Reflections on the Fair

By the time you read this, the 2019 North Carolina State Fair will be nothing but mountains of trash, and memories.

The Matthews Family band is already thinking about next year (well, this member, anyway).

But I’m also looking back.  And since this space is reserved for the sharing of my thoughts (and it’s a heck of a gig which I highly recommend), what could be more appropriate than to share with you, Gentle Reader, my thoughts before, during, and after the great state fair?

For the most part, anything in quotes are my unspoken thoughts.  But not always.  Sometimes they are spoken aloud, to my family’s exquisite and highly entertaining embarrassment.

Before the fair: My thoughts all follow a similar theme: “THE FAIR’S COMING!!!” joyfully repeated hundreds of times a day beginning in late July, and increasing in frequency as the fair’s arrival draws ever mor near.

“What’ll I wear?” and the much more important, “What’ll I eat?”  Sometimes these two thoughts intersect, such as when I am readying my eatin’ britches (Jeans with enough lycra that they stay up in the morning, but have enough stretch to encase a body containing a metric ton of fair food later in the day.  And they also need to retain enough give to permit me to sit on the ride home).

At the pre-fair media luncheon, an event attended by locally famous media and government types: “OMG! There’s Linda Loveland!  She is taller, prettier and cooler than anyone I’ve ever seen.  I don’t think she’s even human.  She is an alien from Planet Glamorama.”

Guess which one is Linda Loveland?
*Hint: It’s not the large bird.

“There’s Cherie Berry.  I recognize her from the photo in every elevator, everywhere.  That woman lifts me up.”

“Ok, I’ll put less food on my tray to make room for my camera.  Yeah, right.  Who am I kidding?”

“So, if I put my hair in a ponytail and speak with a German accent will the guy serving Dole Whip recognize me?  It’s only my fourth trip.  Probably not…?”

At the fair as a food contest judge: “What were they thinking?  There is no way this combination of ingredients will taste good.”  “Well, what do ya know?  Frost my butt and call me cupcake!  That was tasty!” 

After the soybean judging: “With all apologies to the entire continent of Asia, tofu tastes awful.  Edamame, on the other hand…”

General fair impressions: “It is cold, rainy, and the state fair.  How/Why is that woman wearing stilettos and an extremely short cocktail dress?  In another venue, she’d be fierce, and I’d be impressed/jealous.  Here?  I’m curious/amused.”

“Ok, I have one stomach, but there are fourteen things I want to eat.  I think it just comes down to organization and motivation.”

“I don’t care who you are.  A pirate riding a parrot is comedy gold.”

“Ooh! A puppy!”

“How much trouble would I get into if I politely walked over to that family, grabbed that plastic toy trumpet out of that three-year-old’s hand, threw it on the ground, jumped up and down on it, and calmly walked away?”

“Every single guy at the Marine exhibit is a stone cold fox.  They look like camo-wearing underwear models.  Do they have an “aestetically perfect division”?  Actually, with those faces and bodies to distract the enemy, we couldn’t lose.”

“I think I’ve got room in my belly for a scuppernog slushie and in my fridge for a jar of blueberry bourbon jam.  Sure…”

After the fair:  “I walked into the fair with $150.  I was there four hours and I have $1.47.  What the heck happened?”

“The fair is coming (In 355 days)! Woo Hoo!!”

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Glad Day From Flat Rock

Of course, the ice cream got a little melty, the woman came from Flat Rock.

Flat Rock, North Carolina is situated about four miles south of Hendersonville and 160 miles from Raleigh.

And, Betsy Tankersley drove from Flat Rock to compete in the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission competition at the 2019 NC State Fair. 

The special contests are sponsored by organizations and companies to promote their products.  Each company and organization sets the rules for themselves.  They usually decide on a theme, like game day treats, after school snacks, or holiday appetizers.  The sweet potato folks chose “dietary restrictions”.

Betsy chose the culinary triple axel of dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan.  This should have been sad and awful.

It was the complete opposite; it was joyful and delicious.  The only sad thing was there wasn’t enough for me to have a gallon of it.  Honestly, in my five years of judging contests, this may have been the best creation I’ve had the pleasure to put in my mouth. 

Tankersly is some kind of wizard.  She mixed sweet potato, peanut butter, maple syrup, and cream of coconut.  This combination blended perfectly to form this unctuous, warming flavor that was an amazing foil for the chocolate sauce which included coconut oil.  It was topped with a whipped cream made with more coconut, in the form of coconut cream.

But here’s the thing.  Fellow judge The Kid hates coconut.  My child, if made line leader of the world would declare coconut anathema, and outlaw it.

But this amazing treat?  My favorite (and only) child would push me in front of a train for another helping of this kitchen sorcery.


