Chowchow Down

Chow chow: A Chinese dog descended from the Spitz.  In China, they’re called “puffy-lion dog”, or Songshi Quan.  Weighing in at about 60 pounds, they’re very furry, with squishy puppy-like faces and purple tongues.Achingly adorable, but not the chowchow we’re looking for.

Chow chow: A dish made by the Pennsylvania Dutch in which vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, beans, and peppers are cut into bite-size pieces and pickled.  Similar to the Italian’s giardiniera, it was a useful way to have bright crunchy vegetables well into the winter. Way closer, but still not the chow chow we’re looking for.

Chow chow: A southern relish made with finely chopped cabbage, green tomatoes, peppers, onions, then pickled.  Used to add a punch of acid and crunch to meals and dishes.  Can be sweet, hot, or a combination.

We have a winner!

Last week I waxed rhapsodic about a meal The Kid and I enjoyed at Chef Ashley Christensen’s Beasley’s Chicken and Honey, in downtown Raleigh.  I spoke about the grit fries and how the addition of acid cut what could have been greasy and heavy, and in the process elevated the dish to one of the tastiest, most balanced items I’ve ever eaten.

That acid took the form of chow chow, which I’d never eaten before. This stuff is delicious on its own.  It’s a puckeringly sour, crunchy, twisted kind of Cole slaw.

But it adds so much dimension to other foods—foods that by themselves, like the fries, taste great for the first few bites, but after a while it’s just too much; your mouth feels coated in grease, and you need a shower and a nap.Slow-cooked meats, like brisket and pork shoulder with lots of fat and connective tissue.  Mayonnaise-based potato salad and macaroni salad can be served with a small dollop of chow chow that is a perfect foil to heaviness.  Stir it into deviled eggs for a briny kick.

This recipe is a mashup of a few different recipes.  I was looking for availability of ingredients, ease of preparation, and unlike many chow chow recipes, one that makes less than a gillion gallons of the stuff.

Chow chow

Makes 6 cupschowchowIngredients

4 large green tomatoes, quartered

1 large sweet onion, quartered

1 medium head cabbage, core removed, chopped into large pieces

¼ cup salt

½ tsp turmeric

2 tbsp pickling spices…enclosed in cheese cloth and tied off

2 small jalapenos (optional)

3 cup sugar

2 ½ cups apple cider vinegar

3 bell peppers, 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 green

pinch of allspice

InstructionsWorking in batches, pulse veggies in food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to large bowl and stir in salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, line a colander with cheese cloth. Pour in chopped veg and rinse in cool water until the salt is mostly gone. Remove as much water as possible by squeezing vegetables in cheese cloth.  Let sit in colander in the sink for an hour.Transfer vegetables to a large nonreactive pot and stir in vinegar and all remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce to a low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month. Or parcel into zip-top freezer bags and freeze for up to three months.To country folk and farmers, wasting food is a huge sin.  And with no freezers, or produce regularly coming in from warmer climes, one needed to be creative to enjoy bright flavors and crunchy textures in the dead of winter.

Chow chow fits the bill—and luckily, it’s a hugely versatile condiment, and astonishingly delicious.Thanks for your time.

Art Feelings

I like to think of myself as an intelligent, artistic, cultured soul.

But the sad truth is that most of the time, I’m a slack-jawed Philistine.  My aesthetic appreciation usually runs to, “Pretty!”. I once watched a TV show where Sir Simon Schama, British historian and art expert broke down and explained Guernica, Picasso’s depiction of the Nazi’s target practice bombing which devastated the village and inhabitants of Guernica during the Spanish civil war.

The difference between my comprehension and the actual things that were going on in that painting was the difference between stick figures and a 3D Imax motion picture.  As he spoke, the canvas shifted from dark-ish and mildly depressing, to the visualization of the absolute horror of man’s ultimate, murderous inhumanity to man.

The artist, with what looks like a drawing of a…basketball game?

Since then, I can barely look at it.

I’ve accepted that I am a happily ever after, pretty colors, pleasing symmetry kind of girl.  I wish I were a deep and intuitive Hortense, but I’m afraid I’m just a shallow Sheila.

