Come Up To The Lab

Pie is hard.

Oh sure, it’s got this reputation as this working-class, farmer’s wife, set out on the window sill to cool, egalitarian reputation. 

Yeah, it’s a big fat lie.  I don’t know who the marketing genius was behind this brilliant campaign, but they earned their paycheck plus a big, fat bonus. 

Ali & Ben at East Durham Bake Shop will help you get your pie on…and the scones ain’t bad, either. They’re actually the world’s best scones.

Don’t get me wrong, pie is delicious.  Made by the right hands, it is an awesome hug from a freshly baked grandma.  But those hands are few and far between.  Because pie is a full-on culinary minefield, where each step can take hope and twist it into shame.  Every procedure has the potential to become misshapen disappointment. 

And that’s just the crust.

Crust is the high school crush of pie—there are just so many ways to go wrong.  You can overwork the dough and get rubber.  If you don’t let it rest and chill, it’ll shrink and slide down the pie dish.  You might overcook the edges and undercook the bottom.  Who amongst us has had a delicious filling and raw bottom?  I know I have.

Then there are the innards.

Too wet, too dry, too sweet, not sweet enough.  Meringue that is both too wet and too dry.  Too much filling, too little.  Weird texture, weird flavor.  Fruit that tastes like it was canned during World War II, and may or may not contain botulism.

Like I said Gentle Reader, it’s a minefield out there.  So, we’ll try to break it down, and demystify and de-scarify it a touch.

Spandex

Pie crust or any baked good containing wheat, barley, rye, triticale, and oats have gluten.  Think of gluten as spandex.  This is what gives bread the ability to rise so much and become airy and chewy.

But in just about every other application, you don’t want to promote gluten.  It will make the product dense and rubbery.  And this includes pie crust. 

There are two remedies.  The first is to cut the water in the pastry with alcohol.  Water will cause gluten to develop.  Hooch will not.  Many folks use vodka because it has no flavor.  But why waste an opportunity to add flavor? 

The second way to avoid gluten development is vital.  Add liquor or not, but if you overwork the dough, it’s over.

Work the dough just, and I mean just, until it starts coming together.  You actually want to see pea-size lumps of butter in the finished dough, if it’s a homogeneous mass, it’s over.

Here is the recipe for a cornmeal piecrust The Kid invented in culinary school.  Next week, I promise I’ll be much less long-winded (as if) and give you the recipes for two different ways to fill it.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The Kid’s 1-2-3 Cornmeal Pastry Crust

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ cornmeal

1 tsp salt

2 teaspoons sugar

8 ounces (2 sticks) salted butter, frozen then grated on the large holes, place on parchment, and put back in freezer for 30 minutes

¼ cup ice-cold liquor like rum or whiskey

½ cup ice cold water (approximately)

Put the first four ingredients into bowl of food processor.  Pulse three times to mix.  Add butter and pulse twice until butter’s just mixed in.

Add alcohol and a tablespoon of water.  Pulse twice, and if it hasn’t come together add a bit more water, pulse once, and check again.  When it barely holds together, turn out onto plastic wrap.  Using the wrap, bring all the loose pieces into the whole, divide if making a two-crust into separate rounds and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Or refrigerate for up to five days, or freeze up to 2 months.

Never

“Never say never.”—incomplete sentence.

It should be, “Never say never say never.”

I know life is a funny thing and you don’t know what’s just around the next corner.  I’m the poster child for that statement.  I mean, look at me; last week I had a phone interview with a famous successful fashion designer and this week I’ll be speaking with a comic who’s had multiple TV series.  I am both massively grateful and completely thunderstruck over what my life has morphed into.

But.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that I am sure will never happen to me, by me, or with me.  Because, while my life astonishes me, I am not a stranger here.  I know that some things just ain’t gonna happen.

Never will I be the first person to walk on the moon.  It’s already been done, so unless I have some Doctor Who-level technology, nobody at NASA need worry about what size space diaper I take.

