Salad Bar Days

I recently found three really old recipes during the excavation of a very large junk drawer full of mountains of stuff I hadn’t seen in years.

The recipes were tucked in amongst a sky-high stack of old photos.  These pictures were all taken with old-school cameras.  And the dates of them range from junior high to the engagement photos of Petey and me, taken by my favorite photographer, Kat, one of my oldest friends.

Each photo tells a story, so what follows is the picture, and far fewer than 1000 words.

This snapshot was taken in the spring of 1979.  Each year, the 9th grade, third year Spanish class went to Mexico for ten days.  This photo was our visit to Teotihuacán, a village of temples and buildings so old that the origins of the place were already lost to time when the Aztecs met the Spaniards.

This is the great pyramid of the sun.  The plan was for my classmates and I to walk to the top.  Two-thirds of the way up is a plateau where the staircase splits into two.  This is also where an enterprising young man had set up a jewelry kiosk.  While the rest of the kids continued on, I halted my climb.

To shop.

This is Pig.  He was Petey’s best friend, and in a town (Elizabeth City) chock-a-block full of eccentrics, he was in a not-quite-right class by himself.  He’s big-hearted, good natured, and a magnet for mischief.  I always said that as he was being led off to the electric chair, he’d be shaking his head, saying, “I don’t understand, I just went for a beer run, then I met the red-headed Swede with a limp!”

I can happily tell you that he actually became a very successful builder, and has largely lived a life that didn’t include any intervention from North Carolina’s criminal system.

This is Petey and I at the Rod Stewart show in Norfolk, VA in February of 1982 (my first rock concert).  It was really cold.  Pig, who was with us that night, gallantly offered me the use of his vest, which felt warm but oddly heavy.

As we walked in, a security guard reached for me in what I considered an overly familiar manner.  So, in a move that would make Carolina Panther Christian McCaffrey proud, I pivoted and side-stepped away from what I thought was a lecherous grab.  The crowd was thick and eager to see the show, so the guard let me go.

The McCaffrey in question.

It’s a good thing he did.  Once inside, Pig took his back vest and it was then I realized why it was so heavy.  He had filled it with enough liquor to open a large bar, and a very large plastic bag full of a green, leafy substance.  There was so much contraband in that jacket that if I had been patted down, the words you are reading today, nearly forty years later, would be a missive from the Richmond jail.

This is our enegagement photo.  Looking at this, I can’t believe we were ever this impossibly young.  It’s shocking that we were deemed mature enough to make such a huge, life-altering decision.  I was not nearly as smug as I looked.  But, I’m pretty sure Petey was even more terrified than he appeared.

My guess is he was asking himself the question that he he still asks on a regular basis. “What in Sam Hill have I gotten myself into?”.

Let me know if you enjoyed this glimpse into my demented photo album, because if so, I’ll make further deep dives into my past for your amusement.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Three Recipes Within the Visual

Last month I made a jar of root beer jelly.

Nobody but me’s ever going in the fridge to look for it.  And unless my pooch Crowley grows thumbs, nobody else in this family will ever open the jar to eat it (bless their taste-deficient hearts).  But after I poured it into a jar, I decided it needed a label.

I have this giant, black hole of a junk drawer that I toss stuff into.  I don’t think I’ve actually gone all the way through it, ever.  So, I went mining for labels.

And, I found them—at the bottom.  Along the way, I found at least a hundred photos from the mists of time.  And while looking through them, I found three very beloved recipes that I had made peace with never seeing again.

The first recipe is for the best apple fritters I’ve ever eaten.  I thought I had recreated the recipe, and even shared it in an earlier column.  But it wasn’t even close. 

Mrs. Oldham’s Apple Fritters

2 cups Bisquick

1 large egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup sugar

Approximately ½ cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

15 gratings of nutmeg

1 large peeled and chopped apple

Oil for frying

Glaze:

Whisk together 3 cups powdered sugar, 3-4 tablespoons milk, and a pinch of salt until smooth.

