Three Views On A Holiday

It will come as no surprise to a student of the human mind, or frankly, anybody with a lick of sense, my view of Christmas was informed by the first one I remember.

It is a saccharine, nostalgic, romanticized vision of the holiday.That earliest Christmas memory, when I was five or six, was spent on the couch.  I had pneumonia, and just enough energy to observe.  My holiday was whatever went on around me.  I had a Disney Christmas anthology book and many seasonal Little Golden Books, including my favorite, “The Night Before Christmas”.I watched all the Rankin/Bass shows of Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, and the Island of Misfit Toys.  And of course, Charlie Brown’s Christmas.  The Peanuts gave me an appreciation for jazz, in the form of the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and the beautiful, majestic Shakespearian language of the King James version of the nativity.In 1973 I was nine, and it was all about my brother Homer’s wedding.  He was marrying Kelly, a very sweet young woman.  Mom told me she’d sew my outfit for the wedding and it could be whatever I wanted.  She probably regretted that promise when she found herself stitching together a purple velvet skirt and vest, with a coordinating lavender frilly-fronted shirt.

Yeah, I wish.

I looked like a cross between a Vegas pit boss and a Victorian couch.

In 1975 we were in in Puerto Rico.  Most gifts were shipped in.  To place a catalog order, one had to fill out a complicated order form and calculate price and fees.  Then write out a paper check, and mail the whole thing in.  Once Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck received it and the check cleared, a box would be packed and shipped.Mom was panicked because the order she’d placed in mid-September for my gifts hadn’t yet arrived.  My little brother’s presents had been received and wrapped weeks ago.  I knew nothing of this drama.

After unwrapping a spectacular haul, heavy on Barbie and Donnie Osmond, (the original catalog order had finally come), I was about to start opening each box and removing the dolls from their twisty-tie manacles.  Then I planned to dress them in their new duds and have a fashion show.Until my dad asked me to go into the kitchen and fetch him a cup of coffee.  I was more than a little grumpy.  C’mon, I had just opened my gifts!

I’d poured the coffee and turned around before I saw the true motive for Dad’s errand.

A glorious dayglo orange 10-speed bike!  For me!  Convinced the presents would never arrive, she and Dad had gone to the base exchange and bought me a beautiful new pair of wheels.Later I proudly wheeled it outside for a ride.  Along with twenty or thirty other kids.  It seems the exchange had received a huge shipment of one particular model of cantaloupe-hued 10-speeds.  That day a horde of tween Mongols mounted on tangerine bicycles was released upon the streets.  We traveled in packs as wobbly as new-born colts on our brand-new, slightly too-big bikes.x14But it was that 1960s holiday convalescence on the sofa which deeply and irrevocably set a reindeer on rooftop, joyfully over-decorated, scary fruitcake, white Christmas in my heart.It made my expectations high, but my standards low.  In my head is a Currier and Ives print set to the dulcet tones of Johnny Mathis.  But to make me think, “Best Christmas ever!”, all I need is the sound of bells, a glimpse of ribbon and tinsel, a few thousand Christmas carols on a playlist, and the pure crystalline happiness when passersby smile back.x26The Kid calls this annual lunacy my Chistma-thusiasm.

Thanks for your time.

One Compassionate Someone

A few weeks ago I went to a dinner and met Erin Rolandelli.

And, she impressed me and inspired me as much as anyone I’ve ever met.

Growing up as the baby of the family in Greensboro, Erin relished the opportunity to be the teacher when they played school.  Then her AP English teacher inspired her to pursue teaching as a career.In college, the students had to be placed in a classroom to observe and learn from seasoned vets.  She was given an ESL (English as a second language) class.

“And it was the best semester ever! I connected with the students out of empathy, by putting myself in their shoes, and for the first time being exposed to the question of, how are they surviving in a world that’s all in English? And, what are we actually doing to help them?”

