To Be, Or Not To Be Sweet

My very good friend, and former boss, Bosco once asked me something hilarious.

“Debbie, do you say every thought that pops into your head?”

Oh, Bosco.  Oh, honey.

I only say about 20% of what’s in my melon.  If I said everything that occurred to me, a few things would happen.  I would never, and I mean never shut up.  I’d have no friends, and I’d be locked up—either padded cell, or gray bar hotel.

But most of the thoughts to which I give voice are of the positive persuasion.  I’ll tell the lady at the gas station I like her shoes, the kid bagging my groceries he has pretty eyes, and the little guy carrying a bag for his mom that he is a helpful, strong little man.

But for the most part, I’m much more reticent when it comes to the negative thoughts toward my fellow man. 

The self-censoring comes from my childhood. 

Although she’s gotten over it (Hoo boy, has she gotten over it), my mom was raised as a nice Catholic girl in the Ozzie and Harriet fifties.  Act like a lady was drilled into every girl child from birth.

Having a dad in the military was part of it.  It was impressed upon me every time I left the house I represented not only our family but the Coast Guard and the entire United States.  How we acted reflected on Uncle Sam, Smokey the Bear, the Partridge Family and Dick Tracy.

And being raised in the South has a lasting impact on a young woman.

Be sweet.

It’s an IV attached to every little girl, feeding a constant stream of expectations, prohibitions, and assumptions.  “Mind your manners.”  “Don’t be loud, or messy, or bossy, or rough.”  After a while, that kind of stuff becomes part of one’s very marrow.  Like it or not, admit it or not, most women live their lives with an internal hall monitor passing judgment on everything we say and do.

It’s why, when someone obviously doesn’t spare a thought for my feelings I’m stressing out to protect theirs.

But you know what?

I’m not looking for a job, a date, or the approval of others (the last one is the toughest for me). 

So, there are times when I don’t give a fig about being polite.  And I’m not gonna—not anymore.

When someone decides that because of their fellow human’s plumbing, or color, or accent, or who they love, or how they dress, or bank account, that that person is “other”, and less than.  As in less deserving of basic humanity, or kindness, or civil rights, or a voice, or even the right to want those things.

When someone decides that their story, or history, or feelings are paramount, and others need to get over themselves, grow up, and grow a sense of humor.

When someone decides that when others stand up for themselves it’s an attack on them, and emblematic of the war against them and all good decent people; that the very rights of others marginalize them and threaten everything they stand for.

If you steal my parking spot, or the last sample at Costco, or fail to thank me if I hold the door for you, I’ll probably give you a low key dirty look, but keep my thoughts to myself.    

But, from now on, when I see someone being cruel or hateful, or when someone is navigating their lives with a complete lack of compassion, and a proud absence of empathy, I will call it out. 

From this day forward, I refuse to ‘be sweet’. 

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom

Dinner With The Kid

The Matthews family band love Shake & Bake pork chops and eat them a couple of times a month.  But I haven’t bought a box of it for many years,

I make my own.

Every time we’re down to crumbs in a bag of chips, or crackers, or anything crunchy, I dump the remains into a zip-top bag that lives in the freezer.  Then when it’s pork chop day, I throw everything into the bowl of a food processor along with herbs, Worcestershire, parmesan, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  If the crumbs are dark, I use them as is.  If they’re pale I also toast them for color.  Then I use it just like the store-bought stuff.

Recently, I had a big bag of tiny little pretzels I’d bought to put on brownies.  They were adorable but so small they absorbed moisture from the brownies and went stale after a day.  I don’t put pretzels on brownies so they can add disappointment. 

The Kid was coming for dinner, and I was making pork chops, so I decided they’d be pretzel-ized.

Pretzel Baked Pork Chops

4 boneless pork loin chops, ½ to ¾ inch-thick

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon mustard powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 cups 2% milk

2 tablespoons mustard (your choice of style)

3-4 cups pretzels, crushed, with some larger bits left for texture

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 425.  Put oil into 9X9 baking dish.

Make three-part dredge:  Put flour, mustard powder, salt, and pepper into large zip-top bag.