I will never circumnavigate the globe on foot and bike and rowboat.  I’m not a complete couch potato, I walk at least fifteen miles a week with my pooch.  But Nellie Bly-ing is way too sweaty and blistery for me.  Besides, I’m not sure there’s a clear path all the way ‘round where an American passport is accepted anymore…

On a smaller scale, I will never do a cartwheel.  I have been trying since I was eight years old.  If it hasn’t happened yet, I can say it will never happen.  I recently gave up trying, when the fear of breaking a hip and emergency room co-pays overcame my optimism and ambition.

I will never be able to reproduce either my mother’s macaroni and cheese, nor her Christmas cookies.  Her mac is perfect—neither too wet or too dry.  The cheddar to the Velveeta ratio is smooth yet just a little sharp.  It’s perfect for eating straight from the fridge in the middle of the night in your nightgown.

But I can’t.  Don’t know why; just can’t.

Her Christmas cookies; I’ve spoken about them before.  Other people can, that’s why I share the recipe every year, but I can’t.  The procedure is some weird biscuit type deal that I can’t figure out, and the secret ingredient is either crack or fairy dust, to which I don’t have access.  So, if she keeps baking them, I’ll keep frosting them, and when she looks away, eating them.

I will never compete on Dancing with the Stars.  First, the prospect of me being famous is slim verging on impossible.  Secondly, even with months of practice, a world-class partner/teacher, and a touch of CGI, I can’t dance.  My hips are less slinky and more erector set.  Honest, nobody wants to see that.

I will never buy a paradox-mobile.  The 2020 Cadilac Escalade Platinum costs $95,000.  That amount of cash would have purchased 190 of my first car, Lancelot.  Luxury SUV is the very definition of paradox.  Nope.  Also, humvees.  I’m running to Costco, not storming the beaches of Normandy.  Nobody needs a ginormous, gas-guzzling, troop transport vehicle.  When I see them on the road, they usually have only one very self-satisfied occupant.

I still have never owned a cell phone (And every day I’m hearing the “cell” part less.  To anybody under the age of 25, it is the phone.  They’ve never had any other kind).  But there will, I am sure, come a day when I will be forced, by the government/big tech global conspiracy to obtain one.

But if you ever see me take a selfie of myself, just bury me, ‘cause I’m already dead.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Adventures In Babysitting

I can tell you the exact moment it happened.  

It was on a visit we’d made to Elizabeth City.  At the time, our friend Pig’s son was about four-years-old, which as everyone knows is the most adorable and charming age for the human species.  I’d spent some time with him, and we’d enjoyed each other’s company.

On the way home, we stopped at Pig’s.  We entered through the kitchen, and then it happened.

My little buddy did something that sealed my fate.  He reached out for me with both hands and smiled this sunny, heartbreaking grin.  And…the snooze alarm on my biological clock began clanging like all the bells on the planet were playing a wake-up call just for me.

Within eighteen months, we were greeting The Kid in the maternity ward.

But, here’s the weird part.  Until the incident in Pig’s kitchen, I didn’t want to have children.  Heck, at eighteen I was begging my OB/GYN to fix me like a wayward Doberman (of course, there isn’t a doctor around that’ll sterilize an eighteen-year-old kid, which in my case was a good thing).

And that brings me to babysitting.

In the summers of junior high, I watched my brother while Mom worked.  But, he was a bookworm like me, so mainly I just had to make sure he didn’t get a paper cut or burn down the house. 

When I was in high school I did a little babysitting.  Honestly, though, I was a pretty indifferent sitter.  If I’d been in the Babysitters’ Club, I would have been “Debbie, the pretty reliable yet entirely unenthusiastic babysitter”.

Petey had two younger brothers.  He also had an older sister Deb, who’s favorite thing ever is to run things, so he only got minimal experience.

There’s something you should know about my spouse.  He has a few interests like watching any and all sports contests, learning to play the guitar (which has been an ongoing project since I met him in 1979), and dogs.     