After getting her master’s degree Erin spent two years in the classroom.window building room interior abandoned wood books house lamp classroom dirt dust vintage religious stairs interior design Holy Bible desk chapel floor mansion screenshot“It was gritty.  It was what I expected it to be, and not what I expected it to be, all at the same time.”

One thing that Erin didn’t expect was the federally mandated testing which took her out of the classroom for hours at a stretch to do individual assessments.  The lack of funding and available teachers left the classrooms without supervision and halted forward progress of the children for the duration of the testing.Erin wanted to keep her kids engaged and learning.  She was informed budget cuts in the coming year made any improvements impossible.

This led Erin to make the wrenching decision to leave the profession.  She needed to find another way to help children without the bureaucracy and its regulations that sometimes to her seemed more harmful than doing nothing at all.

Chais Beloso

One Compassion was founded by Reid and Jaclyn Smith.  Board member and acquaintance Chais Beloso thought Erin’s heart and abilities made a good fit with the group and brought her on.

The idea became One Compassion, an organization in Clayton with a looser, less structured mission than many other institutions.  The brief comes down to an individual’s need and adjusts accordingly.One of the things they discovered to be a need and if fulfilled, a game changer for children was mentoring.  An adult that children can rely on to have their backs, be a support, but also have expectations for them and hold them accountable.

When each child has someone dedicated to them personally, many of the struggles they face can be identified early and solved or ameliorated.  Or at the least, someone is by their side and on their side.Right now, One Compassion is working to make sure every family in the county has a Christmas.  That parents have the joy of providing for their children.  What that may look like is individual to each family.  To determine needs, Erin works with them, her team, and their resources.  It could be funds for groceries, help with gifts, or even a repair to a broken window so the children can be nestled all snug in warm beds.

33 Chistmases

The completed Christmas project, ready for delivery.

I offer One Compassion, and Erin’s active, vital, personal compassion as an inspiration and if needed, a kick in the pants.

Look around.  You can see where your help is needed.  Whether it’s time, money, resources, or an invitation to dinner.  Whether it’s One Compassion, The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, or the elderly woman at your church with no family and dwindling resources.

Erin desires to bring change to the world, and after spending time with her, I believe she will.  The least we can do is bring change to our world.sleigh st nickThanks for your time, and have a wonderful holiday season and a joyous and peaceful new year.

Contact Erin and One Compassion at


A Very Walton-esque Christmas

Just press pause.

Just for a minute.

Before you hit ‘complete order’ on that T-Rex Fingerling or tap in your pin number at the mall for one of Oprah’s favorite things, take a breath.

It continues to astonish me that Oprah doesn’t comprehend how utterly revolting and shameful this annual display of bloated consumerism is…Or maybe she does, and just doesn’t care.

I know you’re trying to knock out your gift list, but I have a crazy, subversive suggestion.

Make like Ma Walton and make some of those presents.  I don’t mean a corn cob dolly or a new Sunday dress from a flour sack; unless, of course that’s your jam, and there are people in your life who have always wanted said dolly or Sunday dress. Is there someone on your list who’s tough to buy for?  So, don’t.  If you know them well enough to give them something, you know something they’ll like.

Maybe your recipient’s that guy that returns everything.  They probably won’t have the chutzpah to turn around and give back to you something you created with blood, sweat and tears.  And if they do, take that ingrate off your list.  They’re going to be difficult no matter what you do, so do nothing and they’ll be just as upset as usual.Maybe it’s a secret Santa gift, or you want to give something to someone who surprised you with a gift.  A treat from the kitchen, or something useful that you’ve made is nonspecific yet personal.

And, I can promise you that a gift you made will be unique until the end of time.  They will never, ever receive an exact duplicate.  Scout’s honor.So, Gentle Reader, you’ve decided to take the plunge and rock a homemade holiday.  The inevitable next question—make what?