In a shallow dish, mix milk and mustard.

Put crushed pretzels in second shallow dish.

Shake chops in flour, dip in milk, then coat with pretzels, pressing pretzels on to get as many as possible and make them stick.  Put in baking dish.

Bake for 10 minutes then carefully flip over.  Bake until internal temp until they reach 140° (approx 5-7 more minutes). 

Serves 4.

For a side, there was The Kid’s favorite potato salad.  Za’atar is a Mediterranean blend of sesame seeds and dried herbs like cumin and sumac.  If can be found online and at middle Eastern markets.

The Kid’s Za’atar Potato Salad

2-3 pounds of waxy spuds like red skin or Yukon gold

1 large lemon, juiced and zested

1 teaspoon za’atar spice

¾ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon capers

1 shallot, diced

Salt & pepper

In a pot of very salty water, boil whole, unpeeled potatoes until fork-tender.  When they are still hot, but cool enough to touch, peel and cut into salad-sized chunks.

Immediately add half the lemon juice and za’atar.  Gently stir until everything’s coated.  Loosely cover and let cool completely.

Make dressing:  Whisk together mayo, olive oil, the rest of the lemon juice, and zest.  Season, taste and reseason if needed.  Cover and refrigerate for 60 minutes.

Assemble: put caper and shallots in bowl with potatoes.  Fold in the dressing, a bit at a time, until everything’s lightly coated.

Serves 6-ish.

Our veg was broccoli.

Skillet Broccoli

1 large head of broccoli, cut into large/medium florets

3 tablespoons butter

¼ cup water

Salt & pepper to taste

Put everything into skillet and cover.  Cook at medium-high (about 6 or 7) until crisp-tender, adding a little more water as needed.

Uncover, turn to medium, and cook until there’s lots of browning and crisping, turning with tongs frequently to prevent burning.  Remove from heat, check for seasoning and serve.

Serves four.

The broccoli technique works for cauliflower as well.  Just be careful that you don’t over steam the vegetables—you need that structural integrity to get a nice crusty caramelization.

Bon Appetit!

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Fair and Open Competition

So let me ask you, Gentle Reader, does a second helping count as seperate item?

‘Cause if it does, I blew it today.

I think people on other planets are aware that I love, love, love the State Fair.  In the middle of August when I am so over the summer I could swoon or go on a heat-induced rampage, the only thing that keeps me going is the thought that every day is one day closer to the State Fair.

Honestly, there are people walking around not dead because I didn’t want to be on a chain gang during the fair.

For a long time, there was one part of the fair that I couldn’t be a part of; the media preview luncheon.  I’d turn on the news a few days before the fair opened, and happy journalists would wax rhapsodic about all the crazy, wonderful fair food they’d sampled.

 It made me so jealous.  It felt like not only could I not sit at the cool kid’s table, I couldn’t even get into the cafeteria. 

Then I started writing about food and one day, I received an invitation to the lunch.  It was like the opposite of getting a draft notice.  I was over the moon. 

It was a ridiculous, gluttonous dream come true.

Today was the fair preview luncheon for the 2019 North Carolina State Fair—and we got to ride the new mountain-sized Sky Gazer Ferris wheel.

View from the Sky Gazer.
The fairground view from the Sky Gazer.

There were almost thirty new foods for sampling.  I wanted to try every single treat and report back, there was a lot of food.  So, I had at least a few bites of almost all of them, and for the first time, gave myself permission to finish my three favorites.  I’ll start my roundup with those.

The tray, from top left and going clock-wise: The JoCo HoHo from Fat Boys BBQ,
 La Farm’s house-made S’more, the fried Rum Runners from Gobblin’ Gourmet, La Farm’s Stuffed Cubano Baguette, the fried garlic cheese curds from The Cheese Curd Shack, 
The
F&W Concessions Reese’s Doughnut , Korean BBQ Pork Belly Egg roll from 
Woody’s Wing Wagon,
 then a fish sandwich, Party Under the Sea from Party in a Pita.  In the center is the Dole Whip from Tropical Delights.

