The Girl With The Street In Her Face

Another second-grader in a pretty blue dress.

I was wearing one of my very favorite dresses in my second-grade photo.  It was a light-gauge knit in a combination of navy blue and what back then was called harvest gold.

My hair was cut in a shag.  My mom’s best friend, Mizz Judy cut it in a perfect replica of TV mom Carol Brady.  For those not familiar with the style, it was short and layered in the front, and long and flipped up in the back.

It wasn’t quite a mullet (business in the front, party in the back).  It was more “funny business in the front and PTA mom in the back. 

The photo from the tenth grade is a self-portrait (OMG-it was a selfie. Yuck!).  I’m wearing jeans, a huge gray fisherman’s sweater, and standing in front of the mirror in our guest bathroom.      

I’m taking the shot with my Konika TC camera, which hides most of my face. 

I was the very chic-est combination of Avedon and Diane Arbus.

The two pictures have something very odd in common.

The face that was wearing the shag haircut was one large, weeping scab.  Almost all of the skin had been abraded and was in the process of healing. 

In the later photo, if you look closely around the camera, it too is more scab than skin.  It looked like it had been on the wrong end of an electric belt sander.

Not me; but I was so traumatized by the incidents, just looking this gives me a jolt in the pit of my stomach. I literally got nauseous looking for an image to put here.

In both cases the culprit was asphalt.

One weekend when I was in high school, a friend, Billy Winston came over for a visit on his new motorcycle.  I asked him if I could go for a ride.  After a short lesson, he sent me on my way. 

I wanted to speed up.  Billy told me to get into second gear.

Unfortunately, he neglected to tell me that you shouldn’t accelerate and shift gears at the same time.

Yeah, it didn’t look anywhere near as cool.

Because if you do those two things at the same time, you begin performing a stunt referred to as, “popping wheelies”. 

The motorcycle and I parted ways.

I was fully clothed, but it looked a lot more like this.

I landed face down on the street, and the bike was on its side.  It had a few scratches, but my face was a mess.  Dad scooped me up and we headed to the emergency room.

Back a few years at Central Elementary, our gym teacher had a new game for us called Brownies & Fairies.  At some point in the game, the two teams face off and run at each other like the blue guys versus the British in Braveheart.

I was face down on the black top, but I’m pretty sure this is a photo of the actual event…

The very first step I took, I tripped and face-planted onto our black-topped playground.  I was then trampled by thirty-five second-graders.  It was like a cheese grater.  The majority of the skin on my mug was left on the asphalt.

The elementary school nurse washed my face and painted it with mercurochrome, a disinfectant which left me with a rosy-orange stain all over my kisser.  She then called Mom to come collect me.

At the ER after my motorcycle wreck, I was immediately given a tetanus shot.  Then the nurse entered with a basin of soapy water and a stack of gauze.  She explained that hundreds of tiny bits of asphalt were stuck in my wounds.  If each and every piece wasn’t scrubbed out, they would remain, as little black bumps all over my face—forever.

See what happens when the asphalt isn’t removed?

I’d just been flung onto the street, face first and given that most painful of inoculations; the tetanus.  I hurt.

But in my fifteen years on the planet, I had never experienced pain like I felt when she scrubbed my scraped and oozing kisser.

And it was all because of that darn asphalt.

It’s a death trap, I tells ya!

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

This’ll Put Some Starch In Your Bloomers

I’ve never been a girl for double starches.

With very few exceptions (mainly relating to those freewheeling, chaotic, tradition-dictated holiday meals),  double starch is a bad idea. 

What even is potato pizza?  It’s as ridiculous as pineapple pizza.

But really, there’s a reason why we don’t have mashed potatoes with our grits, or tater tots on our sandwiches, or noodles and rice.

Chicken and dumplings over mashed potatoes.
Completely unnecessary.

But.

Many Middle-Eastern cultures enjoy a side dish of rice with short pieces of pasta in it.  And, there’s a nifty little San Francisco treat that Petey and I and make from scratch now.