I’ve got a few ideas, Bunky.  Really though, when have I not had some ideas?  Have you met me?Kitchen gifts: Everybody loves a food gift.  Not sure?  Think about the last time somebody brought some unexpected grub to your place of work.  Grown responsible adults turn into gleeful children at the appearance of a box or tray of goodies.

Is there some food or drink that you make that friends or relatives have spoken about with longing?  There you go.

me and bo

Bo and me (dark hair), about a million years ago (around 1989).  This is the same night I cold-cocked a guy in a bar for grabbing my ass…

My best girlfriend, Bo loves my brown sugar pound cake.  Every year I’d make her a dozen mini cakes, well wrapped, labeled, and suitable for freezing.  One day in June she called me, delirious with happiness.  She was cleaning out the freezer and had found one she’d overlooked.  She planned on digging in after everyone had gone to bed so she didn’t have to share.Do something crafty: Do you knit or crochet?  Are you a woodworker?  Sculpt barnyard animals out of chewing gum you find under bus seats?  Make it!

One of my favorite things to make is a personalized mirror.  I buy a plain, flat wooden frame and get a mirror made to fit (your local glass company can cut mirrors to size).  Once I decide on a theme to fit the recipient I get every picture pertaining to that theme I can lay my hands on.  I decoupage them onto the frame.  I give it a coat of shellac, then insert the mirror.

Or maybe, you know…a nice gift certificate.

Words and music: Write them a poem and/or a song.

Everyone’s going a million miles an hour these days.  Nobody’s got a spare second left.  Store-bought things are a dime a dozen.  Storage facilities aren’t a growth industry because we don’t have enough stuff.

So, if you take the time, and make something unique and personal, it’s worth way more than cash.

Because no matter what anybody says, there actually are some things left in this life that money can’t buy.Thanks for your time.

She made red velvet…shortbread that is

homie failIn a continuing effort to educate all comers, I share useful information I’ve learned, and conversely, offer myself up as a horrific, terrifying cautionary tale.  So, this anecdote of mystery and invention would have been shared, regardless the outcome.

I’ve previously written about the woefully underdeveloped and overly discriminating sweet tooth possessed by The Kid.  There are only two items always on the child’s dessert list; red velvet cake, and buttery, sandy, not too sweet shortbread.

I know from shortbread, and have a recipe my child loves.

Red velvet though, creeps me out.  There’s something about adding an entire bottle of red food coloring that’s just all kinds of wrong.  Plus, as any frosting connoisseur knows, red tastes awful.But, The Kid loves it

So, I decided to find a recipe for red velvet shortbread and make a batch for under the Christmas tree.  There was only one problem.

There was no recipe for red velvet shortbread—anywhere.  As far as I can tell, it didn’t exist.

So, I decided to invent it.  And I had to work around some non-negotiable criteria, and some pretty complicated baking-related restrictions.

Traditional shortbread is flour, butter, and a small amount of sugar.  There are no eggs, no leavening, and no liquid other than a bit of extract. shortbreadRed velvet is made with the afore-mentioned bottle of food coloring for color and buttermilk for tang.  If I added these ingredients, it would be too wet and no longer shortbread.

What to do?

For color, I used a small amount of gel food coloring as well as Hershey’s dark cocoa.  For acidic buttermilk, I substituted a bit of apple cider vinegar.

A baking god.

I mixed, said a quick prayer to the baking gods, and slid it into the oven.

When it came out, the burnished brick color had deepened to the familiar red velvet hue.

After it cooled there was a taste/texture test.  It had a mouth-feel like shortbread and seemed to taste like red velvet.  I put it in a big jar with a pretty ribbon and waited for The Kid’s discerning palate and final verdict.

The Kid’s Red Velvet Shortbreadred velvet shortbread

1 & 1/3 cups softened brown butter

2/3 cup sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon red gel food coloring

3 & 1/3 cups all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons whisked together with 2 tablespoons Hershey’s Dark Cocoa

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 275. Butter 9X13 baking pan, and line bottom and two sides with parchment paper, leaving enough to use as handles when removing shortbread from pan.

