Ridiculous to Sublime; Just Add Coffee

Flavor NC production observation, day two:

The filming on this day was at Porter Farms and Nursery, in Willow Springs.  But, before any travel I needed some coffee, stat.Here’s something that will give what follows some context; a generous portion of my blood is composed of caffeine.  Whether it’s an expensive fancy coffee beverage, a glass of my homemade sun-tea that’s so strong Petey and The Kid call it jet fuel, or chocolate so dark it absorbs surrounding light, my engine runs on that stimulant of the jacked up, jittery gods.  Without it, I am a cranky toy, with failing batteries, and a belligerent headache.

Oh, and waiting any length of time, for any reason, makes me lose my mind.

Didja ever notice the Starbucks mermaid has her legs/fins flung behind her head and is holding them there?

At the closest Starbucks to my house, I placed my order and got out of the way (people who stand right in the middle of the store, in everyone’s way while they wait for their drink need repeated, severe beatings).  After a few minutes the barista sets down a cup and mumble-announces what’s in it.  I grab it, see there are three of something in it (I get three pumps of caramel).  That’s good enough for me, I take a taste.

Don’t judge.  In my defense, there was very little caffeine in my system.  I’m lucky I found the store, or the jeep to take me there.

Turns out, shockingly, that I’ve picked up the wrong cup.  Embarrassment and apologies then ensue.  I finally get the correct 20 ounces of go-juice and get on the road for the forty-five-minute drive to Willow Springs.

When I arrive at Porter farm it turns out I’ve beaten host Lisa Prince, her sister and associate producer Michele Holland, and photographer/show owner David Dalton.  And Lisa and Michele only live 15 minutes away.


From left: David Dalton, Lisa Prince, and Charity Morris.

The first person I meet is Charity Morris, the farm stand manager, cheerleader of everything Porter, and its social media maven.  She’s barefoot, with wavy, surfer girl blond hair, and wearing a luminous, welcoming smile.  She’s to be our main guide today as owner Ashley Porter is the quintessential, Gary Cooper “strong silent” type who’s not so much camera shy as camera averse.


Ashley Porter’s hand, holding a decorative mini pumpkin in a luminous jade green.

The farm stand itself looks like a set for a movie.  The vegetables are gorgeous, each one a shining example of itself.  They’re arranged beautifully but organically, as if a breeze with design training and impeccable taste has blown them just so.  Our star of the shoot, okra, spills out of a large basket in a riot of shape and color.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe attached building contains two of my favorite summer items—air conditioning and homemade ice cream.  Charity loves to use freshly harvested produce for it.  We’ve just missed the blueberry sweet corn, but the fresh watermelon ice cream becomes part of the shoot.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter visiting the okra field, we drive to the farm annex where the fields went on as far as we could see.  One portion was full of countless plants heavy with different varieties of ripe tomatoes.  Purely as research I ate a couple; sweet, and warm from the sun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext was summer squash of different shapes and colors.  Then were pumpkins, a few for cooking, but most were purely ornamental, including ones that were pale green and covered with what looked like warts.  Our host Ashley said they were perfectly suited for jack-o-lanterns and Halloween decoration.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe concluded our visit back at the farm stand.  Lisa and Charity did a shot that culminated in biting into a raw piece of okra.

Again, as research for you, Gentle Reader, I sampled a small, raw pod.  It was fuzzy like a peach, with a bright, strong okra flavor, and no slime.  It was really good.And nope, it didn’t taste like chicken.

Thanks for your time.

Think Penguins and Igloos

I don’t like this hot, gross, humid, maddening weather—at all.  Not even a little.  I don’t like the bugs.  I don’t like the way the scent of a ripe trashcan or a spill from a garbage truck reeks in a malevolent, aggressive way that lingers for days.  I hate the weather turning my sleek bob into a frizzly fright wig.  I hate when it’s hot and muggy and there’s not a fresh breath of air to be had outside; even in the middle of the night. The only good thing about this time of year here in NC is the produce and the fireflies.

It sometimes feels like it’s too hot to eat, but you gotta.  But it almost always feels like it’s too hot to cook.

All the cool kids are doing it…

So, go cool, and when you just can’t avoid using some heat, do it wisely.

A rotisserie chicken is a sweaty guy’s best friend.  Look around and get the best bargain you can find.  Costco sells a hippo-sized clucker for $4.99.  You can usually get at least four cups of meat.  And don’t throw that carcass away.  Throw all of them into zip top bags and freeze.  Once it cools off you can make enough chicken stock to last until Groundhog Day.Use the birds in place of any protein that’s too hot to cook.  Honestly, it’s so versatile it’s the little black dress of food.  Tacos? Yup.  Pasta? Yes ma’am.  Pizza? Why not?  Quiche?  Oui, oui.  Chili? Well, it’s kinda hot for chili, but you do you.      Stock your fridge with fresh greens, fruits, and veggies that can be eaten raw.  Stone fruits are in season, so enjoy cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, and pluots, a plum/apricot hybrid.

