appalled at this jerk.

After the party, we all had an extra measure of affection for Mona and felt very protective of her.  But deep down we all wondered how and why she stayed with this absolute horror of a human.  We daydreamed about what we would do and say if we were in her position.

One day Mona came into work with a different look in her eye.  She was excited.  And maybe a little happy?

At Elizabeth City’s tiny little mall, she’d met a very nice man who was in town on business.  He was from Texas and had already gone back home.

He promised to write to her. 

And he did.  And told her he was a Texas oil millionaire.  And later, he’d fallen in love with her, and wanted her and the kids to move to Texas.

Of course, the women in the lab were 100% convinced that this guy, for whatever reason, was stringing her along, and probably lived in the basement of a mobile home.

Even I, who is usually very trusting to the point of pathological gullibility was certain this guy was the baddest of bad news.

Then he sent her four plane tickets so that she and the three kids could come out to Texas for a visit.  We were all petrified he would cook and eat a couple of them and sell the rest into human trafficking.

She came home with pictures of her and the kids enjoying what looked like South Fork ranch.  Turns out the guy was a legit, well-known and beloved Texas millionaire.  She moved out west and when her divorce was final, married her prince.

Her first foray into romance was a bust.  But despite the fears of us all, Mona got her fairy tale and her happily ever after.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

You Might As Well…

Computers and the ensuing internet have been life-changing for humanity. 

People have found long-lost relatives, collaborated on medical breakthroughs, raised money for worthy charities, and had 1,500 ladybugs and uranium ore delivered to their front door in 24 hours. 

But there is a dark side, too.

Cyber-bullying, a whole new way for the nefarious to cheat people, and the rise of the Kardashians.

Closer to home, the world wide web has completely and totally demolished the idea that I am, in any way, an original thinker.

Every once in awhile I think I’ve had a world-shattering idea that’ll change the very fabric of civilization.  I have learned to check online before I call a press conference.     

Because, inevitably, not only am I not the first person to think up this great idea, folks have known about it since Moses was in kindergarten.

I gotta say, it’s pretty darn humbling.

Right now, computers are making life more bearable.

I still don’t Facebook or tweet or insta, but I do read lots of food and cooking websites.  And during this pandemic-imposed sequestration, there seem to be two kitchen projects that are happening in many, many homes all over the country.

The first is people are cultivating sourdough starter and baking bread.  Which makes sense, because folks have time on their hands and getting those hands on fresh bread has become more problematic every day.

I worship at the kitchen temple of Nigella.

And not many things make one feel more like a culinary goddess than baking bread with the wild yeast that you have grown out of literally, thin air.

I began growing sourdough when The Kid was in high school.  Each week I would make a loaf of pumpernickel so our little scholar could take a chicken sandwich on pump every day for lunch.

I baked this loaf last night, with my starter.

But bread baking can be an uncertain thing.  Yeast is alive and can be cranky and temperamental.  As much as it can make you feel god-like, it can turn around and make you feel an abject failure.  But once it gets inside you, you’re lost.

Once you go bread, you’ll bake ‘til you’re dead.

The other thing folks are making right now is banana bread.  It’s still bread, but much easier, takes almost no time, and the stakes are lower.  Plus it uses up wonky bananas.

I adapted this recipe years ago from a Betty Crocker cookbook.  It was one of the first baking projects that I really nailed.  For a super indulgent treat, schmear slices with butter and toast them in a 300° for about 20 minutes.  It’s like quick bread candy.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Country Banana Bread

1 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 ½ cups mashed overripe bananas (3-4 medium)

1/3 cup water

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

12-15 gratings of fresh nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking powder

½ cup chopped, toasted pecans

Heat oven to 350°.  Grease bottom only of loaf pan (8 ½ X 4 ½ X 2 ½ or 9 X 5 X 3).

Sift together dry ingredients.  Set aside.

Mix butter and sugar until it’s lighter in color and fluffy.  Add vanilla, then eggs one at a time and beat until they’re completely mixed in.  Add bananas and water, beat 30 seconds more.

Stir in dry ingredients until just mixed in.  If you still have streaks, that’s okay.  Do not overmix, or you’ll get a tough, rubbery product.

Stir in nuts until barely distributed.

Pour into pan.  Bake until toothpick comes out clean, but moist (55-75 minutes).  Set on cooling rack for five minutes in pan, then de-pan and let cool completely on rack. 

Pollyanna Called…

It’s the nature of the beast to want to do…something.