Brown butter: Melt butter and cook until dark amber-brown and nutty-smelling.  Allow to cool to softened-butter stage.  Make sure to use all the browned bits—this is where the flavor is.

Cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add salt, vanilla, and red food coloring.  Beat to combine.  Add flour and cocoa, 1 cup at a time, beating until just combined.

Press dough into prepared pan, smoothing top. Cut dough all the way through lengthwise into nine strips. Cut strips crosswise into four pieces for a total of 36 bars, or fingers. Then pierce each piece with five holes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABake shortbread until color’s deepened and just set, 70-85 minutes. Sit pan on wire rack to cool completely. Turn shortbread out of pan, and carefully coax pieces apart with serrated knife. Store in airtight container.

It was a Christmas miracle—The Kid loved it.  And quickly informed me that I had to write a column about it.

That was already the plan; no matter what.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThanks for your time.



Feliz Navidad

Puerto Ricans have their own version of the warming, life-affirming chicken soup made by Jewish grandmothers.

Only it’s a drink, which is a heck of a lot more fun, and way tastier.  It’s a spiritous little beverage called coquito.  It’s tempting to say it’s a Puerto Rican eggnog—but don’t.

Sure, there’s egg and dairy in there, and of course booze.  But coquito (little coconut) isn’t just some random carton you grab at the local A&P in early December.  This is a concoction with deep familial roots in Puerto Rico.Every Puerto Rican family has their own super-secret, super-special version.  The recipe for it is normally tightly-guarded and handed down to only the very favorite offspring.

And somehow, I, and by extension you, Gentle Reader, are now in possession of one of those venerated family heirlooms.

A couple years ago I met the then-Durham chief of police, Jose Lopez, and his awesome wife, Becky in line at Costco.  They have become friends, and Becky is now my Puerto Rican food mentor, coach, and head cheerleader.  And in the spirit of friendship for which Puertorriqueños are known, she gave me her family coquito recipe to share. So, here, in her own words, is Becky Lopez’ great-grandmother’s coquito recipe.  And if you’d like to say thanks for her generosity, take a moment and spare a thought or a prayer for the residents of Puerto Rico who are still in dire straits.  If you can do more, visit, where 100% of your donation goes to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

Becky’s Family Coquitocoquito ingredients5 fresh cinnamon sticks

1/4 thumb size piece of ginger (about 1/2in.)

2 capfuls of vanilla extract

2 egg yolks (no membrane)

2 cans of evaporated milk

2 cans of coconut milk

1 can of coconut syrup (Coco Lopez)

151 proof dark rum or your choice of dark rum (Important: add only after mixture has cooled down)

Bacardi stopped making 151 last year. I now use Cruzan 151 aged rum.Take cinnamon sticks and smash them in a paper towel with a mallet so that their oils and taste may be released in the boil. Peel the ginger then cut it into thin pieces. Place the cinnamon and ginger in a small pot filled halfway with water and boil it for about 15 min. This should yield no more than 1 cup of liquid mixture.

Open one can of evaporated milk and one can of coconut milk and empty them into large pot. Place egg yolks in this mixture. Stir well until there’s no separation between eggs and liquid. Remove anything floating (remove any egg membrane) and cook on medium for 10 min.  Turn off heat and add the coconut syrup, stir, then add the rest of the ingredients including the vanilla extract, cinnamon and ginger water. Stir well. Cool down and add rum to taste.

Optional: before adding rum, place this mixture in a cold place (fridge or outside) @ 45 degrees or lower overnight then strain the congealed fat from the top.coquitoWhen mixture’s cooled down add rum to your taste.

Because the eggs were slowly cooked this drink can last for years in the fridge. Grandma would always bring out the last year’s Coquito (which always taste better) and served it in shot glasses. With time it thickens and becomes even more creamy.