The other day I had a starchy epiphany.

I was inventorying my pasta supplies.

I discovered I had about three bags of a Mexican pasta that’s sold in all the grocery stores; La Moderna.  The bags I had were fideo, angel hair pasta about 1 ½ inches long.  It costs between thirty-three and fifty cents a bag.

So I thought the next time we needed a starch, I’d do a rice/fideo combo, like Rice-A-Roni, and the Lebanese dish.

I made it to go with a pot of field peas with snaps and chicken.  It was really good—Petey had seconds, which is the best endorsement of any experimental dish.

We had a ton left, and while I cleaned up the kitchen, I tasted the roni-rice by itself.  The toasting and butter it was cooked in gave it big flavor, even by itself. 

So here’s the thing.

It’s cheap and easy.  It’s tasty with a variety of partners.  And, it can become a new player in a very tired, overdone list of starches.

I’ve gotta say, those San Franciscans aren’t messing around when they call it a treat.

I wonder what that might be…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Roni-Rice™

1 cup long-grain, Basmati, or Jasmine rice

1 cup fideo

2 tablespoons butter, divided

4 cups water

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon cracked pepper

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

Heat a large skillet and add 1 tablespoon of butter.  When it has melted and gets a little foamy, add the rice, then sprinkle ½ the salt and pepper.  Add thyme.  Stir to combine.

Be very gentle with the rice, if you are too abrupt, the rice will break up and you will have a gruel-like texture which is not appealing.

Stirring occasionally (and gently), let rice toast and brown (about 8 minutes).  When lightly browned and aromatic, pour from skillet to a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven.

Repeat with the fideo, omitting thyme (5 minutes).  The fideo will burn quickly, so watch it carefully and gently toss often.

When both are toasted, add the water to the pot and bring to a boil.  Cover and turn to medium-low.  Cook for 15-17 minutes or until the water has cooked in, and the rice and noodles are completely cooked through.

Recover pot and let sit, undisturbed for 10-15 minutes.

Fluff gently with a large fork and serve.  Serves 6.  Serve it with something like,

Brown Butter Bechamel with Spinach and Shallots

After the roni-rice has finished cooking, add 1 5ounce bag of fresh baby spinach.  It will wilt and can then be mixed in before service.

Bechamel

½ cup butter

½ cup flour

3 cups 2% milk

½ cup skim milk

15 passes of a fresh nutmeg on a grater

Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy saucepan, melt butter.  Let it cook until it turns brown and nutty (5 minutes).  Stir in flour and when it’s homogeneous, slowly pour in dairy.  Whisk continuously until it comes to a gentle boil.  Remove from heat.  Either mix in roni-rice or spoon over each serving.

An Absurd (But Ingenious) Proposal

So, I was watching Star Trek The Next Generation the other day.  Student Wesley Crusher came home to the Enterprise D on a break from Starfleet Academy.

He and the android, Data are discussing the social life of the academy.  Data asks if they still hold the Sadie Hawkins dance.  Wesley answers that yes, it’s still a tradition.

 A couple of things here.

Sadie Hawkins dance or day is inspired by a Lil’ Abner comic strip story about the father of the ugliest girl in Dogpatch trying to find a husband for her, so he organizes a race in which Sadie chases a pack of bachelors and gets to marry whomever she catches.  The term evolved into events where a woman was allowed to ask a man for a dance, a date, or on Leap Day especially, his hand in marriage.

That’s me, in high school. Already so very over the patriarchy.

How very thoughtful, allowing women an isolated opportunity to have a say in her own destiny.  But as someone old enough to have participated in Sadie Hawkins dances, the whole thing was seen as a joke; where menfolk pretended to let silly females have the power for something as low stakes as a school dance.

And the Star Trek thing?  This episode took place around 2368.  I’m sure, Gentle Reader, you can guess my thoughts about that.

