A Handfull of Vowels

Every year, my grandmother sent us a package for Christmas.  An old-school, wrapped in brown paper, tied with a string package.

Inside were two things.  One was the very fruitcake that every Christmas fruitcake joke is based on.  She’d baked it, wrapped it in cotton fabric, and continually drenched it in some type of alcohol for months.  It was so full of hooch it made the mailman drunk just delivering it. When Dad unwrapped that bandaged baked good, my mom, two brothers, and I eyed it like it was a coiled rattlesnake or a six-car pile-up.  It frightened and upset us, but held over us a primal fascination, and we couldn’t look away.  If that stuff had been weaponized, and the Russians knew about it, the cold war would have been won by the USA in the mid-sixties.The second item in the box was a large coffee can.  Inside was something that our family literally fought over.  Each time somebody walked into the kitchen, they’d walk out munching, and the rest of us would grumble and quickly find a reason to go in there ourselves and exit munching.

In that Maxwell House can was my grandmother’s scrabble.



Granny had her own vocabulary.  She called pimples. “hickeys”.  One didn’t brush their teeth, they cleaned them.  Her word for posterior was bum.  A crick is a creek.  And, scrabble was Chex mix.

Her stuff was addictive.  When the can was empty we’d run our fingers around it and lick them—or at least I did.  She used Cheerios and All Bran in addition to Chex cereal, peanuts, and pretzels.  Then she made a seasoned butter that tied everything together in savory, garlicky succulence.I never thought to get her recipe for the butter, so I make my own version.  I leave out the All Bran and use deluxe mixed nuts from the Peanut Roaster in Henderson.  It’s not the same as the scrabble that came in the mail, sealed up in coffee cans, but like hers, it’s pretty hard to keep one’s fingers out of it.

Granny-inspired Scrabblescrabble dry1-10 ounce can fancy mixed nuts

Rice Chex

Corn Chex


Gluten-free pretzels

Butter Sauce:chex butter12 ounces butter (1 ½ sticks)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 ½ teaspoons mushroom soy (or other very thick flavorful soy)

1 ½ teaspoons Goya adobo seasoning blend-bitter orange flavor

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon smoked sweet paprika

Dash of cayenne or hot sauce (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 275.  Place inside oven two large rimmed baking sheets.

Empty nuts into large bowl.  Using the empty nut cup, measure out the next four ingredients, plus an extra ½ of the cup of your favorite ingredient (mine’s rice chex).

Melt butter on medium-low and whisk in rest of sauce ingredients except salt & pepper.  Pour over nut/cereal mixture.  Very gently, fold to coat, then taste for seasoning.  Add salt & pepper as needed.

Pour mixture into pans, half in each.  Carefully stirring every 15 minutes, bake for 45-60 minutes until browned and toasty.

Let cool and store in airtight container or zip-top bags for up to three weeks.  Makes about eight cups.A few variations: add different nuts or cereal.  Make the butter, adding minced sundried tomatoes, let it cool to softened butter stage, then put it into a piece of plastic wrap, roll into neat log and refrigerate.  This flavored butter can be used on meat, pasta, or with some Parmesan cheese grated on top, delicious garlic bread.

The cereal mix is perfect for game day.

So, get off your bum, throw those boring chips into the crick, and make some scrabble.Thanks for your time.

Bread’s Greatest Hits

My grandmother was a straight-up, bona fide, character.Her name was Geraldine.  She looked (and acted) like an Old Testament prophetess.  She was very tall, thin, and wore her iron-gray, waist length hair in a very tight bun during the day and in a long, ropey braid when she went to bed.

Granny was tough and blunt.  She had plenty of rules and expected everyone to fall in line.  My dad always said his mother was a “test pilot at the broom factory”.

You know, she actually did bear a resemblance to Margeret Hamilton…

She married my grandfather in October of 1929.  Somehow, she fed and clothed her growing family during the greatest economic crisis this country has ever known.

She was enormously frugal and wasted nothing.  She made her own intense, delicious grape juice.  She canned, pickled and repurposed.  She still managed to produce dessert almost every night.One of my favorites was a jello-based dish.  She used the black walnuts that grew in her yard.  Dad loves them, but I find them as bitter and dark as a Dickens spinster.  In this recipe, I subbed in pecans.

Granny’s black cherry dessertjello-dessert

1-6 ounce box black cherry jello

3 cups boiling water

1 cup ice

14 ounces cream cheese

1 ½ cups large pecan pieces, toasted

Prepare your cream cheese: cut into ½-inch cubes using unflavored dental floss.  Place in refrigerator to get very cold. 

In a large bowl, mix jello, water, and ice.  Stir in pecans.  When the jello’s room temp, fold in cream cheese, keeping individual cubes intact.  Pour into 9X13 dish, refrigerate, and allow to set completely (around 4 hours).

Serves 8-10.

I think Granny went to Sunday school with General Washington.  My father’s middle name is George.

Granny also made her own potato bread.  When we visited, she would cut thick slices, toast them, and slather on butter and/or jelly.  It made the best gosh-darn toast you ever tasted.

A couple weeks ago I tried a new bread from La Farm, in Cary.  It’s Carolina Gold rice sourdough. rice-bread-1It’s very moist and tasty.  But the best part is, it makes the best toast since I sat at Granny’s table and ate my weight in hers.  I discovered it October 10th, and am on my second loaf, with plans to get more next week.  That doesn’t sound remarkable until you know that the loaves are huge, and I’ve been the only one eating it.

And this brings me to my main point.

Life is too short to eat dreadful, sub-par bread.  I’m talking about you, Wonder and Sunbeam. We live in an area rich with great bakeries, so there’s no excuse.

Here are a few of my favorites and where to get them, plus a tip to make frozen and day-old bread bakery fresh all over again.

Lots of places sell baguettes, but Earth Fare sells crusty-on-the-outside with pillow-y soft interiors for 98 cents—every day.

Costco bakes square rolls that are kind of like ciabatta.  Sandwiches on them are delicious, but they’re awesome just eaten with cold salted butter.

The Co-op has a seven-grain that is really delicious.  It makes a grilled cheese that even my white-bread-loving Petey enjoys.bakeriesNinth St bakery has quite a few lovely loaves.  A couple of my favorites are Sourdough French and sunflower.  They also have a whole grain that’s quite good.

Whole Foods, Scratch and Loaf all have diverse and delicious bread.

I leave you with a couple carb hints.

When you freeze bread, it stops the clock on staleness and mold.  If it’s toast you’re after, just toss slices, still frozen, into the toaster.  You may have to turn it up to get enough color for your taste.

If it’s rolls or loaves, leave frozen until oven heats to 350.  When it’s at temp, run each piece under water and place directly on the rack.  Then throw about ¼ cup water into the oven as well (the steam keeps the crust crispy and the insides cloud-like soft).  Bake for 13 minutes then take it out and place on cooling rack so it doesn’t get a soggy bottom (soggy bottoms are the worst).

Good as new—I promise.  There are so many things in life that you’ll probably regret.  For the love of guacamole, don’t let bread be one of them.

Thanks for your time.