Winner, Winner, I’ve Got Dinner

“You can’t win it if you’re not in it.”\

That’s Petey’s response whenever there’s a lottery jackpot that nears a billion dollars and I start mentally spending it.  And I’m never in it—I don’t know how to buy anything other than the automatic computer-generated ticket or even its price.

But we do both make the occasional appeal to Lady Luck in the form of entering the odd drawing, both online and in person.

I once won a Lindt milk chocolate Easter bunny.  It was delivered in a huge Styrofoam cooler the size of the trunk the Astor’s took on the Titanic.  The candy was the size of my hand.  It was delicious. 

Years ago, the convenience store near our house had a drawing for a child-sized, pedal-powered Oscar Mayer wiener car that Petey entered, and won.  It was just like the one in the commercials that they drive around the country.  But shrunken down for a kid the size of a three or four-year-old.

Unfortunately, The Kid was seven or eight.  Our poor child looked like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stuffed inside a Smart Car.  Can you smell what the Rock is driving?

So, we gave it to the three-year-old daughter of a close family friend.  You should have seen her zooming around the neighborhood in a seven-foot hotdog—it was a sight to behold.

A few years later, I was in a Hallmark shop and registered for another drawing.  It was for a very large stuffed dog, modeled on Coconut, from the American Girl dolls collection. 

In a shocking twist, I won it.

Then the fun began.  This thing was honestly the size of a Shetland pony.  Getting it in the car was an adventure accompanied by much struggle, sweat, and many PG13 to R rated words.  Driving home, we looked like we were trying to smuggle a fat white buffalo.  Then, The Kid had to find a place for this behemoth, although at thirteen or so, my poor child was actually kind of over stuffed animals, even fluffy ones that took up as much space as a circus calliope.

Finally, a few years later, The Kid was able to pass it on to a patsy, I mean a friend, with a much younger sibling who loved owning it.

Which brings us to my latest win.

A few weeks ago, Petey and I ran into our local Panera.  In the summer, I down gallons of their green smoothies.  They’re healthy, tasty, filling, and I feel particularly virtuous drinking them.  In the restaurant’s entrance, they had a jar for business cards from which they would periodically draw a lucky winner.

So, I tossed in one of mine.

Last week, catering manager Jamonda called and informed me I’d won, and the prize was lunch for my entire office.  Since I work from home, my normal officemates are couch, dog, and Petey.  So, today I gathered together in Greensboro, many of the friends and family that regularly donate time, elbow grease and expertise which facilitate getting this column into print.

And I took up a little something from Panera.  A little something contained in two love seat-sized bags; drinks, soups, sandwiches, salads, crusty baguettes, and a variety of their freshly baked pastries.  It was a crazy generous bounty, and everyone ate like it was Thanksgiving dinner, with leftovers that Petey and I have been snacking on all evening.

So, to sum up; unless somebody wants to give me three quarters of a billion Samolians, I’ll take the Panera spread every time.

Or maybe the chocolate—the chocolate would be good too.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Literally Awesome

As an English major and a semi-professional peddler of words, it’s kind of embarrassing.

Although I can be a tad judgmental concerning other’s use of the English language (please, for all that is holy, it’s new-clea-er, not new-cue-ler), I am not grammar perfect.

I’m fond of the occasional ‘ain’t’, I call the tv remote, the ‘clickety’, and Petey will be happy to inform you that I regularly pronounce po-ta-to, ba-tate-uh.  And because I am a garrulous woman whose enthusiasm is usually set somewhere north of 8 out of 10, I make liberal use of the verbal crutch.

I’m not completely insufferable.  I hardly ever use “like”, “literally”, or “OK”.  But the word ”awesome” crops up in my writing and conversation way more than it should, thereby cheapening the meaning. 

Dictionary.com defines the classic meaning of awesome as, “causing or inducing awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear”.  Awesome’s not a coupon for a dollar off mayo, nor the fact that the shoe store has the pretty flats in size ten, nor is it the absence of a long line at the gas pumps at Costco.