A woman runs the Borg, but they still have a Sadie Hawkins dance? Sheesh.

But this anachronistic social convention brings me to my point and proposal (not of the marriage sort).

Leap Day, the February 29th that falls only once every four years, has long been considered an “extra”.  A day that falls outside normality. 

My proposal is to lean into the “otherness” that is Leap Day.  So, on February 29th, nothing counts.

This is NOT what I’m proposing.

When I told The Kid about my big idea, it gave my child pause.  Right away, what came to mind was The Purge, the movie where one day a year, everything is legal.  Rob a bank, steal a car, kill your annoying neighbor and burn down their house?  Yes, yes, and that’s kinda dark, but yes.

That is absolutely NOT what I am suggesting.  Think of this as more of a “Purge Light®”.

Not today, John Q Law.

The most serious laws my scenario would allow breaking are sixteen items in the express lane, taking the last doughnut without asking, and a little light jaywalking.

But the gist is that the folly of humans is not counted against them.

Calories?  Not on Leap Day.  Put away the healthy, no-fun food.

Have yourself some cotton candy and gin for breakfast.  Eat a stick of butter like a particularly buttery Snickers bar.  Polish off an entire jar of Goober Grape.  Eat a bucket of potato salad.  Have frosting for lunch!  Drink Hollandaise sauce out of a mug.  Eat your weight in caramel-cloaked toasted marshmallow frozen yogurt for dinner.

It doesn’t matter, because on this day, this magical day, no matter what goes into your mouth, every fork-full transforms into whole grains, veggies, and legumes.

Go shopping.  There are no price tags or credit limits on this day.  Buy all the shoes.  Go to a bookstore and purchase every book and magazine that catch your eye.  Start a cashmere collection.  You want diamond earbobs?  Buy yourself some darned diamond earbobs.  Buy so many new clothes that you have to have them delivered on a flatbed.

But be sure you get this wonderful Bacchanal of misbehavior completely finished by midnight.  Because come March 1, your actions once again have consequences.

But on this day, this special day that only comes every 1460 days, live your life like a giant drunken toddler who’s been given the car keys and a fake ID.

What do you think?

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Sammiches and Salad

If someone came up and tried to sell me the moon, I’d laugh in their face.

If they slapped a “Going out of business” sign on it, I’d ask him if he took American Express.

For somebody who’s normally pretty level-headed and even suspicious with their money, I just can not say no to a going out of business sale.  When my neighborhood Rite-Aid had their closing sale, I spent the GDP of Liechtenstein there. 

Why I bought an America Greatest Hits CD, I’ll never know.  And I’ll have enough sunscreen to last until the actual sun flickers out.

You may have heard that the gourmet/organic grocery store, Earth Fare will be closing at the end of the month.  And because I raised my child right, the other night, The Kid and I made a visit to the location near our house.

The grocery items, the stuff with a long shelf life, was only 10% off so far.  But the perishable meat, produce and dairy was 30%.

They had these adorable little sweet Italian sausage patties.  I bought six of them, and decided we’d have sliders.  Over in the bakery department, I found six slider-sized pretzel buns.

Then I had to decide how to dress them.  Because they’re made with pork that looks pretty fatty, I didn’t want to add to the richness with cheese or mayo. 

The Kid and I discussed it and came up with a plan.

This is my chow chow of choice. I picked up the last jar from Big Lots.

We’d toast the pretzel buns, then give them a light schmear of roasted garlic mustard.  Then, on top a small dollop of chow chow.  Chow chow is a sweet/sour relish with cabbage, green tomatoes, vinegar, and sugar.  It’s the perfect foil to the rich, fatty sausage, and robust enough to stand up to the mustard.

For a side, we decided on my mom’s pasta salad.  It’s made with old-fashioned ranch dressing and brightly colored broccoli and immensely delicious Cherub baby tomatoes (honest, really try to use these, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, and BJ’s all carry them).