Which made what happened at the NC Museum of Art the other day as surprising as the Dalai Lama chowing down on a bacon cheeseburger while watching the Real Housewives of the Himalayas.

Housewives behaving badly.

We’d gone to see the Georgia O’Keefe show.  I’d always liked her because her paintings are, (all together now…) pretty!

Georgia O’Keeffe Woman with blue hat, 1916-1917. Watercolour, gouache and graphite on paper

As we were leaving, The Kid pointed out that there was another exhibit to which the O’Keefe tickets entitled us.

Never one to give up before I’ve gotten every penny’s worth, I bade McDuff to lay on.

It was a show by Candida Höfer, a German photographer.It was a mind-blowing revelation.

Most of Höfer’s photos in the show were of large spaces in Mexico; a theater, cathedral, hospital and museum.  But they are huge prints, taken from impossible angles.  The colors were so saturated they almost pulsated inside the frame.  The images seemed too sharp, yet at the same time mere suggestions.Looking at a couple of the photos made me feel wobbly and uncomfortable.  It was mightily unpleasant.  I was attracted and repelled, in equal measure. I almost felt seasick.

They were beautiful photographs, of beautiful spaces.  I wanted to keep looking at them, both up close and from a distance.  Heck, I wanted to be inside them.But as I studied them, I began to get the feeling that some ineffable something was seriously off-kilter.

They weren’t quite right.  I looked again, walking slowly up to a photo until my nose was practically touching it.  I half-expected a guard’s hand clamping onto my shoulder to escort me off the premises.

It took a while, but I think I figured out what was bothering me.The objects in the photo looked so realistic, they had ceased to look completely real.  They appeared to be painted, but in a hyper-realistic style.  The colors were too bright, the lines looked both sharp and slightly out of focus.  The shadows were either absent or heightened.I felt like a caveman confronted with a spinning wheel.  The photographs confused and unsettled me.  Some of them kind of made me angry—not because of the subject, but because of the way they made me feel.

And, I think that was the whole conundrum in a nutshell.  That exhibit made me feel.  It wasn’t just ‘pretty’.When we left the museum, I just wanted an artificially-colored cocktail and an Archie comic.  I wanted some metaphorical hydrocortisone for my irritated psyche.  I had that mixed drink, but instead of a comic book, I watched a soothing British baking show.

But I still can’t get those photos out of my thoughts.Thanks for your time.

The See-Saw

Have you ever seen a cartoon where a big guy hops on a see-saw with a little guy, and the little guy flies up into space?

Or, maybe you’ve been on one, and the guy at the other end gets off abruptly and you slam down to Mother Earth in a manner that rattles your fillings and makes you walk funny for a few days.

Both of those hilarious calamities occurred because there was a lack of one crucial ingredient.

Balance.

The Kid and I were in Raleigh the other day to visit the NC Museum of Art; truly, one of our state’s greatest cultural gifts.  I bought tickets for an exhibit, and The Kid picked up the lunch tab.My child surprised me with Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (237 S Wilmington St, Downtown Raleigh).  Beasley’s is one of Ashley Christensen’s eateries.  Chef Christensen is Raleigh’s #1 culinary rock star.  Her standards are as high as the quality of her dishes.  Her menus are thoughtful, and the food is invariably fresh and delicious.First, we ordered a couple of their house cocktails.  The Kid got a Benton’s Old Fashioned, and I got the American Trilogy.  They were both tasty, but oh so strong.  Their bartender does not skimp.  After one, the world’s cheapest drunk (that would be me) was about four sips away from looking for a lamp shade with which to dance.

We stopped at one.We decided to order a few sides to share alongside our entrees.  We got the mac & pimento cheese custard, a terrific example of the egg-forward version of the Southern classic.

We also ordered the creamed collards and as an appetizer, the crispy cheese grit fries.

These two items were straight up perfect.

What made them perfect, you ask, Gentle Reader?One word—balance (now, hopefully, the see-saw palaver makes some sense).

The greens were creamy and rich, but with a hint of heat, and a bracing vinegar bite.  There was no cloying greasiness on the tongue because when the creamy hit, it was quickly followed by the acid.It was the grit fries though, which should be required eating for every human who strives to become a skilled cook.  It was a graduate degree on a plate.