Stir together first nine ingredients, holding back some milk.  The dough should be the consistency of hush puppy dough.  Add more milk as needed, without overbeating.  Fold in apples. 

Let sit while you heat about 3 inches of vegetable oil in large heavy pot until it’s 350 degrees.  Using cookie scoop, drop generous tablespoons into heated oil (no more than six at a time), and cook for 2-3 minutes, turning occasionally until browned on all sides.

Remove with slotted spoon, and once it’s stopped sizzling, drizzle glaze over fritter.  Makes about 2 dozen.

The next recipe is for a crockpot tamale dip.  It’s from Loretta Jolly, via an Albemarle Hospital co-worker.  It’s a make-and-forget game-day superstar.

Chili Cheese Dip

1 pound Velveeta cheese

1-14 ounce can Armour Chili (no beans)

1-15 ounce can Hormel beef tamales

1 medium yellow onion, minced

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon hot sauce

Throw everything into a crockpot, turn it on and bring to slow simmer.  Serve in the crockpot set to low. For service, top with shredded cheese, cover and let melt on top.

The last recipe is from family friend, Mama Cat.  She received it from her friend and fellow Coast Guard wife, Pat Csintayn.

Seafood Casserole

1 lb crab meat

1 lb cooked shrimp

1 small can mushrooms, drained

½ small green pepper, minced

½ cup minced onion

1 cup minced celery

1-6 oz box Uncle Ben’s long grain and wild rice

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup milk

½ teaspoon each, salt & pepper

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

Cook rice, add first seven ingredients.

In separate bowl, mix mayo, salt & pepper, milk, and Worcestershire.  Add to rice mixture.

Pour into buttered 2-quart casserole dish and sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.  Serves 6-8, depending on course and side dishes.

These recipes, along with some from my mom, made up the foundation of my first adulting cooking repertoire.  They’re simple and easy, but each makes an impact.

But, these dishes still hold up.  Add a fresh baguette and a simple salad, and this could be a kind of training-wheels dinner party.  Who doesn’t love a fresh apple fritter?

Or, singly, each could be a welcome respite from the familiar family food playbook.  Hunger may season all dishes, but surprise gets them to the table quicker. 

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Be That Rainbow, Y’all

Don’t tell my mother. 

She’d have apoplexy if she knew.  When I take my dog Crowley for a walk, we usually take a route which crosses a six-lane road.  On our morning walks, it’s quiet, with mainly UPS trucks (which for some reason Crowley loathes), service vehicles, and the odd personal car or truck.

But in the evening, it’s another story.  Car after truck after car, all filled with tired people who just want to be home and take off their shoes and/or bras.  The traffic is thick and fast.  Normally, we don’t even attempt it between 4 and 6:30.

The other day, we got to the crosswalk at around 7:00, which is normally pretty quiet.  But it was Friday night and it was really busy.  Crowley and I stood there for what seemed like hours; every time the traffic one direction cleared cars would appear from the other direction.

It was hot and I was just about to abandon the plan and go home when a car did something that in almost three years of our treks, has only happened three or four times—it stopped for us.  Not only did he stop for us; there were three cars behind him.  So, all those guys had to stop as well.

There were a couple of cars coming from the other direction, so I still had to wait to cross.  But that first guy held his ground and waited too. 

While we waited, I did the little “Thank you” pantomime dance with the nod, the wave, and the mouthing of the wildly exaggerated “TTHHAANNKKK YYYOOOUU”.  When we finally crossed, I waved and thanked again.

When he finally started forward, he yelled at me, “You’re welcome!  And I like your dog!”.

Then the rest of the cars drove past.  I was a little worried I might hear some rude language.   But each of them honked and waved, as I hyper-thanked them all in turn.