The grocery item prices at Earth Fare will be descending.  And, I’ll go back.  I’ve got my eye on about six different jellies, and thirty-five candy bars…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at dm@bullcity.mom.

Roasted Garlic Mustard

1 cup spicy brown mustard

1 head roasted garlic (recipe below)

1 teaspoon molasses

1 teaspoon malt vinegar

Salt and pepper

Directions:

Prepare garlic-Preheat oven to 350°.

Cut a head of garlic in half horizontally.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a pinch of dry thyme.

Wrap very well with foil and bake for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.  Scrape or squeeze meat from the peel.

Place into a small bowl and mash into a paste.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir until completely mixed through.  Cover and refrigerate for up to seven days.

Gramma’s Broccoli Pasta Salad

1 packet Original Hidden Valley Ranch (the buttermilk recipe) Dressing Mix

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup fat-free buttermilk

1 pound rotelle pasta, cooked according to directions, drained and cooled

1 head broccoli, steamed until tender-crisp and cooled

2 cups Cherub baby tomatoes, sliced in half length-wise

½ cup thinly sliced green onions or Chinese chives

Salt & pepper

Directions:

Make dressing 2-3 hours in advance and refrigerate to let flavors develop.

To prepare: put all the ingredients except dressing into large bowl and season.

Stir in dressing a little at a time until everything’s fully coated and just a little moister than you’d like the finished product (the pasta will absorb dressing, and the tomatoes will release some of their liquid).

Let sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before service.

Serves 6-8.

A Modest Proposal

As I write these words, Superbowl LIV is starting.  Would you care to guess the cost to travel to Miami, stay in a mid-level hotel, feed yourself, and watch the game in a decent (where you can see without binoculars) seat?

$70,000—to watch a game.

Honestly, that fact knocked the wind out of me.  The median household income in the US was $63,179 in 2018. 

Gentle Reader, I try not to get stridently political in this space.  And I’m still not the girl to tell you who to vote for. 

But this week, I’m asking you to consider my words when you are deciding who gets your vote.  There’s something that’s been on my mind lately and I’ve done some research.

Tragically, more and more Americans are living in financial servitude that starts early and lasts forever.

Colleges and universities have raised tuition and costs at more than 400% the rate of general inflation; 8% vs 1.9%.  This means that the cost of higher education doubles every nine years.  A child born today will see college costs quadruple before they even graduate from high school.

The government and financial sector’s answer to this has not been to address the inflation, but to make it easier and easier to borrow more and more money.

The result is that 70% of graduates enter “the real world” with an average of $30,000 in student loans.  That’s just undergrads.  Add to that the $70,000 for a post-graduate education, and our kids are saddled with something equal to the mortgage of a tiny home or a large car.  And legislation has been written so that even in bankruptcy those loans are not forgiven and must be paid.

Education should not be the privilege of the wealthy and a lifetime of debt for everyone else.

Petey and I pay more than $700 a month for health insurance.  This is through a stable, generous employer, and is actually a pretty good bargain for what is covered.  But after a catastrophic illness seven years ago, we were still thousands of dollars in debt that has had damaging long-term consequences for our financial situation.

Without health insurance, we would most likely be living in our car.  Medical expenses are still the number one factor in bankruptcy and resulting homelessness in this country.  And the National Institutes of Health tells us that at least 26,000 people a year die because they have no health insurance.

Entertainers and wealthy reality stars document their lives, possessions and acquisitions on multiple social media platforms daily.  These lives have become familiar and aspirational in a way they never have before.  The easy availability of credit makes a knock off version of those lives doable.

But children are still not taught basic finance and budgeting in public schools.

America is the land of opportunity.  If one is able to navigate or innovate past the financial reefs that are thick and dangerous, there is a chance to get ahead.  But that chance is slim and decreasing. 

Far more likely the opportunity is becoming buried in mountains of debt which make one’s life a small, fear-filled thing where joy and peace of mind are daydreams and bedtime stories told to children.   