Eat salads that are nourishing, but won’t make you feel like you just ate Thanksgiving dinner.  Lots of greens, some type of protein, things that pack a real nutritional bite for your buck, plenty of textures, and a non-creamy dressing with plenty of acid, and no artificial colors and flavors.I offer my own personal salad recipes as catalyst for your taste and imagination: mixed baby greens, shaved red onion, goat cheese, a handful of dried cherries and cranberries, and butter toasted, salted pecans (I do a huge batch of pecans either late at night or during cool-ish rainy days, and keep refrigerated).  The dried fruit and nuts are a terrific take-along snack, too.

My favorite dressing is Trader Joe’s vinaigrette.  But a drizzle of balsamic and a smaller drizzle of olive oil is almost as good.My other salad, which I call my detox is also simple, delicious, and requires not one degree of heat.  It’s just baby spinach, shaved red onion, halved grape tomatoes, and chopped avocado.  I dress it with the juice from half a lemon.  The fat in the avocado eliminates the need for another fat for the dressing.  Just don’t forget the salt—avocados demand a heavy hand with the Morton’s.

This little pint will literally keep my friends and family from mayhem this summer.

When all else fails, ice cream.  Talenti has a chocolate sorbet that is a gift to your taste buds and only 150 calories per serving.  Old-fashioned sugar-free fudgesicles have 40 calories per.  The Kid is a giant fan of Halo Top, a frozen treat with imaginative flavors and very few calories.

One, please.

When you must use heat, do it at night or very early in the morning.  Use a slow cooker, microwave or take it outside and grill it.

And when all else fails, pick up that phone, and let somebody else cook it and bring it to you.

Then after dinner, go run through the sprinkler.

In your nightgown.Thanks for your time.

The Wrath of Mom (well, this mom anyway)

I normally go throughout my day with an optimistic attitude and a sunny disposition.

While you probably couldn’t hold a magnifying glass up to me to start a fire, I’m plenty sunny enough to give a pale redheaded kid a respectable sunburn.

But, Gentle Reader, as the thermometer and humidity begin to rise in tandem, my attitude and patience sink in inverse proportions.  I have all the generosity of Martin Shkreli and the good will of trash can dweller Oscar the Grouch.For everyone’s protection, I really shouldn’t spend extended time around anyone.  I was going to say humans, but this time of year, even squirrels and other innocent woodland creatures kinda get on my nerves.

Because the culinary arena is my jam, it seems that annoying food topics pinch the hardest.  When provoked, I have been known to yell at the TV and stomp from the room like a spoiled child thwarted for the very first time.So, what I need is a new rule: from late April to mid-October, television talking heads need to get their facts straight, or fear my wrath.  And when I say wrath, I’m not messing around.  It can include anything from a vigorous fist shaking, up to and including changing the channel or leaving the room.

There are two categories that really set me off—tea and family.  Just wait, I promise I’m going somewhere with this.People that try to seem particularly fancy and drink their tea with pinky extended.  Yeah, don’t do that.  The only people who do this are either ignorant or ill-bred poseurs.

But the biggy, the one that has literally has me yelling, stomping, and wishing for the offending skull to thump, is the criminal misuse of the phrase ‘high tea’.  If, Gentle Reader, you remember only one thing I’ve ever talked about, please, I beg you, let it be this.High tea is not extra fancy and enjoyed only by toffs (aristocrats and landed gentry).  It is an evening meal eaten by working-class blokes.  It usually consists of meat and a few side dishes.  It’s eaten around 6PM or so because they go to bed much sooner and rise earlier than the wealthier classes.  The fancy swells actually indulged in “low tea”.It’s denoted high or low tea all because of a piece of furniture.  The heavier meal-type tea is “high” because it’s eaten at a dining, or high table.  The repast termed low is eaten in arm chairs, with the tea and lighter foods laid out on a lower table; what we Americans call a coffee table.

The second frustration is something everyone has been guilty of, myself included.  And that fact is what drives me up the wall.

It’s when someone says, “Food is very important in my family, or culture, or geographical area”.What a shock.  Gosh, nobody else in the history of humanity has ever eaten, or considered food important—just you guys.  Y’all must be brilliant.

Here’s a news flash, Scooter.  The fact that we are still here, walking the earth means that everybody that came before, all of them, discovered that food and the eating of it is important.  The food thing isn’t a secret.So, knock it off.

This time of year, I acknowledge and accept that I get unreasonably cranky.  My tolerance for others begins and ends with my dog—and sometimes even he gets on my nerves.  So, until we get that nip in the air that means fall is just around the corner, I try to limit my exposure.