But we’ve been told the most important thing we can do is stay home, and wait.  It’s taken a week or so, but most people have gotten the message.  The streets are almost empty, and #socialdistancing has replaced #Renegade on TikTok (the Renegade’s a dance and TikTok’s a social media platform featuring short videos).

But there are things you can do.

Donate to any one of the relief efforts.  There are religious charities, the United Way, country musicians, dancers, bar and restaurant employees, you name it.  Honestly, whatever your interest or concern, there is probably a fund.

I know, Gentle Reader, that I don’t have to remind you, but please urge others to make sure the cause to which they’re donating is legit.  Just like the turkey vultures that show up at every roadkill, scammers are working overtime to separate people of goodwill from their money.

Donate blood.  The Red Cross is suffering from a severe shortage of blood.  There are many area blood drives, just google “blood drives near me”.  Or visit to schedule an appointment at your local Red Cross facility.

 Last Thursday I donated blood for the first time.  I made an appointment, went in, and in an hour I was done. Honestly, the registration took more time than the actual donation.  And you get snacks and juice boxes.  But, get a ride, especially if it’s your first time.  For the rest of the day, I was swooning around like a Southern belle at a topless beach. 

I am absolutely not recommending blood donation as a diet aid, but a whole blood donation is 470 ml, which weighs exactly one pound—just saying.

Cook for others.  Whether it’s for neighbors, friends, and family who don’t or can’t cook, or health care workers. 

Send a friend in the hospitality business an email of support.  Tell them you’re thinking of them and you will be there for them when this is all over.  Check on someone who’s been furloughed.  Get some take out or delivery. 

Before the stay at home orders came, I thought they might be.  So I bought a pack of blank note cards.  I’ll mail some to friends and family.  But I mainly bought them for my neighbors.  And at night, when I take my dog out for one last walk, I’ll slip them in mailboxes.  When things feel scary and it seems like we’ll be locked up ‘til the end of time, they’ll hopefully be a happy little surprise to brighten someone’s day.

And don’t forget to add your phone number so they can contact you if needed.

Be nice.  Nobody walking the earth has ever lived through anything like this.  People are scared and angry.  They want answers and assurances that won’t be coming.  The news is changing constantly and everybody is off-kilter.

Showing patience and kindness might be the best thing you can do, and the one thing that people surely need.  Smile, wave, offer to pick up a few things if you have to go out to grocery or drugstore.    

Do the thing for someone else that if done for you would make your own journey easier.

Even now, there’s still an outlying population who because of ignorance, hubris, or politics are paying no heed to the pleas of the medical community and government.  They are eschewing hand washing and social distancing.  They are going to the beach, the club, and having parties.

To those people I have one personal plea: please do nothing.

Nothing at all.  It’s the least you can do.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Fry me A River

Not that kind of labor…

It is a straight-up labor of love.

It’s also delicious and addictive.  So much so, that when I make it, it goes directly to The Kid’s house because I can literally eat it by the pound.

It’s fried pasta.

Not that kind of Strange…

I know, it sounds strange. 

Years ago, before I was much of a cook, there used to be an Italian restaurant near us where we often ate.  They had some wonderful dishes.  One of our favorites was an appetizer that was a riff on nachos.  Instead of corn chips, they used pieces of fried pasta.

I decided to recreate the pasta portion.  But of course, I had no idea how.  I also wasn’t as shameless as I am now when it comes to asking for recipes.  If it happened now, I would ask to be in the kitchen and watched the procedure.

So, I was on my own to figure it out.

First I tried using raw pasta, thinking the frying would be the only cook it needed.  Yeah, that didn’t work. 

Frying something draws out the liquid and seals it in that delicious crispy, fried crust.  Dried pasta contains no water—that’s the whole point of drying it.  Frying left it greasy on the outside and hard enough to etch glass.

Then I tried cooking it and frying most of it in one batch.  I got a tough, chewy brick.  I then put less in at one time and it still stuck together.  Finally, I only put in three or four in at a time.

I had to adjust the time spent in the oil so it would come out GBD (golden brown and delicious).  If you just wait until the bubbles stop, that means that all the water is out of the product so it is perfectly crispy.

But I was left with something that was incredibly messy, made the house smell like a fast-food joint, and at a few at a time, took hours.

So, I made it for The Kid, but rarely, and half the time gave up before all the pasta was fried.  Which wasted food.