So, this week, in order to pick up awesome and dust it off, I’ve decided to make a list of things that really do inspire me to awe and wonder.  This is just a partial list, because I am caught off guard and moved by many things, every day.

Animals both break my heart and teach me the meaning of nobility.  The absolute trust a dog shows and the faith it has in their people can only be described as an infinite burden of love.  There has never been a human who even came close to deserving the high opinion in which their pets hold them.

And when things go wrong, and they experience pain, they bear it with gentle, unlimited patience.  The power of their character almost brings to my knees.  Their loving generous spirit truly inspire wonder and awe.

The written word, and the way in which a book can pick me up and set me into another reality.  It’s just words.  You can find every one of them in a dictionary.  You use them to make a grocery list or write an email to your boss.  But arranged by the right person they can change one’s life.  They can inform and inspire.  They can cause you to tumble, headfirst into soul-searing grief.

Imagination.  Everything created by men and women was the fruit of creative thinking.  Everything from the art in museums, beautiful clothing and shoes, to tools, and technology all started in somebody’s noggin.  What is almost as awe inspiring is the fact that even after millennia, there is still original work being accomplished and thoughts being thunk.

Chocolate.  Yeah, I know, it’s not Shakespeare, or manned flight, or Lassie.  But think about it.  In the hands of creative humans, a plethora of delicious treats have been created.  If you have a broken heart, there’s ice cream.  It’s not a picnic without chocolate cake.  I have a stash that I keep in case vexation by humans goes beyond my tolerance.  And not much in this world says, “I was thinking of you” like a big stack of gooey, freshly baked brownies, studded with chocolate chips and topped with salted chocolate.

I wish I could promise you that I will hold awesome in higher regard and only use it in the classic, wonder-arousing sense, but I can’t.

I know the next time I’m as excited as a toddler jacked up on cotton candy and crack, and see or hear something that makes me happy, it’s gonna be awesome.

Thanks for your time.

Profile, The Second

This is week two of the Euphoria chef series.  Starting on September 21st, and running through the weekend, Greenville SC will be holding the Euphoria food, wine and music festival.  Chefs from all around the country will attend to cook and teach.

I’ve been lucky enough to interview a few of those attending.  Last week, Chef Scott Crawford of Crawford and Son, in Raleigh was generous enough to do an email interview.Chef Dominique Crenn, is chef/owner of Atelier Crenn and Petit Crenn in San Francisco.  She holds two Michelin stars, and the title of world’s best female chef.  Chef Crenn was a finalist on Food Network’s Next Iron Chef.  She’s also mother to two little girls, and an extremely chic French woman.  I’m a huge admirer.Chef Crenn kindly consented to the interview, but rather than doing it via email, she wanted a telephone conversation.  On one hand, I was thrilled.  But on the other, I was petrified.  I felt like a middle-school science student interrogating Sir Steven Hawking.

I needn’t have worried.  She was gracious and patient.  What follows is a transcript of the call (When you read her answers, imagine them in a charming French accent).France does many, many, many food things better than the US.  What does the US do better?  I don’t know if it’s better than France, what I like about the United States is liberty and freedom, of thinking and creativity.  There is less bureaucracy than in France.

What is the one French food or food experience you miss the most?  My mother’s cooking. What was one of your favorite?  Many, many, many dishes.  She used to make this beautiful whole salmon or any type of fish that used to come from the fish monger.  And roast it with many beautiful vegetables and herbs with some olive oil in the oven.  Just delicious, and I miss that.  And I miss her famous tarte tatin, which is an upside-down apple tart that she used to make—that I miss, a lot.  It’s comfort food, you know?  It’s made with so much love.

What is your guilty pleasure?  Chocolate.What is your favorite?  Maybe a chocolate with a praline (The French pronunciation of praline is prah-lee-nay).