If you get to be my age, and there aren’t a few worries rattling around in your head like b-b’s in a Pringles can, then you aren’t paying attention. 

I worry about Petey and The Kid, about the health of my parents, about money and about politics.  I also wonder when the authorities will show up and tell me it’s all been a huge mistake, they’ve realized I’m a horrible writer, and under penalty of the law nobody will ever print another word I write.  And I’m not allowed to have a blog or even write a shopping list.

I took this photo in the woods behind my house.

Walking usually lightens my mood, but winter walking is better because it’s cool, and we walk in the woods.  Walking in five-thousand-degree heat isn’t quite as restorative.

But, it’s usually ok.

After I crossed the street, my mood was stratospheric.  For a split second, I wondered why I was practically euphoric.  Then I understood.

The crosswalk.

Five random strangers with unknown motivations and destinations, strangers whose faces nor cars I remember.  Strangers that I could pass on the street multiple times and never recognize.

The goofy dog in question.

We five strangers, and one goofy dog—we had a moment.  An authentic moment of the purest of goodwill.  We’d all put aside whatever aggravations and calamities we’d been carrying and with no conversation, mutually decided to experience this tiny episode with nothing but pleasure.

When I think about that moment, I feel a little nugget of happiness.  And I’d bet the first slice of my next birthday cake that our entire ephemeral brotherhood does as well.

Maya Angelou said, “Each one of us has the chance to be a rainbow in somebody’s cloud.”

And so, I strongly urge, and with the greatest of enthusiasm, be that rainbow, y’all.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Wine & Dine

When I was a kid, you could buy wine and beer at eighteen.  Once I came of age, I was legal to buy and drink any and all alcoholic beverages not sold at the ABC store.

Most of my friends cleaned out the beer coolers on a regular basis.  But I don’t like the taste.  There, I’ve said it.  The Kid is a beer nerd and often offers me a taste of something, “I think you might actually like this one!  It’s a vanilla-blueberry-Cap’n Crunch-flavored IPA!”.

Yeah, nope.

But when I turned eighteen, I could lawfully purchase alcohol, so I kinda had to.

I turned to wine.  My drink of choice was Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink.  And it was worth every penny of the ninety-nine pennies it cost.  A Kool-Ade-flavored hangover for less than a dollar.  

It’s entirely possible the photographer had indulged before this photo was taken…

But, as I got older, my taste in wine matured, as well.

I discovered German Rieslings.  Then I found dry French whites, settling on my favorite of Chateau de Montfort’s Vouvray.  I buy a bottle every once in a while, for special occasions.

There are three wines though, that I always have on hand.  I use them for cooking.  First is a sherry, then a light, dry white.  Almost anything will do; lately, it’s been Trader Joe’s Espiral, a super fresh effervescent white.  And lastly, dry Marsala. 

This Italian wine is my favorite for cooking.  It has a distinctive, smoky, caramelized flavor.  I love it and use it in anything with mushrooms or tomato. 

The other night I used it in an experimental pasta dish.  The flavors of mushroom, tomato, and cream were familiar. 

The pasta cooking technique was not. 

It’s a take on those one-pot pastas which instead of cooking in a large pot of water are cooked in a smaller amount of stock that cooks entirely into the noodles along with sauce ingredients.  I made the sauce separately so I could brown the veg and get a creamy mouth-feel.  I then married the two together right before service.

One-Pot, Two Pot Mushroom & Corn Marsala Pasta

Pasta:

1-7 oz. bag of small pasta (I used vermicelli)

I tablespoon butter

2 cups + 1 tablespoon chicken stock

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Big pinch of pepper

Melt butter in a large skillet.  Add pasta and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it’s caramel brown and smells toasty.  Watch this and don’t let it burn.  Add stock, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a low boil and cook until it’s al dente and the liquid has cooked in, but it’s silky and stir-able.