I have had up to 4-year-old Coquito in my fridge. The trick is to shake your refrigerated bottles at least once a month.

Buen provecho! (Enjoy!)

And from the Matthews’ house to yours, have the most wonderful of holidays, and a happy, peaceful new year.Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

The Christmas Charm


Ol’ Riker is different, all right…

I guess I did it because I’ve always marched to the beat of a different trombone player.  But whatever the reason, I’ve been doing it since I was old enough to make out a Christmas list.

Most of my list was populated with normal things, but every year, pretty much without fail, I’d ask for some kind of oddball item, which must have made my mom wonder, “Where the heck am I supposed to find this?”One year in the late seventies, smack dab in the middle of the glittery disco era, I asked for an old-fashioned, Victorian-style, locket watch pendant.  Another year, I asked for a Fair Isle sweater.  Think 1930s skiers and stoic little British boys during World War II in slightly too-small sweaters with stiff upper lips on full display.

It’s a time-honored UK tradition.  I swear Duchess Kate shops with a time machine for those kids.

Today those asks aren’t much, but this was decades before the Google.  I don’t know how she pulled it off, but that woman fulfilled every crazy Christmas wish.

Except one year.I had a charm bracelet.  And one Christmas I received a brightly enameled charm with three children caroling under a street lamp.  I loved it.  I made my dad pull out his needle-nosed pliers and add it to my bracelet right away.

My folks warned me not to wear it except for special occasions.  But of course I snuck out of the house with it every chance I got.

Until one day, on the bus coming home from school, I looked down and realized it was gone.  My beloved charm had fallen off the bracelet.  I’d never noticed.

I was heartbroken.So, when I made my next list, I asked Santa to find my charm.  My folks told me not to get my heart set on it, because there was no telling where it may have gone, and even St. Nick might not be able to find it.

Christmas morning rolled around, and I expected those caroling children to be in every package I opened.  But no dice.  I opened the last gift, and tried not to cry as I realized I’d never see it again.  My mom felt as bad as I did as she handed me my stocking, “I’m sorry Santa couldn’t find it, but you got some nice presents, didn’t you?”Lip quivering, I nodded and removed the tangerine, candy cane, and walnuts that were in every stocking, every year.  When everything had been extracted, I felt something cool and smooth in the very bottom.

I pulled it out, and there, lying in my hand, was the missing charm.


This is the actual bracelet and charm.

I jumped up.  “He found it!  Santa Claus found my charm!”

My parents had the funniest looks on their faces.  They silently gazed at each other, and each shook their heads.  My dad gave me a crooked smile and said, “This time we’ll take it to the jeweler to attach it so it will never fall off again.  Go put it in your room, and we’ll take it downtown tomorrow.”x shopAs I walked down the hall, I heard Mom and Dad in intense, whispered conversation.  I couldn’t make out anything but the occasional, “No” by one or the other.

I wondered if my parents had just found it on sale somewhere, and bought me a new one.  I was a grown-up eight-year-old, and starting to doubt little things like miracles.  I placed the charm on my dresser, and glanced down at it with a cynical eye.

And…I swear the little girl in the middle winked at me.

I wish the merriest and most magical holiday to you and yours.

Thanks for your time.

Merry Thirftmas

When Petey and I had been married a few years, we got our first credit card.When Christmas rolled around I just about melted that miraculous little piece of plastic.  I bought multiple gifts for family, friends, and pretty much anybody I ever met.  I bought enough decorations for our little trailer to light up Time Square.

I spent enough money in the Lillian Vernon catalog to buy Ms. Vernon and family a fairly spacious villa on the French Riviera.

And then in January, something horrible happened.

The bills arrived.Whoops!  I have no defense except youth and inexperience, but I’d completely forgotten the “pay it all back plus interest” portion of the program.

But I eventually paid the bills, and began a long, slow journey to stay out of the poor house by economizing without it pinching too much.  It’s a work in progress, but over the decades, I’ve learned a few things that have helped during the holidays.