Buckeye Ice Cream Sundaes (Gluten-Free, Vegan-Friendly)

Servings: 8 Prep Time: 4 hours, 5 minutes

Betsy Tankersley, Flat Rock


Ice Cream:

• 1 ½ cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes

• I cup pure maple syrup

• 3 Tbsp. vanilla extract

• 16 oz. creamy peanut butter

• 21 oz. cream of coconut

• ¼ tsp. allspice

• ½ tsp. salt

Hot Fudge Sauce:

• 1/3 cup coconut oil

• ¼ cup sugar

• 1/3 cup plant-based milk substitute

• 1 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

• 1/3 cup cocoa powder

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Whipped Cream:

• 14 oz. coconut cream

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar


• 1 cup gluten-free mini pretzels

For the ice cream:

Blend all ingredients until smooth.  Place in large plastic or metal container and lay plastic wrap on top of mixture (this’ll help keep ice crystals from forming on ice cream).

Place in freezer for 4 hours, stirring approximately every 30 minutes.

**While you’re near the freezer, place medium mixing bowl in freezer for 30 minutes, this’ll be for the whipped cream.

For the Hot Fudge Sauce:

While your ice cream forms, you can make the hot fudge sauce.

In a medium pot, mix together the oil, sugar, cocoa and milk substitute until combined.

Bring mixture to steady boil over medium-high heat, stirring until thickened (if it’s being troublesome, some tapioca or cornstarch will help). Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and chocolate chips until smooth.

For the Whipped Cream:

While ice cream forms, make the whipped cream. Drain off the clear liquid from cream of coconut (keeping the thick, white part). Remove mixing bowl from freezer and add to it cream of coconut, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Whip on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.


Scoop a hearty serving of the peanut butter ice cream into serving dish. Top with spoonful of hot fudge sauce then whipped cream and then sprinkle with pretzels or another topping you like.

Gentle Reader, I am not joking—make this incredible stuff.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

2 Good 2 Be 4bidden

I recently read a study about comfort food and stress eating.Men eat their favorite comfort foods to celebrate.  And the edible indulgences further raise an already elevated mood.

Yay men.Women crave comfort foods as remedy to the stress and gloom of bad days.

The result speaks to the tragically disordered thinking many women have about food.  That attempt to eat our way to serenity?

Yeah, not so much.  Rather than succor, we’re left with feelings of guilt.So women, instead of thinking of food as an antidote, let’s think of it as neutral; neither magical nor evil.  Healthful food that we need, and occasionally, some well-deserved, mindful indulgences.  Let’s take a page from men, with their uncomplicated, rational view of food.  It’s not our adversary, it’s not out to get us—it’s just food.Last month while judging at the King Arthur flour contest, I was lucky enough to sample one of the best bites, and possibly the very best pie I’ve ever been lucky enough to taste.  It springs from the confectionary mind of Melissa Bentley, of Zebulon, and recipient of my sweet tooth’s eternal gratitude.

Cookie Dough Cream Pie

For Pie Crust:cookie dough crust

1 ¼ cups white sugar

2/3 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 pinch salt

½ cup butter, melted

Cookie Dough:cookie dough pie 21 ¼ cups King Arthur all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. baking soda

½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

¼ plus 2 Tbsp. cup granulated sugar

¼ plus 2 Tbsp. cup packed brown sugar

½ tsp. vanilla

2 ½ Tbsp. milk

½ cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

For Filling:

cookie dough pie 3

¾ cups light brown sugar

1/3 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour

¼ tsp. salt

2 cups whole milk

3 egg yolks

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract


cookie dough pie 4

1 cup heavy cream

3 Tbsp. sugar

½ tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325.

Whisk sugar, flour, cocoa powder, and salt together in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Pour melted butter into the mixture and stir to incorporate. Press dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake crust in preheated oven until the sides are firm and the bottom bubbles slightly, about 10 minutes.

To prepare cookie dough, beat butter and sugars and in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add milk and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips. Using some of the dough, make 8 small balls. Place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes or until edges are lightly golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Reserve remaining dough.

In a medium saucepan, mix sugar, flour and salt. Stir in 1 cup of milk, mix until smooth, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until smooth and thickened, about 2 minutes, then remove from heat.

Beat the egg yolks with the remaining cup of milk. Temper the egg mixture with a small amount of the slightly cooled milk mixture then blend this into the larger saucepan with the cooling milk mixture.They sell tubs of chocolate chip cookie dough made safe by the removal of the eggs.  It’s meant to be eaten raw.

But, this pie.

It’s a gorgeous holiday dessert.  And a saner, much less embarrassing version of sitting on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night, eating spoons full of cookie dough by the light of the fridge.Thanks for your time.

We Have A Winner

I just wrapped up my third year of working with Lisa Prince of the state ag department, WRAL’s Local Dish, and Flavor NC on PBS.  At the State Fair I help judge some of the specialty contests.  These are the competitions sponsored by entities such as King Arthur flour, SPAM, and the North Carolina Pecan Growers.

It’s a huge honor, and more fun and food than any one person should have, but somebody’s gotta do it, and I will proudly take this bullet on behalf of the people of North Carolina.There are folks that have been doing this for years and have judged 20-30 contests.  I’ve only done nine, but have learned a few things.  About entering cooking competitions, and a few other random truths.  I’ll start with those unrelated, incidental lessons.Traffic and parking: However long it takes to get from your house to the fairgrounds on the odd, non-fair Tuesday, quintuple it.  For weekend fair days, multiply it by six or seven.  For opening or closing day, just spend the night before out in the parking lot.