Sauce:

1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1 ½ cups frozen white shoepeg corn, thawed

1 teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

Salt & pepper 

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/3 cup dry Marsala

½ cup shredded Parmesan

1 ½ cup 2% or skim milk

¼ cup heavy cream

Sautee vegetables in the butter with thyme and rosemary.  When the veg are lightly browned, stir in tomato paste.  When paste has darkened, deglaze with Marsala.  When the wine’s cooked in, add cheese and dairy.  Bring to low boil and allow to reduce to sauce-like consistency.  Season to taste.  Turn to medium-low.

Assembly:

Gently stir cooked pasta into sauce until coated.

Serves 6.

Another terrific thing about this dish.  Leftovers nuke up beautifully.  Just add a splash or two of milk and it’s almost as silky and unctuous as freshly made.

And it’s a good thing I lost my taste for Tickle Pink.  Sometime in the last thirty years or so, they wised up and stopped making it.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom

Postcards From The Gulf

My first memories were when we lived in Mobile.  We moved there from Michigan when I was two and moved away the summer before first grade. 

As a result of these being my earliest memories, some are like half-remembered dreams, or fragmented, or twisted and combined with other memories to form episodes that never really happened.  And some are strangely hyper-specific.  And some are just garden-variety, regular memories (but of course, memories are a very tricky thing).

When I was three, we flew out to San Diego to visit my Aunt Tootie and Uncle Dave.  I have two strong memories of our visit.

Many houses in San Diego back up against small canyons.  I remembered my relative’s home was on a canyon.  And I have a clear image of seeing a mountain goat climbing around in it. 

When I was twelve, we moved to San Diego, and until our house was ready, we stayed with Aunt Tootie and Uncle Dave in the same house we’d visited back when I was a toddler.  It was a nice house.

But there was no canyon, which meant there was no goat.  I couldn’t understand it.  I could close my eyes and see it.  I remained confused.

Until we visited Disneyland.  And I went a on a ride that went past vignettes of the Southwest.  And one of them was a gosh darn mountain goat, climbing in a misbegotten canyon.  Yep, my memory was a ride at Disney.

Another memory, though, took place at Disney and was witnessed by family members, so I know for sure it happened.

As a kid, I used to stub my toes, stumble, and fall often (as an adult, too).  So, when I walked, a lot of the time I looked down, at my feet, to see what they planned on doing.  That day in Disneyland, I was trudging down Main St. when I bumped into somebody who was wearing a long blue dress. 

I slowly looked up and took in a beautiful woman in a beautiful gown.  Finally, I saw her face.  It was Cinderella!  My very favorite Disney princess. 

She was as sweet to me that day as she was to all her animal friends.

Our next-door neighbors in Mobile worked at Spring Hill College.  He was band director and she trained the majorettes.  I thought she was the most beautiful, glamorous woman that ever lived.  I idolized her.

One year for Christmas I received a pair of white majorette boots with tassels.  I didn’t want to be a majorette, though.  I owned a baton and had the skinned knees and bruises to prove the fact and make it clear I wasn’t majorette material.

At three, I had another career in mind.  I was going to take my fancy white boots and become a go-go dancer.  I wanted a mini dress with fringe, and I wanted my very own cage to dance in.

How I knew about this at three, I have no clue…

Finally, the memory of the day that lives on in family infamy.  Half a century later I still catch hell for this episode.

It was a Sunday evening, and my mom had spent hours waxing the floors of the house.  My brother was about eighteen months old.  We were in the living room and mom was in the kitchen.  I glanced over at my sibling and he had the bottle of floor wax upended and was pouring it down his gullet like a little hillbilly with a jug of shine.

Staying seated, I calmly, conversationally, almost as an aside, said to my mother in the next room, “Mommy, Buddy’s drinking floor wax.”

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Sweet E-π

Gentle Reader, I can be a real jerk.

Not this kind of jerk.

No, really (here’s where we both pretend you don’t believe I possess Queen of the Buttheads tendencies).  It’s true—I promise.