Money means options.  It means the time to consider your choices and make the correct decisions for you and your family.  It means sleeping at night and not laying in the dark worrying that somebody will get sick, or something will break, or hours will be cut.

Next week, Gentle Reader, I will do my best to make you smile.  This week, I’m imploring you to think.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pizza La La

Remember when you were in school and the best two words that could be spoken or heard were, “pizza party”?

Yeah, it didn’t move me. The trouble is that red sauce. 

I was raised on it.  My mom was famous for her all-day, slow-cooked spaghettie sauce.  When my friends ate dinner with us and spaghetti was on the menu, they were lost.  They spent the rest of their lives chasing that red, garlic-scented dragon. 

For me though, after seventeen or eighteen gallons of it, the bloom was definitely off the pasta rose.  I’m just not a fan.

But, as you may know, Gentle Reader, I am first in line for bread.  And made well, pizza crust is a glorious celebration of yeast and gluten.  I make foccacia with my sourdough starter and use it as pizza crust.  My toppings of choice are marsalla onion jam, shatteringly crispy shards of bacon, and fresh mozzerella or goat cheese—no red sauce.

Nope.

Turns out my pizza dressing is a very close cousin to the French pissaladière, except I use bacon instead of anchovies (Bacon rather than little smelly fish? Duh.).

This focaccia is a yeast, rather than sourdough version that The Kid makes all the time.  It’s an adaptaion from a recipe that comes from the website, Serious Eats.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at dm@bullcity.mom.

Cast Iron Pissaladière-ish

Ingredients

3 & ¼ cups all-purpose or bread flour

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon instant yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

1 ½ cups minus 1 tablespoon water

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

5 slices bacon, cooked crisp and broken into large shards

¼ cup deeply caramelized onions

1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese

Coarse sea salt freshly cracked pepper

Combine flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and water in large bowl. Mix with hands or wooden spoon until no dry flour remains. The bowl should be 4 to 6 times the volume of dough for rising.

Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, making sure edges are well-sealed, then let rest on countertop for 8-24 hours. Dough should rise dramatically and fill bowl.

Sprinkle top of dough lightly with flour, then transfer to lightly-floured work surface. Form into ball by holding it with well-floured hands and tucking dough underneath itself, rotating until it forms tight ball.

Pour half of oil in bottom of large cast iron skillet. Transfer dough to pan, turn to coat in oil, and position seam-side-down. Using flat palm, press dough around skillet, flattening it slightly and spreading oil around entire bottom and edges of pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let dough stand at room temperature 2 hours. After first hour, preheat oven to 550°F.

After 2 hours, dough should mostly fill skillet up to edge. Use fingertips to press it around until it fills every corner, popping any large bubbles that appear. Lift up one edge of the dough to let air bubbles underneath escape and repeat, moving around the dough until there are no air bubbles left underneath and it’s evenly spread around skillet. Spread onions and bacon over surface of dough, dot with cheese, and press down with fingertips to embed slightly. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Transfer skillet to oven and bake until top’s golden brown and bubbly and bottom’s golden brown and crisp when you lift with spatula, 16-24 minutes. Using a thin spatula, loosen focaccia and peek underneath. If bottom is not as crisp as desired, place pan on burner and cook over medium heat, moving pan around to cook evenly until crisp, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer to cutting board, allow to cool slightly, slice, and serve. Leftovers can be reheated on rack at 300°.

Really, Really Dumb Stuff

“Some people are like slinkies.  They’re not really good for anything.  But they make you smile when you push them down the stairs.”—Jack Handey (*Disclaimer-I in no way, advocate pushing anyone, at any time, down any stairs.)

Years ago, Saturday Night Live used to have a segment called, “Deep Thoughts”.  They were quotes written and then read by comedian Jack Handey.  They were deep, in that you were usually still thinking about them the next day and nursing a slight headache.

I leave those deep, painful thoughts to Mr. Handey.