Time is money, money can buy a form of time, and reducing stress is priceless.  So maybe hire someone to get your place cleaned and ready for visitors.  Or hire a babysitter so you can take an hour to get a fancy coffee and a manicure.  x shopPool and share talents.  Maybe you love zipping around town on errands, but hate wrapping presents, and your best bud would rather wrap then go to the bank and dry cleaners.  Then you run, and she can deal with paper and ribbon.

What if you enjoy getting into the kitchen to create treats and baked goods, and your next door neighbor would rather be beaten?  Have your friend buy all the ingredients, and you do the cooking for two.  You both win.Make it a homemade holiday.  Every year a good portion of the gifts I give are made by me.  But I’m not talking about macaroni necklaces or unidentifiable papier mache animals.  The creation should be something that the recipient can’t make, can’t afford to buy, or really, really likes the version that you produce.

For the last few years, The Kid and I have worked together to create baskets tailored to the person that will get them.Dog owners get our special pumpkin peanut butter puppy treats.  The more culinarily adventurous get flavored salts.  Gluten-free folks don’t get our cheese straws but get double the buckeyes.  Everybody gets our special hot cocoa mix with homemade marshmallows that come in Christmas mugs which I buy at a thrift store for less than a dollar each. The packing for these gifts is purchased at the dollar store, which, by the way, is terrific for stocking stuffers and small presents.

If you shop online, make sites like and your friend.  They have links to promotional codes which can save you lots of green.  Another site, Honey, will automatically find and apply discounts when you check out.  So don’t hit enter ‘til you’ve turned over every discount rock you find.There are a couple little-known benefits to shopping online at a merchant who has local brick and mortar locations.  If you can’t score free shipping, lots of companies will ship it to their store for free.  You just have to go pick it up.  If you buy something online, and need to return it, most will let you bring it into their local shop.

Hey, it’s already hectic out there, and soon it’ll ratchet up to an “I’m invisible, and also president of Neptune” level crazy.

So cut yourself a little slack.  And that will make it easier to cut everyone around you some too.Thanks for your time.

Nog me

I was pretty young the first time I had eggnog, and since the grownups didn’t want to deal with a bunch of inebriated preschoolers (kindergarteners can be ugly drunks), my glass came from the kids’ hooch-free punch bowl.The flavor reminded me of when Dad would make a vanilla instant breakfast shake and add vanilla extract.  Only the nog had a strong egg flavor, and it was very milky.  I had given up milk after getting a carton of malodorous, lumpy moo juice during snack time at school.  Yeah, no, egg nog really didn’t move me.

Then a million years later, I was working as a bartender at a country club in Raleigh.  This is actually where my culinary fire was sparked.  I was friends with the kitchen staff, and they were my patient, generous tutors.

It definitely wasn’t Bushwood.  I never saw Bill Murray, not once.

I began to learn the traditions, unwritten rules, and rhythm of a professional kitchen.  I picked up how to observe without getting in the way.  I became familiar with, and learned to appreciate, the black humor that is woven through the very fiber of the denizens of the cook house.

And I learned that one of the very best places in the world to be is on the chef’s good side; especially when he or she develops new recipes and recreates old ones.

One night in early fall, Chef Wes came into the bar office bearing gifts.  It was a tall frosty glass full of what looked like a vanilla milkshake.  I got excited.  He told me it was eggnog.I got bummed.He then informed me it was made using the recipe of George Washington.  Yeah, the father of our country, and evidently, enthusiastic imbiber of spirituous beverages, George Washington.

I got intrigued.

He handed me the glass and I could immediately smell the hooch.  It wasn’t teased by some lightweight eggnog-flavored liqueur, it was chockful of multiple types of hangover-inducing hard liquors.

So, practicing enlightened self-protection, I took a small cautious sip.

