An Absurd (But Ingenious) Proposal

So, I was watching Star Trek The Next Generation the other day.  Student Wesley Crusher came home to the Enterprise D on a break from Starfleet Academy.

He and the android, Data are discussing the social life of the academy.  Data asks if they still hold the Sadie Hawkins dance.  Wesley answers that yes, it’s still a tradition.

 A couple of things here.

Sadie Hawkins dance or day is inspired by a Lil’ Abner comic strip story about the father of the ugliest girl in Dogpatch trying to find a husband for her, so he organizes a race in which Sadie chases a pack of bachelors and gets to marry whomever she catches.  The term evolved into events where a woman was allowed to ask a man for a dance, a date, or on Leap Day especially, his hand in marriage.

That’s me, in high school. Already so very over the patriarchy.

How very thoughtful, allowing women an isolated opportunity to have a say in her own destiny.  But as someone old enough to have participated in Sadie Hawkins dances, the whole thing was seen as a joke; where menfolk pretended to let silly females have the power for something as low stakes as a school dance.

And the Star Trek thing?  This episode took place around 2368.  I’m sure, Gentle Reader, you can guess my thoughts about that.

A woman runs the Borg, but they still have a Sadie Hawkins dance? Sheesh.

But this anachronistic social convention brings me to my point and proposal (not of the marriage sort).

Leap Day, the February 29th that falls only once every four years, has long been considered an “extra”.  A day that falls outside normality. 

My proposal is to lean into the “otherness” that is Leap Day.  So, on February 29th, nothing counts.

This is NOT what I’m proposing.

When I told The Kid about my big idea, it gave my child pause.  Right away, what came to mind was The Purge, the movie where one day a year, everything is legal.  Rob a bank, steal a car, kill your annoying neighbor and burn down their house?  Yes, yes, and that’s kinda dark, but yes.

That is absolutely NOT what I am suggesting.  Think of this as more of a “Purge Light®”.

Not today, John Q Law.

The most serious laws my scenario would allow breaking are sixteen items in the express lane, taking the last doughnut without asking, and a little light jaywalking.

But the gist is that the folly of humans is not counted against them.

Calories?  Not on Leap Day.  Put away the healthy, no-fun food.

Have yourself some cotton candy and gin for breakfast.  Eat a stick of butter like a particularly buttery Snickers bar.  Polish off an entire jar of Goober Grape.  Eat a bucket of potato salad.  Have frosting for lunch!  Drink Hollandaise sauce out of a mug.  Eat your weight in caramel-cloaked toasted marshmallow frozen yogurt for dinner.

It doesn’t matter, because on this day, this magical day, no matter what goes into your mouth, every fork-full transforms into whole grains, veggies, and legumes.

Go shopping.  There are no price tags or credit limits on this day.  Buy all the shoes.  Go to a bookstore and purchase every book and magazine that catch your eye.  Start a cashmere collection.  You want diamond earbobs?  Buy yourself some darned diamond earbobs.  Buy so many new clothes that you have to have them delivered on a flatbed.

But be sure you get this wonderful Bacchanal of misbehavior completely finished by midnight.  Because come March 1, your actions once again have consequences.

But on this day, this special day that only comes every 1460 days, live your life like a giant drunken toddler who’s been given the car keys and a fake ID.

What do you think?

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Praline Payola

Flying has become so adversarial, stressful, and downright unpleasant, that travelers fully expect to be harassed and assaulted by both the TSA at security, and airline employees. On all sides, common sense has become obsolete. Americans have given away their freedom and dignity with both hands to satisfy the fever dreams of security “experts”, with no identifiable payoff.  And, until we rise up en masse and say we’re not paying one more penny to be folded, spindled and mutilated—that we demand to be treated as human adults and not free-loading hamsters, the institutional abuse will continue.

But, sometimes, folks gotta fly.  Even me, on occasion.  But I dread it.

Back in 2011, The Kid was finishing up freshman year at college in Vermont and Petey and I needed to bring our child and the accumulated miscellany and rubble back down to NC.  Because of time constraints, the plan was to fly up and rent a van to transport child and possessions.On top of all the potential pitfalls and logistic complications, I was stewing over an entirely new possible fly in the travel ointment.

Because of a catastrophically broken leg when The Kid was in elementary school, Petey often needs to use a walking stick.  He has three.

One is a spindly bamboo model.  Nope.

This is not Petey, nor has Petey ever worn white gloves and a top hat.  I suspect this guy might be a magician.  His poor mother.