The fries were planks of crispiness that hid a creamy, cheesy rich bite of perfectly cooked grits.  They were stacked up and served with a malt vinegar aioli, and chowchow; a puckery relish made from cabbage, green tomatoes, and peppers. This dish was a symphony of balance; crispy fries, creamy aioli, and crunchy chowchow.  It was sweet, salty, sour, and a little bitter.  Each element was delicious but eaten together it was one of the most delicious, complete bites I’ve ever been lucky enough to eat.

We will be thinking about and discussing that meal for a long time.I strongly urge you to go to Raleigh and visit Beasley’s for a plate of those fries, but in the meantime, I have an example of culinary balance that’s a bit easier to get your hands on.

Reubens are balance in sandwich form.  It’s an odd combo of items that only a mad man could have invented, but which works so very well. It’s crunchy and a touch bitter (toasted rye), crispy and sour (sauerkraut), creamy and rich (mayo and 1000 island), melty and nutty (Swiss cheese), salty and fatty (corned beef).  An associate’s degree between two pieces of bread.

Although I’d never had chowchow before, Chef Ashley’s was so good I’ve seen the error of my ways.  Next week I’ll share a recipe and a few ideas of what to do with it.Thanks for your time.

Say What?

steve shirt

Steve was also very patient with his idiot Mama…

We used to have an Akita named Steve (The Kid said on the way home from getting him, that he looked like a Steve.  And he did.).

For the first few years we had him, he was all over the house.  Up and down the stairs, kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, wherever.  Often when we came in the house, we’d hear him racing down the stairs to greet us.

Until one day.Actually, I’m not quite sure what day, but eventually we noticed that he’d stopped going upstairs.  We tried coaxing him, calling him, even luring him up with a few of his favorite treats.

No dice.

Never again did he venture up more than a few steps.  Inside our house, his world shrunk to the ground floor.

If Crowley ever saw this, he’d wiggle right out of his skin.

Our current dog, Crowley enjoys some television, but is very choosy.  Dogs, horses, and elephants are his must-see TV, and he will come running in when he recognizes the jingles from commercials with his preferred animals, or if we spot one and call out, “Puppy!”.

He loves to watch sports with Petey.  But unlike my spouse, Crowley’s a discriminating viewer.  He loves football of any stripe.  He loves basketball, but only college hoops, not the NBA (don’t ask me how he can tell the two apart. These days, all the players look like middle schoolers to me).  Baseball and golf?  No love.When we were first married, we had a chow named Harry.  We bought him at a pet store because he had gotten too big for the cages the puppies were kept in, and we knew we wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night if we’d left him in that situation.

I’d like to see you turn your back on this mooshie face.

He was obviously a puppy mill pooch, and we think maybe his mother drank heavily when she was pregnant.  He was an odd, odd boy.  When we brought him home, he hid under the bed for the first three days.  He never warmed up to any humans except Petey, my best friend Bo, me, and later The Kid.But in what had to be the strangest doggy quirk ever, he was terrified of ice cream.  Why?  It’s not like he was lactose-intolerant, he and Petey could go through an entire brick of Velveeta in one sitting.  So why?

And Steve and Crowley’s eccentricities…why?Image result for unknowableDogs do bizarre, unfathomable stuff we will never understand.  We just won’t.  The knowing is a canine Rubicon that can never be crossed.

On the flip side, there are things that humans do that are utter head-scratchers to our poochy pals.  And, that’s my point this week.    What follows are the top 10 burning questions that curious pups have for us homo sapiens:

1.) Are you hungry?  Because I could eat.

2.) I once saw a cat in this yard.  Do you think it’s back today? (Asked every single day)3.) When you go to work today, will you be gone forever?  Because you were gone forever yesterday, and I don’t like that.

4.) Who is that puppy in the mirror?  Do you know him?

5.) I’m going to the kitchen to root around in the trash.  You want something?6.) Why do you get that loud monster out of the closet, put its tail into the wall and walk it around the room?  It scares me.