First of all, it was boozy.  But not the throat burn-y thing that takes your breath away boozy.  It was mellow.  The alcohol flavor kind of reminded me of one of those fat, hearty gentlemen from a Dickens novel like Mr. Fezziwig; boozy, but jovial and refined.  Does that make any sense?The texture of this egg nog was very different.  It was thick and creamy, like the milkshake I’d mistaken it for.  And it wasn’t too milky or too eggy.  This cold creamy glass of good cheer made me understand what the whole eggnog fuss was about.  When made right, it was really good.

So, below is what scholars and cooks believe was served at our first president’s table.  And since recipes from that era are notoriously skimpy when it comes to details, the directions are from both me, and Chef Wes (Thanks, Chef).

George Washington’s EggnogeggnogOne quart heavy cream

One quart whole milk

One dozen tablespoons sugar (that’s 3/4 cup for you and me)

One pint brandy

½ pint rye whiskey (bourbon works just fine)

½ pint Jamaica rum (Debbie here-no disrespect to the prez, but I’m partial to rum from Puerto Rico)

¼ pint sherry

12 eggs, separated

Mix the alcohol and set aside.  Place egg whites into mixer and beat until they’re glossy and stiff peaks appear.  Remove from bowl and set aside.  Make sure you do the whites first because if there’s any yolk in the whites, they won’t beat into stiff peaks. 

Place yolks and sugar into the mixer bowl and beat on high until it’s the color of butter and runs from the beater in ribbons.  Stir in alcohols, milk and cream.

Then very gently, fold the whites into yolk mixture.

George recommends at this point to let the egg nog rest in a cool place (fridge) for two days before serving. 

Makes one honking punch bowl’s worth.  Enjoy.I hope you enjoy this Colonial nog.  And I hope you get every gift on your list.

But more, I really hope that you, Gentle Reader, and all of your loved ones can spend a few relaxed hours together having fun, and remembering why these are the people that populate your world.

And to all, a good night.

Thanks for your time.

Hot Cha-cha-colate

I told Petey the other day it doesn’t matter who you are, or how much experience you’ve had, making marshmallows is a messy, sticky, sticky business.  Did I mention it’s sticky?All you can do is try to minimize damage.

Because I have more time than money, I make many gifts in my kitchen.

Our cocoa mix is easy and delicious.  Stirring in a small handful of chopped chocolate will make it crazy rich.

Special Dark Cocoa

In a food processor, mix until texture is powdery and homogeneous:cocoa

¾ cup powdered milk

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¾ cup sugar

½ cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder

Then add:

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Store in airtight container.  To make a cup, mix ½ cup cocoa mix into 1 cup milk.  Makes 4 cups.And here are the marshmallows that go with the cocoa.  It’s a recipe adapted from Alton Brown. The response you get from people is worth all the heat and mess.  Most people don’t even realize they can be made at home.

Homemade marshmallowsmarshmallows-2

3 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup ice cold water, divided

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped, reserving pod

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Nonstick spray

Place gelatin into bowl of stand mixer with ½ cup water.

Prepare pan:

Put confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Cover it with a piece of oiled foil.  Add the sugar and swirl to coat bottom and sides.  Save remaining sugar for later use.

In small saucepan combine remaining water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and empty vanilla pod. Place over medium-high heat, cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto side of pan and continue to cook until mixture reaches 240 degrees. Immediately remove from heat and take out vanilla pod.Using whisk attachment, turn mixer on low speed and slowly pour all the sugar syrup down side of the bowl into gelatin mixture. Once added, increase speed to high. Continue to whip until mixture becomes fluffy, white, and increases in volume approximately 500%; approximately 10 to 13 minutes. Add the vanilla bean caviar during last minute of whipping.