One is a Scarlet Pimpernel-level cool authentic sword-cane that I purchased for him one Christmas.  Once it arrived I discovered that it’s considered a concealed weapon, and couldn’t even leave the front porch without the commission of a couple of felonies.  So…nopeThe last is a very sturdy hiking/walking stick that’s reliable, strong, and doesn’t make him look like a pretentious fop.

Just one problem, though.  The end screws off, and underneath is a pretty sharp point for hiking in uneven terrain.  But as you may have heard, the TSA have a certain bias against anything sharper than popsicle sticks.

So, what to do?I decided to employ the time-honored tradition of bribery.

I had already planned on taking a batch of my company cheese straws and creamy pecan pralines for The Kid to share with friends on their last night in the dorm.  I made up a few goody bags to pass around to the TSA, and anybody else who looked like they had any possible authority over us getting to the Green Mountain State.

Creamy Pecan Pralinespecan pralines    *3 cups chopped pecans

    * 2 cups light brown sugar, packed

    * 1 cup granulated sugar

    * 1 ½ cups heavy cream

    * 1/3 cup whole milk

    * 6 tablespoons butter, salted

    * 1 ½ teaspoons salt

    * 1 vanilla bean, scraped


Toast pecans:

Heat oven to 350°. Spread chopped pecans out on large baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until the chopped pecans are lightly browned and aromatic.In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream, milk, butter, empty vanilla pod, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, to 230°. Add toasted pecans and continue cooking, stirring constantly, to 236° F.

Remove from heat; let stand for 5 minutes. Add vanilla beans and stir with wooden spoon until mixture is thickened and slightly creamy, about 1 to 1 ½ minutes. Using a tablespoon or small cookie scoop, spoon the pralines onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. If the mixture becomes grainy, heat and stir over medium heat for a few seconds, or until it can be easily scooped and dropped.Makes about 4 dozen.

Did they work?

Well, I’ll put it this way.  Petey still has his stick, and The Kid is not stuck in Vermont, waiting for a ride home.

Thanks for your time.

Blame It On Rio

Today is day twelve of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.  Michael Phelps is an aqua god; part man, part some kind of fish, maybe trout or something.  Gymnast Simone Biles is possibly the best gymnast of all time, and uber-adorable teammate Laurie Hernandez looks like she fell off a charm bracelet.  Her three word motivational speech “I got this” should be the mantra for our nation.

Could she be Any.More.Adorable?

Southern Season has a special sandwich inspired by the games.  The Bauru is roast beef, gooey mozzarella, tomato, and pickle, served on a ciabatta-like bun.  The name comes from the town Bauru, who take it so seriously that the recipe has been codified into law.

One evening at the Bauru city jail:

“Whadda you in for? I killed a man to watch him die.”

“I put muenster cheese on my Bauru.”

“Guards! Get me away from this evil sandwich degenerate!”

The right way.

I’m not here today to debate the correct cheese on a roast beef sandwich (especially since it’s cold cheddar, obvi).  I want to talk about a Brazilian confection.

Called brigadeiros, they’re the love child of truffles and fudge.  They were developed in 1940 and named for a Brigadier General who ran for president of Brazil.  They’re found at children’s parties, and there are shops that sell nothing else.  I would liken their popularity to our love for cupcakes.  But brigadeiros have had a much longer run at the top of the dessert pile.

The main ingredient is sweetened condensed milk.  In the US, we use it mainly for key lime pie, and seven layer bars.   It’s also found around the world in many sweet dishes.  But in the Southern hemisphere the thick, gooey stuff is ubiquitous.  In many cultures it sweetens coffee and tea.  Caramel-like dulce de leche is made from it, and in South Asia they put it on toast, like honey.  Nestle sells it in a squeeze tube just for this purpose.


The traditional presentation is to cover these balls in sprinkles or jimmies.  I did use sprinkles.  But, I also decided to play around a little and come up with some other varieties.  I rolled some in crushed potato chips and I had some really sparkly sugar on hand that made others look like tiny disco balls.  But the ones I’m most proud of are the s’mores.  I put a mini marshmallow in the center, and then rolled it in graham cracker crumbs.

Before I share the recipe, I have a few tips:

Sift the cocoa powder.  I didn’t, and had major lumps.  I used my immersion blender to try and remove them.  I spray painted a goodly portion of myself and the kitchen in sticky chocolate and still had a small number of cocoa powder beads in the final product.