At Christmas, I make The Kid one gift each year.  Last Christmas I decided to fry pasta.  But I was really dreading the slog. 

While making marshmallows, I got to thinking.  There aren’t many stickier substances known to man than marshmallow goo.  But when they are coated in corn starch, all the outer stickiness vanishes.

So I tossed the pasta in corn starch before frying.

It worked.  I still couldn’t fill the pot, but now I could do 10-12 at one time, making the job so much faster.

Of course, it’s still a slow, messy, involved process.  But so worth it.  In fact, without careful rationing, you’ll probably eat them faster than the cooking took.

But soooo worth it.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Fried Pasta

16 ounces bowtie pasta

Corn starch

Vegetable oil

Fine sea salt & pepper

Herbs, spices, cheese powder, ranch seasoning (optional)

Cook the pasta in heavily salted water until al dente.  When done, drain and toss with ¼ cup corn starch.

Lay out in a single layer on parchment-lined tray.  

Set up frying station:

Put paper towels on large rimmed baking sheet.  Place salt, pepper, flavorings nearby.  Put pan on medium heat, fill about halfway with oil, and heat to 350 degrees.


To minimize it sticking together, do no more than 10-12 pieces at a time. Gently place pasta into hot oil, one at a time. If they try to stick, gently separate them.

Fry until golden, and bubbling has stopped.  Remove to lined baking sheet, and season. 

Gimme Shelter (In Place)

10:00 AM-Go outside to walk the dog.  Spot a neighbor out in his yard.  Very excited to see a fresh face.  Begin waving vigorously.

10:02 AM-Wave so vigorously I fall off the porch.

10:10 AM-Disinfect and bandage abrasion on arm.  Also, left shoe missing.

10:15 AM-Walk the dog.  While walking, yellow pollen makes throat scratchy.  Notice an ever-larger circle of social distancing after each cough.  One woman grabs child, picks up dog and trots in the opposite direction.

11:00-11:20 AM-Eat potato chips.

11:20-11:30 AM-Eat M&M’s.

12:01 PM-Eat lunch.

12:35 PM-Decide to take care of my skin during confinement.  Enjoy a facial slathering on every expensive skin product I own, along with the much more expensive samples I’ve received.

1:15 PM-Think about writing, vacuuming or organizing closet.  Decide to organize closet.  Once upstairs, change mind and take a nap.

1:27 PM-Product encrusted face keeps sliding off pillow, making sleep impossible,

1:31 PM-Wash approximately thirty-eight dollars worth of lotions and unguents from face.

3:40 PM-Once awake, lay on bed and consider various topics for columns.  Drift off again.

4:15 PM-Awake again, take a look at the inside of the closet to plan organization.  Envision a finished closet that has been so amazingly ordered it resembles an Ikea-designed storage system, using only what is already owned.

4:16 PM-Change mind and go downstairs.

4:17 PM-Have a snack of potato chips and M&M’s.

4:30 PM-Petey leaves the room.  Hide remote control to hopefully bring to end a constantly changing montage of thirty-five-year-old college basketball games interspersed with bits of the Grace Jones Mad Max movie, a Gene Hackman suspense movie from the eighties, and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.

4:41 PM-Petey finds the remote.

4:45-6:00 PM-Look for rain boots on Amazon.

6:15 PM-Take the dog for a walk.

6:40 PM-Stop at fenced playground for Crowley to get a chance to run around off-leash.  It’s dusk, so take the opportunity to swing on the swings.  Swing as high as possible for an exhilarating ten minutes, only stopping when I notice curious neighbors study the swinging spectacle through their upstairs windows.

6:53 PM-Head for home.

See, it’s a thing…kind of.

7:10 PM-Try to decide for dinner.  Have settled on two choices-a balsamic dressed salad of mixed greens, shaved red onion, Chapel Hill Creamery’s farmer’s cheese, toasted pecans, and dried fruits.  Or half a bottle of coffee liqueur dumped on a freezer-burned Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich.  Then I have to decide what to make for Petey.

8:30 PM-Alphabetize jams and jellies in refrigerator.  Am surprised to learn marionberry is one word so will place under “m” rather than by last name of “b”.  Dicey moment occurs when having trouble deciding whether to categorize Ikea-purchased jam under “L” for lingonberry or “S” for sylt lingon, its Swedish-language name.

9:30 PM-Do a load of towels, and a load of clothing, which consists entirely of fuzzy socks, sweats, and pajamas.