When ready, pour mixture into prepared pan, using oiled spatula for even spreading. Dust top with enough of the remaining sugar to lightly cover. Reserve the rest again.  Allow marshmallows to sit uncovered for a few hours before cutting.Once the candy is set, place a piece of parchment onto large cutting board.  Turn the marshmallows out and peel off foil.  Dust bottom and sides with more powdered sugar.  Using powder sugar dusted pizza cutter, cut the candy; 6 pieces wide and 8 long.  As you cut, place into a zip top bag that has some confectioners’ sugar in it.  Gently shake to coat, and place onto parchment to fully set.

Make sure you have everything out and organized.  Once the candy is ready to go from mixer to the prepared pan you have waiting, don’t fool around.  Move deliberately, but with a sense of controlled urgency.

Even if you do everything right, there will still be a mess.  During both the cooking and mixing stages you’ve got time room to load the dish washer and wipe down the stove, the counters, your dog, and mischievous family members.

I leave you with three simple words: Hot.Soapy.Water.

But then hand the out marshmallows and bask in the praise that will fall upon your genius shoulders like warm summer rain.Thanks for your time.

Diary of a mad woman in a kitchen Part 2

Last week I related to you excerpts from the food diary that I faithfully kept for the entire year.

Before I continue though, I’d like to explain what a true Christmas miracle these columns are.

I’ve always loved to write, and the number one piece of advice to young writers is to keep a journal.

I’ve owned more diaries than I can count.  No dice.  Not one of them had more than ten or fifteen entries before it was set aside and forgotten.

Each new, pristine book was begun with the best of intentions.  I would be faithful and prolific.  This would be the one which would take.

But sadly, no.  The entries would be forced, stilted, and honestly; dull.

Until this year.  I decided to keep a culinary log with an eye to doing a column at the end of the year.  Maybe this is what kept me honest, and kept me coming back with new entries.

Whatever the reason, it worked:

July 2nd– It seems like every supermarket has all the fixings for a cook-out on sale.  Meat, condiments, chips, buns, and sodas are all reduced.  I am definitely stocking up the freezer.  It might be October before I have to buy hamburger or Kaiser rolls.

That lemon chicken is perfect.

July 11th– Petey, The Kid and I went over to Crabtree Valley Mall for lunch after a morning at the flea market.  We ate at Kabobi, in the food court.  When I haven’t visited for a while I tend to forget just how good their food is.  Lemon chicken, lentils and rice, grape leaves; it’s a Mediterranean wonderland.

July 23rd– Major bummer!  My favorite guilty pleasure while shopping at Brier Creek is to get a salted caramel milk chocolate candy at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company.  Stopped by today and was terribly disappointed to find they had changed the recipe.  The caramel is stiffer and much larger, which since each piece is sold by weight makes it about twice the price.

August 8th– Dined at Golden Corral.  They now have breakfast on the buffet all day.  And…they have cotton candy on the dessert bar.  Woo Hoo!

September 7th– Had a sample of Panera’s new green passion power smoothie.  Even though I think mango tastes like baby food, I really liked it.  And at only 200 calories, it’s an awesome lunch on the go.

September 28th– Lowes had a new brand (Promised Land) chocolate milk on sale.  I picked up the 2%.  It’s rich, yummy, and less than 150 calories per serving.

October 17th– Went to the wedding of one of my oldest, closest friends.  The reception was held upstairs at The Pit, in Durham (321 Geer St).  There was a gorgeous view of downtown, and the finger food served was delicious.

Later on the 17th– Swung be Mickey D’s on the way home.  The order was wrong and the fries were left out.  Joe Pesci was right in Lethal Weapon.  They will make you most displeased at the drive-thru.

November 3rd– Halloween candy is 75% off and Boo Berry cereal is half price.  I knew I loved the fall.

December 16th– Made Salisbury steak from scratch.  It was really easy, and very tasty.  Serve it in a divided aluminum tray in front of the TV and you’re six years old all over again.  All you need is footy pajamas.

December 23rd– I hope all the readers of the Henderson Daily Dispatch have the very happiest of holidays.

Thanks for your time.