7.) Do you want to go OUTSIDE! OUTSIDE! OUTSIDE!?

8.) Hey, I just found this stinking pile of something.  You wanna roll in it when I’m done? 9.) Don’t even try to deny it.  You’ve been spending time with another dog.  Who is it?  Is it that puppy in the mirror?

And finally:

10.) You gonna finish that?Thanks for your time.

Too, Too, Too, Tuna

I don’t know about you, Gentle Reader, but after enjoying this recent festive holiday season, I am feeling both penniless and puffy.

So, what’s a girl to do?

I cut back, both in calories and costs.  But protein is really important health wise (the ancestors of humans came down out of the trees and started making shoes and reading Mad magazine once they began eating protein). 

One of my life-long favorite foods is also a cheap protein that’s really good for you.

It’s canned tuna.

But first, I am Italian, and as a descendant of the boot, I have very strict notions about food.  And one of those beliefs is that cheese and fish do not belong together; except in a filet o’ fish, which is technically neither.  So, don’t come at me about tuna melt.  It’s an abomination.

Nope.

But back to the fish.

You can eat tuna on just about anything that will hold it—from a fork, to a freshly baked fancy French croissant (Petey’s choice).

A few ideas:When I’m feeling especially off track, and in need of nutrition but very limited calories, I opt for a roll-up.  You can use zucchini, cucumber, carrot, sliced into thin strips, but I just love Boston bib lettuce.  I’m not actually fond of the lettuce with anything but tuna, somehow the astringent flavor of the lettuce works well with the rich, fecund tuna and its additions.When I’ve made a special trip to Whole Foods or La Farm Bakery Cafe for some of Chef Lionel’s Vatinet’s fresh, delicious, bracing sourdough miche, I have a sandwich on it.  There are few breads that even come close to Chef Lionel’s.  Frankly, it’s tough to find anything that comes close to the flavor and quality of the product they make and serve at La Farm.

And, when I was a child the stable we belonged to Lazy R, had a snack bar, and they served it on a buttered, toasted bun.  I still love it that way.And, when I’m feeling a little more laissez-faire health-wise, a special treat for the entire Matthews family is to eat tuna with a big old stack of scoop-shaped corn chips.  Fritos sells scoops, but the dollar store usually sells a generic brand that’s just as good as the name brand, and about two or three dollars cheaper.

Avocado can be a delicious partner for tuna.  Put it in the hole of a halved, seeded veg.  You can dice it up and mix it in the tuna, along with a splash of citrus juice to reduce oxidation, which causes browning.  Or, and stay with me now, mash up the avocado, and use in the place of mayo. Just try it.

Mix-ins.  I have a confession.  It doesn’t matter how puffy I’m feeling, I love mayonnaise on my tuna most of all.  But, I don’t drown it (unlike a Petey and a Kid that shall go nameless).  I leave the meat in chunks, and toss it with enough mayo to barely coat it.

Then I add interesting, tasty, and nutritious ingredients that ups the flavor and the healthy.Not always, but occasionally I add hard-cooked egg.  It’s great for stretching both egg and tuna.  It also changes the flavor completely, but in a really good way.  It’s like a disguise.

I always start with a big shake of toasted sesame seed.  It’s fiber, vitamins, and minerals in an almost unnoticeable way.  White onion, for me is non-negotiable, I love the crunch and that pop of onion funk. Image result for sesame sunflower seedsThen lately, I’ve started using sunflower seeds.  The texture it adds is addictive.  I’d miss it if I left it out. Petey’s not a fan, but The Kid’s a true convert.

What this new addition tells me is that to keep riffing on tuna.  That it’s never too late to teach an old tuna eater some new mix-ins. Thanks for your time.

The Jigsaw Bride

The bride was stunning; her wavy blonde hair caught up in a jeweled barrette, her gown a fitted sheath of cream lace with a short, flowing train.  Her groom was practically glowing with joy and the primal compulsion to protect and nurture his new wife.

Miranda and Alex were both heartbreakingly young and earnest.The ceremony, for me, was surreal.  I’ve known Miranda since she was born.  Mom and Dad live across the street from the little girl who early on had chosen my parents as her adopted grandparents and been chosen by them in return.  She’d grown up alongside The Kid.