What do you make when you get home from the Atelier and it’s late, and you’re hungry?  Grilled cheese sandwich.

Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn Open-Faced Sandwich

One of Chef’s grilled cheese creations.

What kind of cheese?  Comté cheese, or some type of aged goat cheese.

You have twin daughters, how old are they?  Three years old.

What do they eat for lunch?  Do they like grilled cheese too?  It’s very interesting.  They’re very picky, but they love everything vegetable.  They love pasta and pizza, but we make everything from scratch.  They love cauliflower!  They like to go shop and pick up their own vegetable and go home and cook it, so this is pretty cool.I read what you said about American kids, that they’re our most treasured possession, but we feed them the worst food.  It’s very important to introduce to your kids a very healthy diet.  Fresh food; stay away from the prefab food.  You know in the long run, before the age of four, this is where they get their taste and understanding what food is about, without even knowing, and this is very true.

This ain’t no Ginsu knife, boys and girls…

What five tools can you not live without?  I don’t know if it’s a tool, but I cannot live without salt.  Definitely, a good, sharp knife.

What type of knife do you use?  Japanese.

Please join me next week for more of my conversation with Chef Crenn.

One bad ass woman.

Thanks for your time.

 

Cocoa Loco

Drop your butt and run…it’s Sinbad!

The other day Petey said something hilarious—Sinbad level hilarious.

You ready?

He said that there are some people who don’t like chocolate.  I know, right?  ROFL.

When I was a kid, there used to be pseudo-intellectuals that would claim to never watch TV.  But those same folks sure knew who Archie Bunker was, could name all the Brady kids, and knew who’d answer when you dialed BR-549.  They were boob-tube watching fakers.And as for chocolate.  There are two kinds of people: those who love chocolate, and liars.

Although I may occasionally shade the truth to spare feelings, “Oh my gosh!  What a baby!  Look at that face!”.  When it comes to that creamy, dark, tropical treat I’m a bona fide choco-phile.  Right now in my kitchen, not counting the Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder, there are twelve different chocolate items (jeez, written out like that, it does look a little coo coo…).

My point is, I really, really love all things chocolate: milk, dark, or in a serious pinch white chocolate (Which doesn’t actually contain any chocolate solids. True white chocolate only contains cocoa butter; thus its creamy white hue.). Today I have a special recipe.  It’s one that reminds me of a special treat from the mists of my childhood, when disco was king and Jordache jeans roamed the earth.

One summer, we were visiting my mom’s home state of New Jersey, and staying with her brother, and my god father, Uncle Sammy, his wife Candy, and their three kids.  One day, all of us kids were feverishly tap dancing upon the last nerve of every adult present.

We’d left them with but two choices; begin drinking heavily and keep it up for the duration of our visit, or get us kids out of the house to work off some energy, or as my mother so charmingly says, “Go outside and get the stink blowed off yuh”.With five kids from the ages ranging from 12 to four to look after, the grownups chose the alcohol-free option.  We packed up swimsuits, sandwiches, and flip-flops.  Sammy and Candy were taking us to their lake club.  It was set in a pine grove, with lots of shade, sand, and refreshment vendors.

We swam and played until lunch, and then to keep our full bellies out of the water, each kid was given two crisp new dollar bills, to spend as we saw fit. I probably got an icy bottle of coke, and a bag of chips.  I saw the Italian ice man.  I made a beeline to see what flavors they had.  They had the mandatory lemon, strawberry, grape, and orange.  But, they also had another flavor, chocolate.  That was a new one on me.

I ordered it.  It was amazing; like chocolate ice cream, but with no dairy.  It was deeply, darkly, intensely chocolate.  The flavor was rich, but not heavy.  It was a frozen, dark chocolate dream.