The subjects about which I can be irritating, bordering on insufferable are legion.  Whole body cringe is not a strong enough phrase to use when I think about the multiple occasions when I sounded completely filled to the overflowing with donkey dung.  But today we’ll only focus on one particular instance.

It was a Southern cooking bias.  And, I apologize, so very, very much.

I thought it was cheap, greasy, unimaginative food, made by bad cooks who only used salt, pepper, and sugar for flavor.  There was too much organ meat and not enough ability.  

Fortunately, I learned about food and ate at the table of a passle really wonderful Southern cooks and chefs.  People who cooked with skill and joy.

This kind of cooking doesn’t rely on trendy, expensive ingredients.  It’s working people food.  It’s the food you cook when you have more time than money.  It’s honest, fresh components, cared for and coaxed into poetry.

It was farm to table before farm to table was cool.

A couple months ago I attended a community potluck at the church of my friends Maxie and Mark.  Mark asked me to come and judge the dessert contest they were having.  And thank goodness I said yes. 

Because, as a judge, I had to taste every single confection.  And one of the offerings was a sweet potato pie.  Normally, I wouldn’t have had a slice.  I don’t hate it, but I don’t didn’t have any love for it. 

Lucky for me, that night it was my responsibility to try at least a couple bites of every sweet on that dessert table.

Otherwise I never would have tasted the world’s greatest sweet potato pie.  The sweet potato in this pie is caramelized which completely changes the taste and texture.  It’s so good, I snuck out of that church basement with a hunk that I nibbled on for three days. 

It was totally worth the risk of somebody dropping a dime on me and getting arrested and convicted for pie purloining.    

It took a couple of weeks, but my friends got the recipe.  Here it is, exactly.

Mama Bertha’s Sweet Potato Pies Recipe

My mom, Bertha Hamilton, received this recipe in the 1970’s from a coworker named Cybil Levan. And while my mom has been making these pies and receiving rave reviews for decades, she wanted me to make sure and give proper credit where credit is due…thank you, Miss Cybil.

Ingredients:

1 40-ounce can of sweet potatoes

2 deep dish pie crusts (works well with graham cracker crusts also—gives it a totally different taste)

1 stick butter

1 ½ cups of sugar

1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp lemon juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Open and drain potatoes

In a pan, sauté sugar, butter, and potatoes on medium until sugar and butter both completely melt.

Pour them into a blender.

Add condensed milk (to cool mixture before adding eggs).

Beat eggs and pour them into blender along with vanilla and lemon.

Blend until it’s smooth.

Evenly pour into pie crusts.

Bake 35-45 minutes just until crust browns.

I’ve had the recipe for three months, but this pie seems to be more appropriate for the fall.  I’ve waited for cooler weather to share it, but the weather hasn’t wanted to cooperate.  I hope by writing about it now, I can drag the autumn, kicking and screaming, into NC.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

That’s Ridiculous!

Buckle up kids! 

It’s time for the further adventures of, “Back in my day.”!

This time, Gentle Reader, I’m sharing with you a short list of recently introduced ludicrous rituals that spring from unearned, over the top wealth, and the resulting near-French Revolution level of conspicuous consumption.

Nouveau riche, parvenu, arriviste, they all mean the same thing; people who have recently come by indecent amounts of money and want the whole world to know how very wealthy, classy, and flat-out better they are than everyone else. 

It’s not new.  The Biltmore Estate, and much of Providence Rhode Island was built during the Gilded Age (1870s-1900) as a big fat, middle finger to old, historic families by newly monied titans of industry and robber barons. 

Nowadays many of the new breed are social media and reality television stars.  And like every permutation of financial upstarts, subtlety and discretion are considered dirty words—what’s the use of being rich if you don’t show off?

The complete lack of humility, and any sense of shame, does though, seem to be a new concept that is directly related to the interwebs. 