I looked at the mature, composed young woman and kept flashing to the toddler she’d been.I saw a tiny tow-headed child racing around with The Kid, searching for the last Easter egg.  Rushing through a quick supper to get to the important business of trick-or-treating.  Miranda bringing over her new Barbie to play with before Christmas dinner; then a few years later, questioning her assignment to the children’s table.Often Miranda was so bashful our only glimpse of her was peeking out from behind her daddy’s shoulder.  On those days the only speaking she did was intense, whispered conversations with her parents.Some days with a steely glint in her eyes, it was Miranda’s world, and we were all just living in it.  With a hint of a raised eyebrow, she was in charge and expected immediate obedience—and somehow got it.  And the entire time never speaking above a near-whisper.As she got older, she became a gracious young woman who usually kept her cards close to her chest.  When she did share thoughts and feelings, they were all the more valuable for their rarity.

At dinner, Miranda and Alex greeted and thanked each guest and exchanged a word.  They made every person feel as if the day wouldn’t have been complete without their attendance. I’d seen seeds of this self-possession in the toddler, but the natural poise of her demeanor spoke of another Miranda.

As long as I’d known her, and as well as I thought I knew her, it was fascinating to observe the different facets of the young bride.

img_1153

The first dance.

The groom’s family had known her for the years she’d dated their son, and before.  They loved her because she made Alex happy, and were delighted to add her to the clan.

Her church family knew her as a quiet, respectful young lady.  They were happy to see her marry such a nice young man and wondered when the babies would start arriving.Miranda and The Kid (who was four years older) had a unique relationship.

As only children with outrageously generous and indulgent families, they navigated having almost every whim fulfilled while retaining a sense of gratitude.  Although they had a doctorate in working their families, they’d both turned out kind, compassionate, and unspoiled.

At times The Kid had acted as a sort of elder sibling sounding board, who possessed, by both nature and nurture, a very different perspective on the world.

img_1141

Last moments as a single woman.

But it was Miranda’s friends from university that gave me the clearest window into the woman she’d become.  They spoke of crushes, late night conversations about the future, and the growing relationship between the couple.  They’d witnessed the growth from students to members of society who were eager to contribute to the world around them.

These young adults surrounded the bride and groom with love, and fully intended to be a fiercely protective support system as they entered new phases of their lives.And lastly, Alex, the young man who was now one half of the entity known as Alex&Miranda, knew the bride in a way that no one else ever could or would.  He probably had the clearest and most complete picture of her.  Alex knew places that Miranda didn’t yet know she possessed.I sat, watching the child I knew, navigating the space while giving her full attention to every guest with so much grace and warmth.  I realized she wasn’t the child I’d watched grow up.  Nor was she the demure Sunday school student, nor the new in-law, nor the young adult ready to take on and change the world.She was all of those things, and more.  It was as if each person present, and their individual perspectives of Miranda were pieces of a puzzle.  And when fitted together along with her own self-knowledge, they completed the image of that little girl now grown into a lovely bride.

A beloved bride of whom I am so proud.  And to this sweet couple, I wish for you a lifetime of love and happiness.

img_1136

The happy, adorable couple.

Thanks for your time.

AAA

My version of AAA is of absolutely no help if, as my mother warns, “You’re out late at night, in the middle of nowhere and your car breaks down.”

But, I don’t think I’ve ever been out, late at night, in the middle of nowhere.  Because isn’t everywhere somewhere?

My AAA is three of my very favorite vegetables (in alphabetical order):

Artichoke.  I never ate an artichoke until I was in my twenties, at a business dinner.  The wife of the owner ordered one, and gave me a tutorial, and a taste—I loved it at first bite.

The artichoke is a member of the thistle family and has been cultivated and eaten since the time of Homer.  It has some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any vegetable.  It’s high in fiber, vitamin C, folates, and iron.Italy is the largest producer, and consumer in the world.  They also have tons of recipes for them.  But my favorite way to eat them is the first way I had them, and the most classic, simple prep.  I cut off the sharp tips of the leaves, trim the stem, and steam them for 30-40 minutes, or until tender.After it cools I serve each on a platter with a spoon and a small bowl of mayonnaise.  Working from the outside, peel off a leaf, dip in mayo, and scrape the tender meat off with your bottom teeth.  Larger areas of the leaves become edible as you go.