Since that day, every time I run into somebody selling Italian ice, I cross my finger and hope they have chocolate.  My dreams have always been dashed until I came upon the Italian ice cart at the state fairgrounds flea market.  They’ve got it, and it’s as delicious as I remembered.These days I don’t have to go all the way to Raleigh for my fix.  I discovered chocolate sorbet.  An ice cream company named Talenti makes one that I always try to have on hand.  It’s a little denser than an ice, but really full of flavor, not too sweet, and dairy-free, so it’s only 150 calories per serving.  It’s perfect when I want…no when I need, a big hit of chocolate.

The sorbetto comes in a plastic jar with a screw-off lid.  I keep my freezer at 0 degrees, but it’s always a spoon-able consistency because I throw the whole shebang into a gallon sized zip top bag.  It was a tip from The Kid.  Don’t know how it works, it just does.  It’s great for all frozen treats, and cuts down on both freezer burn and the potential for picking up weird flavors from fellow freezer denizens.

Occasionally I have a hard time finding the Talenti.  In that emergency situation, I make my own.  If you have an ice cream maker, it’s a breeze.  If you don’t; granita (a confection that’s frozen in a pan, and while freezing frequently scraped with a fork to create a granular texture) is an option.And the next time you meet someone who insists they don’t like chocolate, tell ‘em to stop, drop, and roll, ‘cause somebody’s pants are smoking.

Thanks for your time.

Emergency chocolate sorbet

Makes about 1 quartchocolate sorbet2 ¼ cups water

1 cup sugar

¾ cups Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In large saucepan, whisk together 1 ½ cups water with the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Bring to boil whisking frequently. Let it boil, continuing to whisk for 45 seconds. Remove from the heat and stir in chocolate until it’s melted, then stir in vanilla and remaining ¾ cup water. Transfer mixture to blender (or use an immersion blender) and blend for 15 seconds. Chill mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. If mixture has become too thick to pour into your machine, whisk it vigorously to thin it out.

Chocolate porn.

Sunday in the market with The Kid

So the sale wasn’t really the bomb diggity, but the food was great.Well over a month ago, I got an email from The Kid with a link to a giant clearance sale.  It was J Crew and Madewell, at the state fairgrounds.  The suggestion was to get Gramma and Grampa up from Greensboro and we’d all attend.

Well, I went to high school in the eighties, and am unrepentantly preppie.  I never met an oxford cloth shirt or a pair of deck shoes I didn’t like.  I owned two add-a-bead necklaces (lapis & silver and onyx & gold), and a Bermuda bag with about 20 different covers. So, I’m down with J Crew.  And I love Madewell.  We decided to go.

If we’d been in the market for an evening gown, a wedding dress, or a navy blue coat, we would’ve been at the perfect sale.  But, we weren’t.  Instead, we played “find the flaw” in the seconds, and competed to find the ugliest item.  I won with a knee-length coat (I think it was a coat).  The cuffs and neck were the scratchy gray knit of an ugly Grandpa sweater, and the body was perforated leather in a particularly phlegmy shade of yellow.

After our visit to the sale, we headed to the flea market.I really need to go to the flea market more often.  I had forgotten all about one of my very favorite vendors: the Italian Ice cart.

These are not your mother’s Italian ices; they’re my mother’s.  Coming from jersey, she knows the real deal, and has given me very high standards.  They are not the artificially colored, overly sweet, under-ly flavored cups normally found in NC.

They are very much like sorbet.  The Kid had creamsicle, Mom picked strawberry/kiwi, Dad went with green apple.  Everybody loved them.  The ices are all full of flavor and refreshing, but light.My ice was the unorthodox flavor of chocolate.  Most people outside of Jersey don’t even know ices come in chocolate.  But it does, and when done right, as this was, is a deep, rich, not too sweet celebration of cocoa.

I was then the recipient of great good fortune, all due to a highly uncharacteristic act by The Kid.

Normally my child doesn’t take the lead on eating samples unless we’re in Costco.  But we walked into a food stall which had pimento cheese sandwich samples.  My offspring partook.

