Delirious Dessert

Mobile family

This is us.

After putting a roof over our heads, feeding five mouths, and having a daughter with a serious Barbie habit (me), there wasn’t a ton of money in my family for sugary treats at the grocery store.

When I was a child, my dad was in the Coast Guard, risking his life so that others may live. This meant he was subject to the will of the US government.  Recently, we’ve seen this fact driven home in a manner that illustrates it far better than I ever could. But, this meant there was one parent who could be called to the base in an emergency with no idea when he would return home.  Because of this, my mother was a stay-at-home mom.

What we lacked in cash, mom made up in time.  My mom likes to have, what she calls, “a little sweet around the house”.  We rarely had store-bought confections though; instead, she baked. Simple, cheap, tasty things from stuff we usually had in the house, like bread pudding, popsicles from Jell-O, preacher cookies, and cream puffs.  One of our favorites was her wacky cake that she topped with fudge frosting.

When The Kid was in elementary school, learning about the WWII Homefront, we discovered that the cake, with its lack of eggs, and dairy, had been a “Victory” recipe that rationing made popular.One awesome thing about my mom: she believes it’s perfectly acceptable to have pie, cake, or even rice crispy treats for breakfast (See? Awesome.).  Occasionally Mom would splurge on a specific store-bought treat for weekend breakfast.

It was orange rolls in a can.  Bake, and when still warm, frost with this drippy, drizzly orange icing.  I love those darned things.  Just the smell of them make me feel like a little kid eating breakfast at the kitchen table in my flannel nightgown.Recently I stumbled upon a vanilla version of my mother’s wacky cake.  Adding cinnamon makes it more similar to those orange rolls.  Last fall I went to Fearrington Village farmer’s market and met Nathan Simons, who with his wife Audrey, creates silky, flavored nut butters.  My favorite is their hazelnut/orange.  Which reminds me of those canned orange rolls, but in the very best, most delicious way.IMG_1502.jpgFind Simons Says Nut Butters at

Vanilla-Cinnamon Kooky Cake with Hazelnut-Orange Fudge Frostingvanilla wacky cake1 & 1/2 cups + 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon white vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease 8-inch square baking pan. Mix dry ingredients in pan. Then make three depressions in them. Pour vinegar in one, vanilla in another and vegetable oil in third. Then pour water over top and mix until smooth.

Bake 35 minutes. Cool completely and then top with frosting.

Fudge Frosting:hazelnut orange butter1 & 1/2 cups sugar

7 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons shortening

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup Simons Says hazelnut orange butter

Once cake is cool, combine sugar, milk, shortening, butter, and salt in heavy saucepan. Bring to rolling boil while stirring constantly.

Once it boils, stop stirring and let boil for two minutes or until soft ball stage (235 degrees F.).

Remove from heat and add vanilla and hazelnut butter. Beat by hand until smooth and quickly spread over cake.The Kid will tell anybody who asks, Grampa’s a superhero.  The Kid’s not far off.  If you know someone who served their country in the Coast Guard or another branch, say thanks.  Or better yet, give them a piece of this cake.Thanks for your time.

Tattoo You

I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo, but please don’t misunderstand me.

I shed blood with a disturbing regularity.  From kitchen knives to the zipper on my Levi’s, if something has an edge, I figure out a way to perforate myself with it.  But because I hate needles and shots so very much, I haven’t had a tetanus shot since the 11th grade, when I wrecked my friend Billy’s motorcycle.  And what is a tattoo, if not getting a few hundred thousand shots, one right after the other?I’ve been thinking about the act of a random human getting a tattoo.

The most important thing our random human must do is make an informed decision about the what and where of it.

Do you really want to be full when you’re faced with this?

It’s like a being at a buffet the length of a football field, and you can only eat so much before you drop dead.  What if there’s a lot of good stuff up front?  Your plate might be filled before you get to items that may be chocolate.  Or have frosting.

Yup, somebody did this on purpose.

So, what if you pick something ridiculous to have permanently inked on your body?  You think the internet has a long memory?  Think about the permanence of a portrait of Santa, Martha Stewart, and Churchill playing Yahtzee while wearing footy pajamas inked upon your tender flesh.  Or decisions made while under the influence of chemicals.  Or under the influence of the one, highly moronic buddy everybody has; you know the one with ideas that sound “Epic Bro!” late at night, but more like utter lunacy in the cold light of day?

Yeah, that guy.Maybe you don’t pick something dumb, or offensive, or pornographic.  But maybe, you pick one that screams. “Drunken sorority girl on spring break 2002”.  There are reputable tattoo shops who refuse to do tired clichés like butterflies, dolphins, and roses.