Use gloves.  This stuff gets sticky.  I even sprayed a little cooking spray on my gloved hands.  Nothing stuck, but be prepared to change your gloves to avoid contaminating one coating with another.


brigadeiro ingredients

2-14 ounce cans sweetened condensed milk

½ cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa, sifted

4 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Place large non-stick pan on medium.  Add sweetened condensed milk and sifted cocoa.  Whisk until totally combined.  Add butter and salt.  Whisking continuously, cook until fudge thickens.  You want to see the pan bottom when you drag the whisk across the bottom, and it should take 2-3 seconds for the thickened fudge to re-cover the trail.  Take off heat and stir in vanilla.  Pour into a greased bowl.  Refrigerate until cooled and slightly chilled.

Using a small portion scoop, scoop out equal amounts onto parchment paper.  Return to fridge and let cool.


Remove from fridge, roll portions into neat balls, and roll in coating of choice.  Return to refrigerator for at least an hour.


Makes around 4 dozen.

You could have an Olympic closing ceremony bash celebrating Rio and the next host city; Tokyo.Have samba dancers serve brigadeiros and Geisha girls serve Daifuku (red bean cakes).  For drinks have cachaça, a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane, and Japanese sake.

But if you do much drinking you probably shouldn’t have real fire in your Olympic torches.  Maybe just go with a couple festively decorated flashlights.

Thanks for your time.

Worth it, salt

“But it wears out the pasta pots!”
That was the Newtonian-level reasoning behind Olive Garden’s policy of cooking pasta in unsalted water.
Wait, what!?!

I ate there once.

An Italian restaurant chain, with much ballyhooed Italian-trained chefs, doesn’t salt the pasta water. That’s the foundation. After neglecting this basic, basic step, all that follows will not make up for it. You get one chance to get flavor into the pasta–one. If you’re afraid of pitting your pots, add the salt to water after it comes to a boil, and you’ll be safe.
And a pinch or a teaspoon ain’t gonna cut it. Salt your pasta water with wild, shameless abandon. Chef Anne Burrel has an awesome phrase for how much to use. She says the water should be “shockingly salty”.

Anne Burrel. I’m convinced that hairdo involves sorcery. Or buckets of product.

Seriously, think ocean.

All of your food should be salted while cooking as well. The difference between unseasoned and well-seasoned food is vast.

It’s embarrassing, but I enjoy too much salt. As a child, I held a very strange belief. I knew that pepper made food hot. I decided that salt was the opposite of pepper. So, salt must make food cold (I told you it was strange). Since I like my food considerably cooler than piping hot, I heavily salted my food, which in my mind, cooled it off. Thus I developed a taste for saltiness.

Because of this foible, when I started cooking, I was afraid of over-salting. Consequently, I under-seasoned everything.

Now I taste as I go along. Most foods don’t need a blizzard of salt. But some ingredients need more. Acid, avocado, and red meats are a few. Fried foods need more. It doesn’t take much salt to satisfy Petey, but he always salts his fries.
Desserts need salt too. It perks up the rest of the ingredients, like a twinkle in the eye. And lately, many confections are based on the interplay between salty and sweet. The Kid and I have one dessert that although tricky to prepare, rewards you with rapture.OMG Salted Caramel Short Bread
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup corn starch
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing it to drape over 2 sides.
Whip butter until fluffy. Mix in confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch, and flour. Beat on low until combined, then on high for 3 to 4 minutes. Press dough into pan.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until lightly golden. Let cool.
When the shortbread comes out of the oven, begin making caramel.
½ cup sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ cup water
1 ½ cups heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a deep saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to boil until the caramel is a warm golden brown color. No stirring; just swirl pan, otherwise it could seize up and turn into a giant crystal. Don’t rush this–it can burn in seconds and you’ll have to start over.
In a separate pan, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon salt to simmer on medium. Remove from the heat, set aside.
When the caramel is light amber, slowly whisk cream mixture into the caramel–use caution; it will boil up volcanically. Stir in vanilla and cook over medium-low to 248 degrees. When it’s close (243-ish), turn down burner, and coast to final temp for more control.
Immediately pour over shortbread, allow to set, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Lift the parchment out of pan. Cut into 1×2 inch pieces with large, sharp knife.

The shortbread is easy-peasy, and can be eaten alone or flavored (Kate Middleton loves lavender shortbread). But carefully follow the caramel instructions. A few degrees off and you’ll have runny caramel sauce, or break a tooth on it.

I invite you to take everything I ever say with a grain of salt. But please, add about a million more to it and put them in your pasta water—every single time.
Thanks for you time.