Long ago I decided the only good pimento cheese is from Fresh Market.  They’ve ruined me for all others, I loudly proclaimed.

Until today; when I had a bite of The Kid’s sample.  My socks were fully and forcefully blown right off.The company is Heavenly Beezzz (not a typo, that’s how it’s spelled).  It is now and forever, officially the best pimento cheese ever.  The Kid thought so, too.

The coolest thing about it is that in addition to the regulation mild and spicy varieties, they have a third version using very sharp cheddar, for which we are huge suckers.

They also have lots of jams, jellies, and pickles.  And, in accordance with the name, lots of honey products, including creamed honey.  In this form, it makes a terrific spread on biscuits.  A schmear of this along with a little butter on a piece of toasted whole wheat and you would swear you’re eating a plate of French toast.They’re at the fairgrounds every week, or you can check out their website at WWW.Heavenlybeezzz.com.

Despite the disappointing sale, we had a blast.  I always forget how much fun the flea market is, until I go again.  And I’ll bet you do too.

So while the weather is nice, pack up the kids, put on some comfortable shoes, and take a trip to the fairgrounds.

And while you’re there, would you mind picking up a chocolate ice for me?  I’ll pay you for it.ice cream moneyThanks for your time.

Outdo Cupid on Valentine’s Day

This is a very special column.Normally this column is written for those of you who have an affinity for all things culinary.  Cooking, dining, food history, tips and recipes; it’s all fodder for the person who knows their way around a kitchen.  I write for the person whose refrigerator contains more than panty hose, batteries, and cocktail olives.

But this week’s column is for Petey-level cooks who desire to be heroes on February 14th.

If I disappeared tomorrow, my ever-loving spouse would probably be hospitalized for malnutrition and most likely scurvy within weeks.  His diet would consist of frozen pizza, microwave popcorn, dum-dum suckers and fast food.But even he could pull off this recipe.  I promise.

If you can read a recipe and follow simple instructions, you can create a delicious, impressive treat that will wow your significant other.It’s a combination cookie and candy.  There are layers of buttery shortbread, creamy caramel, decadent chocolate, topped with a light sprinkling of flaky sea salt.  It’s normally known as ‘millionaire’s shortbread’.  But because this version is so deceptively easy, I call it, ‘Windfall shortbread’.

The shortbread portion is adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart.  But it’s simple to prepare.  As for the chocolate, the type is up to you.  Grocery store chips or gourmet artisan bars, pick either.  Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, a combination, or even (heaven forfend) white; choose the recipient’s fave.

Making caramel from scratch is an extremely tricky business, with candy thermometers and napalm-like molten sugar.  Even for professionals, the results might be perfect, or instead, toffee-like, watery, or one big rock.  Pre-made caramels guarantee consistent, perfect results every time.

Windfall shortbreadmarthas-shortbread

1 1/3 cups (2 sticks plus 6 tablespoons) brown butter, room temperature (brown butter is optional-regular salted butter is perfectly acceptable instead)

2/3 cup sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

The beans scraped from 1 vanilla bean

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Make brown butter: melt butter on medium-low in small saucepan.   Watch it constantly until it foams, and then browns.  When it smells nutty and the milk solids are caramel-colored, remove from heat and pour into a bowl.  Cool until it solidifies and is room temperature.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Butter a 9X13 baking pan, and line bottom with buttered parchment paper with enough overhang on sides to act as handles.

In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and vanilla scrapings.  Beat to combine.  Add flour, 1 cup at a time, beating on low until combined, but still crumbly.

Pour dough into prepared pan and press it down.  Level and smooth the top, using something like a metal measuring cup to pack it into a nice, neat, even layer in the pan. The pieces will separate easier after baking if you slice before baking.  Cut into 2X2-inch pieces by lowering blade all the way through.  Don’t saw, you’ll disturb the shortbread’s surface.  To forestall it from bubbling up, prick each piece with a toothpick about 4-5 times—push it all the way to the bottom. 