And you know there’s no Grammarly anywhere on your body.  Misspellings and grave grammatical errors can and do occur.  Do you really want to travel this road called life with “Daddy’s little angle”, “Never don’t give up”, or “You only live wunce”?

Keep looking…there’s a second one.

Okay, you’ve thought about everything that can go wrong, picked something totally original and meaningful, and there are no words to misspell.  It’s now time to figure out where it’s gonna go.

Will it be in a secret spot that only you, your physician, and the TSA know about?  Or will this art be for public consumption?  The tattooist will shave hairy areas before they’re inked.  But unless you want that spot-on Madonna portrait to look like the bearded lady at the circus, you’re going to need to keep on shaving.Don’t forget the thousands of needle pricks.  Unless there’s not an inch of sag or flab on your bod, there’s a troubling dichotomy; soft padded areas are tough to legibly ink and tight bony places are excruciatingly painful.  And some places are both soft and painful; like palms of hands and soles of feet.  Palms and soles also fade fairly quickly.  So, you’ve spent hours paying lots of your hard-earned money to someone to torture you, and it fades to illegibility in eighteen months.

It’s imperative that you make a considered decision when picking the body part to be decorated.  For most people, tattooed faces and hands signal the human canvas has given up on polite society.  Tattooist put this thought in a different, harsher statement; they call the locations: “everlasting job stoppers”.

Don’t call us, we’ll call…Hey! What are you doing with that knife?

But really, all joking aside, there are plenty of intelligent, thoughtful folks who choose to be tatted up (The Kid is one of them).  It’s not my bag, but hey, you do you.

My point and plea is think before you ink.  Like tattooist Craig Jackman from American Electric Tattoo Company in Los Angeles says, “I like it when people put thought into their stupid ideas.”Thanks for your time.

Sweet Dreams

Did you ever have one of those dreams where you’re in a bakery or candy store surrounded by treats?  And you can’t decide what you’re gonna start with?  And right before you take the first bite you wake up?

Yeah, that happened to me.  I was sitting at a table in Chapel Hill, looking down at eight different gorgeous sweet treats.  Only this time, nobody was shaking me awake to take out the dog, or catch the school bus, or get ready for work.

I was awake and got to partake.

But before I take a bite, I should probably go back to the very beginning.

Chef James Clark is executive chef of the Crossroads Restaurant in the beautiful and historic Carolina Inn on the campus of UNC.  I met him right after he started there.  I can truthfully say that his friendship is one of the best things to have come from writing this column.

He has three main characteristics that make him particularly well-suited to his position.

1.) He is a nurturing host.  It all boils down to his desire to take care of people.  He observes his staff and guests with a paternal eye.  He desires to bring the best out of his employees by teaching and encouraging, rather than shaming and berating.  Toward every hotel and restaurant guest, he strives to exceed all of their desires and fulfill wishes they didn’t even know they possessed.

I have never left his kingdom without being full of delicious food, and delighted by the way that he can always add one more element to my time there that is both a complete surprise to me and just the right thing to make a visit unforgettably special; it’s Chef James’ modus operandi

Image result for chef james clark

Madison Clark, and dad James.

2.) He is a good old Southern boy.  With all his heart he loves the food and culture of the South.  Chef reveres the creativity and skill of the generations before him.  He honors their history by getting the very best local ingredients, manipulating them with talent and a sense of history, and coaxing out the very best of each component.

3.) The man’s a world-class, classically trained chef.  Once you’ve learned and studied all the rules, then if you have the expertise and imagination you can play with them.  And Chef James has lots of fun in the kitchen.  He takes a common, old-fashioned recipe, elevates the ingredients and procedure, and turns out an homage to classic Southern fare.

But don’t confuse classic with stuffy.  Chef James may be a dignified executive chef, but from him, you’ll get absolutely no love for swank and pretense.

His take on Eastern NC bbq is a perfect example.  The plate comes with an old-school, pointy-topped vinegar bottle of sauce.  There’s pork, but a perfectly seared and juicy tenderloin.  The cole slaw is a bright yet sweet slaw of spiral cut veg.  Sous Chef Jonathon James’ take on cornbread is a delicious, sweet, zippy corn pudding.

Corn Poblano Pudding

corn puddingCorn Base:

1 Cup Fresh Corn                                                                                             

1 Cup Whole Milk                                                                                             

Caramelize corn in a hot medium sauté pan, deglaze milk reduce by a ¼. Blend on high until smooth but some of the texture of the corn remains


1 ½ Cup Corn base    

1 Poblano Pepper, roasted (charred skin and seeds removed, then diced)

8 Eggs

1 Cup Heavy Cream   

2 Tablespoons Chili Powder 

1 ½ Cups Cheddar Cheese (grated)  

¾ – 1 Cup Corn Muffin Mix (*Debbie here—I would go with something like Jiffy)                                                                                        

Salt & Pepper To Taste

Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the cast iron vessel you are using to bake pudding in so it is hot when time to bake. Spray vessel well and bake approx.. 15 minutes. Top should bounce to the touch.