10:45 PM-Play six hands of double solitaire with Petey.  As usual, he denies cheating, but wins five out of the six.

11:35-12:55 PM- Look for rain boots on Amazon.

1:05 PM-Read issue of the UK version of Cosmopolitan magazine.  Now have in-depth knowledge of British drugstore lipstick.  Am informed of the dangers of counterfeit alcohol in Southeast Asia vacation destinations.  Know the going rates of Scottish gigolos and how to hire one as an escort to an Edinburgh wedding, and where to purchase a hat for said festivities.

2:15 AM-Have a snack of Oreos dunked in the remaining half bottle of coffee liqueur.

3:00 AM-Watch ten-year-old videos of sheepdog trials in New Zealand.  Now have a true understanding of what bored really is.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Batch Game

So, I think (I hope) that this morning I had my last foray out of the house for a while.

Yesterday The Kid and I went around to a couple of stores to round out our pantry and get a couple things to help us while away the time during our social distancing and self-imposed isolation.

I really wanted to get a couple packs of ground beef for two dishes that we all love and gives us leftovers—a hamburger/rice patty and a pot of American goulash, a noodle dish full of mushrooms and pasta also known as American chop suey and slumgullion (?).

Yesterday we went to Lowes Foods.  As you might expect, the meat aisle was pretty bare.  They had ground bison, wild boar, veal, and lamb.  They also had wagyu beef, at ten bucks a pound; no thanks.  But, there was no 80/20 hamburger meat.

Wagyu cow at photo op.

So this morning I ran to my local Carlie C’s where they butcher their own meat.  I thought my chances might be better to find what I needed.

I was right.

My mom made goulash when I was a kid, and I always loved it with a dollop of sour cream.

As I learned to cook, I refined the recipe with herbs, mushrooms, and lastly, roasted garlic. 

So, I think I’m done going out until we need to restock supplies.  Petey and The Kid don’t think I can stay home.  I really, really want to prove them wrong.  There’s nothing left that we need.

Although a couple pints of ice cream would be great…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Roasted Garlic American Goulash

1 lb. 80/20 hamburger

12 ounces mushrooms

1 onion

2 heads garlic

1/2 teaspoon bacon fat or vegetable oil

2-14 ounce can tomatoes

1 1/2 cups beef stock

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup sherry

1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons dry thyme + 1/2 teaspoon

1 teaspoon dry oregano

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary finely chopped + 2 sprigs

2 teaspoons kosher salt + pinch

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper + pinch

1 pound cavatappi pasta, uncooked

Roast garlic:

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut heads of garlic on half horizontally.  Lay in piece of foil about 9 inches square. Place on top, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, rosemary sprigs, pinch of salt and pepper.  Wrap, and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool a bit.  Extract all the garlic meat and set aside.

Put hamburger into large heavy pot with a cover.  When it’s just about cooked through, add onions, mushrooms, salt, pepper, and remmaining herbs.  Cook until the veg have released and then cooked out all their liquid.

Add garlic and stir to combine.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Add tomato paste and mix in.  Cook until the paste has darkened, and started to stick to the bottom of the pot.  Add sherry, stir to pull up all the stuff on the bottom of th pot.  Cook until the sherry cooks in.

Pour in tomatoes and juice.  Add beef stock.  Stir in pasta. 

At this point you can bring to a boil and either take off heat to sit covered for 60 minutes, to eat later or finish now.

If you’ve let it sit, 15 minutes before service, put it on a medium burner, gently stirring frequently, so that all the pasta cooks to opaque.

To finish right away, cook covered on medium for 10 minutes, then uncover and cook for 10-15 minutes more when the pasta is fully cooked, and the sauce has thickened and is coating the pasta.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream or Mexican crema.  Serves 8.

Retro House Party

It’s getting worrisome and weird out there folks.

For reliable information and updates, I strongly urge you to visit:  I also strongly urge you to double-check any information you get from other sources; scammers and trolls abound.  Even people of goodwill are unknowingly sharing material that’s useless at best, and harmful at worst.

I am unqualified to offer any sort of medical advice, but as someone who has lived through many periods of both forced and unforced house-bound-ness (is that a word?), I have plenty of thoughts about warding off cabin fever.

Yes, there will be WiFi and the internet.  You can stream, game, facetime, insta and tik tok.  And that’s just awesome, it’s crucial that everyone can entertain themselves during this odd and worrisome idyll.