Bake shortbread until evenly pale golden, but not browned, 70-85 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack to cool.

Time for the caramel:Unwrap 1 ½-11 ounce bags of Kraft caramels, and place in a microwave-safe bowl.  Pour in 1 ½ tablespoons milk.  Nuke for 1 ½-2 minutes or completely melted and silky.  Pour over cooled shortbread in pan.  Place in fridge for 20 minutes.

Chocolate layer:Melt two 10 ounce bags of chips or five 4 ounce baking bars, of your choice.  Put in large bowl and microwave on 15 second intervals, stirring after each.  When completely melted, pour chocolate over the cooled caramel; smooth top with spatula.  Sprinkle with flaky finishing salt.  Allow to fully set.

When set, lift up shortbread with parchment and place on cutting board.  Using serrated knife, gently break off pieces at original cuts.  Store in an airtight container.  Recipe makes approximately 18 pieces.

Wrap these up nice and pretty, present them to the object of your affection, and then drop the mic.Because my friend; you just won Valentine’s Day.

Thanks for your time.

A baking lesson, plus there’s pie!

I have a dirty little secret.Despite possessing a fair hand in the kitchen, I’ve never made a pie with which I was happy.  I haven’t killed anybody, but nobody has ever asked for the recipe, or even seconds.  Humdrum pies are my cross to bear.  With grace and dignity I try to soldier on regardless of the back-breaking burden that fate has chosen for me (besides, my mom makes killer pies, and she’s very generous).

I acted as judge today at the NC State Fair.  The contest was Gold Medal Flour “Best Pie” Contest.  Because there were so many entrants, they broke us into 2 teams of 5 or 6 each. And we got down to work.Almost at the end of our team’s pies Lisa brought around a green silky pie with flecks of lime zest visible.  It was called a key lime fudge.  They gave us all pieces and we chowed down.  I and one other judge at my table loved it. It was almost like two pies in one.  The top layer was tart yet sweet.  The chocolate layer was silky and lingered on the tongue.  I never would have predicted that key lime and chocolate would be so delicious and my very faorite out of a huge assortment of pies.

And we had a ton of pie.  At the end of our voting, I realized that even though I was there to judge, I had gained something I can carry with me to improve every pie I’ll make from now on.

The first lesson is buttermilk does very flavorful things to a pie crust.

Don’t roll you crust out too thickly, or it will not cook, and you will have a pale dough-ey crust,

Don’t neglect salt in both the crust and the filling.Apples can be problematic, cut them small enough so that they are cooked through.  And taste them before you cook them. The last lesson was probably the most important.

Don’t decide you don’t like a food unless you have tasted it. And don’t prejudge a food, or flavors, or people.  Even after living on this rock for more than a half century, delightfully, I am still able to have my socks knocked right off.

Melissa Bentley’s Key Lime Fudge Pie

Crust

key-lime-crust

1/2 Cup Sweetened Shredded Coconut

1 1/4 Cups Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour (plus more for rolling)

Pinch of Salt

1/2 Cup (1stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, cold

3 to 5 tablespoons cream of coconut, cold, as needed

Fillingchoc-lime-pie4oz Dark Chocolate, chopped

1 Cup plus 3 Tablespoons heavy cream

1 (11oz package) white chocolate chips

1 Tablespoon sour cream

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

1/3 Cup Key Lime Juice

Directions

Make the crust: Pulse the coconut in the food processor until finely chopped. Add the Gold Metal Flour and salt and pulse again. Add the butter to the mixture and pulse until butter pieces are pea-sized. Pulse in the cream of coconut one tablespoon at a time as needed, until dough comes together. Turn dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, refrigerate for up to an hour. Preheat oven to 375. Roll the dough on floured space until it is 1 inch larger then pie pan. Press into a 9-inch pan, crimp the edges. Set a sheet of foil over crust and fill with pie weights and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until bottom is cooked, 10 more minutes. Let cool completely before filling.