Image is everything, and if it isn’t gorgeous, or impressive, or shiny enough, then they manipulate and stage their live’s until it is.  One’s social media presence must announce to every eye that views it that this person is richer, chic-er and more loved than you can ever hope to be.  So, a whole slew of holidays and celebrations tangentially connected to life events have been contrived to prove it.

Promposals.  This is asking someone to the high school prom.  But this isn’t the time-honored meet-up at the locker of your intended date and bashfully, adorably asking them out. 

No, this must be a production worthy of Busby Berkeley, complete with setting, props and co-stars which is of course filmed and then shared online so others may feel dumb, dull, and underserving of love in any form. 

Weddings have become six-figure extravaganzas that are complete failures if they don’t make every other couple swoon with envy.  It’s tough to pick one item from such a self-involved cornucopia but among body shaming bridesmaids, mandatory, color-based dress codes for guests, and the obscenity that is the unfrosted wedding cake is one particularly pretentious trend; the choreographed dance.

It’s not enough to eat bad chicken dinners, wear uncomfortable clothes and purchase a gift that costs more than your first car, no, you and seven other sad sacks have to rehearse for weeks in order to get up in front of two hundred  people and gyrate awkwardly for ten minutes to “Shake It Off”.  Or worse yet, watch your boss do it.  Try looking him in the eye on Monday morning after that nightmare.

Sorry, Brunhilda.  I gave up enough for your big day.  There’s no way I’m shaking my arthritic, uncoordinated, money-maker for you as well.

Fact: everybody that ever had a baby feels like they are giving birth to the most important, special child to ever walk the earth.  But that’s ok, because every baby should be born into a family that feels that way. 

What started as a gender reveal ended as a 47,000 acre forest fire.

But, here’s the thing; the world isn’t holding their breath to find out if it’s a boy or girl.  And a gender reveal party with (sometimes literal) explosive announcements of the news is something only the parents really give a rodent’s hind parts about. 

Is it wrong that I kinda wanna smack her?

A push present is a gift the father of the newborn gives to the mother.

You know what Joseph gave Mary?  He let her sit on the donkey on the way home, instead of walking next to it.

Just sayin’.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

An Okra Walked Into A Bar…

This week was going to be the week I finally gave out the recipe for the world’s greatest sweet potato pie.  The life-changing pie that I had at my friend Maxie’s church potluck.

Honest, this pie made me, who’s never been a fan of sweet potato pies literally steal a piece to take home for later, then ration each bite so it took me three days to eat.

But I changed my mind (the pie’s coming next week—I promise).

Even though I may come off like I have this exciting, glittering social life, unless it’s the grocery store or library, I honestly don’t get out much.  The last time I was at the movies, Greta Garbo was the next big thing.

They all had 1990s skinny eyebrows in the 1930s…

Well, Friday night, I went with a friend, to a bar.

It was a wild, frenzied night of abandon.  We each had one alcoholic beverage and shared two appetizers (I know, I need to calm down from my hard-partying, rock star ways.).

I had something delicious with blueberry and rum to drink.  One plate was poutine, a French-Canadian delicacy comprised of French fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy—it truly is food of the gods, and this place makes the best.

Hummina hummina.

But the second item is the reason you won’t be getting that sweet potato pie recipe this week.

It was okra.  I thought that cornmeal coated, fried okra was this poor, misunderstood, and maligned vegetable’s highest calling.  But I was wrong.  It’s the okra we had Friday night.

Okra is such an ancient vegetable that no one actually knows where it first grew; either Africa or Asia.  But it’s no mystery that Africans brought it to America where it’s been growing for so long in the South that Thomas Jefferson wrote about it.

Growing okra is not for the faint of heart.  It must be tended by hand, in the heat of the summer.  There are spines on it which cause some people to swell and itch.  The roots are shallow, so you must take care weeding and harvesting as not to damage it.  Okra grows up to six feet so there is much stooping and reaching.  And if you wait too long to gather it, it becomes too tough and woody to eat.