But, here’s a completely radical and subversive idea—what about spending some time all together, as a family (or family of friends and/or housemates)?

Back before radios and TV, there used to be something called house parties (If you’re a fan of British historical fiction or the TV drama Downtown Abbey, you know from house parties).  For the uninitiated they were what we will all soon be experiencing—prolonged periods in one’s own home, with all occupants present.

Rather than virtual, the fun had by all was actual.  For us modern, tech-savvy humans, this can be novel, memorable fun.  But you’ve got to commit; turn off all the screens and put your phones in a drawer.

And as always, I have suggestions.

The first idea might be a bit much for some folks, but if you have smaller kids, I can almost guarantee they will love it; put on a show.  Write and perform your own skits, perform a family-friendly play, or have a talent show with everybody pitching in to create scenery and costumes.  As you put it together, the older kids will almost surely get on board.

Have a karaoke night, or even an old-fashioned singalong.  You’re a smoking singer in the shower, why not share your gifts in the living room?  You learn a lot about people when they reveal their favorite songs.  Of course, those with little kids run the very real risk of being subjected to that ear-worm from hell, Baby Shark (baby shark doo doo doo doo doo doo mommy shark doo doo…).


Board and card games.  Growing up, my family played tons of games around the kitchen table.  When we played Clue, it was like watching a movie; Miss Scarlet, Professor Plum, and Colonel Mustard were as real to me as our neighbors.  A couple of my favorites are Monopoly and Life, they take hours and even be played in installments over days.  For a shorter good time, Sorry and Parcheesi.

Try a card game like Uno, or Mille Bornes, a French card game based on a road trip.  And a regular deck of Hoyle’s can be hundreds of games, like hearts, gin rummy, double solitaire and canasta (a retro game that requires two decks, but is ridiculously fun—while growing up, Petey’s family played it often).

When you get tired of all this homemade fun, have a film festival.  Choose a category like 1930s monster movies, Cecil B DeMille bible epics, Beatles movies, or have a Sharknado marathon.

Gentle Reader, there isn’t a whole lot we can do about this situation except wash our hands and stay home—it’s enough to drive you to distraction.

But maybe, to keep everybody safe and sane, try some fun, old-fashioned, homemade, distraction.

Take care, and remember: every single one of us is stronger than we know, and we will get through this.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Looting Your Pantry

When my Uncle Bill died, my Aunt Polly decided to move from New Jersey to North Carolina.

After the funeral, we all pitched in to help her get ready for the move. My big brother Homer and I were assigned to go through her pantry and fridge in the basement.

We made a discovery.

When Aunt Polly shopped for groceries, she never actually checked to see if she was out or running low. It seemed as if every two weeks or so, she purchased the same list regardless of what she had on hand.

She had jar, after jar, after jar, after jar of mayonnaise. The front jar was recently purchased and good to use. But as the jars got older and older, they got decidedly more toxic looking. The stuff in the very back looked almost radioactive.

She had enough wonky mayo to kill every picnic-goer on the Eastern seaboard. 

I get it. I get really nervous if I am close to running out of something and don’t have a replacement. And I was less than conscientious about inventorying my supplies. I have gotten better, but at one point I had enough pasta to throw a spaghetti dinner for every church in North Carolina. Honestly, once I realized how much I had, I didn’t need to buy any for about a year and a half. 

I’m just grateful pasta’s non-perishable and I didn’t have a malignant mayonnaise situation on my hands.

But my point is that you probably have way more food on hand than you think. 

I’m sure you’ve been seeing the Bedlam that has been visited upon every food retailer as folks stock up, to hunker down. 

Shelves are getting so bare that Harris Teeter, Publix, and Walmart have announced they’re all closing early every day to clean and restock. It’s like an ice and snow storm is bearing down on us, riding on a hurricane. The shelves are empty and shoppers have that intense, almost frantic look in their eyes.

Before you rush out and buy another bag of desperation provisions, go through your kitchen and pantry, and take stock. I’ll bet you the first slice of my next birthday cake that you have a pretty impressive stockpile already.

Now isn’t that pretty and happy?

Everything is going to be cattywampus for the foreseeable future. If you’ve got kids, they’ll be home. You are probably going to be home a lot more than usual. So, get in the kitchen with your housemate, boo, or kids and make something that is usually too labor-intensive for a Tuesday night, or even the weekend.