To everyone.Thanks for your time.

10 Reasons I Love Cutting The Grass

As a teenager, I was a big, fat, pain in the keester.

mow face

This face had no interest in doing chores.  Writing bad poetry maybe, but not chores.

I hated to get up in the morning.  My ability to create drama made Sarah Bernhardt look positively Vulcan.  I could’ve brought home the gold in snark at the cranky teenager Olympics.

And, I was lazy.

One of my few jobs was to mow our not-very-extensive lawn.  Once every couple of weeks, my dad would tell me it was time, and I would say, “Yes sir, first thing tomorrow.”

Well, tomorrow and a few more days would come and go, while the uncut grass grew taller.  Finally, my car keys would be confiscated.  So bemoaning my birth to the ‘world’s meanest parents’, I would grudgingly get to work.

These days I can’t wait to mow.  I probably mow a bit too often.  The girl who would have rather had dental work is now a woman who has literally wrestled Petey away from the mower so I could do it.  And it’s the push type, no captain’s chairs and cup holders for me, thank you very much.

Not really me, but I love her glasses.

Here, in no particular order, are ten reasons why.

1.)We used to have a very nice neighbor kid cut our grass.  At $60.00 a pop, this cost us an average of one hundred fifty somolians a month.  A can of gas for my mower is $1.25.

2.)I can’t tell you how many shrubs, seedlings, and tender young plants I’ve lost to the mowing of others.  If the yard contained all the landscaping elements which were wiped out over the years, it would look like the gardens at the Biltmore estate around here.

3.)I have a standing rule: if I don’t feel like I’m going to keel over when I finish our house, I mow our neighbor’s yard.  Looking at their newly shorn lawn, I am Lady Bountiful.  It’s a heady feeling.

4.) I mow when I want.  It’s never too long between cutting, and I’ve never woken myself up by running the mower under our bedroom window at the crack of dawn (well…10AM).

5.) When was the last time you worked up an honest sweat?  Not a bought and paid for sweat at the gym, but because you worked hard outside, in the heat.

6.)It’s a job that doesn’t require much thought, so I get uninterrupted time in my own head.  And it’s not as scary as you might think.

7.)About two years ago, I was so sick I came quite close to death.  For a very long time, I was so weak I could barely walk across the room.  When I push that mower over our yard, I revel in my now healthy body.  I become Wonder Woman.

8.)There are very few jobs in this world where the results are immediately and dramatically evident.  Cutting the grass is one.  I have a path I follow, and every step is one more step toward completion.

9.)It really makes me appreciate being cool.  When I am hot as a pistol and covered in perspiration, a cool breeze feels like heaven.  And I never take air conditioning for granted anymore.

10.)This is only my own non-scientific estimate, but I’m pretty sure I burn at least 10,000 calories out there each time.  This totally justifies the icy cold root beer or Fudgsicle® with which I reward myself.

If you have your own lawn-reluctant teenager, I do not recommend showing my list to them.  If, as a kid, I had seen it, I would only have laughed, and felt very, very sorry for that crazy old lady.

Thanks for your time.

Honey, It’s You

So there I was, seven years old, laying on my stomach with my pants down, trying not to cry  while my friend’s mother tried to gently pull the stinger out of my butt.

When I was informed that after a honey bee stings a person, it dies, I thought it was a fitting punishment for the mortifying position into which it had thrust me.  But the bee was actually a victim of my adversarial relationship with gravity (I’d fallen keester first on it while the poor thing was just minding its own bee’s wax).

I may not have appreciated honey bees when I was a child, but I do now.

They’re actually much more useful and impressive than most people you’ll meet today.

Honey bees do two huge things for us humans.

In the US alone, they pollinate 14.6 billion (yes, I said billion, with a b) dollars of crops a year.  They are the sole pollinator of almonds.  Without their industriousness, countless crops would be greatly reduced.  If you think produce is expensive now, think about paying $50 for a head of broccoli—if you were lucky enough to find one.

And then we get to their sticky, amber-colored signature product; honey.

Before we even get to its yumminess and versatility, we need to talk about honey’s miraculous properties.

Unlike just about every other food you could name, honey never goes wonky.  Archeologists found honey in 2200 year old clay jars that was safe to eat and still yummy.

It has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.  Put it on a cut—no infection.  Dab it on a zit, let it sit for 10 minutes or so and rinse it off.  The redness will go away, and in the morning, the pimple will be gone.

And it tastes so good.  The thing I love about honey is that not only will it sweeten anything it’s added to; it also adds its distinctive flavor.  And the flavor varies according to which flora the bees danced their pollination mambo.  The rule of thumb is; the darker the honey, the stronger the flavor.  My new obsession is buckwheat.  It has a surfeit of “honey-ness”.  It adds its uniqueness to all kinds of recipes.