Filling: In a microwave melt the dark chocolate and 3 tablespoons heavy cream, stir until smooth. Let cool to room temperature about 15 minutes. Pour over pie crust and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

In a pan over medium heat, melt together the white chocolate chips and 1 cup heavy cream until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream, lime zest and lime juice. Pour into the cooled crust and refrigerate for 30 minutes.I’d like to leave you with a tip.  If you need a heat source to keep something hot, hollow out a  large pumpkin, and cut holes around it, for ventilation.  Place a Sterno inside the pumpkin and light.  Then set you dish on top.  It’s very festive. Thursday I’m going back for another contest.  I’ll report back and let you know what happened.

Thursday I’m going back for another contest.  This time, it’s pecans (Woo Hoo!).  I’ll report back and let you know what happened.

Thanks for your time.

So very proud in Durham

Cumulatively, in my entire life, I don’t think I have been thanked as much as I was yesterday afternoon.

Caution: Subject may appear way nerdier than he actually is.

I hung out with Maxie, one of my oldest friends.  We met in high school.  Doing the math yesterday, we realized we’ve been friends for thirty-seven years.  He is basically the nicest guy on the planet–I’ve never even seen him cranky.

Maxie and his husband Mark were at Durham Pride.  Pride is a weekend of activities celebrating, advocating, and supporting the LGBT community.  Through their church, Calvary United Methodist, they would hand out bottles of water to parade participants.  I joined them.How to describe the scene?  Well, imagine if colors, glitter, and feathers had rained from the sky, and this rain not only coated everyone, but made everybody it touched into best friends.  The air was thick with love and fun.  It was a grand example of the brotherhood of humanity.  I felt lucky to be there.

But.

In our shade-less spot it was hotter than deep-fried fire.  We were passing out bottles of water as fast as we could.  I’ve no idea how many bottles went through my sunburned paws, but in return for each and every one I received a giant smile and heart-felt thanks.

This was my favorite float in the whole parade.  If I live to 1000, I’ll never be as fabulous as the sisters.

We ran out at least twice, and volunteers made a run to Harris Teeter.  By the end, 2100 bottles had been handed out.  And I had a blast.

Afterward, the three of us were famished, so we walked up to Dane’s Place (754 9th St) for lunch.  Everybody ordered cheeseburgers, and nobody was disappointed.  They have about twenty possible toppings, so our every whim was satisfied.  I had cheddar, grilled onions, and tomatoes, slathered with way too much mayo, just the way I like it.  They also have a really good fountain Coke, and the best tater tots in town.

img_1168

Here I am in Dane’s, the filling in a man sandwich.  Check out that glitter on Mark.

After lunch, I ran a couple of errands on the way home.  First I hit Whole Foods.  After that meal there was no way I was making a big dinner for Petey and myself, so I picked up one of my spouse’s favorite dinners from their grab and go section.

That man loves Whole Foods burritos.  His traditional fave has been chicken adobo.  But recently it’s been AWOL and in its place they’ve had chicken mole.  Mole’s a complex sauce with seeds, nuts, spices, and usually some unsweetened chocolate.  From the way he devoured it, I don’t think he misses the adobo one bit.After that stop I was starting to hanker for chocolate.  Since I calculated that during my stint as water girl I’d worked off forty or fifty pounds, I headed to one of my favorite stops for sweet self-indulgences; Parker and Otis.

Luckily for my waistline, fate had different plans.