But for his entire life, he’s had one interest so central to who he is, that it’s less hobby, and more raison d’etre, and pillar of his personality.  If he had to choose between me and this abiding passion, I wouldn’t stand a chance.

The man loves a nap.  I mean, he LOVES them.  Like really, really loves them.  Petey never met a horizontal surface he didn’t want to get to know better.

So, one day, when his family was stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas, he was babysitting a neighbor’s children.  The homes were built of stone, literally about the time of General Custer.  Petey was napping on the living room couch.  Downstairs, in the basement, his charges were climbing around on a couple of ancient metal bed frames.

He woke up when one of the kids tugged on his arm and opened his eyes to a lot of blood coming from an scary-looking gash on the little boy’s noggin. 

Head wounds bleed impressively, so it turned out to not be serious.  Petey’s not sure how the parents reacted because when he called home, his sister rushed over and was ecstatic to take over and kick him out.  The parents didn’t give him a hard time over the injury to their child, because they didn’t hire him to sit for them again, and actually never spoke to him after that.

That’s me and The Kid.

Despite our experience in childcare, we took care of our offspring pretty well.  Petey did great, and I only dropped our baby on the head twice, and the one time I misplaced our child, Dom Deluise (yup, that Dom Deluise) returned The Kid to me.

Thanks for your time.Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Not That Cookie, The Other Cookie!

Happy Accidents:

A kid left a cup of juice out on the porch one frigid night.  The next morning, the juice had frozen solid.

The kid (not my Kid) had just invented popsicles!

Dr. Alexander Fleming mishandled one of his Petri dishes and gets a fungal growth in it.  Before tossing it, he notices the fungus has halted the growth of the staphylococcus bacteria in the dish. 

The name of that fungus?  Penicillin!

In 1947 two Bedouin shepherds in Qumran chased a wayward goat into a cave overlooking the Dead Sea.  Inside was a cache of ancient clay pots filled with blackened parchment.

Those shepherds had just discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls!

I decide to rework the dog biscuits I make Crowley into a pumpkin/peanut butter spice cookies for humans.  I planned to take them to a cookie swap at my local library.

The result?  A horrific disaster!

I racked my brain for something that would be quick, and for which I had all the ingredients.  I always have the components for meringues and had chips leftover from a batch of brownies. 

Chocolate Chip Meringues

4 large egg whites

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ of 10 oz bag of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

*The most important thing about meringues is to get them and keep them crispy.  When you take them out of the oven, they won’t be totally set.  Once they’re cooled completely, they should be totally crispy throughout.

If you cook these on a really humid or rainy day, they will likely never completely dry out.

You can also omit or change the chips, flavor with a different extract, or add cocoa or espresso powder while mixing.

For Thanksgiving, flavor with cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, or Chinese 5-spice powder, and paint the pastry bag with gel food coloring stripes of fall colors, then when piped, they’ll be colorful and festive.

For Christmas, try peppermint extract and paint the pastry bag red & green.

Preheat oven to 225, and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Place egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat on medium until they lighten in color and just begin to increase in size.  Slowly add cream of tartar.

When they turn white, slowly add the sugar a tablespoon at a time.  Turn off mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

When all the sugar has been added, slowly add salt, then vanilla.  Beat until glossy, stiff peaks form.  Very gently, fold in the chocolate chips.

Use a large pastry tip and a zip-top bag (or, if you don’t have a pastry tip, just cut about 1/2 inch off one corner of bag). Fill bag with half the meringue and pipe out onto parchment paper into circles of about 2 inches wide.

Place oven racks close to center and put one cookie sheet on each rack.  Bake for 30 minutes then rotate sheets to the other rack and spin 180 degrees.  Bake 30 minutes more.  Turn off oven and let meringues sit in oven for one hour.  Place parchment with meringues onto cooling rack for 10-15 minutes or until completely cool and crispy throughout.