You know, I love okra, but I don’t think even I love it this much.

And the eating of it brings another stumbling block.  There’s no pretending or camouflaging it, okra has an unapologetic green, earthy, vegetal flavor.  And then, of course, there’s that texture.  In scientific parlance, it’s called mucilage.  Most of us know it as slime.  That’s why the favored preparation is breading and frying.  It all but eliminates the s-word. 

Is that not glorious?

It’s almost as if okra’s daring us to love it.

But if you don’t love this okra dish, there’s no hope for you.

Cast Iron Skillet Okra

1pound okra, cleaned and cut in half, lengthwise

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Kosher salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 180 and place a shallow oven-proof dish inside.

Put ½ tablespoon of oil into cast iron skillet and heat to medium-high.  Lay half the okra, cut-side down into skillet in single layer and cook for 4 minutes.  When it’s very browned, flip over and cook 2 minutes more, until tender.  Then sprinkle with half the salt and toss lightly to make sure each okra’s salted.  Place in dish in oven to wait and cook the second half.

Serves 2-4.

So, here’s the thing.  This stuff is so good, so easy, that if you don’t try it, you’ve got only yourself to blame.  But I won’t be mad, I’ll just be disappointed.  Disappointed, over here in the corner, eating this wondrous okra.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Hurricane Debbie

Luckily, Dorian didn’t spank us too hard here in the Heart of Carolina.  So, now we look ahead to what more Mother Nature has in store for us silly humans this year.

Because, anybody with a memory and even a few firing synapses knows that between now and the end of hurricane season, the Atlantic and the Gulf will experience quite a few more storms, and probably see at least a couple more category fivers.

As the child of a Coast Guard family, except for San Diego and Michigan, everywhere I’ve ever lived has been in hurricane country.  When I was five and Hurricane Camille hit, we were living in Mobile.  That was the first of probably a hundred or more I’ve experienced since. 

Heck, there was a hurricane that hit Orlando one year during a Matthews Family Band vacation at Disneyworld. 

When little, I went outside and played under the calm eye of many hurricanes (and the watchful eye of my parents).  I’ve been battening hatches, filling bathtubs, and counting batteries and non-perishables since I was tall enough to see the top shelf of the refrigerator.  I can refill and light a Coleman lantern in thirty seconds. 

Grouse and moan all you want, but if you live in hurricane territory, you can get hit.  Nobody, no matter how famous or powerful, ever won an argument with Mother Nature or changed her mind.  Even the most stable of geniuses can’t move a hurricane’s path by one inch.  The only way to approach her is with abject humility.  And we can’t just pay lip service—we must internalize this elemental truth.

When a storm’s headed your way, there are only two things that will save lives and can slightly ameliorate the purgatory of post-hurricane life.

They’re information and preparation. 

Educate yourself.  Learn about hurricanes; what do the categories mean?  Learn the stages of tropical wave, depression, storm, then hurricane.  Where do they form, and how do they move?  What’s storm surge? 

No.

From June 1st to November 30th, become a weather nerd.  Keep up to date with the current weather in traditional hurricane areas from a trusted knowledgeable source, whose only goal is to impart pure info with no agenda and no drama. 

If a hurricane’s headed your way, keep your gas tank full and cell phones charged.  Refill prescription meds.  Check bottled water and perishable food supplies; restock if needed.  Have extra batteries, a weather radio, and lanterns.  Make sure there is food, water, and any necessary medicines for pets.

3-4 days out, board up windows and put away outdoor items.  Fill up bathtubs with water to flush toilets.

If you’re ordered to evacuate, go.  Don’t be stubborn, don’t be foolhardy.  Just go. 

*A plea and a word of warning from a Coastie kid.  If you have a boat, don’t take it out.  Do not foolishly and selfishly risk the lives of heroes.