You will eventually uncover the heart.  Using the spoon, scrape off all the inedible hairs, until it is clean.  This is the best part.  Dip it into mayo and enjoy.The second veg is asparagus, another food chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

The heart-breaking thing is that the thinking of many people, even food professionals is utterly backward.  Just like Rubens’ models and bank accounts, with asparagus, bigger is much better.An asparagus farmer once confided to me that he’s thrilled that the trend is for pencil-thin, or “baby” asparagus.  Because it gives the inferior product a market.  They taste like grass and almost impossible to prepare without over-cooking.  The desirable stalks are the ones as thick as your thumb. There are undeniably, people out there who don’t like asparagus.  But there’s a chance they’ve only had the tiny straw-like version.  They deserve to know what good asparagus tastes like.  So serve them in the most simple, basic way.

Rinse, then trim the veg by bending each, and letting it show you where to break the end off.  Steam them for 5-7 minutes until they’re still more crisp than tender.  Drizzle melted butter over and salt generously.  Serve immediately.I first encountered my last favorite veg as a child in Puerto Rico where avocado trees are ubiquitous.  The matriarch of life-long family friends the Murphy clan, Momma Cat was about to tuck into one.  I asked for a bite, and she gave me one, but warned, “they’re an acquired taste.”It was the most disgusting thing I’d ever put in my mouth.  It was like a mean-spirited practical joke.  Why, I wondered would anybody eat avocados on purpose?

But wise Momma Cat was right, and I eventually acquired a taste, and then a love for this unlovely platypus of the vegetable world.

Guacamole is wonderful, and I eat it every chance I get.  But I just adore avocados simply peeled, sliced, and salted, or what I call Momma Cat-style.

So, my AAA will not change your tire, or give you a tow in the middle of nowhere.  But as far as I’m concerned, they’re some of the best eating, anywhere.

Thanks for your time.

I Resolve

Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know:

If you don’t complete a New Year’s resolution before midnight on December 31st, it’s totally legal to roll it over to the next year.

Which is great for me because I’ve been working on burping the entire alphabet for about twelve years now.But I do have some fresh ones for 2019.

The majority of people do not get out of bed in the morning hoping to hurt and cause harm to their fellow humans.  Most actions, regardless of repercussion, make perfect sense to those committing them.  I need to always keep this in mind.  I will strive to be more understanding and forgiving.On the flip side, I need to consider the consequences of my actions.  Before I let rip with a one-liner which is hilarious in my head, I must put myself in the other’s shoes, and determine how that witticism would impact my feelings.

I will try to remember that an entire party-size bag of Utz dark russet chips is more than one serving.  A Cook-out milkshake isn’t the AMA’s recommend method for women to get their calcium.  And no matter how hard I wish, frosting is not a food group.I need to speak much less and listen more.  There is no telling what truths and wisdoms I never heard because what I wanted to say had to be said immediately.  How many people were there that needed me to just shut up and receive the trust of which they felt I was worthy?  How many moments of intimacy and human connection did I damage or destroy because I thought my words were more important than theirs?492I promise to regularly venture outside my comfort zone.  At least three times in the coming year I will read books from unfamiliar numbers of the Dewey decimal system.  I will sample more than ten new foods.  Listen to unfamiliar musical genres and watch movies that I would not normally see.  And, each month try an increasingly spicy dish.

Solange Knowles-The Queen of Fierce

I will do things that scare me.  Like wear mixed patterns or purple lipstick.  I’ll rock sequins or sparkle during the day (but not both at the same time, I’m not Liberace for heaven’s sake).  I’ll leave the house in heels with no back-up flats.  I’ll buy a bathing suit and wear it at the appropriate public venue.I will acknowledge that my judgement is not superior to the rest of the planet.  No more lessons, lectures, or pointing out the errors of the ways of my fellow man.  On a related note, I am also not the hall monitor of the world.  If it’s not hurting anyone, what other folks do is none of my business.  Although, I do reserve the right to point and laugh—discretely.