Today I am addressing the most shallow of thoughts.  Or, in other words, really, really dumb stuff.  Thoughts, statements, decisions, and headlines.  Misbegotten notions which make you grateful that as a child you didn’t repeatedly have escapades which resulted in head injuries, like someone we may know who writes the weekly column you’re currently reading.

So here, in no particular order, are some exceedingly shallow thoughts.

From a commercial for what we used to call books on tape, a young woman says they’re, “Like night school for adults”. 

Okay, I’m not a morning person.  Never have been, probably never will be.  Getting up bright and early to get The Kid fed, organized, and off to school hurt.  Every single day.  I used to joke that I wished they held elementary and middle school at night. 

But.They.Don’t.

So, night school for adults is just night school. I’m afraid it will take more than listening to Bette Midler reading ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ for that woman to be smart enough to come in out of the rain.

The other day I was in my local Food Lion at about 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon.  They were slammed with people coming from church and picking up Sunday dinner, people who were buying their groceries for the week, and mental midgets like me, who forgot about the crush at supermarkets on Sunday afternoon.

I had like three items, so with hope in my heart, I got into the express lane.  I was about sixth in line.

But, hey, ‘express’, am I right?  I’d be out in five minutes.

The couple that were at the head of the line seemed to be there for a bit. 

Then another bit.

Then a further bit.  I glared at the slowpokes, figuring they were paying with pennies, or maybe had gone way over the 15 or less rule.

But then I realized what the hold up actually was.  The checker.  He is a very, very sweet man, but about 138 years old, and slow-moving.  He is so slow, he would make a sloth say, “Just let me do it!”.  Each customer encounter took almost ten minutes.  I thought I was going to need a haircut before I got to the head of the line.

I’m no grocery store expert, but doesn’t ‘express’ imply some level of, if not speed at least efficiency?  It had stopped being the ‘express’ and become the ‘ironic’ register.

From Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle and medical quackery website: “GP (that would be founder Gwyneth) was really craving some clean dim sum, so she thought of using cabbage leaves as wrappers instead of wheat- or grain-based dough. Now we’re obsessed with this clean dumpling hack.”

You go, Gwyneth.

Once you remove the pasta wrapper and substitute cabbage leaves, it stops being a dumpling and becomes stuffed cabbage.

Just saying.    

From an email link to an online article: “Does Your Zodiac Sign Affect How Much Sleep You Need? This Expert Says Yes”.

You know what, Gentle Reader?  I got nothing.  I can’t think of anything to say to make that ridiculous twaddle funnier or any more preposterous.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

On The Side

Today, Gentle Reader, I have for you three recipes for easy delicious vegetable dishes.

Another trio you may have heard of: the Matthews Family Band.

Two of them are from my mother.  And, the other one would horrify her.  I think we should start with that one.

It’s roasted broccoli.  The reason why it would send chills down her spine is because you want this broccoli to get very crispy and take on some serious color.  I’m talking burnt sienna from the Crayola box.

This was the big box when I was a kid. Apparently there is a box with 120 crayolas now.

The browning of food occurs because of the Maillard reaction, and it’s a good, tasty, desirable thing.  But to my mom, anything darker than light tan is dreadfully, irretrievably, burned.  You have no idea how many innocent, yet mid-brown Parker House rolls I have seen discarded, never having lived out their delicious, yeasty, destiny.

To my mom, these are burned beyond redemption.

You can do a version of this in the skillet, but it can go from brown and crispy to inedibly scorched in a blink.  Oven roasting goes a little slower, which almost eliminates the charcoal result  (although if you fail to set a timer and forget about it, that is totally on you, Gentle Reader).

The second dish is slow-cooked string beans with salt pork.  The trick here is to make like Mom.  You start with fresh beans, cook them low and slow (but not too slow), and take them off heat when there is still a little bit of structural integrity left.  I cannot state strongly enough how much you do not want mush.  Think al dente.