When sampling sixteen or seventeen pies, take no more than two bites each.  If you feel unable to control yourself with an especially delicious entrant, get it away from you.  And even those two bites can add up.  Post-judging, it’s probably best to dial back the midway munching.  Maybe only have one turkey leg, and either ice cream or funnel cake, but not both.If you plan to enter any type of cooking contests, I have a few tips.  They may not give you the win, but sometimes the difference between placing and being an also ran is quite narrow, and this advice may give you a few extra points.

Flavor and seasoning: Taste, taste, taste.  Make sure your food is seasoned.  If it’s a processed food such as SPAM, be careful your dish isn’t too salty.  Other foods need more salt.  There’s no way to get it right without tasting. Acid is your friend.  Dishes should have balance.  Rich, fatty foods need something to break them up, and the best way is by adding the acid of citrus juice, vinegar, or tangy dairy such as yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk.  It will make your dish stand out in what can be a sea of mouth-coating, stomach-churning, heaviness.Make your dish at home, over and over, tweaking the recipe as needed.  Get your most brutally honest friends and family to give you feedback.  The girlfriend that doesn’t want to hurt your feelings is doing you no favors if she will not tell you the truth.  On your end, if you can’t take criticism and comments, contest cooking is probably not for you.If you don’t like the theme ingredient, pick another competition.  In the SPAM contest, the kids made their entries all about the SPAM.  Many of the adults tried to hide it.  Bad idea.  You must embrace the food and celebrate it.  This isn’t a game of, “How to get the kids to eat liver without realizing it”.  It’s to elevate and showcase the chosen ingredient.


Any excuse for a little cupcake porn. AmIright people?

Read the brief carefully.  You might make the best cupcake anybody’s ever eaten in the history of cupcakes, but if the instructions are to make a breakfast item, you will lose.  It will probably break the judges’ collective hearts to eliminate your cupcake, but they, and you, have to follow the rules.

I have seen winners who’ve been cooking for decades, and others who’ve only been at it for weeks.  So my final advice is—go for it!Thanks for your time.

The Cookie Conundrum

When is a cookie not a cookie?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen that cookie’s fate rests upon it not being a dessert, but a snack.

For the past few years, it’s been my honor to help judge a few of the food competitions at the State Fair.  One of the juries I sat on was for pecans.  It was also the very first outing for The Kid.  Our child studied for four years at culinary school, so has the chops and desire to be a fellow food judge.

The North Carolina Pecan Association were the sponsors of the contest.  The parameters were pretty wide open—except, no desserts.  For a few reasons.

pecan desserts

Nope. Sorry.

Most pecans are purchased in early October through late March and are used for holiday baking.  Bakers and confectioners are actually the largest buyers of shelled pecans.  Pecan trees are also AB; or alternate bearing.  This means if you have a bumper crop one year, the next year will literally be slim pickings.

Because of this, growers are keen to expand the list of non-dessert use of the nut.  Consistent, stable use throughout the year is a good thing, and a familiar goal for pecan farmers.

A pecan grove.

Another bit of pecan intel?  They are the only native American nut and were only domesticated in the 1880’s.

So, back to the contest.

The field was wide open, except for the forbidden desserts.  Which made it kinda worrisome when one entry turned out to be a cookie.  But if it really was a cookie, and thus a dessert, it wouldn’t be able to compete.

All of this led me back to the original question, “When is a cookie not a cookie?”.I argued as valiantly as Perry Mason in a death penalty case.  But it became moot when enough foods were sampled that were ranked higher by the judges. and were not desserts.

But not all the judges; they were my favorite bite of the day.

NC Pecan Cookiespecan cookies1 cup butter, softened

1 egg

½ cup brown sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup pecans

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup powdered sugar (for decoration)

In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, salt, egg, and vanilla. 

Add in flour and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate at least two hours. 

Preheat oven to 375.  Using a mini ice cream scoop, scoop the dough and place them 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.  Flatten the dough with the bottom of a glass.  Then press a pecan into the top of the dough.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.  Dust the tops with powdered sugar.

Enjoy!pecan cookies 3I have a couple of thoughts about the recipe and directions.

Even after placing a pecan on the top of each cookie, you’ll be left with a lot of pecans.  I would keep a couple dozen whole with which to top them, then chop the rest into chips.   I‘d toast the chips in a frying pan on medium until they’re mid brown and fragrant.  When adding the flour, I would also add the cooled, toasted nuts.One of the things I liked best about the cookie was the crispy/chewy texture.  And, they were flat-out delicious.

Ag commission employee, television host, and specialty food competition organizer Lisa Prince works crazy hard and is one of the nicest people I know.  Today, during the final contest of the fair, Agricultural Commissioner Steve Troxler came in and presented her with the superintendent of the year award.20171022_143737She deserves it; and I hope it came with a big, fat check.

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



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


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.