I’ll accept that I am not the world’s leading authority on anything or anyone except myself.  And I still get me wrong on a regular basis.

crowley snowface

My dog, the tank.

I will try to be a bit more careful when playing with Crowley, my 110-pound Akita puppy who’s built like a tank.  My goal is to eliminate all black eyes and busted lips, and vastly reduce my number of concussion protocols.And finally, be more grateful.  For everything.  For the good things in my life; but that’s easy.  I want to be grateful for the tough things in my life, because those are the things that temper the soul, make us stronger, and give us confidence once on the other side.

In that vein, Gentle Reader, I want to make sure that each and every one of you know how very, very much I deeply appreciate you, and your time.

A Handfull of Vowels

Every year, my grandmother sent us a package for Christmas.  An old-school, wrapped in brown paper, tied with a string package.

Inside were two things.  One was the very fruitcake that every Christmas fruitcake joke is based on.  She’d baked it, wrapped it in cotton fabric, and continually drenched it in some type of alcohol for months.  It was so full of hooch it made the mailman drunk just delivering it. When Dad unwrapped that bandaged baked good, my mom, two brothers, and I eyed it like it was a coiled rattlesnake or a six-car pile-up.  It frightened and upset us, but held over us a primal fascination, and we couldn’t look away.  If that stuff had been weaponized, and the Russians knew about it, the cold war would have been won by the USA in the mid-sixties.The second item in the box was a large coffee can.  Inside was something that our family literally fought over.  Each time somebody walked into the kitchen, they’d walk out munching, and the rest of us would grumble and quickly find a reason to go in there ourselves and exit munching.

In that Maxwell House can was my grandmother’s scrabble.

hickey

No…Yes

Granny had her own vocabulary.  She called pimples. “hickeys”.  One didn’t brush their teeth, they cleaned them.  Her word for posterior was bum.  A crick is a creek.  And, scrabble was Chex mix.

Her stuff was addictive.  When the can was empty we’d run our fingers around it and lick them—or at least I did.  She used Cheerios and All Bran in addition to Chex cereal, peanuts, and pretzels.  Then she made a seasoned butter that tied everything together in savory, garlicky succulence.I never thought to get her recipe for the butter, so I make my own version.  I leave out the All Bran and use deluxe mixed nuts from the Peanut Roaster in Henderson.  It’s not the same as the scrabble that came in the mail, sealed up in coffee cans, but like hers, it’s pretty hard to keep one’s fingers out of it.

Granny-inspired Scrabblescrabble dry1-10 ounce can fancy mixed nuts

Rice Chex

Corn Chex

Cheerios

Gluten-free pretzels

Butter Sauce:chex butter12 ounces butter (1 ½ sticks)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 ½ teaspoons mushroom soy (or other very thick flavorful soy)

1 ½ teaspoons Goya adobo seasoning blend-bitter orange flavor

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon smoked sweet paprika

Dash of cayenne or hot sauce (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 275.  Place inside oven two large rimmed baking sheets.

Empty nuts into large bowl.  Using the empty nut cup, measure out the next four ingredients, plus an extra ½ of the cup of your favorite ingredient (mine’s rice chex).

Melt butter on medium-low and whisk in rest of sauce ingredients except salt & pepper.  Pour over nut/cereal mixture.  Very gently, fold to coat, then taste for seasoning.  Add salt & pepper as needed.

Pour mixture into pans, half in each.  Carefully stirring every 15 minutes, bake for 45-60 minutes until browned and toasty.

Let cool and store in airtight container or zip-top bags for up to three weeks.  Makes about eight cups.A few variations: add different nuts or cereal.  Make the butter, adding minced sundried tomatoes, let it cool to softened butter stage, then put it into a piece of plastic wrap, roll into neat log and refrigerate.  This flavored butter can be used on meat, pasta, or with some Parmesan cheese grated on top, delicious garlic bread.

The cereal mix is perfect for game day.

So, get off your bum, throw those boring chips into the crick, and make some scrabble.Thanks for your time.