Try and get a little more color on it than this. Brown means flavor and sweetness.

And finally, fried squash.  Here the big secret is to, Leave.It.Alone.  When the liquid has cooked out it becomes fragile.  And you not only want m to minimize breakage, you want everything to pick up a little color (just light caramel, Mom, I promise).  That’s also why my fat of choice is butter, unlike my mother’s vegetable oil.

Louis-Camille Maillard.

If you’re Maillard averse Gentle Reader, I feel your pain, but urge you in the strongest possible fashion, to cook past your comfort zone, at least once.  If you hate it, you never have to do it again.

But, you might just love it…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Roasted Broccoli

2 heads broccoli, cut into large florets

¼ cup vegetable oil

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked pepper

Place a large, rimmed baking sheet inside oven and set to 450°.  Let oven heat for 20 minutes to get pan really hot.

Place broccoli into large bowl, drizzle oil over and add large pinches of salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.

Spread broccoli out onto pan in single layer.  Bake for 20 minutes, flip florets and bake 10-15 more or until there is lots of browning and crisping, and stems are tender-crisp.  Serves 4-6.

Mom’s String Beans

2 pounds string beans, cleaned but left whole

5 slices of salt pork

Big pinch of Salt & pepper to taste

Put everything in large pot with a tight lid.  Add enough water to cover.  Cook on very low (2-3) for 2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally and adding water to keep veg covered.

Check for seasoning and  serve.  8-10 servings.

Fried Squash

3 pounds yellow squash, cut into ¼ inch rounds

1 large yellow onion, cut into half-moons

¼ cup butter

1 teaspoon sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon pepper

Place everything into large skillet.  Cover and cook 8 minutes on medium-low.  Remove lid and give a gentle stir.  Turn up to medium and cook until the liquid has totally cooked out.

Cook until veg starts to lightly caramelize, turn over with spatula and cook until there’s color on the bottom side.  Do this once more or until there’s plenty of light browning throughout dish.

Check for seasoning and serve.  Serves 4-6.

I Was A Teenaged Phlebotomist

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Phlebotomy (/fləˈbädəmē/), noun-the surgical opening or puncture of a vein in order to withdraw blood or introduce a fluid, or (historically) as part of the procedure of letting blood.

In junior year of high school, I got a part-time job at the local hospital as a lab secretary.  To pick up extra shifts, I learned how to draw blood.

One day about five or six of us lab folk were working to draw the blood of a rambunctious and terrified little boy.  My job was to hold his arm still.

The phlebotomist who had the needle finally got it in the vein, and the blood started to flow and fill the test tube.  The kid took one look and yanked his arm back.  The needle slipped out, the blood shot out like a super-soaker filled with strawberry Koolade. 

Right into my eye.

Another day I had to draw blood for a gentleman for a test for a social disease.  At the time I was, shall we say, “Sweet sixteen and never been kissed”.  I chuckled to myself thinking it would be a real bummer to accidentally stick myself with his used needle and contract an STD before I’d ever actually had the “S” part of the acronym.

And then I stuck myself.  With the patient’s used needle.

Luckily for both of us, his result came up negative.

Once I got pretty good at the job, a few of the techs thought I should go into the medical profession. 

But, I couldn’t.

Because I’m constitutionally unable to leave the work at work. 

There was this little old lady named Mildred.  She was a pistol, a hoot, and a barrel of laughs.  There first day I met her she told a nurse to purchase a new undergarment, because the body part that should have been restrained, was absolutely not.

But of course, her phrasing was much more colorful and hilarious.

She became my role model for being old.  When I speak my mind and make you laugh, a lot of that is Mildred.  She didn’t have family and almost never had visitors, so I hung out with her during breaks and after work.

But she wasn’t in the hospital for a manicure.  Of course, she wasn’t.

And so, one day, when I went up to her room, it was empty.  A veteran nurse explained to me that you can’t get too close to the patients and continue to work in healthcare—it’ll break your heart.