They had many gorgeous, delicious-looking treats on offer (six kinds of cupcakes, blondies, brownies, and assorted cookies), but they also had my favorite P&O summer-time treat: fresh corn and tomato salad.  They cut the fresh corn off the cob in big pieces and mix it with assorted small tomatoes, red onion, and parsley, all tossed in a simple oil and vinegar dressing.  Instead of sweets, I bought a half pound of summer salad.  But I could happily eat a bucket of it.While I was waiting for the salad to be packaged, I wandered around their autumn and Halloween displays.  Store owner Jennings Brody has curated a seasonal collection which includes everything from mallow pumpkins (my personal favorite) to very exclusive hand-crafted chocolates. If you need a dose of either sweets or fall inspiration, Parker & Otis is one of the best spots in Durham.  Regardless of the temperature outside, you’ll leave with the rustle of fallen leaves in your head, and the desire for a cozy sweater to wrap around your shoulders.So, although yesterday was an entirely new experience and one of the most fun days I’ve had in a long time, it was also a typical day in Durham.

Because even though Pride is only one weekend each September, our Bull City is an off-beat, charming mix of diversity, acceptance, and friendship, with a generous helping of delicious, unique food every single day of the year.

I just love this twisted little burg.

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.

carnation

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.

Brigadeiros

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.

sprinkles

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Thank You Brownies

“Make him those brownies!”

I was having lunch with Chefs James Clark and Bill Hartley.  We were discussing exciting news.

I originally met the guys in their positions as executive chef and executive sous at the Crossroads Carolina.  Each time I went, they stuffed me like a Christmas goose with their expertly prepared food.

They’d recently left the Carolina Inn to open their own place, in Pittsboro.  It’s to be a fish house called Postal Fish Company.  And due to planned twice weekly trips to the coast, the freshest, most sustainable seafood this side of the ocean will be served.  The projected opening date is Fall 2017.

postal fish

We’ve sat down a couple of times, to discuss those plans.

The first time we met was for breakfast.  Since every time I visited the Carolina they fed me, I decided that turnabout is fair play.  So I baked them some treats.

It was a new version of my jacked-up brownies.  I’d come up with them when I made them for a couple of my old high school friends with whom I meet for monthly lunches.

They’d been such a big hit I thought Chefs Bill and James might enjoy them.  The funny thing is, they couldn’t be easier—it starts with a box.

Appreciation Brownies

thank you brownies

1 9X13 box fudge brownies (I usually use Duncan Hines)

2 eggs

2/3 cup + 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

¼ cup hot water mixed with 1 tablespoon espresso powder

¼ cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon kosher salt

12-ounce bag mini semisweet chocolate chips

1-1.69 ounce bag plain M & M’s

Topping:

1-1.69 ounce bag plain M& M’s (two bags total)

¾ cup salted pretzel pieces

1 teaspoon large flaky sea salt (like Maldon salt)

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 9X13 baking pan, line with parchment paper, and grease as well.

In a large bowl, mix first 6 ingredients.  Put in mini chips, and stir vigorously, scraping the bottom of bowl to make sure they’re fully mixed.  Fold in one bag M & M’s.  Pour into pan, and spread batter with spatula so that it’s flat and level.

Sprinkle top with second bag of M & M’s and pretzel pieces.  Place in oven on middle rack and bake for 13 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle Maldon salt evenly over the top of brownies.  Return to oven and bake for 13 more minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on kitchen counter and/or fridge until fully cool.  Using the parchment paper, lift out brownies and cut into 12-16 pieces.

I think Chefs James and Bill liked them.

Last week we met again; this time for lunch at an amazing place in Chapel Hill called Sandwich.

Everything is homemade, with a menu loaded with sandwiches, salads, and polenta bowls.  They make potato chips from scratch.  And their freshly cut fries are as good as Al’s at the state fair.

While we were eating, I told the guys that our neighbor had repaired the AC in our jeep.  I was crazy grateful, and couldn’t even guess how much money he had saved us.  I wanted to do something to thank him, but I wasn’t sure what to do.  Did they have any ideas?

Their recommendation is where we came in.

While I was out walking the dog yesterday, I ran into my neighbor.  He, his wife, and all his in-laws loved the brownies.  So I guess they’ve become my official thank you gift.

Great suggestion, Chef James and Bill; I’m grateful.

Thanks for your time.