Store in airtight container.  Silica gel barrels, like from pill bottles will help keep moisture from making the cookies lose their crispiness.

Makes approxamately 36 cookies.

The happy accident part?  Turns out, my favorite librarian and host of the cookie swap had just been diagnosed with celiac disease.  Even if the pumpkin/peanut butter cookies hadn’t been an abomination, she couldn’t have eaten them—she can’t eat gluten anymore.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Reflections on the Fair

By the time you read this, the 2019 North Carolina State Fair will be nothing but mountains of trash, and memories.

The Matthews Family band is already thinking about next year (well, this member, anyway).

But I’m also looking back.  And since this space is reserved for the sharing of my thoughts (and it’s a heck of a gig which I highly recommend), what could be more appropriate than to share with you, Gentle Reader, my thoughts before, during, and after the great state fair?

For the most part, anything in quotes are my unspoken thoughts.  But not always.  Sometimes they are spoken aloud, to my family’s exquisite and highly entertaining embarrassment.

Before the fair: My thoughts all follow a similar theme: “THE FAIR’S COMING!!!” joyfully repeated hundreds of times a day beginning in late July, and increasing in frequency as the fair’s arrival draws ever mor near.

“What’ll I wear?” and the much more important, “What’ll I eat?”  Sometimes these two thoughts intersect, such as when I am readying my eatin’ britches (Jeans with enough lycra that they stay up in the morning, but have enough stretch to encase a body containing a metric ton of fair food later in the day.  And they also need to retain enough give to permit me to sit on the ride home).

At the pre-fair media luncheon, an event attended by locally famous media and government types: “OMG! There’s Linda Loveland!  She is taller, prettier and cooler than anyone I’ve ever seen.  I don’t think she’s even human.  She is an alien from Planet Glamorama.”

Guess which one is Linda Loveland?
*Hint: It’s not the large bird.

“There’s Cherie Berry.  I recognize her from the photo in every elevator, everywhere.  That woman lifts me up.”

“Ok, I’ll put less food on my tray to make room for my camera.  Yeah, right.  Who am I kidding?”

“So, if I put my hair in a ponytail and speak with a German accent will the guy serving Dole Whip recognize me?  It’s only my fourth trip.  Probably not…?”

At the fair as a food contest judge: “What were they thinking?  There is no way this combination of ingredients will taste good.”  “Well, what do ya know?  Frost my butt and call me cupcake!  That was tasty!” 

After the soybean judging: “With all apologies to the entire continent of Asia, tofu tastes awful.  Edamame, on the other hand…”

General fair impressions: “It is cold, rainy, and the state fair.  How/Why is that woman wearing stilettos and an extremely short cocktail dress?  In another venue, she’d be fierce, and I’d be impressed/jealous.  Here?  I’m curious/amused.”

“Ok, I have one stomach, but there are fourteen things I want to eat.  I think it just comes down to organization and motivation.”

“I don’t care who you are.  A pirate riding a parrot is comedy gold.”

“Ooh! A puppy!”

“How much trouble would I get into if I politely walked over to that family, grabbed that plastic toy trumpet out of that three-year-old’s hand, threw it on the ground, jumped up and down on it, and calmly walked away?”

“Every single guy at the Marine exhibit is a stone cold fox.  They look like camo-wearing underwear models.  Do they have an “aestetically perfect division”?  Actually, with those faces and bodies to distract the enemy, we couldn’t lose.”

“I think I’ve got room in my belly for a scuppernog slushie and in my fridge for a jar of blueberry bourbon jam.  Sure…”

After the fair:  “I walked into the fair with $150.  I was there four hours and I have $1.47.  What the heck happened?”

“The fair is coming (In 355 days)! Woo Hoo!!”

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Glad Day From Flat Rock

Of course, the ice cream got a little melty, the woman came from Flat Rock.

Flat Rock, North Carolina is situated about four miles south of Hendersonville and 160 miles from Raleigh.