There just isn’t enough room in this piece to tell you all about Petey and Debbie’s excellent adventure.  So next week  I’ll write more tales of our night, including the world’s greatest pasta course, how I ate some of each seafood that arrived at our table, and what I did with all those desserts (and no, I didn’t leave Petey for all that sugary bounty—he’s sitting here right next to me).



See?  He’s just fine.

Thanks for your time.


Hey jalousie

Jalousie is a French word, meaning louvers.  It’s also the technical name of this week’s dish.

But I have given it an American twist, used my writer’s prerogative, and renamed it.

This new recipe is now called “Saloon Doors”.

I learn the oddest and most arcane things writing these essays each week.  I should rent myself out for trivia games.  For today’s topic I did a little research on those swinging louvered doors festooning saloon entrances in Western movies.

And discovered they’re pretty much a Hollywood invention.

Think about it, having half doors swinging in the wind would have been a horrible idea for someplace like Montana in January.  And using those doors would have left no manner of securing the saloon when closed—which it did for at least a few hours every day (Miss Kitty needs her sleep, y’all).

But they make for very dramatic entrances of black-hatted villains and white-hatted heroes into the saloon and thus Tinsel Town has implanted them irrevocably into our collective psyche.

Anyway, back to my own, edible, clichéd, saloon doors.  The recipe calls for puff pastry, manipulated, stuffed and baked.  So once you know the procedure, you can fill it to your taste and occasion.  As a jumping-off place I’ll give you four ideas for filling; breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.  Where you go from there is up to you.

This recipe is made with frozen puff pastry, found in most supermarkets, and made by layering dough with butter, rolling, and refolding, countless times.  This gives it up to a thousand layers.  The water in the butter evaporates while baking.  This produces steam which gives the puff.

I offer a few pieces of advice.  Try to purchase all-butter pastry; it tastes and cooks better.  Let it thaw overnight in the fridge, or if not possible, on the counter until it can be unfolded and worked.  If you seal the edges, you will not get left.  So don’t get egg wash on them; it’ll glue them shut.  When cutting; cut, don’t press.  When sealing the two pieces, be gentle.  Egg wash, then cut the slats, so the steam can escape.

Saloon doors

(Makes 2 complete pastries)

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed

1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 425.

Cut each sheet in half.  Lay out two pieces on parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Spread filling on each, leaving a ¾ inch border.  Brush beaten egg on naked border.  Fill. Top each piece with the other sheet.  Lightly press border to seal.  Brush egg on top layer.  Leaving ¾ inch border, cut 1-inch horizontal slats down the length of each piece.

Bake at 425 until the pastry begins to brown and puff.  Lower oven to 375 and bake until dough is dry, crisp and deep golden-brown.

Slice and serve.  Makes 4-6 servings.

Breakfast Filling:

breakfast door

Scramble 10 eggs.  Season.  Cook 6 slices bacon until crisp. Spread eggs onto bottom sheets of pastry, leaving ¾ inch border.  Sprinkle on crumbled bacon and chopped fresh parsley.  Top with pinched off pieces of goat or Boursin cheese.  Cover with second piece, brush with egg wash, and cut slats, leaving border.

Bake according to directions above.


lunch door

Sauté leeks and mushrooms until browned and dry.  Spread on pastry.  Sprinkle on julienned prosciutto.  Using a potato peeler, scrape ribbons of Parmesan cheese over top.  Lay on top pastry, prepare, and bake.


dinner door

Spread thin layer of pesto on bottom of sheets.  Cover with shredded rotisserie chicken.  Dot with sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese bits.  Finish and bake.


dessert door

Spread half of a jar of black cherry preserves on each sheet.  Cut one 8-ounce block of cream cheese into small squares.  Top preserves with cream cheese, and dot with toasted, chopped pecans.   Cover, finish, and bake.  Sprinkle cooled tart with powdered sugar, and serve with whipped cream, or ice cream.

These are easy, but look impressive.  If you often have unexpected guests, it’s not a bad idea to keep a box of puff pastry in your freezer.  You could fill them with anything that you have on hand.  And when you carry out one of these puppies they’ll be so fancy looking, you’ll make Martha Stewart look like a slacker.

Thanks for your time.