The first item was a complete surprise; it was the fried Rum Runners from the Gobblin’ Gourmet.  It was like a boozy brown sugar pound cake had been made into cake balls, battered and fried.

I sat there and ate the entire thing.  It was delicious, different, and not as in-your-face-fried-fair-food as many of the others.  They’ll also be serving chicken corn fritters which I’m really eager to try.

The second item I polished off was La Farm’s scratch-made s’mores.  Every component is handcrafted by Chef Lionel and make me, somebody who is at best unenthusiastic about s’mores demolish one in three wolverine-like bites.  The man’s wizard and every year creates a delicious, buzzy treat.  His new offering this year is a Cuban sandwich baked into one of his classic baguettes.  Brilliant and crazy tasty.

The Cubano.

Number three is the one I had seconds on.  I’m not alone in my adoration, as today’s attendees named it best new fair food.  It was delicious resplendent, and probably the healthiest food you’ll find on the midway.  It’s a treat found in every Disney park,

It’s Dole Whip (From Tropical Delights).

Winners with Dole Whip, Tropical Delights.

For the uninitiated, it’s soft-serve pineapple sorbet, if pineapple sorbet was made by angels who love you.  I could eat a gallon of this stuff and look for more.  I cannot recommend it strongly enough. 

This win was the first-ever for a sweet treat.  But I was not even a little surprised it won, because as The Kid said, “It’s Dole Whip”.

Some of the other favorites were the jerk chicken rice bowl from Cool Runnings Jamaican, the deep-fried garlic cheese curds from the Cheese Curd Shack, and the Crack-n-Cheese® stuffed turkey leg from Hickory Tree BBQ.

Summer’s over, the fair’s in town, and there’s Dole Whip.  Really, what more could a girl ask?

I’ll see you at the fair.  WooHoo!

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Care and Feeding

It wasn’t Merry Go Round, but very similar.

Many years ago, I managed a clothing store that catered to teenagers.  At back to school time, tons of kids came in with their moms for new fall wardrobes.

One afternoon I was helping a teenaged girl at the dressing room who’d come in with her mom.  I was familiar with them both and I’d gotten a chair for her mom while the daughter did a changing room fashion show, to pick out her new clothes for school.

At the time, I prided myself on an uncanny ability to discern pregnancy in women very early on.  An arrogant, very faulty ability, I was soon to learn.

I glanced at the mom and decided that she was with child.  Wishing to show off, I asked her, “When are you due?”

Oh yes, my friend, I royally screwed up.  But I pranced into faux pas land with my head held high, singing at the top of my lungs.

Her head swiveled around at the speed of light, and she gave me an incandescent side-eye.  “What did you say?”

I had already realized my idiotic mistake and since I couldn’t turn back time, or make myself disappear, I tried to obfuscate by distraction.

“What do you do?  Where do you work?”  If I’d had a bicycle, I could have backpedaled to Missouri. 

That was the day I decided to never assume a woman’s reproductive status unless there was a child actively exiting her body.

This policy was hammered home to me the day a woman ringing me up at Food Lion asked me if I was with child.  I answered her in a nasty tone that I felt her thoughtlessly cruel question deserved, “No.  I’m just fat.”

A few years later, a different clerk got the same tone and dirty look when she asked my forty-ish-year-old self, “Ma’am, do you want to use your senior discount?”

So, Gentle Reader, when in doubt, don’t…just don’t.

Very near our house is a new neighborhood full of young adults and empty nesters.  Once or twice a day my dog and I walk the streets.  With the combination of a large, striking dog, and an overly garrulous woman who could find something to chat about with a stone, we’ve made many friendly acquaintances. 

And I’ve been privileged to witness many young couples becoming young families (But I never jump the gun and assume—I wait until I’m told, or there’s no other explanation for what looks like the smuggling of a prize-winning pumpkin by a formerly svelte young woman).

Once baby’s arrived, seeing them reminds me of the sleep-deprived stew of cluelessness and terror in which Petey and I constantly swam after The Kid was born.  It’s sad, but true that almost all new parents spend the first few years worrying away what should be treasured and enjoyed. 