So, the first chance I got, I got out of healthcare.

But not before I met the Balthus brothers.  Between the two of them they were 847 years old.  And, they were the crankiest, meanest old cusses in Eastern NC.  They were so inseparable they were even hospital patients at the same time.

The lab techs were all tittering and giving each other significant looks the first time I went up to draw their blood.

In their room, I introduced myself, and the abuse began.  As you can imagine, nobody likes to have their blood drawn, so nobody was ever happy to see me.  This antipathy was turned up to 11 with the brothers.

Both men began a string of verbal abuse that continued until I left.  Brother One warned me to get my GD hands off Brother B.  As the needle was about to enter B’s left arm, his perfect right hook got me in my left eye.

I was much more shocked than I was hurt, so I said the first thing that entered my mind.

“Fine!  Then I’m not going to draw your blood!”

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Little Pot of Porky Joy

North Carolina is a piggy state.  Our pork processing industry is the nation’s third-largest, generating almost a billion and a half dollars a year.

But where Tar Heels really shine, is in the preparation and consumption of it.  I can explain in four little words.

Eastern NC Barbecue.

Short of Puerto Rico, nobody even comes close to the wondrous things we can do with a pig.  It’s a mystical art that reaches back through the centuries.  The Taíno people, an indigenous population who lived, among other places, Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico invented barbacoa, the slow cooking of wild boar upon wooden frames. 

There are stories that pirates in the Caribbean took up this cooking method.  Because of the state’s unique position jutting far out into the Atlantic and the cause of many a ship’s doom, there was quite a population of those same pirates that eventually, whether by choice or by shipwreck, came to call NC home.

Did they bring along the idea of barbacoa with them, which then was passed along to the rural population who had access to whole, freshly slaughtered hogs?

With this heritage, residents of the Old North State have eaten pork in many delicious forms.  Barbecue, sausages of all types, and has anyone ever been to a Southern funeral where there were no ham biscuits?

I think there’s a state law mandating piles of them must be at the get-together after any good North Carolinian is laid to rest.

Pigs were domesticated first in Europe and Asia.  In France, they invented a rich unctuous dish that’s naturally preserved.  It’s a dish that is unfamiliar to many people in this state but has a lot in common with our own porky sensibilities.

It’s slowly cooked, using pork shoulder, a cut that needs time to coax out its flavor and texture.  It’s rich, using the fat as well as the meat.  The fat also preserves it by getting poured into a layer on top and hardening, which serves as a barrier to sick-making microbes.

It’s called pork rillettes (re-yets).  And it’s the easiest fancy French food you’ll ever be lucky enough to put into your own pork hole.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pork Rillettes

2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 pound pork belly, skin removed, cut into 1-inch pieces

½ cup brandy

1 ½ cups chicken stock

12-15 gratings of fresh nutmeg

10 peppercorns, cracked

10 juniper berries, crushed

4-5 sprigs fresh thyme

5 bay leaves

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Salt to taste

Heat oven to 250°.

Place everything except salt and vinegar into large heavy pot with a lid.  Cover, and place inside oven.

Cook 2 ½ hours, then have a peek.  You’re looking for the stock and brandy to be cooked out, and the meat to be completely soft and falling apart.  If the stock hasn’t cooked out, uncover and cook for thirty more minutes.

When pork is sitting in fat only, remove from oven.  Discard bay leaves and thyme twigs.

Pour into colander or sieve, catching and keeping the fat.  Place pork and solids into stand mixer fitted with paddle and mix on low until meat is almost a paste.  Add ¼ cup of the reserved fat and mix on low until fully combined.

Divide into 8 small jars or ramekins.  Gently press smooth to remove any air pockets.  Top each with a spoonful of reserved fat.  Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks if fat cap is undisturbed.  Once the cap’s been broken, you have five days.

Spread on toasts or crackers, or place a dollop on chicken breasts, steak, fish, or roasted veg.