Blueberry buttermilk chia seed pudding

blueberry chia

1 ½ cups low fat or fat free buttermilk

2/3 cup chia seeds

3 tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

1 cup blueberries


Place blueberries in a bowl and mash with a potato masher.

Put buttermilk, chia seeds, honey, vanilla and salt into the bowl along with the blueberries.  Whisk until fully blended.


Cover and refrigerate for three hours or overnight, until the chia seeds have swollen and softened to the size and consistency of tapioca. 4 servings.

Gramma’s Cough Syrup

cough syrup

Juice of 1 lemon

¼ cup honey

¼ cup Bourbon

Whisk together and drink at room temp, or spoon into hot tea.

Chrissy’s Dressing

chrissy's dressing

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 shallot

¼ cup Balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil (approx.)

Salt and pepper to taste

Put first four ingredients into a blender or food processor.  Blend ‘til smooth.  Slowly add oil until it is a dressing consistency.  Season, and taste for seasoning.  For best flavor, eat within an hour.  Makes about one cup.

And if you’ve never tried creamed honey, give it a go.  A schmear makes a piece of toasted multi-grain totally taste like decadent French toast.

You may have heard of colony collapse disorder.  They truly are in peril.  So, support your local honey bee.

Don’t sit on them.

Thanks for your time.

Salting away the salt

Hey there friend!

You say it’s eleventy thousand degrees in the shade?  You say that if you go outside there’s a distinct possibility that you’ll burst into flame?  You say you’re stuck in the house with children that are so bored they’ve taken to reading up on taxidermy and are starting to look at you funny?

Or maybe everything’s peachy and you’d like a kitchen adventure?

Well Bunkie, have I got something for each of you.

This week we’re going to make salt.

When I go to the mall, I always visit Williams Sonoma.  They’ve got cooking tools on the left and tableware on the right.  Displayed in the center, around the cash/wrap is food..

But the best stuff is around the corner, near the gadget wall.

This is where the mark-downs are.

And you never know what’ll be back there.  One time I got a normally very expensive package of Carnaroli risotto rice for less than $4.00.

One afternoon I made a beeline for the mark downs and spied something that was as unfamiliar as it was intriguing.

It was a tiny glass jar full of deep, shiny, chestnut-brown crystals labeled Stumptown Coffee Flake Salt made by the Jacobsen Salt Company.

The original price, for 1.5 ounces, was $11.99.

Ridiculous, right?  But…it was half price.  And half price certainly makes everything much more attractive.  I’m pretty sure that’s how come Jefferson was so eager to make that Louisiana Purchase.

So I took it home.

It was good on steaks, but I discovered that when it’s rubbed on the very humble baked potato it basically turns it into crack.  Ever since I’ve been eating them at least three times a month.

Coffee Roasted Baked Potato

coffee spud

2 large Russet potatoes

2 teaspoons coffee salt (grind it a little finer in mortar and pestle)

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon bacon grease

Preheat oven to 350.  Make a shallow rimmed tray out of foil.  Wash spuds and poke with a fork 4 or 5 times.

Spread a thin coat of fat all over both potatoes, then rub with coffee salt and pepper, making sure the entire surface has a nice crust on it.

Place in foil tray and bake for 45 minutes, then flip over and bake 45 more.  Remove from oven and dress to taste.

Serves 2.

After quite a few spuds, I needed more of this stuff.  I picked up another jar, but discovered it was half price because it was being discontinued, and there would be no more.

So, I decided to make some salt.  The first time out, I made coffee salt.  But the next time I made a batch of Earl Gray salt for The Kid’s birthday.  My thinking is that almost any liquid could be used.  I made both coffee and tea triple strong to intensify the salt’s flavor.

Coffee Salt


Set up a jar.  Tie cotton string around a pencil or thin dowel that is long enough to reach the bottom of a tall jar. 

4 cups water

2 cups kosher salt

7 ½ tablespoons instant coffee

Put water and salt in non-reactive pan.  Add coffee and heat until it lightly simmers.  Take off heat, let cool for 10 or 15 minutes and pour into jar.

Rest pencil horizontally on the rim of the jar.  The string will float for possibly a couple days, but when it gets fully saturated, it will sink.

Put jar in a quiet corner of the kitchen and forget about it for a week or so.  The crystals will grow on the string.  When the string looks fat with brown crystals and the water has evaporated about ¼ of way down, remove string from water and brush crystals into a glass baking dish.  Strain the brine and add to dish.  Bake at 200 degrees for 15 minutes, then rake the salt with a fork to break up.  Bake and rake in 15 minute increments until dry.  Break up salt one last time, store in a glass jar, to use as desired.


You know, I’m thinking this would be amazing lightly sprinkled on chocolate.   And roast beef sandwiches or sautéed mushrooms, or barbecue sauce or…

Thanks for your time.