This precious time passes in what seems like the blink of an eye, and hindsight colored by fear and exhaustion is mightily skewed.

In an effort to help parents be more present, I have a few thoughts that I have shared with clearly overwhelmed moms and dads.  And, they’re either extremely polite and diplomatic, or my words are actually helpful.

I choose to believe helpful.

Here’s the sum total of my great parenting wisdom:  Relax, and cut yourself some slack.  You’re doing a much better job than you think you’re doing.  As long as you feed them, clean them, and love them, it’s gonna be ok.

And besides, humans don’t remember anything much before they turn three.  So that means you’ve got 36 months before any of the dumb stuff you’re sure to do actually counts.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Shirley Temple Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Petey and I were watching one of the new fall TV shows the other night.  A guy was in a bar drinking a whiskey on the rocks that cost $16.  Petey was shocked.

My poor spouse really needs to get out more.  Going out for a drink has become a seriously expensive endeavor.  Sixteen bucks is a touch steep, but around here, paying ten or twelve dollars for a fancy cocktail is pretty standard.

And going out for a drink is fun.  You get semi-dressed up.  A bar is a child-free environment; which can be a relief.  You’re out at night which is exciting.  And alcoholic beverages and bar food are tasty pure indulgences.

But there’s a hitch in that booze-soaked giddyup.  You’ve got to get semi-dressed up; is that sweater good for one more wear? is this the jacket the jelly doughnut exploded on? where is that other shoe?

No kids!  But that means finding a reliable sitter; not so old that the kids are taking care of them, or so young you need a sitter for the sitter, or nervous, or silly, or cranky, or insanely expensive.

There is excitement; getting lost, hunting for parking, and standing around in uncomfortable shoes waiting for a table to open up, then hoping a second drink will make the ridiculously-loud-thumping-music-induced-migraine go away.

But the drinks and eats are tasty.  And also contain enough calories, sodium, and fat to give you heartburn for a week, and make the chances of your jeans ever fitting again dicey at best. 

There is an alternative.

The Brits call them drinks parties.  Have a few carefully curated, charming friends over that will be amusing, but won’t drink so much that they pick a fight with the dog. 

Think sparkling and urbane, not drunken and naked.

You don’t need a huge buffet.  Have a cheese tray, put out a couple of bowls of Marcona almonds, and something sweet, like little shortbread rounds or chocolates.  That’s it.

Drinks are just as easy.  For the non-imbibers offer a pot of coffee and bottled water or juice.  Have an inexpensive sparkling wine, like Spanish cava.  And make one mixed drink.  Call it a “signature cocktail” and all of a sudden it looks chic and not cheap.  Here is the secret of a tasty, balanced cocktail from a former bartender: ratios. 

That’s it—ratios.  The best is 2 (alcohol) to ¾ (sweet) to ¾ (sour).  So, for something warm and comforting like Granny’s Medicine you’d mix 2 ounces Bourbon, ¾ ounces of honey simple syrup, and ¾ ounce lemon juice.

Simple syrup’s 1 cup sugar (or honey, maple syrup, or other sweetener) and one cup water, boiled until sugar’s melted.  To make an infused syrup, add the ingredient; fruit, herbs, spices like cinnamon or fennel seed, and lightly simmer for twenty-five minutes.  Then pour through a fine-mesh sieve.  A sweet syrupy liqueur counts as a sweet by itself, but you can use half simple syrup and half liqueur for more flavor.

Sour is citrus, green or black tea or water cut with some type of flavored vinegar.  Just remember to go easy at first; you want a pleasant drink, not an endurance contest.

For fall, maybe something warm like rum, apple pie spiced simple syrup and orange juice.  Or for Christmas; rye, chocolate liqueur and tart cherry juice spiked with lime.

And don’t forget a cool garnish.

Make what you like, that’s the whole point. You’re really only inviting other people so that you aren’t a poor lonely Susan, drinking alone with only your cat for company.

But that’s not us, we’ve got a social life and plenty of friends. 

Right?

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

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.