The book/movie Perfect Storm infuriates me.  As cute as George Clooney is, he had no business out on that water.

If you are a recent transplant and want to know what a hurricane can do, read Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson.  It’s the story of the deadliest hurricane in US history which hit Galveston, Texas in 1900 and took almost 12,000 souls.

Thankfully, today we have forecasting that is eons more comprehensive than Isaac Cline had.  People now have time to flee.  And that’s the point—go. 

When a hurricane hits, use common sense and stay safe.  If you die because you made dumb decisions in a hurricane, the angels will make fun of your dopey butt for eternity.  And those guys are relentless.

Assbutt.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

The Whistle Stop Café Has Been Burgled

I stole a tomato—sort of.

We’ve known neighbors Tim and Misha forever.  Their son Mick, daughter Noelle, and The Kid all went to preschool together. 

I love Misha because she has a big heart and tells it like it is.  And, Tim really reminds me of my dad.  He can’t stand to sit still.  He’s always doing something in the yard, fixing something, walking their dog, Cosmo.

Crowley

Both he and Misha are dog people and are on our pooch Crowley’s list of humans he adores.  His whole body wiggles and his ears drop down, parallel to the earth as he rushes up to smoosh his head on their hips with his huge noggin (It’s his version of a hug). 

The other day Tim was outside when we went by, and after Crowley finished losing his mind, Tim offered me a couple green tomatoes.  They were growing in a large pot next to his front porch, and he had tons.

I thanked Tim, and he told me I could have all I wanted.  I decided I’d fry them.

The thing is, I’ve never actually made fried green tomatoes before.

In the parlance of tech savvy youth, this is called a fail.

I started to think a spare would be a good idea in case my novice effort resulted in having the first batch go wonky, like with pancakes.  The next morning, I grabbed another tomato in case of trouble, and left them a note.

This is just sad.

The biggest problem with fried green tomatoes is that often, most of the coating falls off—I hate that.  That’s why I got them breaded and let them hang out in the fridge hours before cooking.  I hoped the crust would set up and not flake off while cooking—it worked.

First, I dusted them with heavily seasoned flour.  I used buttermilk for the middle/wet step because it’s creamy and it gives food a delicious tang.  For the outer layer, I chose crushed Ritz crackers.  They’re buttery and sweet, which plays well against the sour astringency of green tomatoes.

Stolen Fried Green Tomatoes

3 firm green tomatoes, sliced into ¼ inch slices (10-12 slices)

2 cups flour heavily seasoned with salt and pepper

2 cups fat-free buttermilk

1 & ½ sleeves of Ritz crackers, crushed

For frying: vegetable oil

Salt for sprinkling on finished tomatoes

Four hours before cooking, bread tomatoes; first coat in flour, then buttermilk, then cracker crumbs, making sure they’re completely and thickly covered.  Cover loosely with plastic warp and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

To fry: Heat oven to 175 and place a cookie sheet with a cooling rack inside.  This is where the finished tomatoes will wait. 

Put about ¼ to ½ inch of vegetable oil into cast iron skillet and heat on medium.  When a pinch of cracker crumb sizzles, carefully place in about four or five tomato slices—if you crowd them, they’ll never get nice and crispy.  You don’t have to rush, you have a landing area in the oven.

Fry first side until golden-amber, then using spatula and fork, carefully turn over and fry the other side.  As each one finishes, place on cooling rack in oven and lightly sprinkle with salt. 

They were so good, we ate them all because I’d made no duds.  And next time The Kid comes for dinner we’re making pimento cheese and fried green tomato sandwiches, just like Granny’s sells at the State Fair (WooHoo! State Fair! Next month! Can’t wait!).

After dinner I called Tim and Misha to thank them and offer to make some for them.

Misha’s from New York.  She passed.

Bless her poor Yankee heart, she doesn’t know what she’s missing.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.