Make your great grandmother’s special grape soda pot roast. Trot out crazy Uncle Seymour’s 9-alarm chili recipe.  Work on some sourdough starter and bake up some bread.

To get you started, I’ve included my recipe for Creamy pecan pralines—delicious and dangerous; moderation, Gentle Reader.  

My wish is that we’ll all get through this uncertain, anxious time safe and well.  And also that you’re able to have a good time making some good food.

But I’ve noticed something that’s been bothering me.

It’s a wonky time, everything seems precarious, and it’s easy to lose your composure in the supermarket.  It feels like readying for a weather event, but of course, it’s not. I totally get making sure you’ve got plenty of toilet paper. 

But why does everybody need all that bottled water y’all?

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Creamy Pecan Pralines


3 cups chopped pecans

2 cups light brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

1 ½ cups heavy cream

1/3 cup whole milk

6 tablespoons butter

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped


Toast pecans:

Heat oven to 350°. Spread chopped pecans out on large baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until they’re lightly browned and aromatic.

In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream, milk, butter, empty vanilla pod, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, to 230°. Lower heat slightly if mixture threatens to boil over. Add toasted pecans and continue cooking, stirring constantly, to 236° F.

Remove from the heat; let stand for about 5 minutes.  Add vanilla beans and stir with wooden spoon until mixture is thickened and slightly creamy, about 1-1 ½ minutes. Using small cookie scoop, spoon pralines onto a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. If mixture becomes grainy, heat and stir over medium heat for a few seconds, or until it can be easily scooped and dropped.

Makes about 4 dozen.

Who Knew It’d be hot in August, in North Carolina, in a metal-clad mobile home, with no shade, no under skirting, and no AC, in August?

Did I mention it was August?

Looking back, all I can say is that we were young, dumb, and in love.

It’s the only explanation for willingly moving into a 12X60 corrugated aluminum box without an air conditioner. 

After our honeymoon (to Busch Gardens—more on that in another dispatch), we officially moved in.

Not our love shack, but similar.

And a day or two after that the question on both our lips was, “What were we thinking?”. 

It was awful. 

But the worst part was knowing that there was no relief to this muggy hell until the fall.

I stuck it out as long as I could and longer than most would.  But after a few weeks with the knowledge that it would be months before I would be cool and comfortable, I was done.  I informed my groom I was going to my parent’s house, and would happily return when we had an air conditioner.

He knew I was serious.  I ultimately never spent a night away, because after I told him of my plans, we went out and bought a small window unit.

We put it in our bedroom.  Whenever we came home, we’d make a beeline for our bedroom, shedding our clothes as we ran.  There, in our birthday suits, we’d turn it on, crank it to high, and lay on the bed; sweaty, but grateful for the cool.

Then one day, Petey’s mom bought us a second, larger AC at a garage sale.  It was pretty; made in the art deco style, fashioned of cellulose in a lovely shade of celadon green.  Since it was a more powerful unit, we decided to put it in the main area of the house and install it in the kitchen window.

Since we didn’t yet own a ladder, we did the installation from inside the trailer.

I imagine, Gentle Reader, that you’ve guessed where I’m going with this tale.

We were just about done—it only needed a few minute adjustments when it happened.  It fell outside through the window to the ground, some seven feet below.

We ran outside to inventory the wreckage.  It seemed to be salvageable, with mainly casing damage.  Petey grabbed it while I gathered up AC shards.  We agreed that the machine was not gonna die—not today, and not on our watch.

We set the unit and its pieces on the kitchen floor, broke out the super glue, and got to work.

It was hot work; after a while, we stripped down to our underwear and the sweat was still dripping off us.  It was like doing a jigsaw puzzle on the sun.  After what seemed like decades, we ran out of both glue and broken pieces.  We carefully put it in the window, secured it, and turned it on.

It worked!

But it wasn’t exactly up to factory specs.  Its cooling capacity was somewhat diminished.  And it made sounds.

At low, it groaned like a chorus of septuagenarians getting up from Lazy Boy Recliners in unison.  On the medium setting, it acquired the squeal of a tween at a Taylor Swift concert.  And on the rare occasion we set it to high, it rattled like the breathing of a squad of consumptive Victorian heroines.

The AC’s did their job.  And soon the weather cooled and the units were put into storage for the winter.

Then, in December, Elizabeth City experienced the coldest stretch in many years.  And Petey and I could be found chasing around town for some space heaters to keep us alive.

Did I mention young, dumb, and in love?

Thanks for your time.

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