And, Betsy Tankersley drove from Flat Rock to compete in the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission competition at the 2019 NC State Fair. 

The special contests are sponsored by organizations and companies to promote their products.  Each company and organization sets the rules for themselves.  They usually decide on a theme, like game day treats, after school snacks, or holiday appetizers.  The sweet potato folks chose “dietary restrictions”.

Betsy chose the culinary triple axel of dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan.  This should have been sad and awful.

It was the complete opposite; it was joyful and delicious.  The only sad thing was there wasn’t enough for me to have a gallon of it.  Honestly, in my five years of judging contests, this may have been the best creation I’ve had the pleasure to put in my mouth. 

Tankersly is some kind of wizard.  She mixed sweet potato, peanut butter, maple syrup, and cream of coconut.  This combination blended perfectly to form this unctuous, warming flavor that was an amazing foil for the chocolate sauce which included coconut oil.  It was topped with a whipped cream made with more coconut, in the form of coconut cream.

But here’s the thing.  Fellow judge The Kid hates coconut.  My child, if made line leader of the world would declare coconut anathema, and outlaw it.

But this amazing treat?  My favorite (and only) child would push me in front of a train for another helping of this kitchen sorcery.

Guaranteed.

Buckeye Ice Cream Sundaes (Gluten-Free, Vegan-Friendly)

Servings: 8 Prep Time: 4 hours, 5 minutes

Betsy Tankersley, Flat Rock

Ingredients:

Ice Cream:

• 1 ½ cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes

• I cup pure maple syrup

• 3 Tbsp. vanilla extract

• 16 oz. creamy peanut butter

• 21 oz. cream of coconut

• ¼ tsp. allspice

• ½ tsp. salt

Hot Fudge Sauce:

• 1/3 cup coconut oil

• ¼ cup sugar

• 1/3 cup plant-based milk substitute

• 1 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

• 1/3 cup cocoa powder

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Whipped Cream:

• 14 oz. coconut cream

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Topping:

• 1 cup gluten-free mini pretzels

For the ice cream:

Blend all ingredients until smooth.  Place in large plastic or metal container and lay plastic wrap on top of mixture (this’ll help keep ice crystals from forming on ice cream).

Place in freezer for 4 hours, stirring approximately every 30 minutes.

**While you’re near the freezer, place medium mixing bowl in freezer for 30 minutes, this’ll be for the whipped cream.

For the Hot Fudge Sauce:

While your ice cream forms, you can make the hot fudge sauce.

In a medium pot, mix together the oil, sugar, cocoa and milk substitute until combined.

Bring mixture to steady boil over medium-high heat, stirring until thickened (if it’s being troublesome, some tapioca or cornstarch will help). Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and chocolate chips until smooth.

For the Whipped Cream:

While ice cream forms, make the whipped cream. Drain off the clear liquid from cream of coconut (keeping the thick, white part). Remove mixing bowl from freezer and add to it cream of coconut, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Whip on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.

Assembly:

Scoop a hearty serving of the peanut butter ice cream into serving dish. Top with spoonful of hot fudge sauce then whipped cream and then sprinkle with pretzels or another topping you like.

Gentle Reader, I am not joking—make this incredible stuff.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The New Gig

Hey Gentle Reader.

Today my first column for the Chatham News & Record went online. The paper is a weekly independently owned local paper that comes from Siler City. If you’ve ever watched The Andy Griffith Show, the name might ring a bell. This is where the boys took their dates when the night was more special than Mayberry, and the Blue Bird Cafe, but not quite up to Mount Pilot standards.

They decided to title the column, “The Curious Cook”. I guess that’s appropriate, most people think I’m a little curious…

The piece is a short autobiography, so you might learn a little something about the Sphinx that is me.

But even if you already know way more about me than you want, I also give out the recipe and procedure for my Extra Strength Brownies with five kinds of chocolate, so there’s actually something of value in the piece.

Here’s the link, and Happy Brownie!

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.